Friday, November 13, 2009

Ten Questions for HSF Committee - Introduction

A while ago I discussed 10 questions I thought the Human Space Flight Plans Committee members should ask their presenters. Now that the Committee's final report (PDF) is in, I'd like to discuss 10 questions I might ask the Committee itself, were I in a policy position where I needed to do so.

Before I start the questions, I'd like to emphasize that I think the Committee's work is important and useful. In some cases my questions are really just that. In other cases I have opinions that contradict parts of the report, which will probably be evident from the questions themselves. However, I agree with most of the report. Just to make it clear that I think it's a good report, since we're dealing in 10's, here are 10 important ways I think the report has it right:

  • The Program of Record is unsustainable, and needs major revisions or total replacement.
  • A strong technology program is vital.
  • Firewalls are needed to protect areas like NASA robotic missions.
  • Abandoning the ISS shortly after it is finished is not viable politically, and there is a lot of useful science and engineering work that can and should be done there for many years. The NASA exploration plan needs to take this into account.
  • Major commercial participation is not only important in its own right, but enables NASA's exploration mission.
  • Major international participation is also a crucial enabler of NASA exploration.
  • Refueling and ISRU are technologies with great potential not only for NASA exploration, but for our entire space industry.
  • Long-range NASA budget plans should factor in likely cost growth.
  • Although a Moon-first approach is viable and in some ways quite attractive if done the right way, a deep space focused exploration plan should be considered.
  • Gap-ending alternatives to Ares can be expected to be ready before Ares 1 could be, although we should treat optimistic schedules for those alternatives with some skepticism just as we do with the Ares 1 schedule.
As with the Vision for Space Exploration and the Aldridge Commission recommendations, the trick will be to turn these results from a report to actual implementation. This will have to be done in the face of political and contractor interests that like the money flowing where and how it is now, regardless of whether or not that is in the broader national interest.

Now, let's get on to the questions. I plan to post these gradually, using the tag below for all of them.


Sean said...

Just curious what you mean by:

Firewalls are needed to protect areas like NASA robotic missions.

Are you talking about funding? If so, I'd propose that "robotic missions" are a tool to be used by whomever needs it. If it's a pure science mission, it should be paid for by the science discipline.

If it's a precursor to a human mission, it should be paid for by HSF

Ray said...

Sean: Yes, this is about funding. It's my take on parts of section 9.6 of the Augustine Committee report. Here's a relevant excerpt from the report:

"... That said, there are nonetheless inevitable conflicts—conflicts that arise from the competition among programs for resources, particularly financial resources. It is therefore of the utmost importance, if balance is to be maintained, that neither the human program nor the robotic spaceflight program be permitted to cannibalize the other. This has been a significant concern in the past, particularly given the size of the human spaceflight program. Difficulties in the human space program too often swallowed resources that had been planned for the robotic program (as well as for aeronautics and space technology). Robotics are generally, although not exclusively, considered to be of greater interest to the scientific community. It is essential that budgetary firewalls be built between these two broad categories of activity. ..."