Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sierra Nevada Partners with Lockheed Martin for Commercial Crew

Click the arrow to watch a NASA video on the Sierra Nevada commercial crew program, released August 2012.

Sierra Nevada Corporation announced Wednesday that they will partner with Lockheed Martin for construction and certification of their Dream Chaser commercial crew spaceplanes.

According to a Sierra Nevada press release:

Lockheed Martin will be an exclusive partner to SNC on NASA's Certification Products Contract (CPC) and has been competitively selected to build the composite structure for the Dream Chaser at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La. SNC was awarded $10 million for CPC Phase 1 to work with NASA towards government certification of the SNC Dream Chaser orbital crew transportation system.

News articles about the announcement:

Denver Post “Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada Corp. Partnering on Dream Chaser”

Florida Today “Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser will Get Lockheed Martin's Help” “Dream Chaser to Breathe New Life into Michoud”

Spaceflight Now “ Lockheed Martin Joins Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Team” “Sierra Nevada, Lockheed Martin Join Forces on Dream Chaser”

Space Florida Plans Ahead

This morning's issue of Florida Today has an update on Space Florida plans to lease Kennedy Space Center facilities to the private sector.

According to the article, “Several companies have expressed interest in a proposed state-run commercial launch complex at the north end of Kennedy Space Center,” an old farm community called Shiloh.

NASA has not rejected the idea outright, but in a recent letter declined to transfer the land to Space Florida.

The agency is “assessing available options” to help the state achieve its goals, according to a statement provided to FLORIDA TODAY.

“There are many authorities that will allow us to support commercial launch activities — transferring land is only one of those mechanisms,” the statement continued. “KSC is fully supportive of the State’s initiative to support commercial space endeavors and NASA is committed to ensuring that all partnership opportunities are fully considered.”

SpaceX is assumed to be the most likely tenant, but the article indicates there may be others.

The article also updates the Space Florida request to take over management of KSC's runway, formally known as the Shuttle Landing Facility.

That request will be considered separately, but NASA already plans to select a new operator for the facility, and Space Florida is among those pursuing the job. [Space Florida senior vice president and chief operating officer Jim] Kuzma said a decision could come within six to eight weeks.

Space Florida also approved funding to complete renovation of the former orbiter hanger #3, to be occupied by Boeing for the CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, and other facilities for potential tenants.

Up to $5 million in Florida Department of Transportation funding, if secured this year as expected, will help transition another existing facility at KSC or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Meeting materials provided to the board said the facility would be used as a “spacecraft, cargo, and crew processing facility for heavy lift launch of commercial satellites, space station cargo and ultimately commercial crew missions.”

Sierra Nevada is looking to lease KSC facilities for their Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle, so this might refer to that potential partnership.

Somewhere in America

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the extended version of the ad promoting the Siemens partnership with SpaceX.

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Siemens ran a 30-second ad titled “Somewhere in America” promoting its partnership with SpaceX. Click here to watch the ad on YouTube.

An extended version that runs nearly two minutes is also on YouTube. It's embedded above.

You may not care about Siemens, but the video has lots of cool up-close footage of SpaceX technology.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Poll Position

A July 2011 CNN/ORC poll conducted at the end of the Space Shuttle program showed a majority of respondents wanted the private sector to “run the country's manned space missions in the future.” Image source: Roper Center.

Some in the space advocacy community believe that space exploration has widespread public support.

But there's a difference between exploring space, and paying for it.

Polls over the decades consistently have shown tepid support at best by the public for a robustly financed government space program.

In 2003, space historian Roger Launius published an article titled, “Public Opinion Polls and Perceptions of U.S. Human Spaceflight.”. The article's abstract summary stated:

A belief exists in the United States about public support for NASA’s human spaceflight activities. Many hold that NASA and the cause of the human exploration of space enjoyed outstanding public support and confidence in the 1960s during the era of Apollo and that public support waned in the post-Apollo era, only to sink to quite low depths in the decade of the 1990s. These beliefs are predicated on anecdotal evidence that should not be discounted, but empirical evidence gleaned from public opinion polling data suggests that some of these conceptions are totally incorrect and others are either incomplete or more nuanced than previously believed.

In the introduction, Launius wrote:

Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. And consistently throughout the decade 45–60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space, indicative of a lack of commitment to the spaceflight agenda.

Launius reminded the reader that in the 1960s, “spaceflight served as a surrogate for face-to-face military confrontation” with the Soviet Union.

Over the period 1978-1999, Launius found a consistently positive impression among the American people for the space program.

But that doesn't mean the public wants to pay for it.

... [M]any Americans hold seemingly contradictory attitudes on NASA and human space exploration. Most are in favor of the human exploration and development of space and view it as important, but also believe that federal money could be better spent on other programs. This relates closely to empirical research on other aspects of public policy. The American public is notorious for its willingness to support programs in principle but to oppose their funding at levels appropriate to sustain them. Most are also in favor of NASA as an organization, but are relatively unfamiliar with the majority of its activities and objectives, and sometimes question individual projects.

Launius' article was published soon after the STS-107 Columbia loss on February 1, 2003. Launius commented:

In the aftermath of the Columbia accident perhaps the nation will finally realize the necessity of moving forward with a replacement human spaceflight vehicle. The decision to do so may be one of the most significant outcomes of the Columbia accident investigation.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board issued its report on August 26, 2003. Click here to download the report. And you can click here to read my commentary on the report and its consequences.

On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush gave a speech which proposed the retirement of the Space Shuttle effective the end of International Space Station construction circa 2010. On January 28, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee to detail the President's proposal. The next month, the administration issued the Vision for Space Exploration report which became the blueprint for the government's space policy through the end of the decade.

On January 13, 2004, the day before the President's speech, Florida Today ran on its front page an Associated Press article titled, “Poll: U.S. Tepid on Bush Space Plans.” According to the article:

More than half in the poll said it would be better to spend the money on domestic programs rather than on space research.

