A Well Earned Mistrust

And, just in case any of you out there were wondering how I actually do feel about the president's space policy... here's a piece that I published on ANN back on Sept. 20th, 2011... Oh, and by the way, I am all for SpaceX, the SNC Dream Chaser and the Boeing CTS-100, I'm simply not a Newspace zealot.

When President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 it placed into effect PL111-267. This law mandated that it will be the policy of the United States to have a Federal space launch system and that NASA must develop a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle- it was called the “Space Launch System” or “SLS.” In that law Congress saw fit to specify lifting tonnage, launch date, exploration destinations, use of existing materials and man power and a very clear date for reporting to the Congress on the beginning of development as well as the progress of the program. Although that action caused the Internet critics of human spaceflight to try and malign the proposed system by dubbing it the “Senate Launch System.” The program specifics were not born out of the desire of the Senate or the House to design a launch system. These specifics were instead born out of a well earned mistrust of NASA’s politically appointed upper management to actually follow through with the intent of the Congress.

          Since the beginning of the Constellation program, which was supposed to be the follow-on to the Space Shuttle, the project had wide support. For example, in 2005 the House approved the program by a vote of 385-15 and in 2008 the vote was a 409-15 approval. Thus both Republican and Democrat controlled Congresses approved of the direction in which NASA was headed. Yet in the beginning of 2010, in his Fiscal Year 2011 budget Proposal, President Obama saw fit to simply cancel Constellation and re-direct the funds for NASA’s human spaceflight program to start-up “commercial” operators. There was no goal for NASA that proposal, no schedule, no launch system- it was, in fact, a program to nowhere. This sent a shock wave through the Congress and the aerospace industry.

Prior to his election, candidate Obama had stated that when elected he  “…will expedite the development of the Shuttle's successor systems [Constellation] for carrying Americans to space so we can minimize the gap,” [between the Shuttle and Constellation]. But on February 1, 2010 President Obama did exactly the opposite.  

To say that the Congress was outraged would be somewhat of an understatement. Aside from a hand full in the Congress, the opposition to the Obama space program was quite heated. In the first hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology following the bombshell of the Obama FY2011 Budget Proposal, the normally reserved senior Representative Ralph Hall started to read his opening remarks and then stammered and stopped and said “…I’m so damned mad I can’t even read this.” There were applause in the chamber. In every hearing thereafter, in both houses of Congress, there was great opposition to the Obama space program to nowhere.

The spin quickly began and the script was made official with talking points saying that there was nothing wrong with the Obama proposal, it was simply that NASA had “Rolled it out poorly.” The Obama appointed NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and his ever grinning side-kick Assistant Administrator Lori Garver spouted this talking point many times as did a select few in the Congress such as Bill Nelson. This loyal Democrat who helped Obama win Florida, where the president’s new space program was about to put thousands of skilled workers out of a job while bankrupting much of the Space Coast. In late March of 2010 Nelson, along with KSC Director Bob Cabanna, did a panel discussion at the University of Central Florida. There Nelson assured the crowd that the president was going to “fix” his FY2011 space proposal on April 15 when he was scheduled to visit KSC. When asked, “What if he doesn’t?” Nelson frankly replied, “Then we (the Congress) will fix it for him.” For the next few weeks Nelson repeatedly stated that he had assurances from the White House, that the president would make major changes in his proposal on April 15th and would make a major announcement on a time-table for NASA and an objective- which would be Mars.

On the appointed day the president arrived at KSC as Bill Nelson stood proudly by waiting for the big announcement. Instead, President Obama visited the SpaceX facility, rubbed elbows with Elon Musk, went to designated speaking area and announced that the Orion spacecraft that he had canceled would now serve as a multi-billion dollar rescue pod to be hung on the International Space Station (ISS). He also sneered at returning to the moon with a been there, done that, quip… and other than some standard Obama circle-speak, that was that. He then boarded Air Force One and jetted down to Miami for a campaign fund raiser.

It is said that in Washington D.C. a friend is someone who stabs you in the chest rather than in the back- the president was apparently not being friendly to Senator Nelson.

