After the Barn Burned Down

The Never Summer Range of the Colorado Rockies

The frontier horizon

We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.

–          Sir Winston Churchill in a speech to the Canadian Parliament.  Dec 30, 1941


Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself, I read a speech of Churchill’s.  Comparing any problem we have today with the blitz puts things into perspective.  Churchill never wavered in reminding his people what was important.  And the British people never wavered either. That was “their finest hour.”

Lately writing has been very difficult, confronted with the situation in human space flight.  There is much to read, but then again, not much of value. 

Almost three years ago, August 28, 2008, I wrote a blog post about shutting down the Shuttle program; you can still read it on archives of the NASA web:

Then, as now, a number of folks propose that the current administration reverse the old administration’s decision to stop flying the shuttle.  But even in the summer of 2008, it was too late.  Not technically impossible, but already past the point of financial feasibility to resurrect the program.   Then I wrote “the horse has left the barn”.  Now the barn has burned down. 

It is simply heartbreaking to wander the halls of the NASA human spaceflight facilities and listen to the empty echoes.  Yes, the ISS continues on; and the other parts of NASA – science, aeronautics – they continue on.  But the exquisite dedicated professional team that made human space flight look so easy is dismembered, dispersed, and nearly completely dismantled. 

The plan, such as it is, consists of looking for the entrepreneurial heirs of Henry Ford to produce the Model T.  The hope is the genius of free enterprise will move us from the horse and buggy era to the gasoline alley era of space exploration.  That is a good hope, but in the meantime personally, I would have kept the horse until the automobile appeared.

But as they say: hope is not a plan.

The plan is to subsidize Henry’s descendants until they get their first auto-mobile off the assembly line.  And thereafter for the government to buy seats onboard the jitney for quite a while.  This is frequently compared to how the transcontinental railroad was built; or how airmail helped commercial aviation get started.  Neither analogy is perfect, but can suffice for illustration.

But even now, there are forces gathering to squash the Model T builders.  Without even that bare bones plan, we would be back to transporting ourselves on shank’s mare; no way to get to orbit except by continuing to hitchhike to space on the Tsar’s old buggy. 

What we all agree is lacking is a clear expression of why space exploration is important to the nation, to the economy, and to the future of humankind.  Just why the nation should care about the manifest destiny of space when there are so many problems surrounding us. 

My friend Roger Launius wrote a brilliant first chapter in the book “The Societal Impact of Spaceflight” (NASA SP 4900, ISBN 0160801907).  He examines the various arguments for the importance of human space flight.  Another dear and extraordinarily competent friend, Mary Lynne Dittmar, has addressed the same subject in good grey language for policymakers in  ‘HSF Value Proposition’ published online

And heaven knows, I labored to write a coherent rationale for human space flight, from my teen years right through my NASA blog pages.  Go back to those archived blogs and read some of that labor.  After 40 years of effort, I’m a bit weary of pasting words together to make the case.

On a recent Sunday evening, far from NASA and the space coast, my wife and I enjoyed a ranger talk at an amphitheater in one of our great national parks.  The ranger was young and female but she embodied the best of the national park service in that talk.  Even though the focus of her talk lay elsewhere, she started by describing the vision for the national parks and the purpose of the government service who is entrusted with their care.  She quoted from the Act which created the National Park Service in 1915.  She read a long passage from Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire”, and then quoted Bernard DeVoto.  Even without having to resort to John Muir, the young ranger succinctly and completely described the vision, purpose, and essential rationale for the parks and the National Park Service.  It didn’t hurt her exposition that we were surrounded by beauty and majesty on all sides.  See the picture at the top of this post.

We could use that young ranger in our space policy debates.  The leadership of our country just doesn’t seem to care. The media doesn’t have the attention span to get it.  The head of the Office of Science Technology Policy can’t express it, if he knows what it is.  The appointed leadership of NASA can’t either.  Congress is, well, too interested in scoring political points in meaningless debates.  The commercial guys can’t seem to sell it.  These days the trivial and the urgent have drowned out the important.

It is almost too trite, but I caught a glimmer of a credible value statement last evening on the very late reruns: “. . . to seek out new life and new civilizations . . .” and – let’s say it all together – “to boldly go . . . “

Oh?  You know it by heart already?  Then why are we here, having a discussion about what we already know

That is a good value proposition; similar even to the one articulated by Fredrick Jackson Turner over a century ago, except for one critical detail:  the frontier isn’t closed.  Not unless we turn back from it.

So I will repeat Churchill’s question:  what are we made of?  Sugar candy?

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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62 Responses to After the Barn Burned Down

  1. Ron Smith says:

    The biggest thing that should have been done was a manifest stretch after the proposed FY 2011 changes and COTS/CRS delays. There would have not been any need for new vendors, only would have cost upkeep. Then again I would have loved to see the USA proposal actually get some attention. However, shoulda coulda woulda right?

    Sad how SLS planning is being forced to design in loop-de loops for twenty years to get to final configuration, almost like someone wants it to be torpedoed.

    • waynehale says:

      Unfortunately a “manifest stretch” is inordinantly expensive. Keeping all those folks on the payroll costs money. Congress and the OMB are not in the mood to give away money these days . . . at least not for space.

  2. Mr. Hale,

    Thank you for the words over those four decades as well as those from today. As someone who shares your feelings about the current state of manned space program and while hope isn’t a plan – it does make me hopeful that there are MANY enthusiastic, articulate and active supporters of the manned space exploration. These “SpaceTweeps”, as we’ve come to be called, are doing many things to get the word out and explain that value proposition to general taxpayer, child in grade school – all the way to the White House. I was just visiting the artist Robert McCall’s website this evening looking at all the wonderful visions of history he captured. It was his paintings of the “future” that saddened me a bit tonight. Those pictures represent futures that will never be. However, as the emails and messages I’ve gotten just within the last few hours, from like minded people from across the globe remind me – we have not given up. Never.

