Saturday, March 27, 2010

Articles of Interest

Articles of interest while I'm out of town the next few days ...

I noted on March 13 a report on about President Obama proposing a reform of export control policies that adversely impact the ability of the American space industry to compete globally.

Space Politics updated that report yesterday, although it's noted that in an election year the issue might be spun to deal the president a defeat despite what's in the nation's best interest.

Space Politics reported on March 25 that former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young criticized Obama's NASA budget proposal. Young doesn't believe commercial space access will be successful and wants NASA to continue with Constellation. Lockheed Martin is one of the primary contractors for Orion, the capsule that would one day ride atop Constellation rockets.

Space News reports that Lockheed Martin might be forced to slow or stop work on Orion to save money should the project be cancelled as the Obama administration proposes. Space News also reported on Young's testimony.

Aviation Week reports that Pentagon leaders have no problem with the NASA budget proposal, despite prior testimony by underlings to the contrary. reports that NASA awarded $50 million each to five companies for new propulsion technologies.

The space agency granted $50 million each to five companies for research into novel engine system designs such as electric propulsion, new propellants made from non-toxic chemicals, and other areas.

The recipients of the funds include Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif.; ATK Mission Systems of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; Northrop Grumman Aerospace Corporation of Redondo Beach, Calif.; Orbital Technologies Corporation of Madison, Wisc.; and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc. of Canoga Park, Calif.

The article concludes, "The new contracts come at a time when NASA is planning to embrace novel technologies under the new plan outlined in President Obama's 2011 budget."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Space KSC on Minimal Support Status

I'll be out of town through April 1 on personal business. I'll have intermittent access to the Internet but won't be posting unless something significant happens.

Thanks for your patience — Stephen

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More Spin on FY 2011 NASA Budget Proposal

The print version of Florida Today reports that a rally has been announced for April 11 at Cocoa Expo Stadium to protest the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Space Coast churches, unions and businesses will participate in the 3 p.m. rally. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, and former shuttle astronauts are expected to attend ...

Still no mention that any of them is doing one darn thing to diversify the local economy so Space Coast isn't addicted to government space funding.

Posey and Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-New Smyrna Beach) will participate in the latest Space Forum hosted by Florida Today and Brevard Community College. It's at 2:30 PM on April 9 at the Simpkins Fine Arts Center. Both have vocally called for continuation of the status quo as well.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Tuesday faced the House Appropriations subcommittee on science. Click here to read the Florida Today article.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Obama administration is redrafting the budget proposal to placate Congress, but Bolden told the subcommittee yesterday that's not true.

Blogger Keith Cowing, publisher of, claims "I have learned that after the President holds his summit event at the KSC Headquarters area the President will then have a town hall meeting onsite at NASA KSC where he will hear — and take questions from KSC employees. He will also tour a number of KSC facilities (VAB, OPF etc.) It would seem that the concerns of the KSC workforce have managed to trickle up to OSTP."

I'm generally skeptical of bloggers who claim anonymous insider sources but don't have facts or names to back it up.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mitchell, Friedman Support Obama Proposal

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell writes, "Critics should remember that the airline industry arose following the invention of the aircraft a century ago. The emergence of a global space industry can likewise be expected to contribute mightily to the furtherance of space exploration. That is a positive development."

Thanks to Space Politics for the below links.

Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell writing for endorses President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

The Obama administration, boxed in by a collapsed global economy and corporate excess, has made the correct, albeit unpopular, decision on reinventing the nation's space agency while providing a needed course correction for manned spaceflight. I only wish the President and his advisors hadn't been forced to make their decisions under the present economic circumstances.

I would have preferred that the U.S. attempt to maintain a leading position in returning to the moon, then going to Mars. After spending nearly three decades in low-Earth orbit, it is time to refocus NASA's priorities and get the space agency back on track to explore the solar system.

I'm sure some cheap-shot artist will note that Mitchell gave an interview in 2008 when he claimed that UFOs are real and the government has been covering it up since 1947.

Planetary Society director Louis Friedman writing in the Los Angeles Times denounced the political pandering by certain members of Congress I've criticized in past columns.

It is an old saying in Washington: "The president proposes, but Congress disposes."

Congress may well dispose of the president's plan for NASA, but if all they do is try to protect the special interests of their own congressional districts, then we will again have a human spaceflight program with no rationale except to protect vested interests ...

Special interests are now focused on saving contracts and funding in particular congressional districts. Two examples are GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. They oppose government spending, except when it takes care of the folks at home. Both have called for decreases in the federal budget while seeking continuation of spending on Constellation, even though it is no longer possible to meet its goals.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Virgin Galactic Conducts Successful Test Flight

VSS Enterprise fight flight.

Virgin Galactic has posted this press release announcing that "VSS Enterprise has completed her inaugural captive carry flight from Mojave Air and Spaceport."

VSS Enterprise is a commercial spaceship constructed for Virgin Galactic by Scaled Composites.

Poe: Astronauts Will Have to Fly with Iran

The latest in ludicrous rhetoric over the future of human space flight comes from Texas Republican congressman Ted Poe, who suggests that if the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is approved, U.S. astronauts might have to fly to space on an Iranian rocket!

From Space Politics:

"If we do away with the Constellation project, American astronauts are going to have to hitch a ride into space, and that means we going to have to ride with the Russians or the Chinese, or maybe the Iranians," said Ted Poe (R), referring at the end to a recent sounding rocket launch by Iran carrying several animals briefly into space.

As I wrote on March 7, China has no lunar program. They're studying it. They currently don't have the ability to reach the International Space Station. And it was the Republican Bush Administration in 2007 that agreed to put astronauts on Russian craft.

Poe was one of a handful of Republican members of Congress to address the "Code Red" Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C. on March 20.

His Iranian claims were repeated on the House floor the same day as the Code Red rally:

By foolishly canceling the Constellation Program and when the last NASA shuttle flight occurs, we will have no means to transport our astronauts into space. We will have to hitch a ride with the Russians if we want that transportation. And if one of our security satellites needs repair, who's to say the Russians will even let us buy a coach ticket on their space aircraft.

Now even the Iranians have entered the space race. Last month they sent a rat, two turtles, and a worm into space.

Keeping our edge in spaceflight is a national security issue. We can not give that away to anybody. After all, when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, the first word was "Houston," not "Moscow" or "Beijing."

Those who want Constellation to continue would be better served by speakers who don't blatantly pander to easily frightened people by claiming astronauts will have to ride on non-existent Iranian spacecraft.

Lobbyists Head to D.C. to Fight Obama NASA Proposal

Florida Today reported Sunday that lobbyists from Florida and six other states have gone to D.C. "to persuade members of Congress to change the proposed NASA budget so that there is a bigger focus on human space exploration."

The group complains there the U.S. won't be launching human flights for several years from Kennedy Space Center, but of course they don't mention that this decision was made in January 2004 when President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program. They say they worry about U.S. astronauts on Russian craft, but that deal was signed by the Bush administration in 2007.

It would be nice if just one of these people would admit that this situation is due to Brevard County elected officials failing to act for the last six years.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For a Different Kind of Space Collectible ...

