A post over at the Space Politics website discusses the recent testimony of Mr. Gene “Failure is Not an Option” Kranz, the longtime NASA Flight Director, at the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee on the planned reauthorization of NASA and the Vision for Space Exploration.
Now I must admit that I have always had an admiration for Mr. Kranz, based initially on the fine portrayal of him by Ed Harris in Apollo 13 (one of the greatest films ever made, IMHO), but further enhanced when I read historical accounts of his role at NASA through the decades.
As such, it pains me to hear him make the kind of simplistic, and erroneous, arguments that are regularly heard in the alt.space sector – in this case the mixing of examples by applying a poor or irrelevant analogy to try to make a point. Granted, this actually works in many cases because the listener is too ill-informed to recognize the weakness of the analogies (e.g., the “we can’t abandon our space effort because we’ll be like the Chinese emperor burning the fleet in the 1400s” argument is a classic example of stupidity at it’s finest).
Apparently in his passion for space, Mr. Kranz said the following:
“This is the best game plan that I have seen since the days of President Kennedy,” Kranz said of ESAS, comparing it to the DC-3 and the B-52. “The system that Griffin’s team is putting into place will be delivering for America 50 years later… so the message I would give to you and to the US Congress is to stay the course, stay on track.”
Small nitpicks here, sir – the DC-3 and the B-52 are reusable. They have inherent advantages based on thousand of flight cycles (and the ability to therefore do things like maintenance, tear-downs, inspections, improvements, modifications, etc). These are things that ELVs don’t (or can’t) have. Also, they had MANY copies built – allowing for economies of scale. NASA has always been limited by that simple problem – it could never procure enough copies of anything to reach scale. Unlike, say, DoD, which can procure 1000+ JSFs in a $200 Billion program. Whereas NASA can get 1.4 space stations for that price…
If you were really to pursue the line of reasoning that our space strategy should model the B-52 and/or DC-3, you would be arguing for NASA to shut down manned space, invest all $ into R&D for new propulsion systems (with reusability, reliability, high flight-rate between servicing, and maintenance being the primary concerns), new airframes/spaceframes, and the other kinds of things NASA/NACA engaged in back in the early years (pre-Apollo). Once we develop the “DC-3 of Space” then going to the Moon and Mars (and virtually anywhere in the Solar System) becomes a LOT easier. Frankly, $7b/year would be a HUGE (and valuable) investment in this sort of R&D… The Gap is the PERFECT opportunity to do this without the danger of the political suicide normally associated with the concept of Shutting Down Manned Space(tm).
Speaking of China, Mr. Kranz made another comment (at least in his written testimony):
China is importing “ITAR-free” satellites and other space technologies from a European company, thereby evading U.S. export controls that are intended to safeguard our national security. China is also developing its Long March 5 rocket that will be capable not only of delivering people to the moon, but also landing nuclear payloads anywhere in the United States.
It is time for our country and our nation’s leaders to tune in to these facts and back off of their naïve views of “space on the cheap” – other countries are making the necessary resource investments; and it’s time to do the same before the option to respond is no longer an option.
There are two issues i have with this “boo! be afraid!” statement – first, our development of a way back to the Moon and on to Mars will not prevent China from having their Long March 5, and we already have plenty of nuclear capability that can turn China into a large piece of porcelain should that come to pass. Second, they aren’t “evading” our ITAR restrictions – they are simply ignoring them. Ask Boeing about how much of a pain that was in the 90s when Airbus was selling jets to China to take advantage of our own export controls. The reality is that as long as other countries maintain a technical industrial base (such as in Europe, India, Russia, and Israel), that technical know-how will be available to virtually anyone who is willing to pay for it. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t change that.