Sunday, July 04, 2010

Reselling Mike Griffin

Back in 2005 Peter A. Taylor wrote on then current NASA Administrator Mike Griffin's revisioning of the Vision for Space Exploration. In many ways, Taylor's interpretation of Griffin's vision is reflected in the new NASA direction, and one has to wonder if the opponents of "Obama Space" have any idea how much pedigree that vision really has.

As Taylor writes, it all goes back to the intricately detailed study "Extending Human Presence into the Solar System" (July 2004, Planetary Society) co-authored by Owen Garriott (that's Richard Garriott's Dad!), Bill Claybaugh (now senior director of human spaceflight for Orbital Sciences), John Garvey (Garvey Spacecraft Corporation), Tom Jones (the former astronaut, not the sexy singer), Charles Kohlhase (JPL), Bruce McCandless II (another former astronaut), Will O’Neil (independent defense and space consultant), Paul A. Penzo (former JPL, now at Global Aerospace), and Mike Griffin.

The paper advocates a three stage exploration plan:

Phase One, access to LEO
  • Shuttle-Orbiter return to flight (RTF), complete the ISS through at least "US Core Complete"
  • Select and demonstrate launch vehicle for CEV
  • Demonstrate early CEV use for crew transfer at the ISS
  • Negotiate with international partners to obtain best way to transport remaining heavy modules to the ISS
  • Retire Orbiter as soon as above steps are completed
  • Costs distributed across full Exploration window

If we were reading this map in a vertical orientation there would be a big red spot saying You Are Here. Except for that whole "demonstrate crew transfer to the ISS" part.. schedule slippage due to rocket redesigns have a tendency to throw these things out of wack. But we have to move boldly forward to:

Phase Two, interplanetary cruise
  • Develop interplanetary cruise capability; uprated CEV, and necessary additional modules for the destination selected
  • Ensure HLLV available, probably a Shuttle-derived HLLV
  • Enable lunar orbit missions, remote sensing, Rovers with sample return
  • Enable visits to Sun-Earth-Lagrange #2, astronomy, etc
  • Enable visit and study of near-earth objects (NEOs)
  • Enable visits to Mars vicinity, including moons Phobos and Deimos. Include remote sensors and Rover with return samples. Begin infrastructure placement. Select sites.
  • Select destinations as appropriate: science, public, other interests
Woah! Who's plan is this? That really looks like the so-called Flexible Path doesn't it? Lunar orbit, Lagrange points, Near Earth Objects? Trips to the moons of Mars? Using remote sensing and teleoperated rovers to do science and engage the public interest? What year was this paper written? 2005? WTF?

For anyone who says the Augustine committee just pulled Flexible Path out of the air, or that Obama was influenced by some secret cabal, or that he just wants to shut down human spaceflight (possibly the stupidest accusation in history), then I welcome them to do some actual reading, and try to improve your long term memory.

Once we have "interplanetary cruise", then what?

Phase Three, human surface landings
  • Prepare infrastructure for moon and/or Mars bases
  • Build on thorough preparation in preceding stages
  • Initiate human landings at selected destinations
  • Plan for future solar system exploration

Note that building bases is not in phase two. In fact, landing in any significant gravity well is not in phase two. This is Mike Griffin's plan.. when he got into office the forces demanded that he tack a lander on to phase two and talk up a Moon base - but he never actually asked for funding for that lander, and there was never any work done on the base.

Public Barnstorming

So what is phase two about? It's about going "out there", into deep space, for longer and longer. It's about showing the world that it is possible to send humans beyond the Earth-Moon system and bringing them safely back to Earth. In short, it's akin to exhibition flying in early aviation - sometimes called "barnstorming". The difference, as Taylor says, is that now NASA is doing it instead of the private sector, so it's "public barnstorming".

Phase two is not about asteroids. It's not about Lagrange points. It's not about the moons of Mars. It's not about "destinations".

Unfortunately, a lot of people think it is, and they don't understand why anyone would be interested in those destinations. I happened to think they're great destinations, because I'm an O'Neillian at heart, but arguing that would be missing the point.

Others agree that it isn't about destinations and they don't like that - Apollo was about a destination, and had a deadline, and they believe that without both of those NASA will just flop around like a dry fish and never achieve anything. I disagree. Destinations and deadlines are only goals and they're the short term variety. Yes, we need short term goals, but we also need long term ones - something Apollo never had.

The Vision for Space Exploration gives us a long term goal - give humanity the capability to expand into the solar system - let's not be blinded by the short term goals, that may come and go, to achieve it.


  1. Except it's Wes Huntress' plan: a better executed study, both in terms of writing and choice of destinations and, well, grandeur. Just look at the principals and contributors. IMHO the cited study above has the feel of a quickly cobbled together spoiler. IMHO.
    I believe Huntress' Report was HUGELY influential on AugustineII and that Huntress' destination, SEL2 nonwithstanding, is Obama's destination: 1999AO10 in 2025 or 2026. (Two windows with prior windows for robotic probes.) See p 64 et seq. Although with the Griffin 'Hiatus' we may now be pushing it.
    Wes was sacked by Griffin. When Griffin went, Wes was reinstated by Bolden. I'm guessing but if Obama has't read Next Steps, Holdren has!
    History will out...
    Mind you it was all predicted by Tsiolkovski.

  2. brobof, thanks for that. Note that Huntress is the editor on that report. One of the references is:

    Farquhar, R. W., "Future Missions for Libration-Point Satellites," Astronautics &
    Aeronautics, May l969, pp. 52-56.

    Which I remember reading years ago as inspirational.

  3. Anonymous3:35 AM

    "For anyone who says the Augustine committee just pulled Flexible Path out of the air, or that Obama was influenced by some secret cabal, or that he just wants to shut down human spaceflight (possibly the stupidest accusation in history), then I welcome them to do some actual reading, and try to improve your long term memory."

    In addition to Next Steps in Space as a foundation, there were all sorts of other indications that Flexible Path would be a strong contender well before Feb 1 and the FY2011 budget. Some examples:

    Standord exploration workshop:

    Dr. Robert Farquhar on the Space Show:

    Planetary Society Roadmap:

    Of course there's the Augustine Committee report which didn't leave much doubt.

    As for the POR supporters that say the rest of the FY2011 plan (besides the Flexible Path) was some secret little group's decision, well, the rest of FY2011 is almost the same as the VSE.

  4. There's also the 2002 Exploration Blueprint Data Book, which explicitly describes a "Stepping Stone" approach: