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A lesson in 'political science, not rocket science'

Jonathan Amos | 10:48 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

Are we seeing the beginnings of a compromise on Capitol Hill?

Committee press conferenceUS President Barack Obama had laid out his vision for the future of human spaceflight.

He was certain that low-Earth orbit operations should be handed to the commercial sector - the likes of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp.

As for Nasa, he believed it should have a much stronger R&D focus. He wanted the agency to concentrate on difficult stuff, and take its time before deciding on how America should send astronauts to distant targets such as asteroids and Mars.

This vision invited fury from many in Congress and beyond because of its likely impact in those key States where the re-moulding of the agency would lead to many job losses - in Florida, Texas, Alabama and Utah.

Now, Republican and Democratic members of the influential Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee have unanimously approved a position that may end months of dispute in Washington DC.

A shuttle-derived concept for a heavy-lift rocketTheir bill supports many aspects of Obama's policy, most noticeably an acceptance that the massively expensive Moon-bound Constellation programme - in its present guise - must come to an end. But it seeks also to limit the scope and pace of Nasa's makeover.

The $19bn Nasa Authorization Act of 2010 still has some way to go before becoming law, however it does appear to have the backing of the White House and the space agency's top officials.

Its key proposals are [137KB PDF]:

  • A continuation of US participation in the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2020, and the promise to maximise its use.

  • The addition of one more shuttle flight to the launch manifest. This would see Nasa fly Atlantis one further time. The orbiter is currently being prepared as a standby, rescue shuttle for the final missions of Discovery and Endeavour.

  • The budgeting of some $11bn in the next few years to enable Nasa to start development now of a new heavy-lift rocket based on shuttle heritage and lessons learned from the Constellation programme. The rocket should be ready by 31 December 2016.

  • The retention of the Orion capsule - America's next-generation crew ship.

  • The continued provision of seed funding to the commercial sector to help it develop low-cost "space taxis" capable of taking astronauts to and from the ISS. The funding arrangements would change, however. Instead of the White House's original request for $3.3bn over three years, the Committee's approach would provide $1.3bn. (Obama had wanted some $6bn in total over five years; the Committee says the total may still be possible, but over a longer period) [updated 17/07/10].

    Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex), a vociferous critic in recent months of the commercialisation of the US space programme, said the legislation was about finding the correct balance in space policy:

    "I am also concerned that we work with commercial space operators but not turn over the entire Nasa programme to, as yet untested, companies that would not have the expertise that we have built in Nasa through the years. I think we have created a balance in which commercial is going to be very important; and it will be transitional. Down the road, perhaps commercial will have the capabilities to take over the main components of space exploration. But we're not there yet; it is too big a risk."

    The concern will be that the new plan simply repeats some of the old mistakes identified by last year's Augustine review of US human spaceflight policy - that of asking Nasa once again to build a big new rocket, on a tight schedule, without sufficient funding and a well-defined purpose.

    As Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut and member of the Augustine panel, put it:

    "This appears to be a good compromise between the White House and these members of Congress. The only big picture question in my mind is whether or not the funding is adequate to perform this plan."

    It was put directly to Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla), a former astronaut on the Senate committee, that past history was not very encouraging. He rejected that notion:

    "The Committee cannot tell Nasa how to design a rocket but we can give policy direction to the executive branch of government, and we've done that in the bill - utilising shuttle-derived technology, building on that; not building the largest rocket around but starting in the range of 75 to 100 metric tonnes, that is evolvable and that would be built over the course of those six years within a budget of $11.5bn. Now, that is do-able; and if anyone tells you it's not, then if I were you I would question their particular agenda."

    The mood music suggests the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has found a peace formula.

    The White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was quoted as saying the deal worked out with the senators "contains the critical elements necessary for achieving the president's vision for Nasa".

    Lori Garver, Nasa's deputy administrator, echoed that when she said: "This is a milestone in the realignment of the space programme for the 21st Century," adding also: "It preserves the most important parts of the president's plan".

    But others will be disappointed to see a plan that appears in their view to dilute too much the original Obama vision. I was interested to see the comments of John Grunsfeld, a former Nasa chief scientist and the astronaut who participated in three Hubble repair missions:

    "Overall, does this look like the kind of bill that was planned by a team of rocket scientists and aerospace designers? No, it doesn't."

