back to article Over the Moon? Not quite: NASA boss has a good whinge about 'counterproductive' Authorization Bill

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has dribbled a little something from the scorn bucket over last week's Authorization Bill, which both postpones boots on the Moon and turns the Lunar Gateway into a "Gateway to Mars." As if trying to follow the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" edict, …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Wouldn't like his job

    With a budget set every year and a president who changes his mind every time he watches Fox News at six in the morning followed by his daily Twitter feed where policy is announced direct from the Royal Golden Throne, it's worse than trying to get something planned weeks in advance with my project manager.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Wouldn't like his job

      I wonder if the committee isn't being swayed by those interested in developing things a bit nearer home.

      There must be a lot of things that need development and the relevant funds in order to get the Space Patrol off the ground. That would have some conflict of interest for aerospace companies who are confronted with 'We either have the money for the moon or the Space Patrol' .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't like his job

      While Trump is to blame for a lot of things, it seems like every president talks about returning to the Moon or going to Mars. They know it is something Kennedy was remembered for and want to have the same legacy (though going to the Moon again would hardly put them in the same category)

      But when it comes time to do the budget, congress is willing to spend a little here and there for some of the preliminary legwork for these missions, but they are never willing to follow through with spending the real money required to bring the plans to reality. They don't personally benefit from the legacy in the same way a president hopes he will, and NASA spending isn't split between all 435 congressional districts like defense spending is. Congressmen in Alabama, Texas and Florida have reason to support these missions because it will mean billions flowing to their districts, but why should those in Oregon, Minnesota, Ohio and Georgia want to divert tax dollars to them versus their own pet projects?

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Wouldn't like his job

      The US President can sign a budget or not but he doesn't have the power of a line item veto or the ability to add something once the budget is presented for his signature. It Congress (opposite of Progress) that writes the budget after getting all of the pork they can included and if they have money left, they'll let NASA have some if NASA will take on crap like SLS (Senate Launch System), a program that is so loaded with pork even includes the squeal.

      So don't blame President Trump. Blame the congress critters that believe it's better to have open borders rather than a space program.

      The moon is hard, but there are many commercial possibilities with infrastructure on the moon to allow for long term research. Mars is not impossible but just on this side of the line. The biggest issue being us poor meatsacks and our inability to withstand long terms in zero G while remaining healthy. A space ship of sufficient size to send a small number of astronauts to Mars will be one heck of a huge undertaking. An undertaking with no tangible commercial possibilities so a purely government funded expedition.

      So far there is good stats on people living at 1G (Earth) and people living at 0G (ISS, Mir, etc). There are no good data sets on human health at 1/6G such as would be the case on (in) the moon. The Apollo astronauts weren't on the moon long enough to get any sort of good read on long term health. They did find that the lunar soil is murder on seals and mechanical joints. Mars soil is expected to be similar. Will 1/3G be enough?

      The moon will be a good training ground. Aerospace is all about TRL, Technical Readiness Level. If you want funding, if you want to send your experiment to ISS, you need to have your TRL up to a sufficient level. The same squared should be required for a manned Mars trip. Even if participants agree to it being a one way journey, it's not going to be a good thing if half of them die in the first year and the rest are incapacitated with serious health issues. A water purification system may work fine for a while, but may have odd problems emerge after it's used for an extended period of time in a low G environment.

      1. 96percentchimp

        Re: Wouldn't like his job

        >> "Blame the congress critters that believe it's better to have open borders rather than a space program."

        Agree with most of what you say, but why are these mutually exclusive goals?

        Why is open borders relevant to a thread about spaceflight?

        And is the pork-troughing Republican senator for Alabama (or his congresional allies) also in favour of open borders? It sounds unlikely.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Toss up between India and China ?

    History has a tendency of repeating itself, and while the US will never lose the accolade of the Apollo missions (first men on the moon) it's not impossible to see the US in a similar "we've fallen behind" shock that Sputnik engendered.

    If I were to place a bet on the next set of boots on the Moon it would be China, followed by (or in partnership with) India.

    1. A K Stiles Silver badge

      Re: Toss up between India and China ?

      If it's not SpaceX just getting on and doing it rather than waiting for government and NASA.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SpaceX

        SpaceX's problem is that it's too US-based. You can't blame Musk for imagining that the US would be as keen to get into space as he is, but sadly the Trumpster rather messed things up.

        SpaceX would still need NASA resources, and I can easily see those being denied unless or until they are carrying "Space Force" (or whatever they are called) to the moon.

        The US has had it's butt kicked a few times in aerospace. Imagine the times Air Force One must have been overtaken by Concorde.

