Why Not Just Fund The Program Of Record?

Chris Kraft weighs in with a “common sense approach”:

NASA should essentially stay the course that has been pursued for the past several years. It makes good common sense to preserve and continue the use of the present NASA assets. Specifically, NASA should:

* Continue to operate the space shuttle until a suitable replacement is available, and initiate a study to consider a modernization program aimed primarily at reducing the operating costs.
* Operate and maintain the international space station until it ceases to be economically reasonable and scientifically productive.
* Continue to push forward with orderly haste to accomplish the goals set forth by the Constellation program.
* Initiate an aggressive research and development program aimed at the technology required to make space exploration to Mars and other deep-space objectives rational and affordable.
* Estimate a realistic set of budget requirements for the total NASA program based on the above goals and the other elements and goals of the agency.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain how much this would cost (it would cost billions to get the lines started again to keep Shuttle flying alone, even ignoring the orbiter-aging issues), or where the money would come from. Without doing any analysis, I’m guessing that it would require a doubling of the current HSF budget, or on the order of an additional ten billion dollars per year, for a system that will continue to cost billions per mission.

Jon Goff, on the other hand, explains why Kraft’s proposal is a non-starter, and fiscally insane:

Where I come from, we tend to think that getting a heck of a lot less while paying a heck of a lot more is usually the sign of a sucker. I just wish that a few space pundits and public figures didn’t keep enabling Senator Shelby and his ilk from hijacking NASA’s budget to enrich his campaign contributors at the rest of our expense.

Unfortunately, it’s more than a few. He also has a good question for Chris Kraft and other America bashers:

Why does Congress trust Russian commercial space more than American commercial space, btw?

Obviously, Russians are much better than American entrepreneurs and businesses. The latter can’t be entrusted with the vital duty of spending billions of dollars per flight on unsafe vehicles to protect jobs in key states and congressional districts.

19 thoughts on “Why Not Just Fund The Program Of Record?”

  1. Certainly Chris Kraft has taken leave of his senses – he just proposes to Do It All And Hang The Expense. The current path is unsustainable, and the Federal budget is wallowing in deficits. And yet Chris wants us to just open the spending taps and spend like crazy? His least sane comment is to begin an aggressive research program to enable us to go to Mars. As nice as that would be, it would be crushingly expensive. And he wants to do that on top of everything else??? He might have been ok at one time, but he is totally detached from reality today.

  2. Not detached from reality, but probably too attached to the legacy of his professional life. STS is awesome on it’s own but it’s limited, expensive, and more importantly IMO, it didn’t even come close to fulfilling the promises that were made. And Constellation — another ballistic entry vehicle — what happened to all the great work NASA Dryden and the Air Force did on lifting bodies? Milton O. Thompson is spinning in his grave.

  3. Why does Congress trust Russian commercial space more than American commercial space, btw?

    I’m all in favor of much greater reliance on U.S. commercial space, but I bet I can tell you exactly why NASA trusts the Russians more than any U.S. alternative: 38 years of flight history with Soyuz since the last LOC incident. If I’m not mistaken, the last LOM incident was 26 years ago.

    We like to talk a lot about flight history when we are arguing against Ares I, which is valid, but we must also acknowledge the excellent track record of Soyuz.

  4. Well the Shuttle was, and still is, kinda awesome. But bloody expensive to run. As for upgrades they have been done before. SSME upgrades, avionics upgrades, thermal insulation blankets, lighter external tanks, etc. Further upgrades (e.g. SSME channel wall nozzle) were considered but not done because the flight rates just did not justify the development cost.

    If you want to reduce costs you would need to stop using hypergolics, fuel cells, stop requiring disposable solid boosters and drop tanks, make the orbiter less maintenance intensive. In short you are probably better off designing another launcher.

    It is kind of sad that when Shuttle was designed, the USAF practice of doing several X vehicles to test the possibilities before committing to any one solution was discarded in favor of paper studies. The Shuttle itself is not a production system. It is a prototype.

    There were several proposals to replace Shuttle. It is a bit of a running joke by now. NASP, DC-X, X-33/X-34/SLI, OSP. The SLI TSTO (and arguably X-33) even looked like some of the original Shuttle proposals.
    Lamentably there just is not enough flight rate to justify development of anything but expendables.

    Why does Congress trust Russian commercial space more than American commercial space, btw?

    Because they have actually put people in space? We are talking about manned spaceflight right? Because for non-manned payloads I do not find them to be pushing for Russian space at all. As it should be.

  5. Scaled Composites, american commercial company has also put people in space.
    Yes we are talking about manned spaceflight.

  6. How is it that the Russians have not lost a crew member in decades and we have lost 14? Perhaps luck is a marketable quantity, but the Russians have escaped disaster several times by sheer good fortune. On the Mir we had the fire and the Progress collision, and in both instances we easily could have lost the joint Russian/US crew and a visiting German-naut. An exhausted crew was able to save the Mir, but it was real close. We could have easily lost a Russian/US Soyuz crew either through the ballistic re-entry or the failure of the orbital module to separate. So we should celebrate their success but don’t start thinking that the Russians have the answers. I hope it does not catch up with them, but they have been extremely lucky.

  7. You can say “luck” but Soyuz is a more robust design than Shuttle. Ballistic reentry is a fail-safe mode — designed to be survivable and it was survivable. The separation problems were scary and dangerous, but it’s no accident the straps holding the modules together burned through before the hull did. They’re designed that way. In both cases, no loss of crew and no loss of mission.

    I hope and fully expect that Dragon and similar US vehicles which may come along will be as robust as Soyuz, but they’ll be a long time catching up to the Soyuz flight history.

