Spaceflight Insider

OPINION: How NASA became a ping-pong ball

NASA has been directed to undertake the same basic policy - it had been directed AWAY from seven years ago. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA has been directed to undertake the same basic policy it had been directed AWAY from seven years ago. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

For three decades, NASA’s human space flight program was in a secure, albeit uninspiring, trajectory – low-Earth orbit. The loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and her seven-member crew on Feb. 1, 2003, changed all that. The Shuttle era was set to end and the agency would discover there’s something even more dangerous than re-entering Earth’s atmosphere with damaged heat tiles – politicians.

After the loss of Columbia on mission STS-107, George W. Bush directed NASA to restore its ability to send astronauts to the Moon in 2004 so that they could develop the methods and technologies to send crews to Mars and then beyond. Moon, Mars, and Beyond would go on to become the mantra of the Vision for Space Exploration, the guiding plan for the agency’s Constellation Program which was initiated to fulfill Bush’s directive.

Bush’s 2005 Budget Request for the space agency saw an almost six percent increase in the agency’s budget. The space agency provided initial estimates that Constellation would cost approximately $230 billion. However, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, “unsolved technical and design challenges” made it impossible for the agency to provide a conclusive estimate. It turns out restoring abilities lost more than three decades earlier would require substantial investment. Who knew?

There was an additional hitch: Bush didn’t follow through with this initiative. Bush’s subsequent budget proposal requests didn’t provide the agency with the funds required to bring the Orion spacecraft, Altair lander, and the Ares I and Ares V rockets into service. According to, subsequent budget requests failed to even keep up with inflation. NASA, in order to balance its budget, was forced to cut spending on science programs in order to extend the development of the Ares I and Ares V rockets. This rankled former Senator and astronaut John H. Glenn (D-Ohio) who worked with Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to provide NASA with an additional $2.8–3 billion to help the space agency continue flying the Space Shuttle until Orion and Ares came online. NASA needed additional funding.

According to a report written by the Planetary Society, NASA had less than half of the budget it had during the Apollo Program that saw crews set foot on the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Worst still? It had none of the infrastructure or systems in place. All of those were lost when NASA had the ability to send astronauts beyond Earth taken from them and were directed to develop the Space Shuttle.

When an agency can build the infrastructure and send crews to the Moon within eight years (President Kennedy announced his plans to send astronauts to the Moon on May 25, 1961, with Neil Armstrong’s first steps there taking place in July of 1969), but can’t even get one crew-rated spacecraft to fly astronauts to low-Earth orbit within 19 years (the current date of Orion’s first crewed flight is 2023), what more needs to be said? NASA developed and flew not one but four crew-rated spacecraft and five crew-rated rockets in that same eight-year time span.

The fault isn’t NASA’s or their contractors. NASA had the Apollo infrastructure taken from them; its remaining Saturn V Moon rockets collect dust at tourist destinations – just as the space shuttles now do.

The shuttles were only half of what space visionary Wernher von Braun had imagined. With a space station and a shuttle working as an orbital platform, as well as a shipyard, from which crews would travel to Mars, the Shuttle-Station duo was to be how NASA would go from sending astronauts to the Moon – to sending them to Mars. He wanted to begin laying out infrastructure that could be built upon to allow humanity to explore our Solar System.

It wasn’t to be.

President Nixon told NASA they could have the Space Shuttle or a space station, but not both. The shuttle would fly for 17 years before it had a place to fly to, and it required the participation of 15 additional nations to make that possible. The station, parts of which were on orbit for half a decade, saw the other half of von Braun’s vision for crewed Mars exploration breathe its last when the second shuttle to be lost, Columbia, disintegrated in the skies above Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. NASA went from not having one element of this equation to losing the second half. First, the agency had a spacecraft with no place to go to; now it had a station – but no way to send astronauts to it.

The agency was told to send crews, as the Vision for Space Exploration stated, “[…] to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.” However, they wouldn’t be allowed to finish that either.

With the required funding denied to the Constellation Program, it stalled and, as is likely to happen every 4–8 years in Washington D.C., the presidency changed hands from Republicans to Democrats.

Broken promises

On the 2008 presidential campaign trail, then-candidate Barack H. Obama stated he wanted to shelve the Constellation Program for five years and, instead, redirect the funds (which would have been enabled NASA to return to the Moon) for his $18 billion educational programs, as was noted in this report on

Politicians from key “space” states stepped in. If the Illinois senator wanted their support, he’d have to support space. He traveled to and spoke at Brevard County, Florida, on Aug. 2, 2008. While there, he stated he’d support their efforts for the agency to travel to “the Moon, Mars and beyond.” Sound familiar? Some will try and convince you that, those present, should have “parsed” the politician’s words. For those who believed in Obama and “Hope and Change”, the betrayal that came must have seemed harsh. It shouldn’t have been. He told them, via his earlier announcement, exactly what he wanted to do.

Video courtesy of WordsmithFL

During Obama’s first inaugural parade, NASA was positioned dead last – even behind the “world famous” U.S. Lawn Rangers and their brightly colored lawn mowers. Ouch. Contrary to Obama’s promises in the video above, NASA would do anything but “inspire the world” and, nearly a decade after his promises, the space agency is still buying flights to the International Space Station from Russia to the tune of $70 million per seat.

