John Pazmino 
 National Space Society
 New York City Chapter
 2004 April 7 
    Dr Neil Tyson, director of the Rose Center for Earth and Space in 
New York, spoke before the National Space Society about the new 
national initiative for future human space missions. His presentation 
was at the NSS NYC Chapter meeting at New York University on Saturday 
13 March 2004 with an audience of about 70. 
    Tyson sits on the Aldridge Commission established by US President 
George Bush to realize his new vision in late January 2004 to resume 
human exploration of space. The plan includes flights to the Moon and 
possibly Mars. 
    Tyson explained the function of the commission, named for its 
chair Edwin Aldridge. The formal name is 'President's Commission on 
Moon, Mars, and Beyond'. The team must make within 120 days of 
commencement a final report to the President; this is in late May 
2004. The commission runs for 180 days so it can receive comments and 
discussion on this report. 
    It must accept the Bush mandate of Moon missions and propose ways 
they can be actualized. It doesn't specify particular projects or 
programs, but only methods of working toward the first lunar flight. 
The target date for this flight is 2020, hardwired in Bush's speech. 
    He compared this new commission with the one he sat on last year 
or so, the Walker Commission. That one studied ways to revive the 
American aerospace industry, including astronautical pursuits. At that 
time there was no ongoing goal for human space projects. Now the task 
is to move toward implementing a definite goal, to land humans on the 
Moon again within some fifteen years. 
    Curiously, the words 'man' and 'manned' are still prevalent in the 
space jargon, despite the intervention in the late 20th century of 
neuter-phrasing in almost all other sectors of American society. Neil 
repeatedly said things like 'manned spacecraft', 'man on the Moon', in 
front of an audience of about 1/4 female. 
    The Aldridge Commission has two potentially crippling constraints. 
First is the preexisting Columbia Accident Investigation Board's 
report about the Space Shuttle. The other is the International Space 
Station. The former relates to the use and fate of the three Shuttles. 
NASA interprets the report by proposing to disband the Shuttle fleet 
by 2010. It could be replaced by a new human vehicle, but there is 
nothing on the drawing boards that can be operational by 2010. 
    The International Space Station so far proved to be rather 
functionless for science, except biology and medicine. No major 
physics, chemical, electronic, or other science as yet exploited ISS 
for  experiments. In addition, the hoped-for use for industrial 
manufacturing never materialized.
    NASA will complete ISS in its central section only, not to its 
full extent as envisioned in the 1990s. Crew capacity will remain at 
three, not the seven of the fully consummated station. After 2010, 
with the retirement of the Shuttles and with no other means to lift 
and assemble more large ISS components, the space station will be 
abandoned. LIkely it'll decay from orbit. 
    Tyson repeatedly mixed up 'space shuttle' and 'space station' 
thruout his talk. These were obvious slips of the tongue and no one 
seemed to mind. 
    One killer for any government project such as the Bush plan is 
money. Can NASA get the funding and can the American public pay for 
it? Tyson assessed that the plan would require about $12 billion per 
year to accomplish for just the lunar mission and its preliminary 
flights. He noted that it is unrealistic to hope that NASA will 
suddenly and steadily get this additional input form Congress. 
    However, NASA can draw heavily on Dept of Defense expertise, which 
is on a par with NASA's. DoD's own astronautical programs run into the 
tens of billions per year, at times buried in umbrella projects. By 
getting DoD to share or cooperate more closely with NASA, perhaps $10 
to $11 billion per year can be allocated to the Bush vision. This is 
funding already in place or far more easily justified under defense 
reasons. Congress should have to pony up only one extra billion for 
NASA each year. 
    An other killer is continuity . The American political government 
can change every four years; it must change after eight. The present 
administration is up for election in November 2004 with no certainly 
at all that it will remain in office for the next four years. 
    It is completely plausible that the next president -- even if it 
be the one now in that office! -- can abandon the Bush plan. With the 
first lunar visit not before 2020, there are four chances for the Bush 
vision to be derailed. 
