To The Moon, Alice!

OK, actually, it’s to the moon, NASA. Bob Zimmerman has some thoughts.

In my opinion, this is a completely unrealistic goal, absent a) considering alternatives to SLS and b) being willing to risk astronauts’ lives. A seventy-ton SLS isn’t going to do that job, and that’s all they’re going to have (at best) by 2020. And putting up sending astronauts to the moon (even just around, and it’s not clear what the value of that is) on its first, or even second flight would be much sportier than Apollo 8 was, back when it was actually important.

FWIW, I also think that the reporter should have talked to someone besides Casey Dreier, The Planetary Society is hardly an unbiased source about human spaceflight.

8 thoughts on “To The Moon, Alice!”

  1. I thought Zimmerman had some profound thoughts in his link regarding ‘how to play the game.’

    It got me thinking about how you can’t really create any form of government to do things with intelligence. So many people are interested in getting their own advantage regardless of the general good. How do you fix that?

    1. ” So many people are interested in getting their own advantage regardless of the general good. How do you fix that?”

      You use social structures to get things done that exhibit less agency cost. Agency cost is the difference between every agent of an organization using resources exactly as they should at all times to promote the putative goals of the organization and the actual behaviors of homo sapiens, in which they use *some* large or small percentage of those resources for their own goals. Hierarchies, such as governments, deny the legitimacy of agency cost. They suppress those who exhibit it, causing people to suppress evidence of their own and others agency cost. This suppression of evidence causes agency cost to grow in baroque profusion in hierarchies, with the freedom to express agency cost rising exponentially as you near the top of the hierarchy.

      By contrast, networks, such as markets, usually legitimize agency costs and name it. In markets we call it profit. When an individual’s profit rises so high that others in the market are able and willing to give people more at a lower cost, that usually happens, because all other agents in the organization are free to go elsewhere. Thus, in networks, agency costs can be minimized. Hierarchies are used when people desire control, while networks are used when people desire productivity.

      Bob Zimmerman’s strategy may well be useful as long as the heads of the congressional NASA funding committees control enough of the funding for spaceflight that they keep market networks under the control of their funding hierarchy.

  2. As far as “playing the game” goes, letting STS do one mission to the moon and then retiring the program gives Congress a bone for a few years. It’s necessary to give them a short-term win in order to play the long game, fundamentally changing the way NASA operates and the way the US government in general handles its interests in space.

    I keep coming back to the Space Guard. That’s a way to institutionalize the changes to NASA beyond one or two presidential terms. It allows NASA to be redirected solely to R&D programs that benefit industry, while the Space Guard takes over satellite tracking from the Air Force and asteroid tracking from NASA, and indeed all the operational (as opposed to experimental) space duties of the various agencies like NOAA, USGS, and others.

    Under that idea, NASA would lose a lot of centers, being perhaps reduced just to JPL, Stennis, Ames, and Langley. One of the remaining centers – probably Marshall – would become the HQ of the Space Guard. The centers that remained with NASA would all need to be declared Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, as JPL already is.

    There’s no way to sustain a long-term vision for NASA unless a change to the structure of NASA itself happens. Every President since Kennedy – with the possible exception of Ford – has tried to steer NASA in his own Bold Vision Of The Future Of Space, only to be supplanted by the next Bold Vision of the next president. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy metastasizes.

    1. As far as “playing the game” goes, letting STS do one mission to the moon and then retiring the program gives Congress a bone for a few years.

      What could be done with one or two missions, until the engines run out, that could benefit the development of cislunar space? In other words, how could we make some french fries or delicious potato soup from the potato given us?

      A true space ship would be a big help.

  3. Such missions would be selected through an “internal competition” between what the summary calls Old Space, or NASA’s traditional contractors, and New Space characterized by SpaceX and Blue Origin.

    They already do this on the cargo/crew programs. A competition that continues this approach means that commercial has already won. That is as long as the contracts are not cost plus and the companies retain control of their products to market to customers other than NASA.

  4. I know I know, we can re-purpose a 5 segment SRB to launch a stripped down lunar lander similar to the Apollo LEM, since that is all that can be built in 3 years. Yeah yeah. That’s the ticket. Hey we could even call it the Liberty Launch Vehicle. Yeah! There you go!

    Lets call it the Noitalletsnoc Project named after the Senate & Congressional sponsors. Is my irony showing?

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