Thursday, April 29, 2010

Obama's Vision: One Analysis

G. Ryan Faith has a two-part analysis at of President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

One of the author's conclusions:

One thing that President Obama can learn from the fate of his predecessor’s plan for space exploration is that continued, periodic political support at the Presidential level is of great importance—or is perceived to be within the space community—because of the sentiment that the national space exploration program is a tool to be used by and within the prerogative of the executive. Should international cooperation play a greater role in American plans in the near future, engagement by the President and State Department on behalf of NASA will be quite valuable.

Astronauts at Symposium Urge More International Cooperation

Three former space voyagers speaking at the National Space Symposium urged more international cooperation, according to

"I don't think any major effort in space will again be done by a single nation," [former NASA astronaut Tom] Henricks said. "They may each have individual sub goals, but it's a human endeavor to go to Mars, and I think that's the way it needs to be approached."

The article reports that Henricks was part of an American delegation that recently visited Chinese space and launch facilities.

"More importantly than seeing the facility and how modern and prepared the Chinese are for the programs, it was seeing that they are open and willing to cooperate and to move forward," Henricks said. While America has a longer space history to draw upon, China will have more resources to devote to space in the future, he said, and these factors would make for a great collaboration.

The report stands in contrast to critics of President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget who want the United States to go it alone and who falsely claim the Chinese are about to surpass the U.S. in space technology by landing on the Moon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle

January 14, 2004 — President Bush cancels the Space Shuttle program.

Back on March 2, I published an article titled, “Why Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle.” It was in response to the false claims at the time that President Obama had cancelled the Space Shuttle program. The truth was that President Bush cancelled Shuttle on January 14, 2004.

The article wasn't a criticism of Bush's decision. It was made in the wake of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report the August before which found that Shuttle had a fatal design flaw — the crew vehicle mounted on the side, where it was exposed to flame and falling debris — and should be replaced with a system that featured the crew vehicle on top, such as the rockets of the 1960s.

Bush's proposal embraced that recommendation, but also addressed the CAIB observation of “the lack, over the past three decades, of any national mandate providing NASA a compelling mission requiring human presence in space.”

You can click here to read Bush's speech.

In the weeks following my last blog on Bush's speech, I've wondered if his proposal faced the same outrage and distortions now hurled at Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Two major criticisms of Obama's proposal have been (1) the loss of jobs in the Space Coast, and (2) the "gap" created after Shuttle's retirement in which the United States would have to rely on the Russians to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

My earlier blog documented that both complaints should have been directed six years ago to Bush's proposal, because that's where both decisions were made. So I decided to find out whether anyone actually complained all those years ago when these policy decisions were set into motion.

I went to the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa to read through microfilms of Florida Today published between January 12 and February 10, 2004 — nearly a month after Bush's speech.

As I suspected, pretty much nobody complained about the "gap" — even though it was there in plain sight — nobody complained about relying on the Russians, and almost no one raised a concern about the job loss.

The day before the speech, Florida Today published as its headline story on Page 1 an article titled, “Poll: U.S. Tepid on Bush Space Plans.” When asked “on the whole, do you think our investment in space research is worthwhile or do you think it would be better spent on domestic programs such as health care and education,” 55% preferred domestic programs, 42% chose space research, and 3% were not sure.

The AP-Ipsos poll also asked about using less expensive robotic missions than human flights. 57% preferred exploring the Moon and Mars with robots, while only 38% preferred humans.

These polls reflected the general sentiment in three polls I've published this year from various sources showing more people want space spending reduced than not — meaning that, outside of space center districts with a vested interest in the status quo, the public nationwide won't support a return to the budget-busting NASA program of the 1960s.

The January 15, 2004 edition of Florida Today reported on Bush's speech and the reaction. An article on Page 1 titled “Hiatus Won't Hurt KSC” began:

President Bush's new vision for NASA could result in a four-year hiatus in human space flights from Florida, but the Space Coast is well-positioned to remain the nation's primary launch site.

There it was, right on Page 1. “A four-year hiatus.”

But in the subsequent month of letters published by Florida Today not one complained about a “gap.”

Continuing on Page 4:

... Bush's plan also includes a gap in human space flights departing from the Cape between the shuttle's retirement in 2010 and the new ship's maiden voyage in 2014. And the order to overhaul the agency and shift money to the moon project indicates existing programs could be canceled and some NASA centers could be closed.

That was one finding of the Augustine Panel report in 2009 — Constellation was not only behind schedule and over budget, but would continue to siphon away money from other projects. To fund Constellation, the International Space Station was scheduled to be shut down and splashed into the ocean in 2016. Ares I, the Low Earth Orbit vehicle replacing Shuttle, would have nowhere to go.

Some editorial cartoons in the days following President Bush's Moon-Mars proposal lampooned the cost.

A sidebar article on Page 4 was titled, “Congress Backs Space Vision,” but that wasn't entirely true.

It's highly unlikely Congress is going to appropriate this kind of money, considering the budget situation today,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

DeWine and others said that with so much pressure on the federal budget, space exploration will have to take a back seat.

An article on Page 5 was titled, “Exploration Project May Boost Jobs”:

Local business and tourism leaders said President Bush's plans for space exploration could mean a huge infusion of revenue and jobs into Brevard County if his plans ever come to fruition — a big “if” at this stage.

The article cited a 2002 University of Central Florida study which concluded that “the space program in Brevard is directly — and indirectly — responsible for 36,000 jobs ... The average salary for NASA and space-contract workers is $70,000, more than double that earned by the average Brevard worker.”

Again, not one quote from anyone regarding the four-year gap or potential job loss. Apparently everyone assumed that all the Shuttle employees would be absorbed into Constellation. An editorial column in that day's paper didn't mention job concerns either, or worry about the gap, although it did comment:

... Even if Bush wins reelection in November, his successors will have to find hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for the plan's completion — and that's a serious political longshot.

Which turned out to be true, and one main reason why Obama proposes to cancel Constellation.

An April 16 Florida Today warned, “About $11 billion will be shifted within NASA's budget in the next five years to free up money to execute the agency's new charter. Programs not relevant to the Bush plan could be canceled or curtailed. NASA field centers could be shut down.”

In retrospect, no space center was shut down, undoubtedly because no member of Congress would tolerate closing a space center in their district.

