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Deja Vu All Over Again
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Science Policy: General | Space Policy January 07, 2008

Gliese 581
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy April 25, 2007

Success-Oriented Planning at NASA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy February 28, 2007

Some Sunday NASA News Vignettes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy February 18, 2007

Fiscal Caution on NASA’s New Moon Plans
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | R&D Funding | Space Policy December 05, 2006

Michael Griffin on Science in NASA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy September 15, 2006

Politics of Pluto
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy September 04, 2006

Scientific Advice at NASA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science Policy: General | Space Policy August 24, 2006

James Van Allen: 1914-2006
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy August 10, 2006

Man in a Can
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 28, 2006

Space Shuttle Flight
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 18, 2006

How to Break Up NASA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 03, 2006

An Honorable Retirement for the Shuttle
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy June 29, 2006

Just Barely Unacceptable Risk
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy June 27, 2006

NASA and balance
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy May 05, 2006

Advocacy by Scientists and its Effects
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science Policy: General | Space Policy April 13, 2006

NASA in the Political Minefield
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science Policy: General | Space Policy March 30, 2006

I'll Take the Under
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy February 07, 2006

Re-Politicizing Triana
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Space Policy January 15, 2006

Politics, Apollo, Ed David and Richard Nixon
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy November 02, 2005

Griffin: The Space Shuttle Was a Mistake
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy September 28, 2005

Why Should We Believe NASA?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy September 21, 2005

The Best NASA Can Do?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy August 25, 2005

What Future for the Space Shuttle?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy August 15, 2005

NASA's New Rockets
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy August 02, 2005

Time to Retool NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy July 28, 2005

Space Shuttle Russian Roulette
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 27, 2005

Space Shuttle Return to Flight
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 13, 2005

Space Science and Nuclear Proliferation: An Opportunity for Reflection
   in Author: Maricle, G. | Space Policy June 30, 2005

Positive Feedback Gone Awry
   in Author: Logar, N. | Space Policy June 28, 2005

Leadership in Space
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy May 02, 2005

Space Shuttle Costs
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy February 10, 2005

Bob Park on ISS
   in Author: Others | Space Policy January 25, 2005

Total Recall II
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy January 24, 2005

O'Keefe to Leave NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy December 13, 2004

NYT on NRC HST Report
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy December 10, 2004

Two Points on the NRC Hubble Study
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy December 09, 2004

Sources for Space Policy Commentary and News
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy December 01, 2004

Opening up Space Policy Debate
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy November 30, 2004

Budget Woes for NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy November 30, 2004

Satellite Reentry Risks
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy October 18, 2004

This Rise of Commercial Space
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy September 29, 2004

Francis Hits the Cape
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy September 08, 2004

Follow up On Fate of TRMM
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Space Policy August 06, 2004

Space Shuttle Costs and NASA Dynamics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy August 04, 2004

Bipartisan Call to Save TRMM
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Space Policy July 26, 2004

An Appeal to the President to Save TRMM
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Space Policy July 23, 2004

More on TRMM Reentry
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy July 19, 2004

NASA Nixes TRMM Extension
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy July 19, 2004

House Hearing on Prizes as Space Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 15, 2004

NRC Report on Hubble, “Outside Experts,” and Policy Advocacy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy July 14, 2004

Risk and Space Flight
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy July 02, 2004

NASA and Safety
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy June 28, 2004

O'Keefe Sticks to His Guns: No Shuttle Mission to Hubble
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy June 02, 2004

Accounting Troubles at NASA
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy May 17, 2004

Prizes as Science and Technology Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy May 13, 2004

Hubble Alternatives
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy May 12, 2004

We Need a Better Bullet-Bucket
   in Author: Others | Space Policy May 03, 2004

Science Policy and Fiction
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy April 30, 2004

Science Feels Threatened by Bush Space Policy
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy April 26, 2004

Space Shuttle: An Uncomfortable Question
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy April 22, 2004

Tough Questions on Space Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy April 21, 2004

January 07, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Washington Post had a excellent story yesterday by Marc Kaufman describing NASA’s intentions to increase the flight rate of the Space Shuttle program. This is remarkable, and as good an indication as any that NASA has not yet learned the lessons of its past.


According to the Post:

Although NASA has many new safety procedures in place as a result of the Columbia accident, the schedule has raised fears that the space agency, pressured by budgetary and political considerations, might again find itself tempting fate with the shuttles, which some say were always too high-maintenance for the real world of space flight.

A NASA official is quoted in the story:

"The schedule we've made is very achievable in the big scheme of things. That is, unless we get some unforeseen problems."

The Post has exactly the right follow up to this comment:

The history of the program, however, is filled with such problems -- including a rare and damaging hailstorm at the Kennedy Space Center last year as well as the shedding of foam insulation that led to the destruction of Columbia and its crew in 2003. . . "This pressure feels so familiar," said Alex Roland, a professor at Duke University and a former NASA historian. "It was the same before the Challenger and Columbia disasters: this push to do more with a spaceship that is inherently unpredictable because it is so complex."

John Logsdon, dean of space policy experts and longtime supporter of NASA, recognizes the risks that NASA is taking:

Every time we launch a shuttle, we risk the future of the human space flight program. The sooner we stop flying this risky vehicle, the better it is for the program.

Duke University’s Alex Roland also hit the nail on the head;

Duke professor Roland said that based on the shuttle program's history, he sees virtually no possibility of NASA completing 13 flights by the deadline. He predicted that the agency would ultimately cut some of the launches but still declare the space station completed.

"NASA is filled with can-do people who I really admire, and they will try their best to fulfill the missions they are given," he said. "What I worry about is when this approach comes into conflict with basically impossible demands. Something has to give."

It is instructive to look at the 1987 report of the investigation of the House Science Committee into the 1986 Challenger disaster, which you can find online here in PDF (thanks to Rad Byerly and Ami Nacu-Schmidt). That report contains lessons that apparently have yet to be fully appreciated, even after the loss of Columbia in 2003. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary (emphasis added, see also pp. 119-124):

The Committee found that NASA’s drive to achieve a launch schedule of 24 flights per year created pressure throughout the agency that directly contributed to unsafe launch operations. The Committee believes that the pressure to push for an unrealistic number of flights continues to exist in some sectors of NASA and jeopardizes the promotion of a "safety first" attitude throughout the Shuttle program.

The Committee, Congress, and the Administration have played a contributing role in creating this pressure. . . NASA management and the Congress must remember the lessons learned from the Challenger accident and never again set unreasonable goals which stress the system beyond its safe functioning.

One would hope that the House Science Committee has these lessons in mind and is paying close attention to decision making in NASA. It would certainly be appropriate for some greater public oversight of NASA decision making about the Shuttle flight rate and eventual termination. Otherwise, there is a good chance that such oversight will take place after another tragedy and the complete wreckage of the U.S. civilian space program.

For further reading:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157. (PDF)

Pielke Jr., R.A., and R. Byerly Jr., 1992: The Space Shuttle Program: Performance versus Promise in Space Policy Alternatives, edited by R. Byerly, Westview Press, Boulder, pp. 223-245. (PDF)

April 25, 2007

Gliese 581

This fascinating discovery portends all sorts of interesting ethical, political, and policy questions. I do wonder how much thinking governments, the Vatican, and others have put into developing a response plan for when life is discovered beyond Earth. It'd be surprising if there were no thinking along these lines, then again, maybe not.

Posted on April 25, 2007 12:05 PM View this article | Comments (16)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

February 28, 2007

Success-Oriented Planning at NASA

NASA is delaying the next launch of the space shuttle due to a hail storm that damaged the external tank. However, according to NASA this delay won't cause any problems meeting their launch schedule this year:

[N. Wayne Hale Jr., the shuttle program manager, in a briefing from Cape Canaveral, Fla.] said that despite the latest delay he believed that the launching schedule had enough flexibility to allow the five flights that are planned for this year.

Anyone want to bet that NASA will in fact launch the shuttle 5 times in the last 7 months of 2007? Consider the following data from a paper we did in 1992 (PDF):


NASA is either fooling themselves or fooling us. Neither is a particualrly good way to run the nation's space program.

Posted on February 28, 2007 08:35 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

February 18, 2007

Some Sunday NASA News Vignettes

A few items on NASA stitched together . . .

In a Q&A with the New York Times Sunday Magazine, NASA’s Drew Shindell predicts that we’ll know less about the climate system if his group at NASA doesn’t get more funding:

If your department is that politicized, how does that affect research? Well, five years from now, we will know less about our home planet that we know now. The future does not have money set aside to maintain even the current level of observations. There were proposals for lots of climate-monitoring instruments, most of which have been canceled.

To understand NASA’s budget priorities doesn’t require one to be a rocket scientist. This Reuter’s news story contains what may be the most laughable cost estimate from NASA that I’ve seen in a long time, for deflecting a killer asteroid from hitting the Earth.

[Former NASA astronaut Rusty] Schweickart wants to see the United Nations adopt procedures for assessing asteroid threats and deciding if and when to take action.

The favored approach to dealing with a potentially deadly space rock is to dispatch a spacecraft that would use gravity to alter the asteroid's course so it no longer threatens Earth, said astronaut Ed Lu, a veteran of the International Space Station.

The so-called Gravity Tractor could maintain a position near the threatening asteroid, exerting a gentle tug that, over time, would deflect the asteroid.

An asteroid the size of Apophis, which is about 460 feet long, would take about 12 days of gravity-tugging, Lu added.

Mission costs are estimated at $300 million.

NASA’s track record of cost and schedule performance does not lead one to optimism about any projection of costs, as indicated by this report from the Seattle Times:

Boeing received a bonus of $425.3 million — 92 percent of the potential award — for work on the international space station that ran eight years late and cost more than twice what was expected, according to federal auditors.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report set for release today that the fee was paid on a $13.4 billion so-called "cost-plus" contract where NASA reimburses all costs and pays a bonus for exceptional performance. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin received similar bonuses for troubled programs.

"NASA paid most of the available fee on all of the contracts we reviewed — including on projects that showed cost increases, schedule delays and technical problems," the GAO said in its report for U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who chairs the House Science Committee.

Maybe they should have instead sent that bonus money to Dr. Shindell’s lab. Alternatively, if in fact we’ll know less in five years, maybe we should stop climate research altogether, as it seems like we know a lot right now . . .

Posted on February 18, 2007 08:08 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

December 05, 2006

Fiscal Caution on NASA’s New Moon Plans

According to the New York Times NASA has announced that it wishes to return to the moon and set up a permanent base 50 years after its first landing. NASA’s proposal should raise an eyebrow among anyone who understands NASA’s past failures at successfully budgeting human spaceflight programs.

Here is an excerpt from the Times story by Warren E. Leary:

NASA announced plans on Monday for a permanent base on the Moon, to be started soon after astronauts return there around 2020.

The agency’s deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the Moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial enterprises could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, Ms. Dale said.

Ms. Dale and other officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the agency envisioned a base at one of the lunar poles, to take advantage of the near-constant sunlight for solar power generation. It would have an "open architecture" design to which others could add the capabilities they want.

Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, said crews of four astronauts would make weeklong missions to the Moon starting around 2020.

As more equipment was set up, human stays would eventually grow to 180 days, and become permanent by 2024. By 2027, officials said, a pressurized roving vehicle on the surface would take people on expeditions far from the base.

NASA gave no cost estimate for the program and no design details for the base. Ms. Dale said all plans assumed that the agency would continue operating from a fixed budget of about $17 billion a year.

The space shuttle fleet is to be retired by 2010, and the United States plans to scale back its involvement in the International Space Station. The station is still under construction, with a mission by the shuttle Discovery to lift off on Thursday. Ms. Dale said money would be shifted to the lunar exploration program from the shuttle and the station.

It was this last part that caught my attention. Assuming that NASA spends half of its budget on human exploration, and that all of this will be devoted to the new Moon program, this would total about $75 billion by 2020 when NASA plans to return to the moon. This sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But let’s put the planned costs into historical perspective of other human spaceflight programs.

Costs of Human Exploration Programs in 2005 Dollars

Apollo $110-$125 billion (source in PDF)

Mercury, Gemini, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz $20 billion (source in PDF)

Space Shuttle $150 billion (updated from here)

Space Station $100 billion (cited in NYT article today by John Schwartz)

With its new program NASA is proposing to do far more than Apollo accomplished on a similar timescale, with far less resources, and an annual equivalent expenditure of much less than half of what was spent during the brief Apollo era. On its surface, this sounds like a great bargain. But is it too good to be true?

Consider that NASA in the past promised (in 1984) that the Space Station would be completed by 1994 at the cost of $8 billion ($13.3 in 2005). It missed this estimate by at least 16 years and $90 billion, without discussing the reduction in capabilities. NASA promised (in 1972) that the shuttle would fly 48 flights per year at a cost of $20 million (2005$) per flight. Reality has seen something more like 4 flights per year at a cost of over $1 billion per flight. Numbers like these suggest that NASA can indeed accomplish its moon base plans, perhaps at a cost of $1 trillion and by 2050. And I say this only partially tongue-in-cheek.

NASA’s political strategy in the past has been to win Congressional approval for its desired programs by underestimating costs and schedule, overpromising capabilities, and then complaining to Congress about being underfunded. When reality sets in NASA has reduced planned capabilities and cut other parts of its budget – like science. The entire suite of NASA programs are disrupted, leading to huge inefficiencies and a lack of progress. The NYT today has an article reporting that many experts are asking what the space station is for anyway. The promises made in 1984 no longer have meaning, so NASA wants a do-over.

NASA has purposely created long-term programs with few mid-term milestones, thereby making it difficult for Congress to wield a carrot or stick in the budget process. For instance, most debates about the space station in the 1990s were about termination or continuation. The distribution of lucrative NASA contracts around the country stacks the deck against a drastic approach like termination. One lesson from this should be that NASA must have annual milestones with consequences for budget overruns or cost delays.

