The Perfect Storm… An End to (NASA) Manned Space?

In a previous post (Housing, Homer, and Space…) I suggested that the worsening economy, combined with a change in political administration in 2009, would lead to the cancellation of the VSE and potentially the end of NASA’s manned space ambitions.  While a minority of commenters argued that we weren’t in an economic downturn and a recession was just me being cynical again, I think it’s safe to say that the majority now recognizes that the banking/housing mess is pretty severe and has a long way to go before it works itself out.  One indicator: political discussions/debates (if you can even call them that) in the run for the White House are focused more on the economy than that little excursion in the desert we conveniently seem to have dropped from the radar.  When the economy is more important than an actual WAR, you know there are some problems here at home.

The elements of the perfect storm (feel free to add others you think I may have forgotten):

  1. Retirement of the Space Shuttle – whether it’s 2010, 2011, or perhaps earlier (if, tragically, another shuttle is lost before the planned retirement date), this takes away America’s ability to send astronauts to space other than through the use of foreign launchers.
  2. Retirement of ISS – the beast that will not die(TM) will, in fact, eventually do just that.  NASA gloriously celebrated ISS’s 10th anniversary on their website recently.  I thought it was a bit ironic, given that arguments for forcing the deorbiting of MIR were based on the age of the station, the ISS will, by 2015, be roughly the same age or older than MIR was when NASA demanded it be condemned to a fiery/watery grave.  Now those of you who are more cynical than I might suggest it was due to fear of competition from the private sector, but we’re not going there right now… The more important point would be that ISS has failed to live up to the hype/lie upon which it was sold – industry has most certainly NOT lined up to use the orbiting facility, as we predicted in 1999 when we studied the commercialization potential of ISS at KPMG.  At the time our crystal ball was declared “broken” by those who, one might argue, had conflicting agendas and personal gain staked in the continuation of the program.
  3. Retirement of your Patron Saints – the last of the old guard is stepping down.  Congressman Weldon is retiring, and while it is clear that whoever replaces him will have to pander to the space contingent in Florida, that freshman congresscritter (male or female) will have NO seniority and very little to offer in the horsetrading that passes for budgeting on Capitol Hill.  Imagine Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars – very little understanding of the Force, and even less ability to use it.
  4. Cancellation of VSE – don’t kid yourselves.  This program is a Dead Man Walking.  If you work at NASA on this program – GET A TRANSFER NOW.  As soon as the votes are counted in November, this program is heading to the scrap pile – it has two very important negatives attached to it.  First, it was Bush’s idea (so you can expect that Obama or Clinton will give it about as much attention as they will to Albania).  Second, it costs WAY too much – especially in a time of recession and with too many interests clamoring for a share of our federal budget, a Mission to Mars won’t last – particularly when you also have your primary jobs advocate for Florida’s space force no longer around (see 3 above).
  5. The RECESSION – this is the biggie. The pain is already starting to be felt across the country – from Wall Street (the “subprime” meltdown revealing a much bigger systemic problem tied to derivatives and CDOs, requiring the entry of Sovereign Wealth Funds to prop up the otherwise UGLY balance sheets of household names like Citigroup) to Main Street (with more for sale signs and a rising number of foreclosures blighting communities across the USA). Unfortunately, the hangover after the 7 years of post-9/11 partying that we gorged ourselves on will be ugly, indeed.  Because it isn’t simply a matter of cutting back spending, many have to repay the overspending they already engaged in – which results in further contraction of current spending than simply returning to the mean, and that spells recession (or worse).  The recession will take years to work out, because it took years to build up – with the result being that it will likely last into the second term of the next president (or the first term of his/her replacement).  Since we, as a country, are loathe to have our taxes raised – arguably, they should be eliminated altogether, but that’s another debate – spending will HAVE to be cut, as the dollar continues to weaken and the government finds it hard to sell debt… because Economics 101 tells us that if a currency is weak it has to offer a higher interest rate on debt in order to compete with stronger currencies, BUT the government is unable to drive rates up because it will further damage the housing market (all those pesky ARMs that are tied to the interest rate). Talk about a rock and a hard place.
  6. And speaking of rocks… then there’s Iraq.  Or, as John McCain likes to imagine it, the next 100 Years War.  We are currently embroiled in two shooting wars that have no visible end in sight, in addition to numerous wars against nouns (Poverty, Terror, Drugs, you name it).  These cost money.  LOTS of money.  Assuming we don’t get involved in any more wars (shooting or otherwise) we are still burning the candle at both ends – from overdeployment of troops in theater due to a lack of fresh reserves to overtasking our folks here at home with “homeland defense”, the next administration(s) will be hard pressed to cut these areas of the budget.
  7. As the holy grails of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security remain off limits, and other lobbies (agriculture, big business, education, etc) have much stronger lobbies than the space community, it doesn’t bode well for NASA’s budgetary ambitions when it comes to a brand new program that has a BIG price tag associated with it.  This doesn’t mean NASA is dead – the other parts of the agency will fare quite well (after all, across multiple field centers there are lots of jobs in lots of districts, which protects NASA to an extent from too much budget cutting) and may in fact improve when that $16B or so is reallocated after Manned Space comes to an end.

