NASA News Too Depressing for a Headline

OK, I give up. I’ve sat here for about a half an hour trying to come up with a headline for this news piece. Actually, there are three different news items I’m combining into one article. One is fairly good news, the other two are very depressing.

First the good news: Today, the first major flight hardware of the Ares I-X rocket arrived in Florida to begin preparation for the inaugural test flight of NASA’s next-generation launch system. But amid this tangible event of moving toward the future comes bad financial news about the Constellation program. Congressional investigators have concluded that the Constellation program is likely to cost $7 billion more than budgeted if it is going to be ready to fly by its target date of March 2015. Without extra money, it could be delayed by 18 months or more.

At the same time another report concludes that NASA would need an extra $2 billion a year to keep its shuttle fleet flying beyond 2010, a measure which would shorten the gap where NASA wouldn’t have a human rated vehicle available for access to space. But doing so would hamper plans to convert a launch pad and other facilities for moon missions, likely delaying Constellation even more.

More money for either Constellation or the shuttle program is just not in NASA’s budget, and shifting money around from other programs “would be disastrous,” NASA shuttle program manager John Shannon said. “What we’re trying to do is find a path that continues to keep Americans flying on American vehicles, but does not mortgage the future of manned space flight,” he said. “We really have to step back and think very hard about what we want the future to look like, and make sure that we’re not going to make it something that is not achievable.”

I need ideas for a headline for this article. Readers — comments?

Both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama have said they would increase NASA’s budget by $2 billion to minimize the gap between shuttle retirement and the first piloted flights of Ares 1 rockets and Orion crew capsules. (This is being written before the election results are in.) But even that won’t be enough to solve all of the problems.

The Congressional Budget Office report listed several of problems facing the Ares I rocket and the Orion capsule, which NASA hopes will return astronauts to the moon by 2020. Among them are difficulties in developing an engine for Ares and a heat shield for Orion. “NASA has identified several problems associated with the Ares I that could delay successful development of the vehicle,” according to the 18-page report. Read the report here.

We’ve discussed all the issues previously on Universe Today, including intense shaking on liftoff, and concerns that Ares could crash into the launch gantry.

NASA officials said they were studying the report. But agency managers insist the program is on track.

At a news conference NASA held last week to counter reports of Constellation’s problems, Steve Cook, Ares project manager said, “The Ares I rocket is a sound design that not only meets the high safety standards required for a manned spacecraft, it is within budget, on schedule, and meets its performance requirements with margin.”

So what’s the real story? I’m not certain anymore. I desperately want to believe that the media (is that me, too?) overblowing the problems and NASA isn’t just looking through rose colored glasses. But the bad news keeps coming from all fronts.

NASA’s options other than the Ares appear limited.

One proposed option would extend the current space shuttle flight schedule through 2012, using the giant external fuel tanks and other hardware NASA has already planned to build. A second option calls for NASA to build more fuel tanks and hardware to keep flying three shuttle missions per year until 2015.

The CBO report also cautioned that the cost of more shuttle flights could only hurt Constellation under NASA’s limited budget.

Even by throwing more money at Constellation, the investigators also don’t think that NASA could speed up Constellation’s development, at least in the near term. They said NASA told them that “additional funding can no longer significantly change” the March 2015 target date of a first launch.

Even so, the Orlando Sentinel reports that NASA is looking at radical changes in the program to see if it can speed up development.

According to former astronaut Eileen Collins, currently a member of the NASA Advisory Council, one option under consideration would eliminate features needed to go to the moon and turn it a simple craft that could ferry crew and cargo to the space station. That would mean further delays for the real reason for Constellation: returning to the moon.

I thought we had some good news about Constellation last week. But this seems depressing. Too depressing for a headline.

Sources: NASA, Orlando Sentinel, Florida Today

62 Replies to “NASA News Too Depressing for a Headline”

  1. Looks like increased SpaceX investment and more COTS initiatives need to be put out there. If Constellation is going to be delayed, we need a commercial option. It could be the only answer.

    I’d keep the headline the same, I can’t think of a better one except “More Bad News For Constellation”, but I think we’ll have too many duplicates on UT 🙁

    Sad indeed.

  2. Bad numbers, bad timing…. maybe.

    Politicians as a rule are penny wise and pound foolish. With the US investing hundreds of billions into failing banks, getting a 20 billion dollar bailout on the future of mankind is one hell of a hard sell.

    Their more likely to trumpet it as a perfect example of government waste (and VSE being a Bush program, all the worse for us).