Asked whether they favored the United States expanding the space program the way Bush proposes, people were evenly split, with 48 percent favoring the idea and the same number opposing it, according to the poll conducted by the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

Six years later, this trend persisted.

In October 2010, I posted a blog article titled, “Americans Divided on Space Exploration.” The article looked at a series of polls conducted that year by Rasmussen Reports. Their October 2010 poll concluded:

When it comes to cutting back on space exploration, Americans are evenly divided. Forty-one percent (41%) believe the United States should cut back on space exploration, down nine points from January, but an equal number (41%) disagree. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure.

The three polls also asked Americans their opinion about shifting the cost of space exploration to the private sector. Although Bush's VSE included a commercial space component, in 2010 the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program was just on the cusp of its first test flights, as SpaceX was about to launch its first Dragon on December 8. There was no reason to think the typical American would know anything about commercial space. The October 2010 poll asked, “Should the space program be funded by the government or the private sector?”

The poll's finding:

Forty percent (40%) of Americans feel the space program should be funded by the government, up slightly from April. Thirty-two percent (32%) say funding for the program should come from the private sector. Twenty-eight percent (28%) are undecided.

Polls in the last year continue to show tepid public support for government-funded space exploration.

A March 2012 Harris Poll asked respondents, “Below is a list of different areas of federal government spending. For each, please indicate if you would favor a major cut in spending, a minor cut, no cut at all, or would you increase spending in this area?”

One of the options was “Space programs.” 52% favored cuts, 39% opposed and 9% were not sure.

Those results were fairly consistent across party lines. 56% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans wanted space programs cut. 51% of Tea Party supporters wanted cuts.

An August 2012 Rasmussen Reports telephone poll posed the question, “Within the next decade, should the United States resume manned space missions to the moon?”

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that 41% believe the United States should resume manned space missions to the moon during the next decade. Nearly as many (37%) disagree and don’t think the country should resume those missions. Twenty-two percent (22%) are undecided.

Rasmussen also asked about an eventual human spaceflight mission to Mars.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 36% of American Adults think the current goals of the space program should include sending someone to Mars. Thirty-eight percent (38%) disagree, while 27% are not sure.

Last week in Houston, yet another space policy forum lamented the lack of direction and funding from Congress for the government space program.

The polls show why.

If it's not that important to the American public, then it's not that important to Congress.

But that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't go to space.

Public response might be different if someone else paid for it.

A July 2011 CNN/ORC International Poll conducted at the end of the Space Shuttle program asked, “In general, do you think the US (United States) should rely more on the government or more on private companies to run the country's manned space missions in the future?”

54% chose private companies, 38% chose government, 4% chose both equally, 2% said neither, and 2% had no opinion.

Click here to download the entire poll report.

At a time one might assume the public was feeling nostalgic, if not outright mourning, for the end of the Space Shuttle program, a majority wanted space turned over to the private sector.

As SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, XCOR, Stratolaunch, Armadillo, Blue Origin, Golden Spike, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, Rocket Crafters and whomever next holds a press conference to announce their latest commercial space endeavour, perhaps it's time for more polls to pose the public/private question.

Asking the taxpayer to support a government space program is a different question from asking Americans if they support the overall notion of space exploration. The key difference is who pays for it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Dream is Alive

Today is the 27th anniversary of the STS-51L Challenger accident.

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, and Friday will be the tenth anniversary of the STS-107 Columbia loss.

I visited today the astronaut memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Below are photos.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Not Another Space Policy Forum

Click the arrow to watch “Lost in Space: The Need for a Definitive U.S. Space Policy” on YouTube.

The Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University held an event on January 26 titled, “Lost in Space: The Need for a Definitive U.S. Space Policy.”

All six panelists hold doctorates in their various fields. Among the panelists were former astronaut Leroy Chiao and space policy analyst John Logsdon, author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

(Dr. Logsdon announced that he's working on a sequel book about how the Nixon Administration chose to approve the Space Shuttle.)

Although some of the panelists brought an agenda to the dais — Mark Albrecht falsely claimed that Kennedy Space Center is “crumbling” despite the current massive investment in upgrades — all of them essentially agreed that the government space program lacks the political support it had during the Cold War of the 1960s.

I'd hoped that one of the panelists might raise the fundamental question, “Is NASA as currently organized functionally obsolete?” But that might have been too outrageous a question for the Houston audience.

None of the panelists had a viable solution. If one existed, it would have been uncovered long ago. Which is why I wish someone had posed the question.

This was just the latest in a long line of distinguished panels lamenting the state of the government space program. Yet no one ever has the fix.

The January 26 Florida Today had an article titled, “Safety Panel Pushes for NASA Oversight of Private Test Flights.” It was a report by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, which offers advice about spaceflight safety. ASAP was founded in 1968 in the wake of the Apollo 1 fire; that anniversary is tomorrow.

In a public meeting, ASAP called for NASA and Congress to “resolve this conundrum” about how much responsibility NASA should have for commercial space human test flights.

The panel also called out the failure of Congress to properly fund commercial space.

The group also noted that Congress has given NASA’s commercial crew program roughly half the money it requested during the past two years.

The program in 2013 is expected to receive about $500 million, again well below the $830 million NASA requested.

“That drives a disconnect between planning and the funds to execute that plan,” [panel chair Joseph] Dyer said.

The article also noted that the Congress-mandated Space Launch System is underfunded as well.

Meanwhile, NASA already has some concern about whether its new heavy-lift exploration rocket, called the Space Launch System, will be ready for a first, unmanned launch from KSC in late 2017, reported ASAP member Don McErlean, senior director for federal programs at L-3 communications.

Typically for such complex development projects, funding ramps up early on, peaks as a design matures and then drops off until production work begins.

But the SLS program has a flat budget of about $1.4 billion proposed annually through 2017.

Even more warnings from yet another panel that Congress is failing to properly support the government space program.

In December, the National Academies warned about Congress' failure to properly fund NASA. That warning came after other independent entities issued similar findings in 2009 and 2011.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee issued a statement this week declaring its priorities for the new Congressional session. Despite all the warnings, it appears we'll be stuck with more of the same.

