Space Architecture

2.  Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence

– ASME Code of Ethics


During the summer of 2002, I was assigned to Jay Greene’s multi-center task group to study how to get back to the Moon and on to Mars.  For several years, NASA had been prohibited by congressional report language from even discussing possible manned Mars missions.  That prohibition had been cracked open during the spring of 2002.

My expertise, and still my favorite job, was in space flight operations.  We ran the Shuttle, controlled the ISS, worked with the tracking and data relay network, and had operational interfaces in a hundred different organizations.  I had never worked on a Mars mission study group before.

It turns out that there are pockets of people at NASA who have studied that problem for the last 40 or 50 years.  The advanced planning groups existed at every NASA center and even during “prohibition” had clandestinely worked on human missions to . . . someplace.

They studied logistics and supplies, how to keep people alive in really really remote places; how much food and water, how much clothes and towels, what kind of local transportation supplies, scientific logistics, etc.  Then they studied in-space propulsion, celestial mechanics, deep space environments.  Finally, they had a huge data base on launch vehicles; how much they cost, how much they weighed, how long it took to build them.  From this basis, for half a century, serious and thoughtful people had devoted themselves to considering how best to get to . . . any place in the solar system.

The MSFC guys worked really well on this inter-center team.  As the surface ops team asked for more and more mass thrown into orbit, the MSFC guys invented rocket after rocket.  Sometimes a new rocket twice a week.  They could tell you GLOW, ISP, bending moment, and whether the crawler could get it to the pad or not.  What do you want?  They could invent it with reasonable engineering background and empirically derived basis.  It seemed that the only real constraint was the size of the VAB doors.

Do you want a huge rocket that was optimized for the engineering elegant solution and minimized life cycle costs?  Then pick model  Did you want a huge rocket that was quick to build with off the shelf components that does not require much development time or cost?  Then pick model  And so it went.

The surface guys would debate size of the expedition and length of planetary surface stay, the celestial mechanics guys would debate the use of ion engines versus planetary gravity assist to cut transit time.

And the rocket boys would debate LOX-Hydrogen versus LOX-Kerosene, the diameter of the core stage, and the use of solids versus fly-back liquid boosters.

I was lost in space.

It turned out that the team had been put together out of a miscommunication.  After about six weeks’ worth of intensive work, the team was shut down and disbanded.  Somebody wrote up notes from the effort and that constituted some sort of report which was filed somewhere.  Just another team study in 40+ years of study efforts on how to get off planet Earth.

I am not an advanced planning kind of guy.  My experience is in operations, and after that in running an established program where fixes and improvements are the order of the day.  I am bewildered by the intense and emotional debates over the various options.  This is not my area of expertise.  So the Code says I should keep quiet.  Except that an operator needs something to operate; a program manager needs something to manage.

I even get the idea of turning LEO transportation over to commercial entities.  But transportation to go beyond low earth orbit?  What are we going to do about that?

Please don’t put me on your space architecture team.  I just can’t stand it.  After you have finalized your plan, call me; I have some expertise on how to build a rocket from a set of blueprints.  Or operate the rocket.  But not to trade off “figures of merit between competing designs.”  Bless their hearts, other people are good at that; not me.

I wish we could pick a plan and stick to it long enough to get it to work.  Orbital Space Plane was a good plan, it could have worked.  X-33/Venture Star was a good plan, it could have worked.  X-38 was a GREAT idea that was just on the cusp of working.  Even Constellation was a good plan, it could have worked.

OK, I expect a lot of email over that last one.  SLI, NASP, they all had technical merit and given the right kind of management and support they could have become viable flying vehicles.  Don’t write me any emails saying that they were unsustainable from the political/economic viewpoint.  I get that.  I’m speaking as an operator, an engineer, a manager.  Those programs, those vehicles, could have worked.  Any one of them.  And we would be years down the road, and money ahead.

But we always stop.

Meanwhile, I have noticed that there is a debate going on about what kind of big rocket to build.  There are a lot of bewildering and emotionally intense discussion about the use of solids, hydrogen versus kerosene, and the diameter of the core vehicle stage.  I tell you at this point, I don’t care.  I don’t have an opinion.

Just pick one.  And see it through.

Decide whether you want elegant with minimal life cycle expense, or if you want quick and cheap to develop and who cares how ugly it looks.  I don’t care.  I don’t have an opinion.

Just pick one.  And see it through.

There are a lot of things we could do with a big rocket.  Technology may improve with time if we invest appropriately; but that is no reason to wait now.  Maybe we will invent warp drive in the next decade, but I doubt it.  We will need that big rocket to do big things beyond low earth orbit.  Meanwhile, could we please quit cancelling rocket projects before they get off the drawing board?

Reminds me of another quotation:

“the previous attempts to de­velop a replacement vehicle for the aging Shuttle represent a failure of national leadership” –   CAIB pg. 211

About waynehale

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, and is currently a consultant and full time grandpa. He is available for speaking engagements through Special Aerospace Services.
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91 Responses to Space Architecture

  1. Or don’t build a vehicle to steal launches from the industry. But you have to pick. Making decisions, what do they call that again? Leadership?

    • waynehale says:

      Yep. Lets hope that the leadership knows what they are doing. Reference the quotation at the top of the post.

      • Last time I checked, Wayne, hope isn’t a credible scientific method, it’s not a credible engineering practice, and it certainly isn’t a valid or recommended fiscal policy or political expediency.

