Thursday, July 31, 2014

They Told You So

Click the arrow to watch the September 14, 2011 Congressional event announcing the Space Launch System design.

“We are collectively perpetrating a fraud.”

— A. Thomas Young, member, NASA Advisory Council

The proposed Fiscal Year 2011 NASA budget presented to Congress by the Obama administration on February 1, 2010 proposed that the Constellation program be cancelled.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated in his prepared remarks:

Now let’s discuss the Constellation Program. The Program was planning to use an approach similar to Apollo to return astronauts to the Moon some 50 years after that program’s triumphs. The Augustine Committee observed that this path was not sustainable, and the President agrees. They found that Constellation key milestones were slipping, and that the program would not get us back to the moon in any reasonable time or within any affordable cost. Far more funding was needed to make our current approach work. The Augustine Committee estimated that the heavy lift rocket for getting to the moon would not be available until 2028 or 2030, and even then they found “there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and lunar surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever.” So as much as we would not like it to be the case, and taking nothing away from the hard work and dedication of our team, the truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon's surface. And as we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting to the Moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond.

So this budget cancels the Constellation Program, including the Ares I and V rockets and the Orion crew exploration vehicle. NASA intends to work with the Congress to make this transition smooth and effective, working responsibly on behalf of the Taxpayers.

Congress didn't gave a damn about the taxpayers — or the August 2009 Government Accountability Office audit which concluded that Constellation lacked “a sound business case.” The members of the space authorization and appropriations committees were more concerned about protecting the pork flowing to their states and districts from Constellation.

So in October 2010, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010. Section 302 of the Act mandated that NASA build a “Space Launch System” that “can access cis-lunar space and the regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit in order to enable the United States to participate in global efforts to access and develop this increasingly strategic region.” Congress directed that NASA use existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors, instead of using an open competitive bid to secure the least expensive best offer. Congress resurrected the Orion capsule as the SLS crew vehicle, and for good measure told NASA what the basic design had to be.

But nowhere did Congress tell NASA what its mission would be.

Critics dubbed SLS the Senate Launch System.

If there was any doubt as to who were the true architects of the SLS, all one had to do was watch the September 14, 2011 media event where Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) revealed the system's proposed design. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was present but, other than brief remarks, was relegated to the backrgound while various politicians strode forward to take credit.

September 14, 2011 ... Senator Bill Nelson describes the Space Launch System while NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stands aside. Image source:

The 2010 NASA Act authorized spending for the next three fiscal years, 2011 through 2013. Over that time, NASA was to spend another $4.0 billion on Orion (beyond what had already been spent during Constellation) and $6.9 billion for Space Launch System.

Acting with due diligence, NASA hired the firm Booz Allen Hamilton to prepare an independent assessment of SLS cost and schedule estimates. The August 19, 2011 report concluded that program estimates “assume large, unsubstantiated, future cost efficiencies leading to the impression that they are optimistic. A scenario-based risk assessment, which excludes cost estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks (historically major sources of cost and schedule growth), reveals all three Programs’ reserves are insufficient.”

The Programs’ estimates are serviceable and can be used for near-term budget planning in the current 3- to 5-year budget horizon. Beyond this horizon, the inclusion of large expected cost savings in the estimates, the beginning of development activities, and the potential for significant risk events decreases the ICA Team’s confidence in the estimates.

Senators Nelson and Hutchison were quite displeased.

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

Never mind we won't give you enough money to build it. Build it anyway.

Hutchison claimed the report proved “that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately.” But it said no such thing.

Three years later, it turns out that the independent assessment was right.

For a variety of reasons SLS/Orion spending has fallen short of the 2010 authorizations.

Including spending on ground upgrades (e.g. SLS modifications at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B), over Fiscal Years 2011-2013 NASA actually spent about $8.9 billion on SLS and Orion, compared to the authorized $10.9 billion.

In each of those three fiscal years, Congress appropriated more money for SLS/Orion than requested by the Obama administration in its proposed annual budgets. But due to sequestration, delayed passage of those budgets, and continuing resolutions until Congress got its act together, NASA fell behind just as it had in the prior decade when Congress underfunded Constellation.

NASA maintained the polite fiction that the first uncrewed SLS test flight was on schedule for the end of 2017.