According to Marcia S. Smith at

The committee asserts that "NASA has not clearly articulated what types of future human space flight missions it wishes to pursue, or their rationale." It plans to "further review ... costs associated with cancellation of the Constellation program, NASA's approach to develop and fund a successor to the Space Shuttle, and investment in NASA launch infrastructure." It also plans to examine the "feasibility of NASA's plans and priorities relative to their resources and requirements."

The false claim yet again that “NASA has not clearly articulated” what it wants to pursue is debunked by a visit to NASA's Budget web site, which is filled with documents "articulating" missions and destinations.

To further prove the lie, in August NASA submitted to Congress a report titled, “NASA Exploration Destinations, Goals, and International Collaboration”. This report was mandated by the last Congress which also claimed that “NASA needs to better articulate a set of specific, scientifically meritorious exploration goals to focus its program and provide a common vision for future achievements.”

Congress ignored the report.

So now we have a new session continuing to blame the White House and NASA for its own refusal to do its job.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Instead of panels, let's have a united declaration by space advocacy groups that it's time to do an end-run on Congress and throw our support with commercial space. Private investors and entrepreneurs don't need Congressional approval.

Sure, the commercial cargo and crew programs rely on federal seed money, but eventually companies like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada will grow their programs beyond federal investments. Bigelow Aerospace just signed a deal to place a demonstration module at the International Space Station, but their business model doesn't require that. Other companies, such as Stratolaunch, XCOR, Planetary Resources and now Deep Space Industries, aren't looking for one dime of federal subsidy.

Has spaceflight reached the point where it doesn't need Congress any more?

That's the question the next space policy panel should ask.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Deep Space Industries Wants to Hunt Asteroids

Click the arrow to watch the media event on YouTube.

Another private space exploitation company revealed itself today at a press conference in Santa Monica, California.

Deep Space Industries intends to hunt and eventually harvest asteroids.

They are the second private company to announce asteroid mining plans. Planetary Resources held a press conference last April, announcing its intention to capture an asteroid rich in platinum-based minerals.

Click the arrow to watch a Deep Space Industries promotional video on YouTube.

The DSI press release is below.

Commercial Asteroid Hunters announce plans for new Robotic Exploration Fleet

World’s First Fleet of Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft Announced by Deep Space Industries.

Deep Space Industries announced today that it will send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the solar system to hunt for resources to accelerate space development to benefit Earth. These “FireFly” spacecraft utilize low-cost cubesat components and get discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.

“This is the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth,” said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson (who signed up the world’s first space tourist, led the team that took over the Mir space station, was a Founding Trustee of the X Prize, and Founded Orbital Outfitters, the world’s first commercial space suit company.) “Using low cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space program with the innovation of today’s young high tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.”

FireFlies mass about 55 lbs. (25 kg) and will first be launched in 2015 on journeys of two to six months. Deep Space will be building a small fleet of the spacecraft using innovative miniature technologies, and working with NASA and other companies and groups to identify targets of opportunity.

“My smartphone has more computing power than they had on the Apollo moon missions,” said Tumlinson. “We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper, and faster than ever before. Imagine a production line of FireFlies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth.”

Starting in 2016, Deep Space will begin launching 70-lb DragonFlies for round-trip visits that bring back samples. The DragonFly expeditions will take two to four years, depending on the target, and will return 60 to 150 lbs. Deep Space believes that combining science, prospecting and sponsorship will be a win/win for everyone, both lowering costs for exploration and enabling the public to join the adventure.

“The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers, and other innovative ways to open the doors wide,” said CEO David Gump. His earlier ventures include producing the first TV commercial shot on the International Space Station for RadioShack, co-founding Transformational Space Corp. (t/Space) and Astrobotic Technology Inc. “The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever, and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing.”

Bringing back asteroid materials is only a step on the way to much bigger things for DSI. The company has a patent-pending technology called the MicroGravity Foundry to transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. The MicroGravity Foundry is a 3D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.

“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” said Stephen Covey, a co-Founder of DSI and inventor of the process. “Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength.”

Senior leaders at NASA have been briefed on DSI’s technologies, which would make eventual crewed Mars expeditions less expensive through the use of asteroid-derived propellant. Missions would require fewer launches if the fuel to reach Mars were added in space from the volatiles in asteroids. Mars missions also would be safer with a MicroGravity Foundry on board to print replacements for broken parts, or to create brand new parts invented after the expedition was on its way to the Red Planet.

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said Gump. “More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century – a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.”

For example, a large market for DSI is producing fuel for communications satellites. Low-cost asteroid propellant delivered in orbit to commsats will extend their working lifetimes, with each extra month worth $5 million to $8 million per satellite. DSI has executed a non-disclosure agreement with an aerospace company to discuss collaboration on this opportunity.

In a decade, Deep Space will be harvesting asteroids for metals and other building materials, to construct large communications platforms to replace communications satellites, and later solar power stations to beam carbon-free energy to consumers on Earth. As DSI refines asteroids for in-space markets, it also will harvest platinum group metals for terrestrial uses, such as pollution control devices.

“Mining asteroids for rare metals alone isn’t economical, but makes senses if you already are processing them for volatiles and bulk metals for in-space uses,” said Mark Sonter, a member of the DSI Board of Directors. Mr. Sonter combines experience in planning, permitting, and management of large and complex terrestrial mining projects with funded research into the development of asteroid resources. “Turning asteroids into propellant and building materials damages no ecospheres since they are lifeless rocks left over from the formation of the solar system. Several hundred thousand that cross near Earth are available.”

Asteroids that fall to Earth are meteorites, and the Deep Space team includes Geoffrey Notkin, star of the international hit television series Meteorite Men about hunting for them. Notkin has unparalleled expertise in the diversity and market value of these elusive rocks, which are transformed by intense heat during their plunge to the surface. By contrast, the initial asteroid samples to be brought back by Deep Space will have their original in-space composition and structure preserved, creating exceedingly rare specimens for sale to the research and collectors markets.