From that point on the Congress went about “fixing it” for the White House. They invited NASA and aerospace industry engineers to conceive of a launch system that could take the Orion from the Constellation Program and use it to explore beyond low earth orbit and to back-up the Obama blessed “commercial” operators who were supposed to take over shuttling U.S. astronauts to the ISS. They asked the engineers to make, to the greatest extent practical, use Space Shuttle hardware and facilities as well as those that were in development for Constellation. Additionally, the Congress asked that the new program consider current and future budgetary restraints. By mid-summer the Senate had what they needed to mandate a palatable and realistic direction for NASA. Following the Congressional summer recess of 2010 the Senate’s Authorization Act was accepted by the House and went before the President, who signed it into law. You would think that was it- done- let’s get started, but you must remember that this is the Obama Administration we are talking about.

Members of the Senate did indeed remember that they were dealing with the Obama Administration. This president wants things done his way- period. If he cannot get his way past the Congress, he will make an end run around that body and get his way administratively. A good example of this can be seen in “Cap-N-Trade.”  This pet project of the Obama White House could not get past the Congress, so the administration simply went around the Congress and is currently trying to impose it by way of the EPA. In the nine months between the announcement of the FY2011 Budget proposal and the signing of the NASA Authorization Act the Congress developed a well earned mistrust where the President was concerned. Additionally, the members of Congress clearly did not trust the politically appointed “leaders” at NASA to execute the law to any greater degree than they trusted the Obama Administration to follow the law.

For that reason, the members of the Senate who wrote the Authorization Act placed some specifics into the act. These included a 90 day countdown from the day of the Act’s entry into law that required the production of a full report on vehicle specifications must be delivered to the Congress and made public. The Congress did NOT “design the rocket.” That little myth has become a common slur used by those who still want the original Obama program-to-nowhere to return. Another common slur that is used by the fans of the Obamaspace is to say that SLS stands for “Senate Launch System.” When you read a comment posted anywhere in the Internet’s assorted public space “forums,” it should be considered to say nothing more than “I want the Obama plan to nowhere.” It also says that the person posting that message knows nothing about NASA as a whole and cares little about the agency itself.

Of course the opinions of the semi-informed lemmings of the Internet forums are of no matter in this saga- the real struggle is in the political arena. You see, the Congress established NASA and the agency is under their direction. NASA, however, is administered by persons appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the President. That, is the real ball to which we must keep our eye upon.

Likewise, we often hear and read the saying “The Congress writes the checks.” That is not correct- in fact, the Congress only APPROVES the checks. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) actually “writes the checks.” What most people do not realize is that OMB is not required to disburse as much as Congress has approved. They can, and often do, disburse far less and can also delay funds as they wish in order to steer an agency in one direction or another. OMB is under the direction of the President.

For 339 days after the president signed the law that created the SLS, Congress waited for the report that was to be submitted by NASA’s politically appointed “leadership” within 90 days after the President’s signature. Likewise the engineering specifications for the SLS were being held up, not by NASA’s career civil servants, not by engineers, not by contractors- but by…  (you’ll never guess)… OMB! Yes, OMB, which- again- is under the direction of the President, had insisted on an “independent” review of the costs in the SLS plan before it invested billions in the system. This sounds quite responsible until you know that OMB has NOT called for any independent review or accounting of those so-called “commercial” operators that Obamaspace desires to become the exclusive providers of transportation of humans to and from space and who will also be getting billions of dollars to fly rockets.

While announcing the SLS, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as well as Senator Bill Nelson attempted to spin the administration’s delaying tactics and as being the grand plan of the President all along intended to ensure that the new program would be “sustainable” and “affordable.”

Sorry- NO SALE guys.

This was Obama playing basketball and trying to run out the clock until he could get that last three point shot and win the game for himself. Tell the thousands of honest, hardworking spaceflight workers who lost their jobs, homes and self-worth in the nine months that it took to start this program, all about this study. While you are at it tell the businesses, the restaurants, mom and pop stores, the auto repair shops and so on that depended on those same workers all about the studies and other delays.  No sale.