The second Augustine Commission was formed by the Obama Administration in 2009. It was a commission that, by its design, was limited in what it could propose. So, the “flexible path” was suggested. Under this, NASA was unable to return to the Moon or eventually send crews to Mars. Rather than reorganize the program, have more commercial elements and other initiatives incorporated into it, NASA was left only one option: cancel Constellation and make no effort to utilize the six years of work and roughly $9 billion already invested in it.

Under Obama’s 2010 Budget Proposal, Constellation was canceled and the agency would develop technologies for space exploration. It is unsure how this redirection would “inspire the world.” Obama’s view of NASA appeared to be to make it as irrelevant as possible, to have it make Muslims feel good about their contributions to science, to provide jobs, to feed starving children in other nations, and to combat global warming. In short? Under Obama, the agency would do everything but send crews to explore our Solar System.

This didn’t go over well, so President Obama paid a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010. Its workforce was largely kept away from the Operations and Checkout building where he made his remarks. He announced that all of NASA’s crewed space exploration efforts would be shelved, but he threw in an Orion spacecraft as a lifeboat to the ISS as a consolation prize (oddly, there was no mention of how the spacecraft would get there, as the rocket that was being developed to launch it was also canceled). One of the more ill-spoken things Obama said during his remarks was that, regarding the Moon, is that we’d “been there.” This is the view of a tourist, and, for comparison, suggesting that someone who visits a small town in South Carolina has “been to” the United States emphasizes how poorly thought out his comment was.

Making matters worse, he stated NASA would conduct what would come to be called “Asteroid Redirect Mission.” An asteroid, or part of one, would be towed to lunar orbit by a robot and then crews would travel to the asteroid. Obama’s ‘directive’ received tepid applause from those in attendance. Essentially, ARM was a proposal to inflate a kiddie pool in front of the Atlantic Ocean. The project made no sense and Obama went down as the “anywhere but the Moon” president.

In a rare show of leadership, Congress opted to keep parts of Constellation going. While fans of commercial space efforts wanted these projects scrapped and the funds to go to their favorite companies, the legislature opted to not keep all its eggs in one basket. Orion would survive and a new rocket – one largely based on the Ares V concept, now called the Space Launch System or “SLS” – was established. However, Orion and SLS really didn’t have a clear destination; it was suggested they would be used for ARM. Obama’s space policy was vague, confused and it left the agency in a tailspin.

With the VSE and Constellation canceled, these vehicles were deemed as having no destination to go to. Enter NASA’s “Journey to Mars.” Something that the U.S. space agency has labored under, with no clear leadership or directive from the White House during the Obama years. In a July 2017 report appearing on Ars Technica, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William Gerstenmaier, admitted the agency couldn’t afford to land crews on Mars. 

Between 2010 and Obama’s departure in 2016, NASA generally saw its budget frozen at the previous year’s level, or with decreases to its planetary missions, or its efforts directed to bolster commercial programs. However, what of the vision that Obama promised would inspire the world? That was nowhere to be found. Instead, the divisions within the space community widened and the crewed space flight gap became an ever-increasing abyss.

While bold proclamations, proposals, directives, and photo ops provide hope for some, they shouldn't – there have been so many of them over the past 13 years that have directed NASA back and forth. They are now meaningless, and when they are announced, they should fill space enthusiasts with dread. Images Credit: NASA

While bold proclamations, proposals, directives, and photo ops provide hope for some, they shouldn’t – there have been so many of them over the past 13 years that have directed NASA back and forth. They are now meaningless, and when they are announced, they should fill space enthusiasts with dread. Images Credit: NASA

Here we go again

This week, President Donald J. Trump directed NASA to do… the same thing President George W. Bush directed them to do in 2004. Perhaps Trump will actually provide the proper funding for his Space Policy Directive 1. However, as it stands now, the level of déjà vu on NASA’s current plight is discouraging. According to a report appearing on Business Insider, Trump ordered NASA to start what it had been working on eight years ago – but he has cut the space agency’s budget to an “all-time low.”

For some reason, there’s been little notice that Trump’s Space Policy Directive 1 directs NASA to do what the agency was told to stop doing in 2010. One wonders if the next president cancels Space Policy Directive 1 and directs NASA to tug an asteroid into lunar orbit – if anyone would remember that the agency had been working on that before they had been told to stop doing that. Since 2003, NASA has had at least four directives and it’s likely, with the coming of a new administration, it will add a fifth one to that number. One wonders how far Space Policy Directive 1 will get before it too is canceled.

NASA is now an agency adrift, incapable of accomplishing the various directives laid out in front of it. Any initiative should be viewed as a temporary farce, something the next administration will cancel and all the work that NASA employees and contractors do will end up going nowhere.

As noted, when Obama canceled Constellation, the agency had been working on the program for about six years and had already invested about $9 billion. He could have placed a cap on the program’s spending and order it to be restructured as the James Webb Space Telescope was. Orion could have been renamed the Obama spacecraft and it still would have been better than just canceling everything and wasting years’ worth of work, changes to the very landscape at Kennedy Space Center, and the $9 billion already invested. The level of waste involved in Obama’s decision wasn’t even the worst part – it was the precedent it set.

