Opinion: Despite Boozer’s claims NewSpace needs NASA

Recent comments from Rick Boozer on Spacevidcast run contrary to the current status of NASA's Space Launch System. Image Credit: NASA

Recent comments from Rick Boozer on Spacevidcast run contrary to the current status of NASA's Space Launch System. Image Credit: NASA

It’s been stated firms which benefit from NASA, would be wise to tamp down the “defund NASA” rhetoric which comes out of the NewSpace movement’s base. It appears some among them are starting to realize that, given the fact their “chosen” launch vehicles and spacecraft are funded primarily by NASA – it might be a good idea to not bite the hand funds them. A few however have failed to get the memo. Some are even willing to rewrite history to achieve their ends. One such case is highlighted in a recent interview of Rick Boozer by Spacevidcast.

The NewSpace entity, Inspiration Mars, has not only announced its goal of sending a married couple on a flyby of the Red Planet by 2018 was impossible (it’s now 2021 at the earliest), but that to do so would require the “villain” of many a NewSpace narrative, NASA’s new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft to allow them do it.

A report appearing on Space.com details how Inspiration Mars publically acknowledged they need what many in the NewSpace movement have dubbed the “rocket to nowhere” (or the “Senate Launch System”) as well as an Orion spacecraft to actually do what they propose. Given this and considering that one of the chief promoters for commercial space efforts within the U.S. government, Barack Obama, has tapped SLS and Orion to fly his proposed mission to an asteroid, you would think the fan base would stop attacking SLS, realizing it is counterproductive at best and self-destructive to the NewSpace movement’s aims at worse.

In regards to Inspiration Mars’ call for help? Former NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus (currently with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) as well as NASA’s former Associate Administrator for NASA’s Explorations Systems Mission Directorate, Doug Cooke, have expressed reservations about any aid NASA would provide to Inspiration Mars. The space agency was approached by Dennis Tito for assistance on his Inspiration Mars effort.

Despite this, there are still those who would have you believe NASA is in NewSpace’s “way” and that NewSpace can still do it better than the agency with more than five decades of experience in the matter. Spacevidcast’s Benjamin Higginbotham conducted an interview with Rick Boozer who penned: “The Plundering of NASA: An Expose’.” Mr. Higginbotham is a SpaceX employee who opened his interview with an image and comments about how SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is the way of the “future.” This sets the tone for the interview.

The Inspiration Mars hearing is discussed, even though neither of Spacevidcast’s hosts actually watched it. Boozer implies the Senate was behind the push for a 2021 Mars flyby mission. The Space.com report as well as those appearing on MSNBC, Space Politics and elsewhere run contrary to his claim. It wasn’t the Senate or NASA looking for a reason to “justify” the Space Launch System – it was a NewSpace entity reaching out to NASA to use SLS and Orion to complete the stunt of sending a couple around Mars. Both the host as well as the interviewee share a laugh as this falsehood is allowed to pass as fact. Stating events how they actually took place would have proven inconvenient given the nature of the interview.

Mr. Higginbotham asks if we should still fund SLS rather than let commercial companies such as his employer do it. The question he doesn’t address is – do it for who? Who would be the customer? NASA is the only customer and the space agency is still waiting for commercial companies to send a single human being into orbit, much less to the Moon or Mars. While the unmanned cargo missions that have started to occur are lauded by host and guest, the fact no astronauts have ever flown on these commercial craft is downplayed.

During his interview Boozer suggests that the Dragon spacecraft or Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser might be able to return from a near-Earth-asteroid mission – but Orion wouldn’t. He states this is due to the fact that it is based on the type of heat shield which conducted the only crewed mission to another world, Apollo, isn’t up to the task. He sums up his opinion by calling the use of this proven system “ridiculous.”

What might be considered “ridiculous” is getting the fact that it was Inspiration Mars who reached out to NASA and not the other way around wrong. Boozer follows this by using the comment: “…there’s a reality-distortion field surrounding SLS.” Well, he got that right, given he can’t get basic facts like who approached who correct? – and that two SpaceX employees are promoting his comments? That’s definitely distorted.

Boozer implies systems built by companies with no experience launching humans into space will do better than the space agency and supporting firms who have launched hundreds of astronauts into the black. Moreover he restates the sentiment NASA doesn’t want SLS.