Deep Space is looking for customers and sponsors who want to be a part of creating this new space economy. The company believes that taking the long view, while creating value, opportunities and products in the near term will allow it to become one of the economic engines that opens space to humanity. By getting under way and taking calculated risks, while developing basic industrial technologies, DSI will be well positioned over time to supply the basic needs of life in space. Taking the idea of socially minded companies to a new level, DSI is literally reaching for the stars.

“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there,” concluded Tumlinson. “This is the Deep Space mission - to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth – and doing so in a step by step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity. We are squarely focused on giving new generations the opportunity to change not only this world, but all the worlds of tomorrow. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

Friday, January 18, 2013

ISS Enters Its Prime

Click the arrow to watch a NASA video about the Robotic Refueling Mission.

It was a good week if you believe in the potential of the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, it was announced at a press conference in North Las Vegas that NASA will berth a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat at the ISS sometime in 2015. The mission will demonstrate the viability of a technology that could radically reduce the cost of a human presence in space, and on surfaces of other worlds such as the Moon or an asteroid.

The Robotic Refueling Mission began this week. According to its NASA Fact Sheet, the RRM will “demonstrate and test the tools, technologies, and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space — especially satellites not designed to be serviced.”

Tests began on Monday, but were halted on Wednesday due to a software glitch in Canadarm2, the robotic manipulator arm outside the ISS. Tests were scheduled to resume yesterday.

You can follow NASA's Satellite Servicing program on Twitter at @NASA_SatServ, and at the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office web site.

Inside the station, U.S. astronauts continue training experiments with Robonaut 2.

Click the arrow to watch a NASA video about Robonaut 2.

According to its NASA project web site, “The first humanoid robot in space was sent to the space station with the intention of eventually taking over tasks too dangerous or mundane for astronauts.”

On Wednesday, R2 was commanded to monitor air velocity aboard the station, holding gauges in front of five air vents.

You can follow R2's activities on Twitter at @AstroRobonaut, and at the Robonaut web site.

The ISS serves as a test bed for 21st Century technology, but it also serves as a simulator for long-duration space flight.

A trip to Mars could take anywhere from six months to a year one way. Long-term exposure to microgravity is known to have adverse effects on the human body.

The current crew are part of an experiment called the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study. The study “evaluates the use of high intensity, low volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular function in ISS crewmembers during long-duration missions.”

One of the routines involves the use of the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).

Click the arrow to watch Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly demonstrate the ARED.

According to the ARED web page, “Upon completion of this study, investigators expect to provide an integrated resistance and aerobic exercise training protocol capable of maintaining muscle, bone and cardiovascular health while reducing total exercise time over 180 days of spaceflight. This will provide invaluable information in support of the investigator’s long-term goal of protecting human fitness for longer space exploration missions.”

In November, NASA and Roscosmos announced that Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will fly a one-year ISS mission starting in 2015.

According to the press release:

The goal of their yearlong expedition aboard the orbiting laboratory is to understand better how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. Data from the 12-month expedition will help inform current assessments of crew performance and health and will determine better and validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration as NASA plans for missions around the moon, an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

Research in the station's U.S. National Laboratory continues, managed by the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). On January 11, high school students tested their small satellites SPHERES experiment aboard the ISS.

Click the arrow to watch an interview with SPHERES lead scientist Dr. Alvar Saenz-Otero.

It was an exciting week for science aboard the International Space Station. We have another 49 weeks left to go in the year. I can't wait to see what's next.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

ESA Joins NASA Space Launch System Test Flight

A NASA computer animation of a Space Launch System mission.

The January 16 joint NASA-ESA press conference.

NASA and the European Space Agency held a joint press conference January 16 to discuss their Space Launch System partnership.

ESA will build the service module for the first uncrewed SLS test flight, scheduled for late 2017.

Click here for the NASA press release.

The service module will be based upon ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle. ESA announced last April that they would fly only two more ATVs before ending that program.

According to, this deal may result in one ESA astronaut flying on the crewed SLS test flight, scheduled for 2021.

The Orion crew capsule is scheduled for an uncrewed test flight in 2014 atop a Boeing Delta IV. Aviation Week reported on January 9 that the capsule is 4,000 pounds too heavy to survive re-entry with its current parachute system.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bigelow BEAMs Up to ISS

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow at today's press conference. Image source: NASA.

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace announced today at a press conference in North Las Vegas that a Bigelow demonstration module will be berthed at the International Space Station in about two years.

Called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), the module will be delivered to the ISS on the eighth SpaceX cargo delivery mission, scheduled for 2015.

According to the NASA press release:

Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station's robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.

After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

Watch a NASA animation of the Bigelow BEAM being installed at the ISS.

Media reports of today's event:

ABC News “Inflatable Habitat for Space Station Planned by NASA, Bigelow”

Aviation Week “Balloon-Like Dwelling to be Tested at ISS”

Florida Today “NASA Plans to Add Bigelow's Inflatable Module to ISS”

Forbes “NASA Expanding ISS with Bigelow Aerospace Inflatable”

KLAS-TV Las Vegas “NASA to Spend $17 Million at North Las Vegas Business”

Las Vegas Review-Journal “North Las Vegas-Based Bigelow Aerospace Lands $17.8 Million NASA Contract”

Las Vegas Sun “North Las Vegas Company Gets $18 Million Contract for Inflatable Space Room”

New York Times “For Space Station, a Pod That Folds Like a Shirt and Inflates Like a Balloon” “Inside NASA's Deal for an Inflatable Space Station Room”

Spaceflight Now “Bigelow Inflatable Module Bound for Space Station” “Bigelow Aerospace to Attach Inflatable Module to ISS in 2015”

Washington Post “International Space Station to Receive Inflatable Module”

UPDATE January 17, 2013 — KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reported on yesterday's media event:

8 News NOW

Friday, January 11, 2013

Official: NASA, Bigelow Enter into Agreement

On January 7 it was reported that NASA was about to announce an agreement that could place a Bigelow inflatable habitat at the International Space Station.

