US must be 'unafraid' of private spaceflight: NASA

Mar 02, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan
NASA chief Charles Bolden, pictured here on January 2011, told lawmakers Wednesday he is confident that commercial industry will be able to make a new spacecraft for taking humans into orbit after the US shuttle program ends.

NASA's chief said Wednesday that America must be "unafraid" of a new future in spaceflight and vowed full confidence that private business can come up with a solution to replace the space shuttle.

Charles Bolden faced some skepticism as he testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to discuss President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget request of $18.7 billion for NASA.

"I am certain that commercial entities can deliver," said Bolden, who fielded questions about cost, safety and how long it will take to forge a new mode of access to the International Space Station after the US shuttle program retires later this year.

"We have got to develop commercial capability to get into low Earth orbit," said the former astronaut. "The nation needs to become unafraid of exploration. We need to become unafraid of risks."

In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch its own space capsule into orbit and back, a feat Bolden described as "awesome."

The Dragon capsule carried no crew, but SpaceX is working on a cargo launch to the orbiting international space lab for later this year.

Bolden said NASA was sticking to its planned 2015-2016 timeframe for developing a new mode of travel for taking crew into orbit, but added that is "dependent" on private industry.

Industry leaders have promised it would take "three years to the day after they sign a contract" to get a spacecraft up and running for crew transport, he said. No one has yet signed such a contract.

Obama's draft budget proposes $850 million in 2012 as seed money to help companies devise a new crew capsule for orbital travel, a $350 million increase over 2010 levels.

Asked by one Florida lawmaker what he should tell the thousands of his constituents who will lose their jobs at Kennedy Space Center once the shuttle program ends, Bolden answered:

"You should tell them the future of human spaceflight is bright and robust and we need their help in rapidly developing new systems so we can go and explore."

The 30-year-old US space shuttle program is set to end after the final two launches -- Endeavour in April and Atlantis in June.

Asked about the final mission by Atlantis, STS-135, and how big a priority it may be for NASA amid questions over whether it will really be funded, Bolden responded: "STS-135 is on my schedule and I intend to fly STS-135 in June.

"Unless this Congress does something that changes the fiscal status of present conditions -- and you can do that, if you take drastic action," he said.

The first of the remaining three-member fleet to retire, Discovery, is currently on its last mission to the ISS and is scheduled to return to Earth on March 8.

After the final two US shuttles retire -- two of the original five-member orbital fleet have exploded in flight, killing everyone on board -- astronauts will rely on Russia's Soyuz craft for access to the ISS.

"I don't want to do that forever," said Bolden, who also praised the Russian space program and recalled how Russia helped carry astronauts for two years after the Columbia shuttle disintegrated on its way back to Earth in 2003.

"I want to have American-made rockets and American-made capsules to take our astronauts back and forth," said Bolden, who has flown on four shuttle missions and supervised safety efforts after the 1986 Challenger explosion.

A group of 50 self-described "space leaders" -- including former astronauts and business people -- on Tuesday sent a letter to Congress urging support for government partnerships with private industry to accelerate a US return to human spaceflight and save cash.

"NASA's competitive commercial crew... represents one of the best means to prevent damage to NASA's human spaceflight capabilities in the face of across the board spending cuts being discussed by Congress," it said.

As many as eight companies are believed to be working on commercial crew projects, including SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Alliant Techsystems and Excalibur Almaz.

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baudrunner
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2011
Yeah, the future of human spaceflight is robust alright, with the help of private industry, which, by the way is already the de facto method for building space-related artifacts like the space shuttle. The problem with those huge projects is that they need to go on, but that sometimes bills just don't get paid, just ask Boeing Aerospace. This is because of the system whereby new administrations can walk all over existing contracts and decide to cancel works in progress if it suits them to do so. And that's why the bills don't always get paid.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (4) Mar 02, 2011
A group of 50 self-described "space leaders" -- including former astronauts and business people -- on Tuesday sent a letter to Congress urging support for government partnerships with private industry to accelerate a US return to human spaceflight and save cash.