Having interviewed NASA officials such as the agency’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Dan Dumbacher and the NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, William Gertenmaier? The refrain employed by Boozer that NASA didn’t “want” SLS – bears little resemblance with what these officials have stated repeatedly. In fairness, they work for NASA and therefore can’t be expected to speak ill of the program of record. More on fairness later.

Boozer continues by suggesting the Orion which will fly the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is a lesser version of the spacecraft which will one day carry crews for reasons; “he won’t get into right now.” Could it be it’s an unmanned test flight and doesn’t need the environmental systems he mentions? There was no need to try and mislead folks into thinking the EFT-1 Orion was different for any reason other than to fit the requirements of the mission it was built for. So why do so? Moreover why didn’t Higginbotham do his job as a “journalist” and call him on this?

It’s obvious the guest has issues with SLS and Orion, rather than address errors stated by Boozer the host allows them to pass. Why? If you’re going to produce an interview shouldn’t you want to at least appear to be unbiased? The reason is as simple as it is appalling.

The definition of “Conflict of Interest” is: “A set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.” One could argue working for a company which has competed for contracts for a project would preclude one from posting an interview with someone actively speaking out against your employer’s competition.

The real issue here isn’t just one of integrity or honesty, it’s money. NewSpacers want SLS and Orion’s funds. Here’s the thing – preferential treatment, one way or the other – is wrong. The system in place now has funds going to Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew and funds going to exploration efforts. Boozer? Is arguing against this, he wants funds to all go to commercial companies, at least those he personally approves of. NASA’s current path, is far from perfect. But at least it makes sense.

What if another commercial company had won the contract, say RocketPlane Kistler? Where would we be then? Well, given this has already happened, and that Kistler went bankrupt – the answer to the question is obvious. You don’t give a massive, prestige-laden assignment to a company that has little experience in these matters, has no launch vehicle of the class required and has only conducted orbital, unmanned flights in the past two years. You give them to those who have been involved with every crewed flight the U.S. has conducted. Why? Because of the lessons taught to us by the demise of Kistler and others. Much as some wish it wasn’t – experience matters.

NASA should serve as a pathfinder, with commercial companies taking over operations that NASA has left behind. This sums up current LEO operations. When the space agency goes to an asteroid and then Mars? Once they’ve laid the groundwork for you to follow – then they can take over. But not before and certainly not before they’ve even conducted a single crewed orbital mission. If Boozer wants to discuss “ridiculous” – he need look no further than his suggestion that the inverse is true.

So, are these people to be taken seriously? Given they ask: “Our question: can the Space Launch System survive in a marketplace where private space can do it cheaper, faster and better?” – the answer is “no.” Why? Because no commercial firm has shown they can produce an SLS-class vehicle cheaper, faster or better. The question puts the cart before the horse. Moreover, those three words? Not the best choice.

For those who pay attention to space history – we know better than to ever use the terms faster, better and cheaper together in a sentence. Faster is how NASA’s Mars Polar Lander ended up scattered across the Martian terrain, better is how CONTOUR became debris adrift in space and cheaper is how Mars Climate Orbiter incinerated itself in the Martian atmosphere. History is a great teacher if you actually take the time to learn the lessons. Sure, I might be stretching the facts in that regard a bit to make a point. However, in comparison to Boozer’s comments? I might as well be religiously adherent to these events.

To answer the show’s question – no private space won’t “kill” the Space Launch System – “private space” is a little preoccupied cashing the checks NASA is sending to them - of which Mr. Higginbotham is paid. Even SpaceX’s CEO and Founder, Elon Musk, has taken to thanking the space agency that has made many of his efforts possible. Perhaps he should have a chat with his employee.

To his credit, Higginbotham queries Boozer, regarding concerns about commercial firms. However, this is cursory, the overall narrative is commercial is the “only” way. All the pre-show notations about the “views of this program” don’t remove the responsibility to be unbiased from Higginbotham’s shoulders. While we have surrendered to the fact the media is no longer unbiased, this level of biased behavior displayed in this interview – is hard to stomach, let alone watch. Watching Higginbotham and Boozer laugh, acknowledging he’s an employee of one of the groups who could benefit from SLS’ cancellation? – is disappointing. You can either be a journalist, tasked with telling the story in as unbiased a fashion as possible – or you can be a SpaceX employee – you can’t be both.

