Sunday, November 28, 2010

After Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle

Click on the arrow in the below frame to play the video of the January 28, 2004 Senate Science Committee hearing. You may need the free Adobe Shockwave Player to watch.

Third in a series. Earlier entries:

"Why Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle" (March 2, 2010)

"When Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle" (April 26, 2010)

President George W. Bush proposed his Vision for Space Exploration on January 14, 2004. (Click here to read the speech.) The VSE proposed the retirement of the Space Shuttle program upon completion of the International Space Station in 2010, followed by a minimum four-year gap where the United States would rely upon Russia to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. It called for a grand vision that would return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

How to pay for it? The President said:

Achieving these goals requires a long-term commitment. NASA's current five-year budget is $86 billion. Most of the funding we need for the new endeavors will come from reallocating $11 billion within that budget. We need some new resources, however. I will call upon Congress to increase NASA's budget by roughly a billion dollars, spread out over the next five years. This increase, along with refocusing of our space agency, is a solid beginning to meet the challenges and the goals we set today. It's only a beginning. Future funding decisions will be guided by the progress we make in achieving our goals.

Two weeks later, the Senate Science Committee met on January 28 to hear from NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe how the Bush administration planned to pay for VSE.

Committee chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said in his opening remarks:

I'm very curious to hear how Administrator O'Keefe thinks we can implement the President's proposal with the very limited resources that have been proposed. Two days go, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit in Fiscal Year 2004 would reach $477 billion. It's been reported that the President's new proposal could cost between $170 billion and $600 billion. Needless to say, the $12 billion that the Adminstration has suggested be spent over the next five years falls far far short of what might actually be required to return to the Moon and reach for Mars and beyond.

McCain said, "A vision without a strategy is just an illusion."

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) commented:

Space flight, you can't do it on the cheap. I just don't think that a billion dollar increase over five years, that's $200 million a year, is going to do it. I would love for you to explain on the reprogramming of the $11 billion over that five years how you can do that.

The "reprogramming" referred to cancelling other NASA programs to fund what eventually became known as Constellation. That included the Ares I rocket that would deliver astronauts to the ISS, the Ares V to take astronauts to the Moon, and the Orion capsule.

Nelson also expressed concern about the administration's reliance on Russia to transport astronauts to the ISS. "You phase out the Space Shuttle by 2010, and then if we don't fly this new vehicle until four, five, six years later, that means that our only human access to space is that we've got to rely on Russian rockets and European rockets, and I don't think that's good for the country."

Administrator O'Keefe presented what came to be known as the Vision Sand Chart.

Click here to download the Vision Sand Chart from the NASA web site. The free Adobe Acrobat Reader is required.

The proposal assumed the retirement of the Shuttle in 2010, the ISS in 2015, and reduced spending for human/robotic technology to pay for Constellation.

The immediate flaw in this proposal was that by the time Ares I would be ready, it was assumed that the ISS would be decommissioned. So where would Ares I fly? There seemed no point to building it.

Five years later, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report titled, "Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case Is Established." The opening page declared, "What GAO Found":

NASA is still struggling to develop a solid business case—including firm requirements, mature technologies, a knowledge-based acquisition strategy, a realistic cost estimate, and sufficient funding and time—needed to justify moving the Constellation program forward into the implementation phase. Gaps in the business case include:

• significant technical and design challenges for the Orion and Ares I vehicles, such as limiting vibration during launch, eliminating the risk of hitting the launch tower during lift off, and reducing the mass of the Orion vehicle, represent considerable hurdles that must be overcome in order to meet safety and performance requirements; and

• a poorly phased funding plan that runs the risk of funding shortfalls in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. This approach has limited NASA’s ability to mitigate technical risks early in development and precludes the orderly ramp up of workforce and developmental activities.

