Wayne Hale Speech at
Von Braun Symposium October 29, 2015
First Slide – Pluto Limb from New Horizons
In his 1950 book ‘Interplanetary Flight: An Introduction to Astronautics’, Arthur C. Clarke wrote:
“the choice, as H. G. Wells once said, is the Universe – or nothing. Though men and civilizations may yearn for rest, for the Elysian dream of the Lotus Eaters, that is a desire that merges imperceptibly into death. The challenge of the great spaces between the worlds is a stupendous one, but if we fail to meet it, the story of our race will be drawing to its close. Humanity will have turned its back on the still untrodden heights and will be descending again the long slope that stretches, across a thousand million years of time, down to the primeval sea.”
What a challenge – and progress is being made as seen in this picture from the robotic New Horizons spacecraft of the planet Pluto
second slide: Saturn
The Universe or nothing. That is what all of us here believe, I think. Space exploration is important for a number of reasons that are all familiar to the crowd here. We don’t need to sell anybody here on the idea do we? In fact this is one of those aerospacy kind of meetings where the true believers are who are in attendance. This is the epitome of us talking to ourselves – something we do too much of.
So let’s take advantage of this opportunity to talk among ourselves. We can hope the media will turn off their cameras and stop their recordings because what I have to say here today is amongst the family – a message for us, to us, about us.
third slide: O’Neill
Personally I am an O’Neillian – persuaded decades ago by Gerard K O’Neill about the place of humanity in the universe – which is everywhere.
So – inside the family now – we must stop the internecine, take no prisoners debate, and not allow it to start again. Moon, Mars, Asteroids – which should we do? My answer is yes, all of the above, and all the other places in the solar system too. We will do them all, it is just a matter of how fast and in what order. But if we keep squabbling amongst ourselves so as to confuse the rest of the world about goals and objectives, then we will not get anywhere.
Slide: Von Braun
Similarly the argument about New Big Rocket vs Smaller Existing Rockets. Develop what you can afford. Use what you’ve got when you’ve got it. Von Braun himself once said about developing the Saturn V that going to the moon without it would be like flying the Berlin airlift with piper cubs – no one can say it can’t be done but the logistics are overwhelming. (Those of you too young to know what the Berlin airlift was will have a remedial course later).
slide: piper cub
If we can build an affordable big rocket, then by all means do so; if not, then we need to start dividing the mission up into piper cub sized packages and get on with it.
That is really my message for this family, it is not a happy message: get on with it.
slide: Orion & SLS
Two years ago I spoke to this conference and told you that we need to fly soon and fly often. We need to figure out how that can be done. Today we are not two years closer to the first human flight of our exploration systems. If anything we are farther away. No wonder I’m frustrated. If we are honest with each other, then we will acknowledge we are all frustrated.
In our frustration it is natural to try to place blame somewhere. John Adams once famously remarked that ‘One disreputable man is a disgrace; Two disreputable men are a law-firm, and Three or more disreputable men are called a Congress.” Ho ho ho. We all like that.
But listen to me: It is not the Congress’s fault we are where we are. If anything, they are accurately representing their constituent’s views. Do you want to blame the President? It is not the President’s fault. Do you want to blame OMB, OSTP, the Big Aerospace Corporations, the little New Space disruptors? It is easy to point the finger and blame somebody else. But I am here to tell you – all in the family now – that they are not to blame. If you want to know who to blame, look in the mirror.
slide: rockwell mirror picture
Young Padawan – Learn new skills you must. Master yourself you must, if successful you are to be.
Or as a general officer I once knew often said: I’m not interested in your little problems, I’m only interested in results.
Yes, the blame falls on all of us the true believers. Why is that? Because we expect too much from others.
One of my mother’s favorite stories was about an immigrant family; the oldest son approached his father one day – a man who came to America, worked hard all his life in menial jobs to make a better life for his family – and the son said to his father ‘I would like to go to College’ The father thought for a long time and finally said ‘You have my permission’
slide: Heart of the City cartoon about money
I guess some of you got the point of that story.