Now there are those who would argue that any loss of momentum is a bad thing:

“If we stop and go in a different direction now, we will have lost a lot of the last four years and a lot of momentum. That would not be the kind of sustained national commitment that the Columbia board called for.” -John Logsdon, George Washington University

Unfortunately what he doesn’t realize is that while the Columbia board may have CALLED for a sustained national commitment, it appears they didn’t actually check with the American taxpayers to verify that they were signing up for this commitment. And in this, he’s not alone – many space tragics make the same mistake in transference of their personal desires and passions for space onto their fellow Americans.

It appears that NASA may have figured out that they’ve got a perfect storm brewing, and they’ve come up with an ingenious solution – PR.  That’s right, folks, NASA has gone to Madison avenue and hired a public relations firm to get the word out about how great Constellation is and how it’s important that we do whatever it is they intend to do with Constellation.  While I’m sure that some PR agency executives are happy with this decision (after all, they get paid), NASA won’t be happy with the outcome.  Because frankly, when economic concerns trump an actual WAR we are fighting (or two, if you consider Afghanistan and Iraq as separate countries), all the PR in the world won’t get the masses riled up about sending some astronauts to Mars, or back to the Moon, or even just to a nearby asteroid…

One thing that may give some of you heart, though, is that if NASA officially leaves the manned space game the door is wide open to you private sector proponents who have long claimed that they were the main obstacle to the successful private development of the sector.

… of course, if that wasn’t really the reason, then I suspect you aren’t going to be quite as happy about my prediction coming true as one might expect you to be.

21 thoughts on “The Perfect Storm… An End to (NASA) Manned Space?

  1. A President Clinton or President Obama would almost certain delay or cancel VSE, mainly because they have already said they would do it. But don’t pin your hopes on the private sector in either case. Either President will drop the hammer on the private sector with tax increases and regulations and commercial space will not escape.]

    On the other hand, your suggest that economic downturn = cancellation of VSE is all wet. It defies historical precedence and political logic. The last thing any government will contemplate doing is throwing a bunch of people in big, important states out of work in the middle of a recession.

  2. Shubber, this is another great and timely post about NASA and the economy.

    Reading this latest comment made me hark back to a couple of my posts on this site from the past. In a risk of sounding like a braggart (These are really a space fan’s opinion, nothing else) I feel they need repeating:
    1. My comment from the Housing, Homer and Space (Dec 26, 2007) post – Eric wrote: “NASA won’t get any extra billions of dollars or so to make VSE work. In the end, NASA retires the Space Shuttle and VSE fails”.
    I think this is online (pun intended) with your thinking, I’d rather NASA work on anything (robotic space probes, studying Earth climate, wasting less money) than produce another overpriced and highly politicized MANNED SPACE PROGRAM. It’s time our government step aside in manned space ventures and turn it over to civilian agencies (maybe, probably companies like SpaceX) who’ll be WAY LESS WASTEFUL AND WAY MORE EFFECIENT.

    2. It’s funny you mentioned NASA hired a Madison Avenue PR firm as it’s almost as if NASA read my previous comment to your Oh No, Not Again (Aug 28, 2007) post – Eric wrote: “NASA really needs to spend a sizable chunk of our tax dollars and hire a good, no..GREAT PR company…NASA needs to present the Space Program in a way that makes it understandable and interesting to the average person”. If I were you Shubber I’d feel very proud that NASA is reading your site and taking heed to some suggestions from your commenter’s to heart! I strongly feel IT REALLY IS NASA’S JOB to explain to ALL Americans their vision (no matter if it’s bound to fail or not) for Space. If this entails hiring a PR company, then that’s fine with me.