In response to these gaps, NASA delayed the date of its first crewed-flight and changed its acquisition strategy for the Orion project. NASA acknowledges that funding shortfalls reduce the agency’s flexibility in resolving technical challenges. The program’s risk management system warned of planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. Consequently, NASA is now focused on providing the capability to service the International Space Station and has deferred the capabilities needed for flights to the moon. Though these changes to the overarching requirements are likely to increase the confidence level associated with a March 2015 first crewed flight, these actions do not guarantee that the program will successfully meet that deadline. Nevertheless, NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

On Page 2 of the transmittal letter to the chair of the House Science Committee, the report stated:

We have issued a number of reports and testimonies that touch on various aspects of NASA’s Constellation program and in particular the development efforts under way for the Orion and Ares I projects. These reports and testimonies have questioned the affordability and overall acquisition strategy for each project and have stressed repeatedly NASA’s need to develop a sound business case — which includes firm requirements, mature technologies, a knowledge-based acquisition strategy, a realistic cost estimate, and sufficient funding and time — to support the Constellation program before making long-term commitments.

There are those who still claim Constellation was doing just fine until the Obama administration took over, that the Obama administration cancelled the Space Shuttle program, that the Obama administration was the one that created the gap where the United States would have to fly on Russian Soyuz rockets to the ISS.

The historical record is clear on who is responsible. And if you watch the C-SPAN video above, you can see for yourself.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lockheed Martin Proposes 2013 Orion Test

An Orion mockup at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Florida Today reports:

CAPE CANAVERAL — Lockheed Martin aims to launch a 2013 test flight from Cape Canaveral that could lead to a U.S. astronaut mission to an asteroid or the moon by 2015.

The aerospace giant plans to loft a NASA Orion spacecraft atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket that would blast off from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Click here to visit Lockheed Martin's Orion web site.

It would seem to stretch credulity to claim that this will result in a Moon or asteroid mission by 2015. No money is in the NASA budget for such a flight, much less has one been planned, and the Delta IV has not been rated for crew flights.

STS-133 Discovery Launch Delayed Again

Workers spray foam insulation on a section of repaired stringers on STS-133's external tank. Photo source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that the STS-133 launch has been delayed again, this time to no earlier than December 17.

Discovery's final flight will launch no earlier than Dec. 17 as NASA continues to investigate what caused cracks in metal brackets on the shuttle's external tank earlier this month.

The cracks have been repaired, but engineers are still searching for the root cause behind the problem and studying the potential risk if more cracks occurred during flight.

According to a NASA press release, the next status review will be on December 2. "If managers clear Discovery for launch on Dec. 17, the preferred time is about 8:51 p.m. EST." has an excellent analysis of the problem and its consequences.

The next Space Coast launch is scheduled to be the SpaceX Falcon 9 test flight on December 7.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GAO: New Generation of Rockets Could Delay Science Missions

Florida Today reports that Government Accountability Office report warns NASA science missions could suffer delays and cost increases as the government transitions from the Delta II to commercial options such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the Orbital Taurus II.

To quote from the report:

NASA plans to leverage ongoing investments to acquire a new medium launch capability for science missions in the relative cost and performance range of the Delta II. The agency expects to eventually certify the vehicles being developed for space station resupply for use by NASA science missions. NASA has been in coordination with agency and contractor officials responsible for these efforts. Further, the agency revised its policy to allow for faster certification of new providers. Due to an active small class launch vehicle market and NASA’s relative low need for vehicles in this class, the agency has no plans to develop additional small class launch vehicles. Rather, the agency will acquire these services through the NASA Launch Services II Contract.

NASA’s plan has inherent risks that need to be mitigated. NASA has not developed detailed estimates of the time and money required to resolve technical issues likely to arise during the launch vehicle certification process. As these costs are currently unknown, according to Science Mission Directorate officials, NASA has not yet budgeted for them. Further, both space station resupply vehicles have experienced delays and more delays are likely as launch vehicle development is an inherently risky endeavor. Neither potential provider currently has the facilities needed to launch the majority of NASA earth science missions requiring a medium capability.

Masten Space Systems Plans Suborbital Flight from CCAFS

Florida Today reports that Masten Space Systems intends to fly a suborbital test flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2011.

A rapid-prototyping rocket technology company, Masten intends to provide scientists and researchers with low-cost access to the suborbital space environment.

The company ultimately hopes to fly several missions per day from multiple spaceports.

Colin Ake, director of business development at Masten, said the demonstration flight at Cape Canaveral would enable the company to determine whether it can conduct cost-effective flights on the Space Coast.

"We've been looking at Florida as a launch option for some time now," company founder and CEO Dave Masten said.

"We are excited to begin the process of determining if Launch Complex 36 is a good location for our flight operations."

Launch Complex 36 is currently operated by Space Florida.

