A bit of a brouhaha was raised last week when Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at Harvard University, presented Kepler space telescope data at the TEDGlobal conference in the United Kingdom. He stated that the data shows around 140 worlds to be “like Earth.” Many in the media and the general public took him to mean that these planets potentially harbor life.
Let’s set the record straight. Dr. Sasselov was strictly referring to the size of these worlds. Using Kepler data, Sasselov and his team employ something called the transit method of planet detection. That is, they observe the change in the amount of light emanating from the parent star as the planet passes — or transits — in front of it. If you plot that change on a graph, it forms what astrophysicists call a “light curve.” And that curve can tell you, within a certain unavoidable margin or error, the size of the transiting planet. This method could not, however, tell you about the surface characteristics of the planet, let alone whether life may exist there or not.
What I find very interesting about so many scientists searching for life out in the universe is their predilection for earth-like conditions. For example, you hear many references to the “Goldie Locks” or the “habitable” zone. These terms are meant to describe the area of our own solar system inhabited by the earth: not so far from the sun as to freeze our planet and not so close as to boil; just right. This zone turns out to have been ideal for the formation of life — and here’s the salient point — “as we know it.”
I’m reminded of a cartoon I saw some years ago depicting an astronaut on some far flung planet focused intensely on a rock lying near his feet and proclaiming “no life here” to mission control. Being so intent on the area surrounding his feet, he completely overlooks the 8-foot alien standing right over him.
It’s no intentional bias to which we, as humans, resort when we use earth life as our standard of measure. After all, having never met an alien, we have no other source of reference. Still, one would think that we as a species have reached a level of intellectual maturity that would preclude a preoccupation with our feet. We’d like to regard ourselves in the way the Prince of Denmark describes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!
The overwhelming likelihood when we finally do encounter extraterrestrial life (note the foregone conclusion) is that it will bear no resemblance to us, whatsoever. Our biology comes as the culmination of a nearly infinite number of random events. Change one of them, and the end product may take a drastically divergent path. And the odds that another form of life that emerged and developed elsewhere in the universe would resemble us are infinitesimally small; essentially zero.
So when we cast a gaze outward towards other planets, we might do well to keep an open mind, to make no assumptions and to take life as we find it and not as we expect it to be. It would be an awful pity to overlook what would surely be one of the most profound discoveries in human history, because we didn’t simply open our eyes and see.
If you’re Sci-Fi fan, you’ve undoubtedly seen more than one movie depicting a habitable planet bearing a striking resemblance to Saturn; the main character looking up to see a large, color set of ring spanning from horizon to horizon. And if you were tempted to scoff at the prospect as being no more than an artifact of a fertile imagination, think again. Though the natural ring systems found in our solar system are observed exclusively around gas giant planets — planets with no solid surface on which to land and a crushing gravitational field — Earth does nonetheless have its own ring system. It’s a artificial ring composed entirely of thousands of satellites, both operational and dead, spent rocket bodies plus many more thousands of space hardware fragments that are the products of accidental collisions with one another, secondary collisions of fragments with fragments and even the intentional shooting down of the Fan Yun 1C spacecraft by China as part of an anti-satellite weapon test in 2007. That one event drastically increased the number of pieces of space junk and made much of low earth orbit a much more dangerous place, the impact of which (pun intended) is felt so much more so now that we have people there aboard the International Space Station, tending the orbital laboratory 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Two nights ago such a piece of debris came uncomfortably close to the space station… again. It’s not the first time, and will certainly not be the last. The event underscores the need for a plan to be put in place to 1) stop placing more junk into orbit and 2) begin to remove that which is already there. The US is in the position to lead the charge, but so far there’s been nothing more than talk while one orbit after another fills up with junk at an exponential rate.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so bad if Earth’s ring could at least treat us to the same color display as Saturn with it’s shimmering reds, greens and blues wrapping around the planet’s equator, but it is not to be. What we have is a belt of hypervelocity junk, which represents an increasing menace to space navigation, itself set to increase as commercial, human space flight begins to come into its own.
There are things the government can do right now to help alleviate some of the threat. As it stands, US policy for retiring a spent weather satellite in the geosynchronous orbit is not to return it to earth once its life is over as it should be but to simply boost it into a higher — so-called super-synchronous — orbit and turn it off. This strategy continues to add to the population of junk; it cannot and should not be maintained in the future. It must change and the sooner, the better.
Even this strategy is not adhered to by all spacecraft operators. SpaceNews reports that, “In 2008 and 2009 alone, four geostationary orbiting satellites — the U.S. EchoStar 2 and the Russian Gorizont 33, Raduga 1-5, Cosmos 2371 and Cosmos 2379 — were all left to expire on the geostationary arc without performing end-of-mission orbit-raising maneuvers. EchoStar 2 failed suddenly in orbit and could not be moved.” Then, of course, there is the occasional errant spacecraft like Galaxy 15, which recently ceased responding to commands from the ground and is now plowing uncontrolled through geosynchronous orbit.
The White House has issued orders to NASA and the DOD to begin researching techniques for the mitigation and removal of space debris, but this could take many years before an effective, affordable strategy of space junk removal is put in force. There are thousands of pieces of junk, and to physically remove each one could cost many millions of dollars per piece. Then again, one can easily see the potential for jobs creation in the endeavor.
In the meantime, policy must change. We must adopt strict rules to prevent spacecraft operators from leaving dead satellites in space. Let’s not wait until the multi-billion-dollar International Space Station is crippled or destroyed before we become proactive.
