Former Astronaut Criticizes NASA’s Current Course

by Jason Major on May 14, 2012

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Story Musgrave, 76, railed against the administration's current direction -- or lack thereof.

Former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave is neither happy nor excited about the current state of the space administration or about the commercial COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program. He’s not happy, and he’s not afraid to say so.

“The whole thing is chaos and a cop out. The whole thing is a Washington failure,” Musgrave bluntly stated to Examiner.com’s Charles Atkeison in an interview this past weekend.

Story Musgrave in 1983 (NASA)

Musgrave was a NASA astronaut for over 30 years and was a crew member on six shuttle missions. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble repair mission and on his last flight he operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia.

He has 7 graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. He has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates and was a part-time trauma surgeon during his 30 year astronaut career.

And, according to Atkeison, Musgrave “feels the space agency has no true goals or focus today.”

“We’re not going anywhere… there is no where, there is no what, and there is no when,” the former astronaut told Atkeison. “There is no Mars program, none. There is also no Moon program. There is no asteroid program… there’s no what we’re gonna do and no when we’re gonna do it.”

Neither does Musgrave put much faith in the value of the COTS program… which includes the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

This isn’t the first time Musgrave has spoken out against NASA’s direction, either; in June of 2011 Musgrave lambasted the administration for its failure to have a “next step” after phasing out the shuttle program.

“Why are we so poor in our vision and so poor in our project management that we come to a point where it’s reasonable to phase out the current program and we have no idea what the next one is?” Musgrave said in 2011. “Washington has to stop doing that.”

Story Musgrave, now 76, currently operates a palm farm in Orlando, FL, a production company in Sydney and a sculpture company in Burbank, CA. He is also a landscape architect, a design professor and  a concept artist with Disney Imagineering. It’s clear that Musgrave is a man who knows what vision is — and isn’t. Still, he’s always honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of NASA.

“I’m massively privileged to be part of the space program, and I never forget to say that,” said Musgrave last year.

Read the full story by Charles Atkeison on Examiner.com here.

First spacewalk of the space shuttle era (STS-6) by Story Musgrave and Don Peterson to test new spacesuits and life support systems. (NASA)

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

hionthemountain May 14, 2012 at 11:51 PM

That is one unlimited man, he sees something and goes after it. I have a doctor, he is a heart surgeon , he was going to school in his spare time to get a masters in business . . . I was really impressed with that . . .

Mr. Musgrave here is one of those guys who has that drive to dig in and get it . . . I am again
impressed. . . I also agree with him that America is floundering.
I guess in this day and age everybody is an amateur… even presidents

danangel May 15, 2012 at 2:35 AM

It’s just a stray thought, but maybe Romney should consider Storey for VP?

pepper2000 May 15, 2012 at 5:29 AM

Naw. Story Musgrave is such a talented individual, I would have to see that go to waste.

pepper2000 May 15, 2012 at 5:29 AM

Naw. Story Musgrave is such a talented individual, I would have to see that go to waste.

squidgeny May 15, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Maybe, but given his attitude toward spaceflight, he would be a force for good in policy-making.

Jason Major May 15, 2012 at 4:08 PM

When asked about running for office in 2011, Musgrave called himself “not electable.” :P

Liem Bahneman May 14, 2012 at 11:54 PM

Read his official NASA bio “Experience” sections and be in awe of Story’s background. This guy knows what he’s talking about: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/musgrave.html

Dampe May 15, 2012 at 12:34 AM

I just think its a fact that the new generations don’t give a toss about space exploration. There’s no ambition because people just don’t care. It’s sad, but one day the attitude will reverse and the drive will be there once more.

M Peter Selman May 15, 2012 at 1:25 AM

It’s not simply that people ‘don’t care,’ congress has a scourge of setting big project goals before under-funding and miss-directing the agency. That has let people down, and turned a lot of people off decades before. More recently, Constellation, and now, commercial crew. This time, the great reduction in commercial crew funds drafted by the house appear to be a partisan move. The funding would be directed to the Russians and a longer term deep space program. Perfect for setting up a train-wreck and political finger pointing. That said, the goals have been clearly stated, seed low cost LEO access before sending astronauts to an asteroid and later, the Moons of Mars. The planned funding being drafted by congress makes it seem unclear.