The Soviet Space Shuttle Buran.

Many of we space geeks like to collect space memorabilia. Our house probably has twenty different Space Shuttle models, artworks, and various knick-knacks.

When we lived in Southern California, we'd drive out to Edwards Air Force Base to visit the Flight Test Historical Foundation museum and the Dryden Flight Research Center gift shop. We have lots of Chuck Yeager stuff, and some Shuttle Enterprise memorabilia from its Approach and Landing Tests.

But I have to admit I also have a guilty pleasure, and that's collecting Buran memorabilia.

Buran was the Soviet attempt to mimic the Space Shuttle. It flew only once, on November 15, 1988. Unlike the Shuttle, Buran was unmanned. It was flown and landed by remote control. The American orbiters were always piloted, even Enterprise.

The Buran orbiter never flew again, and was destroyed in 2002 when its hangar collapsed due to poor maintenance.

If collecting Soviet or Russian space memorabilia is your thing, you might want to check out the web site. It's located in Los Angeles.

Even if you're not interested in collecting, you might want to look through the site just to see all the stuff they have.

There are many places for buying U.S. space memorabilia. One place you might start is

Having moved here to Space Coast last summer, I always have my eye open for the odd or different collectible. I found a "Shuttle Crossing" traffic sign in Canaveral National Seashore gift shop a couple months back.

As other nations grow their space programs, I'll be interested to see what memorabilia becomes available. Taikonaut pins, anyone?

Go to for more information on Buran.

Video of the Space Shuttle Buran launch.

Video of the Buran landing and miscellaneous footage.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nelson, Cabana Speak at Latest Space Forum

As a Congressman in January 1986, Bill Nelson flew aboard Columbia on a Shuttle mission.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and KSC Director Bob Cabana were the guest speakers at today's Space Forum hosted by Florida Today at Brevard Community College.

Click here to read the paper's report on the forum.

I found this meeting far more sober and honest than the March 9 Space Forum, with four speakers who all had previously announced some degree of opposition to Obama and/or the Administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Nelson, unfortunately, engaged in a bit of pandering just as have local Congressional representatives Suzanne Kosmas and Bill Posey, both of whom have promised additional Shuttle flights, a continuation of Constellation, and various other promises they can't unilaterally keep. Nelson said the Senate would direct NASA to develop a heavy-lifter rocket capable of flight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The problem with that is one U.S. Senator cannot order NASA to do anything.

I was also disappointed that Nelson failed to directly answer a question from the audience about why little has been done over the last six years to help diversify the local economy after President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program in January 2004. Nelson instead gave a long answer about chronic underfunding for NASA, which has little to do with the lack of local leadership in attracting business not linked to the government's space program.

Nelson also said he was writing legislation that seems to try to force commercial launchers to use only Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an idea proposed in a Florida Today editorial on March 11. Nelson admitted it's probably illegal but he's going ahead anyway, which suggests it's simply more pandering — not to mention anti-capitalistic.

The senator was asked several times for details about his recent meetings with Obama to discuss the NASA budget proposal. Although he didn't reveal many specifics of what was a private conversation, he did imply that Obama might be flexible on the budget, although he couldn't promise anything.

Obama is due in Florida on April 15 to hold his own space summit, presumably in the Space Coast although nothing has been officially announced. One thing is for certain is that he'll be expected to address his August 2008 campaign promise to ensure that "all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise."

I doubt anything Obama says on April 15 will satisfy the locals. Brevard County voted 54% to 44% for John McCain over Obama in 2008, and has 20,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats (42.9% to 37.2% of registered voters at the end of 2009).

But whatever action he takes should be for the good of the United States, not just for one county. I'm concerned that Kosmas, Posey and Nelson don't see it that way.

Of the three, I think Nelson's vision is broadest. He understands Obama's desire to commercialize LEO access so funds can be freed up to develop a heavy-lifter capable of extraterrestrial missions. Yet at the same time he talks about spending money on programs that may protect jobs while not necessarily being in the long-term best interest of the nation's human space program. Kosmas and Posey just talk about more of the status quo without addressing the core issue, namely that outside of the space centers there's little political support to spend more money on projects that are behind schedule, over budget and not viewed as a national priority.

At least Nelson today was somewhat honest about his Senate colleagues not sharing his view of human space exploration as a national priority. Neither Kosmas or Posey have admitted the same, to my knowledge.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enterprise Returns to the Final Frontier

The cast of "Star Trek" attends the rollout of the orbiter Enterprise from Rockwell's Palmdale manufacturing facility, September 19, 1976. reports that the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is determining whether the Shuttle orbiter
Enterprise can be safely moved from its current display in the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.

The move anticipates the Smithsonian's receipt of one of the three currently operational orbiters once the Shuttle program ends, scheduled for late 2010.

It never reached space, but Enterprise has travelled more widely on Planet Earth than any of its sibling orbiters. It was used for landing tests at Edwards Air Force Base, and mating tests at Vandenberg AFB, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and Kennedy Space Center.

Enterprise travelled the world as an ambassador for the U.S. space program. I have a poster here in my office of Enterprise aboard the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Stansted Airport in England in 1983.

At various times, thought was given to making Enterprise a fully operational orbiter. It would have been the second orbiter after Columbia, but a refit was considered too expensive. If you check the tail numbers, Enterprise was OV-101 and Columbia was OV-102. Challenger was OV-99 because its airframe started out as a high-fidelity structural test article. According to

Rockwell's original $2.6 billion contract had authorized the building of a pair of static-test articles (MPTA-098 and STA-099) and two initial flight-test vehicles (OV-101 and OV-102). A decision in 1978 not to modify Enterprise from her Approach and Landing Test (ALT) configuration would have left Columbia as the only operational orbiter vehicle so on 1/29/79 NASA awarded Rockwell a supplemental contract to convert Challenger (STA-099) from a test vehicle into a space-rated Orbiter (OV-099).

After Challenger was destroyed in January 1986, consideration was given to refitting Enterprise but it was decided to build Endeavour instead.

Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.

After the Smithsonian receives one of the three operational orbiters, the vehicle will be displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center, meaning Enterprise will need to go elsewhere. The article reports that testing is underway to determine if that's feasible.

If Enterprise can be moved, the question is to where.

My personal choice would be the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, run by the Flight Test Historical Foundation. (I'm a member.) The problem is that the museum has very limited funding, so unless the vehicle is donated I don't know where they would display Enterprise.

Below are some photos of Enterprise from its storied career.

Enterprise on launch pad SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB.

Enterprise on the test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Enterprise on launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.

September 26, 1977 — Enterprise boldly goes where no orbiter has gone before.

UPDATE March 22, 2010Florida Today published today an article about the Enterprise display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Click the above image to watch video of an Enterprise Approach and Landing Test.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brevard County Economic Overview

I had lunch today with my realtor. She mentioned hearing a recent economic forecast for Brevard County far rosier than the gloom and doom foretold by those who claim President Obama's proposed NASA FY 2011 budget means the end of the Space Coast.

Sure enough, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission says that Space Coast’s diverse economy is positioned for a rally in 2010.

