Jim Muncy

In about half an hour, Jim Muncy of the Space Frontier Foundation will be talking about space policy issues, particularly the dreaded Gap. Look for live updates after the current break, when I get back to the computer.

[OK, speech starting]

Jim (unusually) has charts. Title: Mind The (Space) Gap. Another troublemaking project of the Space Frontier Foundation.

Back in 2005 CEV (Orion) was not aimed at ISS. No requirement for ISS, and Steidle didn’t want it to. Number of innovative architectures considered. Steidle proposed a “nontraditional crew” development effort over 2005-2008 to address if you could take the Burt Rutan SS1 approach and use the commercial market to build the reliability of human earth/orbit systems so that NASA wouldn’t have to “human rate” vehicle that would launch CEV. CEV could go up uncrewed, and meet crew on orbit. At that time, NASA forecast a four-year gap from 2010 to 2014, even with risk reduction of two CEV contractors and nontraditional effort. That was the plan.

Then came Mike. Had to get rid of the gap. Was “unseemly in the extreme” for the US (read NASA) to not have a human launch capability, maybe even a national security issue. It was no longer about getting NASA beyond earth orbit, but it became about “closing the gap” because it was just wrong for NASA not to launch humans into space. He says that it’s not Apollo on steroids, it’s Gemini on steroids. What we’d be left with after Ares 1 and Orion would be Gemini in capability, with a larger capsule.

Some doubted hysteria, and didn’t think we could afford to both close gap and achieve VSE goals, and that it wasn’t a national security threat to not be able to launch astronauts into space on NASA vehicles. But some Senators insisted (with zero evidence) that it was.

So we lost the goal of the vision, of affordable and sustainable. The brightest guys in the room, the rocket scientists, decided to pull a bait and switch. They decided to use the ISS as an excuse for developing the new vehicle to close the gap, even though they defunded the research at the station to pay for their new rocket. They thought that this was the one and only opportunity to develop a new launch vehicle. It wasn’t really designed to close the gap, it was designed to go to Mars. But that’s not how it was sold, and they rammed through a transportation system as though it was the B-52, something to be used for over half a century to do everything NASA would be doing. And the story was that it was a Shuttle-derived approach that would close the gap down to 2012. It would be Safe, Simple and Soon.

How is that working out? NASA’s current forecast is calendar year 2017. $44B to Initial Operating Capability, so gap has grown by three years from original VSE goal. Slipped five years from ESAS goals of three and a half years ago, or 1.3 years per year (new NASA metric YPYS — Year per year slip). So much for new exploration.

No way NASA gets to the moon by 2019 if it only launches Ares 1 in 2017. May not get there until 2029 (Apollo sixtieth anniversary), if ever, and it won’t be “affordable” or “sustainable” or fit under likely budget. “We are spending a lot of money in DC right now.” Do you see politicians throwing a lot of money at NASA? No. NASA is not seen as stimulating the economy, or developing technology, or relevant. Some of have noted and said this for years. Doesn’t fit the budgets as they’re likely to be, and NASA never gets back to exploring. Betrayal of a third presidential mandate in space (first was space station, second was Bush 39 SEI, also known as staff expansion initiative, and now VSE). Presidents have set goals for space, but the agency hasn’t been honoring them. And even leaving aside exploration, NASA has failed by its own metric of clsoing the gap. You don’t have to argue about the technical details, or even that it’s going to be too expensive to operate. All you have to do is point out that with this plan the gap has increased from four years to six or seven years. In the administrator’s words, this architecture is unseemly, a national security threat, disinspiring our youth.

We are now in the era of hope and change. We can fix mistakes with a new administration and congress. The fastest safest/cheapest/approach is to utilize existing/developing commercial ELVs to launch simple human-carrying spacecraft (i.e., COTS D).

SFF thinks it’s time to declare Ares 1 and ESAS a failure. NASA should use its stimulus funds to stimulate a new human ETO industry by funding multiple COTS D concepts. Launch Orion on EELV. Pursue “cheapest” medium-heavy option for exploration and intermodal demos.

When NASA claims that Ares 1 is needed for Orion they’re fudging the numbers, because the abort system for Ares 1 is heavier than it would be for an EELV, because the former cannot be shut down and the abort system has to outrun it.

Has no problem with Shuttle Z or some other cheap and dirty approach to launching fifty or sixty metric tons at a time, but have to do something so that fifty years after we landed a man on the moon we can land a man on the moon. It’s easy to fix the problem if we only mind Mike Griffin’s first suggestion, and actually mind the space gap.

In response to a question, he still professes optimism about the administration. There is someone at OSTP (Mike Kleegle ) who wants to build partnerships with private industry, and he hopes that there will be an administrator and deputy who will implement it. He was hoping for Isakowitz, but his appointment was killed by Senator Nelson. His comment about Senator Nelson’s cerebral propensity was off the record, so I won’t repeat it.

7 thoughts on “Jim Muncy”

  1. As part of our t/Space CE&R contract, David Gump and I proposed (in 2004) the nontraditional crew development that Stiedle later embraced. It was to start in June, 2005 and we even ran ads in Space News stating it would eliminate the “gap” by 2010. I think the advertisement used the tag line “Mind The Gap”, too. Of course, Jim knows all about this, having been our excellent DC representative during the effort.

    Griffin then applied his own warped thinking to our proposal, and morphed it into COTS. David and I had shown that among the things the project should *not* do was go to ISS (initially, to avoid Visiting Vehicle encumbrances), pay for non-hardware milestones (so far, that’s all that COTS has paid for) and should not require “skin in the game” which runs the risk of making the playing field uneven (only rich guys can play). Witness the results…

  2. So… do any longtime observers of NASA have any clear understanding why Mike Griffin got selected as Administrator? It seems doubtful that then-President Bush was not his champion.

  3. The only thing I can figure is nobody else wanted the job; or at least nobody who was likely to be asked.

  4. “The only thing I can figure is nobody else wanted the job; or at least nobody who was likely to be asked.”

    Which pretty much appears to be the case today…

  5. Edit: (6th April 2009) Since this post Jim Muncy of the SFF has provided some insight: “Mind The (Space) Gap. Another troublemaking project of the Space Frontier Foundation.” (Space Access ‘09 Phoenix/ Arizona/ USA) and according to Rand Simberg in Transterrestrial Musings has engendered new NASAese:

    “Slipped five years from ESAS goals of three and a half years ago, or 1.3 years per year (new NASA metric YPYS — Year per year slip). So much for new exploration.”

    Love the term.
    Although a (worst case) Gap growth of 3.5 to 7 years is 2.00 YPYS but who’s counting! Congress???

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