Change is Coming to NASA Space Launch

by Space Frontier Foundation on March 19, 2010

Change is coming to the US space program. At last! Real, dramatic and tangible change in both its effect and the course it will create in this nation’s future in space.

It is long past time for us to try something different, as what we have been doing in our human space program since Apollo has been a failure of epic proportions. And yet, some defend the status quo and are actually angry about the coming changes proposed by the Obama Administration. I find this amazing given the space agency’s track record over the last few decades. But then, if nothing else, our past experience with the government building and operating space launches has shown that to many, simply flying some stuff around in circles and creating jobs that do nothing to advance us in any direction is more important than succeeding in getting anywhere – so long as everyone agrees in the myth that they are going somewhere.

It is heretical to say it in many quarters, but unlike its astronomy and robotic exploration programs, the current NASA operated human spaceflight program has failed by any rational measure in almost every respect to achieve Any of the milestones put forth by those who sold them to the American people so long ago. The most glaring example of this failure to deliver in the area of transportation is totally unknown to the taxpaying public and often overlooked by the defenders of the old ways: The space shuttle system, glorious and impressive symbol of the space agency for so long is a complete failure when measured against its promised performance. Sold in the 1970s as being able to fly once a week and bring costs down to tens of dollars a pound, they have averaged around 5 flights a year…on good years. In the meantime NASA has tried and failed time after time to develop new space transportation systems, including the much heralded and disastrous X-33, which after a billion dollars of taxpayer funding was canceled, never to have even rolled out of the hangar.

The background of repeated failures by the government to build and operate its own Earth to LEO launch systems is what we must keep in mind when we judge the new commercial Earth to LEO space transportation plans being put forth by the White House and NASA. Frankly, as a long time skeptic regarding anything the NASA press office puts out when it comes to human spaceflight, I am not only impressed by the plan to hand over this role to commercial space firms, but am willing to allow myself just a hint of hope that if it can be successfully implemented (freeing the agency to pursue real space exploration) We may at last break out of the circular self gratification of our current space program and go somewhere – and more importantly be able to go there again and again and even stay if we want to (the key word being “we” as in not just NASA employees, but eventually the rest of us too!).

And yes, to do this NASA will have to make changes. Rather than seeing itself as the emperor of all things space, it will have to change how it views the zone from the Earth’s surface to LEO. The agency simply cannot get it right when it comes to trying to build its own launch systems in any economic sense, and it is time it stopped trying. The agency will have to step aside in this area that it long ago pioneered. It will no longer be its own trucking service for small package delivery to space. It will have to relinquish its role as its own taxi service to LEO and leave the driving to someone else. Instead this job will be given to privately funded New Space firms across the nation that are working on a variety of rocketships that could catapult us into the space frontier and global space leadership at a fraction of the cost of any new NASA system.

For example, California’s SPACEX from its creation through its first successful orbital flights and all the industrial tooling and facilities to support them spent far less than the $445 million NASA did on its recent smoke and mirrors alleged test flight of an Ares 1-X mock up to only 50k feet higher altitude than that achieved by parachutist Joe Kittinger in 1960. To get all the way to being able to carry humans in its Dragon capsule on its Falcon 9 will cost only a fraction of the projected cost of the Ares and Orion system – and almost more importantly, when not in use by NASA it will be used by commercial companies to carry their own payloads and customers into space. Orbital Sciences using its Taurus vehicle is in a similar position and projects similar cost savings over the as yet paper lion of Ares Orion.

Even if one isn’t willing to bet on NewSpace firms some of our largest traditional firms are moving ahead with plans to adapt their tried and true systems to carry payloads and people into orbit to serve commercial customers and even the ISS. For example, the Atlas V has flown some 20 times and Delta IV more than 10 which is about 20 times and 10 times more than Ares and the Boeing/Bigelow Crew Capsule now in development will cost a fraction of that needed for Orion and be usable by both the government and commercial customers. From now on, in a very real sense, NASA’s exploration job will no longer start at the launch pad, but begin in space itself.

But none of this will happen if NASA tries to manage these new players in its old way. NASA must change not just what it does and where it does it, but how it does what it does, and how it works with others that are doing the jobs it needs done. Agency managers will have to learn new ways of contracting that are based not on how much work is done on a project, but how much that work produces. Like the rest of us, as a customer it can no longer rationalize spending huge amounts of money paying for a failed effort to deliver a package to a destination, but only for success. Yes, the agency will need to set standards for the transportation of its employees to and from space, but these should not and cannot be any more stringent than those they set for let’s say their astronauts who fly in F-16s. And it will have to actually relinquish control over some other areas of space operations that have become somewhat mundane in return for being able to focus on what many used to see as its main mission – exploration, science and technology development.

Unfortunately, no matter how good (normal) all of this sounds to normal people who live in a free enterprise society, in the visionless and ironic land of old school government aerospace the pork must keep flowing and tradition will  fight innovation. The forces of darkness are already moving to crush the revolution right now, as those who do not understand the enormity of the promise in this change in Congress ally with those who do and want it stopped regardless, all well armed by those who have fed off the system for so long they forgot NASA’s job is exploring space and not the national wallet for their own ends.

And so the battle is joined. And in yet another dose of irony, many of us who for so long have been seen as the foes of the agency as we have fought for common sense will now be standing shoulder to shoulder with its new leaders. About time I say, as I have never enjoyed having to take on my childhood icon time after time as it has meandered far from the dream of exploring and opening space. And although I know this may be a brief moment in time, I take my hat (space helmet?) off to those who are working on the inside to make this happen, and pledge my keyboard to their defence in the coming months. I only hope they are willing to stand their ground as well, as the stakes are greater than simply who gets what contract for how much. What is at stake is the future of this nation in space and just how soon and how well that future is realized.