Letters published by Florida Today ranged from the usual blind zeal for human space flight regardless of cost to those who thought the money was better spent at home to those who distrusted anything Bush said. The only letter I could find addressing potential job losses accused Bush of wanting to ship American jobs overseas.

Jobs in the space industry might be next. China and Russia have expressed an interest in joining the United States in its conquest of space. Well, they can build them and launch them cheaper.

When those of you in the space industry vote for President Bush, it may not be a vote for your jobs.

I wonder how the author felt when the lead story on Page 1 of the January 30 Florida Today reported that the Bush Administration was looking at shifting astronaut flights from Shuttle to Soyuz, the Russian spacecraft.

NASA's space station astronauts could continue hitching rides on Russian rockets even after America's space shuttles return to flight, three agency officials said ...

During a private meeting in Houston last week, [NASA Administrator Sean] O'Keefe told U.S. astronauts that he is considering flying all future station crews on the Soyuz rather than shuttles. [Flight crew operations director Bob] Cabana and two other NASA managers confirmed to Florida Today and a change is under consideration ...

Some U.S. astronauts, including current space station commander Michael Foale, said they prefer flying on the Soyuz because it has a crew escape system not present on the shuttles.

I looked through the Opinion pages of subsequent Florida Today editions through February 10. I found not one letter or editorial column criticizing the Bush Administration for wanting to rely on the Russians. No article considered the likelihood that NASA would have to rely on Soyuz to reach the ISS after Shuttle retired in 2010 to fill the "gap."

O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on January 28 to discuss details of Bush's plan. The question of potential job loss was mentioned near the end of the Florida Today article titled, “Panel Wary of Space Plan”:

Lawmakers ... asked O'Keefe to explain what would happen to thousands of government and civilian workers dedicated to the shuttle program once the reusable space planes are retired in 2010, as called for in the Bush initiative.

“We'll have to work out those challenges at that time,” he said.

So there it was. The job meter had started running, everyone knew it, yet no one was willing to do anything about it.

Dr. Alex Roland. Image source:

On February 1, Florida Today published an opinion article by Dr. Alex Roland, a former NASA historian known for his criticism of human space flight. Titled “Bush's Space Plan a Political Hoax,” the article warned that the Moon-Mars program would inevitably balloon in cost as had NASA's predecessor human flight programs, taking money away from other NASA projects such as robotic exploration and the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, the Bush administration had just announced they would cancel the next HST servicing mission.

The problem, of course, is that his successor will inherit a gutted agency, with the failed detritus of the shuttle and space station visions still limping toward some unspecified denouement, and public expectations of mission impossible on the moon and Mars barely begun.

The space program, in short, will be in a shambles.

That will be the legacy of this cynical, political hoax.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

SpaceX CEO: ULA Big Winner in Obama Space Plan

An Atlas V launch.

Originally posted by Space Politics ...

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told the Huntsville Times that United Launch Alliance should be a big winner under President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Musk's comments were in the context of Alabama's U.S. Senator Richard Shelby fighting the proposal, which Musk thinks will bring more jobs to Alabama.

The CEO of a company seeking to carry American astronauts into space says U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, is fighting a new national space plan that would bring billions into North Alabama.

"I just don't understand what his beef is," Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX), said in a telephone interview Friday night.

"I don't really understand why Senator Shelby is so opposed to commercial crew," Musk said, "given that Atlas and Delta are right there in Alabama, because no one's going to be a bigger winner in commercial crew than United Launch Alliance."

An article in today's Florida Today echoes Musk's sentiment that SpaceX is the outsider in the space race for human spaceflight.

SpaceX has the buzz because they're new. Founder Elon Musk's promise to dramatically slash the cost to orbit is alluring because the industry's been trying -- and failing -- to make that leap for decades. The president's visit to the Falcon launch pad only boosted the buzz ...

The other likely front-runner? United Launch Alliance. NASA's emerging requirements for launching people are coming together in such a way that rockets with a dozen or more flights under their belts are going to get a big advantage when it comes to winning clearance for putting humans aboard.

A rocket with 12 to 14 missions flown is going to face much less scrutiny from NASA in the "human rating" process than one with two, four or even six launches on its resume. A dozen or so successful launches in a row is likely to eliminate extra rounds of expensive -- and time-consuming reviews -- necessary to deem a rocket safe for blasting a piloted spaceship to orbit.

The Silicon Valley of Space

John McCarthy of Florida Today has this excellent lengthy article on how to fulfill President Obama's proposal to turn Brevard County into the “Silicon Valley of Space.”

My concern is that local leadership has totally failed to diversify the local economy in the more than six years since President Bush cancelled the Space Shuttle in January 2004. To this day, local elected officials still demand we continue with an unsustainable status quo. They're oblivious to the reality that NASA has spent the last six years shutting down the Shuttle program. Many of the second- and third-tier contractors have gone out of business or moved on to other things. It might be two years before another external tank can be manufactured. Meanwhile, Shuttle workers would sit around collecting paychecks but launching nothing.

The Constellation program was assumed to absorb some of the job losses, but as was documented by the Augustine Panel report Constellation wasn't going to launch Ares I until at least 2018, two years after the International Space Station was scheduled to be decommissioned and splashed into an ocean because ISS money would be transferred to fund Constellation. There would be no need for Ares I if there's no ISS to fly to. Augustine also found that the Ares V moon program wouldn't be ready to fly until 2028, if ever.

But local elected officials and union officials don't care about that. They want to keep the federal government in the role of the coal company that will one day abandon the West Virginia mining town.

The Silicon Valley of Space can only happen if Suzanne Kosmas, Bill Posey, Robin Fisher and the others fighting Obama stop pandering and start working to diversify our local economy. If they don't change their attitude, the Space Coast may become another New River Gorge, a string of mining towns abandoned to the forces of Nature once the coal ran out.

John Kelly of Florida Today said pretty much the same thing in this April 18 opinion column:

Whether you support or oppose President Barack Obama's space plan, if you're a local leader, it's time to shift your attention from protesting the inevitable retirement of the space shuttles and start looking to the future.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CCAFS May See Different Launch Vehicles in 2020s

Aviation Week reports that "plans to begin technology development for a reusable booster system to replace its existing expendable launch vehicles beyond 2025 are being finalized by the U.S. Air Force."