But in recent months, some NASA officials have informally hinted that the launch might slip into the 2018 calendar year. A July 2014 NASA SLS promotional document now states the launch will occur in “Fiscal 2018” (October 2017-September 2018) or just “scheduled for 2018.”

A new GAO audit released July 23 concluded that “NASA has not established an executable business case that matches the SLS program’s cost and schedule resources with the requirement to develop the SLS and launch the first flight test in December 2017 at the required confidence level of 70 percent.” The report cited inadequate funding:

The SLS program office calculated the risk associated with insufficient funding through 2017 as having a 90 percent likelihood of occurrence; furthermore, it indicated the insufficient budget could push the planned December 2017 launch date out 6 months and add some $400 million to the overall cost of SLS development.

The GAO also faulted Congress ordering NASA to use Shuttle-era technology for SLS.

The SLS program could experience additional schedule pressure if unanticipated challenges associated with using heritage hardware occur when integrating it into the launch vehicle’s operational environment and modifying manufacturing process to incorporate new materials. The use of heritage hardware — legacy engine, booster, and propulsion systems — was prescribed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, but the hardware was not originally designed for SLS. Therefore, the SLS program must ensure each heritage hardware element meets SLS performance requirements and current design standards prior to the 2017 test flight. Although the heritage hardware challenges have yet to affect the SLS schedule, each heritage hardware element shares the common issue of operating in the SLS environment that is likely to be more stressful than that of its original launch vehicle as well as unique integration issues particular to that element, which must be resolved prior to SLS first flight in 2017. For example, according to agency officials the engines from the Space Shuttle require additional heat shielding because of the increased temperatures they will experience in the SLS environment, and the avionics within the solid rocket boosters from the Constellation program are likely to require additional cushioning to protect them from increased vibrations. Until the core stage is demonstrated, however, the SLS operating environment can be defined only through analytical predictions. Further, eliminating asbestos as a key insulating material within the solid rocket boosters on the SLS has required changes to the booster manufacturing processes to meet safety requirements.

This is what happens when politicians think they are engineers.

Three years later, Congress still has failed to tell NASA what it's supposed to do with SLS.

Attempting to justify a use for the rocket it was ordered by Congress to build, the Obama administration proposed an Asteroid Initiative, but Congress reacted with a collective yawn.

On February 27, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing titled, “Mars Flyby 2021.” Smith insisted that NASA put two people in the Orion and launch them atop the SLS in 2021 so they could fly by Mars and Venus. No NASA representatives were invited. Smith did not say how he would pay for this, or what it was the crew were to do during the mission, or how they would survive the lethal doses of radiation.

Click the arrow to watch the “Mars Flyby 2021” hearing on YouTube.

(For more on this hearing, read my March 2 blog article, “Desperation Mars.”)

When it presented its Fiscal Year 2015 proposed budget earlier this year, NASA unveiled its “Human Path to Mars” graphic suggesting that SLS and Orion are part of a coordinated plan with the International Space Station, commercial cargo and commercial crew to send people to Mars in the 2030s.

According to the NASA Human Path to Mars web page:

NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s — goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010.

Note the semantics of this sentence — NASA is “developing the capabilities.” They may not actually ever do anything with it. But they're developing the capabilities.

Someone has finally had the courage to publicly call out the SLS propaganda for what it truly is.

Marcia Smith of reported July 30 on the NASA Advisory Council meeting. Tom Young, former Director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NAC member, called all this a “fraud.” Ms. Smith reported:

At the top level, the response today was the same — that NASA is developing a plan that is not executable. Some members said they want to know what NASA can do with the money it can reasonably expect, while others wanted a realistic assessment of what it will actually cost to achieve the goal of getting people to Mars by the 2030s. Tom Young said he felt that “we are collectively perpetrating a fraud” by pretending the program is executable. He said he worries that the country will spend $160 billion on human spaceflight over the next 20 years and be only “negligibly closer” to landing humans on Mars. However, when [NAC Chair Steven] Squyres suggested that NAC make a recommendation that NASA publicly state what activities it would have to terminate in order to achieve the goal of humans on Mars by the 2030s absent a bigger budget, most NAC members demurred.

Everyone wants to go to Mars. But no one wants to pay for it.

No one likes the asteroid mission. But it appears to be the only one that's affordable.

