Americans are good at Marketing – We used to be good at Space

Falcon 9 explodes during staging, 5 July 2015.  (NASA TV)

Falcon 9 explodes during staging, 5 July 2015. (Click on image to animate; NASA TV)

The recent launch failure of a Falcon 9 rocket on its way to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) has drawn a lot of media attention. Most of this coverage has been very sympathetic to SpaceX (the company that built and operates the Falcon 9-Dragon system), with heavy reliance on the platitude “space is hard.” Following this doleful lament are assurances that this problem will be fixed and that our inexorable march to the stars will continue. As the commercial cargo and crew programs are heralded as a central core of the new, better, re-invented NASA, now is a good time to examine where stand. Exactly how much of the current space program consists of real accomplishment, as opposed to marketing?

Objectively speaking, the SpaceX accident was not particularly unexpected. Launch failures happen in the invariably risky field of spaceflight. Even in regard to the ISS re-supply program (of which this flight was a part), there have been two other recent failures, one by Orbital when its Antares rocket blew up on launch and a Russian Progress re-supply spacecraft failed when its antenna did not deploy properly. So accidents happen. The question is why? Is it a result of random bad luck – some part that failed at a critical time and won’t happen again? Or does it indicate some systemic problem that needs to be fixed before another mission can be attempted with any degree of confidence? At this point, we don’t know the answers and it would be unwise to speculate which cause is most likely.

My concern here is with a different issue – space marketing, the billing and selling of relatively minor events as major “accomplishments.” The distortion of program realities has left the public with a false impression about where we stand in space capability. Five years ago, this administration conducted a major re-vectoring of our national civil space program – arbitrarily terminating the strategic direction provided by the Vision for Space Exploration (an established program that had drawn overwhelming bipartisan support). In its stead, a Potemkin Village program was devised – a slight-of-hand maneuver that proclaimed a human mission to an asteroid and then to Mars as the nation’s new long-range goals in space. An effort to supply the ISS supply by “commercial” launch services was heralded as a “new direction” for the American space program, when in fact, it was already part of the existing program.

The initial success of SpaceX’s spacecraft for ISS re-supply missions (hyped as “privately developed”) ignited a barrage of marketing about the superiority of this new mode of operation over the traditional model of government-developed spacecraft. Supposedly, this new modus led to better capability for less money. (Who would argue against that?) In fact, with the retirement of the Shuttle, we now have less capability than we did, yet we are still spending about the same amount of money per year on NASA as we did when the “money-draining” Shuttle was operational. The Shuttle could deliver over 24 tons of supplies and equipment (and people) to the ISS on each flight; up-mass for the SpaceX spacecraft Dragon is about 3 tons. Shuttle had a cargo bay and cradle so that complex spacecraft could be worked on, refurbished and repaired. Neither the SpaceX Dragon nor the new Boeing CT-100 spacecraft (both intended to ultimately transport people to and from low Earth orbit) possess that capability.

The Shuttle program was terminated for two principal reasons. First, having lost two crews over the course of its 30-year history (where lessons were learned), there was the perception that it was inherently “unsafe” as a mode of space transportation. It is not clear just how safe the new “commercial” replacements for Shuttle will be because they have yet to fly, but the Falcon failure reminds us that accidents can always happen. Comparatively speaking, during its 30 years of operation, the Shuttle had a pretty good safety record – 133 successful flights out of 135 attempts (98.5%). Second, it was thought that since Shuttle operations (being very labor intensive) consumed such a large fraction of the NASA budget, that by retiring it, the savings would permit the agency to transition to new operations beyond LEO. Well, the Shuttles are now in museums. Where are the new missions? Even the SLS launch vehicle and Orion spacecraft – the new government-developed space hardware intended to take humans into deep space – have yet to become operational and when they do, they will fly only once or twice per year, at most. (“Where”  is still up in the air.)

In short, we no longer have a civil space program. We have the simulacrum of a program. Marketing has replaced accomplishment. We don’t have to be going anywhere – we simply have to say that we’re studying it. This is not a new phenomenon; NASA has been claiming to be on their way to Mars since Apollo 11 flew in 1969 (even though that plan was specifically rejected by then-President Nixon who knew that it was politically untenable). For NASA, the Mars bird in the bush was always more important than the Shuttle-Station bird in the hand.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming large and planning for some distant “horizon goal.” The problem comes when people start believing that the hype is the reality. One of the biggest offenders in this regard appears to be the New Space community themselves. Far too many people with real space experience (who should know better) accept that, while accidents on the road to “commercial space” are likely to occur from time to time, we will somehow recover from these setbacks much more quickly and easily than was experienced during an exclusively government-directed space effort. Additionally, there has been in recent years, a large measure of unreality in the expectations of New Space. The mass sale of private rides into space, the recent competition to select people willing to establish an off-world Mars colony, and the “terraforming” of Mars into a second Earth, are a few examples of ideas advanced and seriously discussed in many circles.

The unraveling of our civil space program has gone nearly undetected by the media (who reliably promote any absurd sales pitch tossed their way) and by the public in general (who basically don’t know what they don’t know, as it’s all made to sound promising). But facts are facts, and facilities and people critical to the success of the space program in the past have vanished and will not be returning. An entirely new generation will be responsible for what comes next (as it should be) yet they have been indoctrinated with a series of absurdly unrealistic beliefs and expectations about spaceflight and spacefaring. The difference between what is possible (how a program can be logically constructed and flown) and what is pure fantasy (dreams) has been blurred to the point where distinguishing between the two is almost impossible. This new generation desperately needs leaders who are willing and able to realistically approach the problems and devise a path forward; they’ve already bought into the marketing. While we need salesmen for space, the product they sell must be based on competent engineering and science, a program grounded in reality.

Is space “hard”? Of course it is. Any activity in which you are expected to hurl several tons of complex and delicate machinery hundreds of kilometers into the sky along a precise path and at speeds exceeding 8 kilometers per second could not be anything but “hard.” The myth of New Space is not that spaceflight is “easy” but that it can somehow be achieved more quickly and inexpensively using shortcuts unique to entrepreneurial companies but unknown in government circles. The most outlandish claims of imminent accomplishment come from those least qualified to judge the feasibility of those achievements. A recent piece on the SpaceX launch failure stated: “We’re not amateurs anymore. We’re not cheerleaders, either.” Actually, in the New Space field, many are both.

Americans are good at marketing. We used to be good at space too.