Tomorrow, September 22, 2011 there will be a House Hearing concerning the question of “NASA Human Spaceflight Past, Present, and Future: Where Do We Go From Here?” Which is still a critical question even though the SLS has finally been announced. That is because when it comes to NASA’s human spaceflight program there is a well earned mistrust so far as the agency’s politically appointed administrators and the Obama Administration are concerned. The games, political tricks and delaying tactics are not over.

What is the SLS? From Sept. 11, 2011

At the request of a space-pal of mine who asked me to do something on the SLS... I already did! Here's a piece from September 11, 2011.

On October 11, 2010 President Obama signed The NASA Authorization Act of 2010. This placed into effect PL111-267 which is the law that mandated that NASA must do specific things by specific dates in order to bring to reality the government-owned launch system that is to be the next step beyond the shuttle. Of course you cannot have any NASA launch system without an acronym that becomes its moniker. In this case the Space Launch System has been dubbed the “SLS.” Although, by law, NASA was supposed to produce a complete plan for the SLS within 90 days of the law’s signing, that release did not come until September 14, 2011- some 339 days after the law was signed.

Birth of the SLS came in the wake of the Obama Administration’s FY2011 Budget Proposal. Within that proposal was placed the proposal for NASA’s budget and with that President Obama canceled the Constellation Program which was the replacement for the Space Shuttle that NASA had already spent a half dozen years and nearly $10 billion working to develop. Additionally, the Obama plan had no defined objective for NASA and no timetable to do anything other than wait for some undefined “Path breaking” and “Game Changing” technologies that were to come from someplace that was equally undefined. It also took all of United States manned spaceflight efforts and simply turned them over to a select few private, start-up companies that were selected for reasons unexplained. That portion of the overall FY2011 Budget Proposal sent shock waves through the aerospace community, through NASA, through NASA contractors and through the Congress where, by the way, Constellation had wide support on both sides of the aisle. This, however, meant nothing to the Obama Administration which had other ideas about NASA. Simply put, they sought to completely gut the Federal human spaceflight program and rebuild NASA as an academic think-tank in one swift stroke. Although that may have worked for Hugo down in Venezuela, it did not go over at all for Barack in the United States.

Within months of the Obama FY2011 budget proposal, the Congress had negated the administration’s “new” direction for NASA and composed a new space act which President Obama, grudgingly, signed into law. In that law the Congress directed NASA to come up with a launch vehicle that could loft 70 tons and later evolve into a vehicle that could loft 130 tons. In an effort to preserve the maximum amount of talent and skill in the spaceflight work force, the law-makers specified that work on the new launch vehicle must begin with a detailed design plan from NASA due 90 days after the law was signed and then press to begin physical construction immediately thereafter. The new vehicle was also to make the maximum use of Shuttle and Constellation hardware and facilities to the greatest extent possible in order to preserve the workforce. Under the influence of the White House, NASA finally delivered the SLS plan 249 days behind that imposed schedule.

Now that NASA’s politically appointed administrators have finally released to the public the details of the new vehicle, we can take a good look at the new launcher. Of course, the spaceflight community has known since 2010 what the SLS configuration will likely be. In fact the basic arrangement has been discussed by NASA engineers for several years. The basic arrangement uses a Space Shuttle external tank as the “core” of the vehicle with two Shuttle derived SRBs attached in a manner similar to that of the Shuttle itself. The difference being that the SRBs each have five segments instead of the four segments used on the Shuttle. Additionally, the core tank has a thrust structure built onto its base and attached there will be either three or five Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME). Atop the tank will be placed a second stage that will be powered by a J-2X engine derived from the Saturn rockets that were used in the Apollo program. That stage will be used for boosting cargo or for boosting the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) into missions beyond Earth Orbit (BEO). In early test flights that second stage may be substituted with a Delta IV “kicker” upper stage that can be used to boost the Orion. This overall configuration allows for the launching of crews and the safety of a Launch Abort System (LAS), or escape tower, to cover all phases of boost.