    Neil emphasized that if there is no reasonable longterm 
continuity, across administrations, for the nest fifteen years, we 
spacefaring enthusiasts better just give up and go home. There simply 
will be no sustained human or robotic occupancy of space. 
    He addressed some criticism that the US public is losing interest 
in the space program. He reported that all in all NASA's budget since 
the late 1960s was about the same, in constant dollars, with only 
modest rises and falls over the decades. There was the singular peak 
of funding in the mid 1960s for the Apollo project, but since then 
there's no long term trend of decrease as is sometimes claimed. 
    He cited assorted public opinion surveys as indicating ongoing 
public favor for the space program. When, in one example, people were 
asked to give the most important achievements of the 20th century, 
every answer included the Apollo lunar landings. He reminded the 
audience, all space enthusiasts, of the public fervor over the Mars 
rovers and the acreage of newspaper space given to them. 
    Neil stressed that Bush actually did not mandate flights to Mars 
as a direct target. He was vague on where to go beyond the Moon. Some 
space fans took the Bush scheme as a manifesto to head for Mars like 
right now. Tyson favors 'solar system' exploration without hitting on 
Mars as an end in itself.
    He also favors a mix of automated, robotic, uncrewed ships and 
those with humans on board. The latter would be for the missions to 
the Moon and perhaps a close-approaching asteroid. Beyond that it 
really is a bit much in the early 21st century to send humans to Mars 
and beyond.
    As a scientist, Dr Tyson reminded that taken all together, the 
world's space program delivered virtually all of its scientific 
results and discoveries from the automated spaceprobes with human 
craft offering up only a sliver. Need less to say, most of the targets 
of the robot craft are plain out of reach for humans and will remain 
so for many many decades to come. 
    Any mass mobilization of US society to resume human lunar visits 
would require myriads and myriads of scientists and engineers. Tyson 
claimed we don't got them now or in the near future. One part of the 
Aldridge report may be a strong push for increasing science and 
engineering education so there will be a stream of new skilled trained 
people to build the lunar bases and send crews there.
    This is a replay of Neil's platform with the Walker Commission, 
the 'scientists in the silos'. He alluded to the rise of other nations 
to become spacefaring powers, like China and India. He said that 
combined, these two countries today have more scientists and engineers 
on deck than the entire American population. 
    He mused on about the need to give incentives and promotion to 
students in high school today to take up science and engineering in 
college. They'll be ready for the lunar project in the 2010s. 
    The crucial importance of science and engineering was brought out 
by a candid opinion of society. Who really moves civilization forward? 
Scientists and engineers. Poets, historians, artists do not. Nor do 
doctors. Tyson explained that it's the physicist who invents the 
devices and tools that physicians use. Chemists develop the medicines 
he prescribes. 
    The one hot-button of the Bush plan is the Hubble Space Telescope. 
Right after Bush handed NASA his plan, NASA declared that it will not 
do the final visit to HST. HST will live out its life by 2007 and then 
decay naturally out of orbit. The timing could hardly be worse, due to 
the assimilation of the HST decision into the Bush scheme. NASA 
'killed' HST to get money for the Bush lunar flights. 
    The Hubble cancellation came from NASA's reading of the Columbia 
report. The Shuttle flight to HST has no provision to inspect the 
ship or rescue the crew. One reason for keeping the Shuttle only for 
ISS mission is that the craft can be docked at ISS and inspected for 
damage. If the ship is deemed unsafe for return to Earth, the crew can 
hole up in ISS until a second Shuttle can come for a rescue. 
    In this new Shuttle procedure, two working vehicles must 
participate in each mission. The one makes the flight with the crew, 
The other is on hot standby in case it must be sent up for a rescue. 
The rescue trip may take several weeks to prepare, so the crew must be 
in some shelter able to sustain it for that long. International Space 
Station is simply the one and only option. 
