Potential destinations for the U.S. human spaceflight program. Source: Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee

Committee Urges Multi-Destination Plan for NASA Human Space Flight

22 Oct , 2009 by

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The Augustine Commission released their final report today, and while they didn’t offer specific recommendations for NASA’s human space flight program, they laid out five possible options, highlighting a flexible plan that allows for several destinations out of low Earth orbit. The report also encouraged commercial space ventures to handle trips to the International Space Station. “The different options speak for themselves,” said head of the commission, Norman Augustine at a press briefing today following the release of the report. “We believe Mars is clear goal of the human spaceflight program, but for safety reason we ruled out going directly there. We’ve offered programs that are alternatives for building a heavy lift launch capability, as we believe that to be extremely important for the human space program, and we believe this is the time to create a commercial market to transport humans to Earth orbit.”

But the strongest point the committee made is that NASA needs additional funds of $3 billion a year in order to accomplish much of anything.

“The premier conclusion of the committee is that the human spaceflight program is on a unsustainable trajectory,” Augustine said. “We say that because of a mismatch of the scope of the program and the funds available.”

In the report, the committee said either additional funds need to be made available or a far more modest program involving little or no exploration needs to be adopted.

NASA Appropriation History in Real Year and Constant Year 2009 Dollars. Source: OMB Historical Budget Tables

NASA Appropriation History in Real Year and Constant Year 2009 Dollars. Source: OMB Historical Budget Tables


Meanwhile, the White House said today that President Obama is committed to human space explorations and wants the US to have a vigorous & sustainable program, but offered no specifics on how the administration might proceed following the release of the report. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said he would be meeting with the president in November.

The 157-page report titled “Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation,” does not differ from a preliminary report issued in August, but offers “substantiation” for their views, Augustine said.

The consensus of the committee was that NASA should conduct a human space flight program somewhat different than the current path of returning to the Moon. The “flexible” plan would allow for reaching exciting and different destinations sooner than landing on the Moon.

“There are a lot of things we could do along the way to build up to a Mars program,” Augustine said, “such as a circumlunar program, circle Mars, land on an asteroid, land on Phobos or Deimos and do some exciting science from there. We could do those things rather than wait 15 years for the first major event.”

Another committee member Ed Crawley added, “What causes flexible path to make sense is that you can build some of the overall system, the booster and capsule and then you can start going places, like flying around the moon, then to a near Earth object. And it would be less energetically intensive to do a flyby of Mars than to land on the surface of the Moon. You could build the heavy booster and a capsule, and start exploring, and then later build the landers.”

Crawley compared the options to saving longer to buy a big camper or saving for a short period of time to buy a station wagon and then later purchasing a camper to hook onto the car.

When asked for a timetable, Crawley and Augustine said it was likely NASA could leave LEO in the early 2020’s. “Early- to mid- 2020’s without pinning down an exact year, which would be several years earlier than we would get to the moon,” Crawley said.

The report suggested extending the space shuttle program until 2011, instead of the current goal of retiring the program in 2010. “The flight rate to 2010 is roughly double that of what has been demonstrated since the loss of Columbia,” Augustine said. “We believe it would be prudent to put funds in 2011 to fly a better, realistic schedule. NASA has no money in the current budge to do that, we believe it should.”

As for the Ares program, the panel did not call it an engineering failure but rather a victim of smaller-than-expected budgets and changing circumstances. “With time and sufficient funds, NASA could develop, build and fly the Ares I successfully,” the report said. “The question is, should it?”

They said the Ares I-X test flight next week should go ahead as scheduled, because there still would be much to learn from the demonstration. But because of the slipping dates of when the spacecraft would be ready, it would likely be too late for one of its primary tasks, ferrying astronauts to and from the space station. The panel said a better option for low-Earth orbit transport would be private commercial space companies. Augustine said NASA should focus on going beyond low Earth orbit rather than having a trucking service to LEO.

The panel also discussed heavy-lift rocket based on rockets currently used by the Air Force to lift satellites or one based more closely on the space shuttle design. (See our previous article on that subject.)

The committee also urged extending the life of the ISS to 2020. “The Committee finds that the return on investment from the ISS to both the United States and the international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of its life to 2020. It seems unwise to de-orbit the Station after 25 years of planning and assembly and only five years of operational life. A decision not to extend its operation would significantly impair the U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships. Further, the return on investment from the ISS would be significantly increased if it were funded at a level allowing it to achieve its full potential.”

In a nutshell, here are the 5 alternatives the committee came up with

1. Maintain all programs as is, but extend the space shuttle program to 2011 and ISS to 2020. Without extra funding, the Ares rockets wouldn’t be ready until 2020 and there would never be enough money to go to the Moon.

