Spaceflight Insider

OPINION: What will it take to reignite U.S. interest in space?

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Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Few would dispute that NASA has been in turmoil since President Obama canceled the Constellation Program in 2010, or at least in a state of declining activity. Faced with a vague and undefined mission, inadequate funding, poor leadership, and mounting political tension with Russian, the country that’s providing astronauts with transportation to and from the International Space Station – the future for NASA looks bleak.

NASA engineer Don A. Nelson described potential, fundamental problems with the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle as such:

“…which NASA is hyping as ten times safer than the space shuttle. There is no feasible technique to design the Orion capsule to be safer than the shuttle because its small size and parachute weight limitation prevents the installation of escape pods. Every Orion crew re-entry will be in an untested capsule.” “There is a culture of optimism,” Nelson continues, “where project forecasts are knowingly made too low with the expectation that the politicians will always increase their budget to provide jobs for their constituents. Unbiased technical oversight is virtually nonexistent within NASA. There is not a united NASA, as each center has its own agenda.”

Former NASA engineer Don A. Nelson believes the Orion crew capsule is fatally flawed with unsolvable water recovery problems. Photo Credit: Don A. Nelson

Former NASA engineer Don A. Nelson believes the Orion crew capsule is fatally flawed with unsolvable water recovery problems. Photo Credit: Don A. Nelson

In 2013, Representative Bill Posey (R—FL) introduced H.R. 1446, the Reasserting American Leadership (REAL) in Space Act, which would direct NASA to return to the Moon by 2022: “to develop a sustained human presence there in order to promote exploration, commerce, science, and U.S. preeminence in space as a stepping stone for future exploration of Mars and other destinations.”

On June 24, 2013, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee, but so far there has been no vote. There seems little hope of H.R. 1446 being enacted. NASA’s mission remains in the hands of Obama, who seems more interested in golf than providing the space agency with a clear mission. However, NASA does not have time to wait on a president whose concern about these issues has been severely “under par.”

It takes a long time to build a space program, and when the next administration comes along, it’s likely things will change course yet again. In 2003 the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) pointed out that NASA’s consistently low budget, the lack of interest from the Presidents and Congresses since the Apollo Program coupled with the lack of a coherent mission had severely limited the agency’s ability.

H.R. 1446 could restore a unifying mission to NASA and would give the United States a tangible and achievable goal in space, both in the short and long term. But most people are unaware H.R. 1446 even exists, and as it has evidently not even been debated since June of 2013, most members of Congress don’t appear to even be aware of it. During the 17th Annual International Mars Society Conference held last month former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin stated bluntly, but accurately, that the United States is not a spacefaring nation. “The bottom line, for me, is that we have better stuff in museums than we have in operations today. I can’t think of another technical discipline in which that statement would be true.”

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin stated that America is not a spacefaring nation. Photo Credit: Renee Bouchard

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin stated that America is not a spacefaring nation. Photo Credit: Renee Bouchard

Is NASA beyond hope? And if so, is the United States finished as a world power in space? There are new advancements every day in private-sector space flight. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are launching payloads to the International Space Station on an impressively regular basis. Bigelow is close to launching its own inflatable space station. But those private ventures, though impressive, are mostly promissory notes. No manned Dragon spacecraft has yet flown. Bigelow’s space station is still a glossy painting in a magazine just like innumerable paintings since the inception of the space program of hardware that has never come to pass.

And none of the private companies stand a realistic chance of sending humans beyond low-Earth-orbit anytime in the near future. But then, neither does NASA. However, unlike a private corporation, NASA is not controlled by a CEO who makes all the decisions. National policy in space flight is ultimately controlled by the American people. The depressing state of our space program can therefore be attributed to the general lack of interest on the part of our own citizens. There was no national outcry when President Obama canceled Constellation, and therefore Congress made no priority of restoring it. America is, quite literally, getting the space program it deserves.

NASA has failed because we have failed to make it a national priority. It’s that simple.

Of course our democracy is not dead. We can reverse course. We can put space back on the national radar. But it will take more than the core group of space enthusiasts who read Spaceflight Insider to make it happen. And is the general public interested? Or even informed? Not judging by the reactions of the country when Constellation was shut down. Some of the blame can be placed on the news media who devote virtually no attention to space activities. But then perhaps the news outlets would report more on space if the public asked for it. They have not.