  3. This was always the biggest risk with the current approach.

    NASA will likely still get its first shiny new launch vehicle (Ares-I), simply because there are lots of jobs involved and that brings a fair degree of political pressure to bear to save them.

    But without it’s bigger brother launch system, the Ares-I is never going to open up the solar system for us.

    If NASA had designed a much more capable launcher first, they would now be able to weather any such political shifts, and still fly their more capable launcher through until the next Administration comes to power – when they can make their case again.

    By then the political world may finally wake up to the fact that the US is back in second place in the space business behind another communist country again (China) – just as we were in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

    But this will never be possible with Ares-I. It is just a glorified and damned expensive third EELV-class system and must have a second *big* launcher to get it anywhere. In a tough political climate, Ares-V will never be built.


  4. I slice your discussion in a different direction:

    Launch costs are increasingly irrelevant for unmanned missions because of instrument mass trends and manifesting multiple payloads on a single vehicle. Launch costs are very relevant for manned missions and especially for a permanent human presence in space.

    The killer app for manned spaceflight has yet to present itself. ISS is largely irrelevant without an increased human presence requiring lower launch costs. NASA can develop a crewed vehicle given enough money and congressional attention span. In the private sector, SpaceX may possibly pull it off and/or ULA could do it.

    The alt.spacers are essentially irrelevant and dead-ended except for small hardware items and subcontracts and possibly for suborbital joyrides. In my opinion, point-to-point suborbital will not come from evolution of suborbital tourism but instead come from crewed orbital vehicles devolving for point-to-point transportation. That conclusion is based on the delta-V required for a ballistic trajectory around a significant fraction of the Earth compared to the delta-V required for an up and down joyride.

    Shubber, your perfect storm applies to the US and whatever effect the US economy may have on the rest of the world. If another country defines the killer app for humans in space they may be able to pull everything together.

    In any event, I suspect the human race will either be spacefaring in a thousand years or it will be essentially extinct. Our planet cannot sustain its present population uniformly at even subsistence levels without advanced technology. Unfortunately, I am reminded of Stan Schmidt’s short story “The Unreachable Stars” in Analog 1971. I vote for spacefaring.

  5. The VSE was supposed to be designed to weather such predictable storms (given the decades time span) as ups and downs in the economy, changes in politics, and entitlement spending growth. Unfortunately, its implementation is one giant, all-or-nothing decade-plus NASA developed and operated rocket development program … or rather 2 such programs.

    There are some other factors that don’t look too promising for the NASA manned program. The main future effort, Constellation, is designed in such a way that it’s only attractive, for the most part, to the people employed by it. It doesn’t matter much to the general public, which doesn’t care much if there’s a repeat of Apollo in 17 years, which is how they’d see the effort. It doesn’t even seem to have the support of the planetary science community. It could have, and was supposed to have, been made in a way that includes (big or little) commercial interests (i.e. using launchers, depots, or whatever that can also be used for other business). It wasn’t, so there’s no support from dual-use/commercial spheres. No demonstrations are planned for lunar based Earth observation demos, astronomy demos, ISRU, etc., so those communities aren’t interested. There’s only GRAIL and LRO on the robotic side, so the satellite/EELV industries aren’t impressed. The Constellation plan doesn’t do much to help any of the big non-space interests (military, environment, energy, education, disaster relief, economic growth, etc) as it could have (if nothing else by supporting relevant CATS and satellite industries). So … adding in the factors that Shubber listed I have to agree that the VSE as planned is in huge trouble. It reminds me of X-33 towards the end of that program, when all that kept it going was the embarassment to Gore of cancelling it.

    Of course the Shuttle and ISS have expiration dates, too.

    Now, this doesn’t all necessarily mean that NASA will be out of the manned spaceflight business. It could mean that that side of NASA is just restricted. I don’t see that as a bad thing. Maybe the science side would get most of the reduction in the manned budget, especially with the political focus on environmental issues. With the push for a new line of small environmental satellites, there could be more business for smallsats and small launches – for all you NewSpace fans. Probably there would be more traditional launches and satellites, too. That beats Shuttle/Ares launches for usefulness in developing commercial space, providing benefits to the taxpayer on a reasonable schedule, etc. An Earth Observation push also opens possibilities of commercial satellite information data purchases and use of NewSpace suborbital rockets for Earth observation /remote sensing/air sampling/satellite calibration/instrument testing/ missions. All in all, I think that would be a great improvement over Constellation if it happens.

