Why Do We Want to Have a Space Program?

Dr Mike Griffin UAHuntsvilleAmericaSpace Note: The following remarks were delivered by former NASA Administrator Dr. Mike Griffin on 6 September 2012 for the inaugural lecture of Georgia Tech’s Gebhardt Lecture. It is used with permission by Dr. Griffin.

Michael D. Griffin

Chairman & CEO

Schafer Corporation

6 September 2012

Good afternoon. I am truly honored to have been asked to deliver the inaugural Gebhardt Lecture. Georgia Tech is one of the world’s great institutions, a place at which I am always pleased to be.

Before I begin, I must in fairness note that the views I offer today are entirely my own. They do not represent my company, or the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, of which I have the honor to be the current president, nor any other committee or association of which I am a member. They are solely my personal views. I am again honored that you have asked me to share them with you.

The subject of my talk today is one that, once upon a time, I would never have imagined offering. I mean, why do we want to have a space program? Wasn’t that a “given”? I once thought so. For more than fifty years, the exploration and development of space by the United States could have been characterized, without much exaggeration, as “all government, all the time”.  There were exceptions, notably with regard to the commercial communications satellite industry, but they were just that – exceptions.  Despite the entreaties of many who argued for policies designed to encourage the development of commercial space enterprises, space development remained essentially a government preserve. Things have certainly changed. Now, at least where the most visible symbol of the American space program – human spaceflight – is concerned, today’s policy environment is almost diametrically opposed to this decades-old paradigm. U.S. crew transportation to low orbit has been set aside as a commercial preserve, when and as that capability may appear, and new private space enterprises are in vigorous pursuit of defense and intelligence community markets as well.  Today I would like to explore the ramifications of such policy shifts, and will try once again to say why I think we need a robust national space effort, even as much new space activity shifts toward commercial development. So, let’s recap a bit. Where were we, where are we now, and what are the implications of the shifts in space policy that we have seen over the last few years?

Let’s look back four years, to Fall 2008, just prior to the election. Back then, NASA was well along in its implementation of what was, in my view, the most sensible civil space policy that this nation had embraced since the time of Apollo. The policy rose from the ashes of the Columbia accident and the observation by Admiral Hal Gehman’s Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) that, for three decades, the human spaceflight space program had proceeded without a compelling national mandate. Responding to this and other observations by the CAIB concerning the lack of a coherent national strategy for the space program, President Bush articulated the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, which was subsequently established as the law of the land in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. Pursuant to these instruments of policy and law, the agency was directed to return the Space Shuttle to flight, to use it to complete the International Space Station (ISS) in accordance with our domestic and international commitments. Following completion of the ISS, the Shuttle would be retired from service, to be replaced by a new human space transportation system that would be capable of ferrying U.S. and international partner astronauts and their equipment to and from the ISS, while also providing the capability to return to the moon. We would then use the experience gained from ISS and lunar operations to move onward to Mars.

With a bit of effort, one could capture the essential features of this policy in a single sentence – in my view a key feature of any policy purporting to be “strategic”. When we talk about national policy, we are in fundamentally talking about “what we will do”. If that cannot be expressed plainly, likely it will not happen. Churchill understood this, as did Kennedy and Reagan.

In any case, this policy was approved by large margins in both House and Senate by a Republican Congress in 2005, and again by a Democratic Congress in 2008, each time with features that I regarded as improvements. By 2008, NASA was well along in implementing that policy through its Constellation program, which planned to restore U.S. human access to space by late 2014, and lunar return by about 2020, depending as always upon budgetary exigencies. Both candidates for president in that year had pledged support for that program, and both had promised to reduce “the gap” – that period of unseemly dependence by the United States on Russia for crew transportation to the ISS following Shuttle retirement and prior to deployment of the first elements of Constellation. While it would take a decade and more, we seemed well on the way to recovery from the Columbia accident, as well as from the thirty years of uncertain national space policy leadership which had preceded it.

Today the strategic coherence and generational scope of this plan is gone as if it had never existed, had never been approved, twice, as the law of the land. The one element of the plan that was respected was the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011, and with it all U.S. capability for human spaceflight. However, the next phase of the plan, the direction to NASA to develop a new human spaceflight system for access to low Earth orbit (LEO), has been set aside. In its place, rather than a NASA designed, directed, and managed development program, we have a plan by which two-and-one-half awards have been provided to three contractors to learn, or re-learn, what one of them has been paid by the U.S. government to do for over fifty years now. These recent awards, following on prior programs, provide well over a billion public dollars for capital investment in private companies, investment for which NASA cannot set requirements, cannot direct design features, cannot control management practices, cannot require financial audits, and receives no product other than the right to purchase a service at market price when and as it becomes available.

The near-term goal of a U.S. led, international return to the moon and the establishment of a lunar base, the logical follow-on to the now-complete ISS, has been set aside, replaced by a mission to an asteroid for which no clearly worthwhile candidate is presently available and which cannot possibly occur prior to the mid-2020s. The heavy-lift launcher being designed to re-enable lunar access has been set aside, to be replaced by the similar-appearing but less capable Space Launch System (SLS) designed to support this so-called “beyond LEO” exploration. But the program is substantially underfunded, and no knowledgeable observer believes that multiple Congresses and succeeding presidents will provide the resources necessary to complete the SLS, when the only announced goal is a mission so lacking in justification that its own proponents cannot even identify the destination.

These changes were, of course, justified by assertions that the prior program was an artifact of the Bush Administration, rather than of the two Congresses which codified the plan into law, that it was “unexecutable”, supposedly citing the findings of a committee chaired by the highly respected Norm Augustine, and that in any case the program was behind schedule and over budget. While it is clearly the prerogative of any new presidential administration to propose changes to Executive Branch policies and programs, for whatever reasons that administration finds appropriate, I must take this opportunity to set the record straight, as I see it, regarding the assertions made with respect to the Constellation Program and its cancellation.

First, I’ve read the Augustine Committee report carefully, and while it is possible that I have missed it, nowhere in the report can I find the assertion that Constellation was “unexecutable”. What I saw was the Committee’s assessment that, with the budget profile provided to that group as a ground rule for their study, lunar return would have been delayed until the late 2020s. With that I agree, and I agree that to pursue such a program plan is rather silly. But that does not make it “unexecutable”, a characterization conferred on the Committee’s report by others. And if it were, it then also calls for the question as to why an asteroid mission which cannot occur prior to 2025 is acceptable, whereas a return to the moon in the same timeframe is not.

Regarding mission schedules, which for the present are paced by budgetary rather than technical considerations, I think it is now generally understood that the budget provided to the Augustine Committee for its work was substantially lower than the last budget submitted by the Bush Administration, and also lower than the next budget submitted by the Obama Administration. Thus, the budget provided to the Augustine Committee to guide its work was entirely artificial, representative of no plan which either preceded or followed.

Nevertheless, Augustine’s recommendation was not, as many believe, that Constellation should be cancelled. Rather, the Committee’s primary recommendation was that the NASA budget should be increased by about $3 billion per year. To put this figure in perspective, it was no more than authorized (though not appropriated) by the Congress, and less in real-dollar terms than in FY92, the final Bush 41 budget. Thus, the Committee’s recommendation was hardly for some extravagant, budget-busting caricature of a rational program for civil space science and exploration. The Committee recommended an entirely affordable level of spending for a robust national space program.

Second, the Augustine Committee did not criticize the execution of the program. Quite the contrary. In the words of the late Sally Ride, a member of the Committee, “The program comes pretty close to performing as NASA advertised as it would. … NASA’s planning and development phase of Constellation was actually pretty good.” (Space News, 13 Aug 2009)

Further, I will quote from a portion of the 15 Sep 2009 Hearing before the House Science Committee, in which Mr. Augustine and Dr. Crawley respond to questioning by Chairman Gordon concerning the status of the program:

Chairman Gordon: Is it (Constellation) technically sound and effectively managed?

Mr. Augustine: … We did review the program and its management. We believe it to be soundly managed. Technically, the program has some significant problems — technical problems. And this is not to be unexpected in a program of this difficulty and this magnitude. We saw no problems that appear to be unsolvable, given the proper engineering talent, the attention and the funds to solve them. Having said that, I’d like to turn to my colleague, Dr. Crawley. …

Dr. Crawley: No, I — I think, Norm, you have summarized this quite well at the — at the highest level. There were on our committee a number of people who had actually built space flight hardware, and their general consensus on the assessment of the Constellation program technically is, as Norm says, that it had — it has problems — all real programs where you’re really building hardware encounter problems, developmental problems — but that we didn’t see any of them, including some of the famous — vibration problem in the Ares 1 or the vibro-acoustic environment, the noise environment around the Orion — that were not surmountable with proper engineering talent and skill, which we believe NASA can bring to bear.

Third, it is not true that, again as widely believed, the Obama Administration saved the ISS from planned cancellation by the Bush Administration after 2015. In point of fact, the 2008 NASA Authorization Act contained specific language to the effect that the Administration would take no action to preclude the continued operation of the ISS beyond 2015. Once signed into law by President Bush, as it was, extension of ISS operations into 2016 and beyond became the law of the land, as well as Administration policy.

It is true that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) financial projections did not at that time incorporate the funds needed for sustained ISS operations beyond 2015. That is irrelevant. Budget projections beyond the rolling five-year presidential budget request submitted to the Congress each February are at best a hopeful fiction, generally the product of career staff work rather than that of elected officials. The last budget which the Bush Administration could influence in any significant fashion was that for FY09; the last year for which they could even offer an opinion was FY13. Bush Administration officials always understood that the decision concerning whether to continue ISS operations beyond 2015 was beyond their purview.

The practical effect of the policy shift which I have summarized here has been to eviscerate the human space exploration program of the United States, understood to be that which is conceived and directed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in accordance with the provisions of the 1958 Space Act. The next vehicles which will carry U.S. astronauts into space are today being designed and built largely with public funds, yet NASA cannot direct the course of their development. Funding for NASA’s development work, SLS and the associated Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV), is stretched thin, well below critical mass, supporting a mission which is far from compelling. Thus postured, NASA can only become irrelevant to the future of human spaceflight, and quickly so at that, other than as a pass-through agency for the transfer of funds.

If as a nation we continue with this plan, NASA can still conduct excellent science missions and can continue in its multi-decade role as the premier developer of space and aeronautics technology. But NASA’s raison d’etre, its core mission of leadership in the development of human spaceflight – that will be gone. This cannot be a surprise to the originators and proponents of the current policy. They know very well what they have done.

I mention all of this not to protest the cancellation of the Constellation Program, though I do believe such to have been ill-advised. However, it would have been far more straightforward and transparent for the administration to have said something like, “We understand that NASA is making good progress toward the goals set for it by the prior administration and Congress. However, we do not believe that these are the proper goals for the U.S. space program. We believe that the time has passed when the nation should pursue a human spaceflight program designed, developed and directed by NASA, and we propose an entirely different approach.”

While I and many others would still disagree, this is a proposition which could be debated, discussed, and resolved ultimately by the Congress. There are many reasons to be skeptical about the use of government as a tool with which society attacks a problem. Indeed, this is a core tenet of political conservatism as the term was once understood. But while conservatives are properly skeptical concerning the role of government in society, they do understand that there exist certain activities that are important to society and which at the same time do not favorably grace a corporate balance sheet. In my view, the space program is one of those activities.