"Brevard County is fortunate to have a truly diversified business footprint," says Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. "When one sector of the market faces an uncertain future, like that of the transiting space industry, others see great growth."

Some people, however, don't seem to get the message.

The article says that District 1 Commissioner Robin Fisher still clings to the notion that the Space Shuttle program can be extended to save his local economy. As I've written before, it's too impractical to extend Shuttle. A minimum of two years' wait will be required while a new external tank is manufactured in New Orleans. It would be foolish to pay 7,000 people to sit around for two years waiting for the next launch. It's not going to happen.

It's been six years since President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program in January 2004. Six years that local officials have failed to plan for this day. Some leaders — Fisher, Congresswoman Kosmas, Congressman Posey — still tell voters they will get the billions to extend Shuttle. Their dawdling only makes a bad situation worse.

But if the Economic Development Commission is right, at least the damage caused by their dawdling will be contained.

Wanted: More ISS Participants

The International Space Station might receive visitors one day from China and India.

Aviation Week reports that "Heads of the five space agencies in the International Space Station (ISS) partnership have decided to try to expand participation by other nations in the orbiting laboratory, while not opening up the formal partnership to new members."

Based on posts I've read on the Florida Today comment threads, some people seem to think the United States owns the ISS. It's actually owned by a partnership of the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency.

The article reports that the partners "embraced the Obama administration’s decision to continue funding the station, a move they had been urging since George W. Bush was U.S. president."

Aviation Week also reports that plans are underway "to certify the station structure and other on-orbit hardware for service through 2028," which I noted here on March 13.

The article also notes that "Chinese space officials have informally expressed interest in sending their astronauts to the ISS." The Obama administration has made it clear they want to build more international cooperation for space efforts to spread the costs globally, and China would be a major addition. China may consider folding their nascent lunar exploration program into the NASA-led International Lunar Network, which would suggest that when humans return to the Moon the mission might include astronauts from nations around the world.

Charlie Bolden Responds to Budget Myths

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

As reported on, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke Tuesday at the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) flagship luncheon. Bolden gave "perhaps his strongest defense to date of the agency’s new plan announced a month and a half ago."

Click here to read the entire text of the speech.

Some excerpts:

At the highest level, the President and his staff as well as my NASA senior leadership team closely reviewed the Augustine Committee report, and they came to the same realization the Committee concluded: The Constellation program was on an unsustainable trajectory. If we continued on our current course, at best we would have ended up flying a handful of astronauts to the moon sometime after 2030. But to accomplish even that limited task, we would have had to make even deeper cuts to the other parts of NASA’s budget, terminating support of the ISS early and decimating our science and aeronautics efforts. Further, we would have had no money to advance the state of the art in any of the technology areas that we need to enable us to do new things in space – no money to lower the cost of access to space, no money for closedloop life support, no money for advanced propulsion technology, no money for radiation protection. The President recognized that what was truly needed for beyond LEO exploration was game-changing technologies; making the fundamental investments that will provide the foundation for the next half-century of American leadership in space exploration. In doing so, the President put forward what I believe to be the most authentically visionary policy for real human space exploration that we have ever had.

Regarding Constellation:

Some have argued that the Constellation program was the symbol of American leadership in space. I think they have been misled. An unsustainable program, as described in the Augustine Committee Report, with no funding planned to support the ISS beyond 2015 and no definitive, funded plans for a heavy lift launch vehicle necessary for exploration beyond low Earth orbit can hardly be considered a symbol of American leadership in space. U.S permanent human presence in space and our
international human spaceflight partnership would have ended or been totally dependent on the Russians for the foreseeable future. That is not American leadership in my book. Under the new plan, however, we will ensure continuous American presence in space throughout this entire decade, re-establish a robust and competitive American launch industry, start a major heavy lift R&D program years earlier, and build a real technological foundation for sustainable beyond-LEO exploration. That to me is real leadership, and our international partners already recognize it.

Regarding the alleged lack of a destination:

I often hear the criticism that under the President’s plan we have no destination. This is also not true. The ultimate destination in our solar system for our exploration efforts is Mars, but we don’t have the technological where-with-all to safely get humans there yet. In order to reach this destination, we need a robust research and development program to help us provide the capabilities that will make this goal attainable. When NASA’s transformative technology development and demonstration programs are underway, the commercial sector will be moving rapidly to develop crew and cargo capabilities for U.S. based transportation to LEO. Commercial providers have long carried our most valuable payloads to space for the nation and have been integral to every human spaceflight mission since the beginning. My guess is that the American workers who have successfully built and launched the Atlas V 20 times in a row would disagree that US commercial spaceflight is untried or untested.

On scientific discoveries already realized by the International Space Station:

Already we’ve gleaned information about Salmonella that has led to a candidate vaccine with human trials soon to begin. We’ve learned about methods of micro-encapsulation, a process of forming miniature, liquid-filled balloons the size of blood cells that can deliver treatment directly to cancer cells. We’ve learned about gene expression in plants and how that might enhance crops being grown in space. These are a few of the literally dozens of results that we’re just beginning to get and which we can look forward to in the years to come.

Florida Today Updates Obama Space Conference

Florida Today has a couple articles today on KSC's space program.

Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson had an "excellent conversation" with President Obama about the agenda for the upcoming April 15 space conference.

Near the end of the article is a brief cryptic quote from Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello:

"We do see a lot of good in the president's budget," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida.

Hopefully that means that Brevard's space leaders are taking a more sober and less hysterical look at Obama's proposal.

Florida Today also reports that "work force and aerospace industry officials plan to establish a team to help coordinate their response to the waves of space-related layoffs expected this year."

Considering that President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program in January 2004, it would have been nice if this response had started a few years ago, but better late than never I suppose.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

China Considers Returning Moon Rocks to Earth Lab

A Moon Rock retrieved by Apollo 16 astronaut John Young in 1972. reports:

China is mulling plans for a facility to handle returning moon rock samples as part of a step-by-step plan to explore the lunar surface with robotic probes.

China's multi-step program calls for lunar orbiters to scout the moon, followed by a soft landing on of the surface using an automated lunar rover to reconnoiter the crater-pocked landscape. That rover would then be followed by the touchdown of a lunar lander to collect bits and pieces of the moon and rocket them back to Earth for detailed analysis by Chinese specialists.

The United States, of course, returned moon rocks on six manned missions between 1969 and 1972. According to the article, China's robotic lunar sampling mission would occur in 2017, 45 years after the last Apollo mission.

I found particularly interesting this passage near the end of the article:

Ray Arvidson, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, also commented on China's lunar exploration ambitions.

"Planning and implementing the lunar sample receiving lab is a logical part of the aggressive Chinese program for lunar exploration," Arvidson said. He told that China's current plans, as he understood them, are to launch another lunar orbiter, then a robotic lunar rover, and then move onto a robotic lunar sample return mission.

"In addition they have started participating in discussions for the International Lunar Network (ILN) mission. And there is discussion of having a launch and deep space transfer capability to Mars for robotic missions by 2013," Arvidson added.