    It’s also possible that the NASA manned program would continue with just Ares I/Orion, or some replacement for those, to service ISS. That asterioid/Mars based VSE-replacement effort in Stanford, according to reports, actually starts with an L-point Hubble servicing style mission for the NASA manned program, which maybe could be done a lot cheaper than the lunar mission with Ares V/Altair/Moon base. It might survive if so (even if the asteroid/Mars parts don’t survive) – cheaper, faster, easier, and with science community support. With ISS (and later a Bigelow station?), perhaps some small X-planes and suborbital commercial rocket use to spur CATS, and Hubble-style satellite servicing, the NASA manned program would possibly be doing a bit more than it does now on a smaller budget. Again, if such a rosy scenario can actually happen, it doesn’t sound too bad to me. Personally I don’t have a preference when it comes to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, L-points, or whatever, as long as useful stuff is accomplished like good science, growth of commercial space, etc.

    On another note, it’s too bad if the economy is tanking again, because I never felt like it got over the last recession …

  6. Suborbital transportation across large distances either has to be fractional orbital (which is essentially the same as launching to orbit anyway), or a multiple atmospheric entry ‘skip’ trajectory. Attempting to do it in a single high angle trajectory results in g loads too high for passengers to survive.

  7. I don’t a mention of China. China are:
    i) still into big proud nationalistic programs – have lots of money in the bank
    ii) want to prove they are as good as US in space
    iii) china population does not get to vote on fickle politicians – they get what they are given
    iv) even with recent problems in china cause by weather, etc. will continue with their long drive to modernise. They view space access as part of a developed country’s abilities.

    v) the new ‘soviet’ to some on capital hill and the pentigon

    I feel NASA will remain in the human space flight, though like red I feel it will be a reduced capacity – even just carrying a flag around in circles!

  8. VSE is not the problem here it’s the implementation of VSE that is FUBAR thanks to Mike and company.

    VSE is the most forward thinking manned space exploration policy since the space age began. Frankly I’m amazed that something this comprehensive and visionary ever came out of the beltway in first place. The VES authorization was the product of three forces. While what we call the VSE may change with the political cycles, until the three forces the brought it forth change somehow, the primary objectives and requirements will not change in any significant way.

    The first force is local NASA district politics based on protecting the current jobs and status quo. The second force is that most politicians don’t want to be known as the one that helped end manned space exploration especially as new emerging space powers achieve their first steps. The third force was brought forward with the Columbia disaster which basically reminded us all that our objectives in manned space exploration needs to be commensurate with the blood and treasure required to obtain them.

    The VSE also has time tables for specific destinations. These can only be met if we have sufficient money that is also just as importantly spent efficiently. Right now we have two strikes against us because we have less money than original promised and have exceedingly low efficiency in our current execution plan. Whether the politicians send enough money every year is really not something we can affect. How we spend the money we do receive on the other hand is something we have a direct effect on and one that we are failing miserably under Mike’s leadership. DIRECT is a clear solution towards improving the efficiency of the VSE implementation plan while remaining within the requirements of the VSE authorization that requires the development of a STS derived approach within what looks to be an austere budget environment well into the future.

    We lost our last heavy lift system (SaturnV) to the siren song of a RLV cheap access to space. I fear that we will lose our current heavy lift system (STS Stack) to the siren song of COTS cheap access to space. While cheap access to space is helpful almost 80% of the life cycle cost of space exploration and development is associated with the spacecraft a mission cost not the launch cost. Further the cost increases required if designers must shoe horn spacecraft into 5m fairings vs. 10m fairings can often exceed the cost of the launch itself. The fact the Jupiter-232 could have put up the ISS in one year using five launches should be a reminder that brute force and larger volumes can have a quality all its own in lowering the overall cost of space exploration and development.

    While NASA has been criticize since Apollo about its focus on the Space Shuttle and ISS this was a mater of public policy that they couldn’t change. NASA was specifically prohibited from going beyond LEO by the forces that funded them. With the super majority bipartisan support of the VSE authorization, NASA has finally been freed from this long standing public policy restriction that resulted in NASA’s lack of progress beyond LEO for manned space exploration all these years. Now any lack of progress can be directly pinned on the extreme inefficiency of NASA’s failed VSE implementation plan and not public policy.