Then again, it’s not a moon race this time. Congressmen have no incentive besides securing projects for jobs, and scoring political points, even if it requires the derailment of NASA.

zkank May 15, 2012 at 3:46 AM

I agree with all except the “drive will be there once more” part.

In my generation it was every kid’s dream to be an astronaut.
Today, pimps of over-priced electronics gadgets are elevated to god-like status and are their modern heroes.

There was a very recent US survey done that indicated today’s youths are not getting their driver’s licence at the earliest opportunity anymore. Why? Because laws restricting hand-held gadgets while driving interfered with their social lives!
You can’t get them looking at the road, never mind the stars!

QUALIFIER: I know not every kid is like that, but unfortunately from what I see I think that the majority are.
I wish every success to the youths with ambition!

delphinus100 May 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM

All the more reason to support those who want to lower the cost of getting people and stuff into LEO (and, with assembly, anywhere you want from there), so that fraction who DO still see things to do out there will have a greater chance to do so, without having to convince Congress to open its purse strings first…

Tim Queeney May 15, 2012 at 3:28 AM

The problem facing NASA and manned space exploration is one of propulsion. Chemical rockets can’t cut it, ion drives are too fragile and slow to accelerate. Here’s some vision: build Orion. The original Orion worked on by Freeman Dyson that was designed to use nuclear pulse propulsion.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_%28nuclear_propulsion%29
The incredible speed of such a unit would allow it to get to Mars and return in 125 days. Compare that to a chemical rocket mission 9 months just to go one way.

fergiej May 15, 2012 at 1:57 PM

While I agree with you wholeheartedly, if the political will isn’t there to do ANYTHING, there’s no way politicians are going to approve the building of a “vee-hickle” that actually involves the exploding of nuclear bombs on it’s tail to move. “It’ll RUIN SPACE!” the stupid environuts will proclaim and they’ll win. We no longer have the backbone for the important stuff. Shame.

delphinus100 May 16, 2012 at 12:30 AM

Sadly true. If people get bent out of shape at the thought of a simple RTG being launched into space, imagine the response when you say you want to use actual nuclear DETONATIONS to do something…

dsfportree May 15, 2012 at 4:51 AM

Story has a reputation as a kook among astronauts and many at NASA. Mike Griffin had a pile of degrees and apparently good credentials and look what a mess he made of things. I think S. is right about COTS but hasn’t been paying attention WRT NASA’s direction. He’s been around long enough that he should realize that, if you loudly proclaim a NASA goal, it gets crushed. Alternately, it’s almost certainly an election-year vote-getting ploy and it’s a toss-up whether it survives beyond the election. Quiet research to build up our knowledge base is the right thing to be doing now. If the President called for a manned Mars mission tomorrow we’d still need to do the research. Doing the research now moves the goal closer when the political will is there.

Larry Polsky May 15, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Bye, bye, American Pie…

Larry Polsky May 15, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Bye, bye, American Pie…

GregtheThird May 15, 2012 at 7:18 AM

His comments are dead-on. It does appear that he is a big picture guy which are tragically scarce in the halls of government these days. The willpower is not there since America’s fronteir spirit is gone. It was lost to the increasingly sedentary city lifestyle of the past few generations. It won’t be easy to get back, but the time will come again once the technology is there and a need demands it. I worry though that it won’t be this nation leading the charge. One good thing about the younger generations is that they are technophiles and technophiles tend to invest in more tech rather than hoard money or waste it on extravagence. The more worrisome problem is that they are socially oriented rather than science oriented, which makes them consumers and not innovators. That has to change or or future as world leaders in innovation and new technology will evaporate. Investing in our future by promotinga sustained interest in the sciences amongst our children has to be priority number one now since we have been failing in this regard for too long already with a now noticeably crumbing infrastructure as evidence.

fleinkantarell May 15, 2012 at 8:07 AM

I think all this is gona change in 10-20 years.

Taking the optimistic approach; if PR (planetary R..) are successful in their endeavour, then there will be an economic interest. A governmental engagement will be forced. To show a pressence, supporting claims and protecting the interests of their frontairing companies.
This will play out like any other frontair opening and colonization in the history.