NASA is leading the ILN idea, a concept whereby landed stations on the moon from multiple countries serve as nodes to collectively form a large geophysical network of scientific instruments.

The Obama administration has encouraged global cooperation on extraterrestrial missions as a means of reducing the cost. If China opts into International Lunar Network, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

SpaceX Signs Contract for Satellite Launch

SpaceX conducted a successful test fire on March 13 of its Falcon 9 rocket engine. Photo source: SpaceX

Space News reports that SpaceX has signed a contract with Space Systems/Loral to launch a satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket, as early as 2012.

According to a SpaceX press release, "Falcon 9 will launch from the SpaceX launch site at Cape Canaveral and insert the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO)."

USAF Official Claims Cancelling Civilian Programs Increases Military Costs

Louisiana's U.S. Senator David Vitter.

I've read through this a few times and still can't see the logic in it.

An Air Force undersecretary claims that cancelling Shuttle and Constellation will somehow result in increasing the cost of launching unmanned Atlas and Delta rockets.

My cynicism suggests this is the military-industrial complex at work, justifying its own bloated budgets with scare tactics.

The fact that the questions came from Louisiana senator David Vitter only increases my skepticism. The Republican Vitter has been Vitter, a Republican, has been a vocal critic of President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

The Space Shuttle's orange external tank is manufactured at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Like many elected officials representing NASA space center districts, Vitter has been vocal about protesting the Obama administration's proposed budget so he can protect voters' jobs in his state.

Orbital, Aerojet Complete Russian Engine Tests

An artist's conception of the Taurus II rocket. Image source: Orbital Sciences Corp.

Orbital Sciences and business partner Aerojet report they have successfully completed tests on a Russian NK-33 engine that would be used in the first stage of their Taurus II rocket.

Orbital is developing the Taurus II medium-class space launch vehicle to boost payloads into a variety of low Earth and geosynchronous transfer orbits and to Earth escape trajectories. Taurus II incorporates proven technologies from the company’s Pegasus®, Taurus and Minotaur rockets, and is supported by a "best-in-class" network of suppliers from the U.S. and around the world.

The Taurus II program currently has a backlog of nine launches, beginning with the demonstration flight in 2011 for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project, a joint research and development effort with NASA to develop a system capable of safely and reliably supplying the International Space Station (ISS) with essential cargo. Orbital is also under contract with NASA for the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program with an eight-mission, $1.9 billion agreement to deliver cargo to the ISS from 2011 through 2015.

In addition to its work with NASA on the COTS and CRS programs, Orbital is also offering the Taurus II rocket to U.S. civil government and military customers for dedicated launch services for medium-class scientific and national security satellites. From its Wallops Island, Virginia, launch site, Taurus II will be capable of supporting mid-inclination and polar orbiting spacecraft weighing approximately 10,500 lbs. and 5,500 lbs., respectively.

Kosmas Using Health Care Vote for NASA?

Space Coast Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas may be attempting to swap her health care bill for a deal on NASA's FY 2011 budget.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Brevard County Representative Suzanne Kosmas repeatedly brought up President Obama's proposed FY 2011 budget when she met with Obama last week to discuss her health care vote.

According to the Sentinel Kosmas was one of the few Democratic representatives who voted against the House health care bill last year.

The article doesn't state that Kosmas offered to swap health care support for her version of a NASA budget, but it's certainly possible that she intended that implication. has its thoughts on this report.

Meanwhile, Space News reports that Kosmas was one of 16 House members to ask the Government Accountability Office to determine whether Obama's budget proposal breaks federal law.

Although the letter does not call on GAO to issue a report on its finding, it does ask GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to expedite an investigation of NASA employees tasked with developing new human spaceflight plans. In the letter, the lawmakers assert NASA has failed to provide an answer to congressional staff inquiries submitted Feb. 22 about who is working on the new plans, how much of their workday is consumed by such tasks and from which payroll accounts the employees are being paid.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No More Tourists on Soyuz

Guy Laliberté was the last space tourist to ride Soyuz to the ISS.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Russians will no longer sell Soyuz rides to space tourists.

Russia said it would stop taking tourists to visit the International Space Station, citing NASA's plans to retire its shuttle fleet later this year. With Russia left as the only nation sending crews to the station, there won't be room for tourists, officials said. The last such adventurer was Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté, who paid $35 million in October to make the trip.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Florida Today Reviews Commercial Space Efforts

Boeing's seven-person commercial capsule concept.

Today's Florida Today has a Page 1 article looking at "the commercial space race". It's an excellent overview of the various commercial space efforts in the U.S.

The paper also updates yesterday's successful test-fire of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Pad 40.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

SpaceX Falcon 9 Roars to Life

The SpaceX Falcon 9 on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Florida Today reports that SpaceX tested its Falcon 9 rocket today at 12:30 PM EST. The nine Merlin 1C engines fired for 3½ seconds.

Obama Proposes Space Export Controls Reform

Space Politics reports "President Obama announced that a new proposal for reforming export control policies — the bane of the commercial space industry in the US for a decade now — is in the works."

Obama's remarks were to the Export-Import Bank annual conference on March 10.

Click here to watch the video of Obama's address on

Click here to read the entire text of Obama's remarks.

Space Politics describes NASA's role in Obama's proposal:

NASA is also involved in the export control reform effort, deputy administrator Lori Garver said Wednesday at the Goddard Memorial Symposium. "This is an administration-led issue," she said in response to a question on [International Traffic in Arms Regulations]. "We are trying to get all the data we can about the kinds of things that ITAR restrictions have kept us from doing that have actually led to this nation being less secure rather than more." She said that most people in the industry acknowledge that ITAR has been a "hindrance" to companies as well as organizations trying to cooperate with international partners on space projects. "NASA is one of the reasons why ITAR needs to be reformed, but not the only one. This is an administration-led activity we are active participants in."

ISS Could Fly Until 2028

The International Space Station as photographed from Endeavour on February 19, 2010.

Aviation Week reports that International Space Station (ISS) partners see no problem extending operations to 2020 as President Obama has proposed, and are taking early steps to certify station elements through 2028.

"With the assembly of the ISS nearing completion and the capability to support a full-time crew of six established, they noted the outstanding opportunities now offered by the ISS for on-orbit research and for discovery including the operation and management of the world’s largest international space complex," NASA said. "In particular, they noted the unprecedented opportunities that enhanced use of this unique facility provides to drive advanced science and technology."

Aviation Week: Longer Marches

China launches the Chang'e 1 on October 24, 2007. It mapped the Moon's surface from lunar orbit.

Aviation Week has an excellent lengthy article on the current state of the Chinese space program. Click here to read the article.

As I wrote on March 7, China is studying a human lunar mission but does not currently have the technology to launch such a mission.

This new article suggests that, if China goes ahead with a Moon mission, it will be similar to what NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden recently suggested. Instead of one big Apollo-like rocket that carries the entire payload, the approach would be to launch multiple craft into Low Earth Orbit, assemble them there, and then fly the completed vehicle to the Moon.

The advantage of doing it this way is to keep down the cost of building a huge heavy lifter to get the entire mission off the ground in one launch.