The plan calls for replacing the Atlas V and Delta IV with two versions of the [Reusable Booster System]: a single reusable first stage and expendable cryogenic upper stage for medium-lift missions; and two reusable boosters, cryogenic core stage and upper stage for heavy-lift and growth missions. Initial operational capability is set for 2025, with the EELVs being phased out in 2030 once the Air Force is comfortable relying on the RBS ...

The article concludes that NASA may get involved with the project.

Cancellation of its Ares I may be helping drive up EELV costs, but NASA still plans to develop the heavy-lift Ares V and needs a large hydrocarbon rocket motor, so it has begun talks with the Air Force on joint development.

"NASA is coming into the picture," says [Ken Hampsten, head of spacelift for the Space and Missile Systems Center’s developmental planning division]. "We realize there is only enough money to develop one engine."

China Open to Human Space Flight Cooperation

Aviation Week reports that the China Manned Space Engineering Office "is prepared to cooperate across the board on human spaceflight with NASA and other agencies, including joint human missions and unpiloted logistics with the 5.5-ton-payload-capacity cargo vehicle it plans to test after 2014-16."

"We think that a joint spaceflight mission, joint development of space equipment and also joint utilization of space platforms are the most possible field to carry out discussion at the moment," [Wang Wenbao, head of the China Manned Space Engineering Office Wang] says.

This is more evidence of what I've written before. I think the cost of space exploration is so high for governments that it will force them into more international cooperation, such as the International Space Station partnership.

This follows a suggestion by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that an international space summit be held to coordinate efforts by spacefaring nations. The Obama administration has made it clear that they favor more international partnerships in space exploration.

Nothing is mentioned about the claim by some that China is about to go to the Moon. As I've written before, all they have is a study.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shhhh ... The X37-B Launched

The unmanned orbiter will land by remote control at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The X-37B, a classified "next generation" military spaceship, launched this evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Click here to watch my video of the launch from my neighborhood in north Merritt Island. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

Articles of Interest

Former astronaut Story Musgrave thinks "human space flight needs to be put in partial hibernation" and prefers robotic scouts for now.

Articles from around cyberspace ...

Former astronaut Story Musgrave comments on the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget and other subjects in The Atlantic.

Musgrave is not a young man, and he's well aware of the obstacles to effecting change in an organization that involves as many Congressional interests and individual fiefdoms as NASA does. He understands Congressional resistance to any changes that might affect jobs back home, as well as how entrenched the different camps at NASA are. Indeed, he says it's a "valid question" whether the operational structure and approach of NASA could even be changed at this point without disbanding the organization as it now stands and rebuilding a new research institution from scratch.

But Musgrave believes it still could happen. "If you have a strong enough leader with an artistic vision of where we go next," he says, "the public is going to get behind it. Congress is not going to give you a good space program. You have to create it and sell it to the public, and the public forces it to happen. And you've got to do that in terms of good project management with a specific and achievable goal and a specific timeline, like we did in the 1960s." Even if, he says, the goal has to be less costly, because the funds are more precious now.

Musgrave labeled the International Space Station a "$100 billion mistake" and thinks that "human space flight needs to be put in partial hibernation. You continue to develop the capability, but send the robots first."

Space analyst James Oberg is more positive about commercialization of space than was Musgrave.

The NASA vehicles for human spaceflight have been complex because they needed to perform a wide array of complex missions. However, when it comes to building a vehicle aimed at one and only one specific type of mission, a lot of routine equipment becomes superfluous ...

NASA would never build a spacecraft this spartan. But NASA has never designed a spacecraft purely for the space taxi role. NASA has never designed any sort of taxi for use anywhere.

That may explain why the Apollo and Orion vehicles built by NASA for crew transport missions weigh in at the 40,000-pound level and higher, while simpler spacecraft from Russia and China are less than half as massive. Using new structural materials and leaving out fancy extras, some designers suspect that a bare-bones space taxi for four people would more likely weigh in the range of 10,000 pounds, allowing the use of medium-class boosters already in service.

Aviation Week posted this article two days ago on Obama's space policy speech last week. Nothing new than some inside baseball on the winners and losers within the aerospace industry.

Space Politics regular Rand Simberg writes for the conservative National Review that "We have a radical president bent on socializing and nationalizing everything from the auto industry to hospitals, but when he comes up with a policy that actually harnesses free enterprise, we hear from conservatives nothing but complaints."

The so-called conservative opposition to this new direction in space policy seems, at least to me, to come from three motivations: a visceral and intrinsic (and understandable) distaste for any policy that emanates from this White House; a nostalgia for the good old days, when we had a goal and a date and a really big rocket and an unlimited budget (what I’ve described as the “Apollo cargo cult”); and, in the case of such politicians as Senators Shelby, Hutchison, Hatch, et al., pure rent seeking for their states. Of course, these aren’t mutually exclusive: For some, all three apply. But none of these reasons addresses the problems with the status quo or the wisdom of the new policy.

Simberg concludes, "If we can finally get on with the business of letting private industry take on the (literally) mundane task of getting people only 200 miles above and let NASA focus on new technologies, there is plenty of time over the next few years to decide exactly where to go from there — and Barack Obama will not be involved in that decision. The important thing is that we had to euthanize NASA’s expensive, unneeded new rockets and move on to the more critical development of opening up space."

Florida Today reports that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson from Florida wants an extra $762 million in the NASA budget over the next five years "to continue testing of the solid-rocket motor based on the Ares I rocket, which is cancelled under the White House's latest budget proposal. Nelson said additional testing will be helpful in the development of a much more powerful rocket needed to launch astronauts on missions beyond Earth-orbit."

Good luck with that.

The Air Force is scheduled to launch its secretive X-37B flight this evening at 7:52 PM EDT. More on that if/when it happens.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stimulus Brings 800-1000 Tech Jobs to Space Coast

Lighting Science Group produces innovative technology such as the CoolGrid video display system.

Florida Today reports that a company chosen by NASA to provide lighting technologies in space has announced it will provide somewhere between 800 - 1,000 new jobs in Satellite Beach.

Bolstered by $18.8 million in federal economic stimulus bonds, Lighting Science Group plans to build a major manufacturing facility on the Space Coast and create 832 new jobs.
"It's going to allow us to move to a new location and to create approximately 1,000 new extra jobs," President Khaled Haram announced before the Brevard County Commission on Tuesday.

