SLS Worship

I’m kind of amazed at all the adoration in the replies. I think it’s a butt-ugly thing, myself, separately from my opinion about what a waste of money it is.

[Saturday-afternoon update]

Thoughts from Eric Berger.


[Update a while later]

This comment from Lee Hutchinson is interesting:

I volunteer as a docent at Space Center Houston and spend most of my time giving tours of the Saturn V on display there. There are a huge variety of questions that get asked by folks as they walk through the exhibit, but there’s one that comes up very consistently, whether the guest is from the US or from Europe or Asia or anywhere else: “How did something this big land after it was used?!”

When I explain that the Saturn Vs (and most rockets, in fact!) are single-use items and are destroyed as they’re used, people are gobsmacked.

It’s hard to overestimate the effect SpaceX’s launch-n-return routine has had on the general public’s perception of space travel. The default assumption by like 95% of folks who I interact with the Saturn V exhibit is that rocketry has always been reusable, and that it’s the only sane way to get to space. After all, how the hell could anyone think spending billions of dollars on these magnificent machines and then throwing them away after a single use is a good idea?

For all of SLS’ majesty and capability, it’s going to be a pretty significant PR challenge for NASA to explain its way out from under that one. SpaceX and reusability dominate the public’s mindshare.

It’s hard to see how SLS ultimately survives the advent of Starship.

53 thoughts on “SLS Worship”

  1. “I think it’s a butt-ugly thing, myself, separately from my opinion about what a waste of money it is.”

    Yes, on the waste of money, on the subject of aesthetic appeal not impressed. By contrast I think that Musk’s Starship is a winner; looks like a cover from Science Fiction Analog from maybe the 1950’s. Even the fact that it is made out of shiny steel is suggestive of that.

  2. If and when they get around to a launch attempt, I am going to warn all of our people to avoid being near a glass window. Not predicting a RUD, wouldn’t be surprised though.

    1. That’s probably the best result we could hope for as long as no one were hurt. Hopefully that would bring the entire sham to a screeching halt.

      Or probably not.

    2. I’ll watch it from Cocoa Beach, about 17.5 miles away. Even if it RUDs bigtime it’ll only be thunder. At as little as 1.15 miles Playalinda Beach might get a bit sporty, though, and will probably be closed.

    1. More like the human mutants worshipping a similar-looking artifact in Beneath the Planet of the Apes?

  3. Surprised it didn’t fall over, was damaged in the process of moving it, or an expensive mistake discovered requiring 6-9 months to fix.

  4. Heck, if Donald Trump were president, I’d bet he could negotiate the sky-high price for a launch of this thing down to 800 million dollars.

    That’s a joke — laugh.

    Try the veal, don’t forget to . . .

    1. Best way to drastically reduce launch costs of SLS is sell it for scrap and use the money to buy Starship launches.

  5. Ozymandias
    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

  6. It may be telling that, on NasaSpaceFlight’s Youtube channel, the public debut of Starship’s first complete stack on its pad last August pulled literally ten times as many viewers (2.6 million) as SLS’s rollout yesterday did (260,000).

      1. Most SLS worshippers (and many long-time NSF commenters) are employees of NASA and its contractors, plus some other agencies. These are the people whole bloviate SLS is “on the pad!” whereas Starship is “untested and far, far behind.” Usuall they ignore replies showing Starship on the pad and being cryotest, pryor to a WDR. The only reason Starship hasn’t launches is becuase Biden administration lackeys have held it up. One of the ways they show Starship behind is by showing all the things Starship has yet to do, all of which are things SLS will and never could do. All Starship has to do is make it to orbit with a payload. Everything else is gravy.

        1. Elon time is notorious, and while not as bad as NASA time it’s still very optimistic. Een though the FAA has not been falling all over itself to grant the launch license, SpaceX hasn’t and won’t be ready to fly for months yet. By the time they have a stack worthy of flight on the pad, the FAA will have it together too.

  7. The intro was sure to show you a Starship blowing up to let you know THEY are the real rocket scientists.

  8. “I think it’s a butt-ugly thing, myself, separately from my opinion about what a waste of money it is.”