The worst thing

Many inside the space ‘community’ feared that every 4–8 years NASA would be redirected somewhere else. What President Trump has done is to confirm these fears. He’s (re)directed NASA back to the path it was on before Obama was in charge.

Was what NASA was doing under Obama perfect? No, but it was showing signs of working. Commercial companies were starting to handle low-Earth orbit operations and the agency was (slowly) meeting milestones as it prepared to restore its ability to travel beyond LEO. The two-pronged approach to space exploration was showing signs it could work. Sure NewSpace fans hated it and wanted the contracts all for themselves, but, for all their other failings, the politicians weren’t listening. It was far from perfect – but it was working (more or less).

Now? NASA has been given the following message: “What you’re working on now likely will be canceled every four-to-eight years.” NASA has been presented with a constantly-changing target. The agency is unlikely to achieve much of anything in terms of crewed deep space exploration. As one News Chief at the KSC Press Site once told his staff: “Most of you work under the ‘here-after’ philosophy. You keep your heads down, comfortable in the knowledge you’ll be ‘here’ ‘after’ the current elected officials are gone.”

Who is to blame?

During the Apollo years, NASA went through three presidents, two Democrats (Kennedy and Johnson) and one Republican (Nixon). The difference between now and then is the “Apollo Presidents” didn’t try to erase what their predecessors had established. As sad as the end of Apollo was, at least the presidents of that time allowed them to finish. Recent U.S. leaders – won’t even allow NASA to do that.

Bush didn’t provide the resources needed, and, in so doing, provided Obama with the excuse to cancel everything – which then led to Congress stepping in. Now? Trump has directed NASA to return to what it had been working on seven years ago and, in so doing, officially cancel what the agency had been working on under Obama. The pattern has begun and, rather than set partisanship aside, it is more likely that we’re now in a set pattern. Don’t like the current path NASA has been (re)directed on? Don’t worry, the next president will change it, then the next one will change that, and on and on. What’s NASA’s actual new ‘vision?’ It is to spite the other side.

Who’s to blame for this? Republicans are. Democrats are. We all are. We let this happen, and rather than come together and fight for a coherent long-term space policy, we side with conservatives or liberals because of party politics. NASA’s last Administrator, Charles Bolden, a former U.S. Marine Corps General, could have stayed and fought for the agency when Trump was elected. Rather, he appears to have played party politics, fleeing the agency when it was announced Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton. It was Bolden that made the comments about how NASA would work to bolster Islamic pride in the religion’s past contributions to science during an interview on Al Jazeera.

Video courtesy of Al Jazeera English

As was noted on, while many laud Obama’s support of NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Crew Programs, they (conveniently) forget that these programs were initiated under the presidency of George W. Bush. Make no bones about it, NASA’s commercial efforts are a win for the agency, but both Bush and Obama are to be congratulated for that. Does that ever happen? No. Therein lies the problem. It’s pretended as if only one ‘side’ or the other is responsible for certain things, when, in many cases, this simply isn’t true.

So, while it’s correct to state Bush (43rd president) is to blame for NASA’s current state, so too it is true that Obamanauts are actuality “Obama-nots” and Trump’s recent actions are furthering a precedent set by both Bush and Obama. There’s a lesson here if we’re willing to learn it. Both sides are to blame, and both are furthering the partisanship that will ensure NASA’s greatest days are behind it. While it would be wonderful to see both sides of the political aisle stand behind NASA, it’s far more likely that they will highlight the failings of their opposition while ignoring their own.

In the end, it will be likely some time before the United States sends crews beyond Earth, and anyone who tells you this president or that political body is to blame is, in their own way, responsible. Who is to blame for NASA’s irrelevancy? It’s the person who likes to point fingers but fails to save one for themselves. The U.S. is a deeply divided nation and pretending that doesn’t extend to the nation’s space agency isn’t just ignorant, it’s intentionally dishonest. NASA became a political ping-pong ball because we let it.

Will this editorial make anyone consider their part in the death of NASA? Of course not. What will happen is individuals will point out what Bush got wrong or what they think Obama got right or how bad Trump is. It will never occur to them that maybe, just maybe, NASA’s passing was caused by us – all of us. So, what point is there in drafting this Op-Ed? It will likely only cause people to redouble their efforts to “prove” that their side is ‘right’ and the other side is ‘wrong.’ Having acknowledged that, it’s important, that it is publicly stated how both sides are responsible for the downfall of NASA.

Ad astra per aspera – propter rei publicae


The views expressed in this editorial, although sourced, are solely those of the author and do not, necessarily, reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider




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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

The Moon was always the place to go.

Debatable, but not really the point of this article. The point was that the program wasn’t funded at the right levels. But I’d add that Ares I plus Ares V was a disastrous choice to push as an engineering solution to manned space transportation. This was forced upon NASA by then NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

You have a different view of the point of this article than I do obviously. I consider NASA abandoning lunar exploration and now being pulled back in that direction to be exactly the point.

First, presidential appointees have to submit their resignations when the new President comes in. Given what happened in other agencies, if Bolden had not done so, Trump would’ve asked him to leave, as he did with most Obama appointees.

Second — I don’t understand what’s wrong with NASA reminding Muslim populations of Islamic accomplishments in astronomy — which were awesome. Maybe if enough of them reflect on that they’ll maybe stop blowing stuff up? What does it cost to convey that message?