    During the thirty years NASA was forced to stay in LEO we sent up enough mass and spent enough money to have been landing on Mars with a human crew right about now. How fitting that would have been at the 50th anniversary of human space flight. While we can’t fix the poor decisions of the past it’s never too late for another generation to finally start moving forward once again. The public policy preventing this type of gradual, systematic, yet certain expansion of mankind’s sphere of influence has now been removed. Whether it takes us 20,30,40,50 or even a 100 years is really up to how efficiently we spend whatever money we receive towards what could well be a multi-generational objective.

    The great Cathedrals of Europe where built in just such a way by people with significantly less disposable wealth than we will have even at the peak of the baby boom generations retirement wave. They too embarked on a multi-generational task in which the generation that set the foundation never saw it completed and those that saw it completed never saw most of it constructed.

    Prior great civilizations were restricted to building monuments to their cultures chosen means of self-actualization on Earth. The VSE authorization now removes any restriction on our civilization’s ability to build monuments to our culture throughout the solar system.

  9. Good post and excellent assessment of what the evolving environment portends for VSE. However, I do not agree with one of the posters that Ares I will be built. On the contrary, that could very well be s**t-canned as soon as Griffin leaves. Although they don’t discuss it openly, many at NASA feel that the approach is absolutely screwy and unsustainable.

    Another ramification of the upcoming socio-political environment will be the push-back on the NASA centers. As you mentioned, the old congressional guard are leaving, and many of the NASA centers will be vulnerable targets for a reduction in the NASA budget. That is why many of the NASA centers are scrambling to evaluate different areas of work, just in case the agency gets a good bloodletting.

    The new Administration, be it Democratic or Republican, will be looking for funds for new initiatives and to correct the screw-ups of the current tenent in the White House. NASA’s a sitting duck for this. I could very well see its budget gutted to fund a national initiative on alternative energy.

  10. You know I realize that I will be dissed for even mentioning this, but there IS another option – “retire” the Shuttle Orbiter to space.
    The Orbiter as currently configured is obviously unable to function beyond a short period(10 days?) on orbit and has MANY other disadvantages as a spacecraft. Given this its rightful place should probably be museums post retirement – no argument there.
    As a mental exercise if nothing else I would like to suggest that sometimes a really crummy and difficult solution is the right one because sometimes there is no other option. NASA could become a space operations agency re manned spaceflight by devising a way to continue to operate the Orbiters without bringing them back down. Now obviously you’d want to remove the SSME’s after acheiving orbit and add a solar powered system for extended space operation and many other things.
    The obvious question then is “what can you do with it?”
    The Orbiters have functioned quite well as spaceships(OK so I’m a bit of a romantic – they remind me of sailing ships) and an orbiter could pick up an Orion and put it in the payload bay as an illustration of its superior capability. Some have suggested using them as on-site servicing vehicles for Comsats, but unless there’s a source of ISRU derived propellant this is impractical since it ain’t easy getting to GEO and back..
    In thinking about this I realized that the maligned wings could possibly be used for aerobraking to orbit even though they are not designed for this. If this were true, an interesting possibility arises:
    Phobos/Deimos mining
    An Orbiter may be able to aerobrake enough Phobos derived propellant to LEO by first aerobraking to a highly elliptical orbit around Earth and then braking to LEO in a series of steps. In this way the wings more than pay their way since they also brake at Mars and the Orbiter can be morphed into a sustainable Earth – Mars transportation system.
    Addition of CH4 – O2 rockets in place of the OMS thrusters with tankage in the payload bay as an example could greatly increase payload to orbit on a last launch by firing after the ET drops away. Upon reaching orbit, the SSME’s could be removed by spacewalking astronauts and a solar powered module deployed. After more propellant is brought up perhaps, the CH4-O2 engines would, via a series of perigee thrusts, raise it to a a highly elliptical orbit and then to a Mars bound trajectory. If two Orbiters are used they could go together and via a tether make artificial gravity. At Mars they would aerobrake to a HEO and then to Phobos. ISRU systems would then slowly fill the tanks and return would follow.
    Now I realize this is easy to shoot down – but given the likeliehood of the ceasation of US manned space activities isn’t it worth a look?
    Imagine if we resupply the Chinese moon lander with Phobos derived propellant. We’d be waaay ahead for a tiny fraction of Constellation.
    Hey just a thought.
    Steve Mickler
    Solar Thermal/Electric Propulsion
    First STEP

  11. I come at this from the perspective of an infrastructure investor. I am considering making a sizable investment in the space and national defense sector through the vehicle of investing in a number of office buildings in and around the Cummings Research Park, located in Huntsville Alabama. This is the second largest research park in the US, and caters to scientific and technical research groups. Huntsville is home to the Marshal Space Flight Center, and also Redstone Arsenal, a major center for many of the Air Force’s aerospace command research groups.