The core argument of those who support the new approach is that NASA, rather than being a leader in the development of human spaceflight, but has become an impediment. The agency, it is said, has become old, slow, risk averse, and excessively bureaucratic. Looking at the example set by the information technology and consumer electronics industries, which are today driven almost completely by commercial competitive pressures, many assert and others wonder whether it might not be true that space development would benefit from being turned over, lock stock and barrel, to the market.

This is the essential claim of those who style themselves as “NewSpace”: they are more efficient than government. I must first say that, by itself, this is a rather sorry standard to be waving about. Any private entity that cannot perform its mission with greater efficiency than a government really should not be whining about unfair competition. I mean, if you cannot even beat the government, why should taxpayers buy your product? But with that said, I broadly agree with the claim. Private industry is more efficient than government. If “efficiency” were the only measure of merit, the sole coin of the realm, then the argument would be settled and we would be done.

So, why do we want to have a space program, understood to mean a societal enterprise, a national endeavor, a (cringe when you say it) “government space program”, that is worth more to us than the key benefit the market provides and the government does not – efficiency? Is there a role and a mission in a democratic society for a large and significant effort with goals reaching beyond private interest, or not? Can we embrace a venture which is an instrument of national policy, stature, eminence, and leadership that does not look good on a balance sheet? I think there is such a role. I think that we can embrace such a venture. I think that we must.

Corporate entities, no matter how successful, do not and inherently cannot represent, speak for, or embody the national interest. They exist to promote the interests of their owners, the shareholders, whether few or many. They can do many things, but they cannot form and lead international partnerships, they cannot take responsibility for expanding the human frontier, and they cannot project national power and will and presence onto that frontier. In the expansion of our western frontier now more than a century ago, wherever the U.S. Army went, that place became the United States. The ranchers and miners and shopkeepers followed, ultimately creating the economy that became the envy of the world. They made the expansion of our frontiers worth doing. But they did not lead it.

Next, for reasons including but hardly limited to the above thoughts, I consider “space” in all its aspects – human spaceflight, scientific discovery, power projection, missile defense, environmental monitoring, communications, geodesy, space situational awareness, position, navigation and timing, intelligence gathering, global military awareness – to be a strategic realm for human society generally and for the United States in particular. We would be a far less influential nation in the world and far poorer at home had Apollo and GPS and Corona and Early Bird and TIROS and their numerous successors not happened. I imagine that most of you would agree. Even our adversaries, while quite likely regretting it, would also agree that our early investment in “space” in all its aspects, and our continuing preeminence in that arena, has helped to make and keep the U.S. a true world superpower.

Finally, the United States in its superpower role has done, and must do, many things with which not all other nations agree. We do these things in the name of national, or even global, security. But in the longer run, real national security consists of finding common cause with others, of seeking and affirming partners and allies, of working together on things which are grander than any of us can do individually. Long term national security consists of doing, with others, things that all like to do. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that the United States does in concert with other nations fits this mold better than opening the space frontier. This is an endeavor that is exciting, fascinating, and challenging for all, one in which we can lead not just a coalition of the willing, but a coalition of the eager. I cannot more strongly emphasize what I believe to be the national security benefits of proactive U.S. efforts to establish and lead such enterprises.

But if “space” writ large is strategic for the United States, how can we then justify placing sole dependence for certain of its aspects in the hands of private entities? Companies can be bought and sold, can go out of business, can terminate product lines, can expand them or contract them according to management’s view as to what will be best for the company. Indeed, if management fails to respond to market forces in these and other ways, they can and should be replaced, and quite likely will be. But the best decisions to win in the marketplace are not always the best decisions for the long-term benefit of the nation. If an enterprise is strategically important to society, only the government of that society can guarantee the long term constancy of purpose that is needed.

But, it is said, the nation through its government can do these things, and do them best, by purchasing the necessary goods and services from commercial providers, letting the magic of the marketplace separate the good designs from the poor ones, the reliable providers from the inept. The government does not need to direct and control the design of such things, nor closely manage the providers who furnish them. And, indeed, this is exactly right – when there is such a marketplace. There is little need for government intervention in the design and development of jet engines or communications satellites and, where there is, that need is confined to highly specialized military requirements not germane to civil needs. For much of what is required in these and many other fields, government can do quite well by purchasing, to the maximum extent possible, commercial products and services.

However, much of what is needed in the space enterprise, and particularly in the development of human spaceflight, is simply not available in the civil marketplace. The right space program – establishing a lunar base, for example – could well foster the development of such markets. But in the fifty-year history of human spaceflight there simply has been no such market. There is thus not a multiplicity of competitors to allow the emergence of winners and losers, and no market pressures to create them are immediately apparent. Human spaceflight in particular is, for the present and near future, one of numerous “products” not furnished by the marketplace, one of those things which, if we desire it, can only exist if government pays to build what is desired. For now, public expenditures are required if human spaceflight is to be developed.

Where market forces exist, they act to compel good behavior and to eliminate those competitors who perform poorly. We take this for granted; for example, there are no bad restaurants in New York City. When competitive market pressures are absent, as for public enterprises, the oversight of public expenditures by public employees is necessary to ensure that the government actually obtains that for which it has bargained.

But if government is to direct the development and acquisition of a product not freely available in the market, it must be done well, from a position of knowledge, experience, and expertise. Government managers must be responsible and accountable for the efficacy with which the public funds entrusted to them are spent. To be accountable, they must have both insight and oversight concerning the actions taken by those who are paid to perform on the public behalf. They must be empowered to direct what is being done with the funds for which they are responsible.

How best to do this, and how to do it over the long term in highly specialized niches, has proven to be a very difficult problem. Not many people today believe that we are doing it as well as it could be done. Indeed, I believe that the primary reason for the recent surge in the popularity of what is being called “commercial space”, is simply the distaste of all parties for the acquisition system processes we have allowed to grow up over the decades since World War 2. To say that they are cumbersome, slow, and costly would be an understatement. We can do better. But if so, then that is the problem to be fixed. We cannot solve it by abdicating responsibility for the acquisition of public goods to private entities.

This takes me to my primary concern with so-called “commercial space” as it has been put into practice.

I think most of us would agree that the common use of the term “commercial” means that a product or service is conceived by an entrepreneur, who then raises the investment capital necessary to bring it to market, charging whatever price the market will bear. The investors collectively own the product, reaping whatever gains are to be had, or suffering whatever losses may occur.

The current use of word “commercial” when linked with “space” is harder to understand. There is still no significant market other than the government, and the majority of investment capital has come from public funds. For example, prior to the CCICap (Commercial Crew Integrated Capability) awards, SpaceX had received about $800 million from NASA (Source: http://www.spacenews.com/civil/120525-spacex-boosts-commercial-credibility.html), whereas its founder and other investors had put in about $200 million. (Source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/47207833/Elon_Musk_on_Why_SpaceX_Has_the_Right_Stuff_to_Win_the_Space_Race) So, the U.S. government is the 80% majority investor in SpaceX – and this is prior to the $400+ million CCICap award. But, the government does not own the design or the product when it is complete; it does not own even 80% of it. What NASA “owns” is the right to buy a seat at market price. The only real change from the classic “prime contract” seems to be that a largely different set of contractors is performing the work, which is done primarily with public funds but without government supervision. The working definition of “commercial” seems to be “not built by an established contractor working to government specifications”. I have only one question: can I get that deal?

Of course, the new “commercial space” companies quite naturally expect to get government business for their finished products. This is entirely reasonable. They also want to develop their products according to their own design concepts and engineering standards, which is also to be expected in the normal course of free enterprise endeavors. The free market sorts out those whose concepts and standards meet with consumer approval, and those which do not. The winners win. Government sets (for example) certification standards for airplanes, but does not tell airplane companies what airplane to design or how to do it. If a company designs appealing and useful airplanes, they sell, and if not, then not. This is what we expect of the workings of the free market.

However, while the government buys, rents, or books passage for crew or cargo on lots of airplanes, it does not provide front money for commercial airplane companies to perform product development, and, if it does not like a product that is offered, does not have to buy it.

The twist with “commercial space” as it has taken shape is that the companies involved are saying that they must have government money in advance of performance to develop their product, while yet maintaining their right to conduct that product development according to their own concepts and standards. Nonetheless, the government must buy their product when it is available, and – oh by the way – is not allowed to develop its own product, because it will compete unfairly with “commercial” offerings.

It is this posture that I find so offensive. If I pay you to do something for me, I want you to do what I want done, not what you want to do. I further want you to do it in the manner in which I want it done, not as you may happen to want it done. That is what I expect for the money I provide – just as I would if, say, I engage your company to build a custom home for me. If you do not choose to do what I ask, as I ask it to be done, that is okay. In that circumstance, however, I am not required to buy your product. I can seek another provider who will agree to do as I ask.

But this quid pro quo, which would apply exactly in the case of a commercial contract for a custom home, apparently does not apply to a commercial contract for a custom spacecraft. NASA is forced to provide development money for a product whose design it cannot influence, and then to buy the product when it is finished, regardless of what responsible agency engineers might deem to be appropriate. The only outcome of such behavior that can possibly occur is that a technical, operational, or business failure will occur – and NASA will be held accountable for the failure, because public money was expended.

To this latter point concerning accountability for failure (no one ever worries about accountability for success), a few questions come to mind.

What does happen after the first failure? Who will bear the liability for damages? If not the company, then how will losses due to accidents or other non-performance be indemnified? If the government indemnifies such losses, why is that acceptable for “space” and not for other transportation sectors, or indeed a whole range of other products?

Where is the market that will sustain these enterprises, if they successfully develop their products? The ISS crew and cargo market is clearly not big enough. If we are investing public funds in new corporate endeavors, how can we know that the new entities can and will remain in business? How can the government be assured of continued access to space for crew and cargo, the very service it is expecting to receive in exchange for its upfront support?

Who will answer to the Congressional investigations that will and must take place when failures have occurred on public funds, costing the lives of public employees? Are such investigations not to be expected? If not, then why exactly is it that the next recovery from a human spaceflight accident will not be like the first three, again given that public employees and public funding are involved?

From the policy perspective, why does anyone think that the government in general or NASA in particular has any role in or responsibility for promoting “commercial space”? Why is “commercial space” anything more than a procurement strategy, from the perspective of a government customer? In keeping with its responsibility to execute its tasks efficiently, NASA should certainly purchase commercial products and services when and as they are available and applicable to the task at hand. Commercial providers should likewise expect NASA to be a customer, and should expect to provide products and services that meet NASA’s standards. Beyond that, what exactly is the policy justification for linking “commercial space” to NASA?

More broadly, it may be noted that no one in government is actually in a position to block a “commercial space” effort, irrespective of what their wishes might be. In our society, anyone can found a commercial space company and pursue the investment capital which is necessary to bring a product to market. Why is it the fault of NASA, or of government generally, that such efforts have not, to this point, shown notable success? And again from a policy perspective, why is it a responsibility of government to invest in areas where private financiers have declined to do so? If a commercial market does not yet exist, why is it a government responsibility to create it?

These are difficult questions. I will offer the prediction that, eventually, we will have to grapple with them, and that real answers will have to be provided. When that is done, we will understand once again how slippery is the slope of providing large public subsidies in advance of performance, in an attempt to create a market where none presently exists. In the meantime, we are holding one of our national crown jewels, our space program, hostage to the hope that this approach can work in space, when it has never worked anywhere else.