Have you ever daydreamed of exploring space? Ever found yourself wandering off on an imaginary expedition of discovery across some vast, alien landscape? Of course, the regular guy and gal could never hope to make such a journey in person. That’s really only Hollywood stuff. Right? Wrong. In fact, you now have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Apollo astronauts and be the next human to look across the moonscape and discover some of its many secrets as part of a serious and ongoing scientific program.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched on June 18, 2009, and since it arrived in orbit around the moon has been taking the highest resolution images of its surface in existence. Data is coming in from the spacecraft at such a phenomenal rate that scientists have difficulty sifting through it all, so they’ve asked for the help of folks just like you to help them identify high-value targets for further scientific study. And for this citizen science project they’ve set up a website where you can go to take part. After viewing videos and other help that will show you how to recognize features, you’ll peruse through images of the moon’s surface few others — if any — have seen, even among planetary scientists. In the process of becoming a lunar researcher, you will learn more about the surface or our nearest neighbor in space than you ever have before and perhaps discover something as yet unknown. It’s a voyage of discovery seldom available to those outside astrophysics.
Go to MoonZoo.org and register. From there, you’ll have tools at your disposal that allow you to mark interesting features like the more recent craters that have excavated light-colored material in an ejecta blanket all around the impact site. They call these fresh white craters, and the science team will count the number that you identify so they can calculate the current impact rate. The information you provide with help them to assess the risk to earth of asteroid strikes.
You may also discover elongated pits. These are areas where a subsurface lava tube has collapsed in on itself. Another, similar feature called a “skylight” has been discovered recently in which only a section of a lava tube’s ceiling has collapsed to reveal a cavernous expanse within. These features have scientists and lunar base planners alike excited. Such areas could serve humans as a natural shelter from the radiation environment. They may also be sources of water, trapping it in frozen form in their permanently dark recesses. In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), more popularly known as the concept of “living off the land,” is an important strategy for maintaining a permanent human presence on the moon. If we can obtain shelter from natural features and extract from them some of the resources and consumables we need, the cost of the venture is dramatically reduced. I becomes obtainable within our lifetimes. It becomes attainable by you!
Spacefaring nations have been launching probes and landers to the surface of the moon for decades. You may also run across the technology they left behind. When you find these pieces of space mission hardware, the positions that you mark will be used to build up a database that can be made available to the worldwide science community and used as positional landmarks for lunar cartographic mapping.
These and other features — many of which could only be described as just plain weird — are yours to discover. You’ll have a great deal of fun and adventure, and you can share what you find through the built-in Moon Zoo blog. And perhaps you’ll discover something that no one else has ever seen. If you have the heart of an explorer, this site is definitely for you.
Moon Zoo belongs to a larger community of citizen science projects called the Zooniverse. There you’ll also find Galaxy Zoo Hubble where you can help astronomers figure out how galaxies form and evolve by classifying their shape using Hubble images. There’s Solar Stormwatch where you can help spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth. Then there’s Galaxy Zoo Mergers and Galaxy Zoo Supernovae. But if you’re interested in helping build a knowledge base of our moon, and in so doing help usher in the age of lunar settlement, Moon Zoo is your best bet.
So log on and plug in to a universe of discovery. You can make a difference, and you’ll satisfy that innate urge to explore that we all have. And maybe, just maybe, the day when you can board a rocket bound for a moon base to see the sights in person will get even closer.
For nearly half a century now we’ve heard from the futurists what our lives will be like just around the corner. The picture they paint is one with human settlements circling the earth and sprawling across the surface of the moon; of space hotels spinning like pinwheels through black skies; of rocket flights as common as airplane flights are today; and most importantly of a swelling population of off-world settlers pursuing the limitless prosperity that this new frontier of space has to offer. It’s a picture that can be transmuted from the water color and canvas of our imagination to those more vibrant colors of real life.
The technology exists with which to make the dream a reality, so why does it still seem so far away? A naive over reliance on government.
The headline in this week’s print version of Space News reads Effective Cost-Control Strategies Remain Elusive, NASA Officials Say. Space travel — particularly on a large scale — requires the kind of financial agility not found in any bureaucracy. Only the private sector can deliver cost-effective space technology, and then only if there exists a sustaining market. For space commerce to emerge as a self-sustaining enterprise, it cannot be reliant upon the government for its survival. We find ourselves at a nexus in history where, like the time leading up to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, a market is logically assumed to exist but, it has yet to be proven, leaving many holding the really big purse strings with some angst. There is certainly plentiful capital with which to launch space commerce into its own, but most investors remain diffident, choosing to wait and see how investors like Elon Musk of SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace fair. These men have put up their own fortunes to prove that the final frontier is a place of opportunity for all brave enough to go there. When their risks prove successful, others will follow. In the mean time, what is required is a few more like Durant and the Union Pacific Railroad.
At the opening of the week-long Farnborough Air Show in England yesterday, Robert Bigelow in partnership with Boeing announced the intent to build and launch into earth orbit a commercial space station by 2014 — an imminently achievable goal based on Bigelow’s flight-proven, inflatable space habitat design. Should this enterprise come to fruition, it would represent a huge boost to commercial, human space flight by offering a destination open to a throng of paying customers. It would serve as both hub and incubator for orbiting commerce and a place from which that traffic could spread to the moon and beyond. Speaking for Boeing’s space exploration division, former astronaut, Vice President and General Manager Brewster Shaw said, “We need the funding. The money that NASA has proposed closes the business case. Without that, we would have a difficult time.” That was yesterday. Today it was reported in Space News that the newly-passed House of Representatives version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 cuts in half the $500M CCDev contract funds, a share of which they had hoped to capture for the venture.
This is typical of government wrangling over money, all the more limited by unchecked growth in entitlement spending, which will never boost productivity in any area of the country one iota. Obama wanted to kill the Constellation moon program, outright. Congress, however, has passed a measure that would keep but restructure Constellation, retaining only the heavy lift rocket used to get into earth orbit and the crew transportation vehicle for transport out of orbit. The moon as a destination and the systems needed to land and establish a base there are sadly, but for the moment, set aside. And the money private companies were hoping to gain for human space flight would now seem much harder to obtain, but there is another way.