        I wouldn’t trust you guys to engineer an automobile anymore, if that’s the best you can do in terms of leadership principles.

      • waynehale says:

        Where did I say just leave it to hope. It will take good engineering and management to pull off any beyond-low-earth-orbit projects. I don’t think hope is a good engineering tool or management technique.

  2. Michael Antoniewicz II says:

    And here’s one of the email comments on Constellation. 😉

    Constellation can be viewed as two different programs:
    The O’Keefe/Steidle ESMD spiral development program that grew out of the OSP program and was based on Rear Adm. Steidle’s Real World Empirical Knowledge of herding cats and herding herds of cats to shepherd companies through an exacting R&D program.
    Then there’s Griffin’s ESAS based program that got hammered (and not just for Budget reasons) by the HSF Committee.

    • waynehale says:

      My intention was not to restart the flame wars over Constellation. Lets move on to something more productive.
      NASA was offering a management course recently that has a title something like “how to complete a project within one Presidential administration”
      Is that the way to run a space program?

      • Michael Antoniewicz II says:

        I was just giving you one of the ’email’s’ (via comments) because you said “…OK, I expect a lot of email over that last one….”. 🙂

        I wasn’t intending to start or restart any flame wars over it. At this point in time the only thing we can do when looking back at all the programs you mentioned is toss off a wiry comment and keep slogging on, hoping that at some point that someone ‘would just pick one’ and do it. Although reading the list … just makes you want to bang your head on the desk. Again, and again, and again…. 😉

  3. Fred Willett says:

    We had a big rocket. (Saturn V) and it got cancelled because it cost too much.
    We’ve tried over the years to build a big rocket and each time it’s cost too much and got itself cancelled. Maybe it’s time to recognise that a really big rocket is just too expensive to build right now.
    Maybe we’re like Columbus. At the Nina, Pinta and St Maria stage. We’ve just got to stick with what we’ve got for the moment and trust that somewhere down the line someone will have the resources (and the need) to build their QEII.
    The point is we’ve been putting off exploration for years because “we heed HLV first”. And the persuit of HLV has sucked up all the money for exploration without ever delivering that HLV – or any exploration.
    Perhaps the time has come to put the dream of the big rocket aside for a while and see just how far we can go on what we’ve got if we really try.

    • waynehale says:

      OK, I’ll go with not-so-big rockets (EELV anybody?) plus depots and all that other architecture stuff that I really have any expertise on. But if that is the plan, lets pick it, give it good leaders and adequate resources, and go.

      • waynehale says:

        Assemble at the destination? You may not realize it but man-hours at the destination is the most precious commodity there is in space flight. Assembling things there that could have been assembled here is a waste of resources.

      • Andrew W says:

        waynehale says:
        January 23, 2011 at 4:37 am

        “Assembling things there that could have been assembled here is a waste of resources.”

        If it’s so hard to assemble things in space they need to rethink how they go about it, it’s a prerequisite if we’re ever going to make a home of space.

    • Andrew W says:

      Yep, 99.999% of the cargo shifted around the surface of this planet will fit into a 33.2CBM 22 ton shipping container, that should be accepted as the requirement for launch vehicle payload.

      • waynehale says:

        What are you talking about; aircraft shipping? I think space flight might be slightly different. At least at first.

      • Andrew W says:

        Almost all of the few things that can’t fit into a shipping container can be assembled at destination. Our civilizations infrastructure is geared to that ~20 ton load in one container. From another angle what payloads have there been that were put into orbit in one 100 ton+ load that couldn’t have been designed to go up in five or more 20 ton loads and then assembled in space by a facility similar to the ISS?

    • beb says:

      Saturn V wasn’t canceled because it cost too much, it was canceled because there were no other missions for it. Enough had been build for Apollo and since there were no post-Apollo plans calling for 120 tons into low earth orbit there was no need to build more Saturns.

      • waynehale says:

        Not true. There were many plans for Saturn V’s post moon landing. There were ambitious plans to build a space station and eventually a moon base. The Nixon administration killed all those ideas; there was a one-off Skylab space station and then the Apollo-Soyuz political demonstration. There was (and is) plenty of need for 120 tons in low earth orbit – – -Saturn V’s cost $100 million in 1967 dollars to build; that was pretty expensive.

  4. Yusef Johnson says:


    I came to NASA with starry-eyed dreams of helping man to take his next step into the cosmos. Now, I sit in frustration, watching colleague after colleague walk out the door, pondering my future as an engineer. Our Agency and national leadership seem not to have a clue as to what to do. My turn to leave will probably come soon enough. Dang it, just build something already. I wonder where we, as a nation would be spacewise if we hadn’t have stopped? To initiate study after study after study is foolish. Why can’t they see that?

  5. sciencenate says:

    You’re right. It is a national leadership issue. Rather than “playing politics” our national leaders need to set a goal, provide necessary funding, and then stick to that goal. That’s what happened in the 1960’s. Kennedy gave a goal: moon. He set a date: end of decade. Then, NASA went to work.

    While recognizing that the climate of the Cold War played into the country’s ability to support such a goal, one must also look to leadership. The President, Congress, and NASA had a goal and met it.

    What’s the goal today? What’s the deadline? Who’s in favor?

