The final two paragraphs from the latest post from Paul Spudis's blog regarding speculation that the next launch by China, Chang'E 3, will deliver a rover to the moon:
In any event, what does it say about American leadership in space that so many prefer to put their heads in the sand and ignore or deny this disquieting series of developments? It does not require either imminent or distant hostilities to recognize the possible dangers of having one power dominate such a vital field of endeavor – particularly a political power with a mixed record of sympathies to the western values of democracy and economic freedom.
Going to the Moon and developing cislunar space may not seem to be very important to some – it clearly isn’t to the current leadership of NASA. Prior to October 4, 1957, orbiting a satellite around the Earth wasn’t seen as very important either.
In recent weeks my Strategy class has discussed a number of tools for evaluating and developing strategy. In the above article are hints at what the U.S. has been doing wrong with regards to strategy in space. I'll have more to say about this soon.
An article in this morning's Houston Chronicle calls out the lack of leadership in Texas's Senate delegation:
Lawmakers are saying there have been too few delegation-wide get-togethers to map strategy on Texas-centric issues, too little top-down leadership by Cornyn, too few tangible payoffs from Cornyn's position as second ranking Republican in Senate leadership and too many ideological disputes over whether to seek federal largesse at all. “I'm hearing from members that they're not finding the support and coordination to address Texas issues,” says a former veteran member of the Texas congressional delegation. “There's just a feeling that Team Texas has gone by the aside and we don't have the continuity that Texas has been known for.”
Although the article does not mention NASA and space specifically, I can't help but wonder about the associated impact to space policy and implementation. It's clear that the Executive Office of the President has been focused on other policy issues for the last three-plus years, leaving it to the space-based congressional delegations such as Texas to fill the void in leadership. The most recent example of this was the bipartisan push-back on the administration's space policy a few years ago, leading to the crafting of the Space Launch System through the actions of (now retired) Senator Hutchinson (R-TX) and Senator Nelson (D-FL). With some of the recent refinements in space policy failing to gain traction (read: Asteroid Redirect or Retrieval Mission, the R depending on your choice of the day), and continuing budgetary pressures putting the squeeze on NASA's funding, one has to wonder whether the failings of the Texas delegation to effectively lead across the board will make the situation worse for human spaceflight.
The latest from Paul Spudis on his Lunar Resources Blog:
In brief, “to Augustine” something is to structure a report in such a way that a space goal or architecture is deemed “unaffordable.” From the outset, the resulting report must conclude that the program being evaluated is unaffordable and “sadly,” dropping it must be laid at the door of Congress for fiscal and programmatic restrictions and not by any desire on their part to kill the program.
Dr. Spudis's words hit home as I reflected on my experiences this quarter in supply chain management and government policy. I may have more to say on this in the coming weeks. For now, suffice it to say that some hard decisions will need to be made if a workable supply chain to low Earth orbit, based on a fully legitimized space policy, are to be realized.
July 1-3 marks 150 years since the battle at Gettysburg was fought during the U.S. Civil War. A few years ago, while I was a participant in NASA's leadership development program, I was fortunate to receive a guided tour of the site with a young Captain from the Army War College. Afterwards, I wrote these words, as true today as they were then:
As I reflected on that point while actually walking the fields of Gettysburg, I wondered about that point as well as the decisions and failings of leadership that led to the ultimate of consequences those three days. My analytic thoughts turned to more emotional ones as I walked the fields in chronological order of the three days of battle. I sensed the ebb and flow of the first day as the Confederacy made contact with Buford’s cavalry on the rolling hills to the west of town, when the leadership on both sides had no real sense of the battle yet to come. I felt the split-second decisions of leadership as I stood on Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain gave the order to fix bayonets and charge. I wondered about the certainties and uncertainties of leadership decisions as I stood where Lew Armistead died as one of the few in Pickett’s charge to make it beyond the Union lines. I sought parallels of the consequences of the decisions of leadership at Gettysburg with the work of my organization at NASA – after all, we deal with decisions that can kill people – and felt deeply the loss of the crews of Challenger and Columbia. When the day at Gettysburg drew to a close, I found that words failed me. In some sense, they still do.
Read the rest here.