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56 Responses to Americans are good at Marketing – We used to be good at Space

  1. Clive R. Neal says:

    Excellent article, Paul! You have succinctly highlighted the state our human spaceflight program is in – on a road to nowhere, not even the ISS.

  2. LocalFluff says:

    Wasn’t the main problem with the Shuttle that it, like SLS+Orion officially now, didn’t have a clear doable target? It remained a one step stepping stone. Like ISS, Shuttle was in no way helpful for going to the Moon, you don’t need to stop in LEO for that. It was a big disconnect away from the Apollo program. We’ve stayed in LEO since Apollo because LEO is the only thing the government/military is seriously interested in.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      No, I don’t think so. Shuttle did have a clear “target” — to transport people and equipment to and from LEO. Nothing ambiguous or uncertain in that. The problem was that when it came time to move beyond LEO, NASA had only the Apollo example as a “successful” mission template. Thus, it tried to re-create what it had done before rather than build a logical extension of what it already had in hand.

      • Joe says:

        There were road maps as to how to build the logical “extension” generated in the 1990’s.

        One of the most detailed was called OASIS. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a link to an electronic copy of presentations on the approach, but it would have used the Shuttle and a SDHLV (Side Mount) for surface to LEO transport and then incrementally developed the reusable in space infrastructure to support Lunar Return and Cis-Lunar Space operations.

        It was never pursued because it would have required moderately more spending on HSF (though not necessarily an increase in NASA’s overall budget) and patience (as the time to develop all the components would have taken longer).

        If such an approach had been taken in (say) 20000, it would be interesting to know where we would be by now.

        • Michael Wright says:

          here it is by Pat Troutman LaRC (Oct 2, 2001),

          Slide 3: The Revolution!
          Minimize point designs of elements in support of specific space mission objectives and maximize modularity, reusability and commonality of elements across many missions, enterprises and organizations.

          • Joe says:

            Yes, that is essentially it.

            Somewhat different from the hardcopy with which I am familiar, but it covers the basic idea very well.

            Good catch, thanks.

  3. Michael Wright says:

    I remember John Pike saying in 2004 about VSE, “Elegant way to shutdown the space program and replace it with artwork.” Though HSF commercial crew is making some accomplishments (but they’re only going a distance in altitude less than between San Francisco and LA), it is relatively small. That is, they are going to space and rest of us are just spectators.

    Though many say we had a space program in 20th century, in retrospect more are now saying it was really a Cold War program.

    Dr. Spudis: Keep advocating lunar missions. That’s a resource only three days away. Unlike everyone else (except Dennis Wingo) advocates Mars which will always be 20 years away.

    • Joe says:

      Since Pike has always been anti-HSF, I am sure saying that really pleased him; however that was surely not the intent of the VSE.

  4. William Mellberg says:

    Spot on, Dr. Spudis!

    One thing “commercial” space and “New Space” does not seem to be good at is delivering products and services in a reasonable time frame.

    A little history …

    McDonnell Aircraft was selected to build the Gemini spacecraft in December 1961. Four years later, Gemini 6 met Gemini 7 in orbit, following three earlier manned missions that were highly successful. The project ended in November 1966 after ten manned missions had been flown. That’s five years from start to finish. Pretty remarkable.

    North American Aviation won the contract to build the far more complex Apollo Command and Service Module in November 1961. Grumman won the contract to build the Lunar Module in November 1962. The first manned Apollo CSM flew in October 1968, followed five months later by the first manned Apollo Lunar Module. Apollo 8 carried men to the Moon in December 1968, seven years after North American Aviation started work on the spacecraft. Seven years after Grumman won the Lunar Module contract, two manned spacecreaft had landed on the Moon.

    I should add that Gemini and Apollo were trailblazing projects incorporating multiple new technologies. Ditto for the giant Saturn V Moon Rocket.

    So what’s taking “commercial” space so long to reinvent the wheel?

    The last Space Shuttle was launched on this date four years ago (July 8, 2011).

    How long does it take “New Space” to design and build “capsules” that basically repeat what Gemini did 50 years ago?

    And looking back at the last four years, isn’t it clear that two Space Shuttle missions per year would have kept the International Space Station very well supplied? Moreover, one additional Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission could have been flown.

    “Commercial” space has been long on hype and short on delivery.

    How I miss the sort of genuine space leadership that John Kennedy provided:

    As Wernher von Braun replied when asked what was the most important factor in sending men to the Moon …

    “The will to do it.”

    • Joe says:

      An interesting history.

      Had never encountered a comparison of the current “commercial” activities to the Gemini/Apollo timescales.


    • billgamesh says:

      “-what was the most important factor in sending men to the Moon-”


      Fear of communism and nuclear weapons. That drove the space race and provided the launch vehicles. Without missile technology to build on the launch vehicles would have taken several times the amount of money to create and probably would not have been attempted.

      The aerospace industry saw the opportunity to make a fortune on the space race but this did not turn out the way they had hoped. They tried again after the Apollo oversight was removed and killed two shuttle crews. Then they gave up and went back to defense. That is how we got here- capitalism. And the communist train wreck called the soviet union is the other pole of that magnet.

      Humankind walked on the Moon by way of a bizarre mix of private enterprise working on the profit motive and a state-run public works project played for political ends and world domination. Only those elements- a powerful motive and a state run command function- will repeat that success. The profit motive will not work while defense is easy money and as long as NASA has no game plan and no meaningful goal.

      The only model for space development I have found in my surveys with any hope of success is the one proposed by Gerard K. O’Neill. Global warming seems to be one issue
      that can bypass politics since space solar energy for various reasons stands on it’s own with both the left and right. I had hopes for planetary protection as an enabler but the reaction to Chelyabinsk was a profound disappointment.

      • William Mellberg says:

        I’m not too sure I would use the word “fear” to explain John Kennedy’s decision to send Americans to the Moon. “Competition” might be more accurate.

        The Soviet Union had orbited the first artificial Earth satellite, launched the first probe to hit the lunar surface, taken the first images of the Moon’s far side and sent the first man into space when Kennedy made his call for “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Although Cold War military concerns were obviously a part of the equation, so was the basic “struggle” (the Soviet term) between Socialism and Capitalism. Nikita Khrushchev routinely cited Soviet space “firsts” as proof that Socialism was superior to Capitalism. Kennedy felt a need to respond.

        In a memo to Vice President Lyndon Johnson dated April 20, 1961 (eight days after Yuri Gagarin’s flight), President Kennedy asked:

        “Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the Moon, or by a rocket to go to the Moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?”

