NASA Director Wants to Waste NASA Budget to Justify Growing Budget Ten Times

Greg Autry – Director, SoCal Commercial Spaceflight Center debated Robert Zubrin about the Lunar Gateway. Greg Autry says that the Lunar Gateway will be part of a larger space infrastructure effort for going to moon, Mars and Deep Space. Autry bemoans the fast that NASA no longer has 5% of the US federal budget like it did during the peak of the Apollo era.

Zubrin indicates that we can accomplish great things with a purpose-driven space program that has engineering rationality. NASA has more inflation-adjusted dollars from 1998 to 2018 than it did from 1958 to 1978. The reason for falling behind the US federal budget is that the US economy is ten times bigger and there is far more bloat in the overall government budget.

The Lunar Gateway is a mini-International Space Station in Lunar Orbit. The International Space Station cost $150 billion.

Zubrin points out that the International Space Station (ISS) was originally justified as a staging point for lunar missions and Mars missions. The ISS is no longer in the NASA moon plans because they are no longer trying to sell and build the ISS. The ISS has returned to being a mostly useless waste and a fast more expensive way to accomplish the same science.

Gene Autry think that somehow using the Lunar Gateway can somehow be more efficient than the multiple launch system which is in the current plan. He thinks it would provide some kind of useful redundancy.

Gene Autry uses the threat of China creating exclusion zones on the Moon to effectively claim parts of it. Much like NASA used the Russia threat to justify budgets during the Apollo era. Gene came into NASA in 2016 and he disavows the waste prior to 2016.

Autry shows that NASA and commercial interests like United Launch, Boeing and Lockheed want to sell the products that they have made for decades. They want to use parts of the Space Shuttle that have been made since the 1980s and they want to sell and use parts derived from the Space Station. All of it is overpriced and obsolete.

Autry dismissed using lunar materials like producing oxygen for fuel as being a major part of any plan until it has been accomplished. Instead Autry and NASA spend $4 billion per year for multiple years preparing the Space Launch System for its first mission launch and $2 billion per year on the Orion capsule. They prepare for another $100 billion spend on the Lunar Gateway.

36 thoughts on “NASA Director Wants to Waste NASA Budget to Justify Growing Budget Ten Times”

  1. You are correct, but it would have been a different mission. The SAME thing will be harder on Mars than in Space. Medical research would save more lives short term than either. That is not a proof that Mars is better. I’m still waiting for an economic reason to go to Mars at all. The O’Neill case is obviously based on helping Earth, a very valuable thing to do.

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  2. Much easier to get Earth like conditions in Space than on Mars. And enuf of it to make a difference to population relief. Otherwise, we agree!

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  3. Now, now, kiddies, play nice. The ideal habitat for humans is the one they’ve evolved into. It has the right amount of O2, gravity, temperature, fresh water handy, plants you can eat, weather to keep you interested, other people to work and play with… probably thousands of criteria that we won’t even know till we try living somewhere else. The ideal habitat for an autonomous industrial robot is whatever it’s been designed for. We haven’t got any AIRs yet, but when we get them, there’ll be no particular reason for us to live next door to them. They’ll do a much better job if they can get on with it, without any fragile humans to look after.

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  4. And again, my point was that a single Mars Semi-Direct mission would have accomplished more in ~2 years than ISS has in its entire lifetime. Spending 20 years doing less isn’t a bargain.

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  5. I certainly did not support ISS, wanting a visitable Moon base where ISRU could be started. My point is that it is easier to do ISS in ELEO than a similar sized and occupied Mars (new planet) project for the same length of time. A basic O’Neill point, nothing more.
    Now, if you want to compare lunar ISRU v Mars Direct, Mars Direct has lost already! As I argued before the lunar ISRU victory, lunar ISRU will make Mars much easier, if you want to go there. It will also make O’Neill and most other Space stuff easier, something Mars Direct seems diabolically and almost uniquely unable to do.

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  6. What big value have we gotten from 20 years of ISS, beyond deeper understanding of how humans do in ‘zero-G’ – which we already knew wasn’t good?

    Heck we haven’t even moved on to making bigger and better space stations – YOU should be disgusted with ISS!

    Time is a resource we spend and unlike money – which circulates – we don’t get it back. We should try to get as much as we can from time spent. ISS has not done that well, at all.

    A 2 year Mars Semi-Direct mission could have taught us about Mars gravity and rotationally-simulated gravity effects on humans, landing large vehicles on Mars, potentially life on Mars, Mars areology and atmosphere, etc.

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  7. I could not agree more. I think I was reacting to the notion (not yours) that the Island 3 habs were seen as replacement Earth surface, and then factories would be just like factories here, inside them. So, to visualize the O’Neill plan, think of the Island 3s as the “tin cans” they are dismissively called by some. This I think goes back to early drawings that have flat ends, to make the math simple, not the obvious hemi ends. Anyway, these (Al) cans are just the spewed product of a large factory, operating in 0 g, then shooting them into orbit for people to live in. The scale of the factory is not seen in the Island 3 graphics, but it is the key thing. It can make anything, and had to make very much of interest before starting on Island 3s. Once this visual is in mind, I would argue that a key insight of O’Neill is that this is true of Space v planet things at ALL scales, even the very tiny start efforts we are trying to make. No planet could spew Island 3s.

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  8. I agree with the notion that gov spending is often inefficient. But clearly a 20 year ~6 person continuous presence on Mars would have cost more than ISS?
    The ISS reference was a *worst case* example, that is, even the worst O’Neill style thought case (ISS) has obvious practical advantage over a NEW equivalent planetary surface project, Mars.
    On the larger stage, new info about the mis reading of Shuttle radar topo info seems to indicate anguishing flooding by 2050. Need to put lunar glass film in front of Sun to slightly refract light so it misses Earth by a shave. Thus the light pressure will not blow the film away. Do this and get water from the Moon NOW.

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  9. Even with electric motors, spinning down will not be practical beyond a certain size, because it would interfere with all the occupants’ normal operations and lives. (Not to mention the energy cost – who knows how much spare energy there will be from the available power capacity.)

    > Factories and such will not be able to withstand g forces at all.

    I expect the factories will be optimized for whatever gravity level is optimal for the processes they’d run – which may be well above zero for some (many?) processes – and will be built to tolerate some variation in the gravity level.

    The gravity level may indeed become another process parameter to be optimized, like temperature and pressure are today.

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  10. To be fair, Autry’s core point was more like

    “wasteful government spending on human space programs creates opportunities for companies to build up capabilities via the commercial space program, that will eventually be far more efficient”.

    He pointed to SpaceX and others getting funding to support ISS as examples of this. And unfortunately, he might be correct, as much as we might wish the government be capable of better.

    But this could all change, if SpaceX gets SuperHeavy Booster and Starship flying and landing and re-launching. It could have already been changing with just Falcon Heavy, if Musk had been willing to settle for getting a spaceship to the moon with a fair amount of cargo and focusing on commercial exploitation of lunar resources.

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  11. ISS was almost entirely built on Earth, with only small amounts of assembly in orbit.

    A Mars Semi-Direct mission (also built on Earth) would have cost about the same as ISS, after applying equivalent inflation and the usual NASA cost overruns.

    We built ISS because we were already working on the Space Shuttle by the time it was recognized Mars needn’t cost $450B (the 90 day study in 1990 $’s) and the shuttle needed something to justify it. Pretty much the same way NASA is pushing LOP-G to justify SLS and Orion.

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  12. And furthermore: Some details. The habs are the last things built, not the first. Need some construction shacks for robot repairmen and maybe, I hope, some tourism stuff, but need Space Solar and rocket fuel plants first. Then mining. Only when things become affordable will people move to large habs just to live there without a specific *worker* role (they can still work on normal stuff, as on Earth). Hope to make that soon! That will then start to be an Earth independent economy.
    And O’Neill points out that pairs of rotating habs make the spin up and down a matter or electric motors rather than reaction mass ejection.

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  13. Of course, that would only be in the places where 1 g was desired. Most stuff will be done all the way in 0 g. Build Solar Power or process materials. Only then will some final product be brought into the rotating habs and installed or used. As little as possible in 1 g, for obvious reasons. Factories and such will not be able to withstand g forces at all.

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  14. You know, it occurred to me that once we get to large construction in space, there’ll be a bunch on construction tasks on spinning structures. Maintenance and expansion of colonies, for example.

    We’re not going to spin down the entire colony just to remodel, fix, or extend some section. So inevitably, you’ll still have a bunch of heavy work being done under (artificial) gravity. Those cranes aren’t going away. And as for supports and conveyors and such, they’re still useful even in low/zero gee.

    Luckily, none of these engineering constructs are particularly difficult.

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  15. > ‘High Isp’ had also better mean ‘low thrust.’

    High Isp and high thrust takes a lot of power. With limited power, the above is pretty much a given.

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  16. I suspect a lunar mass driver will be more efficient at delivering mass to orbital factories than getting the ore to the smelter on a planet, where the mass moving is only beginning. Even better with small NEOs. Normally, “where the matter already is” means “not Earth launched”, ISRU. The problem is living and manufacturing in unavoidable g of any value greater than 0.
    Then you add in the tinyness of planets, the night, the clouds and dust blowing your thin solar panels around, on and on.

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  17. ‘High Isp’ had also better mean ‘low thrust.’ ISS can’t take a lot at its various module and solar panel connections.

    But that also means gradually spiraling out to escape velocity through the VanAllen belts, rather than a high-thrust departure that cuts across them quickly. Not good for crews *or* solid-state electronics not hardened for that.

    ISS heat dissipation was also designed around the assumption that it would be in Earth’s shadow about half the time. Not happening if going anywhere else.

    It was also designed around the assumption of frequent re-supply.

    And it’s not getting any younger…

    “Space isn’t Earth, where you build something, and it’s stuck in one place unless you expend absurd effort.”

    It doesn’t follow that the ‘something’ is *suited* to operating somewhere else, though.

    Talk to Bigelow and others, they’ll be quite happy to build you something new and appropriate for what you want.

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  18. Whereas everything you do in space requires bringing the matter to where you’re doing it, first. Don’t ignore that initial cost, which is exactly what colonizing where the matter already is helps you avoid.

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  19. Not sure what “both” you refer to. I’m comparing Space(O’Neill) with any planet, not Moon v Mars(?)
    Anyway, the advantage of Space over even a Moon sized planet is with all (say, mass) processes. Everything we do on Earth requires support and cranes or conveyors. Without them, there is very little left in a factory or such, and large things can be done.

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  20. They both have pros and cons.

    delta V to leave the moon’s surface is pretty low, you aren’t stuck in much of a gravity well. If you have a space elevator on the moon then access to space is even closer.

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  21. Let the ISS die its a constant strain and the astronauts in it spend as much if not more time working on it than they do science.

    We can do so much better on our own,

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  22. We started with ISS because it is easier than Mars, as is everything in Space easier than on another planet, esp starting from where we are. Moving and processing mass, collecting energy, creating volume, on and on. This is particularly true of Globus ELEO. O’Neill is easier than EARTH!
    More importantly, O’Neill gives a reason to support Space to those who correctly see Mars as no solution to Earth problems, such as global heating (Space Solar, to get O’Neill ISRU going), mining, agriculture and heavy manufacturing (do it in Space), and population relief (live there!).
    While you certainly have the right to disagree with O’Neill’s basic point, that is likely because it is so counter intuitive. Perhaps my Physics background gives me an advantage. Needing no crane to move stuff is easier than needing one. And you move stuff over and over, not just when it is dug up. I suspect a lunar mass driver will be more efficient at delivering mass to orbital factories than getting the ore to the smelter on a planet, where the mass moving is only beginning.
    And you can PAY for it with Space Solar!

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  23. “So much easier”?

    Look, I may have been a member of the L-5 society way back when, but I’m a professional engineer, and one thing I would NOT describe O’Neil colonies as is “easier”.

    A more efficient way to use mass to provide gravity? Obviously.

    Potential for astronomically more living space than planets? Sure.

    A customizable environment in convenient proximity to zero g and vacuum? Yes.

    But not “easier”. The ratio of infrastructure to population for an O’Neil colony is going to be a LOT higher than for a colony on Mars.

    On Mars you can basically live in a balloon covered with sandbags, you’ve already got what *probably* is enough gravity, without a big rotating shell. You’ve got an atmosphere for aerobraking, in space you have to do that expending propellant. The building materials are already on site, in space every gram of it has to be brought from somewhere else.

    I could go on and on, but that last point alone is immense. Everything you need to live on Mars is already on Mars, you just need to transform it a bit. In orbit, you’ve got vacuum, plenty of that. Try living on vacuum, without any matter.

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  24. O’Neill is so much easier, so much more expandable that it has population relief possibilities. ISRU derived Space Solar can make bucks! So few realize O’Neill ideas even exist that my efforts will help the market respond to the possibilities rationally, rather than only seeing the *obvious*, that we live on planets. You are correct that some will want to live on planets, but they are driving all the popular info. Do you complain when people talk of Mars without mentioning O’Neill? I do!

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  25. Seriously, why can’t it be both?

    I mean, on Earth, do we only live in places that are perfectly optimal? Basically the Mediterranean and Southern California? No, we live everywhere from the Equator to Nova Scotia. There are people who, freakishly, chose to live in Death Valley.

    That’s what successful species do: They expand into new habitats.

    Why can’t you just accept that we’ll be colonizing the planets, too? If O’Neil colonies make sense, they’ll prevail without all alternatives being preemptively abandoned.

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  26. Or even we realize O’Neill has been right all along and Mars is just another scientifically interesting planet, not a place to live.

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  27. Look I certainly beat the “SLS is a train-wreck-Greek-tragedy” horse within an inch of its life but lets all just be realistic and think about when it will be completely obvious that SLS is awful and may be cancelled:

    • BFS making monthly trips to the Moon.
    • Recession and NASA must tighten the belt. Pick SLS or all the other stuff but not both.
    • SLS blows up on the pad, spends three years in blue ribbon commission purgatory is silently cut from the budget (really hope this one does NOT happen).

    Until then join me in the Greek chorus.

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  28. I could actually see using the ISS in the exploration of space. It represents considerable livable space, it’s been running long enough to work out the bugs. (Yes, it does need some work on the radiation end of things.)

    Outfit it with a high ISP propulsion system, and send it somewhere it could be more useful.

    Space isn’t Earth, where you build something, and it’s stuck in one place unless you expend absurd effort. The ISS could be relocated to lunar orbit, Mars, Venus, you name it. Any place you want to station scientific researchers.

    There’s no reason the investment has to be wasted.

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  29. “Autry dismissed using lunar materials like producing oxygen for fuel as being a major part of any plan until it has been accomplished.”
    He would do well to talk to his boss!
    (edit: “The LCROSS mission was a game changer,” NASA’s chief Jim Bridenstine told Reuters, adding that once water had been found the United States “should have immediately as a nation changed our direction to the moon so we could figure out how to use it.”)

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