That became official today, when NASA issued a press release:

NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a new addition to the International Space Station. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module will demonstrate the benefits of this space habitat technology for future exploration and commercial space endeavors.

"The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation."

Garver and Bigelow Aerospace Founder and President Robert Bigelow will discuss the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module program at a media availability at 1:30 p.m. EST (10:30 a.m. PST) Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Bigelow Aerospace facilities located at 1899 W. Brooks Ave. in North Las Vegas. posted a summary of the contract details.

According to their post, the contract was awarded on December 20, 2012 and runs through December 19, 2017. The contract description:


Here are various media reports on the official announcement:

Bloomberg News “NASA Goes Ikea to Test Inflatable Annex for Space Station”

Florida Today “NASA to Add a Bigelow Inflatable Module to the ISS”

Huntsville Times “NASA Hires Bigelow Aerospace to Put Inflatable Module on International Space Station”

Orlando Sentinel “NASA and Bigelow Aerospace to Announce Plans for Inflatable Station Modules” “NASA Buys Private Inflatable Room for Space Station” “Inflatable Private Space Stations: Bigelow's Big Dream”

America's Spaceport, Part 3

Kennedy Space Center public bus tour stops in 1967. Click the image to view at a larger size.

(Part 3 in a series.)

One month after Kennedy Space Center bus tours began from the interim Visitor Information Center on July 22, 1966, more than 50,000 guests had toured KSC. Many of them also toured the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.

According to the August 18, 1966 Spaceport News, “On two different days this month over 2,300 visitors purchased tickets for the bus tours. This is the highest single-day attendance figure since the tours were initiated on July 22.”

By mid-October, the number had surpassed 100,000. By year's end, it was above 150,000.

KSC visitors board a tour bus at the original Visitor Information Center during the 1966 Christmas holidays.

According to the January 5, 1967 Spaceport News, “On December 26, 2,615 people took advantage of the daily escorted bus tours of the Center and Cape Kennedy. That new record lasted one day, for on the 27th, 3,580 visitors were here. Then on Wednesday, the 28th, another high — 4,113 — was set, and on Thursday more than 4,500 toured. 'This goes beyond one's imagination,' said one of the visitors in summing up what she had seen.”

The number of guests reached 300,000 by late March, and 400,000 by late June.

The permanent Visitor Information Center (VIC), meanwhile, was under construction across the Indian River on a Merritt Island site one mile west of the old Orsino township.

The Visitor Information Center under construction in early 1967. Note in the far distance the Vehicle Assembly Building and a Saturn V mobile launcher.

The April 13, 1967 Spaceport News reported:

Construction of the Visitor Information Center, located a mile west of Kennedy Parkway, is now 35 percent complete. Scheduled to open to the public in July, the center will feature educational exhibits and serve as a terminal for conducted bus tours of the Space Center.

On June 1, 1967, tours began to include a stop at Cape Kennedy's historic Mercury Mission Control. The facility was last used as Mission Control for the Gemini 3 launch on March 23, 1965. After that, mission control responsibilities were shifted to Houston, but the building was still used as launch control for the remaining Gemini flights. It was retired after the Gemini 12 launch on November 11, 1966.

The June 22, 1967 Spaceport News described the guest experience.

From the darkness, one by one, historic flight control consoles light up. A pre-recorded magnetic tape explains the function of each of the consoles as they come to life.

"The flight director used this console ... here is where the first voice of Mercury originated, and here is where the Cap Com, the astronaut communicator, first heard John Glenn's eager and graphic description of space flight."

A large, wall-size, map leaps suddenly into light ... displaying before the viewer a flat view of the world's surface. Displayed on the map is an animation of the spacecraft during its orbital path around the world. The map shows the various tracking stations in NASA's worldwide network.

And as the magnetic tape continues, "... It is now T plus 10 minutes and the status board here in the Mission Control indicates that all spacecraft systems are go ..."

As the permanent VIC prepared to open, Spaceport News ran a full-page article in the July 6, 1967 issue describing the center's features and published several photos.

Here are the photos with their original captions.

“LING-TEMCO-VOUGHT employees Lowell Fenner, left, Bud Frank, center, and AI Vela inspect spacecraft models to be displayed in VIC. LTV Publications Unit is the KSC contractor responsible for coordinating and integrating the displays and exhibits for the VIC.”

“MODEL of Lunar Module, now in front of KSC Headquarters, will be one of the feature attractions at new Visitor Information Center.”

“MERCURY spacecraft, long-time attraction at Gate 3, will be moved to VIC site.”

“THESE dismantled Titan I rockets seen at Launch Complex 39 turning basin shortly after their arrival at KSC by barge, will be modified and transformed into a single Gemini-Titan II space vehicle complete with spacecraft. Configuration will later be displayed at VIC.”

Here are excerpts from the article describing the new center's features.

The Visitor Information Center, located five miles east of Gate 3 on the NASA Parkway, is scheduled to open August 1.

The 42-acre complex consists of two main buildings separated by a portico. Dislayed on the grounds surrounding the portico will be models of the Apollo Lunar Module and the Mercury and Gemini space capsules.

In the center of the portico area will be a 26-foot display board showing a map of the entire KSC and Cape area and a welcome from Dr. Debus. This board will be used to display current space program events.

The primary exhibit building will have two theaters, two arcades and a picture gallery. Each of the theaters will accommodate 240 persons, and films relevant to the space program will be shown.

The artist's concept for the permanent Visitor Information Center, as it appeared in the January 5, 1967 Spaceport News.

Separating the two theaters is a picture gallery walkway. Here visitors will see a collection of original paintings by famous American artists commissioned by NASA which will be on loan to KSC from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Around the walls of the arcades, visitors will see displays depicting the development of rockets. They will view examples of NASA, unmanned and manned spacecraft.

Other displays deal with KSC, its functions and the contractor and NASA personnel who perform them.

