Bolden: Heavy Lift Will Be International Effort and Not Until 2020-2030

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke with reporters Saturday at Kennedy Space Center on the eve of the launch of the STS-130 mission, answering questions that focused mainly on the new 2011 NASA budget and the cancellation of the Constellation program. The big question in many people’s minds is, with no Ares rockets, how will NASA do the “bold plans” for exploration and move beyond low Earth orbit? Bolden said that, NASA will build a heavy lift rocket, but likely not until sometime between 2020 and 2030, which is the same time frame – or later – that the Ares V was projected to be ready. Bolden said the biggest difference is that NASA will likely build a big rocket with international partners.

“I haven’t talked to anybody that doesn’t agree that the nation needs heavy lift capability,” said Bolden. “We need it for science, intelligence, for DOD, and NASA needs it for sending humans beyond orbit. How do we evolve there? We take the lessons learned from Constellation. If I’m able to negotiate with Congress appropriately we may actually be carving out some subsystems that are in Constellation because they are advanced technology, and they are things that we will need to develop a heavy lift system. So while we will phase out the Constellation program per se, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We want to try to capture technologies and capabilities that are resident in Constellation as we migrate towards a new system.”

Asked specifically about a timetable for heavy lift, Bolden said he ideally would like to see a rocket ready to go in the 2020 – 2030 time-frame, but that first NASA needs to decide what the destinations are. He said he thought Mars was the ultimate destination for humans, but that we would need to spend some time on the Moon first.

So, doesn’t this sound like Constellation – go to the Moon to prepare for Mars? Bolden admitted the cancellation of Constellation was for budgetary reasons. So, going forward, NASA will work (and split the costs) with other nations – as they are currently doing with the International Space Station — to explore beyond LEO.

NASA Adminstrator Charlie Bolden at Kennedy Space Center, Feb. 6, 2010. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“The President has instructed me that this is going to be in international effort,” Bolden said, “and that we are going expand our involvement with international partners. I’ll be meeting with three of my partners tonight before the launch, to talk about where we’re going from here. So it’s going to be different than the way we used to do it. We’re going to put international partners in the critical path, which means they may develop a system that we know how to do, but we don’t know how to do it as well.”

Bolden admitted he didn’t handle the rollout of the new budget and Constellation cancellation very well. “Why wasn’t the NASA workforce better prepared for this? I will take the heat, was because I didn’t listen to people to how we should roll this out. So we rolled out everything at once, and the workforce was not was not well prepared and I apologize. I was stupid, I admit that, I didn’t do it right.”

Bolden talked about the “game changing” technology of ion engines and using commercial companies as crew and cargo carriers to the ISS.

“Constellation was putting all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “Commercial allows us a redundant capability,” along with the ability to buy seats on the Soyuz rockets.

Bolden disagreed with those who have said the “flexible path sound like you’re going nowhere. I don’t agree. We will go as we develop the capability.”

He also “respectfully” disagrees with US Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) opinion that this is the end of human spaceflight for NASA.

“We may get there more rapidly by opening up the venture with international partners,” Bolden said.

15 Replies to “Bolden: Heavy Lift Will Be International Effort and Not Until 2020-2030”

  1. “I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater…”

    It would seem reasonable to keep at least one shuttle, a couple external tanks, and all the usable main engines ‘moth-balled’, in case of an emergency or the unexpected?

  2. Of course that would mean ‘moth-balling’ the launch platform too.. donno how practical that’d be?

  3. “The President has instructed me that this is going to be in international effort,”

    Read as: we pay to develop the technology, then give this new missile technology to China as was done during the Clinton administration.

  4. Why are they only using commercial service to the ISS. If it was up to me, I’d be launching everything I could on commercial rockets, and using commercial hardware. And as for a heavy lifter, why not just sponsor private companies to build one. Surely the Unitled Launch Alliance or SpaceX would be able to do it in a few years.

    Still, it’s good to see that NASA has finally acknowledged the existence of advanced ion drives. Now maybe they should think about how to get a nuclear reactor up there to power one. Or, better yet, delegate it to a commercial company.

  5. *Sob!* All my dreams come true, “Flexible Path” (aka Moon exploration, NEO exploration, Mars round trip, Phobos way station, Mars, and on and on), commercial services (including using ISS as a way station for scientists and tourists both) and, at long last, international exploration!

    Besides ion engines, VASIMR and inflatable space habitats will have time to come into play. Neat!

  6. Oh noes! It’s too tempting! I believe I will pull an IVAN3MAN:

    @ Nancy,

    At the second paragraph, in the seventh line:

    … we will phase out the Constellation program per say, …

    That should be per se, which is a Latin term for “by or in itself”.

    … I will take my coat and let myself out now.

  7. @highschool – There’s not a huge market for a heavy lifter, if multiple companies build one than only one will get chosen and they could stand to loose a lot of money. Maybe if out of the designs nasa picks one company and goes with them.

  8. I repeat, don’t listen to what they say, look at what they do!

    Also dig out those pre-shuttle documentation explain what magic tricks the shuttle would do. They would be launched from another air-plane…There was no tank and SRB.

    International effort? Don’t ask ESA for human flight. They keep on claiming that they will develop a shuttle but after 20 years zero results. All they do is talk.

    International effort to Mars does make sense.

  9. Sell the Ares….sell it to the highest bidder….rent the launch platform out in exchange for payload discounts…

    Keep a shuttle or two for emergencies…

    Revisit the X33……it can work…..

    Do it.


  10. It does seem VERY VERY strange all the “Start this, oh cancel this, design this, oh, actually put it on the backburner, you can have this, actually you can’t” that seems to be happening in the US space program. Isn’t that horribly innefficiant, causing us to accomplish much less science and space exploration than we otherwise might?

    I don’t know if they actually find efficiant ways to do this. But with my incomplete understanding, it causes me worry… maybe somebody could explain how this weird NASA/Congress/President thing works.

    That said, the NASA head sounds like he knows what he’s doing…

  11. “Revisit the X33……it can work…..”

    This, so very much this.

    We had heavy lift forty years ago. Now they are promising they’ll bring it back in twenty years (assuming nations of the world can work together on such a thing for so long)?

    That’s not a plan. That’s kicking the ball so far down the road no one can blame you for screwing up. That is counting on the next generations vision to fix the mistakes of our fathers.

    If you’re going to redevelop NASA from the ground up what you need is a vehicle that makes space travel affordable. Not the same old expensive rockets bought from different contractors, other governments, or entrepreneurs that think “Sell it to NASA” is a business plan for developing space.

    We need to unhook space travel from politics. Investing the big money into RLV technology is the best way to achieve that on a short time line.

  12. Perhaps we should have an “international coalition” build our missiles and anti-missile-missiles too. I’m sure China would like working with us on our ICBMs.

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