Nobel Winners Back Obama Space Strategy

Today’s New York Times reports that Nobel Winners Back Obama Space Strategy. The problem that we have with this letter is that these are all scientists who of course want more research money and funding for University-led research, for which the Obama space plan would be a boon.

One of the letter’s prime movers is Dr. John Logsdon, former head of the space policy program at George Washington and mentor to key players in the “New Space” cabal at NASA HQ. So no surprise that Dr. Logsdon is trying to help some avoid the coming political and policy Charge of the Light Brigade they are about to face. Their loss is his as well.

The political rationale–really, political naiveté–for opposing human space flight by the science community is simple. It is imagined that very nearly every dollar denied to NASA’s human space exploration program would naturally go towards research grants to keep graduate science students and their advisors busy and funded. In all likelihood, the money would instead go for a new post office or federal office building, named naturally enough for the member of Congress who procured the money for that project.

In short, this is just as much of a special-interest letter as the one from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

AmericaSpace Update: A copy of the Nobel laureates letter to House Committee on Science & Technology Chairman Bart Gordon can be found over at Given Gordon’s stance, and that of Ranking Member Ralph Hall, regarding the President’s proposed changes to our nation’s human space flight program, this letter will, as former Senator Simpson would say, likely have as much impact as a sparrow’s burp in the midst of a hurricane.


  1. First, it’s Logsdon. No “e” in the name.

    Second, the letter is a little bit deeper and broader than you claim, especially commercial space element. That’s the key to the thing: commercialize access to Earth orbit and then you’ve got room to do all sorts of things.

    • This is what I get for posting late at night…thanks for the spelling correction.

      All of us on this blog support commercialized human access. What we don’t support is asking an industry to run when it’s crawling while at the same time promoting the strange notion that for the commercial human space sector to survive, our government’s human space flight program in general, and LEO access in particular, must necessarily end.

      We are supposed to currently be in the midst of a commercial satellite boom, as predicted in the early 90’s by many. That “boom” ended in 2000 for most such as Rotary Rocket, Kistler, etc. Others, namely Lockheed and Boeing, were able to survive by merging, with DoD pleading with the FTC on their behalf. And the last of the commercial launchers, Sea Launch, is in Ch. 11, and is estimated to cost Boeing around $400 million in losses. What’s to say that the experience in the commercial crewed business will be any different? And it could very well be worse. If you look at the 2002 Futron study, we’re supposed to have dozens of suborbital launches in the last few years when we’ve had…zero! So esoteric and wildly optimistic studies about possible emerging industries by organizations with a track record bordering on abysmal should be taken with a very, very large does of salt.

      There is no paradigm today to support the claim made by commercial crew launch supporters that commercial and government programs that do somewhat to substantially the same thing cannot survive side-by-side. For example, Military Airlift Command and the nation’s commercial airline/cargo system seem to be living just fine with each other. Or is it the position of the commercial crewed space start-up’s that they cannot survive unless NASA’s Constellation program’s LEO efforts end? If so, based on what? And if these commercial crewed launch service companies are to be, in fact, commercial, when will they act like commercial enterprises and stop suckling from the government?

      We much prefer that our government keeps its own independent human space flight capabilities. And we look forward to the commercial sector building up and demonstrating its capabilities to safely launch humans into low-earth orbit. We should always remember that commercial entities work for their shareholders, not for the interest of this country or its long-term needs for human access to space.

    • Having read the letter, no, it isn’t “broader or deeper” than imagined. If anything, it’s claims that going commercial for LEO human access will free up NASA are unsubstantiated. The commercial satellite market never materialized as a profit center, so why will launching humans, a far more expensive endeavor?

  2. The arguments that you make in your first reply are more credible than the ones in the post.

    The original post is basically that these are a bunch of academicians who oppose human spaceflight and are just interested in getting a bigger slice of the pie for themselves. And that the funding would be diverted in post offices and such things. The assessment is narrow. It is wrong.

    There are legitimate issues about using existing EELVs. But, I would argue that if you used one of ULA’s rockets and brought on SpaceX’s (or OSC’s) system as it matures we would have reliable, redundant access to LEO. This is basically NASA’s plan.

    ULA could easily absorb a couple of more launches a year into its production run without a lot of problems if this is done properly. (Air Force Undersecretary for Space Gary Payton has said this, so have ULA officials.) The production runs for both rockets are less than expected. If anything, it would broaden the company’s financial base and stability.

    • Thanks! As they say, if at first you don’t succeed…

      I too think that, given a bit of time, ULA could handle the load of launching more Delta IV HL’s.

      But in his March 18th testimony before Nelson’s Senate Committee, ULA CEO Michael Gass raised some points that don’t comport with the President’s proposed changes to our nation’s human space flight program. Gass testified that it would be 4 years before a human-rated EELV were available and that NASA would have to bear 100% of the development costs. Gass also referred to ULA’s history when testifiying ULA would not jump into the commercial crew launch business. At the time, we thought that this could have been mere posturing on Gass’ part.

      Subsequent comments, made during a Space News interview by ULA’s Director of Business Development Andrew Aldrin, “Not surprisingly, we are a little reluctant to commit [to become a commercial crew launcher]. But this wasn’t always the case. Just remember, it was about 10 years ago that we invested billions in EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) systems for a [satellite launch] market that frankly looked much more solid than the [human spaceflight] market we are looking at today.”, pretty much paints the same picture as Gass’. ULA will human rate their launcher(s), but NASA will pay the full cost for such work. And ULA will not operate those launchers but will, as Gass put it, sell NASA a rocket to launch.

      Orbital Sr. VP Culbertson stated, at the same March 18th hearing, that Orbital wanted to keep its focus on the cargo business and did not want to get into the commercial crew business.

      Both companies got burned during the land-rush that was supposed to the be the booming commercial satellite launch business, and it shows.

      Given where SpaceX is supposed to be on Falcon 9 (GAO-09-618) and where it is today, one could be forgiven for asking if it isn’t a bit premature to throw very many of our human space flight eggs in their basket? Why not wait for SpaceX to prove, as it must do under COTS, that it can keep its rockets running and resupplying ISS?

      The real crux of the current debate over commercial vs. national human space flight is the false choice created by those in the Obama Administration that for the LEO commercial crew market to thrive, our government’s LEO human space access must wither. There is no historical justification for such a notion. There is no economic justification given either. Instead, those in the Administration seem to have just reached this conclusion, as though in some eureka moment. Given the battleship sized holes that have been punched through the White House proposal by not only critics but entities that might be viewed as natural allies, we applaud that both the House and the Senate have stepped-in and offered some adult supervision to the Romper Room that is the Administration’s space policy apparatus.

      I hope that, perhaps after the President signs the final 2010 NASA Authorization Act that comes out of Congress, Congress, the White House, NASA, and the current commercial launch providers can start to work towards building an environment in which a commercial crew launch market can grow while our nation develops and maintains its own, independent means of human access to space.

    • Build it and they will come?

      But upon what? The as-yet unbuilt, untested, unflown Boeing crewed spacecraft? Or upon a Dragon?

      Maybe you’re right.

      Still, why get rid of national human space access? Why is that so very necessary for the “commercial” crew launchers to thrive?

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