The real tragedy here is there are a few issues which Boozer raises which bear hearing out. However, this is drowned out in the ensuing anti-SLS campaign. Coupled with the fact the host works for one of the firms that would likely benefit from the downfall of SLS and that the guest is willing to misrepresent facts to save the NewSpace “brand” embarrassment? None of what comes out of the interview is of value. It must be regarded as tainted and therefore discounted.

The reason is simple. Would a Boeing or Lockheed-Martin employee and their spouse (the show’s co-host Cariann Higginbotham is also employed by SpaceX) be taken seriously after hosting a show critical of the competition? Imagine how the NewSpace fan base would react – I wager they would be apoplectic.

Higginbotham’s complicity is increased when he asks if voters will turn on Congress for voting to “waste” $9 billion on SLS. I found myself wondering – why he didn’t mention the $14 billion President Obama “wasted” when he cancelled the Constellation Program? Why didn’t he show some journalistic integrity and ask that? Perhaps it’s only okay to waste billions when your side benefits. It’s a double standard which runs throughout the NewSpace movement.

You can’t produce something for journalistic purposes while working for Boeing, Lockheed-Martin – or SpaceX. The under-the-breath snickers, eye-rolls and sounds of derision replete throughout Higginbotham’s comments detail more eloquently why not - better than anything I could ever write.

 

The opinions expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider.

 

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Jason Rhian

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

11 reader comments

saltandvinegar

I haven’t actually watched the interview but if that is how it went down it sounds completely unprofessional. The fact that SLS is on time and on budget (as far as I know) goes to show the success of this program so far, that is disregarding the fact that Inspiration Mars wants to use it. SpaceX as awesome as they’ve been the last little while is going to have to provide a rocket to do what SLS will do before NASA should even think about considering a cancellation of the program and throwing money at them.

John Strickland

As another opponent of the SLS, I have never seen Rick Boozer mislead or use misrepresentation in his articles or book. I would not see why Rick would be opposed to NASA. Until Elon Musk has over $50 billion at his personal disposal, the only entity which could afford a Mars Mission is NASA. In opposing the SLS, we are not trying to hurt NASA, we are trying to keep it from continuing to go down the wrong path. NASA’s unmanned program is also vital – our eyes and ears to see where to land and set up a base on Mars.

Building the wrong rocket on time and on budget does not make it the right rocket. We do need an HLV, we just cannot afford an EXPENDABLE HLV, especially one that will take over a decade to develop fully and in so doing, will suck up all the money that could be used to develop payloads for it. The current SLS problem is primarily caused by Congress, not NASA. NASA is just doing what the Congress has passed as law. Otherwise it would be defunded.

In the current context of the crisis over the Ukraine, I wonder if Congress will ever realize that by starving the commercial crew program, it has left us at the mercy of the Russians to get our crews to and from the space station. Even though the Russian vehicles are much safer and cheaper than the Shuttle, we should by now have had a capsule ready to carry crew to orbit and back. The SLS has consistently been fully funded, while the commercial crew program has been cut as much as 50% over the last several years.

I also would not characterize the various attempts to promote a Mars flyby as originating from “NewSpace”. NewSpace leaders typically support private launches and reusable vehicles. The SLS is neither, which is why it is like concrete overshoes for NASA.

With a fully reusable booster, and reusable spacecraft, we would be able to set up a transport system that would allow Mars landings, not just flybys, by about 2025-2030. Past cost estimates for human Mars missions have been in the hundreds of billions since they rely exclusively on expendable boosters and expendable spacecraft. This attitude must stop if we are to afford any Mars missions.

Kistler had a good idea, but it failed due to reliance on investors. Few investors are willing to put their money into Rocket Science. Think about it!
The successful second generation of space entrepreneurs had their own money, and did not have to waste time looking for investors.

Note that all of the SpaceX efforts to develop a reusable rocket are NOT funded at all by NASA. Only the Air Force and Darpa are currently working on reusability. The current cargo delivery program is not a cost-plus program; SpaceX only gets paid if they deliver. Current estimates show that just recovering the first stage of the Falcon 9R would cut launch costs in half, down close to the $1000 dollars a pound mark. A fully reusable Falcon Heavy would approach an astonishing $200 per pound to LEO.