Congress by now should be wise to these strategies. It is indeed exciting and visionary to think about human colonization of the solar system. Nonetheless, we should all hope that the next Congress will apply some rigorous oversight to NASA’s planning. The lack of such oversight is one reason why the U.S. human space flight program in only now discussing catching up to where it was 35 years ago.

Posted on December 5, 2006 06:23 AM View this article | Comments (8)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | R&D Funding | Space Policy

September 15, 2006

Michael Griffin on Science in NASA

Here (in PDF) is a refreshingly blunt speech from NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on recent issues of science in NASA. No bureaucratic mombo-jumbo here. Here are some choice excerpts:

On science as a priority:

I have on many occasions heard the accusation that NASA has betrayed the scientific community because, it is said, the Vision for Space Exploration was "sold" as being "affordable", to be “go as you can pay”. To many scientists, that means very explicitly that Exploration is to be funded after, and only after, all prior science commitments were satisfied. The idea seems to be that, after we've done JWST, Europa, SIM, TPF, and every other mission in the pre-VSE NASA budget, then and only then can we embark upon renewed human Exploration of deep space. Well, that is simply not how it works. "Affordable" does not mean that all of Science is of higher priority than anything in Exploration. The programs above were approved in an earlier time, with different budget assumptions for NASA. There have been very significant budget cuts and many unplanned requirements for funding since the Vision for Space Exploration was announced. The impact of those cuts cannot fall to any single entity in NASA's portfolio. “Go as you can pay” applies to all of NASA, not just to isolated pieces of its portfolio.

On exploration having intrinsic and economic benefits apart from science:

But, as always, there is another view, best and most tersely captured by the President’s Science Advisor, Jack Marburger, in his March '06 speech at the AAS Goddard Symposium. Jack noted that the Vision for Space Exploration is fundamentally about bringing the resources of the solar system within the economic sphere of mankind. It is not fundamentally about scientific discovery. To me, Marburger’s statement is precisely right.

So a key point must be made: Exploration without science is not "tourism". It is far more than that. It is about the expansion of human activity out beyond the Earth. Exactly this point was very recently noted and endorsed by no less than Stephen Hawking, a pure scientist if ever there was one. Hawking joins those, including the Chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, who have long pointed out this basic truth: The history of life on Earth is the history of extinction events, and human expansion into the Solar System is, in the end, fundamentally about the survival of the species. So to me exploration is, in and of itself, equally as noble a human endeavor as is scientific discovery.

On complaints about NASA’s spending priorities:

Finally, there is the issue of control. Many members of the scientific community fully understand that the President and Congress have made decisions about the Shuttle and ISS programs that will not be undone. They understand that the proportion of funding at NASA that goes to SMD is at an historic high, and that they should pocket their gains over the last decade and remain quiet, lest someone notice! They understand that NASA is unlikely to grow in real terms, and that therefore many projects which all of us would like to do earlier, will in fact be done later. They get all of that.

The problem is that these folks do understand these real-world limitations, and in a world with such limitations, they want to be in charge of the distribution of resources. Put bluntly, they want to exercise the inherent authority of government to decide what is being done with the money which is available for science at NASA, but without having to come to Washington, put on a NASA badge, make all the associated sacrifices, and live with the consequences of their decisions, which mostly means that when you decide to do one thing, you are also deciding not to do something else that someone else would like to do, and you have to be publicly accountable for that fact.

On scientists as advisors to NASA:

Some of these external folks really seem to believe that NASA program selection and planning should be vetted through “the community" for approval. It is one thing to say that, broadly, we should be guided by the decadal plans of the NAS, the organization to which Congress looks for strategic advice in such matters. I emphatically support this view, while also being of the belief that sometimes, circumstances change on time scales shorter than a decade, and also that sometimes good advice comes from other directions. But it is another thing entirely to suggest that "the community" has an inherent right to review and modify our annual budget. To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of this practice is that the very same people who stand to benefit from particular distributions of NASA funding would be advising NASA as to what those distributions ought to be.

Let us for a moment consider the situation in the abstract. The market for scientific goods and services, while dominated in the space sciences by the government, is nonetheless a market like any other. So, each year the President and Congress (mostly upon the advice of scientists) determine that the pursuit of certain goals in space and Earth science is in the best interests of the United States. Each year, the Congress approves the purchase, through NASA, of scientific goods and services to that end. As with most markets, there are more parties desiring to provide such products than can be procured, and so a variety of closely supervised competitive procurement mechanisms are employed to determine the successful suppliers of these products. Thus, from a legal, contractual, and managerial perspective, members of the external scientific community are suppliers to NASA, not customers.

My point is that if we were to substitute above any other noun besides “science”, the inherent conflict between the role of the scientific community as a purveyor of products to the government, and its role as the primary source of advice as to which products the government should purchase, would not be tolerated. Yet, the scientific community simply must be involved if we are to set intelligent priorities among the nation’s various scientific goals. The whole process is ethically defensible if, and only if, a proper “arm’s length” separation is maintained between advisors and implementers

On NASA scientists seeking to influence the advisory process:

. . . it was my observation that NASA managers have sometimes used these advisory committees to assist in shaping the direction of our programs to a degree that I find unseemly, in view of the inherent potential for conflicts that I have outlined above, and in a manner tending to reduce responsibility and accountability on the part of NASA officials.

On the distinction between advice and authority:

How many of you present here today, and who are organizational managers at any level, would appreciate external advisors – or even other managers – bypassing you to provide “tactical” advice to those who report to you? Any takers for this approach to organizational governance? And if not, would it make a difference if the staff members and the advisors are “scientists” as opposed to other employees?

Moving on, it has also been alleged that, in reshaping the advisory committee reporting structure, I am “preventing scientists from talking to scientists". This is also nonsense. As far as I am concerned, anyone can talk to anyone, and probably should! I desperately hope that the staff of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate converses widely and frequently within the community. The NASA scientific staff absolutely must be of the scientific community, and active in it, to be effective in the planning and execution of their work. But the rendering of formal advice from an advisory committee to officials of a Federal agency is hardly “scientists talking to scientists”, nor should it be.
In fact, with regard to scientific advisory committee input to NASA, the real issue is not whether “scientists can talk to scientists”, but whether the Administrator is to be included in the conversation! By requiring formal advice to be debated in and provided through the NAC, the scientific community’s advice to NASA comes to the Administrator and simultaneously to the Science Mission Directorate. Under the prior structure, with numerous committees reporting directly to lower-level organizational managers, the Administrator usually had no direct knowledge as to the advice being provided to the Agency by external groups. This is not a responsible approach to organizational management.

Thus, at this point, I am back to basic organizational management principles. Responsibility and accountability for planning and executing NASA’s science program must rest with NASA’s managers, not the external scientific community. Execution of these responsibilities must be appropriately informed, and to this end we must, and will, make intelligent use of our advisory committee structure. But the final responsibility and accountability for Agency programs can lie nowhere other than with us, the NASA staff.

Posted on September 15, 2006 04:42 PM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

September 04, 2006

Politics of Pluto

Excess of Objectivity.
Politicization of Science.


Posted on September 4, 2006 03:54 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

August 24, 2006

Scientific Advice at NASA

The recent resignation of three scientists on the NASA Advisory Panel raises some interesting questions about the nature of advice versus decision making and the interests of those providing the advice in the outcomes of the decisions by those receiving their input. Science magazine makes this all a bit more concrete with some of the details of the brouhaha:

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin yesterday read the riot act to the outside scientists who advise him, accusing them of thinking more of themselves and their research than of the agency's mission. Griffin's harsh comments come on the heels of the resignation of three distinguished scientists from the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), two of whom have questioned Griffin's plan to dramatically scale back a host of science projects (Science, 12 May, p. 824). "The scientific community ... expects to have far too large a role in prescribing what work NASA should do," Griffin wrote council members in a blistering 21 August message. "By 'effectiveness,' what the scientific community really means is 'the extent to which we are able to get NASA to do what we want to do. "

The outside engineers, scientists, and educators on the council traditionally offer advice on the agency's policies, budget, and projects. Placed in limbo for nearly a year after Griffin took over as NASA chief in spring 2005, the NAC was reorganized this spring under the leadership of geologist Harrison Schmitt, a former U.S. senator and Apollo astronaut who is gung ho about President George W. Bush's plans to send humans back to the moon and to Mars. Schmitt replaced Charles Kennel, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, who resigned last week from his post as chair of the council's science committee. Two other NAC members--former NASA space science chief Wesley Huntress and Rice University Provost Eugene Levy--resigned last week in response to a direct request from Griffin that they step down.

Schmitt and members of that committee have clashed repeatedly in recent months over the role of science at the space agency. In a pointed 24 July memo to science committee members, Schmitt complained that they lacked "willingness to provide the best advice possible to Mike," refused to back Griffin's decision to cut research funds for astrobiology or recommend an alternative cut, and resisted considering the science component of future human missions to the moon. "Some members of the committee," he concluded, "are not willing to offer positive assistance to Mike."

Both Levy, a physicist, and Huntress, an astrochemist now at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, say they support human space exploration but fear that science is now taking a back seat after years of a careful balance between human and robotic efforts. NASA spokesman Dean Acosta acknowledged that the scientists and Schmitt "weren't working well together," and that Griffin telephoned Huntress and Levy last week to ask for their resignations. Griffin's memo points to what he calls "the inherent and long-standing conflict-of-interest" by scientists giving advice to an agency on which they depend for funding. And he gives them a clear way out. "The most appropriate recourse for NAC members who believe the NASA program should be something other than what it is, is to resign."

Huntress says Griffin told him that his advice exceeded the council's charge. "This is a different NAC. Our advice was simply not required nor desired," Huntress told Science. The current council, he adds, "has no understanding or patience for the science community process." Kennel, who had been named chair of the NAC's science committee, was unavailable for comment, but Norine Noonan, a former NAC member and dean of math and science at South Carolina's College of Charleston, called Griffin's action "very distressing" for scientists. "If we can't have a robust debate at the NAC level," she says, "then where in the heck is it supposed to happen?"

August 10, 2006

James Van Allen: 1914-2006

James Van Allen has died. Here is a provocative excerpt from one of his most recent writings on space policy:

In a dispassionate comparison of the relative values of human and robotic spaceflight, the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure. But only a tiny number of Earth's six billion inhabitants are direct participants. For the rest of us, the adventure is vicarious and akin to that of watching a science fiction movie. At the end of the day, I ask myself whether the huge national commitment of technical talent to human spaceflight and the ever-present potential for the loss of precious human life are really justifiable.

In his book Race to the Stratosphere: Manned Scientific Ballooning in America (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1989), David H. De Vorkin describes the glowing expectations for high-altitude piloted balloon flights in the 1930s. But it soon became clear that such endeavors had little scientific merit. At the present time, unmanned high-altitude balloons continue to provide valuable service to science. But piloted ballooning has survived only as an adventurous sport. There is a striking resemblance here to the history of human spaceflight.

Have we now reached the point where human spaceflight is also obsolete? I submit this question for thoughtful consideration. Let us not obfuscate the issue with false analogies to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, or with visions of establishing a pleasant tourist resort on the planet Mars.

Posted on August 10, 2006 01:02 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 28, 2006

Man in a Can

From Reuters:

NASA is considering shutting down all the research programs it conducts aboard the international space station for at least a year to fill a projected budget shortfall of up to $100 million, a top station manager said today.

Research, even space station research, has always been secondary to NASA's long-term vision of somehow someway getting a human on Mars:

Rather than researching materials, fluid physics and other basic microgravity phenomena, NASA decided to fund only those programs that had a direct bearing on human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit, which is where the space station and the space shuttles fly. Funding for radiation studies, for example, was to be a key part of the U.S. station research program.

"Cutting science programs would suggest that it is merely a joy ride to the moon," said Katie Boyd, spokeswoman for Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby. "It would mean that we as a national have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars."

The New York Times in an editorial today on NASA's changing mission statement sees part of the story, but fails top recognize that NASA's preference for human spaceflight over science dates back decades. The Times choses instead to pin the source of NASA's focus on human spaceflight on the current Administration, which I think misses the mark. It is to be found instead in the agency's culture and long-term history across different presidents and political eras.

At a time when global warming has become an overriding issue, NASA has been delaying or canceling programs that could shed light on how the climate changes. The shortsighted cutbacks appear to result from sharply limiting NASA’s budget while giving it hugely expensive tasks like repairing the stricken shuttle fleet, finishing construction of the space station, and preparing to explore the Moon and Mars. Something had to give, and NASA’s choices included research into how the planet’s climate is responding to greenhouse gas emissions. . .

The problems in earth sciences are part of a broader slowdown in science missions as NASA tries to do too much with too little. NASA officials sometimes say that they are slowing the rate of growth in science budgets. But Congressional analysts say the agency cut its science spending in 2006 to cover unexpectedly expensive shuttle repairs. It now plans small increases that won’t keep up with inflation or bring spending back to previous levels for many years. One analyst likened NASA to a mugger who takes $100 from a victim and then returns $20 a year, telling the recipient to be thankful.

A Senate committee has approved $1 billion in emergency funds to reimburse programs that were cut to pay for the shuttle repairs. If that doesn’t fly, count home-planet studies and other science programs as a casualty of the administration’s insistence on completing the space station.

Maybe it is time to talk about breaking up NASA and its various missions.

Posted on July 28, 2006 07:02 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 18, 2006

Space Shuttle Flight

Congrats to NASA and its astronauts for the safe return of the shuttle yesterday. Here are a few interesting comments I have come across on the mission.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas and chairwoman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on science and space, called the mission "an important milestone in our nation’s space exploration history." (link)

Expectations for the space program have really gone down if simply returning astronauts safely is interpreted as an important milestone. On the other hand, it might be a good sign if such a view reflected an honest appraisal of the risks of spaceflight. Call me a cynic, but I doubt this latter explanation explains comments like those of Senator Hutchinson, which probably reflect diminishing expectations more than anything else.

