Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Findings...

Some of you may remember when I blogged about the Augustine Committee (you can click this link if you don't remember!).
Recently, the findings of the committee were announced. If you are interested you may read the full report here.

If you are not interested in reading the full report (which I admit, for a non-space-enthusiast may be slightly dull!)...I will summarize the main points.

1) "The right mission and the right size."

Basically, as it stands now, NASA's Human Space Flight endeavor is on an unsustainable trajectory. There is simply not enough money available to support the future programs in the time frame allotted. Money is being eaten up by possibly extending the space shuttle, which means further development on the Ares program is limited...and therefore slow.

2) Something I've been advocating since the 7th grade..."International Partnerships"

Yes, even back in 7th grade I saw the potential to create peaceful relationships with other countries through the medium of space travel and exploration. Not surprisingly, this point was emphasized as a means of creating safer and applicable rockets faster! Hurray for peace!!
3) Short-term Space Shuttle Planning

As many of you know...the space shuttle is scheduled to be retired end of FY 2010. To ensure safe flights the committee is recommending pushing this retire date to the second quarter of 2011 and to budget for that as appropriate. Safety = Good Idea!

4) The Human Space Flight Gap....aka: The Grand Canyon of human space flight

Yes the Gap...not the store, but the abyss between the shuttle's retirement and the inception of the next man-rated vehicle (whatever that is decided to be) is a slight sticking point. Any commercial development of a man-rated vehicle would take a significant chunk of time. The committee decided the best way to decrease the gap is to extend the life of the shuttle program.

5) Extending the International Space Station: duh?!?!?! You think we're going to retire that thing in 2016?!?!?!

So...yes...the committee decided we should extend the ISS life from its initial decomissioning date of 2016...am I surprised?!?! NO!

6) Heavy Lift: Not those big Sumo wrestlers or body builders...

No...more like a Sumo-rocket. Yes this is needed to launch giant payloads for trips to the moon or Mars. Ares-V is the current design planned...but this may change, stay tuned!

7) Commercial Crew-Launch to Low Earth Orbit (LEO)

With the right incentives, commercial companies can definitely accomplish this task...and this would give NASA a chance to focus on engineering new technology and to creatively make new discoveries...which are both in the "questions" NASA is trying to answer (I will discuss these later!).

8) Technology development for exploration and commercial space. Are you bored yet, I see those eyeballs wandering:-)

Basically we need to adequately fund a space technology program to enable progress in exploration. Umm...not really sure what to say about this one...except...DUH!

9) Pathway to Mars

Actually I think the committee said it best: "Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination. Both visiting the Moon First and following the Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface."
So, I realize this was a long post, but I feel analyzing and understanding where our country is going in terms of space travel is very important. NASA's annual budget is close to 16 billion dollars. This is the smallest budget of any US government agency, and it actually has largest return. For every dollar NASA gets in its budget, seven dollars are spent in the economy - on labor, research, instrumentation, fuel, education and public outreach. It's a big expense but when you think that the cure for cancer, or the next home for the world's growing population may come from space, perhaps it's worth it after all.