In the other building visitors can purchase tour bus tickets, or take advantage of the snack bar and souvenir facilities. However, there will be displays set up in this building also. Among the three-dimensional exhibits will be a model of the VAB. Visitors will see a model Saturn V move in and out of the world's largest building on the transporter.

Other three-dimensional exhibits will include mannequins wearing full-size Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacesuits, accompanied by explanations of the life-support systems.

A NASA Tours bus parked at the interim VIC on the mainland side of the Indian River sometime in 1967.

The July 20, 1967 Spaceport News noted the one-year anniversary of KSC bus tours by publishing the history of escorted KSC bus tours. (At this time, guests were still allowed to drive through the center on Sundays.) The article described the bus tour route at the time.

The two and a half hour drive, in modern, air-conditioned buses, includes stops at the Apollo Flight Crew Training Building and in the Vehicle Assembly Building on Merritt Island, and at the Mission Control Center and the Air Force Museum at Launch Complex 26 at the Cape.

The tour route winds past Mercury-Redstone, Delta, Minuteman, Mercury-Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Atlas-Centaur, Gemini-Titan, Saturn I, Titan III and Apollo/Saturn V launch sites, among others.

At Launch Complex 39, Apollo/Saturn V Pad A, the Mobile Service Structure, Mobile Launchers and crawler/transporters are key attractions, in addition to the VAB.

VIC guests examine Mercury-era artifacts at the interim VIC in 1967.

The same issue had a separate article about the landscaping at the new visitor center.

The Spaceport News caption read, “KSC Roads and Grounds chief Harrell Cunningham, right, and TWA horticulturist Kimzie Cowart map landscaping plans for the Visitor Information Center. In the background is a Phoenix Reclinata Palm cluster with 13 trunks.”

A few of the plants were purchased, but most trees and shrubs are being transplanted from other areas at the Center.

“Many of the flowering plants and shrubs were taken from old homesites that were evacuated when the Space Center was developed,” Cunningham explained. Others are being moved from new building sites.

(Have any of those trees or plants survived to this day?)

The permanent facility opened on August 1, 1967. The doors opened at 8:30 AM, “following remarks by Director Dr. Kurt H. Debus, Deputy Director Albert F. Siepert and former New York congressman and member of the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, Walter Riehlman.”

To officially open the Center, Riehlman activated the firing command button from the Mercury-Redstone console — the same used on astronaut Alan Shepard's flight. This triggered a 10 second countdown and then fired a satellite transmitter, much like that of Explorer 1. The signal caused a small wire to burn, unveiling a drape covering one of the Center's exhibits.

Less than an hour later, the 500,000th person to take a KSC bus tour passed through the gate.

The interim VIC was on the mainland side of the Indian River near Gate 3. To accommodate visitors to the new facility, a temporary guard station was set up near the new center starting at 6:30 AM daily.

Each morning the check point will be moved from the permanent gate 3 area, near US 1 to the VIC area.

Guards will move back to the permanent facility each evening after the last tourists have left the VIC, sometime after 6 p.m.

Next: A look at VIC tour books and flyers from the late 1960s.


A Tourist Information Center trailer opens in 1964 on the mainland side of the Indian River.

An interim Visitor Information Center opens on the mainland west of the Indian River Causeway.

A visit today to where America's spaceport began.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orion Too Heavy for Its Parachutes

An Orion crew capsule under construction in Kennedy Space Center's Operations & Checkout Building. Image source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that the Orion crew vehicle and its service module weigh far beyond the Space Launch System's design limit.

Specifications call for the Orion capsule and its service module to weigh 73,500 lb. at liftoff. Lately the capsule has been running “something like 4,000” lb. over its allotted weight, [NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Dan] Dumbacher says. The service module is about 1,200 lb. too heavy.

While the baseline SLS probably can handle the extra weight, the parachutes that will bring the capsule back to a water landing after re-entry cannot, Dumbacher says. Going into the integrated review, design teams have been wringing out the extra weight on the capsule, he says, and an upcoming flight test atop a Delta IV heavy may allow engineers to cut their margins to save more weight.

Scheduled for September 2014, the flight test will take an Orion test article through a highly elliptical orbital trajectory designed to bring it back into the atmosphere at about 80% of the velocity it would see returning from the Moon or beyond.

Commercial Crew Update

Click the arrow to watch the commercial crew press conference on YouTube.

NASA and its commercial crew partners held a 106-minute press conference today to provide an update on their progress.

The video of the event is above. NASA has also posted its 54-page Powerpoint presentation as an Adobe Acrobat .PDF file; click here to download.

Florida Today has posted a preliminary report on today's event. More reports will be posted as they come online.

UPDATE January 20, 2013 — Here are the latest articles on the Commercial Crew update:

Florida Today “NASA, Partners: Commercial-Crew Flights on Track”

NBC News “U.S. Spaceship Ventures Plan to Send Test Pilots into Orbit as Early as 2015”

Orlando Sentinel “SpaceX Plans to Launch Humans into Space in 2015”

Parabolic Arc “NASA: Commercial Crew Program Moving Along Nicely”

Popular Mechanics “The 4 Spaceships Vying to Send Crews to the ISS”

Spaceflight Now “Company Test Pilots Slated for First Commercial Space Flights”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Adjusting for Inflation

An artist's concept of the Bigelow BEAM module berthed at the International Space Station. Image source: NASA via Parabolic Arc.

Space News broke the story yesterday that NASA is about to announce an agreement that could place a Bigelow inflatable habitat at the International Space Station.

According to the report, the deal “centers around the Bigelow Expanded Aerospace Module (BEAM).”

Although no official announcement has been made of the deal, NASA had already scheduled a commercial crew press conference for Kennedy Space Center tomorrow at 2 PM EST. Bigelow is not one of the listed participants, but partners SpaceX and Boeing are. It seems likely that someone will ask about the Bigelow report.

According to NASA Watch, the Bigelow agreement will be announced January 16 in Las Vegas, where Bigelow is headquartered, with founder Robert Bigelow and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver in attendance.