    John M Knight

  3. The fundamental problem with the current national approach to spaceflight is, in my opinion, the as-yet unresolved problem of how to reconcile the long-term needs for any space program (design, testing, production taking years) with the ever-worsening myopia of modern American politics, especially for congressmen with no space industry constituency. It’s certainly not for a lack of interest from willing and dedicated people — rather, a lack of institutional support (again, looking at a series of presidents and congresses with lofty speech but no funds or authorization to back it up). The energy is certainly out there. How can we better harness it?

    • waynehale says:

      Everybody talks about Congress as if they exist in a vacuum. They are the elected repressentatives of the people. They are always trying to find out what their constituents think is important. The government isn’t Congress or the White House, the government is the people, the government is us. Call, write, email your congressman and senator.

      • Ken Del Piero says:

        I wish it were so. I believe much of the disfunction we now see in government is because our elected officials are NOT responsible to their putative constituents. In a world where the largest proportion of campaign funding comes from corporate interests, guess who is calling the tune. When a senator makes a lot of noise about “saving jobs” I suspect it is a cover for “saving corporate profits.” The votes of individual citizens are swayed by the campaigns paid for by corporations. We risk all becoming pawns.

        In order to see space policy in the best interests of the nation, those interests MUST come before the interests of lobbyists. It is time to renew the true meaning of democracy and restrict the power of corporations to affect elections. Let’s make sure that we DO get the government we deserve.

        As always, your words are thoughtful and heartfelt. Thank you.

  4. FG says:

    good words

  5. Andrew W says:

    I think it is time to pin our hopes on “the entrepreneurial heirs of Henry Ford”, boots and all, and I think NASA’s domination has for decades inhibited the growth of commercial spaceflight. Commercial operators will often shy away from going head to head with government corporations even if there’s no explicit evidence that the competition will be unfair.
    And I think it’s tragic that NASA has been so hostile towards space tourism, given the huge potential of that market.

    • waynehale says:

      Dan Goldin was initially hostile to the first space tourist Dennis Tito. However a lot has changed in more than a decade. NASA has now embraced space tourism as an engine to power commercial space flight Not that they haven’t made some missteps, but the intent is there. NASA does not see commercial operators as competitors but as potential vendors. I think your comment is out of date, true in the distant past now, not at all germaine to the current situation.

      • Tom D says:

        It’s nice to see NASA becoming more friendly to commercial space flight, but it will take more than that to develop a vigorous market for human spaceflight. Most critically, it will take a lot more customers and lower prices. I can’t say how that will come about, but I greatly fear that the NASA bureaucracy will latch on to the nascent HSF industry as the only game in town and love it to death.

  6. Steve Pemberton says:

    As usual you have somehow pulled together what others would see as disparate topics and used them to paint a vivid and meaningful picture of human spaceflight.

    Your mentioning of Henry Ford reminded me of how Ford had vision and that’s why he was the one who revolutionized the automobile industry and essentially set it in motion, even though others before him probably had equal or better technical capability and financial backing. Many people don’t realize this but Henry Ford also had a similar role in commercial aviation in the U.S. in the 1920’s by providing vision and leadership at a time when it was lacking.

    Not to fall into the “What would Elon do?” mantra, but I think that the type of vision that Elon Musk has is similar to what Henry Ford had. In the future we may look back and realize that Musk, or someone like him was the catalyst in revolutionizing space travel. At least I hope so. I think that the chances of similar vision coming out of government agencies or large corporations are slim to none. It may seem old fashioned to think that one person could make that much difference in today’s complex world like Henry Ford did a hundred years ago. Maybe so, and maybe someone like Musk won’t revolutionize space travel. But if not, I hope it’s not because vision has become an old fashioned relic of the Model T era.

    • waynehale says:

      It takes vision plus execution. There are plenty of visionaries, but painfully few visionaries that can actually make something work. Lets hope that Elon (and Jeff Bezos, and Mark Sirangelo, etc., etc.) get it right on both counts – the vision thing, and the execution thing.

  7. No plan, no next destination, no goal. That is what is so frustrating to me. Sure NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden says “We have a plan”

    Okay, what is it?

    There is no leadership, no direction, in the White House. Congress, specifically the Senate, is meddling in the affairs of NASA directing NASA on how to design and build a rocket, the SLS, derisively called the “Senate Launch System” to keep jobs in their state. NASA is not a jobs program for Utah, Alabama, Texas, or Florida. NASA is the United States’ Space Program!

    The US is pinning hope on commercial enterprise to launch NASA astronauts. It is a “Build It and They Will Come” hope.

    I regret the retirement of the Space Shuttle program. I understand the reason that the CAIB recommended recertifying the Space Shuttle fleet or retiring the Space Shuttle fleet. Recertification would cost a fortune. It was a goal of mine to see a Space Shuttle launch. I didn’t make the NASA Tweetup for STS-134 or STS-135, but I was able to get a ticket to view STS-135 from the NASA Causeway. I got the surprise of my life when I received an invitation from NASA to be part of the first and only NASA Tweetup for a Space Shuttle landing. I was at the Shuttle Landing Facility to see Atlantis land for the final time.

    I also understand the reason why the Augustine commission and Obama cancelled the Constellation program. It was way over budget and way behind schedule.

    But Obama cannot take total blame for cancelling America’s manned spaceflight program. Had President Bush fully funded Constellation and lobbied Congress for full funding, Constellation may have been in better shape today.

