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Space Launch System Truths and Misconceptions (Part 1)

There have been a lot of statements about NASA’s new heavy-lift booster the Space Launch System. Some of them are facts and others are myths. Throughout this week we will be posting an interview with NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Dan Dumbacher to try and set the record straight. Image Credit: NASA

There have been a lot of statements about NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System. Some of them are facts and others are myths. Throughout this week we will be posting an interview with NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Dan Dumbacher to try and set the record straight. Image Credit: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — AmericaSpace recently received numerous comments stating that NASA’s new Space Launch System, or “SLS,” was neither wanted by the space agency nor did it even have a mission. It was also said that, under the current economic uncertainty, NASA could not afford this new heavy-lift booster. These beliefs stem from the perception that Congress forced SLS on the space agency. AmericaSpace has sought to seek out the validity of these assertions and whether or not they have any basis in fact. 

When we approached NASA, we were referred to the space agency’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher. Dumbacher spoke with AmericaSpace for close to half an hour regarding the topics of SLS and Orion, as well as the driving forces that were behind how the agency has been managing its newest human-rated launch vehicle and the spacecraft that will ride atop it. It turns out that one of the most prominent of these forces is something that the nation itself has been struggling with for the past few years—the budget (more on that in later segments).

AmericaSpace: First, let me thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. We have been hearing a lot of things about NASA’s new Space Launch System and we were hoping to gain the agency’s perspective on them.

Dumbacher: “My pleasure. I hope I can help clarify a few things.”

AmericaSpace: Dan, a lot of people are very interested and excited about NASA’s Space Launch System. There have been some things that have been stated about SLS that we were hoping you could help us with. The Program of Record before SLS was the Constellation Program, and it had a very clear mandate under the Vision for Space Exploration, “Moon, Mars, and Beyond.” SLS doesn’t have that. We’ve heard the president say that he wants NASA to go to an asteroid in the 2020s and to Mars “sometime” in his lifetime. There are some folks who feel that SLS does not have a specific destination. Is this perception valid? Or is it inaccurate?

NASA is assembling components for the Orion spacecraft that will be used on Exploration Flight Test 1 slated to take place next year. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak

NASA is assembling components for the Orion spacecraft that will be used on Exploration Flight Test 1 slated to take place next year. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak

Dumbacher: “The way we at NASA look at it is, the ‘horizon’ destination that we are going to is Mars—sending humans to Mars is the goal that we are working toward. There are a number of different ways that we can accomplish this, and we’re still looking at the various tradeoffs as to how we conduct that. … That’s currently what we are doing right now is to research the various ways that we can send humans to Mars and then bring them safely back home.”

AmericaSpace: It sounds like one of these various approaches might be a stepping stone–type approach. This would mean that SLS would have a number of possible closer destinations (the Moon, a LaGrange Point, or an asteroid). Can you pick one out as an example for us?

Dumbacher: “Some of the destinations that we are looking at between here and Mars are, obviously, the Moon, the area around the Moon, and of course some asteroids. This will serve to get us ready to go to Mars and its moons. Now, the one thing that we want to make sure that everybody understands is that there is a fundamental capability that we need to have to get to any of those destinations. We need to get crew beyond Earth orbit, and we need to get crew home from beyond-Earth orbit—and that’s the role of Orion. Orion gives us about a 21-day capability; now that is obviously a short time, but what is missing in that is that we will eventually have to develop what we call the habitat module, or ‘the habitat.’ The astronauts would stay in this for the longer-duration missions, and Orion would be attached to the habitat. It would remain ‘quiet’ (essentially powered-down) once we got the astronauts to the habitat, and it would be reactivated once we needed to get the astronauts back home.”

AmericaSpace: President Obama has directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid. You might not have picked out which one, but you do plan to use SLS and Orion to send a crew to an asteroid, correct?

Dumbacher: “That is one of the trade studies that we are looking at. As you mentioned, there has been a presidential directive to travel to an asteroid around 2025, and we are currently looking into which asteroid would be most appropriate for such a mission. We actually have some options there—we can either send the humans to the asteroid or bring the asteroid to the humans. We are currently reviewing all of those options. So we are still trying to define what that mission might look like. This is heavily dependent on the type of asteroid, what its orbit is like, and so on.”