Gumbozo1953 To your ‘first’ point: Daniel Goldin was NASA Administrator under Presidents Bush and Clinton. At best, there’s a precedent your statement is wrong. At worst, you’re lying.

To your ‘second’ point. NASA’s most important goal should be to make Muslims feel good? Really? How about, oh I don’t know, exploring space?

Also, did you bother to read the last paragraph? “What will happen is individuals will point out what Bush got wrong or what they think Obama got right or how bad Trump is. It will never occur to them that maybe, just maybe, NASA’s passing was caused by us – all of us. So, what point is there in drafting this Op-Ed? It will likely only cause people to redouble their efforts to “prove” that their side is ‘right’ and the other side is ‘wrong.’ Having acknowledged that, it’s important, that it is publicly stated how both sides are responsible for the downfall of NASA.”

Not only did you validate the story’s closing statement, you also lied (or proved your own ignorance, your choice). Nothing you have to say is worth listening to.

Charlie Bolden’s “Muslim outreach” must have worked since UAE has created its own space agency and will send its first ever probe to Mars, called Hope, atop Japan’s H2A rocket in 2020. Soon the UAE Space Agency will be selecting astronauts and even Boeing is collaborating with them on future projects.

Do you really believe Bolden caused the UAE to create their own space program? The only Muslim inspiration Obama created was ISIS when he pulled troops out of Iraq.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with NASA reminding Muslim populations of Islamic accomplishments-”

Perhaps the Islam parts of this article could have been left out and not generated distracting comments like yours….but it was the authors decision this was important enough to include. I will have to go along with it because everything else, everything, is absolutely on target. I do not usually do that but in this case I am completely with Jason Rhian on everything he wrote. Any American who wants to understand their space program needs to read this editorial. The most unbiased and simply the best piece I have ever read on what has happened to NASA.

“-which seems to be the overarching theme of the article.”

Funding is your overarching theme Jeffery. And funding for the SLS instead of SpaceX seems to be what you are unhappy about. It is all about you.

When I look back at the rapid progress we made from the one man Mercury capsules launching on A4/V2 derived Redstones to the ‘moon shots’ of Apollo launched by the mighty Saturn Vs, I am still amazed and impressed by the feat. It would have been wise for the long-term success of our human spaceflight program to have continued to build on the success of the Apollo Program. Those of us who are vociferous advocates of the space program often discuss the subject of ‘where did it all go wrong and who is to blame.’

A case can be made to place the ‘blame’ on every president since LBJ or Nixon depending on which way you fall politically. Dig a little deeper and the blame can be placed on the Congress. That can be a satisfying exercise as we criticize the myopic policies that were pursued and the budgets that were cut. Yet, when it comes right down to it, the blame for the state of our space program, since the glory days of Apollo, rightly belongs to the American people.

There have been a number of fine proposals made over the years especially President Bush Senior’s 1989 proposal to build a space station, return Americans to the moon and send missions to Mars by the early 21st Century. His son, President Bush, Jr., also made a bold proposal as Mr. Rhian detailed. The problem with these bold proposals is that the White House failed to spend their political capital to sway Congress and gain the support of the American people.

What robbed us of continuing on the accomplishments of Apollo still haunt us today. We continue to find ways to spend an unimaginable amount of money on war and the National Security state. The increased spending to fund the war in Vietnam brought the Apollo Program to a premature end. Nixon turned down all of NASA’s proposals to follow-up on Apollo with the exception of the Shuttle. Nixon only went along with the Shuttle so the US would still have the capability to launch Americans into LEO.

When the Vietnam War finally started to lower in intensity through Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. Nixon’s administration got caught up in Watergate and was distracted by this Constitutional Crisis. Ford came in and had to deal with the fallout from Watergate. Carter came in to clean up the mess left by Nixon and Ford and wasn’t particularly interested in dealing with the expanding costs of the Shuttle while the program fell behind projected target dates. Reagan made some great speeches and proposed the Space Station Freedom but it never saw the light of day.

The Shuttle looked promising until that cold January day in 1986 when we lost Challenger. While it finally returned to service, there were plans to replace the Shuttle with a next-generation launch vehicle. Those plans fell through over the years while the Shuttles soldiered on until Columbia was lost on reentry in 2003. The Shuttle program had to end.

Yet we are still expending our blood and treasure in our overseas military adventures with the Pentagon claiming they need even more money to add more targets. Ike warned us about the Military Industrial Complex and he was right. It is far too easy for demagogues enflame the anger of the masses as they lead the call to war. We want to see the United States return to having an assertive HSF program with rational goals matched by adequate funding over the long-term. In order to accomplish this long-cherished goal, we will need to reign in the National Security state as well as limit our military adventures abroad.

We need the right kind of political leadership, backed by funding resources adequate to the task over the long-term, and the full support of the American people to engage in a successful HSF program. I just fear I won’t see this happen in my lifetime.

Or, space advocates could finally admit to themselves that the incredible funding that NASA enjoyed during the Mercury through Apollo programs was due to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The so called Space Race was little more than a proxy war to prove the US technological, economic, and political superiority over the Soviet Union. Funding to NASA was cut in the mid 1960s when Apollo/Saturn development was starting to wind down. Yes, funding was cut significantly even before the successful Apollo 11 lunar landing. Clearly political support for such an expensive program was staring to wane.