The Apollo 16 descent stage, left on the Moon in 1972. The Apollo program of the last generation represents a more advanced space program than the current one. Photo Credit: NASA

The Apollo 16 descent stage, left on the Moon in 1972. The Apollo program of the last generation represents a more advanced space program than the current one. Photo Credit: NASA

Has the U.S.  lost its appetite for space? Is the U.S. even interested anymore in the future? Only time will tell. It’s encouraging that for the first time in a decade, space-based motion pictures are appearing again, from Moon to Gravity to the upcoming Interstellar. People’s interests are reflected in pop culture. But whether they’re interested enough to pick up the political debate is quite another matter. If there was a direct correlation between public interest and politics, we might have had a mission to Mars in the late 1980s.

The inception of the space program and the ensuing race to the Moon were driven not by curiosity or the thrill of adventure or idealistic dreams of a better tomorrow…but by fear. The launch of Sputnik-1 in 1957 scared the Western world into aggressive competition with the “bad guys” in space. Once that fear faded, so did interest in space, except among a core group of aficionados.

For that reason, it might be the best thing that ever happened to our space program if China puts the next footsteps on the Moon. To paraphrase a comment attributed to racecar driver Niki Lauda in the 2013 film “Rush” – while we are certainly inspired by the actions of our friends – we seem to be driven even more – by those of our rivals.


The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not, necessarily reflect those of The SpaceFlight Group

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Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Reader Comments

OK, this is my view of the subject.
1. The moon is as boring as the Ocean is past 200 feet, which also looks like the moon. There isn’t much life down there and we have already discovered many creatures living at those depths. Also, the moon is too close to earth to provide a stepping point to Mars. We can spend the money in better ways.
2. The scientist have not come up with a good reason to go anywhere. NASA/ JPL sends impressive equipment to Mars only to do limited exploring of the planet, again boring. They need to create robots that will cover more ground in a faster way.
3. We need a station in deep space say the half way point to Mars, why? To give people a break and to provide supplies. Also, to provide safe heaven with plenty of provisions to last a year or more just in case of a emergency.
4. The reason SpaceX is doing well is because they at least have a sensible plan to get where they need to go. Which NASA has not come up with yet. Using parachutes to land is still very risky and too old fashion. We need to get smarter and be reusable. People are tired of trashing the Oceans with stages of rockets.
5. Engineers are to blame for not giving US citizens a clear goal. World society needs to stop its fighting and the US needs to stop being the policeman of the world.
6. Religious groups need to stop antagonizing other cultures, with their make believe better religious outlook.
7. The US needs to provide a cheaper College tuition for US citizens only, we need to stop paying for foreigners tuition. We need to work toward a free tuition for all US citizens, stop using this money for wars. People in the US are not interested in NASA, because they can not dream of working in that field because they can not afford the schooling. US colleges need to stop getting so greedy with the high rise in tuition.
8. NASA has done remarkable things in the past at a premium cost to the tax payer. Reaching out to private industry is a smart move in my view. If NASA still holds the purse strings and get private industry to build what they need is smart. NASA needs to recognize what companies are gouging its budget and what companies that are working more for the betterment of the US tax paying citizens. US being dependent on the Russians is a very bad move, need to stop that movement fast.
9. NASA needs to get a grip of the seeing big picture and orchestrate all things related to get us there better.
10. In the past no one on earth has achieve things faster and better than the US, however the others are learning from us we need to expect that and continue our own destiny.
11. We need to recognize our friends and work with them, they are not Russia and China.
12. I disagree with the outlook of SpaceX not being able to go beyond earth orbit. They only have been in existence for twelve years, with less of a budget than NASA. Let NASA give the money to them, so they can do more amazing things. They can do more with the same amount of money than any country in the world including the US government also any other company in the world.
13. Just because China and Russia want to go to the moon does not mean we need to as well. We have some more exploring to do on Mars, which is more exciting which will give US citizens more interest.

James, I agree with some of your points and disagree with others. But I want to specifically address your idea of a space station in deep space to provide rest and supplies.

The idea of a port of call in case of an emergency is a very appealing idea, but I don’t think it would work. Aside from the enormous expense of building it and hauling all the components way out there, I would point out that it would be enormously extravagant of fuel for a spacecraft to brake, rendezvous and dock, then set off again and accelerate back up to speed. You’re probably talking about a tenfold increase in the size of your spaceship, the addition of months of travel time, additional strain on life support systems, and a much more complicated course through the Solar System.

You might argue that a spacecraft could carry only enough fuel to get from Earth to the space station and refuel there, but where would the space station get all that fuel? It might make sense if such a station were located on a large asteroid, where fuel could be mined, but most of the other problems remain.

And how often would the orbits line up? Bad enough now with just Earth and Mars, which line up every two years or so

NASA has had visions before, but congress & the President always defund their programs just because it was started under another administration or a different political party. The Congress need to get it’s act together & give NASA what it need for a program of complete exploration(the selfish idiots).

NASA is not lacking a vision, or failing. All indications show they are an the brink of creating a commercial space industry which may allow non-government entities to gain access to it. NASA is also developing rockets to travel beyond the moon, to locations such as asteroids and mars, and will begin testing them in 2018.

Why should the average US citizen care if China were to put humans on the moon?

Why not figure out how to make space exploration directly valuable (not indirectly like through spin-offs) to the average human person?

Even if China or Russia created a lunar base and went to Mars, it would be of little consequence to Americans and what remains of the American space program. There has been a massive shift in the entire culture of America. America is all about twerking, tweeting, and “selfies”. Most Americans couldn’t name a single member of “The Original Seven”. Space exploration comes in far down on the priority list behind fixing potholes, working more for a lower standard of living, the body count from our cities on the six o’clock news, the latest cell-phone app etc. One can also toss in the famous short American attention span. After Apollo 11, the television viewing audience turned the dial in droves because as Obama said, “We’ve been there” (although every Apollo astronaut I’ve spoken with, and others, have said we definitely need to return because there is so much more to be discovered). Like it or not, the entire morale, the “volkgeist” of the American public is not that of the sixties that drove the space program. America just doesn’t care. We won. We’re number 1! We’re number 1! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Okay, now let’s move on. How many Americans know where “New Horizons” is going compared with how many know the latest about Kim and Kanye or Angelina and Brad? To drive the last nail in the coffin, we space advocates will form a circular firing squad and finish the job for the anti-space exploration crowd. Current and future posts will bear this out. Watch as this devolves into the same tired “Newspace” versus “Oldspace” arguments. “Just take the money from the old, decrepit, inefficient, cost-plus NASA and give it to the new, modern, innovative SpaceX and we’ll all go to Mars and make huge profits.” “Commercial space carpetbaggers wouldn’t exist if not for Obama’s deeply held desire to destroy NASA, they’re not “commercial” because they wouldn’t exist without NASA money, and they talk about rockets that haven’t flown and profits which haven’t been shown (at least not to Wall Street investors) as if they already exist.” So let’s go boys, Newspacers and Oldspacers, start throwing punches, but remember, only fools fight in a burning building.

This will probably be seen as overly harsh and trolling, but nonetheless…

Karol – Explain to me what NASA has done directly for the average person in the last 30 years. Not indirectly, which is always hard to prove, but directly.

Make NASA relevant to the average person, and the fire department will arrive post-haste.

That’s the problem. In order to benefit the average person directly rather than through spin-offs, it first has to get moving–which requires the support of the average person. It’s a Catch-22. It will be easy to see in retrospect–children growing up on Mars will have no difficulty answering the question “what did the space program ever do for me?” Just as most Americans probably aren’t griping about how much Columbus’s expedition cost the Spanish government. So, Houston, we have a problem.

Collin – so you are saying that with a budget of roughly 17 Billion dollars, NASA can’t position itself to benefit the average person directly?

Ferris, I do think NASA can position itself to benefit the average person directly, but it will take time and it will take money. Sometimes I think it might have already done the job if Apollo hadn’t been canceled and we’d put a base on the Moon in the 1970s or ’80s…but Apollo was a risky proposition with very primitive technology, and transitioning to the shuttle might have been the right decision.

I think it is possible, with an ambitious mission, proper leadership, public outreach, and some real accomplishments, that it can gain the necessary public support to get moving again, but it’s an uphill battle from here. Some high-profile successes, like returning to the Moon or landing a human on Mars, would gather lots of attention and excitement, and if we can stoke the momentum properly it might lead somewhere.

At the very least, if NASA was given a specific, long-term, fully funded mission with a destination, timeline, objective, and vehicle, on a locked-in budget that can’t be canceled on the whims of the next President, they might start to get something done. As long as we keep bouncing from program to program, we’re never going to get anywhere.

I wish Orion/SLS the best of luck, but I have a sinking feeling it’s headed the way of VentureStar and Constellation.


How does what you talk about directly benefit the average person? How does the average person benefit from NASA having a specific, long-term, fully funded mission with a destination, timeline, objective, and vehicle, with a guaranteed budget?

I guess it depends on what you would consider a tangible benefit and who exactly is “the average person.” Unfortunately we live in a world where a lot of people will never benefit from anything. Other people would land high-paying jobs, which is certainly a tangible benefit. And of course there are the inevitable spin-off technologies.

But I think the real tangible benefits are in the long term. If NASA (or whatever organization carries out the mission) establishes a permanent human presence in space, then there will certainly be very solid benefits. A permanent Moon base could have enormous benefits for everyone on Earth. A solar/microwave power station, for example, could mean free electricity for everyone. There’s a lot of talk about mining He-3 for fusion power, which is still something of a flight of fantasy, but the way I see it, we might as well shoot for it; it’s been argued that just the ready availability of He-3 will spur the R&D of fusion reactors. That would change everything. A nonpolluting source of almost unlimited energy. Of course then we’d have to fight the oil companies, who would quickly become enemies of all things space…but one battle at a time…

In the really long term, if it’s truly a permanent human presence (the ISS is not), then there will be a new generation born in space. On the Moon, on Mars, on a Gerard O’Neill torus, whatever. It sounds a little 1960s, but all those concepts that people have come to think of as old-fashioned are still totally viable–just more expensive and difficult than we anticipated.

A lot of the expense could be solved, I think, by a space elevator–but again you have to convince people to make that initial investment, with the promise that the tangible benefits for the average person will come later. That’s tough to do in an instant-gratification society where soon drones will even eliminate the wait for mail orders.

I compare investment in space to investing in your 401(k). You don’t see the benefit now, but you’ll sure be happy for it later.


You do raise a lot of potential long-term possibilities for NASA, but from my perspective, (and I would argue legal perspective) those activities aren’t part of NASA core mission. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t be part of the core mission, because all of those things would have a huge benefit. But, right now, they aren’t part of it and they don’t do a lot to influence NASA’s activities.

Also, we need to define what a “permanent human presence” is. I’ll grant the ISS, as is, probably doesn’t meet that definition, but we do need it define as to what it is.

Regarding the expense – why assume that it has to be a space elevator? Why assume that if we were to try and build a space elevator, it wouldn’t end up solving our expense problem? I mean, if the goal is to build a system that lowers the cost of spaceflight, why not start there, and have a wide open trade space on how to lower the cost of spaceflight

Finally, as for long term investing – I would argue the fact that 401k’s exist, and things like college planning, and so on suggest that people are very open for long-term planning. But you have to make it in their interest, and right now, NASA isn’t doing that…

Ferris, I’m not sure where you stand on NASA/space flight in general, but as to that last comment, I agree with you completely. There is a huge difference between what NASA is and what it should be.

As to the space elevator, I’m not saying that’s the only way to lower costs, but after the expense of building it, as far as I know the only costs would be the electricity–which we’d get back as it comes down–and the catering…which would create jobs. But I suppose it’s irrelevant, since it’s not on NASA’s plate. Neither are a lot of things that make sense.

Collin – I am supportive of NASA and publicly funded spaceflight when it serves the public interest. I believe that, broadly, it can, but there are numerous examples where it hasn’t (for example, I believe that Constellation was not – not looking to re-litigate this, just stating that I don’t believe it was). I also believe that NASA’s fundamental goal for human spaceflight should be about enabling space settlement (again, its not, but should be), and that everything it does on the human side should be directly connected to that (but again, its not right now).

As for space elevator – the point I was trying to make is that you have fixated on a technical solution to an economics problem, when you have to approach the problem from an economics viewpoint. If I may borrow from a comment I’ve made elsewhere – we’ve spent roughly 30-40 years trying to make cheap access happen, without understanding that that is the problem. we’ve always assumed if we have technology X, we’ll have cheap access. For example
“If we have reusability, we’ll have cheap access” -> Space Shuttle
“If we have air-breathers and scramjets, we’ll have cheap access” -> National Aerospace Plane
“If we have SSTOs, we’ll have cheap access” -> X-33 and VentureStar

We seem to jump towards a specific preferred technical solution for cheap access, without understanding that the fundamental goal seems to be cheap access. And if your goal isn’t a specific technology, but rather, cheap access to space, then you need to re-consider how you structure the program….

