Sunday, May 30, 2010

Divorcing Elon Musk from SpaceX

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk

Many canards are circulating around the Internet in an attempt to discredit President Obama's FY 2011 NASA budget proposal, which among other things proposes to grow the commercial space sector for Low Earth Orbit access by astronauts and private customers.

Several companies are interested in the private space business, but for some reason critics have fixated on one company, SpaceX. Perhaps it's because SpaceX already has an operation at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, at Launch Complex 40.

SpaceX has patiently awaited its turn to launch the experimental Falcon 9 rocket. It's currently scheduled for Friday June 4 between 1 PM - 5 PM EDT. SpaceX had to wait until United Space Alliance launched its Delta IV, and for the orbiter Atlantis to land. They've also had to wait for the Air Force to certify their launch termination system.

Its founder and CEO, entrepreneur Elon Musk, is currently going through a divorce. The web site reported on May 27 that Musk's divorce papers were quoted as stating he had "run out of cash" four months ago.

Obama critics quickly seized on this to falsely claim that SpaceX is out of money and about to go bankrupt, but a SpaceX executive quickly refuted the allegation. According to Space News on May 28:

[SpaceX vice president of strategic relations Larry] Williams said SpaceX’s progress on flight hardware is unaffected by the personal finances of the company’s founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, who told a California divorce court in February that he was out of cash and had resorted to borrowing money from friends to cover monthly household expenses.

"SpaceX is a company of 1,000 men and women developing and producing highly reliable and low cost space transportation systems. We have been financially stable with no investment from our CEO for many years," Williams wrote in a May 28 e-mail. "SpaceX has well over $2 billion under contract … Therefore, any momentary illiquidity that Elon may be experiencing is completely irrelevant to the company and our future."

Williams said that although Musk remains SpaceX's largest shareholder "he is only one of a number of investors at this point." Other large investors, he said, include Menlo Park, Calif.-based Draper Fisher Jurveston and the Founders Fund, a San Francisco firm managed by one of Musk’s former PayPal partners.

The filing shows that Musk draws a $1,690/month salary from SpaceX.

Critics have also falsely claimed that Musk is a "hobbyist" and that Falcon 9 is no more than a "toy." The truth is that SpaceX has about 900 employees, most of them at its Southern California headquarters. Among its executives is five-time Shuttle astronaut Ken Bowersox, who is the Vice President of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance.

Whatever happens on June 4 will be hyped out of proportion. It's simply one test of a new rocket design, nothing more. It would be nice if people would be honest about what's happening at Pad 40 and not make up lies just to suit their political agenda, but the critics don't seem to be interested in the truth these days.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ULA Finally Launches Delta IV

On their fourth attempt, United Launch Alliance finally launched their Delta IV with a Global Positioning System satellite aboard.

I filmed the launch from our driveway, which was at 11 PM EDT on May 27. A heavy cloud cover obscured the rocket moments after launch, so what you'll see is the clouds light up, then the rocket disappears within a few seconds. Shortly thereafter, though, you'll hear the roar of the engines, as sound travels slower than light. It was louder than usual because the clouds bounced the sound back down towards us. It's worth cranking up your computer speakers to listen.

Click here to watch the launch video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hurdles for Commercial Human Spaceflight

Space Politics publisher Jeff Foust wrote an excellent article for The Space Review titled, "Twin Hurdles for Commercial Human Spaceflight." It's worth the read.

Near the end, he concludes:

The challenge for NASA, industry, Congress, and others in the debate is to look past the chatter and seek the truth.


Delta IV Delays Postpone SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch reports that ULA's problems with the Delta IV have pushed back yet again the SpaceX test launch of their Falcon 9.

"Looks like the delay of the [Air Force Delta 4] GPS satellite launch has taken up a lot of resources at the Cape and in turn pushed the first test launch of Falcon 9 from May 28/29 to no earlier than June 2/3," SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said in an e-mail sent to reporters late Tuesday.

SpaceX is also waiting for the Air Force to certify the Falcon 9 self-destruct mechanism.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Citizens Against Government Waste Backs Obama on Constellation

Space Politics reported earlier today that Citizens Against Government Waste issued a report endorsing President Obama's cancellation of Constellation.

