Junk Cost Estimates Supplied to Augustine Committee Threaten NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

Ares I--We Have Lift-off!

AmericaSpace Udate: We added the link to the Aerospace Corp’s response to Rep. Giffords. Reading this response does not leave one with a warm and fuzzy feeling of confidence in the manner in which the Augustine Committee reached its conclusions. We would have thought that the flow of numbers would have been in the opposite direction, that is from the Aerospace Corporation to the Committee.

Last August, during the deliberations of the Augustine Committee, numbers being given to the Committee by Aerospace Corporation were, according to a post by Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, Junk Cost Estimates Supplied to Augustine Committee Threaten to Sink NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program, inflating the cost of Project Constellation.

Money Quote:The Mars Society has examined copies of the cost projections being used by the Augustine Committee in currently considering the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program. These estimates, generated by the Aerospace Corporation, a US Air Force funded policy oracle, have no scientific basis and have clearly been composed to make the case that human space exploration is unaffordable.

Zubrin then goes on with what is the meat of the issue. “The cost projections for all other systems are similarly bloated, or worse. A particularly nonsensical example can be seen in the Aerospace Corp’s cost estimates for future ground operations. As the charts correctly note, these today amount to about $300 million per year to support the flights of the highly complex Space Shuttle. Following retirement of the Shuttle, Aerospace’s cost estimates have ground operations cost triple to $900 million by 2012, and then continue to rise to $1.8 billion by 2022. This sixfold rise in ground operations cost would be difficult to explain in any case, but in the absurdity of this instance is outstanding since during the entire ten year 2012-2022 period in question, there are NO heavy lift flights at all for the ground operations to support. In other words, the Aerospace Corp’s estimates have NASA’s ground operations costs rising sixfold over Shuttle flight support requirements, spending $15 billion over ten years, in order to launch nothing.

We bring this up because during yesterday’s testimony before the House Science & Technology Committee hearing, “Changes to NASA’s Exploration Program: What’s Known, What’s Not, and What Are The Issues For Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Chairwoman of the House Science & Technology Committee, made mention of, and her unhappiness with, the Aerospace Corporation numbers given to the Augustine Committee in her opening statement,

“As part of my efforts to find out whether there was a solid factual or analytical basis in last year’s Augustine committee report for the Administration’s plan, I directed a series of basic questions to Aerospace Corporation, the organization that was asked to support the Augustine committee in its review.

Aerospace’s responses, which I am entering into the record of today’s hearing, make it clear that such a basis is lacking in many important areas. That is not a criticism of Aerospace—a distinguished organization—but it does call into question the depth of analysis that the Administration’s proposals received before they were sent to Capitol Hill.”

And here is where he is prophetic, and accurate, as to the outcome of such numerical roulette, “The Augustine Committee may believe that by accepting such estimates they can push the Obama administration into supplying more funds to NASA. However the program they propose is so unattractive that the more likely result is that they will simply cause cancellation of the human exploration effort. Indeed, presented with a choice of accepting the Committee’s recommended plan of spending a quarter trillion dollars over 15 years in order to do a year 2025 human rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid, retrenching to a purposeless ISS-visit only astronaut program, or just bagging human spaceflight altogether, the administration could hardly be blamed for choosing one of the latter options.

We would like to complement Dr. Zubrin for his ability to see accurately into the future – in this case, he was spot-on with the Administration’s reaction to the Augustine Committee’s dire numbers for continuing human space flight.

We have to say that Zubrin’s and Gifford’s concerns mirror our own after we looked into the cost figures for operating Ares I being thrown around by the NASA Administrator, his Deputy, and the Augustine Committee, all of whom seem to be using inflated figures not born out after the Constellation PDR, according to Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directory Doug Cooke yesterday.


  1. I think that Zurbin is onto something, although actually, there would be ground operations costs for Ares I test flights, Ares I ISS flights, and Ares V flights.

    Because of the launch hardware changes, it would be reasonable that SOME of those costs would be greater than the shuttle. Some would be less, since TPS maintenance should not be such a manpower-intensive issue.

    I think that Zurbin’s comments are a strong indication that there are probably some very questionable estimates in the Augustine report.

  2. Did anybody watch the Augustine commisssion hearings? It’s difficult to believe that very much from that whole process can be considered credible. There was an agenda before that commission was even put in place.

Virgin Galactic Advances Toward Truly Privatized Spaceflight

Constellation Preservation Act Filed