I will close by saying that no one more strongly supports government policies designed to promote the effective development of viable private space enterprises than do I. I once worked for such a company, its ultimate fate as grim as that of most in this still-nascent arena. But I continue to believe that such companies and enterprises will be founded, that some will succeed, and that the human expansion into the space frontier will benefit enormously thereby.

However, there is a fundamental difference for society between a publicly funded and directed enterprise chartered to define, explore, settle, and exploit a new frontier, and an enterprise founded and directed for the purpose of creating wealth, of providing returns on shareholder investments. The distinction in motivations between these two things is one that, in this case, does have a difference. My hope is that, in our space program, we Americans can still recognize that difference, celebrate it, and use each where it is best applied. We are not there at present.

Thank you.


  1. I greatly admire the courage and intelligence of Dr. Griffin. He will most certainly incur the venomous wrath of the disciples of the Muskssiah for daring to speak the truth that everyone knows but few are brave enough to even whisper. God’s speed, Dr. Griffin!!

  2. I was actually at this talk and had several issues with Dr. Griffin’s characterizations and facts that I and others will get into separately. There wasn’t much time to ask questions so I walked back to Dr. Yang’s office with Mike to ask it. The question was this:

    In both the original Augustine Commission, the Aldridge Commission report that Dr. Griffin was supposed to acknowledge, the second Augustine Commission report, the original Space Act itself, several statements by the OSTP, and several White House staffers after the fact there was always an explicitly stated requirement for NASA to support and encourage commercial use and access to space.

    Given that, might the answer to Dr. Griffin’s question of “Why do we want to have a space program” be that everyone wants a commercial industry sooner rather than later and that Dr. Griffin’s policy problems stem from his disagreement with the policies he was supposed to implement? And if indeed that policy were stated more explicitly what would he have done to implement that?

    His answer left me underwhelmed because it was a simple “It won’t work”. Even in the light of SpaceX’s success and proven cost savings, Planetary Resources plans to do what NASA is planning but faster and cheaper, Boeing’s CST 100 plans, and Bigelow’s rehiring for a 2nd private space station Dr. Griffin was still adamant that it still “just wouldn’t work”. No other justifications.

    I hope Mitt and the rest of the GOP aren’t listening to Dr. Griffin’s advice, especially given our fiscal situation, because it would truly drive NASA over a fiscal cliff, never to return.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The only exception I would take would be with one of your final points,

        Even in the light of SpaceX’s success and proven cost savings…

      I will focus my remarks on SpaceX since it is that company about which you commented.

      SpaceX has certainly accomplished more than any “commercial” space company. I write “commercial” because, as Griffin pointed out, the gov’t has put in over $800M to Elon’s and other investor’s $200M, making SpaceX in effect a gov’t owned subsidiary. Except that the gov’t doesn’t own any part of SpaceX; the $800M came with no ownership interest.

      When looking at a company, I find it useful to focus on the managements’ track-record. In looking at the history of SpaceX management’s track-record, I’ll start with TacSat-1. The Naval Research Lab (NRL) signed an agreement with SpaceX on 7 May 2003 to launch TacSat-1 in Jan. 2004. In August 2007, 20 months after its planned launch, the NRL cancelled TacSat-1. During the multi-year launch delay due to Falcon 1 development problems, Orbital Sciences had already launched TacSat-2, largely completing TacSat-1’s program objectives. Falcon 1 did not successfully launch until 28 Sept. 2008, 4 years 9 months later than planned.

      In 2005, SpaceX approached NASA requesting $260,000 in funding and promising that it would launch Falcon 9 by Q2 2009. Falcon 9 did not launch until 12 months later, at which time its development costs, which had been assumed under COTS, totaled about $240M.

      When SpaceX won its COTS contract valued at $ 277.8M, first flight of Falcon 9/Dragon was scheduled for June 2009 but did not occur until 8 Dec. 2010 (GAO-09-6118). In May 2011, NASA quietly gave both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences an extra $118M in funding for COTS “risk reduction” (GAO-11-692T). Because SpaceX was running far behind schedule, it’s COTS Demo missions 2 (Nov. 2009) & 3 (March 2010) were combined. Even with the added funding and schedule flexibility, the combined Demo 2-3 Mission, and first ISS rendezvous, did not occur until 22 May 2012, 26-30 months behind schedule.

      The pattern from TacSat-1 and COTS seems pretty clear–SpaceX is habitually a year or two behind meeting its schedule commitments and exceeds its funding by about 1/3.

      Since SpaceX was just recently approved to start working under the CRS contract with a first flight scheduled for next month, there are not as yet any proven “cost savings” in ISS resupply. I’m not sure that the terms of the CRS contract, with a payload cost of $ 36,287/lbs ($ 1.6B/44,092 lbs or $ 1.6B for 20 mT), are representative of a “cost savings” when one recalls that payload cost for Shuttle to ISS were $ 12,500/lbs ($ 450M/36,000 lbs for 51.6 ISS). And given SpaceX management’s track record in keeping to a schedule, the jury remains out as to whether the company will be able to meet the launch schedule necessary to keep ISS fully crewed. If it cannot, what then?

      So, here’s where we are:

        SpaceX has exceeded its “commercial” competitors with $800M in NASA funding.

        SpaceX completed its COTS agreement two years late and $ 118M over the original estimate of $ 277.8M.

        SpaceX was awarded on 23 Dec. 2010 a CRS contract of $ 1.6B to deliver 20 mT (44,092 lbs) to ISS representing a per pound payload cost of $ 36,287/lbs (Shuttle would have done this at nearly 1/3 of that cost).

        It remains to be seen if SpaceX can in fact make a business out of supplying ISS even under the generous terms of CRS.

      Given the above, I think everyone who has yet to drink the NewSpace Kool-Aid must acknowledge that any “cost savings” associated with the use of “commercial” launch companies appear very small to elusive for now. As to whether this remains is yet to be seen. The track record above is not encouraging.

      • “Since SpaceX was just recently approved to start working under the CRS contract with a first flight scheduled for next month, there are not as yet any proven “cost savings” in ISS resupply. I’m not sure that the terms of the CRS contract, with a payload cost of $ 36,287/lbs. ($ 1.6B/44,092 lbs. or $ 1.6B for 20 mT), are representative of a “cost savings” when one recalls that payload cost for Shuttle to ISS were $ 12,500/lbs ($ 450M/36,000 lbs for 51.6 ISS).”


        Yikes. Based on the news articles at the time the contract was let I posted (in a previous thread) that the cost for Space X to deliver cargo to the ISS was $18,219/lb.

        At that time there was some (well let’s call it) controversy about that figure being too high.
        I know you guys were going to check the figures, are you saying that the check produced the $36.287/lb. figure? That would be in line with the $43,000/lb. figure for Orbital Sciences, but it appears terrible for the whole concept that ‘Commercial’ Space is going to reduce cost of launch to LEO.



        • Joe,

          My basis was dividing total cost/total payload. And I kept checking that number because it is so uncomplimentary to the whole notion of “commercial” being cheaper. But you’re right about the marginal savings relative to OSC. And as you found, the NewSpace otaku get very upset when someone raises the undeniable truth about “commercial” cost savings–there’s no there, there.

          Commercial supporters will note that the per launch cost of Dragon/Falcon 9 is a measly $133.33M while retorting that Shuttle’s average launch cost was $1.5B. What they won’t mention is that on average, SpaceX will only be launching about 3,674 lbs, or just a smidge over 10% of the up mass of a Shuttle ISS mission (51.6). Adjusting for that, SpaceX CRS “could” represent a possible 12.5% savings relative to Shuttle. Not exactly impressive, especially when considering that the cost estimate of $1.5B per Shuttle flight is dubious at best and the Shuttle represented a well-understood system where neither SpaceX nor OSC do not.

          • Jim,

            We should also remember that the Shuttle utilization flights could transport up to 7 crew to/from the ISS and provide EVA’s to assist in ISS maintenance.


            • Great point–36,000 lbs of cargo to ISS plus a crew of 7, something none of the “commercial” players will ever be able to do. With SLS, that could change.

              • I don’t know where your 20 tonne number comes from. Perhaps that’s a contractual minimum value for the cargo mass to be delivered over the 12 flights to ISS SpaceX is obligated to make over the next three or so years. But the Dragon is capable of hauling up to 6 tonnes per trip. Perhaps NASA doesn’t plan to use Dragon’s entire load capacity each time, but if they were to do so, the total mass delivered over 12 flights would be 72 tonnes (158400 lbs.), not 20. The cost/lb. would be $10,100/lb., not $36K+.

                That’s already 20% better than your figure for the Shuttle. But – even assuming your $450 million mission cost number is correct, your number depends upon maximum Shuttle payloads in the same way my numbers assume full Dragon payloads. Except when ferrying up large structural elements of the ISS, however, the Shuttle never approached full load mission manifests.

                In any event, I’m reasonably certain that the ISS lacks the capacity to store 18 tons of consumables delivered at one whack. Maybe the ISS lacks enough spare nooks and crannies to accommodate even a full 6 tonne Dragon-load of beans, BVD’s and Band-Aids; I’m no ISS logistics expert so I don’t know. If the ISS can’t accommodate more than 3 or 4 tons (or even tonnes) of deliveries per visit, then the Shuttle’s effective cost per delivered pound of goods becomes, well, astronomical.

                Given that all the Shuttles are now decommissioned and in the process of becoming museum pieces it’s an academic point anyway. What the SLS could do is also beside the point as it doesn’t exist – and most likely never will – and would have economics much closer to the Shuttle’s than to Dragon’s as it depends on the Shuttle infrastructure.

                The Dragon, in contrast, both exists and has demonstrated that it works. Furthermore, it has considerable potential for cost reductions in subsequent contracts for ISS cargo deliveries beyond 2015. NASA could, for instance, abandon its current insistence on a new vehicle for each mission. SpaceX’s announced 1st- and 2nd-stage reusability initiatives could enter the picture in this timeframe as well. The Shuttle and the SLS, in addition to being badly scaled for the job of ISS resupply, lack any significant avenues for downstream cost reductions.

                The savings from commercial cargo resupply are real and substantial. Even Orbital’s Cygnus, which I grant you has much poorer economics than Dragon, still comes out well ahead of the Shuttle when actual delivery quantities and flight frequencies are considered. But, as noted previously, the Shuttle is dead. Long Live the Shuttle. Now let’s get on with what’s real and economical.

                • The Dragon can lift 6mT per flight to a low inclination orbit, not to a 51.6 degree orbit that is ISS’s. For the launch or orbital mechanics of why, see either Vallado or Bate, Mueller, and White.

                  Dragon’s payload capacity is also limited by abort constraints–it’s recovery system can only handle up to 3 mT. And it divides it’s payload capacity between pressurized and unpressurized.

                  The 20mT number can be found at various places, including SpaceX,


                  The contract is for a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the International Space Station. The firm contracted value is $1.6 billion and NASA may elect to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.

                  I guess, if SpaceX desired, it could pack its Dragon’s to capacity for a 51.6 degree orbit with no complaints from NASA. I won’t hold my breath that SpaceX ever does that in a way that moves the needle on payload launch costs. In any case, reading the above quote, the only likely way in which more cargo gets to ISS is if the gov’t pays SpaceX more money. Until that price is negotiated, the average price per pound remains $ 1.6B/44,092 lbs = $ 36,287/lbs.