Since the US won the Space Race with Apollo 11 and because the Cold War is long over, the political will to fund NASA at Apollo/Saturn levels simply does not exist anymore.

The only sane way forward is to focus on commercial partnerships (which pay out based on milestones) like commercial cargo and commercial crew which have proven to be 1/10th as costly as “traditional” NASA programs run as single source cost-plus style contracts. This does require some political will, which is the will to cancel the boondoggle that is SLS.

The Death-to-SLS propaganda is all about those tax dollars going to SpaceX instead. That is why there are libraries of such comments going back ever since the SLS program started.
It is simply the NewSpace mob astroturfing.

NASA is indeed in a bad state.

I can understand the frustration of the writer, but I find the introduction of the religious aspect in this story low.

What has been forgotten in this story is the fact that Barack Obama had to deal with a huge financial crisis throughout his entire period, just like us all.

Of course I wish for NASA all the best for the future

Why’d you ignore everything else in that part? It’s a sad indictment of liberals when they note certain things but ignore all the rest. Religion wasn’t an addition, it was part of a list of the non-NASA related tasks Obama directed NASA to do. It’s not low, it just highlights that Obama was trying to get NASA to do things that aligned with the liberal agenda but had nothing at all to do with what NASA is supposed to do. I think the words you were looking for were: “inconvenient” and damning”.

You know what was low? 9/11 was low. The murder of 300 children in Beslan, Russia THAT was low, the attacks in London, Paris, Nice, Copenhagen, Boston, Brussels, Turkey, Berlin, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Wurzburg, Manchester, Stockholm, Barcelona, San Bernadino and all the rest were low. This is the part where you apologize to those murdered by Muslims and politely leave.

You’re rewriting history. At the time Obama was on the campaign trail we all knew about the financial crisis. You’re suggesting he didn’t know when he made his comments Sorry but when he made his promises, he knew. The article suggests we put aside party differences to fight for space travel. It’s sad you’re not willing to do that and to misrepresent facts to cover for Obama.

Unfortunately, as I was reading this article I knew the religious aspect was going to drown out everything else. I suggest the author consider removing the religious references and reposting. If it comes back to haunt him then he can point to these comments as the reason why he revised. This is about space, not Islam.

Dec. 19, 2017

Yesterday it was brought to our attention Keith Cowing tweeted we were “spreading Islamophobia.”

The editorial in question notes how Charles Bolden, as directed by President Obama, stated in an al Jazeera interview he’d been told by Obama to reach out to the Muslim world. We’re uncertain how restating Bolden’s own words means we’re “spreading Islamophobia.” Especially considering, we include the actual interview in the editorial so viewers can hear it for themselves.

The definition of Islamophobia is: “…an intense fear or hatred of, or prejudice against, the Islamic religion or Muslims, especially when seen as a geopolitical force or the source of terrorism.”

While we understand someone who appears to have no formal training as a journalist and who was denied media credentials by NASA for several years, might be unable to comprehend the meaning of certain words, it doesn’t mean we will allow libel to go unchallenged. Libel should never be tolerated as doing so permits dishonest statements and fraudulent claims like Mr. Cowing’s to gain credibility.

We challenge anyone to explain how repeating the former NASA Administrator’s own words, and stating the U.S. Space Agency’s role should pertain to aerospace, displays an “intense fear or hatred of, or prejudice against, the Islamic religion or Muslims.” – or “fear” of anyone for that matter. Since when is restating historical fact “spreading fear?” We didn’t make those statements, Mr. Bolden did. We simply stated NASA’s job should pertain to space. The U.S. Department of State handles diplomacy and outreach – not NASA. An actual journalist would know this.

If Bolden had said Christianity, Hinduism, Buddism or Sikhism – that would have been the religion noted in our editorial because that would have been the religion Obama selected. The only reason why Islam is mentioned isn’t because we’re trying to “spread Islamophobia” – but because Bolden stated he’d been tasked to reach out to the Islamic world.

The theme of the editorial is how NASA has been given an unending stream of objectives and, in some cases, conflicting directives. We stand by our opinion that reaching out to a group, any group, in this manner – represents yet another change in the space agency’s direction.

If the libel posted was made by most anyone else, we’d have ignored it. However, it was made by someone attempting to pass himself off as a trained journalist (to the best of our knowledge Mr. Cowing lacks a degree in journalism). As such, we’re forced to address his comments.

Mr. Cowing chose to single out and misrepresent 41 words, in an editorial 3,042 words in length. The editorial in question states clearly, that we’re all to blame for the constant proclamations and cancellation of said proclamations NASA has suffered under. It says absolutely nothing at all about “fearing” anyone, not one word. One group isn’t held accountable for NASA’s current state in the editorial – everyone is. At best this means Mr. Cowing’s reading comprehension skills are in need of a serious polishing, at worst, it means he chose to make a dishonest statement in a public setting.

We noted that Mr. Cowing edited around everything in the post that totally invalidates his claims.

Claiming that our noting it isn’t NASA’s job to reach out to any religion somehow means we’re telling people to be afraid of a religion – simply has to be the stupidest thing we’ve ever read and one of the greatest acts of mental gymnastics we’ve ever seen.

