American Space Program Reflects Standing in the World

Astronaut Jack Schmitt and flag on the Moon, 1972.  Once unquestioned, now questionable.

Astronaut Jack Schmitt and flag on the Moon, 1972. Once our dominance of space was unquestioned.  Now, it is questionable.

Graphic international news reports are testament to the fact that the world is an unstable and dangerous place. Because of Russian aggression and intransigence toward Ukraine, the state of relations between the United States and Russia continues to deteriorate. Half a world away in the East China Sea, a game of strategic cat-and-mouse is played where Chinese fighter planes buzz American surveillance flights in international waters and the Chinese navy throws its weight around in confrontations on the open ocean, including harassment of off-shore oil operations owned by Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations. American influence and reliability is increasingly doubted, mocked and challenged around the world. Relinquishing leadership has emboldened our enemies and worried our allies, forcing many countries to look to those projecting strength and resolve for their security. Because the U.S. has assumed a posture of withdrawal, we have created the power vacuum that is destabilizing the world.

These ongoing events place the current state of the American space program in stark relief. We continue to be dependent upon Russia for crew transport to and from the International Space Station (ISS). A former NASA Administrator, who is not alone in his assessment, characterized this dependency as being “held hostage.” While we do have the ability to supply the ISS with procured cargo flights from American contractors, they have delivered only a fraction of their promised mass, leaving the vast bulk of ISS re-supply the domain of the Russian Progress (unmanned Soyuz) spacecraft. China has shown their resolve to dominate cislunar space. They are actively pursuing a program of missions to the Moon. The Chinese have demonstrated their ability to fly anywhere throughout cislunar space and to rendezvous, loiter and encounter other satellite assets on station or en route to other destinations.

Our international space partners were blindsided by America’s unilateral decision to abandon the Moon – an agreed to destination and goal upon which they had been working. Meanwhile, our space agency continues to promote a stunt human mission to a “lassoed” asteroid, an idea nearly universally panned. And contrary to the realities of budget and capability, NASA continues to regale the nation with endless “happy talk” about eventual human missions to Mars, a goal that is well beyond the time horizon of any reasonable projection.

Why has it come to this? One might argue that the current strategic confusion about goals and destinations is merely a continuation of the ongoing struggle of human spaceflight to find a long-term, sustainable rationale after the end of the Apollo program. But this calculus would misread the past thirty years of space history. There has never been any doubt about the logical path beyond low Earth orbit for humans – it leads incrementally to high orbits in cislunar space, to the Moon and then to the planets beyond. Yes, it is physically possible to skip one or more of those steps (as Apollo demonstrated) but those detours lead to architectural shortcuts that, while perhaps necessary to meet short-term political considerations, do not lead to or drive long-term, sustainable human presence in space.

Many chalk up the current state of upheaval as the inevitable consequence of the end of Apollo, but we cannot remain in this spin cycle if we ever plan to move forward with a workable strategy. A current debate in space circles is not where to go, or what to do, but rather, how to do it.   Issues dividing the space community – the arguments keeping us stuck in low Earth orbit, focus mainly on means rather than ends, and rockets rather than destinations. Such debate reflects a paucity of national leadership and the natural movement by others to fill the vacuum left by this strategic confusion.

Human spaceflight beyond LEO can be pursued through one of two means – a large, fully fueled vehicle can be launched directly from Earth (requiring the development of a heavy lift rocket) or a trans-LEO spacecraft can be launched as smaller pieces and built and fueled in space. The Apollo architecture used a heavy lift vehicle (Saturn V) to conduct a lunar landing mission with a single launch. This development accelerated the schedule by avoiding the need to construct a large infrastructure in Earth orbit to support a lunar mission. Thus, we fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge and won the Moon race in less than a decade but left no lasting legacy infrastructure in space. An alternative approach would have been to incrementally build systems and emplace assets at increasing distances from Earth, including way stations, assembly points and fueling depots. Such a system is more complex and takes longer to build, but it creates permanent spaceflight infrastructure that would allow us to make repeated trips to the Moon and elsewhere. The success of Apollo has made it difficult to wrap our heads around going back to square one and building a space faring system in a permanent, sustainable way.