At some point before the SLS ever flies a crew, there will be reusable rockets flying at a tiny fraction of the cost of an SLS. Watch what the Congress does then.
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Mr. Strickland,
Thank you for your response.
If you want to see Mr. Boozer mislead – watch the “interview.” Some of his points are valid – however, given the context, the “adaptions” of fact, the unprofessional nature of some of his comments and the forum? Boozer’s views are not worth considering. The first mission to Mars will need to be an international not funded by a billionaire. A Cult of Personality is not the basis of a space program.

The SLS “problem” was created by Obama. Congress was correct in not allowing him to waste the $14 billion invested in CxP. It’d have been better to just reorganize what was there, restructure it. But, no, he tried to cancel everything. But that’s okay right? because that “waste” supported NewSpace’s goals. That’s a double-standard.

Yes, we need CCP & CRS to be adequately funded. However, we also need a exploration program. Funding a few companies to “achieve” what NASA has done since 1962? Not inspiring. The reason to have CRS & CCP – is to maintain a LEO presence.

As to commercial finding it’s budget cut. Maybe, if NewSpace supporters had worked to build bridges instead of burning them, maybe there would be some pity for them. But the NewSpace base – behaves poorly. They needs to stop biting the hand that funds it.

Of course you wouldn’t call Inspiration Mars NewSpace, considering Tito stated SLS & Orion are needed. It punctures a hole in so many a NewSpace argument. NewSpace redefines itself daily. Sorry, Inspiration Mars is NewSpace.

Can you name a reusable commercial spacecraft which has carried at least one astronaut into LEO? If we’re going to give one of “your” companies SLS’ funds they should at least have done that once. You’re arguing one of “your” companies should be given the task of sending crews to Mars, a place no one has even been. However, you gloss over the fact those you’d give this tremendous task – have no experience flying crews whatsoever.

Since you mentioned “second” generation NewSpacers why not tell our readers what happened to the first. If they have their own money and don’t need funding – why is it they’re so intent on getting those contracts? For that matter, why not just go to Mars without NASA? Tito told the truth. NewSpace needs NASA.

When the current batch of contenders begin launching crews to orbit, when they prove they have the staying power & acumen to accomplish that? Then they will have earned a chance to bid on larger contracts – not before – experience matters.

I’m glad you mention SpaceX & reusability. How many F9 launches have been recovered & reused to date? Again Mr. Strickland, you state what they “want” to do as if it already has happened. For those of us who follow space matters – it isn’t about what a group SAYS they’re going to do – it’s about what they’ve done. Having said that? SpaceX has a fine trait of accomplishing their objectives. They might achieve their reusability efforts as well – but they’ll be tallied after they actually happen.

I have been watching. I watched two SpaceX employees do something unethical. I watched as some facts & issues about SLS which need to be addressed were drowned out in an anti-SLS snark fest. What it told me was, if this is NewSpace? It has a long way to go. I never issue prophecies as you’ve with your comment about reusable rockets. The reason? No one knows the future. Today’s SpaceX can be tomorrow’s Rotary Rocket Company or Kistler or…

Due to the conflict of interest issues raised, it might seem I’m pro SLS – I’m not. As a journalist I try to be as fair and unbiased as I can. Which is why what SpaceXvidcast did is so reprehensible. Boozer’s statements were a mixture of truth as well as inaccuracies. If it’d appeared on another outlet? I’d have had little trouble with the segment. However, having two SpaceX employees conduct the interview, ignore errors stated & chuckle when falsehoods were allowed to pass unchallenged – was nauseating.

The suggestion only what NewSpace does do has merit and are worthy of support? Is immature and irresponsible. I interviewed Bill Nye shortly after he railed about how the cancellation of the mismanaged and over-budget CxP was a good thing. He then argued JWST should not be cancelled just because it was mismanaged and over-budget. This seems to be chief philosophy of NewSpace – so long as it benefits them – waste is okay. So long as we can get what we want – unethical behavior is acceptable. Mr. Strickland, it doesn’t matter who does it – wrong is wrong. What Spacevidcast did was unethical. Ignoring that because it furthers NewSpace’s agenda? Is unacceptable.

