LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Radical surgery is needed on NASA's vision for space exploration ofthe Moon, Mars and beyond, according to a study released today by the Space FrontierFoundation--a space advocacy group based in Nyack, New York.
Theassessment calls for immediate elimination of all work on the block 1 versionof NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and to delay the shuttleprogram-derived Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV)--a solid-rocket booster design nowescalating in cost--while reconsidering the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers.
Thepolicy 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.
Overthe past 30 months, NASA has made fundamental errors in its implementation ofPresident George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration enunciated in January2004. 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'veput 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. "Thinkof this as an opening salvo in a long term strategy ... a long-term campaign," hetold SPACE.com.
The18-page policy white paper recommends that the White House and Congress shouldspecify, as a matter of policy and/or law, that NASA cannot develop, build, ownor operate a new vehicle for crew or cargo missions to the International SpaceStation or to other parts of low Earth orbit. For those missions, NASA must buya service from U.S. companies.
Furthermore,the study counsels that the U.S. government should immediately transfertwo-to-three billion dollars from the CEV and CLV efforts to pay for anadditional round of what the group sees as a now under-funded CommercialOrbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
NASAis to soon announce which private companies it has selected under the COTSprogram to share in $500 million it intends to spend through 2010 to foster newspace station crew and cargo delivery services.
TheSpace Frontier Foundation policy paper advocates adding at least $2 billion tothe COTS initiative, to create an additional COTS competition that wouldpromote six to eight additional contracts.
Major dead end
Spotlightedin the study is a call to stop work on the CEV Block 1 which is designed formissions to the International Space Station. That function can be handed overto private space firms. NASA should focus on the CEV Block 2 that isspecifically targeted for Moon and beyond exploration goals.
Usingthe tools of capitalism is now our nation's best, and only, chance to have anaffordable and sustainable human space exploration program, the white paperexplains.
"We'reheaded for a major, major dead end," said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of theSpace Frontier Foundation during the group's NewSpace 2006 conference, heldhere July 19-23 and co-sponsored by the Aerospace Division of the AmericanSociety of Civil Engineers.
"We'regoing to keep pounding the drum and it's going to get louder and louder,"Tumlinson said.
Thecurrent NASA architecture of spacecraft and boosters to put in place a spacevision of exploration is not going to happen, Tumlinson advised. "It's going tocollapse of its own weight. What I worry about is that it's going to takescience down with it ... going to take down all the other possibilities at the sametime...it is politically unsustainable and is technically off the rails."
Open and respectful
WendellMendell, a space planner at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, saidthat space agency teams are engaged in priorities and prioritizations, as wellas being aware of "steering currents."
"Quitefrankly those considerations have a lot to do with engineering and budget,space access systems, and, ultimately, politics," Mendell told the audience.
NASAteams are being very "open and respectful" of the universe of ideas and is opento the idea of dialog and interaction, Mendell said. He said he was "cautiouslyoptimistic" that as NASA plans grow over the next few years there will be moreopportunities for "a constructive interaction as opposed to a prescriptiveinteraction," he said.