    The best we can hope for is the post election chaos keeping this out of the spotlight. Maybe space proponents can get to work on selling the idea so it doesn’t get caught up in the political crossfire.

    Alots riding on the Ares I-X now.


    NASA’s popularity has been sliding down in the eyes of the people for quite a while, yet it is now that they are finally smelling the coffee.

    They don’t show anything that will pick the interest of majority. Their project are way over the head of a majority.

    Their output is too scientific – in many cases written or spoken in an unpopular gobbledygook, wishy-washy manner that does show indecision, waste of time and money, especially on anything done on Mars.

    On Mars issues the popular imagination was stifled by refusing to provide clear pictures of controversial objects and by disregarding public demands about choosing controversial landing sites, like Cydonia or the face.

    A Phoenix mission sent to Cydonia would have made NASA very popular, and a part of the people’s expectation, yet they chose to be on the opposite side “looking for water in a desert.”

    It is not surprise for me that public enthusiasm for flying around Mercury or unreachable corners of our Universe has declined. The Moon and Mars and next door and they are interesting. NASA needs to learn how to walk in the big house, before they can go running at the Universal Olympic Games.

    Open up the Martian archives and distribute ENHANCED pictures of questionable sites, create public controversies, speculation and show real proofs of whatever they have found already and NASA’s popularity will for sure rise again!

  4. I think more investment in commercial development of a launch vehicle would be more feasible. Look at SpaceX, three failures and a one success and staying under a 100 million dollar budget. Imagine what they could do with a 1 billion dollar budget.

    Maybe NASA should stick to the science, exploration and development of technology that is not profitable for commercial business.

    Remove the large contractors from the picture and bring in some of the innovative small businesses that can stick to a budget.

  5. There is a lot of money out there but it’s going over to that… know what. I won’t mention that 3 letter word.


  6. Hope the private sector can get man-certified rockets ready in time. Otherwise, we’d have to rely on the Russians, or if diplomatic problems arise, we might even have to depend on Chinese-manufactured spacecraft.

  7. It seems the commercial rocket industry will need to carry to torch for manned space flight.

  8. Hmmmm – headline? How about “American pollies lack the foresight to maintain their position as technological leaders in space – NASA in downward spiral”.

    I simply cannot fathom it. The ‘three letter word’ beginning with a w, referred to by Tom is costing you guys $9 BILLION DOLLARS PER MONTH! Sooo… 2 months without that expenditure would pay for the extra $7 B for the Constellation program and pay for 6 more years of shuttle flights. Unbelievable. And McCain wants this unwinnable madness to continue indefinitely. Get out there and vote guys.

    In any case, the next president will almost certainly scrap Bush’s vision for space exploration and reinstate their own vision, thereby rendering it all a huge waste of money. If we’re lucky, their vision will involve a whole lot more science and a whole lot less BS like the space station.

  9. Well, with a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, more than enough money will be available for all of Nasa’s projects. Heck, enough money to pay for our deficit and heal the US’s other wounds.

    However, we will have to wait for President Obama’s decisions.

  10. How about if NASA became a private commercial entity in itself and moved away from the government. SallieMae did that with the student loan business. They started as a government entity in 1972 but began privatizing in 1997. I would love the chance to invest in NASA. I bet NASA stock would soar faster than the Ares 1-X on a triple budget.

  11. Money spent or not spent on a war does not automatically go to NASA’s coffers.

    In this case it would have to get past a Democratic senate and congress before the president gets to add his signature.

    This means the fate of NASA is in the hands of the democratic party leadership… Not necessarily the president. Especially if there is no effective opposition to that party.

    Very good if they fall on our side, very bad if they don’t.

  12. 40 years later now and I’m still looking at the moon as if it is unreachable. We’ve had 40 Years to refine and improve methods for reaching the moon. 40 damn years and nothing substantial has been done. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Now that sentiment aside, we still have the blue prints fro the Original Plans from 40 years ago, I’m thinking we get back in the business of making Saturn V Rockets. We have substantially better technology now, and for crying out load WE KNOW how to get people To the Moon!

    If we make a Fleet of Saturn V’s and Send up everything in a more modular form instead of trying to reinvent the whole friggin’ system, then we’ve got a decent chance of setting down the ground plan for a Moon Base of SOME kind.

    Best part is, it’s like rebuilding a classic car, you now know all of the quirks, and you can upgrade what ever you like using the original chassis.

  13. Applied science like Space exploration needs a commercial ideal. Mining of helium 3. Advanced manufacturing in zero gravity. Asteroid mining, space tourism to name a few.