When I teased the story I made it appear it was two Boeing employees who had done the interview against a NewSpace competitor. The reaction was as swift as it was vitriolic. Now that the reality of the situation emerges? Suddenly those voices no longer rise in protest, they’re silent. What this says about the standards, ethics & fairness of NewSpace – is frightening.

Mr. Strickland, just because one doesn’t tolerate unethical behavior, doesn’t make them supportive of what that behavior was against contrary to what you suggest. Moreover, this is a space news website – we’re well aware of the real and perceived flaws with SLS, with Orion, with Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo. We don’t cherry-pick an effort to support and this Op-Ed was not an attack on commercial efforts. It was meant to shine a spotlight on a direct conflict of interest, a failure of ethics & a pattern of behavior. What they did was wrong – don’t shoot the messenger.

Sincerely and with regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

You are correct to say that two wrongs don’t make a right. Everyone has a right to express their opinion – even when it does not agree with mine. The Higginbotham’s are not journalists and do not expect to be taken as such. They are simply space enthusiasts sharing their views to all who wish to visit their web site. That they chose to speak with Rick Boozer is an indication of their having like views. Remember this is the Internet and bias is everywhere – and that’s fine so long as we realize this. It is not unethical to hold differing views, even stupid ones.

Your reply to Mr. Strickland begins politely enough, but unfortunately you do not respond to his argument that the SLS is a mistake. Instead you fixate on two issues – that the Higginbotham’s are biased and that Mr. Boozer has made some errors left unchallenged (the issue of who is backing the Mars Inspiration mission). However, you totally ignore Mr. Strickland’s point. Then you launch into attacks on personality cults and inexperience.

You claim that Orion was cancelled by Obama when the record clearly shows that Congress chose to end it by a clear across-the-board vote. Congress understood that tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were being sucked down the drain and producing nothing in return. They voted to end that waste. That some legislators on powerful committees were able to secure continued funding for their districts by insisting that NASA continue working on a shuttle-derived launch vehicle, renaming it to SLS, is more a testament to pork-barreled politics than any need on America’s part to actually develop a new launch vehicle.

You are correct to say we need an exploration program, but SLS is not that program – it is a jobs program that will never take us on missions of exploration. It can’t because we can’t afford it. All the money needed to develop those missions of exploration is being used to build a big expensive rocket that will end up having no payloads.

There is simply no money to build SLS and then pay for missions to launch on it. Congress is not going to increase NASA’s budget, yet the costs are going to increase dramatically as SLS moves from paper to metal. Instead, NASA is going to have to strangle whatever exploration missions are in the pipeline to pay for SLS (which I suspect it will be unable to do anyway). Can the US really afford tens of billions and a decade of waiting to build a rocket that they then cannot afford to operate? Especially when a lower cost vehicle with similar capabilities (Falcon Heavy with a Raptor second stage) will have been flying for many years by that time.

You decry SpaceX as having little to no experience, yet they are the only ones on US soil actually developing and flying a new American rocket capable of carrying humans to orbit today. Atlas and Antares rely on Russian parts. NASA has not deigned a rocket like this in over 30 years. Lockheed Martin, the contractor for SLS, has never done this. At least SpaceX is getting their experience now. They will have more than a dozen flights under their belt before launching a crew. Sadly, NASA will have but one test flight and that will be using a different launcher and different spacecraft that what the astronauts will be using. This does not sound prudent to me. If one were to go with actual experience it seems that SpaceX would win that argument.

I realize that your views differ from mine, but the only solution that affords us a decent opportunity to have a program of space exploration is to radically cut the cost of launching rockets. Only then will funding be available to have a robust program of actual space exploration. It’s all about the money. SpaceX through competition will lead the industry to a much lower cost structure that will make the SLS look like a gold-plated rocket to nowhere in comparison.

For this reason I agree with others that SLS is the biggest roadblock to space exploration that we face today. The longer it continues the less funding we will have to develop and fly actual missions of exploration.

50 years ago NASA pioneered the art and science of modern rocketry. Congratulation to them, but we’ve been there and done that. Now it’s time for NASA to leave that legacy to the American commercial launch industry and take up the mantle of actual human space exploration.

To do this NASA needs to put it’s limited resources to greatest use by developing missions of true exploration and purchasing launch services from the American commercial launch industry at competitive prices.

