A History Of Ares

You know, I can think of very few people in whose opinions I have less interest right now, with the possible exception of Mike Griffin, than Scott Horowitz. The sad thing is, he probably actually believes this:

To help address the safety and reliability issues, SAIC was commissioned to evaluate the potential hazards of the first stage solid and the overall reliability of the vehicle. The SAIC study (SAICNY05-04-1F) showed that a worst-case scenario of a catastrophic case burst of the first stage (extremely unlikely) would result in a maximum overpressure at the crew capsule of approzimately 1 psi. This overpressure is well within the design characteristics of the capsule. SAIC also conducted an initial Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) evaluation of the reliability of the launch vehicle and estimated a launch vehicle failure rate (LOV) of 1 in 483 and a loss of crew rate (LOC) of 1 in 3,145 at the mean of the estimated uncertainty distribution. Recent NASA PRA estimates for the current configuration predict a LOC of approximately 1 in 2,500. This compares to the LOC for Shuttle of 1 in 88.

“1 in 3,145″?

Really? Not “1 in 3,144″ or “1 in 3,146″? And did they include all of the TBD gimcrackery that was going to be incorporated to keep the vehicle from shaking itself and Orion apart?

And how many centuries did he expect this vehicle, that would cost billions of dollars each flight, to fly in order to determine whether the genius rocket scientists at SAIC got the numbers right?

It would have a little more credibility if he had at least said one in three thousand (though not a lot), and not made the elementary first-year physics student’s mistake of overprecision.

But you don’t get safety by doing PRAs. If we learned anything from the Shuttle, we sure as hell should have learned that. You get safety from flying. A lot.

But the other thing that is disturbing are the requirements:

Do not compromise crew safety for cost, performance, or schedule

This requirement, taken to its logical conclusion, would keep us on the planet forever. Don’t compromise it for cost? OK, then it becomes unaffordable because we can’t compromise “safety.” Don’t compromise for performance? OK, then the job doesn’t get done. Don’t compromise for schedule? So when do we fly?

This was a system of the astronauts, by the astronauts, for the astronauts. Which says to me, we need a different kind of astronaut, one who takes their job, and its purpose, seriously.

Life, and engineering are compromises. If safety becomes the ultimate value, then you might as well stay in bed (assuming that someone doesn’t decide to pump poison into your bedroom, or a meteroid doesn’t come crashing through the roof). And the irony, of course (again, as we should have learned from the Shuttle) is that you don’t get safety by spending billions in the attempt. The only way to get some level of safety is to do something a lot, make mistakes, and learn from them. In fact, if Shuttle were still a fully-operational program, with new parts being produced, and a reasonable flight rate, it would be safer now than at any time in its history, because we learned a lot from Challenger and Columbia. But it’s not, and we can’t afford to fly it enough to make it truly safe.

The lesson here is that if you want safety, don’t avoid reusables — reuse them, a lot. But the nonsensical lesson that many (including the CAIB) seemed to take away from Columbia, in addition to unrealistic safety requirements, is that we should return to throwing away the vehicle so that each flight is a first flight, and then put a heavy, expensive escape system on it when it fails anyway.

People with such an attitude are fundamentally unserious about space. The unwillingness to risk the lives of astronauts says that what we are trying to accomplish in space is unimportant. As long as that is the case, it will remain unaffordable, and we will accomplish little. Today’s announcement is, I hope a first step toward a more sane, and realistic approach to human spaceflight.

First Look

Jeff Foust (who also has a summary of the current political state of play over at The Space Review today) has some initial budget numbers:

That building block approach includes heavy-lift launch vehicle R&D, “vigorous” technology development work in areas like automated rendezvous and docking and propellant transfer, and a “steady stream of precursor robotic exploration missions”.

For those who foolishly think that this new direction is the “end of human spaceflight” or even “the end of human spaceflight beyond LEO,” what do they think that those precursors are for? Not to mention the tech development work?

I guess, to them, that if you’re not repeating the folly of Apollo, you’re not doing “real” human spaceflight.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s the OMB document (doesn’t look like a permalink, though):

NASA’s Constellation program – based largely on existing technologies – was based on a vision of returning astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies. Using a broad range of criteria an independent review panel determined that even if fully funded, NASA’s program to repeat many of the achievements of the Apollo era, 50 years later, was the least attractive approach to space exploration as compared to potential alternatives. Furthermore, NASA’s attempts to pursue its moon goals, while inadequate to that task, had drawn funding away from other NASA programs, including robotic space exploration, science, and Earth observations. The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration.

Killing off a dead end and reinvesting in something that actually has a hope of achieving the goals. Gosh, what a concept.

One thing that’s not clear yet, absent more perusal. When they say cancel Constellation, does that include Orion? Not that I’d cry, but I’m curious. Orion’s requirements, after all, are integral with the Constellation architecture, which is clearly dead now, so the program will need some rethinking regardless.