"That's 1,000 new extra jobs in Brevard County. That's 1,000 new extra jobs in energy-efficient lighting," Haram said.

Specifically, Lighting Science proposes to hire 214 workers this year, 443 workers next year and 175 more in 2011, according to a county spreadsheet. That totals 832 employees.

Commissioners unanimously awarded a total of $28.6 million interest-free "recovery zone facility bonds" to the Satellite Beach technology firm and two Melbourne companies: Embraer and Legacy Southeast Investments, LLC.

Lighting Science designs and manufactures LED lighting products. The past two years, the company produced lights that illuminated the New Year's Eve ball at Times Square in New York.

Zachary Gibler, chief executive officer, attended a meeting with President Barack Obama last week at Kennedy Space Center. NASA has chosen the company to develop lighting technologies for use in space, according to a statement Gibler released afterward.

Obama said in his April 15 speech that he wants to transform the I-4 Corridor to the “Silicon Valley of space.”

Click here to visit the Lighting Science Group web site and here for the press release issued after CEO Zach Gibler met with President Obama.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Obama's Approval Rating Up in Florida

The latest Quinnipac University poll shows President Obama's approval rating in Florida is up from January.

In the January poll, 45% approved of how Obama was doing his job while 49% disapproved. In the latest poll, 50% approve and 45% disapprove.

According to the press release:

The uptick in President Obama's job approval rating among Florida voters is largely due to his improved standing among independent voters, who give him a narrow 48 - 46 percent approval, reversing a 51 - 44 percent disapproval in January.

One Obama initiative popular with Floridians is his call for offshore oil drilling. Voters approve of offshore drilling in general 66 - 27 percent and approve drilling off the Florida coast 64 - 28 percent.

Support for Obama's proposal to drill off the Florida coast is much greater among Republicans, 79 percent, than it is among Democrats, 53 percent.

It would appear that the claims by some that the Obama administration's FY 2011 proposed NASA budget would cost the President support in Florida are unfounded.

Orphans of Apollo

Mir was the Soviet space station that flew from 1986 through 2001.

Orphans of Apollo is a 2009 documentary about a group of entrepreneurs who considered buying the Soviet space station Mir.

The film apparently alleges that NASA actively conspired to prevent these private entrepreneurs from flying a station that might compete with the International Space Station.

I've ordered the DVD and will post a review once I've watched it.

SpaceX Signs Another Customer

Aviation Week reports that SpaceX has signed an agreement with Andrews Space “to manifest payloads using excess capability on upcoming Falcon 9/Dragon missions. SpaceFlight says that under this deal customers will have access to multiple scheduled flight opportunities, including dedicated scientific free-flyer missions using SpaceX’s DragonLab variant of the Dragon vehicle. The Falcon 9/Dragon is scheduled to make its first flight this year.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poll: 45% Believe Shuttle Was Worth the Cost

A poll released April 10 by Rasmussen Reports found that 45% of respondents believed the Space Shuttle had been worth the cost to taxpayers. 33% said it was not worth the cost, while 23% were not sure.

The poll also found that more Americans than not think the private sector should fund the space program, 38% to 36% with 25% not sure.

The poll updated a January 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll.

Poll: Most Americans Clueless on Space Program

Courtesy of the excellent Space Politics blog ...

A poll released by The Everett Group found that 45% of those polled want space funding cut, and one-third mistakenly believe the United States already has commercial space entrepreneurs launching people into Earth orbit.

The poll showed what one Congressional staffer once told me years ago — "The American public's support for the space program is a mile wide and an inch deep."

To quote from the summary:

Overall, Americans aren't really tuned in to the nation's space program. Slightly more than a quarter (28%) say they're very interested and 42% say they're only "somewhat" interested. Nearly a third (30%) say they're not too interested or not at all interested (11%). More than a quarter say they haven't heard anything recently about NASA, the nation's space agency.

The survey found that only 10% were "very familiar" with the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget, while 42% said they were not familiar with it.

UPDATE 9:30 PM EDT — I e-mailed Dr. Steve Everett, the principal of The Everett Group, to ask who commissioned/funded the poll. He said they did the poll themselves as a public service.

SpaceX Completes Another Tanking Test

Spaceflight Now reports that the SpaceX Falcon 9 completed another tanking test on April 16.

The earliest Falcon 9 could fly its test flight is May 8. The delay has been Air Force approval of its flight termination system (FTS).

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk led President Obama Thursday on a tour of the SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral's Pad 40. To quote from the article:

Musk told Spaceflight Now that Obama specifically asked what modifications are required for the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to be ready for human occupants.

This could be interpreted as Obama inquiring whether Falcon 9 can "close the gap" on American reliance upon the Russians to reach the International Space Station. The Bush Administration's Constellation program left the U.S. with a minimum five-year gap. The non-partisan Augustine panel report estimated the gap is now at more like eight years.

Obama's Deep Impact

President Barack Obama tours the SpaceX launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 15, 2010.

All you need to know about President Barack Obama's space vision can be told from the above photo.

Obama's "space summit" visit to Kennedy Space Center on April 15 was perfunctory at best, and no doubt infuriated those who think his proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is heresy, if not an abomination.

He didn't tour the Vehicle Assembly Building. He didn't view an orbiter. He didn't hold a photo op with KSC workers.

No, all he did was visit the SpaceX launch facility at Pad 40 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

From my perspective, it was a hearty middle-finger to the space-industrial complex who've been screaming to protect the status quo ever since the budget proposal was released.

From your perspective, that might be a good or bad thing.

Despite predictions for months from pundits that Obama would be forced to capitulate, or at least compromise, on his intention to commercialize Low Earth Orbit (LEO) access to space by priming the private sector, the President has shown no intention of folding.

SpaceX has been the whipping boy for those opposed to Obama's proposal. Individuals posting (usually anonymously) to comment threads on sites such as Florida Today have written they hope the company's Falcon 9 rocket blows up, and claimed that SpaceX will kill astronauts, yet they ignore the seventeen astronaut deaths in NASA history, including fourteen on Shuttle orbiters.