"We don't have any slack," [NASA Administrator Michael Grifin] said. "We have just enough shuttle flights left to do the job, so we can't afford to mess up." (link)

Planning with no "slack" is called "success-oriented planning" and has plagued NASA for decades. Why in the world would NASA create plans with absolutely no slack? As has been seen time and time again, this is a recipe for schedule disruption, cost overruns, and performance shortfalls. Griffin also says: "I think the words 'routine human space flight' don't go in the same sentence. Every one of these (missions) is experimental." In such a circumstance, isn’t a little slack desirable? It is not really going out on a limb to expect that the next 16 missions won’t be carried out as planned today.

"The shuttle remains a fragile, delicate, temperamental vehicle and needs to be operated with extreme care," said John Logsdon, who heads the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University . . . "I think that the most likely future is one in which the shuttle flies out its remaining missions and gets its job done." (link)

If the risks of losing an orbiter are 1 in 100, then there is about a 15% chance of losing an orbiter over its last 16 flights. As I have written before, this is just about the same odds as playing Russian Roulette. If the odds are less in NASA’s favor, then the chances go up. Given NASA's history, I dount that Logsdon is correct about the most likely future. This doesn't mean that there will be a catastrophic loss of an orbiter, but the chances of the less likely futures are not insignificant and they come with a few outcomes with extreme consequences. A more likely future will involve unexpected technical, schedule, and costs issues that disrupt the plans set at any given time.

Posted on July 18, 2006 04:34 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 03, 2006

How to Break Up NASA

My latest column for Bridges is online: How to Break Up NASA. Comments welcomed!

As usual, there are many good articles in Bridges, and a number of NASA-related articles in the current edition.

Posted on July 3, 2006 07:06 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

June 29, 2006

An Honorable Retirement for the Shuttle

At Leonard David has a great news story on the upcoming shuttle launch with some interesting perspectives:

The soon-to-depart shuttle mission evokes a good news/bad news comeback from Joseph Pelton, a research professor with the Institute for Applied Space Research at George Washington University.

"The good news is that the shuttle is still a relatively safe experimental space vehicle with a 1-in-60 to 1-in-100 chance of a category one failure—loss of vehicle, loss of crew. The bad news is that after $2 billion in expenditures for the reflight effort—and now many years after the Columbia failure—critical objectives set by the CAIB have not been accomplished," Pelton told

Pelton was lead investigator for Space Safety Report: Vulnerabilities and Risk Reduction In U.S. Human Space Flight Programs an independent assessment prepared and released last year by the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute (SACRI) of George Washington University.

Pelton singled out several remaining key issues: the stiffening of the shuttle outer hull; the ability perform repairs to the shuttle’s thermal protection system in space; and correction of the foam-shedding problem.

"The mantra that NASA developed after Columbia that said ‘find it, fix it and fly safely again’ rings hollow after so much time and money has been spent with such limited results," Pelton explained.

NASA credibility and space funding

"In truth, the problems that NASA continues to experience with its shuttle and the International Space Station program—really the only reason the shuttle is still flying—goes back at least to the Challenger disaster in 1986," Pelton said.

Two major national space commissions back then—one looking into the Challenger accident, the other delving into the future of the American space program—noted that the shuttle was indeed becoming “obsolescent” and that it had to be replaced by another vehicle within at least 15 years, or 2001, Pelton noted.

"Instead of developing alternative plans for the launch of International Space Station components in smaller and more modular parts at that time," Pelton said, "NASA pushed ahead without developing a new vehicle, nor developing a back-up plan.

Now, not only is NASA’s credibility and space funding at risk, Pelton continued, but also at risk are the agency’s international partners that are engaged in the $100 billion station program. “The now ‘tar baby-like tandem’ of the ISS and the space shuttle has done great harm to space programs around the world."

NASA has over-invested in both the shuttle and station initiatives, Pelton said, taking away money from programs that truly matter to the United States and indeed the world.

Never too late to start over

"The truth of the matter is that the shuttle program—an experimental program when designed in the 1970s—should have been grounded years ago. It should be replaced by better, safer, and more cost efficient programs. The development of private space vehicles that are human-rated, something that NASA is currently actively supporting, is clearly the right step forward," Pelton advised.

Ultimately, it is not NASA that is at fault here, Pelton said, pointing to national leadership that has often overruled the space agency on where and how to spend their limited resources. It is never too late to start over, he said, and develop a NASA program that makes sense, balances expenditures, and set priorities that matter to the person in the street.

"The question is not whether NASA should be grounding the space shuttle and putting them in museums,” Pelton concluded, “but what are its backup plans and how can it restore balance to its overall space programs and give new focus to its various NASA centers?"

It is worth noting that under Pelton's estimates of risk (1/60 to 1/100) this equates to a probability of a catastrophic accident at between 15% an 63%(!) over 16 remaining flights. Lets say this again -- if Pelton's risk estimates are correct there is a rather high probability of another lost shuttle.

Space historian Roger Launius asks, appropriately, about the option of allowing the Shuttle to have an "honorable retirement":

Indeed, there is a lot riding on the next shuttle liftoff, beyond technology.

"This is one of the most significant missions of the shuttle program because of the policy implications that it presents," said Roger Launius, Chair, Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Launius underscored the fact that Griffin has stated clearly that if NASA does not fly successfully this time it would mean the end of the program. "That, of course, begs the question [as to] what defines a successful mission?"

The last mission, for all of its challenges, was successful by most measures. It launched, flew, and returned safely; it delivered its supplies and equipment to the ISS; it undertook several safety tests and repairs.

That being the case, several questions percolate to the surface, Launius said.

"Is a level of success commensurate with the last mission sufficient to conclude that the program will continue? If that is not where the bar is set, is it higher or lower? I confess that I have no idea. I also confess that I hope and pray that this mission is a rousing success, by any standard that one might want to apply," Launius told

Honorable retirement

Launius also senses there is something present with the forthcoming shuttle flight that he hasn’t necessarily experienced before.

"A sustained and underlying depression seems present among those working in the program, some of them for their entire careers," Launius explained. "There is a sense of ending—as well as an ever-present perception of loss and failure—present among many members of the space shuttle team."

Without question, Launius said, the space shuttle will be retired within something less than a decade, whether it is after this next mission or 2010 or sometime a bit later.

"As the space shuttle enters its home stretch, it should be remembered with both praises for its many accomplishments and criticisms for its shortcomings,” Launius suggested. “I am in favor of giving the shuttle an honorable retirement and to give a full measure of respect and thanks to those charged with its operations over the years for their efforts."

In the process of retiring the space shuttle, "I hope NASA will ensure that the knowledge and expertise gained in the shuttle program is preserved and used for the future," Launius concluded.

In my view NASA is acting like an aging boxer, not knowing when to say when. The end result is often not pretty.

June 27, 2006

Just Barely Unacceptable Risk

The Space Shuttle is set to launch on July 1, 2006. According to NASA officials, this is the first flight being launched in which the risk has been deemed “unacceptable”:

NASA's top safety official and the agency's chief engineer said today they opposed the shuttle Discovery's launch July 1 because of concern about so-called ice-frost ramps on the ship's external tank that could shed foam and cause catastrophic impact damage. In fact, Discovery's flight will be the first in shuttle history with a system formally classified in the "unacceptable risk" category.

Bryan O'Connor, director of Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA headquarters in Washington, and Chris Scolese, the agency's chief engineer, both declined to concur with the decision to launch when signing an official Certificate of Flight Readiness, or CoFR, following a flight readiness review that ended Saturday.

But both men said today they viewed the issue as a threat to the vehicle - not a direct threat to the crew - and as such, they accepted NASA Administrator Mike Griffin's decision to press ahead with launch.

Here is how O’Connor characterized his thinking:

O'Connor today acknowledged a perception problem with the seemingly contradictory positions, but said it was the result of the flight readiness review process and the engineering community's classification of the ice-frost ramps as "probable/catastrophic" in NASA's integrated risk matrix.

"When this first came up, most folks were pretty concerned about it," he said. "That concern level has been going down as we learn more about it, as we refine the models, we look at the data. We haven't changed the design, but there's a little bit of a shift toward more comfort than the other direction.

"I think we're just barely into the unacceptable risk area. I think it's unacceptable to the program to go fly in this condition. But I also believe if it's elevated to the right authority, an administrator (Griffin) who looks at it and with his understanding and his position in the agency who can accept it, then I felt like I was not going to lie down in the flame trench or throw my badge down."

Is NASA playing Russian Roulette with the future of the space program?

Posted on June 27, 2006 03:21 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

May 05, 2006

NASA and balance

If you haven't seen it yet, a NRC panel released a report today titled "An Assessment of Balance in NASA's Science Programs." Their news release is here.

Here are some excerpts:

Finding 1. NASA is being asked to accomplish too much with too little. The agency does not have the necessary resources to carry out the tasks of completing the International Space Station, returning humans to the Moon, maintaining vigorous space and Earth science and microgravity life and physical sciences programs, and sustaining capabilities in aeronautical research.

Recommendation 1. Both the executive and the legislative branches of the federal government need to seriously examine the mismatch between the tasks assigned to NASA and the resources that the agency has been provided to accomplish them and should identify actions that will make the agency’s portfolio of responsibilities sustainable.

Finding 2. The program proposed for space and Earth sciences is not robust; it is not properly balanced to support a healthy mix of small, moderate-size, and large missions and an underlying foundation of scientific research and advanced technology projects; and it is neither sustainable nor capable of making adequate progress toward the goals that were recommended in the National Research Council’s decadal surveys.

The question I would raise out of this: Is it time for a government-wide reorg of Earth and space sciences that would include scrapping NASA as it now exists?

The committee is concerned that the big-ticket items (i.e. manned moon/Mars) are being emphasized at the expense of the smaller projects, especially in the Earth sciences. My question is, when we already have NSF and NOAA exploring Earth science questions, why do we need NASA to be pursuing that research as well?

If we want to do high-tech exploration, which is much more an engineering challenge than a basic research endeavor, let's separate out the functions. Let's have one agency that focuses on exploration and an agency or two that pursues the basic research questions. It no longer makes sense (if it ever did) that we have an agency focused both on the engineering challenges of flying the ISS or getting people back to the moon and on Mars, while also trying to do basic research on Earth's climate system.

Asking NASA to do both missions without much specific direction from Congress, or directions from Congress that often contradict direction from the White House, sends confusing messages to NASA about their mission. A similar problem is occurring within NIST, where Congressional appropriators have made no specific appropriations for various programs in favor of giving NIST a pool of money and telling them "we expect you to carry out programs X, Y and Z with this."

Posted on May 5, 2006 10:38 AM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy

April 13, 2006

Advocacy by Scientists and its Effects

Frank Press visited us earlier this week. Dr. Press was science advisor to President Jimmy Carter and he subsequently served as the president of the National Academy of Sciences. All in all it was a great opportunity for us, and Dr. Press was extremely generous with his time spent with faculty and students.

One vignette told by Dr. Press involved his response to why it was that the Academy, during his tenure, never saw fit to undertake a study on Ronald Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (or “Star Wars”). Dr. Press’ response was interesting.

He said that there was a petition circulating among the scientific community expressing opposition to the program and that something like 60% of the members of the Academy had signed the position. Dr. Press suggested that this had compromised the ability of the Academy to lend an independent voice to the debate and that any report that the Academy did would therefore be dismissed in the political process. It seems to me that the nation would have benefited from such an independent review by the Academy on this issue. Dr. Press did not shy away from expressing some strongly held views during his lecture and public interview, though he did note that he stays away from petitions.

I am not implying a general principle here, other than to underscore that the relationship of science and politics is complex, and the ways in which scientists choose to engage that relationship, as individuals and as a community, have important and sometimes unanticipated consequences for policy outcomes.

We’ll return to this when the transcript of his visit is available on our Science Advisors website. There are a number of other interesting vignettes as well.

March 30, 2006

NASA in the Political Minefield

NASA, which has come under fire recently for its management of scientist’s access to the media, has run more issues involving politics. According to the Houston Chronicle today,

Five days after NASA administrator Michael Griffin urged a Houston audience to keep U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in office, a spokesman denied Wednesday that Griffin had made a formal campaign endorsement.

"The space program has had no better friend in its entire existence than Tom DeLay," Griffin said Friday of DeLay's legislative support of the agency. "He's still with us and we need to keep him there."

With DeLay present, Griffin spoke at the annual Space Center Rotary Club of Houston's nonprofit National Award for Space Achievement Foundation gala.

Griffin had no intention of soliciting votes for the 11-term lawmaker, NASA spokesman Dean Acosta said.

"He did not make an endorsement and will not get involved in any political campaigns," Acosta said. "If his words of thanks to Tom DeLay were misconstrued as an endorsement, then he regrets that."

Why does this matter? Well, the law for one reason,

The black-tie awards dinner at which Griffin made his remarks was held after regular working hours, but Griffin was representing the space agency and giving an award to a NASA employee, astronaut Eileen Collins.

Griffin's travel to Houston from Washington, D.C., for the dinner was paid by NASA rather than the Rotary Club, said event organizer Floyd Bennett of the United Space Alliance.

The independent Office of Special Counsel, which administers the Hatch Act, will investigate the matter, spokesman Loren Smith said.

Employees who violate the Hatch Act can be removed from office, according to the Office of Special Counsel, or suspended without pay.

Determining whether Griffin was acting in an official or after-hours capacity "really is a close call," said Corey Ditslear, a political scientist at the University of North Texas.

According to one political scientist, this is a tempest in a teapot:

But any misstep by Griffin was relatively minor, said Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

"Even in this context, I am not going to get too uptight about it," Hess said. "When (officials such as Griffin) make statements that can be interpreted as political statements, the government should not be underwriting it. You just caught the fellow with a little egg on his vest, looking untidy."

Just goes to show that in highly politicized contexts, minefields abound.

