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NASA Moon Science Politics

Senators Question Removal of NASA Program Manager 67

Posted by kdawson
from the not-so-fast dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The New York Times reports that one day after the removal of NASA's head of the Constellation Program, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the committee that oversees NASA, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the committee's ranking Republican, have asked NASA's inspector general to look into whether the NASA leadership is undermining the agency's moon program and to 'examine whether this or other recent actions by NASA were intended or could reasonably have been expected to foreclose the ability of Congress to consider meaningful alternatives' to President Obama's proposed policy, which invests heavily in new space technologies and turns the launching of astronauts over to private companies. Congress has yet to agree to the president's proposed policy, and has inserted a clause into this year's budget legislation that prohibits NASA from canceling the Constellation program or starting alternatives without Congressional approval. The Constellation manager, Jeffrey M. Hanley, whose reassignment is being called a promotion, had been publicly supported by the NASA administrator and other NASA officials. But he may have incurred displeasure by publicly talking about how Constellation could be made to fit into the slimmed-down budgets that President Obama has proposed for NASA's human spaceflight endeavors."
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Senators Question Removal of NASA Program Manager

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  • Can you imagine... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RockMFR (1022315) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:43AM (#32396212)
    Can you imagine if the Congress of the 1950s had, instead of funding the Apollo program, wanted to fund production of the Wright Flyer?
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:16AM (#32397114)

      Then the Apollo program really would have been filmed in Hollywood studios.

      Hey, scratch that. I now have definitive proof that the Moon landings were not filmed in a studio. The films were shown on TV; free of charge.

      If Hollywood faked the Moon landings, they would have had DRM stuff on all of it. And if anyone said the word "Moon", the MPAA would have been all over it.

  • by durrr (1316311) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:46AM (#32396224)
    Senators thinking too much of their sponsors and pets in addition to the perpetual conflict over the imaginary difference in US parties(republicans/democrats) is the reason why we're not going anywhere. The congress is a fucking kindergarten full of uneducated, dishonest and selfish man-babies who feel entitled to have everything their way, and if they have to face critique they'll cry until your ears bleed or you let them have it their way.
    Perhaps when India or China start their mars missions congress will sober up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dkf (304284)

      Perhaps when India or China start their mars missions congress will sober up.

      I wouldn't count on it. It would be a truly remarkable event for recent Congresses.

    • by haxney (1769366)

      Yeah, I know this whole thing is wildly off-topic, but I'm bored, so whatever ;)

      The congress is a fucking kindergarten full of uneducated, dishonest and selfish man-babies who feel entitled to have everything their way

      I'll agree with dishonest and selfish, but it takes some brainpower to keep a job like that when you're not actually doing your job. I'm no bigger fan of the current congress than you seem to be, but if you had a job where you could gather crowds of (literally) thousands of cheering people, be paid well (both legit and through bribes), and wield that much power, wouldn't you want to keep it? We have a system which rewards dishon

  • by beaverdownunder (1822050) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:48AM (#32396238)
    ... but why is it so hard/expensive to repeat something that was done several times 40 years ago using comparatively horribly primitive technology? Somehow I expect this to all 'go away'. Not everything in the world is a conspiracy, but not everything isn't, either. Hello, NASA -- what gives?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by durrr (1316311)
      Because a certain president found the space program dull and boring and decided to funnel all the NASA money into warfare instead, because the latter is so much more exciting and something we need more of. And when you let something stagnate for 30 years, chances are you'll have a bloody hard time getting it going again, especially when all the people and expertise have moved on and away.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I don't know about that -- technology has marched on at an (pun intended) astronomical pace. Also, these sorts of things tend to be very heavily documented. Don't get me wrong, I'm not outright arguing the moon missions 'never happened', but it strikes me there seems to be a 'gotcha' that we're not being made aware of, and it's a shame that the might of the public resources that could be made available to solve the problem by those who would like to see further extra-planetary activity is squandered just si
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:04AM (#32396302)

      think about it this way:

      Remember when, as a kid, you balanced a ruler on your finger? Launching a rocket is just like that--only the ruler is human beings and the finger is a (hopefully) controlled explosion.

      If your system isn't PERFECT, people die.