AmericaSpace: Any and all of these ‘side’ destinations, however …

Dumbacher: “Are all aimed at making sure that we learn what we need to learn on the road to Mars.

AmericaSpace: A bit off-topic here, but there have been multiple incidents involving meteors and asteroids lately, and this has garnered a lot of interest in NEOs (Near-Earth-Objects). How do you view the role of Orion and SLS in helping us to avoid having Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck save us using a titanium shuttle? Is this part of what NASA is looking into, or is just traveling to an asteroid, or is there a whole range of things that NASA is looking into?”

Dan L. Dumbacher is the AAA for Human Exploration Capabilities, at NASA Headquarters. He provides leadership and management for the directorate with a special focus on space launch systems and multipurpose crew vehicle (Orion) planning activities, as the Program Director for SLS / MPCV/ 21st Century Ground Systems. Photo Credit: NASA

Dan L. Dumbacher is the AAA for Human Exploration Capabilities at NASA Headquarters. He provides leadership and management for the directorate, with a special focus on space launch systems and multipurpose crew vehicle (Orion) planning activities, as the Program Director for SLS / MPCV/ 21st Century Ground Systems. Photo Credit: NASA

Dumbacher: (Laughs) “Let me back you up a little bit. We haven’t made any commitments—to any missions. What we are currently doing is, while we are building SLS and Orion, we are also in parallel with that, working through the missions that we are going to conduct first, second, third, and fourth. If we go to an asteroid, depending on how we do it, the whole idea is to learn how to travel beyond Earth orbit. For example, the navigation, how do we get there, how do we work in those orbits? They are different from those that we typically deal with in low-Earth orbit. They are also different than the orbits that the Apollo astronauts conducted around the Moon. We also have to learn about how to conduct communications, command, and control approaches for when we have astronauts so far away. Obviously, as you go further and further towards Mars that round-trip communications time takes longer and longer. We have to learn how to deal with that. We have to learn how to handle the radiation environments and the solar flares that feed into the radiation environment—these kinds of things we have to learn along the way, and we also have to learn how to build reliable spacecraft that can support human life for long-duration missions. This is no small thing to consider when with every minute they travel, home is increasingly further away, and therefore it’s harder to get repairs if something should go wrong.”

With that we figured we pretty much had an answer to the first of our questions—the one as to whether or not NASA has a specific destination in mind for SLS. The overriding objective is Mars, and NASA is currently developing the path that will get them there. However, in the short term there was no specific targeted date or destination. There are different routes NASA might take, but, outside of the EM-1 cislunar mission slated for 2021, nothing is set in stone.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the second part of this four-part series, where we ask NASA about how the agency looks upon SLS. 

 

33 comments to Space Launch System Truths and Misconceptions (Part 1)

  • Karol

    EXCELLENT interview Jason! Thank you AmericaSpace for providing valuable insight into Orion/SLS which hopefully will dispel some of the rumors, misinformation, and erroneous assumptions. I was quite pleased that, as many of us had believed, Mars is a horison destination. It was also interesting to learn that one of the potential destinations between here and there is “obviously the Moon”. Many of our international partners have expressed an interest in a return to the Moon, but have not shown much enthusiasm for a human mission to an asteroid. It is also very greatly appreciated to see the genuine concern for the health and well-being of the brave astronauts chosen for a Mars mission. With all the talk lately of “let’s hurry-up and go to Mars in a few years”, Scott Kelly has yet to even begin his year-long ISS mission to study the effects of long duration spaceflight on the human body, and to the best of my understanding the problem of high levels of radiation which could be encountered on a mission to Mars has not yet been solved. Of course, it will be solved, and we will go to Mars (and beyond), but Mars has been there for a long time so there is no “space race” to Mars. When I mentioned such concerns on another site, the response was that a couple that did not want children would be chosen because the radiation would leave them infertile. When I further questioned whether such radiation levels would also lead to a greatly increased probability of developing cancer, the response was, “Oh well, ionizing radiation does that.” Yikes! (Intelligent responses – yet another reason to stay with AmericaSpace). Thanks for the great interview and information Jason, I’m really looking forward to the next part of the series! Ad Astra!

    • Coastal Ron

      Karol said:

      When I further questioned whether such radiation levels would also lead to a greatly increased probability of developing cancer, the response was, “Oh well, ionizing radiation does that.” Yikes!