Click here to visit the Masten Space Systems web site.

Their vision statement:

Our goal at Masten Space Systems is to become the premier provider of unmanned suborbital flight services for the commercial, scientific, and educational communities. In order to meet that goal, we have been developing the eXtreme Altitude (XA) series of reusable vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital vehicles. The capabilities we are trying to develop for these vehicles will provide researchers and educators with an experience unlike anything possible with current sounding rockets. Our goal is to provide not just a launch system, but also a full suite of services and tools that allow the researcher, technology developer, or educator to focus all of their attention on their specific project. We want to take the hassles, delays, paperwork, and distractions out of performing world-class suborbital science, while providing a solution affordable enough that anyone can participate.

SpaceX Cargo Flight Cleared by FAA

Space News reports that "After more than a year-and-a-half of review, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Nov. 22 granted Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) the license it needs to launch a cargo capsule into space and have it re-enter the atmosphere for recovery at sea."

SpaceX is expected to launch its Dragon cargo capsule atop its Falcon 9 rocket Dec. 7 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in the first of three increasingly complex missions to be conducted under a $278 million Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA. The company is on the hook to begin regular resupply runs to the international space station starting next year under a separate, fixed-price contract valued at $1.6 billion.

The Falcon 9 rocket has flown once successfully with a qualification unit of the Dragon onboard. On the upcoming COTS mission, the full-fledged Dragon capsule is expected to complete up to four Earth orbits, transmit telemetry data, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter the atmosphere and make a safe water landing in the Pacific Ocean for recovery.

"This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit," Brost said in the statement. "It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or governmental agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Union."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Astronaut Memorial's CEO Makes $300,000 a Year

The Space Mirror astronaut memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex hasn't worked in thirteen years. Photo source: Astronaut Memorial Foundation web site.

Today's Florida Today reports that the CEO of the Astronaut Memorial Foundation earns $303,000 a year in salary and benefits, about one-fifth of the non-profit's annual budget.

Each year, thousands of car owners pay an extra $25 for a special Challenger/Columbia shuttle memorial license plate, in honor of American astronauts who gave their lives in pursuit of space exploration.

Half the money goes to a local nonprofit foundation created to keep up the towering granite memorial at Kennedy Space Center bearing the names of fallen heroes. The other half goes to a different group, the Technological Research and Development Authority, which spurs technology development in business and education. Last year, each organization got about $377,000 from the plates.

However, only a small fraction of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation's income is spent maintaining the Space Mirror, which hasn't worked as designed since the mechanism that rotates it to track the sun broke 13 years ago and the foundation deemed it too expensive to fix.

In fact, the money the foundation spends to keep up the memorial is about half what it pays its chief executive officer, Stephen Feldman, whose salary and benefits accounted for almost $1 out of every $5 of the charity's annual budget each of the past three years.

Click here to visit the Astronauts Memorial Foundation web site. There is contact information on the home page should you be inclined to express an opinion.

And here's the web site for the Technological Research and Development Authority that receives the other half of the license plate revenue.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

China and NASA: Incredible Potential

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden receives a model from China's Manned Space Engineering Office Director Wang Wenbao. Photo source: Space News.

The Space Politics web site has a summary of comments made by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden at Marshall Space Flight Center on November 16. It cites a transcript of the event posted on the Space News web site.

Bolden covered a number of subjects, but in particular I was interested in his comments about his recent trip to meet with the leaders of the Chinese space program.

I recently came back from a trip to China. I spent a whole week over there with Bill Gerstenmeyer and Peggy Whitson, the Chief of the Astronaut office. We got an opportunity to see everything. Everything that we asked for plus some more.

We started out in Beijing at most of their facilities where they produced the Long March, which is their big rocket where their Astronaut Training Center is. We went out into the Gobi Desert some distance away, a long ways away from Beijing where their launch site is, where they do all the _______ launches, their human space program, and also most of their military satellites.

So it's a different environment than what we're accustomed to. The people's army runs everything. That's just the way it is. They are struggling right now with how they split up responsibility for programs.