And while all this hypocrisy is lathered upon the taxpayers, at Kennedy Space Center's other launch pad SpaceX founder Elon Musk is investing in renovating Pad 39A for his new Falcon Heavy rocket — part of his vision to one day send humanity to Mars on privately developed and funded launch vehicles that aren't beholden to porking members of Congress.

Pad 39B awaits Space Launch System. But if you really want to go to Mars, the path runs through Pad 39A.

NASA's Human Path to Mars relies on the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle — but Congress has failed to approve any missions. Image source: NASA's Human Path to Mars web page.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Awaiting the Check from Amgen

Click the arrow to watch the episode. Video source: ReelNASA YouTube channel.

This week's Space to Ground includes a question I posed via Twitter — what experiments conducted in microgravity have led to commercial products on the market?

If the question was selected, I guessed they might talk about Prolia by Amgen, and I guessed right.

In July 2013, I wrote about five medical discoveries in microgravity that were already on the market or in clinical trials.

One is Prolia, which helps women with osteoporosis.

Recently I saw this Prolia ad on television, featuring Blythe Danner.

Click the arrow to watch the ad. Video source: Premium Adverts YouTube channel.

No mention of space, alas, but it was nice to see an actual “Made in Space” product on the market.

Collect Call

Click the arrow to watch the hearing on YouTube.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a live chat July 24 with U.S. astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman aboard the International Space Station.

The committee members, for the most part, behaved themselves, although the odious Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) used his time to promote himself and trumpet his belief in “American exceptionalism.”

Several members who otherwise never show up for these hearings were here to be filmed talking to astronauts.

The event itself was relatively harmless, and certainly benign compared to the 1980s, when NASA flew Senator Jake Garn (R-UT) and Rep. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Shuttle to curry favor with the congressional space committees.

If history is any indication, the event won't have much impact on the committee's venal attitude towards the government space program.

Retro Saturday: Rhapsody of the Rails

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: wdtvlive42 YouTube channel.

Something different for your Retro Saturday.

Rhapsody of the Rails was a 1933 Fox Film Corporation about passenger train service, featuring the New York Central railroad.

It has nothing to do with spaceflight, other than it left me wondering if someone circa 2033 will produce a similar promotional film about passenger space service on a commercial crew vehicle to a Bigelow expandable habitat.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Try, Try Again

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

SpaceX released today the raw footage of its second attempt to “land” a Falcon 9 first stage in the Atlantic Ocean by deploying landing legs.

This second demonstration was after the stage launched the Orbcomm OG2 satellites on July 14.

The first demonstration was on the Dragon commercial cargo launch on April 18. The transmission was damaged, however members of managed to clean up the footage.

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: spacexlandingrestoration YouTube channel.

SpaceX hopes that, with enough successful demonstrations, the Air Force will permit the company to attempt a landing on a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Retro Saturday: To New Horizons

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Jeff Quitney YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday feature is a 1940 promotional film by General Motors titled To New Horizons. It's about the GM Futurama attraction at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

(Yes, the animated comedy Futurama was named after the 1939 attraction.)

Futurama attempted to predict what the world would look like in 1960.

Did they get it right? Watch the film!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Война и мир (War and Peace)

Click the arrow to watch the July 16, 2014 Senate joint hearing on YouTube.

The word мир in Russian means both “peace” and “world.” Mir was chosen by the Soviet Union for the name of its first modular space station that was in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001.

In 1992 and 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States and the new Russian Federation signed agreements that led to NASA astronauts staying on Mir and Space Shuttle visits, in preparation for joint operations for the planned International Space Station.

From the U.S. perspective, involvement with the Russian aerospace industry helped assure that Soviet-era aerospace technology didn't transfer to groups hostile to American interests.

Wary of each other after decades of Cold War, the two sides slowly learned to work together and eventually became fast friends in space exploration.

The 1998 ISS agreements specify that NASA is the managing partner, but both the U.S. and Russia provided most of the station structure that orbits today.

The relationship was so close that, after the Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, NASA relied on Roscosmos for ISS crew rotations until the Space Shuttle was certified safe for flight.

When President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration on January 14, 2004, he said that Shuttle would fly only to finish ISS construction, and then the Shuttle would be retired. Crew rotations would continue on Soyuz until a replacement vehicle would be ready.