The article states:

Since the lift-off thrust of the [Chinese] launcher will be lower than that of the Saturn V, it will be unable to deliver as great a mass to lunar orbit—probably about 35 tons, compared with the U.S. launcher’s 45 tons, estimates one U.S. rocket engineer. But NASA needed that 45 tons for missions that were close to the minimum conceivable—brief stays on the Moon by two astronauts. Moreover, the Apollo equipment was built so lightly that even now the Chinese would probably struggle to do that minimum mission with much less mass.

So the thrust of the proposed Moon rocket strongly suggests that Chinese engineers plan to launch their lunar craft in at least two parts and assemble it in low Earth orbit, as NASA planned in the Constellation Program by launching the crew capsule separately. In proposing a Moon launch vehicle, the Chinese engineers are avoiding the risky alternative of a longer succession of Long March 5 launches.

Getting 3,000 tons of thrust under a single rocket presents a formidable technological challenge for China, whose largest engine so far, the YF-100, generates thrust of just 120 tons. The Soviet Union’s disastrous experience with the 30-engine first stage of its N-1 lunar launcher argues against attempting such an arrangement with the YF-100.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Florida Today Space Policy Forum Video Online

Florida Today has posted online video of their March 9 space policy forum at Brevard Community College.

Click here to go to the page with links for the video replay.

SpaceX Abort Caused by Ground Support System Valve

Florida Today reports that Tuesday's abort of a SpaceX Falcon 9 engine test was caused by a ground support system valve. It was not caused by any part on the rocket itself.

Another test was scheduled for today but unlikely due to inclement weather.

When Obama Visited Titusville

Much has been made of Barack Obama's campaign visit to Titusville on August 2, 2008. All sorts of claims have been made about what it was that Obama said.

Above is a YouTube video of Obama's appearance.

Below is a transcript of what he said.

Y'know, one of the areas where we're in danger of losing our competitive edge is in science and technology, and nothing symbolizes that more than our space program.

I've written about this in my book. I grew up in Hawaii, and I still remember sitting on my grandfather's shoulders as some of the astronauts were brought in after their capsules had landed in the middle of the Pacific. I could just barely see them. I was waving that American flag. And I remember my grandfather explaining to me, "This is what America is all about. We can do anything when we put our mind to it."

And that was what the space program described, that sense of possibility and always, y'know, reaching out to new frontiers. When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements that we're still proud of.

Today, we have an administration that sets ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, NASA's had to cut back on research, trim their program, which means that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010 we're gonna have to rely on Russian spacecrafts to keep us in orbit.

So let me be clear. We cannot cede our leadership in space.

That's why I'm gonna close the gap, ensure that our space program doesn't suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service. We may extend an additional Shuttle launch. We're gonna work with Bill Nelson to add at least one more flight beyond 2010 by continuing to support NASA funding. By speeding the development of the Shuttle's successor. By making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise.

But more broadly, we need a real vision for the next stage of space exploration. To help formulate this vision, I'm going to re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system, a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, enlist both international partners and the private sector, because America leads the world to long-term exploration of the Moon and Mars and beyond.

Let's also tap NASA's ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow, and study our own planet, so we can combat global climate change.

Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world once again and make America stronger and it's gonna help grow the economy right here in Brevard County and right here in Florida. That's what we're gonna do.

Okay, let's go point-by-point over the important statements in this speech.

The Bush Administration underfunded NASA. Partially true.

After the loss of Columbia, Bush cancelled Shuttle in January 2004 and proposed the Vision for Space Exploration which resulted in Constellation.

An April 3, 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report raised concerns about "considerable unknowns as to whether NASA’s plans for these vehicles can be executed within schedule goals and what these efforts will ultimately cost. This is primarily because NASA is still in the process of defining many performance requirements."

An August 2009 GAO report found that Constellation lacked a "sound business case" and had "a poorly phased funding plan that runs the risk of funding shortfalls in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. This approach has limited NASA’s ability to mitigate technical risks early in development and precludes the orderly ramp up of workforce and developmental activities."

The federal government's fiscal year cycle runs from October 1 through September 30. The President submits a proposed budget early in the calendar year, but Congress is free to do what it wants. The budget is sent to the President for signature, or it can be vetoed (which rarely happens).

Obama became President on January 20, 2009, so his first budget was enacted on October 1, 2009. Everything before that was under Bush's watch.

Because the budget is a joint effort between the President and Congress, I'd conclude that both hold responsibility for any NASA funding shortfalls. But that's hardly news to anyone who follows the process.

The Shuttle will shut down in 2010 and the U.S. space program will rely on Russian spacecraft to reach the ISS. True.

Bush said in his January 14, 2004 speech, "In 2010, the Space Shuttle — after nearly 30 years of duty — will be retired from service."

The Bush administration signed a contract in April 2007 that contracted with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew and cargo services through 2011. The Bush administration signed a number of agreeements using Russian craft to ferry American astronauts.

The Obama administration signed a contract in May 2009 to send astronauts to the International Space Station, but really had no choice since no other options are available. It was, essentially, an extension of the Bush policy.

"We may extend an additional Shuttle launch." Promise kept.

STS-134 is the additional Shuttle flight Obama promised to launch.

STS-134 is the additional flight. To quote from Wikipedia:

The Space Shuttle had been scheduled to be retired from service after STS-133, but controversy over the cancellation of several International Space Station components, most notably the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, in order to meet deadlines for the retirement of the shuttle, caused the United States Government to consider ordering an additional mission. On June 19, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, giving NASA funding for one additional mission to "deliver science experiments to the station".

The same mandate was included in the U.S. Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act that was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 25, 2008. It was amended and passed by the full Senate on September 25, 2008, passed by the House on September 27, 2008, and signed by President George W. Bush on October 15, 2008. Bush had previously opposed any additional shuttle missions, as they could delay the transition to Project Constellation. In the spring of 2009, the Obama Administration included funds for the STS-134 mission in its proposed 2010 NASA budget.

Obama proposed the additional flight in August 2008. The House and Senate that summer were working on legislation to add the extra flight. Bush authorized it in September 2008, and Obama funded it in his proposed FY 2010 budget.

STS-134 is scheduled to launch in July 2010. Obama said in Titusville it would be after 2010, but that's a quibble. Although NASA's official schedule has all Shuttle missions completed in 2010, most observers believe at least one launch will slip into 2011.

Speed the development of Shuttle's successor. A work in progress.

Obama appointed in May 2009 the non-partisan U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. It's become known as the Augustine Panel after its chair, retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. The panel was to conduct "an independent review of planned U.S. human space flight activities with the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space."

The Augustine Panel report was issued in October 2009. Its findings were quite controversial, and as typically happens when government contracts are threatened those with a vested interest in the status quo blasted its findings.

The panel found that Constellation was behind schedule and over budget, and unlikely to meet its target dates. Since Constellation was the designated "Shuttle successor," Obama had two choices — either find a way to speed up Constellation, or find another "successor."

Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget chose to find another successor. The administration concluded that Congress was unlikely to fund the additional $3 billion - $5 billion per year most observers believe would be necessary to get Constellation back on schedule, and as noted above the GAO has raised serious concerns about the program.