My opinion is they really want to be a member of the, what I call the society of space faring nations. I went there with three principles and I repeated them over and over and over again everywhere I went, and that was if they were going to do anything with us, and we went there to listen. We didn't go to propose or to make any deals or anything. We went to listen. But I told them that if anything was going to come from a relationship between the United States and China in space, then they would have to demonstrate to us that they could be transparent in all dealings, that they would have to demonstrate that they were willing to exercise reciprocity which means they give us something, we give them something and we go back and forth. And then the third thing is they had to be mutually beneficial to both nations. If we didn't get anything out of it, we weren't interested. We felt that they were the same way.

And I will tell you one thing. My final night there, I met with the big head of their human space flight program who ironically is also head of their anti-satellite program. An odd mix of responsibility. He is a Three-Star, a lieutenant general in the People's Liberation Army Air Force or something. And he started out the conversation. He introduced the conversation and he said they're going to be very candid. We don't need you. We don't need the United States, and you don't need us. But the potential, if we choose to work together, is incredible.

I thought that spoke volumes. Very, very candid. And they don't. They don't need us, and we don't need them. But I happen to be one who kind of every once in a while just wonders about what things could be like if we were able to bring more countries into the partnership. It’s going to be difficult and it will take years, but we may get there sometime.

The Space News analysis of Bolden's remarks about his China trip noted:

In October, Bolden led a U.S. delegation to China for high-level talks with Chinese space officials on human spaceflight cooperation, provoking an outcry from Republican lawmakers concerned any collaboration between NASA and China’s military-led space program would jeopardize U.S. national security. U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and John Culberson of Texas — both members of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that approves NASA’s annual budgets — wrote Bolden on the eve of his departure stating their opposition to the NASA chief leading talks with Chinese officials about manned spaceflight programs. They also asked for a briefing upon Bolden’s return.

Culberson introduced legislation last June that would have forbidden cooperation between the U.S. and China in space unless approved by Congress. His proposal was defeated in committee.

It seems to me that the last eighteen years of space cooperation with Russia would be persuasive evidence that it's a lot smarter to collaborate with a rival than deliberately provoke another Cold War.

During the administration of the first President Bush, the United States and Russia signed the Joint Statement on Cooperation in Space in June 1992. American astronauts have been flying on Soyuz craft since Norm Thagard flew to Mir in March 1995. Thanks to the agreement, not only did Russia share the cost of building the International Space Station but we had redundant access to the facility when the Shuttle program was stopped after the Columbia accident.

Some may complain that Russia charges the U.S. $51 million per astronaut for a Soyuz ride to the ISS, but we're the ones who created the Russian monopoly by failing to plug the gap between Shuttle and whatever comes next. That gap was created in January 2004 when the second President Bush cancelled the Shuttle program. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, which evolved into Constellation, called for Shuttle's retirement in 2010 and reliance upon Soyuz until a replacement was ready, no earlier than 2014.

If something bad happens with Soyuz until an American option is ready, then we'll have no way to reach ISS.

In my opinion, the more the merrier. If China or India or the European Space Agency want to develop their own vehicle for access to Low Earth Orbit, they should be welcomed.

History has shown us that no one nation can sustain indefinitely the costs of a robust unilateral space program. Although China is studying a possible Moon rocket, their immediate priority is a space station, and so far all they've done is replicate a Gemini flight with two taikonauts. China may have a robust economy, but I think in the long run the costs of accessing space will force China to participate in the ISS project and perhaps one day a multinational mission to the Moon.

China's willingness to show Bolden everything may suggest that they've come to the realization they can't afford to go it alone either.

NROL-32 Delayed by Abnormal Temperature Readings

A Delta IV Heavy launch from Pad 37 at Cape Canaveral in a demonstration flight on December 22, 2004.

The Space Coast's recent string of bad luck with launches continued yesterday, as a fueling problem scrubbed the launch of the NROL-32 mission from Pad 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

According to Florida Today:

Supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants began pumping into the rocket's three side-by-side first-stage boosters at 1 p.m.

But launch teams cut the process short and began draining the tanks a little more than an hour later after detecting irregular temperatures in the left and right boosters.

United Launch Alliance hopes to announce today a new launch time for NROL-32, a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

This delay comes after NASA had to postpone the launch of
STS-133 to no earlier than December 3 due to a hydrogen gas leak, followed by the discovery of cracks in the foam insulation on the external tank.

SpaceX delayed its second Falcon 9 demo flight due to problems integrating its Dragon crew/cargo capsule with the rocket. Their target date is now December 7.