You see, we have permission to go to Mars and the Asteroids and the other places, even the Moon.
What is holding us up is that we are asking for the taxpayers to foot the bill – we are asking for public money. That is the problem. Once you ask for public money you have to play the political game — and if you want to play that game, you can’t complain about the rules.
slide: transcontinental railroad
Two years ago, I told you a historical tale about the building of the transcontinental railroad – and how that was a great technical and engineering feat – but the really impressive part was the creative financing and the organization that made it successful.
Two years ago, I told you that we need to learn from that example, how to be creative, innovative, flexible, and hardworking – not just technically but financially and organizationally as well. It appears that my message was not understood, so I am here to present it again in blunter terms.
slide: Mercury capsule/Intelsat IV rescue/Watney
Remember Apollo 13: you need to make a CO2 removal device out of ‘this stuff’. And they did it. Like our predecessors in the 1960’s or like cinematic hero Mark Watney we need to be innovative with what we have, finding opportunities to thrive and succeed in the face of overwhelming circumstances
If those of us in this family that believes in space exploration are to make the dream come true – to save humanity in the long run – we must work harder, must be more creative, must do whatever it takes to be successful. And fighting internally or blaming the world as it exists are not productive ways to proceed.
I have two recurring nightmares that wake me in the wee hours of the morning: first, that a piece of MMOD takes out the ISS and that ends human space flight for a generation. In the cold light of day we know that the probability of that happening is very low.
The second nightmare is more probable: that on January 20, 2017 a new administration will roll into office; they won’t know what to do about space because it is never a big election issue;
slide: funny old people
They wheel Norm Augustine out from the retirement home to lead another blue-ribbon commission study on what the nation should do in space. The commission says the exact same thing that every other study and blue-ribbon commission has said for the past 40 years – NASA should go back to the moon, to Mars, to the other places, but that unless there is a significant increase in the budget NASA will not be able to anything very interesting.
And so on February 1, 2018, the new administration, with lots of higher priorities, cuts the big rocket and the deep space capsule and we are left to try to figure out how to get to Mars with Piper cubs . . .
slide: Multiple Piper Cubs
What do you call it when you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?
If we are to conquer the universe then we have got to change our tactics. We must steal the playbook from those disruptive forces who can get things done IN THE EXISTING ENVIRONMENT. This is not an easy lesson for a bunch of techno-geeks who would rather debate the mixture ratio selection for the main stage rocket engines and gets uncomfortable whenever the conversation turns to finances or organization.
In his fictional tale of the rich industrialist who bankrolled the first moon mission, Robert Heinlein created Delos D. Harriman. Intent on getting to the moon he put his complete business empire behind the effort. And when money ran short he never gave up finding new ways to earn or raise more. His business motto: “We also walk dogs”. That is the attitude we have to adopt. Be creative. Do what it takes. Never give up.
slide: dog walking
We have got to be able to figure out how to be safe and successful enough and go fly. Remember this: in exploration it is very important to keep safety always in our plans. But in exploration, safety is not the most important thing. In exploration, the most important thing is to actually go.
slide: safety workers
We need to quit doing non-value added paperwork. You can figure out what is worthwhile and what is a bureaucratic knee jerk to something that happened in the past.
So enough of a rant. Let’s get our act together, buckle down, and get this done.
The organizers said I can’t leave you without a historical lesson. . So now the media can turn back on he cameras again. (what? they hadn’t really turned them off?) Some of you may have heard this before, but here it is:
Then I proceeded to tell the symposium the history lesson of the Ming Navy vs. Portugal. I won’t repeat it here. If you want to read it try my old, archived NASA blog post:
But the point was in the first part of the speech. The rest is just . . . history.
Update: the AAS has posted the video from the conference, you can watch it here:
My speech starts at about the 6 hr 55 min point