    Agreed. This is literally the embodiment of rocket built by committee. Or maybe reminiscent of Jonny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”

  9. I’ve found that those too young to remember Apollo are attracted to SLS as a kind of echo of what they feel they missed. Even when they know that Starship and the principals it embodies is the way to go. A sad affliction, really….

    1. I’m just old enough to remember Apollo, and the only entity today that reminds me of that time is SpaceX.

    2. As a young boy and avid SF reader I remember the rest of the family huddled about the TV looking at the first steps on the Moon. I walked out on the patio and looked at the bright, bright Moon through the trees and sighed that the stars were so far, far away. Years later I had hopes the the Shuttle was at least Progress™ towards the stars…yes, a young man’s optimism.

      Where is my Jetsons’ flying car or Dick Tracy’s lunar cities? If anything is going to go in my lifespan I am sure that the SLS will not accomplish it.

  10. Saturn V was in its infancy, when canceled. When I was 19, the future seemed limitless and near. But the faithless bureaucrats smothered it. I hope to see them in Hell. And laugh.

    1. If you hope to see them in Hell, does this mean, for whatever reasons, you expect to be with them in Hell at some future time to get the satisfaction of seeing them there?

      I hope that you can see yourself in some better place than that in whatever shape or form existence may take beyond this life? That whatever regrets you have in life about the actions and decisions and omission you have taken in this life, that you would have a somewhat more optimistic take on the Lord’s grace and mercy?

      Without getting into the weeds of particular religious doctrines that you may or may not hold, and on whether there is any manner of transactional accounting on whether one is spared such a fate, not looking forward to the eternal torment of people we don’t get along with is traditionally regarded as part of the response to accepting being spared the same fate?

      There is a Pop Theology version in one of the Batman movies where Chris O’Donnell, as the circus acrobat out for revenge against those who took the lives of his family members, is about to take out his revenge on Tommy Lee Jones, who snarls, “see you in Hell!” Chris O’Donnell reacted with recognition as to what was meant by that, sparing the life of the Tommy Lee Jones character, which was maybe not such a great idea because the Tommy Lee Jones character showed no mercy and turned around and put the hurt on O’Donnell, but still, one gets the idea.

      Stay safe, in this life and whatever may take place next.

      1. The scheduled upgrades to the Starlink System will allow people in Heaven to control recon drones in Hell and observe the goings on down there.

        1. If there is an afterlife, and if it includes a Hell, I expect to find myself there one day soon for sufficient reasons. Although if there’s any justice in the Multiverse, I’ll wake up naked on Barsoom, cursing myself for not having studied swordplay. (Barsoomian guns are basically hand-held rocket launchers with a 300mi range and small nuclear warhead, so not much use for dueling.)

          1. Well, I was raised as a Catholic, and if I weren’t an atheist, I’d probably be a Marian Catholic, since I am the literal embodiment of the old joke: A father, watching his son being born, remarks, “All that effort to get out, and now he has to spend the rest of his life getting back in!” I once said, “There’s no accounting for the taste of women, and a good thing too, or I’d still be a virgin!” Maybe I could count on Mary seeing those same qualities in me to save me from the flames, except I don’t think I can resist seeing the faces of all the people who’ve hated me as I materialize among them…

            Jokes aside, I do understand it’s about salvation by the grace of God through the person of Jesus Christ, although the final stanza of the Quran has some appeal too: “Behold! I have come to punish everyone for what he has done, and for what he has failed to do!” There’s a lot of mean-spirited failure in the world needs punishing.

          2. Check out the Wikipedia article on John von Neumann


            With respect to Pascal’s Wager, I am just describing the bargain offered in the Lord’s Prayer of “forgive us our mean-spirited failures as we forgive those obnoxious persons who have mean spiritedly failed against us.”

            Christ surrounded himself with people who weren’t, (cough) morally pure. The only thing Christ said what would send you to Hell is to call your brother, “Thou fool!” The one parable of a guy ending up in Hell is that he didn’t look after a homeless dude with diabetic sores.

