Saturday, February 28, 2015

Retro Saturday: Moon Mission

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

This week's Retro Saturday is an undated film produced by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center simply titled, “Moon Mission.”

The film appears to have been produced during the Kennedy Administration circa 1963, and features an introduction by Wernher von Braun, who at the time was MSFC's director and chief architect of the Saturn V moon rocket.

Because this is still early in the Apollo program, some concepts familiar to today's audiences were yet to be finalized at the time of this film. At the end, it shows the Apollo crew vehicle landing in the desert, not in the ocean.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Long and Prosperous Life

Click the arrow to watch astronauts Luca Parmitano and Mike Fincke comment on the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Video source: ReelNASA YouTube channel.

The planet lost Leonard Nimoy today.

His death was not unexpected.

For years, Leonard had warned on his Twitter account @TheRealNimoy and in other media about the consequences of his lifelong smoking. He'd quit decades ago, but suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

I never knew Leonard personally, but was friends with people who did.

Some of you know that, when I lived in California, for many years I had a part-time gig working as a free-lance writer and consultant for Star Trek licensees. This was in the 1990s, during the heyday of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I don't recall ever meeting Leonard personally, but saw him speak often at conventions and followed his work in various media.

His character Spock influenced many people, including me, to be passionate about space exploration.

That wasn't necessarily Leonard, at least in his early years playing the role. Actors for the most part simply perform the lines written for them by someone else. If they're lucky, they work for a production that allows actors to participate in evolving their characters.

Gene Roddenberry had the original idea for Star Trek, and wrote the first pilot “The Menagerie,” but Spock had many voices. Also deserving credit are staff writers Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana, as well as professional science fiction writers such as Theodore Sturgeon (“Amok Time”) and Jerome Bixby (“Mirror, Mirror”) who wrote episodes that contributed to the Spock mythos.

It's well documented that Leonard created the Vulcan salute, recalling as a child a secret gesture he saw Kohanim priests make during Jewish holy days.

But it wasn't Spock who passed away today. It was Leonard Nimoy.

Pardon the use of the adjective, but Leonard was a fascinating individual.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock poses circa 1966 on the Desilu back lot with his 1964 Buick Riviera.

He had a lifelong interest in photography. Among his published works was The Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy, a collection of monochromatic images of full-bodied women.

Leonard was a patron of the Griffith Observatory. The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater was named after him due to a $1 million donation Leonard and his wife Susan made when the observatory was undergoing renovation.

Click the arrow to watch “Destiny in Space.” It has foreign language subtitles. Video source: robirus YouTube channel.

He also narrated the 1994 IMAX documentary, Destiny in Space. The National Air and Space Museum released a teacher's resource guide to accompany the film.

If you've read his 1975 book I Am Not Spock and its 1995 sequel I Am Spock, you know that Leonard had a lifelong dubious relationship with the Spock character. Most actors hate being stereotyped. He found work after the original series ended, appearing on Mission Impossible in 1969-1971, developing a TV movie and later a one-man play based on Vincent Van Gogh, and even released musical albums.

His character was killed off at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but Leonard was beginning to have his second thoughts so a tease was tacked at the end to show Spock's burial tube had soft-landed on the Genesis planet. He agreed to return for Star Trek III — if he could direct.

In my opinion, the three Star Trek films with which Leonard had significant creative input were the best.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock explored just how far our heroes would go to save their friend — the cost included Kirk's son, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and their careers.

The more light-hearted Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a mainstream hit, but it helped spread global awareness of the threat posed to whales and other threatened species. It was inspired by Biophilia written by Edward O.Wilson. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the final film to feature the complete cast. Leonard and director Nicholas Meyer hastily came up with the idea of using the end of the Cold War as a metaphor for a rapprochement between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Nimoy was the executive producer, building on his successful directing career.

These three films were about something, which is what made Star Trek good when it was really, really good. For all his faults, Gene Roddenberry's genius was that he conceived Star Trek as a crucible for examining the human condition. I think Leonard Nimoy understood that better than anyone else who helmed the franchise, including Gene himself in his declining years.

Leonard's multiple artistic talents, as well as his personal interest in astronomy, are what I found to be so fascinating about him.

During his final years, he finally embraced his Spock alter ego. As the COPD slowly confined him to home, Leonard used Twitter to interact with the fans who loved him so much.

One of those fans was President Barack Obama, who issued this statement today.

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” And after 83 years on this planet — and on his visits to many others — it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

XCOR Heads for Texas

Click the arrow to watch the KGET-TV report. You may be subjected to an ad first.

KGET-TV in Bakersfield, California reported February 24 on XCOR plans to slowly fold operations at the Mojave Air and Spaceport, and establish primary operations in Midland, Texas.

The XCOR move to Midland was announced in 2012, so this news isn't new. But it does make clear yet again how Texas Governor Rick Perry stepped up personally to court XCOR, just as he did with Elon Musk and SpaceX.

The Spirit of Innovation

Click the arrow to watch on the KGET-TV web site. You may be subjected to an ad first.

On January 30, KEGT-TV in Bakersfield, California aired an 11-minute program on the various NewSpace companies at the Mojave Air and Spaceport.

Click here for the accompanying article.

It's a great overview of significant players such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR, Stratolaunch, and Masten Space Systems — most of whom have plans to one day operate on the Space Coast.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Pork is Falling!

Click the arrow to watch the February 25, 2010 House Science Committee hearing.

On February 1, 2010, the Obama administration released its proposed Fiscal Year 2011 NASA budget.

The most controversial proposal was to cancel Constellation, a project that was years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

A July 2006 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that Constellation lacked a sound business case. Three years later, an August 2009 GAO Audit repeated the warning:

NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

The Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee report issued in October 2009 concluded that Ares I would not deliver crew to the International Space Station until at least 2017, and perhaps 2019. Yet Ares I would be funded by deactivating the ISS in 2016, meaning Ares I would have nowhere to go.

Although on paper Constellation was to evolve an Ares V booster to send people back to the Moon by 2020, in the real world Ares V wouldn't fly until at least 2028 — and there was no budget for a lunar lander to take the crew to the surface.