      Now, that's just a normal rocket. We've done those before. But to send humans to the Moon, you've got to launch a larger mass than to get just to the Space Station. Much larger. And you have to bring enough fuel with you (more mass) to carefully brake yourself as you get into lunar orbit. And you have to bring enough fuel with you to carefully brake yourself as you get down to the Moon's surface. And you have to bring enough fuel with you to launch off of the Moon's surface again. AND you have to bring enough fuel with you to get back out of lunar orbit and pointed back at the moon. AND you have to bring fuel tanks and rocket engines for each one of those steps, too. Plus food and clothing and toilets for your humans. All of that has to be lifted in the original rocket.

      This still doesn't get at your question, though. We did it in the 60's, why can't we do it now? Well, lots of reasons. Primarily, we were trying to do it in a way that was less expensive to operate than the Saturn Vs--that program was cancelled because it was so expensive. Most of the technology, and all of the parts, are obsolete, so we couldn't just go with another Saturn V. Also, it takes $Billions to do this, so we have to satisfy all of our "stakeholders," which meant that we had to try to do it using Shuttle parts, because if you make a bunch of people suddenly unemployed, senators get upset. So it would be (arguably) better to launch with an all-liquid system, but we had to cobble together rockets out of the Shuttle parts. Well, performance-wise, they're slightly worse but safety-wise they're slightly better, so it's all good. But then it turned out that there were technical problems to using Shuttle parts when they're not attached to the Shuttle's stack--see the first point about balancing a ruler; if it's not perfect, things go dramatically wrong. So the design had engineering problems that had to be fixed. It takes time and money to fix those problems, and the program fell behind and went over budget.

      Meanwhile, congress SAID they supported NASA in a broad, bi-partisan fashion--and they did, they tried to give NASA more money...but Bush, who started the program, cut the budget. Every single God-damned year. When you start a complex program and give it less money than it is asking for, you cause more problems than just the dollar amounts represent. Work gets done out of order due to the financial constraints. This means people have to make assumptions about the work that should have been done already, but isn't. That means that some of those assumptions will be wrong. That means that some of that work will have to be re-done, and that means more time and money.

      So, there you have it--why NASA can't do again what it did 40+ years ago: the physics are nightmarishly difficult, there were engineering difficulties (imagine that), there were constraints about how the system could be built due to congressional politics, and the president didn't support us with enough money. End of story.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Rocket engines burn fuel at high pressure, they do not propel themselves by explosion. The only explosions are explosive bolts to separate the stages.

        If you want a rocket propelled by explosions look at the Orion Drive, which fires nuclear bombs behind it, which then explode and propel it forward.

      • You know, the kind of cutting that ends up with increased funding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget [wikipedia.org]
        • by Kartoffel (30238)
          True! Problem is, nobody knows what all that extra money can be used for. The NASA centers are trying to figure out how to invent new projects to fit into the programs dictated by that budget.
          • by tyrione (134248)

            True! Problem is, nobody knows what all that extra money can be used for. The NASA centers are trying to figure out how to invent new projects to fit into the programs dictated by that budget.

            Very astute observation. The money isn't in an open pool for any department to use. They are predefined and constrained.

      • by demachina (71715)

        Nice lengthy rant but NASA has spent most of their energy on Ares I the last 5 years. Ares I isn't even remotely as difficult as Apollo, Saturn or going to the Moon. Its closer to Soyuz, Gemini and Mercury. It was just launching a few people in a capsule in to LEO. After years of effort and billions of dollars all NASA had managed so far was to light off a largely unmodified Shuttle SRB with a bunch of dummy upper stages with a control system that was lifted wholesale out of an Atlas.

        NASA and Ares simpl

        • I'll admit that, while I'm interested in space exploration, I'm not a space nerd, tracking every project NASA has going on...

          But, is the failure of the Ares I a lack of intellectual and creative ability to develop the project, or is it that we've become so accustomed to fearing anything less than perfection when human lives are on the line, that we're afraid to move forward?

          Nobody wants to lose astronauts, but in the 1960s, we ALL (ok, I wasn't born yet, but Americans at the time) understood that it w
      • A long explanation that doesn't hold up. The reasons are simpler than previously described. At the time before and of the Apollo program, when the space program was young, there was much better focus among the political leadership and, mostly, by NASA itself. Disagreements of logistics and methodology were handled better, and logically. Technology limited the paths that could be taken in many of the questions presented by the challenge of space exploration and ultimately the moon landing itself than tod
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's not a technological problem -- as you say, it's been done before, and others have done comparable development in a fraction of the time and cost (SpaceX and other NewSpace companies).

