back to article NASA's Human Spaceflight boss hits eject a week before SpaceX crew launch

Douglas Loverro, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) has quit after less than six months in the post and less than two weeks before SpaceX are due to launch humans to the ISS. Loverro's predecessor, William Gerstenmaier, lasted 14 years in the role before reassignment. Gerstenmaier went on …

  1. Pete 2

    Going while the going's good

    Loverro is head of NASA's manned spaceflight division. A part of the organisation that has been developing their latest Space Launch System since 2011. A project that will build and fly 3 manned missions for sure and more planned but not confirmed, after that. The rockets are cobbled together from old Shuttle left-overs and will still cost around $2 billion per shot.

    Compare that with Space-X. The company has gone from zero to manned operations in 10 years and expects its crewed Dragon flights to come in at $160 million a pop - due to the inherent reusability of their system. With a design capacity of 7 crew per launch (though I doubt it will ever cram that many in - at such a low cost, why bother?)

    If I was head of NASA's manned operations, I'd want out before other people in the organisation start making these sorts of comaprisons, too.

    Afterthought Perhaps a higher-up has already had that conversation with Loverro. Something along the lines of "Hey Doug, you do realise that if this Space-X flight succeeds, we're going to can your manned missions and just buy seats with them instead?"

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Going while the going's good

      Dragon isn't really comparable with the SLS though.

      Unfortunately most comparisons don't end up looking too good for SLS, other than sheer payload to LEO in a single shot. If we are interested in putting boots on the moon for anything other than a brief stay we need to be looking at multiple launches and in space/on lunar surface construction anyway.

      1. Timbo

        Re: Going while the going's good

        It had occured to me some time ago, that what NASA should have been building were both Earth and Moon orbiting space stations.

        Then cheap flights (using re-usable boosters) up to the Earth station could take place. An Earth-Moon transiting "shuttle" could then do the 250m mile journey back and forth between them and at Moon Station, a lunar lander could be stationed that heads to the surface and comes back again.

        One could then have a second Lunar lander as a rescue vehicle in case Lander #1 failed.

        All of this would be a lot cheaper than building one very large SLS, the majority of which is "lost" after launch...and hence this is a very costly exercise that only benefits the builder of the craft (as they will get repeat orders).

        Getting stuff into space is expensive if it is large (and hecne needs heavy lift rockets)...but once it is IN space, it is re-useable and cost-effective.

        1. Spacedinvader
          Stop

          Re: Going while the going's good

          "250m mile journey"

          The moon is a tad closer than that...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Going while the going's good

            "250m mile journey" has a decimal point so small on your screen that you can not see it.

            better written as "0.250m mile journey" to allow visualisation better... :)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Going while the going's good

          > a lunar lander could be stationed that heads to the surface and comes back again.

          Is a space elevator viable for use on the Moon? Or is that something to consider after constructing Moonbase v1.0?

          1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

            Re: Going while the going's good

            A space elevator would require a geosynchronous lunar orbit. From the lunar perspective the earth occupies a geosynchronous orbit so any elevator would need to ride a cable long enough to reach from the earth to the moon.

        3. Chris 239

          Re: Going while the going's good

          Um...it's a lot more than 250 metres, miles or even brontosauri between an LEO station and a moon orbit station.....

          (But I agree with your concept whole heartedly.)

        4. JCitizen Bronze badge
          Go

          Re: Going while the going's good

          @Timbo

          Have you been reading the Sally Ride report? She recommended the same thing, and even suggested it was the best method of hopping to Mars.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Going while the going's good

        "sheer payload to LEO in a single shot"

        A mere stepping stone to a lunar cargo "space truck" hauling whatever we want [people, stuff, etc.] to and from the moon on a regular schedule. Personally, I think this is the best model to use.

        It's that first part of the journey that's the most expensive, getting to LEO. Example, Apollo missions, where the 1st 2 stages lift the 3rd stage and LEM + Command Module into LEO, then 3rd stage pushes the LEM and Command Module into a Lunar trajectory, The vast majority of fuel [and rocket] was spent just getting to LEO.

        So it's "UNIX Principle" applied to rocketry: "do one thing, well" - use the LEO tool to get the "space truck" and its fuel+cargo into LEO, then re-use the truck a bunch of times hauling the cargo+people.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Going while the going's good

      Yeah, but he could have made that choice six months ago and not taken the job at all.

      It's not like the situation was unknown in November.