    The frustration of not seeing a viable return on the billions spent on (manned) exploration is crippling the enthusiasm of the public and thus politicians for the venture.

    Of course the reality is that science paves the road for these kinds of ideals.

    Its a lack of vision that is losing the interest of the masses.

    Lets tow in a water rich asteroid into the earth moon system and start mining it.
    Building an infrastructure in space that has a commercial as well as scientific objective.

    Water means life for organic matter, fuel for expansion and an effective shield against the harsh space weather. (water balloons in space anyone?)

    Just some thoughts, although I do have to say I wish humans lived longer, we are such an impatient species. We all wish to see these wonders in our lifetime. Sadly.

    My suggestion for a title; The Economy versus a Future in Space.


  14. I think the space shuttle is the greatest. Its big and can lift alot, haul a lot of people, pick up some thing and land on a runway any where, almost like a space 737. Why cant we just make one like a Biz jet size so it cheaper to cycle? Recovering space craft is better done at airports landing like airplanes than falling throught the sky with little control. Think wouldn’t you rather return to earth as a pilot of an aircraft instead of being tied to a smart bomb with reacation control, parachute and retro rockets?

  15. I am glad that you see the writing on the wall about NASA’s recent failures. I came to the same conclusions you have in this article within the last 2 months. Like just about everything else the past administration has done, the leadership, expectations, self-analysis and direction of NASA is askew. The long term goals were set too ambitiously with regards to time with no realistic way to stay on budget to pay for it within the time allotted. Not surprisingly there is a budget shortfall, probably the first of many. The engineering snafus are not unusual and should have been anticipated. The solution is simple and the same as always. Ask for more funding, extend the shuttle program to keep a presence in space even if it delays implementation of Orion, and extend the development time of the Orion program until it works and can stay on budget. Curtail the Orion mission objectives only as a last resort until more funds become available.

  16. This NASA problem is no surprise and is only the beginning. Get ready for more inevitable cutbacks.

  17. America should swallow its pride and ride into space with the Russians, Chinese ande Indians while putting huge funding into Constellation. We’re all long passed the days of a competitive space-race where gaining the high ground was a mark of national status. America no doubt has all the best[?] technical know-how and can help the above nations while they do the flying. It doesn’t diminish US standing or emasculate it because it would have to rely on another country – it’s called cooperation.

  18. What is the feasibility of moving the space station to the moon’s orbit? Add a few Landers and….

  19. Living in the UK it makes me sad that our government does not invest nothing to a space program even the ESA gets not help from us 🙁 It seems NASA has taken a back seat while the world trundles on with other matters but I agree with Paul Eaton-Jones, if all the other Space agencies round the world, I think things would progress a lot faster and we are now consider ourselves a global community so why not the space agencies ? With all those brains, engineers and money who knows where we could be in 5-10-20 years time, As one famous Captain once said.

    … a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars” — Cpt Jame T Kirk

  20. How about “Constellation Consternation”? 🙂

    Hopefully if Falcon 9/Dragon will live up to its promise and fill the gap after 2010. Then NASA can cancel Constellation, just buy in the best launch service (cheapest for cargo, safest for humans) and concentrate on advanced vehicle design – oh and robotic exploration, which is there best work has been done recently anyway. The MERs were launched on Delta 2s, Cassini on A Titan IV, and so on.

  21. “America should swallow its pride and ride into space with the Russians” that is really what i believe, however america does ferry cosminaughts into space some times and vice versa dont they? i mean the USA works with Russia on the ISS why dont they allow china to aswell? i think it would be very good for international relations, think about it, all countrys working together in attempts to explore the universe.

  22. I agree with Silver. Build some more flight-proven Saturn V-type launch vehicles, launch and dock several packages, and get on with our day. With modern technology and proven designs, we can certainly build and operate lunar landers and equipment that will work just fine. It’s nice to keep the aerospace industry in business, and offer them cool new stuff to build, but there’s really no need to re-invent the automobile every time we plan a road trip.

    The shuttles are wonderful equipment, but they’re getting old, and we just don’t need them for one-way delivery systems of equipment. A lot of extra fuel gets used just so we can bring an empty boxcar back. Perhaps we should keep them in the hangar until we need 2-way ops, and extend their service life for another few years. Private contractors can certainly be used for satellite deliveries, to allow NASA to concentrate on the task at hand.

