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Fact Sheet: Obama’s New White House National Space Policy June 28, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in cooperation, National Space Policy, Obama, private sector.
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President Obama’s new Space Policy document for the White House has just been released!

“In a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives, irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. As such, all nations have a responsibility to act to preserve the right of all future generations to use and explore space. The United States is committed to addressing the challenges of responsible behavior in space, and commits further to a pledge of cooperation…” – National Space Policy Fact Sheet

Here’s the PDF of the full 18-page policy, and a rundown below of the fact sheet‘s bullet points with my brief commentary:

“Key Elements of the Administration’s National Space Policy

  • The United States remains committed to many long-standing tenets in space activities. The United States recognizes the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.

“Benefit of all humanity” is similar to language in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

  • The United States calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. The United States will take steps to improve public awareness of government space activities and enable others to share in the benefits of space through conduct that emphasizes openness and transparency.

Key there is probably ‘mishaps’: disasters in space are obviously expensive, and so the risk getting out of control would be a roadblock to increased access to space (as the risk could become too great for anyone to want to undertake) and in turn, to future private industry (economic) growth.

  • The United States will engage in expanded international cooperation in space activities. The United States will pursue cooperative activities to the greatest extent practicable in areas including: space science and exploration; Earth observations, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data; disaster mitigation and relief; and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness.
  • The United States is committed to a robust and competitive industrial base. In support of its critical domestic aerospace industry, the U.S. government will use commercial space products and services in fulfilling governmental needs, invest in new and advanced technologies and concepts, and use a broad array of partnerships with industry to promote innovation. The U.S. government will actively promote the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space goods and services within international cooperative agreements.

“Actively promote” the purchase of U.S. commercial services internationally. A logical, if significant step.

  • The United States recognizes the need for stability in the space environment. The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in space, and will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies. In addition, the United States will enhance its space situational awareness capabilities and will cooperate with foreign nations and industry to augment our shared awareness in space.

Arms control “if” it is “equitable, effectively verifiable” and enhances U.S. national security. That’s a big “If” :)

  • The United States will advance a bold new approach to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system, develop new and transformative technologies for more affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025.

The 2025 date Obama mentioned in his April speech pops up again, presumably for an asteroid mission. “New destinations”.

  • The United States remains committed to the use of space systems in support of its national and homeland security. The United States will invest in space situational awareness capabilities and launch vehicle technologies; develop the means to assure mission essential functions enabled by space; enhance our ability to identify and characterize threats; and deter, defend, and if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems.

Identifying threats/debris comes up repeatedly in this fact sheet; appears to be a tenet of Obama’s planned international cooperation.

  • The United States will fully utilize space systems, and the information and applications derived from those systems, to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters. The United States will accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere.

This fact sheet from the White House covers the important points from the full policy document [PDF]—I’m going to have a look at that and see what I can wean from there :)

Obama Gives Speech on NASA Plans at Kennedy Space Center April 15, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in NASA, Obama, Orion (craft).
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President Obama delivered a major speech today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on his plans for NASA:

Obama notes some important general space goals—Mars orbit by the 2030s, a new heavy lift rocket design by 2015, an asteroid mission in the 2020s—but I’m going to highlight some of the important details regarding the Moon, and NASA’s role there. (Click here for his full remarks.)

“We will ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system, including a probe of the Sun’s atmosphere, new scouting missions to Mars and other destinations, and an advanced telescope to follow Hubble, allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before.”

NASA does still have some great lunar science/industry missions in the works; he does later mention them indirectly:

“At the same time, after decades of neglect, we will increase investment – right away – in other groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster for less cost, and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely. That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? How do we harness resources on distant words? How do we supply spacecraft with the energy needed for these far-reaching journeys? These are questions we can and will answer.”

More general comments on the Moon as a destination were a bit unflattering:

“I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But the simple fact is, we have been there before. There is a lot more space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”

His actual remark (at 23:05 in the video), as opposed to the prepared speech, was a little more negative:

“But, but—I just have to say, pretty bluntly here—we’ve been there before! Buzz [Aldrin, in audience] has been there. There’s a lot more to explore…”

Perhaps a touch more negative about the Moon’s possibilities than I’d like to see, but private industry does have it covered pretty well, and ideological distancing from Constellation’s general failures makes sense politically. Still, the Moon has some valuable possibilities to it, including in support of longer-range missions; while it’s not NASA’s priority anymore, in my opinion it’s more prudent to say that it’s simply not NASA’s goal, as opposed to not being a goal worth exploring at all.

He does mention the harnessing of resources, etc. indirectly, so the Moon still appears to be in his eye, even if it’s not necessarily ‘hip’ to say it right now ;)

Going back to private industry, Obama made some interesting new remarks on it’s possibilites:

“And there is potential for even more job creation as companies in Florida and across America compete to be part of a new space transportation industry. This holds the promise of generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years. Many of these jobs will be created in Florida, an area primed to lead in this competition.”

This is the first time I can recall seeing anyone put a number (and timeframe) on the private space industry’s impact. ‘More than 10,000 jobs’ over the ‘next few years’.

Obama also voices a strong argument in support of the wisdom of leaning on private companies, citing the history with contractors in the past:

“I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. But the truth is, NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly fifty years ago, to the Space Shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead. By buying the service of space transportation – rather than the vehicles themselves – we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But we will also accelerate the pace of innovation as companies – from young start-ups to established leaders – compete to design, build, and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.”

A good point that’s been raised, and it’s nice to see it from the President himself. It seems like many I talk to associated with the current establishment of space dismiss private industry somewhat out of hand, and I’ve always felt that to be an underestimation.

All in all, it is an encouraging speech, and it’s good to see Obama ‘lay down the law’ a little in support of his established plans. Despite some vocal opposition, Obama’s sticking to his guns.

Reactions to Cancellation of Constellation February 3, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in NASA, Obama, private sector, Sen. Bill Nelson, Senate.
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The Obama administration’s cancellation of the Constellation program (and its plan to return to the Moon) has understandably sparked quite a, ah, constellation of reactions and commentary. Here’s a quick look at the spectrum:

First and foremost, and most telling, is what current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said about the decision:

“The truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon’s surface.” –Charles Bolden

That suggests there were far deeper issues at hand than just Ares and various delays, and that Constellation’s future had developed into a black hole. That complicates the efforts of many in Congress (usually from constituencies with many NASA jobs) to fire ‘salvos‘ back and keep the program:

“We’re going to have to get the president to do more for NASA. America’s global leadership in science and technology is at stake if we don’t maintain a more robust space exploration program.” –Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

“The cancellation of Orion is especially troubling and goes against the recommendations of the Augustine Commission.  The State of Florida has made significant investments to prepare KSC facilities for Orion, and the Space Coast anticipated, invested in, and planned for the commitment to be fulfilled in order to help preserve jobs.” –Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)

While Congress is clearly not thrilled (unless you’ve got a private spaceport developing in your backyard), private space is happy to take on the mantle:

“President Obama has given NASA a bold and exciting new mission: to once again push the limits in technology and exploration, promote innovation, and foster a vibrant commercial spaceflight sector…This initiative is on par with the government Airmail Act that spurred the growth of early aviation and led to today’s passenger airline industry, which generates billions of dollars annually for the American economy.” –Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

All of this, Bolden’s quote in particular, is, I think, neatly bookended by the expression today from a certain lunar authority:

Thank you, Mr. President.” –Buzz Aldrin

It’s Official: Constellation Cancelled, No NASA Return to Moon; Shift Towards Private Space February 1, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, SpaceX, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Vision for Space Exploration.
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With the release of its 2011 budget proposal, the Obama administration has concurrently announced, in no uncertain terms, that the current NASA Constellation program is cancelled.

“The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration…” –Official White House website, 2011 Budget fact Sheet

The fact sheet goes on to explain the new direction focusing on private space, including some significant funds:

  • $1.2 billion for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries
  • $500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalyzing new businesses and significant new jobs.

“Entire new industries”, “catalyzing new businesses” and jobs…As hinted at in his campaign space plan (and by his initial Commerce Secretary appointment of NM Gov. Bill Richardson), Obama clearly believes in the economic potential of an industry-focused NASA. Note that the ISS contract mentioned there is already awardedSpaceX just needs to prove its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are human-ready for the option to vest, and both Orbital and SpaceX are already the new ISS cargo suppliers.

What does this mean for moon colonization? It means that NASA itself won’t be landing anyone on the moon.

There is a lot of ‘doom and gloom’ out there about how there won’t be humans on the Moon anytime soon, which is a false assertion—the Chinese program is full-steam-ahead, and if private space can be trusted with the ISS contracts at this early stage, then they’re on a course to be putting men on the Moon before long; perhaps even before NASA would have landed men anyways.

Americans will be on the Moon again soon; they’ll just have to hitch a ride with a company or an international effort to get there. And the U.S. will remain a major lunar player, with many private companies and Google Lunar X PRIZE efforts being American.

The fact sheet doesn’t say anything about new human exploration options, such as the ‘Flexible Path‘ suggested by the Augustine panel, so word remains to be seen regarding that, and whether NASA will shift to a manned asteroid mission or mission to Mars’ moons.

Widespread Reports: No Funding for NASA Return to Moon; $6 Billion for Private Space January 27, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Constellation, NASA, Obama, private sector.
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Ahead of Obama’s 2011 budget proposal in February (which officials have said will be where he reveals his direction for NASA), widespread reports have surfaced confirming that there will not be funding for NASA’s plans to return to the moon, effectively ending any attempt by NASA to establish a lunar base without international or private cooperation.

At the same time, there’s word that Obama has authorized that NASA’s budget actually be increased over the next few years, namely with a $6 billion project to spur the development of commercial rockets (e.g., SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 and Lockheed/Boeing‘s Atlas V and  Delta IV):

“We do believe it is time for American companies to come into this program. The investment in that will be $6 billion over five years. This is serious, serious investment that we believe will reduce that gap [in human spaceflight] from what it would have been with the program of record between shuttle retirement and the Ares I and Orion [capsule] coming on line.”- An unspecified administration official;Obama officials: NASA to get $6 billion for commercial rockets“, Orlando Sentinel

This was foreshadowed back in Obama’s 2008 campaign space plan—where he planned to “amplify NASA’s reach” with the private sector.

With the Ares 1 rocket facing cancellation and Constellation seeing severe delays as a result of that, private space may have managed to land a man on the Moon long before NASA got there, even with full budgeting. So I see this as acknowledgement of that inevitability–and of the economic benefit of taking all those billions and directing them back into the economy (via private space), while effectively accomplishing the same thing.

Sister Blog to Luna C/I Launched: Astronauts on ‘Roids! January 20, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Astronauts on Roids, NASA, Obama.
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I’ve now launched an additional space blog: Astronauts on ‘Roids!

With NASA and President Obama reportedly looking very seriously at making a manned asteroid mission NASA’s new mandate, I’ve launched a new blog at http://www.asteroidmission.com to cover all the developments :) It’ll run concurrently with Luna C/I, as even if NASA doesn’t itself build a moon base after all, there’s all kinds of other nations and private efforts going full steam ahead.

To see how this potential manned asteroid mission came about, keep an eye on ‘Roids as I’ll be detailing the story as Obama’s State of the Union address (January 27th) and 2010 budget (early February) approach, with NASA’s future direction to be set by one of the two :) And stay tuned here as the Google Lunar X PRIZE and other private and international efforts heat up to full swing…

Report: Obama Decides on $1 Billion NASA Budget Boost and New Heavy-Lift Launcher? December 20, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Ares I, Augustine Panel, Base Race, Constellation, NASA, Norm Augustine, Obama, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.
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A report by the blog ScienceInsider quotes sources as saying that Obama last week decided, in a meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, on his immediate direction for NASA: an additional $1 Billion in budget, a new heavy lift launcher to replace the Ares 1, and potentially a shift in mission destinations away from the Moon (!).

The Augustine Report (PDF) recommended as an option a manned flight to an asteroid instead of the Moon—as soon as the early 2020s–an option that, according to this new ScienceInsider report, has the White House “more intrigued” than a return to the Moon (which, with a scrapping of the Ares 1 rocket, would be delayed until at least the mid 2020s…much later than the potential manned asteroid landing, or even a landing on a moon of Mars).

With the Moon well within the sights of private space and numerous other nations, it would be perhaps redundant for NASA to have it’s own full-fledged lunar program. NASA skipping the moon, then, is not a death knell to moon colonization, and could be a shrewd choice with many major private space firms (SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, etc.) being American anyways.

Check out the ScienceInsider blog’s report for the full details. An announcement reportedly could come as soon as this week and as late as February, so stay tuned…

Augustine Committee’s Final Report Delivered to President Obama October 24, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Augustine Panel, Norm Augustine, Obama, U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.
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The Review of Human Space Flight Plans committee (led by Norm Augustine) delivered its final report to President Obama on Thursday (The same day I suddenly didn’t have electricity…couple days of chaos there, but I’m back ;) ), and while there weren’t a lot of surprises per se (a draft version was available before, etc.), it’s still sparked plenty of fresh debate.

“‘The premier finding is that the human spaceflight program that the United States is currently pursuing is on an unsustainable trajectory.” -Norm Augustine, as reported by the Houston Chronicle

The panel found that NASA would need at least $3 billion more a year to complete it’s current slate of missions—an increase that seems unlikely in this economic climate. As a result, this landmark panel should result in big changes in NASA’s plans, especially regarding launch methods (namely scrapping the Ares rockets) and the scope/destinations of missions.

A notable suggestion from the panel is regarding having private companies assist NASA by launching astronauts for them—“space taxis“. This is right in step with Obama’s campaign space plan (which suggested “amplifying NASA’s reach” with the private sector and “unleashing the genius” of private enterprise—see my full analysis), and something I believe Obama may have had in mind all along (and just needed the panel to confirm).

I’ll have a more detailed look at the plan and the reaction up here at Luna C/I soon :)

NASA’s “Moon Bombing” For Water Ice Tonight—A Quick Explanation October 8, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in LCROSS, Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, NASA, Obama, private sector, water.
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NASA’s surprisingly controversial “moon bombing” with the LCROSS craft is set for tonight, at 4:30am!

A lot of people (and I mean a lot–Twitter has been on fire , 38 Tweets on it in past ~30 seconds) are wondering why NASA’s doing this, and some are expressing levels of outrage.

A quick explanation: Water ice is important to moon colonies (and beyond—the oxygen and hydrogen can be used to make rocket propellant, which is incredibly expensive to launch off of Earth; and thus, the Moon could be a cost-effective ‘gas station’ for Mars and beyond), and this event tonight is a key study to whether it exists in shadowed craters sensors can’t see into.  (See this great article from Universe Today for more on why water on the Moon is valuable.)

The LCROSS will drop it’s spent Centaur rocket (non-explosive, basically a large piece of metal) into the Cabeus A crater, and the LCROSS itself will follow into the crater, taking readings as it goes (and eventually impacts the same location).

The $79 million spent on the mission could pay itself back for the U.S.—private space development is a rapidly growing industry, one that Obama has suggested could be valuable to an economic turnaround. Companies are already set for a variety of commercial applications (including an extremely promising alternative energy, as explained there by Apollo 17 astronaut/geologist Jack Schmitt) , but the presence of valuable water ice gives them another lucrative motivation.

This will be a historic event—the mainstream-public attention alone has guaranteed that, and the successful discovery of water ice will be yet another spur to an already charging “base race” back to the Moon  (for resources, this time) :)

You can watch the impact live on NASA TV at 4:30am PST (and there’s even a free watching event at OMSI here in Portland, OR.)

NM Gov. Bill Richardson To Be Cleared of Federal Probe August 27, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Bill Richardson, Obama, private sector.
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New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a prominent private space advocate and President Obama’s initial choice for Commerce Secretary, will be cleared of the federal probe that derailed his nomination to the Commerce Dept., according to an Associated Press report.

At the time of Richardson’s withdrawal from the commerce appointment in January, Obama said “I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration.”  Now that he’s finally cleared, Richardson is sure to be appointed somewhere in the near future.

His original Commerce appointment had a space tinge to it: Richardson’s flagship economic project in New Mexico has been Spaceport America.

Obama has voiced support for private space (“Amplify NASA’s reach” with commercial efforts and “unleash the genius of private enterprise to secure the United States’ leadership in space”), and with the Augustine commission‘s recent grim assessment of Constellation’s future, the development of private space could be taking a leading role in American space efforts soon—and Richardson will probably be at the forefront of it:

“Here’s what I want to be sure of … that the Obama administration is pro-commercial space … that the administration is pro-space, pro-government space, pro-commercial space.” -Bill Richardson, when asked about a potential role in the Obama administration last year

Keep a close eye on Richardson, as I’m confident Obama has space-related plans for him; and those plans could have a significant impact on the future of NASA.