Can NASA and aerospace companies return to glory days?

Mike Staton wrote this post.

‘To the moon, Alice!’

For those not old enough to remember Jackie Gleason and his hugely popular Honeymooners TV show back in the day, that moon quip would be used whenever Gleason’s character Ralph would get in an argument with his wife.

That now seems to be the advice from President Trump’s transition team for NASA and manned space exploration. While Mars remains a distant goal, they are urging the space agency to do something spectacular during Trump’s first four-year term. That means a non-landing moon flight in 2019 or 2020.

Jackie Gleason in his TV series of the 1950s had a famous saying: To the moon, Alice. Maybe we’ll soon update it: To the Moon again, America.

Here what Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s acting administrator, said to space workers on February 15: “I have asked Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space. The SLS and ORION missions, coupled with those promised from record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock those mysteries and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.”

The first shuttle test flight in April 1981 flew with two astronauts aboard.

It’s a gutsy move, like what NASA did in 1981 when astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen flew the first space shuttle flight into orbit. No automated unmanned mission in April 1981… men piloted the Columbia into space. When the first flight of NASA new exploration rocket, a monster with more thrust than the legendary Saturn 5, four astronauts will probably be aboard the Orion spacecraft.

The mission is called Exploration Mission One (EM-1), and agency officials still must determine the parameters of the mission – if it turns out to be manned. Will it merely fly to the space station? That doesn’t sound Trumpesque, so I am guessing it will have to be out to the moon. An orbital mission, like Apollo 8 at Christmastime 1968? A non-orbital flight that loops the moon and returns quickly to Earth? A Lagrange point mission out to 930,000 miles from Earth, the farthest astronauts would have ever traveled in space. By contrast, the moon is about 230,000 miles from Earth.

Currently, Exploration Mission One calls for the SLS rocket to launch an Orion on an unmanned flight beyond the moon sometime in 2018 or 2019.

As of now, NASA intends to propel an unmanned Orion to a deep retrograde orbit near the moon, a stable orbit in the Earth-moons system where an asteroid may be relocated by a space probe sometime in the 2020s for a future Orion visit. The 25-day mission will send Orion more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon. The retrograde orbit could also be an option for the astronaut mission.

If you read all of Gerstenmaier’s words, you will recall that he mentioned “record levels of private investment in space.” Those are code words for another option being advanced by Trump’s space transition team. If the early reports are to be believed, the Trump administration would like to channel federal funds into a New Space effort to land private astronauts on the moon by 2020.

The manned Dragon 2 from SpaceX has thrusters that can be used to soft land after a return to orbit. However, initially the craft will land in the ocean via parachutes.

With that speed-of-light timeline for a moon landing, SpaceX is probably the only New Space firm that can make it happen. The cutting-edge company is already landing its Falcon 9 first stages on landing pads or ocean barges on a routine basis. Entrepreneur Elon Musk and his SpaceX employees are already planning to land their manned Dragon 2 spacecraft on land using eight Super-Draco thruster engines. The Draco engines have even been tested. I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know how hard it would be to adapt the Dragon 2 to land and take off from the moon’s surface? If the federal government funds such a mission, I’m sure Musk and other space entrepreneurs will tackle the challenges and try to meet the deadline.

Let’s breathe the future. SpaceX boss Elon Musk wants to land unmanned Dragons on Mars in the 2020s.

I’ve learned about NASA’s proposed new direction by renewing’s L2 subscription level. Then I followed links to magazine and newspaper articles about President Trump’s possible plans for the space agency.

Whatever mission or missions get the nod, I expect there’ll be opposition. I don’t need to explain why… it’s been crazy since the November election, and it has gotten wilder since the inauguration. Some people will see space spectaculars as Roman-style circuses. We don’t even know yet what kind of budget bump will be required to fund one or both missions. Still, I find myself waiting to see what marching orders NASA gets – and how the future unfolds.

# # #

I’m an author. I’ve sent Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep, my Civil War romance novel, to my publisher and await a verdict. Wings ePress published my other three novels, a fantasy trilogy, so I am very optimistic. The trilogy consists of The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin, and Assassins’ Lair.


20 thoughts on “Can NASA and aerospace companies return to glory days?

    1. Indeed. I have my doubts. Unless President Trump gets better organized, NASA and New Space may just spin in place. His first budget should become public soon. What he provides NASA will be telling. If he guts the budget, America won’t be going anywhere in space. I hope Trump’s transition team for space exploration is tuned into what Trump wants to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My husband Greg was very excited to see Elon Musk and Space X get off the ground the other day. I think it’s going to be a combination of government and private business, as the expense is so great and so many different types of people are needed. It’s sure an exciting and thought-provoking endeavor. Great post, Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Gayle. Such exciting times with Elon Musk and SpaceX. The New Space company should be launching the Falcon Heavy sometime in the summer. That’s three Falcon 9’s hooked together.


  2. I hear a lot about SpaceX, especially since their headquarters is right here in the South Bay. That company has taken off like a rocket, no pun intended. 😉 Well okay, pun intended. Interesting post, Mike. Lots to think about.


  3. Very interesting Mike. I’ve been so busy with the history research that I’ve gotten behind on my space knowledge. Thank you for the updates. Doris


    1. Hi, Cherley. My publisher has the novel, and the executive editor sent me an email telling me she’s reading it. She’s intrigued, she says, because she has read many of my updates on my author page about the novel. She’s even left a few comments over the months. I’m keeping my fingers crossed she loves it.


  4. Keep us posted with developments, Mike! Yes, it will be interesting to see what the Trump innovations might be – ie those beyond what is publicised highly in the so called ‘biased” media.


    1. I intend to, Nancy. We should know more when the Trump budget proposal for FY 2018 comes out — and that should be soon. On Tuesday, President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress. He probably won’t mention space, but who knows?


  5. I just wrote a post on my FB author page about the 7 rocky planets in tight orbits around the red dwarf star Trappist-1 thirty-nine lights years away. I meshed the preliminary scientific findings with a SF/fantasy store idea that could become the seeds of a new novel. Maybe I’ll reuse it as my first Wranglers post in March. I’d be interested to see what readers think of my ideas.


  6. I thought I was done writing about manned spacecraft for a while, and Elon Musk goes off and announces something wild. Now I may have to write yet another Wrangler story. He’s going to send a couple of tourists on a flight around the moon in late 2018.


  7. Thanks for the update. I think we are all wondering just what the future holds. My fingers are crossed for your new book. Good Luck.


    1. Looks like Elon Musk wants to take a couple of well-cashed tourists on a loop around the moon, possibly as early as 2018. And thanks for the positive thoughts on my Civil War novel.


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