The new heavy lift launch vehicle (the SLS system) came about not as a result of a carefully thought-out strategy for space exploration but through an act of Congress who, faced with agency intransigence, acted to save a vital U.S. capability. The SLS launch vehicle currently being built will put about 80 metric tons into LEO, less than the older Saturn V but much more than any current or envisioned alternative. A future version could put roughly the same payload mass into LEO as the Saturn V. Critics of this program argue from two perspectives – first, that the SLS system is too expensive, both as a program and (because of projected low flight rates) by individual launch. Moreover, they claim that development of the SLS keeps spaceflight as an exclusive conclave of the federal government, requiring enormous resources to keep the program going. In fact, there is nothing (except the availability of additional federal subsidies) stopping the private sector from proceeding with their own vehicle development, at whatever pace they choose.

Thus, as framed by many in the space community, we are presented with these alternatives – do we want a human spaceflight program operated largely as it has been in the past – as an Apollo Redux, run by the federal government, with large rockets sending people to Mars for flags-and-footprint missions and other entertaining space “firsts?” Or, do we want a de-centralized program run by private corporations, providing many long-term opportunities for a variety of players to do different things in space? A line has been drawn in the sand and many advocates on each side remain intransigent and vociferous.

To ensure that the U.S. retains and grows a strong space program, we need a federally run human space program that promotes decentralization as capabilities are proven to the point that the private sector can invest in it with confidence, knowing markets and profits will exist going forward. History bears out the importance and necessity of cooperation between business and government. We have vital and pressing national concerns in space and the federal government represents our collective needs and desires as a nation. The fact that we are falling behind both Russia and China in spaceflight (witnessing the reality of how that impacts others understanding of our nation’s vitality and as a force in the world) bothers some not a whit, but it should. Earthly conflicts and tensions in international relations inevitably spill over into space and any other theater in which countries compete.

Recent events demonstrate that conflict escalates when the U.S. projects impotence in international affairs. The downsizing of our military has projected weakness, raising concerns about our national security and commitments abroad. Coupled with indecision over our national and international policies, such weakness has invited aggression around the world. Likewise, our civil space program is very visibly being dismantled just as the theater of cislunar space assumes more economic and military importance globally. Cislunar is the zone of near-Earth space where all of our national security and commercial space assets are located – and currently, they have scant protection from hostile action. A strong, robust U.S. presence in cislunar space supports and protects the nation and the world through situational awareness, asset protection and power projection.

In space we’re faced with the same options as on Earth – accept our role as a world leader and protect the interests of our allies and ourselves, or shun confrontation and accept the dictates of others. Some argue that cooperation in space leads to better relations and harmony on Earth; tell that to the Ukraine and their nervous neighbors. Many applaud this disruption in American power and influence. That type of thinking is very dangerous to the peace and prosperity of the world. We must resume a leadership role – one that looks after our national interests, wherever they are found – here on Earth or out in space. Instead of drawing down and retreating, we must stop the bleeding, retain what is left, build it back up and design it for permanence. We need to stop wasting time and money toying around with stunts and too-far-in-the-future wishful thinking. Our leadership must get down to the basics of moving our economy and national interests into space. Other countries projecting power and influence are already many steps ahead and set on a clear path to cislunar dominance.

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34 Responses to American Space Program Reflects Standing in the World

  1. America’s human space program is underfunded. Still, a NASA human spaceflight budget that hovers around $8 billion a year is more than enough for a beyond LEO space program– if a beyond LEO human space program is prioritized. But its clearly not enough money if you also want to continue funding a hyper expensive LEO program (ISS plus Commercial Crew development). But if Congress and the President want to do it all, this could easily be resolved by simply increasing the annual human spaceflight related budget by about $3 or $4 billion.

    Unfortunately, the President and Congress have decided to be stingy on the funding issue even though the total funding for NASA is miniscule relative to the rest of the Federal budget. But for some people and politicians, NASA is a symbol of– wasteful Federal expenditures– even though there is strong evidence that government spending on space has helped to substantially grow the American economy rather than hurt it.

    I see no problem with having an– international– space station program as long as it doesn’t cost us much to participate (a billion dollars or less per year) and as long as America also has its own space station for its own use. But the ISS program has America in a situation where we’re spending $3 billion a year on a space station that the American people really don’t even own. And to add insult to injury, we now have to pay the Russians in order to get to a space station not totally under our control.

    Far more important than the ISS LEO program, IMO, is the Commercial Crew LEO program and the emergence of– private- space stations. NASA could help both by using its SLS rocket before the end of the decade to deploy Bigelow’s largest space station concept (the Olympus BA-2100) to LEO, free of charge, as long as Bigelow Aerospace pays for the development of its own space habitat. Since the Olympus could accommodate as many as 16 individuals, this would allow Commercial Crew vehicles to transports tourist to a private space habitat at least once or twice per month (12 to 24 flights per year instead of the meager 2 to 4 flights per year to the ISS).