            Stay safe, bro.

  11. I spend a lot of time on NSF, almost all of it in the SpaceX section though. So I can’t vouch for the folks who spend almost all their time on the SLS page, but I think the way I feel about it is pretty common in the part of the site I frequent:

    SLS was a mistake from the beginning and should have been canceled, and it is vastly over budget. But it exists, and it is for better or worse integral to NASA’s plans for Artemis. So I hope it flies. And it IS kind of cool to see a new super-heavy lift booster rolling out to the pad like the Saturn V used to.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that Artemis is now equally dependent on Starship, so NASA now has a big stake in its success. That is a good thing, and after the third or fourth Artemis mission NASA can finally cancel SLS gracefully and get on with the future of human spaceflight.

    1. During my time there it was far worse than it is now (I was banned for life at the end of the DIRECT discussions for comments similar to the ones I sometimes post here). At that time, barely disguised government and contractor employees were allowed to use distinctly homophobic language to describe SpaceX fans (“fanboi” and “Smell the manlove!” are two examples from the era). Many of the same people are there, with language a bit toned down, but they still work hard to defend their employers. I still read the discussions. I have to say many of the people frequenting the SpaceX section are astonishingly ignorant of reality. I don’t know why.

  12. The only cool about the event was when it first pulled out of the VAB and getting a good scale for the building itself. The rest of it feels like it should be an embarrassment. I’ve been out of the NASA world for 10 years, and SLS began prior to that. My new employer has delivered 4 mega projects world-wide that started after I joined. These are projects over $10 billion a piece, and they are now producing. Unfortunately, the projected cash flow will be slightly less than the money burn rate of SLS flights, which tells me just how much a negative economic impact the SLS program is having.

    Imagine if every American donated $10 to NASA, it wouldn’t pay for one flight.

  13. Just looking at that thing and knowing what it cost makes me want to throw up. I’m not even a US taxpayer.

  14. So when do they start building the next one?

    Not being snarky, but asking a serious question? What’s in production pipeline and what’s the schedule?

    (And to be snarky– with all the different colors, it looks like something built by an 8-year old out of LEGO bricks.)

    1. This NSF article is almost a year old, but it says they’re aiming to produce one rocket a year.

      At that rate they should brag the the SLS is an artisinal launch system, hand-crafted by elves in a magic forest, using manufacturing and management techniques developed for the Spruce Goose.

    2. The next 3 are in fabrication. After which they will run out of Shuttle leftovers. Then they have to hope the orders placed for new engines and boosters has kept to schedule. NASA has ordered 18 SLS rockets for use between now and 2039. Most will fly Orion, but some are pieces and parts for Gateway, and maybe one or two will fly unmanned deep space missions. I’m not holding my breath. Although by 2039 (when I’ll be 89 years old) the existence of my breath is not guaranteed.

  15. Y’all just don’t see the magnificence here.

    SLS is a magnificent thing, and it’s already accomplished things that many thought impossible. For example, costing over costing over 4 billion per launch, and that’s without counting its over 10 billion in development costs.

    Seeing it roll out, even though I saw it only on video, was truly awe-inspiring (almost as awesome as the dud bottle rocket I saw last July 4th). I think SLS looks a bit like an enormous meat thermometer, almost big enough to be of use to test the temperature of the astronomical mountain of pork upon which it rests.

    So, stop being haters, and embrace the utterly magnificent porknificance of this epic day!

  16. Muk has said Starship will make its first orbital attempt within a month of getting and FAA launch license. While SLS fanboiz are having orgasms about seeing their rocket roll down a gravel road at half a mile and hour, Starship is stacked on its pad and undergoing it first full wet dress rehearsal. I wonder if theyll do a static fire before getting the FAA license?

