That “To The Point” Show

I listened to it at noon (instead of listening to the Obama speech — I recorded that on DVR). It was a pretty good discussion. Warren had Jeff Greason (at my suggestion, otherwise it would have been me), Bobby Block from the Orlando Sentinel, Scott Pace, head of the Space Policy Institute at GWU (and a good friend and former colleague from Rockwell in the eighties), and Jonathan McDowell, of Jonathan’s Space Report fame (I hadn’t realized he was a Brit, and I really should blogroll the site).

Scott was the only defender of Constellation, on the ground that we have to stick with something and finish it, and not change policies each time we change administrations. I don’t think he really understands just what a financial programmatic disaster it was. Or maybe there’s something in the water at GWU. He’s starting to sound like his predecessor (and thesis advisor), John Logsdon. Of course, he was Associate Administrator for PA&E during the Griffin era, so he (like Mike) may take the cancellation a little personally. Next time I get back to DC, I’ll argue with him over a beer.

Elon’s Position

He’s all in favor, natch:

By the time President Obama cancelled Ares I/Orion earlier this year, the schedule had already slipped five years to 2017 and completing development would have required another $50 billion. Moreover, the cost per flight, inclusive of overhead, was estimated to be at least $1.5 billion compared to the $1 billion of Shuttle, despite carrying only four people to Shuttle’s seven and almost no cargo.

The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds.

I fail to see how anyone can come to any other conclusion. Instead, the Ares huggers just ignore the cost issue, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Me Versus Neil

In which I express my disappointment with Neil Armstrong and other Apollo-era NASA heroes, over at AOL News..

[Update a few minutes later]

Representative David Wu attempts to defend the status quo:

In testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee on Feb. 25, NASA administrator Charles Bolden admitted that his agency had not conducted a single market survey on the potential costs of privatizing space exploration. Instead, the administration relied solely on information provided by the aerospace industry when formulating its plans for privatizing the human spaceflight program. While these estimates may indeed be accurate, we cannot know for sure what the potential costs associated with this dramatic move will be without independent, unbiased estimates.

Simply put, the president’s vision lacks clearly defined objectives and metrics for measuring success. The administration cannot adequately explain where the space program’s shifted focus will lead. And the president’s justification for privatizing human space exploration relies on the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. The American people deserve better.

You don’t get costs from a “market survey.” If you want to get independent cost estimates, that’s the kind of thing that Aerospace does. And, hey, what do you know? They did that.

And as for foxes and chicken coops, yeah, let’s let NASA, that has wasted untold tens of billions in failed attempts to make serious progress in human spaceflight, and seems to be getting worse by the decade, have fifty billion more, with no oversight.

The American people do deserve better. Finally, there’s a chance that they will get better, rather than a certainty of continued expensive stagnation.

Meanwhile, over at Popular Mechanics, I set the stage for the president’s speech today.

[Update a few minutes later]

Over at Public Radio International, Warren Olney’s To The Point is talking about the new space policy today. They were going to have me on (I’ve been on Warren’s shows before, but only “Which Way LA“), but I suggested that Jeff Greason might be even better (not that I would have been bad) so I think he’ll be on. Check your local NPR listings. It’s on at noon, PDT in LA (the same time as the speech, unfortunately). But you can stream it from KCRW’s site. And they’ll archive it.

They’ve Thrown A Bone

You’ve probably heard that Orion lives. But not as the CEV — as a crew rescue vehicle (itself a nonsensical requirement). I can live with this. It will give JSC (and to a lesser extent KSC) something to do, and keep them out of commercial’s hair to a degree. And it will buy off some of the whiners about the new policy. The good thing is that Ares remains dead. But it would be nice to get a wooden stake for the Stick.

[Wednesday morning update]

OSTP has released a fact sheet on the new plans. The bad news — they’re still talking heavy lift, but that’s probably politically necessary right now, because so many of the cargo cultists will believe that it’s necessary for BEO trips. The good news — the decision on what it will look like is five years off, which is plenty of time to educate the public (and politicians) on the lack of need for it. And even if we go forward with it, as the fact sheet notes, 2015 is at least two years earlier than work would have started on Ares V.

What it looks to me like is that they want to develop a home-grown version of the RD-80 so that we’re not dependent on the Russians for them. The problem with that is the vast increase in cost, not just for development, but for production. We’re buying them from the Russians now for about ten million each, and a domestic version is likely to cost several times that.

There’s no discussion of propellant depots per se, but they’re implied by this:

The new rocket also will benefit from the budget’s proposed R&D on other breakthrough technologies in our new strategy for human exploration (such as in- space refueling), which should make possible a more cost-effective and optimized heavy lift capability as part of future exploration architectures.

You don’t do “in-space refueling” without a depot, and if they’re looking into this, it implies tech demos much sooner. There’s no reason that we can’t elevate the technology readiness of this to an eight or nine in the next five years with an intelligent development program.

[Update a few minutes later]

Jeff Foust has more on the fact sheet.


The Wisdom Of Astronauts

MSNBC actually has a pretty well-balanced story on the new policy, and some (but not all) of the old-guard astronauts’ opposition to it (more here — I’m disappointed to see my old boss Glynn Lunney on the list — I need to call him and straighten him out). That’s probably because Alan Boyle was involved. Unfortunately, so was Jay Barbree, who still thinks that SpaceX is the only potential commercial provider for human spaceflight.

Clark Lindsey is appropriately unimpressed with the opponents’ arguments (such as they are). I agree with him that they denote a lack of seriousness, and attention to what’s been going on. I’m working on an op-ed for AOL News along the same lines to coincide with tomorrow’s festivities at KSC.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!