    America should end or at least dramatically reduce its financial commitment ($1 billion or less) to the ISS by 2020, IMO. NASA’s human space program should be focused on developing a lunar outpost for the production of water and fuel needed to send reusable crewed ships to the orbits of Mars, Venus, Earth-Sun L4 and L5, the NEO asteroids and maybe even as far out as the asteroids of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


    • Paul Spudis says:

      America’s human space program is underfunded.

      Possibly, but the recent history and accomplishments of the agency give Congress no incentive to provide them with an increase. NASA has consistently over-promised and under-delivered. The funding picture won’t change until they can start demonstrating that they deserve one.

      • I believe that Congress was ready to increase NASA’s human spaceflight budget after Obama came into office– if the Moon had remained NASA’s primary goal.

        But I agree with you that Congress won’t put more money into human missions– to nowhere– under the Obama administration or any future administration.


    • Grand Lunar says:

      Funding isn’t the key.

      The real goal should be new leadership.

      We need to spend smarter, not spend more.

  2. billgamesh says:

    “A current debate in space circles is not where to go, or what to do, but rather, how to do it. Issues dividing the space community – the arguments keeping us stuck in low Earth orbit, focus mainly on means rather than ends, and rockets rather than destinations.”

    Oh yes, everyone wants to go to Mars. I have no idea why. There is too much cosmic radiation to do much exploring of that desert in a suit. Without windows several feet thick made of transparent shielding (water or plastic) you will not even be able to look outside much. Because of the lack of energy resources it would be a nuclear powered underground society. I have said this before; unless Martians live in circular trains providing centrifugal artificial gravity a significant part of their lives they will probably not be able to bear ever returning to Earth.

    The worst part of it though is this continuing focus on somehow using a chemically propelled, unshielded, non-rotating spacecraft to transport human beings to Mars. To transport humans anywhere in the solar system beyond Earth and lunar orbit will require a nuclear propelled, massively shielded, rotating spaceship. Mars is not “just close enough.”

    The prerequisite to a spaceship is a Heavy Lift Vehicle with hydrogen upper stage wet workshops. One precedes the other because a spaceship will have be assembled, tested and launched outside the Earth’s magnetosphere. The hundreds of tons of water for a radiation shield are also available on the Moon derived from lunar ice. This path merges eventually with a lunar based space solar energy industry.

    Deterrent may be a better word than domination. Nuclear pulse devices for spaceship propulsion can also be used for asteroid and comet deflection. “Nuclear” is a word that connects to DOD money and that is the means to the Moon base that is the means to a spaceship that is the means to interplanetary travel. And as I have also said before; if you have a real spaceship then going past Mars to far more interesting destinations becomes the logical course.

    Before the spaceships come a lunar base to support a cislunar infrastructure that could replace our present orbital junkyard with lunar water shielded GEO space stations. It is all about the next administration. Perhaps space solar as a response to climate change may come up as an election issue. It is, after all, the only solution and building those several million tons of power and relay platforms can only happen on the Moon.

    Perhaps a plan to move the nuclear deterrent into space could be the spark that ignites a new space age. Considering the projected cost of a new fleet of nuclear missile submarines the military might actually figure out that a Moon base operating spaceships is actually the ideal solution.

    • billgamesh says:

      The total lifecycle cost of the entire class is estimated at $347 billion.[12]

      The reason a nuclear missile submarine is expected to cost 8 billion each is that they are very similar to a spaceship. Instead of several inches of steel used by the sub to withstand water pressure the spaceship would have several feet of water to protect the human crew from space radiation.

    • You can send appropriately radiation shielded spacecraft to high Mars orbit using reusable chemical rockets if you:

      1. launch the spacecraft from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points to high Mars orbit (the delta-v requirement is less than 2 km/s)

      2. shield the spacecraft with water from the Moon

      3. fuel the spacecraft with hydrogen and oxygen from the Moon

      4. deploy fuel depots at high Mars orbit for the return trip to cis-lunar space


    • LocalFluff says:

      And what shielding does a spaceship to the Moon require to save its crew from a Solar Coronal Mass Ejection?

      • For an interplanetary journey, about 50 cm of water would be required to protect astronauts from major solar events while also annually exposing them to less than 25 Rem of cosmic radiation during solar minimum conditions. An EML1 outpost that was only used as a storm shelter, however, would only require about 20 cm of water to protect from major solar events.

