HSP editor note: Dennis Wingo clearly identifies the most critical risks facing the Nation's space program. NASA's strategic communication has failed at providing the American people with results.
An open letter to the Committee on the Strategic Direction of NASA
by Dennis Ray Wingo
Tonight I went to the web page for the National Research Council’s committee on the strategic direction of NASA. I am annoyed at some of the questions, such as the question regarding humans/vs robots. This is a silly question for such an organization such as this to ask and misses the entire point about what strategic direction means.
Another question asked about the strategic direction statement itself. The NASA strategic direction, vision and mission statements aren’t bad. That is not the point. The point is that the implementation of those high sounding words is atrocious.
Anyway, I copied all the questions and my answers, and these are now open for your comments as well!! Maybe this public forum will help provide better information than the limited format that they used.
NASA’s Vision, Mission and Strategic Direction.
What is your understanding and opinion of NASA’s current vision, mission and strategic direction? If you think NASA’s vision, mission and strategic direction should different from the above, please state what they should be and why.
The vision and mission statement of NASA in their 2011 strategic plan are largely decoupled from the way that the strategic goal, especially #1 is implemented. 1.3 states:
“Develop an integrated architecture and capabilities for safe crewed and cargo missions beyond low Earth orbit.”
Currently, none of the BEO exploration architectures integrates ISS into its plan. It is merely assumed that ISS will not be around due to the long development period of the SLS HLV booster. The SLS booster, its cost, and long gestation is the flaw in the implementation of the Strategic direction. An alternate architecture integrating existing vehicles, advanced technology, and living off the land negates the need for the SLS.
The implementation plan that undergirds the utilization of an SLS heavy lift vehicle assumes that all payloads for human BEO missions will be lofted from the Earth. None of the design reference missions incorporate InSitu Resource Utilization (ISRU) in any serious manner. The reasons given are that ISRU is at a low Technical Readiness Level (TRL), yet there are no significant programs in NASA beyond Jerry Sanders modest efforts, in NASA’s strategic technology portfolio.
Without ISRU, no BEO exploration strategy is sustainable. At no time in human history has any exploration or colonization succeeded when reliant on supplies from home. NASA’s LRO, Mars, and other planetary missions indicate that our solar system is rich with resources, including fuels and metals, that would support a “living off the land” strategy.
The SLS centric architecture ignores ISS and wastes NASA’s flagship human spaceflight program. Its expense and long gestation time, renders human BEO exploration so far into the future as to be of little value to our society. It is recommended that the strategic plan be amended to incorporate “living off the land” as a central theme for sustainable human BEO exploration.
In your opinion, should NASA’s annual budget (currently about $18 billion) be substantially increased, be substantially decreased, or remain at about the current level – and why? [In responding to this question, assume that an increase in NASA's budget would require reduction(s) elsewhere in the federal budget and, conversely, that a decrease in NASA's budget would enable increased funding elsewhere in the federal budget.]
NASA’s budget is less important than the strategic direction and national priority. Today billions of dollars per year are wasted on a heavy lift vehicle with no funding for payloads and is not expected to be operational for another ten years. Reallocating this funding to advanced technology, in space systems, and more commercial integration would provide vastly more value to the American taxpayer.
As far as the budget goes, the budget is always given as the reason that we cannot do more in space. In this same amount of time, especially in the last several years the lie of this proposition has been made abundantly clear. Our nation has spent trillions of dollars on the financial system bail out, almost a trillion dollars in stimulus spending and barely a budge on the NASA budget. From 2001 to 2008 the budget of the education department increased more than twice NASA’s entire budget. Money is not the problem, the problem is priority.
NASA’s priority as integrated into national priorities, has been sorely shortchanged. Organizations such as the National Academies of Science and other like organizations have dominated the discussion regarding the strategic direction of NASA and hence NASA becomes yet another government science project. It has been observed that on this committee there is only one person with a robust business background. Additionally, there is no advocate for the economic development of the solar system and its strategic value to the nation. The solar system is rich in resources, resources that can make the difference in providing for the 9 billion humans who will be alive in less than 40 years.
Therefore the question is not budget, it is priority, and with the right priority our national space efforts should have a budget of at least $75 billion per year.