Two weeks later, on January 28, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee to detail the VSE proposal. He displayed a graphic that 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 chart showed a four-year gap between the end of Shuttle and the first operation of the Crew Exploration Vehicle. NASA would continue to use Roscosmos for crew rotations until the CEV was ready.

No one questioned reliance on Soyuz. Relations between the U.S. and Russia were friendly, especially in space.

Over the next ten years, VSE evolved into the failed Constellation program. The Crew Exploration Vehicle became the Orion capsule, and when Congress agreed with President Barack Obama in 2010 to cancel Constellation it chose to save Orion as the crew vehicle for the new Space Launch System.

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose to invade eastern Ukraine and annex Crimea. After the United States imposed sanctions, Russian defense minister Dmitri Rogozin threatened to end U.S. access to the ISS aboard Soyuz. He posted this message on Twitter:

It roughly translates as, “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the USA deliver their astronauts to the International Space Station with the help of a trampoline.”

While NASA bound itself in the 1990s to Roscosmos, the U.S. defense industry picked over the leftovers of their Russian counterparts. General Dynamics acquired the rights to the RD-180 engine produced by a Russian government-owned company called NPO Energomash. General Dynamics was acquired by Lockheed Martin, which now uses the reliable RD-180 as the engines on its Atlas V first stage. Atlas V launches significant military payloads, as well as NASA missions such as the Mars Curiosity rover.

Rogozin has also threatened to end shipments of the RD-180 to the United States.

Despite his threats, Russia has taken no action against NASA or United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Rogozin's threats have proven to be hollow, just bark but no bite. If Roscosmos failed to uphold its responsibilities under the ISS agreement, they would become a space pariah, and no other nation would trust them again. ULA is the only customer Russia has for the RD-180, so if Russia failed to ship the RD-180s then NPO Energomash loses its only customer and Mr. Rogozin has to find new jobs for all those people.

If one assumes that an international leader is acting rationally, then rationally it would make no sense for Russia to self-destruct its aerospace program.

But events of the last twenty-four hours have us wondering if Russia is acting rationally.

The details of the story are still unclear, but it appears that a Russian Бук (Buk, Russian for “beech”) surface-to-air missile system was used to shoot down a commercial airliner over Ukraine.

The preliminary evidence suggests that Russian separatists, perhaps acting in loose alliance with a Russian military official, fired on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in the mistaken belief it was a Ukrainian military cargo plane.

One Russian media report laughingly implied that Ukraine mistakenly hit MH17 after aiming at Putin's plane, and Putin himself blamed Ukraine for actions against the separatists in its own territory.

UPDATE July 18, 2014 — Courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, here is the Russia Today article that claimed Ukraine was shooting at Putin's plane. It was soon deleted, but Wayback Machine archived it first.

Putin and Obama talked by phone yesterday right after the incident. The conversation had been previously scheduled to discuss new sanctions imposed earlier this week by the United States after Russia began to escalate its forces again near eastern Ukraine.

Hopefully Mr. Putin hasn't gone so far 'round the bend that he ordered his military to shoot down a commercial airliner in retaliation.

But it also seems implausible that Russia would simply hand over a Buk system to separatists without a degree of control. The weapon could one day be turned against Russian interests.

In any case, these breaking events stress the importance of the United States accelerating its divorce from the Russian aerospace industry.

The above video is of a July 16 joint hearing of the Senate space and armed services committees to discuss assuring “domestic space access.” Given the incident in the skies over Ukraine, it's time for Congress to accelerate funding of commercial crew to get NASA back on American vehicles as soon as possible. The same goes for a domestic replacement for the RD-180.

The Russian people are not to blame. Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Rogozin, and their oligarch cronies are to blame.

But the reality is that the Putin regime no longer may be acting rationally. And that means that the U.S. may need to re-evaluate flying crew with Russia until its government shows it can behave responsibly in a civilized world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Year to Pluto

Click the arrow to watch the “One Year to Pluto” video on YouTube. Video source: ScienceAtNASA YouTube channel.

NASA has released a new video reminding us that its New Horizons spacecraft has only one year left until it reaches Pluto, planet or dwarf planet or whatever you want to call it.

New Horizons launched from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 19, 2006. Its voyage will last 9½ years and is scheduled to fly by Pluto on July 14, 2015.

NASA is already considering a new mission for New Horizons once it leaves Pluto.