A little of topic there but the bottomline is: When the tide rises all ships are lifted.
And Mr Musgrave here, all kodus to his achievements, is a Dinosaur.

Jim McDade May 15, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Thank you, Story Musgrave! All of the current astronauts and their NASA colleagues cannot express their true feelings about the destruction of America’s formerly great national space program. The Obama administration has gotten terrible advice from it’s space policy advisers from day one. If president Obama gets reelected in November he needs to fire John Holdren, Lori Garver and all of the political hacks who are behind this terrible situation.

The fans of this mishandled, heavy-handed COTS initiative are naive at best, stupid in the worst case. If SpaceX ever doe offer an ipo, each American taxpayer deserves a few shares from that heavily taxpayer subsidized venture.

krenshala May 15, 2012 at 3:11 PM

What “taxpayer subsidized” venture? Musk spent the money from his own wallet, with more from informed investors. The only money from NASA he’s received has been milestone payments for contracted launches.

Or do you think every company that does business with the US government should give away shares to US citizens?

delphinus100 May 16, 2012 at 1:04 AM

Indeed, taxpayers will be getting cheaper, politically secure transportation for NASA crews to ISS, compared to the Russians.

Which was one of the main reasons for COTS to begin with…

Tom Nicolaides May 15, 2012 at 1:54 PM

While I can’t fault Musgrave’s criticism of lack of human space flight goals, and some of his criticism of NASA, I do believe he’s off base with his criticism of COTS. That’s the program that would allow private contractors to do routine access-to-space and allow NASA to focus on new things. NASA’s budget just isn’t big enough to do things the way we’ve done it. The methods are too slow and too expensive to to conduct routine operations. If we’re going to have NASA, let’s get them to focus on new things. Flying to/from the space station is not new. We can contract that out, as we’re currently doing with the Russians. Let NASA develop new systems and human capability. That’s what they do well.

Aerandir90 May 15, 2012 at 5:18 PM

I agree. Artificial gravity systems, hydroponic farming, ISRU techniques, radiation shielding. These are the areas that should receive priority funding before we even venture out beyond LEO or even HEO. If only we had a bold enough leader at NASA that realizes this and pushes for strategic and well-funded R&D.

GregtheThird May 15, 2012 at 8:08 PM

I agree that this is where we are at. But you still need a goal to shoot for or there will be no point to research these technologies. And believe me Congress will be the f irst to say, why should we fund these R&D projects when there is no point, no mission to apply them to? Therefore the goal must be maintained, just realistically projected further into the future. You need someone who sees the big picture to do that realistically with the government, and the vision just hasn’t been there. Based on this reasoning I like the shift of focus short term on NEOs and the moon, and specifically with regards to practical applications such as mining and solar power generation. Mars is just not practical right now aside from robotic exploration.

GregtheThird May 15, 2012 at 8:08 PM

I agree that this is where we are at. But you still need a goal to shoot for or there will be no point to research these technologies. And believe me Congress will be the f irst to say, why should we fund these R&D projects when there is no point, no mission to apply them to? Therefore the goal must be maintained, just realistically projected further into the future. You need someone who sees the big picture to do that realistically with the government, and the vision just hasn’t been there. Based on this reasoning I like the shift of focus short term on NEOs and the moon, and specifically with regards to practical applications such as mining and solar power generation. Mars is just not practical right now aside from robotic exploration.

bugzzz May 15, 2012 at 2:19 PM

I really can’t disagree with him at all. It feels like a loss of stature to have essentially abandoned manned space exploration. It also feels like the related technologies that are enhanced by working on large missions would only enhance our overall economy and scientific advances.

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lcrowell May 15, 2012 at 3:58 PM

If I were in his shoes I might be angry as well. He clearly sees the impending situation, if not causal logic, that the whole manned space program is in danger of being closed down. The COTS and the Space-X program has only one place to go, that is the ISS. There is not much point in building up a space rocket system in order to put a capsule in orbit without there being something out there to go to. Without the ISS there is nothing out there to really go to; that is unless we think the Gemini orbital missions are worth repeating over and over. The ISS will probably be cancelled by the early 2020s, and there will be nothing for orbital spacecraft to go to. The bigger question remains; what is there in outer space for human beings to go to?