As of Dec. 19, 2017 Mr. Cowing’s NASA Watch is ranked Globally at: 507,414 and in the U.S. at 92,568. SpaceFlight Insider, by comparison, is ranked Globally at: 150,711 and in the U.S. at 60,547 (the closer each number is to “1” – the higher the ranking – per NASA Watch made its first post in March of 1996. SpaceFlight Insider made its first post in September of 2013. We’re uncertain why we’re ranked higher on than Mr. Cowing’s blog, perhaps his behavior has something to do with it.

Rather than behave as Mr. Cowing has, we choose to provide you with what was said, the actual definition of Islamophobia, statistics and history. We found Mr. Cowing’s Wikipedia page helpful in this regard, as it is unique among aerospace professionals in the volume of words chosen to highlight his status: “former” “critic” “harsh” “commented negatively” “ex civil servant” and so on. Rather than invent negative things to say about Mr. Cowing, we’ll let the facts and his reputation – speak for themselves. As noted, his Wikipedia page states how NASA refused to provide him with media credentials for several years. Given his actions in this matter – we think his credentials should be pulled indefinitely. If a self-proclaimed “journalist” is willing to make factually-devoid claims – he has no place in professional journalistic circles. We regret having to make these statements, but Mr. Cowing chose to make a statement and we choose to show how it was dishonest. We also suggest that, rather than “watch NASA” perhaps Mr. Cowing would be better served by “watching” his mouth – or, in this case, his keyboard.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

That crowd has been acting badly for so long they now truly believe they are entitled to do whatever they want.

Well then I won’t sugarcoat it either. Comments from the usual suspects about the SLS are transparent.

The NewSpace mob are fraudulent space advocates. It has become clear they could care less about Human Space Flight and consider it a P.R. device. They care about one thing and one thing only: promoting the flagship company.

They have been posing as Human Space Flight supporters for close to a decade when in reality they are the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

By conflating satellite launch with Human Space Flight they have popularized this confidence scheme handing over a satellite launch company paid for with taxpayer dollars.
It is a dead end road.

A state sponsored Super Heavy Lift Vehicle program (the SLS) is the only hope of a permanent human presence Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO). The NewSpace fans have posted libraries of death-to-SLS propaganda over the years and forever inferred it best to “hand it all over to Musk” and dismantle the space agency. The astroturfing is incessant and…it never ends.

In my view the NewSpace agenda is based on a confidence swindle that on one hand pretends to be all about Human Space Flight, making us a multi-planet species, colonizing Mars, etc. while on the other hand launching satellites for profit. They have not managed to provide that cheap ride to the soon-to-die-of-old-age space station to nowhere. They used that to suck up tax dollars to build the company. My guess is no such ride will happen because that is the scam. Mars will always be ten years away and there will be no successor to the ISS. The gateway being talked about does not have the massive shielding required so nobody is going to sign off on dosing crews. It ain’t LEO anymore.

Since the first rule of NewSpace is to always scream cheap, they can simply say there is no commercial reason to do anything except launch satellites. They win any way you look at it and are actually quite shameless about their Ayn-Rand-in-space ideology if you examine the subtext of their comments. It is all a money game to them. Several sites are little more than SpaceX infomercials and I would not dignify what is posted there by calling it a “discussion”. Nothing to do with space exploration really and everything to do with the company. They want nothing to do with the Moon because it is not good for the company. The SLS is not good for the company, a Blue Moon Lander is not good for the company. Funding a lunar return instead of commercial cargo/crew is not good for the company.
See how that works?

“I can understand the frustration of the writer, but I find the introduction of the religious aspect in this story low.”

If you think it is “low” then I would say you don’t understand.

Journalists tread a fine line when they attempt to read the collective consciousness of the citizenry and that is why editorials are a no-win situation for them. They do them anyway because they know they need to be done. I voted for Obama but he was far from perfect and I only did it as the lesser of two evils. I agree with Jason that NASA had no business involving their mission with any kind of religious entanglements. He wrote it and he owns it and I can hindsight him about including it but I cannot say I would not have done something similar.

Don’t call your host low.

The real problems are: Lack of funding and lack of clear leadership. At Apollo’s height NASA was getting 2.6% of the federal budget. For the last 12 plus years, NASA has received less than 0.4% of the federal budget. As it was said back in the pre Apollo days “No Bucks, No Buck Rogers”. That was true then, and it is still true today. As to leadership in space, that ended when Kennedy was assassinated. No president since then has supplied any real leadership for space. Without very strong leadership, Congress will not supply the required funding. Today NASA is “Going Nowhere, Mighty Fast”. Prediction: In three or four years, SLS will be known as Delta V. Figure out exactly what I mean by that!

I am thinking when the SLS launches the world will give the U.S. a standing ovation. Over 9 million pounds of thrust ovation.

We will be on our way back to that prize we never should have taken our eyes off of: the Moon.

And then someone will run the numbers comparing the cost per pound to orbit of SLS versus the commercial competition. While SLS slowly plods along to its all expendable conclusion, the US has not one but two space launch companies working furiously on next generation reusable orbital launch vehicles. I’ve got my bet on at least one of these companies being far cheaper than SLS.