New Horizons launches from CCAFS on January 19, 2006. Video source: The Mars Underground YouTube channel.

Out of This World

Click the arrow to watch the July 13 launch of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus to the International Space Station. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Click the arrow to watch the July 14 launch of six Orbcomm satellites atop a SpaceX Falcon 9. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

Two NewSpace launches in the last two days reminded us that the American launch industry is alive and well.

On July 13, Orbital Sciences sent its Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA facility in Wallops, Virginia. Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the ISS early in the morning (Florida time) on July 16. It's the second of eight cargo deliveries for Orbital under their NASA contract.

On July 14, SpaceX launched and deployed six Orbcomm satellites from its complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch was delayed several times over the last two months for several reasons, ranging from vehicle problems to satellite batteries to bad weather to range maintenance.

This was also the second attempt by SpaceX to demonstrate its ability to return the first stage to a target in the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to win Air Force permission to attempt landing a stage later this year at CCAFS. The first flight in April went well, except the stage was destroyed by stormy seas before a recovery ship could arrive.

Monday's attempt was nominal until ... well, I'll let Elon Musk tell you.

The launch also saw the return of the live SpaceX webcast.

After several failed launch attempts, the June 21 attempt was blacked out. A SpaceX representative claimed that “the main reason is these launches are becoming more routine and the full webcast isn't really appropriate anymore.”

The blackout unleashed a firestorm on social media. SpaceX relented, and agreed to continue webcasts in a different format. This launch was webcast with voiceover narrative, no live studio talking heads.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Spaced Florida

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the February 10, 2014 hearing on KSC facility utilization.

On July 9, the Federal Aviation Administration issued its environmental impact Record of Decision recommending that the FAA “issue launch licenses and/or experimental permits to SpaceX to conduct launches of the Falcon Program vehicles and a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles from the proposed launch site” at Boca Chica, Texas, outside Brownsville.

According to the Valley Morning Star article by Emma Perez-Treviño:

This latest clearance allows Elon Musk’s SpaceX to apply for licenses from the FAA to launch, from the Boca Chica site, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch rockets — which also could carry the Dragon capsule — and a variety of smaller, reusable suborbital launch vehicles.

SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post said Wednesday that the Boca Chica site “remains a finalist for SpaceX’s development of a commercial orbital launch complex and SpaceX appreciates the FAA’s commitment and work in developing today’s Record of Decision. There remain several criteria that will need to be met before SpaceX makes a decision. We are hopeful that these will be complete in the near future.”

According to the Record of Decision, “SpaceX considered sites in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas (City of McGregor, Kenedy County, Willacy County, and other properties in Cameron County). None of the alternative sites sufficiently met SpaceX’s criteria; therefore, they were not evaluated in detail in the EIS.”

The day before, in Cape Canaveral, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello told a National Space Club audience that if the Space Coast couldn't learn to become more competitive, the emerging “NewSpace” industry would continue to go elsewhere.

Space Florida fosters “the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida” by, among other means, arranging to lease unused federal government facilities to the private sector.

According to the Florida Today article by James Dean:

Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said he expects Texas to announce within a week or two that SpaceX will build a privately operated pad near Brownsville for launches of commercial satellites.

DiBello said he was not angry at SpaceX, which will continue to launch government payloads from here and whose CEO, Elon Musk, was making a business decision about where he could best serve commercial customers.

“I am mad as hell, however, that we could not offer him a comparable alternative business site and environment here in time,” said DiBello. “That is ... something that has to change.”

That change may be coming soon. Involuntarily if need be.

This morning's Florida Today had an article by James Dean reporting that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other members of the Florida congressional delegation are calling in the big guns to force recalcitrant locals to change the status quo.

Nelson summoned the Secretary of the Air Force, NASA's associate administrator and head of the Federal Aviation Administration to his office in April to study a map of Cape Canaveral and discuss options at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and has been receiving status reports since.

The meeting followed a February hearing on underutilized infrastructure at the Cape, during which U.S. Rep. Bill Posey asked local space leaders: If not at Shiloh, where could you accommodate an independent launch range?

And last month, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana to ensure the center's plans do not “deter or hamper commercial space entities from making full use of the facility and other potential launch sites in Florida.”

The discussions highlight challenges Space Florida faces as it seeks approval to build one or two pads on former orange groves at the north end of KSC and the refuge, a proposal environmentalists strongly oppose.