        Those words don’t express fear. They express determination. As did President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in 1962:

        “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not … and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the Moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.”

        Had Kennedy been motivated by fear, I submit his signature space program would have been an Air Force manned orbiting laboratory, or some similar project with obvious military applications.

        But Kennedy focused America’s resources on a civilian agency and a purely peaceful effort to land a man on the Moon. Apollo enhanced America’s prestige and influence. Which is why, after Apollo 8 and Apollo 11, Soviet leaders for the next three decades claimed that they had never been in the “Race to the Moon.”

        As we now know, the Soviet Union was very much in the Race to the Moon … and it lost.

        The inefficiencies of the Soviet economic system were a major factor in the outcome of that race. Capitalism beat Socialism to the Moon.

        And I still think Wernher von Braun got it right. The biggest factor in sending men to the Moon was “the will to do it.”

        President Kennedy had the will.

        • William Mellberg says:

          A bit of history from April 14, 1961 …

          This Soviet newsreel shows Yuri Gagarin’s huge reception in Red Square following his pioneering flight aboard Vostok. Parts of his and Khrushchev’s speeches are included in the film. Khrushchev praised the Socialist system that he credited for Gagarin’s feat.

          A few quotes from Khrushchev’s speech:

          “The dream of conquering outer space is, indeed, the greatest of man’s dreams. We are proud that Soviet people have made this dream, this fairy tale come true.”

          “Socialism has thrown open to our country boundless scope for development. Our country was the first to create an orbital spaceship, the first to reach outer space. Is this not a brilliant demonstration of the genuine freedom of the freest of all free people on Earth, the Soviet people!”

          “This victory is another triumph of Lenin’s ideas. We are proud that the world’s first cosmonaut is a Soviet man. He is a Communist, a member of the great Party of Lenin!”

          “Long live the peoples of the Soviet Union, the builders of Communism!”

          President Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University about the United States and space leadership is a little more meaningful when you read Premier Khrushchev’s words about the glories of Socialism. It is important to remember the propaganda war that was being waged between the US and the USSR at the time.

          BTW, you probably can’t see it, but Stalin’s name is still etched below Lenin’s name over the door of the Lenin Mausoleum in the newsreel. At the time, Stalin had not been “planted” behind the building. His body was still on display next to Lenin’s inside the mausoleum.

        • There were fears after Sputnik that the Soviet Union might claim the Moon as part of their communist empire– if cosmonauts reached the Moon first. And the branches of the US military were ready to invest enormous amounts of tax payer money reaching the Moon and setting up military bases there.

          President Eisenhower was already concerned about the titanic growth of US military spending and feared that he would be pressured into extending that spending into military competition with the Soviet Union in space– with each branch of the US military wanting increase spending on their personal space programs.

          So Eisenhower created a– civilian space program (NASA)– so he could divorce government space research from the military industrial complex– in order to reduce the government’s spending on space.


          • billgamesh says:

            “The Soviets were in the competition just as we were. We won, they lost.”

            In terms of a cold war campaign you are absolutely correct Joe. No arguing that.

            In terms of space exploration in my view it is more akin to that favorite example of mine- the British airship program.

            The “captialist R-100 beat the “socialist” R-101 but actually the ultimate goal- the skies of the world traveled by fleets of airships- was lost.

            NewSpace fans sometimes compare NASA to the soviets and SpaceX to the U.S. in regards to the present situation and this infuriates me. This toxic NASA hate reaches close to obscene levels on certain forums that review space and present space news.

        • Michael Wright says:

          “As we now know, the Soviet Union was very much in the Race to the Moon”

          Yes and no. In James Harford’s book about Korolev, one of Korolev’s colleagues he interviewed said Soviets could either join the race or not, “we did neither.” Though Soviets were serious about their space program there were many in Poliburo who felt otherwise.

          In another forum (maybe it was one of Spudis’ articles) someone posted their father worked on Surveyor camera zoom mechanism said we beat the Soviets because “we had an Ace Hardware on every corner. Soviets did not.” And went to describe his dad had to find a lubricate that works in a vacuum, southern California had many small shops and companies along with major aerospace companies. He was able to find a place that had a lubricate.

          Back in the days US had a huge infrastructure. Ballistic missiles (Titan, Atlas, Minuteman) were being cranked out like sausages, many of these were retrofitted as launch vehicles. So if a few blow up on the pad, can get a few more. Lose a number of jet fighters and Hueys in Vietnam, just ship more. When things really slowed down in 1970s, infrastructure was strong enough to design and build Space Shuttle in less than 10 years. And new generation fighters like F14s and F15s were built in numbers. Much of aerospace infrastructure was dismantled (southern Cal is nothing like it used to be) so it seems extremely difficult to get things done. These days it takes years to design and build a space capsule, and new generation fighters are getting too expensive even for the Pentagon. But the CGI and artwork is really impressive! I wonder if we have become like the Soviets where they were great at impressive art and statues but their actual hardware was not comparable to what US produced (but then Soyuz still flies forever).

          Getting back to Kennedy, it has been written he later had doubts about HSF. He even suggested to Khrushchev about a joint mission to the Moon. There’s a Bill Mauldin cartoon of a spaceship zooming away from earth with Kennedy and Khrushchev inside illustrating this idea,

          It was Johnson who pushed the Apollo program with other programs but once those goals met, it was dismantled and we’ve been arguing about leaving LEO since.

          Getting back to this space marketing, my theory why Mars is discussed but not the Moon is because if goal is the Moon then hardware will need to be designed and built now. Meaning someone has to come up with a lot of money (yep, as Bill says there is no cheap) and solid reasons to do so. But advocate Mars and you can put off that capital spending 20 years later to some other smucks that have to deal with that burden.

          Another forum (was it this one or NASAwatch?) said in later 1980s the Mars Underground hijacked space program. Before NASA had plans to develop routine access and build space structures in LEO. And plans to develop a cislunar infrastructure. But a certain group stopped all that and said we need to go direct to Mars. And we have been floundering in LEO ever since then.

          • Joe says:

            ““As we now know, the Soviet Union was very much in the Race to the Moon”

            Yes and no. In James Harford’s book about Korolev, one of Korolev’s colleagues he interviewed said Soviets could either join the race or not, “we did neither.” Though Soviets were serious about their space program there were many in Poliburo who felt otherwise.”

