Von Braun Symposium speech Oct. 29, 2015

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.
slide: Congress
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

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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31 Responses to Von Braun Symposium speech Oct. 29, 2015

  1. Mark Simpson says:


  2. Brett says:

    Excellent speech!

    Now you’ve got me thinking about to do a Moon or Mars mission with what we’ve got . . .

  3. Ken Lundermann says:

    Would you have a source for the von Braun Berlin Airlift-inspired statement about the Saturn V? I’m having difficulty reconciling it with the fact that circa 1960 he and colleagues were proposing manned lunar missions using five or six launches of smaller Saturns (the Army’s Project Horizon).

  4. brobof says:

    Superb speech. Wish I had been there. Let’s hope that the message gets through. This time!
    Meanwhile in our neck of the woods a small acorn. http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=47222 “BAE Systems and Reaction Engines to develop a ground breaking new aerospace engine” another £20.6 million in the SABRE kitty 😉

  5. Tim Gagnon says:

    Thank you Wayne. A message we all need to take to heart.

  6. Bob Gaffney says:

    Excellent blog entry, Wayne. I followed the link and read the entry about the Ming navy. That was the most fascinating historical article I’ve read since I learned the western powers invaded Russia at the end of World War One to get the Russians to rise up and overthrow the Bolsheviks. At the least that resulted in Stalin isolating the Soviet Union behind satellite countries on Russia’s western border for two generations. Now I have some more research to begin to bring myself up to speed on the Ming dynasty. I thought they just made beautiful vases. Thank you. Between you and Dr, Neil deGrasse Tyson, I hope you can revitalize interest in the exploration of space. Have you considered partnering with Dr. Tyson for speaking engagements? You have the same goals and similar, imaginative approaches. Also, are you on YouTube? I’ll check but I’m asking in case I miss the channel/listing(s).

  7. That’s your problem, Wayne, you still think that the NASA and industry Illuminati are one big ‘family’. To me, you are one big mafia. I blame … well let’s just say I can name all the names.

    Hint: you are not going to ‘conquer’ the universe. You will need to learn how to live within it.

    • waynehale says:

      You are, of course, exactly right. Another presenter at the conference used the quotation that I really like from Sir Edmund Hillary: “it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”

  8. Edward A. Lawless says:

    Your insights and comments are appreciated.

  9. Scott Hamann says:

    A very touching and soul-searching speech that speaks the truth. I have been arguing strenuously (within online forums) that we need to assume a flat NASA budget and work within that, using existing launchers. Within those constraints we can still have an inspiring manned exploration campaign. One example is that currently much money continues to be spent on SLS-Orion that could be designing and building habs, propulsion modules, etc. to put human beings into space for the purpose of exploration. Small budget? OK, small steps then, but keep-on-a-steppin’ I say.

    I guess I have been part of the problem by contributing to the constant arguing about the “how.” I feel like we are watching the same slow-motion train wreck happening now that just happened with the previous exploration program. I am sure it is just as heartbreaking to others as it is to me.

    Mr. Hale, I continue to look to you for your perspective and inspiration. Don’t give up trying to push NASA, and exploration in general, in a positive direction.

  10. Aaron Oesterle says:


    I feel like a big part of the problem is we are terrified of, for lack of a better phrase, laying it all out, and in so doing so, we actually lack decent justifications for why (which makes the how irrelevant). Instead, we are prepared to take whatever little bit we can take, because otherwise we might not get anything.

    For example – we still utilize justifications that space produces spinoffs, or that space produces great science, or that space has important geo-political angles. Yes, all of thats true. But the thing that kills us in this – human spaceflight is not a must have to create any of those.

    To put it bluntly – until we find that, until we are prepared to lay it all on the line, we will continue to get the trickle. I do think that there is a justification (which is about societal/economic expansion/development/settlement), but if we aren’t prepared to actually discusss using that framework, we wont’ move forward.

  11. Charley S says:

    You horrible man, you’ve made me think! Thank you.

  12. Pete Goldie says:

    Are the images for your talk available?