Time magazine senior writer Jeffrey Kluger claimed that the SpaceX visit was a "tactical blunder" because "plenty of NASA folks want nothing to do with the private-sector interloper." Kluger failed to explain, though, why Obama should care what those "plenty of NASA folks think" because he's the President while they're government workers, full-time or contract.

In short, he's the boss. They work for him.

Going by comments in the local papers, the main gripe seems to be that many of them might lose their jobs. As Obama and many others have pointed out, that decision was made more than six years ago by President Bush. The government has spent that time closing up the Shuttle shop, with many second- and third-tier contractors having gone out of business or onto other things. Most analysts say it would take at least two years to build a new external tank to resume flights, and meanwhile all these workers would be sitting around collecting a paycheck. Apparently that's fine with them, but I suspect most taxpayers would disagree.

An article in the April 18 Florida Today titled “Brevard Preps for Unknown” details the angst and uncertainty facing Brevard County as it faces layoffs, but what have these people been doing over the last six years to prepare for this? Very little, apparently.

The article compares Brevard to Kokomo, Indiana, which experienced massive job losses after the local auto industry shut down. Kokomo survived “through a coordinated strategy that emphasized diversification beyond the auto industry, identifying workforce skills that could be applied to emerging sectors and supporting small businesses.”

This is something I've written about repeatedly — the need for diversification — but if Brevard finally figures it out, it will be too late to replace the jobs about to be lost.

Some, of course, see the solution as simply continuing to fly Shuttle and build Constellation, refusing to acknowledge reality.

A new variant on this argument is that because NASA in the 1960s was about 3%-4% of the federal budget, it should be the same now. This thinking ignores the current trillion-dollar annual federal budget deficits or the absence of any widespread support in Congress to increase space spending.

A January 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll found that 50% of Americans want to cut back on space spending, and more want the private sector to pay for it than the government.

Then there are those whose genuine concern is that the United States will be left without its own LEO access vehicle. These believe that the private sector — whether it's SpaceX, Orbital, Bigelow, Boeing or someone else — can't possibly deliver faster than the existing government big contractors. They complain that we'll have to rely on the Russians who will have a monopolistic hold on LEO access and can charge us whatever we want to reach the International Space Station.

But the fact of the matter is that the Bush Administration's Constellation program foresaw a minimum five-year gap after Shuttle retired, so they negotiated deals with the Russians to fly astronauts on Soyuz. This has been going on for several years now. Why haven't they complained until now?

The Augustine report concluded that Ares I wouldn't be ready to fly to the International Space Station until 2018 — two years after the ISS was scheduled for decommission by splashing it into an ocean.

The non-partisan U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee Report (commonly known as the Augustine report) found that Ares I, the replacement LEO vehicle, probably wouldn't be ready until 2018 and would require significantly more funding to catch up. Unless Congress approved $3 billion more per year from outside the NASA budget, the money would have to be diverted from other NASA programs, meaning an end to robotic programs and other scientific research.

The Bush administration budget also foresaw shutting down ISS and splashing it into the ocean in 2016 to free up more funding for Constellation. So if Ares I wouldn't launch until 2018, and ISS received the death penalty in 2016, where would Ares I be going?!

The "gap" wouldn't be an issue if ISS were to shuffle off its mortal coil in 2016, but Obama proposes to extend ISS to at least 2020 and is negotiating with our international partners to extend it to 2028. Ironically, Obama's pardoning ISS revives the "gap" issue.

Can the private sector deliver a reliable LEO vehicle more quickly than would Ares I?

Nothing is guaranteed, but it's clear Ares I wasn't going to be the answer anytime soon either.

Constellation was also to deliver the Ares V, a heavy lifter that would return us to the Moon. The Augustine panel found that Ares V wouldn't be likely to fly until 2028, if ever, and had no funding for a lunar lander so we'd have no way to reach the surface even if we got there.

Neil Armstrong claims that Obama's NASA budget proposal would reduce the United States "to second or even third rate stature."

Cancelling Constellation is considered an outrage by those who yearn for a rerun of Apollo. Three Apollo astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan — sent an angry letter to the media called Obama's proposal "devastating" and claimed it would reduce the United States to "second or even third rate stature."

Just who we would be "second or even third" to, and by what measuring stick, went unsaid. The Russians have no Moon program, and despite claims by some it's not the Chinese either.

Obama had some rather impolitic words for that attitude in his speech.

Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz (Aldrin, in attendance — ed.) has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do. So I believe it’s more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach — and operate at — a series of increasingly demanding targets, while advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward. And that’s what this strategy does. And that’s how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last.

Obama proposed sending a human crew to explore an asteroid, which doesn't sound as romantic as a Moon return or a trip to Mars, but it would certainly be more challenging.

An April 16, 2010 Washington Post article detailed the technological hurdles of an asteroid rendezvous. Most asteroid candidates are about a quarter-mile across, while the Moon has a diameter of 2,160 miles. Because an asteroid would have no gravity, the crew vehicle couldn't land; some means would have to be found for explorers to harness themselves to the surface.

Returning to the Moon would be a rerun of a 1960s technological feat. What Obama proposes has been done only in science fiction. In the movie Deep Impact, the astronauts must secure not just themselves but also their lander to the comet surface.

My personal preference is not a return to 1960s-era publicity stunts that demonstrate technological prowess, but a steady and sober path to permanent human occupation of space.

I would return to the Moon not to collect more rocks, but to establish a permanent colony. This would be essentially the ISS on the lunar surface. We would take the knowledge learned from the Soviet-era space station Mir and from the ISS, and use that to live on the Moon. It usually takes about two days for Shuttle to return from ISS, so the three-day return from the Moon wouldn't be that long and if something went wrong help wouldn't be far away. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, we'd have to develop the technology to shield humans from long-term exposure to radiation as would be required in a long trip to Mars.

That scenario differs from LEO missions. I've no problem with encouraging commercial access to Low Earth Orbit. It's time. The technology is there, and so is the public interest. But the cost of permanent lunar habitation remains beyond the private sector for now.

Whether it's the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid, none of those programs will ever happen unless Congress approves the funding.

In any case, Obama's proposal threatens the sclerotic bureaucracy of the space-industrial complex. In my opinion, that's a good thing.

An article in the Business section of the April 18 Florida Today details how commercial interests have tried for years to penetrate the NASA bureaucracy at KSC, with little interest.