The report's executive summary began with these words:

The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.

So the Obama administration proposed cancelling Constellation. The savings would be used to extend the International Space Station through 2020, to fund a commercial crew program to transport astronauts to the ISS, and to invest in new launch technologies.

The members of the House and Senate space subcommittees were outraged — primarily because some of them represented districts, or came from states, that had Constellation-related contracts. Others appeared to sincerely believe the rhetoric that NASA is a major engine for American technological innovation. That assumption was questioned in 1977 by the U.S. Comptroller General, and is still questioned in the modern era.

Five years ago today, the House Science Committee held a hearing to discuss the Obama proposal released three weeks before. For more than two hours, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was the target of accusations and distortions. Many of them falsely claimed that the Administration had proposed the end of U.S. human spaceflight. In reality, the Administration proposed cancelling a boondoggle program to replace it with one that introduced competition and innovation to reduce the cost and open space to the private sector, so more people could go into space.

Some panelists proposed that Constellation be saved by increasing its annual budget by billions of dollars — billions that, conveniently, would be spent in their districts.

If you want to watch the above video, see if you can count how many times the words “jobs” or “workforce” are uttered, which will give you a good idea of what all the outrage really is about.

Here are some of the more apocalyptic claims by those on the panel ...

This hearing is intended to help us understand the rationale for such a substantial change in direction from the approach of previous authorizations. In that regard, Administrator Bolden, there are a number of questions that I hope that you will be able to address. For example, a feature of this proposal, and one that has not garnered much support on the Hill, is a plan to rely on as yet to be developed commercial crew transportation systems with no government backup system. Leaving aside the issue of safety for the moment, do you have concrete evidence that you can provide us that shows that there will be sufficient non-NASA commercial crew transportation markets to keep these companies viable, or is NASA going to be on the hook to do whatever it takes to keep them in business since NASA will have no other means of getting into orbit?

— Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN)

I am deeply troubled by the future viability of America's human spaceflight program. On the eve of completing the International Space Station and retiring the Space Shuttle, I cannot understand how the Administration can propose such an ill-conceived decision to cancel the Constellation program without providing a compelling alternative plan with measurable goals and adequate resources. This budget proposal, relying as heavily as it does on the unproven capabilities of a nascent commercial space industry, contains very few details. At worst, I'm afraid its reliance on commercial is unfolded (sic — unfounded?!), and as a consequence it not only threatens our leadership in space and our utilization of the International Space Station, but it also risks the loss of much of our aerospace industrial base and our highly skilled work force.

— Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Read in absentia by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)

Rep. Pete Olson's district includes neighborhoods where Johnson Space Center employees live. Image source: World News.

I've got a couple concerns and questions I'd like to ask you. One of them is, sort of the process with which this decision was made. Because, if you read some media reports, and hear some things in the community, it seemed to be made by a very small cabal, for lack of a better term, of people here in Washington, D.C. I know for a fact that no one at the Johnson Space Center was consulted about the decision to terminate the Constellation. I particularly want to make sure that you were involved in that decision. So I ask you ... I mean, this is the largest cut in the President's budget. Did you hear directly from the President on this? And again, this is important, I gotta go back home and explain to my constituents who — and many of them, in their cases, lose their jobs.

— Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)

My concerns are many. They involve cost of this action, not only in terms of money, but also what the action will do to weaken our science and engineering workforce here in the United States, the loss of jobs and how it will affect our economy ...

As you know, the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and China have all been, their space programs have all been government funded programs. If, in fact, the private sector could create a successful space program, I think they would have done so by now, either here in the United States or elsewhere.

— Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL)

A refreshing whiff of blunt honesty was spoken by the next member:

Let me just note that some of the criticism that I hear of the decision that's been made here with Constellation, that the primary consideration behind that criticism seems to be not safety, and not necessarily human spaceflight, because we're talking about human spaceflight but being accomplished in a different way, but instead in maintaining NASA's workforce. Now, maintaining NASA's workforce — just to maintain the workforce — is an expensive proposition. And if maintaining a workforce that is not meeting its responsibilities, not on time, not doing things on schedule, not getting us to a place where we're going to accomplish specific missions, then that workforce is holding America back.

I can see whether it was the Space Shuttle program, or many other programs, that I've been witnessing here in the last twenty years, that maintaining the NASA workforce becomes a goal in and of itself. We've got to break ourselves from that type of thinking, or we're not going to be the leading power in space, and we should be.

— Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

Rep. David Wu resigned from Congress in August 2011 after allegations of unwanted sexual advances to the teenage daughter of a campaign donor. Image source: NPR.

It looks good right now to privatize. But this is the easy part. This is just the privatization step. In three, four or five years, maybe five or six years, when we really hit the hard part of getting those launch vehicles human-rated, I suspect that we might have some of the same cost problems that public launch vehicles have had, and that Ares I has ...

If we privatize this, we're still going to need a labor force. And if you think we're going to be able to afford three separate contractors for human spaceflight, I would like to see your business plan ... My apologies ... Not yours. I would like to see the Administration's business plan. Because, you know, there's the business of lifting satellites up, but I don't think there's a workable business plan for lifting humans up into low Earth orbit, at least from my business experience. It just doesn't look like it pencils out. And that's why we subsidize it with tax dollars. And we can either do it directly to NASA, or we can give the money to Boeing, to Lockheed Martin, or to SpaceX. And I just want to note that, to date, they haven't launched a human being. We talk about airlines in space. Well, when we encouraged airlines after World War II, that was the right time. If we had encouraged airlines in 1910, before World War I, it would have been significantly premature.

And I would encourage the Administration and your agency to consider whether this is premature, whether this is wise, and whether this dooms us to a future where there are no Americans in space, or at least that the dominant language in space is not English.

— Rep. David Wu (D-OR)

Like Mr. Olson, my district, I have many NASA employees and contractors at the Johnson Space Center. Y'know, since the inception of NASA, the mission has always been human spaceflight ... and I'm concerned about the mission changing. I'm concerned about the human spaceflight mission being completely cut out of this budget, the Constellation program going away, and an increase in funding towards something I don't consider to be a core mission of NASA, and that is climate change and weather observation ... As Mr. Wu mentioned, the language, I hope it continues to be English, but I think the Chinese and Russians could overtake us.

— Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

There are serious, serious concerns about the President's decision to decimate our American human spaceflight program. By cancelling the program of record, we trade a program that we know will work — although it has experienced delays, and part of those delays, unfortunately, came from drastic underfunding. But it's a program that has been deemed the safest program to take our astronauts back to lower Earth orbit, and then back to the Moon, Mars, or whereever we choose to explore ...

You look at the tens of thousands of direct jobs that are going to be impacted with the sunsetting of Shuttle and with the planned termination of Constellation, but in fact hundreds of thousands of highly skilled jobs through subcontractors and indirect industries will be impacted if these decisions move forward as well.

— Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)

Rep. Marcia Fudge's Cleveland district is within a few miles of the NASA Glenn Center. Image source: Politic365.

The lack of a clear mission with goals and milestones fails to not only inspire the current NASA workforce, but also fails to inspire the future generations of scientists and astronauts — something that is so critical at this point in American history ... Having no light at the end of the tunnel, whether Mars or the Moon, we will not serve our country well at this time. Just last week, I was at JFK High School in my district, where I was talking to a young ROTC student. I asked him what he wanted to be, and he said, “An astronaut.” I had no clue what to say to him at that point. I wanted to say to him, “Find something else to do, because the chances of becoming an astronaut or a rocket scientist are approaching zero, because NASA is cancelling its human spaceflight plan.”

— Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

Rep. Donna Edwards is a former NASA Goddard employee. That space center is located in her county. Image source:

Just in terms of risk, the commercial sector is never going to absorb the kind of risk that it really takes to get these vehicles off the ground. And at the end of the day, the taxpayer will always have to absorb that risk. And if that's true, then why not really take it on by continuing to have NASA fully engaged in human spaceflight because, when it's all said and done, it's going to be on us anyway.

— Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)

I think what you're doing is taking a shot in the dark. You have no way of knowing if any commercial entity will ever be able to put a man into orbit, no matter how much money you throw at them. What you're doing is you're taking NASA's manned space program and making it a faith-based initiative.

— Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas' district included Kennedy Space Center. She was defeated for re-election in November 2010. Image source: Wikipedia.

The job loss in my community, as you know, is devastating based on the impending finality of the Shuttle program, if in fact that is reality ... In the short term, we will be losing a highly skilled and competitive workforce from my community, one that is already suffering from 12% unemployment.

— Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)

Rep. Rob Bishop's Utah district includes the company that would have manufactured the solid rocket boosters for Constellation. Image source: Salt Lake Tribune.

When you have a President, and you who said you want to encourage kids to become involved in science, math and engineering — or STEM programs — I have to really admit to you, that the Summers of Inspiration is not going to fool a kid in college or in high school or junior high right now who looks at twenty to thirty thousand private sector jobs who are involved in science and math and engineering being given a pink slip, and the kind of chaos that goes into their particular life is not going to encourage anyone else to become involved in this area or any other area. This is a negative impact, it is a negative message, that certainly has no inspiration with it. This is not a program for a bold new path. It's more like managing America's decline.

— Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)

It's of great concern to me, of course, because I represent Marshall Space Flight. But it's not about jobs. The heart and soul of America is NASA. If we do anything, anything, to detract from that, we're gonna lose ... If the conversation could take place between you and the President, and you could say, “Mr. President, we need $3 billion a year for the next five years to make sure Constellation is on target and on time, and there's $800 billion over here in this stimulus, could you move $3 billion a year over into our space program so that we can be Number One, and we won't have to watch the Chinese land on the Moon from our living rooms?”

— Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL)

At the time of this hearing, Rep. Bill Posey's district included only Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Today it also includes the adjacent Kennedy Space Center. Image source: Florida Today.

When the President was campaigning in my county, he promised that he would “close the gap” between Shuttle and Constellation. And Number Two, he would keep America first in space. He didn't close the gap. He made the gap eternal. And low Earth orbit sure as hell isn't keeping us first in space.

— Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)

I've addressed Mr. Posey's fib many times before ... Barack Obama never promised to close the gap between Shuttle and Constellation. As you can watch here, he said he would close the gap “by speeding the development of the Shuttle's successor.” He didn't say that successor would be Constellation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Going Up, Part 2

All images in this article are copyright © 2015 Stephen C. Smith. Use elsewhere is permitted if credit is given to

On January 31, I posted pictures of the SpaceX construction work under way at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.

I went by 39A today to shoot more photos, which are below. Click on the image if you want to see it at a larger resolution.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Retro Saturday: The Air Force Missile Mission

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

This week's Retro Saturday is a 1959 U.S. Air Force Film titled The Air Force Missile Mission. Narrated by actor James Stewart, it's a 24-minute overview of the relative merits between planes and missiles as military weapons.

The focus, of course, is on Air Force missiles. In the 1950s, all three military branches had rockets as weapons, but by the end of the decade the Army was phasing out its ballistic missile programs.

Jimmy Stewart had a distinguished career as a military pilot. He joined the Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the Air Force) in March 1941. He flew combat missions in B-24 bombers over Nazi-occupied Europe, and by war's end held the rank of full colonel. Although he resumed his acting career after the war, Stewart remained active in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. His first film after the war? It's a Wonderful Life. Perhaps you've heard of it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Also Going Up

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

On January 31 I posted photos of the SpaceX renovation work at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.

NASA released today the above video of the renovation work that's begun at Cape Canaveral's Pad 41 for commercial crew flights in the Boeing CST-100 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V.

Both sites hope to be operational with crew flights by 2017, but that depends on Congressional funding for the commercial crew program.

The House of Representatives recently fast-tracked legislation that would cut commercial crew funding significantly over the next three years, extending NASA reliance on Russia indefinitely. That bill has yet to be received by the Senate.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ready to Rumble

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Image source: Google Plus.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the new chair of the Senate Subcomittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, issued a press release late today announcing the panel's first hearing under his leadership.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, at 2:00 p.m. entitled “U.S. Human Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness.” Former NASA astronauts including Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon and the pilot of Apollo 11, and leaders in the commercial space industry will provide their testimony.