  • Comments

    • Comment number 1.

      At least it looks like NASA is going to retain a manned spaceflight capability even though it will be at least 6 years before it's ready, completely shutting down the manned space programme would have had major economic and electoral consequences.

      On the issue of it being a political compromise, space exploration has always been a political tool. The Space Race only came about because of Cold War politics and since the earliest days rocket engineers have had to mould their plans to suit the whims of politicians. The Shuttle is a prime example of that, it's nothing like the vehicle that NASA originally wanted and that configuration came about because of cuts imposed by Nixon. We've debated on here before about how in hindsight it would have been better and cheaper if NASA had just kept developing Apollo until it evolved into something like Orion.

      So many missed opportunities!

    • Comment number 2.

      I am beset with a nagging through: Why hasn't manned space flight got cheaper yet?

      When previous transport technologies developed there was an inexorable reduction in the cost of the technology. So why hasn't it happened with space travel?

      My only answer is that this is due to the continued close connection with the military and the essentially cost-plus nature of development.

      We have not yet arrived at the Model 'T' of space travel! Cheap cheerful, mass produced, ubiquitous and still a bit dangerous.

      When I saw the live pictures on man on the moon in 1969 on one of the first colour tellies over 40 years ago it would have seemed incomprehensible that we would not have advanced by now. Just think of the changes in automotive production in its first 40 years - or computers. Something must be wrong in the way the business is organised! My conclusions are that until we think through the process; analyse what the problems are; progress will remain sluggish to the point of being moribund.

    • Comment number 3.

      Firstly, Jonathan, brilliant blog. It’s great to see people in the media with real enthusiasm for space and genuine insights into what people are trying to achieve, as well as the political aspects of the industry.
      It’s not clear from the report whether the proposed shuttle derived vehicle is more or less the Ares V, but I’m guessing it’s not. It amazes me how many times the idea of shuttle derived super heavy lift launchers comes rolling out, ever since the late 70s. Each time they're studied for a bit, costing millions at best and then a new shuttle derived heavy lift rocket concept is bandied about, usually with the same problems as the last one, in addition to a load of new ones. The original shuttle design was flawed and the arrangement of the side-mounted orbiter is unstable. Some of the systems could be reused relatively easily, but trying to transform one of the most complicated machines ever built into a new configuration to save on redesign and retooling costs (as well as jobs) is likely to prove a false economy. Evolutionary developments of existing US heavy lift EELVs could probably provide a ~40-50 ton capacity for a much lower cost than a heavier lift vehicle. Why not use the experience gained from the ISS in rendezvous and docking technology to assemble any heavier structures on orbit?
      On a separate note, it's good to see the plan to restart production of radioisotopes for deep space RTG power systems. Pu-238 isn't specifically stated, however I'm guessing once they fully analyse the cost of restarting production they'll trump for less efficient alternatives.

    • Comment number 4.

      John from Hendon asks why spaceflight hasn't got cheaper yet. The answer is simple, but only became apparent to me after I moved from the UK to live in the US. It's called "political corruption". I always thought British politics was a tough game, but our guys have nothing on the Americans. They even have a LEGAL mechanism to permit open corruption - it's called "Earmarks" (sometimes referred to colloquially as "pork barrel spending - or just, "pork"). In this system, politicians can add things to specific bills that have nothing to do with the main subject of the bill. For example, with the recently passed Healthcare bill, there were additional billions of dollars worth of expenditure for pet projects in a politicans' home states - basically, buying votes by agreeing to spurious projects. American politicians are also the masters of Orwellian newspeak and doublethink ... they speak in politically-charged euphamisms all the time: "undocumented immigrants" being the glorious Orwellian term for "illegal aliens", for example. And it is against this background that the American space program has lurched from political pillar to political post, ever since that first amazing moon landing. I suspect that nothing will change until emerging Asian nations show how it CAN be done cheaper; there is nothing that would shake America out of its political paralysis like seeing the Chinese heading for the moon ... and beyond.

    • Comment number 5.

