Archive for the ‘Author: Ryen, T.S.’ Category

Time to Retool NASA

July 28th, 2005

Posted by: admin

The left-of-center LA Times has a strongly-worded editorial this morning calling for the permanent end to shuttle flights as well as the International Space Station, the right-of-center Washington Times has a piece suggesting that any manned mission to the moon or Mars is a waste of time and money, and of course everyone is talking about the grounding of the shuttle fleet.

Losing a two to three foot long piece of foam is a very serious matter, and drives home the point Roger made yesterday that space travel is currently a very risky business. Hopefully it also gets NASA, the public, and Congress to start talking more about what we want out of a national space program.

The space station and shuttle are the biggest obstacles to making fundamental changes at NASA. Currently the shuttle is the only system capable of launching and constructing Station, which is currently about half complete. Permanently grounding the shuttle would all but end the ISS mission, making ISS the 2nd space station the U.S. has left out in the cold. Also recall that the U.S. is but one member of the international partnership, a partnership that by and large still thinks useful science and work can eventually be accomplished in low-Earth orbit. Furthermore, this year’s Congressional debates have reflected large support for keeping the shuttle flying. S. 1281, the Senate NASA bill, directs NASA to fly the shuttle as long as is needed to avoid any “gap” between the shuttle and a replacement. A mandatory 2010 retirement in the Republican House bill, H.R. 3070, was removed in the bi-partisan version that passed last Friday. So, while there’s no doubt that ISS acts as a 50 billion dollar anchor on the U.S. space program, abandoning it will not be easy.

Tackling this will involve thinking about a number of fundamental issues. What does society want in a manned space program, what are our basic goals and what are our priorites? In the end, three key questions need to be discussed. Should the ISS mission continue? Can ISS continue without the shuttle? And can the U.S. step off the path it’s been on for the last 35 years?

Leadership in Space

May 2nd, 2005

Posted by: admin

Technological and political leadership has been an important goal for NASA over the last fifty years. Particularly during the early days of space exploration, international competition between the Soviet and U.S. space programs spurred manned and unmanned missions, with each country achieving important milestones in space exploration. Now, the Bush Administration’s call on NASA to pursue novel and unique capabilities to send manned missions to the Moon and Mars reflects a dedication to space leadership as a tool of international politics.

NASA explicitly defends the inclusion of manned missions to the Moon and Mars in terms of leadership saying in a recent budget document, [PDF] “[Humans] will also serve as a potent symbol of American democracy, a reminder of what the human spirit can achieve in a free society.” The Administration’s rhetoric of exploration supports a view of space as ground for proving new capabilities and enhancing the perceived power of the U.S. at home and abroad.

The U.S. faces growing anti-Americanism in some parts of the world, and as the NASA quote above shows, some believe that manned exploration accomplishments can contribute to bolstering the image of the U.S. abroad. Much as Apollo purported to demonstrate U.S. military superiority over the U.S.S.R. in the cold war, some suggest a new lunar program would demonstrate the cultural superiority of the U.S.

But, will a manned mission to the Moon or Mars really convince rival nations to accept U.S. policy positions?


Senate Reorganizes

March 3rd, 2005

Posted by: admin

A few weeks ago I wrote about the reorganization of the House Appropriations Committee. This week, the Senate announced changes as well. In general, the Senate side mirrors the House changes. VA/HUD has been disbanded and its jurisdiction spread across the remaining subcommittees.

Of the main science agencies, NASA, NSF, and DoC science are found in Commerce and Science, EPA is now in Interior, and NIH remains in Labor/HHS subcommittee.

A few differences do exist. The Senate choose to keep the DC and Legislative Branch subcommittees and made no changes to Defense. More importantly, the Senate has placed the State Department in Foreign Ops, while the House keeps State with Commerce, Science, and Justice. State was appropriated $8.5 billion last year. This difference may cause some problems when the House and Senate reconcile spending bills, as the Commerce, Science, etc. and Foreign Ops subcommittees now overlap between the two chambers. Overall, however, the changes are similar enough so that the overall appropriations process won’t be threatened.

As for the particular affect on science funding, my comments from last time haven’t changed.

A full list of the new structure follows:


House Juggles Science Spending

February 17th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a plan put forward by Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) that makes major changes to the House budget process. Under the new plan, the House has rearranged the jurisdictions of its subcommittees, consolidating 13 subcommittees to 10. Among the changes, a large portion of federal science funding now falls under one subcommittee: Science, State, Justice, and Commerce.

This subcommittee will oversee science appropriations for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and NIST. Defense, NIH, and Department of Energy science funding remain separate.

Using AAAS estimates of the President’s FY 2006 budget, the new subcommittee will oversee approximately 30% of $57.1 billion in non-defense R&D funding. NIH and DoE make up most of the remainder with 49% and 15% respectively.

The new subcommittee will oversee a total budget of over $55 billion. A look at last year’s funding shows appropriations of $20.4 billion for Justice, $8.5 billion for State, and $6.9 billion for Commerce. NASA and NSF contribute another $22 billion.

This reorganization frees NASA and the NSF from their former home in the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies subcommittee. Instead of the VA and HUD, these agencies will now compete for funding with groups such as the FBI, DEA, and State Department. The Department of Commerce labs, which AAAS estimates will fund about $1 billion in R&D in FY 2006, will now compete directly with the much larger budgets of NASA and NSF.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Senate members “want changes kept to a minimum” bringing up the possibility that the Senate will keep the previous 13 subcommittees. Asymmetrical appropriations bills could cause havoc come October as the House and Senate try to reconcile their spending bills. The Post also reports that the Senate is not likely to make a final decision until after the President’s Day recess.

The ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey (D-WI) has responded to the changes saying, the proposal “is not aimed at improving efficiency. It is simply payback” for Majority Leader Tom Delay to boost spending on NASA.

A reorganization of this magnitude will have effects on a number of areas, not just science. But from the narrow perspective of science funding, the changes appear to generally reduce downward pressure on R&D budgets. Whether or not the changes lead to better R&D outcomes is an entirely different question.

O’Keefe to Leave NASA

December 13th, 2004

Posted by: admin

A number of papers reported the impending resignation of Sean O’Keefe from NASA this weekend.

His resignation comes on the heels of a difficult week, with the release of a NRC report advocating a shuttle mission to Hubble and a study reporting costs of $2 billion for a robotic Hubble servicing. Roger has discussed the NRC report here on Prometheus. Unlike the NRC, the second study by the Aerospace Corporation includes a number of alternatives for Hubble, including a robotic mission, deorbit and use of instruments on another telescope, and a manned mission. The full-report is not available online, but if it does appear I’ll be sure to post it here.

Mr. O’Keefe has been steadfast in his determination that no shuttle mission to Hubble should be flown, saying in June,

“Some have observed that this analysis is flawed. This might well be, but it is the analysis I’ve conducted and the judgment I’ve reached based on a very close, regular review of the Return to Flight challenges currently underway. Others may reach a different conclusion and harbor a different opinion, but none who have offered opposing views will be responsible for the outcome.”

This suggests that the new Adminstrator may, in fact, reach a different conclusion. Reports suggest Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish as a likely successor.

Administrator O’Keefe will certainly be remembered for his role in the Hubble debate. In addition, his watch has included the destruction of Columbia and Return to Flight, a large increase in the NASA space science and manned budget, and a new committment to send humans to the Moon and Mars. What are your comments on O’Keefe’s departure?

Budget Woes for NASA

November 30th, 2004

Posted by: admin

One might wonder what woes an agency with a $16.2 billion dollar budget and $800 million increase from last year might have. Well for starters, NASA has $4.3 billion slated for shuttle return to flight, solely to finish construction of the International Space Station. Station is taking up another $1.8 billion this year, and a Hubble rescue mission, robotic or not, may take up to $2 billion more. That’s half the budget before even thinking about the President’s vision for the Moon and Mars. Most of this effort is going into completing 20 years of pyramid building in space; to complete an orbital platform with no clear mission, enormous costs, and uncertain scientific worth. Given NASA’s history of cost overruns, how can we justify spending most of the budget on programs with small returns and big cost uncertainties?

Ethics and the Anti-Matter Bomb

October 5th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Keary Davidson writes in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle about US Air Force research into using anti-matter for a wide array of weapons, engines, and power sources. The research is a long, long way from deploying any new technology, but still raises many questions fundamental to science policy. The dawn of the nuclear age brought the ethics of scientific advancement to public attention, a debate that continues today in the nuclear and bio-tech industries. Will society develop any technology available to them, or can effective brakes be placed on research? If so would we even want to slow technological progress? These basic philisophic questions appear in much STS literature, from Jacques Ellul’s 1964 book The Technological Society to Francis Fukuyama’s 2002 book Our Postmodern Future, but don’t often appear in science policy debates. Yet how we answer these questions greatly affects the scope and design of basic science policy efforts. Should the research related to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons be kept secret? Should policy try to contain stem-cell research? How can we minimize unintended consequences?

This Rise of Commercial Space

September 29th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Scaled Composits has met an important milestone today, successfully reaching an altitude of 100km. A second attempt set for October 4th will give the team a chance to win the $10 million dollar Ansari X Prize.

Meanwhile, this week saw Scaled Composits and Virgin enter a commercial development agreement, under the moniker Virgin Galactic. Book your sub-orbital commercial flight now; snacks will probably not be served, and Apollo 13 will not be shown in-flight.

At the same time, NASA is recovering from damage at the Kennedy Space Center from Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. The large Vehicle Assembly Building took damage, but the remaining orbiter fleet was unscathed.

Francis Hits the Cape

September 8th, 2004

Posted by: admin

The giant Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral took serious damage over the weekend from Hurricane Frances. The New York Times and reported the hanger sustained damage to its walls and roof, raising the possibility of costly repairs and a delay to return to flight for the shuttle. 52,000 square feet of exterior tiles were blown off the walls of the hanger, while an inspection team is still determining the extent of damage to the roof. The hanger houses the orbiter, tank, and boosters for much of the pre-flight preparation. Damage also occured to the Cape Canaveral manufacturing facility for thermal tiles, though NASA officials suggest a seperate plant in California could produce the critical tiles. Meanwhile, the hurricane season continues with Hurricane Ivan.

Designing the Electric Grid

August 10th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Matthew Wald writes in today’s Science Times that last August’s blackout “spread so quickly that day largely because hundreds of components acted exactly as they had been programmed to do.”

Meaning the nation’s largest blackout was an unintended consequence, and a sobering reminder of the difficulties decision-makers face as science and technology become more powerful and complex. In this case, relays designed to protect electrical equiptment in the event of damaging currents tripped domino-like shutting down transmission and generation facilities. Not exactly a graceful failure, but not a catestrophic one either.

Anyone interested in more should check out the Kennedy School’s Electricity Policy Group’s site detailing information and analysis on the event.