Robert Bigelow gives NASA Administrator Lori Garver a tour of Bigelow Aerospace on February 4, 2011. Image source: NASA.

Garver toured Bigelow Aerospace in February 2011. According to the NASA press release:

Garver toured the facilities of Bigelow Aerospace, a company that has been developing expandable space habitats. NASA is evaluating Bigelow’s concept for an expandable module for the International Space Station. If approved, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, could be launched to the station using a commercial cargo flight and robotically attached to the orbiting laboratory.

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc recalls a 2010 NASA presentation on the BEAM habitat.

In May 2010, NASA Johnson officials Tony Sang and Gary Spexarth gave a presentation about the proposed module at the NASA Exploration Enterprise Workshop in Galveston, Texas. The program had not been funded at that time, so the plan formed a “point of departure” that has likely evolved since. However, the presentation gives a good overview of what NASA though the module could do at the station.

A summary of the presentation is at the above link.

An April 2011 NASA report titled, Commercial Market Assessment for Crew and Cargo Systems, included references throughout the document to Bigelow Aerospace. From Page 9 of the report:

In addition to the ISS, the development of commercial orbital habitats has been proposed in recent years, most notably by Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, which has thus far invested $215 million of its own money to pursue this market via the development of a next-generation private sector space station that leverages expandable habitat technology (a technology originally conceived of by NASA but developed and put into practice by Bigelow Aerospace). Bigelow launched and fully tested in space two subscale prototypes of its expandable modules and has proposed a series of increasingly ambitious facilities in Earth orbit and beyond using larger versions of those modules. The company has publically announced its plans to deploy an initial space station as early as 2015, with a larger one to follow as early as 2017, pending availability of commercial crew and cargo transportation systems.

An artist's concept of a Boeing CST-100 capsule arriving at a Bigelow inflatable space station. Image source: Boeing via

Page 14 is a discussion on “Market Potential (Upper End of Range).” The report notes it relied on Bigelow market analysis for this section.

Bigelow Aerospace is targeting the National Interests market (also known as the Sovereign Client market) as a key part of its business strategy. Bigelow estimates that 30 flights will be accomplished during the assessment period to support its first operational space station. A second, larger space station is planned to be launched two years later and will require 45 - 60 flights will be accomplished to support that station during the assessment period. Each flight is planned to include three to five passengers total.

A strong positive indicator for this growth is the fact that Bigelow Aerospace has executed seven Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with a variety of national space agencies, companies, and governmental entities. These MOUs were signed with organizations in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia. These MOUs demonstrate the strong potential for international clientele to utilize such systems, particularly given the current lack of existing commercial crew transportation. Additionally, these MOUs demonstrate that foreign interest is not limited or necessarily tied exclusively to the ISS.

And most prophetic is this passage on Page 21:

As an example of proof-of-concept activities that might be enabled by in-space technology demonstration activities, Bigelow Aerospace and NASA have discussed connecting a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the ISS. Connecting a BEAM to the ISS would provide a demonstration of Bigelow’s technology. The demonstration would also provide both NASA and Bigelow with data on the performance of inflatable space habitation modules in orbit. With a successful demonstration of the ISS’s technology development capabilities, other users may follow.

KLAS Channel 8 in Las Vegas ran a story about Bigelow Aerospace in February 2011 just before Garver's visit. That clip is below.

Click the arrow to watch the KLAS-TV report about Bigelow Aerospace.

UPDATE January 9, 2013Edward Ellegood of the Florida SPACErePORT notes that in February 2011 Bigelow entered into an agreement with Space Florida to have an exhibit center somewhere in the Space Coast. He links to this February 2011 Universe Today article detailing the proposed exhibit center.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Challenger in the Fog

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

The orbiter Challenger first launched on STS-6. (STS stands for Space Transportation System.) It rolled out to Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A on December 8, 1982.

The rollout is memorable for the ground fog that created a "fairy land" effect, as seen in the above video.

The video has two clips. The first is the official NASA feed. The second is raw footage shot from a NASA helicopter.

Here are two photos from NASA archives of that fogbound rollout.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Golden Spike

Click here to watch the Golden Spike announcement video on YouTube.

Talk is cheap.

Human spaceflight is not.

The cost of human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit is, well, out of this world.

So I was a bit skeptical when The Golden Spike Company announced on December 6 its intention to sell round-trip flights to the surface of the Moon.

According to media reports, the cost of a Golden Spike flight would be about $1.5 billion. The company claims it can launch its first flight by 2020.

An illustration on the Golden Spike web site shows an example of a lunar expedition. According to that illustration, Golden Spike would use a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as the booster to escape Earth orbit.

An example of a Golden Spike lunar expedition using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy as the launch booster. Image source: The Golden Spike Company. Click the image to view at a larger scale.

Yesterday Golden Spike announced it had reached an agreement with Northrup Grumman to design the lunar lander.

Northrop Grumman’s participation brings heritage lunar engineering expertise to Golden Spike. Northrop Grumman is a major aerospace and defense contractor. Its legacy companies — Grumman and TRW — designed and built the Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines for the Apollo moon landing missions that between 1969 and 1972 ferried a crew of two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back again six times ...

Among the tasks Northrop Grumman will perform for Golden Spike are:

  • Reviewing requirements and synthesizing a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability
  • Establishing velocity (Δv) budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites
  • Exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options, including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility
  • Establishing the design trade space and establish pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development

It's hard to imagine an adventure tourist spending more than $1 billion for a lunar stroll, but Golden Spike believes it will have other customers.

Golden Spike predicts its customers will want to explore the Moon for varying reasons — scientific exploration and discovery, national prestige, commercial development, marketing, entertainment, and even personal achievement. Market studies by the company show the possibility of 15-25 or more expeditions in the decade following a first landing.

I'm still skeptical, because I can't think of a nation that would want to go to the Moon for “national prestige” unless it was their own vehicle. The profit incentive, in my opinion, is far off in the future.