      The issue here is, and has been for the past 40 years, entirely political. Space is big money, and big money attracts politicians like flies. NASA is both a job program for engineers and a reliable means of buying votes. Why do you think the various space centers are scattered all over the country? Why do you think rockets

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jonwil (467024)

        What you said about "Get the politicians out of the mix" is EXACTLY what Obama wants to do (and exactly why Congress wont let him)

        The Obama proposal (from my understanding) means NASA would be buying off-the-shelf space hardware (rockets, boosters, capsules, landers, whatever else) or hardware build by private industry to NASA specs. Either way, it would be built by the company in the location that is most benifical to the company and not to some politician. And using the work force that is most benifical t

        • by Kartoffel (30238)
          Obama *is* a darn politician. NASA's charter is not to buy off-the-shelf hardware, but rather to R&D low technology readiness level (TRL) projects and to and operate missions that no commercial entity would consider. I work in a small section of CxP, and coincidentally have also been an advisor to some CCTS work. I can assure you, NASA (and our contractors, of course) have our human spaceflight shit together way more than ULA/Boeing/Space-X et. al. In fact, ULA would even be attempting to human-rate th
          • Obama *is* a darn politician. NASA's charter is not to buy off-the-shelf hardware, but rather to R&D low technology readiness level (TRL) projects and to and operate missions that no commercial entity would consider.

            What you're missing is that NASA can both "operate missions that no commercial entity would consider" and "buy off-the-shelf hardware" to launch those missions.

    • Hutchinson (Score:2, Informative)

      Short reminder - Kay Bailey Hutchinson is the Senator from Texas. Less funding to NASA = less government funding going to Texas. Not difficult to extrapolate.
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:31AM (#32397232)

      Two reasons:
      1. The technology hasn't improved that much (there just isn't that much room to improve rocket technology)
      2. The budget has been cut to a quarter of what it was in the 60s

      We could probably repeat Apollo at about half of what it cost the first time, but its expensive just to operate that architecture. Constellation would have suffered the same issue -- as an Augustine commission member said, if we were given a fully usable system right now, we would still have to cancel it under the current budget constraints, because we couldn't afford to operate it.

      Apollo was ideal for its time and goals. It got there quick, and it got there spectacularly, and they had money to burn due to external geopolitical factors. However, NASA thought that level of funding would go on forever and never had a good scale-back option. In order to do more than a mission to LEO under the current budget we need to rethink how an exploration system should look - small cheap manned launchers, on-orbit construction, and a focus on permanence. While these things may take longer, and be a little more expensive to build, we can do it piecemeal, and it will ultimately be far more sustainable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dougmc (70836)

      ... using comparatively horribly primitive technology?

      It's not really that horribly primitive, at least not compared to 2010 technology rather than 2245 technology.

      Sure, we've got better computers, sensors, cameras, etc. today -- but rockets haven't changed that much since then. They're made with similar materials (well, we probably like things like carbon fiber more now, but our new materials and methods aren't *that* much better than what was used 40 years ago) and fuels. And our new high technology does make it that much more expensive.

      Going to t

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by strack (1051390)
      because that horrific abomination that is the space shuttle has been eating up NASA's budget for the past 30 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by darrenm (1632751)
      What I have a hard time understanding is how NASA (the Americans) made it look so easy to complete six manned moon landings in a 3 year period 40 years ago, but nobody (neither NASA or any other country) has been able to do it since. By easy I mean banging them out every few months without incident/deaths.

      You can't tell me during the high flying economic times, when people were going to go into orbit with their dog just for fun, that countries like Russia or China haven't wanted to be known as the second c
      • by sconeu (64226)

        By easy I mean banging them out every few months without incident/deaths

        James Lovell would like a word with you about the lack of "incidents" during Moon Shots.

    • ..."why is it so hard/expensive to repeat something that was done several times 40 years ago using comparatively horribly primitive technology? "

      Because these days we have systems engineers involved.