      To me it sound to me like a complete mess, what is the worth of developing a capsule with no launch rocket, a shuttle replacement for a service which suppose to be replace by private sector through Obarma current program, may be I misread something.

      To me short term policies base on short term politics will lead to a space program which will fail an lead to nowhere.
      Instead of wasting 11 billion plus the 2-5 billion over spend which always seem occur on these projects on a shuttle replacement it should be spent on new propulsion systems both for cheaper journeys for LEO, an for journeys to Mars an beyond.
      This whole compromise seem to undermine the central idea of Obarma getting private industries taking on Nasa LEO launches.


    • Comment number 6.

      Jonathan FYI http://www.spacepolitics.com/2010/07/15/senate-committee-adopts-compromise-nasa-bill/

      and specifically Major Tom wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 12:10 am (Essential reading. IMHO.)
      The most damning part in my estimation: 6 $ billion in in R&D seed corn over five years cut to 1 $ billion over three. And NASA lumbered with a new Nelson Heavy Lift 'Vehucal' [NHLV] based on 1960's infrastructure: VAB, Crawlerway, Pads and 1970's tech: Shuttle. Hardly Game Changing. One feels there will be an Augustine III before 2016. And why the need for 150 tns IMLEO? Crazy. Especially if one assumes orbital assembly, propellant depots, utilisation of the ISS as a construction base and all the other cost reducing technologies. The inevitable cost overuns will 'do' for whatever R&D money is left and robotic missions will take another hit.

      All in all: excellent news for ESA, RKA, CNSA, ISRO,...

      Congress: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    • Comment number 7.

      Compromise or no compromise, where is the money going to come from?
      Nowhere in President Barack Obama's vision for the future of human spaceflight did I find an accounting for the trillion-dollar deficit.
      The $19bn Nasa Authorization Act of 2010 may have the backing of the entire US, but where exactly does it fit in the budget?
      Instead of the White House's original request for $1.2bn a year over five years, the Committee's approach would provide an average of $1bn a year over the next six years. Wow, that's really trimming the fat?
      Private industry participation is untested; how will these companies merge their blurprints with Nasa. Are the Americans aiming towards another space disaster?
      The mood music may suggest peace between the Senate Commerce and the Science and Transportation Committee, but who has found the money? White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was quoted as saying the deal worked out with the senators "contains the critical elements necessary for achieving the president's vision for Nasa."
      This President seems to have a different vision almost every day. What will make him stay the course this time?
      If you look at the bill, you don't even have to study it, there are so many holes it seems that someone is not taking this thing too seriously; I wonder who's placating and who's for real.

    • Comment number 8.

      As an aerospace engineer and a policy wonk, I find this entire debate amusing. There is more than enough evidence that private industry is capable of supplanting NASA in heavy lifting to LEO and GEO. I thought politicians couldn't get more hypocritical but then the republicans, whose mantra is that industry can do things better than government, suddenly decide they no longer trust industry.

    • Comment number 9.

      Hopefully the Ares V can move forward for a few moor years, before another administration comes in and pulls up the plant to look at the roots.

    • Comment number 10.

      The Constellation program is dead, long live the Constellation program.

    • Comment number 11.

      Why is it that the champions of private enterprise are so scared of leaving space flight to the private sector? Is there, perhaps, a little of self-interest involved, the "pork" mentioned in an earlier comment?
      During the long-gone Space Race, the goal was not so much the advancement into a new sphere of activity as the urgency to beat the other guy and to show off the own capability. The operation could be disguised as "small steps for men but giant leaps for Mankind", but, it was just a disguise. The further steps never materialized when the Race was over.
      In the days of the Race there was a semblance of purpose involved in most of the political micro-management, but since then, the absence of a national urgency seems to have left the space budget as a free-for-all - with sad results: A monstrously uneconomical Space Transport System, two shuttles with brave crews lost, a US dependency of it´s former adversary for manned space transportation...shall I go on?
      And what remedy does the body political adopt? Well...more of the same technical mistakes, and, perhaps, a few new ones, to ice the cake.
      It has been said that democracy is a lousy political system, but there are no better available. Or even thinkable. It all boils down to the imperfect nature of man - but I find it sad, that the loftiest ambitions of Mankind - the Conquest of Space - continuously is doomed to be stymied by the earthly passions of greedy men, if they are not shaken by the possibility, that some other greedy men would trump their cards.