“I look forward to Tuesday's hearing, which will provide both the Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee and the American people a great opportunity to reflect on the past, analyze the present, and examine the future of space travel in the United States,” said Cruz in calling the hearing. “We will look to ensure that NASA and commercial space have clear and consistent mission objectives and can continue to work alongside our international partners, but not be dependent on them. America should once again lead the way for the world in space exploration.”

The hearing will examine the United States’ goals in human space exploration, including the role of the commercial space industry and its contributions to U.S. global competitiveness. Among other issues, the hearing will discuss the importance of a sound exploration strategy that involves NASA, partnerships with international allies, and innovation and competitiveness in the U.S. commercial space sector. The hearing will also examine whether updates are needed to the Commercial Space Launch Act.

The hearing will have two panels.

The first panel features three astronauts — Walt Cunningham (Apollo 7), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), and Shuttle-era mission specialist Mike Massimino. Cunningham has vocally opposed NewSpace, while Buzz Aldrin generally has been supportive of the Obama administration's space policy. Massimino, to my knowledge, hasn't expressed any political opinions but has appeared in many episodes of NASA's Inside the ISS. He's also known for his occasional cameos on The Big Bang Theory.

The second panel includes Boeing's John Elbon, Eric Stallmer from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Dr. Scott Pace from George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.

It's an interesting mix. One might even say it's ... fair and balanced.

UPDATE February 20, 2015The House Subcommittee on Space announced today that they will hold a hearing next week as well, on Friday February 27 at 9:00 AM EDT. It's entitled “The Commercial Crew Program: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Invitees are NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmier, Joseph Dyer of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, John Mulholland from Boeing, and Garret Reisman from SpaceX.

Given that this committee just fast-tracked legislation to reduce commercial crew funding in upcoming years from what the Obama administration is requesting, it should be an interesting hearing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kennedy Space Center: A New Era

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

Kennedy Space Center released today this seven-minute film that summarizes the facility's progress towards its third generation of spaceflight.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Opposite of Progress is ...

A poll released February 16 by the Monmouth University Polling Institute shows that a majority of Americans oppose the government spending billions on human deep spaceflight, but support private enterprise in space.

According to the press release:

NASA launched the initial test spaceship for its new Orion program two months ago. This is designed to be the first step toward long-range human exploration of space including potential interplanetary travel. Just over 4-in-10 (42%) Americans are in favor of the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids, while half (50%) oppose such an expenditure.

The specific question asked was, “Would you favor or oppose the U.S. government allocating billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids?”

The commercial space question asked was, “Do you think private companies and individuals should be able to build their own rockets to take people into space or do you think space travel should be left to national governments only?”

Monmouth concludes:

The future of space travel may now lie in private ventures, which most Americans do support. A number of entrepreneurs have already begun to sell seats on private space flights, although those efforts have been set back by the crash of a Virgin Galactic test run last October. Still, nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say that private companies and individuals should be able to build their own rockets to take people into space. Another 37% feel that space travel should be restricted to national governments.

The poll apparently did not distinguish in respondents' minds between adventure tourism, such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR, and the commercial cargo/crew partnerships NASA has with SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital Sciences among others.

The press release notes:

A Harris Survey taken in July 1967 — two years before the successful Apollo 11 moon landing — found that only 34% of the public felt that the space program was worth its annual $4 billion price tag at the time while 54% said it wasn’t worth it. Also, the same 1967 poll found the public to be divided — 43% in favor to 46% opposed — over NASA’s drive to land an astronaut on the moon.

Former NASA chief historian Dr. Roger Launius in his 2003 monograph, Evolving Public Perceptions of Human Spaceflight in American Culture, wrote about the myth that a majority of Americans supported the Apollo program:

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times, “if NASA just had the popular support that it enjoyed during the 1960s all would be well.” Analyzing public opinion polling data in the United States from throughout the history of the space age, however, allows the plotting of trends during a long period of time. The trends reveal several interesting insights about the evolution of spaceflight. For example, most people believe that Project Apollo was enormously popular, but the polls do not support this contention. Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this being a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. And consistently throughout the decade 45 to 60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space.

There's little evidence to suggest public opinion has changed.

As I wrote in January 2013, polls continue to show a majority of Americans oppose spending on a grandiose human spaceflight program — but they do support private spending.

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.

This hasn't stopped Congress from demanding NASA spend less on privatization and more on human deep spaceflight programs that have no mission or destination, but do send pork to their districts and states.

As I wrote on February 14,, last week the House space subcommittee fast-tracked to the House floor a bill that would extend NASA reliance on Russia for International Space Station access through the end of the decade while forcing the agency to spend billions more on the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle — just the kind of government boondoggle polls show a majority of Americans oppose.

As the saying goes, the opposite of progress is Congress.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

To Russia With Love

If you like seeing U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to Russia, you'll love H.R. 810.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2015 was introduced February 9 by House of Representatives space subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), whose district just happens to include NASA's Stennis Space Center, which tests Space Launch System engines.

The House Subcommittee on Space has representatives from both parties who represent districts with NASA space centers and/or legacy system contractors. The 2010 authorization act mandated that NASA develop the Space Launch System, and Section 304 required NASA to use “existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects” — without any competitive bidding.

SLS was, from its inception, workfare for NASA space centers and their contractors. Critics dubbed it the Senate Launch System because senators that represented NASA space center/contractor states crafted the SLS language to protect jobs in their states.

Without deliberation in committee, H.R. 810 was fast-tracked to the House floor, where it was passed by voice vote on February 10.

Click here to read the version of the bill passed by the House.

What's there to dislike about H.R. 810?

Let's start with Sec. 201, Space Exploration Policy.

It is the policy of the United States that the goal of the Administration’s exploration program shall be to successfully conduct a crewed mission to the surface of Mars to begin human exploration of that planet.

Numerous studies have informed Congress over recent years that such a “goal” would cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars, and require decades to accomplish.