Click here to download the report in Adobe Acrobat format.

To quote from their press release:

"As romantic and inspirational as space flight is, the brutal reality is that the Constellation program has become a symbol of the 'old NASA,'" said CAGW President Tom Schatz. "The program is morphing into another ill-conceived government program suffering from all too familiar runaway costs. The nation cannot continue to sink unlimited dollars into this black hole ...

"President Obama has taken a step in the right direction by proposing to cancel the unsustainable Constellation Program in favor of looking to increased reliance on the private sector and investment in technologies that can lower the cost of human space exploration," concluded Schatz. "Congress should not interfere with this objective."

To quote from CAGW's web site:

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is a private, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than one million members and supporters nationwide. CAGW's mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government. Founded in 1984 by the late industrialist J. Peter Grace and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, CAGW is the legacy of [President Reagan's] Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, also known as the Grace Commission.

NASA: KSC Must Compete for Commercial Launch Services

An article in today's Florida Today reports that private companies flying NASA astronauts in the future won't be required to launch from Kennedy Space Center.

"The goal is to give the companies the flexibility needed to make a successful business of launching customers other than NASA, which is critical to the agency's hopes to reduce costs," according to the article by reporter James Dean.

The article also notes, "NASA would establish levels of oversight depending on the type of vehicles being flown and their history before certifying them as safe for astronauts to fly. But the commercial providers generally would be responsible for launching the rockets and maintaining facilities, including decisions about where and how missions launch and land."

The policy may be a response to a statement by Florida's U.S. Senator Bill Nelson who told a Brevard Community College space forum on March 19 that he was writing legislation that would force commercial launchers to use Cape Canaveral as their launch site. The idea was also proposed by Florida Today in a March 11 editorial.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Articles of Interest

I've been out of town for a week. Here are some stories that were published while I was gone.

Florida Today reports that the USAF and ULA will try again tonight to launch a Delta IV rocket. The first attempt on Friday was scrubbed just a few minutes before launch. Tonight's 18-minute launch window begins at 11:17 PM EDT. I'll try to film it from my driveway in north Merritt Island if circumstances permit.

Florida Today editor John Kelly has a column today about work proceeding on Constellation despite its proposed cancellation. Kelly correctly notes that President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is only a proposal and must pass through the Congressional gauntlet first. I fear that what we get on the other end will be just another politically compromised government jobs program, but we'll see.

Speaking of government jobs programs, the Miami Herald reported that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene criticized Senator Bill Nelson simply because Obama's plan might reduce taxpayer-funded jobs at KSC. “I would rather see the space program stay here because the space program has spawned lots and lots of high-paying, great jobs in that area,” Greene is quoted as saying. Apparently it never occurred to him to question whether those "high-paying" jobs are actually required by the nation.

I sometimes wonder if the stagecoach industry reacted the same way when the horseless carriage came along ...

Back in my old home town, the Orange County Register published an opinion column that pointed out the hypocrisy of self-described conservatives attacking Obama's plan to privatize low Earth orbit access. Jeff Foust of the excellent Space Politics blog noted that the article contains an unsubstantiated claim that GPS technology saves more than $40 billion a year in interstate trucking, which in any case is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Aviation Week has an article on the politics of the budget process as it works its way through the Senate.

Constellation by its own admission was going to soak up funding from other NASA projects, which is one big reason why the Obama administration proposes cancelling the project. As I wrote on May 14, NASA was never intended to be a "space taxi" business but an aeronautics and space research agency.

A May 21 Aviation Week article outlines a number of "flagship" space testbed projects that will be possible due to the Obama proposal. Quoting from the article, the six projects are:

  • Concepts for spacecraft buses that could use NASA’s NEXT ion propulsion system and an advanced solar array for a 30-kilowatt solar-electric propulsion stage, and which would be scalable to higher power levels.
  • Flight architecture suggestions for on-orbit cryogenic fuel storage and transfer within a single vehicle and between separate vehicles, with a list of detailed questions to be answered.
  • Inflatable-module concepts that would follow earlier in-house work at NASA, with an inflatable shell opening around a central core that would be pressurized at launch.
  • Mission concepts using inflatable or deployable aeroshells for aerocapture at Mars and return to Earth of 10-ton vehicles, as well as precision landing on “both low-G and high-G worlds.”
  • Concepts for demonstrating closed-loop life support in a module on the International Space Station (ISS), and perhaps on an inflatable module flown under a separate flagship demonstration.
  • Concepts for using the ISS as a target for automated rendezvous and docking missions, accomplishing the docking with the low-impact docking system under development at Johnson Space Center.