            I spent the winters of 1997 and 1998 working at Star City in Moscow (integrating American hardware into Russian Service Module) and on one occasion our hosts took us into a basement Museum. It was actually a shrine to the Soviet Moon Program complete with pictures of the N1 Rocket and large quantities of other documentation, including detailed drawings and specification books for the entire program. The program was very real

            I do not doubt that there was political opposition in the Politburo to that or any other project, just as there was political opposition to the Apollo Program here. But to say “Yes and no.”, means you would have to say the same about Apollo and that is just not true.

            The Soviets were in the competition just as we were. We won, they lost. It was then and only then that they dropped out and tried (for a while) to claim they were never involved.

            Not saying this to be jingoistic, it is just true.

          • billgamesh says:

            “These days it takes years to design and build a space capsule, and new generation fighters are getting too expensive even for the Pentagon.”

            Having read a bit on Apollo it comes up over and over again in personal accounts the people who made it happen essentially had no life- for close to a decade. Most of us have known some people who choose this kind of existence and outwardly perhaps they seem to enjoy it. Maybe some small percentage actually do.

            But everybody deserves a life.

            As for new generations of machines “getting too expensive” there is no mystery there; materials science and the laws of physics place certain limitations on what can be. For example industry continues to sell new jet engines that are more powerful and fuel efficient than before because so few of the people making the decision to buy know that at some point it is almost impossible to make this a reality. The laws of thermodynamics state there is only so much energy in that gallon of kerosene. Exotic alloys and the expertise to fashion them so as to utilize higher temperatures and pressures cost…..a fortune.

            It is the same reason SpaceX does not use hydrogen; turbopumps to push that low density propellent are fiendishly difficult to engineer and have to be about ten times as powerful as one pushing kerosene. But there is no substitute if over-400 seconds of Isp is desired and in an upper stage that number is the magic spell that put us on the Moon.

            There is no cheap.

          • William Mellberg says:

            Michael Wright wrote:

            “In another forum (maybe it was one of Spudis’ articles) someone posted their father worked on Surveyor camera zoom mechanism said we beat the Soviets because “we had an Ace Hardware on every corner. Soviets did not.”

            That “someone” was yours truly. BTW, I had a short article about my father’s role on Project Surveyor in the May 2015 issue of AIR & SPACE magazine. I have a more detailed account posted on Harrison Schmitt’s website:


            My point about Ace Hardware stores was that American engineers had access to off-the-shelf parts and equipment when designing our rockets and spacecraft. The dry lubricant (Lubeco 905) that I mentioned in connection with Surveyor was just one example. The Soviets, on the other hand, did not have easy access to needed parts and equipment, and they often had to produce them (some very basic) in house. Their problem was directly related to the inefficiencies of the Soviet command economy.

            As for John Kennedy’s attitude toward spaceflight and his “offer” to have a joint mission to the Moon, please see what Dr. Spudis wrote in 2013 on his AIR & SPACE blog:


            James Harford’s book about Korolev is outstanding.

            I would also recommend Sergei Khrushchev’s excellent book, “Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of A Super Power” (Penn State Press, 2000). I had the good fortune of interviewing Dr. Khrushchev not long after the book was published. His insights about his father’s attitude toward the Soviet space program offer a somewhat different perspective. At the time (early to mid 1960s), Sergei Khrushchev was working as an engineer in Vladimir Chelomei’s design bureau. He provides some interesting anecdotes describing the relationships between Korolev, Glushko and Chelomei. Chelomei was convinced that Korolev’s N-1 Moon rocket would never work because of the 30 engines in the 1st stage. It was too complicated. (BTW, Musk’s Falcon Heavy has 27 engines.) Chelomei proposed his own UR-700 Moon rocket. But the Politburo supported Korolev’s N-1 to the bitter end.

            Finally, I remember what my dear friend Jim Floyd (now 100 years old) said about high technology:

            “Anyone who imagines that high technology runs cheap doesn’t understand the subject.”

            Jim began his career as one of a handful of engineers who turned the Avro Manchester into the legendary Avro Lancaster bomber. After the war, he came to Canada where he was the chief designer for Avro Canada. Jim was responsible for the pioneering Avro Jetliner and the fabulous Avro Arrow. He was talking about the Arrow when he made his comment about “cheap.” After Avro’s fall in Canada, Jim returned to the UK where he played a leading role in the British SST project (which evolved into Concorde).

            In any case, I think his remark about “cheap” was right on the mark.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      This is probably the best comparison I’ve seen yet of government contractors and NewSpace.

      Of course, they had people of different mentalities at hand.

      I think Dr Spudis wrote something about the generation that built the spacecraft of the Sixties; they were mostly the post WW2 generation that had the spirit of innovation, the “can do” attitude that helped win the war.

      Today’s generation?
      One of marketing and entitlements.

  5. billgamesh says:

    “It is not clear just how safe the new “commercial” replacements for Shuttle will be because they have yet to fly, but the Falcon failure reminds us that accidents can always happen.”

    It is pretty “clear” what happened to the last hobby rocket 139 seconds after launch. And also clear what has not happened to the Delta IV (not even human-rated) and the Atlas V in over 90 consecutive launches. The NewSpace cheerleaders can’t seem to grasp the principle of you-get-what-you-pay-for.

    Any questions?

    Here is the answer: there is no cheap.

    Cheap just ended and I doubt SpaceX will last a year. NASA will never fly astronauts on a vehicle that so catastrophically failed after being sold as simple and safe. It is too much of a shuttle replay. They will find some excuse to delay it into oblivion- they have so much experience doing this with anything HSF-BEO it should be no problem. The Air Force will do the same when concerns about their close to billion dollar spy satellites cannot be shushed. Just not enough Turkmenistan satellites to keep Musk’s corporate welfare child alive. Guess he should have focused on making it work instead of landing on barges and promising Martian retirement condos.

    Nobody seems to understand this game changing free market miracle claiming it could compete with the big boys just found out it is the same old game- and they just lost. The entire “cheaper is better” package was just discredited forever. Not even American marketing can save it now:

    Goodbye NewSpace, goodbye SpaceX……what a waste of time and money.

    What is needed is to dump these dead end LEO programs and the space station to nowhere, expand the tooling and workforce at Michoud, and….. GO BACK TO THE MOON!

    The sooner the powers that be figure all this out the sooner it will happen.

  6. I was watching the new season of True Detective on HBO a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised by the narrative from the extremely troubled and depressed police detective, Ray Velcro, excellently played by actor Colin Farrell:

    “I used to want to be an astronaut, but astronauts don’t even go to the moon anymore” he says as he drives through some of the crime infested streets of the LA area.

    This seemed to be more than just a statement about the current state of America’s space program but also about the current ‘image is everything’ facade of our current glamour culture.

