Out there. Thataway


Ok, my turn.  Everyone and their sister have given their spin on the new NASA budget and the views have covered the full spectrum of the death of Human Spaceflight to the birth of a new era and the rebirth of robotic exploration.   But before I weigh in on the discussion I first would like to take my hat off to all of my friends and colleagues that have given so much of their lives, energy and passion to support the congressional and presidential direction of the previous administration.  As a government agency we know that we are subject to the winds of change with each election but it does not stop us from committing our hearts and minds to fulfilling the visions and expectations of the American public and the officials that they place in office.  There is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on regarding the Constellation program, but not enough is being said about the dedicated individuals that gave up time with family to help America retain its ability to reach to the stars.  Again, my hat goes off to them.


Now, back to the direction given by the President.  For me there are three main thrusts that I would like to offer my perspectives.  The first is the move to shift access to Low Earth Orbit to the commercial community.  Many are surprised by this move, but for me it was only a matter of time.  Back in 2008 I had shared how there was a growth in the commercial space community and we would eventually need to answer what affect this growth will have in our role in the Human Exploration of Space.  As I shared in It’s Getting Crowded out there, we would have to make a choice whether to compete in this era of growing capability or lead the way beyond earth’s orbit.  Well, the decision has been made for NASA and now we have to make it work.  It is akin to the explorers that would burn the ships in order to keep them from turning back.  NASA is being pushed to the stars and out of the access to space business.  That being said, NASA has a responsibility to work with the commercial community to share their 40 years of Human Spaceflight experience and expertise.  It is incumbent upon us to help them to learn from our successes and mistakes in the hope that they will not repeat the lessons we learned.  How this is to be done is yet to be defined but I for one am looking forward to the release of the strategy of how we make this transition. 


Secondly there is a return to “transformational technologies”.  I am amused by all of the eye rolling that is associated with that phrase.  Weren’t the technologies that enabled the Saturn V, transformational?  Weren’t the technologies that enabled the computers on the Lunar Lander transformational?  Isn’t the technology that allows us to look back to the birth of the universe transformational?  I think this agency has been and should always be about transformational technologies.  It has always been about pushing the envelope of what is possible or as some like to say “making science fiction a reality.”  Yes, I agree you cannot schedule when a miracle will occur.  We cannot say that “On July 29th, we will discover how to tap into the limitless supply of ‘zero point energy’ in the vacuum of space and it will enable us to power our voyage to Mars.”  No, but just because it can’t be scheduled doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work hard to discover the next leap in technology.  Let commercial space focus on technologies that we know and let NASA focus on technologies yet to be discovered.


Finally there is the anxiety related to a lack of destination.  The recurring sentiment is that we need a bold direction like, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Similarly the question is raised, “How can we focus on transformational technologies if we don’t know where we are going?”  Although valid perspectives I believe that NASA has an opportunity to rethink how it explores.  We always think of exploring as starting from the Earth’s surface.  It focuses on a certain set of solutions that require breaking the gravitational pull of the Earth.  But what if we started thinking of exploration starting from space?  What would be required to start our journey from space?  What vehicle would be required if it never encountered the Earth’s atmosphere?  What would you need to create a vehicle in space?  NASA has learned quite a bit from its 10 years of constructing the International Space Station.  How can we use this knowledge to create an interplanetary vehicle?  What would it take to fuel a new vehicle in space?  With a space port would you have to limit your destinations?


Yes a destination would be nice, but I kind of like the perspective from Kirk in the first Star Trek movie when asked where they should go, “Out there, Thataway.”  NASA shouldn’t think point to point but create the ability for us to go “out there.”


Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

29 thoughts on “Out there. Thataway”

  1. Well said, man … you said right about the development of technologies, in addition to other issues you mentioned. NASA should consider a significant advance, to aim to build a huge ship, simple and well-rounded, beautiful, loaded with high technology, extremely functional. This search will bring up new ideas and innovative. All this with an exercise in hurry. They say that haste is the enemy of perfection, but as a good guy I am, this is exactly what I want to resolve conflict, two enemies together to work together, imbued with the unique goal of life to live (and live means to live well). Technological advances have! Fast! We produce an outpouring of intelligence, creativity, showing all strategic ability to finish effectively. A second generation of spacecraft now!