Space News has an article about the Obama proposal relying more on international cooperation to cut military space costs. A forthcoming document from the Defense Department will outline the policy, according to Michael Nacht, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.

Nacht said anticipation of flat to declining military space budgets in the years ahead is the driving force behind the drafting of new policies intended to increase cooperation with other nations. The United States has a long history of international collaboration on civil space missions, and this can serve as a model for other mission areas, he said.

And just to show that you can't keep a secret any more, reports that amateur sky watchers may have found the USAF's secret X-37B spy plane in orbit.

Friday, May 14, 2010

STS-132 Launch video

STS-132 launches from Pad 39A.

STS-132, the last launch of the orbiter Atlantis, took off on schedule today at 2:20 PM EDT.

Click here to watch video of the launch as filmed from our home in north Merritt Island. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

Charter Flights

The official seal of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA's predecessor. Note the depiction of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.

So begins the National Aeronautics and Space Act, first enacted by the United States in 1958 and amended several times since then.

It's a shame more members of Congress apparently haven't read NASA's charter, because if they did they'd find that NASA has strayed far from its mission as defined in law.

NASA was the successor to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), whose mission was to "direct and conduct research and experimentation in aeronautics, with a view to their practical solution."

NACA was fine for more than 40 years, until the Soviet Union launched Sputnik on October 1, 1957. Congress passed the Act and it was signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958.

NASA was to be a civilian space agency. The military had run space-related matters before then but its bureaucracy was considered too hidebound to compete with the Russians in space.

The Act has been amended several times since 1958, most notably in 1984 during the Reagan administration. Section 102(c) 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.

Prior to this amendment, the Act "provided that both employee inventions as well as private contractor innovations brought about through space travel would be subject to government ownership," according to a Wikipedia entry. "By making the government the exclusive provider of space transport, the act effectively discouraged the private development of space travel."

That changed with the 1984 amendment, but to this day the private sector still finds government obstacles. Florida Today reports that the Space X Falcon 9 test launch is being delayed by the Air Force which is making SpaceX use antiquated technology from government contractors for its launch termination system.

President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget returns NASA to its original intent, which was to foster aerospace technological advancement, not to run a space taxi service.

Nothing in the Act requires NASA to own its rockets, to fly humans, to send missions to the Moon and Mars. There's nothing about specifying destinations and timelines, as Obama's critics have demanded.

Section 102(d) defines NASA's missions:

(d) The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:
(1) The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
(2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
(3) The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space;
(4) The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes;
(5) The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere;
(6) The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
(7) Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results thereof;
(8) The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment; and
(9) The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.

Note the use of the phrase "contribute materially." It was envisioned that NASA would assist other government agencies, military and civilian, in aeronautics and space research, as well as the private sector. There's no requirement for NASA to be in charge. Also note the qualifier "one or more of the following objectives," meaning that NASA doesn't have to do them all.

As noted, there's no requirement for NASA to fly humans. The closest is paragraph (3), which states that NASA should contribute materially to "the development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space." A "living organism" could be bacteria, insects, dogs, chimpanzees. Keep in mind that this charter was written in the months after the Soviet Union launched into space Laika, a stray dog used to test the survival of life forms in space. The phrase "living organisms" would seem to imply that Congress foresaw the use of animals such as Ham the chimpanzee in January 1961.

Nothing in the Act requires NASA to own rockets. In fact, Section 203(c)(3) authorizes NASA to "acquire (by purchase, lease, condemnation, or otherwise) ... aeronautical and space vehicles ..." The Act allows NASA to buy or lease a commercial vehicle. But they don't have to build it themselves.

So if it isn't a top priority for NASA to fly humans to the Moon, Mars or anywhere else, how is it that NASA lost its way?

Several contributing factors can be cited, most of which occurred back in the 1960s.

The first, of course, was the Soviets launching Yuri Gagarin into space on April 12, 1961, less than three months after President John F. Kennedy took office. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion was less than a week later.