        However, during a two to four day journey to or from EML1 or lunar orbit, astronauts would be vulnerable to a major solar event. Internally adding 20 cm of water shielding might add as much as ten tonnes to the inert weight of your spacecraft.

        However, if the pressurized habitat area is located above the fuel tanks then the vehicle could simply position itself so that the fuel tanks blocks the particles coming from the direction of the sun during a lethal solar event.


        Radiation Protection for Human Missions to the Moon and Mars


        • LocalFluff says:

          Isn’t the same true for a Mars mission too, that the fuel and water brought could be stored in a way that it forms a thick shielding of areas where the crew spends most of their time sleeping and working? So that the shielding mass needed is about the same for a trip to the Moon as for a trip to Mars. Both must have the same shielding against solar activity. That same shielding could be used to lower cosmic radiation.

          • billgamesh says:

            Heavy nuclei blasts through any shielding mass less than several hundred tons generating a secondary spray of radiation that actually increases overall exposure. Radiation is square one. These fantasy scenarios of deep space missions in chemically propelled, unshielded, non-rotating spacecraft are never going to happen. You cannot debilitate people in a zero gravity radiation bath for months or years and expect to call it success.

  3. William Mellberg says:

    Kudos! Another excellent commentary, Dr. Spudis.

    And a sad reminder of the damage the Obama Administration has done to America (and the world), in general, and to America’s space program, in particular. Looking at today’s NASA with its current dependence on Russia and its future reliance on undependable (but politically connected, taxpayer-supported) start-up enterprises, one can only echo what Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt opined four years ago … “How the mighty have fallen.” Indeed, Dr. Schmitt warned us about the retreat of American leadership and the dangers that would result in an essay he penned for his blog in February 2010:

    At the end of my 1997 book, MOON MISSIONS, Dr. Schmitt referred to the Moon as “a natural space station.” Unlike the International Space Station, humans living and working on the Moon would have the benefit of local resources, such as water, to sustain them. Food could be grown on the Moon. Oxygen and rocket fuel could be produced. And the Moon would provide a stable platform for astronomical observations, as well as so many other scientific pursuits. Of course, you have described some of the Moon’s economic and strategic assets, Dr. Spudis, including the role lunar resources and cislunar space could play in the exploration of the Solar System.

    But who will pursue those assets, and who will employ those resources?

    Harrison Schmitt, who is also a former United States Senator, addressed those questions in the above-mentioned, four-year-old essay:

    “The lengthy delay, the abandonment of human exploration, and the wimpy overall thrust of the [current] policy indicates that the [Obama] Administration does not understand, or want to acknowledge, the essential role space plays in the future of the United States and of liberty. Antagonism against America’s demonstration of predominance in space continues.”

    Dr. Schmitt concluded, “If we abandon leadership in deep space to any other nation or group of nations, particularly a non-democratic regime, the ability of the United States and its allies to protect themselves and liberty for the world will be at great risk and potentially impossible.”

    The weakness displayed by the Obama Administration in space, as well as in so many other spheres, has created the vacuum now being filled by ISIS in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and the Chinese Navy in various parts of Asia. Moreover, as you point out, Dr. Spudis, China and Russia are pursuing aggressive space programs with their sights set on the Moon,
    while the Obama Administration wastes valuable time and money on a one-time stunt with a mini-asteroid, and empty promises about human missions to Mars two decades from now.

    Yes, Harrison Schmitt has it right …

    “How the mighty have fallen.”

    All because of the incompetence, inexperience, ignorance and short-sighted political agenda of Barack Obama and his fellow travelers.

    The collapse of America’s space program does, indeed, reflect America’s standing in the world today … and the misguided policies of the ideologue in the White House.

    As Neil Armstrong said of the disarray in America’s space program under the Obama Administration …

    “It has been painful to watch.”

  4. Vladislaw says:

    2013 ISS cargo delivery

    Progress M:
    Up Cargo 4800 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds
    Up Cargo 5215 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds
    Up Cargo 3275 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds
    Up Cargo 2398
    Down Cargo 0 pounds
    Total up Cargo: 15688 pounds
    Total down Cargo: 0 pounds

    SpaceX CRS-2:
    Up Cargo 1493 pounds
    Down Cargo 3020 pounds

    European ATV:
    Up Cargo 14530 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds

    Japanese HTV
    Up Cargo 10800 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds

    Orbital Antares
    Up Cargo 1543 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds

    Total cargo delivery to the ISS in 2013

    Total Russian
    Up Cargo: 15688 pounds
    Down Cargo 0 pounds

    Total Non Russian
    Up Cargo: 28366 pounds
    Down Cargo: 3020 pounds

    The vast majority of the cargo is not being moved by Russia.