    NASA’s human space program is the ultimate symbol of American scientific and technological progress, its pioneering spirit– and even good government!

    Unfortunately, over the past 40 years, there are political forces in America, on both the left and the right, that don’t seem to like that!

    I’m a strong advocate of Commercial Crew development and also a strong advocate of a government human space program with clear progressive and achievable goals.

    I think its obvious that private space programs and government space programs are– mutually beneficial to each other– and also to America’s scientific and technological progress and economic growth.


    • billgamesh says:

      “I think its obvious that private space programs and government space programs are– mutually beneficial to each other–”

      And as usual, a fellow space advocate makes a statement I completely disagree with. In my view it is “obvious” that private space is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

      Over the years I have been banned…repeatedly….from the half a dozen public forums that “discuss” human space flight. I am as a matter of course quickly troll branded and insulted into oblivion because the NewSpace clowns now detect me and sound the alarm after a few comments- my views are so well known I am infamous in this small subculture in this tiny corner of the blogosphere. Dr. Spudis is the only person who continues to let me have my say.

      I am a “trainspotter.” I pick out details that matter. It is integral to my personality, I cannot stop doing it, and it has made me less than popular in social circles. It makes me a fair autopilot troubleshooter but a poor conversationalist. A “clear” example (to me anyway) of this was when the water-boarding controversy was being played out with endless arguments about whether this form of “enhanced interrogation” was actually torture. I was and continue to be astounded at the human propensity to believe in what is most attractive. I was an old guy taking a community college course and in a room full of young people preparing for earnest discussion I blurted out “of course it’s torture!”

      It is also torture watching our space program marketed to the unwashed masses as some kind of reality TV trash. What is truly sad is that the Ayn-Rand-in-Space NASA haters have so poisoned public opinion that ridiculous statements reflecting the beneficence game being played with NewSpace are accepted while any maleficence is taboo.

      The single detail that stands out most in my view is the 27 January 1967 Apollo 1 fire. The draconian oversight imposed after that event made it clear to the aerospace industry that human space flight was going to be hard money. On the other hand the cold war was a dream come true. That is the “obvious” beginning to this whole ongoing tragicomedy and the key to understanding it. There is no cheap.

      • There’s nothing wrong with a government space program. And there’s nothing wrong with private space programs. They both create wealth and scientific and technological advancement just as government and private research and development does in the rest of our society.

        Most military satellites and government exploratory robotic missions in the US are currently deployed into space by private launch companies

        I’m glad that NASA is trying to help private companies to develop their own human spaceflight capability– for their own private commercial pursuits. I’m particularly excited about the ULA’s Vulcan and ACES programs and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser.

        However, the extremist view that only private companies should pioneer and explore space is just a libertarian fantasy that is more likely to create a new age of feudalism in the New Frontier– rather than freedom– if it ever became a reality.


        • billgamesh says:

          “-there’s nothing wrong with private space programs.”

          The taxpayer just picked up the tab for the last SpaceX payload. No insurance on government payloads. Nothing wrong?

        • Vladislaw says:

          I agree, the more capital flowing into the space sector the better off all the players are.

    • Joe says:

      “NASA’s human space program is the ultimate symbol of American scientific and technological progress, its pioneering spirit– and even good government!”

      Hi Marcel,

      The above statement, I think, really is the point.

      Even people who are not particularly interested in space (very few are actually hostile to it) think of it as emblematic of the status of the country and view the fact that “astronauts don’t even go to the moon anymore” (in fact not even to LEO, unless they ride on somebody else’s rocket) as a sign of national decline and that makes them justifiably uncomfortable.

      So now that discomfort begin to find its way into popular entertainment.

      • billgamesh says:

        The space age ended in 1972. The “decline” began long ago.

        • Joe says:

          Perhaps so, but if that is true; they are just beginning to notice.

          • billgamesh says:

            “They”, as in the public, are not a communal being with a collective consciousness. I neglect to qualify whatever segment of the public I am speaking about and that has always been a necessary omission. There is a small group of thinkers and their fan clubs who at one time or another for whatever reason or happy accident are in a position to influence public opinion. This influence is noted by politicians or industry leaders or whoever has power and these convoluted mechanisms cause a change in the status quo.

            A good example of this is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers- MADD is the classic grass roots movement that was successful in effecting significant change. Various literary works have also had or at least were markers for huge changes in society and history; Uncle Tom’s cabin, Mein Kampf, and Silent Spring being some examples.

            But my personal heroine embarrassed a major nation in a profound way never appreciated in this country- and she changed my entire way of thinking about how civilization operates.

            “Often, what you see in the media is driven by economic forces.” Iris Chang

            Concerning space exploration most of my thinking is informed by just three works- one of which was only a simple magazine article:
            Shielding Space Travelers by Eugene Parker,
            Project Orion by George Dyson,
            and The High Frontier by Gerard K. O’Neill.

          • Joe says:


            My original point was that there is currently the feeling among large segments of the population that this country is in decline and that even those not necessarily all that interested in space view the reduced HSF capability of this country as a high profile barometer of that decline.

            That does not require anyone to be a “communal being with a collective consciousness”, only to have similar belief/value systems and overlapping sources of information. That in quainter times was referred to as a society or civilization.

            I stand by my original point in its entirety.

            I do not even know what your point is supposed to be, but I do know that I do not intend to spend anymore time going back and forth about it,

            No offense, but, if you intend to go on trying to debate the original and straight forward point; you are going to have to find someone else with whom to do it.

          • billgamesh says:

            “-even those not necessarily all that interested in space view the reduced HSF capability of this country as a high profile barometer of that decline.”

            The problem I have with these “debates” are the definitions. HSF to me has not happened since 1972 so what those uninterested people are viewing is a lie to start with Joe. Assigning some importance to this segment or saying they “overlap” seems to me to be a fallacy. The few like us with basic knowledge of space technology are the only ones who are going to make any difference and only then by pointing out, as Dr. Spudis has done here, the marketing game being played.

            It is the old liberal saw, no matter how much it is disliked, that holds true in this case; education is the key.

            The public needs some celebrity scientist to explain all these details that are being used to scam the public. It is not hard to explain this stuff to the person on the street- it just requires skills most scientists and engineers don’t have.

            All the money is being paid to people with that skill set to tell lies. How much does SpaceX spend on P.R.? You better believe it is millions. And it has paid off for them now because even after their golden child has exploded not much is being said about the hobby rocket except how great it is.