        1. fishman

          Re: SpaceX

          "Imagine the times Air Force One must have been overtaken by Concorde."

          If speed was that important the POTUS would have been riding in a SR-71 Blackbird.

          1. JimmyPage
            Thumb Up

            Re: the POTUS would have been riding in a SR-71 Blackbird.

            It's not too late .....

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: SR-71 Blackbird.

            But Concorde could take 100 people in comfort. An engineering marvel even the Apollo designers tipped their hat to. Bearing in mind unlike the moon shots, Concorde was designed to - and did - fly as a regular airliner.

            1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

              Re: SR-71 Blackbird.

              "But Concorde could take 100 people in comfort."

              Comfort? Really? Have you ever *sat* on a Concorde? Some people think the self-loading cargo is packed tightly in to cattle class on today's airliners, but Concorde really did have you rubbing shoulders with your fellow passengers! And the seats could have been direct ancestors of the back- and butt-killers found on the average "modern" British railway carriage! (If you can ever actually find a free seat - rail companies seem to be following the airlines' habit of 'overbooking'... but that's a gripe for some other article)

              1. hammarbtyp

                Re: SR-71 Blackbird.

                Have you ever *sat* on a Concorde?

                No but I have done Ryanair...

                and if it was a choice of 3 hours transatlantic on Concoirde compared to 8 hours cattle class on a Delta, I know which one I would take

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: SR-71 Blackbird.

              "But Concorde could take 100 people in comfort."

              Go look at the photos of Air Force One. Posh for the President and reasonable for everybody else. It also has to stay aloft for long periods of time, be capable of in-air refueling and pack loads of comms and techs. The food stores are very impressive and I think there is some water recycling systems in case they expect to be aloft for days. I saw a very short mention of that once and never again. Concorde was built just for speed.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Concorde was built just for speed.

                ... And Apollo was built just for the moon...

                Wow, you Yanks are *still* sore over it. 17 years after it was canned !

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: Concorde was built just for speed.

                  If you are countering what I wrote, I was not dismissing the Concorde at all. It was on my list of things to do before it was shut down. What I was trying to point out was that the mission criteria for Concorde and Air Force One are very different. The Saturn V was built to go to the moon (Apollo was the name of the program, not the rocket). While it did get used for SkyLab and an Apollo-Soyuz mission, it's design was based on flying to the moon.

                  I'm not getting what I'm supposed to be "sore" about. The "Yank" part is off too.

              2. EnviableOne Silver badge

                Re: SR-71 Blackbird.

                Delta's cattle class are at 31" seat pitch, concorde in a 26 row config was more spacious that their business class, the seats were getting on a bit, but BA were going to refit theirs the year it got canned.

                the VC-25 (AFO) was a 20 yr newer plane design with less capacity (76 to 100) and considerably lower speed, greater size and higher fuel consumption, but cost about the same $325 million to $383.5 million for concorde (program cost (adjusted for time)/ no. built - not the amount AF and BA paid)

                the engineering on concorde was revolutionary, and if it hadnt been for the 1973 oil crisis, they would have been flying most transatlantic routes and with 62 orders and 14 options on the books accross all major airlines, it would have been a great success.

  3. HammerOn1024

    Testing... is this think on?

    To the intellectual midgets who believe doing an Apollo mission to Mars is the "Best Way" forward: PHOOEY!

    Get back to the moon and us IT as a test site for all things MARS! That means equipment testing, that means space craft testing, that means habitat testing, etc!

    If it works there it will work on Mars. And if it doesn't, then it's better to be 3 days, any given day of the year, away from ones home base than 22 MONTHS once a year!

    These mental midgets are setting anyone who wants to try for a direct Mars shot up for FAILURE.

    1. Brangdon

      Re: Testing... is this think on?

      Conditions on Mars are so different to the Moon that you don't learn much about living on one from living on the other. Such things as can be tested could be done more easily in Earth orbit without going to Mars. The Moon is an interesting destination in its own right, but as a step to Mars it is a distraction.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Testing... is this think on?

        Brangdon, I disagree. The biggest thing to test is how the body reacts to extended stays in fractional gravity. That can't be done in Earth obit. Ok, it can, but not on ISS. Dealing with dust and fines will be another engineering problem to tackle. There is even an electrostatic field that exists at the terminator and causes a dust ripple.

        Mars should be easier to cope with than the moon, so most things that work on the moon are going to work on Mars. If something isn't tested in close enough of an environment and fails on Mars, it could mean a group of dead people that had no means of escape. There is a much better chance that in the event of a big failure on the moon, the people there can be brought back or may be able to hold out long enough for a supply mission to bring them any needed parts or equipment.