Private industry is where the future lies, there is no question about that. Faster, cheaper, better. With all due respect to NASA and its huge achievements, you cannot have both efficient space exploration and a jobs program in one agency:

Asked by one Florida lawmaker what he should tell the thousands of his constituents who will lose their jobs at Kennedy Space Center once the shuttle program ends, Bolden answered:
ShotmanMaslo
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2011
Asked by one Florida lawmaker what he should tell the thousands of his constituents who will lose their jobs at Kennedy Space Center once the shuttle program ends, Bolden answered:


For comparison: when ULA layed off hundreds of people last year to lower launch prices, they put out a proud press release about this effort to streamline production..
Wolf358
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2011
Private Spaceflight will become problematic the first time a private craft doesn't make orbit and crashes on a city. A national government can cover those kinds of costs; private space companies better get good insurance... :-)
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2011
Private efforts could have started sooner if the US govt had ended the restrictions on private space travel.
Terrible_Bohr
5 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2011
Private Spaceflight will become problematic the first time a private craft doesn't make orbit and crashes on a city. A national government can cover those kinds of costs; private space companies better get good insurance... :-)

Yet commercial airlines have managed to scrape by. Sure, there will be mishaps along the way, but nothing more than temporary setbacks.
stripeless_zebra
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2011

The glory days are over. America is going to be grounded for a long period of time.Private companies will not deliver as Mr. Bolden wishes. Toys like Space Ship One - a pogo spacecraft is probably everything private money can buy and NASA will need 10 or more years and at least $50B to come back to space. And again NASA will have to depend on the great Soviet era technology - reliable, cost effective, simple and bright.
stripeless_zebra
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2011
NASA's greatest technological achievements were possible because of the European immigrants. Saturn V, the greatest rocket ever built was designed by a German. The Lunar rover designed by a Pole, and even the space shuttle which originated as an experimental concept X-15 designed by a German Walter Dornberger, and don't forget other great minds that came from Europe shortly before or after WWII. With these people gone NASA run out of ideas and lack of funds finished the job.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2011

The glory days are over. America is going to be grounded for a long period of time.Private companies will not deliver as Mr. Bolden wishes. Toys like Space Ship One - a pogo spacecraft is probably everything private money can buy and NASA will need 10 or more years and at least $50B to come back to space. And again NASA will have to depend on the great Soviet era technology - reliable, cost effective, simple and bright.


But we are not talking about Space Ship One, that is just a glorified plane, a suborbital craft. Companies like SpaceDev, SpaceX, Bigelow aerospace, Orbital Sciences and United Launch Alliance specialize in orbital spaceflight. Also, we are not talking about private money, manned spaceflight will be of course, government funded, just executed by private companies instead of government agency, in a COTS-like manner.
soulman
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2011
NASA's greatest technological achievements were possible because of the European immigrants. Saturn V, the greatest rocket ever built was designed by a German. The Lunar rover designed by a Pole, and even the space shuttle which originated as an experimental concept X-15 designed by a German Walter Dornberger, and don't forget other great minds that came from Europe shortly before or after WWII.

So, what's your point? That Europeans uniquely posses a space-hardware-design gene? Or is it perhaps that the political and economic climate of the time might have also played a part?
retrosurf
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2011
Somehow, a "private industry" with just one single customer,
which happens to be a government agency, doesn't seem to be
the robust Private Spaceflight that was desired.

Don't worry about a private spacecraft crashing on a city.
I'm sure the US Government will insure it, just the same way
that it insures nuclear power in the United States (see
Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act).

The Russians are going to be lifting our loads for as long as
we can pay them to do it.

baudrunner
1 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2011
I want to mine Helium-3 on the moon. Simple task, just heat moondust to over 650 degrees F and extract H3. Then, I want to use it to provide the electricity to power a VASMIR plasma-ion engine to take me to Mars (using a H3 reactor) to retrieve all the gold that was stashed there by the "gods" over 12,000 years ago.

Foreseeable Problem: Would I be prevented from undertaking this venture because the U.S. and/or Russia want to lay claims to Moon soil, making me an invading entity? Would that apply to Mars as well? Can I keep all the gold I find?

Which all begs the question - how much freedom would we have in undertaking private space exploration/exploitation?

stripeless_zebra
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2011
NASA has a long history of outsourcing. NASA is already a government founded organization. NASA already has experience in manned space flight. I don't see any advantage in subsidizing a dozen of privately owned companies that are profit oriented and only profit oriented. Keeping an eye on one guy gives the gov more control over the funds. Give funds to NASA, let them do the job and in this way we can better control corruption and waste of funds.

In my message I wanted to underline the roots of the current situation at NASA. 30 years have been wasted by insufficient funding provided to NASA, that lead to stagnation, loss of experience, dispersing of qualified personnel etc. The proposed strategy will not solve a single problem, yet it will lead to even greater waste of taxpayer money.

I'm not saying America won't be able to go beyond the atmosphere anymore. I'm saying that we can fix the situation faster and better by reforming things at NASA and finally give them money the need
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 03, 2011
Foreseeable Problem: Would I be prevented from undertaking this venture because the U.S. and/or Russia want to lay claims to Moon soil, making me an invading entity? Would that apply to Mars as well? Can I keep all the gold I find?