NASA must look to the future and not to the past. NASA is not a rocket maker it is a space agency given the task to explore. It is high time it did so.

Mr. Quick,
I didn’t respond to Mr. Strickland’s criticisms of SLS because they’ve little to do with the op-ed. If I’m “fixated” it’s because I prefer to not be distracted. A discussion about a lack of NewSpace ethics doesn’t open the door for complaints about SLS. I didn’t “launch” into anything – I stayed on topic.

Orion wasn’t cancelled, in fact it will fly this year. You might want to get your facts straight before correcting others. The Obama Administration is the one that cancelled CxP. To your point – which Congress was in charge at that time? Which party was in charge at that time?

You appear willing to overlook what Spacevidcast did was wrong & fail to accept that once you cross that line? Nothing you say has merit. I teased this Op-Ed as being about two Boeing employees. Those who feel as you do were quick to express outrage (so much so I pulled the tread). Now? Those same individuals are silent. Mr. Quick, that’s hypocrisy.

You gloss over my repeated statements about the issues with the Space Launch System in an attempt to paint me as being pro-SLS. I’m not, but I’m a firm believer in ethical behavior. Just because someone points out bad behavior by two SpaceX employees – doesn’t mean they’re pro anything. Rather than consider this – you go into the same SLS talking points raised repeatedly before. Some are valid, some aren’t – however none are salient to the point of the editorial.

Throughout my Op-Ed & within my response to Mr. Strickland, I state there were good points raised within the “interview.” However, when it came time to acknowledge what the two SpaceX employees did was wrong – did you? Or did you write it off as two silly kids with a computer who made a mistake? Mr. Quick they aren’t two fans they’re two representatives of a company that would benefit from the cancellation of a project. It’ll be a great day when NewSpace learns to not only handle criticism – but welcome it.

Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

Sir,

I appreciate your kind response and I do understand that you remain indignant that two SpaceX employees would express opinions in a manner that you think inappropriate. However, I do not consider what they have done to be wrong in any way – biased perhaps, but not wrong. They are merely expressing their opinions in a way that is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Your conclusion that because I do not view their actions as wrong renders my words without merit is a strange bit of logic.

Thank you for kindly pointing out my error. Orion was not cancelled by the Obama administration. In my haste to reply I did not use the correct name for the program of record. What I meant to say was that Congress by a near unanimous vote (on both sides of the aisle) decided to end Constellation due to both its schedule delays and cost overruns. To lay this responsibility at the feet of the current administration is both incorrect and misleading.

I know nothing of your Boeing tease as I did not see the aforementioned thread before it was removed. For this reason, I cannot speak to the charge of hypocrisy that you invoke. But I would caution the use of such strong terms. Such verbal WMDs can point both ways.

Again you return to the issue of ethical behavior. I think all parties in the discussion will claim such behavior, even to the extent of denying it to those who hold differing views. I think it beneficial to afford a view that we can all endeavor to treat one another more ethically and recognize that there is ample room for improvement on our part as well as on the opposite side of the argument.

Let me say again – I do not see an ethical issue with the SpaceVidcast interview. Of course, it would be better if the Higginbotham’s prefaced their show with a short statement about their potential bias. But since they are not professional journalists, nor are they selling a product I see no significant ethical violation, merely an oversight. Their argument is perhaps weaker for leaving that statement out, but it is still a valid argument and permits serious discussion of the topic at hand, namely the value of SLS.

Your concern about Rick Booze’s comments are in a similar vein. That you and he may disagree over what was being proposed (space experts advocating a NASA MARS/Venus mission flyby for SLS or the public funding of a private mission to Mars by Dennis Tito’s group) is just that, a disagreement. You seem to argue that this invalidates all the Rick Boozer has to say on the topic. I disagree.

I think we all want to get past the bun and sink our teeth into the meat of this issue. Please do not allow concerns over the flavor of the “bun” to keep us from significant discussion on this important and meaty topic. I am truly interested in why you disagree with Mr. Strickland and myself over our arguments that SLS is not a good plan for NASA and the future of the American human space exploration program.