    • Comment number 12.

      Brobof wrote: "And NASA lumbered with a new Nelson Heavy Lift 'Vehucal' [NHLV] based on 1960's infrastructure: VAB, Crawlerway, Pads and 1970's tech: Shuttle. Hardly Game Changing."

      Well, we can't afford "game-changing." Thinking that we could is what got Ares I/V killed. And VentureStar. This is not 1961. Dollars and political capital are limited.

      At bottom, what the Senate bill is demanding is a heavy lift specification that can only be met by something along the lines of the Direct Jupiter 130/240 architecture - straight up shuttle derived in-line launcher using absolutely as much of the existing shuttle heritage technology as possible. Unlike Ares, or VentureStar, or other drawing board ideas, this approach is actually affordable and doable within the given budget and timeframe. No, it is not what you would design if you were working from scratch. But it makes use of all existing systems (save for avionics), which means a) it requires relatively limited development costs, b) it can be built relatively quickly, c) it preserves existing shuttle infrastructure - and thus jobs in key states and districts - and d) is relatively safe and proven.

      In other words, the Senate is (finally) not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (which is essentially what Clinton, Bush and Obama have tried to do in turn). And the result is that U.S. manned spaceflight capability is preserved with a relatively short gap after the retirement of the shuttle.

    • Comment number 13.

      Richard_M puts a good argument but i thought (and i am no expert) that the issue with the shuttle technology was it was expensive and not too safe.
      Ok you design a lot of the safety issue out by making more linear, ie ontop of the tank, but it will still cost stupid money every launch.
      Sure a private industry will help keep cost down because its in their interest. So money will go further, the number of flight should in theory go up and things get done quicker.
      No im from the UK, but to me the short term pain would be worth the long term gain. Less jobs now for more jobs in the future when the private sector takes off.
      It seems that US politician never act in their country's interest, just in the interest of the next dollar for their states or themselves.
      I just hope the private sector does not buckle under that lack of money.

    • Comment number 14.

      A few things to consider...the first manned space lauch vehicles were derived from ICBMs of the period, thus, development (of the lifter)was pretty cheap for NASA.  Just take whatever the Air Force or the Army was phasing out and use them.  It wasn't until NASA started the Saturns for Apollo that the cost of individual launches got steep.  An earlier comment mentioned the lack of a Model T for space.  As long as we're working on short production runs you're never going to get the costs down.  At least the military builds hundreds of ICBMs when they do it, at best there were only 20 something Saturns, and only a handful of shuttles.Why not "man rate" the retired Minuteman missiles and strap on an Orion capsule and have an instant LEO capable vehicle?  Then, use the ISS as an assembly and transit point for adding inertial upper stages and such to push things out into GEO.  Or, continue to use the Titan IVs for GEO and direct long distance stuff (not man back to the moon or Mars, but robotic deep solar system). Until we solve physiological issues with long duration space flight (bone density loss in low g environments) we're not going to Mars with astronauts anyway, so why are we designing the rocket first and then determining if the missions is feasible?

    • Comment number 15.

      What about something like the SKYLON concept from Reaction Engines? To my untrained and completely amateur eye that sort of technology and design would eventually be cheaper and has far more potential in the long run than big rockets based on 1960s technology taking off from Cape Canaveral. The Americans seem so stuck in the past on this one.

    • Comment number 16.

      At the end of the day this does seem like the best compromise (even if slightly political). Firstly, having a heavy lift capability is paramount if we're to go beyond LEO for deep space missions. Trying to have many smaller rockets to achieve what you can do with one or two launches of a heavy lift vehicle is a poor strategy at best. Would you fly 100 people with 100 planes, or one big plane? Obviously not, and every study conducted shows that the more launches you have, the success rate of the mission drops of massively, not to mention the cost and logistics involved in having many launches to achieve a single mission.

      As for why the price of sending objects into space hasn't massively reduced since the Apollo era is due to the massive amounts of energy required to place an object into LEO, and the difficulties still involved with achieving that using chemical propulsion. I do admit though that more needs to be done to investigate how we can reduce the costs with new technology, and the fact that non of the current tech is mass produced doesn't help either.

