NASA’s Lunar Plans Panned by National Space Council’s Users Group

The Lunar Gateway formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

SpaceNews reports that NASA’s plan to put a lunar gateway in orbit around the moon and get astronauts down to the surface in 2028 took quite a pounding from some members of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group during the body’s first meeting last week.

“Personally, I think 2028 for humans on the moon, that’s 10 years from now. It just seems like it’s so far off,” said former astronaut Eileen Collins. “We can do it sooner.”

“This comes across as having no sense of urgency,” said Harrison Schmitt, the Apollo 17 astronaut. “I think there should be a sense of urgency.” The pace of the proposed program, he said, didn’t match what took place under Apollo. “I think of launching Saturn 5s every two months and you’re barely going to launch them every two years,” he said of the Space Launch System.

“I’m quite opposed to the Gateway,” said Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Using the Gateway as a staging area for robotic or human missions to the lunar surface is “absurd,” he argued. “Why would you want to send a crew to an intermediate point in space, pick up a lander there and go down?”

“The architecture that has been put in play, putting a Gateway before boots on the moon, is, from a space system engineer’s point — which is the only thing in life I was ever good at —a stupid architecture,” [former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin] said, arguing instead to move “with all deliberate speed” to go back to the moon and access its resources. “Gateway is useful when, but not before, they’re manufacturing propellant on the moon and shipping it up to a depot in lunar orbit.”

Griffin raised the prospect of China landing astronauts on the moon before the United States gets there.

Aldrin said he favors Bob Zubrin’s Moon Direct plan for getting astronauts to the lunar surface quickly. Zubrin explains his plan in the video above.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Look, I’d rather be on the surface too, Gateway is a compromise. The problem with being on the surface of the Moon is half your sky is blocked by Moon. Rather unlike interplanetary cruise. We do need a live environment in interplanetary space with humans cycling in and out setting up a dirty used environment so we can see the real effects of full bore exposure. At some point in time, something like Gateway will be done. It’ll also be done when we start playing with shielding of the various sorts out there. Likely super Van Allen Belt orbits are good enough, but as I assert, this is a compromise that’s good enough.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Because it shows what the difference between a government project that ran way over budget, was finished late and created a product which required major modifications and rebuilts over the years and the commercial B747 that came under budget, entered service early and revolutionize the airline industry. It’s been so successful it is still in production, while the C-5 production line closed decades ago.

    BTW you do know that since the airlift command actually needs to get things done most of that heavy cargo is actually moved by leased commercial B747s.

    Which brings us back to the Gateway. Instead of spending billions to build it NASA should have just put out a request to lease space and allowed commercial firms to build it. Indeed, if NASA is really serious about a lunar return that is how they should go about it.

  • ThomasLMatula

    You have been drinking too much of the NASA kool-aid. If it was the 1950’s you would probably be advocating good old reliable piston powered flying boats for military logistics because those new-fangled jets would never be able to do the work.

    The space world is changing and it’s time to move beyond the old models and ideas.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and while NASA’s goal is just to reach lunar orbit it reminds folks his goal is to reach the stars.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Why, just like the SLS is a legacy of the failed Obama Administration soace policy, so is Gateway. It’s time to junk both of them.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    And boy were you right. But to what effect? And I don’t mean in the outcome of having station, but what would have happened in it’s pace without the ISS? Where would that money have gone and which kind of institution would it have built? NASA has been happy for the better part of a decade pouring money into SLS, a non flight project. As in a project that’s not flying. As in a project that has the greatest impact on NASA by not flying. There’s a whole portion of NASA right now that’s happy with the idea of eternal development. That’s because the institution is not intent on flying. At least ISS as imperfect as it is , flies and creates a human institution intent on flying. As imperfect as it is, Gateway provides similar pressures. It’s not as if the money for Gateway will automatically go to doing what YOU or I, or the Space X foamers want it to go to.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    No it’s not. I only said the hardware was in place…..

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’m sure you know the 747 and the C5 came from the same RFP. I’ll defer to the reasons why the C5 won. They’re architectural and fundamental. The 747 was designed for the civilian world for normal every day cargo handling. The C5 met other requirements. Weak wing boxes? It’s a Lockheed product, I can show you a yard full of C-130’s along Kolb ave that are sitting there because of worn out Lockheed wing boxes. And on the other side is a plot of P-3’s with similar issues. Of course I know how the 747 is used in CRAF. And they work great for the cargo a 747 can carry. But the military uses some toys that won’t fit in the 747 and can’t be easily loaded or unloaded. You can see that even in the civilian world there’s enough air cargo worthy payloads to keep Antanov Airlines and Volga-Dneper flying the Soviet improvements on the C-5 and a single super C-5 flying.