The House Subcommittee on Space has yet to articulate a compelling reason why this should be NASA's raison d'être, other than vague assertions that it will “inspire” people. They've never offered any evidence to support this assertion, nor have they explained why NASA shouldn't continue with its far safer and cheaper program of exploring Mars with robots.

The real reason can be found in Sec. 203, Space Launch System.

... [T]he primary goal for the design of the fully integrated Space Launch System, including an upper stage needed to go beyond low-Earth orbit, is to safely carry a total payload to enable human space exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond over the course of the next century ...

Yep, you read that right. They want SLS to be the official NASA launch vehicle through the year 2100.

Talk about guaranteed jobs.

The committee members who wrote this bill are trying to lock in the pork for their districts through the end of the 21st Century.

SLS is based on 1970s-era Space Shuttle technology. So this committee would have us believe that this technology should still be used for another 85 years.

Imagine if an early 20th Century Congress had written a law mandating that the Wright Flyer be the only government airplane until the year 2000.

If you're Vladimir Putin, you'll fully endorse Sec. 204(b)(2) which requires the NASA administrator within 60 days of the act's enactment to detail “the expected date that the Orion crew capsule will be available to transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station.”

NASA already has two commercial cargo vehicles, the SpaceX Dragon and the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, delivering cargo to the ISS. There's no reason to develop a cargo version of Orion.

As for crew, NASA does not plan to crew-rate Orion until the early 2020s — and that's for deep-space missions beyond Earth orbit. Orion was not designed to go to the ISS, and the SLS would be significantly overpowered for such a task. NASA's agreements with its ISS partners expire in 2020; the agency is negotiating with the partners for an extension through 2024, as directed in January 2014 by the Obama administration. Even so, NASA is scheduled to have two commercial crew vehicles, the SpaceX Dragon V2 and the Boeing CST-100, operational by 2017.

The commercial crew program was supposed to be operational this year but, thanks to five years of Congressional cutting of the Obama administration's funding requests, the program has slipped two to three years.

To cross the finish line as soon as possible, for Fiscal Year 2016 the Obama administration has requested $1.2 billion for commercial crew. But H.R. 810 would slice that request by up to half, extending reliance on Russia for another one to two years.

Section 215 calls on NASA to develop “at least one crew transportation system” from the private sector. Referring back to Section 203(c), we find why it is that the committee wants NASA to downsize the commercial crew program.

Given the critical importance of a heavy-lift launch vehicle and crewed spacecraft to enable the achievement of the goal established in section 201(a) of this Act, as well as the accomplishment of intermediate exploration milestones and the provision of a backup capability to transfer crew and cargo to the International Space Station, the Administrator shall make the expeditious development, test, and achievement of operational readiness of the Space Launch System and the Orion crew capsule the highest priority of the exploration program.

So there you have it ... They would rather extend U.S. reliance on Russia to force more billions be spent on SLS and Orion in their districts.

To further poison the commercial crew program, Section 215(g) requires the NASA administrator to develop plans for funding commercial crew at as low as $600 million a year over the next three fiscal years — half what the Obama administration requests.

In summary ... The members of the House space subcommittee want to extend NASA reliance on Russia for the rest of the decade so that sometime in the early 2020s a crew of four will be launched to an undefined location on a vehicle that NASA will be required to fly until the year 2100.

As depressing as all this may sound, the good news is the Senate is free to dispose of H.R. 810 in the nearest recycling bin.

As space policy analyst Marcia Smith wrote February 10 on, H.R. 810 is largely a rehash of H.R. 4412, passed by the House on June 9, 2014 but ignored by the Senate.

Something similar happened in October 2010 with the 2010 NASA authorization act. The Senate crafted its own version, which cancelled Constellation to create the Space Launch System, then sent that bill over to the House. The House approved the Senate version instead of their own committee's version.

So there's every reason to hope that H.R. 810 will be dead on arrival.

The big difference is that in 2014 the Democrats ran the Senate, but now the Republicans are in charge.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) now chairs the Senate space subcommittee. He is reportedly is a supporter of NewSpace. We've yet to see any legislative evidence of that, but the panel was recently renamed the Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. The addition of that last word has given a glimmer of hope to those who find the blatant House porkery repugnant.

It's going to be another long summer on the Hill for those who want to liberate space from the inbred alliance of politicians, NASA space centers and their no-bid contractors.

Retro Saturday: Delta, America's Space Ambassador

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

When is a Delta not a Delta?

When it's a Thor. And we don't mean the comic book/movie character.

This week's Retro Saturday is a circa 1989 NASA documentary titled Delta, America's Space Ambassador. It's about the history to that point of the Delta rocket, many of which launched from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 17.

The Delta series name goes back to the late 1950s.

The Thor was a U.S. Air Force intermediate range ballistic missile, with a range of about 1,500 miles (2,400 km). NASA and commercial companies adapted the Thor for satellite and other payload launches.

The word “Thor” referred to the booster, but various names were assigned to the Thor's combination with upper stages.

The Thor-Able was a Thor with a second stage derived from Project Vanguard that was given the name Able. The word “Able” simply came from the military phonetic alphabet, e.g. Able, Baker, Charlie, Delta, etc.

According to Encyclopedia Astronautica, there was a Thor-Baker but it was renamed Thor-Able I and intended for use in launching early Moon probes.

The Thor-Delta was a Thor with upper stages also derived from the Vanguard program. In common use, the industry began referring to the rocket as a “Delta” and the name stuck.

The Delta name has descended through the decades. The Delta II flew its last launch from LC-17 in 2012. The Delta IV still launches from Launch Complex 37, most recently used to launch NASA's Orion crew capsule test flight.

The Cape's LC-17 and LC-18 were originally commissioned in the mid-1950s for Thor. When the Naval Research Laboratory needed a pad for the civilian Vanguard program, the Thor program didn't need LC-18 so Pad 18A was made available to Vanguard. Pad 18B eventually was used in the 1960s for Thor launches, while 18A was later used for test of the Blue Scout Jr.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rocket Lab Visits the Cape

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

James Dean of Florida Today reports in today's edition that a New Zealand-based NewSpace startup recently visited the Space Coast to evaluate potential launch sites.