In operation the SLS will lift off by first igniting the SSMEs, followed several seconds later by the SRBs in a manner similar to the Shuttle. The primary difference will be that the five SSMEs will develop a combined thrust of ~2 million pounds while the five segment SRBs will each develop ~3.6 million pounds of thrust giving the vehicle a total thrust at liftoff of ~9.2 million pounds. That is 1.5 million pounds more thrust than the Saturn V moon rocket’s maximum liftoff thrust of 7.7 million pounds and just a bit short of the Soviet N1 rocket which reportedly produced ~10 million pounds of thrust. That will, however, make the SLS the most powerful rocket ever launched by the United States.

At staging the two SRBs will drop away as they have done with the Space Shuttle, however, these new five segment SRBs will have burned significantly longer than the Shuttle SRBs and will stage at a far higher altitude. The decision as to if or not the new SRBs will be recovered for reuse has still not been announced by NASA. (Update, 2013: the SRBs will not be recovered)

After SRB jettison, the core stage will continue to fire to near orbital velocity. At the end of its burn it and its formerly reusable SSMEs will burn up on reentry. In case you are wondering why they are throwing away the “reusable” SSME’s, there is a good reason. It was found that the “cost savings of reusability” attached to the SSMEs turned out to be a myth. Each and every time that an SSME was returned from a Shuttle flight, it was removed from the orbiter, disassembled, inspected, reassembled and reinstalled into the orbiter. The overhead cost it doing that turned out to be more than the cost of building a new, disposable version of the same engine. Although this inspection standard was required to maintain the high degree of safety involved in the Space Shuttle program, it more than negated any cost savings in the concept of “reusability.” Thus, the early SLS vehicles will use up the stock of reusable SSMEs (also known as RS-25D engines) and then transition into a semi-new and disposable version of the SSME, (the RS-25E) all of which will discarded in the launch process. In doing so the SLS program can actually operate with less overhead than the Shuttle.
Ground Support Equipment (GSE) for the SLS will make use of hardware left over from the Constellation program that was canceled by the Obama Administration, as well as facilities from the Shuttle program that was ended by the Bush Administration, plus facilities and equipment left over from the Apollo program that was canceled by the Nixon administration with the help of the Johnson administration. Thus, the facilities of Launch Complex 39 plus the VAB and Launch Control Center will all be pressed into service.

One of the Constellation contracts that was able to be completed before the Obama administration decided we did not need to go to the moon again because, as the President so snidely put it “Buzz (Aldrin) has already been there” was a mobile launcher. This launch platform and umbilical tower also known as an LUT is similar to those that rolled to the pad with the Saturn V. The difference, however, is that this LUT is made to be ultra light weight. The Apollo LUTs were constructed of steel “I” beams and built without weight considerations being a major limiting factor. This could be done because the Saturn V itself, when rolled to the pad, un-fueled, on its LUT weighed just over 502,000 pounds. The LUT itself weighed in at 10.6 million pounds. The result was that the crawler was designed to carry over 17 million pounds of load, including its own weight. A fully stacked Constellation heavy launch vehicle would weigh nearly five times more than the un-fueled Saturn V because the twin SRBs are always “loaded” and each weighs more than 1.4 million pounds. Thus, a new lightweight LUT had to be designed and constructed. Intended for the Ares I, that LUT was fully erected when President Obama canceled Constellation. Some in the media referred to it as “That B.W.M.: big waste of money” but the fact is that the LUT is simply a skeleton and has no vehicle specific workings installed- thus it can be adapted to another vehicle. Enter the SLS and what will be a new use for the Constellation LUT.

So, at this moment in time the SLS is ready and able to move ahead. And after having signed into law a launch system that he does not want, President Obama has used every tactic his administration can imagine to delay and block the actual production of the SLS vehicle and the implementation of the law that created it. The President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has refused to request funds for the vehicle, NASA’s politically appointed administrators have foot-dragged reports and plans required by the Congress while OMB required a protracted “independent” survey of the costs involved. When that survey did not show the inflated costs that the administration wanted to see, the report was tossed into a tar pit of the NASA Administrator’s office. Finally, information was “leaked” to the Wall Street Journal and the Orlando Sentinel stating that the SLS was found to cost about twice as much as planned and the White House had “sticker shock.” For Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Nelson, that was the last straw. They finally marched into the offices where the delay tactics were originating and applied the needed pressure to get the program made public and get the SLS moving. Exactly what the pressure was and where it was applied is unknown, but the fact is that on September 14, 2011 the United States Congress may have, at least for the moment, rescued NASA’s human spaceflight program from strangulation by the Obama administration.


