I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the latest back and forth between Paul Spudis and Clark Lindsey.
I have a couple quick points. First, in his lead sentence:
The space community has fractured since the disastrous roll out of NASA’s “new direction.”
The community has been fractured since 2005, when Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz ignored all of the recommendations of the CE&I contractors, and foisted the Scotty rocket on it. It’s not something that happened in February. What happened in February was that people who wanted a more sane approach became ascendant, and there has been understandable resistance to it from those whose rice bowls are being broken.
Second, I was slightly astonished to read this in one of his follow-up comments:
As for propellant depots, I think that they make sense if we can supply them with propellant made from space resources, in this case, propellant derived from lunar water. If we end up launching all the propellant from Earth, then nothing is fundamentally changed, except to eliminate the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle.
Oh, really? Is that all it does? It merely eliminates the waste of tens of billions of dollars on an unnecessary vehicle that could instead be invested in a few dozen lander programs from the likes of Masten and Armadillo? Yeah, I guess that’s no big deal.
Look, I feel Paul’s pain, and as I’ve said, my biggest disagreement with the new policy direction is that it is so dismissive of the moon as a goal. But as I’ve also said, specific destinations, other than BEO, are irrelevant right now, and as the Augustine panel pointed out, descending into gravity wells wasn’t affordable any time soon with any of the plans on the table. Paul is concerned about the lack of an explicit goal (indeed, a seeming contempt of such a goal on the part of both the president and the administrator) of establishing any sort of lunar surface capability, but the reality is that it was never a realistic or affordable goal with the trajectory the agency was on. This president (at least given the trajectory he’s on) will no longer be president three years from now, and we’ll almost certainly have a new NASA administrator as well. There was no plan for serious money being put into a lander prior to 2013, so realistically, I don’t understand what Paul thinks that he has lost, at least in any irretrievable way. From the standpoint of getting back to the moon, we won’t even have slipped the schedule. And that point remains even if the nation is unfortunate enough to have to put up with this administration until 2017. He has plenty of time to persuade people in a new administration that the moon remains a worthy goal, and to identify more practical ways to make it happen. And at least with the new direction, we’ll be a lot closer to doing it affordably, having stopped wasting so many billions on vehicles that weren’t going to get us there, and started spending money on a more robust ETO infrastructure that will get us much closer to everywhere.