No Painfree Options — "Deal With It" — Says XCOR's Greason

No Painfree Options — "Deal With It" — Says XCOR's Greason

Saying he was neither attacking nor defending the Obama Administration’s new plan for NASA, Jeff Greason said that there are no good options: “They all suck. Tough. Deal with it.” Mr. Greason is President of XCOR and was a member of the Augustine committee on the future of the human space flight program. He spoke at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium today.

Mr. Greason’s message was that everyone needs to be realistic in looking at where the human space flight program was headed under the previous plan and debate on their merits the issues about its future. Whatever the answer is, it is likely to be painful for someone. Stressing that he was expressing his own views and had no special knowledge of the Obama plan other than what he reads in the media, he recounted some of the discussions that transpired in the Augustine committee deliberations that led to the conclusion that the Constellation program was not executable. “Constellation was designed for a budget twice what it got. That’s what unexecutable means,” he said, adding that it would require “four, five, six billion dollar increases every year for the rest of time” to be successful, including operations.

Arguing that “we can’t take our eyes off of Mars” as a long term goal, he emphasized that such a journey is not yet feasible and if that were to become the single focus it would be as unsustainable as the Apollo program, with perhaps one crew journeying there before that program would end: “Flags and footprints are supposed to lead to settlement, not be an end in itself.” Intermediate missions to the Moon and “deep space” destinations like asteroids are prerequisites to Mars in his view. Together they are an “ensemble” of destinations and the order in which they should be visited cannot be determined today, he argued. Instead, those decisions should made over time based on available technology and funding.

He asserted that a “lot of lies are being spun” about the concept of commercial crew and it is “silly” to say that commercial companies cannot provide such services, but it is likely to happen first with established launch vehicles, not entrepreneurial ventures. He expects Falcon 9 and Taurus 2 to be successful someday, but Delta 4 and Atlas 5 already are proven. As for what capsule should go on top, he urged the aerospace community to be honest with itself that the Constellation program would have produced a crew capsule that cost $500 million each, far too expensive. “Constellation would have been cancelled,” and while it is regrettable that so much money has been spent on it already, it was time to “stop digging,” he said.

Ultimately, however, he concluded that “I don’t know the right answer,” but that if people think the Obama plan is the death of human space flight they are kidding themselves because “it already had died.” That is why the community needs to honestly debate the issues and not pretend that Constellation could have succeeded within the budget resources it was likely to obtain, he said.

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