The private sector knows only too well the blind spot that exists 2 feet beyond the end of the bureaucrat’s nose. And the changes in course that come with every administration only further exacerbate the problem of getting a coherent, manageable and affordable civil space program. They know that the only hope of getting humans into space en masse rests with a sustained strategy carried out over a decade or more. And this will never come out of Washington.
What is required is more investment from the private sector. More investors ready to face a big risk for an even bigger payoff will need to step up. Burt Rutan has shown the way. He’s demonstrated that commercial, human space flight can be profitable when he designed and built SpaceShipOne. Within the space of a couple of years he transformed his SpaceShip from a concept into a paying contract. Virgin Galactic has purchased a fleet of 5 vehicles, which are set to become the world’s first spaceline when the flight test program is complete some time over the next 18 months. And if you’re one of the naysayers who contend that Rutan’s design is not proven, consider this: VMS Eve, the first production model of SpaceShipTwo, is a scaled up version of SpaceShipOne that won the X Prize.
The emergence of space commerce will foster even more growth of investment and technology and set the stage for off-world settlement. And such a tenuous and fragile construct can only be born near earth where it can be nurtured into health. This is why so many have argued in favor of going back to the moon and establishing a permanent presence there before going on to Mars. The latter requires massive government research and development programs, which have proven time and again to evaporate into a mist of apathy and bureaucratic self interest. If government has not been able to go back to the moon in 40 years then why should we believe that have the ability will suddenly appear now?
Set aside for the moment the government’s demonstrative inability to focus or to formulate a coherent strategy for getting humans into space on any meaningful scale. There is another term to this equation that, in and of itself, is reason enough for them to work against the settlement of space. Our government believes that space travel is just too dangerous for the public. Yes, there are those among us too fragile for the venture, but America was settled by a hearty breed of human, both physically and mentally, and we still have that pioneering spirit in our blood. When it at last lights upon our collective consciousness that space travel is no longer science fiction but science fact, and that all that stands between us and adventure beyond our wildest dreams is the decision to go, what a spectacle it will be.
Washington, D.C., July 12, 2010 – As a strong supporter of a robust NASA human spaceflight program, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is releasing the following statement to address topics related to human spaceflight, including commercial human spaceflight. Please see items below on the topics of capability, safety, and cost savings:
MYTH: “The new plan hands over Low Earth Orbit spaceflight to unproven companies.”
· The Commercial Crew Program will include the use of highly proven launch vehicles such as the Atlas V, which has achieved a perfect record of 21 consecutive successful flights to orbit. In addition to Atlas V, the commercial Delta IV has 13 consecutive successful flights, and the Falcon 9 recently reached orbit on its first flight, with over a dozen more Falcon 9 flights scheduled in the next few years.
· The Commercial Crew competition will include highly experienced firms, including major aerospace prime contractors, such as Boeing, which is developing the CST-100 commercial crew capsule under CCDev, and Boeing has built nearly every U.S. human spacecraft since Mercury. The list of companies winning CCDev or COTS demonstrates the wide experience base of potential competitors, such as Boeing (158,000 employees), United Launch Alliance (3,900 employees), Orbital (3,600 employees), Sierra Nevada Corporation (2,000 employees), and SpaceX (1,000 employees).
MYTH: “Commercial spaceflight has yet to ‘prove cargo before crew.”
· Commercial companies, such as United Launch Alliance, have already proven the ability to successfully carry high-value cargo to orbit. Given the urgency of closing the gap, Commercial Crew should be promptly started. Only two companies are developing cargo capabilities under the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, so it is not logical for the other companies to be forced to “wait” for the completion of the COTS Cargo program.
· The Department of Defense already trusts commercial launch vehicles such as the proven Atlas V to launch cargo worth billions of dollars per mission and which the safety of our troops overseas depends on. These vehicles are also entrusted by NASA to handle some of the most safety-critical applications in the civil space sector. For example, the Atlas V is Category 3 certified by NASA for launch of NASA’s most critical payloads.
MYTH: “Commercial Crew will take ten years to develop.”
· Developing a low Earth orbit Gemini-class capability (which is the historical human spaceflight project most similar to Commercial Crew) is a simpler, and therefore shorter, task than developing an Apollo or Orion-class capability. The first piloted Gemini flight to orbit was achieved only about 3 years and 3 months after McDonnell accepted Contract NAS 9-170 to develop Gemini. Today, the fastest way for America to regain its ability to send astronauts to the International Space Station is to develop a simple Gemini-class capability rather than waiting for a more complex Apollo-sized system.
· Because Commercial Crew funds multiple redundant capabilities, schedule delays with any one company will not delay the availability of astronaut launch capability. Commercial Crew is actually less vulnerable to schedule slips than a program such as Ares I that has only one provider. With Commercial Crew, a delay with a single competitor does not increase the “gap,” because other competitors are progressing in parallel, while under the old plan, each delay with Ares I does increase the “gap.”
MYTH: “Commercial Crew will take tens of billions of dollars.”
· The historical data from the low Earth orbit Gemini Program, the human spaceflight project most similar to commercial crew, disproves this assertion. As the Augustine Committee stated, “Gemini is the closest historical program in scope to the envisioned commercial crew taxi. … In GDP-inflator-corrected FY 2009 dollars, the DDT&E [design, development, test, and evaluation] cost of this program was about $2.5-3 billion, depending on the accounting for test flights.” Since that time, technology for human spaceflight has benefited from 40+ years of technology advances and lessons learned. If Gemini were built today, it would likely cost even less to develop.
· Cost prediction curves that use Apollo and Orion as key sources of data in estimating the cost of commercial crew are “comparing apples and oranges.” This is because commercial crew capsules are serving a simpler mission (and thus will cost less) than the far more capable Apollo, Space Shuttle, or Orion vehicles. Commercial crew vehicles will transport crew to and from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit, but will not need the added capabilities needed for deep space missions to the Moon, asteroids, or Mars as Orion was designed to do.
