Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is a Big Shake Up going to happen at NASA?

It looks like big changes are very likely comming their way:

Panel Urges NASA to Reset Priorities
A blue-ribbon panel is recommending that NASA shelve its goal of rapidly returning to the moon and instead focus on nurturing a robust commercial space industry that can handle short-term objectives of the nation's space program, such as ferrying cargo and crew to the international space station.

The panel, called the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, headed by former Lockheed Martin Corp. Chairman Norman Augustine, was convened by the Obama administration earlier this year to provide an independent assessment of the priorities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It presented its findings to the White House Tuesday.


It calls for sweeping changes in the way NASA does business and envisions a dramatically expanded role for private enterprise in human space flight in the coming decades beyond anything proposed previously.

Some of the details of the study were reported in The Wall Street Journal last month. However, a summary and excerpt of the report became available Tuesday. The panel urged NASA to shift its goal from returning to the moon and to focus instead on the more long-term objective of reaching Mars, though it didn't set any specific time frame. [...]

I don't see how they can scrap the Moon mission, and go for Mars. The moon is much closer, more realistic, less expensive, and our astronauts would need that lunar experience, I would think, before tackling a Mars mission.

But perhaps some of the changes at NASA might really be for the better. Consider this:
[...] After the report summary was released, Elon Musk, the founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., one of the companies vying for commercial contracts to start ferrying cargo and astronauts to the station, said sticking with NASA's current priorities "flies in the face of reason and common sense." In a teleconference with reporters, Mr. Musk also said development of his company's Falcon 9 heavy-lift launcher – which could start ferrying astronauts to the space station before the middle of the next decade for less than half of Russia's prices -- is about a year late. But "in the space business," he added, "that's early."

In addition to the emphasis on commercial solutions, the report hits heavily on the need to reorient NASA's leadership and the mindset of many of its engineers and scientists. The committee, according to the summary, "strongly believes it is time for NASA to reassume its critical role of developing new technologies" aligned with a revamped "exploration mission that will last for decades." If properly funded and executed, the report concludes, such a technical roadmap would "re-engage the minds at American universities, in industry and within NASA" for manned space efforts.

The report's opening paragraph sets the tone. America's human space flight program "appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory, " the committee found, because it is "perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." Even before release of the summary, NASA officials were studying possible changes to existing plans, including downsizing a proposed space capsule and revising rocket programs in order to lower costs by reusing some space shuttle-derived technologies and facilities. Other NASA officials, according to a Reuters story Tuesday, have devised a 30-year stepping-stone strategy – still in its early stages -- to develop technology and generate public support with the goal of eventually reaching Mars. [...]

Read the whole article for the details. I can't be completely negative about it, some of the proposed changes actually sound pretty good. It will be interesting to see which of the proposed changes the Obama administration goes with. If they choose wisely, it could work out well in the long run.

If NASA can be straightened out, then maybe we can use a similar plan to get the rest of our government off of it's "unsustainable trajectory", and break it's habit of "perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." Wouldn't that be great? What's good for the Space Program, might be good for Congress and the White House too!

Also See:

NASA's Mission to the Moon may be Scrapped

NASA goes Back to the Future


1 comment:

neil craig said...

In theory most of that could be accomplished by taking some of NASA's budget & putting it on a commercial shuttle.

I agree with you about going for Mars not the Moon being a contradiction. I suspect it means "don't go for the Moon & we'll still pretend to be aiming for Mars half a dozen administrations from now. That's OK by me since I think Mars, except for probes checking for life, is a much less important target than commercial orbital access, space industrialisation or even asteroid mining.