    I regret that America is losing vast resources of talented space workers.

    • waynehale says:

      There is much I could disagree with in your comment, but at the bottom line I agree with your last sentence as the conclusion of today’s sad state of affairs.

      Charlie would like to influence the policy makers to sign on to a vision, and in some ways he has tweaked their intended trajectory slightly. But you are right, a vision that doesn’t take flight for almost two decades is hardly a vision. And easy for the budget bean counters to zero out in the near future.

      • Alan says:

        The current goal would be better described as “build something so we can go to interesting places” at least we will stop spending our time going in endless circles.

  8. Unfortunately, I think we’ve suffered for decades with poor leadership regards space planning and policy. Somtimes, the implementation of what leadership there was, was lacking. In this I’m thinking of the management of SSF when I first came down. We had a lot of leaders who were unwilling to train the young engineers, or think outside the box, but felt we should, rather than learn the lessons of SkyLab, mimic them. That’s been a persistent problem.

    What I feel we need is to return to a mission goal defined by either a charismatic NASA Administrator, or the President, and a congress that’s not so full of themselves that they’ll simply bicker any good ideas away.

    But, still, I fear the Country has lost the vision. Those of us who believe in the Space Program and the good things it can do for the Country and humanity, are in a sorry minority. Kids today see TV and movie effects, and video games, that show spaceflight as routine, and almost devoid of danger — or the excitement of discovery — save the occasional bloody encounter with enemy aliens. It’s hard to show what’s exciting about getting on top of a giant roman candle and having someone light the fuse. It’s hard to adequately explain to a 13 year old why looking down is so awe-inspiring. It’s been hard to explain to almost ANYONE what the challenges were of designing medical equipment, or ham radio hardware, for manned spaceflight because attention spans are short. The explanation requires a lot of background and your audience’s eyes are glazed over before they gain the appreciation for what it takes to move from this planet to even low Earth orbit.

    Attention spans are even shorter, I’ve found, for politicians, unless they’re campaigning for flight time.

    Wayne, thanks for the musings. They’re still a wonderful read. And valuable.

    • waynehale says:

      My advice – get your kids out of the house, away from the TV, the computer, the video games, the movie theater. Take them to a national park. Take them on a hike. Take them to a local museum. Make them read a book on Lindberg, or Perry, or Byrd. Maybe especially make them read a book about Shackelton.

      Better yet, take them to see a live performance of King Lear or McBeth.

      You get a distorted view of the world through the lense of small electronic screens.

  9. Beth Webber says:


    I would venture to say that all of us who read this post will nod our heads in agreement, but then, you are preaching to the choir. And I guess that is the problem, or rather the question: how do you get those not in the choir to read this, or to listen?

    Space exploration seems so very self evident to me, and like you, I get very tired of having to make the case for human spaceflight. But it isn’t to believers like me that the case must be made to.

    Keep writing! Maybe someday the right person will be reading, or listening.


    • waynehale says:

      I am reminded of the comment made by John Adams about twenty years after the Revolution. “Never more than one third of the people actively supported independence”

      All great changes have occurred because of the efforts of a small group of committee people; the vast majority of people doesn’t figure it out until its over.

  10. rikerjoe says:

    For me, the rationale for human spaceflight comes down to plain language about what we – all of us – value. Is it national pride and “soft power”? Entrepreneurialism, commerce and the almighty buck? Science? Saving the Earth? Settling the stars? Much of the conversation I’ve seen in the space community has not been straightforward about these values and others, leading to vague policy decisions and uncertain implementation plans, or at the very least an inability to lead conversations around the “why.” Into the resulting vacuum of space policy leadership at the highest levels of Government has stepped the Congress. And really, given the Munchausen syndrome by proxy that our elected officials on Capitol Hill displayed recently over the debt ceiling, is that who we want determining our future in human spaceflight?

  11. waynehale says:

    In a democracy, the people get the kind of government they deserve.

  12. Alan says:

    I lay it squarely at the feet of Griffin. We had a perfectly goof plan in 2003-2004 to have a competitive flyoff to down-select to two vehicle designs in Cycle 1 (2010-2011 full availability) and BEO in Cycle 2 (2015-2020). We WOULD have had at least one of the solutions running when ISS construction was completed and Shuttle was put to pasture.

    Instead the 2005 ESAS “60-day Study” gives us a “Mike-knows-best” solution that has obvious engineering flaws exacerbated by extremely poor Systems Engineering practices at MSFC.

    So if the barn has been burned down, Griffin was holding the match when the fire started and certain Senators and Representatives where lobbing cans of napalm into the conflagration. They together spent the next few years dancing wildly around the fire al la Lord of the Flies …

    Don’t know who was the worst NASA Administrator – Mike Griffin with Constellation/ARES I/ARES V or Tom Paine with the 100-man Space Station. Both led the agency into quagmires that distracted it from the stated mission of the agency and caused the “dreaded” gap.

    • waynehale says:

      Stop. Just stop. This is not about about fixing blame. It is about where do we go from here. I will not allow any more comments of this nature on this blog.

      • Alan says:

        I understand your feelings, I know people who put equivalent personal and professional effort into Saturn as you put into Shuttle. They made similar comments about Congress, NASA and the Nixon Administration losing “momentum” and “cutting the engines” while the “plane is in flight” (their analogy is different from yours, but still appropriate).

        These people were veterans of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab, they were involved in the building, running and maintaining of the systems for those program (and a couple of them were on the Launch/Flight Director loops up to, during and post launches). The advise from the wise and experienced older engineers to a young engineer was:

        “Know where you’ve been and the root-causes of why you got where you are, so you can go where you want to go without making the mistakes made before.”