The problem needs to be soberly addressed. A real and unbiased analysis of what purpose humans in space can serve needs to be addressed. This might address questions about the feasibility of solar power from space or some other space resource, or whether humans can really inhabit life support structures in space environments in a long term sustainable manner. The central question is whether these activities at some point in the future can ever have a positive economic feedback, or whether they will always be a negative. If it is negative, then is manned space flight workable as some service system for complex space science systems?

We can’t rely upon the “vision thing,” where we are really thinking in a science fiction mode. It sounds futuristic or heroic to think of daring astronauts heading off to Mars, but the cost/benefit analysis is at best highly problematic. Without some clear technical direction on this matter the purpose of the whole manned space program appears built on sand. Musgrave is facing a “Major Tom” moment where ground control might be closing down.

LC

Aerandir90 May 15, 2012 at 5:14 PM

I believe you are missing out on a couple of points.

Firstly, SpaceX will probably have a larger launch manifest for unmanned missions, catering to all kinds of entities that like to put their own satellites in orbit. SpaceX won’t die out just because the ISS may no longer exist in the next decade.

Secondly and more importantly, the rise of the Bigelow space stations will create a need for manned space transportation which is currently spurring a separate competition between SpaceX and Boeing that has nothing to do with NASA whatsoever. Seven countries have already signed contracts with BA to gain access to their space stations. NASA or no NASA, this is really a win-win situation. Governments, research labs, tourism companies are all going to jump on the BAndwagon if and when launch costs drop according to what SpaceX claims.

Once the private space industry becomes well established in the next couple of decades, along with the inevitable development of cis-lunar space, I think the rest of the inner solar system won’t be that far out of reach.

All of us in the space community have our own opinions on what NASA should and shouldn’t be doing. Some more popular ones like the stupidity of the SLS. But it is this rift in direction and ignorance of politicians which is causing NASA’s manned spaceflight program to fail. Which is why private firms who know what and why they’re doing may end up saving (manned) space for us all, and which is why COTS is such an invaluable program as its nursing these fledgling companies to grow, mature, and establish themselves.

lcrowell May 15, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Space-X will undoubtedly find their Falcon rocket more useful and profitable in launching satellites and unmanned spacecraft. There are economic reasons for having systems in space, such as comsats, and so long as space science continues there will be a purpose for launching probes. The question that needs to be addressed is what is the economic purpose for putting humans in space? The ISS has accomplished rather little in the way of scientific research, and Petite’s little demonstrations are entertaining but can’t justify the $100B cost of the ISS. Once the ISS goes down, which will probably happen in 10 years, Space-X is not going to finance out of pocket costs to put capsules with astronauts in orbit.

As for Bigelow’s “space hotel,” that is not going to take humanity “boldly where no one has gone before.” That is a high price resort for the very few who can cough up the $30 million for a ticket, which undoubtedly will rise considerably from this announced estimate, for an orbital vacation. This will not be much more than conspicuous consumption by the most wealthy. Most of us who draw a paycheck, pay mortgages or rents, drive your basic Chevy or Ford are not going there. The people going there will drive to the spaceport in a Ferrari or Bentley, and at the end of their orbital vacation will back on Earth have a choice of a half dozen mansions to recover their terrestrial legs.

Actually the SLS strikes me as a decent program. I am not so sure about putting astronauts back on the moon, but this could be used to put some serious scientific instruments into space. The use of solid propellant rockets I find a bit annoying, for these are polluting. However, the development of a large launch vehicle seems potentially worthwhile.

LC

Jeff Boerst May 15, 2012 at 5:31 PM

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, once another nation-state (let alone a private company) sets human feet on another space rock than the Earth, Congress will POUR money into NASA’s cup…

delphinus100 May 16, 2012 at 12:27 AM

If a (presumably US) private company can do it, it would be foolish to do anything other than by passenger and cargo flights to the Moon from them, than to POUR money into technology that would duplicate the ability, at almost certainly a higher developmental and per-flight cost…

Indeed, the smart thing would be to encourage at *least* one other also-private second-source alternative, to maintain competition.