    Why not contract out gateway? Sure, great idea. The current NASA admin is probably the best chance we’ve had at that approach. Why is he not doing it? Along those lines, do you think it’s a great idea to dump Gateway on the chance you might be able to start a new program from scratch predicated on the business model of YOUR choice? If you want to kill another program along those lines whats to say someone won’t want to do the same thing to your program once it gets to a more advanced state? And what would be the effect of that? A killed Gateway project, then a killed Rent-Way project.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I was oppossed to station then and gateway now for the same reason. both are culdesacs that it is very very hard to break out of and make something useful of. there is no real reasons to do either…

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    What is breakout? For me the lesson of Falcon 9’s assault on launch costs is that a revolution on the economics of spaceflight causes slow change. Space is not the Americas. There’s no slaves, no gold to steal, not even trees to to make ships. This is going to be slow and steady. If you’re waiting for a breakout bonanza I’ll ask you this. What if you were transported back in time to the early 1920’s with a 727. What amount of change could you really impart on air travel back then? What could that society really absorb of your aircraft and your skills from only 40 years ahead of them? We’ve seen revolution in space-lift, we’re living in it right now. It’s not a bonanza, but it’s an improvement. I’d love to have a well thought out integrated plan for space development. No society on Earth is capable of doing that. We’re all tripping over ourselves. Take what you can get.

  • Richard Malcolm

    1. It’s still not funded.

    2. It has no worthwhile purpose that can justify either the cost or the opportunity cost of building it.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Except that it’s actually NOT A return to the Moon. Just a piece of hardware circling somewhere near it.

  • Richard Malcolm

    A Bigelow Module would still be a Gateway to Nowhere.

    It would just be a much cheaper and faster Gateway to Nowhere.

  • Richard Malcolm

    full bore exposure to the interplanetary environment only one week out and one week back to Earth.

    So, then: a place to subject humans to cosmic and solar radiation like lab rats.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Really looking forward to a Jefferson Starship.

  • savuporo

    > The ‘miracle’ of ISS’ survival is totally dependent on excellent SOCIAL engineering

    Yes, and constraining the architecture from the outset to lowest common denominator of launchers across the world and multiple different companies enables far higher opportunities of implementing this social engineering and adapting to changing political winds.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Because it is time for NASA to get out of the business operating launch vehicles and space stations. It makes about as much sense in the new paradigm of space as NASA running its own airline. NASA needs to simply adopt a policy of renting any facilities it needs in Cislunar space and focus on doing things in deep space. It makes no sense for NASA to waste $30-40 billion of taxpayers dollars on a Gateway it owns when it could rent space on a commercial one for $30-40 million a year plus transportation costs on a commercial transport to reach it.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But were they worth the $100 billion plus the ISS has cost taxpayers to build, and the $3-4 billion it costs to operate each year until it finally breaks.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Maybe we would have just gone back to the Moon. The price tag was the same…

    Yes, as long as there is money flowing in from the taxpayers lets spend it, even if it doesn’t make sense. That is why the taxpayers are starting to revolt against government taxes. Its one thing to collect taxes to build Interstate Highways or build clean water systems, projects that benefit the public. Its another to just spend it on the grounds that if you won’t someone else will. No matter if it is a smart thing to do. No wonder pro-space politicians are being voted out of office.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Falcon 9R is just gaining traction and starting to slide down the demand curve. Already nations like Russia are complaining about the competition, and NASA is looking for excuses to delay CCP, the most recent being that Elon Musk, (gasp!) smoked a joint on TV…

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/11/nasa-plans-invasive-review-of-spacex-after-musk-smoked-weed/

    NASA concerned about culture of “inappropriateness” at SpaceX
    Agency will continue to rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles while reviews take place.

    Eric Berger
    – 11/20/2018, 3:00 PM

  • ThomasLMatula

    True. But if NASA is obessed with having a Gateway to Nowhere it will give one to them without flushing $30-40 billion down the drain. A good metric to use is the taxpayer year. The average American pays $10,000 a year in taxes, so that is 3-4 million tax payer years NASA is wasting on it.

  • Jeff Smith

    Isn’t it great!