                  While the ISS may not be able to hold 18mT of cargo. Then again, maybe it maybe it could if cargo were stored on both ISS and in an MPLM, which can hold 13mT. But Shuttle was the only means capable of launching an MPLM. SLS is operational, that will change.

                  • Jim,

                    “The contract is for a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the International Space Station. The firm contracted value is $1.6 billion and NASA may elect to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.”

                    It sure would be nice to see the actual contract as the Space X press release raises a lot of questions.

                    The news article I used for my original calculations said up to 7,300 lb./flight. Over twelve flights that would be 39.8 metric tons almost twice the press releases “guaranteed minimum” (and twice that of the Orbital Sciences contract as well.).

                    It is not unusual for a contract to define a minimum acceptable performance, but they almost always define the desired performance as well (in Military specifications this is called Threshold and Objective). But there is usually some inducement in the contract for the contractor to try for the higher Objective level.

  3. (c) Commercial Use of Space.–Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

    Why does such an educated man choose to display such ignorance?

  4. One of the issues I had with Dr. Griffin’s speech is the assertions of fact that simply weren’t the case. I know this is digging up ancient history but prior to Dr. Griffin’s tenure as NASA Administrator but AFTER President’ Bush’s Vision Speech there was another Administrator and another plan, specifically Sean O’Keefe’s process. The process that President Bush assigned NASA was being executed by NASA and O’Keefe through the ESAS studies that, in retrospect, look a heck of a lot like what the Augustine Committee called “Flexible Path”. What happened to that effort?

    Well, almost immediately upon Dr. Griffin’s arrival it became known inside NASA that the design of choice was going to be something that Dr. Griffin had proposed while at the Planetary Society. What happened then shows how much Dr. Griffin ignored the rest of NASA and rammed a design down its throat over many internal objections. The smoking gun for this is found in the non-public but leaked appendices to the final ESAS study recommendations. Those appendices include some very obvious fingers on the scales tilting the study erroneously toward Dr. Griffin’s design. The best analysis of this bias is here:


    and here


    So, while yes, the Augustine commission never said the program of record was unexecutable, it did say it was unsustainable. I.e. it would have cost more than NASA was ever going to get to make it work. Why then did NASA chose that design KNOWING it was to expensive when other designs, developed by NASA, would have fit in that budget?

  5. Augustine committee members steered very clearly away from issuing recommendations, they are on record stating and restating that dozens of times. So how come mr. Griffin claims they made any ? Alternate history indeed.

    • Technically you’re right–there were no Augustine recommendations. But there very certainly were conclusions as to what needed to be done to “right” Constellation, the program of record. Specifically, the Augustine Committee noted that to get the Constellation programmatic DDT&E curve back where it needed to be for a 2014 Orion/Ares-1 IOC would require an additional $ 3B over the exploration budget baseline from which the Committee was asked to work. I don’t believe the members made this note in the hopes that it would be ignored, which is exactly what the Administration did.

  6. That was a very ariculate speech by Michael Griffin. He made very strong points and I agree with many of them, yet I have some issues with others.

    First of all, the way I see it, the whole COTS program is a wild gamble. If it succeeds, it will be a triumphant success, but if it fails it may end up being a tragedy. I understand that NASA and the government have to give seed money to get the private companies going, but Griffin is dead right: 80% of the investment is NASA’s money. Why call it ‘commercial space’? What happens if the private sector faces a fatal accident? Is NASA’s head going to roll then? That’s utterly unacceptable! And what a good excuse that would be for a president not-so-friendly of the space program to axe NASA. People out there are just looking for an excuse to kill NASA. Do we help them with sticking NASA’s name in an eventual failure of the private sector?

    I don’t want to be a bringer of disaster, but this is a hot issue. And before I get misunderstod, to use Neil deGrasse Tyson’s words, I’m all for the private sector to gain access to suborbital and orbital space, provided NASA gets to go someplace beyond, otherwise we’re just closing shop.

    On the other hand, as much as I applaude Griffin’s speech, he has delivered it with a degree of partisan bias. Yes, Bush articulated a magnificent plan with the Vision for Space Exploration, yes it could succeed, yes it could have taken us beyond low-Earth orbit, yes it was championed in Congress, but when time came to pay the bill, everyone was looking at the other direction. And that’s a fact no one wanting to be honest can possibly deny. Of course Constellation went over budget, because NOBODY gave it the budget it required. How can someone possibly expect an underfunded project to stay on budget? Underfunded means that something will have to be completed much later than it’s supposed to, which by itself raises the cost more. If someone can’t realise this simple fact, then he should be out of the management bussiness. And yes, when you advance a frontier and you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, budget overruns will occur sometimes, but if you underfund it, overruns will be the norm.

    So, as much wonderful as VSE was, Bush and Congress just presented NASA with a blank check: It’s not any good if you don’t pay for it.

    As for Obama, if people had paid a bit more serious an attention to some of his speeches during his campaign in 2008, they’d realise that he wasn’t up to any good. Obama proposed to postpone Constellation by 5 years, and when his ratings in Florida went down the toilet, he suddenly became a supporter of the space program and went so far as to promise that no one would lose their job at the Space Coast after the shuttle’s retirement. Probably he isn’t aware of the thousands of workers that finally did. The reality is that Obama was just looking for an excuse to axe Constellation, and the Augustine Commitee gave him a perfect one when it said that more money would be needed to put Constellation back on track.

    Griffin is right on one other thing also: What’s the deal with going to an asteroid ‘sometime during the mid 2025s’? The US will need the same amount of money to develop the hardware for going there. Why then axe Constellation? It’s all bull! My own translation of Obama’s plan is: Cancel Constellation and set a vogue goal so far ahead that it renders it irrelevant. Between now and 2030, 5 different administrations will come to pass. Is there any guarantee that the current plan will survive until then? (And before anyone protests that I’m politically biased, let me state that I don’t even live in the US).

    In my view, if America really needs to have a strategy for its space program, it should unfold a program that’s not more than 10-12 years into the future, so that it becomes manageable under the current administration, and meaningful for every taxpayer living today, not the taxpayer of 20-30 years after.Someone may argue that China has had a 30-year space policy starting in 1992, but China doesn’t have Congress and elections every 4 years.

    As for the private sector entering space, I’m all for it! The more private access to low-Earth orbit the better! But I have issues with the way it’s being done as I stated above. NewSpace and Legacy Space are both crucial and both needed, but not the one in the expense of the other. Otherwise it will probably be to no good and I hate to see something like that. And yes, private space can never and will never ever advance a space frontier. It will surely follow (and should!) when a certain frontier is opened and that opening can only be done by the government. If someone wonders if that’s true, he should ask why we don’t have a Cassini probe, a Huygens lander, an Apollo mission, a Hubble telescope or a Curiosity rover been done by an entrepreneur.

    • More alternate universes. Or perhaps you actually wrote this comment five years ago and figured out some way to send it forward in time for posting now. COTS is not a “wild gamble”. The initial Dragon demo mission was a complete success. Were you not paying attention at the time? I assure you it was in all the papers. There is no reason to suppose that the regular revenue cargo missions will be any less successful.

      Even if one or more of them fails, however, no one is going to die. There are no crews to lose on cargo Dragons. It is true that a crew-carrying Dragon is in the works and one of them may, someday, fail and kill a crew. If that ever happens it is worth noting that that will still put SpaceX one crew behind NASA in the fatal accident count. NASA may someday cease to exist, but it won’t be because a contractor vehicle has a fatal accident. NASA has already had two of their own and the agency not only still exists, nobody who works there even got fired in either case.

      • Dick, I stand corrected on the COTS commend. Sorry, I meant the crew transportation services. Of course SpaceX has had some awesome successes. My concern about safety has to do with the political climate also. First of all, SpaceX’s docking with ISS is a spectacular success, and I really beleive that evntually SpaceX or somebody else will pull it off and get crew access to space and I really wish them every success! Yet cost-effectiveness remains to be seen and it’s an ‘If’ not a ‘granted’.

        That’s one reason why I said it is a ‘wild gamble’.If it turns out it’s as cost effective as promised, that would be really really great! But if it’s not, or major delays or even worse, fatal accidents happen then what? It’s just a concern and maybe I will be proven wrong (and I will really not have trouble with that!).

        One other reason, is that you don’t just scrap your only space transportation system to LEO (good or bad as it is) in the hopes that one day the private sector will take over crew transportation, and on the meantime you depend solely on the Soyuz, which as robust as it is, may it self face some delay or accident. It’s like selling your old house while the new one isn’t even ready yet, and you go on renting an appartment, many years before you move in to your new house. I’m not saying that the shuttle shouldn’t be retired eventually, but the way things happened, were ill-advised at best.

        And what happens if Romney wins elections and it turns out he doesn’t really like ‘commercial space’ and cuts some funding? (He hasn’t been very clear on space policy at all so we can’t be sure of anything anyway). Or what happens if more NASA budget cuts get realised by Obama in the next few years and the commercial crew development phase gets delayed? If the eventual first crew transportation date slips back to 2017 or 2019 or 2020, then what all the fuss is about? We’re not even sure the ISS will go beyond 2020.

        Maybe I’m over-concerned and worry too much 😉 Having said that, I’m really not against NewSpace or anything and an Old Space hardcore follower either. But the way things have played out over the years when it came to NASA budget and support, I worry that given the current not-so-friendly on space, political climate, any delay or failure might serve as a good excuse for more cuts and delays.

        But the jury is out. We can only theorise and speculate. Time will tell.

        • Can you tell me how the various alternatives to CCiCAP and CRS are doing with their budgets and schedules, as compared to the two COTS developers and the three CCiCAP award winners? Thanks in advance.

          • Hey,

            They are both just a month, or barely over, old so there are no performance milestones, those in which hardware or software are being developed or tested, against which to measure.

  7. First of all, the way I see it, the whole COTS program is a wild gamble. If it succeeds, it will be a triumphant success, but if it fails it may end up being a tragedy.

    Your point is completely nullified because COTS has already succeeded. Falcon 9 and Dragon have already been developed and already flown. I’d be interested in how you respond to that observation.

    • The goal of COTS was to develop multiple sources capable of ISS resupply. Yes, SpaceX has three successful Falcon launches and two successful Dragon flights. Sadly, OSC may launch it’s first, and only, COTS Demonstration flight by December. So, today we have one ISS resupplier.

      From a budget and time perspective, COTS doesnt shine. SpaceX was 26-30 months late in fulfilling its COTS terms. Orbital Sciences, with an assist from the Virginia Space Authority, is even farther behind. Both only made it as far as they have after a $118 M infusion , above the original COTS amounts (GAO-11-692T) to each of SpaceX and OSC for COTS “risk reduction”.

  8. In the 30 years since the Shuttle became operational (and several years late, as long as we’re taking note of schedule slippages here) NASA has announced a number of next-generation spacecraft initiatives with much fanfare and in every case – often after grotesque cost overruns and schedule misses – has failed to produce anything. Dr. Griffin is not responsible for the entire three decades of egregious NASA failure, but he owns a non-trivial piece of it. So I don’t see where he gets off adopting the tone of sneering arrogance and condescension that fairly drips from every paragraph here – especially with regard to SpaceX. How many rockets and spacecraft have you successfully developed and launched, Bub? Yeah, I thought so.

