Charting a Course in Human Exploration

Testifying to the House Space Subcommittee on February 3, 2016.

Testifying to the House Space Subcommittee on February 3, 2016.  I’m the guy on the far right.

I had the honor of testifying to Congress again this week.  The hearing was before the House Subcommittee on Space and was entitled, “Charting a Course: Expert Perspectives on NASA’s Human Exploration Proposals.”  Although I will have some more detailed thoughts on this event later, I post here the links to the hearing web site, the charter, and my testimony.

Hearing website

Hearing Charter

Spudis testimony

Video of hearing

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28 Responses to Charting a Course in Human Exploration

  1. billgamesh says:

    I have looked at a couple of the articles the hearing generated and they are a disgrace to journalism. With one exception so far, the insidious influence of NewSpace is making sure very little is said about the Moon. One example of the trash the media is feeding to the public:

    “Spudis really made the moon sound like a lovely idea, but there’s a slight problem with his pitch, one that we hope the committee members noticed. The moon is nice and all, but we’ve already been there. In fact, Spudis’s logic goes against everything that NASA was founded on.”

    Even NPR is advertising for SpaceX. Incredibly discouraging.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      Agreed on this.

      It also is frustrating to see the media regurgitate the same phrase Obama used to swindle America into buying into his ideas on space.

      I also fail to see any logic in the statement that the Cislunar plan goes against what NASA is founded on. If anything, it is the embodiment of NASA’s values.

  2. Many of the leaders who support Newspace that I know are also strong supporters of the cis-lunar transportation system. The lunar polar ice deposits are key to supporting this system. Thus access to the Moon is vital for the concept to work efficiently. Lunar derived propellant can support transport and logistics throughout the cis-lunar arena and also to Mars and the asteroids. A propellant production system which works on the Moon will also work on Mars. Lets support all the goals, with each physical goal contributing to the overall advancement of humans in space. Also, please distinguish between the more knowledgeable space media and national level media responses.

    • billgamesh says:

      “-also strong supporters of the cis-lunar transportation system.”

      What “cis-lunar transportation system is that? SpaceX? They are not Moon people.

      “Lets support all the goals,”?

      The whole point of the hearing was that we cannot support “all the goals.” But like all NewSpace advocates, you live in a different universe where everything must relate to your agenda in some way so it is OK to practice cognitive dissonance.

  3. Joe says:

    An excellent presentation.

    The frustration expressed at the tone of the Houston Press article is understandable, but I would point out it is a very small operation (I live in Houston) and the articles dismissive (and rather uninformed) attitude seems more aimed at supporting the current “Mars Program” (if you want to call it that) than “New Space”.

    The quoted line “The moon is nice and all, but we’ve already been there.” is a direct parroting of Obama’s supposed rationale for canceling Constellation Systems (and there by ending the VSE).

    Rather dwell on the editorializing of one politically motivated and ignorant reporter, I would like to hear:

    (1) How the presentation fit with the other testimony.
    (2) How the presentation was received by the committee members and their staffs.
    (3) Were their any questions and what were they.

    That may be available in the video, but I have not had a chance to view it yet.

    • Joe says:

      Finally had a chance to view the video.

      A couple of points

      (1) For anyone who has not yet watched it is about 2 hours long, but the first 1/2 hour is introductory remarks.
      (2) Dr. Spudis’s presentation was (to me a least) the only one that addressed specifics. The other two gentlemen’s presentations were more about process. Mr. Young’s presentation for instance stressed planning and being able to focus on only what is required to achieve the selected goal. While he expressed a preference for Mars, everything else he said would be equally applicable to a Moon program.
      (3) There were the expected New Space infomercials inserted (two of them), but one I particularly noticed was at about the 1 hour 25 minute point. One of the Congressmen (Bridenstene?) repeatedly asserted that there were “Commercial Companies” currently having no trouble raising capital and buying down risk to do everything Dr. Spudis was talking about. He also said they were ready to fly. Really? That would include advanced hardware development for (among other things): ISRU hardware, space tugs, a cis-lunar habitat, propellant depots (lunar surface and orbital), EVA/EVR hardware, etc. A question for Dr. Spudis, do you know anything about such advanced development?

      • Paul Spudis says:

        He also said they were ready to fly. Really?