    Technical redundancy AND politically robust, sounds like a successful program to me.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    A slow take up and organic lowering of barriers to entry is just what I’m talking about. The big payoff comes later. Much later.

    As to NASA’s investigation of Space X’s culture. Well, they’re the customer and they get to decide who they do business with. If they don’t want a bunch of pot heads building their hardware, and the CEO goes on world video streams smoking weed, then I guess NASA wants to make sure the folks on the production line are not behaving like their CEO. I doubt they’ll do it to Boeing, and I doubt they’ll find heavy drug use in Space X. This is signalling to Elon, it’s called collective punishment. You punish the people around the trouble maker so they police him.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Really what forces would have caused that to happen? The remnants of the Bush admin? The NSS? ISS was turned into foreign relations exercise and of course a jobs program. It excelled at those. You may not agree with the people who made the decision, but they had rank. This is situation you can understand. What kind of play does a line worker on the GM production line have to say about the decisions of the CEO or corporate board? Come on Thomas if sitting back and taking it, is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for you.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Kinda like a CVN combat group huh? Government is all about these kind of boondogles. What we got out of ISS was better than nothing. I know you argue otherwise, but I did not see anything else other than to shrink the manned space budget and have a lot less work for Shuttle to do. What does it mean in real world terms? We see that we can make spacecraft that last decades instead of months or less than a year like Mir and Salyut 7. That’s a lot.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Well Tom, that’s your opinion. I happen to agree with a lot of it, so that makes us 2, or 1.X since I don’t agree with it all. But dang, we ain’t in charge are we? Who is? “Dennis Kozlowski” is, ‘He’ is always in charge. When you form your expectations for what can be gotten out of big powerful organizations you have to always normalize to the fact that a man like Kozlowski is always somewhere near the top or at the top using the organization to serve their own agenda along similar lines as Kozlowski.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Or, (warning – radical idea) just do two launches with the second one providing the propulsion unit. FH is cheap enough to actually do eight launches for the price of a single SLS launch. And I bet SpaceX is smart enough to launch both on the same day 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually it’s POLITICAL engineering since NASA spread the right pork in the right Congressional Districts and got Congress entangled in treaties with other nations the U.S. had to honor. Proof of that was the Congressional screams when President Trump proposed dumping it.

  • savuporo

    It works though, and Apollo got done in the same way, not to mention countless military big ticket programs that are effectively uncancellable

  • ThomasLMatula

    A CVN group serves a national security purpose. There is no such purpose for the commune in the sky. It could disappear tomorrow and few would notice and fewer miss it. Indeed, if it had never been built history would barely notice its absence. And the lesson on spacecraft endurance was already learned on Voyager.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Because history will see it as one of the steps that placed NASA into its downward spiral and eventual destruction.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    As any national project they have limited use. A CVN group can prevent a Pearl Harbor, but not a 9/11. I disagree about ISS not having national security use. It kept a lot of Russian scientists off the international market. And it provides further glue between the aerospace communities of Japan the EU and US. That grouping has national security ability to prevent a national security crisis from happening.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Again, compared to what? What was the road not taken that was on the list of options? Real options. Don’t invoke Army bases on the Moon.

  • Vladislaw

    Last Prices I saw from Bigelow was 25 million for 1/3 of a BA 330 for 2 months .. or 150 million a year plus transportation. I am sure he will be discounting long term leases…

  • If NASA is thinking about assembling their heavy landers out of modules that can be launched on a variety of launchers, I view that as an encouraging sign that the same strategy might soon be applied to the Gateway. Mind you, it’s not as encouraging a sign as just nuking the Gateway in favor of an EOR assembly with a tug or a just-in-time LOR system, but hopefully we just have to keep the fig leaf in place for a little bit longer.

  • duheagle

    Where Gateway is concerned, any movement that serves to break the SLS-Orion-private-club aspect of the thing is welcome. Full rationality anent lunar exploration/exploitation, though, is going require getting NASA out of the drivers’ seat.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX’s Mars project is likely to supply a lot more data of the sort you want gathered and do so a lot more quickly than Gateway can or will. Keep in mind, Gateway is going to spend most of its time untenanted and its periods of occupancy will be short as well. From the standpoint of gathering data anent long-term human exposure to interplanetary space, even Gary Church’s notional continuously-manned GEO platforms make more sense than Gateway.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    And think how much more data we’d get with reactionless drives!!! Space X’s Mars project is a long way off in a distant hopeful future.

  • publiusr

    Well I support the gateway. I understand infrastructure.