  4. Homeboy

    Three steps forward and two steps back.

    I suspect by the time the US Congress gets a coherent human spaceflight plan together that lasts more than 12 months they'll all be able to settle down and watch a SpaceX ship landing on Mars.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

      I assumed that was Boeing's plan: Milk it for all its worth before SpaceX make SLS + EUS + Orion + LOPG + Artemis so obviously redundant that politicians have to find a new giant pork eater.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

      The upside of SpaceX landing on Mars of course is that Musk himself plans to be aboard. When Mars is on the other side of Sol we can ‘break’ the communications link and pretend we thought they were all dead since we hadn’t heard from them. But then without constant resupply they soon will be.

      In Afghanistan the NZ SAS are prized by the Generals because unlike the British or the US Rangers they can do long patrols without resupply, even living off the land. It is said you cannot put Marine boots on the ground without Ice Cream being available 24/7.

      No way will Americans survive on Mars without constant resupply. Send some Kiwis and Inuit and we’ll be fine. NZ has places it is probable no human has ever trod (or scrambled). Places where you can be days walk from the nearest road and then a further day to get to habitation.

      1. dvhamme

        Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

        An ex-colleague of mine works at the Elisabeth station on Antarctica, which is limited in scale and scope but self-sustaining. He compared this to the American Antarctic village, which is huge and manned year-round and features an enormous pile of empty oil barrels as its most striking landmark. I bet they have ice cream too.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

        "The upside of SpaceX landing on Mars of course is that Musk himself plans to be aboard"

        Wishful thinking. He's billing the trips as one-way initially.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

      "they'll all be able to settle down and watch a SpaceX ship landing on Mars."

      SpaceX isn't going to Mars unless they get a phat gov contract. The reason they didn't already have a man-rated capsule was they were waiting until they had a contract from the government before they dug into it. They are still many years behind what Elon originally promised (what a surprise). It turns out that it takes more than bolting down a few seats and stacking in a life support system. NASA still doesn't like that they want to start filling the fuel tanks on the rocket with the astronauts already installed. They'd much rather that the tanks were full and everything checked off as nicely stable beforehand.

      1. Brangdon

        Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

        SpaceX will go to Mars using their Starlink revenue, which will likely be more than the entire NASA budget. They got badly bitten on Dragon 2 by NASA continually changing its mind about the details. For example, changing from 7 seats to 4, or giving bad models for the parachutes so they had to be reworked. That's what caused the delays - that and not being given the promised money early on.

        NASA was against fuelling the rocket with the astronauts on board mainly because it hadn't been done that way before. It's arguably safer than having ground crew working around a fully fuelled rocket - that would never be allowed for uncrewed missions, so why allow it for crewed ones? By the time the rocket is fuelled, the ground crew should be cleared well away and the astronauts safely ensconced in the capsule that has a launch abort mechanism to protect them if anything goes wrong.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Three steps forward and two steps back.

          "NASA was against fuelling the rocket with the astronauts on board mainly because it hadn't been done that way before"

          Of course there was the time when a F9 exploded on the pad while fueling due to a He bottle inside the Lox tank failing.

          I've spent several years in aerospace and still do some consulting/design work. I also have a few associates that report on space that follow what's going on even closer than I do. My mate right here assures me your first paragraph is "not even wrong" it's so far off base.

  5. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    NASA was alway about politics

    Remember that president Kennedy's science adviser agreed to support the Apollo program on the condition that he NOT say that the reason for the program was science? The $250M handshake was perhaps as pure an example of this as possible, although the ISS makes a decent showing.

    It's hard to know which are the street walkers and which are the Johns in this picture: the politicians whose job it is to raid the federal treasury on behalf of their constituents, or the bureaucrats who are on a mission from God to have an endless, ever-growing, unaccountable stream of money from that same treasury.

    The Apollo program spawned a generation of dreamers (including myself), and spun off some neat technologies, but with the commercialization of space well underway, national pride is the only cause for government-driven "research" in this field to exist at all. Now that we finally have a space force coming online, even the not-military (oh, no, not at all!) reasons to keep NASA around are gone.

    But whom am I kidding. Nothing is so close to immortal as a government program.

  6. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Boeing, Boeing

    The proposed bill would mandate a return to cost plus contracts and makes Boeing the only contractor that meets the qualifications to bid on the contract, thus perpetuating their fine tradition of increasing costs, schedules, and profit.

    BTW, the bill has only passed a House subcommittee and still needs to pass a House committee and then the House.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Boeing, Boeing

      I would argue this bill is an attempt to pour money into Boeing to make up for all the money they will lose on their 737-Max debacle.

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