    Those answers are not clear…

  6. Confused Contractor says:

    Thanks, Mr. Hale, for sharing your view. As a parent, I agree – sometimes after we have encouraged all the critical thinking skills in our children, learning the basics, etc., we have to tell them to just go out there and pick a course and see it through. If we continue to mull the possibilities and don’t ever finish a project, we will certainly never go anywhere. One of the basic concepts in the much heralded Montessori teaching method is that of finishing projects…. it would be nice, indeed, if we could do that. Might help inspire our currently un-inspired next generation of space explorers as well — to see that maybe they can improve upon our space exploration options, instead of seeing that its pointless because we will never get to build anything….

  7. Charley S McCue says:

    Yes, see it through.

    I’m torn wanting to argue SHLV versus Depot but it still comes back to your point of choose and do.

    Listening to Col Henry Hartsfield, Jr, Retired USAF, Discovery’s first Commander, I heard and felt that passion of which you speak. He was asked about Constellation and gave a reply that included the plans to Mars to follow Apollo. He made it clear that we could have made it then, with that technology.

    So I’ll be bold enough to state that if we wait until the future tech just around the corner is born, we will never go anywhere, we will always be waiting on ‘the breakthrough’.

    The ‘start and stop’ we have now has lost us the Moon and anyplace else as well.

    I’ll pitch once again that the space community must rally around whatever is chosen. How quickly Constellation was abandoned by parts of the space community when they thought it would benefit their slice of the pie. Now, again, billions spent and we scramble to put a good face on the situation. Let’s rally and get something finished!

    We should also be working on growing the pie. When there are budget deficits, there isn’t enough money for NASA. When are budget surpluses there isn’t enough money for NASA.

    More Bucks…

    • waynehale says:

      Americans spend more money on pet food than space exploration. Americans spend more money on cosmetics than on space exploration. etc etc etc. This is not a problem of budget deficits but of priorities. There is always money for the things people think they must have.

      • Charley S McCue says:

        True. I made a similar comment about beer at a small aviation bar in Wichita, KS and was challenged by patron:

        “So we should spend less on beer?!”

        “No,” I said, “We need to spend more on space!”

        He liked that answer and went back to his beer.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    “I wish we could pick a plan and stick to it long enough to get it to work.”


  9. Andrew W says:

    It’s not a question of national leadership but rather one of organisational structure, the “organisation” being from the president down. The democratic system may be great for running a country, but it’s lousy for running a business.

    • waynehale says:

      I profoundly disagree. This “democratic system” has done some very impressive things . . . with the right leader in charge. Blaming the organization for the failure of our collective national will seems . . . inappropriate.

      • Andrew W says:

        “Just pick one. And see it through.”
        “Just pick one. And see it through.”

        Absolutely! So why doesn’t that happen?

        “Blaming the organization for the failure of our collective national will seems . . . inappropriate.”

        So what’s the recipe that’ll change things so that “failure of our collective national will” doesn’t keep on happening? My own observation is that organisational structure counts for 95% of results, individuals perhaps 5%.

      • waynehale says:

        It has been my observation that excellent leadership counts for everything. I would reverse your statistics.

      • Andrew W says:

        I’m disappointed that you haven’t cleared my comment of January 23, 2011 at 10:08 am through moderation.

        I don’t see how it can be classed as off topic, abusive, or too long.

        If the US space program keeps operating the same way under the same system it’ll keep getting the same results

      • waynehale says:

        Andrew, I don’t have a comment from you on January 23. It must have been lost in cyberspace. Please resend

  10. Wesley says:

    Very well said Wayne… I always look forward to seeing a new post from you. You have very well expressed my frustration as just another average citizen of the USA who wants to see something happening in space.

    Every time the presidential seat turns over, we head in a new course and throw out the old because it was deemed the poor plan of the previous guy. Someone else commented about Kennedy’s moon dream…I have wondered many times if we would gone to the moon had Kennedy not been assassinated. It’s bound to have been harder to throw out the dreams of the respected and dearly departed…

    Makes me wonder how we ever managed to produce the shuttle… Perhaps there was more national pride in years gone by? Perhaps a little friendly rivalry with the Russians? Seems like we need something to make a new president continue on with the plans of the prior one…

    I was born after the last Apollo mission and was very excited when Bush put us in the direction of the moon once again. It was exciting to think that I might see men on the moon while I am still alive…and be able to share that with my children. At the rate we’re going, even my children don’t have a chance of seeing it happen…

    I agree with you 100%…just pick one…AND SEE IT THROUGH! Please…

  11. As UK based person it appears to me that congress is mostly to blame for the mess though.
    It seems that the senators are so afraid of losing their seats that they hobble construction plans or even back out of them.
    It really is a shame because having seen some of the proposed rocket designs and having seen and been very impressed with Ares 1-X it’s obvious that NASA can do pretty much anything they are told to do yet all they are told to do is pretty much nothing.

    • waynehale says:

      Tempting as it is to blame this mess on Congress, there is plenty of blame to be found in the executive branch of our government. This may be unfamiliar to those of you in the UK where the legislative and executive are not nearly as separate as they are in the US.

  12. Graham says:

    I’ll leave the leadership and architecture debates to others as I have a related but different question. As an operations person, what are your needs? What makes a vehicle good to operate and what’s a problem? What are the most important things for the operational team to contribute to the development program?

  13. CJ says:

    I went to lunch with a good friend and co-worker. He said he put in his offer to leave NASA, and is. As an operator, like you, there is no work in his future – we have nothing to operate after this year, nor a clear path that suggests what we will be operating.

    Instead of being shocked about the news of him leaving an organization that many dream about working for, I completely understood. I didn’t even flinch. It has reached that level in most of us.

