Astronaut: Trump's plan for the space station a huge mistake

Donald Trump's administration is ...

Posted: Feb 23, 2018 9:44 AM
Updated: Feb 23, 2018 9:44 AM

Donald Trump's administration is floating a proposal to return to the moon -- and to shut down the International Space Station to help pay for it.

The first part of this idea is good. The second is horrible. If enacted, it could well spell the end of NASA's human spaceflight for the foreseeable future.

There is a wild card here, too: I refer to the commercial spaceflight efforts of companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin. For the first time, visionary leaders of commercial companies are striving to build space infrastructure and exploration programs funded by commercial activities. Yes, there is the possibility of NASA partnering with them, but that is not the pressing question in my view now; the continuation of ISS is.

Consider, to begin, that the International Space Station, or ISS, is an essential piece of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's program for space exploration. The biggest technical challenge to sending astronauts on farther and longer missions is biomedical: How do we keep them healthy? We need the ISS to help us find out.

We need it as an engineering test bed, so we can learn how to build robust life-support and other systems for voyages to destinations like Mars.

The United States ended the space shuttle program in 2011, after the ISS was complete. We gave up a national treasure, forever. Beyond the loss of prestige and pride, with the end of the space shuttle program, we lost huge operational capabilities. We have not been able to send astronauts to space ourselves since then.

The shuttle was able to launch seven astronauts and nearly 60,000 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit. None of the spacecraft that might be built in the next few years comes close to that capability. Now, if the administration succeeds in ending the ISS program by 2025, our future in space will be set back even more.

The ISS has not been without controversy and well-deserved criticism. I was a graduate student in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan called for the construction of a new space station. I knew then that I wanted to apply for the astronaut program, and this was an exciting development. The idea was to build a moderately sized station with Europe, Japan and Canada. By the time I was accepted by NASA and reported for duty at the Johnson Space Center, the space-station program had been expanded and been given the name Freedom.

Things were a mess, and a few years later, when Freedom was canceled, some NASA employees started selling Space Station Freedom shirts that read, "10 Years and 10 Billion Dollars, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt."

But then a redesigned station emerged, tentatively called "Alpha," and was finally built as the ISS. Although this new station had its own growing pains, it has performed magnificently. It cost about $100 billion to build and its annual operating budget is around $4 billion, although that number can be misleading.

This is because there are many things in the ISS budget that have to do with NASA infrastructure.

When I served on the Review of US Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2008 and 2009, the space shuttle was already slated for cancellation by the administration of President George W. Bush. Barack Obama's administration agreed to continue with cancellation of the shuttle, and to use the perceived savings to fund a Beyond-Low-Earth Exploration program. However, because the cost of the shuttle program -- about $4 billion a year -- included such ongoing infrastructure costs as the Kennedy Space Center, the actual savings were only about half the program budget.

I was a part of the small minority on the committee that proposed keeping the shuttle flying until at least 2015. We recognized that if we lost the shuttle, the savings would not amount to much, certainly not enough to fund an exploration program. Unfortunately, the Obama administration did not select that option. Nine years later, here we are: We have no shuttle program, a very stretched-out development program for the Orion and SLS rocket, and no real mission to go anywhere.

Fortunately, we have still been operating ISS, with Russian rockets and spacecraft, for the last six years or so.

What about privatizing the ISS? That idea is barely worth mentioning. The ISS was designed to operate with two big mission control centers, in Houston and Moscow. They each need standing armies to protect them.

Estimates of the cost of launching spacecraft to the ISS vary, but they are certainly in the range of $100 million or more. Let's not even consider maintenance costs. Tell me with a straight face how a commercial entity is going to make money operating ISS?

The Trump administration's thoughts to cancel ISS and send the savings to the moon is d-j- vu. The actual savings will likely be again around 50% of the ISS program cost, and all we are likely to end up with is an inadequately funded moon program, as we have had for the last nine years. And no ISS, either.

This path would likely leave us with nothing but a bare-bones spacecraft and rocket and no funding to go anywhere.

Unless, of course, we decide to fly American astronauts on Chinese spacecraft to the coming Chinese space station. This would be a national travesty. What we need is a real commitment to maintain US leadership in human spaceflight.

We should continue supporting ISS first, and if we can afford it, to funding a lunar exploration program that leads to an international Mars program. Don't sacrifice the ISS to continue to halfheartedly fund future exploration. Don't cede American leadership in space, and risk going the way of other former great nations.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 125531

Reported Deaths: 2299
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin32544966
Ramsey13430347
Dakota9321134
Anoka8154148
Stearns544336
Washington530567
Scott320934
Olmsted308929
St. Louis268963
Wright229614
Nobles216416
Clay207343
Blue Earth19717
Carver17077
Rice15819
Kandiyohi15704
Sherburne156621
Mower149113
Winona119918
Lyon9286
Crow Wing91521
Waseca9119
Chisago8792
Benton8575
Beltrami7977
Otter Tail7726
Todd7323
Steele7242
Itasca68417
Nicollet68217
Freeborn6384
Morrison6296
Douglas6123
Martin58916
Le Sueur5855
McLeod5693
Watonwan5684
Goodhue51511
Pine5110
Becker5033
Polk5024
Isanti4953
Chippewa3973
Carlton3861
Dodge3660
Mille Lacs36010
Hubbard3352
Pipestone32816
Wabasha3270
Cass3205
Meeker3113
Rock3011
Brown3003
Yellow Medicine2675
Cottonwood2640
Murray2533
Redwood25011
Fillmore2380
Sibley2383
Renville23011
Faribault2130
Roseau1990
Jackson1981
Wadena1980
Unassigned19553
Swift1921
Kanabec18910
Houston1811
Stevens1681
Lincoln1670
Pennington1651
Koochiching1624
Aitkin1562
Pope1480
Big Stone1280
Wilkin1254
Lac qui Parle1242
Lake1050
Mahnomen971
Norman970
Grant904
Marshall881
Clearwater840
Red Lake592
Traverse530
Lake of the Woods421
Kittson270
Cook110

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 108620

Reported Deaths: 1562
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18087283
Woodbury685392
Johnson566030
Black Hawk526596
Linn5114127
Dubuque476354
Scott410537
Story387418
Dallas331043
Pottawattamie299844
Sioux230414
Buena Vista220412
Marshall193736
Webster172814
Plymouth154426
Wapello147562
Clinton136926
Muscatine136158
Crawford132112
Cerro Gordo126323
Des Moines12409
Warren11596
Carroll10388
Jasper103034
Henry9865
Marion93510
Tama90737
Lee8819
Wright6951
Delaware6898
Dickinson6877
Boone6819
Mahaska63723
Bremer6239
Washington61111
Harrison5868
Jackson5393
Benton5211
Lyon5177
Louisa49415
Clay4884
Hamilton4513
Winneshiek4479
Winnebago44517
Hardin4315
Poweshiek43011
Kossuth4280
Floyd41811
Jones4133
Buchanan4033
Emmet40214
Cedar3935
Iowa3848
Franklin37518
Guthrie37215
Sac3694
Cherokee3682
Page3620
Clayton3533
Shelby3511
Butler3472
Fayette3462
Madison3442
Cass3402
Mills3391
Allamakee3358
Chickasaw3271
Clarke3163
Humboldt2993
Palo Alto2912
Hancock2864
Grundy2834
Calhoun2724
Howard2519
Osceola2480
Monroe24511
Mitchell2360
Monona2311
Taylor2252
Union2164
Pocahontas2112
Appanoose2063
Jefferson2031
Lucas1896
Fremont1821
Ida1792
Greene1740
Van Buren1622
Davis1584
Montgomery1585
Adair1431
Keokuk1421
Audubon1341
Worth1300
Decatur1290
Wayne1123
Ringgold822
Adams700
Unassigned50
Rochester
Overcast
32° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Overcast
36° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 28°
Albert Lea
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 29°
Austin
Broken Clouds
36° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Overcast
39° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 32°
Tracking more rain before the weekend, then snow returns
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events