Tag Archives: NASA

The failure of the past and a hint of the future

The coolant system failure on the International Space Station this weekend and the upcoming spacewalks being planned to fix it is a dramatic and fascinating story, capturing the interest of the general public while causing some news pundits to express fear and dread about science fiction scenerios of disasters in space.

The situation is hardly that death-defying. The station’s cooling systems have a lot of redundancy, all of which are being used to good effect. Moreover, the spacewalk repair to install a replacement pump module, though challenging, is exactly the kind of thing the astronauts have been trained to do. I expect them to do it with few problems. I would be far more surprised if they have serious difficulties and fail to get it done.

What this failure foreshadows, however, is the future on ISS. As the years pass and systems age, » Read more

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Poor leadership by Obama on NASA

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit today said the following (in recognizing Jeff Foust’s op-ed for Technology Review):

CONGRESS BLOWS IT: Commercial Spaceflight, We Have A Problem. Congress will always choose short-term pork over long-term development unless there’s strong Presidential leadership. But while the Obama space policy is good, the White House hasn’t provided the kind of legislative push it takes to make it work. Without strong leadership, a good policy will always lose out to pork.

Didn’t someone say this already? In fact, didn’t that someone say this more than once?

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Worries about JWST

Keith Cowing at NasaWatch notes quickly that the current budget battles over NASA have people in NASA concerned about the future of the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope has further cost overruns, and should NASA end up operating under a continuing resolution rather than a full budget, there won’t be enough money to keep the project above water.

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Space war update

This Orlando Sentinel analysis of the various Congressional NASA budget proposals working their way through the House and Senate right now concludes, as I have been saying for months, that the future for NASA is not good. Key quote:

The plan orders NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket and capsule capable of reaching the International Space Station by 2016. But it budgets less money for the new spacecraft — about $11 billion during three years, with $3 billion next year — than what the troubled Constellation program would have received. That — plus the short deadline — has set off alarms.

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Senate moves towards House NASA plan

In a blunt rejection of the Obama proposals for NASA, the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee today reworked the NASA plan — handed to them last week by the committee that authorizes NASA’s budget — so that it more closely matched the House version. These changes cut in half the money for private commercial space while adding $3 billion to continue the development of the Orion capsule and the heavy lift version of the Ares rocket.

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The space war heats up

It appears the space war is heating up again. This analysis of the NASA authorization legislation issued by the House yesterday notes that it has serious differences with the Senate bill. The article notes that the House bill does not fund an additional shuttle mission while insisting that the government continue the construction of some variation of the Orion capsule and Ares rockets. See also this article from the Orlando Sentinel.

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House releases their text of NASA budget

The House Committee on Science and Technology has released the text [pdf] of its NASA reauthorization bill. The committee’s short thumbnail description of the language suggests it is similar to the Senate language. A quick scan of the text also suggests this as well. I hope to take a closer look at both the Senate and House bills later this week and then give my take on both.

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Gender politics at NASA

O joy! It’s time to favor gender over achievement at NASA. The Obama administration is considering using governmental authority at NASA and other agencies to guarantee that the same number of women receive science, technology, engineering, and math degrees as men. The actual White House statement emphasizes the need “to ensure equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs.” [emphasis mine].

If you want to be really annoyed, download NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity documentation [pdf] and read how institutions are expected to do “periodic reviews of data broken down by gender. . . to ensure program policies and practices are not having a negative impact on program participation.” [page 5]

In other words, NASA should decide whether to provide education funds to universities, based not on the ability of those universities produce qualified engineers and scientists of any sex but on the number of women in their programs.

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New plan from the Senate

This analysis of the Senate budget plan that passed the Senate Commerce committee today hits all the most important points. Key quote (in connection with the Senate’s mandate that NASA start over in building a new heavy lift rocket):

Over the last five years, Constellation has cost at least $9 billion and produced little more than one test flight for a stripped-down version of the program’s Ares I rocket. While the Senate plan instructs NASA to salvage parts of Constellation when possible – and provides $11 billion over the next several years — it will take time and resources to create a new design. Adding to the pressure is the 2016 deadline that Congress gives NASA to have the new vehicle ready.

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Senate deal for NASA

More coverage describing today’s Senate committee vote on the 2011 NASA budget. Interestingly, the Commerce committee and a number of its members have each issued their own press releases. I get the feeling they are trying to convince us they have acomplished something. Here are two from the chairman and ranking member:

Democratic press release
Republican press release

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compromise approved by Senate panel

Keith Cowing at NASAWatch reports in detail about the unanimous approval of the amended Senate budget for NASA. The final budget appears to have raised the funding for commercial space development to match the Obama request, while adding one more flight to the shuttle schedule and mandating an immediate start of work on some sort of heavy-lift rocket.

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The failure of the political class

Yesterday Clark Lindsey of rlvnews.com noted that my essay “You’ve got to play the game” appears to “blame the Administration solely for its problems in reforming NASA.” This is not entirely correct. My essay yesterday was specifically intended to lay out the errors and faults of Obama and his administration in their efforts to change NASA. Its purpose was not to discuss the foolishnesses of Congress, the stupidity of which I think everyone is very much aware.

However, Clark is correct when he notes that when it comes to this space war over NASA’s future, Congress is as much at fault as Obama. They are micromanaging NASA’s program in ways that can do little good for the future. Worse, they have shown a greater interest in maintaining pork barrel spending than funding NASA intelligently.

All in all, we have here a complete failure of the political class. I really do hate to sound pessimistic, but for NASA’s near term future, I honestly do not expect positive things to come from the compromise deal that Congress and the President now seem willing to agree to.

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You’ve got to play the game

The release of the Senate’s draft language for NASA’s 2011 budget yesterday reveals a great deal about the failures of the Obama administration. Despite months of advocacy by administration officials as well as the upper management of NASA, it appears that the Senate (soon to be followed in a similar manner by the House) is eagerly willing to dismantle much of what the Obama administration is proposing for NASA, and is going to micromanage its own space program.

Why this happened is all very simple: You’ve got to play the game.

If you are going to request major changes to any government program that requires the approval of elected officials beholden to the people in their districts, you have to provide those elected officials some cover for their actions. You simply can’t shutdown these programs willy-nilly without any negotiation and expect members of Congress to go along — even if what you propose is a good idea and makes sense.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Obama administration has done. They have not only shown an astonishing incompetence at playing the political game, they have often acted as if politics is completely irrelevant to their needs, a position that is both stupid and counter-productive considering that Obama is a politician who has to get the agreement of the politicians in Congress. » Read more

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