Space Advocates Need To Know When To Shut Up!

NASA recently announced their Gateway station for beyond LEO exploration to the wider press.

This is not news to the space advocate community with articles going back to December of last year. Even so, now is the time when this concept will be received by the politicians as "new". Soon, they will be introduced to the Gateway as either being a part of their plan or something which challenges it.

Many space advocates have complained that the central element of NASA's beyond exploration plan - the Space Launch System - has no payloads, or costs so much that no payloads can possibly be developed to fly on it. The obvious exception to this has been the Orion crew capsule, which is simply seen as too expensive compared to commercial crew offerings. Congress could see the Gateway station as the answer to this criticism.

That would be a good thing - whether you like the Space Launch System or not. The reason is simple: there's nothing else. Up to now, the plan has consisted of flying an Orion capsule around the Moon and coming home. After that.... maybe going to some asteroid someday, no idea which one, or when, and then going to Mars somehow.... well, they haven't thought that far ahead.

The Gateway station, should it ever be built, provides a place to go, and perhaps more importantly - it provides a place to stay. This is exactly the kind of space architecture that many advocates have been talking about for years. Critics of the Space Launch System and even the former Constellation program have always said that NASA should be working on building in-space architecture like this from which to stage reusable lunar exploration. The Gateway is also ideal for launching missions to Mars.

Any space station needs supplies and with the success of the Commercial Orbital Transportation System for delivering cargo to the International Space Station, NASA will be looking to commercial providers for resupply services.

So why would politicians be against the Gateway station?

Primarily because it doesn't require a really big rocket like the Space Launch System. The individual components of the Gateway station are no bigger than the modules used on the International Space Station, which was built without the need for a "monster rocket". One plan for building Gateway involves assembly and checkout at the International Space Station with a slow boost up to the far side of the Moon using electric propulsion.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way, but it is exactly at this time that critics of the Space Launch System need to shut up about it. If Congress catches wind of the non-critical nature of their monster rocket in this plan, Gateway will be as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

Do you hear what I'm saying?


  1. "Critics of the Space Launch System and even the former Constellation program have always said that NASA should be working on building in-space architecture like this from which to stage reusable lunar exploration."

    Some people may have said that. People who are unable to learn from experience.

    Perhaps the same who said space advocates should shut up about ISS in exchange for NASA building X-33. And continue to support in exchange for COTS.

    Okay, so ISS worked out so well that you want NASA to build ISS II at L-2?

    What's that? Things will work out better this time? There aren't going to be any delays, cost overruns, endless redesigns? NASA won't have to cancel every bit of science and technology development to pay for it? It's going to be "Alphatown"? A port of call for refugees, smugglers, businessmen, diplomats, and travelers from a hundred worlds? :-)

    Go to the blackboard and write 400 times: "I will not ask NASA to build space settlements. Space settlement is not NASA's job. In LEO. On the Moon. At L-2. At Babylon 5."

    NASA isn't any good at building bases. ISS proved that. We don't need to repeat that experiment again. We can't afford to repeat that experiment again. If NASA needs a rest stop at L-2, they should contact Excalibur Almaz, which already has plans for L-2 and the hardware. Or Bigelow. Or SpaceX. Or anybody.

    1. What do you imagine the alternative is?

      > NASA isn't any good at building bases.

      NASA isn't any good at doing anything.. it's a government agency.

  2. When Ma Bell broke up the FAA decided they needed to be a phone company. So they built the fourth largest in the country. Before that their entire telecommunications department was a person at a desk ordering services. After building this phone company with services going to radars and air to ground radio stations across the country they came up with another government program. A contract to just order services.

    NASA needs to become an agency that just orders services.

    1. You know that I completely agree.. in fact, my position is probably a lot more extreme than yours. :)

      Now, how do we get from here to there? Obama tried bringing in an administration and putting forward a plan with no "big program". Congress overruled him.

      I think Gateway is a path forward.. those resupply services will quickly become crew transportation services. The station *will* become a fuel depot, commercial services will deliver that fuel. One can imagine a commercial contract for reusable lunar landers.

      Gateway is the foot in the door.


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