ATI’s Space Industry Professionals Weigh-In: Obama’s Decision to End NASA’s Constellation Program (Part 1)

Last week, Applied Technology Institute, a Space & Satellite technical training company for various NASA facilities, DoD and Aerospace contractors, surveyed their Space and Satellite clients and space industry expert instructors to find out how they feel about President Obama’s controversial decision to cut NASA’s Constellation Program. All survey participants are likely to be affected […]
Last week, Applied Technology Institute, a Space & Satellite technical training company for various NASA facilities, DoD and Aerospace contractors, surveyed their Space and Satellite clients and space industry expert instructors to find out how they feel about President Obama’s controversial decision to cut NASA’s Constellation Program. All survey participants are likely to be affected either directly or indirectly, by the shift in direction for the National and Space Administration as outlined in President Obama’s 2011 Fiscal Budget Plan. ATI’s Technical Director, Jim Jenkins says he saw an opportunity to support a healthy debate among space professionals that the public may be interested in hearing. “The Constellation controversy has been covered by varying viewpoints from different news sources, but we think people want to hear the opinions of those actually working in the space industry—those who have the technical knowledge and space industry expertise to understand how this decision may affect the space industry long-term,” he says. ATI’s survey asked the participants to weigh-in, expressing support or opposition to the President’s budget decision to cut the Constellation program in order to, “Build the Foundation for a Bold New Course for Human Space Flight, “ followed by an opportunity for them to explain their opinions as to how this change will affect NASA and manned space flight exploration. ATI’s Constellation Controversy Survey Results Summary A majority of 60% percent opposes the President’s decision to cut NASA’s Constellation Program while 32% percent expressed support. A few of the survey participants, 8% percent, are undecided. Nearly all participants explained their opinions in detail with regard to how the decision will affect NASA and manned space exploration. Explanatory comments in support of how this change will affect NASA and manned space exploration: “It is the only Obama policy I agree with. NASA needs to get out of the space business so that private industry can do something useful in space. NASA is, and has been, the major impediment to the industrialization of space. Why would someone develop a cost effective approach to space access and exploitation, when NASA spends billions to do what should cost millions (hint: look at all the progress)? If NASA made cell phones at least Apple would not be suing Google’s clients. The only thing more foolish than keeping NASA as-is would be creating a socialized health care system…oh wait… You are surveying the wrong folks. You should survey people who are trying to do something useful in space. People like Jeff Bezo, Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson… Ask the real space industrialists and entrepreneurs what they think. I am guessing that they will tell you that NASA has held back space exploration and development for 40 years. Time to try another approach.” ______________________________________________________________________________________ “In my view, the new Obama space plan has a great potential to help the manned exploration of space. What the space program has needed all these years is an inexpensive way of handling large, manned and unmanned payloads from the surface of the earth into orbit – and beyond – at affordable rates. In short, we need “the DC-3 of space”. The approach we have been taking has not even come close to producing such a flying machine. Gain cheap access to space, lower the logistics costs, and everything else will fall into place. Come back with me to 1984. A typical GPS receiver of that era, the Texas Instruments 4100, cost $139,000 and we spent about $4000 to send one pound of payload into space using an expendable American booster. Now fast-forward to 2010: GPS receivers are so cheap (about $100 each), we give them away in my classes! And how much does it cost today to send one pound of payload into space with an expendable American booster? Around $6000 per pound! In that same 26 year interval almost every available high-technology product has either become enormously cheaper or far more capable. Why not booster rockets? So, should we just keep doing what we have been doing along the space frontier? Or worse yet, go back to reusing booster rockets that were developed 20 or 30 years ago? Surely we can do better! Maybe more free enterprise is the answer. What should NASA be focusing on? Cheaper ways to put large payloads into space. Are robotics missions a better approach? Sometimes. We keep about 2000 human beings in Antarctica year around and several thousand more in the summer months. Would it be more cost-effective to replace them with robots and teleoperators? Per unit of useful work, would it be cheaper? Maybe. Do we want to make that replacement? I don’t think so. In 1969 in my first book, I wrote about the funerals in which elderly Italian mourners were hired to wail and moan. As I asked at that time: “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to develop spring-wound mechanical mourners? Maybe so. But isn’t human presence somehow, in some cases, more special. If not, why does anyone ever go to a football game now that we have such excellent television coverage? Why do we go on vacation for that matter? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to stay home and watch travelogues?“ _______________________________________________________________________________________ “Yes, but only if something is done to continue manned U. S. presence in space. What he did does nothing but kill the U. S. manned space program and force the U. S. to rely on foreign governments for several years to come.