Mike Griffin made a speech this morning at the Space Transportation Association breakfast (something he has been doing annually since he became administrator).
Jeff Foust has some notes from it. I just read it.
The problem, as always, is that NASA never provides any data to support his assertions — we must simply take his word for it. For instance, when he says:
Beyond the costs involved, our probabilistic risk assessment for loss of crew on Ares 1 showed it to be twice as safe – I repeat, twice as safe – as a human-rated EELV-derived vehicle. This figure of merit was a significant factor in our decision to go with the Shuttle-derived Ares 1, yet is ignored by almost everyone suggesting that we make a change. I cannot responsibly ignore it, for reasons having nothing to do with money. But if to someone else it is just about the money, then the cost of unreliability must be considered. Incurring even one additional accident through the use of a less-reliable system wipes out all of the savings of the hypothetically cheaper vehicle. Solely from a fiscal perspective, we should be willing to pay a premium for safety, if necessary.
Who can argue with that? But if it’s true, release the PRA, with its assumptions. Show us how and why it’s “twice as safe.”
There is no discussion, of course, of how this satisfies the Aldridge Commission requirements to be “affordable and sustainable,” and to contribute to national security and promote private enterprise. That’s because it doesn’t.
And this is what I find most annoying about his defense, because it’s a theme that recurs often with him:
But no matter what decisions we make, we at NASA cannot possibly make everyone happy. Most decisions will produce an unhappy outcome for someone. That is not by itself a symptom of incompetence, bad intentions, or a lack of integrity on our part, as some have contended. Allocation of public funds to any particular alternative inevitably leaves aggrieved parties who will not receive those funds.
There is an implicit assumption here that all his critics are craven, and not acting in good faith — that their only reason for criticism is because they have a pecuniary interest in a different solution. I’ve never accused him of incompetence, bad intentions or a lack of integrity — I simply think that he’s mistaken. But he is implicitly accusing me, and every other person who thinks that there are better solutions, of the latter, when he says that we’re just in it for the money. And he does it often enough that one does have to wonder if there is some psychological projection going on.
Newsflash, Mike. I’m not likely to financially benefit from any choice that NASA makes (at least no more likely than I would be with the current architecture). I’ll either get consulting work from a NASA contractor or NASA itself (should I need it) or not, regardless of the vehicle design. I in fact don’t even offer any specific alternative with regard to launch vehicles, because I think that issue is beside the point of the much broader one — how to make it affordable for many people to go beyond earth orbit, and not just a few NASA astronauts. And I argue for that not because I think I’ll get rich if he chooses an alternative, but because I think that the nation will.
I want to see a different approach because I care about our future in space, and I find the current one a waste of taxpayers’ money. That doesn’t mean that I think that Dr. Griffin doesn’t care about our space future, or the taxpayers’ dollars — clearly he is not indifferent to either. But we fundamentally disagree about the best means to achieve the goal. And this attitude of his that anyone who disagrees with him is doing it for the money is just one more reason that I won’t miss him.
[Early evening update]
Clark Lindsey has further thoughts.
As he notes, the crux of the issue is whether or not we need a heavy lifter. Again, people look to the success of Apollo, and assume that it was successful because we did it in a single launch. And it was. But Apollo had different goals than we do (or at least we should) now. Apollo was a race, and it had unlimited funds, and a limited goal — to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth before the Soviets could do so. Now, budgets are tight, and the goal is to build a sustainable infrastructure.
Any new rethinking of NASA plans have to be held up to the template laid out by the Aldridge Commission, something that the Sixty-Day Study clearly never did. And we have to do that fundamental trade that Mike Griffin was unwilling to do. Do we want to get economies of scale through activity levels, or through vehicle size? The former is much more likely to give us true economy, and a lot more bang for the buck, than the latter. Apollo on Steroids isn’t even close to the right approach.
[Update a few minutes later]
With regard to the issue of whether or not Ares is safer than Atlas (and ignoring the fact that, as Clark points out obliquely, a paper rocket is always safer than a real one), why the emphasis on ascent safety? As Jon Goff noted a while back (link not handy), most of the risk to crew in a lunar mission happens after they get into orbit, so focusing on launch safety isn’t necessarily a smart use of funds if you’re worried about safety overall.
And you know what else? Despite what Mike said this morning, I’ll bet they didn’t even include costs of unreliability in their overall trade, because the flight rate is so low, and the assumed reliability is so high for such a low rate, that the expected value of mission loss is probably in the noise. He could prove me wrong, though, by just releasing the data…