But with the way Commercial Crew is being handled today, I don’t expect Congress to be that smart. Yes, it seems so much easier for government to be reactive, than proactive…

Rob May 15, 2012 at 9:34 PM

This is one of the most enjoyable and intelligent on-line conversations I’ve read in a long time, so thanks everyone. What emerges here for me is basically what Story said in the article; there is no where, no what and no when. First and formost there is no WHAT – what are we hoping to achieve with manned space exploration. The driving force behind space has been military superiority, starting with the development of the V-2 in germany, then the development of ICBMs and then national contests for superiority in technology ending with the Moon landing. After that, space has been coasting on momentum in the form of the ISS going around the planet with no real purpose other than to bled off that public support for exploration and to ease the pain for Russia having lost. Story points the finger at NASA but it’s just the instument of policy and like any government agency has no independant power. NASA cannot provide the ‘what’, it can only play a role in achieving the what, like it did with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. So where is the new ‘what’ coming from? Another military threat could provide a what – let’s hope that doesn’t happen! An economic opportunity beyond communication satellites, like an asteroid made of gold might provide the what, especially if property rights can be granted to entrepreneurs. A ‘survivalist’ instinct might provide the ‘what’ as in Elon Musk’s idea of becoming a multi-planetary species should a disaster occur on Earth. However, without a compelling ‘what’ manned space flight is going no ‘where’ any time soon. We will not do it because we should, because it’s our destiny as human beings to boldly go, we will do it only if we are compelled!

Rob May 15, 2012 at 9:34 PM

This is one of the most enjoyable and intelligent on-line conversations I’ve read in a long time, so thanks everyone. What emerges here for me is basically what Story said in the article; there is no where, no what and no when. First and formost there is no WHAT – what are we hoping to achieve with manned space exploration. The driving force behind space has been military superiority, starting with the development of the V-2 in germany, then the development of ICBMs and then national contests for superiority in technology ending with the Moon landing. After that, space has been coasting on momentum in the form of the ISS going around the planet with no real purpose other than to bled off that public support for exploration and to ease the pain for Russia having lost. Story points the finger at NASA but it’s just the instument of policy and like any government agency has no independant power. NASA cannot provide the ‘what’, it can only play a role in achieving the what, like it did with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. So where is the new ‘what’ coming from? Another military threat could provide a what – let’s hope that doesn’t happen! An economic opportunity beyond communication satellites, like an asteroid made of gold might provide the what, especially if property rights can be granted to entrepreneurs. A ‘survivalist’ instinct might provide the ‘what’ as in Elon Musk’s idea of becoming a multi-planetary species should a disaster occur on Earth. However, without a compelling ‘what’ manned space flight is going no ‘where’ any time soon. We will not do it because we should, because it’s our destiny as human beings to boldly go, we will do it only if we are compelled!

menoc May 15, 2012 at 10:19 PM

He is sharpening his skills for a future career in politics as a republican.

menoc May 15, 2012 at 10:19 PM

He is sharpening his skills for a future career in politics as a republican.

delphinus100 May 16, 2012 at 12:57 AM

“As for Bigelow’s “space hotel,” that is not going to take humanity “boldly where no one has gone before.”

First, even though he made his original money in hotels, that’s way down the list of Robert Bigelow’s priorities. Private space research and commercial users will be his primary customers.

Second, it’s not just about ‘boldly going.’ Not all spaceflight is space exploration. But the more reasons there are for private development, even in places where we’ve supposedly ‘been there and done that’ (and who is ‘we’ in those assertions, anyway?), the stronger the foundation and infrastructure there will be for doing things deeper in space.

Indeed, given appropriate propulsion and power, Bigelow technology *itself* could do some serious traveling. Long-therm habitable modules become an off-the shelf item. They can even give you figures for the structure’s GCR attenuation. Though developed for other purposes, it’s one less thing you have to do from scratch…

This kind of common, non-government, even if initially ‘local’ (and that we can think of LEO as ‘local’ and dull now, says something) spaceflight is something to be encouraged and nurtured. Columbus was going to do something untried with caravels, but he didn’t have to figure harbor development in his plans, their existence was a given. We don’t have the orbital space equivalent. Yet.

And that’s something you can’t make a date-oriented goal (Apollo has seriously warped our thinking, in that respect), but you *can* encourage its evolution…

Ray Fowler May 16, 2012 at 8:39 PM

Aging astronaut rails against the death of his profession to commercialization.

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