Curtis,
When one is willing to forego ethical standards, to do or say anything to get what they want? Their views don’t matter. I know having morals, adhering to ethics, to not acting reprehensibly to get your way is a “strange” concept to some. That’s the problem. Again, you bypass that this wasn’t just “two people” it was two SpaceX employees. If two of their staff are willing to misrepresent facts to aid their company’s ends? It makes other misrepresentations more likely. Integrity, honesty, ethics – are not something which should be so easily swept aside. I was taught the value of ethics at an early age and wish others had been given the same appreciation of them.

Which party was in power in Congress & by what numbers? To deny this is also incorrect & misleading, but you chide me for doing what you yourself are guilty of. Without using the word you disdain – we both know what someone who waggles his finger at someone for doing what he, himself is guilty of. As to the harshness of my words? They’re blunt, forged from 14 years in the military & law enforcement. They’re also fair.

I never left the topic of ethics. It’s how I started this conversation. While others have worked to absolve the two SpaceX employees of their responsibilities. I respectfully request you read the definition of “conflict of interest” which is contained within the Op-Ed. If you still believe what Spacevidcast did was acceptable after that? Then nothing I have to say matters.

Mr. Quick, if the “bun” is poisoned? The “meat” will soon follow. Two SpaceX employees did something unethical & you’ve invested a good deal of time to either change the subject or excuse it. I’m truly sorry you can’t accept this was more than an “oversight.” I wish I could impart upon you a standard of ethics, but in the end I’m just a journalist. If you approve of unethical behavior – that’s your choice.

I know my words are harsh, but they’ll be nothing compared to what you’ll hear the day a Dragon is lost with crew. NewSpace can either mature now, during the honeymoon period – or it can do so under the spotlight of a senate hearing. I’d suggest, when that day comes, adhering to ethical standards, paying the agency that has provided you with so much support with respect will be returned with some sympathy. Eye-rolling commentaries like the “interview” – will not. While you take my words as meant to hurt NewSpace – they’re actually meant to help. I honestly want NewSpace firms to succeed. If they have to win approval by phony, slanted & biased “interviews” – then perhaps there’s a larger problem which needs addressing. If NewSpace is so terrific – why the need for phony interviews?

If you want to have a discussion about SLS – then stay tuned. As opposed to the antics of Spacevidcast I’ll be conducting an interview with NASA officials working on SLS in the coming days. Why? Because there are more than a few talking points that keep being raised. Rather than wasting time arguing with me – you can hear what someone actually working on the project says about the concerns raised by space enthusiasts. Not only will the interview be conducted properly, professionally & in as unbiased a fashion as possible – but it actually will be the proper forum for the concerns you have raised. I hope you’ll tune in & respond then.

Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

Jason,

I forego no ethical standards. Honestly, I understand that you feel that there ethical standards broken here, but I do not agree. I see a healthy sharing of opinion that leads to a good discussion of the nature of the underlying issue. And it is that underlying issue that needs to be understood. I see no intentional misrepresentation of facts here. There is no evidence of malice or subterfuge – simply of sharing opinions. To quote Shakespeare, “Me thinks you protesteth too much.”

It is a matter of public record that Congress voted down Constellation by so huge majority (the House vote was 304 to 118 to cancel Constellation) that it cannot be considered a partisan vote. So strongly did Republicans oppose wasteful governmental spending on Constellation that nearly half of all the 179 Republican legislators crossed the party line to vote with the majority. Clearly there was no significant partisan support for Constellation. I am being neither incorrect nor misleading to point this out as you suggested. My chiding stands. Pease be careful how you point those fingers.

As far as conflict of interest goes. I understand what you are saying. However, that does not in any way abrogate the rights of those you disagree with from expressing their opinions, nor does it automatically undermine the basis of their arguments. The logic is still logic regardless of its origin. Yes, it would have been good for them to state that they were SpaceX employees, but ethics does not require this. They are not being disingenuous and you do not need to feel indignant about it. Everyone has a right to express their opinion and be taken seriously no matter who their employer is.

And by the way, I do feel that what you have to say does matter. Otherwise I would not be writing these words. Your opinion deserves to be heard just like anyone else’s.

If no one ever gets killed exploring space, we will never explore space enough to make a difference. If safety is our highest priority we should just never launch and no one will get killed. But we will also get nowhere in the process. Human life is valuable, but soldiers, policeman, and even motorists get killed everyday. There is no special reason why astronauts ought to be considered any different.

