Status Report

NASA Internal Memo from Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley: 10/6 Cx Weekly Update

By SpaceRef Editor
October 9, 2007
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NASA Internal Memo from Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley: 10/6 Cx Weekly Update

From: “Hanley, Jeffrey M. (JSC-ZA)”
Date: Sun, 7 Oct 2007 14:42:46 -0500
To: JSC-DL-Cx-Senior-Staff
Conversation: 10/6 Cx Weekly Update
Subject: 10/6 Cx Weekly Update

I hope many of you are able to take advantage of the holiday weekend – a holiday in our culture intended to honor explorers and their achievements. And certainly a chance for those in our business to pause and reflect on exactly what it is that keeps us at this task.

I’ve recently enjoyed a handful of books on key explorers, such as Magellan, Columbus, and Capt Cook, and am struck and fascinated by their courage and commitment to their task despite incredible odds against their success. On Magellan’s voyage alone, of the multiple ships and over 400 crew that departed on the voyage, only a couple dozen scurvy-ridden crew aboard a single vessel returned to tell the tale. Magellan himself fell victim of his own hubris and was killed by inhabitants of one of those far off lands he was credited with ‘discovering’. In their time, exploration was frought with risk and unknown unknowns.

The shipwrights that crafted those vessels of discovery 500 years ago were some of the finest of their craft on the planet, and the stresses of confronting the frontier pushed their art to new innovations. Some fostered innovation within the shipwright craft itself, as vessels were optimized for the harsh climes of the extreme places of the globe. Others innovated on more human matters – and by Cook’s time were figuring out ways to avoid the ravages of scurvy with mere dietary supplements. Maritime activity drove the technology of timekeeping in order to improve navigation in the fixing of longitude. And so on.

These people did not set out or justify their exertions by listing to their stakeholders all the discoveries and innovations ‘they would surely make’. Yet today we are often held to just such a standard by some – to look into our crystal ball and somehow be able to tell Queen Isabella all we will discover BEFORE we discover it – to somehow and someway know the unknowns before we encounter them – in order to justify the exertion apriori. Those who hold us to such a standard contribute to cutting our own national nose off to spite our face. Even the most casual observer of history should find this absurd.

During the mid 1840’s the U.S. mounted its very first seagoing ‘exploring expedition’, the first major government sponsored expedition of its kind since Lewis and Clark. You most likely have not heard of the voyage or its leader, Captain Wilkes. But this one expedition, which itself took a couple of decades of politicking before it finally set sail, firmly established the long rumored existance of the Antarctic continent, returned detailed charts of the south sea islands that were still in use as late as the 1950’s, discovered numerous peoples and cultures throughout that region, charted in detail the northwest coast of the U.S., and returned such a cache of artifacts and scientific data that an entire museum was established around the results – a little outfit known as the Smithsonian Institute. The U.S. ExEx, while wildly successful, enjoyed a stormy genesis, voyage, and aftermath, that helped push it into footnote status as a historical event in itself – but its legacy is without question part of what made America a ‘great nation’ among nations.

In that period of American history our country was spending a significant percentage of national treasure (perhaps a quarter of the federal budget in those decades) on exporation, coinciding with the needs of an exploding population and expanding geopolitical role. By contrast, today’s national investment in space exploration – the most extreme of frontiers – is significantly less than a penny of every federal dollar. Human spaceflight – less than half a penny. The comparison may not be fair, it’s hard to know.

Mike Griffin wrote a few months back about the next 50 years in space, which included a look back at the first 50 years to learn what we can about what to expect. Despite the surge spending of the Apollo program in the mid-60’s, NASA’s budget has been on average roughly constant over that period. So, he concluded, it seems reasonable to assume such for the next 50 years – at least that’s a place to begin, if one assumes that our generation and those to follow are reasonably good stewards of the practice. The centerpiece of what’s to come, as most of you appreciate, is the Constellation program, whose task is no less than to methodically evolve our tradecraft from where it is today toward bringing the near solar system within human reach. This means Mars, yes, but it really means an ever expanding sphere of operations where the riskiest places are those just beyond our reach, and those places considered ‘risky’ in our time become much less risky to reach and subsist upon. Along behind, as these trails to the frontier are blazed, commerce must be pulled to develop these pathways to what essentially become new markets and trade routes. The unique role we in government play is doing the ‘trailblazing’ – to show the way, develop the tools and techniques necessary, and seed the marketplace, but then step aside (at the right moment) and encourage commerce. This is exactly what COTS is all about, as much a key component of the exploration story as any other. The ‘end game’ or target outcome is to be able to buy the capabilities we help to foster as a a commodity once the risks are retired or managed.

Like many of you, I am honored and excited to be part of this agency of the USG at this particular time. We stand on the shoulders of Apollo’s accomplishments, but simply repeating their accomplishments will dishonor their exertions. That is why Constellation is reaching so much further – to go anywhere on the Moon and return anytime, to stay for over twice the time with twice the number of crew, to build an outpost (perhaps one or more, or perhaps a roving outpost, who knows). To build a human launch system that strives to be 10 times safer than the space shuttle. To build the most powerful rocket ever flown and achieve new levels of economy where the cost per kilo to orbit for precious cargo reaches history-making lows. To apply these new tools to as yet unthought of missions, or alternative applications such as launching large telescopes, human visits to a NEO, or a large scale Mars Sample Return mission. All while also reaching to embrace the best of what industry has to offer in efficient operations, production, and sustaining engineering to allow as much investment as possible in new capabilities with the least burden in operational cost.

Pretty tall order. Is NASA, the real NASA, up to the task? I have my moments of doubt. But the experience of the last two years of formulation work, where I have had the pleasure of interacting with NASA people from nearly every field center, says to me that it is not a matter of technical ability. NASA even today is blessed with some of the most innovative minds this country has, and is capable of managing wildly complicated missions with amazing dexterity. What we’ve allowed ourselves to become at times over the last 3 decades is divided – aeronautics vs space, human vs robotic, center vs center, gvt vs contractor. I’m convinced that when this occurred it is because until the ‘vision’ the agency did not have an overarching ‘core mission’ to drive cohesion among various interests. So the VSE in general and Constellation specifically can only succeed with the investment of all in it’s success. And indeed we as an agency have paid considerable attention to leveraging the talents of every center, have engaged industry in new ways, and brought together engineering minds from both human and robotic spaceflight. Excellent progress achieved through teamwork, but many challenges remain.

‘To boldly go…’ is the pop culture euphemism that embodies the courage and bravery and audacity of history’s great explorers and their expeditions. Audacity is the feeling I get every time I walk through the VAB at the Cape – the audacity of my father’s generation to reach so far so fast. It’s the same audacity that fueled the ambition of Christopher Columbus and those other explorers.

It’s audacity that has defined us as a nation – an audacious experiment for its time, a voyage into the unknown.

Let us rediscover the value of audacity – not out of hubris but rather recognizing that such audacity is part of the essense of being American.

To boldy go…

To all my NASA nationwide teammates, thanks for your labors of the past year. We are on the verge of something grand – and you will make it happen.

And to Mr. Columbus, thanks for the legacy of audacity…

Jeff Hanley

Manager, Constellation Program

NASA Johnson Space Center
Houston, Texas 77058

SpaceRef staff editor.