UPDATE November 20, 2010 8:15 PM ESTThe United Launch Alliance web site reports they'll try to launch on Sunday November 21 at 5:58 PM EST.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SpaceX Delayed by Spacecraft Integration

A SpaceX computer-generated image of their Dragon spacecraft with its solar panels deployed.

Florida Today reports that integrating their Dragon spacecraft with their Falcon 9 rocket is the main reason for delaying their next test launch, scheduled for December 7 at CCAFS.

"We believe we're in very good posture for the upcoming mission with the booster," Ken Bowersox, the company's vice president of mission assurance and astronaut safety, said today. "What’s delayed us most is integrating the spacecraft."

"It's interesting — you'd think the spacecraft on the front is the tiny, simple part, but it’s actually just as complicated or more complicated than that big old booster that takes it up into orbit," he continued. "So we're working through some final integration activities now, and should be launching soon."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CCDev: The Next Generation

Former Space Shuttle Flight Director Wayne Hale posted on his blog November 14 an article titled, "The coming train wreck for Commercial Human Spaceflight." The article criticizes the draft policy NASA has issued for acquiring commercial crew flight services.

The document runs a mind-numbing 260 pages of densely spaced requirements. Most disappointing, on pages 7 to 11 is a table of 74 additional requirements documents which must be followed, in whole or in part. Taken all together, there are thousands of requirement statements referenced in this document. And for every one NASA will require a potential commercial space flight provider to document, prove, and verify with massive amounts of paperwork and/or electronic forms. This, folks is the old way of doing business. This is one of the major reasons why spaceflight is as costly as it is.

If one were of a conspiratorial bent, one might think this is an attempt by the NASA bureaucracy to derail Commercial Crew Development (known as CCDev) so NASA can keep a monopoly on crewed access to space. Mr. Hale seems to think it's more along the lines of the bureaucracy taking risk mitigation to an extreme.

In any case, I've found a couple related links that might interest you.

Click here for a PowerPoint slide-show that was used as a presentation at a CCDev Round 2 Pre-Proposal Conference at KSC on October 29, 2010.

Click here for the CCDev Round 2 web site at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NASA Top Management and Performance Challenges

It may a bit dry for your tastes, but you may wish to read through the NASA Top Management and Performance Challenges report written by NASA's Inspector General.

In determining whether to identify an issue as a top challenge, we consider the significance of the issue in relation to the Agency’s mission; its susceptibility to fraud, waste, and abuse; whether the underlying matter is systemic; and the Agency’s progress in addressing the challenge. To its credit, NASA has made a concerted effort over the past several years to improve its management practices and address weaknesses identified by the Agency, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and other oversight bodies. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain across all NASA programmatic and functional areas.

We believe the following issues constitute the top management and performance challenges currently facing the Agency:

• Future of U.S. Space Flight
• Acquisition and Project Management
• Infrastructure and Facilities Management
• Human Capital
• Information Technology Security
• Financial Management

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Space, Inc.

This morning's Florida Today has a breathtaking series of articles, starting on Page 1, about commercial space and how it will affect Brevard County.

The articles were written by veteran space correspondent Todd Halvorson.

Click here to read the main article.

Click here for the interactive page to select the articles about various commercial space vendors.

Click here to watch the 30-minute video documentary, "Space, Inc.".

Click here to read the Florida Today editorial, "Closer to Reality."

This passage in Halvorson's main article sums it up:

FLORIDA TODAY traveled coast to coast, toured secretive facilities, saw first-hand highly proprietary work under way and interviewed dozens of key players trying to stimulate this new industry at altitudes hundreds of miles above Earth.

Our four-month analysis found that U.S. private industry is more than capable of developing spacecraft to fly U.S. astronauts to and from low Earth orbit.

What's more, U.S. aerospace companies already are developing, testing and launching prototypes.

Their plans are not just PowerPoint presentations and engineering drawings. Commercial companies are cutting metal, assembling engines, testing steering thrusters, and in some cases, spacecraft already are orbiting the Earth.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something's Gotta Give

Erskine Bowles (left) and Alan Simpson propose cutting $1.2 billion from NASA's commercial spaceflight program in 2015.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released a draft proposal yesterday, authored by its co-chairs, Republican former Senator Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles, who was chief of staff for former President Clinton.