Rocket Lab USA is developing the 59-foot-tall, liquid-fueled Electron rocket for orbital launches of satellites weighing roughly 220 pounds.

“It’s a giant sounding rocket, basically,” said CEO Peter Beck, who founded the company in 2007.

Beck in 2013 raised money from Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, and says word about a second financing round is coming soon.

Technically a U.S. company with most of its employees (about 50) based at a New Zealand subsidiary, Rocket Lab has done work for DARPA and traditional aerospace contractors.

The company hopes to launch a test flight late this year from a private range in New Zealand and begin commercial service next year, and has commitments to launch more than 30 satellites.

Click here to visit the Rocket Lab web site.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The SpaceX DSCOVR Pre-Game Show

Click the arrow to watch the media event. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

SpaceX plans to launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission tomorrow at 6:10 PM EST from the Cape's Pad 40.

The pre-launch media event was held today at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Click here for the DSCOVR press kit web page.

SpaceX will make its second attempt to land its Falcon 9 booster on its Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). According to James Dean at Florida Today:

After the launch, SpaceX will make its second attempt to land the Falcon 9's first-stage booster on a platform roughly 370 miles down range. A first attempt at the experimental landing last month hit the platform, but too hard, after steering fins ran out of hydraulic fluid too soon.

Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, put the odds of success again at 50-50.

Because the satellite launch requires more fuel, the booster will return with a more aggressive trajectory and perform only two braking engine burns instead of three.

How to Tame Your Dragon

The SpaceX COTS-2 launch on May 22, 2012. Video source:

The SpaceX Dragon that berthed at the International Space Station in May 2012 is on display this weekend at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

This is the Dragon that flew the COTS-2 mission which certified the cargo ship for active service.

Below are images I shot this morning of the Dragon in the central plaza.

Retro Saturday: Космический рейс

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

This week's Retro Saturday is a film about the first Soviet human spaceflight to the Moon in 1946.

No, President Kennedy didn't lose the Moon race by two decades.

Космический рейс (Cosmic Voyage) is a 1935 science fiction film by Mosfilm, Russia's oldest film studio. Russian astronautics theorist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was an advisor to the film and given co-writing credit. He passed away in September 1935, just before the film was released in January 1936. Tsiolkovsky's works were an influence on Sergei Korolev and Wernher von Braun.

A promotional poster for Космический рейс. Image source: Wikipedia.

According to the Austin Film Society:

In 1932 Komsomol, the Communist youth organization in Stalin’s Soviet Union, insisted that filmmakers create works that would appeal to young people. Various subjects, including science fiction, were proposed. Director Vasili Zhuravlev asked screenwriter Aleksandr Filimonov, with whom he had worked before on THE BOMBIST (1932), to write a script about mankind’s first trip to the moon. Conversations ensued with legendary filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who had been relegated to an executive position at one of the Soviet film studios. The world famous Eisenstein was no longer allowed to make films after returning from America and Mexico. However, the proposed sci-fi film was approved and Zhuravlev and Filimonov set to work.

To insure scientific accuracy they visited with Constantin Tsiolkovski, a professor, scientist, and author. He became so excited by the possibility of seeing some of his scientific theories about space travel put into a film that he offered his services as a consultant. While understanding that the cinematic form and dramatic content would necessitate some bending of scientific probability, Tsiolkovski did insist that six elements must appear in the film:

  1. The rocket would be launched from a ramp rather than vertically because of its huge size
  2. Individual voyager’s cabins would fill with water during take off to ease the effects of extreme pressure on the human body
  3. Stars in space would not flicker once earth’s atmosphere was left behind
  4. Voyagers would experience weightlessness during the coasting phase of the flight
  5. The voyagers would be able to jump about the moon surface “like sparrows” on earth
  6. Return of the space cabin to earth would be accomplished by parachute once the earth’s atmosphere had been entered

The film runs 65 minutes. Although it's a silent film, this version has a rather bizarre synthesized music soundtrack. Mute the audio if you find it annoying. The captions are in Russian with no available English translation.

Космический рейс stands with Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon) (1929), and H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936), as the earliest examples of serious science fiction works. The effects for the era are state of the art.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Empire Strikes Back

NASA's proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget was released less than a week ago, but the members of the House Science Committee have already responded with a “bipartisan bill” that once again seeks to undercut the commercial crew program.

I wrote on February 5 that NASA's proposed FY16 commercial crew budget requests $1.2 billion, or about $370 million more than what was projected a year ago. The reason given by NASA is that last fall it entered into its first human spaceflight contracts with Boeing and SpaceX, so now more tangible numbers are available for the actual cost.

Today's House Science Committee press release is long on self-congratulation but short on specifics.

If you read a separate document described as “Highlights” of the proposed bill, you find language which suggests the committee once again intends to force NASA to down-select to only one commercial crew provider.

The document states the bill would direct NASA to “assist in building at least one Commercial Crew system.” It also states a “reiteration of Congressional direction that Orion serve as a backup system to support the ISS if necessary.”

In hearings over recent years, many committee members have expressed their preference that NASA select only one provider — repeating the same mistake that led to NASA being grounded for over two years after the Challenger and Columbia accidents, because no other option was available.

The wisdom of redundancy was demonstrated late in 2014 when, after an Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship was destroyed during launch, replacement experiments and supplies were rescheduled for upcoming SpaceX Dragon flights.

If the House Science Committee had its way, the ISS would be running out of supplies by early summer, relying only on Russian Progress cargo deliveries for survival.

Dropping one vendor might violate the contracts signed by NASA last September with Boeing and SpaceX. As I wrote on September 17, the contracts guarantee each vendor at least two ISS human spaceflights — a guarantee apparently required to assure the companies they should continue to invest their own money in vehicle development. The House Science Committee appears to want to violate those contracts.

As for Orion as a backup, it's not scheduled for human rating until the early 2020s. The agreements among the ISS partner nations expire in 2020. In January 2014, the Obama administration announced its intention to extend the ISS through at least 2024. Negotiations have begun with the partners, but until those agreements are formal there would be no reason to adapt Orion for ISS docking.

Typically over the last several fiscal years, the Senate version of NASA authorization bills has been more generous with commercial crew funding. The House version of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was ignored by the committee's own chamber, which approved the Senate version instead.

