House committee rejects extra funding for 2024 moon landing


A quick holiday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black!
 
Scroll down to read this post.
 
In past years I have managed to avoid asking for donations for Behind the Black during the holiday season. My finances however now compel me to do a short one-week fund-raiser, from November 11 to November 17.
 
I do not use Twitter for ethical reasons, which I have been told cuts down on traffic to the website. So be it. Furthermore, Facebook has clearly acted in the past two years to limit traffic to Behind the Black, almost certainly for political reasons. So be this as well. Finally, I do not post outside ads, as I have found them annoying to my readers and not that profitable to me.

 

Therefore, I need to ask for the direct support from my readers. If you like what I do here, please consider contributing, either by making a one-time donation or a monthly subscription, as indicated in the tip jar below.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

 

Or you could consider purchasing one of my books, as indicated in the boxes scattered throughout the website. My histories of space exploration are award-winning and are aimed for the general public. All are page-turners, and all not only tell the story of the beginning of the human exploration of space, they also help explain why we are where we are today. And I also have a science fiction book available, Pioneer, which tells its own exciting story while trying to predict what life in space will be like two hundred years in the future.

 

Note that for this week only I am also having a sale on the purchase of the last 20 hardbacks of Leaving Earth. (Click on the link for more information about the book, which was endorsed by Arthur C. Clarke himself!) This award-winning out-of-print book is now only available as an ebook, but I still have a handful of hardbacks available, normally for sale for $70 plus $5 shipping. For this week only you can buy them, personally autographed by me, for $50 plus $5 shipping! Just send me a check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to the address above, with a note saying that the money is for the Leaving Earth hardback.

 

Please consider donating. Your help will make it possible for me to continue to be an independent reporter in the field of space, science, technology, and culture.

Not surprisingly, the Democratically-controlled House committee overseeing NASA’s budget requests has rejected the Trump administration’s request for an additional $1.6 billion to fund a manned Moon landing by 2024.

“I remain extremely concerned by the proposed advancement by four years of this mission,” said Jose Serrano, a Democrat from New York who chairs the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “The eyes of the world are upon us. We cannot afford to fail. Therefore, I believe that it is better to use the original NASA schedule of 2028 in order to have a successful, safe, and cost-effective mission for the benefit of the American people and the world.”

…Serrano and other committee members also raised questions about cost. NASA has asked for an additional $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020 but has not specified the total cost of the Artemis Program between now and 2024. “Unless we know what this is going to cost at the end, it would be irresponsible for us to take the first step,” Serrano said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are a lie. NASA’s original mandate for returning to the Moon, first set by President Bush Jr. in 2004, was to land eleven years later by 2015. The agency has repeatedly rewritten that schedule in the fifteen years since, always pushing it into the future so that it never gets closer than nine to eleven years.

The concerns about cost by the Democratic House members is also a lie. They have no interest in saving money, in the slightest. Their interest is solely to oppose anything Trump. When a Democratic president is in charge they will jump over themselves to fund this program, even though they know it will likely go over-budget and be delayed again endlessly.

Everything related to SLS and Artemis reeks of Washington corruption. In the past fifteen years the project has done nothing but funnel money to big contractors (mostly Boeing and Lockheed Martin) or favored congressional districts, with an actual Moon program forever receding into the future even as the costs rise.

If these Democrats were really concerned about cost and budget and getting to the Moon, they would demand that Artemis be killed, immediately, to be replaced with a more effective program that buys cheap rockets and capsules from the private sector. If they did that we could land on the Moon easily by 2024 (probably earlier), and do it for a tenth the cost.

Share

7 comments

  • Chris Lopes

    That’s the problem with government funded space programs. No one wants to spend political capital funding the other guy’s dreams of solar conquest. It’s been that way since at least Apollo, and is unlikely to change. Space will be explored by people like Elon Musk, who don’t have to beg politicians for money.

  • mike shupp

    I don’t blame it ALL on partisanship. I think most Congressmen (and people elsewhere in government) are ambivalent or skeptical about ambitious spaceflight schemes. Star Trek dreams of lunar bases and Martian colonies and human flights to the stars are nice, but they’re just dreams after all. Real space settlement looks to be slow and difficult and exorbitantly expensive. It won’t benefit most of their constituents and there’s only so much money to go around and the Chinese and other countries aren’t really pressing … so why not stall? We don’t NEED space settlement right this instant, and building those lunar bases doesn’t really look all the exciting when you think about the details, and maybe it’ll just stir up problems in ten or twenty or a hundred years with other countries that have space programs and ….. yadda yadda yadda,

    So there’s bipartisan support for astronomy and some robot planetary exploration, since that’s Science and abstract science has a semi-religious aura, and there might be some useful spinoff, and it encourages bright kids to go to school in STEM fields, which always seems like a good idea to businessmen and lawyers and politicians who would never dream of careers in STEM fields for themselves or their children. So NASA keeps getting funded but.

    Sigh!