      As for how to go about designing this new shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle, I would definitely favour an in-line configuration over the side mount. We've seen how dangerous side mount configurations can be when it comes to crew abort scenarios, and aerodynamically side mount is less efficient. However, I have the feeling that they'll go for the side mount option at first, as this will be cheaper due to fewer changes required. If the design is made such that it can evolve, then I see no reason why down the road we can't have something with the performance of an Ares V, that has been shuttle derived.

      I also agree that commercial isn't quite there yet. Let's face it, companies like SpaceX haven't even demonstrated they can successfully deliver cargo to the ISS, let alone people. I congratulate SpaceX for a successful first Falcon 9 launch, but don't be surprised people if one of the next test launches ends badly, history is still not in their favour.

    • Comment number 17.

      This Senate plan is just a cynical effort to protect jobs in a few key states. Another shuttle derived HLV and at the same time cutting funding for commercial space and making it's future entirely dependent on getting NASA's stamp of approval. It's amazing how quickly Republican rhetoric about smaller government and the superiority of private enterprise go out the window when there are votes to be had.
      The Orlando Sentinel ran an article describing this plan as essentially turning KSC into an aerospace Detroit where the Obama plan offered the equivalent of Silicon Valley.
      This plan is pure pork, nothing more, nothing less.

    • Comment number 18.

      This is a perfect demonstration of political vested interests trumping a sane approach to Nasa's future.
      The HLV is simply not required for BEO missions. Everything can be assembled in orbit, which is something we've had decades of experience with.
      The cost of developing a SDHLV, combined with the required standing army and the low launch frequency make this approach rediculously cost inefficient.

      They also give no explanation for what is going to be launched on the 75T HLV! With what money are they going to develop the tech that weighs that 75T?! I can't wait until a Falcon 9 or an EELV launches the same payload in 2-3 launches, with a possible cost saving of over a billion dollars.

      If the Nasa engineers experience is so valuable then let the private industries employ them. The sad thing is that NASA designed the shuttle in the 70's. The parts were actually built by private companies. How many of Nasa's HSF engineers actually have experience designing rockets rather than just maintaining them?

      I predict that if this passes then Private space will be delayed by a few years. Bigelow will build his space stations and suddenly every country that can scrape together a few tens of millions will be able to put a man into space, and leapfrog the US. The US will be humiliated and either cancel the HLV, or someone like SpaceX will bolt two payloads together in space and perform a manned Apollo 8 style mission months before it launches. Demonstrating the utter pointlessness of the HLV.

      I could go on, but I really should end my rant now.

    • Comment number 19.

      I have read the NASA Authorization Act Of 2010. I am relived that they have decided on a pragmatic approach to the development of the heavy lifter, they realise that continuity is important, and they have some very difficult technical problems to overcome, with in orbit refuelling and closed loop environmental systems.

    • Comment number 20.

      When Bigelow and SpaceX are fully operational and the ISS is redundant what will NASA be doing? the same old thing they have always done being a job for the boys part of the US government, the true Stalinist state of the 21st century! go to http://spacefrontier.org for what is really going to be our future in space.

    • Comment number 21.

      The committees attempt to confine NASA on the power rating of future Heavy Lifters, derive them from Space Shuttle era rocket technology and to acquire them now before NASA have designed the missions that use them, is no different from a used car dealer trespassing onto your property, ordering you to buy vehicles of their preference and to do that now, before you have decided on what you are looking for and how you are going to use them. This is rude, illogical and out of touch with Administration's position that NASA should concentrate on prerequisite and transformative technologies first and then commit to a Heavy Lifter design four years from now.

      The committees also oversteps with a mean spirited attack on the commercial future of the space programme. They attempt to push back the dates and strangle the funding down to an average of about $160 million per COTS partner per year for 3 years. You'd be lucky to start an medium-small sized airline with that amount of cash.

      Expect to hear the committee play up "bi-partisan support". This means the four states represented on the committee have found a way to amicably curve up the pork but does not mean the Administration will agreeably do a complete about face on it's direction so.... let the fight begin.