        • Grand Lunar says:

          I take it you mean by the ending of Apollo?

          The space age was more than just missions to the moon.

          Or do you not consider the probe missions to other worlds part of the space age too?

          And why discount the shuttle program as part of the space age?
          After all, shuttles were part of Von Braun’s plan before the Apollo missions became the focus of the US space program.

          • billgamesh says:

            “-shuttles were part of Von Braun’s plan before the Apollo missions-”

            He had many “plans” and they included orbiting wheels in the middle of deadly radiation belts. He changed that plan. And the shuttles he envisioned were not the ones we ended up with.

            The space age was not about LEO after 1968. People get pretty upset when I state this but LEO is not really space. 200 miles up has about as much in common with the great beyond as a duck pond has with the North Atlantic.

            It WAS all about missions to the Moon.
            LEO is a dead end and Mars is a gimmick, a P.R. hook, and a farce. Between going nowhere in circles and the absurd notion of colonizing Mars is the one place the entire Human Space Flight community should be focused on – the ice on the Moon is the critical enabling resource for a permanent human presence beyond Earth orbit.

  7. billgamesh says:

    I would add that in my view a critical piece of technology is missing for developing a cislunar infrastructure- the big dumb pressure fed booster. There was never any military interest in this type and without the usual military development to cut costs this technology was not adopted for the shuttle. A pair of a such boosters roughly double the thrust of the shuttle SRB’s and with a much higher ISP- and recovered for reuse in the same fashion- are what is needed for the next iteration of Super Heavy Lift Vehicles.

    Had Musk started out with such a booster in the 5 to 10 million pound thrust range instead of the low thrust Merlin I would probably have been a fan.

    • gbaikie says:

      –Had Musk started out with such a booster in the 5 to 10 million pound thrust range instead of the low thrust Merlin I would probably have been a fan.–

      The problem is that is not something a company should do, though might be something NASA should do. I think it would better than SLS..

      Related to this topic [in my mind] is what call a pipelauncher. Which adds a small amount
      of velocity to a rocket and is a launch pad. It’s mostly a launch pad for an ocean launch.

      And that makes sense to me, for something a private company could do.

      So a “big dumb pressure fed booster” in my mind should be something NASA should do, if NASA wants to play a role in terms of launching stuff into orbit. And NASA could work on making it re-usable or not. If not reusable- some way to make it’s construction cheap.
      Or if reusable, somehow to make cheaper to re-use. And basically allowing any kind the rocket be able to be boosted from the big booster. And have couple launch pads for this boosters. And one think of this booster as making it easier and cheaper to make the rest of the rocket going into orbit, better and cheaper. And also could work for development of sub-orbital travel. And essential the the big dumb booster is part of the spaceport.

      The pipelauncher idea is to be part of a spaceport on the ocean. So in terms private company, it’s a path to get into the spaceport business. One can use ocean “real estate”
      and one can launch from the Equator, provide US and other countries a launch site at the equator to be more competitive in regards to GEO market.

      So pipelauncher provides an assisted boost for as much as below the speed of sound-
      but could start with only boost of around 100 mph, or even as low as 50 mph.
      So it’s limited to range of added boost of say 50 to 500 mph.
      And it’s not a rocket, rather it’s a large pipe with one end capped, which floats vertically
      in the water with open end of pipe under the water. It floats because like a boat, it displaces water. And accelerates up because on increase the amount water displaced,
      so if displacing 1000 tons of water, and total weight is 1000 tons, it floats.
      So roughly if 500 feet long, it could have enough air in pipe to displace 1000 tons of water, and the top of it could 10 feet above the water or 50 feet. Or whatever it’s height
      it would need to displace 1000 tons. Or more air added higher it’s above water, less air
      lower it is above surface [and below the surface is sinks, and floating too high it becomes
      unstable and flops over]. And launch rockets, you put rocket on top the capped end,
      and add enough air so it displaces 2000 tons rather than 1000 tons. So it accelerates
      rocket by adding a lot of air within a time period of say less than 10 second.
      And do that by using liquid air [liquid nitrogen & Oxygen].

      So business is being a spaceport and you use a pipelauncher as a launch pad [which can accelerate a rocket] and one would obviously reuse the pipelauncher/launch pad
      and use maybe as much as $10,000 worth of liquid air [and heating it with say natural
      gas is less than $100]. And liquid air about $100 per ton, so means less than 100 tons of liquid air. If one wanted to accelerate at 500 mph, it requires lot more pipe and a lot more air. And should limited to 50 to 200 mph- in future it could be developed to go faster.
      It also limited in terms of least amount of acceleration and least size of pipe relative to size of rocket. And maybe make to accelerate smallest rockets to 200 mph and largest
      by 50 to 100 mph.
      Of course you also need the other infrastructure for the spaceport. And this could involve
      the uses some island and a base of operation and the rocket launch is 50 to 100 km from the island. So inhabitants of island may like having that infrastructure, there if the launch is not from the island, or there could existing infrastructure, which can be bought or rented and/or improved.

      • billgamesh says:

        “So pipelauncher provides an assisted boost for as much as below the speed of sound-
        but could start with only boost of around 100 mph, or even as low as 50 mph.
        So it’s limited to range of added boost of say 50 to 500 mph.”

        Every imaginable scheme of this kind was studied a half a century ago and the numbers all said the largest possible Saturn V type launch vehicle was the way to go. And that took us to the Moon. Materials science has not changed that much and the laws of physics will not change. Though there are a few kinds of wishalloy they are fantastically expensive and there is unobtainium in the form of Americium 242 which could probably be used in small fission fragment rocket engines- except it is radioactive and would require a trillion dollar new industry be built from scratch.

        The 5 segment SRB and the RS-68A are presently the ultimate examples of rocket technology. Both U.S. products and completely tested and proven. Nova class launch vehicles using four (or more) of the SRB’s and multiple RS-68A’s can lift Earth Departure Stages of 500 tons and more. These launch vehicles and the launch pads they would need would cost no more than any DOD project like the Ohio missile submarine replacement program or the F-35 fighter.

        The SRB’s are reliable but have significant disadvantages because they are toxic and have to be un-segmented, loaded with propellent, and re-assembled for reuse which makes them cheaper to just throw away. The big dumb booster, probably using methane, would be superior but as I explained in another comment, there is no military R&D to cut costs on such a design and it thus considered too expensive.

        In regards to Human Space Flight ULA’s new Vulcan is actually a step down. The money would have been better spent on simply human-rating and increasing the lift-off thrust with SRB’s of the Delta IV heavy.