    I am sure he’ll have fun sailing in Florida, at least until his money runs out. But he’d rather be working here.

    We need that clear path, and administrations to stand behind that path. There are too many good reasons for it.

  14. Steve Pemberton says:

    I think that your well told inside stories are not only enjoyable reading but are also extremely valuable, both as unique historical information and also as a vehicle for giving past experience at least a fighting chance to inform current decisions. If the modern Internet had existed in the early 7o’s maybe we wouldn’t have lost so much similar insight from the Apollo era.

    • waynehale says:

      There is a lot of trash on the internet. Sometimes it is really hard to winnow the wheat from the chaff. There are lots of really excellent books from the 70’s that would give you really great insight. But reading a book is harder than reading a blog. There may be some other comment lost in there, as well.

      • Jim says:

        “Apollo” by Murray & Cox is one book that I found the most honest about the Apollo program and it’s very many problems as well as it’s successes. Page 152 starts with a July 13, 1963 New York Times article titled, “Lunar Program in Crisis” that stemmed in part from the F-1 engine’s development problems from ’61-’63, costing three engines and one test stand. Brainerd Holmes, head of OMSF, wanted to start a back-up engine program, requiring a $400M supplemental. Webb was adamantly against such a request. Holmes, who was very popular in and out of NASA, even making it on the cover of Time for building the BMEWS, insisted and lost his job. Then there was North American’s lax efforts on the Apollo CM. By this time, support for Apollo had fallen below that of funding cancer research and foreign aid, according to polls.

        One thing anyone reading about NASA during Apollo is that Webb, once a lawyer, Undersecretary of State, leader of the precursor to OMB during Truman and President of Raytheon’s electronics division, had direct access to the President, whether Kennedy or Johnson. I don’t know who, as NASA Administrator, could meet with the President. I think the last time a President met with a NASA Administrator in a non-ceremonial role was Fletcher-Nixon.

  15. Mark Spangenberg says:

    1. Maybe the strategy is to find a new rocket that can be built fast … as in within the term of who ever is the current President.

    2. An interesting early step, would be to outfit the space station to be without any resupply for at least a year.

    • Paul says:

      Well, congressional mid-terms can have a greater effect on budgets. So you’re really limited to two year programs… 🙂

      (Seriously, Wayne, would that be possible? To set NASA goals as overlapping, cascading two year programs? Two years to design, two to build, two to operate. If an idea can’t be shoe-horned into that schedule, you try a half-scale version first.)

  16. Bennett says:

    Another great post that could serve as a petition to Congress. Give me a place to sign and then get someone to read it to the House Science, Technology, and Space Committee!

    Thanks again Mr. Hale.

  17. Dave Salt says:

    Given that we reached the Moon over 40 years ago, it seems clear to me that the key problem isn’t one of engineering but of obtaining/maintaining the necessary finances. Moreover, the same 40 years had also demonstrated clearly that, baring a major national security threat, no government programme is EVER going to move us out into space in any significant/sustainable manner.

    Based upon these basic observations/conclusions, it seems that the only remaining option is to get the necessary finances via commercial ventures but, unfortunately, there just isn’t a serious business case that would justify such investment. The only sensible way forward, therefore, is to adopt a boot-strapping approach that slowly grows/evolves the markets such that they eventually provide the incentives to finance the next steps forward.

    If you accept this train of thought, it becomes clear that there can never really be a “plan”, in the conventional sense of the term, to get us out into space. The best we can do is to have a general strategy that implements a number of small/limited “plans” whose ultimate success/failure is judged by the market(s) and is then used to “evolve” the subsequent steps in a Darwinian manner. The other thing that becomes clear from this way of thinking is that we need to start SMALL and work with what’s available NOW.

    • waynehale says:

      There is a glimmer of a commercial business for sub-orbital and low earth orbit. We have a way to go before BEO becomes financially lucrative. Some day it will.

  18. Jayden Hauglie says:

    Great post Mr. Hale. I believe there’s a Senator’s Job opening up soon in Texas! Just Sayin’…

    As an engineer who worked for a NASA contractor through the 1990’s, I look back at the following graveyard of manned/unmanned spaceflight programs that I invested my brainpower in: Shuttle C, NASP, X-33, X-34, X-37 (called re-fly at the time) and Liquid Flyback Boosters. The final program (other than Space Shuttle) that I worked on was the US propulsion module for ISS. By that time, I was so disillusioned by the previous false-starts that I began telling my co-workers that if it ever flew I would be happy to eat the NASA ball-cap that a visiting astronaut once gave me. I still have the hat.

    I went on to work for another company, working on defense programs. Not as compelling a goal for me as manned spaceflight, but challenging work nontheless. Since then I have helped to progress multiple programs from the concept phase through to fielded products. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling. One that manned spaceflight engineers in this country haven’t fully experienced since 1981.

    • waynehale says:

      Please don’t float my name for senate or house. If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.
      Meanwhile, as a manned spaceflight engineer I have had incredibly rewarding experiences all the way up to my retirement. It did not end in 1981.

      • Jayden Hauglie says:

        Agreed. Manned spaceflight engineering can be a very rewarding profession. In fact, I’d love to get back into it. Just imagine how much more rewarding it would be if it weren’t littered with so many started and unfinished projects.