    I had thought that investing in such a place would insulate one somewhat from the general business cycle. Given what I have heard here, what advice would anyone out there offer on the long term investment prospects tied to space and defense industries in this area going forward?

  12. Richard, I know the park well and have been to Huntsville and know the companies in the mark. I have asked hard questions about what happens when the administration tanks the VSE or the space program or this or that. The BRAC closure is relocating thousands of people and big budget DOD stuff to Huntsville. Most of what is in that park goes after DOD business and related, not the manned space program. Some is just pure technology like the company run by the 29 year old guy who started as a small entrepreneur. If you are comfortable in defense spending continuing, in the kinds of programs relying on technology that are moving to and run out of the Huntsville area, I think that a r/e investment in Cummings would be quite decent. Check out The Space Show program from Feb 1, 2008. Cummings Park people and the Huntsville Chamber gave The Space Show a special tour of the park and I recorded it and put it up on archives. I think its the 3rd segment of the show. You might find it interesting. Its not really the same discussion going on in this blog article. There is a lot of DOD economy going to Huntsville and as I said, the private sector is going there too and the BRAC is helping the local market considerably.
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  13. Hi, I’m new here.
    This is a space CYNIC site, right? OK, then why do I see comments scattered around talking about a mission to Mars? There are bloggers all over busting on NASA for “re-doing Apollo”, and then they discuss Mars? No one is going to Mars anytime soon-unless-our probes send back undisputable proof of life. Until then, forget it.
    As for “re-doing” Apollo, we would actually be resuming Apollo. We only landed six times. We have never been to the poles, never been to the farside. I don’t know if the Ares configuration has fundamental flaws or not, but as far as the goal-what the hell is the problem? Money? Yeah, it’ll cost money. So what? What would you do with it? Aren’t other government programs bloated enough? Only NASA has to penny-pinch? Uncountable hundreds of billions are spent on people who never had the intelligence to use a condom, but men and women who have earned themselves degrees in engineering, physics, etc. have to justify what they wish to do with the pittance that is thrown their way?
    I am a patriot and I support our nation at war, but the media tells me the war is unpopular with a majority of Americans. Yet despite its unpopularity, politicians have no qualms about cutting the checks for $60 billion and more to pay for it. Yet NASA has to trot out the dog and pony show every year to “excite” these very same Americans in order to justify getting the measly budget they have to work with. The LEAST NASA should be getting is $25 billion a year regardless of public support..
    There is not one thing wrong with returning to the moon, whatever the cost, and we should be happy to add manned asteroid missions into the mix. If we ever spot one coming at us, money will be no object then. A manned, deep space capability is something this nation should possess.

  14. Uncountable hundreds of billions are spent on people who never had the intelligence to use a condom, but men and women who have earned themselves degrees in engineering, physics, etc. have to justify what they wish to do with the pittance that is thrown their way?

    May I suggest that

    (1) I have yet to see space activity (or any other tax-funded activity) advanced by “my cause is more important than all those stupid drones.” On your planet of eugenic IQ meritocracy, mileage may vary.

    (2) Sad to say, most people, most of the time, whether in public or private economic activity, do have to “justify what they wish to do” one way or another. On your planet of clear-eyed, jut-jawed technocracy, mileage may vary.

  15. If U wanted to do an experiment on the ISS, the chances are U couldn’t do it because there are more experiments bidding for time on the ISS than launch & crew capability to perform them. In that sense, the ISS itself is very valuable, but getting stuff to it & staffing it is the problem. It could probably be shifted to an equatorial orbit for less money than building a new one. Hopefully the Asian superpowers will take it over when US is destroyed.

    Ares V is dead. The Ares I may fly by 2043 assuming social security is phased out & illegal immigrants don’t get mortgage bailouts.

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