      Have you looked at what the Inspiration Mars group has said on this matter? Pretty much they said that yes, there will be an increased chance of cancer from the radiation, but that it shouldn’t be an issue during the voyage. They’ll just get treated for any of the ill effects after they return to Earth. Unless something unexpected happens…

      But these types of dangers are not always a barrier to adventurers. For whatever reason, either they figure it won’t happen to them or that the adventure is worth shortening their lives, people still do dangerous things. And that’s what adventurers have always done here on Earth, and even when we went to the Moon, so now we’re just extending that further out into space.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dumbacher said:

    If we go to an asteroid depending on how we do it, the whole idea is to learn how to travel beyond Earth orbit.

    Which is what I see is the justification for going to an asteroid – not the asteroid itself, but mastering the ability to travel beyond LEO with confidence.

    It’s very similar to the Apollo program, where Kennedy’s challenge was “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”. Since we were going there anyways, we added lots of science activities, which is what they are planning to do on the trip out to an asteroid.

    Since grabbing samples can be done far less expensively by robotic systems, the real value of such a trip is in creating & mastering the capability to travel progressively further and further away from Earth.

  • Coastal Ron

    The author said:

    With that we figured we pretty much had an answer to the first of our questions, the one as to whether-or-not NASA has a specific destination in mind for SLS.

    Were you surprised that a Deputy Associate Administrator said that they would be using what Congress had funded for them? A Deputy Associate Administrator doesn’t make policy, and certainly doesn’t criticize policy.

    The real question is not whether NASA will try to use what it’s been given. They have to. They have no funding to do otherwise.

    The statement I have made in the past, and what you allude to at the beginning of this series, was whether NASA originally asked for a 130mt-capable rocket (i.e. the Space Launch System).

    To answer that we have to go back to what the President asked for in his 2011 NASA budget request:

    - Cancellation of Constellation, including the Orion and Ares 1 & V
    - Extension of the ISS to 2020
    - Funding Commercial Crew

    And instead of a follow-on rocket from Constellation, the President’s request for NASA was:

    1. Technology demonstration program, $7.8 billion over five years – Funds the development and demonstration of technologies that reduce the cost and expand the capabilities of future exploration activities, including in-orbit refueling and storage.

    2. Heavy-Lift and Propulsion R&D, $3.1 billion over five years – Funds R&D for new launch systems, propellants, materials, and combustion processes.

    So no, NASA did not ask for a 130mt-capable rocket. NASA really wanted to work on other things.

    Will they build what Congress has funded them to build? Of course. Just ask Dick Cheney about the V-22 and how successful he was as SecDef in getting it cancelled. The legislative branch can get it’s way over the executive branch.

    But it is still true that NASA did not originally want the SLS, and that Congress has still not funded any missions that use the SLS.

    • Ron,
      You should wait for all of the series’ elements to come out. The funding, metric ton requirements, etc – are detailed. You will find that your last statements aren’t validated. In fact, today’s segment was the only segment that bore out some of what you were stating a week or so ago. Stay tuned.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Coastal Ron

        I thought the interview was a good one, but wasn’t revealing anything new, so I had not intended to comment.

        However at the conclusion you said the interview had proven “whether or not NASA has a specific destination in mind for SLS”.

        I think all the interview proved was that NASA is doing trade studies, and that the SLS and MPCV are part of that. Dumbacher said:

        Let me back you up a little bit. We haven’t made any commitments—to any missions.

        Sure it’s assumed that if the SLS is around that NASA would use it, and maybe that’s all you’re saying (i.e. the SLS is being considered as one of many alternatives). But no commitments have been made, so it’s too early to know if it’s the only option. Only when a specific program and approach have been approved can we know for sure – for any launch system. But it’s still too early to know.

  • Karol

    Jason, you recently posted that you found the rather cavalier attitude shown by some after the deaths of individuals watching the test firing of an engine to be distressing. Does anything posted here sound familiar? Imagine the public reaction if a NASA official said that if an astronaut develops cancer, perhaps terminal cancer, upon his return from a Mars mission, “they’ll just get treated”. With time NASA will certainly solve the shielding problem so that our astronauts can safely travel to Mars without being exposed to unnecessary, avoidable risk. There’s no reason that we need to go to Mars in the next five years. It’s a mission of exploration and science, NASA not NASCAR.