Starfighters, Inc. wants to provide private suborbital training to the public from Kennedy Space Center.

The Obama administration has created a web site for the KSC Center Planning and Development Office to encourage more commercial use of existing facilities. One example is Starfighters, Inc., which proposes to provide private suborbital space flight training. They wanted to use the Shuttle landing strip but were rebuffed for two years by NASA.

It seems a terrible waste to let all that infrastructure sit unused except for Shuttle missions. The Obama administration is trying to dispose of sclerotic thinking to open up space in the 21st Century to the public. By doing so, it can only help the local economy and create more jobs.

Some choose to look back. Obama prefers to look ahead. Which most certainly frightens those with a vested interest in the status quo.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

China Plans Space Station by 2022

Space News reports that a Chinese space official told the National Space Symposium his government hopes to have a space station in orbit by 2022.

Left unsaid was any mention of a possible human lunar mission. Some critics of President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal have falsely claimed that the Chinese are about to send taikonauts to the Moon. The truth is they're only studying it.

Of more importance is further confirmation that the Chinese are moving closer to international collaboration with the other spacefaring nations.

Wang said China has established “a good working relationship” with space agencies in Russia, France, Germany and other countries, and that Beijing looks forward to working with the United States to pursue cooperative space science and manned exploration efforts in the future.

"In November 2009, President [Barack] Obama visited China, and both leaders signed the American communiqué among which it is specifically stated that the United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human spaceflight and space exploration based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and the mutual benefit," Wang said, adding that China is looking forward to a visit from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden later this year.

"This forms an important foundation for both sides to carry out manned space cooperation," he said.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nimoy: Obama is a Star Trek Fan

Actor Leonard Nimoy and his frequent mode of transportation. reports that actor Leonard Nimoy said Barack Obama is a Star Trek fan and he generally supports the President's space policy proposal.

"I do believe that President Obama means it when he says that he is 100 percent interested in space," Nimoy told reporters. "I know for sure he's a Star Trek fan," he said, because the first time the two men met, President Obama made Spock's traditional V-shaped finger spread.

Nimoy said he didn't feel qualified to speak to the merits of the president's new plan for space, but that it sounded like a positive direction.

"All-in-all I'm looking forward," he said. "I hope it's going to work out for the best."

The Obama Post-Game Show

President Barack Obama visits the SpaceX launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It's unlikely that President Barack Obama changed many minds after his perfunctory visit yesterday to Kennedy Space Center. If you liked his FY 2011 NASA budget proposal, you probably still like it. If you didn't like it, you probably still don't like it.

Here's a review of the visit on the White House web site. You can read the speech here.

Obama's itinerary was kept fairly vague except for the speech itself. It was announced as he arrived to deliver the speech that after his arrival he'd gone to visit the SpaceX Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX founder Elon Musk then issued a statement supporting Obama's proposal. Musk pointed out the hypocrisy of politicians who claim that “the public option was bad in healthcare, but good in space!”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which describes itself as “the association of companies working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality,” also issued a press release supporting the Obama proposal.

The libertarian-minded Space Frontier Foundation similarly posted a statement on its web site supporting the plan:

The Space Frontier Foundation today called for all Americans to support the new space plan laid out by President Obama, calling a spate of attacks smearing the concepts unfortunate and obviously misinformed. Citing recent editorials, blogs and media appearances by supporters of the old space program, the Foundation urged all parties to take a new look at the proposals laid out by Obama in his April 15 speech at Kennedy Space Center and get behind the new initiative. Led by a small group of well known astronauts and congress members from areas whose districts have benefited from programs now shown to be dead ends or to have wasted billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, the attacks have portrayed the program as an attack on NASA and America’s leadership in space — the Foundation says it is quite the opposite.

Huntington Beach, California congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who has close ties to the Space Frontier Foundation, issued a statement supporting Obama, a lonely Republican voice so far supporting the President on this issue.

I've yet to locate statements by anyone whose opinion changed as a result of the speech.

Time magazine published an article suggesting the visit "fizzled," claiming that it was filled with "tactical blunders." Time criticized his SpaceX visit, stating that "plenty of NASA folks want nothing to do with the private-sector interloper" — which may be true, but the visit wasn't intended to kiss the derrieres of those who want to continue the status quo. It was to send a message that the status quo is over.

The Time article was written by senior writer Jeffrey Kluger, who co-wrote Lost Moon with astronaut Jim Lovell about the Apollo 13 mission. Lovell recently issued a press release condemning the Obama proposal. Kluger failed to disclose in his article his conflict of interest.

Within the D.C. Beltway, the liberal-leaning Washington Post was intrigued by Obama's idea of visiting an asteroid, suggesting it would be a more challenging task than a Moon rehash. The conservative-leaning Washington Times focused more on summarizing Obama's proposal and opposition to it.

The reaction in the local press was predictable.

Florida Today reported that "A polite crowd of 200 at Kennedy Space Center listened as Obama countered a widespread perception that his administration aims to kill the U.S. human spaceflight program." Those who view NASA's main purpose as a local jobs program continue to criticize the proposal, complaining that although Obama's proposal actually creates more jobs than the status quo it doesn't create those jobs now. (I guess they think Obama has a magic wand.) Florida Today also this collection of local comments.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Miles O'Brien Comments on Today's Space Summit

Miles O'Brien is best known as CNN's former space anchor. Click here to read his article.

China in No Rush to Go to the Moon

Space Politics reports a Chinese speaker at the National Space Symposium suggests that his nation won't be going to the Moon any time soon.

Not once during his presentation did he make any discussion of human mission to the Moon; his long-term plans stopped with the completion of their three-person space station in the early 2020s. That doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in doing so at some later date, but the fact that a leading official did not mention it at all in a major speech suggests that they’re in no rush go there, contrary to some claims in the US.

The Obama Pre-Game Show

Building up to the crescendo when President Obama delivers his speech today ...

The Associated Press published a list of Presidents who have visited Kennedy Space Center. Every Democratic President since its inception has visited KSC. Richard Nixon was the last Republican President to visit KSC.