    This guy needs to be kept as far away from NASA and human spaceflight in general as possible.

    • I assume you’re alluding to Griffin’s association with Constellation, which some like to claim was headed for disaster. Except, that’s not what the Augustine Committee stated. Instead, it concluded that Constellation’s budget was short-changed by Congress yearly, forcing it to be stretched-out and therefore over budget. To get Constellation back on track in 2009 for a 2014 IOC would require its budget to be increased by $3B annually above the baseline budget that the Augustine panel had been told to adhere to. More interesting was that, the claims by NewSpace notwithstanding, the Augustine Committee found no technical hurdles that would have held back Constellation.

      So why did the President cancel Constellation? The party line was that for servicing ISS, Constellation was unaffordable, that it cost too much. And because it was a Bush legacy program.

      Constellation was never about inexpensive cargo resupply to ISS–COTS was to build that capability–but was about laying the infrastructure to expand human space flight beyond LEO. It was meant to give us the exploration program that we had missed out on with Shuttle. If President Obama’s space team had gotten its way in 2010, today we wouldn’t have anything but the over-promising-and-under-delivering of the “commercial” space companies shipping cargo, and maybe someday people, to LEO. Thanks to Congress, we have Orion and SLS.

      But thanks to the President, we still have no destination for that system. That is deliberate. If you give the the hope that a destination bestows, it makes it harder to kill a program. So even as Obama’s campaign releases a press statement extolling the virtues of Orion and SLS, his folks at NASA are still trying to kill these programs.

      As to his comments about SpaceX, I guess Griffin feels strongly about its poor track record because he was the one who led NASA when SpaceX won its COTS contract. Griffin was the one who cut SpaceX it’s first big check of $277.8M. With both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences years behind schedule and each over $118M over budget, I can see why he’s upset. Worse, unlike Constellation, which had an excuse in that it was short-changed for years, not once did not SpaceX or OSC receive their promised funding on time. So one is left wondering what their excuse is. Maybe someone from the NewSpace community could answer that question?

  9. First of all, the way I see it, the whole COTS program is a wild gamble. If it succeeds, it will be a triumphant success, but if it fails it may end up being a tragedy.

    So was the battle of Midway. Look what benefits that brought.

    When you look at risk vs reward ratio it is very high for what SpaceX is doing.

    To claim that just because there is risk we should not do something is antithetical to our entire national character.

    • Dennis you’re absolutely right on your comment. My only point is that of ‘wait and see’ approach. NASA also promised frequent and cost-reliable access to orbit with the space shuttle, look where this got us. Maybe I’m not being fair to SpaceX et al and maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges, but as i said in a comment above, phasing out the shuttle before private space proves itself is ill-advised at best. I’m not saying ‘kill private space’. Just let it grow and prove itslef. On the meantime, you keep your own access to LEO until then. Private crew transportation access is 3-4 years in the future and this timetable supposes the budget remains as predicted and no budget cuts happen. What happens if tomorrow the Soyuz is grounded for whatever reason? Won’t that effectivelly bring human space program to a stop? That’s a tragedy.

      You’re also right on the point with your last sentence

      “To claim that just because there is risk we should not do something is antithetical to our entire national character.”

      That was the character that got US to the Moon. But this national character is more a thing of the past sadly. And not only for the US but for the whole world in general. If that wasn’t the case, there would be people on the Moon and Mars today. And the excuse for not going wouldn’t have been ‘it’s too risky and dangerous’.

  10. Instead, it concluded that Constellation’s budget was short-changed by Congress yearly, forcing it to be stretched-out and therefore over budget.

    Jim, in a word, no.

    The budget was never there in the first place and Mike Griffin knew it. O’Keefe knew it as well and that was the entire reason for the CE&R studies and the H&RT contracts, to look at alternatives to the HLV mantra.

    Augustine did not look at alternatives to the Griffin plan and thus we never were able to be able to do a comparison between different mission scenarios for exploration implementation.

    I have posted on this multiple times that the CBO and other evaluations of the Constellation program showed that from the beginning that it was unaffordable within the amount of money that the congress was willing to spend.

    Also, Dr. Griffin in his exploration plan completely ignored the value of the ISS as a platform for fostering exploration. don’t give me any crap about the inclination of ISS as I have addressed that technically many times and the short version that an existing space station at 51.6 degrees is worth fifty paper ones anywhere else.

    The entire constellation architecture was doomed to failure the first day the ESAS architecture came out. We shoed that we could put 1 million lbs on the Moon with existing launch vehicles just for the development cost of the Ares system.

    This revisionist view of history makes me want to scream sometimes.

    • Dennis,

      You’ll have to excuse me, but I respectfully and reluctantly disagree with some of your points.

      The people I have talked to, who have put people on the Moon, or worked in Constellation at a level where they would have such insight, would disagree that ESAS, and its manifestation Constellation, was doomed from the start. As I recall, The Hammer ensured, absent any help from the Administration, that the first Constellation budget, FY06, was on target.

      Whether Griffin, as NASA Administrator, “knew” that Congress would not appropriately fund Constellation is a bit of a stretch. Should Griffin have known that the outgoing GOP wouldn’t finish it’s work leaving the new Democratic Congress to have a CR for all of FY07 or that the Administration, and in particular OMB (really Shawcross), wouldn’t step up to the plate during the FY08 and FY09 budget build-up’s in Congress?

      I remember being subjected to multiple lectures by NASA guys trying to prove to us graduate students that there was non-HL approach path forward in exploration that didn’t require for the non-HL approach to exploration. Later, in discussions with folks who had worked at NASA during Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, they’d methodically dispatch those claims, showing the difference between people who have launched, and people who dream about launching, the cool spacecraft.

      And I could give you that “crap” about the ISS being pretty, though certainly not totally, useless for exploration–it’s been 12 years since I last used what I learned earning an MSE in OM–but will defer to someone with nearly 40 years of flight dynamics and orbital mechanics work at JSC before retiring in 2011. I’ll forward to you his contact info once I get his Ok and you two can talk it over.

      What we should do with ISS once we can maintain it is put a high Isp LT propulsion unit on it and bring it back to an orbit that contributes to the orbitals of a lunar or beyond mission, but that is just my opinion.

      • The people I have talked to, who have put people on the Moon, or worked in Constellation at a level where they would have such insight, would disagree that ESAS, and its manifestation Constellation, was doomed from the start.

        Jim, I don’t doubt this one bit. The same mindset was represented by the battleship admirals prior to December 7, 1941 and in the board of inquiry that court marshaled Billy Mitchell.

        You are using an inappropriate appeal to authority to me that simply leaves me unmoved. The AIAA has a great reprint this month of the Colliers articles related to Von Braun’s original idea of the on orbit assembly of exploration vehicles by a Saturn 1 class reusable vehicle. The Von Braun written 1959 Horizon report (then classified), had the Army using Saturn 1’s and fuel depots to emplace a military base on the Moon.
        I personally recorded the last video from Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger where he stated that Von Braun and NASA decided by 1972 that the only viable path to Mars was through using a high power Ion propulsion system.

        Do you seriously want to get into an appeal to authority battle here?

        On the day the Von Braun caved on the Earth Orbit Rendezvous vs Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mode of getting to the Moon he said this:

        “We have wasted precious time in this argument between EOR and LOR. If we are going to make it to the Moon at all we must make the hard choice of LOR, not because it is technically superior but because it is the only way to make it to the Moon within the time allotted. However I am grievously concerned that in doing this we leave no infrastructure in space that can be built upon for greater capabilities. I am most concerned that this will lead to a “Killroy was here” attitude, that after the first few successful lunar landings, the government will simply turn away from space.”

        You also don’t understand, nor do most people until it is explained to them, that the mass penalty to ISS is only 6.3% (consult ALL of the launcher payload documents for verification of this number). AND ISS is in a better orbit to support solar electric propulsion systems.

        Furthermore, during the early development of ESAS constellation, In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) was baselined out, even though the benefits of it far outweighed the low TRL of its implementation at the time. Hell Jim even the 1989 90 day study was better than the damn ESAS report and the Constellation architecture.

        The people that you rely upon for expertise in this area are like the general that are still fighting the last war. Heavy lift has been the downfall of our efforts to get beyond LEO for forty years and Dr. Griffin bears a great deal of the responsibility for this misplaced emphasis.

        • I don’t know about appeal to authority, but how do you know, to use a phrase, your Germans are better than mine?

          I deeply admire Von Braun an the other pioneers. But they weren’t astrodynamicists. And in this instance, that’s all we’re talking about, sadly a subject I haven’t worked in since 2001.

          But I did do a Master’s thesis on lunar missions scenarios way back in 1999. Beginning a lunar mission from ISS gives you a double hit on mass, going up and outbound. According to James Oberg (theres one of those darned Germans) the loss payload loss for Shuttle in going from 28 to 51.6 was 48,000 to 36,000, 12,000 or 25%. I haven’t seen the numbers for Dragon, but with a payload of less than 4mT to ISS, it’s going to take a long time to build-up the mass needed to support a lunar mission mass-wise…like, we can forget the lander. I mean, the LEM was 14.7mT alone.

          51.6 is better for solar electric propulsion systems? Or are you stipulating that an earth departure from 51.6 is better for a lunar polar orbit? Are you talking about departing LEO with an electric propulsion system? You’re going to need a pretty hardy spacecraft and crew to handle the time in the Van Allen belt due to the spiral orbit out of LEO. You do know you’re going to use a spiral orbit to escape LEO if using electric? Or are you thinking about using a hybrid TLI?

          In any case…according Szebehely (Hungarian, and check out his book, Theory of Orbits) and Bruecke (Belgian), both of whom pioneered the FRT (see, I’ve got some pretty good Germans), the E-M interior collinear Lagrange point is a wonderful place to do a plane-change. During the early Apollo missions that employed FRT, and passing pretty close to the interior collinear point, the spacecraft was doing only a few hundred miles per hour, and that means a very cheap plane change. So why start with less of everything at 51.6 than you can at 28? But you know what? You should really be having this conversation with Dan, not me. He’s one of the big Germans today. I’m rusty on my 3-body in a rotating coordinate frame and all that other stuff. (Boy, is that true…see my note below on screwing-up my estimate of the payload mass penalty delta between 28.5 and 51.6 degree orbits.)

          • I deeply admire Von Braun an the other pioneers. But they weren’t astrodynamicists. And in this instance, that’s all we’re talking about, sadly a subject I haven’t worked in since 2001.

            Uh, Ernst Stuhlinger is the father of ion propulsion and wrote the textbook on that and the astrodynamics of ion powered Mars missions. I have several textbooks on this subject dating from the early 60’s.

            payload loss for Shuttle in going from 28 to 51.6 was 48,000 to 36,000, 12,000 or 25%.

            You did not get Jim’s caveats, which are related to the abort modes. The Shuttle up up more than that to a 60+ degree orbit on one of their classified flights. How about downloading the Delta IV or Atlas V payload planners guides and doing the math. The hit is about 6.3%.

            I mean, the LEM was 14.7mT alone

            Which has nothing to do with today. Even in the early 1960’s Gilruth and JSC came up with “Lunar Gemni” that would have allowed the Gemni system to do the lunar landing. They used an open cockpit lander and only had the crew stay on the surface a couple of hours.