        He may really believe that, but it is not correct. The companies working on winning the Google Lunar X-Prize have their hands full building and flying a simple robotic lander. None of the other items you mentioned are on anybody’s radar.

        • Joe says:

          Yeah, was pretty sure that was the case.

          Kind of scary though that some of the folks (hopefully only a small number) that are in charge of making decisions are that uninformed.

          Can picture that guy (with the best of intentions) thinking something like: “Spudis has got the right idea, but we don’t need to do anything because I heard that the Commercial Companies have got it covered”.

          Used to Rohrabacher’s spiel, but this one was new.

          • billgamesh says:

            “Kind of scary though that some of the folks (hopefully only a small number) that are in charge of making decisions are that uninformed.”

            They only know what they are told and when the people telling them tailor their message for that particular person- using hundreds of hours of research in some cases- they can be made to support just about any boondoggle you can imagine.

            I am very familiar with this from my military experience. One example being the H-60 helicopter. Many of the features of this aircraft exist because of a size requirement that it be able to fit into a C-130 transport with a minimum of disassembly. Somebody thought this was a great idea but in reality it made the helicopter far more complicated and expensive than it needed to be. Sikorsky did what they were paid to but it just barely fit with inches to spare. It was and is so much trouble that it is almost never done. I could go on with many many other examples. Whoever sold the idea to the brass knew exactly what to say and managed to hide the overwhelming disadvantages.

            NewSpace is all disadvantage.

  4. Grand Lunar says:

    Loved the testimony you gave. I can only hope the message was able to cut through any preconceptions anyone had.

    This was also the first I heard of ARM now aiming for a rock/asteroid of one to two meters in size.
    It really is getting to be a joke.

    If we do aim for a change in plans, I don’t think it will happen while Obama is still in office.

    • billgamesh says:

      It is all Obama’s fault and nothing good can happen until the nightmare ends- is a fun game to play if you are on the right but space is not about right or left. As a distraction you are actually part of the problem.

      The real enemy of space exploration is NewSpace so if you want to be part of the solution try pouring invective in that direction.

      • Joe says:

        Not a big fan of New Space as a whole myself (especially SpaceX – for specific reasons).

        However, the current “plan” (supposed emphasis on New Space included) was produced by Obama.

        Therefore Grand Lunar’s statement is accurate.

        That is not left wing r right wing.

        It is fact wing.

        • billgamesh says:

          “-the current “plan” (supposed emphasis on New Space included) was produced by Obama.”

          If you really think he sat down and came up with the flexible path all by himself….. I would say a certain campaign contribution by a certain “entrepreneur” is where that plan came from. You go ahead and assign origin to the community organizer with the law degree if you “feel” that is accurate.

          • Joe says:

            “If you really think he sat down and came up with the flexible path all by himself….. I would say a certain campaign contribution by a certain “entrepreneur” is where that plan came from. You go ahead and assign origin to the community organizer with the law degree if you “feel” that is accurate.”

            Certainly Musk’s campaign contributions helped. But it all leads back to Obama’s basic dislike of the American HSF Program.

            (1) During the 2008 primaries he told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board he was not convinced “sending bodies into space” was the best approach to space exploration.
            (2) Then in the general election he told the (swing state) of Florida that he supported the Human Lunar Return by 2020 goal.
            (3) After getting elected, he set up (as Dr. Spudis has detailed) the Augustine Commission to give him the excuse to shut down the Human Lunar Return Program. Returning to his previous (and real) position.

            Is he passing largess back to a big campaign contributor (of course he is)? Among other things it gives him the excuse to claim he is a space proponent (as hostile as some of them may be to it- very few politicians want to publicly pronounce themselves to be anti-space).

            Never the less, Obama is set on the status quo for space policy and there is no chance for any change until he leaves office.

            Therefore the Grand Lunar statement is accurate.

            Again that is neither left wing or right wing, it is just factual.

      • Grand Lunar says:

        ” As a distraction you are actually part of the problem.”

        How so?
        I have no influence in any decision making process.
        I’m merely a civilian that is voicing his opinion.

        I never said it was a right or left issue.
        The issue is the choice that was made by Obama’s administration to abandon lunar missions.

        Had this not been done, and if we had simply reorganized NASA’s strategy for lunar return (and reemphasized the reason for it), NewSpace would just be on the back burner.