  17. People see the SLS from different perspectives. As a taxpayer not involved with the program, I see it as an abomination. For those working on SLS, it’s a meal ticket. For politicians, SLS and Orion have achieved everything they wanted even if the first flight explodes. I keep reminding people that politicians use different metrics to measure the “success” of a government program. To them, what matters is the money spent in their districts, the number of jobs created there, the number of votes bought, and the campaign donations garnered from the companies and people whose livelihood depend on the program. Together, SLS and Orion has pumped over $30 billion dollars into congressional districts. Reportedly, some 70,000 people spread across all 50 states are working on SLS. To the politicians, that’s a successful program even if it never lives up to the expectations.

    1. Certainly, money can be spent, and votes purchased, I and know you already know that, but isn’t “Number of jobs created” one of those economic fallacies?

      1. Economic reality and political reality are very different things. To a politician, government contracts to their districts is seen as creating jobs, broken window theory notwithstanding.

    2. “Reportedly, some 70,000 people spread across all 50 states are working on SLS.”

      Actually, it’s 70,000 on Artemis. It’s “only” 28,000 of them who work on SLS specifically. Orion has a remarkably hefty list of contractor workforces.

      Compare that to the less than 10,000 employees who work on SpaceX. Which includes everything – all launch teams and facilities, Falcon 9/H, Dragons, Starship development, Starlink, etc.

  18. It’s worth remembering, it is literally the only job of a Senator to represent the interests of his State, and of the Representative to represent the interests of his District. Nothing else! The idea of the Union was sort of like Wikipedia: that 435 (nowadays) Congressmen, respresenting their states and districts, would add up to a vector sum looking out for the combined interests of the United States. Seems a little naive, I know, and it’s also worth remembering that in the early days, the sitting vice president murdered the secretary of the treasury, that the commanding general of the US Army was a secret agent of the Spanish Empire, and that he and the vice president conspired to commit treason. In all probability, the survival of the United States beyond its infancy was largely due to the rise of Napoleon Buonaparte.

    1. I bet they will fly out the first four (the ones with used STS engines and SRMs). That will include one (and only one) lunar landing, since Artemis IV is a dedicated Gateway flight. What happens next depends on Starship and the next 3 US elections.

  19. And now, despite the pompous pronunciamentos of the “experts” on NSF, it’s been announced OneWeb and Galileo have contracted with SpaceX to launch the rest of their constellations. It’s a fair bet spaceX will capture every former Russian international launch that can’t wait years for a ride. That’s 11 payloads that I know of, although ExoMars will be able to wait for Ariane 6 because it also has to wait for a new, non-Russian lander.


    Let me repeat that for clarity.


  20. (NAP)*-Due to an unfortunate signalling error, the ML2 with SLS took a wrong turn and headed for launch complex 32A rather than its intended destination at launch complex 32B. The error was not detected in time to correct the new autonomous steering controller as part of the ML2 upgrade, and some ensuing damage occurred to the SpaceX rocket facility that straddles the trawler-way at LC32A. Fortunately, the damage incurred to the mobile launch platform and trawler appear minor as it heads back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for inspection and repair. NASA is expected to announce an additional schedule slip due to the damaging unanticipated excursion. No word from SpaceX as yet as to how their operations will be affected. The faulty traffic signal is expected to be replaced with a STOP sign.

    *Not the Associated Press.

    1. (NAP) The editors wish to correct the typo in the previous story. That should have stated Launch Complex 39A/B not 32A/B as previously stated. The reporting staff regrets the error and will seek out more caffeinated beverages before writing any additional stories. -30-

  21. This really is over 30 years too late.

    For all his hype, Robert Zubrin has made the point that we could’ve had a heavy lift rocket back in 1989. Scrap the terribly designed Shuttle to a museum. And then such a rocket could’ve been used extensively for LEO, Lunar, Mars, and other missions, and by today it could be up for retirement as Starship comes online.

    Most people today don’t even know that rockets CAN land, and that ONLY SpaceX has been landing them, and doing it for the better part of a decade. Once they know that fact though, they can’t understand why other rockets don’t land as well.

    I don’t think the average guy/gal on the street is going to care that the SLS was a complete waste of money, an escalator to nowhere if you get “The Simpsons” reference.

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