· Commercial crew does not require spending money to develop new launch vehicles, only capsules. The launch vehicles already exist: Atlas V has flown 21 consecutive times to orbit successfully; Delta IV has flown 13 consecutive times to orbit successfully; and Falcon 9 just had a successful flight to orbit. Not needing to develop all-new launch vehicles is a substantial cost advantage of Commercial Crew.
MYTH: “The new plan ‘places all our eggs in one basket’ by using commercial services.”
FACT: The exact opposite is true: the previous plan relies 100% on Ares I for launching crew into space, while the new program funds multiple redundant capabilities to transport crew to LEO. This will mean that NASA’s human spaceflight program will no longer be solely dependent on any one single domestic vehicle—a major benefit. America will finally have “assured access to space” for astronauts, similar to how military satellites have assured access to space by using both the Delta and Atlas. Achieving “assured access” for astronauts, via multiple commercial capabilities, will dramatically improve our ability to fully utilize the International Space Station.
MYTH: “Commercial Crew represents a radical departure from current national policy.”
FACT: Commercial Crew is, in fact, a continuation of existing national policy:
· The 2008 NASA Authorization Act endorsed commercial crew, stating:
“In order to stimulate commercial use of space, help maximize the utility and productivity of the International Space Station, and enable a commercial means of providing crew transfer and crew rescue services for the International Space Station, NASA shall… issue a notice of intent, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, to enter into a funded, competitively awarded Space Act Agreement with two or more commercial entities for a Phase 1 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) crewed vehicle demonstration program.”
· Similarly, the 2008 NASA Appropriations House report endorsed commercial crew; it “encourage[d] NASA to consider exercising its option for the Commercial Cargo (COTS) Capability D (crew transport) as soon as possible…”
· Additionally, National Security Presidential Directive-49, issued by President Bush in 2006, stated, “Departments and agencies shall use U.S. commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent,” and also stated, “It is in the interest of the United States to foster the use of U.S. commercial space capabilities around the globe and to enable a dynamic, domestic commercial space sector.”
· In June 2004, the Aldridge Commission on implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration recommended that “NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations… most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit.” The Aldridge Commission added, “the Commission believes that commercialization of space should become a primary focus of the vision and that the creation of a space-based industry will be one of the principal benefits of this journey.”
· A quarter-century ago, the law that created NASA, known as the Space Act, was amended to specify that NASA is to “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.”
MYTH: “The data shows commercial vehicles are less safe than other vehicles such as Ares I.”
· The demonstrated track records of commercial vehicles, combined with numerous upcoming manifested flights, means that the family of commercial vehicles already has, and will continue to have, a much stronger track record than other vehicles such as Ares I. The Atlas family of rockets has had over 90 consecutive successes including 21 consecutive successes for Atlas V, and additional unmanned flights will occur over the next few years before any astronaut flights begin. Similarly, many flights of the Delta and Falcon vehicles have already occurred or will occur before astronauts would be placed onboard. Astronauts will not be flying on vehicles that lack a solid track record.
· By contrast, NASA was planning to place astronauts on just the second full-up orbital flight of the Ares I system. Ares I would have many fewer test flights than Atlas V, Falcon 9, or Delta IV. Furthermore, the first crewed flight of Ares I will not occur until the year 2017 as determined by the Augustine Committee. Thus, at the planned rate of two Ares I flights per year, it would take the Ares I rocket until at least the year 2025 to match the demonstrated reliability that the Atlas V rocket already has today. That is, the commercial rocket has a fifteen-year head start on safety.
· Demonstrated reliability through multiple actual flights to orbit is crucial because paper calculations have historically been insufficient to capture the majority of failure modes that affect real, flying vehicles—especially new vehicles flying their first few missions. As the Augustine Committee stated, “The often-used Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) … is not as useful a guide as to whether a new launch vehicle will fail during operations, especially during its early flights.” Demonstrated reliability is crucial.
· The Department of Defense already trusts commercial vehicles, such as Atlas V and Delta IV, to safely launch multi-billion-dollar national security payloads upon which the safety of our troops overseas depends. These vehicles are also entrusted by NASA to handle some of the most safety-critical applications in the civil space sector. For example, the Atlas V is Category 3 certified by NASA for launch of NASA’s most critical payloads, and is also certified for launch of nuclear payloads, such as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft with radioactive plutonium onboard, which demands extremely high safety levels for launch.
MYTH: “The Commercial Crew Program will be held to lower safety level expectations than alternative programs would.”
· Safety is paramount— private companies understand that they will not be in business if the systems they develop are not safe. In fact, private industry recognizes that it must increase safety from that demonstrated in the past in order to fulfill its vision of greatly increasing human activity in space.
· Commercial industry is planning to meet or exceed the safety standards that NASA applies to its own vehicles. The initial NASA version of NPR 8705.2, “Human-Rating Requirements for Space Systems,” was released over five years ago, so industry has had access to this data for an extended period. For example, United Launch Alliance has begun work on an Emergency Detection System (EDS) for the Atlas V using funds awarded by the NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program and access to NASA documents including NPR 8705.2B and other NASA documents.
· NASA will be there every step of the way. The Commercial Crew program is a partnership between NASA and industry. NASA will have oversight during design, testing, manufacturing, and operations. As the customer, NASA will also have go/no-go authority over the readiness of each mission to fly.
MYTH: “The astronaut community does not believe that commercial spaceflight is safe.”