And since the first Dragon astronauts will be SpaceX employees, I don’t see any reason for there to be any “special” hearings regarding any unfortunate accidents that would be anywhere near as difficult as NASA had to bear when 3 astronauts were killed in the Apollo 1 fire, or 7 killed on Challenger, or 7 more killed on Columbia. As far as I can see SpaceX has a lot cleaner of a slate than NASA in this regard. They have designed Falcon and Dragon to be the safest spaceflight system yet devised. I see no reason why their designs and careful preparation should be dismissed or ridiculed.

I will stay tuned to hear your interview. I would be pleased if you could ask a few questions on my behalf.

- One question would be how the first flight of Orion will be enough to validate the spacecraft for human flight if it flies with either no ECS or a different one than will actually fly on the first crewed flight.
- A second question would be how the weight problems on Orion have affected the program scheduling and whether the are still any parachute issues.
- A third question would be what is the current schedule for the first launch of SLS and how scheduling will be affected if the SLS budget does not increase.
- A fourth question would be how many missions have been approved and funded for SLS to launch
- A fifth question would be how many engineers who designed the Saturn V or the Space Shuttle systems are currently involved in the design of SLS.
- A sixth question would be how well the Orion heat shield could handle a return from deep space (say Mars or Venus) given that it was designed to handle lunar return.
- A seventh question would be what the NASA engineer thinks of the Falcon Heavy due to launch later this year, at least seven years before SLS. And of the Raptor second stage that is designed to increase the launch capability of FH to SLS levels.

I guess that’s enough for now, perhaps I can send you some more questions later?

Hi Curtis,

Again, 2 SpaceX employees… It’s appears from your comments, you’re not looking at this as objectively as others which explains your willingness to absolve. To quote Rhian: “Me thinks you excuse too much.” Personal responsibility & accountability, again I know; “strange” concepts.

I neither dismiss nor ridicule Dragon or F9. It wasn’t me who came up with the terms: “rocket to nowhere” & “Senate Launch System” – was it? Who really is being dismissive? Who in actuality is ridiculing a launch system? Again, you accuse that which your “side” is guilty of. Anyway, I’ve said my peace. Moving on to other things now.

Some of your questions are already on my list. I listen to the concerns of numerous folks & then select those thoughts which repeatedly crop up.

Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

You have expressed your views clearly and I think I understand them reasonably well. However, as the non-biased space enthusiast/ journalist that you identify yourself as, I would really value learning your views on SLS. I have been most impolitely dismissed in the past by fans of SLS and agreed with by many who do not favor SLS, but I have yet to hear a response from those who feel they are unbiased on this topic. Again, I would greatly appreciate hearing your responses to my arguments.

Hi Curtis,
I’m just as flawed as anyone else – in some cases more so. However, last evening we had a staff meeting. This Op-Ed came up. I stated if I were to be employed by LMCO, NASA, SpaceX – whoever – I’d resign & hand the company over to our editor. Why? Because there would be no way I could be unbiased & for me to continue on would be unprofessional & unethical. Consider this. Spacevidcast allowed criticisms of SLS – would they do the same of Falcon 9? I’m confident the Higginbothams wouldn’t.

I won’t dismiss you or your arguments as they have value. To touch on your request? I’m not sold on SLS but still uncomfortable with NewSpace. My concerns with them are mainly about their culture. Having said that? This Op-Ed? Should’ve had NewSpace fans responding in droves. It didn’t. As I state in the Op-Ed, it seems they got the memo their former behavior was less than helpful & the movement is maturing. That gives me hope. Once one of these companies demonstrate the capability they can reliably launch crews to LEO & develop a heavy-lift booster somewhat close to SLS (the F Heavy has been estimated as needing to conduct as many as 40 launches to compete with 7 or so launches of SLS) – I think that’ll be the time SLS will need to be reviewed, reconsidered & more importantly reopened for bidding. That hasn’t happened yet & I’m uncomfortable with the idea of having folks who haven’t launched a single person to LEO, let alone the Moon or Mars, get that contract.

I hope to use some of your concerns whenever NASA schedules the interview. I’m also hoping to see your concerns reposted when that article airs. It’ll be the right time & place.
Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

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