Friday, September 22, 2000
Long Beach, CA--Further highlights of NASA Administrator
Dan Goldin's speech at the Space 2000 conference here earlier this week included
a sobering call for Earth observation space missions. After citing evidence of
general climate warming trends, he stressed the need for space-based observation
data to determine causes, and courses of action, to arrest harmful, human-made
changes. "If NASA does anything in the next decade, we have to address this
issue of global change, and not be swayed by politics and have pure, peer
reviewed science. The folks at NASA, the folks in industry, and the folks in
Congress have got to step up to this and not be afraid to ask tough
Goldin was blunt in seeking necessary funding to gather the data
needed for decision making. "The pressure on NASA's Earth science budget has
been much too high and hasn't been adequately funded. When the history books
have been written 50 years from now, the most important thing NASA will have
done is provide the information to the political establishment about what are
the causes, sources, and forces of global change--so we can mitigate them and
have further hope for our children on this planet."
Touching on other topics, Goldin called for "unbelievable change."
One example he cited was the explosion in lines of computer code for spacecraft
from thousands to millions and the fact, "We cannot validate it, we cannot write
it, we cannot be sure we have it error free." While such problems may, in
civilian applications, mean a lost cell phone call, it can also mean a lost
multimillion dollar spacecraft or astronaut. He added NASA cannot wait for the
private sector to develop high-assurance software and hopes within a month to
have such an initiative in place where the agency will work with its contractors
to "be able to produce millions of lines of code, error free."
When asked about the roadmap toward single-stage-to-orbit launch
vehicles, Goldin noted the Space Launch Initiative under budget consideration by
Congress. The program would spend about $4.5 billion over five years to come up
with an advanced launcher that would have low cost, $1,000/lb versus ten times
that currently. "We will be throwing wide open the possibilities to industry to
tell us how they think we can most effectively get to orbit. Some believe
single-stage-to orbit is the way to go, others think two-stage is the way, and
some think they can modify the Shuttle to get the reliability up to the point
where it can be completely effective and competitive with these new approaches,"
Contrary to the agency's image in some eyes of "only new
technology allowed," Goldin concluded, "We are not going to be prescriptive in
how we go at it. Initially we pushed technology for single stage to orbit, and
we now have some companies in that field. We are going to let competition rule
the roost, and we will not specify in the Space Launch Initiative which way to
go--we think the American industry is smart enough to figure that out."