  19. Matt Johnson says:

    I certainly share the frustration over the inability to commit to a program and see it through even in the face of technical challenges. I was initially hired out of college to work on the X-33 program, but alas, that didn’t work out. The SSTO goal was probably never realistic, but X-33 could still have been a useful suborbital demonstrator, perhaps with some of its technology eventually being applied to a more feasible TSTO RLV. I never thought I’d see us entering the second decade of the 21st century struggling to replicate Gemini capabilities, let alone Apollo, as our first reusable spaceplane heads to museums with no worthy replacement in sight.

  20. Dave H. says:

    Is the Code of ethics the law…or is it more like guidelines, and do you have to be a “real” engineer for the Code to apply? Field service engineers often aren’t considered “real” engineers, and as such we are free to find out what our area(s) of expertise really are.

    Gee, I have something in common with Captain Jack Sparrow after all…

    But seriously, reading this story reminded me of the chapter in “Failure Is Not An Option” when Gene Kranz decribes how a “renegade” group fleshed out a plan for a farside landing.
    What you’ve told us is that the people at NASA (who haven’t yet had their spirits crushed) have the desire, they have the ability, and they have the talent to take humanity anywhere in the solar system.

    What they lack is the support from the American people.

    And that is a sad commentary in itself…ask the shoppers at Wal-Mart what they think about space exploration, and the only vacuum you’re likely to see is behind their eyes.

    The upcoming battle over whether the agency gets the necessary funding for STS-135 will be a bellweather moment.

    • Bob Stevenson says:

      How true. A while back I told my next door neighbor that she should get her kids outside that night to watch the International Space Station come overhead. She replied that maybe that was the noise she had heard the night before. Big sigh.

  21. Dave says:

    Bravo, again, Mr. Hale!!!

    Our current space policy running in place reminds me of technological yarn-spinning from Star Trek lore….

    Come with me into the future…. It is the year 2063. After a long period of economic and social unrest, war and despotism, a free-wheeling explorer, Zefram Cochrane, backed by a reclusive billionaire, develops a new form of space-warp propulsion. The self-serving Cochrane envisions wealth and adventure as he cobbles together his spacecraft stacked upon a 1960s era Titan II launch vehicle deep in a Montana forest. Following his revolutionary voyage, aided by benevolent visitors from the future, Cochrane makes “First Contact” with representatives of the planet Vulcan. The Vulcans reluctantly welcome Humanity into the community of space-faring civilizations. Back in 2010, visionaries craft a space policy relying on entrepreneurial game-changing technology to revolutionize space transportation, which will enable galactic exploration someday far in the future….. The Vulcans are watching and waiting….waiting….waiting….

    Let’s get on with it based on physics that exist. As you so eloquently stated, “Technology may improve with time if we invest appropriately; but that is no reason to wait now. Maybe we will invent warp drive in the next decade, but I doubt it.” One thing I can say with some certainty is you don’t figure out the technological challenges on the way unless you define a clear objective in the first place.

    Where are we going? How will we get there? Is anyone willing to make those decisions, take the lead and follow through?

    • waynehale says:

      It would take real guts to ride on an 80 year old Titan II. The only ones left are rusting in some outdoor displays.

      • Dave says:

        I am certainly not advocating immediately fulfilling Star Trek lore… However, it very much seems there are people in Washington with that limited a level of technical understanding. There is a HUGE difference between resurrecting antiquated space hardware and applying existing technology in innovative ways. Newtonian physics has been the source of some amazing technological application over the last several centuries. And yet there are people who want Warp drive now because they have watched it in movies and television, and they have the ignorance to imagine it being integrated with the likes of a Titan II rocket. The film makers need to be getting inspiration from us, not the other way around. That is just sad….

  22. Warren Platts says:

    Perhaps part of the problem with respect to the difficulty of choosing a launch architecture is the lack of a clear mission to begin with. E.g., with Constellation, on the one hand, the VSE clearly stated that we should go to the Moon, get some rocket propellant, and use that to help get to Mars. In the event, however, that vision was lost, and what was attempted instead was a more “Mars Direct” architecture, hence the super big launch vehicle, and hence the name “Ares”. I think maybe we should pick not merely a destination, but also have a clear idea about what to do as the top priority once we get there, and then work backwards from that. An architecture is only “optimal” relative to its main use. An architecture not designed for anything in particular probably won’t be optimal for anything….

  23. Tom says:

    Have any of the various studies clearly articulated a necessity for getting humans beyond LEO?

    National prestige, inspiring the youth, international cooperation are all fine reasons, but, in the end, they don’t generate the long-term political and public support necessary to get the bucks for Buck Rogers. Until a necessity is found, BEO will remain the realm of the study group.

    • waynehale says:

      Wow, I posted several essays on the need to go beyond LEO when I was still working at NASA. Check out my archived blog posts under their multimedia tab. I guess its time to trot those stories out again. Always somebody that hasn’t heard.

      • Mike Fair says:

        I’ve heard. I gobbled them up.
        At the risk of generating rabbit trails, I think Mr. Griffin was always good at articulating the answer to the question, ‘why go?’
        The thing that is missing is articulation by political leaders of compelling, coherent answers. Even JFK got this wrong, or at least his statements wouldn’t help today. former OSTP head Marburger is the only one I remember who made a quality attempt. Walmart shopper listen to presidents and House Speakers (and talking heads), not engineering directors. It would be nice if their talented oratory was occasionally put to the service of HSF.