FACT: Thirteen former NASA astronauts who have accumulated a total of 42 space missions, stated in an October Wall Street Journal op-ed that commercial spaceflight can be conducted safely. The astronaut signatories were Buzz Aldrin, Byron Lichtenberg, Charles Walker, Hank Hartsfield, Jake Garn, Jim Voss, John Herrington, John Lounge, Kathryn Thornton, Ken Bowersox, Norman Thagard, Rick Searfoss, and Robert Gibson. These thirteen astronauts have collectively flown a total of 42 space missions and logged a total of 2 years and 48 days in space aboard six different space vehicles including Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle, Soyuz, Mir, and the International Space Station. These astronauts stated:
“We believe that the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation. … As astronauts, we know that safety is important. We are fully confident that the commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle. Commercial transportation systems using boosters such as the Atlas V, Taurus II, or Falcon 9 will have the advantage of multiple unmanned flights to build a track record of safe operations prior to carrying humans. These vehicles are already set to fly over 40 flights to orbit in the next four years.”
Topic: Cost Savings
MYTH: “Commercial spaceflight capabilities will be no cheaper than Ares I for servicing the International Space Station.”
· The development cost of Ares I plus a crew-launch-capable Orion is at least $35 billion, which is 6 times more expensive than the Commercial Crew Program that will develop multiple redundant systems. The $35 billion cost figure is a direct NASA quote from the June 17, 2009 New York Times, which stated: “In an interview, Steve Cook, manager of the Ares Project at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said that the cost estimate for developing the Ares I and seeing it through its first manned flight was $35 billion.” Independent cost estimates are even higher than $35 billion.
· In addition, the per-flight costs to transport astronauts to the International Space Station on Ares I would significantly exceed that of simpler commercial systems. The Augustine Committee report stated, “The Ares I and Orion would be a very expensive system for crew transport to low-Earth orbit. Program estimates are that it would have a recurring cost of nearly $1 billion per flight, even with the fixed infrastructure costs being carried by Ares V.”
· There are at least four distinct reasons for these cost savings under Commercial Crew:
- Proven launch vehicles already exist, such as Atlas V, and others have demonstrated successful orbital flights, such as Falcon 9, substantially reducing the amount of new hardware needing development.
- Higher flight rates and satellite launches: Commercial vehicles also launch commercial communications satellites and national security payloads, leading to an increased flight rate that reduces per-flight cost. By contrast, NASA-unique vehicles are prohibited from launching commercial satellites, so there are usually fewer flights to share costs among.
- The mission is simpler: Low Earth Orbit transportation is less difficult than extended missions to the Moon, so a capsule built just for LEO is less expensive.
- Competitive forces and pay-for-performance: Unlike traditional programs, commercial procurements utilize fixed-price, pay-for-performance, milestone-based agreements and leverage the power of competition between multiple providers.
MYTH: “Commercial Crew will not save NASA money if non-NASA human spaceflight markets are slow to develop.”
FACT: Non-NASA human spaceflight markets are not the primary source of cost savings for the NASA customer: The sources of cost savings to NASA – which still apply even if non-NASA human spaceflight markets are slow to develop – are the following: proven launch vehicles already exist, higher flight rate from satellite launches reduces per-flight costs, the LEO mission is simpler, and pay-for-performance leverages the power of competition. While it is true that non-NASA human spaceflight markets have implications for regulatory frameworks and corporate business approaches, they are not the primary source of cost savings for the NASA government customer. The benefits of additional commercial markets for human spaceflight are to increase the safety, reliability, and diversity of the services offered and further reduce the cost to NASA.
MYTH: “Full utilization of the Space Station can be accomplished by relying on a government option rather than a fully-funded Commercial Crew system.”
FACT: Space Station servicing is an urgent need that requires the quicker, simpler solution of the Commercial Crew program that is optimized just for the Space Station. Heavy-lift systems designed to go beyond low Earth orbit are far more capable than is needed for low Earth orbit operations, so for the specific mission of Space Station servicing they are neither cost-effective, nor available in a timely manner. While it is entirely appropriate for NASA to develop heavy-lift systems for exploration, those systems are not the solution to the needs of the Space Station. Because Commercial Crew and heavy-lift serve entirely separate missions, our ability to utilize the Space Station depends entirely on whether Commercial Crew is robustly funded.
MYTH: “Diverting money from Commercial Crew to fund Constellation would still allow NASA to service the International Space Station.”
FACT: Commercial Crew does not contain sufficient money to fund Constellation. The $6 billion requested for the Commercial Crew program is much smaller than the $35 billion Ares I-Orion effort, not to mention that Ares V costs would be significantly larger. Diverting money from Commercial Crew would only fund a small fraction of a system that, even if fully funded, would not come online until 2017 or later, increasing the spaceflight gap and jeopardizing our utilization of the International Space Station.
MYTH: “Commercial Crew could risk a large “bailout” if a company fails to perform.”
FACT: Commercial Crew does not risk a large “bailout” for the following reasons:
· No one single provider is treated as “Too Big to Fail,” because multiple commercial capabilities are funded. If one competitor falls behind, the government has multiple alternatives. This contrasts favorably with winner-take-all, cost plus programs like Ares I, where the government has to pay “whatever it takes” to finish the project since there are no alternatives.
· Cost per system is much less than Ares I: Because of this substantial difference in cost, a given percentage cost overrun for Ares is much more expensive than the equivalent overrun for a commercial system.
· Pay-for-performance: Unlike a traditional cost-plus program where the government pays the cost of development no matter how high, a commercial milestone-based program does not commit the government to spending money until progress is shown.
· “Assured access to space” is available because choosing multiple commercial winners means that the probability of every single provider failing to deliver is less likely than the probability of a single lone system, such as Ares I, failing to deliver.
MYTH: “The Department of Defense’s attempt to use the Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR) model in the 1990s shows commercial crew cannot succeed.”