    • William Mellberg says:

      With the launch of the last ATV, which carries ten times the payload of Dragon, it seems Dr. Spudis is correct. The majority of the future cargo going to the ISS will be flown by Progress, which carries well over twice the payload of Dragon.

      When Barack Obama cancelled the Bush Administration’s Constellation Program, he should have reversed the Bush Administration’s decision to retire the Space Shuttle fleet. That decision was tied to the planned start of Ares I/Orion missions in 2015. Initially, Ares I/Orion would have flown crews and supplies to the ISS.

      Following Barack Obama’s cancellation of Constellation, it would have made sense to retire one Space Shuttle Orbiter and continue flying two Orbiters on one resupply mission per year. (The third Orbiter could have been cannibalized for spares.) One Space Shuttle mission per year would have provided tremendous up and down payload capability for the ISS prior to the start of Ares I/Orion missions. Moreover, the United States would not be “held hostage” to Russia to send our crews to the ISS, and to keep the station supplied with consumables.

      Many people warned President Obama that he was making a mistake four years ago when he grounded the Space Shuttle and put NASA on its current “mission to nowhere.” Among them were Chris Kraft, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt and John Glenn (another former Astronaut and U.S. Senator). But Barack Obama apparently put more stock in Lori Garver’s limited experience and chose to ignore the opinions of veteran space professionals. We are now paying the price for his arrogance and her ignorance.

      • Vladislaw says:

        A bi-partisan congress refused to fund the Constellation Program. The President submits a non binding budget to congress. As long as Congress appropraites the funding the President has to veto the spending. There were no veto threats about funding constellation. If all the president has to do is put it in a non binding budget we would have had commercial crew funding of 6 billion over five years and we would have had funding for the Atlas V replacement engine.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          A bi-partisan congress refused to fund the Constellation Program.

          And a bi-partisan Congress approved the Vision for Space Exploration (twice) and also devised and funded the SLS program, which you so ardently hate.

          Please take your New Space/commercial crew propaganda spam elsewhere.

        • That’s not true! The Constellation program was already being funded at $3.4 billion a year once President Obama got into office.

          Increased Constellation funding was to come from first ending the $3 billion dollar a year Space Shuttle program and then ending the $2 billion dollar a year ISS program.


      • Joe says:

        Late to the party, but I will make a few comments anyway.

        Vladislaw (as usual) tries to be clever and (as often happens) trips himself up. Assuming all his base numbers are correct he wants to show the Russians not to be the major supplier to ISS and imply that SpaceX/Orbital Sciences are.

        But (again using his numbers) SpaceX/Orbital Sciences combined delivered only 3,036 lbs. to ISS. That is less than 20% of the 15,688 lbs. delivered by the Russians.

        The bulk of the up mass was delivered by the Europeans (14,530 lbs.) and the Japanese (10,800 lbs.), for a total of 25,330 lbs. and as William Mellberg points out the last European cargo vehicle has been launched.

        It is interesting that SpaceX (the main interest of Vladislaw) delivered even less up-mass (1,493 lbs.) than Orbital Sciences (1,543 lbs.).

        To recap of the total ISS up-mass in 2013 (44,054 lbs.) deliveries in descending order were:

        – Russia delivered 36%.
        – Europe Delivered 33%.
        – Japan delivered 24%.
        – Orbital Sciences delivered 4%.
        – SpaceX delivered 3%.

        Vladislaw’s own numbers make exactly the opposite case than that he was attempting to make.

      • gbaikie says:

        –With the launch of the last ATV, which carries ten times the payload of Dragon, it seems Dr. Spudis is correct. The majority of the future cargo going to the ISS will be flown by Progress, which carries well over twice the payload of Dragon.–

        Over twice the Dragon that flew in 2013, CRS-2.
        But the next one, CRS-3:
        “The cargo aboard the CRS-3 mission has a total mass of 2,089 kilograms (4,605 lb).” And:
        “On its return to Earth the Dragon will be carrying 1,563 kg (3,450 lb) of equipment, including 740 kilograms (1,630 lb) of scientific research.”