2. Maintain current funding, scrap Ares I, develop an Ares V lite version (about 2/3 of Ares V heavy) and divert extra funds to ISS for extension to 2020. Buy commercial LEO human space flight. The Ares might be ready by 2025, and perhaps get to the Moon after 2030.

3. Add $3 billion per year and proceed with the Constellation program to return to the Moon. The ISS would have to be de-orbited in 2016 to allow a return to the Moon by about 2025.

4. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the ISS to 2020 and get to the Moon by about 2025. Use either Ares V Lite, or Shuttle-C for heavy lift.

5. Add $3 billion per year. Extend the shuttle program to 2011 and extend ISS to 2020. Instead of heading to land on the Moon, orbit the Moon, or go to Near Earth Objects and prepare to go to Mars. Use either Ares V Lite; a heavy Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) or, a shuttle-derivative.

A summary of the Integrated Options evaluated by the Committee. Source: Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee

A summary of the Integrated Options evaluated by the Committee. Source: Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee

Watch Norman Augustine’s opening remarks from the press conference today:

Sources: Augustine Report, press briefing

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Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
October 22, 2009 4:57 PM
I barely know where to start with all of this. What an absolute debacle. What a disgrace. What a shambles! If this keeps going, America won’t just be behind China in the space game. They’ll be behind China, Russia, India, Japan, France, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Egypt, Samoa, Figi, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo etc. Hell, even Australia will probably get to Mars before the US at this rate. Are they seriously saying that we can’t even get to the moon by 2020? 2030?! Anyone ever heard of the Apollo program? They went from zero to heros in less time than it took me to write this sentence, and they had to work it all out from scratch.… Read more »
Nexus
Member
October 22, 2009 5:36 PM

Wow. That long and very eloquent rant sums up my own feelings perfectly.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
October 22, 2009 6:21 PM

Failure went from not being an option to being the administrative mandate. The US is far behind where it should have been in the 80’s, and no one is willing to take this problem on because space does not decide elections anymore.

They want to throw this in the presidents lap, but its not an issue that’s been close to his heart. So I suspect his response will either be “we cant afford this” or “I have my own vision for space exploration that will not cost us a thing ….or achieve any of its goals until decades after I’ve left office”.

SuperKevin
Member
SuperKevin
October 22, 2009 8:21 PM

I don’t like any of these options…it’s almost like were slowing down and nearly giving up. Shouldn’t progress be what we’re after? Going further, faster.

Dave Finton
Member
October 22, 2009 8:21 PM

The thing about the Apollo program was that there was funding to back it up. LOTS of funding! Bush basically said “we will go to the moon” but didn’t back up his words with the money. THAT is the disgrace.

HeadAroundU
Member
October 22, 2009 8:30 PM

Heads up, guys. I really like the idea of preparing to go to Mars. 5A option is fine. But, 3 billions will be a problem.

– not depressed HAU from EU. smile

philmetz
Member
philmetz
October 23, 2009 1:13 AM

Yep its a appauling, they were able to go to the moon with a pocket calculator but now cant!? There is soo much bureaucracy. Just scared to get sued. we should be on mars by now with a whole colony if we kept up like the apollo program.

Russian are doing the best it seem with there limited funds. I have a facebook group for them here:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=44362094512&ref=ts
join and show your support

tacitus
Member
October 23, 2009 10:23 AM
Are they seriously saying that we can’t even get to the moon by 2020? 2030?! Anyone ever heard of the Apollo program? They went from zero to heros in less time than it took me to write this sentence, and they had to work it all out from scratch. Everything! I support a fully funded manned space program, but this is oversimplifying things rather a lot. First, the overwhelming impetus for Apollo was (geo-)political. America sank billions into the programs simply because they wanted to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon. Second, going to the Moon and staying — the stated goal of a return to the Moon — is an order of magnitude more difficult and… Read more »
Spoodle58
Member
October 23, 2009 9:15 AM

This committee should be locked in a small box and dumped in space.

I think we as an unknown collective to each other would come to a quicker and better solution than this rubbish.

Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
October 23, 2009 9:51 AM

I’m equally worried as to how these limited options for the manned space program bodes for future unmanned missions, either in terms of solar system astronomy or deep space observatories.

Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
October 23, 2009 10:01 AM

To clarify my above comment, it seems as if the future of unmanned missions could go either way. Either a heavy reliance on unmanned missions to collect basic data on solar system-deep space observations or a scaled back effort of either solar system or deep space missions due to a lack of a central goal ( like missions to find lunar water, LCROSS, LRO, Clementine to identify possible manned landing sites). What unmanned missions will Congress and the American taxpayer deem worthy of funding? This could go either way.