Faced with those incidents and a recessionary economy, Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. As I wrote on February 27, the speech was essentially a list of various programs proposed to fight the recession and to show American resolve to fight the Soviets in the Cold War. Near the end of the speech, Kennedy proposed sending an astronaut to the Moon before the end of the 1960s. His sole justification was to show the world that American technology was better than that of the Soviet Union.

Contrary to legend, Kennedy was not a space visionary nor was he interested in human exploration of space. As I wrote on May 6, a recording of a late November 1962 conversation between Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb documents JFK saying, "I'm not that interested in space." Kennedy rebuffed Webb's proposals for expanding the space program, making it clear his sole objective was to show that American technology was better than the Soviets'.

Kennedy was assassinated a year later, and the Moon mission became a national obsession to honor the slain President's memory.

Another significant cause for NASA losing its focus is the space center system. There was no compelling scientific reason to locate space centers in places like Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, etc. The reasons were largely political.

Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson (assigned to supervise NASA) wanted to assure Congressional funding for the space program, so centers were established in politically key states. Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center, which we know now as Johnson Space Center, was built in LBJ's home state and also the district of the House subcommittee chairman who was responsible for oversight of NASA's budget. Kennedy's famous speech where he said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard," was actually a September 1962 campaign speech in favor of that Congressman, Albert Thomas.

Although the space center system assured funding back in the 1960s, now it makes it almost impossible to streamline NASA by closing or consolidating space centers. Much of the squawking about Obama's budget proposal comes from Senators and Representatives of space center districts. They believe that cancelling Constellation will result in the loss of thousands of jobs in their districts, potentially costing them thousands of votes, and so NASA has become an expensive jobs program instead of promoting aerospace technological advancement.

President Obama's proposal would return NASA to its original purpose. It's not surprising that the space-industrial complex, which profits from its misdirection, is fighting to protect the status quo. One side is interested in compliance with the federal law. The other is interested in profit. Who wins remains to be seen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hutchison Can't Count

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison can't count.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the lame-duck U.S. Senator from Texas plans to argue Shuttle should be extended because it's supposedly safer than Soyuz.

Let's do the basic math for her.

Fourteen astronauts have died on Shuttle — seven on Challenger in 1986, and seven more on Columbia in 2003.

Soyuz has suffered no deaths since 1971, during its early days. One cosmonaut died on the initial Soyuz 1 flight in April 1967 when his parachute failed. Three more died on Soyuz 11 in June 1971 when a valve was left open after undocking from the Salyut space station and the cabin depressurized.

Hutchison ignores the history of her own state. When Columbia broke up, its debris scattered over a wide area of the eastern part of Texas.

Her fellow Texan, President George W. Bush, appointed the non-partisan Columbia Accident Investigation Board to investigate the Columbia loss. CAIB concluded that Shuttle's design was fundamentally unsafe and recommended it be phased out. Read my April 26 article, "Why Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle" for more details about why Bush cancelled the Shuttle.

Simultaneously with Shuttle's cancellation in January 2004, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe informed the astronaut corps that the administration was considering the Soyuz for crew rotations to the International Space Station. The January 30, 2004 Florida Today reported:

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.

Hutchison plans to cite two Soyuz flights in recent years where explosive bolts failed to work properly as reason for continuing Shuttle. But the Chronicle article quotes a NASA spokesman as saying the problem has been resolved:

NASA spokesman Mike Curie said the Russians conducted a thorough investigation into the two incidents, shared their findings with NASA and took appropriate corrective actions. NASA "independently performed high level checks to help ensure that the Russian conclusions were viable," he added.

"NASA is satisfied with the scope and depth and the changes made as a result of Russia's investigation," Curie said.

Hutchison claimed in her statement to the paper that NASA doesn't have access to Soyuz engineering information, but the NASA spokesman's statement would seem to suggest she's either lying or clueless.

Either way, it's shameful that she would put politics above the safety of American astronauts by lying about the relative safety of the Shuttle versus Soyuz.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kosmas Starts to Get It

Up to now, Representative Suzanne Kosmas has insisted that the federal government continue Shuttle and Constitution rather than doing anything to diversify the Space Coast local economy to avoid the impact of layoffs related to the end of government space programs.