  • mike shupp

    don’t blame it ALL on partisanship. I think most Congressmen (and people elsewhere in government) are ambivalent or skeptical about ambitious spaceflight schemes. Star Trek dreams of lunar bases and Martian colonies and human flights to the stars are nice, but they’re just dreams after all. Real space settlement looks to be slow and difficult and exorbitantly expensive. It won’t benefit most of their constituents and there’s only so much money to go around and the Chinese and other countries aren’t really pressing … so why not stall? We don’t NEED space settlement right this instant, and building those lunar bases doesn’t really look all the exciting when you think about the details, and maybe it’ll just stir up problems in ten or twenty or a hundred years with other countries that have space programs and ….. yadda yadda yadda,

    So there’s bipartisan support for astronomy and some robot planetary exploration, since that’s Science and abstract science has a semi-religious aura, and there might be some useful spinoff, and it encourages bright kids to go to school in STEM fields, which always seems like a good idea to businessmen and lawyers and politicians who would never dream of careers in STEM fields for themselves or their children. So NASA keeps getting funded but.

    (This time with the right email address. Sorry!)

  • Edward

    mike shupp wrote: “Real space settlement looks to be slow and difficult and exorbitantly expensive. It won’t benefit most of [Congress’s] constituents and there’s only so much money to go around and the Chinese and other countries aren’t really pressing … so why not stall?

    This is why commercial-driven space is so much better than government-driven space. The commercial companies go where there is money to be made, and much of commercial space’s money is made from non-governmental organizations or individuals. Commercial communications is a classic example. Telephone companies, broadcasters, and others have used comsats for decades. Even individuals have used cable-substitutes for a couple of decades. Ikonos started the commercial Earth observation industry. NOAA is exploring using data from commercial satellite operators for weather prediction inputs. As the varied uses for space become practical for commercial business, commercial businesses move into them.

    With the promise of easy access to space by commercial manned spacecraft and the availability of commercial space stations, we should see a large increase in the use of space in low Earth orbit.

    Already, many people and companies are viewing the Moon and Mars as places where commercial operations can pay off. Commercial companies are now offering unmanned exploration of the Moon for less cost to NASA than NASA can do itself. Commercial manned exploration may not be far off.

    One benefit of commercial use of space is that the taxpayer does not pay for it, or the taxpayer pays less when government uses commercial operations as a less expensive means for exploration.

    When it becomes less expensive for permanent settlements to explore the Moon and Mars than to send temporary exploration teams, then commercial space will be there to provide the less expensive option. It may even create the less expensive option.

    The profits that commercial companies make are the rewards for finding efficiencies in creating or distributing goods and services, such as space exploration or space utilization. Continually improved efficiency is why free market capitalism beats out governments in most endeavors.

  • mike shupp

    I’m not saying I’m happy with Congress’s slow approach to space programs, and I’ll happily concede that commercial enterprises can move more quickly.

    Still … commercial firms aren’t likely to spend vast sums on expansion into space until they’re sure they’ll make money doing so. There have to be customers somewhere, and there’s probably got to be spending on infrastructure in the background. Even Elon Musk isn’t planning to build interplanetary rockets AND houses for future Martian settlers AND factories there to provide employment for those settlers AND channels to furnish fields with water that will help feed the expanding Martian population AND ….

    Successful space colonization is going to take a lot of heavy lifting — and the biggest lifters in the pack are probably going to be governments. Governments have the money, after all, and maybe the necessary vision to make really long range investments — something in short supply today in most corporations.

    Another thing corporations are probably going to want is guaranteed access to resources — land and the ores they’ve mined and the capital equipment used for production and the products they’ve made for sale, and all that. Which means private property, or some well thought out economic system that doesn’t exist anywhere that I know of. (You want to try crowdsourcing a lunar base?) But private property in outer space didn’t rank that high as an objective for any governments back in 1967 when the Outer Space Treaty got approved — to put it mildly. So we really need a BIG revision of the OST, or a bunch of concerned governments need to make authoritative statements (AKA “laws”) about just how they want the OST to be interpreted to make space economics sensible. We haven’t had that yet, next to no one is talking about that, and I don’t see anyone really eager to push for that.

    Space is hard, and it’s going to stay hard for a long while. There are reasons Pan Am wasn’t really flying passengers to the Moon back in 2001.

  • Edward

    mike shupp,
    I see it somewhat differently. Governments are going to be the deep-pockets customer for quite some while, especially where exploration is concerned. Settlements on the Moon or Mars are unlikely to be expensive, complex constructions that we saw in the movies and on television in the 1960s and 1970s. Most likely they will start out as two or three habitable modules and a bunch of support equipment around them, and they will grow in size as lunar/Martian exploration expands. Most likely they will be built by commercial companies, because governments spend way too much on their not-very-effective space projects. For example, the ISS cost $100 billion to build and by the time it is retired will have cost over $150 billion, including operation costs. Bigelow has developed habitats that can compete in many ways with ISS but cost far, far less to fly and operate. Bigelow and others have proposed lunar habitats that are also relatively inexpensive.