An artist's concept of a possible launch complex at Shiloh. Image source: Space Florida.

Local opposition cites the abandoned launch pads at CCAFS, and points to vacant land at KSC, but ignores the main reason why NewSpace looks elsewhere — the entrenched bureaucracies at both government-owned facilities don't want to give up the control they have.

According to today's article:

Responding in writing to Posey's question earlier this year, Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said locating an independent launch range on Air Force property “is not operationally feasible.”

She also said the Air Force is working with future government and commercial customers “who desire the security, infrastructure and existing range capabilities the 45th Space Wing provides.”

Just my opinion, but I think SpaceX would disagree with her.

Which is why they're going to Texas.

The “security” argument, in my opinion, doesn't seem to have much merit any more. Military payloads launch from the Cape on commercial rockets, but what is the security threat? The payloads are encased in fairings, so no one can observe them on the pad. No one can enter the Cape without a badge, and that badge requires a background check. “Security” has nothing to do with a sclerotic bureaucracy that goes out of its way to make things difficult for someone with fresh ideas. It's a lot easier to say “no” and cite fifty-year old regulations than to change the culture.

When I moved to the Space Coast in 2009, I couldn't understand why the local economy hadn't diversified once it was notified in 2004 by the Bush administration that the Space Shuttle program would end once the International Space Station was completed circa 2010.

The commercial space idea began with the Bush administration and, by the time Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the commercial cargo program was well on its way. Under Bush's original Vision for Space Exploration proposal sent to Congress in February 2004, commercial companies would deliver cargo to the International Space Station, while a government vehicle would deliver people to ISS and eventually beyond Earth orbit to the Moon.

That government program, called Constellation, fell years behind schedule and went billions over budget. In August 2009, the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding Constellation lacked “a sound business case” and had yet to solve several key technical problems.

Rather than continuing to sink money into a failed program, the Obama administration in early 2010 proposed cancelling Constellation, and replacing it by funding a commercial crew program along the lines of commercial cargo.

Some have claimed that Constellation was going to save all the Shuttle jobs, but that's patently false. United Space Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that was the primary Shuttle contractor, laid off about 7,000 jobs at KSC. Constellation jobs would not materialize for many years, as the first operational Ares I flight wasn't planned until 2017.

Rather than adapting to a new era, the local unions desperately tried to save the status quo, even though the Shuttle's supply chain had long since been shut down. At a Feburary 27, 2010 rally, union members demanded their soon-to-be obsolete jobs be protected. According to Nancy Atkinson of Universe Today:

Speakers included union and community leaders, and each began with the words, “I’m one of the faces of the Space Coast, my family is worth fighting for, my community is worth fighting for, my job is worth fighting for.”

Some people at the rally held signs demanding Obama be impeached — even though the Shuttle's demise had been proposed by President Bush in 2004 and affirmed by Congress later that year.

The February 27, 2010 rally in Titusville demanding that Shuttle jobs be protected. Image source: Universe Today.

On March 11, 2010, a bizarre Florida Today editorial demanded that President Obama pass a federal law forcing commercial companies to launch from the Space Coast!

The plans call for spending $2 billion there the next several years to turn it into a 21st-century spaceport, but to what end? There's no guarantee commercial companies would fly from KSC and, with Constellation dead, the historic launch pads could become a ghost town.

The president should make KSC the commercial hub and mandate it in his policy.

With this attitude of entitlement pervasive in local politics, is it any wonder that four years later the Space Coast is losing NewSpace companies to other locations?

The editorial claimed that introducing competition into the launch industry “could drive Brevard County's 12.7 percent unemployment rate to 17 percent or higher.” That turned out to be false; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Brevard County unemployment rate topped out at 11.8% in January 2010 (during the Great Recession) and a year later began to decline from 11.3% in January 2011.

Florida Today claimed that competition would lessen Obama's chances of winning Florida in the 2012 election, “because of the catastrophic cuts coming in space jobs.” But far more residents were registered Republican than Democrat, so it was unlikely this would make a difference. In 2008, Obama lost Brevard County 54.5% to 44.2%. In 2012, he lost Brevard County 55.6% to 42.9%. Statewide, in 2008 Obama won Florida 50.9% to 48.1%; in 2012, Obama won Florida 50.0% to 49.1%.

