Space Jobs

Donald Robertson has a crazy idea: Find something useful for people working SLS/Orion to do:

Presidents answer to the nation, not to local job concerns. Two presidents in a row — Bush and Obama — have tried in varying degrees to redirect NASA away from the Apollo model, only to be blocked by institutions and senators who are answerable to local NASA employees. This time, we cannot repeat Mr. Obama’s mistake of canceling the SLS without finding a future for the people who work on it.

The new “constellation” work needs to be planned and distributed in a way that will keep the traditional NASA workforce, and those who represent them, on board. Where is it written that engineers in Alabama cannot be employed building space-based tugs and modules for a lunar base? To have any chance of killing the SLS and replacing it with a useful space program, opponents need to come up with something that fulfills SLS’s political and economic purpose at least as well, while endeavoring to achieve something useful in space at the same time. That is beginning to occur, as NewSpace companies like SpaceX slowly expand beyond California and the Seattle area and increasingly employ people in Texas, Florida, and other traditional NASA states.

Encouraging this change will take a great deal of political capital and skill —the Bush administration did not deploy the former, and the Obama administration failed at the latter. So far, the Trump administration has shown little aptitude for any kind of positive relationship with Congress.

If someone does not come forward to invest the political and financial capital needed to end this conflict and move on to a more constructive vision, the United States will continue to drift in space. Resources will remain split between an increasingly successful but underfunded NewSpace industry unable to fulfill its potential, and the SLS and Orion, which the nation cannot afford to actually use. Our future in space will increasingly rely on largely self-funded efforts by people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

Meanwhile, NASA has incorporated its next planned boondoggle into human exploration plans.

16 thoughts on “Space Jobs”

  1. Or we could do the right thing and get govt. out of commerce. How many businesses exist that don’t rely on political favors? Why are NASA jobs more important than the much greater number of jobs distributed over many more smaller businesses?

    Why are some employees ‘more equal’ than others?

    1. “Why are NASA jobs more important than the much greater number of jobs distributed over many more smaller businesses?”

      NASA jobs provide Senators and Congressmen with more leverage to hold power in their States. What we are talking about is the basic feel-goods testosterone cycle that rewards us all for self-assertion. Congress members assert themselves by being the person their fellow citizens must go to for federal money, in a progressive era when federal money is a large portion of the US economy. This is yet another example of the agency cost of political hierarchy in a progressive era.

      Since few politicians outside NASA Center districts think spaceflight at all important, this requires expenditure of political capital. That means that votes must be exchanged, and one huge project requires far fewer votes (political capital) than 20 smaller projects spending the same amount in a member’s district. This is why we must take as long as needed to disconnect spaceflight investments from political votes.

      Doing that, by any means possible, will feel to politicians in NASA Center districts like none-too-subtle castration! This will *not* happen unopposed by these political hierarchs! Donald is nice and thoughtful fellow in banking, in the Bay Area, and rather progressive himself. I read his comments in SpaceNews articles often. Don’t expect him to admit that the ultimate answer to NASA’s congressional patronage interference with the growth of spaceflight is still Jim Davidson’s old answer “NASA, delenda est!”

  2. While killing this pork was hard during the terms of Bush and Obama it should get easier to delete as the private spaceflight sector grows and the required jobs become available there. So rather than give in to a deep space boondoggle to replace the SLS program I hope future presidents will hold to the line that Bush and Obama have drawn.

  3. “The Deep Space Gateway is a concept for government-led exploration endeavors,” Kathy Laurini, NASA senior adviser for exploration and space operations, said during a Global Exploration Roadmap community workshop at the NASA Ames Research Center Nov. 29. “It is a commitment to being there. And because we are there, it will offer opportunities for commercial entities.”

    So the mission is whatever you project onto it. Brilliant. And of course I must suggest a name: “DSG Chauncy Gardner”.