I saw it comin'; August 15, 2009

I wrote this on August 15th, 2009- back when we still had a human spaceflight program, when we still had an operational Space Shuttle, when we still had a clear goal in space- the return to the moon and before tens of thousands of spaceflight workers had been put out of work by Obama when he canceled Constellation- this nation's return to the moon and put in place a plan to go to nowhere. Read this and see that I saw this guy comin' and I knew what he was going to do...

August 15, 2009

A big ol' plate of NASA to cancel

There are so many aspects and dynamics going on right now in the world of the DC vote grubs that no one knows what will be next, or in the future for anything. Frankly I think we'll be lucky if they don't change the flag to green with a red hammer and sickle and then have Obama come on the TV and declare himself president for life- because most of the media would simply go along with that. In reality, the party in power is rapidly ripping itself to shreds while the other party is trying to figure out where all of that ripping noise is coming from. Into all of that, the Augustine commission is about to slide, in front of the most liberal left wing President in American history, a great big platter of NASA all garnished with "Nothing fits any budget" sprinkled all over it... YUM! Sitting there with his knife in one fist, his fork in another and his red hammer and sickle bib covering his nice suit what will the President do with such morsel?

Take a wild freakin' guess. Go ahead- all of you space coast workers who voted for him after his shoot and scoot campaign stop at KSC and all of you aerospace workers who voted for him because the union said you should, and all of you NASA workers who had senator's Bill and Babs present him to ya'... come on... guess!

Anyone think that after quadrupling the national debt in just six months and taking heat for running the fiscal boat of the United States full speed onto the rocks, the President may just take this opportunity to fulfill one of his most chanted campaign slogans and make a "change?"

The media is already on board- as it was said today in the Orlando Slant-enal it is now up to the President " decide whether human space exploration is a worthy priority or an unaffordable luxury." OH BOY!... it is a left-wing liberal's dream come true! How better to take the last thing that the USA actually leads in- spaceflight- and gut it, thus bringing us closer to the liberal's goal of finally making us a third world nation!

And even if President Obama does not decide to gut and castrate NASA- there is the congress. The Health Care socialization movement is so damaging to the Democrats that they could lose more than 80 seats across both houses next year. That means that some bedrock NASA supporters may be out, and those who replace them will not be in the mode of increasing budgets of any agency. It is going to be cut, reduce and repeal in an attempt to pull back from the insane spending of our current one-party government.

So- the entire balance of United States human spaceflight now will be cast into the bee hive of indecision and CYA politics that is Washington DC. What will the President do? Lead? or vote "Present?" Perhaps he'll send us on a grand adventure to discover... EARTH! Ya' know- chase the left's global warming myth at the rate of a few billion bucks a year until he's thrown out of office. What will the headless chickens in the congress do? And even more important- what will the next batch of vote grubs who replace the current herd of wafflers do? Will they vote to allow our great garden of technology wilt on the vine- like they did four dechades ago? We can only watch.

Oddly, some at NASA are actually delighted at the prospect that project Constellation may be cancelled- because they feel it has been raiding money from the agency which will somehow find its way back to whatever they are personally working on. I fear they have a shock coming. In that embarrassingly inaccurate movie "The Right Stuff" there was a line that went "No bucks- no Buck Rogers." Of course the writers of that script, along with getting almost every other fact wrong, also got that quip wrong- the way it really works is No Buck Rogers- No Bucks. Without human spaceflight, NASA will fade into the federal background. Be careful what you wish for people- those who wished for the death of the Ares I, those who wished for the cancellation of Constellation, those who wished for an end to the shuttle program, those who wish for the end of the ISS, those who chanted for "Change" and those who wish for the end of NASA itself- you may all get what you want, and all at the same time.