    • Coastal Ron

      Karol said:

      Imagine the public reaction if a NASA official said that if an astronaut develops cancer, perhaps terminal cancer, upon his return from a Mars mission, “they’ll just get treated”.

      Astronauts on the ISS are guinea pigs today for a whole host of medical issues, so I’m not sure anyone would say much about a risk that was voluntarily signed up for. In fact, the government as a whole asks people to risk their lives every day, with the outcome possibly being instant death, not just death by some eventual medical condition.

      If adults are told the risks in advance, they can decide whether it’s worth attempting. The government can’t force a NASA astronaut to do a mission, and even the soldiers that are dying for our country signed up voluntarily.

      Are you assuming that adults can’t make their own decisions about risk? Or that the public won’t understand that they knew about the risk beforehand?

      Even the workers that died in the workplace accident you mentioned knew there was risk, and it’s likely that’s why they were hired (i.e. their skills). If the company was complacent in their safety, then criminal charges could have been pursued (I don’t remember the details), but otherwise it was the risk they were being paid to accept.

      By nature the things that NASA does are risky, and there is no way, and no amount of money, that can change that.

      • Leonidas

        Ron said:

        “Are you assuming that adults can’t make their own decisions about risk? Or that the public won’t understand that they knew about the risk beforehand?”

        Ron, I agree with your post 100%. But I fear that this kind of understanding of risks and danger mostly exists only within the space community. Maybe I’m facing the risk of over generalising, but I fear that the general public at large that doesn’t ‘get’ space and the risks it entails, isn’t that much tolerant. The average person oblivious to the value of space exploration, already cries ‘Why are we spending this…’ even on succesful robotic missions. Even when Curiosity was succesfully on the sands of Mars, and even as we speak and the rover makes the breakthroughs that it does, I’m constantly faced on the internet with hordes of people shouting about the ‘wastefulness’ of the whole endeavour.

        So, if people face death on a space mission? Multiply the shouting by x10. And that has occured many times historically. For instance, when ‘Challenger’ broke apart in 1986, the anti-space howler monkeys (thank you Karol for the phrase!) were screaming to dismantle NASA as awhole. What would the public’s reaction be in the wake of a serious space accident, given the current fiscal-political climate?

        And you’re right. If you want to play the game of space, you’d have to accept the risks. Otherwise you’d better pack your bags and go home. The only thing that stops us from going forward in space(apart from funding) is our acceptance of risk as a society in general.

        • Coastal Ron

          Leonidas said:

          But I fear that this kind of understanding of risks and danger mostly exists only within the space community. Maybe I’m facing the risk of over generalising, but I fear that the general public at large that doesn’t ‘get’ space and the risks it entails, isn’t that much tolerant.

          Lots of debate about this, even within the space community. Rand Simberg wrote (or is writing) a book called “Safe Is Not An Option: Our Futile Obsession In Spaceflight” which he says is a book on our irrational approach to safety in human spaceflight.

          Certainly the public knows that adventurers get killed all the time, and that even 50,000 people a year get killed in auto accidents – most near home.

          When it comes to space, and whether it’s worth what we spend on NASA, I don’t know if there is enough information to say that people against spending on space care what arguments they use, so whether it’s a robotic explorer failing to land or someone getting killed, they would still complain.

          But let’s remember that even after NASA had lost two Shuttles, and both were blamed on bad NASA management, that the public did not rebel when NASA started flying the Shuttles again. Why? I think because the part of the public that accepts that NASA will continue to be funded also know that there are risks involved with space travel.

          And how will the public view private efforts? I think pretty much the same, except they won’t be concerned about their tax dollars.

          • Dear Ron,
            Agree with about 99 % of this – except for one small issue. To say that the public won’t (in this case I’d put the word ‘shouldn’t) be concerned about their tax dollars. Given that SpaceX has stated 90 percent of their commercial (crew, cargo) was paid for by the taxpayer? I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment.
            Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

            • Coastal Ron

              Jason said:

              Given that SpaceX has stated 90 percent of their commercial (crew, cargo) was paid for by the taxpayer? I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment.

              I don’t think the general public knows that, and given that the money SpaceX received was for services performed, I don’t think the public would care.