      1. Eighty percent of success is showing up.
        – Woody Allen

        If you build it, he will come.
        – Voice whispered to Kevin Costner in the move “Field Of Dreams”

        Often misquoted as:
        If you build it, they will come
        – Urban Legend

        1. There are a lot of similar quotes in the entrepreneurial community. Another one goes something like, “If you don’t take action, nothing will happen.” or “Things don’t just happen, you have to make them happen.”

          What she said is a little vague but it shows recognition that people other than the USA government will be engaging in cislunar activity and that not all of that activity can be predicted.

          Maybe there is a better way to “be there”? Bigelow seems to think so.

  4. Let’s put an upper bound on the number of people who would be out of a job if SLS/Orion were cancelled. The average individual income in the United States in 2017 was $44,148. One has to add at least 6.2% to that for employer-paid Social Security tax. SLS/Orion is “burning through approximately $3 billion annually…” That means that the total number of people affected directly couldn’t exceed 64,000. They don’t all live in one place, so they couldn’t represent much of a threat to any congressional seat. How in the world does this handful of people have such control?

  5. I like the concept of a DSG but no reason for NASA to build it. A COTS like approach would be better. Its not cutting edge technology out of the reach of existing companies. This is also why NASA shouldn’t be doing tugs. Buying the services of a few though…

    NASA should be doing a variable gravity station and focusing research on propulsion, radiation shielding, prospecting, ISRU, and agriculture. A lot of those things they can do on a commercial station and even developing variable gravity could be done similar to COTS.

    One of the commenters at the last link said that a 1.3 second delay from Earth to the Moon for telerobotics wasn’t a big deal. It might not be if you are going super slow doing very simple tasks. But if you are clearing regolith or some other activity that requires speed, awareness, and precision you want a lot less lag. Set your sights a little higher. Sure dial up was fine at the time but everyone loves their highspeed internet now.

    1. I worked in a building in Silverdale, WA that had the interconnect between all the major carriers in the basement. You can’t imagine how fast an internet connection we had. It really spoils ya.

    2. But if you are clearing regolith or some other activity that requires speed, awareness, and precision you want a lot less lag

      Clearing regolith doesn’t require that. Let us keep in mind that earth-side escavating equipment often has lag longer than 1.3 seconds in its control systems. And currently, paying someone on Earth to do a job on the Moon reduces labor costs for the same amount of work by at least an order of magnitude.

      1. So you are saying the delay is actually longer than 1.3 seconds when accounting for the equipment. That makes the case for teleoperations within the cognitive horizon stronger. Also on Earth, a machine might have some lag but the human is seeing things in almost real time.

        In the not too distant future, the economics of having people working in space will change.

    3. “One of the commenters at the last link said that a 1.3 second delay from Earth to the Moon for telerobotics wasn’t a big deal. It might not be if you are going super slow doing very simple tasks. But if you are clearing regolith or some other activity that requires speed, awareness, and precision you want a lot less lag.”

      Now that self-driving cars are appearing on city streets filled with vehicles driven by unreliable humans, the argument for cis-lunar humans to reduce time lags in lunar tele-operations wears very thin.

      1. Self driving vehicles could play a role. Like when you are done for the day, just hit the home button or you could have the equivalent of rock trucks transiting material. Machine learning could also one day learn how to dig a hole and deal with variations in the material being dug. Also, Boston Dynamics’ human and dog/horse robots would be very useful.

        The days of full automation are still a ways off and all of those machines will need to be modified for the environment they will work in. It might also be cheaper to just launch people to the Moon to do the work themselves. But living on the Moon might turn out to be less pleasant or healthy as people imagine. Teleoperating from a variable gravity station could be much more appealing for a long term tour. It would also allow people to work at different locations managing and augmenting those autonomous functions. The firm being able to interact in real time will have market advantages over those that don’t.

        What if people want to prospect Mars or asteroids before everything is automated?

        It could be that humans get stuck on our little planet while robots go out and do the work but I hope that humans leave this planet and use robots as a force multiplier. Ultimately, that might be the choice, do you send your robots out or do you take your robots with you? Or both?

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