  23. neil quote – ‘NASA – Not Another Sad Anouncement’

    lol I thought it was:

    NASA Never A Straight Answer

    People of the World, Unite, Explore, Create, Assure our Future…

    Please !!!

  24. Things could change in the future. Dont be too down about this just yet.

    When talking that big of money, in the future none the less, things can defenetly change for the better.

    Im not going to be depressed about this. Im going to be optimistic and maybe we will come up with new and improved plan.

  25. I would not worry about it.
    The new administration will probably “redistribute” the NASA money anyhow.

  26. How’s this for a title: “Another Typcial Day at NASA”

    Does any of this really surprise you? It’s just more of the same:
    * A 30-billion dollar promise with a 20-billion dollar budget;
    * Desparately trying to hold to a schedule that was too optimistic from the start;
    * Unexpected engineering problems on a system that, on the surface, seemed like it was just a simple extension of mature technology;
    * A “recovery” proposal that involves scaling back the specifications to what can be easily done within the limited budget and time frame.
    It’s the same old story, just different characters.
    There’s a dollar bill taped to my wall. It’s to cover my bet with a NASA friend of mine that in 2022, 50 years after the last human left the moon, we will be still waiting for NASA to get us back.

  27. Launchpad Fizzle

    Nasa : Lost In the Space of Congress Ears

    Democrats Call for Stimulus! Create Jobs! Save the Environment! Build ANOTHER Road! Declare To Many Problems On Earth, Cuts Nasa Budget.

    Seriously Nasa MIGHT poke along as it has for decades. Don’t look for an increase in budget, unless it’s a Clinton increase. Cut the budget for 2 or 3 years in row, then restore a fraction of it and call it an increase. Since Kennedy space has never been a priority of Republicans much, much, less Democrats.

    America has long ago lost it’s vision and courage (despite the obvious exceptions of our military people.) Game over folks, they just haven’t turned out the lights yet.

  28. NASA leadership has not done much to instill confidence in itself.
    Normally we say “don’t fix it unless it is broke”
    NASA says “don’t fix it even if it IS broke, wait for it to fail and blow up a shuttle and kill the crew, THEN fix it!”

  29. Well, ATM folks, here’s a great opportunity. How can we get off the planet without bankrupting NASA?

  30. I have hope that as Americans we will not let the perception stand that we are letting the Chinese or Indians overtake us in the space race. It might require a Sputnik moment first, but I have confidence that we will get our priorities back in order. As Hawkins said, Man has no future if he stays Earth-bound!

    And unless you are one of those nut jobs who things the end of the world is coming to the end and therefore why bother, I think most of will heed the call to continue exploring and improve ourselves, something that has been a calling in our blood from the beginning.

    So have some hope Nancy!

  31. How about the headline:
    What does that mean? Well, in 1966 I was a newly-minted Ph D, on the ground, with NASA at JSC in Houston. The roller coaster ride over the 1965-1968 period for Gemini/Apollo was much greater than that described in this article, over-runs were rampant, the pogo effect for Saturn was a potential killer, etc … oh yes, and there was a little war going on then, too. Then as now, the media was overblowing the negatives while the engineers were quietly writing the history books with actions. Today’s similarities to that period are much larger than the differences.

    Of course, there is no immunity to being stabbed in the back by the politicians.

  32. Here’s your headline:
    “NASA Once Again Proves it is Predictable – Ares Underdelivers, Costs More Than Stated and Will Arrive Late”
    “Perhaps It’s Time to Look for Another Solution for the Gap?”
    “Socialism as Practiced in Space Transportation Once Again Proves to be a Failure”
    “USG Ignores Potential of Private Sector Solutions to Close the Gap and instead intends to Pour $2 Billion Into the Hole”
    “Isn’t it Time We Try Something New? NASA Can’t Fill the Gap But American Companies Say They Can!’\
    ‘NASA Powerpoints Once Again Fail to Line Up With Real World Realities – Congress Once Again Dumbfounded They Believed Them Again in the First Place”
    “Ares Feeding Trough Ploy Successful in Bid to Steal $2 Billion More From US Taxpayers”
    “Truck and Bus Drivers or Explorers?
    NASA Still Confused as to its Role in the NewSpace World – Taxpayers to Foot Bill as Answers Sought”
    “NASA approaches 50th Apollo Anniversary Year – If We Can Put Man on the Moon, Why Can’t We Put Man (Woman) on the Moon?”

    Just a couple of ideas…lol…

    Rick N. Tumlinson

  33. Headline –

    When is rocket science not rocket science?
    When Barak says, “OK, you guys in Iraq, come home”
    and $6 billion a month suddenly becomes available. – [for something].

    Your old mate David in NZ

  34. We should immediately halt manned flight fantasies beyond or including the ISS and join other nations in doing pure science missions, which do not put US lives at risk. Moon landings are mostly about prestige, not science, let other nations waste their money and lives on prestige. We have made our great mark on history, and will rarely be able to afford such “showoff” accomplishments again. The “return to the moon” was a cute PR gimmick for the Bush Administration, never expected to be taken literally. There is no need to scrap the shuttles on a matter of principle, many airlines fly craft that are older. America still thinks money grows on trees…maybe they will eventually grasp their real global impoverishment.

    Title? “Nasa Still Living in Idyllic Bubble of 20th Century, Unable to Grasp Its Own Obsolescence”.

  35. I have this gnawing sense that it is slowly ‘sinking in’ to the money managers that space exploration is proving to be way too expensive for the little return on investment.

  36. The Planetary Society, and perhaps others, have suggested a targeting of a Near-earth asteriod rather than the moon for the next manned space adventure. It gets us further sooner.

  37. I think the Saturn 5 idea is a pretty good one, and it could be a stop-gap until the additional technology arrives. It would be a nice way to show China/the world that we still know how to do it, even with old technology!

    I also think it might be a good idea to have a space lottery. People could enter the lottory for a chance to get a free rocket ride into space. It would be expensive, but by having poeple purchase the lottory tickets, it would pay for itself, and may even make a profit. It most certainly would generate interest in the space program, and science in general.

  38. This would be depressing if it was unexpected. However, the Congressional Budget Office pointed out soon after Bush made his January 2004 election-year speech that the Vision as described would cost a good deal more than either Bush or NASA was prepared to admit. It’s another case of Bush Administration duplicity and incompetence. I suspect that the Obama Administration will do as the Clinton Administration did for the Space Station; kill the incompetently administered GOP program and revive it on a sounder footing.

  39. I would be very wary of relying on the Russians for any apsect of our space program. It is not that Russian technology and engineering is not reliable and durable since quite the opposite has been proven since the 1950s. The problem is that Russian politics is not reliable and a future Russian regime could decide to pull the rug out from under our space program in retaliation for a perceived or real offense that we commit in the future. If we have to depend on them in the short run then I propose an act of goodwill in scrapping our Euro-missile defense shield program. This should be a no brainer, but inexplicably the Bush admin. has stuck to this policy which has repeatedly poked the Russians in the eye and soured our relations with them. Despite the fact that a MIT study commissioned by the President concluded that the shield would not work, Bush turned it into a power play. The real motive I am sure that the program was not killed is that certain defense contractors stand to make a killing on it, even if it doesn’t work. Killing the program would be a win-win for the U.S. reputation of excellence which would be tarnished when the shield fails if it gets tested, for the Europeans who would die believeing it will save them, and for easing diplomatic relations with Russia.

  40. I’ve been a space enthusiast since the earliest day’s of the space program (yes I’m that old), and have always been in NASA’s corner. However, in the last few years since the “Vision for Space Exploration” was initiated I’ve become more and more discouraged by NASA’s response to and implementation of the “Vision”. After almost five years (since January, 2004) all we’ve got to show for this effort are some plywood mock-ups, tests of rocket motors and pretty power-point slides. Seems like we’ve spent more time and money on “presenting” the Vision rather than actually designing and building it.

    I’m not sure how much of our tax money has been spent on this effort yet, but it’s got to be in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. And after all this time and money we’re now finding out the Ares 1 rocket isn’t even powerful enough to launch the current configuration of the Orion spacecraft! In addition there’s an underground community of engineers that have worked on an alternate launch system (Jupiter 2) that may actually get the job done, but NASA will never really consider it (wasn’t invented here mentality).

    In 1961 we had one sub-orbital space flight under our belt, not much launch infrastructure and NO existing heavy lift launch capability when President Kennedy committed us to “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” within a decade. In only eight years we designed, built, tested, and fielded not one, not two, but three completely different man-rated spacecraft and launch vehicles! We literally started from scratch to landing men on the Moon in eight years! Today we have this huge existing launch infrastructure, existing medium lift and heavy lift launch vehicles, not to mention that we’ve done this before in the form of the Apollo Program (yes, yes I know it’s more than Apollo), but after five years we can’t seem to get off the ground!

    Oh the bureaucracy! It’s not your father’s, or grandfather’s NASA anymore!

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