FACT: In Tom Young’s hearing examples, Total System Performance Responsibility was applied to programs that were developing cutting-edge technology and attempting feats never before accomplished, which stands in contrast to a Commercial Crew Program that is similar to the 40-year-old Gemini Program. Specifically, Tom Young cited cost overruns for the FIA (Future Imagery Architecture) program and SBIRS High (Space-Based Infrared System) program, both programs that involve the development of new cutting-edge technologies that had never before been demonstrated. By contrast, the Commercial Crew Program uses existing launch vehicles and well-established technologies to duplicate a capability first achieved over 40 years ago with the Gemini Program, and therefore does not fit in the same category as the Future Imagery Architecture and SBIRS High programs. Commercial Crew is a perfect example of a program where commercial acquisition techniques are appropriate and beneficial.
MYTH: “NASA is the only customer for commercial launch providers.”
· Launch vehicles such as Atlas, Delta, and Falcon already have multiple customers today for the launching of satellites and cargo. The Augustine Committee report, in the section on Commercial Crew, pointed out “the existing markets of ISS cargo to low-Earth orbit, science and national security space satellite missions, and commercial satellite launches.” The costs of the launch vehicle are thus already shared among multiple customers.
· While the satellite market alone is sufficient to increase flight rates and reduce per-flight costs to NASA, other markets also exist for the crew capsule:
- Sovereign clients: This term refers to U.S.-allied nations paying American commercial companies to fly their national astronauts to space, generating American jobs in the process. Sovereign clients are friendly nations seeking to expand their existing space program, create “first astronaut” national heroes, conduct industrial and scientific research on-orbit, or bolster national prestige. Bigelow Aerospace, whose founder has committed an investment of $500 million, told the New York Times last month that the company has visited countries including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Netherlands, Britain and Sweden to determine interest in the sovereign client market. Demand from sovereign clients has also been demonstrated by the fact that since 1978, the United States and Russia have flown almost 100 guest astronauts representing 30 countries, often in exchange for in-kind services but sometimes for payment. As a recent example, in 2008 South Korea paid Russia $20 million to launch South Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon.
- Private individuals: over $150 million has been already paid by private citizens to travel on a Soyuz to the Space Station. In fact, the demand for this service has continued to increase despite the Russians doubling their prices from under $20 million to over $35 million per seat, with the price now at about $45 million. Furthermore, when Commercial Crew taxi services begin in the United States, prospective astronauts, who are often business leaders running companies, will no longer have to spend half a year training in Russia with limited contact with the outside world— so demand will no longer be dampened by that burden.
- Industrial clients, such as large scientific corporations represent another potential source of demand for on-orbit access.
· Investment in the commercial spaceflight industry offers the opportunity for America to win back a larger share of the international launch market. Norman Mineta, who served under the Bush Administration as the Secretary of Transportation, and under the Clinton Administration as the Secretary of Commerce, stated in a recent op-ed, “With Russia, China and India close on our heels, the only way we can maintain our hard-won leadership in space transportation is by employing America’s unique entrepreneurial strength. Obama’s new plan for NASA does exactly that.”
[Contact: John Gedmark, Commercial Spaceflight Federation, 202.349.1121]
Former Senator Schmitt Accuses National Academy of Conflict of Interest in Study of Global Climate Change
Extraordinarily complex natural processes underlie changes in the Earth’s climate. They represent decadal to millennial to epochal variations in weather patterns as nature continuously attempts to compensate for solar heating imbalances in and between the atmosphere, oceans, and landmasses.
Nature’s attempts to restore heat balance at and near the Earth’s surface take place under many complicating influences. These include the rotating Earth’s seasonally variable orientation relative to the sun; periodic differences in Earth’s orbital positioning; movement and release of heat stored in the oceans; atmospheric circulation; the sun’s variable irradiance and magnetic fields; frequent and unpredictable volcanic eruptions; and geologically slow but exorable redistribution and reconfiguration of land, ocean, and ice masses.
In this context of natural reality, the recent report, “America’s Climate Choices,” released May 19, 2010, by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), illustrates how far that formerly illustrious Academy has strayed from the principles of “science.” Those principles are, simply: observe, hypothesize, test, analyze, retest, and repeat this cycle until plausible, objective conclusions appear to be warranted – conclusions that others or nature can replicate.
The Academy, in contrast, has become just another political arm of the governmental establishment, promoting a federal mandate of “major technological and behavioral change” based on flawed as well as selective science. The report’s conclusions that “climate change is occurring, caused largely by human activities…” and that “the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” ignore contradictory tests of such hypotheses that come through objective observations.
Unfortunately, support for the Academy’s political statements also comes from Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).1 The AAAS, in an Essay Review of books related to the climate change debate in its Science magazine,2 could not even bring itself to require consideration of books dissenting from the “consensus” that current climate change is human caused3.
In taking these political, non-scientific positions, the Academy has joined another political body, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in attacking the heart of free institutions and economic prosperity. The Academy’s and British Royal Society’s Presidents and membership, in recent reactions to the public disclosure of fraud within the climate science political community, have exacerbated their loss of credibility rather than enhancing it.4 The Royal Society’s takes a particularly disappointing and ironic position as its founders’ motto 350 years ago was to “accept nothing on authority.”5 The National Academy now has embarrassed itself further by using a statistical analysis of publication records as “scientific” justification of the so-called “consensus” that humans cause climate change6.
Unfortunately, bias permeates both the reports and the published work reviewed in reports produced by the Academy and IPCC for the use of “policy makers.” This bias follows from the dependency on government funding of so many climate researchers and bureaucrats as well as from the extra-constitutional political leanings of most academics today7. If grant applications from the researchers involved do not propose to show the effects of humans on climate, their proposals risk not being funded. If their conclusions do not allege an effect by humans on climate, however tenuous that effect might be, their career-essential papers probably will not be published by politically committed journals. Not following liberal orthodoxy on climate change thus may create problems of tenure at home institutions.