From a recent post by Dr. Paul Spudis, “'Where, Why and How?' – Concerns of the House Subcommittee on Space“:
An interesting moment in the hearing came when Squyres expressed concern that even if the Space Launch System (SLS) is completed, there will be no money to operate it or provide payloads for it. I believe this concern comes from a misunderstanding of the fundamental purpose of the SLS – the launch vehicle mandated in the 2010 NASA authorization bill. I have written previously that because of the peculiar wording of that bill, there may have been an ulterior motive involved in such specificity, viz., that the SLS is Congress’ way of retaining a semblance of spaceflight capability within the agency, a national technical capability that they believed was discarded with undue haste and little serious thought. In such a scenario, the operational cost of SLS is not relevant, at least until an attainable, strategic horizon is recognized and adopted by a future administration. SLS is merely a mechanism to retain a national capability and operational spaceflight team, the hard-fought-for-and-won national treasure of space expertise which otherwise would be scattered to the winds.
This paragraph highlights for me the difficulty of decision making in the public sector.
More on the NASA asteroid return mission, this time courtesy of The Colbert Report:
Yes, a NASA lasso! Because given NASA's budget these days, the most advanced technology they can afford–is rope!
Worth a watch for a laugh, because if you can't laugh, life can be miserable.
Jeff Foust writes in TheSpaceReview.com this week about NASA's asteroid return mission:
“It seems like something out of science fiction.” An opening line like that causes many science writers to cringe: trite, overused, and lazy. Nonetheless, it seems applicable to the announcement in NASA’s fiscal year 2014 budget request earlier this month of a new “asteroid imitative” that includes the concept of moving a small near Earth asteroid into cislunar space. Could a space agency that today doesn’t have the ability to place human beings in orbit really shift the orbit of a celestial body and send a crew to it—ideally by 2021, no less? It seems like something out of science fiction, many people concluded.
Now, NASA had to convince its various stakeholders, in particular Congress, that such a mission is not a flight of fancy but rather a feasible mission that can further the administration’s long-term human spaceflight goals, as well as perhaps support other priorities, like planetary defense. Given that NASA itself has not determined if such a mission is feasible, the agency faces an uphill struggle to show that what they’re proposing is fact, not fiction.
There are so many pieces that have to come together at the right times – such as development of the solar electric propulsion spacecraft, identification of a suitable asteroid, completion of Orion and the SLS, and timely funding by Congress – that the rank-and-file and key stakeholders have to be “all-in” with complete commitment to this initiative for it to have any chance to succeed. I'm concerned that the “afterthought” feeling is not an isolated incident.
Marcia Smith writes in SpacePolicyOnline.com concerning NASA's asteroid return mission unveiled in the President's budget for fiscal year 2014:
All in all, however, the White House and NASA may be exacerbating the challenge of winning support from Congress and other stakeholders. Some officials are using imprecise terminology, there is confusion over the relationship of this mission to protecting Earth from asteroids as well as why about humans are needed to bring back a sample of an asteroid when NASA already is building a robotic probe (OSIRIS-REx) to do that (not to mention that Japan already has done so and is planning a second mission), and the budget is murky in the short term and lacks credibility for the long term.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said it seemed to him that the mission was “an afterthought” when the original mission did not win support. NASA and the White House will have their hands full trying to dispel that characterization, but Gerstenmaier's presentations may be a step in the right direction.
To put it mildly, we have a lot of challenges before us to make this initiative a success. If the simple things such as consistency in terminology are proving to be difficult, I am very concerned about the harder things to come.
There has never been anything like the Saturn V, the launch vehicle that powered the United States past the Soviet Union to a series of manned lunar landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rocket redefined “massive,” standing 363 feet (110 meters) in height and producing a ludicrous 7.68 million pounds (34 meganewtons) of thrust from the five monstrous, kerosene-gulping Rocketdyne F-1rocket engines that made up its first stage.
At the time, the F-1 was the largest and most powerful liquid-fueled engine ever constructed; even today, its design remains unmatched. The power generated by five of these engines was best conceptualized by author David Woods in his book How Apollo Flew to the Moon—“[T]he power output of the Saturn first stage was 60 gigawatts. This happens to be very similar to the peak electricity demand of the United Kingdom.”
Despite the stunning success of the Saturn V, NASA's direction shifted after Project Apollo's conclusion; the Space Transport System—the Space Shuttle and its associated hardware—was instead designed with wildly different engines. For thirty years, NASA's astronaut corps rode into orbit aboard Space Shuttles powered by RS-25 liquid hydrogen-powered engines and solid-propellant boosters. With the Shuttle's discontinuation, NASA is currently hitching space rides with the Russians.
But there's a chance that in the near future, a giant rocket powered by updated F-1 engines might once again thunder into the sky. And it's due in no small part to a group of young and talented NASA engineers in Huntsville, Alabama, who wanted to learn from the past by taking priceless museum relics apart… and setting them on fire.
These are the leading paragraphs in a fascinating story about how colleagues at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL are using techniques that our predecessors 50 years ago would have deemed as magic, to bring to life again the engines that powered humans to the moon.