Once again, the message was delivered ... Despite the air of self-importance and entitlement among some in the local political and union communities, the reality is that space jobs don't mean much at the state and federal levels.

A more fundamental concern is the notion that a government space program exists only to protect union and government contractor jobs.

Certainly there's nothing in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA's charter, that requires it to be a workfare program for obsolete job skills.

Competition is a basic tenet of capitalism, and I find it ironic that a conservative county that claims to embrace free enterprise would prefer to drive away free enterprise rather than change with the times.

An artist's concept of a Stratolaunch at the former Shuttle runway. Image source:

Space Florida has made a lot of progress in the four years since 2010's melodrama. It has arranged to lease many KSC and CCAFS facilities to a number of private companies.

Several horizontal launch companies have expressed interest in KSC's former Shuttle landing runway, but on July 5 Florida Today reported that “after more than a year of discussion, a deal to transfer control of the former shuttle runway — arguably the centerpiece of KSCs transformation into a multi-user spaceport — remains months away.”

James Dean wrote:

NASA says it shares the state’s goal to turn the runway into a hub for horizontal rocket launches and landings.

Scott Colloredo, head of KSC’s Planning and Development office, said ongoing negotiations involved “strategic questions concerning how we’re going to operate in the future.”

“In transforming to a multi-user spaceport, NASA needs to ensure that our partners are given operational flexibility they desire while protecting the future interests of the agency,” he said. “Finding that balance is critical to a successful partnership, and typically takes time to finalize all terms and conditions.”

It's heartening to see a bipartisan effort by Florida's two U.S. senators, as well as Brevard County's congressional representative, to lean on executives further up the bureaucratic chain of command who have the authority to overcome local recalcitrance.

But it's disheartening that, four years later, some folks here would rather watch the local aerospace economy wither and die than yield to a new generation with fresh ideas.

UPDATE July 13, 2014Bright House News 13 reports on SpaceX commercial launches moving to Boca Chica:

“We kind of have known it's coming for a while,” said Dale Ketcham, of Space Florida. “But it's still going to be traumatic and not insignificant disappointment.”

Just last week, SpaceX cleared a Federal Aviation Administration environmental review at the potential launch complex. The Brownsville site means commercial satellites, like the one set to launch Monday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, will eventually be launched from Texas instead of Florida.

It's a sign that Florida's Space Coast may be losing its grip as America's go-to place for launching missions to space. Virginia is launching NASA missions to the International Space station.

“It is naïve for us to assume the loss of SpaceX commercial activity to Texas is not a significant blow to our plans and our future,” Ketcham said. “It is. And our job is to be aggressive as possible seeing to it that more of that work doesn't leave and next year, somebody is announcing they're going to Georgia.”

UPDATE July 15, 2014Emma Perez-Treviño of the Valley Morning Star reports that Space Florida acknowledges they've lost SpaceX to Boca Chica.

“It’s part of the process,” Space Florida’s Chief of Strategic Alliances Dale Ketcham said Monday in a telephone interview. “Eventually, space will continue to grow to be a very large marketplace and Florida, regardless of what happens, we are going to continue to compete and get our share.”

In summing up the likelihood that the commercial launches won’t be in Florida, Ketcham said, “You win some, you lose some.”

He conceded that Florida lost this round and his organization is not happy about it, but he added, “You’re not supposed to be happy when you lose.”

Retro Saturday: It's About Time

Click the arrow to watch the pilot episode of “It's About Time.” Video source: retrotelevision1 YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday returns to the fall of 1966, when two astronauts on Scorpio EX1 flew in space more than 60,000 miles per second to break the time barrier and travel one million years to the Stone Age.

You don't remember this?

Well, you should, and it's about time.

It's About Time was a short-lived sitcom that ran on CBS from September 1966 to April 1967. The original premise was that two astronauts inadvertently wound up in prehistoric days, with cave people and dinosaurs.

The show re-tooled mid-season, having the astronauts return to present day along with the cave family that had taken them in.

It's About Time was created by Sherwood Schwartz, who had also created Gilligan's Island. Sets, props and music were shared between the two shows.

Above is the pilot episode. Other episodes are on the retrotelevision1 YouTube channel. Use the Wikipedia page for an episode guide to help your YouTube search.

Betchya didn't see this on Cosmos.