Florida Today, the Space Coast home town newspaper, has a number of articles tied to today's visit. Articles with links:

Obama to Pitch Space Plan at KSC Today

SCHEDULE: What Will Happen Today at KSC

Our View: Plan Offers Hope, Concerns

Leaders Want Specifics on Jobs

Obama's Plan Transforms NASA

We Want Space Supremacy, and We're Willing to Pay for It

(A January 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll suggests the opposite, that a majority of Americans want space spending cut back and more privatization.)

Cable station News 13 has this article on today's visit.

The Orlando Sentinel article is Obama to Offer Hope to Local Space Workers During KSC Visit. There's also this commentary, "GOP Wants Budget Cuts? Start with NASA".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fact Sheet Released for Obama's Space Policy Speech

Artist's concept of the Orion crew vehicle.

Florida Today has posted a three-page fact sheet outlining the elements of President Obama's space policy speech on Thursday.

Click here to download the Adobe Acrobat file.

Among its major elements:

* The proposal is estimated to create 2,500 jobs more in the Space Coast than under Constellation.

* Constellation will be "redesigned" so that Orion will be used as an escape vehicle from the ISS. It's unclear whether Orion will be used to launch American astronauts; probably not, as the Obama administration intends to turn over that duty to the private sector.

* A heavy-lift architecture will be selected by 2015 for deep-space flight.

The rest is pretty much what you already know.

A separate document estimates how the proposal will affect Florida space workers. Click here to download that document.

Commercial Space Will Create 12,000 Jobs Per Year?! No, I Don't Believe It Either

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation released a report today which claimed that "the new NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program funding in the President’s FY2011 Budget Request will result in an average of 11,800 direct jobs per year over the next five years, nationwide."

No, I don't believe it either. And I support the Obama proposal.

Click here to download an Adobe Acrobat summary of the report.

To quote from their web site, "The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry."

Among their members are the companies that benefit from Obama's proposal, including SpaceX, Scaled Composites, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, etc.


An interesting article on by Michael Specter, the author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens our Lives.

Click here to read the article.

To briefly quote from the article:

Denialists replace the open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment.

Although his main point is how people refuse to acknowledge the science behind climate change despite the overwhelming evidence, I thought the description also fits those in denial of the Shuttle's cancellation more than six years ago, or the reality that Constellation was a boondoggle, or that all the local protests staged by union leaders and pandering by their local elected officials won't make a bit of difference in reversing the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Space Summit Attendees

Central Florida News 13 tries to figure out who's been invited to the April 15 space summit.

According to the article, Brevard County District Commissioner Robin Fisher received an invitation, but Congressional representatives Suzanne Kosmas (D) and Bill Posey (R) have not. All three have been critical of the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

(KSC is in Kosmas' district. CCAFS is in Posey's district.)

Dale Ketcham, head of the Spaceport Research and Technology Institute at KSC, also received an invitation.

Report: Space Industry Growing

Florida Today reports that the global space industry grew by 40% over the last five years, according to a study by the Space Foundation.

Click here to read the Space Foundation press release. To quote from the press release:

"While other industries struggled dramatically over the past year, the space industry defied the upheaval and broadened its fields of endeavor," said Space Foundation Chief Executive Officer Elliot Pulham. "This is due, in large part, to the space industry's growing array of products and services and its increasing globalization."

One would hope this would silence the critics of the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget who claim there's no market for commercial space services. But the space-industrial complex trying to preserve the status quo is unlikely to remain silent.

Bill Would Re-Organize Space Florida

Merritt Island State Representative Steve Crisafulli

Florida Today reports that Merritt Island Representative Steve Crisafulli has introduced House Bill 451, which would reorganize the Space Florida Board of Directors.

To quote from Space Florida's web site:

Space Florida is the State of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency, empowered to leverage our state’s workforce, infrastructure and financial assets to grow the space industry three-fold by 2020. We will do this through strategic partnerships, targeted infrastructure development, workforce training and placement, initiating attractive financial incentives for new and expanding businesses, and by providing innovative STEM tools to inspire students.

I can't claim to be familiar with the intricacies of Space Florida, but given the general failure to do anything about diversifying the local economy in the six years since President Bush cancelled the Space Shuttle program in January 2004, maybe a shakeup will help. Maybe not.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Russian President Medvedev Proposes International Space Summit

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev proposes that spacefaring nations combine their efforts.

Florida Today reports that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has proposed an international summit of spacefaring nations to pool their resources.

Medvedev's proposal was made in a phone call to the International Space Station to celebrate the 49th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's flight into space, the first time in human history.

To quote from Florida Today:

"No country can develop space alone, we need to combine our efforts and we need to talk about it more often," Medvedev added. "So maybe we could have some sort of international meeting, maybe at the heads of governments level. Because we talk about various issues, such as tackling all kinds of challenges, dangers and hazards that humanity is facing these days, various disarmament programs, etc., but there is a very important and positive factor that unites us all. So maybe it would be good to have a summit, maybe at the heads of governments level, for the countries that are working in space. So see, I have a very good idea on this holiday. What do you think? We could invite you to participate as well."

Just my idle speculation, but what if President Obama's space policy speech scheduled for Thursday at Kennedy Space Center is to formally accept the proposal? And perhaps hold it at KSC?

The Obama administration has repeatedly stated in defense of its proposed FY 2011 NASA budget that we can no longer afford to go alone, that we need to build upon the model of the ISS partnership to pursue missions beyond Low Earth Orbit as multinational projects.

I've read a lot of bellyaching by people who falsely claim that Obama is giving away our supposed "leadership" in space, as if such a thing actually exists.

In reality, Obama and Medvedev have both suggested in their own ways that we must go to space as a single species. The ISS is one example. It's a partnership. The question of who is "#1" on the ISS is irrelevant. The United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan work jointly for the benefit of humanity.

A global space summit would take the next logical step. The leaders of the world could agree on a joint plan for a multinational program to return to the Moon, establish a permanent lunar colony, and plan one day for a global mission to Mars.

How petty and selfish would look the people demanding that Obama keep the status quo regardless of the cost or actual value to humanity.

If the space summit were held in the Space Coast, what would these people say? Would they line the streets of A1A to protest the presence of Russians and Chinese who might bring jobs to their region? Or would their illogical xenophobia suddenly evaporate once they realize the nations they've labelled our "enemies" will bring jobs here?