If the recent climate science policy scandals show nothing else, they show the existence of political bias. Even the Academy’s study of “America’s Climate Choices” was funded by the leadership of the Congress and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both of which have huge political and budgetary interests, respectively, in reaching the conclusion that humans cause modern climate change. 85% of the Academy’s future study funding8 depends on concluding what your political customers, the politicians and bureaucrats, want you to conclude.
On the other hand, Ralph J. Cicerone, President of the Academy, correctly states “that the state of climate change science is strong;” however, ironically, he refers to the wrong aspects of climate change science when he makes that statement. Recent international scientific conferences hosted by the Heartland Institute of Chicago, the broad compilation of information contained in “Climate Changed Reconsidered,”9 and an increasing body of published research shows that observational climate science is indeed strong.
The results of this observational scientific research and analysis show that natural processes dominate changes in Earth’s climate and it is that conclusion which should drive national policy. The last thing policy makers should rely on is guidance based on assumptions put into obviously flawed computer models. It is factually, professionally, and absolutely wrong for the former Chairman of the National Science Board to state in congressional testimony that there exist no “specifics, alternate hypotheses, and facts” contrary to the human-caused climate change hypothesis.10 As the NAS report confirms, a socialist political agenda drives government policy and that policy seeks control over all aspects of local as well as national economic activity, particularly energy production and use.
What do we actually know about climate variability over the part of Earth history most relevant to the present? Actually, we know a lot. Since the last Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago11 (the glacial maximum lasting between 33,000 and 19,000 years ago12), geological and tree ring records for that interval document prolonged periods of warmth and cold, ranging from 3000 years to a few hundred years in duration.13 The Little Ice Age of 1400-1900,14 following the Medieval Warm Period of 600-1300, recorded the last significant period of global cooling during that 10,000 years, although decades-long cooling has occurred several times since.
By 1400, Artic ice pack had enclosed Iceland and Greenland and driven Viking settlers away from their farms on those islands.15 By the end of the 1600s, in response to the earlier climate cooling, glaciers had advanced over valley farmlands cultivated as those same glaciers receded during the Medieval Warm Period.16 Indeed, all of the consequences of warming prior to 1300 reversed during the next several hundred years of the Little Ice Age.
Since about 1660, the middle of the last 70 year-long phase of the Little Ice Age, global surface and near surface temperatures have risen an average of about about 0.9 degree Fahrenheit (half a degree Centigrade) each 100 years.17 In response, a general retreat of world glaciers has taken place over the last century or more, not just in the last decades of the 20th Century,18 repeating the documented pattern of the Medieval Warm Period.
The Artic Ocean ice pack has retreated northward since about 180019 and, as during the Medieval Warm Period, may have largely disappeared during some summers, depending on the high latitude atmospheric circulation.20 Similarly, though only on a decadal rather than a century scale, satellite observations since 1979 show that the decrease in the area of the Artic ice pack since 1996 appears to have reversed from its 2007 summer minimum.21 Antarctic sea ice also retreated from the extent reported by many explorers and whalers early in the 20th Century22. Antarctic sea ice, however, has been expanding northward for about two decades23 after indications of an additional gradual decline following the 1950s.24
Since the last vestiges of the most recent major Ice Age about -10,000 years ago (end of the Younger Dryas cold period25), decades-long periods of warming and cooling have been superposed on even longer cycles. The longest of these cycles repeats about every 1500 years and the shortest about every 55-60 years.26 These latter, short, multi-decade intervals of rapid warming and cooling27 have occurred during the current, 350-year long general warming trend. The most recent short-term variations have been cooling between 1935 and 1975, warming between 1975 and 1995, and now cooling again since 2000.
In short, nothing out of the ordinary natural climate variations have occurred since fossil fuel use accelerated in the last Century. General agreement exists among both climate change alarmists and climate change realists that most of the slow variations over the centuries before 1949 came from natural causes,28 with a general warming trend continuing the recovery from the extremes of the Little Ice Age. Then politics took over when definitive measurements of a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide became available after 196029. Since then, “carbon dioxide,” an essential ingredient for life itself, has become a stalking-horse for increased government control of consumers, private business, industry, and the economy.
In the name of the impossible goal of climate control, Congress is preparing to vote on legislation that would seriously and unconstitutionally harm the American economy and employment dependent on the strength of that economy. The Environmental Protection Agency already has assumed unauthorized, unconstitutional, dictatorial powers to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
These continue to be dangerous times for liberty and constitutional protection of that liberty. Election battle lines have formed for November 2010.
Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and former Apollo Astronaut. He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence.
1 AAAS Announcement to Members, email, June 29, 2010; News and Notes, 2010, On Capitol Hill, researchers offer data to answer climate skeptics, Science, 328, p. 1121.
2 Kitcher, P., 2010, The climate change debates, Science, 328, pp. 1230-1234.
3 Spencer, R. W., The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Scientists, Encounter Books, New York; Spencer, R. W., 2009, Climate Confusion, Encounter Books, New York ; Carter, B., 2010, Climate: The Counter- consensus – A Scientist Speaks, Stacey International, London; Solomon, L., 2008, The Deniers, Richard Vigilante Books, USA; Idso, C. D., and S. F. Singer, 2009, Climate Change Reconsidered, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change; Paltridge, G. W., The Climate Caper, Taylor Trade, Plymouth; Plimer, I., 2009, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science, Connor Court, Victoria, Australia; Singer, S. F., 1999, Hot Talk, Cold Science, Independent Institute; Horner, C. C., 2010, Power Grab: How Obama’s Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America, Regnery, Washington; Booker, C., 2009, The Real Global Warming Disaster, Continuum International, New York; Singer, S. F., and D. T. Avery, 2007, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, Rowman & Littlefield, Plymouth; Klaus, V., 2008, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington.
