Apollo 17 Geographer and Former US Senator 'Jack' SchmittHighly respected former Apollo 17 lunar scientist-astronaut and former US Senator Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt today took to the Lunar Listserv to articulate his primary concerns [text link] with the Obama White House space policy announced April 15, 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center provoking a response from Space Frontier Foundation founder Rick Tumlinson – but off the Lunar Listserv. Here is the text of Tumlinson’s response to Senator Schmitt, to wit:

“The new NASA policy regarding the end of the doomed Constellation program and its goal of returning humans to the Moon may seem devastating to the Lunar Science community at first. But there may be a way for those of us who support Lunar exploration and development to leverage off of the new plans – perhaps actually getting more science fast and cheaper and building the elements needed for a human return that may happen sooner than the fanciful dates put forward by Constellation propagandists, and lead to a sustainable presence.

For this discussion though I will focus only on the near term Lunar science aspects of what is possible.

Instead of fighting or complaining about the new direction, perhaps this group and other Pro-Moon orgs. etc. should try a little jiujitsu move and be pushing now for USG financial support for private sector lunar missions to carry NASA and university payloads. “Politically” speaking (wink – I mean non-partisan-internal maneuvering type politics) I think it would be a great way to leverage off of the new policies – if the White House/NASA leadership can be convinced that rather than waste existing work in Lunar sciences predicated on the dead end Constellation program funds and support be provided to these good works to help them obtain rides on new US private missions.

For example, David Gump and Red Whittaker of Carnagie Mellon have a good plan for such missions and sent an RFP out to this list. Bob Richards and his team, [Odyssey Moon], have a good plan, as do others – some of which have Nothing to do with the Google Lunar XPrize. I have been approached by three private teams to join them in developing missions to the Lunar surface (each completely different and all very innovative). One I know of comes in under $10 million to the surface (although it has very limited capability and is more of Lunar Sputnik proof of concept mission.)

An argument for this could be the same used for the rather odd Orion “emergency escape capsule” concession recently granted. (It was clearly not needed given Boeing/Bigelow are developing capsules, SpaceX has a capsule etc. and was designed purely to slice off and neutralize a potential jobs/money constituency). By offering a fund for such missions and science programs on the Moon (heck, maybe throw in NEOs and widen your support base) proponents on the inside could argue elements of constituencies like JSC can be partially pacified.

An amount of funding that would be trivial compared to old style all government missions would yield an ongoing series of Lunar missions based on commercial flights to LEO/GEO, and NASA/commercial LEO/GEO to LS technologies. I understand that one of the commercial plans is offering lunar surface access of 100kg or more per mission at a price of roughly $15 million. That means for the cost of one LRO (around $150m+) Lunar scientists could get TEN missions on the surface! Even if you cut that in half it is a lot of missions. And they are repeatable and some can include rovers etc.

Another argument to the powers that be for this approach is that if they are trying to catalyze a commercial space industry in the Near Frontier (my term for the sphere around the Earth so far visited by humans/government explorers) these missions will provide additional markets.

Thus the science community gets access to the Moon, and private groups get funding to create/catalyze commercial transport systems to the Lunar surface (I use “private” on purpose as opposed to commercial, as some of these are university/commercial partnerships). I haven’t even mentioned orbital opportunities, but you can project from the surface numbers that they could be many and relatively (in Marshall-speak terms) Cheap.

If even a subset of this group could coalesce around advocacy of this approach rather than being upset about the changes, be proactive rather than whining and trying to fight the future…a lot of good science could be done in the coming years – perhaps much more than would have happened as Constellation ate more and more of your budgets before collapsing.

There will need to be white papers, numbers etc. presented to get this done, and it needs to happen fast. As I am not at the level of credentials as many on this list regarding White Papers etc., I am going to do and OpEd on this idea as my contribution … (and others can join in …)

As the esteemed late Dr. Tom Rogers said to me regarding what became ISS (after the Space Frontier Foundation and our allies lost a bid to kill it by one vote in the [House] – we thought it might be going over budget and a potential dead end… lol) … and led to a concept of using the government’s funding power to drive a new LEO based space industry called Alpha Town I presented in testimony to the House Space Sub-Committee in 1995: ‘Let me skip the first fifty thousand words and tell you this Rick, if you think the space station is a lemon, and we’re stuck with it, go figure out how to make some lemonade!'”

Schmitt Complains, Tumlinson Responds