Friday, July 11, 2014

T + 5,000

Click the arrow to watch the July 11, 2014 “Space to Ground.” Video source: ReelNASA YouTube Channel.

This week's NASA Space to Ground reports that on July 12 the International Space Station will have been occupied for 5,000 straight days.

You can check various ISS countdown clocks on the ISS Crews and Expeditions web page. July 12 will be the 5,000th day of crew occupancy, but it will also be 5,713 days that ISS has been on orbit.

Expedition 1 launched from Baikonur on October 31, 2000 and arrived at the ISS on November 2.

The crew members were NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, who was the first commander, and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev.

Commander Shepherd kept logs while aboard, which are available on NASA's web site. Some of the contents are redacted. Other comments reveal the mundane aspect of daily life 250 miles from Earth. Take this entry from November 30:

Shep putting together the changes to the Joint Ops book for 4A. Big thanks to the planners for carving out some time to do this. It's the little things that really slow you down — like when you need a hole punch, and can't find one.

The Expedition 1 crew logo. Image source:

Nearly fourteen years later, two U.S. robotic ships deliver cargo to the ISS. One of them, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, is scheduled to launch July 13 from Wallops, Virginia. Click here for the Orbital-2 press kit.

UPDATE July 12, 2014 — Here's the official countdown clock when it clicked over to 5,000 at 6:23 AM EDT:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Astronauts Wanted

Click the arrow to watch a news report about the April 30 Bigelow-Boeing media event in North Las Vegas. Video source: KLAS-TV Channel 8 Las Vegas.

Are you an unemployed astronaut?

Or maybe you're a former astronaut unhappy in your current job.

Maybe you're happy, but you have a thing for balloons.

If you fit any of these descriptions ... Bigelow Aerospace wants to hear from you.

Space News reports that Bigelow has hired former NASA astronauts Kenneth Ham and George Zamka to “form the cornerstone of the private astronaut corps.”

Space News reporter Dan Leone interviewed founder Bob Bigelow by phone.

Bigelow said the smallest space station his company plans to fly will require two BA330 modules, each of which has 330 cubic meters of internal space. The company expects to finish building the first two BA330s by 2017, Bigelow said.

Ham and Zamka are former military aviators who have piloted and commanded space shuttle missions. Their NASA and military credentials are part of the appeal for Bigelow, who plans to put both former space fliers to work as recruiters.

“I would like to see us have half a dozen astronauts onboard by the end of the year,” Bigelow said.

Each Bigelow Aerospace space station would require about a dozen astronauts, including orbital, ground and backup personnel. The 660-cubic-foot stations would host four paying clients, who would be assisted by three company astronauts responsible for day-to-day maintenance, Bigelow said.

Initially, clients and crews would cycle in and out of the stations in 90-day shifts, Bigelow said. Eventually, the company hopes to shorten that cycle to 60 days.

“Our clients don’t need six months on orbit,” Bigelow said, referring to the time astronauts typically remain aboard the international space station. “It’s an imposition on them. They can get just as much out of three months.”

Bigelow held a joint media event April 30 in North Las Vegas with Boeing, which will fly its CST-100 commercial crew vehicle to deliver Bigelow customers. Bigelow also has a deal with SpaceX to deliver customers to the habitats.

Even if you're not an astronaut, Bigelow is hiring other jobs. Click here for the Bigelow careers page.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Retro Saturday: Astrospies

Click the arrow to watch the documentary on YouTube. Video source: PBS YouTube channel.

It's not an old documentary, but the subject matter is.

This week's Retro Saturday is a 2008 PBS documentary titled, Astrospies. It's about the Manned Orbital Laboratory program in the 1960s, essentially a military version of Project Gemini that would spy on the Soviet Union.

About five minutes into the documentary, you're shown the blockhouse at the Cape's Launch Complex 5/6. But then they show you inside — at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, which is down the field at Launch Complex 26. Two different buildings. Oops.

The Soviets had their own version of MOL, code-named Алмаз (Almaz, or “diamond”). The documentary covers the Soviet program too.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Future of Human Space Exploration

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Video YouTube channel.

NASA posted the above 11-minute video July 1 on YouTube. It's a good summary of NASA's current game plan for human spaceflight.

Whether or not it ever happens is a matter of debate.

But it's a good summary to share with anyone who might ask you about NASA's current strategy.