        So I dispute your comment of “fixing blame” – that implies that we’re going to do something about it – we DO need to remember the path we traveled to get where we currently are AND to know what the root-causes were that put us on this path so that we don’t make the same mistakes moving forward.

  13. Mike says:

    Along these same lines, I have been saying for years, that NASA has done a poor job of Public Relations regarding manned space flight and the technology that spins off from that effort. If Jane and Joe Public could get a sense of what these programs have done for them over the years, the support garnered thru the public/congressional lens could lead to a stable budget (currently less than 1 %) that could help keep us on the leading edge going forward into space.

    • waynehale says:

      Second time: stop, just stop. I know and appreciate the hardworking folks in NASA public affairs and I completely reject your point. And its off point, too. Where do we go from here? Say something positive. Give some direction to go. Quit complaining about the past.

  14. A memory from the last of the Apollo days as workers left with their pink slips. One worker said to the TV reporter that he, the worker, could build starships or warships. In a technological age, those are powerful ways of flexing the tech muscles. I am not naive enough to say no warships, but prefer showing the world we can be great with starships.

    Either way, it comes down to Bucks and how to get them.

    I worry that the space community, the possible leaders of the thirty percent, rally the troops only for their piece of the pie. Robotics argues they are more cost effective than HSF. Exploration wants ISS money. Commercial rails against Constellation.

    The pie needs to be bigger. We fight over scraps. The one bit that Augustine got right, NASA needs more Bucks.

    My ideal would be the budget to do Exploration and SuperCOTS side by side. Let Exploration do the past LEO and SuperCOTS get the pieces of it to LEO. This would increase flight tempo which is the cornerstone of reducing the costs to LEO. The planned cost savings of the STS was based on flight tempo. A tempo that was never possible.

    High tide floats more boats. More Bucks, More Buck Rogers. It doesn’t matter how you say it, more money means more direct and indirect benefits.

    I argue that even more than strong leadership, we need a strong voice to fund the current leadership. And that voice must demand more, for all the reasons we already know.

    Ok now, who is going to approach Tom Hanks to be our spokesperson?

    Or, who is your ideal spokesperson?

  15. About 19 months ago, as a member of “a certain US Senator’s” science advisory panel, I sat across from him, drinking coffee and explaining that I thought, since the shuttles were through only about one-third of their designed life span, we should use them to construct a space station in equatorial orbit made of Bob Bigelow’s relatively low cost inflatable habitats. This station could be used as a moon ship assembly/refueling station and greatly facilitate access to the moon and beyond. I spent about ten minutes detailing why this was a good plan, how the ISS’s 56-degree inclination is not good for moon going, how it’s less expensive to go to 25K mph from 17.5K mph than it is to do it from 0 mph stuck to the planet, and that he really should watch “2001, A Space Odyssey” again. After I finished my presentation, he sat there for a while looking rather blank and finally said, “2001, a what?” I think that pretty much says it all. Rock on!

    • waynehale says:

      It is a hard thing to win an election for a congressional seat. I don’t expect our representatives to be all knowing or infallable. We basically hire a bunch of lawyers to go write laws for us. I wish there were more engineers in Congress but it doesn’t seem to fit the personality type.
      Scratch that, I wish there were more philosopher kings in Congress.
      But we make do with what we have. Help educate your lawmaker. They need your help.

  16. Wayne,
    Heartfelt thanks for making it clear that Obama is not to blame for cancelling Shuttle as so many claim. I agree Shuttle was too expensive to operate indefinitely. It was, after all, the very first RLV, and many critical decisions were made before we had any hands-on experience with flight or maintenance. The problem is that NASA learned the wrong lesson, that reusability “has failed” and that LEO “is boring”. I don’t know anyone who has actually been in LEO that thinks it’s boring, and I don’t know anyone who was actually hands-on with the Shuttle at KSC who didn’t have ideas and insights about why it was expensive and how it could be done better with a new RLV design. Unfortunately these people are contractors, not NASA, and are almost all being laid off. Most of their insights on the cost of RLV operations, hard won through decades of experience, will be lost. Surely it is worth preserving.

    Unlike RLVs, ELV manufacturing is quite mature and, as much as SpaceX has accomplished, there are few new efficiencies to be wrung out of it. The curve of demand for human spaceflight on the open market is such that without a factor of ten reduction in cost human spaceflight will be limited to a handful of flights a year for national prestige and one or two very wealthy tourists. This cannot be achieved with ELVs. That’s why, over thirty years ago, we started to build the Space Shuttle. The logic still holds. CCDev can provide interim access to ISS. NASA should work with industry to build on our experience with a new, fully reusable RLV.

    • John says:

      Maybe I missed something, but if Obama is not to blame then who is?

    • waynehale says:

      Wow, is there anybody you like?
      I am looking for positive direction here, not a rehash of the past.
      And I never ever said those things about the shuttle.
      And yes, Obama shares the blame. Not alone, but he has his part of it

      • Wayne,
        I agree you did not say any of those things about the Shuttle, and I sincerely apologize if I suggested otherwise. I meant merely that others had said them.

        But I remain unclear as to whether you favored or opposed terminating Shuttle and virtually all NASA work on other reusable launch systems between 2000 and 2005. If reusability is a dead end, this is a reasonable course. However, if reusability is essential for practical HSF, and Shuttle was simply a flawed first attempt, then this course wastes roughly a thousand person-centuries of hands-on experience and insight, experience which is disappearing as we speak.

        My own view is that HSF has practical value, but that value is decidedly finite. Therefore, rather than searching for an elusive rationale that we hope will justify the extraordinary cost of HSF, I believe our first goal should be to reduce the cost of HSF until it is a rational choice for mundane purposes like research, tourism, and satellite maintenance. The work people can do in space (or the experiences they enjoy as tourists) must be worth the cost of the trip.