        • billgamesh says:

          We will have a new president in less than a year. This is about space, not Obama. But some people who claim to be space advocates on this forum are not voicing that advocacy- they are showing their party bias and that is a distraction.

          I am a democrat- both Joe and Dr. Spudis are well aware of that and that I side with the republicans on space policy and detest what the Obama administration has done over the last 8 years in regards to our space program. OUR space program.

          Time to address space and not left and right bias.

          • Grand Lunar says:

            – “I am a democrat- both Joe and Dr. Spudis are well aware of that and that I side with the republicans on space policy and detest what the Obama administration has done over the last 8 years in regards to our space program. OUR space program. ”

            This is actually closer to what I was trying to get at; how much I detest what has been done. It was never about bias.

            If I didn’t get this across, then it is my own fault at communication difficulties, brought on by my ASD.

          • billgamesh says:

            “The issue is the choice that was made by Obama’s administration to abandon lunar missions.”

            No, No, NO! It is absolutely not. That does not matter anymore.

            It is all about what the next administration is going to do. Obama is almost gone and the ONLY issue is whether the next administration is going to reverse course away from the flexible path and back toward the Moon.

            LEO and Mars are dead ends- the Orwellian brain-washing of the public that has gone on for close to a decade has to be renounced and undone. Billionaire hobbyists are not going to take us anywhere. A certain celebrity scientist stated it perfectly:

            “The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That’s just not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you’ve put in for having done it first. So if you’re going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, “Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars.” They’ll ask, “How much will it cost?” You say, “A lot.” They’ll ask, “Is it dangerous?” You’ll say, “Yes, people will probably die.” They’ll ask, “What’s the return on investment?” and you’ll say “Probably nothing, initially.” It’s a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private. A government has a much longer horizon over which it can make investments.”

            Dr. Spudis has written about a “space navy” a couple times and that is probably the most practical solution. It is not like another government agency cannot be created in short order- I was there when the Department of Homeland Security became a reality.

            Human Space Flight – Beyond Earth Orbit would include Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO) space stations, space solar energy, moving the nuclear deterrent off of hair trigger alert into deep space plus performing asteroid and comet interception, and interplanetary exploration missions. The immediate prerequisite for such a new service is a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle that can place worthwhile payloads on a trajectory to that place where in situ resources will allow true nuclear propelled spaceships to be assembled.

            Abandoning LEO and Mars and diverting a significant percentage of the defense budget into this new service should be the basic space policy of the next administration. Of course talking about this kind of government sponsorship drives the Ayn-Rand-in-Space crowd absolutely nuts.

  5. Vladislaw says:

    Great testimony Dr. Spudis. I am usually on the other side but I have found myself defending you on this one. I agree on a more defined timeline and MILESTONES. I agree that funding should be moving that spirals infrastructure outwards. I am still not sold on government funded landings on Luna quite yet.

  6. Michael Wright says:

    Some postings in other forums about Mars mission:

    One person wrote, “I’ve been saying this since the idea of going to Mars came up in the first place. Let’s go back to the moon and figure out how to live there, before travelling an insane distance and strand someone on another planet, and leave them to die.”

    Someone else said “Musk needs to get a grip” and went on to say how how media treats him like the second coming. This person was downvoted.

    I mentioned, “there is one guy who criticized Musk and his “hobby rockets” that will go nowhere beyond LEO. His reasoning is for BEO need pressure fed rocket engines, requiring powerful turbopumps and liquid hydrogen for fuel because that high of ISP is needed. [Bill, did I get this right?] This person was the only one to question Musk’s intentions and he was banned from the forums.

    Now what we whine on the forums is one thing, what Congress, Senate, and the President decide is another matter. I sometimes wonder if they get input from sources most of us do not, or they have to deal with other matters most of us are not familiar with.

    Thanks to Paul Spudis who took the time to prepare a statement. I’m with him about the Moon (it’s only three days away, Mars is always 20 years away, asteriods seem to be a wildcard).

    • billgamesh says:

      What all this comes down to is another battle in the undeclared ideological war being fought between OldSpace and NewSpace. The SLS is the main threat to NewSpace and so almost everything going on relates to efforts to strangle that program.

      NewSpace endlessly demonizes the SLS and all the fans make obligatory death-to-SLS proclamations at every opportunity because that vehicle can take people to the Moon.

      With the ISS aging rapidly and many scientists throwing the B.S. flag on a Mars mission, SLS going to the Moon dumps the NewSpace LEO business plan in the trashcan. Where it belongs.

  7. Dr. Spudis, I thought your testimony before Congress was quite impressive! Very well done sir!

    And the more you and others continue to advocate for a permanent human return to the Moon, the more it looks like it will finally become a reality in the 2020’s.

    But I aml concerned that NASA, Congress and even the private launch industry still doesn’t fully appreciate the critical importance of deploying water/propellant depots (a solar powered water depot that can produce liquid hydrogen and oxygen) within cis-lunar space in the near future.

    Propellant producing water depots are a game changer that could:

    1. at least double the amount of mass the SLS could deploy to the lunar surface via LOX/LH2 cargo landing vehicles

    2. make it easy for reusable orbital transfer vehicles to travel from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points to high Mars or VEnus orbit for crewed missions to Mars and Venus

    3. give Commercial Crew passengers easy access to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points and to the surface of the Moon via reusable orbital transfer vehicles and lunar landing vehicles (basically expanding Commercial Crew services all the way to the lunar surface!)

    4. could allow the US to use unmanned reusable vehicles to transport malfunctioning satellites to Lagrange point repair stations for repair and redeployment

    No significant breakthroughs would be required to deploy such a depot since the ULA is already committed to deploying their ACES depot capable architecture into space by 2023. Just add an electrolysis plant (we already do that in space on the ISS) cryocoolers (already developed), solar panels and a water tank– and NASA could suddenly have a depot based cis-lunar and interplanetary architecture that could dramatically reduce their annual recurring cost.


  8. The fact that the issue was raised at all and has stand out terms like, Charting a Course, Human Exploration, Expert Perspectives, Paul Spudis, and Chinese Military Space Loitering renders the whole thing pretty obvious that there is grave doubt about the current state of things. There seems to be a looming feeling that things are becoming unsustainable, unaffordable, hallucinogenic and with an imminent loss of directional control. From a complete outsiders perspective, it’s starting to look like the people writing the checks are beginning to feel profound loss-of-confidence, possibly even the pinch of some sort of personal financial accountability, and to pretend there isn’t a problem has no up-sides for them but plenty of down-sides, including slow political suicide. Moreover, ‘The Martian’ has come and gone and there’s little of anything left in NASA’s show-bag of tricks. This look like a simple, do nothing, waited it out issue that will self-correct itself probably surprisingly quickly, especially since you’ve now concretely seeded the notion that there is a profoundly disturbing problem.

    • The core of the problem is the fact that NASA has been politically trapped at LEO for more than 40 years since the end of the Apollo program. The advocates of this policy believed that a more Earth oriented human spaceflight program would save money while focusing on the space science that might improve the quality of life on Earth.

      But in reality, the tax payers have ended up paying almost twice as much for a LEO program that’s only given us a space station that’s only partially under the control of the American government while the Apollo era gave us crewed landings on the Moon plus a large national space station for merely half the price.

      NASA’s human spaceflight related program will probably spend between $5 to $10 billion a year over the next 25 years ($125 billion to $250 billion). The question is, will NASA have anything of significance to show for all of that spending. Or will we still be trapped at LEO discussing how wonderful the Apollo era was:-)


  9. billgamesh says:

    The flow chart for human expansion Beyond Low Earth Orbit is easy enough to read; Radiation is square one. The thousands of tons of shielding required cannot be brought up from the deep gravity well of Earth. There are two obvious ways to get past square one and both branches of the tree require a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle:

    1. Find radiation sanctuaries on the Moon. The most likely such sanctuaries are lava tubes and the low gravity of the Moon makes it probable they are truly immense. We need to find them.

    2. Bring water up from the shallow gravity well of the Moon and partially fill empty rocket stages in lunar orbit. The wet workshop. These components can be assembled into “true” space stations and transited back across cislunar space into GEO or mated with nuclear propulsion systems thus creating “true” spaceships.

    The next administration can start with dumping the space station to nowhere and associated taxi’s and indefinitely shelve any Mars Missions. Then increase SLS core production and launches to once a month or so. Then……. stay the course.

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