  • Every day in the business world, people are "reassigned" because they are not on-board with the boss. I've seen more than a few upper level managers get "promoted" because they voiced displeasure about the direction the company was taking. This is the way the world works.
  • by davmoo (63521) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:12AM (#32396328)

    If Congress wants the US space program to be top notch and succeed, then they need to *fully* fund it. Its "put up or shut up" time. Either give them the money to go to the moon, or close down the program.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Herkum01 (592704)

      Why fully fund it, when you can do a half-assed job instead? Come on, it is the American way!

  • by voss (52565) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:20AM (#32396366)

    They wouldnt have been able to put up a manned version until 2018. The Ares I was unnecessary, you can use
    Delta IV or Atlas V already proven rockets plus the Falcon 9 launching next month.

    The Ares V heavy lift rocket could be done faster,cheaper and more reliably by a shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle
    such as the Direct 3.0 , the tooling is already in place for Directs version using the existing shuttle tooling.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kartoffel (30238)
      ULA has no idea what they're getting into, trying to man-rate Delta and Atlas. Yet even as an Ares I engineer I'm helping them to get there. As for Space-X, they're the Moller Skycar of the spaceflight business. In the past, even mentioning Direct would have gotten you dismissed as a tinfoil hatter yourself, but actually, one of the proposed HLV's to come out of Hanley's study last week had 4 segment solids with an SSME or RS-68 core. Very Direct-like, but without the woo.
  • Space Exploration is a 20th century quasi-religion that is beginning to manifest itself as a mental disease among those people who continue to believe it too strongly.
    Get over it. Manned space flight was a 20th-century phenomenon that has been determined to be to expensive and too limited in returns to be continued at its former funding levels. We have serious problems now that we didn't have then, and throwing hundreds of billions of dollars (that we don't have anymore) into space doesn't solve t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by durrr (1316311)
      Let political correctness be damned; Judging from your name you're a girl, which explains why you're stuck in the "make a safe home for your future family" mindset and can't see the purpose of space exploration, the biggest and most important engineering challenge there ever was. It's probably also why you're not rated troll.
      As to why space exploration is important: resources, including energy: green-24/7 unclouded solar energy, and space in abundance you cannot comprehend, microgravity manufacturing could
    • Money is not a physical good. Money can be created out of nothing and can disappear back to nothing. Technical people never understand this. They don't study economics, and they don't understand economics.

      Since you understand that the economy is just a big game, perhaps you also understand that the rules of the game have been constructed in such a way that it cannot continue forever. When the current system fails, we will have an opportunity to establish a new reason to do things, rather than the current system in which greed is the primary motive. The burden of the current system is coming ever more apparent as the system has funneled more and more wealth to fewer and fewer people.

      Humanity existed before

  • by code_rage (130128) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:08AM (#32397054)

    Best short summary: Norm Augustine's testimony to Congress http://legislative.nasa.gov/hearings/5-12-10%20AUGUSTINE.pdf

    "...the mismatch of ends and means coupled with technical problems that were encountered on the Ares I program were such that during its first four years the program slipped between three and five years...". Read that again. After four years of development and billions of $, the objective was no closer than it was at the start of the program. I could cut NASA some slack on that if they were attempting to develop new technology, but the Ares I program was largely based on well-understood technology and an existing industrial production base.

    The Program Manager does not set the budget and he was not delivered the budget that was estimated for the job. So maybe the dismissal was unfair. But the PM's job is explicitly to develop the program within the actual (not wished for) triangle of resources, schedule and performance. If the delivered resources are so inadequate that the completion date never gets closer, then something else needs to change - this is the PM's job.

    • by J05H (5625)

      WIsh I had mod points for you.

      Every year of Ares' existence pushed out first flight by at least a year. That's a jobs program not a flight development program.

      • by Kartoffel (30238)
        CxP takes Shuttle and other legacy technology and tries to make it safer than any of the previous systems ever were. Apollo and Shuttle were developed without any idea what the reliability would be or what the risks were. Constellation was given the go-ahead with the understanding that it would be made much MUCH safer. Unfortunately, we actually tried to make it that much safer and the peanut gallery wondered why it was costing so much.
        • CxP takes Shuttle and other legacy technology and tries to make it safer than any of the previous systems ever were. Apollo and Shuttle were developed without any idea what the reliability would be or what the risks were. Constellation was given the go-ahead with the understanding that it would be made much MUCH safer. Unfortunately, we actually tried to make it that much safer and the peanut gallery wondered why it was costing so much.