But if the Golden Spike investors are willing to pay Northrup Grumman for a design contract, I'm slightly less skeptical.

Click here for a more thorough analysis of Golden Spike on

An illustration of the Golden Spike lunar lander. Image source: The Golden Spike Company. Click the image to view at a larger scale.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Fountain of Youth

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

On December 31 I posted photos of the fountain at the new entrance for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Last night I went back to film the fountain so you can watch the entire water show cycle, including the STS-135 Atlantis launch. It begins at 4:25 in the video and you see it again from a different angle at 7:35.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Would We Create NASA Today?

CBS News reports on October 6, 1957 about the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 launch.

What if NASA didn't exist?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was born out of unique historical circumstances.

In the 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War. Both sides were developing rockets, not for space exploration but to launch bombs at each other.

The International Council of Scientific Unions in 1952 proposed an event to coincide with the climax of a period of increased solar activity. Called the International Geophysical Year, the event would run from July 1957 to December 1958. It would help bridge political divides between East and West, as scientists from 67 nations eventually participated.

Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. agreed to participate by launching the world's first artificial satellites.

The American project was called Vanguard. It was to be launched on a nominally civilian rocket, because it was feared that using a military rocket would give the Soviets an excuse to militarize space. Vanguard was not considered a priority compared to military weapons research at Cape Canaveral; so long as it launched by December 1958, the U.S. would have done its part for the IGY.

The Russian satellite became known to the West as Sputnik. Its name in Russian was простейший спутник — “simplest satellite.” It was just a ball about the size of a beach ball that went “beep, beep” to prove it was in space.

It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. The U.S.S.R. said they were going to launch an IGY satellite. Their scientific team presented to their U.S. counterparts a 24-page document three months before the launch outlining the program. No one, apparently, took them seriously.

After the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, the U.S. accelerated the pace of Vanguard. A test flight on December 6, 1957 exploded just after the launch, live on national television, and was considered a national embarrassment.

A Universal newsreel report on the Vanguard TV-3 launch failure.

Now that the Russians had established the precedent of using a military rocket to launch a civilian satellite, the Eisenhower administration turned to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to launch what would become America's first satellite. Explorer 1 launched on January 31, 1958, atop a modified Jupiter-C intermediate range ballistic missile.

Later in 1958, NASA was created out of several existing federal agencies. NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was combined with several space research agencies from the Defense Department, so the U.S. could claim it was separating civilian and military space research.

Many of today's NASA field centers trace their origins back to that merger.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory contracted with the U.S. Army in the early 1940s to develop jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) aircraft. In the 1950s, it helped develop some of the nation's earliest missiles. JPL developed the Explorer 1 satellite.

The Langley Research Center was established in 1917 by NACA. Originally established for aeronautical research, it expanded into rocketry research in the 1940s which led to the creation of what is known today as NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

The White Sands Test Facility was the Army's White Sands Proving Ground in the 1940s. Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists were shipped here along with the parts for about 100 V-2 rockets after World War II so they could teach rocketry to American military and university engineers.

Marshall Space Flight Center was an arsenal for storing ordnance shells during World War II. Eventually named the Redstone Arsenal, von Braun and his team were transferred here from White Sands in 1950. When the remnants of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency were transferred to NASA in 1960, von Braun became the center's first director.

As an intellectual exercise, let's pretend that Lloyd Berkner never thought of the IGY and proposed it to his scientist colleagues.

No IGY, which means no Sputnik, no Vanguard, no Explorer.

Let's take this supposition one step further, and assume that the United States and Soviet Union didn't become adversaries after World War II.

What would have happened to the nascent rocketry research that came out of the war?

My guess is that government funding for rocketry would have languished. Nazi Germany's V-2 might have become an historical curiosity, perhaps dismissed as a desperate tactic in the waning days of a lost war.

But another American adversary would have arisen sooner or later, perhaps one that pursued rocketry as a military weapon.

It's also possible that some entrepreneur would have recognized the value of orbital satellites. Many of rocketry's earliest visionaries understood the potential for orbital communications and observation satellites. The 1950s equivalent of Elon Musk might have decided to invest in resurrecting V-2 technology to launch a demonstration satellite to attract more investors.

But let's fast-forward to 2013.

Why would today's federal government want to create a NASA?

No perceived external mortal threat exists, as did the Soviet Union in 1958.

With trillion-dollar annual federal deficits and a bitterly partisan Congress, I think we all agree they would lack any far-sighted vision to create a space exploration agency.

Assuming a growing satellite launch industry, the government would probably decide it needed regulation, so we might have a space version of the Federal Aviation Administration. As other nations started to grow their own commercial launch industries, perhaps Congress would create a NACA for space to coordinate and promote research.

But it's unlikely that Congress would choose to simply lump together into one federal agency all the disparate military research facilities such as JPL, Redstone Arsenal and White Sands — if they even still existed.

It's been suggested that NASA be given the power to close and consolidate its facilities, but Congress has blocked that, preferring to protect pork in its districts and states.

The point of this pointless exercise is to suggest that if we decided today to create a government-funded space agency, it would probably look very different from NASA. NASA's bureaucracy is a Cold War relic, incapable of designing and pursuing its own nimble agenda because Congress won't let it. A recent example is the Space Launch System, dubbed Senate Launch System by its critics, because the program was imposed upon NASA by Congress in 2010.

As long as space exploration — and exploitation — is beholden to taxpayer financing, NASA won't be free to pursue its own destiny.

So perhaps it's time to ask ourselves as a nation, and as a global spacefaring species, what kind of government program we want — if any.

Just as NACA and the other agencies were absorbed into NASA in 1958, maybe we need to think about replacing NASA with another approach.

The problem, of course, is that Congress won't let it happen.

Hence the pointless exercise.

My opinion is that the success of commercial space will force the issue. NASA will eventually become like the old NACA. Exploration and exploitation will be led by the private sector.

That was essentially the motivation of the earliest ocean explorers such as Christopher Columbus — profit and advantage over rival nations.

History does tend to repeat itself.