Scream cheap all you want Jeffrey but there is no cheap. You need a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle to go to the Moon. You are one of those people portraying yourself as promoting HSF when in reality you and your Ayn-Rand-in-space crowd are the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

“Scream cheap all you want Jeffrey but there is no cheap. You need a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle to go to the Moon.”

That sounds a lot like “you don’t need a blue rocket, you need a rectangular one”. Who has authoritatively decided that super heavy lift vehicles can’t be more affordable?

The reason the Apollo program was cancelled was that it was too expensive to operate…taking nearly 50 percent of NASA’s total budget just keep the assembly lines going and operations staff for the flight vehicles. Will have same problem for any Saturn class launch system! see; NASA Letters.

“-it was too expensive to operate…-”

This is the number one tactic used by NewSpace advocates…scream cheap.

Considering the DOD budget it is not a valid argument, never has been, and is a lie as long as hundreds of billions of dollars are poured into bombers, submarines, fighters, aircraft carriers, missiles, etc. The shuttle was not much cheaper than the Saturn V and we flew it for thirty years. We can fly the SLS for the next thirty.

The weapon systems we expend mountains of treasure on are extremely profitable mainly because they don’t really have to work that well. They need only get off the ground regularly or put to sea without sinking or be test fired successfully…occasionally. Spaceships have to work and are hard money. NewSpace has always hidden behind the standard “support the troops” response and enjoy bashing NASA as pork. The truth is NewSpace is not as cheap as the P.R. releases would have us believe. There is no cheap. They can quote all the lowball fake numbers they want about their flagship company but it is in reality a mediocre rocket that will require a “standing pork army” to support reusability schemes. It is no Moon rocket.

“Many in the aerospace community still believe the shuttle launch concept was a failure and that NASA was justified in abandoning the flight system. In an effort to restore the credibility of the shuttle launch system, I had written articles for space publications, contacted aerospace company management, and briefed members of Congress on the superior capability of the Commercial Space Shuttle (CSS).”

Still believe? It was a failure Don. No restoring any credibility there. Sorry.

Agree completely that Saturn V was cancelled due to its extremely high cost and low flight rate. SLS is repeating that mistake in an era when NASA doesn’t enjoy “Space Race” sized funding anymore. The Cold War is long over, so there is simply is no political will to fund NASA at Apollo/Saturn development levels. Consistently blaming the politicians for this seems extremely short sighted considering that NASA’s funding was significantly cut in the mid 1960s, which is well over half a century ago.

No SLS, no Human Space Flight. LEO is not really space. You either support HSF or you don’t. You don’t Jeffrey.

The editorial cites 3 Apollo presidents who supported the space program. Sorry, but it was only two, Kennedy and Johnson. Nixon cancelled the Apollo program not long after the 1969 landing. NASA had a huge layoff including civil service employees. The youngest and brightest engineers who were hired last had to go. We’ve been circling the earth ever since but with its small budget, NASA accomplishes more than any other agency! The trouble is presidents are more concerned with how they’re going to be re-elected and degrading the opposite party than what’s good for our nation and whether agencies have consistency in their direction and goals.

Donna mentions the young and bright engineers who lost their jobs because of Nixon but doesn’t mention the young and bright engineers who lost their jobs because of Obama. Apparently it’s okay when her side does it, but it’s not okay when the other side does it.
Can anyone explain how highlighting Bolden’s statements make the writer who chronicles them Islamophobic? I’m trying to see their point but just can’t.
The guy who runs Transterrestrial Musings says this article rewrote history, but doesn’t say how and claims he doesn’t have time to correct the mistakes he saw. Convenient. Of course, anyone who clicks on the links will see the reason he didn’t debate the facts in this article is because he can’t. There are about 30 sources to validate what is said including NASA, Obama, Charlie Bolden,, Wired and others.
Virtually everything written here is sourced with a link or two or with videos where you can LITERALLY hear the exact things noted in the article.
Critics ignore how Nixon, “W” and Trump are also faulted here. Instead they only focus on defending Obama and his appointees. Rhian said folks wouldn’t consider all the points raised and would just redouble their efforts to show how their side is “good” and the other side was “bad.” He was right.
Church talks about the fine line when you write an article like this. I couldn’t do it. It’s obvious Rhian went out of his way to be as fair as possible and what did he get for it? Slander, lies and folks who actually are rewriting history. If this is the new space community? The new space community is disgusting.

Pardon me, but I did not post what I said about Nixon ending the Apollo program as a political statement I am an independent voter. I stated the fact regarding the layoff under Nixon’s administration to point out that there were NOT three presidents who supported the Apollo program. While Nixon was in office during the first moon landing in 1969, none of us employees were happy that his name would be on the plague flown on the LEM. I worked at NASA Houston at the time and until 1988 so I certainly knew what transpired. I merely stated a fact.

Yet you neglected to mention those fired under Obama which suggests party politics. No you stated SOME facts while ignoring others and by making false claims about what this story says. You know folks who were fired because of Nixon? Congratulations! I knew loads who were fired thanks to Obama. You want to be pardoned? Read the last paragraph!

Actually NASA’s funding was significantly cut well before 1969, so one could make the argument that even Johnson didn’t support NASA as much as people seem to think he did. Nixon just put the final nail in the coffin of Apollo/Saturn funding.