          I'm sorry, but I fundamentally disagree. Ares I was based on a solid fuel rocket -- a fundamentally expensive, inflexible, and unsafe technology. There's no redundancy, no engine-out capability, no early engine shut-off capability, no restart capability, no possibility of practical stage re-use. Once the rocket segments have been poured and cured they're effectively "loaded" and have to be handled with great care to make sure there's no possibility of accidental ignition -- something totally avoided with li

          • by Kartoffel (30238)

            no possibility of practical stage re-use.

            The solid rocket motors are reusable. I'm sorry, but you're wrong.

            Once the rocket segments have been poured and cured they're effectively "loaded" and have to be handled with great care to make sure there's no possibility of accidental ignition -- something totally avoided with liquid fuel rockets where the oxidiser and fuel are kept completely separately

            Red herring argument. Cryogenic liquid oxygen is way more dangerous and expensive to handle than loaded solid propellant.

            I'm just glad that the Ares-I got cancelled before it killed yet more astronauts.

            It isn't canceled. Constellation won't be canceled unless congress approves the Obama budget. Unless that happens, NASA is required by law to continue working the program of record. Just curious: which space industry do you work in? Your British spelling makes me curious :)

            • Just curious: which space industry do you work in? Your British spelling makes me curious

              I'm a PhD student at Surrey Space Centre, which is in the UK.

              • by Kartoffel (30238)

                That's cool! I appreciate your concerns about Constellation. There's a lot of bad press and unfortunate misinformation floating around, yet despite that it's extremely important to listen to the criticism.

                Ares may be a polished turd, but it's the best turd ever built to date. It has the most thorough fault detection, caution and warning and abort systems of any human rated launch vehicle. First stage is reusable, just like Shuttle solid rocket motors. Hypergol and cryogenic handling is safer and more effici

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Obama administrations efforts to kill Constellation is rooted in a desire to prevent Bush from receiving credit for any future moon landing or exploration of Mars.
    This is not idle speculation, and has been reported in many places. NASA finally had a "engineer" in the top position leading the program (Michael Griffin). Griffin was focused on engineering and science instead of playing politics and the Obama administration has crushed him.

    • There's zero chance that Bush would receive credit for the 18th moon landing. History wouldn't be interested in such a non-event.

      As far as a Mars mission is concerned, it wasn't Bush's idea anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RoboRay (735839)

        There's zero chance that Bush would receive credit for the 18th moon landing.

        Bush might get some credit for the 7th, though.

  • This is what happens when Congress tries to become an executive power. The blurring of lines in terms of what roles are laid out of for Congress and the President is getting to be just ridiculous. Incidents like this go to prove that Congress is misinterpreting its oversight powers as a reason to run every executive decision up the flagpole to review. This doesn't do anything but allow congress to play politics, this happened under Bush, and its happening again under Obama. On the same token, the Presidency
    • by Kartoffel (30238)
      Checks and balances. This is what Congress does when the White House tries to overstep its Constitutional authority.
      • Checks and balances. This is what Congress does when the White House tries to overstep its Constitutional authority.

        The issue today seems to be that all three branches regularly overstep their Constitutional authority.

        It will fall to the American people to check and balance the system.

        • Well exactly, the problem is that this is within the President's constitutional authority, yet Congress wants to second guess him. When the President crosses the line of course someone should step in, but in this case it's the Congress overstepping its bounds. We should make all incoming Reps and Senators take a basic government course.
          • by Kartoffel (30238)

            The White House proposes a budget. Congress then decides whether to approve it or not. If they don't approve it, the White House can work with Congress to reach a budget that will pass.

            It's not rocket science.

  • Micromanagement by Congress and incoherent, patch-work legislation are at the root of America's problems. A politicized public service makes failure inevitable. People don't trust congress, they don't trust 'government'. Who can blame them? Who is out there with sufficient public trust to do the oversight and regulation than the economy desperately needs? Do professional, non-partisan technocrats exist in America? Where do they come from?

  • I don't recall that dipshit Hutchison complaining when GWB also proposed increased space mission spending. I'm not familiar with Rockefeller's record or even how long he's been in office. He's a senator, though, which means I can safely assume he's a fuckup too.

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