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “YES, but we should continue flying Shuttle until we have a demonstrated replacement capability operating. We should not look to other countries for our space taxi service. YES, I support decision to terminate Constellation program, but because it is not affordable and sustainable while performing any real exploration, e.g. spending all of our resources on the transportation system like we were in Apollo. This is the reason we terminated the Apollo Lunar program so that we could develop a reusable space transportation system that would bring down the cost of transportation. The Shuttle reduced the cost to ~ 1/3 of the cost using the expendable approach. We need to continue to develop and improve the reusable transportation system architecture to achieve this objective before we start considering a trip back to the moon or to mars. The shuttle cost reduction did not fully achieve the cost goal; however, we did not place any hard requirements on Life Cycle Cost controls during the DDT&E phase with a continuing cost reduction improvement objective.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “Yes, I support the new plan for NASA. Newer technologies are clearly beneficial and the constellation was unsustainable.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “The good news for sure is an increase of $6 billion over the next five years. It stresses new technology and innovation (to the tune of over $1.5 billion), which is also good. A lot of NASA’s successes have been from pushing the limits on what can be done. It also stresses Earth science, which isn’t surprising at all; Obama appears to understand the importance of our environmental impact, including global warming. So that’s still good news” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “We need to move beyond the shuttle. Specifically we should invest in a reusable first stage booster build using SOTA technology.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “It help NASA determine their future course of action. Create jobs and advance our knowledge of Space.” “Yes. Constellation was unsustainable without a major funding increase, which was not going to happen in this economic climate. Success in the new program is better than failure in Constellation.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ “Yes. It was stupid for NASA to have agreed to the previous administration’s request to go to Mars with a hugely expensive detour to the Moon, particularly with inadequate funding. Why not just purchase some Russian Soyuz capsules and rockets? The Russian system is reliable and not that expensive. And whether Constellation is cancelled or not probably won’t matter. I don’t think that many Americans give a crap about the space program anymore, and fewer still are interested in science research. People are too busy with Hollywood celebrities and sports figures, cable TV, etc.” ________________________________________________________________________________________ ATI encourages further participation from both the public and private sectors to continue this important and controversial debate. ATI is planning a follow-up poll after the President’s April 15th conference on NASA’s future where he will outline his strategy for the next step in space exploration. Jenkins says, “It will be interesting to see if any opinions shift after the President details his strategy for the future of space, since those details have yet to be presented beyond his 2011 Fiscal Budget Plan.” The Applied Technology Institute (ATI) specializes in professional development seminars in the technical areas of space, communications, defense, sonar, radar, and signal processing. For over twenty-five years, ATI has presented leading-edge technical training to defense and NASA facilities, as well as DoD and aerospace contractors. ATI courses provide a clear understanding of the fundamental principles and a working knowledge of current technology and applications. ATI has the unique capability to schedule and deliver courses in a matter of weeks. They offer customized on-site training at your facility anywhere in the United States, as well as internationally and over 200 annual public courses in dozens of locations. World-class design experts lead courses. To register or for an on-site quote, call (888) 501-2100, or visit them on the web at To comment: Scroll to the bottom of the post and click ‘comment’. To post anonymously, use “guest” or “anon” in the name field. Your e-mail will not appear on the blog. Please click here for Part 2 or Part 3 of this post.

3 thoughts on “ATI’s Space Industry Professionals Weigh-In: Obama’s Decision to End NASA’s Constellation Program (Part 1)

  1. Let’s give this method a chance..we didn’t develop Saturn boosters in a day!

  2. Cutting Constellation is not a good idea. Cutting back on the manned space program and assuming that commercial companies will develop and deploy a cheaper more effective spacecraft does not make sense. The mere fact that the review board was staffed with members with vested interest and a predetermined view of the US Space program requests us to re-examine the issue.
    In the history of mankind there have only been 2 successful manned space programs. All of the world’s heavy lift rockets are derived from the original space and missile programs. (Remember the Chinese effort is based on Russian research and the French is based on US research). It is not wise to assume that the profit motive of private business will be enough to develop a safe reliable spacecraft. Although, American prides itself on limiting government, there are places where government is needed. Private business looks to profit and won’t take a chance. Business won’t take that extra indefinable next step to improve a product unless there is a buck in it. Our future security, resources and industrial development depend on a consistent and government guided program. With oversight , but with an eye on the future not the bottom line.

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