  8. You could as easily say that STS has been also extremely lucky losing only two orbiters, with all the flaws and close calls that it has had.

  9. Yes, the Soyuz is a relatively robust vehicle – on the Russian side the historic problem has also been lack of attention from management. The Russian flight directors drive their crews too hard, etc. Read “Dragonfly” for a pretty well researched description for problems with Mir that could affect ISS.
    Ballistic re-entry is a pretty fail-safe mode but you sure hope you don’t have to ride one down! The deceleration is pretty brutal. And it is EASY to say that there was no loss of crew in a separation failure but that is classic normalization of deviance. Would Bill Hensley trust that the next one came out as well? Is it unnecessary to fix Soyuz so it does not happen again?
    My point, not that people are listening, is that the Soyuz booster/vehicle has several failure paths – as does the Shuttle. The Shuttle is a more complex vehicle that just does tremendously more than the Soyuz. The Russians also suffer from management that takes too many chances. But they have been very lucky. Still – their system should be trusted no more than ours. I would still contend that a crew member is still far safer in the Shuttle than they are on a Soyuz.
    Perhaps that will be a controversial statement but I am sure that it is correct.
    I better go put on my flame proof shorts.

  10. Actually, NASA was lucky, too. They could very easily have lost the crew of Apollo XIII. They did everything right to save them, but if the explosion had occurred later in the mission, it wouldn’t have mattered how much “right stuff” they had.

  11. With respect to the original topic I think we’re heading down a bit of a rat hole, but I think you’re missing the point about Soyuz, Charles. Nobody said it was ok to have separation problems or go into ballistic mode. What I said was that Soyuz was designed to get the crew home safely even if these things happen. The Russians worked pretty hard to find and fix the problems, as well they should have.

    Regarding your last statement, I know you’re baiting us but I’ll bite anyway: why do you think a crew member is safer on the Shuttle than on a Soyuz?

  12. Shuttle v. Soyuz regarding safety is apples v. oranges. (See Oberg for the extensive list of problems Soyuz has which, BTW, Russia did their best to hide when NASA decided to become their customer.) Probably the most profound advantage Soyuz has is that it benefits from decades long design evolution. The question is: should NASA be in the business of proving old or new technology? This is the trouble I have with what Craft is advocating.

  13. The question is: should NASA be in the business of proving old or new technology?

    “Neither” would be my answer.

  14. “Okay, so then NASA should be doing what?”

    NASA should be setting standards, slapping malfeasance, and generally just staying the hell out of the way. Think NTSB, not AMTRACK. The research aspects move over to NSF.

    By ‘setting standards’, I don’t mean outlining ‘do things like this’, but instead putting forth design goals. “Maximum trip radiation exposure for crewmember under normal operation = x.” Not “Thou shalt have 3.5 inches of rad shielding manufactured from material x.”

    Other useful standards could be mating rings, connectors, ‘rack sizes’ for lab experiments, etc.

    As far as pushing for faster development goes, X-Prize-like arrangements consistently end up being one of the best approaches to any subsidy – so long as the prizes are close enough that at least two groups are aiming for it. With even just two groups, you’re basically getting nearly double the effect of simply doing it the ‘make a new government agency’ way.

  15. Al, you and Karl both missed my point. Within all of the fighting over Soyuz v. Shuttle v. Orion v. Dragon v. Whatever, NASA’s focus on the bleeding edge is lost. Whether the research comes from NSF, NASA itself, or private industry, and whether the tech development is in-house, out-house, commercial, gov’t, or (as is far more likely) some hybrid, I don’t care. Let’s not get stuck in the past. In particular, let’s not get stuck in a place (as we are now, IMO) where all we’re doing is trying to come up with something, _anything_, that “just works” in order to perpetuate a space station with a nebulous purpose.

    Maybe some day what NASA does will morph into purely regulatory/watchdog type activity, but commercial space isn’t anywhere near ready to take the reins of primary space activity from NASA yet, so we’re stuck with the feds for the foreseeable future. Better to force them to do better than grumble about how they need to be sh*t-canned.

  16. Even so Starless, NASA should not be in the business of providing technology. Sponsoring some R&D is ok, but NASA’s focus should be on US development and exploration of space. Given the risks, it probably isn’t a good idea to be on the “bleeding edge” for a lot of technologies.

    Rather than have them fly yet another specialized launch vehicle or more white elephants like the ISS, NASA should be doing activities that cannot be replicated by the private world and encouraging private industry to take up important roles in supporting infrastructure.

    If you want private space industry to “take the reins of primary space activity”, you need to give them some responsibility and work. I don’t see past NASA activities encouraging private industry to do anything in space.

  17. ++ to Karl.

    If one insists that space needs more than ‘just subsidies’ but on into ‘the country needs space infrastructure,’ then bloody well act like it.
    1) Hard pricing for consumables to the ISS. Make sure you can manage the minimum ‘in house’ or on established couriers, but start lining up ‘backup’ left items. Something like “For the next ten years, NASA will buy any liquified oxygen delivered to ISS at a flat rate of $$$.” So it’s a white elephant – at the very least, use the freaking thing as a spur towards more independence.

    2) Separate the ‘lift’ from the research somewhat. At least the ‘to orbit’ lift. If an independent says “I can lift your rack of lab experiments” at least try to see if they might really be able to manage it.

    3) Start thinking about a tug andor depot. I don’t want NASA building or owning either. But I don’t have any problem defining the Tug-ISS interface or fuel transfer procedures. Or setting minimum thrust levels.

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