So much has been written this past week in newspapers, blogs, facebook,
and twitter about the fate of NASA’s human spaceflight program. With
every new American President the forward steps of our exploration into
the Cosmos is up for renewal. That’s reality for NASA being what it is;
a government agency.

The Orlando Sentinel is the newspaper that started everything this week with this initial article
that Obama plans to cancel the Constellation Program and the mission to
return to the moon. Throughout Wednesday and into the evening, those in
the space industry who use twitter found themselves venting about the
“change” and the unknown future. I was one of them. A second article
stated that $6 Billion over 5 years is to be provided to NASA in order
to develop commercial capability of reaching Low Earth Orbit and
providing an astronaut transport service to the International Space
Station.

I recommend the book, Who Moved my Cheese
by Spencer Johnson because if you keep looking for where the cheese was
you are going to be absolutely miserable. Those who adapt and are
flexible with change will thrive. For six years we’ve been working
towards a goal, to leave LEO, a dream come true for my generation. This
dream is now threatened due to only knowing part of the story. Every
article that’s been written over the past few months of Obama’s vision
for American Human Spaceflight has been only a piece of the puzzle. Not
one article tells the story and there’s a reason for that. The vision
has yet to be unveiled. That comes Monday. A day we are all anxiously
awaiting whether we work for NASA, a contractor, a private/commercial
spaceflight company or are an NASA enthusiast, student, astronomer,
physicist, #SpaceTweep.

I recommend these two blog posts as @dittmarml provides her thoughts in An Open Letter to the U.S. Human Spaceflight Community and @rikerjoe wrote End of NASA’s Human Spaceflight? Hardly. @BadAstronomer of Discover Magazine wrote Give Space a Chance which by the way is getting quite the response in comments. Take the time to check it out and provide your thoughts.

Reality
is that Congress did not fund the Constellation Program to allow
reaching the baselined milestones. Tasks were deferred to the right.
Technical issues that arise in all new programs were resolved as money
was available. The schedule slipped and slipped and slipped. Welcome to
the government. Now we find ourselves in 2010 having digested The
Review of the U.S. Space Flight Plans Committee’s final report
which stated that in order for Constellation to be successful it would
need an infusion of an extra $3 Billion a year each and every year for
the next five years. Anyone whose been paying attention to the U.S.
Economy including the bailouts for the banks and car companies knows
this is just not going to happen. As most #SpaceTweeps know, NASA gets
less than 0.6% of the federal budget, while most people think they get
a quarter of the federal budget. @BadAstronomer provided a great post this past week about NASA’s percentage of the federal budget.

While
we wait in anticipation for Monday’s announcement of Obama’s
Spaceflight vision I can share with you my thoughts on what needs to
occur. What is important is that the overall vision be sustainable,
continue building on capabilities, uphold safety standards, and be
fully funded.

I do hope for a flexible path type architecture
that allows NASA to use a multitude of launch vehicles, capsules, and
develop new technology and capabilities. But, what are the goals of
flexible path? Where are we to go and what are we to do there?
Remember, we are after sustainability, to maintain a human presence in
space and build our capabilities to go further and further from our
home planet. Well, that’s what I want. I don’t know what Obama wants.

Here’s what I think:

  • The future of human spaceflight is not a one nation venture. It’s an International Partnership.
  • The
    Moon and Mars should be part of our new Vision. I believe we have much
    to learn before we can even think of venturing to Mars; that learning
    takes place on the space station and on the moon. We still need to
    learn how to protect the human body from radiation on long duration
    missions and develop new capabilities in propulsion to reduce the mass
    due to chemical propulsion and minimize the time to travel to the
    destination so more time can be spent exploring at the destination.
  • We
    need to minimize the gap of having a launch capability in order not to
    lose the workforce expertise and knowledge as well as employ our future
    generation of rocket scientists.
  • It doesn’t matter who builds
    the rockets that take us to LEO because if NASA is going to pay for
    launch services of its astronauts they will demand safety standards be
    met. However, the vision must be realistic about the time it will take
    for those capabilities to become available. It won’t happen overnight.

Here
is what I worry about. Obama will unveil his vision which may change
the balance of jobs at various NASA centers thus starting (well, it
already has started) a Congress backlash. Therefore Congress will
battle (drag it on) for years to come keeping NASA’s budget to a
minimum thus stretching out the time it takes to go beyond LEO.

I
do not have experience going through the Presidential “NASA Change” at
a Program Level. My first job was in 1998 and it was to work on the
International Space Station. 6 months later we launched the first
module, Zarya, or what I still call the FGB. The International Space
Station went through numerous design changes over the past 20+ years.
For me, I arrived at the right time to develop lesson plans to train
astronauts and be part of the systems engineering and integration team
that came up with the engineering solutions to the reality of
congressional budgets.

I leave you with these two thoughts:

Sometimes dreams need course corrections.

What will you do with your passion and excitement of space exploration?