    • Andrew W says:

      I think Daniel’s hit the nail on the head, we need to build on what’s been learnt from the Shuttle, re-usability is the hurdle that needs to be crossed, if that can be done with fast turnarounds, and by using the cash available from the number of individuals who want to spend money to experience space we can get volumes up, cost to orbit would plunge.

  17. Karen says:

    Could it be that what is missing is the forceful interest of the young? My favorite entertainment during my childhood was the show you quoted and its heirs. My kids today watch shows about kids who become famous, or kids who have magical/supernatural powers. There is virtually no space-based science fiction being written for kids (for tv, film or print), and I don’t know how many will develop a love for science and engineering and space exploration without this kind of spark for their imagination.

    Wayne, draft a screenplay for a kids show to bring your vision of the future in space exploration to the public. Maybe Buzz will use his Hollywood contacts to help you bring it to production. The pilot season for fall 2012 is coming fast.

    • waynehale says:

      Sounds like a great idea. I will put my thinking cap on . . . .

      • I’d help with that one!

        Over the past 24 hours I’ve spent some time in the halls at JSC and “heartbreaking” is the perfect word. “Tragic” is another. Changing policy, encouraging commercial spaceflight, and revectoring NASA’s HSF goals is one thing, and there’s some good stuff in there. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is quite another.

        Thank you for the kind words. I’m proud to be your friend. Also I concur with your wish for some philosopher kings (and queens) in Congress. Even more, if it’s not too presumptuous of me I’d like to add my voice to yours encouraging folks to exercise their responsibility as citizens. “Representative government” is only representative when the electorate weighs in. Congress _is_ in fact responsive to the electorate. Even after the debacle of that debt ceiling battle, the leadership responded to the growing (and visible) public anger that was beginning to fix on their decision to enter recess without renewing funding for the FAA. Well played by Administrator Randy Babbit and staff, the “public relations campaign via press release” didn’t take long.

        I’d also like to add my voice to those here who thank you for your thoughts and words, particularly when you’re ‘weary’ and of heavy heart. I also appreciate your unique way of moderating the blog, refusing to let it be hijacked into the usual non-productive blogcomment wars. All of it is important. Don’t stop.

  18. shirshor says:

    The vagaries of politics and policy alone won’t get us hitched to a wagon to take us to the stars. The motivations of politicians and policymakers are too temporal (tied to the near-term) and limited to ancillary benefits (jobs for constituents, etc.). There are some who argue HSF’s importance in terms of national security and prestige, and those arguments can’t be ignored, but those alone won’t swage those who control resources and can make things happen. Politician and policymakers won’t move us forward.

    The logical argument that HSF results in science and knowledge gained, insertion of technology to the economy and the promotion of international cooperation are, again, all valid, but are have proven since the advent of human space flight to be insufficient by themselves to rationalize billions of budgetary expenditure. Logical rationalization won’t move us forward.

    Threat, or perceived threat, remains a sufficient, although not very idealistic, motivator. In the 1950’s ballistic missile development, which lead to launch vehicle for human spacecraft, was prioritized because of gap between what the United States could loft and that of the Soviet Union. The clarion call to land a man on the Moon was, of course, a peaceful use of power in a competition with the same Soviet Union to prove technological supremacy to the world. Threat (real or perceived) remains a motivator, although generally not attributed as a positive one. Real or perceived threat can move us forward, but it is not sustainable once the threat diminishes.

    So, what will move us forward? A leader. HSF needs a Churchill. A person who can combine the aspirations of a country on it’s economic knees, looking for greatness again, with the organizational skills to rally the masses. This need not be a politician, Gandhi and MLK were not politicians, but someone who believes in their heart the promise of human space flight and who can take the message to the masses –

    A compelling vision of a space faring country, leading the world, innovating and inspiring, partnering between government and the private sector, creating jobs and national affluence now and in to the future, is a vision that can be sold. Ronald Reagan’s “Shining city on a hill” leading to a “Morning in America again” was not policy or a plan. It was simple inspiration. This country is in need of simple inspiration again and human space flight can provide that. All we need is a spokesperson like Winston.

    • waynehale says:

      The country has a long enough attention span to build the interstate highway system. There are lots of things the country and its political class have a long enough attention span to complete, if the case is made and understood.

      I’ve always been put out with Reagan because he did not announce the space station when we landed STS-4 for him at his doorstep on the 4th of July. As much as I admire him, he was not a big supporter of the space program.

      • shirshor says:

        Show me a President who was a big supporter of the space program? Reading John Logsdon’s new book, even Kennedy readily admitted he “wasn’t much interested in space”. I suspect the last one who had a sincere, sustained interest in space was Johnson. I certainly don’t see any candidates on the horizon who sincerely believe in the pursuit of HSF, who “get it”. Again, I don’t believe we are limited to looking to our politicians or elected leaders for leadership. Leaders can take many forms and be just as effective. But the one ingredient they all need is to communicate the message in compelling ways that the masses can consume. The spark of an inspiration is sometimes all that is needed to initiate an effort and start movement down a path.

  19. the people understand well enough (about 60/40 pro?) the need for an American human space flight program (there really is no other kind of space program if you see the need to leave). Most all of our leaders are too uninformed to either understand the benefits and the need to be part of (lead?) the stone-cast leap to space, or God Forbid, listen to their constituents, and go do it. There has to be an economic linchpin (He3 on the moon may be?) We need a ‘California Gold Rush’ where there is no air…

    • waynehale says:

      He3 would be a great resource if only we could figure out how to make a fusion reactor work.