Obama proposes to commercialize U.S. flights to the International Space Station, while shifting available NASA funding to develop "heavy-lift" technology that could one day take astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

It's unclear whether the nascent commercial flight business will be ready any sooner than Constellation would, but since Augustine believed Constellation wouldn't be ready until near the end of this decade that leaves SpaceX, Orbital and other commercial startups a good 7-8 years to develop a viable alternative to Constellation and keep Obama's promise to "speed the development of Shuttle's successor." Obama's budget proposal helps along those programs with government grants.

"Making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise." Promise impossible to keep.

The only way Obama could protect each and every Shuttle job would be a blatant act of socialism, essentially giving those thousands of government contract workers a paycheck whether they work or not.

Jobs are going to be lost. That decision was made long ago, in January 2004, when Bush cancelled Shuttle. Some of the jobs might have been absorbed by Constellation, but certainly not all of them.

The blame lies with many people — local, state and federal elected officials, unions, and the workers themselves.

Anyone who works for a government contractor should know that your job lasts only so long as the government needs that service. A government contract should never be justified based solely on the desire to perpetuate jobs, just as a military base shouldn't be justified solely by the desire to perpetuate jobs.

What should have happened with NASA is what happened in the 1990s with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. BRAC creacted an independent process to identify which bases should be closed, independent of political chicanery. Local Reuse Authorities (LRAs) were recognized by the Pentagon to help transition the local economies of closed military bases into civilian use.

Brevard County has had over six years to prepare for the end of Shuttle. Local government failed to diversify the economy, preferring to rely on government contracts. State and federal officials failed to encourage local leaders to diversify. Unions have lobbied to protect existing jobs, whether they're needed or not. And workers failed to retrain themselves or live more frugally to prepare for the day when they might lose their jobs.

So there's plenty of blame to go around.

Obama shouldn't have promised to save those jobs when he obviously couldn't.

But that's not an excuse for all the other parties who failed to act over the last six years. That was your responsibility, not Obama's.

Obama is coming to Florida on April 15 to host a space conference. The details and location have yet to be announced. He will need to address all the allegations that he lied when he promised to save those jobs.

Re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council. Yes, sorta.

The National Aeronautics and Space Council had two incarnations. The first was from 1958 through 1973. A variant was created in 1989 by George H.W. Bush, but it was disbanded in 1993 and its functions were absorbed by the National Science and Technology Council created by President Clinton in November 1993. The NSTC still exists to this day, and Obama is its co-chair.

One could argue that the NSTC plays the role of the old NASC, and also that the Augustine Panel performed Obama's expressed intent to develop a new plan for the U.S. space program.

In fact, the council's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a fact sheet that states the administration's vision for NASA's future.

Although he didn't resurrect the old NASC, what's more important to me is whether Obama fulfilled his expressed intent, which was to develop a new direction for the American space program. That's what he did through the OSTP. People may not like that direction, but he did fulfill the promise to create a new direction.

Shuttle: Time to Move On

The excellent Space Politics web site posted an article yesterday explaining why extending the Space Shuttle program is neither practical nor wise.

The article quotes David Radzanowski, deputy associate administrator for program intergration in the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD):

"If we’re directed to do so, and if the money actually shows up, and if we bring the workforce and the suppliers onboard that we need to move forward, there would still be a two- to three-year gap between the last flight and the new additional flights," he concluded. "That’s just the way it is, folks, that’s the way it is because it takes us that long to build an external tank."

He's quoted as saying it would cost "well over $2.5 billion a year" to keep the Shuttle program, so that's at least $5 billion over the first two years paying people to sit around while we wait for a new external tank.

Our local politicians, meanwhile, continue to ignore the experts and pander to voters with false hopes that Shuttle will be extended to save jobs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Florida Today Wants Obama to Mandate Commercial Launches Only from KSC

A bizarre editorial in today's Florida Today demands that President Obama mandate future commercial launches in the United States be legal only at Kennedy Space Center.

"The president should make KSC the commercial hub and mandate it in his policy," the editorial concludes.

In a county where 42.8% of voters are registered Republican and 20,000 more are registered Republican than Democrat, this is just the latest in a series of what I view as hypocritical claims by people who claim to be conservatives that hate socialism yet want the government to engage in blatant socialism to protect taxpayer-funded jobs.

"The anger was palpable Tuesday during a public forum sponsored by FLORIDA TODAY," the editorial claims, "when panelists who sharply criticized the plan were met with loud applause."

The editorial failed to mention what their own March 9 news story reported — only 100 people were in attendance. All four panelists had previously expressed opposition to the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 budget, and one — Republican former Congressman Dave Weldon — falsely accused Obama of "killing the manned spaceflight program."

No one, apparently, was invited from NASA or the Obama administration to rebut misstatements or falsehoods.

In short, the deck was stacked.

The editorial noted the approaching job losses that will further damage the local economy.

Under [the Obama proposal], the Space Coast will lose as many as 23,000 jobs, 9,000 at KSC and another 14,000 nonspace jobs in the regional economy dependent on NASA paychecks. That could drive Brevard County’s 12.7 percent unemployment rate to 17 percent or higher.

That’s unacceptable on its face.

After blaming Obama, the editorial then grudgingly admits that most of those job losses are due to decisions made long ago during the Bush administration.

A major part of the equation — the retirement of the shuttle fleet in September — is not solely Obama’s fault.

President Bush made that decision in 2004 after recommendations from the commission that investigated the 2003 shuttle Columbia accident and it has been supported in Congress the past six years when both Republicans and Democrats have been in control.

As a result, the suppliers have been shut down, the shuttle’s fuel tanks are no longer made and thousands of workers have already been let go.

Bush also made the decision — again, with bipartisan support in Congress — to create a gap in manned spaceflight that would last at least five years between the shuttle’s end and start of the Constellation moon program.

However, Obama wants to kill Constellation because of its mammoth and unsustainable costs, and have private companies launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit, gambling they can do it faster and cheaper than NASA and just as safely.

These are all points I've made here over and over.

But rather than acknowledge reality, the editorial swerves into wishful thinking.

With the federal government spending hundreds of billions to save and create jobs, a case can be made to use funds to extend the shuttle and keep people employed, providing safety concerns can be met.

No, the case cannot be made.

Although technically feasible, it would cost taxpayers $2.4 billion per year and NASA would have to wait at least two years for new external tanks to be built. That's money that would have to come from other NASA programs, which is why Constellation is over budget and behind schedule.

It also ignores the conclusions of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board six years ago, which was why Bush cancelled Shuttle:

... The Shuttle has few of the mission capabilities that NASA originally promised. It cannot be launched on demand, does not recoup its costs, no longer carries national security payloads, and is not cost-effective enough, nor allowed by law, to carry commercial satellites. Despite efforts to improve its safety, the Shuttle remains a complex and risky system that remains central to U.S. ambitions in space. Columbia's failure to return home is a harsh reminder that the Space Shuttle is a developmental vehicle that operates not in routine flight but in the realm of dangerous exploration.