February 07, 2006

I'll Take the Under

NASA's FY 2007 budget proposes 17 space shuttle missions between now and September 30, 2010. That is 55 months, or about one shuttle flight every three months. I am thinking that the odds of flying 17 flights over that time period are vanishingly small. Success-oriented planning has its limits. I'd put the over/under at less than 10.

Posted on February 7, 2006 12:02 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

January 15, 2006

Re-Politicizing Triana

University of Maryland's Bob Park, a generally reliable and always interesting commentator on science issues, falls well short of his usual standards in today's New York Times in an op-ed on the termination of the NASA Triana satellite. Park chooses to go after cheap political points rather than engage the real substance of policy issues involving the convoluted and controversial history of Triana.

Park bemoans the termination of Triana and asks ominously, "Why did NASA kill a climate change project?". He suggests a sinister conspiracy within the Bush Administration to "avoid the truth about global warming" and to transfer their "hated" of Al Gore onto the project he first proposed in 1998. Supposedly coming to Vice president Gore in dream, the original idea for Triana was based on putting a high definition TV camera far out in space where the satellite's 24-7-365 view of the Earth would inspire people to be better stewards of our planet. In 1998 the Clinton White House issued a press release on Triana, which described the proposal as follows:

"Vice President Gore proposed today that NASA scientists and engineers design, build and operate a satellite that will make available a live image of earth 24 hours a day on the Internet ... "This new satellite, called Triana, will allow people around the globe to gaze at our planet as it travels in its orbit around the sun for the first time in history," Vice President Gore said. "With the next millennium just around the corner, developing this High Definition TV quality image of the full disk of the continuously lit Earth and making it available 24 hours a day on the Internet will awaken a new generation to the environment and educate millions of children around the globe. This new space craft will be carried into low earth orbit where a small motor will place it in orbit 1 million miles from earth at the L1 point (short for the Lagrangian libration point), the point between the earth and sun where gravitational attractions are balanced. The satellite will carry a small telescope and camera to provide these new compelling images ... These images of the earth moved thousands of Americans and encouraged them to become active stakeholders in our planet's wellbeing, Vice President Gore said."

NASA, no fools when it comes to responding to influential policy makers, reacted quickly to the Vice President's proposal and set up a program. But positive feelings did not last long within NASA. In 1999, NASA's inspector general issued a report (here in PDF) that was extremely critical of Tirana's cost and mission, writing,

"In the context of NASA's constrained budget and the widespread availability of satellite pictures of the Earth, we are concerned about the cost and changing goals of the Triana mission. A relatively simple and inexpensive mission focused primarily (though not exclusively) on inspiration and education has evolved into a more complex mission focused primarily on science. The added scientific capabilities will increase the amount of data gathered by the mission, but they will also increase the mission's total cost. In addition, due to the mission's circumscribed peer review process,1 we are concerned that Triana's added science may not represent the best expenditure of NASA's limited science funding."

In 2000, the National Research Council issued a letter report on the scientific aspects of Triana, which gave a luke-warm endorsement of the mission, concluding:

"The task group found that the scientific goals and objectives of the Triana mission are consonant with published science strategies and priorities for collection of climate data sets and the need for development of new technologies. However, as an exploratory mission, Triana's focus is the development of new observing techniques, rather than a specific scientific investigation."

The NRC report was widely spun by advocates of Triana as an "endorsement" of the mission. This prompted Bob Harriss, formerly of NASA, and me to write a letter to Science in which we wrote:

"In the case of Triana, by focusing exclusively on "scientific merit," the NRC report neglected two important aspects of program evaluation: the cost-effectiveness and opportunity costs associated with the mission--which are particularly important given that no recently published NRC reports called for a mission such as Triana as part of the nation's remote sensing strategy. The opportunity costs of Triana go beyond those expressed in budgets to include research community time and focus, adherence to scientific goals, and ultimately scientific credibility. To provide two examples of questions that should have been addressed: Would national needs be better served if the resources devoted to Triana were instead focused on the widely supported goal of a synthetic aperture radar satellite mission? A series of successful Earth Science Enterprise satellite missions is providing a deluge of new data to the scientific community: Might national needs be better served by additional funds for analysis and applications of these data? But the NRC panel did not address such broader issues, stating that it "lacked the proper expertise, resources, and time to conduct a credible cost or cost-benefit analysis ... or an analysis of the mission goals and objectives within the context of a limited NASA budget or relative to other Earth Science Enterprise missions". It is exactly these issues that matter most in science and space policy decision-making. By focusing only on scientific merit, the NRC not only neglected the needs of decision-makers for a comprehensive perspective, but it provided an opportunity for the misuse of the report. Immediately after the NRC report was released, partisans were "spinning" it as an endorsement of the mission, misrepresenting the report's narrow focus on scientific merit under an assumption of successful implementation. Whether or not Triana makes sense as a component of the nation's remote sensing agenda would require consideration of the issues neglected by the NRC panel, including Triana's contributions to meeting its other rationales, such as education and space weather forecasting ... We have no reason to believe that Triana should not be a component of the nation's remote sensing infrastructure; however, the existing process has not shown why the mission should play such a role. The Triana experience provides a clear example of how the scientific community too often neglects asking and answering the difficult, but necessary, questions involved with effectively advising policy-makers on the nation's scientific priorities. Ultimately the soundness of the nation's scientific endeavors is at stake."

And this brings us back to Bob Park's New York Times op-ed today. Park continues the politicized legacy of Triana carrying the weight of political arguments of one sort or another, and while Park decries this, he perpetuates it by suggesting a sinister political motivation behind its termination. While perspectives on Triana are no doubt shaped by its unique origins, the reality is that has never occupied a high priority role in research priorities set forth by the climate science community, its costs ballooned and took resources from other earth and space science programs that had gone through community peer review (here in PDF, and it required a space shuttle flight of which there are exceedingly few left.

Park is going pretty far out on a limb when he suggests that Triana is a key resource in settling the climate change debate. It's not. To suggest otherwise is to either mischaracterize the current state of climate science, which has a robust consensus, or to mischaracterize the scientific value of Triana. There are lots of reasons to criticize the Bush Administration's approach to climate policy, but its support of research is not among them.

So, why did NASA kill Triana? Perhaps for some very legitimate reasons.

In his op-ed Bob Park choose scoring cheap political points rather than contributing to more effective science policy. He neglects important factors in favor of trying to place blame on the Bush White House for its alleged pursuit of a political vendetta and avoidance of scientific truth. In doing so, Park perpetuates the increasingly popular myth that science policy decision making is as simple as checking party identification. This is not just wrong, it threatens our ability to make effective science policy decisions.

November 02, 2005

Politics, Apollo, Ed David and Richard Nixon

The webcast and transcript of our visit with Ed David, science advisor to Richard Nixon from 1970-1973, are now available online. Dr. David related a story that I had never heard before about how the scheduling of the Apollo missions were affected because of political considerations related to the 1972 presidential election. In short, President Nixon was worried that an accident might hurt his reelection prospects. Here is how Dr. David described the events:

"Another interesting situation I found myself involved with was the Apollo program. When I arrived on the White House scene, two Apollo missions had already been canceled. They were Apollo 18 and 19. There were originally plans, as I remember, for 20 and 21, but 21 never really got off the drawing board. The possible cancellation of Apollo 16 and 17 was in the wind, it was talked around, even though those two missions were slated to provide important scientific information about the moon, and they were basically the payoff of all of the efforts that went into the Apollo program. Most of the man-hours on the moon came during those two missions. In fact, most of the scientific measuring equipment the astronauts placed on the moon at that time are still there and many of them are still operational. So there's an awful lot of data coming in. Now, after examining this issue closely with the help of the President's Science Advisory Committee, which was called PSAC in those days, and specifically the help of Professor Tommy Gold of Cornell, who some of you may know, I wrote a memo to the president saying, in effect, that the nation had bought everything for these trips except the fuel, and that we ought to go ahead in light of the potential knowledge to be gained. That memo had some effect, and Apollo 16 and 17 proceeded, and Apollo 17 put the first scientist on the moon. And he's a good friend of mine now.

The interesting aspect of all this was the reason for considering canceling 16 and 17 in the first place. That reason was essentially political. It focused on the timing of those two launches vis-a-vis the 1972 presidential election. Apollo 17 was slated to launch about a month before the election day, early in November, 1972. The big worry by the political forces in the White House was that if there was an accident of Apollo 17, it would bear heavily on the election outcome negatively. I suggested that Apollo be postponed, however, until December after the election, a month after it, and that Apollo 16 was too early to have much influence on the outcome, we did win that day for the final two moon missions. This shows you how science hangs by a string in such situations. It illustrates that political thinking is very different from scientific thinking. Anyone coming to the science advisory post without considerable experience in politics is in for some rude shocks."

In our informal discussions, Dr. David described how NASA at first resisted the schedule change, claiming that they would have difficulty keeping their staff in peak form during the delay. Dr. David gave them a choice that they could not refuse. Launch in December ... or not at all. NASA quickly saw the merits of his perspective.

There is a great deal of interesting material from Ed David's visit on science and politics in the transcript here. Have a look.

Posted on November 2, 2005 10:13 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

September 28, 2005

Griffin: The Space Shuttle Was a Mistake

This according to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in today's USA Today. Here is an excerpt:

"The space shuttle and International Space Station - nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades - were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday. In a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board, Griffin said NASA lost its way in the 1970s, when the agency ended the Apollo moon missions in favor of developing the shuttle and space station, which can only orbit Earth. "It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Griffin said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can." The shuttle has cost the lives of 14 astronauts since the first flight in 1982. Roger Pielke Jr., a space policy expert at the University of Colorado, estimates that NASA has spent about $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1971. The total cost of the space station by the time it's finished - in 2010 or later - may exceed $100 billion, though other nations will bear some of that ... Griffin has made clear in previous statements that he regards the shuttle and space station as misguided. He told the Senate earlier this year that the shuttle was "deeply flawed" and that the space station was not worth "the expense, the risk and the difficulty" of flying humans to space. But since he became NASA administrator, Griffin hasn't been so blunt about the two programs. Asked Tuesday whether the shuttle had been a mistake, Griffin said, "My opinion is that it was. ... It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible." Asked whether the space station had been a mistake, he said, "Had the decision been mine, we would not have built the space station we're building in the orbit we're building it in.""

This is a startling admission from the NASA administrator, and perhaps a positive sign that real change is possible. I do have mixed feelings about the admission. One the one hand, it vindicates the arguments made by a team of scholars that I was part of in the early 1990s under the leadership of Rad Byerly that focused on developing space policy alternatives (PDF) to those presented by NASA. But on the other hand it raises the frequently-asked-question, what good is robust policy analyses if decision makers are unaware of it or for other reasons is not useful in decision making? It would be easy (and oh-so-appealing) to simply conclude that researchers produce knowledge and what decision makers choose to do (or not do) with it is their responsibility. Similarly, it would be easy to simply ask policy researchers to become political advocates. From my perspective, academic policy research can and should be better connected to decision making, and there are alternatives to these two models of interaction. This is a subject that we'll be devoting much time to in the near future.

For further information on the space shuttle and space station see the publications of Rad Byerly here. And also this paper of mine on the space shuttle program:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157. (PDF)

Posted on September 28, 2005 02:12 PM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

September 21, 2005

Why Should We Believe NASA?

Earlier this week NASA released its plans for the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program. The New York Times has a good series of articles on the plans and reactions to it (here and here). Were I a discerning budget examiner or congressional staffer with a knowledge of the history of the space program, I'd ask NASA why we should believe any of the following statements (borrowed from the Times reporting):

* "Michael D. Griffin, the agency's new administrator, detailed a $104 billion plan that he said would get astronauts to the Moon by 2018."

Does NASA have any credibility on budget or schedule projections? History suggests that cost estimates are overly optimistic and shortfalls are used as a justification to secure budget increases. As one former congressional staffer has commented, "NASA cost overruns represent full employment in some congressional districts."

* "Dr. Griffin said that after adjusting for inflation, the program would cost just 55 percent of what it cost to put a dozen men on the lunar surface from 1969 to 1972."

The spin begins. An actual accounting of Apollo costs (see Table 14.4 here in PDF) indicates that the program actually costs (in 2004 dollars) between $105 to $125 billion. NASA is already either playing fast and loose with the budget numbers or is ignorant of its own budget history. Neither option is particularly encouraging.

* "The new craft, called the crew exploration vehicle, would perch the astronauts' capsule above the rockets that power it into space, rather than alongside them as with the shuttle. NASA officials said it would be 10 times as safe as the shuttle, with a projected failure rate of 1 in 2,000, as opposed to 1 in 220 for the shuttle."

Deja vu. No launch vehicle has ever demonstrated such a success rate. Unrealistic estimates of reliability contributed to the experiences of the Shuttle program. Further, if NASA really believes these numbers, what justification can there be for continuing to fly the Shuttle?

Space policy should be guided by a firm appreciation of history. We have a lot of hard-earned and valuable experience. Here are a few places to start (PDF and PDF).

Posted on September 21, 2005 08:07 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

August 25, 2005

The Best NASA Can Do?

In last Sunday’s New York Times, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin had a letter in response to critical several Times editorials,

"Terminating the shuttle program abruptly, while attractive from some points of view, carries with it grave consequences for the United States' pre-eminence in space and would be devastating to the work force necessary to conduct any future human spaceflight program."

There are two responses here. First, the current 2010 retirement date is completely arbitrary, and could just as easily be 2009 or 2008 or 2007. The decision should be made based on technical, financial and political realities and not an arbitrary deadline. Second, what if NASA loses another shuttle? That would certainly result in an "abrupt termination" of the program. Would that also be "devastating to the workforce"? I wonder what NASA's contingency plans look like for the loss of another shuttle, which is a realistic possibility.