  8. gbaikie says:

    I doubt SpaceX will end in a year. But of course it’s always been a possibility- because SpaceX is a person rather than a corporation.
    Or there are advantages and disadvantages of corporations.
    But anyhow, I think SpaceX has demonstrated that it can launch rockets successful. I that still
    pretty impressive.
    Now some people had quite high hopes regarding SpaceX, and like most people, I imagine, every
    Falcon-9 launch I would wonder if it will be successful.
    I continue to have the same high hopes as I did, and though SpaceX is overbooked [which is problem for those customers in terms of their schedules, and SpaceX probably no sure answer found yet, it seems like that the Falcon-9 will be flying sooner than compared to either of the Shuttle accidents. Though of course their is doubt that: 1 SpaceX finds the correct problem, and fixes what is wrong. 2 That SpaceX does this timely fashion. 3 That SpaceX when once again back to launching the Falcon-9, it doesn’t have another mishap. Or the company would be quite happy if it can get two consequence successful launches, though after some success of course it’s still a concern about every launch thereafter. Or there probably a degree of dread that next launch is not successful. So pressure is really on, at this point I imagine. And such stress doesn’t
    always have good results. So SpaceX will be tested and we will see if and how they get their act together.
    But I would guess we are not going to get Falcon Heavy launch this year. And it seems this accident is likely to effect their program to recover the first stage. But test of SpaceX could have upside, depending how it’s done.

    It seems there no point in kidding yourselves about the shuttle program. The decision not to keep the capability to make a new orbiter, was the beginning of the end for Shuttle. The remaining question was when, exactly, it would end.
    As far as EELV, it’s too bad, that NASA could do lunar program which used these launch vehicles- and NASA still can I suppose. Though it with Russia engines, and Russia invading Europe, there are problems. The idea that they going to replaced the EELV and make new launch vehicle, is not something I am eager about.
    But I think we need more than SpaceX and Boeing [and Orbital], and best way to get it is do more than ISS. So need to develop Depot in LEO at KSC inclination, then need to have lunar program to determine if and where there is minable lunar water.
    So near terms, hundred of millions to budget, and be over 500 million added within a few years.
    Additionally, we need to get SLS to point of launching it [I was and continue to against SLS- but since it was funded, then need add whatever funding is needed to get it on schedule to launch it.
    Another priority is we do something with ISS, other than a plan to de-orbit it at some point [whatever time, eg, 2024+ ].
    In terms of priority, First, getting SLS to point of first launch, second. doing something other than de-orbit ISS, third, depots, fourth Lunar exploration. So need funding for these, should not be delayed due to lack of funding. The first two, may or may not need much funding, for next two years, so in terms now, probably need funding for depots- so 100 million for depot in next budget,
    and next year more money, and will need some plan for ISS which doesn’t involve de-orbiting it.
    And need a president which will use political capital for purpose of lunar exploration.
    And lunar program which begins with robotic exploration and ends with manned exploration- and fairly cheap [and cheap because does not require many years to finish, and once finished, do Mars exploration program.

  9. LocalFluff says:

    Sounding like the grumpy old man is not a good outreach strategy, I think. SpaceX has already transformed the launcher industry, much to the benefit of Moon missions. He’s transforming space flight from the 1960s Soviet mode it has been stuck with, to a modern dynamic entrepreneurship-driven industry. If Elon Musk had had a vision for the Moon instead for of Mars, I bet Dr. Spudis wouldn’t have complained. That’s the impression given by blog posts like this, at least to me.

    You should rejoice with the Mars enthusiasts, because you know that they’ll end up on the Moon anyway. They won’t cross the ocean without going to the port first. The Moon will become the second largest “geographical” market for SpaceX’ space products, second only to the Earth orbit market. Mars is a vision for a distant future, not a business idea.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Sounding like the grumpy old man is not a good outreach strategy

      I’m not “reaching out.” I’m giving you my opinions on the state of our national space program.

      If Elon Musk had had a vision for the Moon instead for of Mars, I bet Dr. Spudis wouldn’t have complained

      You would lose your money. My concern is the fraud being perpetuated here, not Musk’s interest (or lack thereof) in the Moon, Mars or any other target.

      • gbaikie says:

        –If Elon Musk had had a vision for the Moon instead for of Mars, I bet Dr. Spudis wouldn’t have complained

        You would lose your money. My concern is the fraud being perpetuated here, not Musk’s interest (or lack thereof) in the Moon, Mars or any other target.–

        I am wondering about what you mean by “fraud being perpetuated here”.

        Now I think the Moon has to be explored before it can be mined, as before one mines anything, it must be explored first.
        In terms of mining the Moon, the Moon as not been explored.

        So a difference between Musk having a vision for Moon rather than Mars, would be that Musk would to somehow get the Moon explored, rather Musk starting mining the Moon.

        The thing about sending people to Mars is it involves the “stunt” of being the first to land people on Mars. And such a stunt, does not require much in terms of exploration or the stunt itself is roughly speaking, exploration.
        So if Musk were interested in a stunt of landing crew in the the yet to be explored lunar poles, that might a vision Musk might have for the Moon.
        Or Musk could land crew on the lunar pole as a stunt, before doing the Mars stunt.
        Certainly it would quicker, and cheaper to land people on the Moon as compared to land people on Mars. So that could incremental step before
        going to Mars. Or one might land on the Moon, then land on a Mars moon, then land on Mars surface. And it has some value in terms of exploration, mainly it’s a stunt- it’s PR for a company or companies.
        And only fraud involved would be saying one doing to do it, knowing you aren’t going to do it.

        But at the moment what Musk is doing is building a rocket company with capability of getting people to Mars- that’s the vision. Similar to building a electrical car company.
        It seems Musk is fond of idea and thinks it’s part of his future, of electrical cars, living on Mars, and solar panels.
        It seems the fraud is NASA saying it’s going to Mars, which NASA has doing for decade, and Musk is perpetuating this.
        Though NASA says it’s doing something for future commercial value- such as using ISS to manufacture drugs or something and it’s not really focused on doing this.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          I am wondering about what you mean by “fraud being perpetuated here”.

          The fraud is the marketing campaign that we now have a space program of accomplishment and value when in fact, it is neither.

    • billgamesh says:

      “SpaceX has already transformed the launcher industry, much to the benefit of Moon missions.”

      Throwing the B.S. flag. NewSpace and it’s flagship company is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

      Sidemount was really the last chance for transformation into a real space program and when it was murdered so was any hope of going anywhere but the dead end of LEO for a long time. I still get depressed when I think about it.