Florida Today also trots out the standard threat of payback at the ballot box.

[The White House] also knows there’s serious political fallout at hand, with the president’s chance of winning Florida when he seeks re-election in 2012 made harder because of the catastrophic cuts coming in space jobs.

The problem with that theory is that Obama lost Brevard County handily to John McCain in 2008, 157,589 (54.5%) to 127,620 (44.2%). Is Obama likely to lose, say, Palm Beach County or Hillsborough County or Miami-Dade County because the people of Brevard County have failed for six years now to plan for this event? Of course not. Obama may lose Florida — which he won by 50.9% to 48.1% in 2008 — but it won't be because he failed to extend Shuttle after Bush cancelled it.

This is a state whose Republican leaders have vociferously opposed the federal stimulus program, whose governor is running behind in primary polls because he supported the stiumulus program, and some of whose elected officials have actually refused to accept stimulus money that would have helped their local economy.

Yet now we're being told by many of those Republican leaders that the taxpayers must continue to fund government space jobs, needed or not, and that the government should pass a law banning competition in the commercial space launch market.

As I've written before, I was once a municipal budget analyst. When it comes to taxpayer dollars, I consider myself a budget hawk. I believe that taxpayer money shouldn't be spent unless it provides a tangible good for the public.

It's clear that extending Shuttle would be wasteful, paying 7,000 employees to sit around while they wait two years for a new external tank to be built.

And when it is built, what is Shuttle going to do?

Deliver crew to the International Space Station? We've already paid the Russians for that — a decision made in 2007 by the Bush administration.

Deliver supplies to the ISS? Shuttle is capable of carrying more than any other space vehicle currently on the planet, but again we've already planned supply delivery through the Russians.

Let's be clear on one fact — the United States does not own the ISS. It's a consortium of the U.S., Russia, ESA, Canada and Japan. Decisions such as how to deliver supplies are made by the consortium, not unilaterally by the United States. Again, the decision has already been made, and that's to go with the Russians until another nation offers a viable alternative.

I fully understand the concerns people have about losing their jobs. My wife and I are unemployed. Our COBRA extension health coverage runs out on March 31. It would cost $1,000/month to ensure the two of us. So we'll have to go without.

But never, ever would I demand the government give me a taxpayer-funded job if it wasn't a job the government had decided it needed.

Extending Shuttle, or perpetuating Constellation, should not be justified by saying it will protect jobs. It should be justified only if it has value to the nation and it's a more cost-efficient approach than other alternatives.

Brevard County has had six years to plan for this day. The failure lies with local and state elected officials, not the federal government. Speakers from the business community at last month's Orlando space summit said they took their business elsewhere after Brevard leaders failed to help when they wanted to locate here.

Brevard's economy needs to diversify, to wean itself off government-funded jobs. Failure to do so results in an economic disaster such as we're experiencing now. It's wrong to blame Obama for that, or anyone at the federal level, Democrat or Republican.

It's extremely hypocritical for one of the bluest blue (Republican) counties in Florida to expect the government to provide taxpayer-funded jobs just for the sake of jobs. And it's hypocritical to demand that the government kill nascent commercial launch operations in other parts of the nation to protect our own narrow parochial interests.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Articles of Interest

The "Articles of Interest" series of posts contain links to timely articles about the politics of space exploration, or anything else I think might interest you.

Florida Today March 10, 2010 "Panelists Criticize Space Plan" — A community space forum comprised of four individuals who had previously expressed opposition to Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget ... expressed opposition to Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget. No one from the Obama administration or NASA apparently was invited to present a different point of view or correct misstatements.

Florida Today March 10, 2010 "Falcon 9 Test Cut Off" — The engine abort system on a planned SpaceX Falcon 9 engine test kicked in two seconds before ignition. Another test may occur on Thursday, although the weather forecast is deteriorating. March 10, 2010 "Shuttle Leader Says Extending Program Still Feasible" — Per a Shuttle program manager, but "lawmakers lobbying to keep the orbiters flying until new commercial rockets are available to replace them would need to come up with about $2.4 billion a year to pay for it. And there would still be a two-year gap between a decision to proceed and production of new flight hardware beyond the handful of external tanks and boosters left in the shuttle inventory."

Huntsville Times March 9, 2010 "Which Track for NASA?" — Alabama's U.S. Senator Richard Shelby comments on his opposition to Obama's budget proposal. Shelby is known for his skill in directing aerospace pork to Alabama.

Aviation Week March 5, 2010 "Shuttle Will Carry Small Commercial ISS Rack"Discovery will deliver next month to the International Space Station a commercial payload called the NanoRack that is considered a demonstration of how the ISS can be used for commercial research purposes.

You can view previous entries by clicking on ARTICLES OF INTEREST on the LABELS line below.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Florida Today: Nelson Hopes Obama Clarifies Space Vision

President Barack Obama and Senator Bill Nelson join schoolchildren in a phone call to the International Space Station. Obama proposes extending the ISS to at least 2020.

In this article published in today's Florida Today, Florida senator Bill Nelson is quoted as saying that "President Barack Obama should add one more shuttle mission and announce a heavy-lift rocket development test program that could save 1,500 to 2,000 Kennedy Space Center jobs."

Despite a commitment to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2020 and increase NASA funding by $6 billion over five years, Nelson said last month's poor rollout of the administration's new direction for NASA allowed critics to frame it as the end of U.S. human spaceflight.

"He's got to clear that up," Nelson said. "That is one of the misconceptions that the president is going to have to correct."

I agree that the Obama administration failed to play the political game in announcing its proposed FY 2011 NASA budget, but I disagree that it lacks a "vision" or a "plan."

As for the political misfire, I've been a political consultant intermittently for over 20 years, and also worked as a municipal budget analyst, so I have a pretty good idea of how these things are done.

I think part of the problem is that NASA's leaders, Charlie Bolden and Lori Garver, are not political animals by career. Both deeply care about space exploration — Bolden is a former astronaut, Garver once headed the National Space Society and later served as a NASA associate administrator before moving into the space private sector.

The federal budget runs on a clock, so the administration's proposed budget had to be submitted by a certain date. My guess is they were focused on completing their part of the budget proposal and not so much on playing politics.

That said, I doubt there's anything they could have done that would have appeased those with a vested interest in the status quo. Obama, Bolden and Garver could have come to Space Coast and met with each and every KSC worker, and it wouldn't have made a difference.

Their proposal is up against some powerful groups — let's call them the space-industrial complex, after the military-industrial complex, a phrase coined by President Dwight Eisenhower, which today rules the Pentagon.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned that "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Labor unions, government contractors and the politicians who represent them all have their own selfish ends that have little to do with what's in the best interest of the nation.

If that were the disagreement here — what's best for the future of America's space program — then that's an honest disagreement we can debate.

But that's not what we're hearing.

What we're hearing from the labor unions is, "Protect our jobs!"

The government contractors — the big ones are part of both the space-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex — want their big government contracts and I suspect don't look kindly on upstarts like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences who threaten to do the job more cheaply without a bloated, larded overhead.