Griffin continues,

"In the same way, the decision to build the International Space Station with its present partnership arrangements was made more than a decade ago, and that decision, too, carries with it major consequences and obligations not lightly dismissed."

The space station is "complete" when NASA says it is complete. It is a modular system. One reason why the program adopted international partners is the same as why NASA sprinkles contracts widely across congressional districts, to build a constituency for business as usual, to make it hard for politicians to take control of NASA from NASA. Business is usual is great when you are going in the right direction.

Griffin concludes that business as usual is "the best NASA can do for the country." As an outsider to NASA, but also a long-time observer, I'd be interested in the whole set of options that NASA considered when deciding that business as usual is the best available option. One might think that Congress would be interested in this set of options and how they have been evaluated.

Posted on August 25, 2005 04:15 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

August 15, 2005

What Future for the Space Shuttle?

NASA finds itself at a crossroads. It has safely returned the space shuttle to flight, but the flight also showed that troubles have resurfaced with falling foam. NASA now faces decision about what to do next. I can imagine only a few possible outcomes of this decision making process.

1. NASA pursues business as usual. This would involve seeking an engineering fix for the shuttles foam problem and then seeking to fly through 2010, as current plans call for.

This course of action can lead to three possible outcomes.

1a. NASA returns to return to flight and flies the shuttle the number of times currently scheduled and retires it on schedule.

1b. NASA returns to return to flight and flies the shuttle fewer times than currently scheduled and retires it on schedule.

1c. NASA returns to return to flight and flies the shuttle until it suffers another catastrophic loss or a less consequential engineering failure/problem that forces retirement

2. NASA decides not to deviate from business as usual and retires the Shuttle after deciding what to do with the space station (and Hubble).

As an outsider, it seems to me that there are a lot of incentives for business as usual, and a significant possibility that the Shuttle is flown until it can fly no more. And of course, NASA will face a decision to pursuer business as usual following each successful shuttle flight.

Should NASA decide to retire the Shuttle it brings in a large set of possibilities for U.S. space policy. The President's "vision," such as it is, allows a lot of room for discussion of where, when, how and who. It is never too early to begin a public discussion that involves more stakeholders than just NASA about what future the U.S. and its partners might pursue. To date, neither the President nor Congress has encouraged such a dialogue.

Posted on August 15, 2005 11:01 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

August 02, 2005

NASA's New Rockets

Yesterday I wondered about NASA risk-taking by comparing asteroid risk to discovery risks, and wondered how these high risk - high cost choices get made. I guessed that most science policy people consider the current shuttle risk of about 1 in 100 (proven at 1 in 57) to be absurdly high for such a pricey program, and I wondered what level of risk might be acceptable for the next generation of launch vehicles.

Well, here's the first lick at the answer: 1 – 1000. William Broad reported in the NY Times today about NASA's preliminary plans for orbit entry redesign – or at least the plans that industry is pushing and NASA is listening to closely. Here are some quotes:

Just as important, officials and private experts say, the small rocket for astronauts would be at least 10 times as safe as the shuttle, whose odds of disaster are estimated at roughly 1 in 100. The crew capsule atop the rocket would rendezvous in orbit with gear and spaceships that the bigger rocket ferried aloft, or with the International Space Station.

"It's safe, simple and soon," said Dr. Horowitz, an industry executive since he left the astronaut corps in October. "And it should cost less money" than the shuttles. Their reusability over 100 missions was originally meant to slash expenses but the cost per flight ended up being roughly $1 billion.

So at least one industry connection considers 1 in 1000 to be "safe."

After January 2004, when Mr. Bush announced a national effort to "extend a human presence across our solar system," Dr. Horowitz hit on the idea of using the shuttle's booster rocket as a first stage. He did the math and found it ideal. Moreover, the booster rocket was already approved for human flight and - despite its role in the 1986 Challenger disaster - had earned an excellent safety record.

I'm not sure I consider one catastrophic failure in 114 events to be evidence of "an excellent safety record."

And finally we get to the meaty stuff:

Dr. Horowitz said industry studies put the risk of catastrophic failure for the newly envisioned crew rocket at 1 in 1,000 to 3,000. "It's never going to be like driving your car," he said. "But it's a huge step in the right direction."

After leaving the astronaut corps, he went to work for the booster maker, ATK Thiokol, where he now leads the company's effort to develop the new family of rockets. An ATK Web site,, discusses the shuttle-derived vehicles. The giant cargo rocket would feature a large fuel tank atop throwaway shuttle engines and, hanging on its side, a pair of shuttle booster rockets.

Even if the numbers are right, the conflict of interest here is apparent. A spokesman for the $3B company that wants to sell NASA the rockets to be used in future human spaceflight is also pushing the company-derived risk data that will be critical for political approval. Obviously NASA will eventually do its own risk estimates if the decide to use ATK products, but NASA has proved in the past to be lax on contractor oversight.

Posted on August 2, 2005 08:21 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy

July 28, 2005

Time to Retool NASA

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?

Posted on July 28, 2005 07:46 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

July 27, 2005

Space Shuttle Russian Roulette

It is a relief to see the space shuttle successfully in orbit. But all is not well. The New York Times reported yesterday that "With a new realism born of disaster, NASA says that the risk of catastrophic failure during the space shuttle Discovery's mission is about 1 in 100." This is an astoundingly high risk for an event that is expected to be repeated perhaps several dozen more times in the next 5 years or so.

This level of risk it means that over 25 flights there is a greater than 22% risk of a catastrophic loss of an orbiter. The odds of surviving Russian Roulette (1 bullet in a 6 chambered pistol) are much higher, 16.7% chance of shooting yourself. If the odds of a catastrophic failure are at the observed shuttle success rate of 1 in 57, then the probability of a failure over 25 flights rises to about 37%. NASA is playing a very dangerous game.

Given that the Shuttle is destined to be retired no matter what, costs billions and billions of dollar per year and carries a catastrophic failure probability of Russian Roulette, perhaps it is time to think about retiring it sooner rather than later and investing our space policy resources more rapidly into whatever is to come next.

Posted on July 27, 2005 11:27 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 13, 2005

Space Shuttle Return to Flight

United States space policy remains bound by NASA's decades-old "vision" of voyaging to Mars that shapes everything from agency priorities to its political machinations. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is George Bush's "vision" - it was also his father's and Ronald Regan's, but really it has been NASA's vision, whispered into the president's ear. Perhaps Richard Nixon is the only President not to be swayed by NASA's lobbying for a commitment to go to Mars. Of course, NASA worked around Nixon with its "next logical steps: shuttle-station-Mars" that got us to where we are today. For those interested in some history on the shuttle and space station program that develop these political dynamics, here are a few resources:

On costs of the shuttle program, see this tabulation -- to date over $150 billion and counting.

On why the space shuttle developed as it did, see this analysis:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157. (PDF)

On the dynamics of the space station program:

Brunner, R., R. Byerly, Jr., and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 1992: The Future of the Space Station Program. Chapter in Space Policy Alternatives, edited by R. Byerly, Westview Press, Boulder, 199-222. (PDF)

Posted on July 13, 2005 07:12 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

June 30, 2005

Space Science and Nuclear Proliferation: An Opportunity for Reflection

This past Tuesday, the House Science Committee held a hearing to discuss the future of NASA with its Administrator, Michael Griffin. In its hearing charter, the committee raised several issues that NASA will face in the coming months, and in so doing, voiced concern over the future of the International Space Station (ISS).

To complete construction and use the ISS, NASA needs the cooperation of the Russian space agency. According to the hearing charter, “the US is totally dependent on Russian Soyuz capsules for crew rescue, and without access to Soyuz capsules, Americans will not be able to stay on the space station for long duration missions.” Yet after April 2006, Russia’s obligation to participate expires, and we may no longer have their support. That is, unless we pay for it.

But this is not merely a matter of money. Section 6 of the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) “prohibits the US Government from making payments in connection with ISS to the Russian space agency, organizations or entities under its control, or any other element of the Russian government … unless the President makes a determination that Russia’s policy is to oppose proliferation to Iran, that Russia is demonstrating sustained commitment to seek out and prevent the transfer of WMD and missile systems to Iran, and that neither the Russian space agency nor any entity reporting to it has made such transfers for at least one year prior t such determination.” (From “The INA and ISS: Issues and Options” March 2005 CRS report). The President has almost no chance of making that call.

Thus, we must consider our options:

If we were to continue work on the ISS without the assistance of the Russian space program, we would increase our reliance on the space shuttle. This raises two problems. First, we would be unable to carry out long-term research without Russian assistance because astronauts could only be on the ISS as long as the shuttle is docked. Yet long-term research is the primary purpose of the ISS in Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. Second, NASA’s problems with return to flight (reported here) may pose problems for work on the ISS. The New York Times quotes Dr. Howard E. McCurdy of American University on the state of the shuttle: “We are at a crossroads with the shuttle. Do we feel reasonably confident that we understand it enough to go on and fly with the known risks?”

Given the problems associated with this option, many recommend a revision of Section 6 of the INA instead. They suggest that the nonproliferation benefits gained by linking the ISS to Russian proliferation behavior are not worth the costs to the US space program (source: CRS report).

But we should pause briefly before we instinctively proceed down this road. This conflict provides us a rare opportunity in our nation's science policy to stop and reflect. What are our goals with respect to space research? What are our priorities? Do we need the ISS to achieve them? Perhaps our answers to these questions will leave us in support of the ISS and revision of the INA. If they do, we can confidently support an amendment to the INA. But if they do not, the act of asking the questions will allow us to consider other – perhaps unconsidered - alternatives.

Here, as in any policy situation, if we pause to clarify our goals, we may better ensure that our policies will meet them.

Posted on June 30, 2005 06:32 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Maricle, G. | Space Policy

June 28, 2005

Positive Feedback Gone Awry

Last week, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences released a report entitled United States Space Policy: Challenges and Opportunities (available here). The report, authored by George Abbey, former director of the Johnson Space Center, and Neal Lane, former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, identified four barriers to the future development of U.S. space science. According to the authors, the second of these barriers is a “projected shortfall in the U.S. science and engineering workforce.” The report utilizes data from the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators (here). and from the National Science Foundation to point to recent declines in the numbers of U.S. physics Ph.D.s, growth in science and engineering-related jobs, and increased competition for foreign scientists. The report characterizes the future prospects for science and engineering in America as a “looming shortage”, and a “crisis” because of the projected shortfalls in manpower. Roger has already written a couple posts (“Scientist Shortage", and “Scientific Workforce, Supply Side”) on this subject that provide reason for skepticism in the face of claims of impending shortage.

Additionally, the authors of the report write in their recommendations for a healthy workforce, “Beyond all these, the most important requirement is probably a truly exciting national vision, laid out by the leaders of this country, that offers young people the opportunity for adventure that first inspired Americans to build a great nation. Space should play a large role in this national vision, just as it did during the Apollo days. If young people see exciting careers ahead in science and engineering, they are likely to pursue them with passion.”

This reasoning seems somewhat circular. The quoted paragraph posits the excitement of space science as a means for motivating young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. So, one barrier to healthy space science is the projected shortage of scientists, and the most significant means of increasing the number of scientists is to promote space science. In other words, we need more scientists and engineers for the future of our space enterprise, and we need an enhanced space enterprise for the future of our scientists and engineers. Apparently, this is a case of positive feedback gone awry.

Posted on June 28, 2005 11:50 AM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Logar, N. | Space Policy

May 02, 2005

Leadership in Space

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?

The U.S. no longer faces competition from a peer rival and the other nations with space capabilities remain allies. In fact, NASA has recently pursued a variety of cooperative missions with international partners, ranging from data sharing on U.S. built craft to cooperative development of mission plans and hardware. The International Space Station now includes major partners from 16 countries, including Japan, Russia, and the E.U. Cooperation with Russia on the ISS program has proved critical to keeping the station supplied and in orbit after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. And cost sharing has reduced the cost of the ISS to the U.S. significantly, as partner nations have provided over a quarter of the station components.

The U.S. now has an opportunity to learn from these successes while framing a new Moon/Mars initiative. Using the successful cooperative models of ISS and science missions such as SOHO and Cassini-Huygens, NASA could direct a combined international effort to explore space. A cooperative program would yield greater benefits than a unilateral attempt by demonstrating a U.S. commitment to the concerns of international partners and lesson perceptions of an American hegemony.

Internationalizing NASA's "Vision for Space Exploration" also has the potential to engage the Chinese space program which has also announced a manned mission to the Moon, avoiding a costly and unnecessary repeat of a lunar space race.

An international effort also makes sense from a cost and data sharing perspective. Cooperation has allowed nations to pursue projects that they could not afford individually, increased access to space assets and data, and contributed to international diplomacy. Increasing international involvement in the Vision could benefit the policy as a whole, and should be considered now during initial development. For leadership in space to have tangible benefits back home, the U.S. must strive for more than building the biggest rockets.

Posted on May 2, 2005 05:38 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

February 10, 2005

Space Shuttle Costs

The table below shows the costs of the Space Shuttle program from its inception through 2003 (in 2003 $). The data come from a paper of mine in 1994 (1971-1993) and the Gehman report on the Columbia accident (1994-2003). The data show that the space shuttle program has cost $145 billion over its existence and about $112 billion since the program became operational. The average cost/flight has been about $1.3 billion over the life of the program and about $750 million over its most recent five years of operations.

According to the FY2006 NASA budget request the Space Shuttle program is expected to cost (in millions of 2004 $) through 2010:

4060.9 2004
4543.0 2005
4530.6 2006
4172.4 2007
3865.7 2008
2815.1 2009
2419.2 2010

Because NASA has costs for the Shuttle program that are not reflected in the shuttle line item, it is appropriate to add 10% to these totals (see Pielke, 1994 for discussion) and also to adjust to 2003 dollars (to make consistent with the data table). If the program is terminated after 2010, then it will have a total lifetime costs of $173,423 million or about $173 billion. If the program averages 4 flights per year upon a return to flight, then the shuttle will fly an additional 22 times, for a total of 134 flights over its lifetime. This will result in a total program cost per flight of $1.3 billion. Interestingly, the average cost per flight from 2004-2010 is also $1.3 billion. The average cost per flight from the middle of 2005 through 2010, assuming 22 flights, is about $1.0 billion.