Possession is 9/10ths of the law. If you get there first it's yours...regardless of mealy mouthed idiotic UN treaties to the contrary.

In 50 years the moon will belong to China...along with everything else out there if we don't get our act together.
stripeless_zebra
3 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2011
So, what's your point? That Europeans uniquely posses a space-hardware-design gene? Or is it perhaps that the political and economic climate of the time might have also played a part?

Through centuries Europeans have brought new ideas and technologies to America that made this continent what it is today. Vast resources, opportunities and widely understood freedom attracted the most talented minds and the space exploration is just one the examples. Without the immigrants A. Shepard wouldn't have the opportunity to play golf on the Moon. From the first days of NASA's existence till the late 70's we were making fast and astonishing progress. On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard became the first US citizen to experience a sub-orb flight. Just 8 years later N. Armstrong sends a message from the Moon. Then in 1981 Columbia makes it first flight and 30 years later we are still sitting on the same technology that's about to become an artifact and have no idea where to go next. China?
stripeless_zebra
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2011
In 50 years the moon will belong to China...along with everything else out there if we don't get our act together.


Since 2003 WH have buried 3 trillion dollars in the Iraqi sands yet not making these terrorists our friends. Had they given half of this money to NASA and the Moon today would be ours and we'd be on the way to Mars.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (8) Mar 03, 2011
Had they given half of this money to NASA and the Moon today would be ours and we'd be on the way to Mars.

No, they would just be wasting it.
The ONLY way any such funding would be effective is IF the president made explicit the goal of landing a man on Mars and returning his safely again. And, if, the power of the president's office was behind the effort.
That is how NASA put a man on the moon.
Once that was accomplished, NASA had many other priorities and a significant number of NASA program managers detest manned space flight because it takes funds away from their 'science' projects.
If a manned space program is desired and needed, expand the US Air Force and assign and fund them to set up a base on the moon and Mars.
Otherwise, don't hold back civilian space entrepreneurs.
stripeless_zebra
2.8 / 5 (6) Mar 03, 2011
No, they would just be wasting it.


Do you believe private companies won't waste gov funds?
The problem with the currently proposed strategy is, that as I can see it we will end up with a fleet of tiny Gemini era capsules capable of reaching the ISS at a cost comparable to driving an SUV but nothing else. Looks like WH thinks the best they can do to future American space exploration is to cut funds and pumping trillions into Iraq will benefit all of us. Just wait till China proves you wrong.

ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (8) Mar 03, 2011
Do you believe private companies won't waste gov funds?

NASA has no capability of building anything. They hire private companies to build everything, but NASA managers or university professors manage the programs.

Bigelow, Virgin Space, etc. will be much more frugal as they must make a profit to stay in business.
stripeless_zebra
3.5 / 5 (6) Mar 03, 2011
NASA has no capability of building anything. They hire private companies to build everything,


NASA Construction Facilities:

* George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
* John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida
* Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
* Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana
* Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia
* White Sands Test Facility, Las Cruces, New Mexico
ShotmanMaslo
2.5 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
NASA has a long history of outsourcing. NASA is already a government founded organization. NASA already has experience in manned space flight. I don't see any advantage in subsidizing a dozen of privately owned companies that are profit oriented and only profit oriented.


The difference is in the scale of privatisation. NASA indeed has many outsourced components already, but no more than any other governmetn agency, and the bulk of work is still done by NASA employees. Bureaucracy and waste is quite enormous. COTS-like contracts reduce the role of NASA to basicaly paying out money for succesfully completed work to commercial companies. The proof that it works is new rocket and capsule for less than a billion.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2011
The problem with the currently proposed strategy is, that as I can see it we will end up with a fleet of tiny Gemini era capsules capable of reaching the ISS at a cost comparable to driving an SUV but nothing else.


SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will be capable of launching 32 tons to LEO, and Atlas V phase II up to 70 tons to LEO. With propellant depots as proposed by ULA, we do not need more for any beyond LEO exploration.
As for payloads, that is an area where NASA could find its niche, with the exception of Bigelow modules for habitats and ULA depots. But there is absolutely no reason for NASA to waste money on things that are already done better and cheaper by someone else.
stripeless_zebra
1 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2011
The proof that it works is new rocket and capsule for less than a billion.


Still, we need a proof it can safely return humans to earth...
AkiBola
1 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2011
Sure, but how is Bolden coming along with President Obama's primary mission for NASA of outreach to Muslims to make them feel better about themselves? What is the status of that?

Space flight, how passe.