What a difference a decade makes

In cleaning up my office, I found “The New Age of Exploration: NASA’s Direction for 2005 and Beyond”.  Now that it’s 2015, let’s see what we accomplished and what died on the vine.

The first thing to remember is that the Space Shuttle was still grounded at the time and would not fly until July 2005.  Administrator Sean O’Keefe talked about President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, begun in 2004 and cancelled by Obama.  O’Keefe was already planning on leaving NASA and “move on to other challenges.”

Some of the long-term objectives listed were.

1. Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond.
Fair enough. We had Spirit and Opportunity on Mars then, and we added Curiosity. We sent LRO, LCROSS, GRAIL, and LADEE to the Moon. New Horizons headed for Pluto in 2006, and Juno was launched to Jupiter in 2011.

2. Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations.
Well, not 2020, more’s the pity.

3. Develop innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructure both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration.
I think the most important of these is the 3-D printing capability now on ISS.

4. Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.
That ended up as being dependent on the Russians to launch our astronauts.

5. Study the Earth system from space and develop new space-based and related capabilities for this purpose.
The nice part of this section was the focus on understanding the Earth-Sun system and gaining insights into Antarctic ozone depletion. The Living With A Star program produced the Solar Dynamics Observatory (launched in 2010 instead of 2008) and the Van Allen probes, but the Ionospheric/Thermospheric Mapper was cancelled, as far as I can tell.

6. Return the Space Shuttle to flight, complete assembly of the ISS, then retire the Space Shuttle in 2010.
Check, check, and check (though it was retired in 2011).

7. Develop a new crew exploration vehicle, first test flight by the end of the decade, with operational capability for human exploration no later than 2014.
Test flight was last month and not on a man-rated vehicle. It’s looking like 2017 for manned flight with Orion.

8. Focus research and use of the ISS on supporting space exploration goals.

9. Conduct the first extended human expedition to the lunar surface as early as 2015 but no later than 2020.
Yeah, right.

10. Conduct human expeditions to Mars after acquiring adequate knowledge about the planet using robotic missions and after successfully demonstrating sustained human exploration missions to the Moon.
Still a good plan, too bad we’re not a lot closer to that.

11. Develop and demonstrate power generation, propulsion, life support, and other key capabilities required to support more distant, more capable, and/or longer duration human and robotic exploration of Mars and other destinations.
Lots of good examples here – the Juno solar arrays, ion engines, the Nanosail-D solar sail, improved life support on ISS.

12. Provide advanced aeronautical technologies to meet the challenges of next generation systems in aviation for civilian and scientific purposes.
They talked about the X-43, but that last flew in 2004. The goals included a 70-percent reduction in the aircraft fatal accident rate by 2010, doubling the National Airspace System’s capacity by 2009, and reducing aircraft noise by 10 decibels. I’m no aviation expert, but I don’t think we succeeded there.

13. Use NASA missions and activities to inspire and motivate the Nation’s students and teachers, to engage and educate the public, and to advance the scientific and technological capabilities of the nation.
This wasn’t entirely dumped for Muslim outreach, but it took a concerted effort to save the Moonbuggy Race from cancellation. I still remember the all-hands meeting where one of the secretaries told then-new Administrator Mike Griffin that he was making a big mistake. When he admitted that he did not know what the Moonbuggy Race was, there was a collective gasp, and she said, “You should be ashamed!”

14. Pursue commercial opportunities for providing transportation and other services supporting ISS and exploration missions beyond Earth orbit.
Check. Nice to see a successful SpaceX launch and partial credit on recovering the first stage.

So all in all, a little better than half, and still the same problem with delays on just about everything. Some of the language in the report is pretty straightforward, but a lot of it is bulls**t bingo words like:

…we have streamlined our Headquarters organization structure and begun transforming our culture to foster permanent change and effect a positive, mission-driven culture throughout the organization…We also are cascading our values, goals, and objectives to every NASA employee through enhanced performance management strategies…”

I took a quick look at the 2014 Strategic Plan. It’s three times as long to say basically the same things, with the addition of Near Earth Asteroids, James Webb Space Telescope, cybersecurity, and heavy use of the word “leaner”. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

2 thoughts on “What a difference a decade makes”

  1. Thank you RFH. A very nice overview. It looks like some goalposts have been uprooted and moved to the right a tad.

  2. Don’t forget Obama’s Vision:

    Muslims…. in… spaaaaaaaace!

    (February 2010)

    WASHINGTON—NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has asked him to “find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries” as the White House pushes the space agency to become a tool of international diplomacy.

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