Vanamonde
Guest
Vanamonde
October 23, 2009 11:59 AM
“Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation” is a title that drips with hubis and nationalistic nonsense. Mars can wait – we have no compelling reason to go there.We have a lot to do here on Earth – but I would not abandon spaceflight. I would leave deep space to the robots until we get an infrastructure together here in the Earth-Moon system. And make it an international effort, “For All Humankind”. Read Gerald O’Neal. That is the right program for our species. We can have cities in space that will turn a profit and support future exploration. And by then, we will know so much more about living in space long term and the… Read more »
Rocketman
Member
Rocketman
October 23, 2009 3:37 PM
Look no further; the problem is us (NASA). Two words: Greed and Ineptness. NASA management, Air Force, (and Congress) have their favorites that they return to time and again with great, profitable contracts. $500M was given to Delta and Atlas to update their designs while the COTS program initially had $500M for a ground up design and launch of 8 missions split between 2 or 3 companies. Greed & Ineptness: Even competitions like COTS had the winners pre-chosen and it was poorly administered. Why else would they down select the 23 competitors to the 6 most financially strong competitors first, THEN pick the 2 winners from the most technically sound of this group. Normally you down select the… Read more »
tacitus
Member
October 23, 2009 11:40 PM
So what if the Chinese land on the Moon next? Is the American psyche so fragile that it would be a fatal blow to our self-esteem? Perhaps some jingoistic far-right conservatives might be upset, but most Americans are made of sterner stuff. This kind of pettiness is moot anyway. Even if the Chinese put 100 people on the Moon before the next American lands there, it means squat in the long run. We’re decades away for being able to exploit the Moon’s resources in any meaningful way, and a couple of Chinese lunar bases aren’t change anything. Our future in space doesn’t belong to one country — it belongs to all mankind. In a century or two it… Read more »
kootstar
Member
kootstar
October 23, 2009 5:24 PM

Astrofiend– you have obviously NOT stayed with and observed the ISS programs. MUCH has been done with science there. Experiments done to observe the long-term effects of the weightlessness on plants, even microbes, and, yes, animals,(yes, humans ARE animals). Earth weather has been observed and studied there. Many deeper science programs that I have read were done on ISS. Scrap it now?? THAT’S NUTS!!! Find one of the ISS program lists and learn a bit, please?

Mr. Man
Member
Mr. Man
October 23, 2009 5:47 PM
Ok, Vanamonde listen I understand that it perhaps sounds like hubris, to compete with other nations to get to space but I think its the only way. In my personal opinion, “international cooperation” is overrated. So much more can be done when a bit of competetion is involved. I mean, look at the mess were in now, without someone to beat, there is no incentive to do! Don’t get me wrong, there are upsides (the ISS). Still, think of the former ambition of America, and what we accomplished, we went to the moon, for the first time, everything involved was a first. Now look, we are a shadow of our former selves, and at this rate China and… Read more »
Jorge
Member
Jorge
October 23, 2009 7:38 PM
Mr. Man, that’s wrong on so many levels I can’t even begin to put my finger on all of them. How many contemporary space missions do you think happen without international cooperation? Do you think, by any chance, that the Hubble is a NASA mission? It isn’t: it’s a cooperative effort with ESA. That the chinese developped their crewed capsules on their own? They didn’t; they had help from the russians. That the recent indian lunar probe is purely indian? Wrong again, it included instruments with several origins, including, IIRC, the US and, for certain, Europe. Cassini was launched with an ESA probe attached, called Huygens. ESA, by the way, is in itself totally the fruit of international… Read more »
Mr. Man
Member
Mr. Man
October 23, 2009 8:05 PM
But whats the point of learning all of this information if we don’t go there. If thats the case we might as well shut it all down. I love information, Jorge, I do…but going somewhere…in the Flesh, should be the goal of it all, otherwise I just wind up feeling like I’m missing something, missing an adventure. I think the Appollo mission is the one mission that accomplished this adventure, and we did it alone. And since when is truimph in politcs and the military Not a truimph, those two reasons are why the USA is no.1 to begin with. Science is an integration with them, its what propels it forward…and an atmosphere of competition, healthy compitition, is… Read more »
Rocketman
Member
Rocketman
October 23, 2009 8:53 PM

What will you do,
What will you wished you have done,
What will become of your job,
What will become of the industry,
What will the world think of our nation,
How will history judge our generation,

When the next human words spoken from the surface of the Moon are in Chinese?

We are in the next great space race and we don’t even know it.
When the Chinese land on the moon and we tell the world that we still need 10 years to do the same, the world will not care that we landed in 1969; they will rightly assumed that we had lost the ability and the race.

RUF
Guest
RUF
October 23, 2009 11:19 PM

NASA is a government works project designed to create jobs, not designed to meet goals.

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