Status Report

IFPTE Letter to Norman Augustine

By SpaceRef Editor
August 12, 2009
Filed under , , ,

August 9th, 2009
Mr. Norman Augustine
Chair, Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee
NASA Headquarters
300 E St SW
Washington DC 20024-3210
Dear Mr. Augustine:

It is an honor and privilege for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) to represent thousands of talented and dedicated NASA employees distributed across the country from the Washington D.C. area to California and from Ohio to Alabama. As NASA’s largest federal employee Union, we focus on their broad concerns which range from nitty-gritty institutional personnel issues to national aerospace policy. NASA employees did not come to the Agency merely to collect a paycheck, but rather to work hard on challenging problems, to contribute to amazing collective human accomplishments larger than any individual accomplishment, and to communicate NASA’s achievements to inspire young Americans into a science or engineering education and into aerospace careers. NASA civil servants care deeply about their Agency and its future, and thus want to assist your Committee in providing President Obama and Administrator Bolden with the best possible set of options. To that end, IFPTE would like to provide you with the following three recommendations.

* Endorse realistic yet transparent budget/workforce commitments:

Under the Apollo program, NASA had an inflation corrected annual budget of $30 billion and a civil servant workforce of 36,000. Over the years, NASA’s budget has been reduced by more than a third and its civil-servant complement by half, which has and will continue to imprison America in low-earth orbit (LEO). The Columbia Accident Investigation Board warned that a major contributing factor to the tragedy was that NASA had over-outsourced its developmental and operational functions; NASA has been losing the in-house technical edge needed to properly oversee its contractors and has no strategic hiring plan to maintain its core technical competencies. Thus, in order to re-establish human exploration beyond LEO while maintaining proper oversight of private-sector developers and vigorous Science and Aeronautics programs, IFPTE recommends:

  • An annual budget of at least $22 billion starting in fiscal year 2011 (FY11) with inflationary growth thereafter,
  • An aggressive strategic workforce hiring budget (~$100 million annually over the next 5 years) to recruit and mentor the next generation of civil-servant scientists, engineers, and support staff before the current aging workforce disappears (and, with it, critical institutional knowledge),
  • The reversal of current deceptive, anti-civil-servant workforce accounting and outsourcing practices implemented by the previous Administration that undermine NASA’s ability to maintain the core in-house intellectual competencies necessary for mission success,
  • The respectful transition of the Shuttle contractor workforce by the end of FY11 into the new human spaceflight program to the extent practical, and
  • Maintaining a healthy ratio of CS to contractor workforce.

* Provide a realistic, progressively ambitious schedule of exploration:

Just as President Kennedy set a difficult yet obtainable goal and schedule for human lunar exploration appropriate for establishing America’s unchallenged leadership in aerospace, so should President Obama set an ambitious but feasible agenda for the next two or three decades. The Committee recommendations should not accept US stagnation in LEO, nor should they promote unrealistic notions of settling the solar system or a direct-to-Mars mission within14 years, nor marginalize the Agency by postponing critical human exploration activities beyond LEO to some distant and thus effectively irrelevant future time point. In order to guide President Obama in setting NASA’s vision for the future, the recommendation should contain an incremental series of increasingly ambitious missions. IFPTE supports the engagement of the emerging entrepreneurial aerospace sector to the extent that they can provide bone fide off-the-shelf products and services in support of ISS access, while keeping the design and development of vehicles to enable manned exploration beyond LEO primarily a governmentally-led function. With these guiding principles, IFPTE therefore recommends:

  • A US program of human exploration that blends elements of the “Lunar Global” and “Mars First” scenarios into a moon-enabled “Mars” main option, with incremental missions from lunar and martian robotic, to lunar sortie and then outpost, and ultimately to a full-up moon-based Mars mission rehearsal in order to learn how to implement an extended human-tended science mission on another world while we also perform the critical research and technology development needed to make a safe human Mars mission possible (and hopefully reduce the currently envisioned transit time before locking in any Mars mission architecture),
  • Consideration of some “Deep Space” scenarios on a pay-as-you-go basis in collaboration with financially engaged international partners (i.e. only if the baseline budget is properly supplemented to cover the additional costs),
  • The retirement of the Shuttle no later than early FY11 with an approximately $1 billion dollar budget increase in that year to cover anticipated completion of the current manifest in FY11,
  • The extension of US ISS activities until fiscal year 2020 with serious consideration given to providing non-Shuttle delivery of additional mature or existing Space Life Science flight hardware to ISS (e.g. components of the Space Station Biological Research Program, Neurolab centrifuge, …),
  • An incentive agreement to sign extended contracts for the purchase of proven commercial-off-the-shelf space capabilities (as they are made available through private capital investment and a sound independent business model) for ISS cargo and crew delivery and recovery to supplement Soyuz and potentially a US backup, and
  • The in-house development of heavy-lift launch capabilities that will enable sustained human exploration of increasing duration beyond LEO.

* Emphasize the critical need to restore long-lead enabling research:

In FY05, NASA’s independent Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR) had expenditures totaling $925 million. Since then, the Life and Microgravity Science budget has been decimated and control of these long-term research programs were turned over to a development Program (ESMD) with management by the operational Center in-charge of Constellation (JSC). Thus, the Advanced Capabilities Program has been dominated by operationally-relevant short-term interests in direct support of near-term Orion and Ares development with the abandonment of nearly all of the fundamental and longer-term applied research necessary for extended human exploration. This decision was taken despite the fact that human health and performance issues may present the primary risk to mission success for extended human exploration beyond LEO. In order to provide the new enabling technologies critical for any extended-duration human exploration and to reverse the recent dismantling of NASA’s Life and Microgravity and Space Technology programs, IFPTE recommends:

  • Increasing the Advanced Capabilities R&D budget back to at least the $1 billion OBPR level by FY12 (with the operational medicine elements moved and consolidated under the Space Operations Mission Directorate),
  • The consolidation and expansion of Space Life Science research activities (i.e. the merger of ISS Fundamental Space Biology research and the non-med-ops elements of the Human Research Program) into a new, single Space Life Science Program managed out of a research Center with a kick start through the reprogramming of a plus-up of $50 million in FY10 using ESMD stimulus funds, a total budget of $250 million in FY11, and $350 million in FY12 with inflationary increases in the out-years.
  • The expansion of advanced propulsion, power generation and storage, microgravity physical and material science, cryogenics, closed-loop life support, and automation research activities under the Exploration Technology Development Program with a kick start through the reprogramming of a plus-up of $50 million in FY10 using ESMD stimulus funds, a budget of $500 million in FY11, and $650 in FY12 within inflationary increases in the out-years.

Cast into the Committee’s options-table framework, our recommendations are:

Main option – Mars
Budget (>FY10) – $22-24B plus inflation
Shuttle Retirement – 2011
ISS Life – 2020
Crew to LEO – US backup to IP & commercial
Heavy Lift
NASA (Ares V or others)
Refueling Option – requires study
First >LEO Destination – Mars focus with incremental prior lunar science and mission rehearsal
Commercial Engagement – bone fide COTS COTS

IFPTE thanks you and the Committee for considering our concerns and those of others.  If you have any questions about the above recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Original Signed
Gregory J. Junemann

SpaceRef staff editor.