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Augustine Committee on Budget Finding, and Human and Robotic Space Flight

Richard M. Jones
Number 128 - October 30, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Budget Finding:

Among the more prominent findings of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee were the following:

  • “Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.
  • “Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, increasing annual expenditures by approximately $3 billion in real purchasing power above the FY 2010 guidance [in FY 2014].
  • “Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore the Moon First or one that follows the Flexible Path. Either could produce significant results in a reasonable timeframe.”

The Statement of Task for the committee, found on PDF page 128 in “Seeking a Human Space Flight Program Worthy of a Great Nation” provides the committee with projected budget numbers that provide context for the $3 billion figure. Under the heading “Budget” the Statement explains:

“Budget options considered under the review must address the development of a human space flight architecture, robotic spacecraft to support and complement human activities, and R&D to support future activities. The review should assume the following 2010-2014 budget profile for these activities:”

2010 $3,963.1 million
2011 $6,092.9 million
2012 $6,077.4 million
2013 $6,047.7 million
2014 $6,274.6 million

The FY 2014 figure is $2,311.5 million above the FY 2010 guidance. This is $688.5 million or 23.0 percent less than the $3 billion finding.

The Statement of Task concludes: “Based on the results of this review, the Administration will notify Congress of any needed changes to the FY2010 President’s Budget Request.”

 

Human and Robotic Space Flight:

It is not until the next-to-last page of the main section of “Seeking a Human Space Flight Program Worthy of a Great Nation” that the Augustine committee discusses the balance of human and robotic space flight. “Both the human spaceflight program and the science program are key parts of a great nation’s space portfolio” the committee writes, adding “It is essential that budgetary firewalls be built between these broad categories of activity.”

It is important to note that the Statement of Task to committee begins with the following words:

“This Statement of Task establishes and informs a review to be conducted in support of planning for U.S. human space flight activities beyond the retirement of the Space Shuttle. The purpose of this effort is to develop suitable options for consideration by the Administration regarding a human space flight architecture that would:
- Expedite a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station
- Support missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO)
- Stimulate commercial space flight capability
- Fit within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities”

The following is the full text of section 9.6 at the end of the report regarding human and robotic spaceflight:

“9.6 MANAGING THE BALANCE OF HUMAN AND ROBOTIC SPACEFLIGHT

“Although the Committee was tasked only to address the human spaceflight program, including robotic missions that are specifically encompassed within that program, it is appropriate to comment about the role and synergy of human and robotic exploration as a whole. The Committee believes that America is best served by a complementary and balanced space program involving both a robotic component and a human component. The robotic portion is often but not exclusively associated with science missions. Without a strong and sustainable science program - the means of acquiring fundamental new knowledge - any space program would be hollow. The same can be said of the absence of a human spaceflight program. Humans in space, on new and exciting missions, inspire the public. But so do the spectacular accomplishments of such robotic spacecraft as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars rovers, the Earth Observing System satellites, or the twin Voyager spacecraft that are poised to reach interstellar space. This is to suggest that both the human spaceflight program and the science program are key parts of a great nation’s space portfolio.

“Needless to say, robotic spaceflight should play an important role in the human spaceflight program itself, reconnoitering scientifically important destinations, surveying future landing sites, providing logistical support and more. Correspondingly, humans can play an important role in science missions, particularly in field geology, exploration, and the maintenance and enhancement of robotic systems in space. (See Figure 9.6-1.) [a picture of the Hubble Space Telescope being placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle] It is in the interest of both science and human spaceflight that a credible and well-rationalized strategy of coordination between the two types of pursuit be developed - without forcing unwarranted intermingling in areas where each would better proceed on its own.

“Robotic activity in space is generally much less costly than human activity and therefore offers a major inherent advantage. Of even greater importance, it does not place human lives at risk. Astronauts provide their greatest advantage in the most complex or novel environments or circumstances. This will be the case in the exploration of planetary surfaces and in repair or servicing missions of the type undertaken for the Hubble Space Telescope’s primary mirror. In contrast, the value of humans in space is usually at its minimum when they are employed transporting cargo. The bottom line is that there are important roles to be played by both humans and robots in space, and America should strive to maintain a balanced program incorporating the best of both kinds of explorers.

“That said, there are nonetheless inevitable conflicts – conflicts that arise from the competition among programs for resources, particularly financial resources. It is therefore of the utmost importance, if balance is to be maintained, that neither the human program nor the robotic spaceflight program be permitted to cannibalize the other. This has been a significant concern in the past, particularly given the size of the human spaceflight program. Difficulties in the human space program too often swallowed resources that had been planned for the robotic program (as well as for aeronautics and space technology). Robotics are generally, although not exclusively, considered to be of greater interest to the scientific community. It is essential that budgetary firewalls be built between these two broad categories of activity In the case of the International Space Station, one firewall should be the establishment of an organizational entity to select endeavors to be pursued aboard the Space Station. Without such a mechanism, turmoil is assured and program balance endangered.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095