            You keep veering in different directions here. If you want an exposition of non HLV architectures read the CE&R reports.

            51.6 is better for solar electric propulsion systems? Or are you stipulating that an earth departure from 51.6 is better for a lunar polar orbit? Are you talking about departing LEO with an electric propulsion system? You’re going to need a pretty hardy spacecraft and crew to handle the time in the Van Allen belt due to the spiral orbit out of LEO. You do know you’re going to use a spiral orbit to escape LEO if using electric? Or are you thinking about using a hybrid TLI?

            Jim, stop with the strawmen. As I stated 51.6 is better for solar electric propulsion systems. The work that we did with Langley in 2005 we showed that we could get a 25 metric ton payload from ISS to Low lunar orbit in a bit under a hundred days and return to the station in 32 days. You send the crew with a conventional chemical powered system (read the OASIS report from 1997 as well). There are several interim orbit between here and the moon for SEP systems and chemical systems to meet and proceed without worrying about the radiation belts, which essentially end at 4000 km anyway.

            Also, the 51.6 degree orbit rather than 28.5 degrees, if you leave near the soltices allows you to climb out under full sun conditions, something that is impossible to do at 28.5 degrees. In LEO the L over D ratio of a SEP system is such that there is considerable orbit to orbit drag that can increase the total trip time by up to 1/3rd over 51.6 degrees.

            I have quite a competent team working with me on this including Gordon Woodcock, someone of universal respect in this area. OUr work was further validated by running it with STK astrogator.

            Jim, the point that you are missing is that the entire concept that we must have an HLV for exploration is a falsehood and has been shown to be so by many people, both in the past and in the current era.

            • First, I have never said that HLV was the only way to do BEO exploration. No aerospace engineer ever would. And certainly Griffin never did.

              The real question is whether non-HLV is the optimal means for conducting such exploration? Is it the only way to do so given our political history? What does a non-HLV mission scenario give you that one employing an HLV does not to meet those limitations?

              Stuhlinger was an amazing propulsion engineer. But since we’re measuring here, my professor, Victor Szebehely, wrote “The Theory of Orbits”, which is the definitive text on the restricted three-body problem as applicable to an Earth-Moon spacecraft system such as Apollo.

              There were no caveats in Oberg’s note on the payload mass loss in shuttle going from 28 (48,000 lbs) to 51.6 degrees (36,000 lbs) save that at 48,000 lbs, Shuttle was still within its abort mass margins.

              Jim’s Note:
              I stand corrected on my mass penalty numbers–Dennis is correct when he writes that there is only a 6.6% deficit in payload mass for launches to 51.6 degrees vs. 28.5 degrees. It was late…er, early this AM, and in my spreadsheet I messed-up. The number bothered me so I took another look at it and…well, BAM! I saw my error.

              Later a JSC contractor friend pointed me to a 1971 NASA paper that determined there was a 6.78% loss in payload by going from 21.5 to 51.6 degrees. Noted in the paper is that the payload penalty isn’t insignificant.

              So why the 25% drop in Shuttle payload in a 23 degree orbit change? Well, that’s not exactly a small change, for one. And the consequent reduction in angular velocity of 120m/s is itself about 26%. So, if I’ve already maxed-out my launch system for a 28 degree orbit, eg my propulsion is running at or above 100%, my payload is at 100% of structural and propulsion limits, etc., changing to a 51.6 degree orbit will cost me, and it will likely be in payload mass.

              Certainly, a lot of launchers don’t run at peak at 28 degrees such as Delta IV and Atlas, because they were designed for a wide latitude of missions such as being able to launch large payloads not only from Kennedy but from Vandenberg as well. In such cases, there are other parameters, say engine performance, that can be changed to reduce the payload mass penalty of an orbit incline change. But to imply that the payload mass penalty on any launcher is only 6% when changing from 28 to 51.6 degrees does not comport with orbital mechanics–you’ve got to make up that angular velocity component loss somewhere.

              I look forward to reading the Oasis work. I don’t have anything against using ISS for BEO missions. For $ 100B that we paid, we should do something with it. In the case of a solar electric propulsion system, you point out that departing from an ISS orbit optimizes the sun exposure making it an optimal departure point. But is solar electric the optimal way to go forward in BEO crewed exploration? Well, now that’s a much different question. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

              What is indisputable is that an HLV mission architecture is much better understood in terms of risk, technique, and planning, thanks to Apollo, than any other. And that means while a HLV mission guesstimate will be off in cost and time, it will not be nearly so much as for similar guesstimates of other architectures deeply studied but never tried. For example, lunar landing studies conducted in the late 50’s pegged the cost at between $1.5-2B. Apollo came in on-budget only because Webb added an arbitrary 40% to NASA’s best-guess estimate for Apollo.

              An HLV architecture certainly doesn’t exclude using ISS or SEP. But it does mean that lunar missions can be conducted absent the use of ISS, SEP, or anything else. that flexibility seems attractive.

              Its obvious that you feel the non-HLV architecture is the best way forward in BEO human spaceflight. And your unhappiness with Griffin’s decision 8 years ago comes through.

              For my part, since HLV-based architectures are better understood and we currently have an HLV in development, my inclination is to keep working on what we have. I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the possible and oppose something currently underway.

              So, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

              • First, I have never said that HLV was the only way to do BEO exploration. No aerospace engineer ever would. And certainly Griffin never did.

                I don’t know about you but it is a 100% certainty that Mike Grffin’s actions and writings say differently.

                The real question is whether non-HLV is the optimal means for conducting such exploration? Is it the only way to do so given our political history? What does a non-HLV mission scenario give you that one employing an HLV does not to meet those limitations?

                What your goals are determines what is “optimal”. If it is your goal to simply do “Apollo on Steroids” then an HLV might make sense. If, however, it is your goal to open the solar system to exploration and development, an infrastructure heavy, mission costly, launch everything from the ground vehicle and architecture is anathema to our future.

                Stuhlinger was an amazing propulsion engineer. But since we’re measuring here, my professor, Victor Szebehely, wrote “The Theory of Orbits”, which is the definitive text on the restricted three-body problem as applicable to an Earth-Moon spacecraft system such as Apollo.

                Jim, you gotta be kidding me. Stuhlinger was one of the premiere space scientists of his era. The three body problem is principally for Hohman transfers. I don’t give a crap what the Shuttle could or could not do, it no longer exists.

                Later a JSC contractor friend pointed me to a 1971 NASA paper that determined there was a 6.78% loss in payload by going from 21.5 to 51.6 degrees. Noted in the paper is that the payload penalty isn’t insignificant.

                Yes, it is when there is a $100 billion dollar existing asset to aggregate assets vs an orbit where there is nothing.

                But is solar electric the optimal way to go forward in BEO crewed exploration? Well, now that’s a much different question. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

                Again, it depends on what your goals are. If you want a fully reusable heavy cargo payload transfer vehicle then a SEP is a clear winner today. Dr. Griffin did a disservice to himself and the entire exploration architecture development field by making the completely unsupportable observation that there was not enough Xenon in the world to support SEP. Just in the last two weeks I have seen the test reports of a new generation of Hall thrusters that are are as much as 67% efficient, an amazing number. A low thrust Hall Thruster, the Aerojet BPT-4000 saved the first Advanced EHF spacecraft just last year. The increase from 60% to 67 percent results in a 20% reduction in fuel consumption per mission. Can anyone in the chemical propulsion world claim a similar advance in the last 30 years?

                What is indisputable is that an HLV mission architecture is much better understood in terms of risk, technique, and planning, thanks to Apollo, than any other. And that means while a HLV mission guesstimate will be off in cost and time,

                I dispute it and so do many others. NASA was so scared in the 1970’s that we have two lawn ornaments, one in Houston and one in Florida because the generation of NASA management that built the Saturn V was afraid to use them.

                I was just in a presentation today in Paris at the global satellite financing show and the analysis that is used here is that it is considered that risk is much higher for a single expensive mission than to distribute that risk across several missions.

                Here we are, several years after the ESAS architecture and we still don’t have any hardware back on the Moon. That is inexcusable. The ESAS plan never closed technically, financially, or politically and yet you would still argue its superiority as an HLV is optimal? HLV’s are the bane of human BEO spaceflight and have been holding us back for 40 years.

                If the development costs for the vehicle had instead been plowed into building up robotic capability incrementally at the lunar poles we would already be well on our way to having a permanent outpost there. American inventors are making amazing progress in the realm of 3D printing, robotics, and portable energy systems that make all of the old assumptions about what hardware you put on the Moon or Mars obsolete. Hell I have never yet seen a full manifest for a lunar outpost that requires more than two or three HLV flights.

                In some work we have been doing we have found an interim high altitude orbit that allows a seamless integration of low thrust high ISP systems proceeding from the station to hook up with high thrust chemical systems in a manner that completely eliminates the need for an HLV and gets heavy payloads to the Moon with short trip times.

                I am simply sick of hearing articles like the one here that is the aerospace version of the highlander syndrome, that there is only one way to do this. O’Keefe understood when he came into NASA what the budget limitations were and an HLV was only a single trade in the CE&R studies. This was all thrown away after he left and the new management did not even have the courtesy to send anyone senior to the wrap up presentations as they had already decided on a different path.

                • Stuhlinger was one of the premiere space scientists of his era. The three body problem is principally for Hohman transfers. I don’t give a crap what the Shuttle could or could not do, it no longer exists.

                  I have no doubt that Stuhlinger was as you state. But you make a couple of statements here that either don’t make any sense or are out of context.

                  The three body problem is principally for Hohman transfers.

                  No, the restricted three-body problem may be many things, but “…principally for Hohmann Transfers” it is not. Perhaps you were thinking of “highly elliptical impulsive orbital transfers”? I don’t think a mission to the Moon hasn’t made use of the restricted three-body problem in a non-rotating coordinate frame since Apollo. So that makes this work pretty important both in the past and certainly in the future. For more on the RTBP, see Vallado (3rd Ed.) 6.3.1-6.3.1 (p. 324 – 332).

                  A Hohmann orbital transfer is defined in Vallado (3rd Ed.) 1.4.3 (p. 40-46) as a minimum velocity transfer between circular or elliptical orbits using two tangential burns, eg flight path angle (fps) = 0. Parabolic and hyperbolic trajectories are precluded from using Hohmanns. With a typical fpa = 7.3° or more and an eccentricity of greater than e = 0.96, the Apollo TLI’s are out.

                  Hohmann transfers are non-optimal at a critical ratio, defined as Rfinal/Rinitial, of between 11.94 to 15.58. With R = 46 for the Earth-Moon tranfers, the Hohmann transfer to reach the Earth-Moon L2 would be about non-optimal. All of this means that Apollo and subsequent lunar mission orbit transfers out of LEO were not Hohmanns. So we can put to rest that the restricted three-body problem is principally for Hohmann transfers.

                  Apollo’s adoption of the free-return trajectories was in part (I can’t say how much, but the JSC Apollo guidance guys said his was a very large contribution) the result of Szebehely’s work on the restricted three-body problem. His “Theory of Orbits”, published by the Academic Press in 1967, is an advanced reference text on the restricted problem of three bodies with theories and applications concerning periodic orbits, space trajectories, stability, and dynamical astronomy. On a personal level, dismissing someone of Szebehely’s stature and accomplishments is a little unwarranted when it’s pretty clear you don’t know his work. I know, I know, you low-thrust guys don’t give a whit about impulsive orbit transfers.