  24. Across the last few administrations, wherever the buck stops, unfortunately, seems to echo Walt Kelly and his affable character Pogo: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  25. Dave H. says:

    Dave, you got me thinking with your reference to “First Contact”…

    “Star Trek: Enterprise” featured an episode titled “Carbon Creek”. In late 1957, a Vulcan science vessel in Earth orbit malfunctioned and crash-landed near the fictional coal town of Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania.
    When the rescue ship finally arrived, one of the Vulcans chose to stay behind.
    Could it be possible, knowing how long Vulcans live, that Cochrane’s “reclusive billionaire” was in fact, Mestral, the Vulcan who chose to stay behind? He had no way of knowing that he would change history…remember, Vulcans of that era believed time travel was not possible

    No matter what, throughout human history, those who became great leaders were nothing without money. Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon…nothing without money.

    In a certain sense, I feel sorry for Wayne, because he was able to see what might have been.

    • waynehale says:

      I don’t think we need aliens in our midst to explain the human desire to explore and our technological achievements.

      • Dave H. says:

        Wayne, humanity has always had the innate desire to see what’s over the hill, or around the bend in the river. Boeing used to have this fantastic commercial that explained our desire to explore space from this perspective: when we’re born, we look up.
        What we “space infants” lack is the money, and now the desire, to make the dream happen.

        Gene Roddenberry, and later, Rick Berman, tried to carry that dream to the world through the then-new medium of television. It was meant, I believe, as “bait” to show us the wonders, and later, as “Q” would show Picard, the dangers of exploring the cosmos.
        Instead, our innate appetite for the unknown would become sated by the images in our theaters.
        We were once as kittens, fascinated by the world around us. Now, with the exception of a select few, we have become as adult cats, sleeping in the Sun, no curiosity at all.

        But that brings us back to another question…who WAS that “reclusive billionaire”, and why would he fund an endeavour that was far more likely to fail than to succeed?
        I don’t see Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or George Soros stepping up to the plate and funding private spaceflight.

    • Dave says:

      Dave H.,
      I haven’t heard that tangent to the Star Trek lore, but I wholeheartedly agree that it takes a great deal of cash to invest in aggressive space technological advancement. I am a big fan of the inspiration Roddenberry and those who followed in his wake provided to show the ideal objectives of space travel and development of a space-faring community. What I think the Zefram Cochrane story seems to be getting right is that our government is abandoning its leadership position to develop space to whoever gives a damn about it. Hence the mad scientist in the woods on top of a 100 year old rocket. The best we seem to be able to do is get Richard Branson and Burt Ruttan to team up to give tourist thrill rides — a far cry from meaningful space exploration. It would take the vast personal wealth of a Bill Gates to even get a start on meaningful space exploration. And the payback wouldn’t come until the energy mining of the Gas Giants or their moons was achieved — much less the ability to save the human race by establishing permanent beachheads on other worlds. Don’t forget that Elon Musk is making modest progress with vast amounts of NASA cash.

      • Mike Fair says:

        I view the ‘massive NASA cash’ factoid as suspect. In fact, significant private wealth has been harnesses both for engine/LV work and for exploration hardware/operation development. No Buck Rogers yet, but the bucks spent don’t deserve complete cynicism.

  26. I look at the California Gold Rush and have been trying for years to recognize a ‘real’ (thought it was tourism, but not so much anymore) economic lynchpin that will finally get us off this planet. Still cannot find one that will lift human endeavor to that level…

    • Andrew W says:

      Yep, we’ll go some place for adventure and science, but if we stay it’ll be for economics. The economics has to stack up, and it does for communication and weather satellites. It can also work for elite tourism, that’s the area that
      I think needs to be advanced. Even if tourism for the super rich has little appeal to us commoners.

    • Warren Platts says:

      Speaking of gold, the recent LCROSS mission produced a spectrograph consistent with there being up to 1.5% gold in the debris plume. We can do a quick BOTE calculation: assume 1% gold, and a small operation excavating 10,000 cubic meters per year (1 hectare down to 1 meter), and an 80% recovery rate. If the average density of the regolith is 1500 tons/cubic meter, then you could produce 240 tons per year. At today’s gold prices, you could gross ~$12 billion USD/year. Heck, if you refined it and produced certified London Good Delivery bars and set up a vault, you wouldn’t even have to return it to Earth–nobody takes delivery of the actual gold they buy these days anyway….

  27. There are at least 100,000 people on the planet who could afford a $25 million trip into space. Even if a tiny percent of that number start taking trips to tourist oriented Bigelow Space stations every year, the substantially increased demand for rockets and rocket engines and space stations is going to dramatically reduce the cost of space travel which should increase the volume of customers even more. Add a space lotto system, and the wealthy could be annually joined by dozens of average people from around the world with winning tickets to travel into space.

    IMO, space tourism is going to change everything!

    • Dave says:

      Just like the barn-storming era for aviation…. It’s just a shame a few people will probably die on the way….

      • Jim says:

        Yeah…bummer for the employees and investors of that launch company, what with it being sued for damages and being forced into Ch. 7 and all.

      • Kim says:

        The barn-storming era for aviation was fueled by the availability of like-new government-surplus aircraft at a price a veteran could afford, AND the availability of many veterans trained to fly them.

      • waynehale says:

        I’m pretty sure that we don’t want to repeat the barn storming era for space flight. Too many thrill seekers and reckless dare-devils; way too many fatal accidents. We need to learn from that history and not repeat it. And of course, there are not a lot of surplus government spacecraft lying around waiting for veterans to buy and fly . . .