The fact that such a commission has existed since February 2010 seemed to fly under the radar during the recent election campaign. Congress rejected the creation of the commission last January, despite President Obama's support for the legislation, so Obama issued an executive order to create the commission. The difference between the two is that if Congress had created the commission, both houses would have been required to vote on the final recommendations. Congress can ignore the Obama commission's report — and probably will.

Yesterday's draft report brought the predictable outrage from all quarters who don't want to see their favorite programs touched.

According to a CNN report:

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat, called the proposal "simply unacceptable," and two Democratic commission members voiced initial opposition while a third mixed praise with serious reservations.

Retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a deficit hawk on the commission, called the draft plan "aggressive and comprehensive" but added he hoped it could be improved, while conservative tax reform advocate Grover Norquist flatly rejected any tax increases to reduce the deficit ...

"Raising taxes is what politicians do when they don't have the guts to govern," Norquist said, while on the other side, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the commission leaders had told working Americans to "drop dead."

"The gap between the rich and the middle class has never been greater in our country. These proposals will only make the situation worse," added Democratic Rep. Janice Schakowsky of Illinois.

We're not here to debate the federal budget deficit, only to discuss how federal budget decisions affect space programs here in Brevard County. Even within that context, the draft proposal clearly takes aim at the Space Coast.

In a document titled "$200 Billion in Illustrative Savings", in a section titled, "Secure a Better Return on Taxpayer Investment," is this paragraph:

Eliminate funding for commercial spaceflight.The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial spaceflight. This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015.

Apparently the co-chairs are unaware that the NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo program was designed to reduce the cost of government space access by having the private sector assume responsibility for routine access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The co-chairs seem to think that NASA will be "subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights," which is totally wrong. The crews will be NASA astronauts trained by NASA. The agency simply buys a ride on a commercially owned craft.

Growing the commercial sector also gets NASA off the Soyuz spacecraft. When the Bush administration cancelled the Space Shuttle program in January 2004, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe began negotiating with Russia for the U.S. to use Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station. In 2009, the Russians raised the price per astronaut to $51 million, knowing we have no other option.

Obama appointed the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine Commission, which concluded that the Constellation program begun under the previous administration wouldn't have Ares I ready until at least 2017, so Obama proposed an investment in commercial space flight to accelerate its development and have a Soyuz alternative ready sooner than 2017.

The Simpson-Bowles proposal would seem to slow commercial development, meaning the United States continues to pay Russia for Soyuz flights, sending American space jobs overseas.

Other ideas that could affect NASA are proposals to "cut the federal workforce by 10 percent" and "eliminate 250,000 non-defense service and staff augmentee contractors."

Regardless of how one might feel about government versus commercial space access, the reality is that government space funding is low-hanging fruit to budget pruners. As I've written here many times, most polls show that although Americans like space exploration, they don't like paying for it. Majorities want the federal space budget reduced and the private sector to assume more of the cost.

Most taxpayers haven't a clue what the actual NASA budget is, but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that there is no nationwide groundswell of support to protect or increase the government's space budget.

As we saw in this year's budget negotiations, the members of the Congressional space committees were more interested in protecting their district's pork than any overwhelming vision for the nation's spacefaring future.

This lack of vision, coupled with the inevitable federal budget cutbacks, doesn't bode well for the future of government-funded space flight.

That's all the more reason to accelerate commercial access. Get as many programs as possible off the government books, so they're no longer a target for budget cutbacks.

An independent panel announced yesterday that the James Webb Space Telescope will cost at least $1.5 billion more than current estimates and its launch will be delayed a minimum of 15 months. Click here to read the full report. To quote from the Executive Summary:

The problems causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. The technical performance on the Project has been commendable and often excellent. However, the budget baseline accepted at the Confirmation Review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution. This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources.

Cost overruns like this will be reasons cited when it comes time for Congress to wield the pruning shears.

The Simpson-Bowles proposal is not the commission's final report, and won't be unless 14 of the 18 members support it. It won't be law unless Congress decides to approve their proposal and the President signs it.

Even so, space advocates must prepare for the inevitable reduction of government-funded spaceflight and start looking for alternatives in the private sector.

UPDATE 9:45 AM ESTThe Commercial Spaceflight Foundation comments on the Simpson-Bowles proposal.