    As history fell out, HST is a very public satellite, more so than 
perhaps any other. It is also the most famous one that linked human 
space presence and science. Everyone saw the previous service visits, 
demonstrating how humans can do repairs and upgrades in orbit to a 
major science satellite. Everyone sees, almost monthly, the imagery 
sent home by HST. Some in the audience had with them, from newspapers 
and Internet, the Ultra Deep Field, captured by Hubble in the days 
before the meeting. 
    Neil recalled the brutal fact that the benefit/cost ratio for 
human-based science in space was far out of bound. It is plain too 
costly and risky to send people into space to do the science that 
robots can do. The only genuine science he sees in ISS is biomedical. 
And that is just a side benefit. The crew can be wired for biomedical 
data collection while they spend almost every waking minute keeping 
the station alive and afloat. 
    Even for the Hubble repairs, the crew was more of a mechanic doing 
a scripted task. But the videos and pictures of astronauts actually 
'doing something' in orbit was deeply emotional to the public. 
    The Aldridge Commission is completely neutral on the Hubble flap. 
Hubble is an existing project that does not lead to the eventual Moon 
and beyond missions. It's just that it, like the President himself, is 
caught up in the public -- and scientists's -- furor about the service 
visit's cancellation. Tyson has a disturbing fear that the very 
scientists who would prosper by fulfillment of the Bush scheme may 
agitate to curb it in order to save Hubble. 
    The situation is a bit critical for the Shuttle. Apart from the 
concern about crew risk. going to HST takes out one Shuttle flight to 
ISS. ISS needs about 20 more visits, with cargo and crew, to supply 
it before the fleet is decommissioned. An other consideration is that 
now, with various new constraints on Shuttle procedures, like only 
launches in daylight and extra safety procedures and devices, a 
Shuttle flight will now cost about a full one billion dollars each! 
That's half the cost of the entire HST project up to first light. 
    When the Shuttle is gone by 2010, there are still ten years to go 
before the first of the lunar flights. Here Tyson hazards that the 
lunar flights will be on single-shot rockets, not a reusable vehicle. 
He noted that the Saturn-V rocket was actually an effective and 
efficient means of accomplishing the Apollo missions because none of 
it had to return intact to Earth for reuse. The Space Shuttle is not 
due to the requirement to bring back the whole craft each time in one 
reusable piece. It may have been far cheaper to have the crew cabin 
separate as a capsule for return and let the bulk of the craft 
incinerate by reentry. 
    An other problem with the Shuttle is that it was both a crew and 
cargo vessel. He checked previous Shuttle flights and found that most 
of them were for crew functions only. The cargo bay was empty. When 
the cargo bay was occupied, many times it was only for deploying a 
satellite, with HST being one such example. This is a task best done 
by single-shot uncrewed rockets. 
    He postulates, that the new 'shuttle' will be more like a Soyuz 
capsule to carry only people to a base, like on the Moon. Cargo can be 
sent to the base by single-shot rockets. He mused that it may look 
like a shortened Shuttle without the cargo bay. 
    International collaboration is a will-o-the-wisp in American space 
policy. There are perhaps two dozen countries 'in space'. But there 
are only five big spacefaring players. These are NASA, ESA, RSA, 
China, and Japan. The only ones that matter for the Bush plan is RSA 
and ESA, which have stake in ISS. Never the less, most of ESA's member 
countries now see that ISS is a goner and their euros are better spent 
in cheaper, more productive, robot spacecraft. 
    Hence, NASA may simply announce that as at such-&-such date, it 
will abandon ISS, so the other countries better start getting their 
stuff home from there. Russia, once the prime partner in ISS, more or 
less is broke and would probably be glad to relieve itself of the 
International Space Station anyway. 
    He closed with a reminder that the last of the five Aldridge 
Commission public hearings is in early May at the Hayden Planetarium. 
Details will come in April. Dr Tyson attracted a lengthy Q&A after the 
meeting and was thronged by the audience as he took down his computer 
and projector.