    • Jim says:

      According to the Futron study from which those numbers come, we should have had over 150 commercial crew, sub-orbital or otherwise, by now. And I’m sure that study didn’t envision every single commercial satellite launch company (Boeing, LockMart, Kistler, Roton, Sea Launch, etc.) either filing for bankruptcy or being forced together, as were Boeing and LockMart, to avert Ch. 11. Clearly, the unanticipated difficulty of reaching space has caused hiccups for more than solely those who authored that study.

      From the time of Kittyhawk, it took 31 years for a commercially viable airliner to be developed. Space is obviously much harder, so after 66 years, is it ready for it’s first commercially viable rocket? Unless Wayne, or someone of his equivalent experience and knowledge knows otherwise, I’m skeptical because launcher mass-fraction just hasn’t improved that much, if at all, in the last 20-30 years.

    • Charley S McCue says:

      Saw a comment a while back that tourism has some place to arrive at, do something while there, and come back.

      Most of what we are seeing is space adventurism.

      I’m all for it. Just wish I had the Bucks for it.

  28. Mike Okuda says:

    I think it’s significant to note that despite Kennedy’s mention of “before this decade is out,” early planning for Apollo envisioned the first lunar landing as taking place around 1967. This means that if not for the twin tragedies of JFK’s assassination and the Apollo 1 fire (and the underlying technical and safety issues), Apollo was aimed at putting a man on the moon within the timespan of a second Kennedy administration.

    I believe there is great value in aiming high and planning for the long term, but it’s also valuable to designate significant targets that can be reached within the span of a presidential administration (or two).

  29. the message of the benefit has never translated to the public since we stepped on the Moon. What a great place to start again, especially since Lunar Impact has discovered large quantities of ‘clean’ ice and fuel to boot — every thing we need to build a sustainable colony. All it really will take is political leadership to embrace it and stick with it. Almost hopeless, but I never say never… anyhow, needs some sizzle — some of the old ‘we’re gonna go to the top of this mountain’ spirit that excites regular folks and makes them proud.

  30. B. Franklin says:

    Makes one want to cry for what could have been. Dovetails quite nicely with the post about NASA and BSA leadership and and the BSA concept of “Delivering the Promise”. Follow through.

  31. Gene Mikulka says:

    Have to agree with Wayne here..

    Since we seem to be designing a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), I hope some of those plans for rockets that were designed in 2002 are examined as possible candidates for the planned HLV. Who knows, we might even make the 2016 deadline. And while we’re at it, lets give this rocket a true mission and purpose.

    I’m sure we are all getting tired of looking at beautiful artist conceptions of spacecraft landing on the Moon or Mars knowing that they will never get off the drawing board. We had a chance to replace Shuttle in the 1990’s twice and blew it. We never implemented Venture Star or the X38 piloted version. Now, with the demise of Constellation, we’ve thrown the baby and the bathwater out and the Shuttle is going to retire without a clear successor.

    Yes I know about commercial, but so far we’re talking Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and servicing the Space Station, not exploration.

    As Wayne said here, Let’s get a consensus, choose a path for human space exploration, and stick with it!

    • Mike Fair says:

      “Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence”
      Does this apply to the practice of politics? If so, how can those of us who are wrench-turners accomplish the ‘getting of consensus’? An argument could be made that it would get us to the moon faster if we engineers kept out of politics and quietly built what we were told. I would find this very difficult to swallow though, unless I really trusted in the basic philosophical foundation of those leading the conversation to consensus. But I don’t. There is a strong chance that the leadership would explicitly adopt a policy of not going anywhere, or maintaining status quo.
      What’s left, therefore, is the inefficient, infuriatingly slow, and weirdly awkward results that are part & parcel of our political system. But that is better than all the alternatives!
      I was fascinated last week by a PBS special on the (San Fran) Bay Bridge East Span project, It was no less infuriating to watch unfold than Constellation was. It was like watching Survivor or reading Lord of the Flies! Utter mayhem masquerading as stakeholder input of reasoned and noble goals. The variety and whack-a-mole timing of these issues was astounding to me, which suggests that I’m indeed out of my element in political waters.

  32. Dean says:

    Hate to tell you this but you would be on my short list for architect for the next BEO system. Why? Simple…you will ask the right questions (where, how much mass, how long at point x, what is my budget, what risk are you willing to accept?). While I know this job would lead to you pulling out what is left of your hair, you have proved a leader of the times.
    That being said, “Here, Here!” for the pick something. But first somebody needs to actually tell me “where do we need to go with the next something”.

    Keep up the great articles (even though some will ALWAYS try to take them off topic)…..Trust us, we truly enjoy them!


    • waynehale says:

      I refer you to the comment where it was suggested that I run for US Senate: as to being the chief Space Architect – I have neither the temperment nor the skills to do that job well. If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.

  33. Charley S McCue says:

    I hope this is a proper post. I sent this to Sen. Nelson in response to his, IMHO, belittling editorial about NASA reporting a Ares V/Shuttle replacement couldn’t be accomplished with the limits imposed by Congress:

    “What would the Challenger crew say about building a STS replacement?

    Let’s start, let’s finish, Senator.

    NASA brought you a replacement for the STS in the Ares I/Orion and Ares V. Mr. Griffin presented Congress a plan to speed up the Ares I which was rejected. Congress was presented with the Augustine opinion of the only option more expensive than Ares I/Orion was any other booster and Orion. Congress picked the most expensive path.

    Then when you are told the harsh truth that the limitations imposed by Congress means no SHLV could be finished with that deadline, you publicly berate those experts.

    Any wonder why no one wants to present the truth to Congress.