  2. I appreciate your optimism but to liken this to Star Trek is cute but not realistic. The elephant that everyone is ignoring is that Obama’s vision is shortsighted and those that are trying to spin this in a positive way are basically saying “since we can’t agree on a destination or mode then lets agree that it’s out there somewhere”, which is just about what I would expect of today’s generation of committees, panels and teams. This is the Bravo Sierra that fills the vacuum that occurs in the absence of leadership. Sorry, that dooms us to go nowhere and in the words of Montgomery Scott, “At warp 10 were going nowhere mighty fast.”

    This is one taxpayer that is going to push for the abolition of NASA if there is no destination and no manned space exploration (LEO doesn’t count).

  3. Thanks for your optimism, but my heart is broken right now. And I voted for Obama and I am a Trek fan.

    The thing is… I want to live and work in space. I’m not a astronaut or in the military or a engineer or a rocket scientist. I’m a theatre teacher who loves sci-fi who thinks it would be cool to be in space. I have ever since I laid on my bed at night on the farm to all hours of the morning reading Star Trek books and imagining “strange new worlds”.

    I would get that same rush with every success of NASA: the shuttles, the Hubble telescope, Mars probes, etc. etc. etc.

    With this decision, my hope that human spaceflight to Mars or back to the Moon within my lifetime has been dashed. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me and I’m flailing backward being pulled down by people who lack vision, who lack courage and think the fiction they see on a box in their living room is more exciting that the fact of a person stepping on a different planet.

    To quote Picard, “Money doesn’t exsist in the 24th Century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

    I really wish that future was here today.


  4. Rightfully or wrongfully, launches into low earth orbit are seen to be pretty mundane everyday affairs. It does indeed look like commercial ventures are now pretty close to making this a freight business.

    Perhaps it is time for NASA to move beyond the “mundane” and push the limits outward, trail-blaze new frontiers.

    NASA should be so much more than “LEO Freight Carriers, Inc”.

    That’s my 2 cents worth.

    Roy Cobden

  5. I guess its a sign of the times. Maybe we’ll get where we want to be in the next century…won’t be me though sadly…

  6. Good job on the post.

    I felt like a person with a split personality when the new budget was announced. I was both sad and glad. I was sad that America was not going to go back to the moon with the Constellation system and I was glad America was not going to use the system to return to the moon.

    As an economist I have long concluded NASA would never be the way to make space access open to all. American businesses would have to first industrialize space access and in orbit facilities to ever give the american public a shot at space.

    We are finally getting that with this budget. Let commercial firms handle the “pop & drop”, rocket and capsule with NASA doing the beyond earth orbit exploration with IN SPACE based ships like the NTR.

    I also like that commercial firms with start building gas stations in space. 75% of everything launched is fuel. Let commercial firms handle Earth to leo and leo earth crew and cargo. Commercial firms like Bigelow can do the orbital launch facility. I would prefer NASA focus on reusable in space ships. NO destination other than the inner solar system. A reusable NTR that stays in space and can pick up cargo and refuel at a commercial facility will finally give NASA the exploration capability they need.

    I would also prefer we do not worry about landing humans on the moon or mars at first. Nothing can suck all the oxygen out of a budget faster then adding the expense of trying to afford everything at once and dive into another gravity well after it took so long to get out of ours. Asteroids and the moons of mars should be the focus for landing missions because you can almost just dock to those because of the exremely low gravity.

    That way NASA avoids the huge added costs of lunar bases, mars bases, etc. There are hundreds of points in space we can make a road trip to. We can visit all of earth’s lagrange points, all of the moons lagrange points, all of mars and venus’s lagrange points. Over 100 NEO’s (near earth objects like asteroids and old dead comets) and we can orbit mars and drop rovers and sample return missions and run them in real time.

    As soon as we drop into a gravity well with humans the budget skyrockets! Does anyone think we can goto mars if we are funding a lunar station? Can we fly to the James Webb telescope and swap out new adaptive optics if we are funding a lunar station? Can we visit a dozen asteroids if we are funding a lunar base?

    I truely believe for right now, NASA should help as much as possible to get commercial space up and running and instead focus on exploration road trips to 100 different spots in space with a SPACE BASED reusable vehicle. After 50 years of hard work NASA finally deserves to have a “gas and go” space based, reusable, exploration vehicle and let commercial deal with the space infrastructure to make it happen.