Today's USA Today reports that Kosmas claims to have "some very hot prospects" to bring new commercial space and alternate energy companies to Brevard County. She didn't say who they are.

But Kosmas still insists that Shuttle and Constellation continue, reality be damned. "I want to have my cake and eat it, too," Florida Today quoted Kosmas as saying.

Nothing was said about whether Representative Bill Posey, Brevard's other member of Congress, is doing anything to bring non-government jobs to the Space Coast.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

SpaceX Waits for Government Bureaucracy

John Kelly of Florida Today has a column in today's edition about SpaceX waiting for Air Force clearance to launch its Falcon 9 test rocket.

SpaceX is determined to break through the barrier to launching new, cheaper rockets from Cape Canaveral.

The firm and its brash founder, Elon Musk, are on a trajectory that reaches beyond launching the first Falcon 9. They aim to disrupt the whole launch business.

They want to change how rockets are designed, built, prepped and launched. They want to change how new launchers are cleared for flight by the Air Force safety team that protects all of us on the ground from wayward rocket shrapnel.

They want a new American-made rocket that's cheaper than others. In the process, they want to blaze a trail for other new space companies. If they succeed, the U.S. could regain dominance in the worldwide space-launch market the old-fashioned way — by being competitive on price.

The article notes that the Air Force is "forcing SpaceX to use older components and a limited supplier base" for its flight termination system instead of "modern, off-the-shelf components, that could be obtained from a broader range of suppliers — likely at a substantial cost savings."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Obama "Gets It Right at Last"

An opinion article in the May 8 Florida Today declares that President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget "gets it right at last."

President Obama recently stood in front of workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and boldly said today’s space program is failing. And he was right.

NASA today pales compared to the days of Apollo.

Rather than continue another expensive dead-end program, the president set a new path that gets it right at last.

He does it by building what’s needed to go to more places faster, better and cheaper than before, and to stay where we go when we go, rather than leaving behind flags and footprints because we can’t afford to return.

Rick Tumlinson is the founder of the Space Frontier Foundation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

JFK: "I'm Not That Interested in Space"

President John F. Kennedy addresses Congress on May 25, 1961. He later told NASA Administrator James Webb that he was "not that interested in space."

It's an involuntary reflex, like when your doctor hits you below the kneecap with a rubber hammer.

Someone trying to defend the NASA Constellation program will invoke the memory of President John F. Kennedy, his Moon speech to Congress in 1961, his speech at Rice University in 1962, and swear to us that JFK's legacy will be forever tarnished if we don't spend unrestrained taxpayer dollars on another Moon rocket.

The main problem with this claim is that it's a fantasy.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library released a tape in August 2001 of a meeting between JFK and NASA Administrator James Webb at the White House on November 21, 1962. This was about two weeks after the Congressional elections and a little more than two months after the Rice speech.

The article reporting on the tape said that Kennedy can be heard telling Webb, "I'm not that interested in space."

On the tape, Kennedy tells Webb, "I think it's good [to explore space], I think we ought to know about it, we're ready to spend reasonable amounts of money. But we're talking about *fantastic* expenditures. We've wrecked our budget, and all the other domestic programs. And the only justification for it, in my opinion to do it [on this schedule] is because we hope to beat [the Russians], to demonstrate that starting behind, and we did, by a couple of years, by God, we passed them."

I published a blog on February 27 about the mythology surrounding Kennedy's speeches. I showed how they were by no means visionary, but political calculations.

The so-called "Moon speech" to Congress was actually a long (and, in my opinion, somewhat boring) recitation of spending programs he was proposing to confront a mild recession. Click here to read the speech. Some of the programs were defense-related, justified as needed to compete with the Russians.

The Moon mission proposal was near the end of the speech. Kennedy's sole justification for the program was that it would show the world our technology was better than the Soviet Union.

In short ... it was a publicity stunt.

The quote from the Webb recording in late November 1962 confirms that Kennedy was only interested in competing with the Soviets, not exploring the final frontier. "This is, whether we like it or not, a race. Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians."

The Space Race, of course, is over, despite hot-air rhetoric from some who claim that President Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget would somehow cause the United States to become a "third-rate" spacefaring nation.