    • Comment number 22.

      Is it me or has America's drive for exploration disappeared? I might sound nieve, but taking a look around the world and it seems that there are plenty of other countries/organisations looking to make a real effort when it comes to manned space flight. The European Space Agency have a clear agenda to push forward humans to Mars, China are clearly putting plenty behind thier developing space program, as well as the likes of India.
      Now, being from the UK I may not be qualified to comment on how the US spends its money, esspecially as I belive the UK could do alot more as far as manned space flight is concerned. But, to me, the US and manned space flight are linked in a way that fires the public imagination. We've had almost 50 years of watching those men and women do amazing things and thats the kind of adventurous attitude I feel is sorely lacking in the "powers that be" who are planning NASA's future.

      Apollo should have been the start of something amazing, not the high point of past glories. To be fair the shuttle was spectacular, if a little reserved. It's done a superb job and given alot to science thanks to its work with the ISS, but it's time to look further afield than low earth orbit.

      As a strong supporter of NASA, I feel it will become lost in the scramble that could ensue should private companies battle it out to go further and faster into space. Competition, i believe, is the number 1 reason space exploration from NASA (atleast, manned space exploration) has floundered over the past 30 years. Without a direct competitor in Russia, the US has no need to push itself. But now that private companies are being urged to go were NASA can't afford to go, the once proud agency may just find itself left behind; I sincerely hope this isnt the case.

      Let's just hope that as the Apollo landings pass further and further into memory, a new urge to explore and push the boundaries might emerge and allow us to do even more amazing things. After all, Earth won't be here forever, so let's get out there and see what we can find!

    • Comment number 23.

      "Why is it that the champions of private enterprise are so scared of leaving space flight to the private sector? "

      Because she's a senator from Texas, and the Johnson Space Center (formerly the Manned Spacecraft Center) is in Texas.

      End of story.

    • Comment number 24.

      The major problem with the Space Shuttle that made it so expensive was that it was both a truck and a man-rated vehicle. The Constellation program's "stick" vehicle and the separate heavy lift vehicle was an attempt to break those two functions apart. In the Obama Administration proposal, the "stick" has in effect been substituted for with a private industry approach to get people into space (I never liked the "stick" idea much myself...), while the heavy lift was for cargo only.

      To the degree that the Congressional proposal maintains this division of function, I could probably support it. However, to the degree that it slows down the development of a new man-rated craft, I will oppose it.

    • Comment number 25.

      This statement kills me.

      (But others will be disappointed to see a plan that appears in their view to dilute too much the original Obama vision.)

      WHAT? There was no vision from Obama at all. His speech at the Florida Space Center was this. (We are directing NASA to do STUFF) The President's idea was vague and gloomy. He wanted to lay off thousands of experienced workers in a bad economy. Throw out Manned Space flight for almost 10 years in hopes a private contractor (with more NASA money) would come into existence in 6 years. A Mission to an unnamed Asteroid in 15 years well after Obama leaves Office. He gave LIP service and quickly COMPROMISED with the Senate as he saw his so called Vision being so savagely attacked. Our President miscalculated the affection the American public have for NASA. At lest now there is a plan for a Shuttle replacement that has the potential for deep space exploration. Hopefully a new administration will look at the Moon again as a logical location for exploration and then on to Mars.

    • Comment number 26.

      Mmmm I see this as good news and bad news.

      good that something may actually be done sooner rather than kicking things into the long grass

      bad that its just a rehash of old technology and dosen't actually move things on.

      While constellation was bloated and late at least it had a aim and some vision (back to the moon then on to mars). This proposal will just patch things up and keep things plodding along.

      IMO what's really needed is a clear goal for the future - a moonbase, asteroid visit, ISS2 etc (the moon would be my preference) and an achieveable timescale. Afterall what's the point in building a heavy lifter if you've not got anything to do with it?

    • Comment number 27.

      The artist rendering concerns me. What makes the shuttle so unsafe is the launch stage. Namely, it’s the use of an external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters. Both Shuttle losses were due to that design. The lessons from the shuttle program are that it is an inherently unsafe design. Two safer approaches are single-stage-to-orbit or multi-stage "candlestick" design.