    Because commercial companies are demonstrating that they can do similar work as NASA and other space agencies for less cost, governments are going to move toward hiring commercial assets in space to do most of their work. This assures the commercial companies that they can spend vast amounts of money on space (although not as vast as government agencies spend) because they will be able to make money doing so. ISS resupply demonstrated this. ISS manned access is about to demonstrate this. NASA has hired some companies to assist in lunar exploration, and I am confident that these companies will also show this. NOAA is beginning to buy data from commercial companies for certain weather forecasting.

    As other commercial companies use Bigelow’s orbital habitats to produce actual products in orbit — something not much done on ISS, as it is used as a laboratory, not a manufacturing plant — more and more money will be made commercially in space than had been imagined until recently. There are disadvantages to ISS for many companies, so once commercial space laboratories are operational, many companies should be able to do their proprietary research without having to put it in the public domain within five years. Between that advantage and the additional research capacity, we should see a large market in space habitats within a decade. These habitats will allow for a vast expansion in commercial manned transportation.

    Falcon Heavy has shown that commercial space can do heavy lifting, and the low launch rate of SLS shows that government agencies are not able to do much heavy lifting on an annual basis. If Starship and Super Heavy succeed — no one has shown that they can’t — then its launch rate will do far more heavy lifting than any government agency. Starship may also be used for point-to-point passenger service on Earth, the success of which probably depends upon the price of a ticket. SpaceX is showing us that rapid development gets results faster and cheaper than slow development, but non-space companies have told us that — it is just that the government doesn’t listen.

    The U.S. has already declared that if you can mine it in space, it is yours. It should be a while before there is much competition for the best mine locations, because growth in that area is likely to be relatively slow, compared to earth mining, although amazingly fast compared to current — government — space mining operations. Once OST becomes an actual problem for commercial operators, expect a lot more emphasis on modifying it.

    The main reason (outside of Pan Am’s demise) was that governments prevented commercial space operators from getting into much more than communications. To really move away from government space to commercial space, it took Bush’s proposal to move toward commercial operations with the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (new Commercial Resupply Services) and manned transportation services, should COTS/CRS work as expected.

    Dr. Alan Binder tried to do commercial lunar exploration, but competition from NASA scared away investors, in the 1990s. Robert Truax wanted to start commercial launch operations in the 1980s, but competition from the Space Shuttle scared away investors. The Space Shuttle was to be the only U.S. launcher for satellites, which almost destroyed the U.S. launch industry and resulted in Russian commercial launch success as well as rapid growth for the European Ariane rocket family. Douglas Corp. and Lockheed attempted reusable single stage to orbit rockets to replace the Space Shuttle, but NASA was not terribly interested in Shuttle replacement — NASA provided some funding, but the unenthusiastic contracts resulted in termination of both projects before much was done.

    Ikonos, in 1999, opened up commercial space operations beyond communications (and a few minor tidbits). Government control and its monopoly caused commercial space operations to be largely nothing until the year 2000, a time we once had thought it feasible that we could routinely fly commercially, on a once-great airline, to a space station while on our way to the Moon.

    Government is still slowing down progress, even as a president insists that we pick up the pace. Government still does not listen. This attitude by government is going to result in it being left behind in the new space race — commercial space vs. government space.

  • mike shupp

    Edward —

    I want lunar cities with crystal domes 5 miles across, with the earth and stars visible over the glow of city lights! Bigelow isn’t quite up to this yet.

    Oh yeah, I agree. We can probably start a lunar settlement by sticking some Bigelow structures into an empty lava tube or six and stitching tubes between them, but that’s just a start. Something like a Bigelow satellite or the ISS, or even the big spinning wheels Arthur C Clarke used to describe … those are for high density human occupancy, bedrooms and offices and work areas piled together without wasted space like a big city office building. You want fields to grow food in, a park or two for stretching your legs, shops and bars and other spots to spend your wages and meet other folks ….. you need lots more space. If you add, say, schools and a university, streets for moving vehicles, art galleries, theaters, factories, power plants, sanitation treatment …. you’re far beyond what can be wrapped up in a fabric bag or metal tube.

    But you got to start somewhere. We should have done this 50 years ago. Grrr!

    I’m increasingly dubious about orbital manufacturing however. Once it seemed inevitable, but manufacturing keeps shrinking as a component of modern economies. I think this means less pressure on business to innovate in the space environment. Maybe there will be some products that need zero-gee or vacuum to be built, but the still very high cost of moving goods and materials between ground and orbit will continue as a constraint for a long while to come. For people actually out in space, on the Moon and Mars and elsewhere, I think in situ resource utilization with local fabrication and (eventual) manufacturing will be more important than making things in orbit. And for small objects and specialized manufacturing (drug treatments tailored to individual physiology for instance) 3-D printing is probably the path to follow. I’ve got a hunch that over time 3-D manufacturing may turn out to be as significant a factor in shaping culture as electricity or computers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *