Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Obama Bowls Us A Six

Hi folks in the blogoverse,

Last December I wrote about the fate of the ISS and what might happen to it, for my IEMBA Seminar at Temple University. I predicted that the ISS might be wiggled an extension, but I certainly wasn't prepared (along with most of the space community) for Obama's doozy of a budget that he dropped on us in February. It was very interesting for me though, as I was just studying an introductory accounting & finance course (yay, I now know what a debenture is!). ISS extension to 2020... great! ISS budget boost, wow, even greater! But nobody was prepared for the outright cancellation of Ares V (not gonna happen), Ares I (lame duck, doomed to be Xmas dinner) and Orion. And now the US was supposed to pay the Russians a whopping $100 million per Soyuz seat. Uh oh. I said the Japanese were not going to trust the Russians, and those guys have learned the art of capitalism. No disrespect to Roskosmos, but wow! $100 million? And, dear readers, NASA is having to rely exclusively on private transport to ISS, which, though good and cheap, is not going to be soon. And last of all, no clue as to NASA's destination, no timetable, just a vague promise to be "somewhere, sometime." Urgh. Administrator Bolden did his best to field the blame like the good soldier he is, but man this is turning out ugly.

Well, the Congressmen are lining up for a fight because they don't want to see all those shuttle layoffs in their districts, nor are the big space companies wanting to give up their juicy contracts. Optimists are predicting a sensible compromise (perhaps with DIRECT - yay!) Pessimists see an even more botched budget and space plan. As for yours truly? I'm somewhat ambivalent. I favour a space shuttle extension to 2015, with two flights a year on a lean budget to service the station properly. A lot of knowledgeable folks who work on or near the shuttle have said that the ISS is not really meant to be run on the meager offerings of Progress, ATV, HTV and the COTS suppliers - SpaceX and Orbital. No offense to those guys but it is a matter of tonneage, and also seats. Shuttle extension also preserves the vital elements for a heavy lift booster - like DIRECT or Ares-V Lite as some call it. SSME, External Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters. This way money is pooled between the two programs, there's a smooth transition and all those skilled workers aren't lost to second-hand car dealerships.