For anyone who forgot or is too young to remember, both Bush administrations launched programs to return American astronauts to the moon and send them off to Mars. The first plan was announced on July 20, 1989 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The second was unveiled 15 years later on Jan. 14, 2004, just under a year after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.
Past isn’t necessarily prologue. NASA is in better shape to do something at the moon than is at the time when these two initiatives were unveiled. I would put forth the following reasons for optimism.
NASA is making progress on SLS and Orion, which are the two legacy systems from the second Bush Administration’s plan. No, they’re not the cheapest or most optimal vehicles to base the plan on, but there seems to be no appetite in the Trump Administration for a bruising battle with Congress over canceling them. Deal with it.
The commercial sector has grown substantially. NASA learning how to work with private companies on a partnership basis. And launch costs have been reduced due to SpaceX’s innovation on reusable vehicles.
Enormous amount of expertise has been accumulated on the International Space Station. The station’s international partners are eying the moon as the next step beyond ISS.
So, the conditions are there for venturing out to the moon. The question is whether the money will be there as well. Even with the participation of commercial space companies, NASA will need an executable plan and the funding to support it.
Warren Ferster Consulting asks whether the newly revived National Space Council will make much of a difference at NASA, whose human deep space programs are dependent upon the Congressionally supported Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.
Some have suggested that, with a space council chaired by Vice President Mike Pence cracking the whip, the full potential of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can be brought to bear in support of the nation’s space goals. The implication is this hasn’t happened to date, which is puzzling since leveraging commercial capabilities to support the International Space Station was the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s space policy.
Obama was challenged in that effort not by the lack of a National Space Council, but by Capitol Hill, where key lawmakers viewed his outsourcing initiative as a threat to the pet program that they mandated, the decidedly uncommercial Space Launch System.
The super-heavy-lift SLS is exhibit A of the argument that getting the Executive Branch speaking with one voice on space policy, while sensible, won’t matter a great deal if Congress has a different agenda.
To recap, Obama’s human spaceflight policy was to outsource ISS crew and cargo transportation and invest in technologies with the potential to change the economics of deep space exploration. To make budgetary room, Obama canceled Constellation, a collection of hardware development programs begun under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The article notes that Bush got bipartisan approval from Congress for the Constellation program without a National Space Council. The program included Orion and two space shuttle-derived Ares boosters for human orbital and deep-space missions.
Obama subsequently canceled the Constellation program, only to have Congress revive the program as SLS and Orion. Only the smaller Ares orbital booster was canceled.
The wonders of NASA 2014 Mars rovers, astronaut Instagram feeds, audacious missions probing distant galactic mysteries 2014 have long enthralled the American public. And, it turns out, the accomplishments have won the agency the public’s trust: Polls have consistently shown NASA to be the second-most trusted government institution, behind only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The public, however, probably has less appreciation for the work NASA has done on its home planet. NASA’s $2-billion-a-year earth-science program has long tracked global-scale environmental conditions on Earth, including climate change.
During the last two weeks, a series of dizzying, stomach-churning events have sent shock waves around the world.
The American financial system has come thisclose to a complete meltdown, threatening to take the planet’s economy down with it. A venerable investment firm has collapsed, another was forced into a shotgun merger, and U.S. government now owns 80 percent of the world’s largest insurance company. President George W. Bush – about to bequeath a half-trillion dollar annual budget deficit on his successor – has proposed spending an additional $700 billion to buy out bad real estate investments. And that might be conservative. The national debt will be raised to a staggering $11.3 trillion.
You might think this would cause people to rethink some of our national priorities – such as building expensive housing for a handful of astronauts on the Moon, for example. But, you’ll be happy to know that NASA Administrator Mike Griffin is having none of it.
If you do a search for “miserable failure” on certain web search engines, the top result will be a link to George W. Bush’s official White House biography. This is a result of multiple webmasters using the phrases “failure” and “miserable failure” to describe and link to the White House website.
They should probably be using that same technique to link to Bush’s space program, or more specifically, NASA. At least according to one Congressman. The Houston Chroniclereports:
“Two days after telling an online town hall meeting that NASA had ‘failed us miserably’ and ‘wastes a vast amount of money,’ Houston Rep. John Culberson said Thursday he was weighing legislation to overhaul the structure of the space agency responsible for about 20,000 Houston-area jobs.
“Culberson, a blunt-spoken conservative from a heavily Republican westside district, said his proposal would slash NASA headquarter’s bureaucracy and enable scientists and engineers to rekindle visionary space exploration.
“‘We need revolutionary change, a complete restructuring,’ Culberson told the Houston Chronicle. ‘NASA needs complete freedom to hire and fire based on performance, it needs to be driven by the scientists and the engineers, and it needs to be free of politics as much as possible.'”