      The SLS is all that is left from that disaster and it will require the LEO taxis and the space station to nowhere be dumped in the trashcan and the funding, tooling, and workforce at Michoud to be doubled, tripled, etc. before any progress can be made.

    • Joe says:

      I am going to skip the delusional part about Musk having already transformed the space industry for a more modest question.

      You say:
      “a modern dynamic entrepreneurship-driven industry”.

      Can any of SpaceX on-line fans try to make a point without resorting to advertising buzz phrases.

      – modern
      – dynamic
      – entrepreneurship-driven

      You missed:
      – game changing
      – paradigm shifting
      – world class
      – 21st Century

      Its not to late to work them into another post.

    • The good thing about the emergence of Elon Musk is that he’s finally waken Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and their baby, the ULA, up to realization that his company, Space X, is trying to put them out of business– by any means necessary.

      These companies really didn’t take Space X seriously, IMO, until Elon began to have some serious political influence with the Obama administration. The Obama administration has shown a lot of favoritism towards Space X over the past few years– even allowing Space X exclusive rights to launch 39A for the Falcon 9 and the future Falcon Heavy vehicles. Other companies also wanted launch access to 39A– but were denied.

      This contract also prevents pad 39A from being used for SLS flights, prevent two launch scenarios for crewed lunar missions (launching of the MPCV and then launching Altair-sized lunar landing vehicle). Soon after Elon was given exclusive rights to pad 39A, Bolden informed Congress that two launch scenarios for the SLS for crewed lunar missions weren’t possible because two immediate launches for the SLS were no longer possible because the SLS would have only one launch pad (39B) that could only be utilized every six months. How convenient:-)

      Of course, when Elon didn’t get the contracts he wanted from the Air Force, he sued, trying to prevent the ULA from importing engines from Russia– showing that he’s willing to burn down the village in order to save it– for Space X, of course:-)

      The good news, IMO, is that Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and the ULA are now fully aware that Space X is at war with them. And it looks like they’re finally ready to fight back!


      • Joe says:

        Right on all counts.

        The part about the Administration choosing SpaceX for the pad 39A award is particularly telling. Another new space company, Blue Origin, also wanted pad 39A, but their proposal would have allowed dual use of the pad.

        The Administration chose the offer that would allow them to say dual launches of the SLS were ruled out.

        • William Mellberg says:

          This is a source of irritation to me as an American taxpayer. Launch Complex 39 was designated as a National Historic Site in 1973. It was paid for with tax dollars. I’m none too pleased that the Obama Administration has given an EXCLUSIVE lease of Pad 39-A (with all of its historical significance) to a crony capitalist who donated lots of money to the Obama presidential campaigns.

          Likewise, if NASA pursues a more ambitious space program under a new President, both pads could/would be needed for SLS launches. But Obama has given one of them to a privately held corporation.

          That stinks!

      • billgamesh says:

        “And it looks like they’re finally ready to fight back!”

        They were always “fighting back” Marcel. Another extremely popular piece of propaganda regurgitated everywhere is that corrupt “OldSpace” had made space exploration impossible and “NewSpace” (as in Musk) had reinvented the spirit of competition and had again made it possible for humankind to travel to the stars. By going cheap.

        Nothing could be further from the truth. The most accurate term to describe this claim is “Orwellian.”

  10. billgamesh says:

    “-we now have less capability than we did, yet we are still spending about the same amount of money per year on NASA as we did when the “money-draining” Shuttle was operational. The Shuttle could deliver over 24 tons of supplies and equipment (and people) to the ISS on each flight; up-mass for the SpaceX spacecraft Dragon is about 3 tons.”

    Sidemount is a better comparison but of course it cannot be used since it was aborted by the Augustine “Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.”

    Oh what could have been and would be flying right about now.

    I would be curious to know how much Sidemount using the 5 segment SRB’s and flying 8 times a year could have delivered to LEO and how many falcon flights would have been required to match that figure.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      In fact, immediately after the VSE was announced in 2004, an internal NASA team (the Gold Team) worked out a plan for robotic presence on the Moon supported by Shuttle side-mount heavy lift. That vehicle would have been operational by 2012, around the time that Shuttle was to have been retired. And, the entire program fit under the original VSE budget guidelines. That was all discarded, largely as a result of the fixation on humans to Mars by the agency. I discuss all this at length in my forthcoming book, The Value of the Moon.

      • Joe says:

        Did not work on the Gold Team, but knew a number of people that did, that was a real missed opportunity.

        Looking forward to the book.

        Can you say when it will be coming out?

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Looking forward to the book. Can you say when it will be coming out?

          Probably early next year, although it is currently being copy edited and should be ready for the press soon. Publishers have their own schedules. This one is being published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. The full title is: The Value of the Moon: Bringing Space into our Economic Sphere.

      • billgamesh says:

        It was actually around 2004 that I read Project Orion and became interested in space travel. My original thoughts on space were of the “space is hard” kind and robot projects on the Moon and space solar energy were all concepts I rejected. I continued to read books off and on over the years concerning space technology but six years later in 2010 I became a dedicated space advocate when your Mini-SAR work discovered ice on the Moon.

        That changed everything!

        It completely changed the entire situation concerning space exploration.

        But for years now it has been ignored. Incredible.

        The human species may actually be too stupid to survive.

  11. Thought provoking as always. We’ve hollowed out our space program in the confident expectation that the commercial space folks could do great things cheaper, faster, and better. As nimble and as skilled as commercial space is, none of the managers or engineers ever attended the Hogwarts School of Magic.

    • billgamesh says:

      “As nimble and as skilled as commercial space is-”

      That is quite a sleight of hand statement by itself. Considering the Glory satellite fiasco, the virgin graves, and billions in subsidies and free support given that supposed free market miracle company whose endless infomercials I am so sick of, I would say “commercial space” (I prefer “NewSpace”) is nimble and skilled at “marketing” but little else.

      Just like the good Doctor said.

  12. billgamesh says:

    If the U.S. had continued to explore the Moon with robots and rovers during and even after Apollo the discovery of ice might have occurred in the 70’s instead of 2008.

    That is in my view the single most intriguing “what if” concerning the space program because water would have made all things possible instead of nearly impossible.

    It was the big mistake and in the best possible parallel universe there are now thousands of people on a parallel Moon setting in motion underground factories to build space solar power arrays to provide all the energy required by civilization on Earth. Projects to build cities in space would be well along.

    We have a lot of catching up to do.

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