      Don;t tell the fine folks at JPL (or GSFC) that the robotic program is not a bona fide space program. They do great work.

      So what is the economic linchpin? Darned if I know. I don’t think that line of reasoning is persuasive today.

      • Robotics and unmanned space craft do great work.

        Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exceeded the expectations of the designers; working far beyond their 90 day planned mission.

        Voyager 1 & 2 will celebrate their 34th anniversary in space, with power and fuel expected to last to 2020.

        Voyager 1 and Voyager 2:
        Congratulations and keep on truckin’

    • Helium-3 only costs about $2000 per liter, which for a fusion fuel would be insignificant. It is already produced in large quantities on earth from tritium decay, and more could easily be manufactured; it It’s difficult to see how lunar extraction could possibly be competitive.

      In my view the economic linchpin for spaceflight will have to be much lower cost. Propellant-grade LH2 costs only 98 cents a gallon at LC-39. LOX is only 60 cents. The cost of the energy needed to get into orbit is insignificant. The cost is in maintenance and operations, which are design dependent.

      • waynehale says:

        Lets see, solar energy is there for free, all we have to do is collect it. Wind energy is there for free, all we have to do is harness it. Oil in the ground is free, all we have to do is get it out.All of these sentences are true, and none of them is complete. Doing the engineering work to build a device that turns energy (or chemicals) into useful work costs a lot. That is where the real costs are.

        I never know LH2 and LOX were so cheap. Guess they never showed me the bill. Trucking it half way across the country must have added to the price.

  20. Heinrich Monroe says:

    Excellent essay, Mr. Hale. It captures what seems to be a lack of (may I use the word?) “vision” in our public perspective on space exploration. That is, as you cogently put it, “a clear expression of why space exploration is important to the nation, to the economy, and to the future of humankind”. Let’s be clear. Going back to the Moon is not, in itself, important to the nation. Nor is going to Mars. Nor are building large space launch vehicles. In the absence of any real such explanation, we hide behind words like “exploration” or “inspiration”, without really quite knowing what they mean. At least partly because much of our inquisitiveness about space can now be satisfied telerobotically, those words mean different things than they used to. Our nation should be challenged to look beyond ill-defined words like those, and really get to the heart of what makes the human exploration of space (whether or not it actually involves human space flight!) important.

    In the absence of any such established and compelling vision, one clear expression of why space exploration is important to the nation and the economy is simple. It’s jobs. Having jobs for people is a profound vision we all admire. Congress has jumped on that horse. We laugh at them for doing so but, you know, they’re responding to the clearest expression we’ve ever managed to agree upon. For all their failings, Congress is sensitive to compelling visions, and jobs is the only compelling vision they’ve been able to sink their teeth into. Of course, there is a bit of a uniqueness problem. Making jobs doesn’t need space exploration.

    I personally think that being curious about our world and our capabilities in it is an awesomely important trait for humankind. How are those served by space exploration in ways that are unique? The importance of species expansion is unarguable. Bad things happen, and the prime directive for our species is to preserve itself. That expansion simply can’t be achieved telerobotically, and is also something that doesn’t have fixed deadlines we have to meet. I find it perplexing that our Administrations and Congresses have never referred to that particular supremely important reason for human space flight. Of course, the advantage there is to a species, and not to a nation. That may be why any one nation has a hard time committing to it.

    I’ll take issue with one point you made. That is the comparison of NASA with the National Park Service. The obvious difference is the budget. Visions have to have value, and that of the NPS would seem to be a stunning bargain compared to that for NASA. The value proposition is quite different. So yes, we could use the spirit of that young ranger in our space policy debates, but we could also use some hard cash. Lots of it. Not having that cash, it’ll take more than a passionate ranger to help explain the vision that we need.

  21. P. Savio says:

    NASA has an Administrator who cries too much.
    NASA has a deputy Administrator who smiles too much.
    America has a President who doesn’t care about manned spaceflight.
    America has an Office of Budget Management who wants manned spaceflight shutdown.
    America has a dysfunctional Congress.
    America is broke.

    Having said that I actually feel somewhat positive about commercial space. I think SpaceX (Falcon9/Falcon Heavy/Dragon) and Boeing (CST-100) should give the US a LEO manned spacecraft within 4 to 5 years.

    I think SLS is already dead in the water especially if the recent reports of it costing $38 Billion and no manned flights for 10 years are correct.

    That leaves Orion without a ride, unless it’s Falcon Heavy? A Private Public Partnership to the Moon or Asteroids perhaps?…or Orion becomes a museum piece.

    • waynehale says:

      I thought the Orion could be handily carried to orbit by the Delta IV Heavy – a vehicle which is already flying. Perhaps we could talk to our Russian partners about flying the Orion on a Proton. In the development stage, not only Falcon Heavy could carry Orion to LEO but also the LIberty Rocket from ATK/Arianespace. Heck, if the Direct guys could have sold their rocket it would have put Orion in orbit easily. Lots of choices, even a couple that are already flying.

      • P. Savio says:

        Delta IV isn’t currently man rated – neither is Proton I think?
        Liberty is another paper rocket as is Direct.
        Falcon Heavy while in development is meant to be, eventually, a man rated rocket.
        So yes lots of rockets for Orion development and test flights but how many that are man rated as I type – actually none – plus I mean with Orion not just a ride to LEO but BEO, and that would probably require 2 x Falcon Heavy (1 x Orion, 1 x Earth Departure Stage)?

  22. CuriousWanderer says:

    NASA and Congress need to recognize that NASA’s more than just another government entity. It’s a symbol of American ingenuity, creativity, and vision. It’s where you go to see science fiction become fact. It’s true value is intangible, but we feel its loss when it becomes less visible. Shuttle was argueably the most visible aspect of NASA for the past 30 years. No wonder so many in the general public ask why we’re abandoning the space program.