All of these number fall squarely within the range Rad Byerly and I projected in a 1992 paper on the performance of the space shuttle program through 2010. See the paper here:

Pielke Jr., R.A., and R. Byerly Jr., 1992: The Space Shuttle Program: Performance versus Promise. Chapter in Space Policy Alternatives, edited by R. Byerly, Westview Press, Boulder, 223-245. (PDF)

And for a study of space policy and why the space shuttle program has performed as it has, see this paper:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157. (PDF)

Costs of the Space Shuttle Program 1971-2003

Roger Pielke, Jr

University of Colorado Center for Science and Technology Policy Research

  Current Deflator Constant '03 Adjusted ** Flights 5-yr MA Cost/Flight % Change Notes
1971 $ 78.5 39.713 $ 208.0 $ 208.0        
1972 $ 155.9 41.815 $ 392.3 $ 392.3    88.6%  
1973 $ 296.7 44.224 $ 706.0 $ 706.0     79.9%  
1974 $ 656.7 44.001 $ 1,570.6 $ 1,570.6    122.5%  
1975 $1,010.7 43.916 $ 2,421.9 $ 2,421.9    54.2%  
1976 $1,813.6 46.256 $ 4,125.9 $ 4,125.9    70.4% Includes Transitional Quarter
1977 $1,652.5 48.391 $ 3,593.6 $ 3,593.6    -12.9%  
1978 $1,645.9 51.085 $ 3,390.5 $ 3,390.5    -5.7%  
1979 $1,896.5 52.699 $ 3,787.0 $ 3,787.0    11.7%  
1980 $2,125.2 52.579 $ 4,253.4 $ 4,253.4     12.3%  
1981 $2,254.7 53.904 $ 4,401.7 $ 4,401.7 1  3.5%2 flights, 1 operational
1982 $3,459.1 52.860 $ 6,886.3 $ 6,886.3 3  56.4%  
1983 $3,498.7 55.249 $ 6,663.9 $ 6,663.9 4  -3.2%  
1984 $3,445.8 59.220 $ 6,123.1 $ 6,123.1 5  -8.1%  
1985 $3,120.1 61.666 $ 5,324.4 $ 5,324.4 9 $ 717.2 -13.0%  
1986 $3,344.1 63.804 $ 5,515.4 $ 5,515.4 2 $ 733.4 3.6%  
1987 $5,453.2 65.958 $ 8,700.3 $ 8,700.3 0 $ 943.1 57.7% Challenger replacement
1988 $3,302.7 68.684 $ 5,060.1 $ 5,060.1 2 $ 1,037.0 -41.8%  
1989 $4,214.2 71.116 $ 6,235.8 $ 6,235.8 5 $ 1,079.7 23.2%  
1990 $4,293.0 72.451 $ 6,235.4 $ 6,235.4 6 $ 1,373.8 0.0%  
1991 $4,564.4 72.329 $ 6,640.8 $ 6,640.8 6 $ 1,148.8 6.5%  
1992 $4,775.0 74.734 $ 6,723.6 $ 6,723.6 8 $ 783.3 1.2%  
1993 $4,078.0 76.731 $ 5,592.7 $ 6,152.0 7 $ 685.1 -16.8% Discontinuity in data sources Pielke/Gehman
1994 $3,778.7 79.816 $ 4,982.0 $ 5,480.2 7 $ 632.0 -10.9%  
1995 $3,155.1 81.814 $ 4,058.2 $ 4,464.0 7 $ 581.5 -18.5%  
1996 $3,178.8 84.842 $ 3,942.8 $ 4,337.0 7 $ 526.8 -2.8%  
1997 $3,150.9 88.658 $ 3,739.9 $ 4,113.9 8 $ 481.7 -5.1%  
1998 $2,927.8 92.359 $ 3,335.9 $ 3,669.5 5 $ 476.2 -10.8%  
1999 $3,028.0 96.469 $ 3,303.1 $ 3,633.4 3 $ 514.7 -1.0%  
2000 $3,011.2 100.000 $ 3,168.7 $ 3,485.6 5 $ 546.3 -4.1%  
2001 $3,125.7 100.506 $ 3,272.7 $ 3,599.9 6 $ 564.6 3.3%  
2002 $3,278.8 102.710 $ 3,359.3 $ 3,695.2 5 $ 640.5 2.6%  
2003 $3,252.8 105.232 $ 3,252.8 $ 3,578.1 1 $ 784.8 -3.2%  
Avg Cost/Flight Avg Adj Cost/Flight  
Total $ 140,967.9 $ 145,168.7 112 $ 1,258.6 $1,296.1  
1982-2002 $ 108,864.4 $ 112,739.9 110 $ 989.7 $1,024.9  
1992-2002 $ 38,755.3 $ 42,630.8 68 $ 569.9 $ 626.9  
1998-2002 $ 16,439.7 $ 18,083.6 24 $ 685.0 $ 753.5  


Pielke 1994, Gehman 2003, 2004 Economic Report of the President

** Note on adjusted data, Gehman budgets increased by 10% to make more consistent with Pielke 1994


Posted on February 10, 2005 01:34 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

January 25, 2005

Bob Park on ISS

Bob Park suggests that the U.S. needs to rethink the costs and benefits of its space policy priorities:

“Last Friday, the reach of man extended 900 million miles to the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. It stands as one of the most notable voyages of exploration in history. Carried piggyback on Cassini since 1997, the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe parachuted 789 miles to reach Titan’s smoggy surface. Huygens had the good fortune to land on solid ground, within sight of the shoreline of a hydrocarbon sea. Over the next several hours, until its batteries finally died, Huygens transmitted everything it had learned back to Cassini, which relayed it to Darmstadt. The data will keep researchers busy for years. Cassini will continue studying Saturn for another four years. Meanwhile, only 90 miles from the surface of Earth, the NASA On-Orbit Status Report notes that the ISS crew checked gear for a 26 Jan space walk, performed periodic microbial air sampling, did routine maintenance on the toilet facilities, performed a 2.5 hour exercise program, had an interview with USA Today and recorded a video message in observance of the 250th anniversary of Moscow State University. Today’s quiz: Which cost the most, Cassini/Huygens or the ISS?”

Posted on January 25, 2005 09:25 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Others | Space Policy

January 24, 2005

Total Recall II

Author: Kevin Vranes (website. email)

One day last year while, with some astonishment, listening to Sean O'Keefe blithely tell his Senate overseers whatever they wanted to hear, I couldn't help but wonder how O'Keefe was ever able to talk the White House upper echelon into his nutty manned Mars vision. GW already had the reputation - if not yet the direct sobriquet from Senator McCain - of spending like a drunken sailor (although of course it is Congress that spends, not the President, but editorial writers and talking heads never seem to remember that). It was apparent to most that putting a few people on Mars might be measured in the trillions of dollars (the White House and NASA have sidestepped putting a price tag on moon/Mars, but hinted at about $180B by 2020, which is when the moon bases will be completed and we might be ready to launch to Mars). With the U.S. already in heavy debt and the Chinese and Japanese buying up American dollars just as fast as the Philadelphia mint would print them, spending huge new sums on exploration visions seemed curious.

But no sooner was POTUS running over America with a new grand space vision (which, incidentally, was timed suspiciously close to the Chinese announcement of an intention to go to the moon - causing some to wonder if we were in a new race to repeat something we accomplished forty years previously), than the trickle down began at NASA. Previous grumblings about NASA running NOAA's satellites were renewed, and most Earth scientists who had received NASA grant money were warned of a tighter future (which was later made reality in the FY05 budget).

Somewhere buried in the calculations of the new moon/Mars paradigm is one of NASA's most successful science missions: the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble is aging, its orbit decaying, and in order to keep HST from presenting itself upon some random city, NASA has two choices: boost it and fix it, or fly it into the Indian Ocean. Fixing it adds a new wrinkle, however: financing O'Keefe's new moon/Mars calculus means backing out of the ISS as fast as possible. To O'Keefe, this meant (referring to his Senate testimony last Spring and conversations with NASA employees) that not even one Shuttle flight could be spared to fix Hubble. The only option would be a robotic mission to prevent Hubble from sharing the fate of the Andrea Gail. But a robotic mission to save Hubble is understandably distasteful, with a high price and very high risk.

O'Keefe has always covered his distaste for manned Hubble repair under the cloak of a deep fear for astronaut safety. O'Keefe may honestly fear for astronaut safety, but he never explained the difference in safety between servicing Hubble and continuing to build ISS over the next decade, which will also use the shuttle. His determination to not send astronauts to HST has continued despite the clamoring for a repair mission from most astronauts(the ones who take the risks), the National Research Council, the American Astronomy Society, and dozens of other interested expert groups. After the weight of these communities have done nothing to sway his proclivities, Sean O'Keefe's steadfast refusal to even consider saving the Hubble seems obviously connected to his devotion to retooling NASA for Total Recall II.

News accounts today (link, link, and link) confirm the new prioritization. NASA now plans a robotic mission to Hubble solely designed to de-orbit the telescope, spitting in the face of the nearly $300 million Congress appropriated in FY05 to service Hubble. The reports also confirm that NASA continues to shy away from paying $1 billion to save a highly successful and proven program in favor breaking the bank on a much more expensive project - perhaps eventually in the many trillions - that may never fly anyway.

Now that O'Keefe has announced a move to more lucrative employment in order to send his kids to college, the rest of the scientific community might have expected a manned mission to save Hubble to be back on the table. Apparently it won't be back on the table for the Office of Management and Budget and NASA. The NASA locomotives have begun to lumber away toward manned moon/Mars, and even though the chief engineer has bailed out, not even the astronauts who are volunteering to risk their lives for Hubble can stop the train.

Posted on January 24, 2005 07:31 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Space Policy

December 13, 2004

O'Keefe to Leave NASA

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?

Posted on December 13, 2004 12:07 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

December 10, 2004

NYT on NRC HST Report

The New York Times noted yesterday,

“After six months of study conducted at Congress's request, the committee of 21 experts said that a robotic mission would hold too many uncertainties, that it would probably be ready too late to extend the telescope's life and that it might actually damage the instrument… Astronomers said they were delighted by the experts' findings.”

Surely The New York Times can do better than simply invoking the generic term “experts”. How about noting the following (and yes, this is an underscore of a point made yesterday):

“… what I’d like to focus on is the characterization of the NRC panel as “outside experts” and the role of NRC in making recommendations to government agencies.

First lets consider the issue of “outside experts.” Presumably, a fair interpretation of the phrase “outside expert” means in this context that the members of the NRC panel are outside of NASA or not subject to benefiting from the decision NASA makes on Hubble. But despite their significant influence on policy, the media (or anyone else for that matter) rarely looks at NRC panels for any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Of course, the NRC has an internal process that looks at personal financial conflicts of interest (such as owning stock in a company that benefits from a NRC recommendation), but often members of a NRC panel are recipients of government funding for research in areas that they are making recommendations.

Lets take a look at the composition of the NRC Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The very distinguished panel includes:

- A former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute which manages Hubble.
- A space scientist who has criticized how human spaceflight programs took money from programs such as Hubble
- A scientist who serves on a council that helps to manage Hubble
- An astronaut who helped deploy Hubble from the space shuttle
- Several former NASA employees (e.g., here and here)
- A scientist whose work depends upon Hubble (e.g., here and here)
- A scientist who advocates for space telescope missions.

My point is not that these people are unqualified (they are an impressive bunch), but that they can hardly be characterized as “outside experts.” Almost all have very close ties to NASA or Hubble, including creating, using, or supporting Hubble.”

Posted on December 10, 2004 10:31 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

December 09, 2004

Two Points on the NRC Hubble Study

The NRC study released yesterday on the Hubble Space Telescope concludes:

“The Committee finds that the difference between the risk faced by the crew of a single shuttle mission to ISS – already accepted by NASA and the nation – and the risk faced by the crew of a single shuttle servicing mission to HST, is very small. Given the intrinsic value of a serviced Hubble, and the high likelihood of success for a shuttle servicing mission, the committee judges that such a mission is worth the risk.”

Two quick observations:

First, this report shows the tension between the human space flight program and space science. After almost a half-century of marriage between human space flight and space science, perhaps it is time to consider a divorce?

Second, the NRC decided to advocate a single policy option that best fits the clear bias of the committee. No attempt at honest brokering here. As I wrote here last July,

“My point is not that these people [on the NRC Hubble Committee] are unqualified (they are an impressive bunch), but that they can hardly be characterized as “outside experts.” Almost all have very close ties to NASA or Hubble, including creating, using, or supporting Hubble.

One way to deal with actual or perceived conflicts would be to have the NRC panel take on the task of clarifying alternatives rather than advocating a single option over others.

Given that many of the members of the panel have at least the appearance of predispositions to preserve Hubble, it would seem that the NRC would be better served by having its panel present and evaluate the full suite of options open to NASA, rather than taking an advocacy position on a single option. At the very least it is time that the media takes a more critical eye on the composition of NRC panels who, with very little scrutiny, provide guidance that influences policy making.”

Posted on December 9, 2004 03:52 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

December 01, 2004

Sources for Space Policy Commentary and News

A few websites on space policy worth highlighting:

“The Space Review is a new online publication devoted to in-depth articles, commentary, and reviews regarding all aspects of space exploration: science, technology, policy, business, and more.”

The site also has a companion weblog:

And a companion news site:

Posted on December 1, 2004 10:11 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

November 30, 2004

Opening up Space Policy Debate

In the early 1980s James Van Allen criticized NASA for taking money from space science in order to shore up spending on the space shuttle program, calling the expected budgetary carnage “the slaughter of the innocents.” Today we see a very similar dynamic going on in NASA with space science once again being threatened. In a report released earlier this month, the American Physical Society characterized the situation as follows, “Very important science opportunities could be lost or delayed seriously as a consequence of shifting NASA priorities toward Moon-Mars.”