I suspect it would be the latter.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Obama Will Be at KSC for Two Hours

President Barack Obama

Florida Today reports that when President Obama visits Kennedy Space Center on April 15 he'll be there for only two hours.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive at Kennedy Space Center at 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, April 15.

He'll make live remarks at 3 p.m. and depart at 3:45 p.m., the White House said.

On Thursday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Obama would use the visit to make a "major space policy speech." That will be followed by four panel discussions involving invited space experts.

Obama's visit will be shown on NASA TV, Bolden said.

NASA Announces Space Center Assignments Under FY 2011 Budget Proposal

Charlie Bolden and Lori Garver testify before the U.S. Senate in July 2009.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver held a teleconference yesterday in which they announced the workforce breakdown by space center under the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget.

Click here to read the Kennedy Space Center proposal.

Click here to access NASA's proposed FY 2011 budget site.

The Washington Post reported today that "NASA wants to spend more than $12 billion over the next five years to develop a rocket engine capable of propelling astronauts into deep space and to fund cutting-edge space technologies."

In canceling the Constellation program, the administration said the project was significantly behind schedule and over budget, and it would initially perform a task — transporting crew and supplies to the International Space Station — that Obama thinks is better left to a new generation of commercial space entrepreneurs.

That work has been done by the aging and soon-to-be-ended space shuttles and some Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The Bush administration initially agreed to pay Russia to take over full responsibility for the ISS servicing by next year, and NASA extended that contract this week through 2014.

Florida Today reported on the KSC-specific part of the proposal, specifically the plan to "open a new commercial crew development office at Kennedy Space Center that will help foster development of commercial space taxis designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station."

A second Florida Today article looked at the projected economic impact of the proposal.

What I find interesting in the latter article is how many people seem to think that the purpose of the U.S. government space program is to generate and perpetuate jobs, not to promote the advancement of technology and exploration.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act says nothing about NASA's mission being to provide government-funded jobs. But it does say that NASA is charged with promoting commerical access to space.

Note that right in Title I, Section 102(c), it states:

The Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (as established by title II of this Act) seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

The fullest commercial use of space.

That is exactly what the Obama Administration's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal intends to do.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NASA Budget Teleconference at 2 PM EDT Today

NASA issued a press release this morning announcing a 2 PM EDT teleconference today "about the next steps in implementing the agency's new exploration initiatives outlined in the new fiscal year 2011 budget."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will lead the conference, and be joined by co-stars:

* Bill Gerstenmaier, Space Operations Mission Directorate Associate Administrator
* Edward Weiler, Science Mission directorate Associate Administrator
* Doug Cooke, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Associate Administrator
* Jaiwon Shin, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate Associate Administrator
* Bobby Braun, Chief Technologist

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed at No word if it's be on NASA Channel or a video feed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

STS-131 Launch Video

STS-131 launches at 6:21 AM EDT from Pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA.

A friend arranged for me to film the launch of STS-131 from a public viewing area near the Turn Basin at Kennedy Space Center. This is the closest that civilians are allowed to view a launch.

Click here to view the video. It runs about 15 minutes. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch. (Turn up the volume on your computer speakers during the launch!)

You always see on TV the video from NASA's cameras, but you rarely see what else is going on, so I filmed some of the activities around the Turn Basin viewing site. You'll see the arrival of the Close Out Crew (the folks who seal the astronauts into their vehicle), the AstroVan used for transporting astronauts, trucks from NASA Fire Rescue, and nearby buildings to orient you.

An unexpected surprise was the arrival of the International Space Station. It sped right across the Moon as it orbited past Merritt Island. You'll hear the crowd gasp.

One problem with the video is that a photographer stood up right in front of my camcorder as Discovery cleared the tower. I spoke to him beforehand and asked him not to block my camcorder. He said he would be careful, but he did it anyway. Those things happen in the heat of the moment, and I've done it too, but that's what happened when you see the image eclipsed in the video.

And for the paranoid among you who believe the government black helicopters are coming to take you away ... At the end of the video is film of NASA's black helicopter which patrols during launches. Yes, it's armed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Articles of Interest

I'm back from a week-long trip to North Carolina on personal business. Here's what happened while I was away.

The political pandering beat goes on as local officials continue to insist the Obama administration perpetuate an unsustainable status quo.

Rep. Bill Posey
Obama's April 15 space summit draws closer. Republican congressman Bill Posey, whose district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (but not Kennedy Space Center or the Shuttle launch pads), sent a letter to President Obama asking that he be invited to the summit.

Outside of his district, Posey is perhaps best known as the Congressman who helped fuel the "birther" movement by introducing legislation requiring more proof of American citizenship by presidential candidates.

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas

Posey and Democratic Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (her district includes KSC) have joined forces in an effort to keep Shuttle flying, even though Shuttle was cancelled more than six years ago by President Bush and experts say it's too late to turn back the clock.

NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Laurie Leshin gave a reasoned speech on March 30 in which she offered insight into the Obama administration's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal.

Click here to view Ms. Leshin's presentation in an Adobe Acrobat Reader file. .PDFs of all panelists that day are also available on the web site.

The mysterious USAF Orbital Test Vehicle draws closer to its scheduled April 19 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It will land someday — just when is classified — at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The article notes:

One of the mission's more significant technological leaps will be the first attempted autonomous atmospheric entry and runway landing in the history of the U.S. space program.

The former Soviet Union accomplished the feat with the single automated test flight of its Buran space shuttle in 1988.

I wrote about Buran in this March 20 blog that includes a link to film of its unmanned landing.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch has been moved back to no earlier than May 8, primarily to accommodate Air Force scheduling.

A space industry executive cautions that how risk is managed will determine the viability of the future commercial crew launch program, according to this article on

According to Andrew Aldrin, director of business development for United Launch Alliance:

"I think we can make commercial crew work, I think we can do it in such a way that we build a robust industrial base, and I think we can do it saving the taxpayers a lot of money. But it’s a program that’s got a lot of risk, and a lot of that risk is really embodied in how you define commercial and what the actual details are of an acquisition strategy," Aldrin said. "Let me be clear, this is a great program, but we are certainly capable, as we’ve demonstrated in the past, of screwing this up."

Yes, Andrew is the son of Buzz.

In closing ... Let's not forget that STS-131 is scheduled to launch tomorrow at 6:21 AM EDT. I hope to have video online later in the day of the launch.