The latest example is an essay by former astronaut Scott Horowitz on Horowitz wrote:

... [The Obama] administration has been trying to come up with a plan for the last year and a half and after hearing all of the testimonies and reviewing all of the facts, it has become obvious to me (and to Congress) that the leadership team at NASA has decided that they simply do not want to do Constellation, at any cost, and are willing to cede US leadership in space. The facts show the current real program is safer, more affordable, timelier, and making better progress towards our nation’s exploration goals, than this faith-based initiative "trajectory to nowhere" the current administration is trying to sell us.

To whom we would "cede US leadership in space" is not defined.

It can't be the Russians. They're our spacefaring partners now.

As documented in U.S.-Russian Cooperation in Space published in 1995, we've had significant space relations with the Russians since the 1972 Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Exploration and Use of Outer Space, which led to the Apollo-Soyuz mission. A 1992 agreement between the first President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin led to Shuttle flights to Mir. In 1993, President Clinton revised President Reagan's Space Station Freedom proposal to include Russia, sharing the costs for what is known today as the International Space Station. The ISS partnership also includes the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada. Under agreements negotiated by the administration of the second President Bush, NASA uses Soyuz spacecraft for ISS crew rotations.

So who's the competition?!

The list of likely suspects would seem to be down to China, but as I've documented in previous blogs China has only a rudimentary human spacefaring program that's roughly equivalent to where we were with Gemini in the mid-1960s. They are funding a study of a possible human lunar mission many years in the future, but they're more interested in launching their own space station sometime in the early 2020s. The Obama administration is already negotiating with China to join the ISS partnership. I suspect China will accept, realizing that it's a lot cheaper to join the international group than go their own way.

Those trying to justify Constellation invoke a space "red menace" in an attempt to revive the political fear of the 1960s that led to nearly $150 billion (in current dollars) spent on a lunar publicity stunt. In an era of trillion-dollar annual federal deficits, that kind of expenditure is unsustainable.

The JFK mythology is just that — a myth. He wasn't a space visionary, he didn't want to build Starfleet, he didn't want to boldly go. He wanted to show the world our technology was better than that of the Soviet Union. That was almost fifty years ago. Let's move past the mythology and debate this nation's spacefaring future on the merits.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Articles of Interest

Guenter Wendt greets astronaut Wally Schirra in December 1965.

I've been out of town for a few days. Here's what happened while I was gone.

Florida Today reports that legendary space pioneer Guenter Wendt passed away in Merritt Island at age 86. Wendt was affectionately known as the "Pad Fuehrer" for his disciplined management of launch pad activities during the Right Stuff era of the 1960s.

Air Force certification and a May 14 Shuttle launch have postponed the first SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to May 23, but it can be moved up if circumstances permit.

President Obama appointed the task force that will lead the $40 million job creation program for the Space Coast. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are co-chairs. blogger Jeff Foust comments on the task force.

Space Coast Congressional representative Suzanne Kosmas introduced a bill that would give $5,000 to displaced space workers to get a teaching certificate. Kosmas opposes Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget, and has promised to keep both the Shuttle and Constellation programs going. Good luck with that.

NASA will test a rocket escape system that would separate a crew capsule from an exploding rocket. Its estimated velocity would be 0 to 600 MPH in two seconds. Left unsaid is what would be the effect on a human body, although as one observer pointed out it might be better than the alternative. has an article about a draft study of the U.S. commercial space sector by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The draft report primarily notes the relatively weak standing of the commercial launch industry in the United States and the need for a more robust launch industry to meet national needs," Jeff Foust wrote. What I find interesting about this is the people who claim Obama's priming the U.S. commercial space sector will turn us into a third-rate spacefaring nation, when the reality is that other nations are ahead of us in commercial space.

Aviation Week suggests that Obama's NASA proposal may not be resolved this year as Congress may use a continuing resolution to delay a budget decision into FY 2011.

An essay by Roger Handberg on The Space Review looks at the tortured history of the International Space Station and its future now that Obama has proposed cancelling Constellation. Handberg concludes, "... Circumstances have led NASA and the United States back to a world envisioned by Wernher von Braun and gloriously portrayed in several Disney short films. It is not a giant wheel spinning in space, but its purposes are increasingly harkening back to days of yore.