“Reboot NASA”

Jim Meigs over at Popular Mechanics has some immediate policy suggestions for the new administration. I disagree that the moon isn’t a useful goal — my concern is the horrific expense of the way that NASA proposes to do it, and following Jim’s advice on building a heavy lifter isn’t going to help with that. Whether or not we need heavy lift is one of those assumptions that need to be reexamined. What we need is low-cost lift, not heavy lift, and building a huge rocket won’t provide it.

14 comments on this post.
  1. Paul Spudis:

    This is the comment I submitted; don’t know if they’ll post it or not.

    Not a particularly insightful piece, especially in regard to NASA. First, creating a “task force” to hammer out new visions is just a make work-project for policy wonks. Second, the Ares launch system was designed to implement the goal the author derides — Moon, then Mars. It can be and has been questioned on technical grounds, but without a destination, building them makes no sense. Finally, the author seems to think that “bases on asteroids” or “trips to Mars” are possible alternates to lunar return, but the simple fact is that either of those two goals are beyond the technical state-of-the-art. The reason the Moon is an appropriate intermediate step is that it is a place where we can learn how to live and work on another world, far away and alien enough to be a challenge, yet close enough to skedaddle home if things go wrong. By the way, the proposed “task force” made up of “non-NASA experts” would not necessarily be as objective as implied; all of us in the space field have our biases, imprinted by years of hard won (and sometimes bitter) experience. Just because someone is “not NASA,” it doesn’t imply either objectivity or wisdom.

  2. Bill White:

    As always, form follows function, and in many respects NASA as it presently exists does conform with the sum total of the goals and objectives of the various political stakeholders. To the extent NASA is dysfunctional, perhaps that reflects a political failure to establish consensus around a coherent vision concerning what it is we (as a nation) desire that NASA accomplish.

    Perhaps space enthusiasts should spend less energy seeking to change NASA (although that task should not be abandoned altogether) and more energy seeking to get to a preferred result by going around the NASA we have rather than holding out hope that we can somehow create the NASA we wished we had.

    If Congress failed to rally around the Marburger / Wingo / Spudis interpretation of the VSE when George W. Bush was President how might Congress be persuaded now?

    = = =

    But again, the Direct 2.0 advocates are expressly calling for propellant depot development and lunar ISRU research. Perhaps that proposal is not ideal (from a strong NewSpace perspective) but there are times when making common cause with fellow travelers is the prudent course of action.

  3. Jim Bennett:

    Maybe we should first have a task force to figure out how to insure that the conclusions of task forces have some measurable effect on actual actions.

  4. Bill White:

    Jim, lets workshop that idea and form a task force to decide whether forming a task force to evaluate the efficacy of task forces would be a worthwhile expenditure of time and effort.

    I also propose the taxpayers send us to Maui to consider this further.

    / snark

  5. Jim Bennett:

    Good idea, Bill. Let’s establish a process to determine whether such a workshop would be worthwhile. But I would say Big Island rather than Maui.

    Maybe we should have a task force to decide between the two destinations. To be objective, we’d have to visit both…

  6. Larry J:

    First, we must prepare detailed PowerPoint slides on the status of the proposed agenda. Next, we hold meetings to determine the agenda for subsequent meetings. After that, we prepare slides to show the status of the meeting slides.

  7. McGehee:

    Both of you call me secretary to set up a meeting to brainstorm on just how many PowerPoint slides will be needed.

  8. Bill White:

    Maybe we could use a few good military men who have earned one of these:

    http://www.nbc-links.com/graphics/pwrptpatch.gif

  9. Josh Reiter:

    The Action Task Force of Actual Force Action Tasks — Commitee Group.

  10. Paul Spudis:

    If Congress failed to rally around the Marburger / Wingo / Spudis interpretation of the VSE when George W. Bush was President how might Congress be persuaded now?

    I beg to differ. Congress specifically authorized NASA to pursue the Moon as an exploration objective with the aim of establishing “a sustained presence.” The detailed language of the Authorization Act of 2005 specifically re-iterated the language of the White House VSE founding documents. It’s NASA who didn’t “get it.”

  11. Bill White:

    If Congress failed to rally around the Marburger / Wingo / Spudis interpretation of the VSE when George W. Bush was President how might Congress be persuaded now?

    I beg to differ. Congress specifically authorized NASA to pursue the Moon as an exploration objective with the aim of establishing “a sustained presence.” The detailed language of the Authorization Act of 2005 specifically re-iterated the language of the White House VSE founding documents. It’s NASA who didn’t “get it.”

    Mike Griffin is gone, now. Therefore, the opportunity should now exist for Congress to do the right thing going forward. Especially if Congress “got it right” pre-Griffin.

    So, does anyone have practical suggestions on how to influence NASA’s direction going forward?

    = = =

    Once again (again) the Direct 2.0 proposal expressly calls for propellant depots and my recollection is that many of the Direct team are also supportive of lunar ISRU.

  12. Bill White:

    Update,

    Direct version 2.0.2 (the most recent) proposes that a permanent lunar base begin to be deployed by 2020 and that ISRU be included in that process.

    There also is detailed budgetary analysis showing how that is possible without significant increases.

    Are those accurate? I dunno.

    Therefore we (we = NASA & Congress & other interested parties) must “look under the hood” of every architecture proposal including ESAS, Direct 2.0, shuttle B / C and EELV-only leveraged by propellant depots.

    Regardless of which approach any of us favor, we should all rally around the idea that every hood gets lifted and every architecture analyzed in a transparent “apples to apples” manner.

  13. Edward Wright:

    But again, the Direct 2.0 advocates are expressly calling for propellant depot development and lunar ISRU research.

    First of all, Bill, most informed space activists don’t believe NASA should be in the business of developing propellant depots *or* developing space transportation systems. NASA should *buy* propellant and services from the private sector.

    That has been explained to you time and time again. I’m not sure why you find the concept so hard to understand.

    Second, Direct 2.0 advocates know that NASA won’t have any spare money to purchase propellant (or anything else) if it saddles itself with another such boondoggle — or if they don’t know, they ought to. (Do you remember the old joke about the difference between a used car salesman and a computer salesman?)

  14. Murdoc Online » Sunday Space Blogging:

    […] Rand Simberg puts it better: I disagree that the moon isn’t a useful goal — my concern is the horrific expense of the way that NASA proposes to do it […]