Today, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden saw fit to hit the replay button in his Houston Chronicle op-ed piece “It’s Time To Focus On America’s Future In Space” by repeating the same…well, things that he has been told to say by the White House. In summary, Bolden states the following:
Ares I/Orion would not have launched by the time ISS was originally supposed to be retired in 2015.
- SpaceX’s experience in developing Falcon 1 (2 years late)
- SpaceX’s experience in developing Falcon 9 (2 years late, again)
- Sea Launch declaring bankruptcy that will cost Boeing nearly $500 million
- Formation of ULA from Boeing and Lockheed because the commercial satellite launch market never materialized.
- The 5 or so commercial launchers (Kistler, Rotary Rocket, etc.) who are no longer in business.
Well, no. Any statements by the NASA Administrator or the Agency’s staff talking about ISS retiring in 2015 is borderline deliberately misleading since the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Title VI, Subtitle A, Sec. 601) directed that, “The Administrator shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the International Space Station remains a viable and productive facility capable of potential United States utilization through at least 2020 and shall take no steps that would preclude its continued operation and utilization by the United States after 2016.” Which means, after 2008, ISS was never going to be retired in 2015. Bolden and his staff know this but continue to try to, as Molotov once said, state a myth often enough that it becomes the new truth.
Currently, Ares I/Orion will see its first crewed launch in March 2015. Given that ISS will be orbiting long after 2015, we have a great deal of trouble fathoming the justification for not continuing development of Constellation. After all, none of the commercial space launchers would be ready to launch crews before 2015. Ok, ok, SpaceX says it will be ready 3 years after signing a contract with NASA. But then, SpaceX always seems to be 2 years late on any launch date it gives, whether for Falcon 1 or Falcon 9, so it’s overly optimistic promises of launching by 2013-2014 are very, very suspect.
Money to pay for ISS for operations beyond 2015 don’t kick-in until FY 2016, or October 1, 2015. Ares I/Orion launches mid-year 2015, meaning most of its development money will have already been spent by mid-year 2015. So, it is not as though continuing Ares I/Orion development in any way impinges on funds for operating ISS beyond 2015.
We need quicker and less costly ways to develop new launch systems
Well, of course we like this point. But…ummm…we are not sure what that has to do with the price of rice in China or how it is connected with canceling Project Constellation.
Unless the Administrator is trying to make the point that going commercial will be the ticket to quicker and less costly system development? But were that the case. One just has to look at,
to realize that commercial is no silver bullet in lowering launch costs and shortening developmental time of a system.
We must work diligently with the commercial sector to help them succeed at providing safe, reliable, redundant access to low-Earth orbit while NASA develops futuristic capabilities to reach deep space.
Ok, we’ll be the spoiler and ask why it is important to help the commercial crewed launchers succeed in reaching low-earth orbit? Especially when the commercial satellite launch market that was supposed to harken a new era never materialized costing many companies their very existence, Boeing and Lockheed Martin billions, and the American tax-payers who knows what. As United Launch Alliance CEO Gass stated, “I think its important to note…that the consolidation to form ULA [from Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V and Boeing’s Delta IV] was done in part because the commercial market projected in the late 1990’s did not materialize as was originally expected and the remaining market was insufficient to sustain two healthy launch-service providers. Therefore, we believe the nation’s human access to space should not be dependent on the success of a future adjacent commercial market.”
There is very little historical precedence for the federal government to underwrite developmental and manufacturing expenses of commercial anything. Oh, the government might give companies R&D tax credits and incentives, or pay for services once the product is developed. But, what the NASA Administrator and the White House are talking about are out-and-out cash payments out of the NASA honey pot to the likes of SpaceX, which is already subsidized by NASA to the tune of over $300 million, so that it can finish developing and build its Dragon spacecraft. In the past, it wasn’t as though the government was subsidizing the development of the Douglas DC-1, DC-2 and then the commercially successful DC-3. Yes, the government did help airlines by giving them lucrative airmail contracts. But that money was never given to the aircraft manufacturers. Douglas, Northrop, Lockheed, and Boeing all had to make it on their own. We’re capitalists here and feel that no less should be demanded of SpaceX than for it survive as Burt Rutan has, through investors.
I ask for everyone’s cooperation as we carry out President Obama’s new plan. America’s future in space depends on it.
We believe, as do Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan, Kranz, Kraft and a host of other very experienced and bright people that America’s future in space depends on not carrying-out the President’s space plans. In fact, as Neil Armstrong wrote on April 14th, Obama’s plan “…destines our nation to become one of second or even third-rate stature.”