“This proposed cut would have disastrous consequences for NASA and the Nation. Commercial Crew now represents the primary means of transporting U.S. astronauts to orbit following retirement of the Space Shuttle. Commercial Crew will in fact result in substantial cost savings to the U.S. taxpayer. Eliminating Commercial Crew would result in total reliance on Russia to get to the Space Station and result in the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs here in the United States,” stated Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Alexander added, “The bottom line is that elimination of NASA’s Commercial Crew program will cede human spaceflight to Russia. Commercial Crew is the fastest way to reduce the gap following Shuttle retirement, minimizing the time we are dependent on buying seats from the Russians. Some commercial providers have publicly committed to significant cost savings on a per-seat basis as compared to the Russian alternative.

“Moreover, the Deficit Commission also appears to misunderstand the very nature of the Commercial Crew Program. Rather than being ‘a subsidy to the private sector,’ the Commercial Crew program is fulfilling an essential national need by developing the next U.S. spacecraft to take astronauts to the Space Station, while stimulating markets beyond government as well. It is, in fact, a win-win for the American taxpayer.

Monday, November 8, 2010

LOX and Bagels

Mary Sherman Morgan at North American Aviation in 1956. Photo Source: Mary Sherman Morgan Blog.

Just when you think everything has been said about the history of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ...

As previously mentioned, I'm in training to serve as a volunteer docent at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Launch Complex 26.

The "star of the show," so to speak, is the history of Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite in space, launched atop a Jupiter-C rocket from LC 26 on January 31, 1958.

Click the arrow on the above image to watch a newsreel report of
the Explorer I launch from LC-26 on January 31, 1958.

Wander the hallways — well, hallway — of the blockhouse and you can read all about the rocket, its payload, and the people behind it. They're names familiar to history, from President Eisenhower to Dr. Wernher Von Braun and Dr. James Van Allen.

But you won't find Mary Sherman Morgan.

The launch literature tells us that the rocket used a mixture of liquid oxygen (LOX) and Hydyne as the fuel in the first stage, which was powered by a descendant of a German V-2 engine. These engines typically used a mix of LOX and alcohol.

I'd never heard of Hydyne, so I did some Internet research and discovered, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

It seems the first-stage engine wasn't capable of enough thrust to successfully place the Explorer 1 payload into orbit, using the LOX and alcohol mix. Time was a concern, because the Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4, 1957 and there was a perception that the United States had fallen behind. The engine couldn't be redesigned as Von Braun's team had promised a late January 1958 launch.

The problem was contracted out to North American Aviation's Aerophysics Laboratory. Ms. Morgan, the only female engineer, invented "a 60/40 mixture of Unsymetrical Dimethyl Hydrazine (UDMH) and Diethyline Triamine (DETA)," according to an article by her son, George Morgan.

What to call it? Here's what George wrote:

Mary wanted to call the new fuel "Bagel" so people could say the Redstone was powered by "LOX and Bagel." The Army did not share her sense of humor, and instead named it "Hydyne."

Explorer 1 was the only time Hydyne was used in the launch of an American rocket.

There's no mention of Mary anywhere in the museum. Asking around, I've yet to encounter anyone who's heard this story. According to her son, Mary herself may be to blame:

"I do not want to see my name in print. You will not write articles about me — not while I am alive."

Those were my mother’s words to me just after her 80th birthday when I was so na├»ve as to suggest it would be a good idea if I wrote a magazine article about her contributions to American rocketry. When I pressed the issue further she became belligerent, even angry. This was a woman who cared nothing for notoriety, a true anachronism in today’s celebrity obsessed culture.

Mary Sherman Morgan was a woman who shunned publicity, and valued her privacy more than life itself. She hated celebrity, and detested those who sought after it. To put it another way, she was the exact opposite of that avid publicity hound, Wernher Von Braun.

George wrote that after she passed away, he asked the Los Angeles Times to publish her obituary with a mention of her "Bagel" invention that made history. The Times didn't believe him. His revenge was to write a play titled Rocket Girl about his mother's life and career.

Today I performed my first "solo" tour of the complex. I told the group about Mary Sherman Morgan and her "Bagel" fuel. None of them, of course, had ever heard of her. For all I know, this was the first time her name was even mentioned in the place she helped make famous.

I assure you, it won't be the last.