      And besides, his departure does not exonerate him from responsibility for what happened during his (short) tenure. If, Heaven forbid, there is an explosion on the launch pad, he'll still be questioned for the decisions he took.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Going while the going's good

      It's my understanding that the re-usability of 1st stage rockets doesn't DIRECTLY apply to manned missions except that the manned mission booster can be re-used afterwards for an un-manned launch. But yeah THAT level of re-usability makes it cost less overall since the entire booster cost isn't eaten up by that one launch.

      It seems to me that the more likely cost reducing factor is the NUMBER of launches, and a level of mass production of the same launch vehicle for all of them. It's sort of like the UNIX principle, i.e. "do one thing, well". So they build that ONE booster, hyperfocus on reliability, give it some nice bells/whistles wit the ability to land on its tail to be re-used, on a moving ship out at sea, and voila!

      But the 10 year time frame is actually quite a bit longer than the Mercury project, which (I think this is right) took less than 4 years from planning to an actual manned launch. But we were in a hurry, and Alan Shepherd was a test pilot.

      1. Greybearded old scrote

        Re: Going while the going's good

        The Redstone rocket already existed, it was for ballistic missiles. The Saturn V on the other hand had to be created from scratch.

        Of course, almost every POTUS since Ronnie has instructed NASA to go back to the moon/on to mars/build a shuttle replacement. And then failed to provide the same crazy percentage of GDP to do it with.

        It's possible that even the moon landings might have been cancelled, if that wouldn't have looked like p*ssing on the sainted JFK's grave.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Going while the going's good

          "It's possible that even the moon landings might have been cancelled, if that wouldn't have looked like p*ssing on the sainted JFK's grave"

          Or worse: loosing to the commies. I'm thinking one of those was far more important to someone like Nixon (or even Johnson...).

        2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

          Re: Going while the going's good

          What is this crazy percentage of GDP of which you speak?

          NASA consumed 2.2% of the Federal budget 1959-1972, of which the Mercury,Gemini and Apollo projects took 50%, so about 1.1% of the Federal budget, or $28 billion. When you consider that the F-22 Raptor project cost half as much as the full Apollo project, that makes the cost of running NASA look pretty reasonable and better value than you assumed.

          The total cost of building the US interstate highway system was $105.28 billion, or 376% as much as the full Apollo project. Was that an even crazier crazy percentage of GDP? - but of course you must think thats an even bigger waste of money because the US managed to win WW2 without it. So, I can safely assume that you've never, ever driven on an interstate highway. Because doing that would make you a hypocrite and maybe even an ignorant one.

          Source for the quoted costs: Apollo Program Cost: An Investment in Space Worth Retrying?

          https://christopherrcooper.com/blog/apollo-program-cost-return-investment/

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Going while the going's good

            At its peak Apollo took in the region of 4% of GDP, it currently stands at 0.5%. That's roughly 10 times in pub conversation accuracy. Using percentages (as it sounds bigger) the Apollo budget in terms of GDP was 1000% bigger than today.

            Actually - 1000?!?! Now that is crazy!

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Going while the going's good

        "It's my understanding that the re-usability of 1st stage rockets doesn't DIRECTLY apply to manned missions except that the manned mission booster can be re-used afterwards for an un-manned launch. But yeah THAT level of re-usability makes it cost less overall since the entire booster cost isn't eaten up by that one launch."

        My understanding is that SpaceX are intending many launches of each first stage. Since the number of manned launches is going to be a small fraction of total launches, making sure a brand new virgin stage one is ready for a manned flight isn't likely to be a chore so the reality is that manned launches are directly cheaper thanks to the re-use in the same way that any first launch of a new stage one is. Unless there is some significant extra expense in building to man-launch ratings compared to unmanned launches, which I don't think there is on the first stage.

        You're spot on with the "Unix-like" system though. We need bigger, better and more importantly, newer hardware in orbit. With the newer bigger launch vehicles coming online we should be looking at something with the legroom of Skylab, not the ISS. (I wonder if the ISS crews watch old film of the guys in Skylab flying around in all that space and get jealous?)

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    On the negative throught

    Maybe, but then you'd think he'd expose it if people were in-danger, he fears something is going to go wrong. Because of an issue that has been known about for ages but higher ups are ignoring. Maybe. Probably totally wrong but isn't that how the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Over O-Rings that were known to be poor but they were forced to go ahead anyway.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: On the negative throught

      Saying "I judged it necessary to fulfil our mission" in the leaked letter, covers a multitude of possibilities.

      It could be a QA / testing short-cut to allow a subby to meet a deadline.

      It could be agreeing to pay off a sexual harassment suit in order to keep someone key to the team in place.

      My money's on something non-technical. Whatever it was, it sounds like it's about to become public.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Oneman2Many

        Re: On the negative throught

        I doubt it, his reasoning for leaving is causing too many questions. If it was being caught with his pants down then the usual reason for leaving is to spend time with the family.

        My guess is whistle blowing.

        Expect him to pop up with one of the private agencies in the next couple of weeks.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hope this isn't another Morton-Thiokol moment

    Nobody wants to see a Space-X firework.

  4. Greybearded old scrote

    I wonder

    When I read 'choices earlier this year' my first thought was authorising that Boeing flight. Turns out that was December though.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: I wonder

      with everything else that is going on, I speculate that it could have been the choice to NOT shut down the program during the corona-scare. Personally I see that as the CORRECT choice (i.e. NOT to shut down).

      Another possibility might be to move forward with SpaceX before Boeing is ready with their competing system, so "all eggs in one basket" with SpaceX for the moment. But Baikonur is still an option... (and who knows, in the future, maybe India's space program). So better move forward, or be left behind.

      (icon for the amateur sleuthing)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        "But Baikonur is still an option... "

        Maybe that's it. Maybe he authorised the booking of another seat from the Russians despite the planed SpaceX launch as a contingency and someone higher up the food chain, maybe right at the very top, is upset at that so he's jumped before being pushed. The apex predator has history of sacking people who upset him.

  5. Joe Gurman

    The NASA Offce of Inspector General was involved

    Which leads to speculation that Mr. Loverro was offered the choice of resigning or being told by people with guns and badges to clear out his desk in 15 minutes, turning in his ID badge, and then being escorted to the front door of NASA HQ. Something to do with the Federal Acquisition Regulations, perhaps.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: The NASA Offce of Inspector General was involved

      OR... Trumpo said those immortal words "You're Fired (and not into space)"

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Vulch

    Did or didn't

    Elsewhere speculation is split between him having rejected proposals from Boeing for both Lunar Gateway resupply and the Lunar Lander and them leaning on people, or for having included the Blue Origin bid for the Lander and the Orange One getting upset because Bezos is so supportive of the White House occupant.

  8. VicMortimer
    Mushroom

    ABORT!!!!

    Cancel. The. Launch.

    Something like this screams "THIS SPACECRAFT IS GOING TO BLOW UP AND KILL PEOPLE!!!!"

    With Elon's recent decent into madness, I'd be afraid he'd even sabotage it personally.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: ABORT!!!!

      "With Elon's recent decent into madness, I'd be afraid he'd even sabotage it personally."

      I have mentioned the follow observation in a prior post...

      Hugo Drax

      Elon Musk

      Each has first and last names of 4 letters. First name has 2 vowels, the last name, 1.

      There are more parallels if you consider Fleming's book. In the book, Both have won lucrative government missile/rocket contracts. Drax plans to nuke London. In the film, Drax plans to re-colonise Earth, after using a bio weapon deadly to humans. Now, Musk plans on colonising Mars..., Earth is already tackling a pandemic virus to which as yet there is no cure...

      I'd get worried once Musk starts driving his ex-Bond submersible Lotus Esprit into work rather than a Tesla.

  9. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    What makes sense

    Unless it's something out of the blue, like boffing another boffin, selecting Bezos' Blue Origin over Boeing seems to be the sort of thing that would draw Trump's ire and Trump's ire is the explanation for most unexpected "resignations" in Washington.

  10. Astrohead

    Federal Acquisition Regulation violation

    Apparently he was guilty of a Federal Acquisition Regulation violation - namely talking to Boeing and trying to get them to reduce their bid so it fell in line with the other bids.

    Which is a massive no-no in the US (as it should be).

    Which seems like a dumb way to lose your job - break the law to *try* to help a company win (or be allowed to take part in) a contract - and that company* still screws up so badly they never even got a look in - even after you broke the law to help them.

    *Mind you - it's Boing (sic) we are talking about here - so no real surprise - and a huge relief to be honest.

    But a pretty stupid way to end your career.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Federal Acquisition Regulation violation

      I understand the requirements. If it's for saying "wow that's expensive, can ya not do anything about it." It would be a tad harsh. But if it's anything more in depth it could have broken lots of regs.

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    And don't forget to mark your calendars

    ...for the weekend too. Bransons Virgin Orbit is hoping to try a first launch by airdrop from a 747 on Saturday, weather permitting, as well as the 8:30pm SpaceX launch next Weds.

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