              For the discussion at hand, does it matter that NASA was their largest source of revenue at that point? It’s not like SpaceX borrowed money from taxpayers to fly to Vegas, SpaceX is risking their profits in a very well publicized effort to eventually reach Mars – Musk has made that very clear. I haven’t heard a public outcry about that, and in fact the comments I’ve seen on the various media outlets have been very supportive.

              Outside the space community, what have you heard?

              • Ron said:

                I think pretty much the same, except they won’t be concerned about their tax dollars.

                This lends the impression that the majority of funding won’t be coming from the taxpayer – which is incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that the majority of the funding in this public/private arrangement is in actuality public – nor am I saying that there should be some sort of “outcry.” I’m merely stating your supposition is factually inaccurate.

                As to media organizations being supportive. Media should be unbiased, even though this concept is dying (if not already dead) – media should report the news – not work to promote something – that’s the role of public relations. To be 100% honest – we’re just as guilty of this as the other outlets. We try to tell both sides – but we don’t achieve this goal 100 % of the time.

                Generally speaking, outside of the space community the public can be broken into 2 groups – those completely unaware of most space-related information & those with only a peripheral understanding f it. In short, it would be like me trying to talk about sports (something I’ve little to no understanding of). I’d love to be able to have the general public as out audience. But unless something is timely or currently popular – that won’t happen.

              • Leonidas

                My only objection to this is that the public tends to be far more supportive and appreciative of SpaceX’s plans to go to Mars than NASA’s. Granted, the public that cares, has been fed up with 40+ years of being stuck to LEO and the gemneral lack of progress out of LEO and wishes for someone else to come along and do things better and cheaper. Financial costs aside, space is space, and a private effort to Mars will face the same dangers and obstacles a NASA-led one will. So since we’re talking about safety and risk, I find it premature that the public tends to accept the private sector’s plans with open arms, considering that the latter hasn’t still gained the necessary experience and expertise needed, and dismises NASA’s plan’s out of hand. That doesn’t mean that the private sector will not reach that point, but I don’t think it will be as easy and affordable as we’d like to believe.

                • Coastal Ron

                  Leonidas said:

                  My only objection to this is that the public tends to be far more supportive and appreciative of SpaceX’s plans to go to Mars than NASA’s.

                  I don’t see any support for Musk’s plans for going to Mars per se, all I see is people understanding that he plans to go. BIG difference.

                  Even for myself, I think it’s neat that it’s his personal goal, but it doesn’t change any of my personal plans. And if he doesn’t go? I won’t lose any money or have to change my vacation plans. What he does with his own money & company is his concern, but since he has embraced a goal I agree with (i.e. making our species interplanetary), he gets a little more credit for trying.

                  As to NASA, when you’ve been around as long as I have, you get used to hearing about what NASA is planning, but what ultimately doesn’t happen.

                  And why is that? Because Congress and the President don’t agree to fund those plans. It’s pretty simple folks. I think NASA and our American aerospace industry can do quite a bit, but if no one is going to foot the bill, no one is going anywhere.

                  Money is the key, and that is the root of why I think the SLS is such a boondoggle – not enough funds to use it, nor to use it safely (i.e. an operational flight tempo of at least 2-3 launches every year, for decades). It has nothing to do with the desires of the many or the few within NASA, who for the most part have no say anyways – that’s my professional management perspective.

  • I’m worried that SLS is just financially improbable. NASA is comfortable with it because using a BIG rocket is the only way they were able to get beyond Earth orbit. Yet, I fear US cannot afford it.

    Another way is to try using medium size rockets already existing and avoid developmental costs and issuses and just concentrate on the hardware that’s really required for each mission (Beyond Earth Orbit Stack). No-one has ever tried it. Probably about 50% of people may think it can’t happen. Sounds like a recipe for new research.

  • CharlesHouston

    Rather than try to go through this interview piece by piece, let’s take a look at a specific question/response.

    Mr Dumbacher said, in response to the question about the asteroid goal “As you mentioned, there has been a presidential directive to travel to an asteroid around 2025, and we are currently looking into which asteroid would be most appropriate for such a mission. We actually have some options there—we can either send the humans to the asteroid or bring the asteroid to the humans.”

    If you look at the required experience needed to go to an asteroid – especially with a vehicle with people in it – we just do not have enough time to develop that experience and confidence. Assuming that we at least have one deep space test flight, we would need to have a vehicle in production today (and NOT the Orion!!) to be able to depart in time to rendezvous with an asteroid. This assumes we depart in 2025 – not rendezvous in 2025.