    • waynehale says:

      Check out the video. I did not embed all the images because the size of the file is just too large. But be aware that I get all my images from publicly available sources.

  13. AndrewWorth says:

    So now what?

    • waynehale says:

      I hope the folks in New Zealand, like yourself, will encourage their government to be active in this, the greatest adventure in history. I would think that a nation of immigrants would respond to that challenge

      • AndrewWorth says:

        Unfortunately space is even less interesting to Kiwi’s than it is to Americans, and I’d no more trust a New Zealand government to get much done for each dollar spent than I’d trust any other government.

        I would be interested in investing in private space efforts, but, as you’ve pointed out, there’s no consensus on what projects enthusiasts would support, so even if we could raise a few tens of millions privately from enthusiasts globally, the investors would want to put it into at least a dozen different projects each with a dozen different variations.

        Maybe a charismatic and respected high profile individual might pull enough people together to get the financial support for one or a few modest projects – my suggestions:
        1. Artificial gravity facility in LEO to test effects of long term low g on mammals larger than mice or 2. a Lunar polar lander.

        No doubt other enthusiasts would have numerous other ideas.

  14. Well said. The agency, leadership and troops, have to decide what NASA stands for, not just what to gripe about and who’s to blame. Understanding and working in the “existing environment” has to include accepting how a strategy for political sustainability (handing out jobs) that has barely worked in the past (Shuttle, ISS scraping by with 1 vote, Cx killed at infancy) is only creating future prospects like SLS and Orion that are now totally divorced from any ability to produce real exploration results.

    A roll-out of Augustine (again) need not produce the same results – a conclusion about needing more budget to do interesting things. This doesn’t have to be the NRC or the JPL conclusion – again – that we can go to Mars if NASA gets money, lots of money (and I want a pony too!) These reports are all just defending the status-quo, as saying there is a lack funding is a trivial solution, a way of saying zero = zero, a way of avoiding difficult criticism and introspection about NASA and industry while also laying blame on congress, a twofer.

    A redirect in 2017 could say there is ample budget, if long term change was undertaken to transform the agency, and how and where spaceflight spending was applied.

    For example, the agency could first undertake growing commercial capabilities, especially those that would grow non-government markets. Launch prices have to be driven down even below the progress made by SpaceX, to both create and serve new satellite and space application markets.

    From that more robust supply chain, NASA would procure future launch services, making the space transportation percent of an exploration yearly budget a fraction of what it would be in today’s paradigm. Other NASA investments would target enabling private space stations, dragging along a cargo, crew spacecraft, propulsion, power and habitation industry. Are there people hankering to check out how water on a planet can be turned into propellant? Yes! Get some of the funding freed up from canceling projects with no prospects for return redirected to some sort of COTS/CRS-like partnerships.

    Eventually with the right pieces built up into truly sustainable, healthy, competitive industry segments, NASA can THEN go about architecting human space exploration projects from an industry foundation that gets it to all add up. At least this has the potential to add up well within even the poorest budget prospects ahead.

    Alternately, we can continue down the path of cooperating, enabling and even defending unsustainable projects. Congress may demand project X. That doesn’t mean we have to be quiet about it. Good leadership would tell Congress what else they get along with those projects, and those jobs, as far as real results for space exploration, given planned budgets – even if the answer is squat.

  15. Wayne,

    I’m sorry but Delta IVs, Atlas Vs, Falcon 9s, and Ariane 5s are not “Piper Cubs”. Certainly Vulcans and Falcon 9 Heavy’s are not Piper Cubs. If we gave ULA 1/5 the funding we are giving SLS, I’ll bet an initial Vulcan could beat SLS to space.

    I would also point out that even with the vaunted Saturn V, Von Braun wanted to do Earth Orbit Rendezvous, i.e. use an intermodal approach with multiple launches to enable significant exploration missions. He knew that when he lost the EOR versus LOR debate, that Mars was lost to his generation.

    If we need to fly soon and fly often, then you shouldn’t develop “what(ever) you can afford to develop”, you develop [b] what you can afford to fly soon and fly often [/b]. NASA is currently struggling to fund an upper stage for SLS that has no other user or customer than SLS, and is only needed for Mars, not the cislunar proving ground. Why? Because individual participants in the game benefit more from manipulating the process than they do from actually taking Americans to “all of the above”.

    You tell me how to overcome this perverse incentive within “the existing environment” and I’ll get our asses to Mars.

    – Jim

    • waynehale says:

      Jim, as always, a very thoughtful response I certainly wish that Apollo had unfolded in a way that would have built an infrastructure that could have lasted past the ‘flags and footprints’ stage. We do need to be thoughtful in our choices so that they enable a more permanent presence in the solar system.

  16. Vince says:

    Next crew in the White House: Wayne Hale for Administrator.

    • waynehale says:

      Oh heavens no. I am particularly unsuited and ill prepared for what the Administrator has to do to make NASA successful. Working successful inside the beltway requires many skills that I lack. Thank you for the kind thought but lets just drop that idea.

  17. Bill Bruner says:

    Well said, my friend. But 60 years into the space age, there is no Piper Cub. We are asking the taxpayer to fund a model where the investment ends up at the bottom of the ocean (or lying on its side in a Space Park). Moon, Mars, asteroid or Alpha Centauri – this is not a sustainable model. Love this chart: http://i.space.com/images/i/000/051/343/i300/rocket-plane-comparison.png?1446837897

    Our “ships” cost an order of magnitude less than airliners – but we have to charge four orders of magnitude more because we throw them away after every flight.

    I completely get the tyranny of the rocket equation – but we as a species have solved tougher problems. If we don’t solve this one, we’re stuck here on the downslope to the “primeval sea”.



  18. DougSpace says:

    Decisions have consequences as Muncy points out. If we make the wrong choice then we find out that we can’t afford the current direction and so convene yet another panel, chose different targets, but end up using essentially the same means then we could well find ourselves lock in perpetual reset mode. But if, for example, we choose a fixed-cost, public-private approach then we get an approach which gets increasing funding because it is working. So the right approach isn’t to say, “Just pick a path, any path, and stick with it”. Rather, we need to keep pushing against wrong paths until the powers-that-be pick one of the best paths where we’ll finally achieve the future we all desire.

    I for one believe that we need a follow-on to the current public-private programs but for beyond LEO which is why I argue for LunarCOTS.com.

  19. Dennis Bushnell says:

    Doing humans Mars with existing approaches and techs is up hill wrt the major metrics of cost and safety. We have ten years to do lowish TRL research and ideation and develop the enabling techs and clever architectures to get humans Mars in the cost and safety boxes before we embark on a decade of development to go there in the 30s. One approach is to utilize the massive resources of Mars and the now rapidly evolving autonomy, machine intelligence, robotics etc techs to make nearly everything humans need there, pre human arrival. This provides the safety and reliability data needed to ensure safety. There are other quite different techs and approaches that need to be triaged. Need to move on from the Industrial Age approaches. BTW, autonomous robotics on Mars cannot cash checks, that greatly reduces the costs vice putting some 900 metric tons in LEO to go, do humans mars.

  20. Ned Haskin says:

    3.5 years later, NASA & Congress are no closer to flight hardware & funding for Mars.
    SpaceX’s Raptor engine has moved from experimental to production. Their StarShip-hopper has done a test fire and a .9m hop. More flights soon to come. And they have 2 StarShip orbital prototypes under construction. Still most of NASA is ignoring this progress in cheap, fully reusable superheavy lift space craft. StarShip is designed to deliver 100metric tons to LEO, GEO, the Moon or Mars, with on orbit refueling. StarShip is the upperstage, landing & return craft, all in one.
    Elon has repeatedly stated he is building the transportation system. Others need to step up with the infrastructure & tech for colonizing Mars. NASA has been silent on this. I guess I don’t have to wait much longer for a Mars rocket to be built. StarShip with the help of SuperHeavy is expected to be flying to orbit by 2020. I just hope that SpaceX can get the help they need to setup a base on Mars. Soon after they prove they can actually fly there.


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