The National Space Council’s full recommendations


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Yesterday’s meeting of the National Space Council resulted in a number of recommendations beyond vice-president Mike Pence’s announcement that the Trump administration is quite willing to dump SLS if it doesn’t get its act together.

First, see this statement by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. He outlines the tasks that NASA has now been given, including getting astronauts on the Moon by 2024. Those tasks also require NASA to “[s]tay on schedule for flying Exploration Mission-1 with Orion on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket next year, and for sending the first crewed mission to the lunar vicinity by 2022.”

This article at SpacePolicyOnline outlines those tasks in more detail, stating that:

NASA will create a Moon-to-Mars Mission Directorate and make all necessary efforts to achieve Exploration Mission-1 no later than 2020 and Exploration Mission-2 no later than 2022. [emphasis mine]

These announcements inadvertently reveal two facts. First, the establishment of a new directorate at NASA is Bridenstine’s attempt to shake up and take control of NASA’s bureaucracy. This will allow him to put people in place that support his agenda.

Will this work? I doubt it. I have watched NASA administrators do this time after time in the past twenty years, with nothing really changing. In a sense, it is really nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Second, they are admitting here (as indicated by the highlighted words) that the first SLS unmanned launch will not happen in June 2020. They have reviewed everything and realized the fastest way to get this launch off is to allow SLS to launch it, but they have also realized that the June date can’t be met. This announcement gives NASA and Boeing an extra six months, to the end of 2020, to get the mission off the ground.

The recommendations also included the release of major suggested changes to streamline how both the State Department and the FAA regulate commercial space. Neither appear to streamline things much. For example, the FAA’s new rule [pdf] on federal commercial space transportation requirements is only 580 pages long. My eyes glazed over as soon as I started reading it. Similarly, the new State Department procedures appear as complex. I haven’t digested either yet, so my pessimism might be unfounded. We shall see.

All in all, the significance of these policy announcements is not so much in the details, all of which illustrate the continuing incompetence and failures of the federal space bureaucracy. What these announcements instead tell us is that the Trump administration is finally attempting the first baby steps for gaining some measure of control over that federal space bureaucracy. It is telling that bureaucracy that it had finally has to do something, or face the consequences.

Whether the administration’s efforts will succeed however remains very questionable. Many in that bureaucracy and in Congress will oppose this effort. They like things as they are, where billions get distributed throughout the country to their friends, and no one is ever required to accomplish anything. And they have managed for the past twenty years to maintain this status quo. It will not be easy to force a change now.

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9 comments

  • Chris Lopes

    Obama (whatever his other faults) was also willing to dump SLS. Congress wasn’t, so it is still here. I wish the administration luck with getting rid of the white elephant, but I’m skeptical.

  • Orion314

    Seems a petition sent to the White House/Nasa to scrub SLS might give Potus some support. Dick Morris sometimes gets petitions going , along with CC to senators and congress,

  • Mike a

    Bob- what are your thoughts on the statement “NASA doesn’t cost us money, it makes us money.”

  • Mike a: It is a childish statement that means nothing. If NASA did what it should, which is to serve the private sector and act to help it grow, then this might be true. Maybe.

    What NASA has done however for the past half century has instead been to squelch the private aerospace sector, taking control of space exploration so that no one could do anything without NASA’s permission. The result has been a shrinking of profits and creativity, and the stifling of any real exploration. We have essentially accomplished nothing for the past fifty years, and wasted a lot of money doing it.

    Only with the re-introduction of competition and private ownership in the past decade, ideas that founded the country, have we begun to see a rebirth in growth and profits in the American aerospace industry. And that re-introduction came with NASA being demoted from the boss to merely a customer.

    I am curious. Who said this?

  • henry vanderbilt

    Rearranging the decks chairs is one strong possibility, yes. If this new Moon-Mars Mission Directorate ends up mainly a matter of renaming the current moribund Human Exploration MD with some minor management shakeup, all it’ll accomplish is further proving that the core NASA human spaceflight organization has evolved over the decades from Apollo to unsalvageable.

    If the idea is to completely bypass the current Apollo’s-degenerate-descendant HEMD, to (as some of us have advised for decades) turn it into a No-Output Division and pension it off while using much of its current funding to start a new greenfield organization elsewhere, there’s some hope.

    If MMMD is allowed to cherry-pick talent while rejecting placeholders, if it is allowed to plan missions without regard to the existing pork arrangements, if it is allowed to contract out systems commercially on the insight-but-not-interference COTS model, then there’s some hope.

    Mind, this White House would have to not only want to do that, but want to do that badly enough to fight and defeat the existing Congressional NASA Pork coalition. It should be quickly obvious if they’re serious or not.

  • Mike a

    Bob –
    It was a “conservative” that didn’t quite grasp just how much NASA has cost us over the last decade in dollars, compared to the little progress they’ve made in ANY of their new endeavors.
    I argued, giving you full credit, that we get nowhere with SLS in 5 years, and our only hope for that goal, is SpaceX.
    I am a huge fan, and am honored that you fielded my question.
    Keep doing what you do!

  • Mike a: Have your friend read Capitalism in Space. It is a free pdf download, and outlines in great detail exactly what SLS/Orion has cost, and how little we have gotten from it.

  • Edward

    Mike a wrote: “Bob- what are your thoughts on the statement ‘NASA doesn’t cost us money, it makes us money.’

    This may have been true for NASA’s predecessor, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) in an indirect way, as they provided assistance to American aircraft manufacturers and operators, such as large or high speed wind tunnels for concept and design test. Back then, the U.S. was the undisputed leader in aviation, and NACA was one reason for it.

    NASA does not focus as much on the aviation sector as it does on space, but it has plenty of spin-off technologies that assist American businesses and the public. Unfortunately, many of these spin-offs are treated as public domain and can be used freely by most or all other countries, too.

    I doubt that these technologies make up for the high costs of ISS, SLS, Orion, JWST, and other vastly expensive projects. Many of our exploration projects do not create a lot of new technologies, and their data does not bring in as much money as was spent on them. Again, the benefits of exploration are indirect.

    Overall, I believe NASA to be a benefit, but several projects could and should be less costly or scrapped so that some or all of the resources expended on them could be used on other productive projects. The problem is the cost of lost opportunities.

    For instance, SLS sounds like a good idea, but it has no mission, and even if it were used for the recently proposed mission to the Moon’s south pole to mine/harvest the water there for use as propellant around cislunar space, SLS does not fly often enough to be the right vehicle to sustain that mission. Money has been diverted from commercial manned space to SLS, and because of that diversion, commercial manned space is about two years later than it could have been.

    That delay is not making us any money.

    Commercial space has lost opportunities that it should have had, and NASA is now proposing to extend two manned ISS missions to make up for the unavailability of Soyuz rides to ISS.

  • Mike a

    Bob –
    Just finished Capitalism in Space.
    What an eye-opening read! Of course, I’ve been listening every night on the AM radio for a year, so the topic has been covered by you many times.
    The billions of tax payer dollars spent on virtually nothing, is a appalling. Anyone who thinks of NASA as anything but a giant PORK sandwich, has their head buried firmly in the earth.
    With the early missions, all the way up to the close of the shuttle program, one could certainly argue that the cost in $$$ was worth the knowledge and prestige gained.
    However, in 2019, we can in no way assert that Big Government is getting the job done. The old way of NASA is a true testament to the downfalls of socialist-type government programs.
    I’ve never considered myself a pure capitalist, but I think that space exploration is a wonderful metaphor in what makes the USA so damned extraordinary.

    “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples’ money.”
    Margaret Thatcher

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