    Looking at the interview, so far, I conclude that Mr Dumbacher is saying to keep the money flowing and the people working – until the direction changes and some realistic goal appears. I conclude that he realizes that he has been given a nebulous goal that cannot be achieved, but he also realizes that his career is over if he foolishly admits that.

    We all look forward to the rest of the interview.

    • Charles,
      I agree, therefore the entire interview will be on AmericaSpace tomorrow. We promised our readers to have it up today, but were very busy and could only get the one segment up. However, we try to keep our promises & wanted to have at least some of it up.

      Given the exclamation points, we gather you’re an anti-Orion person. So, rather than get into a time-consuming back & forth – read the full interview tomorrow.

      It seems you’ve already made up your mind, regardless of what Dumbacher says. Still, we hope you will at least try to keep an open mind.

      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • CharlesHouston

        Jason – I am not anti-anything, many of us out here are trying to be optimistic. However, having worked in this field since 1978, I have seen too many soothing responses from managers that did not answer direct questions.

        I have not made up my mind but the responsibility to prove his case is with Mr Dumbacher and he appears to not be giving direct answers to questions. That I why I quoted his words – they seem to be mis-direction.

        I will eagerly anticipate the full interview and hope that Mr Dumbacher can make a strong case.

        • Charles,
          I feel ya on that part (soothing comments). I do think he did a better job of justifying some of how SLS has been handled later on in the interview. As you’ve been in the business a while, you might be able to provide insight into that.

          The reason for this interview is simple. There were three things said by folks (who are definitely anti-SLS) that I wanted NASA’s reply to: Does NASA want SLS – or was it forced on them by Congress? Can it afford it (and is some of what we’re seeing in terms of timelines reflective of cost issues)? Does it have a destination? There were some side comments that have been raised that I had Dumbacher address as well.

          I promised our readers the article would appear today – but I got buried on another assignment. Still, we try to keep our promises & I posted what I could today, So tomorrow will lead off with today’s segment – & then keep going until the end. Transcribing that long an interview – is very time consuming.
          Sincerely & with regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  • Leonidas

    I found it an excellent interview personally. What Mr.Dumbacher basically says is that ‘listen, we want to go to Mars as the ultimate goal (we always did) and we’re trying to find the best possible way, considering the financial and technical realities. And we’re trying to make it incremental as it’s the best approach and examine all possible routes, be it through the Moon, an asteroid, L2 or whatever. Test out our feet in nearby space, and steadily move outwards all the way to Mars as we get more confident and experienced’.

    I don’t think that there’s anything to complain about here. If there’s something, its the pace in which things are planned to take place. Yet, even Planetary Resources, whose ultimate goal is to mine asteroids as a means of kickstarting a permanent presence in space, has laid out an incremental approach to their goal, that could possibly take decades to reach.

    • Leo,
      My concern is that rather than admit that some of what the anti-SLS folks believe is not correct, they’ll just resort to the “Moon-Hoaxer” approach. Meaning they’ll refute everything he says, call into question his sincerity & so on. I personally feel that the Mars answer was too-easy of a reply. I wish he said, “Yes, SLS will send people to the Moon, to an asteroid to…” – but I couldn’t get him to say that, in fact he plainly states that SLS has no concrete short-term objective other than cislunar space (does that count?). As you’ll see tomorrow, he addresses all the other points raised – but not the one on destination (at least i didn’t think so). In a way, I felt this made the interview more genuine, as it proved that there is some validity to the beliefs that brought this article about.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  • Leonidas

    Actually Jason, I found this exact same point a positive one, personally. Meaning that, there’s ultimately a destination-Mars, and the reason we don’t have a short-term one, is because we’re trying to find the best possible route to Mars. Will it be through the Moon? Through an asteroid? They didn’t just set in stone a path stubornly saying ‘we’ll go to Mars through this route’ knowing that there might be a better one.

    At least that’s my read of the interview.

    • Leo,
      Yeah, I know. I just wish he said, “We’re going to an asteroid in 2025.” That’d been a much more satisfying answer to the question. He gave a great interview. I’m just hopeful the folks that made the statements that inspired this article – will take them to heart & not spend all day tomorrow shooting them down or insulting him.
      Sincerely and with thanks, Jason

      • Leonidas

        There was a report that the National Research Council issued a couple of months ago, stating that there was no widespread support inside NASA concerning the asteroid option. I don’t know if this is the case why Dumbacher didn’t firmly commit to a 2025 asteroid mission. Did he address that?