    Give NASA a goal, let them pick the path to that goal, and give the money for that goal and they will take your breath away.

    On the way to that goal, there will be new industries and new jobs we can’t imagine. It will fuel a new prosperity that will lift us all.

    It is not too late to stop the exodus of the talent from NASA and to allow them do great things for our nation and the world.

    But let’s get on with it and let’s finish it. Apollo was a stepping stone to Mars until President Nixon block the path. We have spent billions on false starts that hamstrings any movement forward.

    We get caught up in how much it will cost. Well, it has cost plenty so far not finishing anything we start. Even the STS suffers from the penny wise during it’s design that is pound foolish during operation. A billion spent at the right time during design may have saved the Challenger Seven during shuttle operations.

    Let’s start, let’s finish. That’s my guess for the crew’s response.”

    I probably should have stopped at the end of the second paragraph. Oh, well.

  34. Andrew W says:

    Well, I can see it even if know one else can :-/

    Andrew W says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    January 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

    So what did the Great Leaders of history do that made them so Great? The Founding Fathers, for example, or great leaders in business? They improved the structure of whatever organisation it was they were running. To be sure, it was they who had the courage to make great changes, but for the organisations they established or revolutionised to continue to succeed after control had been passed to others, comes down the systems put in place.

    This is one of my favourite quotes:
    “It is the dead who govern. Look you, man, how they work their will upon us! Who have made the laws?
    The dead! Who have made the customs that we obey and that form and shape our lives?
    The dead! And the titles to our lands-have not the dead devised them?…If a surveyor runs a line he begins at some corner that the dead set up; and if one goes to law upon a question the judge looks backward through his books until he finds out how the dead have settled it-and he follows that. And all the writers, when they would give weight and authority to their opinions, quote the dead; and the orators and all those who preach and lecture-are not their mouths filled with words that the dead have spoken?
    Why, man, our lives follow grooves that the dead have run out with their thumbnails!”

    Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries
    Author: Melville Davisson Post

    (I’d use HTML to blockquote but I usually cock it up without an edit function) 🙂

    • waynehale says:

      What a sad point of view. I believe that we control our own destiny and that history shows that progress is always made by changing the mores and customs of the past.

      • Andrew W says:

        “Progress” is built on better technology and cheaper energy – that is, greater wealth. The customs of the past existed because they suited the societies they existed in. Those customs wouldn’t suit todays society, todays customs wouldn’t suit ancient, poorer, societies.

        Do you think the disparity in the wealth of nations today is a result of the rich countries having better leaders or is it because they’ve got better systems and structures controlling the leadership and giving their people more certainty and confidence in the stability of their countries?
        If you put Obama in control of Zimbabwe would his leadership make the country rich and stable? If you put Robert Mugabe in charge of the US would the country collapse into poverty? The answer in the former case is that without being under the control of a strong system Obama would turn into a despot. In the latter case Mugabe, if he continued with his existing practices, would be out of power within days because in the US the system controls and deals to bad leadership practices.

        Lao Tzu Leader Quote:

        “The leader is best,
        When people are hardly aware of his existence,
        Not so good when people praise his government,
        Less good when people stand in fear,
        Worst, when people are contemptuous.
        Fail to honor people, and they will fail to honor you.
        But of a good leader, who speaks little,
        When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
        The people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”
        ~ Lao Tzu

      • waynehale says:

        Now we are getting further and further afield. The topic was space architecture. If you want to wax on about different styles of government, well, there must be a better place to do it.

      • Andrew W says:

        Fair enough, but to reiterate, my point is that to get the space exploration results we all want to see, it’s not a question of finding some great new leader to administer NASA, (or the country for that matter) it’s a question of changing how NASA is structured, especially including the bureaucratic system that controls it. That may well involve devolving many of NASA’s functions to other organisations.

      • waynehale says:

        Different subject, different post, lets drop this

  35. Jack Knight says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Wayne for many years in operations and would echo his words. I firmly endorse the notion of making a decision and getting on with its execution. The space operations world demands that if you want to get anything out of your efforts.

    Unfortunately, the development world seems to pay its workers whether or not a product is ever produced. Even making a decision and sticking to it does not totally address NASA’s problems. For example, the Mars Science Lab (MSL) project started out at somewhere between $650M and $1.6B and is now about to be completed (maybe) at $2.47B +. See . The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is in similar straits. Even if a decision sticks, NASA’s contracting and development processes result in cost and schedule growth.

    There seems to be more and more emphasis on process rather than product (which might make sense in some instances), especially in the somewhat recent NASA management notions of moving managers around every few years to some other spot “for experience and leadership growth” or some such rationale. While it may appear to enhance a few people’s careers, I have seen no evidence that it results in better, more efficient project completion. Rather, it seems to be that competency is not used effectively and it leads to “viewgraph engineering” where problem details are seldom raised and mostly swept under the rug.

    Program yearly budgeting, which used to take only a few weeks a year, has evolved to extend over the entire year, generating numerous studies and iterations and taking technical managements time which would be better spent pushing the project along.

    I am sure there are many more parasitic loads in the processes and if NASA wants to really get back to doing things effectively, these need to be identified and at least publicized so Congress and the OMB, which is often the root cause of many of them, can face up to what it has wrought.

    Jack Knight

    • waynehale says:

      Much of what I learned about NASA came from Jack Knight. One of the best supervisors I ever had. Once again you have correctly and succinctly identified a major problem that is impeding progress.

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