Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

Got Space?

The answer to the Washington Post headline is, of course, money.

Whatever the problem(s), to include NASA’s, chances are good it can be fixed with time and money.

However, an essential task of leadership is establishing priorities.  After all, when everything is priority one, nothing is priority one.  This is because there is always more people want done than there is time and money to do.  So the issue becomes ‘what are we going to do and what are we going to (by choice) not do?’

It’s interesting NASA has become a political and funding football largely because (IMHO) there is no well understood (or agreed on) mission, vision, and strategy.  Oh, those things exist on paper, but are they reconciled between NASA, the Congress, and the administration?

The comments trailing the article are telling.  They tend to fall into one of three bins:

1) Conspiracy theory.  NASA’s dilemma is a plot to cause them to fail for the purpose of draconian space cuts in the future.

2) Appeal to goodness.  Full funding for NASA’s manned space efforts because…well, it’s important!

3) Space isn’t all that.  Unemployment, deficit spending, and other domestic problems should serve to push NASA’s problems off the funding screen.

Of course, there should be great synergy between military space, civil space, and commercial space.  Instead, we have funding disconnects, excess capacity, conflicting visions and goals.

Keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you got.

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What is this thing and why is it here?

Cooling pump problems have served to bring the space station, a $100 billion space effort, into the public’s view once again.  Danger and failure often seem to have that effect.

Why do we have a space station? I keep forgetting.  Maybe through some sort of Freudian stream of consciousness posting I can figure things out.  Or not.

The space station is like the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone.  The point of an ice cream cone is, of course, to eat and enjoy it.  One that licks itself defeats the whole purpose of its existence.

The space station strikes me in a rather similar way.  It exists to support manned space flight.  Why does manned space flight exist?  To support the space station.  Such circular logic fails to amuse.

The space station is not to be enjoyed like the ice cream cone, but rather to fulfill a purpose.  And that purpose is…what?

Some say it is to explore space, but it seems that the space station’s low earth orbit has been pretty well explored.  Another reason might be to sustain manned space flight “momentum,” however what momentum is needed to explore something that is already fully explored and that we’re getting little or no return from?

Others can claim the space station is an important laboratory.  OK, a lab that studies what, for what purpose, and has yielded (or will yield) what results? How about we view the space station as an effort of successful international cooperation in space?  Interesting, but don’t we cooperate for a purpose?  A reason?  To fulfill a need we can’t meet on our own?  And that need would be…what?

If the purpose of the space station is to support man’s exploration of space it is falling woefully short.  If its purpose is to sustain the space industrial base, that’s simply a white-collar jobs program.

Beyond the self-licking ice cream cone, the space station is analogous to a runner who has a goal of finishing a marathon but only runs a mile a day. While the mile a day regiment may be of some health benefit, it will never support the effort needed to meet the goal of running a marathon.

If the intent of manned space is to explore the cosmos, let’s start taking action that will lead in that direction, to include lunar missions, lunar stations, and when that’s been done, missions to Mars, asteroids, and beyond.  And why explore at all?  To satisfy our curiosity, our need to explore, our need to achieve, and our need to find resources–energy and materials–that are beyond what we have here on earth.

What we’re doing with the space station–both today and in the future–won’t support those sort of ambitious goals.

Goals Without Resources Means Failure

An outstanding five-minute read on why NASA will again fail to meet expectations.  The article is by Rand Simberg writing for Popular Mechanics.

What’s so great about the story?

First, it provides some useful back-story on NASA’s sorry state of affairs.

Next, it highlights the importance of the administration working with the Congress, especially regarding major conceptual redirects.

Third, it gives an excellent recap of where the NASA-relevant legislation now stands.

Fourth–as far as I could tell–it agrees with everything I agree with

Great work!

Yes, it’s true: Martin Rees is not a fan of manned space.

Why does he feel this way?  Because unmanned space is what actually creates value for human beings and provides otherwise unavailable information to humanity.

His thoughts bring to mind a Milton Friedman story:

At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

I think there’s a manned spaceflight analogy that can be teased out of the Friedman story: is human spaceflight supposed to be a jobs program or is the intent to build some serious science and benefit to mankind?

Ouch!

John Logsdon, writing at Space News, has a profound and truly excellent guest blog.  The crux: Apollo was great, but can we put it behind us?

Among the highlights:

The administration’s incoherent defense of NASA’s current vision…whatever it is.  You could go on to say this has been exasperated most recently by the Administrator’s comments as addressed here and elsewhere.

Apollo–it was to beat the Russians to the Moon and was not a vision for space exploration.  Holding on the stunt-mentality of the Apollo era (“let’s see Ivan try and do that!”) is a stumbling block to doing more–that’s of more value–in space.

Milestones are needed.  Without these, there is little urgency.  Likewise, without them, funding will tend to slide to the right and that means tomorrow never comes.

Great work by Dr. Logsdon!!

As Blue Oyster Cult has taught us, seasons don’t fear the reaper.  Nor, it would appear, does the space shuttle or government programs in general.  Can a thing be undead?

I’m shocked, shocked to learn that the shuttle is being extended into Fy11.

Read all about it from the stud-muffins at Spaceflight Now.