The APS recommends that NASA submit it plans to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for a review. Of course the APS recommends going to the NAS because the NAS is a very strong supporter of science and has been the source of priority-setting activities for all of space science.

In an editorial yesterday, The New York Times noted, “In most years, there has been a budgetary wall between the manned space program and unmanned scientific programs, thus providing some protection for science when the inevitable cost overruns hit the more costly manned flight programs. Now NASA will have great freedom to pillage its scientific accounts to pay for the shuttle or space station or the president's Moon-Mars exploration program, or it can raid one manned program to help pay for another, all subject to final approval by Congress.” The New York Times also recommended that Congress consider terminating the Shuttle and the Space Station.

And the St. Petersburg Times writes in an editorial, “Americans may be mesmerized by the prospect of reaching new frontiers in space, but the nation has hardly had a debate about NASA's mission and the associated costs… But before the agency takes what could be a fundamentally new direction, the administration, Congress and the scientific community need to weigh more thoroughly how the president's plan would serve science and affect other domestic priorities.”

See also this editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

Voices such as these suggest that it is time not just for a debate over goals of the nation’s space program but also the means for achieving those goals. NASA is but one of several agencies that has a space program, others include the Departments of Commerce and Defense. And NASA is but one of several agencies that supports earth and space science, others include the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce (NOAA). Perhaps it is time to reconsider how space programs in the government are organized. In particular, might there be reason to consider consolidating research for research sake in NSF, and research that is focused on improving government services in NOAA, and then focus NASA on human aeronautics and human space flight?

In the end it may well be decided that the current structure is the best or only one practical. However, space policy needs a healthy debate that engages a wide range of perspectives beyond the status quo. But this debate is only something that can occur with the participation and leadership of the President or Congress.

Posted on November 30, 2004 12:20 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

Budget Woes for NASA

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?

Posted on November 30, 2004 12:31 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

October 18, 2004

Satellite Reentry Risks

In 2001 I helped organize a workshop for NASA on the risks and benefits with allowing its TRMM satellite to reenter in controlled versus uncontrolled fashion. At the time we concluded that while it was clear that risks to people were relatively small, NASA did little more than a back of the envelope calculation to quantify those risks.

Over the weekend a Chinese satellite struck a house upon reentry. Apparently no one was injured. This is not the first time that there has been a close call.

As the National Research Council prepares to convene an expert panel to consider the TRMM reentry options and the more general policies for satellite reentry policy, it will be important to place reentry risk assessments on a more solid basis. (For more on TRMM see this post.)

Posted on October 18, 2004 11:03 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

September 29, 2004

This Rise of Commercial Space

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.

Posted on September 29, 2004 10:00 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

September 08, 2004

Francis Hits the Cape

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.

Posted on September 8, 2004 12:06 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

August 06, 2004

Follow up On Fate of TRMM

NASA issued a press release today detailing a reprieve of sorts for the TRMM satellite. (For our earlier discussions of this topic see this post. The press release states that "NASA will extend operation of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) through the end of 2004, in light of a recent request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)."

But the press release also states that "NASA and NOAA have asked the National Academy of Sciences to convene a workshop next month to advise NASA and NOAA on the best use of TRMM's remaining spacecraft life; the overall risks and benefits of the TRMM mission extension options; the advisability of transfer of operational responsibility for TRMM to NOAA; any requirement for a follow-on operational satellite to provide comparable TRMM data; and optimal use of GPM, a follow-on research spacecraft to TRMM, planned for launch in 2011."

This statement seems a bit odd to me because it appears that NASA has already decided when and how to deorbit TRMM. And it seems unnecessary to convene a workshop in September to provide advice on how to use TRMM for its last 2 months (through November) after 7 years of successful operations. NASA and the scientific community know very well how to use TRMM.

The press release includes this statement, which seems to contradict the above, from Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, "It's important to note that we are able to extend TRMM for this brief period and are vigilant in maintaining our requirement for a safe, controlled re-entry and deorbit of the spacecraft." So what role exactly will the NRC Workshop play?

One concern is that the NRC Workshop will be used to provide a post-hoc rationalization for decisions already made about the future of TRMM. If so, then this would amount to a form of politicization of the NRC. By paying attention to who is invited to participate in this workshop (and who is not) we can get a sense of what perspectives are being advanced and which are not. As I have argued here in an earlier post the NRC would be better served by not recommending a single option, but a diversity of choices and their implications for decision makers to consider.

August 04, 2004

Space Shuttle Costs and NASA Dynamics

Today, the Washington Post reports, “NASA officials said yesterday that the costs of returning the grounded space shuttle to flight have risen as much as $900 million over original projections, raising the possibility that the agency may have to seek extra money from Congress next year or cut other space programs to fund the shortfall… NASA's announcement came 12 days after a key congressional committee passed a bill cutting the Bush administration's 2005 NASA budget proposal by more than $1 billion, dealing a sharp blow to the president's initiative to return humans to the moon and eventually send them to Mars.”

This situation raises a difficult situation for Congress. Should Congress provide more money for the Shuttle or accelerate its termination? And if Congress provides more money, where should it come from? Other NASA funding in human spaceflight (Mars?) or space science? From money going to Veterans or Housing? There are no easy answers.

In the Post article an unnamed source commented on these challenges, “One knowledgeable Republican source, who refused to be quoted by name because of office policy, acknowledged that Congress had heard about the shortfalls last month, and lawmakers "don't know what to think about it." While NASA is "acting responsibly" by voicing its fears early, the source said, the news "puts additional pressure on an already impossible budget -- and what are you going to take it from? And is this as high as [the shortfall] is going to get?"”

The escalating costs are just the latest example of the dynamics that have shaped U.S. space policy for two decades now. These dynamics have their origins in NASA’s commitment to a large, interdependent program focused on eventually going to Mars. When the whole mission to Mars was rejected decades ago NASA adopted an approach focused on “logical steps” – shuttle, station, and then Mars. But NASA’s ambitious plans lack resilience to perturbations, whether the perturbations are engineering-related or budget-related. When an unforeseen event occurs, like the loss of a shuttle or a budget overrun, its effects cascade through NASA disrupting plans and performance across the agency as it scrambles to adjust. NASA deals with the disruption and we start from scratch again. Meanwhile as NASA deals with these disruptions it makes inefficient progress towards its formal goals (e.g., lowering the costs of access to space) or even its decades-long desire to go to Mars. If this explanation is anywhere close to explaining NASA’s current situation, then simply adding more money in the absence of fundamental policy change may exacerbate rather than dampen these dynamics.

For more on these dynamics see the following two papers:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157.

Brunner, R., R. Byerly, Jr., and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 1992: The Future of the Space Station Program. Chapter in Space Policy Alternatives, edited by R. Byerly, Westview Press, Boulder, 199-222.

Posted on August 4, 2004 09:46 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 26, 2004

Bipartisan Call to Save TRMM

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, has sent a letter to the President's Science Advisor, John Marburger, asking for his intervention to help prolong the TRMM satellite mission. The appeal to save TRMM is bipartisan. We'll link to Representative Boehlert's letter and press release when we find it on the House Science Committee site.

July 23, 2004

An Appeal to the President to Save TRMM

A press release from the minority of the House Science Committee announces:

“Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, sent a letter today asking President Bush to reverse NASA’s decision to terminate the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) later this year.”

The letter can be found here.

Rep. Lampson writes, “In the United States, both the National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center use TRMM to reduce risk to lives and property from hurricanes and typhoons… I hope that you will intervene to help protect our citizens from the increased risk that would result from a termination of TRMM’s operations this year.”

Of course, if the President asks for hard evidence of increased risk, in response he will only get a suggestive anecdote or two. Three years ago we advised the TRMM community to conduct rigorous research on TRMM’s benefits to society specifically for situation such as this. You can lead a horse to water ...

July 19, 2004

More on TRMM Reentry

A follow up …

In 2001 NASA asked me to organize a workshop to evaluate the decision alternatives it faced on TRMM. Our workshop report concluded:

“[W]e recommend that NASA should not base its decision to extend the TRMM mission primarily on quantitative comparisons between "lives potentially saved" through operational exploitation of TRMM data and "potential hazard" associated with uncontrolled reentry.”

We made this recommendation because estimates of reentry risk are simply arithmetic exercises with little connection to reality. As it turns out, so too are estimates of the benefits of the TRMM satellite to hurricane warnings. Comparing two meaningless estimates didn’t make much sense to us.

It turns out that NASA (probably inadvertently) followed our advice, according to this excerpt in the Washington Post article Shep cited earlier:

“In 2002, Asrar asked Bryan O'Connor, NASA associate administrator for safety and mission assurance, to conduct a "disposal risk review." Did the benefits of using all the fuel to keep TRMM in orbit an additional five years outweigh the hazards of allowing the spacecraft to fall back to Earth without guidance?

In his reply on Sept. 4, 2002, O'Connor said the probability of a TRMM debris casualty would be one in every 5,000 reentries, twice as dangerous as NASA's standard of one in 10,000. NASA allows about six uncontrolled reentries a year. Despite the heightened danger, O'Connor concluded that "these risks appear to be reasonable when subjectively weighed against the potential public safety benefits of improved storm analysis and forecasting capabilities that appear to be realized by extending the TRMM mission."

But uncontrolled reentry was never seriously considered, Asrar said, and the O'Connor analysis was used to reaffirm what Asrar described as NASA's original view: "What if the one in 5,000 becomes a reality?" Asrar said. "Can anybody stand up and say it was worthwhile?" He said he asked for the O'Connor report simply to show that "we had done due diligence" in evaluating TRMM's potential hazard.”

Our workshop concluded:

“[D]ecision makers lack knowledge necessary to prioritize observational program decision alternatives on the basis of quantitative risk assessment according to the actual and potential contributions to science and society. Absent such information, it is likely that decisions on issues such as TRMM deorbiting will continue to be made on an ad hoc basis. It would be relatively simple to construct a “back-of-the-envelope” calculation of potential lives saved related to TRMM data availability based on a set of simplifying assumptions. However, participants agreed that because of the unverified nature of the cascade of assumptions on which such a calculation would be based, it would have little connection with reality. One reason for the lack of unanimity in the Workshop participants' estimation of relative risk is the lack of analysis and data on the direct and indirect roles of TRMM data in weather forecast operations. Anecdotes, back-of-the-envelope calculations, and incomple!
te case studies are not a substitute for reasoned conclusions based on rigorous, scientific analyses.”

Finally, while I do agree with Shep that the money saved on TRMM has nothing to do with the President’s Mars mission, it all but certainly has something to do with paying for the next generation of remote sensing satellites.

NASA Nixes TRMM Extension

Back in May, Roger noted some similarities between the situations of Hubble and the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) in determining how risk, cost, and scientific value balance out. Today, Guy Gugliotta, in the Washington Post reports a NASA decision to perform a controlled de-orbit of TRMM, thus dashing hopes of significantly extending the satellite's mission. And the similarities are growing as, like Hubble's case, the scientific community has vociferously attacked the decision.

Among the charges lies a suggestion that the cancellation of Hubble and TRMM serve as cost saving measures to support President Bush's space initiative to the moon and Mars. That arguement has never rung true to me. To begin, in the TRMM case, Mr. Gugliotta reports:

"[Ghassem] Asrar [NASA's associate administrator for earth science] said it was "absolutely incorrect" that NASA decided to begin the de-orbit now to save money for the Bush initiative, noting that "we started looking at this issue two years ago," long before the moon-Mars plan arose."

In the case of Hubble, Administrator O'Keefe has stated several times that he personally made the decision to cancel SM4 on the grounds of risk alone.

And more to the point, a savings of up to $37 million for TRMM doesn't make much of a dent in the $12 billion over the next five years President Bush has proposed. Hubble does, however, have a larger footprint, with operating costs running at $250 million per year, and the cost of the servicing mission itself running at about $140 million (SM3A). But even this larger amount occurs early in the Initiative before any serious moon or Mars missions begin and at the end of construction of ISS.

This arguement just doesn't do enough work to wholly explain these cancellations. However, the cost savings critique is just one of manyand both decisions remain open to a number of different and probably more convincing arguements.

Posted on July 19, 2004 12:28 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

July 15, 2004

House Hearing on Prizes as Space Policy

Here on Prometheus we discussed prizes as space policy a while back (here and here).

Yesterday the House Science Committee held a hearing on the topic. Read the press release here and the witness testimony can be found here Particularly thoughtful testimony was provided by Molly Macauley of Resources for the Future. And a cautionary note was provided by Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the Congressional Budget Office. Even so, my guess is that we’ll see prizes as space policy in the not-too-distant future. If so, it'll be a policy experiment worth watching.

Posted on July 15, 2004 04:33 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 14, 2004

NRC Report on Hubble, “Outside Experts,” and Policy Advocacy

Yesterday the NRC released a letter report on NASA’s options on the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, here is how the New York Times characterized the report,

“An expert panel from the National Academy of Sciences said Tuesday that the Hubble Space Telescope was too valuable to be allowed to die in orbit and that NASA should commit itself to a servicing mission to extend its life, perhaps with astronauts in a space shuttle… The committee of outside experts urged the space agency to commit itself to replacing two major instruments on the telescope, as well as upgrading its batteries and gyroscopes to extend its life.”

NASA’s decision on Hubble is interesting enough (and Shep is our local expert), and I don’t weigh in on it here, but what I’d like to focus on is the characterization of the NRC panel as “outside experts” and the role of NRC in making recommendations to government agencies.