    What NASA provides is a home and outlet for visionary talent, from scientists and engineers to astronauts and summer interns. The exploration programs continue to amaze even a jaded public, and even when the value of what is accomplished is poorly understood. To establish the next human spaceflight goal for NASA as exploration beyond low Earth orbit is a clear next step. Commercial providers can pick up the respnsibility for transportation to and from LEO, but there are technical challenges still to go beyond that. NASA can thrive in that challenge, and the country will benefit from the experience. Did anyone foresee all the technological advances that accompanied the lunar exploration goal in the 1960’s? What can you imagine could come from the extension of that effort to new goals equally as difficult to achieve.

    The greatest rewards lie down the most challenging path.

  23. Phil A says:

    We got into this business full-time back in the 60’s because the bad guys were going to beat us to the moon. That was a concept every man, woman and child could understand and get behind. Skylab was a space station, how sexy was that? That’s where Space: 2001 said we were going, well, everyone knew we should have a space station. And then, the shuttle, providing re-usable technology with functionality a little bit like the venerable american pick-up truck. Who couldn’t get behind a space-going re-usable pick-up truck!

    I am oversimplifying, but only to illustrate, frankly, where you need to be to get unified ongoing support for a program from the general public. When we start talking about such-and-such by 2020, and this other goal by 2035, people know there are politicians are involved and it is more than likely BS.

    I believe we are destined to tread water for quite a while… probably decades. One day, some other country will announce they are going to the moon. That’s the day we get serious again. Americans want to win. It’s what we are good at, it’s what we are passionate about.

  24. Dave H. says:

    “What are we made of? Sugar candy?”

    Sad to say, Wayne, in today’s context Churchill’s words are as meaningful as those spoken by “Bluto” Blutarsky in “Animal House”…”Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??!!”

    As I wrote to someone who is still employed at NASA, they’d have to tear down the VAB, the OPFs, the launch pads, and replace them with shopping malls to equate what happened to those of us who live in the Rust Belt. We survived, and you will too.

    We didn’t stop making steel; we just invented better ways of doing it.
    In steelmaking terms, NASA will no longer make steel in open hearth furnaces, no longer pour ingots which must be reheated before molding into shape…say hello to the electric and basic oxygen furnaces which feed the continuous caster. Against all odds, we somehow found a way to be competitive in a “market” where most of our competitors enjoy protection and subsidies from their governments…and where any attempt to seek redress from the government we pay our taxes to is met with cries of “protectionism!”

    The larger problem is that very few people are interested in steel…or space anymore. Today the entire focus is on money and how to get more of it. That’s why there’s a show called “American Greed” on reality TV.

    Since this will be my final post on any blog, I will share a dream I had with your audience, Wayne. It took place the night before Atlantis returned safely home…

    I dreant that I was alone, walking through a hallway in an abandoned, dilapidated apartment building. All of the doors were open except the door at the end of the hall. Looking inside the opened doors, I could see that they had been completely ransacked, nothing of value left inside. As I approached the closed door, I could hear music coming from inside…it was Karen Carpenter singing “Now”. I woke up before opening that door, just as my hand touched the doorknob.
    History records that “Now” was the last song she recorded before her untimely passing, almost exactly 20 years before Columbia. The empty rooms represented every shuttle mission…now all in the past, nothing left to see here.

    Since the end of STS-135, I sense that there is nothing left for me here, that I did what I was asked to do, that my “mission” such as it was, is complete. Thank you for having been part of it…perhaps someday I’ll explain it to you, if not here, then in what awaits us all.

    I don’t have time for space anymore…putting my son through college and funding my own “retirement” take priority now.

    • waynehale says:

      Thank you for many years of dedicated service to our country Dave.
      Good luck in your new endeavors.
      Perhaps we will cross paths again some day and have a chance to talk about the good old days.

      • Dave H. says:

        Thank you very much for your kind words, Wayne. I will carry them in my heart as long as I live and beyond…

        When you were working at NASA I used to preface certain messages with “For Your Eyes Only”. I cannot do that anymore, but it’s time that you knew more of the story regardless.

        In a previous blog post, you replied to something I hinted at with “life isn’t like the movies”. Most of the time you’re right, but not this time.

        On Thursday June 12, 2003, I took a leap of faith and attended the final CAIB hearing in Washington. That leap led to a chance encounter with Dr. Douglas Osheroff, one of the Board members. He and I began exchanging ideas, and I watched in awe as many of those ideas became reality. In time, I would converse with Sean, Reads, and then you.
        The intent was to prevent any more accidents, and since everything worked, the goal was met. It didn’t matter how we did it, all that mattered was that we did it.

        You see, in early April 1970 a flight controller came up with a phrase that has been the cornerstone of my industrial career: failure is not an option.
        It never was, and never will be…or as I once wrote, “Failure is not now, nor will it ever be, an option.”

        Service to our country can come in many forms…I was never intended to fire a weapon in anger, I was intended to fix things, and when I was given the opportunity I found out who I am and what I was here for.

        Thank YOU, Wayne, and all of your colleagues who somehow knew that all I wanted to do was help.

        It all worked.

    • Kelly Starks says:

      Sadly – I don’t think the US will retain its ability to make “steel”. the customer base for space industry is dissolving. Its been to small for a long time to fund a modern launch system – now it can’t even support maintaining the dated and obsolete ones. KSc and JSc are being torn down in a way – could be literally soon.

  25. Ken says:

    To those of us who love space exploration, it’s value is self-evident. To a tired, broke, demoralized country, it’s value is questionable at best. Let’s face it, there are no military, economic or scientific benefits that justify the cost of HSF. The only real benefit is that it’s cool, that it’s an exciting challenge, in other words: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” That was an appealing argument for a country that no longer exists. Today’s America is too cynical, too divided, too broke, too demoralized.

    I don’t think the end of HSF (and that is what is happening, buying rides on Soyuz and rich people taking expensive rides don’t count) is the cause of America’s decline but I also believe (but can’t prove) that America’s decline and the simultaneous end of American HSF are not coincidental.

  26. Kelly Starks says:

    When I started in the shuttle program in ’81, I never thought that by 2011 we’d be watching even the industrial capacity for a maned program being dismantled in the US. I expected significant commercial development in space. That was a serious possibility in the ’80. Now that’s a thought for the distant future. Perhaps the next generation if at all in the US. If anything makes even that seem to optimistic.

    Its easy to be bitter if you ever had “the dream”.

    oh as to the Churchill quote. One of Obama;s first acts as president was to return the Churchill bust gift from England given years ago. Its no secret he doesn’t like the British, but given the reference to that a contrast to the present situation…
    It seemed worth pointing out.

    As for the descendants of Henry Ford building the space equivalent of the Model-T. Hope for them is pretty much gone. The NewSpace guys couldn’t deliver, the political support is gone, adn the expected markets evaporated. Same as the older aerospace companies – the technology is easy (at least for the experenced companies) but finding a markets a impenetrable brick wall.

  27. Allen Kneale says:

    I recall reading a wonderful book about the Pioneer and Voyager probes back in the early 1980s. It covered Pioneer 10 and 11 to some degree (more Pioneer 11’s encounter with Saturn), but mostly focused on Voyager 1 and 2. I no longer have a copy of it and I can’t remember the title. It is without a doubt one of the best written documents I ever read concerning the conduct of robotic spaceflight. Hopefully one day I can find a copy. The author handled the technical and scientific factors very well and he also captured some of the true wonder of the events that unfolded at JPL.

    This post is not about the value of robotic exploration or human spaceflight. What I want to mention is that in the beginning of the book there is a chapter talking about the space age and the conduct of manned spaceflight, the space race, robotic science missions, and the cold war factors driving so much that happened from the late 1950s through the period ending 1982. The author draws some very interesting parallels of the early space age years and the events of the 1970s and the pull back on manned and robotic spaceflight. I recall the author drawing some comparisons between events in eastern Europe that occurred in the early 1960s and that of the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One passage that I remember very well and has always left an impact on me is that to the author, it looked like geopolitical realities had not changed and that Young and Crippen on April 12, 1981 flew the Columbia around a world not that different than the one Gagarin did on April 12, 1961. We seemed destined to push the same rock up the same hill.

    I have thoughts that are much the same regarding the events that unfold now. The world has changed at least as it concerns a cold war standoff. For some reason we Americans seem to end up in cycles where we build up and then tear down and later start anew. There are always reasons and some are just petty politics with one “side” taking their “spoils” of election victory. In hindsight, I would love it if we had just went toward a Block III Apollo CSM with a Titan III class booster and continued onward with improving the systems we had much like the Russians have done with Soyuz. I realize that other factors including program failures (e.g., Buran, etc.) helped make Russian choices look like a well formulated plan when it was not.

    Nothing is over and the USA will have a space program. The ISS is valuable and commercial development for LEO is needed. Unfortunately we are very destructive and wasteful in path we have chosen. The Shuttle did need to end, but we were stupid not to have a replacement available to get to a 100 billion investment. An poster child example of sheer insanity and betrayal of the public trust unless those making the decisions saw it only as a way to fund a jobs program. After all, then it’s about spending money and not really about accomplishing something. We will lose great skill and others will learn new skills to replace those who have had the rug pulled out from under them. It would not be my choice, but cynically it is not surprising.

    Growing up I wanted to work in the space program, but it did not happen for so many reasons. I ended up in the environmental profession and have a wonderful career so I have no complaints. What is sad for me is that if I had been able to be a member of the space program I too would be considered expendable and likely unemployed. It is sad to see how poorly America has been served by the current and most recent administrations. One administration that set us on a path that could not be sustained, sorry Wayne – the VSE did not consist of what Griffin turned it into (but, one has to wonder why the same administration did not get their administrator in line), to an administration that was not interested in forward movement. I recall well when candidate Obama talked of deferring Constellation for five years and redirecting the funds to new education programs. I remember the fallout he received and his movement away from the path. Yes, we spend lots of money today, but with even less focus and progress than probably ever before.
    No surprises, but things will get better, but not because we will have a plan. My intent was not to pick on the current or former administration, but this whole mess has been many years in the making.

    PS – As I mentioned, I work in the environmental profession and you don’t want my opinion of this administration’s ideas for sustainability, energy independence, cap and trade, or other initiatives. They have not been handled any better.

  28. W. Lundby says:

    Space needs a big stunt that gives value to both the common man and maybe shakes up finance enough to take its blinders off and look at the world around it. ISS is nice for the types that like meetings and cooperation but it hasn’t shown any payback to the average person on the planet. Mining H3 would be the same… however there is a product that if mined and brought back to earth (even if its worth more in space) would accomplish this. That product is gold. The asteroid Eros has a lot of it. About 7 trillion at current prices, more than enough to generate interest and wake up the money people.

    • waynehale says:

      I disagree. A stunt is unsustainable. Mining H3 and making money off of it might be the start of a sustainable business – but only after somebody figures out how to make workable fusion power – which has been in development for 50 years with little prospect for near term success. We are all searching for the business case for space travel beyond tourism.

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