                  I don’t give a crap what the Shuttle could or could not do, it no longer exists.
                  Yeah, it’s gone.

  11. phasing out the shuttle before private space proves itself is ill-advised at best Yep, guess who made sure that happened. Look at the top of the page.

    There were several viable proposals from inside NASA to build the Shuttle C, which would be flying today. Seventy tons is not 140 tons but as they say in the military world, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    The Shuttle C would have allowed a continuation of the production capacity of the external tanks and the infrastructure that would have allowed the Shuttle to fly at a cost far closer to its marginal cost.

    There is nothing in Constellation that was sustainable. The uprated Ares-VI still could not close the TLI mass for the Altair/Orion and the last Mars DRM would have taken SIX launches of the Ares VI and an Ares 1 launcher. We are talking a minimum $20 billion cost per Mars mission.

    Heavy lift is the Albatross around the neck of NASA and the nation. When it counted in the cold war when it was barely possible to send people to the Moon there was a case for it. However, a sustainable exploration and economic development of the solar system precludes the expensive HLV.

    The Shuttle C idea was at least a compromise that technically and financially could have worked but that was chucked to the curb as well.

    • Good point. Shuttle C was a good concept for cargo. So was Jupiter.

      Ask Cowing for a copy of Griffin’s ’08 email lamenting the Bush Administration’s termination of Shuttle. Griffin wasn’t the cheerleader you assume him to be for ending that program.

      As for who did actually put the stake in the heart of the Shuttle, that honor goes to Obama’s space folks according to Jeff Bingham. According to Bingham,

      The 2008 NASA Authorization Act specifically preserved the option for continuing shuttle beyond 2010 for the incoming Administration–which was of course unknown when the legislation was drafted and even when enacted on October 15, 2008. Subsequent to the election, this provision was very clearly pointed out to the Obama Transition Team for NASA (headed by Lori Garver) and they clearly understood they had the option to continue–and that the Congress would likely support that move, given its history, since 2005, of concern about “The Gap,” especially with respect to the ability to support and sustain ISS. They “punted” that decision to the overall HSF Review Committee (Augustine), who, in the end provided a series of options among which was continuation of Shuttle to 2015, by which time it was expected that Ares 1 would be flying. The FY 2011 Budget Request the following year demonstrated THIS Administration’s DECISION:*

      **Section 61**1

       (1) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator shall terminate or suspend any activity of the Agency that, if continued between the date of enactment of this Act and April 30, 2009, would preclude the continued safe and effective flight of the Space Shuttle after fiscal year 2010 if the President inaugurated on January 20, 2009, were to make a determination to delay the Space Shuttle’s scheduled retirement.
      (2) REPORT ON IMPACT OF COMPLIANCE.—Within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator
      shall provide a report to the Congress describing the expected budgetary and programmatic impacts from compliance with paragraph (1). The report shall include—
      (A) a summary of the actions taken to ensure the option to continue space shuttle flights beyond the end
      of fiscal year 2010 is not precluded before April 30, 2009;
      (B) an estimate of additional costs incurred by each specific action identified in the summary provided under
      subparagraph (A);
      (C) a description of the proposed plan for allocating those costs among anticipated fiscal year 2009 appropriations
      or existing budget authority;
      (D) a description of any programmatic impacts within the Space Operations Mission Directorate that would result
      from reallocations of funds to meet the requirements of paragraph (1);
      (E) a description of any additional authority needed to enable compliance with the requirements of paragraph
      (1); and
      (F) a description of any potential disruption to the timely progress of development milestones in the preparation
      of infrastructure or work-force requirements for shuttle follow-on launch systems.

      **122 STAT. 4798 PUBLIC LAW 110–422—OCT. 15, 2008**

      Added Note: Since the above provision expired at the end of April 2009, NASA, knowing of the HSF Review, elected to take only non-irreversible termination activities pending the outcome of that review, and pending the Administration’s formal response to that review as part of the FY 2011 Budget Request. Thus, the Bush-initiated termination “decision” could have been reversed as late as the Spring (and actually into the summer) of 2010. As added “insurance” for that option, the 2010 Act included language “protecting” ET-94 to enable the shuttle flow to ramp back up. Senator Hutchison also introduced a bill (S. 3068), the ‘‘Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act of 2010″, which provided for a recertification process for Shuttle, authorized funding for two flights per year for FY 2010, 2011 and 2012, and required a joint determination by the President and the Congress regarding a decision to terminate the shuttle. Rather than pursuing passage of that bill, it became the starting point on the Republican side of negotiations regarding the content of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, and the removal of those shuttle provisions became part of the “Compromise” that produced the 2010 Act.

  12. Ask Cowing for a copy of Griffin’s ’08 email lamenting the Bush Administration’s termination of Shuttle. Griffin wasn’t the cheerleader you assume him to be for ending that program.

    Jim, I lived next door for a year in Guntersville Alabama to the head of procurement for the External tank program. NASA headquarters did everything in its power to terminate that production and make it where it would be impossible to restart.

    The death of STS was a foregone conclusion before the Obama people came in. Yes, it could have been restarted but we had lost several years and several billion dollars water on the Ares architecture and the new kids at MSFC wanted to work on the new stuff and not simply modify the old system.

    I was there for quite a lot of this and I was extensively involved in both the CE&R and the H&RT efforts during the O’Keefe era. Dr. Griffin made the completely unsupportable statement that there was “not enough Xenon in the world” to support solar electric propulsion when I had in my hands a firm commitment from one of the major gas companies in the world to provide as much as we needed with a 36 month lead time.

  13. Are you stipulating that Jeff Bingham doesn’t know what he’s talking about? You know who he is, right?

    I know exactly who Jeff is. He and the rest of congress were not fully informed on what was happening to dismantle the Shuttle program during that time.

  14. We once had a program called Constellation. It never seemed to be well established in terms of its goals and the design of its missions, its rockets or its spacecraft. Requirements never seemed to be well defined, as they still are not today.

    We had too large, too massive a capsule in an era when capsules were a concept no one needed any longer, yet no one then or now was sure what the capsule was needed for since you could not live in it for the duration of a Mars mission. Here we are, 8 years later, and the concept of the big capsule is alive and well, and billions $$ have been spent on it, and yet there is no Service Module yet in development??

    We had an Ares 1 rocket, that never seemed to have the throw weight to put an Orion in orbit. And in recent days NASA says the concept had technical flaws which was why they chose not to fund it at all any longer.

    The idea, the concepts, the mission design for a lunar base, inhabited long-term, never seemed to get well defined. Instead we got turned around to sortie missions with landings almost anywhere on the moon. It did not seem to translate into a long term habitat or into future Mars missions.

    The concepts of the types of modules and spacecraft (Nautilus X, Cis-lunar first) required for those future Mars missions never seemed to develop. The billions spent on Constellation never seemed to get translated into a complete spacecraft, even today we hear that tens of billions of $$ have been spent on a capsule which is not even a complete spacecraft. NASA is not working on the service module because they hope ESA can be convinced to pick up that end of things.

    Constellation and Dragon seemed to follow parallel paths, and parallel time-frames. Based on the author’s admission in the article, about a $billion has been spent on Dragon and Falcon compared with $15-20 billion on Orion and Ares (now SLS). Falcon and Dragon are flying. Orion, Ares and SLS are still paper projects.
    Hillhouse makes the case that commercial cargo or crew might never succeed. Except that commercial cargo and crew has already made great strides towards being fully functional. Only Orion and Ares never got off the ground. But Hillhouse is telling us that this is the only thing that is assured of succeeding?

    This entire article, like Griffin’s thoughts and speech seem to be biased in favor of something that never seemed to gel and now, 8 years later seems to hav made far less sense than even at that time. A well-managed project? How?? Where?? Maybe the idea was never to actually design or build anything but simply to play games with ideas about future projects?

    According to this article, Griffin never was against Shuttle or ISS? “Griffin wasn’t the cheerleader you assume him to be for ending Shuttle”.This was misconstrued? I seem to remember distinctly Griffin’s saying these were mistakes that never should have been pursued. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2005-09-27-nasa-griffin-interview_x.htm
    The only real mistake was that no one applied what we learned to make improvements and to do something better.

    There seems no logic and no truth in the article. You are trying to rewrite history but the evidence today and yesterday is against your statements.

    • True, Griffin once quipped that never again should we put a crewed vehicle next to a cryogenic tanks. I don’t think anyone is happy that we spent a generation in LEO. Time will tell if the current path is any better.

      Griffin once candidly complained about in a leaked email, which I can’t find a copy of now, was that the Bush folks wouldn’t even talk about extending Shuttle to make up for the looming Gap between its retirement and the first flight of Orion/Ares 1.

      Like the Saturn 1-B could not insert the Apollo CSM into orbit by itself without an assist from the SM. Orion likewise would have needed to fire its CM engine to get into orbit for ISS rendezvous from an Ares 1 launch. I’m not sure why this is a problem for LEO missions. And why is the size of the spacecraft an issue, other than we’re pushing the limits of parachute recovery for a spacecraft.

      We went back to a capsule because after Columbia, a review of that spacecraft type showed it to be much more robust than was Shuttle or HL-20. The Russians have had a couple of Soyuz have their re-entry guidance get wonky and the worst that happened was the crew had a rough ride. And yes, the Russians have lost crews as well. But I have never heard anyone worry about what happens if debris hits a Soyuz during launch. I have heard it can take a beating and still come back. Nobody ever said that about Shuttle.

      We haven’t spent “tens of billions on a capsule. Still, no, Orion won’t be an inexpensive spacecraft once completed. Orion is far from a paper project. The first flight vehicle’s pressure shell was completed in May and now it’s being completed at KSC. They are already bending metal at Michoud for SLS.

      I don’t really think Constellation and Dragon followed a similar path at all, at least not from a funding stand-point. Dragon never had its budget cut; Constellation did. Even steady funding at promised levels, SpaceX was 26 months late and was over 40% over budget (GAO-11-692T). Constellation had an excuse for being late, but what was SpaceX’s?

      True, long-term space outposts have never been well defined. I would think that is partly, maybe largely, because we don’t want to pay for what we want to do. Shuttle was our last successful crewed program. But it too had its challenges. I was told by his former Sec. of AF that Carter wanted to kill Shuttle but couldn’t because it was needed to launch the spysats needed as part of SALT. Unfortunately, subsequent proposals have lacked that national security component.

  15. Like the Saturn 1-B could not insert the Apollo CSM into orbit by itself without an assist from the SM.


    This is also incorrect. According to the Saturn 1B flight Manual (MSFC-MAN-206) figure 2.47, page 2-16 the orbit insertion weight capability of the Saturn 1B was 67,790 lbs, including the inert weight of the SIV-B and an extra 3,727 lbs of fuel in the SIV-B that could be used to compensate for any performance shortfall or to put the bird into a higher orbit.


    They Ares 1 was not even in the same class as the Saturn 1B/SIV-B in terms of performance. It is extremely lamentable that it went away. The Von Braun Horizon report had it being used as the workhorse to put together the Horizon lunar base, along with propellant depots.