    Thanks again for the post.

  7. Having just watched Avatar and been motivated by triumph of good over evil, I just wonder if there needs to be justification for space exploration. We have enough troubles here on Earth that need to be solved before tackling new frontiers.

  8. I agree with Mike. Whilst the NASA budget is already huge, we have enough problems, more than enough problems down here on this green and blue sphere.

    However, the technologies we garner from Nasa’s unparalled work, will help the world society. So, its a catch 22.

    I think that the mining of asteroids for precious metals should be high on the list. Its not a budget breaker by Nasa budget standards and could see the sought after minerals we have to work so hard for down here be available in abundance.

    Peace to all

  9. This search will bring up new ideas and innovative. With this decision, my hope that human spaceflight to Mars or back to the Moon within my lifetime.

  10. Well said,Steven.Is budget for NASA a big concern? Its really a perception for doing good and Bad. Nothing Else.

  11. Thanks again for another thoughtful post, I agree with all three of your points that we must embrace the inevitable of commercial space community, that transformational technologies propel us towards a future and we do not need to know where it will land us and the lack of destination is the destination.

  12. Wonderful post. Here lots of valuable and helpful information are given, and these information are so easy to understand for anew reader. This post is well written. Thanks for sharing this useful information with us. keep blogging.

  13. I would like to echo your comments about the hard work that many individuals did to help with the Constellation program and with the recent successful launch of the Ares 1-X flight. Although the program was cancelled, I don’t believe the time was wasted because it would be good to have a rocket like that to put cargo into orbit and be able to reusse the the solid rocket motor.
    However, I do think that the direction that we were going with the Constellation program and Orion capsule was not the proper direction to go for the future of manned space travel out of low earth orbit. You are absolutely correct that we should focus on vehicles that go to and from low earth orbit but then have other vehicles that travel in space from place to place that can be serviced and refueled in space and do not need to land on solid surfaces like the moon and Mars. We clearly need to design different vehicles to meet the different tasks and environments that we will encounter just like on earth, we have boats for the water and airplanes for the sky! The type of space vehicle that we go to the moon, asteroids, or to Mars is not the type of vehicle that we need to launch to space or to return from space. We will also need a rocket to launch heavy cargo into space such as lunar and martian landers, lunar and martian land vehicles, fuel, supplies, interplanetary modules, space station modules, etc and the development of rockets for this purpose should continue(like the proposed Ares V).
    Let’s go, “Out there, Thataway!”

  14. I well understand that we’ve all to be optimistic…

    I really hope you are right, but I think that the only way to get a really good WORLD space program is that USA, Europe and Russia join their efforts. No other ways, my friend, unless you prefer to let China go, and bye-bye.

    However, my best regards to NASA for the past 50 years and (I hope) for the next 50 too. That is to say “to go out there” REALLY, not with paper and slides, like in 1970, 1989, 2004, 2010…

  15. You mention that one aspect may be the lack of destination. I think that although this may effect some people, it should not be an issue. One should understand that space is really huge, and offers many benefits beyond major discoveries.

    —– Greg from

  16. Really gave me new insights by reading this. I've always wondered about NASA getting into commercial space activities. NASA is clearly the leader when it comes to anything in space and I'd say we have to lead the pack.

    Thanks again for sharing! Please keep blogging about subjects like these so we can be kept up to date on relevant space topics.

  17. Nice information, this really useful for me. There is nothing to argue about.
    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it. Thx.

  18. The above type INTERPLANETARY<-> INSTELLER vehicle is not just for the IMAGINATION!

    David M.Kerrick,Ph.D

  19. Xenophobia drove the space race to the moon. It would serve the US right to watch, say, the Chinese take down the stars and stripes and raise standard of the People’s Republic.

    We’ve abdicated our manifest destiny. There is no longer an “out there”.

  20. why has the “nuclear pulse” propulsion system be abandoned? this is a simple, cheap, extremely fast way to get to mars. (three days?) you could shuttle back and forth with supplies etc.
    i know that there is a treaty not to explode nuclear devices in space but you could have a launch pad on the far side of the moon.

  21. The nuclear pulse was abandoned because of politics and money, like all good things our government ruins. Bring back the pulse!

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