        So of the 4 Progress missions listed above for 2013 they had a range of cargo of 2398 to 5215 pounds. Or with these flights, Progress carried more than twice as much as it’s smallest payload.

        And if include 2014, Dragon also had range of cargo going up to station 2013, CRS-2: 1493 lbs and 2014, CRS-3: 4,605 lb.
        Or with Dragon one had slightly more than tripling from least to the most.
        Plus or comparison purposes one should include that Dragon is carrying cargo down which Progress doesn’t do. Though Soyuz can and has carried a small amount cargo with it’s crew.

        The significant thing about the Dragon is it’s developing a capability of carrying up 7 crew to the station [plus some cargo] and can carry up 7 crew down [plus some cargo]. And this will allow ISS the possibility to become fully operational- as it was intended [though the ISS planning included the use Shuttle [which carried 7 crew]. And in addition allows 7 crew lifeboat which can stay at station for emergency use- a capacity the Shuttle did not have.

        • William Mellberg says:

          “And this will allow ISS the possibility to become fully operational …”

          Good grief! The first ISS module (Zarya) was launched in 1998 (16 years ago). The core module (Zvezda) was launched in 2000 (14 years ago). Both were to have been part of the Mir-2 space station. Mir survived for 15 years. During its final years, the crews spent most of their time making repairs, not doing experiments. Mir became “fully operational” (i.e., fully assembled) with the arrival of the Priroda module less than five years before the station was de-orbited in 2001. The Spektr module, which had been launched in 1995, became useless when it was damaged by a wayward Progress ship in 1997. Accidents happen. Equipment fails. And Mir taught us that machines don’t last forever — especially in space.

          How long do you think the ISS will function before its crews spend most of their time repairing failing systems?

          Even if SpaceX manages to get their manned Dragon (“Soyuz on Steroids”) to the ISS by 2016 or 2017, the station could very well be nearing the end of its useful life by then. And without the Space Shuttle, replacing large modules and major components on the ISS could be next to impossible.

          That is why so many space professionals tried to convince President Obama to keep the Shuttles flying if he was serious about extending the life of the ISS to 2020 (or beyond).

          • gbaikie says:

            –“And this will allow ISS the possibility to become fully operational …”

            Good grief! The first ISS module (Zarya) was launched in 1998 (16 years ago). ….. And Mir taught us that machines don’t last forever — especially in space.

            How long do you think the ISS will function before its crews spend most of their time repairing failing systems?–

            Well I believe that currently with a crew of 6 they spend
            most of their time [of working hours] related to station maintenance. And if it was a smaller crew than 6, even more of their time during things related to keeping ISS flying, safely.
            And it is part of the reason that 7 crew should be better than crew of 6.

            As general note, I think in order to open the space frontier, one has to have orbital stations with capability of longer life times and with minimum maintenance.
            It’s my guess, that ISS was designed to have a longer timeline and lower amount of maintence needed and such a goal was made more feasible
            by examination and incorporation of lesson learned from Mir.
            But can’t say I read any studies try to establish any quantitive analysis which could determine the degree
            of success that was actually achieved in this regards to ISS. I suppose it’s possible that ISS was failure in this regard.

            Also as general note, it seems the stations which are on the Moon or Mars should have longer lifetimes than orbital station stations apparently have. If this is a false assumption, then seems we have very significant problem in terms of the potential of opening the space frontier.

            -Even if SpaceX manages to get their manned Dragon (“Soyuz on Steroids”) to the ISS by 2016 or 2017, the station could very well be nearing the end of its useful life by then. And without the Space Shuttle, replacing large modules and major components on the ISS could be next to impossible.-

            Well it’s planned to operate to 2020 [it used to be planned only up to 2015- and one might hope it’s extended beyond 2020]. As far as shuttle cargo lift capacity, we have launcher which can lift as much as the Shuttle, and of course SLS is suppose to fly by 2018 [bumped from 2017]. And if SLS is flying it could lift more than twice the payload of the Shuttle.

            In terms of lifeboat- wiki has pretty good general write up on it:

            –That is why so many space professionals tried to convince President Obama to keep the Shuttles flying if he was serious about extending the life of the ISS to 2020 (or beyond)-*

            It’s a bit of stretch to expect Shuttle to continue the program it was doing, past 2020. One thing to argue it could flown a few more years, quite another to argue it could flown more than a decade longer.

  5. Robert Clark says:

    A recent report stated the SLS development would be so expensive that it would leave little room to mount actual missions. The great cost forces the two year span between missions, also making it difficult to construct a mission architecture to a single destination whose elements are launched this far apart.
    However, this fits well within a plan that sets up an infrastructure of lunar-derived propellant depots in cislunar space. Note that once these are set up then all of Mars, the Moon, and near Earth asteroids become opened up to manned missions, indeed all of the inner Solar System.
    You still have the political problem that the administration has announced that we won’t return to the Moon. A possible solution would be for NASA to announce that we are setting up robotic lunar propellant production facilities with the specific goal of mounting interplanetary missions, while partnering with our international allies who wish to conduct manned lunar missions.
    This way the U.S. could have a defined goal and timetable by which either an asteroid or Mars mission could be mounted.

    Bob Clark

    • The annual development cost for the SLS is currently less than $1.5 billion. The hyper expensive (IMO) Orion capsule is costing about $1.2 billion a year to develop. Ground systems development for the SLS are currently less than $400 million annually. So that’s about $3.1 billion annually out of a human spaceflight related budget that hovers around $8 billion a year.

      During the last few years of the Space Shuttle program, the annual cost was around $3 billion a year for three to five launches. So that’s about $600 million to $1 billion per launch. I’ve seen estimates that suggest that SLS launch cost could be close to that of the Space Shuttle if it is launched frequently.

      I’m still not sure why the Orion capsule is costing Lockheed-Martin so much to develop since they’re no longer developing the Orion Service Module.

      Orion money should have been used to develop a reusable lunar shuttle, IMO, that could have also be used as a reusable orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) between LEO and Low Lunar Orbit or the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.


      • billgamesh says:

        “-SLS launch cost could be close to that of the Space Shuttle if it is launched frequently.”

        Could be? Without the maintenance monstrosity of the orbiter it will cost far less without a doubt and be capable of a much higher launch rate.

  6. A_M_Swallow says:

    IMHO It is time to improve the morale of the USA. I suggest a challenge.

    US/NASA astronauts to be launched on a US made vehicle to a US made spacestation within 5 years.

    Cost estimate for 4 astronauts acting as spacestation inspectors/test pilots for 2 months
    (4 * $26.25M + $25M) * 2 = $260 million

    I doubled the figure to allow for administrative costs and there is almost always a non-optional cost that gets ‘forgotten’ when the estimate is written.

  7. Grand Lunar says:

    What comes to mind from reading the article is “Thanks Obama”, with all the anger I can muster put behind those two words. I actually do have another word, but it is not appropriate for this blog.

    I fear for our nation knowing that it won’t be until late 2016 when we can finally elect different leadership. I just hope we learn from our mistakes. But I doubt it.

    Another look at the sad state of affairs is, IMO, this:

    An idea that promotes an idea as absurd as NASA’s so-called plans for Mars.
    Okay, more so.
    Even worse is a promotion of ideas like the EMdrive and cold fusion.
    What have we come to when our scientific literacy is reduced to such a level?

    Regarding SLS, I have to wonder if we just make it at 80 ton LEO capacity and just use that for developing cislunar architecture.

  8. gbaikie says:

    Space and War.
    The US would have lost WWII if the US had to have tanks made by the government, rather than have private sector make tanks for the government. One could argue that the government had far more expertise in tank building, because the private sector had little use for tanks, therefore one may the case that the government should have dictated how the private sector should build tanks- and if US had been so stupid, the US would have lost the war- it would not have even been close.
    But the government was not so stupid, because they actually needed lots of tanks.
    Now the Sherman tank wasn’t a very good tank, but the US private private sector made a lot of them. Had the US government made a better tank but 1/1000th of the number, than US would have lost the war regardless of how good the government tank was.
    Now, there is no reasonable possibility that the US government could actually made a better tank then the Sherman tank- but rather I am saying *even if* you believe the fantasy that government could make a better tank, it would have been a failure.
    Or a government which had the focus of making a lot of tanks, would do the obvious- hire private sector to build them. But if one starts from idea of having government builds tanks, the reason for doing this, is the delusion that a dumb idiot government could possibly build a better tank.

    The idea that government built the Saturn V is as deluded as an idea that a government built the Sherman tank.
    Now the government did more or less more involvement with building the Shuttle and Shuttle does appear to more closely follows what is created by a government.
    Shuttle was built by a government which had the happy circumstance of being involved in the development of the Saturn V rocket. So therefore with this government involvement with building rockets, it was able to not get so far off the rails, that it would never gotten to point of getting the Shuttle into orbit.

