Towards Consensus in Human Spaceflight

A Recommendation of the Houston Space Chapter of the

National Society of Black Engineers Alumni Extension


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The National Society of Black Engineers Houston Space Chapter (NSBE-HSC) is composed of professionals in industry, academia, and government, most of whom are employed in the space industry.  Opinions of NSBE-HSC, particularly as expressed in this document, are not to be taken as opinions of NSBE as a whole, nor of the United States of America, NASA, SAIC, Boeing, ManTech, United Space Alliance, Lockheed Martin, Jacobs, Right Hemisphere, United Space Alliance or any other employer or affiliation of NSBE-HSC members.  Such opinions should only be taken to represent the personal opinions of the individuals involved in their creation.



Introduction and Governing Principles


NASA must maintain its own technical expertise.  NASA has established amazing capabilities that must be carefully transitioned across spacecraft programs and across generations or they may be lost.  Any plan that transfers NASA expertise away from NASA and into either a commercial or international arena is a plan that is not ready for implementation.  Growth of both the commercial and international space communities are critical, but must never be pursued at the expense of the Agency’s expertise.


NASA must enable the development of commercial human spaceflight capability.  The dreams of the nation can never be realized as long as human spaceflight is relegated to only the ranks of a small number of government astronauts.  Any failure to bring the nascent human spaceflight industry to a point of technological and fiscal health is in essence a failure of NASA to fulfill its charter. 


NASA must find methods to substantially reduce its spacecraft development costs.  Spacecraft programs that take ten years and hundreds of billions to reach fruition are not in the interests of the nation, the Agency, or its workforce.  Just as NASA must search for game changing technologies, it must also search for game changing development paradigms.  Programs such as a lunar return or mission to Mars must not continue to be mammoth, all-encompassing programs that suffocate the Agency’s flexibility, but must instead become small enough to enable numerous such programs to operate in parallel.


NASA must conduct operations in space that quantitatively and qualitatively address national priorities.  The nation is faced with staggering challenges and more effort must be placed into finding solutions to some of these problems in space and then using the resources discovered in space to meet the nation’s needs.



NASA must maintain strategic fundamental research and development in balance with its other priorities.  For too often, NASA has responded to insufficient budgets by cutting one component of its mission to pay for another and as of late, NASA R&D has been a victim.  This research must be specifically targeted to meet critical capability gaps and adjusted as the technological landscape changes.



Recommended NASA Human Spaceflight Goals

Activity should be constrained to an annual approximate $9.15 billion combined Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD) budget, adjusted for inflation – roughly the current ESMD and SOMD total in the FY11 request. International space agencies should be engaged as partners in these activities where deemed appropriate.

·         Continue successful utilization and operation of the International Space Station [$2800M]

·         Nurture the development of no less than two successful Earth to orbit commercial crew and cargo launch providers [$700M]

·         Develop Orion as a lifeboat that is capable of being matured to exploration vehicle functionality [$500M]

·         Develop a “Saturn-class” super-heavy lift vehicle with first flight by 2015 and first operational, payload-carrying flight by no later than 2018 [$400M]

·         Use in-house efforts and university partnerships to design, build, and operate equipment capable of converting lunar surface material into solar cells and transmitters and establish a pilot power plant successfully beaming 1+ GW to Earth-based receivers as a new source of renewable energy; use lessons learned to stimulate commercial energy industry activity on the Moon with the added benefit of increasing the demand for Earth to orbit commercial crew and cargo launch services [$50M]

·         Use small, in-house “Skunkworks” teams, supplemented by college and university engagement, to maintain NASA human spaceflight technical expertise, discover low-cost development processes, and revise/validate human rating processes by constructing, launching, and operating: [$400M total]

o       Human and cargo lunar lander(s) (by 2018) [$75M]

o       Pressurized lunar rover(s) (by 2018) [$75M]

o       Lunar surface heavy cargo handling system(s) (by 2020) [$50M]

o       Lunar surface spacesuits (by 2018) [$75M]

o       Lunar surface habitat(s) (by 2020) [$75M]

o       Lunar logistics resupply system(s) (by 2020) [$50M]

(If successful, any needed production spacecraft may then be procured from commercial and/or international partners, leveraging these NASA-validated designs.)

·         Establish annual flight rates in support of human spaceflight activity to include: [$3480M]

o       6 heavy lift launches (by 2018) [$2400M, supports development until operational]

o       4 EELV launches (by 2015) [$360M]

o       4 commercial crew launches (as soon as developed) [$360M, supports development until operational]

o       4 commercial cargo launches (as soon as developed) [$360M, supports development until operational]

·         Conduct research on in-space propulsion technologies to make approximately 30-50-day transit times from Earth to Mars possibly by 2030 [$200M]

·         Develop improved rocket engines across all booster classes to reduce operations costs and increase reliability. [$200M]

·         Through a combination of use of ground systems, flying testbeds, and the above spacecraft, conduct technology advancements in areas such as closed loop life support, radiation protection, food shelf life, thermal control systems, lightweight materials, long-term in-space cryogenic fluid storage and transfer, and other such technologies needed to extend human presence to Mars and throughout the solar system. [$400M]


It is noteworthy that the Moon exists as a destination in this recommendation, albeit in a skunkworks capacity.  Why retain the Moon as a destination at all?  The current national debate provides a key opportunity to reexamine the Moon and the relative role it should play in the NASA agenda.


The bottom line is we have already been to the Moon…and we have unfinished business there.  The reason to explore is not simply, “to go where no one has gone before.”  Yes, that is an important element of exploration, which always drives us to further and more ambitious destinations.  As we explore, we learn about the universe and many of these discoveries raise new questions to pursue (water on the Moon, detection of Earth-threatening asteroids from lunar telescope arrays), or can provide answers to critical national needs (how to get gigawatts of energy from the Moon for Earth), or can enable further exploration (test equipment and operations for Mars), or can enable commercial and economic growth (commercial tourism and lunar energy production and export).  The Moon lends itself well to all of these and more.


Clearly it should not be the “ultimate” aim for NASA to return to the Moon.  No destination is the “ultimate” aim – there is always a further destination, whether you are speaking of sending humans to the Moon, Mars, an asteroid, Europa, or even Alpha Centauri.  However, the Moon should play a balanced role in an overarching aim of NASA to reach Mars, stimulate innovative research, and enable commercial space industry growth.



Useful Links

Support Constellation (Michael Okuda site)

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: What NASA Means to America’s Future

The Daily Show “Colbert Nation” – The Final Frontier (satirical humor)

The Daily Show “Colbert Nation” – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Employee “Save Constellation” Video

Daily Kos “Save Constellation” Article

News 2 Houston Report

News 19 Huntsville Report (“Second to None” Initiative)

June 2009 Constellation Quarterly Report

Constellation Desert RATS Geo Lab Student Interview

Constellation Desert RATS Logistics 2 Living Microhab Interview

Constellation Desert RATS Lunar Electric Rover Footage

National Space Society Press Release

Space Exploration Alliance