      Next, there is no creativity in either Obama's or the Compromise "vision." Here, I think is the better way to go. Use commercial or single-stage to get to orbit with astronauts and work on improving the cost model and improve safety on getting humans safely to orbit and back. Build the bigger transport spaceships while in earth orbit! Moon or Mars (where ever!) Science fiction has been selling this idea for decades and seems the safe way to go. Design the ships for their intended purpose and not make a monolithic space-ship for every purpose because, inevitably someone cuts corners in one aspect for another that can doom the whole project.

      Also, why are the Republicans against commercialization of space?!?! Hypocrites! After 40 years even this Democrat says it is time for Business to get into the launch game.

    • Comment number 28.



      When the NASA Administrator states (with the 'he' being Obama)
      "When I became the NASA administrator -- or before I became the NASA administrator -- he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children
      to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering," Bolden said in the interview. foxnews.com july 5,2010

      These remarks by the President do not seem to ooze the inspiration that should be given to, one of, if not, the most highly technical organizaiton within the world. perhaps the star trek 'to boldly go where .....' would have been appropiate.

      The President has not presented a clearly defined, (with objective goals, funding and timelines), program for NASA to execute even after 18 months to do so.

      In regard to how realistic the plan presented by the President is , and is nothing more than political positioning, one needs only to do a google search of his past campaign speeches on the space program.

      The comparison may show the committee and the Preseident are actually in agreement. i.e. support Orion, delay Constallation and fly the orbiter in 2011........ at least till after the Nov elections

    • Comment number 29.

      If America is finding the cost of manned spaceflight and exploration too costly, then perhaps it is time to join collective finance and knowhow. I'm sure it is not beyond the capacity for NASA to merge with manned spaceflight sections of ESA and other nations. All other elements of NASA's work, such as that for the military would remain in-house! It would take a leap of faith but a full blown international merger of manned spaceflight and exploration capabilities could only improve matters of will and finance - perhaps too far out of the box for the US!

    • Comment number 30.

      salty wrote:

      "If America is finding the cost of manned spaceflight and exploration too costly, then perhaps it is time to join collective finance and knowhow. I'm sure it is not beyond the capacity for NASA to merge with manned spaceflight sections of ESA and other nations. All other elements of NASA's work, such as that for the military would remain in-house! It would take a leap of faith but a full blown international merger of manned spaceflight and exploration capabilities could only improve matters of will and finance - perhaps too far out of the box for the US!"

      Only NASA's competitors and non-Americans would want that. No sane American would want that. Neither would I.

    • Comment number 31.

      Allen T2,

      Thats the typical stance that will see a decline and the end to manned spaceflight. Costs are just too high for just one nation or organisation to carry on alone. The market ethos is not always best here. As for competitors, are the goals and ideals of manned spaceflight in China and India the same as in Europe or America? - only the political will and the dogmatic rule of market forces seperate them and with an insular attitute you put forward, meaningful manned spaceflight will wither away on a wave of nationalistic decay.

    • Comment number 32.

      The Senate compromise bill is better than nothing for NASA. As the real plan President Obama wanted was to shut down NASA. He knew that by removing so many experienced space workers it would cause a cave in and hoped that further interest in NASA would go away over time. He SERIOUSLY miscalculated the affection the American public has for Manned Space Flight and the other programs NASA is doing with Robots in the Solar System.

      Obama had no idea his GO NOWHERE PLAN by a NOWHERE MAN was for NO BODY.

      It had no point of view, and did not know where he wanted NASA going to.

      the Senate and latter the House drafted bills that are a complete REJECTION of the Obama policy. It will be another President that will decide the destination in deep space for NASA but with the Senate Bill there will be a Space craft and Rocket waiting for that next leader that can do the job.

      The idea that Space Travel should become cheaper is a fantasy as it takes thousands of people to build and launch rockets. Space science is not an Air Liner industry. (The Shuttle tried and failed in that task)

      The hope of Commercial launch services to make space travel cheaper is a fantasy as well because they have to build experience over many years, and that will take money and man power.

      The real goal of NASA is to explore space, not create business or jobs, it is to bring back knowledge and a Person in a Space Ship can do more than a Robot.

     

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