First lets consider the issue of “outside experts.” Presumably, a fair interpretation of the phrase “outside expert” means in this context that the members of the NRC panel are outside of NASA or not subject to benefiting from the decision NASA makes on Hubble. But despite their significant influence on policy, the media (or anyone else for that matter) rarely looks at NRC panels for any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Of course, the NRC has an internal process that looks at personal financial conflicts of interest (such as owning stock in a company that benefits from a NRC recommendation), but often members of a NRC panel are recipients of government funding for research in areas that they are making recommendations.

Lets take a look at the composition of the NRC Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The very distinguished panel includes:

- A former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute which manages Hubble.
- A space scientist who has criticized how human spaceflight programs took money from programs such as Hubble
- A scientist who serves on a council that helps to manage Hubble
- An astronaut who helped deploy Hubble from the space shuttle
- Several former NASA employees (e.g., here and here)
- A scientist whose work depends upon Hubble (e.g., here and here)
- A scientist who advocates for space telescope missions.

My point is not that these people are unqualified (they are an impressive bunch), but that they can hardly be characterized as “outside experts.” Almost all have very close ties to NASA or Hubble, including creating, using, or supporting Hubble.

One way to deal with actual or perceived conflicts would be to have the NRC panel take on the task of clarifying alternatives rather than advocating a single option over others.

Given that many of the members of the panel have at least the appearance of predispositions to preserve Hubble, it would seem that the NRC would be better served by having its panel present and evaluate the full suite of options open to NASA, rather than taking an advocacy position on a single option. At the very least it is time that the media takes a more critical eye on the composition of NRC panels who, with very little scrutiny, provide guidance that influences policy making.

Posted on July 14, 2004 10:52 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

July 02, 2004

Risk and Space Flight

Of the many news accounts of Cassini's arrival at Saturn, few have mentioned the controversy that surrounded its launch. The mission, launched in 1997, engendered protests and concern from some. The crux of the problem was Cassini's plutonium containing radio thermal generator, and fears that an accident at launch or flyby could release the plutonium. NASA went to great lengths to communicate their commitment to safely launching and flying the mission, overcoming a lawsuit in the process.

The same battle of space nuclear power looms on the horizon with Project Prometheus and the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. The project hopes to design and use a new generation of RTGs and nuclear reactors. Moving this project forward will depend on communicating and debating risk and uncertainty.

A similar debate is also ongoing for the future of the space shuttle, a manned flight to Mars, the Hubble servicing mission, and commercial space flight. Indeed, much of NASA's work contains small but significant factors of risk and uncertainty, factors that greatly complicate the agency's ability to gather support for and maintain initiatives.

Successfully describing and supporting thier risk assessments will be a critical challenge to the agency, and will require sensitivity to the subjective nature of risk tolerance and the value judgements that underlie arguments for and against particular missions. Technical and scientific data will play an important role, but cannot alone overcome value based objections.

June 28, 2004

NASA and Safety

As NASA announces plans to be "sustainable and affordable" is the agency rolling the dice on safety?

Posted on June 28, 2004 08:58 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

June 02, 2004

O'Keefe Sticks to His Guns: No Shuttle Mission to Hubble

In a speech yesterday, NASA Administrator O'Keefe stood by his much criticized decision to cancel Hubble Servicing Mission 4, saying, "it would not be responsible to prepare for a servicing mission, only to find that the required actions identified by the [Columbia Accident Investigation] Board could not be implemented."

While news accounts (and his audience) have struck on his partial support for a robotic servicing mission, as O'Keefe announced a forthcoming Request for Proposals following up on a February request, O'Keefe also gave one of his most rigorous defenses yet of his decision to cancel SM4, saying in part,

"A mission to the Hubble would require the development of a unique set of procedures, technologies and tools different from any other mission we'll fly before the Shuttle fleet retires. Many of these capabilities which provide safety redundancy for ISS missions are primary or singular for a Hubble mission. Moreover, these Hubble unique methods must be developed and tested promptly before Hubble's batteries and other critical systems give out.

We are making steady progress in our efforts to meet the safety requirements for the Shuttle return to flight next year. But based on where we are today, prospects are even more challenging than six months ago for our being able to develop in time all required safety and return-to-flight elements for a servicing mission before Hubble ceases to be operational."

The whole of O'Keefe's speech is here.

In addition to this speech, O'Keefe has made a case for his decision here, here, and here, all based on the CAIB recommendations and his concern for human life. Meanwhile, critics of his decision have continually suggested that Hubble is too important to science to lose, thus setting up an age-old conflict of the relative importance of manned flight and science at NASA. Is this another example of the Excess of Objectivity that Prometheus has commented on elsewhere? Both sides continue to argue over the "facts" of mission risk and ignore the fundamental value conflict between the "Hubble Huggers" and Administrator O'Keefe.

May 17, 2004

Accounting Troubles at NASA

According to a recent article in CFO Magazine, NASA has some serious issues accurately accounting for its expenditures over recent years, having made $565 billion in adjustments. Its auditor basically gave up on the audit. The article says,

“PricewaterhouseCoopers, the agency's auditor, issued a disclaimed opinion on NASA's 2003 financial statements. PwC complained that NASA couldn't adequately document more than $565 billion — billion — in year-end adjustments to the financial-statement accounts, which NASA delivered to the auditors two months late. Because of "the lack of a sufficient audit trail to support that its financial statements are presented fairly," concluded the auditors, "it was not possible to complete further audit procedures on NASA's September 30, 2003, financial statements within the reporting deadline established by [the Office of Management and Budget]."

The PwC audit is actually available on the NASA IG website.

A Reuter’s story carried the following, “Shyam Sundar, a professor in accounting with Yale School of Management, described the event as ‘a big mess,’ after seeing the auditor's report. ‘If NASA would have been a public company, the management would have been fired by now,’ he said.”

However, management of a public company would also include the company’s board of directors, who in this analogy would include congressional oversight committees. And in the CFO Magazine article a member of the staff of House Science Committee observed of the financial situation, “I think there's a little numbness to it. It's really hard to get congressmen fired up about a bad audit."

The audit is likely a symptom some deeper cultural and institutional issues in NASA and, if space policy matters, then these issues are certainly worth getting fired up about.

Posted on May 17, 2004 08:10 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

May 13, 2004

Prizes as Science and Technology Policy

Imagine if the United States adopted as its space policy a set of rewards or prizes. For example, $10 billion to the first group to send a human to the moon and back. Or $150 billion for the first mission to Mars and back. Far fetched? Perhaps. Effective? Who knows. However, one private group is trying such a strategy at a relatively small scale. The X Prize Foundation is offering $10 million to the first group to send a reusable vehicle into space twice within two weeks (exact details here). The U.S. government is using prizes as well. DARPA has a contest that will award $2 million to a group that develops a driverless vehicle that can first complete a specified course. And there are other examples of contests and prizes as well, such as Robocup.

I am unaware of any systematic evaluation of prizes or contests as an approach to science and technology policy. But perhaps they might be an option worth considering for the public financing of particular areas of science and technology.

Posted on May 13, 2004 08:26 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

May 12, 2004

Hubble Alternatives

The NRC Committee convened to evaluate options for extending (or not) the life of the Hubble Space Telescope holds its first meeting later this week. The Committee is expected to issue a report by fall, but NASA may make a decision on Hubble by next month.

In 2001 we held a NASA-sponsored workshop to consider and evaluate alternative for extending (or not) the life of the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM). The Workshop was organized to address the following issue:

“In the near future NASA faces an important decision about the termination of the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM). There are at least two alternatives, each with potentially significant consequences for science and society. One alternative is for NASA to de-orbit TRMM in a controlled fashion, virtually eliminating any risks to human life and property associated with an uncontrolled reentry. However, this would reduce TRMM’s potential scientific data-gathering lifetime, which would reduce the benefits of that data to meteorological research and operations, particularly related to tropical cyclone forecasts. Another alternative is for NASA to extend TRMM’s orbital lifetime, preserving the availability of the unique data collected by TRMM for research and operational meteorological forecasting, but increasing to an unknown extent the risks associated with TRMM’s eventual reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. There are possibly other alternatives that involve similar trade-offs.

What course of action should NASA take?”

The issues, at least conceptually and politically, are very similar to those faced in the Hubble situation, if at a much lower level of saliency. How we grappled with these issues can be found here.

Posted on May 12, 2004 08:41 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

May 03, 2004

We Need a Better Bullet-Bucket

Author: Joseph Hall

Of all the doomsday scenarios in existence, one is simultaneously the most likely to happen and paid such little attention. It is also, in my opinion, the most depressing.

I'm talking about the militarization of low earth-orbit (LEO). In "Star Wars Forever? -- A Cosmic Perspective" the husband-wife duo of Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams from the Physics Department at UC Santa Cruz, describe a frighteningly simple and realistic vision of our future:

Abstract: [...] The current debate over missile defense has failed to emphasize a crucial point: even one war in space will create a battlefield that will last forever, encasing the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that will thereafter make space near the earth highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes. With enough orbiting debris, pieces will begin to hit other pieces, whose fragments will in turn hit more pieces, setting off a chain reaction of destruction that will leave a lethal halo around the Earth. No actual space war even has to be fought to create this catastrophe; any country that felt threatened by America's starting to place lasers or other weapons into space would only have to launch the equivalent of gravel to destroy the sophisticated weaponry. Wise people have pointed out that missile defense will waste hundreds of billions of dollars that could be spent combating the real threats in the modern world. Short term political interests pale before the overwhelming, eternal immorality of imprisoning Earth for all future generations in a halo of bullets. This horrible crime would dishonor our ancestors, plant and animal alike, who bequeathed this beautiful blue planet to us, and cripple our descendents, who would never forgive us.

This is a profoundly simple and scary point: It is very hard if not impossible to "clean up" most Earth orbits. Regardless of how they become cluttered, certain orbits are resilient to atmospheric drag and space debris will remain there for millennia unless we either endeavor to keep it clean or find a nifty way of cleaning it up.

So, what can we do? Cleaning up space debris should be easy, right? Wrong. Imagine trying to collect bullets with a bucket; not easy.

What about not fielding weapons--like kinetic energy interceptors or explosive missiles--that cause explosions in LEO? That is a step in the right direction, but still not enough. Primack and Abrams point out that even other types of weapons such as directed energy weapons can still start the chain reaction, "Any country that felt threatened by America's starting to place lasers or other weapons into space would only have to launch the equivalent of gravel to destroy the sophisticated weaponry." This would start a chain reaction with at first only a few orbits being unusable. Inevitably, this debris would create more debris through collisions at orbital velocities.

There is only one real solution: We need to be very conservative about deployment of weapons in LEO.

What are the consequences if we do not do this? First, substantial real estate in LEO will be unusable and it would be very hard to deliver space hardware to orbits near debris-filled orbits. Services such as GPS, telecom, radar, and earth observation as well as scientific research would all be drastically affected if not shut down entirely until someone built a better bullet-bucket.

Second, the human race would be largely robbed of any hope of establishing manned scientific outposts on the moon and mars. It would be risky, sure, to attempt to deploy space hardware through a cloud of extremely fast-moving bullets, however any crew and human-rated hardware would face orders of magnitude more risk.

It is truly ironic that some of the most popular doomsday scenarios concentrate on the destruction of the human race (nuclear war, disease, nanotech's "grey goo", etc.) when, in fact, we are much closer to imprisoning the people of Earth for millennia in a cloak of impenetrable space debris.

Posted on May 3, 2004 06:07 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Others | Space Policy

April 30, 2004

Science Policy and Fiction

Science policy is hot stuff these days. Herman Wouk has a new book out, A Hole in Texas, that focuses on the politis surrounding the shutting down of the superconducting super collider in the early 1990s. Dan Brown has a series of novels focused on encryption, NASA, science and religion. Two new movies portray threats associated with cloning, Godsend and global warming, The Day after Tomorrow.

Why this attention to such a wonky topic? As Herman Wouk tells NPR, there are not too many topics more important that science and technology in modern society.

Posted on April 30, 2004 11:13 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

April 26, 2004

Science Feels Threatened by Bush Space Policy

A New York Times article suggests scientists and some politicians are nervous about science funding at NASA. Chairman of the House Science Committee Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) asks of President Bush's space exploration initiative, "Will funding this initiative rather than other programs move science forward or hold it back?" The article quotes a number of physicists and astronomers worried about exploration trumping 'good' science at the agency.

The decision to cancel Servicing Mission 4 to Hubble has stirred up a hornets nest of criticism of NASA in the science community. Yet NASA budgets for space science continue to show healthly growth. (See our category on R&D fudning.) The science camp worries that exploration will short change their research goals, while the human flight camp strives to regain the lost luster of the early manned flight program.

President Bush's focus on exploration has exacerbated the tension between these tribes, and the cancellation of SM4 has sent the science community into a panic. However, US space policy, and NASA in particular, would benefit if these two tribes could focus more on cooperation than turf battles. Science and exploration can go hand in hand, but by crying foul the scientific community may forgo an opportunity to garner real scientific gains from a growing, robust program of exploration.

Posted on April 26, 2004 05:26 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

April 22, 2004

Space Shuttle: An Uncomfortable Question

Leonard David asks on What if the Shuttle Never Flew Again?. He observes, in what is decidedly an understatement, "Permanently grounding the shuttle, according to space experts contacted by, is sure to stir up a hornet’s nest of sticky issues." But these are exactly the issues that NASA needs help thinking through.

Posted on April 22, 2004 03:10 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

April 21, 2004

Tough Questions on Space Policy

In a speech today Chairman of the House Science Committee Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) raises some tough and important questions about the future of human space exploration and NASA. An excerpt from his speech:

“I should note that many of the tough questions that need answers relate to the current human space flight programs, which account for about half of NASA's budget…. I think it's fair to say that most Members of Congress have not begun to wrestle with these questions, or even to take the space initiative seriously, or to ponder what alternatives there are to the President's proposal - and in broad terms there aren't a lot of palatable alternatives if you want to continue the human space flight program.”

Posted on April 21, 2004 07:47 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Space Policy

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