How did spending a thousand billion in Iraq (to date) benefit the average person (other than the average ISIS fighter who got their hands on some really spiffy military equipment after the American-trained Iraqi soldiers dropped their weapons and ran at Mosul?). Aw yes, Newspace NASA-bashers versus Oldspace wheezing geezers, “once more into the breach”. Great article Collin. I only wish people would read and understand it.

Karol – I am not defending the Iraq war (just for the record, neither am I endorsing it). I will grant its an excellent question to ask for any government activity, but that is about as far as I’ll go.

And how, exactly is my comment a NewSpace vs Oldspace debate?

What about a network of large space rail guns (in space) to send spacecraft with people through space, say to my previous space station I talked about between Mars and Earth. From there another rail gun to send the spacecraft to Mars. The spacecraft would use rockets to land and take off again. repeating the process back.

Computers would align the station between Earth and Mars using tracking equipment. The station could be propelled by plasma propulsion engines or ion thrusters.

The cost of going into space today is primarily involved in making a new rocket every time we go to space. I believe SpaceX has already demonstrated a practical solution of reusable spacecraft of which that will reduce the cost significantly. We use airlines to travel about the planet, why not to space?
Why I like commercial space companies is because it is in their interest to keep the cost down. (Except ULA) NASA could be working on more projects for the same amount of money. SLS looks the same as before and cost more.

I would hate the thought of trying to get to space with a space elevator and the cable breaks. Yeah, I have heard the claim that it will be a stronger material, blah, blah, blah. I would not trust it with my life.

Back to the idea of my station talked about before. Supplies can be sent by railgun to the station as well.

You said “The cost of going into space today is primarily involved in making a new rocket every time we go to space.”

First, to be fair, the issue isn’t cost, rather its price. Second, and more to the point, what is the price breakdown for making a new rocket every time we go to space? Also, is there something that can justify the investment needed for a system that has a high up front cost, but a very low marginal cost for increased flight rate vs a lower upfront cost, but a higher marginal cost?

This is why I say the issue is an economic problem we need to understand…

Ferris, Price and cost in your own description, you try to correct me by stating it is price rather than cost. Then you explain that it is cost the same as I was saying these terms need not be confused.
The reality is if I produced the best car around for a few million dollars then I drive it once and destroy it. Would it not be better to hang on to this car for a practical life expectancy before destroy it?
An airline companies would go out of business if they had to replace their planes every trip they make. OK, this simple logic right, we do not need to go further into this do we…

James – I will grant that I should have been more careful with my words than I was. It happens. But yes, price and cost are not the same things, and we should be careful with it.

Further, I understand the theory about how re-usability. But its not enough to have something that can be used multiple times – you actually also need to have something that will force you to use it multiple times. To borrow your airline analogy – airline companies would also go out of business if they spent money on airplanes, but then could only fly 1 time a week, with only half full planes.

Additionally, there are other examples of not having re-usability, and it allows for cheap items – for example, disposable cameras. Now, I will grant that a rocket is more complex than disposable cameras, but we do tend to assume more complexity with rockets than is necessary, and ignore options like OTRAG.

Final point – if re-usability was all we needed, then why didn’t the shuttle get us much closer to cheap spaceflight?

These are just some random thoughts, that I jotted down before reading the comments. I know you won’t agree with this but this is what will get the public interested in space again. First up, we need to stop blowing the moon off as a been there done that scenario. The moon has a plethora of precious metals, one being Titanium that can be mined. If the China and Russia want to put bases on the moon, yes they want to mine it, but a working growing lunar base will provide a viable escape for adventurers.
Because of peoples short attention span, If space doesn’t directly involve the man on the street being able to live, work and play in space, their interest level is not going to be what you want it to be. For over 40 years people have been waiting to live, work and play in space, but we’re still hooked on sending robots. And although the robots send back a lot of good data, after 10 years of planning, cost over runs, the shifting economy, constantly sending robotic missions begins to “nickel & dime” away the funding from larger manned projects. If Disney had a resort in space, Disneyland fanatics will pay top dollar to be there. I don’t understand why the U.S. Government doesn’t see the potential for starting a whole new industry.

well, first off, blaming obama in some false flag defense of nasa is only going to make half of the country turn against you and will serve only to make people associate nasa with disparagement. obama has done alot for people whether or not his works have affected you directly or not. some people blame congress but it’s the people who are on differently prioritized agendas from one another. being not much more than a slave plantation, many amercians could give an f less about going to space. they’re busy trying to survive and any mention of such luxurious things as rockets and space flight automatically leave a bad taste in their mouths. that’s even without you blaming obama which in turn only compounds their disgust with the way things have been and are going. if you worked in political marketing you would know that what the people want has little to do with anything anyway. political opinion polls are not designed to gather your worthy opinion but to find out how they can word things in a way which you more prefer. once they know that, day by day, they can start to sway the votes one way or the other. in the end the magnates have their general plan(though fraught with scism) and they have a two party system set up so that they can accomplish all of their goals while people think that their votes are actually counting. all the votes determine is what priorities of the magnates can be moved forward on today. no body cared about going to space until the “threat” of russia was hyped up by people who thought they could make some money from the people’s fear. and so nasa was born. the average person did not benefit from the cold war. in fact, today people are worse of than they were before the cold war(“inflation” and standard of living. they used the hype of the cold war to get over on the people even more than they had been prior. the average american was an ignorant peasant with no education, no social media and barely had even so much as a tv(which became the harbinger of gusto to get to space. nasa can’t get anything done because the companies involved are squabbling over who gets to do what. that is why congress doesn’t do anything constructive as well. what you’re talking about-reviving nasa-is a concept of a government agency being at the forefront of something that corporations want to be at the forefront of. if it’s done by the government then they will say bad things about government “over regulation” or “big government”. my view is that the people are supposed to be the government, therefore the government IS big. they don’t want the people to come together and do anything because that cuts into their profits BUT they are perfectly willing to have the people come together to pay taxes to nasa so that they can make billions of dollars. you see the same thing with sports teams often enough. the people foot the bill and the rich take away all the money. if you want a nasa revival, who’s going to benefit? the same people who have been? the same ones who are being proven now by spacex that they are just bandits who have been strong-arming the people for billions upon billions with a fake gun in their pocket(russian “threat”)? or yes, will those who benefit be a broad swath of society? will it be real benefit or will it just be herd mentality unto the vicarity of watching people go up there to out-do some fake enemy? few people are passionate about space. elon musk said he started spacex with a hundred million dollars(obviously there was a little more to it than that) so maybe it’s better to say “forget nasa” and get one out of every 300 people to donate $100 for a new company of 3 million shareholders. then again better than that is already in place with nasa. once the profitability of going to space is established, nasa will be in full swing because the corporations involved will want it that way. don’t expect it to be a day sooner. never the less, if you want to get the people hyped up about space and nasa, the endeavor of space travel must be made to be something that the average person CAN. as it is a college degree is near useless for anything. people have dreams but most don’t want to chase some pipe dream of a ba/bs knowing that it won’t really get them anything but a part time job at wal mart. when the system looks like a joke(because it is)people just won’t buy into it.

The two to four year gap between SLS flights makes it difficult to construct feasible mission architectures to Mars.
However, this fits well within an approach that first constructs an infrastructure of lunar derived propellant depots in cislunar space. For then you could have all the needed propellant, which can be 90% of the mass, already in space and you could then launch all the mission components in a SINGLE launch of the SLS.
Another key advantage of this approach is that we would have a specific timetable and goals that we would reach before that one SLS launch took us to Mars. This would go a long way to reigniting the interest in space since the public could see the progress towards making that Mars launch as the infrastructure gets built up.
Note also by bringing our international partners on board we could allow them to reach their goals of manned lunar missions at the same time as helping us set up the lunar propellant production facilities on the Moon.

Bob Clark

I state up front that this is self-serving, but I have cred to back up my opinions, and the Prologue to my first book is very applicable to this discussion. Read it at We were having these same discussions in the 1970s!

there is an interest in space and a national space program, it’s NASA that has no interest due to the desires of the Obama administration. I believe once Obama is gone from the white house, we can get back on track.

Tom, I really hope that’s the case and I believe so too. Funding NASA isn’t filling the Democrats coffers or making President Obama look good. At this point I don’t think he cares much about the state of our nation. I think his vision for his presidency is already out the window so he has given up as a president.

The top 3 answers to get people jacked up about space once again is Mars, Mars & Mars. We have been to the Moon and compared to Mars it is very boring.

The top 3 problems with this plan is Congress, Congress and Congress. They don’t want to go to Mars on a budget they want a Trillion dollar Mars program (cough, cough…corporate welfare jobs program for their “Space States”). This has nothing to do with who has been in the White house since Nixon. Obama has nothing to do with it. The Shuttles were mainly a jobs program. Congress only wants to fund massive NASA project that create plenty of jobs for the “Space States”. They don’t care about doing anything new and exciting. All the Presidents since Johnson know NASA isn’t important if you want to get elected or re-elected.

As far as the Constellation program, it’s budget was out of control, the schedule was a mess and it needed to be killed. The SLS is also a massive joke. Way too expensive considering it was built based on Shuttle technology (to save time and money).

The only answer is the New Commercial companies. Of course the establishment within NASA and Congress don’t want them to be successful. Of all the thing Obama has done wrong he did get this right with giving companies like SpaceX a shot.

We’ll have to see if SpaceX get a shot at flying crew to the ISS. I wouldn’t bet on it if the old boyz network in congress and NASA has anything to do with it. SpaceX might sneak in only because of the Russian crisis.

You are way off base, obviously you don’t live near the space coast of Florida nor have watched the space committee hearings. NASA’s Bolden is a puppet for the administration that has deliberately slow walked every program, except earth sciences. To say SLS and such are merely jobs programs is so far from the truth. And as far as spacex is concerned, talk to anyone who actually works for spacex and you won’t hear anything good.

And for those of us who do watch the hearings, and know the details (like the fact that it is congress that actually passes the spending bills), and say you are wrong – pray tell what do you say to us?

More to the point – why do you assume the country will care about space if Obama has, as you claim, managed to decimate spaceflight? To go back to my earlier point – what has NASA done for the average person directly, in the last few decades?

“We” say there are two sides to a story. The folks that highlight the epic failures of the Obama Administration aren’t always wrong – and those that want all of NASA’s funding to go to a different set of contractors – aren’t always right.

The country will never care about space unless there is something in it for them. However, what NASA “has done” for the average person has been hyper-limited by all the distracting feel-good non-space-related efforts that NASA has been forced to undertake in the past few decades.

Obama has decimated spaceflight, his “been there” speech of 2010 – is a shining example why he should have no influence in space matters.

The problem isn’t that Tom is wrong and you’re right – or even vice-versa. The real problem is the space community has opted to split itself into separate camps. We’ve allowed ourselves to buy into a policy that has divided (and will eventually conquer) us.

Your side isn’t always right and their side isn’t always wrong. The inverse is also true.

As I wrote in one of the first postings to this article, watch as the discussion devolves into the same “musty, dusty Oldspace wheezing geezers versus bug-eyed NASA-bashing Newspace howler monkeys” circular firing squad. For every SpaceX supporter who would like to see NASA completely de-funded there is a NASA supporter who would like to see Musk filing a bankruptcy petition for SpaceX. Obviously the time-worn strategy of “divide and conquer” still works quite well, and with a strongly divided space advocacy community, it should be quite easy for any group drooling over the money spent “out there in space when it could be better spent on social problems down here on Earth” to use that division to their advantage. So by all means, let’s keep fighting and throwing punches while the house burns down around us.


I didn’t claim to always be right, and that those who disagreed with me are wrong. I am rather tired of reactive BS that consists of “Oh, its all Obama’s fault”, and assumes that as soon as he is out of office, the sky will open and NASA can return to conquering the Universe. (And please not I didn’t jump into a long debate about I am right, and you are wrong)

Second – please describe precisely what you mean by the “feel-good non-space-related efforts”, and please tell me what programs they impacted so that they couldn’t deliver real value to the average citizen

An no, I don’t agree that his 2010 speech hurt us – that was one of the few times that space settlement has been discussed in a President’s speech.

As for “spliting ourselves” – I am more than willing to have a discussion about the facts (please scroll up and look at my back and forth with Collin), that is actually about producing results. I’d love to know who you think is “splitting us”, and precisely what “policy” has divided us?

Infidel – why precisely should Obama “not have influence” in Space matters? I mean, at a minimum he is an American citizen, and every citizen has some amount of influence on any national issue. And then there is the fact that he is president, which means that a majority of Americans broadly trust him to make decisions on big picture issues. (You may not like that, you may not agree with it, but thats not justification for why he shouldn’t have influence….)

Yeah, just like Nixon should have been given say on political corruption, Bernie Madoff should handle ethics and Lindsay Lohan should teach kids about the dangers of drug use.

Look, respond to / distract everyone as much as you want, but some of us still believe in personal accountability. If you cause a massive failure – you shouldn’t be allowed to continue to mess things up.

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