    Quote from above:
    “History bears out the importance and necessity of cooperation between business and government. ”
    Or one could also say a government can’t do a damn thing without involving the private sector.
    Government is like Obama- some creature incapable of running a lemonade stand.
    The other part of “History bears out the importance and necessity of cooperation between business and government. ” is the word, cooperation.
    Government by it’s nature is not cooperative.
    One should really think hard and long about what cooperation means in terms of whatever is involved with kind of government. One say, it’s one sided.

    Instead government has rules which must be followed, and best of government cooperation involves helping some poor slob so that it can follow rules government which normally don’t actually work or make any sense. So government cooperation at it’s best is making the orders one is given have some sense of sanity- and this doesn’t really have much to do with real meaning of word cooperation- or cooperation is a give and take relationship in which both parties has a common goal.
    Or government can’t have common goal with private sector if government must have an elaborate procedure of “how” to build a rocket, rather than say, make a rocket and what want from a rocket is general requirement.
    Or one could say in general that cost plus is not a cooperation.
    Rather It’s NASA is the boss, and private sector follows NASA orders.
    And it’s actually worse than that because one doesn’t really have a boss, rather what you have is interpreter of governmental will which in the form rules and regulations which may change or are capricious in nature. Or with a boss, the buck stops at the boss, and the buck does not really stop at the interpreter or interpreters. Or in simpler terms, with government, the boss is Groupthink. Wiki:
    “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

    Or I would say the path with least resistance in any bureaucracy is no one taking any actual responsibility. Or even a crazy boss is easier to deal with.

    • billgamesh says:

      “But if one starts from idea of having government builds tanks, the reason for doing this, is the delusion that a dumb idiot government could possibly build a better tank.”

      Well, the dumb idiots in the soviet union built the T-34, the best all around tank of the war. Everyone agrees on this GB. It was the Koshkin design bureau that built the best tank. Not a business. Not a government. A group of engineers working together on a project.

      An “airframe rep” (the civilians who temporarily help the military bring new airplanes into service in the field) once told me it is up to the people who are writing the original specifications. Aerospace companies are paid to make these specs reality. Anything the government wants, business will happily try and build….for a profit.

      The conversation started when I was complaining about the bizarre flight control system on the Blackhawk helicopter. The awesome General Electric T-700 engines more than made up for the aircraft’s shortcomings, but the fly by wire tail stabilator and other features seemed ridiculous. The rep told me it was because the group writing the specs wanted the Blackhawk to fit into a C-130 transport with a minimum amount of disassembling of the helicopter. The length and height of the airframe had to be reduced and that was where the problematic design features came from. It fits with inches to spare but is so much trouble it is rarely done. Uh-huh.

      So all this wailing and gnashing of teeth about Obama does not sit well with me. I do not believe this administration has been served well by “the people who are writing the original specifications.” The Byzantine scheming that took place will probably never be known but whoever was delegated the say about space exploration, I would assume that would be the science adviser, dropped the ball. I suspect it will require a two part solution; we need a president with advisers that can explain all this basic rocket stuff we advocates understand so the right path can be chosen.

      And we need the people to vote for it and over-rule aerospace industry influence. Industry will never switch from defense profits to the hard money of space without being forced to.

  9. William Mellberg says:

    gbaikie wrote:

    “It’s a bit of stretch to expect Shuttle to continue the program it was doing, past 2020. One thing to argue it could flown a few more years, quite another to argue it could flown more than a decade longer.”

    Just to clarify … I did not mean that the Space Shuttle should have kept flying through or past 2020, although the airframes probably would have been good for it. What I was suggesting, as were people like Chris Kraft, Neil Armstrong and others, was that the Space Shuttle should have flown one or two resupply missions per year until a replacement vehicle (Orion, Dragon or ???) came online. The suggestion was to fill the gap between STS-135 and the new spacecraft. That way, we would not have been dependent on Russia to send crews and supplies to and from the ISS. Also, it might have been possible to extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope with one more servicing mission.

    The Space Shuttle retirement date was based upon the Constellation Program going forward. President Obama cancelled Constellation. Once Constellation was gone, the Shuttle program could have been extended for a few more years. I’m told by a gentleman who worked on the Orbiters at the Cape that they were all performing quite well at the time of their retirement. Which is why so many people were so saddened to see those valuable national assets being sent to museums while they still had useful service life.

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