The Bean Counter and the Moon Walker: Pathways to Space Vision – Part 1

By frank_sietzen
December 18, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washington Archive

A Spacelift Washington Special Series:

Part One: Buzz Aldrin and the Quest for Reusable Space

A convergence of sorts is approaching in Washington that will shape the space policies of the remaining half of George W. Bush’s presidency. One element of that is the administration of Sean O’Keefe, as he sets about realigning NASA priorities once he takes office as administrator early in 2002. More about that in part two of this series.

Another element will be the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry. Headed by Bush advisor former Pennsylvania Congressman and House Science Committee Chair Bob Walker, the commission has a two-fold task: craft a policy framework on the immediate term that can bolster aviation and space in the United States. And secondly, look out to century’s end and “see” what a healthy aerospace industry would look like, moving backward to establish goals and spending priorities across the next nine decades.

The commission is believed to have a better-than-average chance of actually making policy instead of making pretty report covers. The reason is both the nature of its chair- a policy wonk unusually wise in the ways of Washington- as well as the vacuum that has passed for space interest since that cold and wet Saturday when Bush became the nation’s chief executive. Simply put, the Bush team, in the form of vice-president Dick Cheney- has told Walker that absent any other policy mechanism during the next year, his committee’s work will be fast-tracked towards implementation.

In other words, if Walker’s group “builds” a reasoned policy and budget framework to come to the aid of the nation’s aerospace interests, “they”-the administration -will set it into motion. And in this mix of retired bureaucrats, labor leaders, and educators the second American to walk upon the Moon is finding support for a refreshed U.S. civil space goal. It is important to understand where Buzz Aldrin and the Aerospace Commission may be heading in space, because the path their ideas clear may be followed by Sean O’Keefe’s budgeteers. At least, in a post-Core complete era, should it ever come.

The commission is looking heavily at the aero part of aerospace, but space itself is a major element of its concerns. Primarily, though not exclusively, issues related to access: space launch, spaceports, and space transportation needs. It is what Walker has called a “cross-cutting” issue, one that runs through several seemingly unrelated areas. Space, in this viewpoint, is part of an industry that has stagnated as the 21st Century begins. “Space launch capability is manpower intensive, viewed as globally non-competitive,” one of the study teams has said. Facilities where the U.S. embarks for what is supposed to be a great adventure “are aging, under-utilized, and in need of modernization.

And that’s the good news.

Some 27 percent of all aerospace manufacturing in the U.S. are of space vehicles, according to data assembled by commissioners John Douglass and Neil deGrasse Tyson. R&D funding, both civil and military space, has plummeted across the last decade, they say. So they have set for their team a series of important space reviews. These include:

  • Is the national industrial base for solid rocket boosters, small commercial launch services, and other space systems too fragile to survive on commercial business alone ?

  • Would a national program to develop reliable, and low-cost space access enable a long-term vision of space exploration, utilization, and travel ?

  • What is the nation’s common future goals and vision for space leadership?

    Implied in this is the prospect that both NASA and DoD need to link their programs together as to maximum money spent and get, well, compatible vehicles built. Anyone who remembers the difficulty in designing payloads for both the space shuttle and ELVs in the 1980s will know how far we still are from this prospect.

    Can the goal of cheap access to space serve as a basis for longer-term space policy development?

    Enter the moonwalker.

    Aldrin and his teammate Ed Bolen are looking into aerospace infrastructure. Buzz and Ed painted a bleak picture of their initial assessment:

  • Current U.S. capability is deteriorating and the potential for meeting future requirements is limited

  • The U.S. has less-than-optimal access to space and poorly maintained govt. ranges

  • Underutilized government aerospace R&D facilities and space launch infrastructure

  • Lack of cooperation and integration promotes inefficiencies

    For space operations, they were blunt in their initial assessment-

  • Commercial launch capacity exceeds demand

  • The U.S. remains unable to defend in any way against missile attack

  • In its current state, human space exploration will be too expensive to pursue

    So, to start things off with a bang, Aldrin and Bolen proposed a new space vision:

  • Commercial Space:

    – Make access to space safe, secure, and affordable for commercial enterprises

    – Open the space frontier to private citizens by means of government policy

  • Military Space:

    – Expand the use of space to protect and defend U.S. interests

  • Human and robotic space exploration (civil space):

    – Enable evolutionary improvements in the understanding of our solar system and the universe

    – Commit to a progressive extension of human presence in space

    Aldrin’s view was that as a policy using federal resources to support the creation of a “high-volume human space transportation capability” would be a powerful enabler for other space goals, civil and military. In other words, such a transport could carry an astronaut, a soldier, or a tourist. And the destination could be a space station, public or private, a military outpost, or a Mars transport under assembly in Earth orbit. Sounds a lot like Harry Stine’s “Halfway to anywhere” argument, doesn’t it?

    Infrastructure and technology as space national goals, not landing on Mars or going back to the Moon-at least not until cheaper transports are awaiting.

    First, of course, space must become a paying proposition. That means budget problems must get under control, so that there is confidence and support for eventually spending more.
    For this, something will have to go first, to make amends for the problems of the recent past. And that will require a special kind of bean counter, one with both a vision of civil space and access to the president (or vice-president, in this case. ..)

    Enter Sean O’Keefe. His “vision” thing might not be as far away from Buzz’s as you might think.

    In fact, they may both be in lockstep together, peering ahead to find a future for U.S. space.

    Well, there are some clues from the past to study. We’ll point them out in our next part.

    Related Links

  • 16 December 2001: The O’Keefe Era is About to Begin at NASA, SpaceRef

  • 27 November 2001: Spacelift Washington: Aldrin’s vision of space may have at last found a home, SpaceRef

  • 30 October 2001: The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace
    Industry Begins its Task
    , SpaceRef

  • 8 July 2001: Spacelift Washington: Bush Delays Threaten Aerospace Commission, SpaceRef

  • 18 July 2001: Space Tourism Hearings on Capitol Hill, SpaceRef

  • 26 June 2001: Testimony by Dr. Buzz Aldrin on “Space Tourism” Before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, SpaceRef

    Articles in the Spacelift Washington “The Future of Space” series:

  • 13 February 2001: Part One: Air Force Space Leaders Prepare for Weapons in Space

  • 13 February 2001: Part Two: The Future of Space: President’s Space Advisory Board to be staffed with outside experts

  • 13 February 2001: Part Three: Commercial Space cooling trend continues

  • 13 February 2001: Part Four: A Thriving Commercial Space Now Key to All Sectors

    The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site. Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com