Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NASA 2011 Budget

I come out of writing hibernation to post on a vital topic to our nations future at a vital moment in time:

On Obama's change in NASA's direction:

First let me say that I am genuinely concerned for my buddies working the Constellation program. I pray for them that their families and their careers may be provided for. I'm really glad that Obama asks for $2.5 Billion in Constellation closeout costs, because I hope that that keeps paying for my friend's kid's baby food. I have already felt the same way for my friend's valiantly supporting the shuttle throughout it's glorious ULF5(7?) end. It's like knowingly marching towards a cliff because you believe in what you are doing.

Secondly, I must say that policy wise, I like Obama's 2011. Here is why:

With regard to the constellation program, here is what is wrong with it, which feelings I have held long before Monday's Moon shattering revelations:

The Orion
crew size recently dropped to 4 from 6. 4 is a very small number. That's 1 more than the 40 year old Russian Soyuz. That's 2 less than the space stations current crew compliment. That's less than the fingers that I have on one hand. Its. too. small.

After George Bush axed the ISS lifeboat, Centrifuge Accommodation Module, and habitation module, Mr Bush got us all spun up about the Constellation thing: (Blast you for fueling our dreams with speeches and not cash!)

"Our second goal is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014."

CEV has not been funded and is not on track to meet those deadlines. Also, Ares 1, the rocket to take it to space, wouldn't be ready by then anyway. And a crew of 4!!!

"Our third goal is to return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond. Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration. Using the Crew Exploration Vehicle, we will undertake extended human missions to the moon as early as 2015, with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods. Eugene Cernan, who is with us today -- the last man to set foot on the lunar surface -- said this as he left: "We leave as we came, and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind." America will make those words come true. (Applause.)"

Roboti-who? Twenty Fift-when!?! Please folks, hold your applause, really.

"NASA's current five-year budget is $86 billion. Most of the funding we need for the new endeavors will come from reallocating $11 billion within that budget. We need some new resources, however. I will call upon Congress to increase NASA's budget by roughly a billion dollars, spread out over the next five years. This increase, along with refocusing of our space agency, is a solid beginning to meet the challenges and the goals we set today. It's only a beginning. Future funding decisions will be guided by the progress we make in achieving our goals."

Two words. Not. True.

If that wasn't enough, NASA
picked reliable low performance non space regenerative hypergolic fuel for the thrusters of the Orion capsule, rather than methane, which was in the original planes, which can be harvested from Mars, volatile rich regions of the lunar poles, or anywhere else in the solar system where there is ice. Or an ECLSS by-product. Lame disappointment.

Ares 1 was really behind schedule.

The Lunar Lander contract was not funded. Ares 5 was not funded. And it was January 2010. Come on! The
RFI for the Altair Conceptual Design Contract came out a long time ago!

Europe, Russia, Japan, and China were completely out of the Constellation picture. That's not cool. And that's not economically viable. And international partnerships are probably the deciding factor for why the
space station has survived to maturity.

Those were probably my biggest misgivings about the current program.
When you read the awesome fanfare and plans with which the program was announced, it's easy to see why so many people love it, but the Constellation program, as pointed out by our Augustine graybeards, wasn't living up to the hype, and needed even more cash than Obama is giving the agency to get going.

With regard to the
new program, It really is pouring in a lot of money into developing new capabilities. Whatever Obama's 8 year successor dreams up (moon, mars?), he will have a beefier toolbox to make his plans with. If Obama gets a advanced interplanetary propulsion (VASIMIR) and a matured heavy launcher and multiple commercial providers for crew to Low Earth Orbit by the end of his presidency... that would be so enabling-ly awesome.

Any multi-billionaire person or government could throw some seriously cool hardware to all of the places in the inner solar system that they wanted to go. So long as that person was buddy with the US government and Obama follows through with that export control reform.

The program of record would not do that.

So I'm excited about the
new direction.

And by the way, for the first time since George Bush Senior, NASA's budget will see year over year increase. Clinton reduced the budget 7 out of his 8 years.
George W funded NASA at lower levels than he himself established in the VSE in 2005. It's like getting a mortgage on your house that costs $2000 a month because your boss says that you are getting a raise, and then he doesn't give it to you, so you are stuck with your income of $1900. What happens to a space program in that situation? Crappy design. Behind schedule. COMPROMISE!

Rock on
Obama's 2011 NASA Budget! May you live forever (Or at least through the Congressional process, which is run by a bunch of vote hungry short sighted sensationalists!)

I am more excited about a career with opportunity for lots of cool developmental projects in 2020 using cutting edge technology than to find myself trying to pick up the pieces of all those NASA folks who are retiring as they leave me with a program that still hasn't landed on the moon, is under capability, and hasn't broken any new ground beside the schedule.

Now, go! Tell your representatives what you think! Email, Fax, Call, and Visit your Congressmen to tell them to say "Heck yes," to the NASA part of Obama's 2011 budget. Don't let the crazies get in it's way!