Per the article: During the Apollo years, NASA went through three presidents, two Democrats (Kennedy and Johnson) and one Republican (Nixon). The difference between now and then is the “Apollo Presidents” didn’t try to erase what their predecessors had established. As sad as the end of Apollo was, at least the presidents of that time allowed them to finish. Recent U.S. leaders – won’t even allow NASA to do that.

The article doesn’t say the three supported the space program, it says they allowed them to finish and that they didn’t try to erase what came before. Nixon allowed them to finish sending crews to the Moon with all 6 Moon landings taking place under his tenure. The article is correct none of the three tried to erase what had come before and NASA was allowed to achieve its goal.

The writer notes that it was Nixon who told NASA to pick the shuttle or station, placing part of the blame on him. I guess if you were honest and acknowledged that, it would’ve deflated whatever point you were trying to make.

You act like your comments contradict the article when, in reality, your comments and those in the article are the same thing and you made a false statement about what is said in order to make yourself look smart. We get it, you’re a Democrat, but making false claims only validates what this story is about. You’re playing politics and trying to make your side look good and the other side bad. Precisely what the writer said people like you would do. In short, outside of making yourself look foolish, the only thing you shown is that you either can’t read or are willing to reinterpret what was said for your own political beliefs. I guess the writer should thank you as you’ve proved his point.

What happens to NASA is no different than what the military has to deal with. Bush sends military into Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama says to fight in Afghanistan and pull out of Iraq, but eventually they fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Then Trump wants to go after North Korea/Iran. The military has systems that can deal with any of these “destinations”. So does NASA. SLS and Orion can be applied to either Moon or Mars. Even a “lunar lander” would be applicable to multiple roles and multiple destinations including orbit-to-orbit transfers(see the in orbit towing of the CSM by the LEM during Apollo 13).

I’m sympathetic to the main argument: 1) a bit more optimistic, 2) more focused on the budget, and 3) give more weight to science missions.
Sure, Id like another Apollo type program, but not given the current size of NASA’s budget. It’s about more than just a big show. Also COTS and CCD, while starting under Bush II, continued and really expanded under Obama and are still going through Trump.
Finally, dudes, it was one interview w AlJazeera for crying out loud! Why not pick one of James Webb telling a schoolkid NASA wants to send kittens to space? Actually, that’d be a bit more relevant.

Well, “dude” I am: 1)Not optimistic with so much funding being wasted on COTS and CCD. We should abandon LEO. 2)More focused on going back to the Moon and that means the SLS. 3)Want the focus on Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit HSF-BEO.

The ping pong ball is in play. Expect to see a blitz of articles demonizing a lunar return. I am very unhappy about this.

Whie I understand your desire to examine the political causes for being “stuck in LEO” for so long, I think you missed the mark by not examining the engineering reasons.

Unfortunately, then NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had a preconceived notion that something like Ares I and Ares V were necessary. It’s my opinion that this was a terrible decision. There was a group of engineers inside NASA that thought that a better solution was a single shuttle derived launch vehicle that would require far less engineering and far less changes to manufacturing and infrastructure at KSC. It was called “Direct”, which was followed by “Direct 2.0”.

Direct would have used the shuttle SRBs as-is instead of requiring development of the five segment SRBs used by Ares I and Ares V. Furthermore, Direct proposed using SSMEs attached to a core stage which would be built using the space shuttle external tank tooling. Ares V initially proposed using RS-68 engines, whose ablatively cooled nozzles were questionable at best when used in the thermal environment at the base of Ares V. The upper stage of Direct would have used the venerable RL-10 upper stage engine while Ares chose to develop the J-2X engine (essentially a new engine).

The transition from Ares V to SLS saw the discarding of the J-2X engine, which was a waste of time and money in hindsight (as the Direct team had said all along).

So, there was *much* wrong with VSE as implemented by Mike Griffin. His dictating the technical solutions to the problems of how to get a crew and cargo into space “efficiently” have proven to be disastrous for NASA.

It was not a bad plan. Separating crew and cargo vehicles and using heritage hardware.
Sidemount was in my view the way to go and it broke my heart when they killed it. It would be flying right now.

I’m convinced that the reason for Fermi’s Paradox is that any form of intelligent life out there would have seen us go to the moon, then just stop. They must assume that we’ve devolved for some reason, perhaps assuming we’ve got a brain-wasting disease. They don’t want to catch it.

Manned space flight is essentially a national vanity project. Any account of NASA is incomplete without mentioning is main purpose – to beat the Russians. Having achieved that mission, it was inevitable that NASA would lose both direction and funding for hugely expensive manned space programs. It is essential to recognize this fact before NASA can be given a coherent and fundable set of objectives.

There is a similarity between Apollo, the shuttle and Concorde. Set up as government vanity projects with almost zero commercial relevance, they became expensive white elephants. Commercialization of space should be left to corporations. It should be remembered that the pioneers in the US were not government funded bodies, but private individuals seeking commercial opportunities.

NASA’s best direction is in science and robotic exploration, which for me is where its truly stunning achievements are. NASA can also provide seed funds and technology assistance to corporations, who are better suited for routine operations. The next likely market for manned flight is space tourism, which is really not a domain for NASA.

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