If this year's committee succeeds is passing legislation through the House to once again undercut commercial crew, it will fall upon the Senate space subcommittee led by Republican Ted Cruz (R-TX) to defend commercial crew. The full committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation is led by Republican John Thune (R-SD) although the minority's ranking member is Democrat Bill Nelson (D-FL), one of the architects of the Senate's version of the 2010 authorization bill.

It looks like commercial crew is in for another rough ride this year — which may explain why NASA announced today its intent to procure more Russian Soyuz rides in 2018.

Florida Today space reporter James Dean broke the news earlier today on Twitter.

The procurement notice states:

NASA/JSC intends to contract with Roscosmos for these services on a sole source basis for six (6) Soyuz seats and associated services for calendar year (CY) 2018 with rescue/return services extending through spring 2019. NASA needs to secure crew transportation with a known reliable provider to ensure a continued U.S. presence aboard the ISS until the sustained availability of a U.S. commercial vehicle. The intent of this proposed action is to provide the Government the ability to procure these uninterrupted services until a U.S. provider demonstrates full operational capability.

NASA has established a goal to ensure there are U.S. domestic space transportation vehicle(s) capable of traveling to low Earth orbit and has awarded contracts with two U.S. commercial entities for future U.S. commercial space flights. Commercial crew vehicle development is in the early stages and the first U.S. commercial crewed flight test is currently projected to occur in late CY 2017. Given the current maturity level of the commercial vehicles and the 3-year procurement lead time for Soyuz crew transportation services, NASA must contract for Soyuz now in order to assure uninterrupted access to ISS in CY 2018.

Until the U.S. commercial vehicles are successfully demonstrated and meet the acceptance criteria established by NASA, continued access to Russian crew launch, return, and rescue services is essential for planned ISS operations and utilization by all ISS partners.

However, once it is determined that US Commercial entities are able to fulfill increment crew transportation requirements, the US Commercial vehicles will become NASA’s primary transportation source to ISS. The Soyuz vehicles procured under this action may then be utilized as a backup transportation option to ensure proper launch cadence or to augment future ISS operations and research.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

NASA Budget Proposal Double-Dares Congress

Click the arrow to watch the NASA budget event.

Every year since President Obama first proposed funding it in 2010, Congress has cut the President's requests for the commercial crew program that would have ended NASA reliance on the Russian space agency Roscosmos to reach the International Space Station.

Although the harshest rhetoric opposing the program came from Republicans, opposition in general has been bipartisan.

The members of the space authorization and appropriations subcommittees in the House and the Senate often represent districts or states that have NASA space centers, or NASA contractors. The commercial cargo and crew programs threaten to end pork directed to their districts, so despite partisan differences they've more or less united to underfund commercial crew.

The commercial crew program was not an Obama product. It dates back to November 2005, when NASA opened the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office. Section 108 of the 2005 NASA authorization act required NASA to “develop a commercialization plan to support the human missions to the Moon and Mars, to support low-Earth orbit activities and earth science missions and applications, and to transfer science research and technology to society.”

The plan shall identify opportunities for the private sector to participate in the future missions and activities, including opportunities for partnership between NASA and the private sector in conducting research and the development of technologies and services. The plan shall include provisions for developing and funding sustained university and industry partnerships to conduct commercial research and technology development, to proactively translate results of space research to Earth benefits, to advance United States economic interests, and to support the vision for exploration. The plan shall also emphasize the utilization by NASA of advancements made by the private sector in space launch and orbital hardware, and shall include opportunities for innovative collaborations between NASA and the private sector under existing authorities of NASA for reimbursable and nonreimbursable agreements under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (42 U.S.C. 2451 et seq.).

The first commercial cargo contracts were issued to SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler in August 2006; after RpK failed to meet initial milestones, it was dropped from the program and replaced by Orbital Sciences in 2007.

Although it was on paper, the commercial crew program went unfunded until the Obama administration submitted its Fiscal Year 2011 proposed budget.

Click the arrow to watch the February 25, 2010 House Science Committee hearing.

Despite earlier Congressional legislation that required NASA to find a way to keep ISS going past 2015, the final Bush administration budget for NASA assumed the station would be shut down and deorbited in 2016 to pay for Constellation, a program that claimed it would put astronauts back on the Moon by 2020. In reality, there was no Moon program. The Constellation Ares I would be lucky to deliver crew to ISS by 2017, when the station would be lying at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

The first Obama administration budget proposal cancelled Constellation to save and extend ISS to 2020. Ares I would be replaced by funding commercial crew.

Most members of the Congressional space subcommittees were outraged.

Obama was accused of “decimating NASA” and ending the U.S. space program. But as pointed out by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) during the budget's first hearing on February 25, 2010, most of his colleagues were more interested in protecting the jobs in their districts. He questioned why there wasn't more concern about a program that had spent $9 billion to date but failed to yield any demonstrable results. “That workforce is holding America back,” Rohrabacher said.

In the end, Congress agreed to cancel Constellation, but replaced it with another pork project called Space Launch System. Dubbed the Senate Launch System by its critics, SLS was created by key members of the Congressional space subcommittees to protect the NASA contractor workforce. To this day, Congress has yet to tell NASA what missions SLS will fly, or how those missions will be funded. They demand President Obama do that.

Commercial crew was funded, but at far less than what the Obama administration requested. That first budget proposal projected $5.8 billion in commercial crew funding through Fiscal Year 2015 to end U.S. reliance on Russia. Congress approved $2.6 billion. That extended reliance on Russia through at least 2017.

The consequence of Congressional myopia was exposed last year when Russia threatened to cancel U.S. access to the ISS after the Obama administraton imposed sanctions on the Russian economy in retaliation for Russia seizing the Crimea province in Ukraine. I wrote last May that such threats were hollow; without NASA and its other space partners, Russia has no customers for its withering space economy.

But the ongoing strain in U.S.-Russian relations may have given the Obama administration the leverage it needs to force Congress to properly fund commercial crew.

The proposed FY16 budget released February 2 requests $1.2 billion for commercial crew, an increase of 55% over what Congress approved for FY15.