4 See Lindzen, R. S., 2010, Global warming: How to approach the science (Climate models and the evidence?), Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Rees, M., and R. J. Cicderone, 2010, What’s happening to the climate is unprecedented, Letters, FT.com, April 9, 2010; Gleick, P. H., et al, Climate change and the integrity of science, Letters, Science, 328, pp. 689-690; Nature, Climate of fear, Editorial, Nature, 464, p. 141.
5 Rees, M., 2010, The royal Society’s wider Role, editorial, Science, 328, p. 1611.
6 Kintisch, E, 2010, Critics are far less prominent than supporters, New of the Week, Science, 328, p. 1622.
7 Horowitz, D., and E. Lehrer, 2003, Political bias in the administrations and faculties of 32 elite colleges and universities, http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/1898/lackdiversity.html.
9 Idso, C., and S.F. Singer, 2009, Climate Change Reconsidered, Heartland Institute, Chicago, pp. 112-128.
10 News and Notes, 2010, On Capitol Hill, researchers offer data to answer climate skeptics, Science, 328, p. 1121.
11 Steffensen, J. P., et al, Science, 321, pp. 680-.
12 Clark, P. U., et al, 2009, The last glacial maximum, Science, 325, pp. 710-714.
13 Dennis Avery, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9-10, 2009; McIntyre, S., and R. McKitrick, 2005, Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance, Geophysical Research Letters, 32. No. 20; Luckman, B. H., Geoscience of climate and Energy 6. Tree rings as temperature proxies, Geoscience Canada, 37, 1, pp. 38-42; Hocker, L., 2010, The temperature rise has caused CO2 increase, not the other way around, .
14 Fagan, B., 2000, The Little Ice Age, Basic Books, New York, pp.10-15; Mann, M. E., et al, 2009, Global signatures and dynamical origins of the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climate Anomaly, Science, 326, pp. 1256-1259.
15 Goldberg, F., 2010, Some historical ice observations and future possible ice conditions in the Arctic, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Polyakov, I., Akasofu, S-I., et al, 2002. Trends and variations in Arctic climate system. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 83, p. 547-548; Seaver, K.A, 1996, The Frozen Echo: Greenland and the Exploration of North America ca. A.D. 1000-1500, Stanford University Press; Koch, L., 1945, The East Greenland Ice, Copenhagen; Fagan, B., 2000, The Little Ice Age, Basic Books, New York, pp.10-15.
16 Esper, J., E. R. cook, F. H. Schweingruber, 2002, Low-frequency signals in long tree- ring chronologies for reconstructing past temperature variability, Science, 295, pp. 2250- 2253; Trouet, V., et al, 2009, Persistent positive North Atlantic Oscillation mode dominated the Medieval Climate Anomaly, Science, 324, pp. 78-80; Akasofu, S-I, 2007, Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”?, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, abstract, May 7; Fagan, B., 2000, The Little Ice Age, Basic Books, New York, pp. 3-51; Cook, E.R., et al, 2004, Long-term aridity changes in the western United States, Science, 306, 1015-1018; see also Center for the Study of Carbon dioxide and Global Change, 2009, Medieval Warm Period <http://www.co2science.org/subject/m/subject_m.php>; Huss, M., 2010, et al, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2010GL042616(2010); Idso, C., and S.F. Singer, 2009, Climate Change Reconsidered, Heartland Institute, Chicago, pp. 72-98.
17 Syun Akasofu, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9-10, 2009; Roy Spencer, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9- 10, 2009; Michaels, P. J., 2010, Cap and trad regulation, legislation, and science, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Carter, R.M., 2007, The myth of human-caused climate change, in Australasian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy, New Leaders Conference, Brisbane, May 2-3 2007, Conference Proceedings pp. 61-74. http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc/2007%2005- 03%20AusIMM%20corrected.pdf.
18 Akasofu, S-I, 2007, Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”?, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, abstract, May 7.
19 Polyakov, I., Akasofu, S-I., et al, 2002. Trends and variations in Arctic climate system. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 83, p. 547-548.
20 Morison, J., et al, 2007, Recent trends in Arctic Ocean mass distribution revealed by GRACE, Geophysical. Research Letters, 34, L07602, doi:10.1029/2006GL029016.
21 Goldberg, F., 2010, Some historical ice observations and future possible ice conditions in the Arctic, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Chapman, W. 2008, The Cryosphere Today, Illionois Arctic Climate Research Center, http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/
22 Lansing, A., 1959, The Endurance, Carroll &Graf, New York.
23 Watkins, A.B., and I. Simmonds, 2000, Current trends in Antarctic sea ice: The 1990s impact on a short climatology, Journal of Climate, 13, pp. 4441-4451; Yuan, X. and D.G. Martinson, 2000, Antarctic sea ice extent variability and its global connectivity, Journal of Climate, 13, pp. 1697-1717.
24 Curran, M. A. J., et al, 2003, Ice core evidence for Antarctic sea ice decline since the 1950s, Science, 302, pp. 1203-1205.
25 Alley, R. B., 2000, The Younger Dryas cold interval as viewed from central Greenland, Quaternary Science Reviews, 19, pp. 213-226.
26 Dennis Avery, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9-10, 2009; Easterbrook, D., 2010, The looming threat of global cooling, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Sharp, G. D., L. Klyashtorin, and D. McLain, Projecting climate changes and ecological responses, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010; Patterson, T., A. Prokoph, G. Swindles, H. Roe, and A. Kumar, 2019, Gleissberg Solar Cycle: Pacemaker of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation?, Heartland Conference onf Climate Change #2, New York, March 9, 2010.
27 Steffensen, J.P., et al, 2008, Science, 321, pp. 680-; Fluckiger, J., 2008, Did you say “fast”?. Science, 321, pp. 650-651.
28 Karoly, D. J., et al, 2003, Detection of a human influence on North American climate, Science, 302, pp. 1200-1203.
29 Keeling, R.F., 2008, Recording Earth’s vital signs, Science, 319, pp. 1771-1772.