LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Radical surgery is needed on NASA's vision for space exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond, according to a study released today by the Space Frontier Foundation--a space advocacy group based in Nyack, New York.
The assessment calls for immediate elimination of all work on the block 1 version of NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and to delay the shuttle program-derived Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV)--a solid-rocket booster design now escalating in cost--while reconsidering the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers.
The policy white paper issued today is titled: "Unaffordable and Unsustainable--NASA's failing Earth-to-orbit Transportation Strategy." The group contends that NASA plans are flawed, prescribing as a fix far greater use of America's "New Space" industry that is energized by free enterprise and entrepreneurship.
Over the past 30 months, NASA has made fundamental errors in its implementation of President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration enunciated in January 2004. There is urgent need, the Space Frontier Foundation's white paper states, to force NASA to decisively transform its relationship with the private sector.
"We've put a lot of time into this ... and we do believe the study will have an impact," said Jeff Krukin, Executive Director of the Space Frontier Foundation. "Think of this as an opening salvo in a long term strategy ... a long-term campaign," he told SPACE.com.
The 18-page policy white paper recommends that the White House and Congress should specify, as a matter of policy and/or law, that NASA cannot develop, build, own or operate a new vehicle for crew or cargo missions to the International Space Station or to other parts of low Earth orbit. For those missions, NASA must buy a service from U.S. companies.
Furthermore, the study counsels that the U.S. government should immediately transfer two-to-three billion dollars from the CEV and CLV efforts to pay for an additional round of what the group sees as a now under-funded Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
NASA is to soon announce which private companies it has selected under the COTS program to share in $500 million it intends to spend through 2010 to foster new space station crew and cargo delivery services.
The Space Frontier Foundation policy paper advocates adding at least $2 billion to the COTS initiative, to create an additional COTS competition that would promote six to eight additional contracts.
Major dead end
Spotlighted in the study is a call to stop work on the CEV Block 1 which is designed for missions to the International Space Station. That function can be handed over to private space firms. NASA should focus on the CEV Block 2 that is specifically targeted for Moon and beyond exploration goals.
Using the tools of capitalism is now our nation's best, and only, chance to have an affordable and sustainable human space exploration program, the white paper explains.
"We're headed for a major, major dead end," said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation during the group's NewSpace 2006 conference, held here July 19-23 and co-sponsored by the Aerospace Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
"We're going to keep pounding the drum and it's going to get louder and louder," Tumlinson said.
The current NASA architecture of spacecraft and boosters to put in place a space vision of exploration is not going to happen, Tumlinson advised. "It's going to collapse of its own weight. What I worry about is that it's going to take science down with it ... going to take down all the other possibilities at the same time...it is politically unsustainable and is technically off the rails."
Open and respectful
Wendell Mendell, a space planner at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, said that space agency teams are engaged in priorities and prioritizations, as well as being aware of "steering currents."
"Quite frankly those considerations have a lot to do with engineering and budget, space access systems, and, ultimately, politics," Mendell told the audience.
NASA teams are being very "open and respectful" of the universe of ideas and is open to the idea of dialog and interaction, Mendell said. He said he was "cautiously optimistic" that as NASA plans grow over the next few years there will be more opportunities for "a constructive interaction as opposed to a prescriptive interaction," he said.