    • I stand corrected. Yes, the Saturn IB could launch the Apollo SCM into orbit without an SM burn. With the Saturn IB’s payload capability at LEO 28.5° mass of 18,600kg (41,000lbs), and with Apollo 7 CSM massed at 14,691 (5,742kg CM and 8949.4kg SM), I don’t know why the heck I thought that. I “think” I heard someone mention that the Apollo CSM had to burn to circularize its orbit. \

      The masses on Fig. 2.47 are impressive. I agree, we never should have gotten rid of this rocket. Period.

      Nor should we dumped Saturn V, which had a LEO insertion payload of 118,000kg (260,000lbs). One of the old Apollo guys once told me that with the uprated J-2, now the J-2X I guess, and the F-1A (up to 2M lbf), the new Saturn V would have made for a really impressive launcher.

      We’ve lost good hardware, but at least we’re getting back the J-2X. And it looks like the F-1A is a candidate for the SLS Block II.

      • I “think” I heard someone mention that the Apollo CSM had to burn to circularize its orbit. \

        Yea, I have heard that one too, it was by people who were trying to justify the crappy performance of the Ares 1. By 1972 and the Skylab missions the inserted mass into orbit was what was in figure 2.47, which is over 67,000 lbs with fuel to spare AND it got the SIV-B into orbit.

        Now, I have corrected some bad data for you multiple times now, you might want to consider that I also know what I am talking about in these other areas. Dr. Griffin was wrong to dismiss high ISP SEP propulsion systems. When I showed Dr. Stuhlinger our H&RT design for the modular 500 kW SEP he said that it was the most significant advance in the design of ion powered systems that he had seen in over 30 years.

        A good engineer will do like Von Braun did with John Hubolt, no matter what he may think about his preferred path, he will shift gears and go with someone else’s if it helps to reach the final goal.

        Our goal is no longer just to land humans on the Moon and return them successfully to the Earth, it is to open the solar system to economic development and human settlement. With that in mind an HLV centric architecture is nothing more than flags and footprints on steroids.

        • It’s clear you’re up on the subject matter of launchers, mission scenarios, etc. It’s obvious you’ve done serious work on ISP SEP systems and the uses of their low-thrust trajectories for long-distance exploration.

          It’s also clear that Mike Griffin’s background and his work demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about. And based on JSC folk’s interactions with the Administrator, he’s a good engineer and a fast learner.

          As to whether Dr. Griffin should have dismissed ISP SEP prop. systems, I know zip about this and don’t have an answer. Based on Stuhlinger’s feedback, I would hope that you at least earned a look-see by folks at JPL, maybe JSC.

          And if not, be of good cheer–three years ago the Direct guys were scoffed at and now they are the program of record. If they fail, we’ll be looking for another means and electric just might be the ticket. In the meantime, I hope your company is working with NASA funding to advance the technology.

          I do strongly agree that it is not enough just to land folks on the Moon. We must open the solar system up and impulsive won’t get us there. But I would add it is my opinion that the Moon must remain our first step. As someone who is also in a pretty high-risk business, I like keeping my risk down and I think the Moon allows us to do that from an operations stand while offering a large amount of resources.

          I want to ask you a question I honestly don’t know the answer to. I get the impression, perhaps wrongly, that you feel the architecture you back negates HLV, Orion, etc. Why?

  16. …why is the size of the spacecraft an issue, other than we’re pushing the limits of parachute recovery for a spacecraft…

    Yes we are pushing the limits of parachute recovery-we can no longer land on land, which commits us to throwing away the vehicle after every flight and we can no longer carry the mass of more than 4 crew. And the heavier vehicle means a heavier escape system which means Ares performance was that much more marginal. And there really was never a need for a command module that large in the first place. An Apollo CM could carry 6.

    a review of that spacecraft type showed it to be much more robust than was Shuttle or HL-20

    Actually the original MPCV under OKeefe and Steidle was a winged fly-back vehicle. Sure parachutes might be safer but fly-back is much more versatile and dynamic and certainly a much better way to return long duration astronauts.

    We haven’t spent “tens of billions on a capsule. Still, no, Orion won’t be an inexpensive spacecraft once completed. Orion is far from a paper project. The first flight vehicle’s pressure shell was completed in May and now it’s being completed at KSC.

    By my estimations they are well about 10 billion now, after 8 years. The “first flight vehicle”-really its only the command module capsule somewhat stripped down. No service module and not a full complement of systems so I would not hardly call it a full up spacecraft. In fact a big waste of a lot more money for a mission unique stage for bringing it back into the atmosphere at lunar speed. Its another kluge, kind of how an Ares 1X related to an Ares 1.

    “Dragon never had its budget cut; Constellation did.”

    Dragon’s budget was in large measure not US taxpayer money. Space-X has mainly new people learning to build a spacecraft and a rocket. Constellation’s budget was cut compared to what-the original amount NASA was told it would get or the much larger amount that they wanted and which they needed since they’d done such a poor job the first several times around in defining the requirements and designing the configuration. NASA had people who knew how to build a spacecraft, if they’d only used them.

    • CRV was to use a parafoil to land. I knew one of the folks at JSC responsible for the guidance in controlling the para-fall. CRV kept wanting to twirl around.

      CRV was a great program, I think I’ve seen actual flight hardware. This was awhile ago, but I’m pretty sure a pressure vessel was completed and that final construction had begun. That O’Keefe cancelled it without so much as a look-see is still under my skin.

      Frankly, I don’t know why someone didn’t do a CCDev using CRV. Yes, Sierra Nevada’s HK-20 will be fine. Were CRV an awardee today, it would be farther along than everyone save Dragon and Orion. Come on New Spacers, it’s beckoning!

      The vast majority of Dragon development was certainly paid for by the $395M in COTS funding. The American taxpayers have put in nearly 3/4 of a billion, while private shareholders have only invested around $150-$200M, into SpaceX. So, as far as I’m concerned, NASA owns that company’ Dragon/Falcon 9 and OSC’s COTS hardware too. In the next CCDev round, NASA’s investments will come with string of ownership should one of the awardees drop-out of go belly-up. You can thank Rep. Wolf for ensuring that the tax-payers get something if a CCDev awardee folds. Too bad that isn’t true with COTS. I say we do a claw-back.

      • Guest and Jim,

        There is an interesting point in this discussion that I think is being missed.

        The Apollo Command Module Outer Mold Line (OML) was picked out of technical conservatism because it had already been used (in Apollo) for Lunar trajectory direct returns. The increased size was not because it was needed just to support 6 people but needed to support 4 people for an extended period of time.

        Unfortunately the combination of the Apollo OML (and thus Apollo Lift/Drag ratio) combined with the increased size of the larger vehicle produced loads on the chute lines (when the mains were deployed) that restricted the mass of the module. This was apparently not realized when the selection was made.

        There were other solutions. The one from the period I saw was a bi-conic shape (still using parachutes for landing) that allowed more dissipation of the positive z (downward) velocity before main deploy, but that had never been tried for Lunar return trajectory speeds and thus was subject to more technical risk.

        My recollection is it was presented twice once to O’Keefe and once to Griffin and it was rejected both times (for whatever reasons).

        If the MPCV was ever a “winged fly-back vehicle” under “OKeefe and Steidle” I must have missed it and I was really paying attention.

        • Joe,

          Thanks for the insight on the reasons for the parachute issues I’ve heard people talk about occasionally.

          One question I’ve had concerns the change in Orion’s size under Griffin. Orion started out with a 5.5m diameter but was downsized to 5m. This removed nearly 1/3 of the volume in the original Orion. I’ve heard people say that this change was motivated in part as a hedge for ELV use. Reading your comment, I also wonder if the change wasn’t motivated by mass issues. Your thoughts?

          • Jim,

            Wish I could tell you, but the “downsizing” from 5.5 meters to 5 meters took place before my participation in the program.

            I would imagine mass issues were part of the decision, but that is just guessing.

            One other thing, I am going to stay as far away as I can from the Ares I was a bad rocket/Ares I was a good rocket debate; but the Orion Crew Module would have had weight reduction issues (due to the Parachute line loads already discussed) even if the Ares I had the payload capacity of the Ares V.


  17. The Orion size was “needed to support 4 people for an extended period of time.”

    Unfortunately, the Orion designers forgot to call in trained vehicle designers to assess the actual volumetric requirements. Orion’s marginal size increase over Apollo does little to support 3, 4 or 7 crew for an extended period of time. If you are going into space for an extended period you need a second independent module to provide redundant life support capabilities and you need to get as much of the habitability support equipment out of the launch, return and emergency escape module as possible, otherwise every additional ounce unneeded for launch or return compromises the safety of the crew. That should have been one of the lessons learned from Shuttle and it was very directly learned on Apollo 13.

    Joe’s statement, if it accurately reflects the views of those who established the Orion size, means little substantive engineering consideration was given to the size of the capsule. Did you really think four people would live inside a capsule that size for a trip to Mars and back, probably a 2 to 4 year mission, along with their food and water and other consumables and their waste products?

    • Perhaps I should have been more precise in defining the “extended period of time” (or perhaps you are just looking for an excuse to be snarky and insult people – who knows).

      I will assume the former. The longer time period referred to was for Lunar not Mars missions. Used for an LEO launch to the ISS the crew would only be in the vehicle for several hours, but for a Lunar mission they would be there for days. That extended time period (days not months) required the capability to don/doff the Launch/Entry suits and take care of certain other functions not required for the shorter LEO missions.

      I trust this clears up the confusion (if in fact there ever was any).

  18. Sorry, there was never need for a vehicle this size and mass for a lunar mission. The Apollo CM was perfectly adequate for 3 and by eliminating the old instruments and replacing them with modern electronic, you would have opened the free volume equivalent to another two people. The fastest and least expensive way would have been to use a CM identical in outer mold line and even many of the interior components the same as the original CM. It could have been flying long ago.

    • I am sorry for ever doubting your omnipotence and infallibility please forgive me and have a nice evening.

  19. Some quotes from AV Week and space
    “Michael Gazarik, NASA’s space technology program director, says that CPST and the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket currently under development are complementary technologies. ‘To explore deep space we need a heavy-lift vehicle — SLS — and we need this technology.'”

    Still, the position of folks in the know is that depots are what we cannot afford now, in that “concerns about fuel boil-off in orbit remain. A paper presented by Patrick R. Chai and Alan W. Wilhite of the Georgia Institute of Technology at this year’s International Astronautical Congress estimates that depot tanks would lose about $12 million worth of propellant a month in low Earth orbit if protected only with passive insulation. But the state of the art in cryocoolers that would be needed to prevent boil-off falls short by ‘an order of magnitude’ and would require “significant research” to meet likely requirements.”

  20. “significant research”

    Two words, active cooling.

    Can be easily implemented on orbit. That being said, for long term exploration we need long term cryo storage and to punt on that as a justification for heavy lift does not pass the smell test.

    • Dennis,

      So we do not misunderstand each other I am s supporter of orbital propellant depots (at least when – ISRU resources are available to supply them),

      However, two words “active cooling”. THe question is, at what cost and when in the development of what architecture.

  21. Very well-written piece by Griffin. However, he is somewhat inaccurate with some of his comments.

    The private spacecraft are being designed with several NASA specifications and safety factors, including the mandatory LES that must be incorporated into each one.

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