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NASA’s ‘Emerging Space Report’ is a
Victory for NewSpace!

Space Frontier Foundation Applauds NASA for
Pro-Commercial & Pro-Settlement Language

Washington, DC – NASA’s Emerging Space Office (ESO) recently released a report titled “The Evolving Landscape of 21st Century American Spaceflight” which demonstrates that NASA’s goals and ambitions are aligning themselves with the ideals of the Space Frontier Foundation.  Ideals like propagating commercial space companies, space access available to the public, and even long term space settlement are all core to this report.

ESO Report CoverIn the first page of the report, it is stated that “… the United States is transitioning from a spacefaring nation to a nation of spacefarers.” This means that instead of limiting space to highly trained specialists, NASA believes space should be democratized and opened to everyone.

Page 24 of the report grows this vision even further, stating “The great interest in the space experience and the emergence of private spaceflight capabilities suggest that someday the United States may have more than one astronaut corps, perhaps from the private sector as well as in the government.” These views, stated a different way, have been a part of the Space Frontier Foundations credo for decades, which states “The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible.”

“It is really great to see NASA embrace these core philosophical viewpoints,” said James Pura, President and Director of the Space Frontier Foundation.  “By embracing these views, NASA is helping to turn space into a place of opportunity for every person.  Space development and space settlement change the equation for space; it’s not about how space touches an individual’s life, but rather how an individual chooses to touch space.”

The report concludes with the profound statement— “NASA is proud to recognize that American spaceflight—after sparking, nurturing, and carrying its flame for over half a century—is not just about us anymore. This economic and cultural transition in the American space industry and in American spaceflight culture is an exciting one and it will further NASA’s mission of advancing exploration and discovery. Our continued national leadership in spaceflight relies on the ability to adapt our habits and strategies for success when needed.”

Seeing NASA embrace these views, as well as the future implication of these views, bodes well for the future of spaceflight.  The explicit statement of these goals in this report is a major victory for not just the commercial space industry, but the entire United States and the rest of the world, because it means that space can fulfill its promise – that space is a place, not a program—it is a place that offers the resources necessary to ensure the survival and prosperity of our species for numerous generations to come.

Click Here to Read The Entire Report:

Click Here to Visit NASA’s Emerging Space Office Website:

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Space Frontier Foundation Launches Teachers in Space, Inc.

October 23, 2014

Space Frontier Foundation Launches Teachers in Space, Inc. A New Generation of STEM Students Will Be Inspired By Space-Enthused Teaching Community New York, NY- Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) announced today the completed spin-off its successful Teachers in Space (TIS) project, launching a new nonprofit educational organization incorporated in the State of New York. Due to […]

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NewSpace News #112, October 2014

October 19, 2014

  Boeing And SpaceX Survive To Last Round The highly anticipated winners for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts have been announced. SFF congratulates the Boeing Company and SpaceX for winning their fixed-priced contracts with maximum potential values of $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This contract includes a crewed test flight to the […]

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Leadership Training for Commercial Space Executives

October 9, 2014

Leadership Training for Commercial Space Executives A Unique Opportunity to Support the Space Frontier Foundation While Furthering Your Career and Education Silicon Valley, CA - The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) is pleased to announce its partnership with the upcoming Commercial Space Executive Leadership Training Course, scheduled to begin on October 20th 2014. This innovate online course will […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for September 15th through September 28th, 2014

October 8, 2014

NASA Awards $6.8 Billion to Boeing and SpaceX As part of their Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, NASA has awarded Boeing and SpaceX $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively, to finish developing vehicles to taxi astronauts to and from the International SpaceStation. Boeing plans on using the funds to complete development of the CST-100 while SpaceX will […]

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Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Next Giant Leap Conference

October 7, 2014

Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Next Giant Leap Conference South Kohala, HI  - The Space Frontier Foundation encourages its members and constituents to attend the multinational “Next Giant Leap” Conference in South Kohala Hawaii, November 9 -13th.  Sponsored by the state of Hawaii, this conference is designed to explore options for developing sustainable pathways to space, with an […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for September 1st through September 14th, 2014

September 18, 2014

House Hearing Discusses ASTEROIDS Act     The House subcommittee on space held a hearing to discuss issues with the ASTEROIDS ACT. Joanne Gabrynowicz, the former Editor-in-chief for the Journal of Space Law, warned the subcommittee that the bill needs to clarify some terms, and suggested that an interagency mechanism should be set up to handle policy development. SpacePolicyOnline Vote […]

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NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles!

September 17, 2014

NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles! 20 Year Battle to Secure Commercial Transport to ISS Results in Boeing and SpaceX Contracts   (Kennedy Space Center, FL)  The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) congratulated Boeing and SpaceX on their selection as the next U.S. human spaceflight providers, and declared victory […]

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Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop

September 2, 2014

Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop Co-hosted by Space Frontier Foundation and FAA/AST 15 September, 2014 (Conveniently timed the day before COMSTAC meetings) WORKSHOP OBJECTIVE The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), in partnership with the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is hosting a workshop to collect data and conduct analysis on issues related to the transition strategy […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for August 18th through September 1st, 2014

September 1, 2014

August 18th through September 1st, 2014   NASA to Choose CCiCap Award Winners in Late August or Early September    Out of the four companies competing for the multibillion-dollar Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program, Boeing Co. is the only one to have completed key reviews of their design. The other competitors Space Exploration Technologies and […]

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