If you look at NASA's FY15 budget proposal, the administration one year ago projected asking $872.3 million for FY16. The new budget proposal is 42% higher than what was projected a year ago. FY17 sees a similar huge increase.

FY 15 BUDGET REQUEST 872.3 791.7 730.9 172.0 N/A
FY 16 BUDGET REQUEST 1243.8 1184.8 731.9 173.1 1.1

NASA officials stated the huge increase is due to having actual dollar amounts now that NASA has firm contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to deliver crew to ISS once certification is complete.

But I have to wonder if the administration believes it has a lot more leverage thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Another government agency involved in commercial space is also seeking a budget increase.

Space News reported on February 3 that the FAA's Office of Commercial Transportation is requesting a nine percent budget increase for FY16.

Most of that increase will be used to hire additional staff for the office, responsible for both regulating and promoting commercial space transportation activities. The budget increase would allow the office to increase its staff by 25 employees, to 106.

“Expansion of commercial space transportation is increasing AST’s regulatory workload, while the Office’s resources remain essentially unchanged,” the FAA stated in its budget request. It noted there were 19 commercial launches carried out under FAA licenses and permits in fiscal year 2014, with 20 to 30 such launches projected in 2015 and more than 30 in 2016.

That increased workforce would allow the office to handle oversight of those launches and of nine licensed commercial launch sites. Adding to the workload are requirements in federal law for the office to rule on a launch license no more than 180 days after receiving a completed application, and within 120 days for experimental permit applications.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

FAA: Bigelow Can Stake a Moon Claim

A 2010 image of Bob Bigelow with a model of expandable habitats on the lunar surface. Image source:

Reuters reported today that “U.S. companies can stake claims to lunar territory through an existing licensing process for space launches.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, in a previously undisclosed late-December letter to Bigelow Aerospace, said the agency intends to “leverage the FAA’s existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis.”

In other words, experts said, Bigelow could set up one of its proposed inflatable habitats on the moon, and expect to have exclusive rights to that territory — as well as related areas that might be tapped for mining, exploration and other activities.

Company founder Bob Bigelow has been very vocal about the need to clarify lunar property rights. A November 2013 Bigelow report delivered to NASA concluded that property rights would need to be clarified in order for private companies to invest in exploitation of lunar resources. According to NewSpace Journal:

The Bigelow report argues that, for private companies to be involved in any joint venture with NASA in cislunar development, they must have property rights on the Moon or other bodies that are not available today under existing space law structures, a controversial subject in space policy. Companies “must know they will be able to (1) enjoy the fruits of their labor relative to activities conducted on the Moon or other celestial bodies, and (2) own the property that they have surveyed, developed, and are realistically able to utilize,” the report states. And, in a point emphasized in the report in bold, italic, and underlined type: “Without property rights, any plan to engage the private sector in long-term beyond LEO activities will ultimately fail.”

With a property rights system in place on the Moon, both NASA and industry would benefit, the report concludes. “By leveraging a property rights regime private sector facilities could be developed on the Moon which NASA could subsequently take advantage of for a wide variety of astronautics and scientific activities. What the Agency could never afford to do alone could become financially possible due to the husbanding of private and public sector investments and resources.”

A February 2014 article reported that Bigelow had asked the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (known as AST) “whether launching a Moon habitat allows them to have a zone of operation in which other persons are prevented from entering.”

The 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty governs the operations by nations in “outer space,” a phrase that is left undefined. It was written at a time when the United States was about to land humans on the Moon for the first time, and the Soviet Union was trying to catch up with development of the N1 rocket. It seemed logical that a few basic rules be established, although as with any U.N. law their success depends on the good will of its member nations.

Part One, Section E, Article 11 states:

Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person. The placement of personnel, space vehicles, equipment, facilities, stations and installations on or below the surface of the Moon, including structures connected with its surface or subsurface, shall not create a right of ownership over the surface or the subsurface of the Moon or any areas thereof.

It was anticipated that the day would come when lunar exploitation might become viable:

States Parties to this Agreement hereby undertake to establish an international regime, including appropriate procedures, to govern the exploitation of the natural resources of the Moon as such exploitation is about to become feasible.

Article 14 holds nations responsible for the activities of “non-governmental activities”:

States Parties to this Agreement shall bear international responsibility for national activities on the Moon, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in this Agreement. States Parties shall ensure that non-governmental entities under their jurisdiction shall engage in activities on the Moon only under the authority and continuing supervision of the appropriate State Party.

The Reuters article quoted Bigelow saying how he interprets the FAA letter:

The FAA’s decision “doesn’t mean that there’s ownership of the moon,” Bigelow told Reuters. “It just means that somebody else isn’t licensed to land on top of you or land on top of where exploration and prospecting activities are going on, which may be quite a distance from the lunar station.”

If history is a guide, one day in the future someone will try to seize lunar territory already claimed by a nation or company, and we will see a repeat of empires warring with each other for natural resources. The Outer Space Treaty probably will be ignored, as nations struggle to keep their corporations in line. Rogue nations will do what they feel like anyway.

All that is decades, if not centuries, away. But it will be a nice problem to have, because it will mean that humanity has established a permanent human presence on another celestial body.

An interceptor from the early 1970s British TV series “UFO.” A glimpse of how Earthbound nations protect their commercial interests on the Moon?

There Be a Dragon

The COTS-2 SpaceX Dragon approaches the International Space Station on May 25, 2012. Image source: Wikipedia.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex announced today that the SpaceX Dragon that flew to the International Space Station in May 2012 will be on display February 6 through 9.

According to the press release:

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that made history in May 2012 as the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will be on display for four days only — Friday, Feb. 6 through Monday, Feb. 9, 2015 — at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Since this first flight, SpaceX has completed five of 12 official ISS resupply missions for NASA. Dragon is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Previously, only government spacecraft were used to deliver and retrieve cargo from the ISS.

The actual spacecraft used in May 2012 to visit the ISS will be on display at NASA Central, just outside the Visitor Complex’s Space Shop. Guests are welcome to take photos with the authentic space-flown spacecraft.