The politicians receive campaign contributions from both groups, and of course those union members vote.

I've read the budget proposal, I've watched the Congressional testimony by Bolden and read the public comments by Garver. As far as I'm concerned, they do have a "vision" and a "plan." They've articulated both, but I suspect some people refuse to listen because it's not what they want to hear.

Bolden has said that the new vision is technology-based, not target-based.

Instead of saying, "Let's go to Mars by December 31, 2030," he's acknowledging that right now the practical technology doesn't exist. A round-trip would take about two years, exposing the crew to radiation and other hazards. They'd need an outpost on Mars for a prolonged stay, and we don't know yet how to live off of that land.

Deadlines have proved meaningless in the past. Some people want a Kennedy-like proclamation of a goal and a date, but times are different now. There's no Cold War. There's no "space race" either. Russia has no ambition to go to the Moon or Mars any time soon. China talks about it, but all they've done is fund a study. China's manned flight technology right now is roughly where the U.S. was about 45 years ago.

Deadlines were set for Shuttle and the International Space Station, but those were missed too by many years as those programs ran over budget and behind schedule. The same is happening now to Constellation.

The politically cheap and easy thing to do would be for Obama to show up in Space Coast on April 15 and say, "We're going to put a man on Mars by 2030!"

It would be meaningless too.

He'll be long out of office, and over the next twenty years there will be ten sessions of Congress which will drain the money out of the project just as they did with Constellation, ISS and Shuttle.

I view Obama as being politically honest about this. He knows Congress won't adequately fund a massive Mars mission, much less a more modest Moon mission. Outside of the space center districts (e.g. Brevard County, Houston, Huntsville), there are no politicians in Congress complaining about the Obama budget proposal. They don't care. It doesn't affect their districts.

Nelson wants to fund another Shuttle flight and some Constellation projects to protect jobs. I disagree.

Government spending should be only about what services government needs to provide, not about creating jobs just for the sake of jobs.

When it comes to government spending, I'm a budget hawk.

I was a budget analyst for a California municipality back in the 1980s. At the time, the city was a boom town and flush with cash. The planning department was staffed with full-time workers, but I knew that when the next recession hit development would stop and these people would have nothing to do except sit around and collect checks and benefits.

I suggested we contract out as much of planning as we could, so that when development stopped we could let those contracts expire and layoffs would be someone else's problem.

I was told to keep my mouth shut and never ever suggest that again. Those government jobs had to be protected.

Sure enough, a significant recession hit in the early 1990s and the city wound up having to lay off much of the planning department. Those jobs today are contract, not full-time, employees.

Three years ago, I was appointed by a City Council member (a Republican, for those keeping score, although I'm registered non-partisan) to the city's finance commission. My job as a commissioner was to be a budget hawk.

The city has a major public works project underway, the largest regional park project in the nation.

The funding scheme for this project is to raise revenue by imposing taxes and fees on surrounding development, if/when it happens.

I raised the question, "What if the developer doesn't build?"

Believe it or not, the person in charge now was the same person who back in the 1980s told me not to raise the issue of contracting.

I raised my question over and over again, in public session. He danced around the issue. He finally said, "That would be up to the City Council to decide."

Well, as we all know, the largest recession since the 1930s has hit, and there's no revenue stream now for their project. They've burned through most of the money they have. The project is budgeted for $1.6 billion but they have less than $100 million left in the bank.

Like I said, I'm a budget hawk so when people scream that we have to protect government contract jobs at KSC I'm not going to support that.

I've been laid off three times in my professional career, and I'm currently unemployed, so I understand how frightening it is to be without a job or health insurance.

But it should be a surprise to no one that this day was coming. President Bush cancelled Shuttle in 2004. This has been coming for six years. It appears that local and state officials have done little to diversify the economy over the last six years to prepare for this day.

My hope is that Obama levels with these people when he's here and tells them they need to take responsibility for diversifying their economy so this doesn't happen again.

Another article in today's paper suggests local leadership has been generally ineffective in growing the local economy. The article reports that Brevard County ranks near the bottom nationally in receiving federal funds. That's money that could go to help improve local infrastructure and education, features that major employers seek when looking to locate a business.

Major employers attending February's "space summit" in Orlando told attendees they'd been rebuffed in efforts to obtain local and state help in locating their businesses in Space Coast. One told of taking his business to Huntsville, after the Alabama legislature accomplished in three days what Florida failed to do at all.

So long as Brevard wastes time on Tea Parties, pointless union-organized protests and demands for unnecessary government jobs, we're going to be in the same bad shape we're in now. We shouldn't expect Obama to force a "vision" upon us. We need to take responsibility for our own future.

Space Coast Space Forum Tonight

Florida Today is co-hosting a space forum tonight.

FLORIDA TODAY, along with partners Brevard Community College and the Council of Technical Societies, will host a special forum Tuesday at BCC's Bernard Simpkins Fine Arts Center, to discuss the White House's plans for NASA and the U.S. space program.

The event is open to the public and will begin at 7pm. It also will be shown live on

The expert panel includes a:
-Space advisor. Marsh Heard, space advisor of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast
-Union representative. Dan Raymond, business manager and financial secretary with the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers Local 2088, which represents more than 800 workers directly involved in Kennedy Space Center or the Air Force Eastern Range
-Former astronaut. Winston Scott is now dean of Florida Tech's School of Aeronautics, FIT
-Former congressman. Dr. Dave Weldon, a former Congressman and member, House Appropriations Committee. He is a practicing physician with MIMA.

Moderated by Matt Reed, FLORIDA TODAY senior editor and Watchdog columnist, the panel will answer written questions submitted by audience members. The discussion will include topics such as:

-The impact the program will have on the Space Coast and Florida.
-How policies embraced by this budget will impact our future as a spacefaring nation and our reputation as a leader in space

The forum will also be taped and aired several times on WBCC-TV.

A comment posted elsewhere on the paper's web site suggested that all four panelists oppose the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 budget, so I really don't expect this to be a balanced presentation, just more pandering to the locals, but I'll watch it anyway.

Once Florida Today posts the link to view it live, I'll update this entry with the link. Hopefully, it will be permanently archived online for viewing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Garver Warns Against NASA Infighting

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

Space News reports that NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver "called on a space community divided over canceling the Constellation program to find 'common ground,' warning that infighting could jeopardize NASA’s proposed budget growth."

Garver told a Capitol Hill audience March 4 she empathizes with those seeking to save Constellation, a 5-year-old effort to replace the retiring space shuttle with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for lunar missions that U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed terminating. But Garver said continuing Constellation and pursuing the president’s priorities for NASA would cost $5 billion more per year than the roughly $19 billion a year the White House has budgeted for the space agency through the end of Obama’s first term.

"Think of it this way: If you are focused on getting the Constellation budget continued in the future — and I harbor no ill will against those of you who do … but if Constellation is put back in the budget without that $5 billion-a-year increase, where will we cut the budget?" she asked.

Garver's remarks came in the wake of conflicting reports that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had authorized a "Plan B" budget proposal. Bolden quickly responded that he had authorized no alternate budget proposal.