        As for people not shooting him down, I don’t hold my breath…

        • Leo,
          No he didn’t, essentially the segment that ran today (the whole interview will appear tomorrow) answered the destination question. What’s ironic is that the anti-SLS crowd states that NASA doesn’t want SLS – when in reality they don’t want to go to an asteroid (as directed by Obama).

          I’m not.
          Sincerely, Jason

          • Leonidas

            So, with my little understanding, I guess that’s why he didn’t commit to an asteroid as a destination. To be honest Jason, when I first heard of Obama’s proposal about asteroid missions, I thought to myself ‘wtf? What’s this?’

            That doesn’t mean that an asteroid mission doesn’t have its merits scientifically and technically, but it strikes me as a rather odd choice considering you have a whole Moon there waiting (and I bet a lot of people inside NASA share this view). I don’t want to bring politics up again, but I thought at the time, that Obama’s choice (or his scientific advisor’s) about asteroids was an attempt at sugar-coating Constellation’s cancelation.

            Anyway, about the anti-SLS sentiments, that’s the deniers’s job-to deny. But what I find really frustrating, is that when SpaceX makes an anouncement that ‘we’re planning to be on Mars in 10-15 years’, everyone just cheers and says ‘oh, great!’, but when NASA says ‘we plan to be on Mars in the mid-2030s’, everyone says ‘bull’.

            • Leo,
              I know right? Some folks place more value in what companies, who all total haven’t launched a single human being to orbit say – over the agency that has launched 150+ manned missions. With folks like that though? There is no rational argument. These folks are too far gone, a total lost cause.
              Sincerely, Jason

          • Ferris Valyn

            (Leaving aside the issue of SLS) – Part of the problem is how the flexible path got turned into going to an asteroid.

            There are good reasons to visit an asteroid, but doing it as a sort of 1-off, like Apollo, doesn’t really make sense (any more than it would be to make sense to repeat Apollo to the moon).

            We’ve GOT to start looking at space as less about destinations, and more about infrastructure.

        • Coastal Ron

          Leonidas said:

          There was a report that the National Research Council issued a couple of months ago, stating that there was no widespread support inside NASA concerning the asteroid option. I don’t know if this is the case why Dumbacher didn’t firmly commit to a 2025 asteroid mission.

          Are you saying that NASA, and even NASA employees themselves, can determine what NASA’s goals are?

          That’s not how our system of government works.

          Not even the NASA Administrator can authorize something that Congress has not specifically funded them to do. And let’s remember that the NASA Administrator works for the President, so if the President doesn’t want NASA to do something, and the Congress doesn’t fund them to do something, it’s not going to happen.

          That’s why Dumbacher, as a Deputy Associate Administrator, is unlikely to say or commit to anything that we all don’t already know about.

          • Leonidas

            Yes, I understand all these. My point was that I feel Dumbacher didn’t specifically endorse the asteroid mission in his interview
            because of this possible lack of interest about it inside NASA. Then again I may be wrong…

          • CharlesHouston

            Living as I do right down the street from the Johnson Space Center, and having many contacts there… And having been in the business for a number of years (though not now).

            Perhaps the NASA people (civil service as well as contractors) are reflecting the general feeling that an asteroid mission – even departing by 2025 – is totally unrealistic. Let us assume an optimistic three year round trip, and a need to do a similar test mission. And we do not have a rocket or a capsule or a service module in test. So with a ten year test program possibly launching a flight per year, and a three year test flight of a capsule, and a delay for budgets… We are about four years behind already! We might yet have a system of rocket, capsule, service module, etc with some flight experience by 2023. Then we could send the system on a three year test flight, returning in 2026. Then send the final configuration the next year. Add in a few years of manager’s reserve. Oops, there goes 2025.

            Next, which asteroid would we go to? Most of the candidates come close to our orbit and then return to deep space, if you matched orbits with it you would have to have a very very reliable system to get back to an orbit that can be captured by the Earth.

            The entire asteroid mission is a scam to keep us excited until we found out that it cannot be done anywhere near 2025.