And is this just the opening position in a budget battle with Congress, with it and perhaps some kind of heavy lifter as bargaining chips?

[Update a few minutes later]

Bobby Block has more analysis over at The Write Stuff:

The flagship enterprise will be developing on-orbit refueling and automated approaches and docking technologies.

…Lots of parallels are being drawn with how the federal government used mail contracts to develop the aviation industry.

So far, I’m liking pretty much everything I’m seeing.

[Update mid morning PST]

Clark Lindsey has some notes from the announcement. This is a huge breath of fresh air, at least so far. Which is not to say it’s perfect, but it can be a long way from that and still a huge improvement over the previous plans.

[Update a couple minutes later]

A summary from George Herbert, over at the Arocket list:

Well, it’s out. As predicted, wth some additional benefits.

Constellation outright cancelled, message from the top on down.

$2.5 B of the new $6 B funding over 5 years (beyond flat) is in Earth Observation science missions. Major (claimed) focus on technologies for affordable long term human exploration of the solar system, including orbital demonstrations of propellant tank farm and orbital propellant transfers, automated rendezvous and docking (presumably, of human-sized vehicles, and vehicles far from earth), closed loop ECLSS, a new first stage booster engine (presumably big enough for a HLV), I think I saw mention of deep space propulsion. [all of the things that Mike Griffin starved to feed Apollo on Steroids — rs]

They’re explicitly stepping away from a roadmap, and onto the technology base that most of us long term experienced enthusiasts have been pushing for.

If I had to summarize my first impressions, especially of Bolden’s statement –

“We were doing Flags and Footprints. The President and I don’t want to do that. We want to colonize space for real. We’re going to do the foundations for that now.”

I assume that last is a summary of Bolden’s statement, not a quote.

Whether or not they follow through, this is (IMNSHO) the most visionary space policy that the nation has ever had. Now to see how badly Congress screws it up.

[Another update]

The thing that amazes me is that when I read comments from those defending Ares, and Constellation, and NASA, at places like Space Politics and The Write Stuff, is that they are entirely devoid of facts and logic. These people live in some bizarre alternate reality in which NASA didn’t kill fourteen astronauts at the cost of hundred of billions of dollars, Lockheed Martin has ever sent someone into space, SpaceX has achieved nothing, etc. In Senator Shelby’s case, I can understand that he is completely motivated to lie or delude himself about such things by what he perceives to be his political interest, but I can’t figure out what drives the irrationality of others with no dog in the fight except apparent blind NASA worship.

[Update a few minutes later]

I have some more thoughts on Ares, astronauts and safety.

And if you missed my post on Obama’s conservative (even if inadvertent) space policy, it’s here.

[Update a few minutes later]

If your only template for a “successful” human spaceflight program is Apollo (big rocket, firm deadline, big bucks, a few NASA astronauts walking on some planet), then I can see why you’d be disappointed when instead the program is for enabling lots of destinations, by lots of people, with no specific deadline or destination. These are the same people who would apparently say that Lewis and Clark was “real exploration of the west,” and all those miners and trappers wandering around were just hobbyists. And that the government should have built its own heavy-lift railroad instead of giving land grants.

[Afternoon update]

Buzz likes it. No one would know the folly of repeating Apollo better than him.

[Update a while later]

More thoughts from Michael Mealing.

[Update a few minutes later]

With regard to the knee-jerk irrational complaints from many, this reminds me very much of six years ago, when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced. Many “progressive” and pro-space bloggers opposed it, even though they admitted to liking the idea. Why? Because it was proposed by the BusHitler, so there was obviously a catch, and he was up to no good. I’m seeing a lot of the same kind of partisan nonsense in opposition to this. This is the most truly visionary space policy ever (and that includes the Apollo speech), yet a lot of people are cavilling about it because it was proposed by Barack Obama. This is stupid.


Nice catch by Aram Bakshian, Jr.:

We are reminded by Mr. Young that one of Mr. Edwards’s early boosters was the late Ted Kennedy, who “saw almost unlimited potential in this young, energetic, well-spoken, good-looking Southerner.” In a conversation with Mr. Young, Mr. Kennedy waxed sentimental about Washington in the early 1960s: “It used to be civilized. The media was on our side. We’d get our work done by one o’clock and by two we were at the White House chasing women. We got the job done, and the reporters focused on the issues. . . . It was civilized.” We now know that Mr. Edwards’s idea of civilization was much the same as Kennedy’s.

No other comment necessary, I think. Ah, for the good old days when the “media was on their side.”

Oh, wait! Maybe he meant the good old days in 2008.

Why Go Out To Eat?

Some thoughts.

Looking back, I used to go out primarily for entertainment value. I enjoyed being in a fancy space, developing a rapport with the wait staff, people watching, and dressing up for the occasion.


I hate that. It has a very low entertainment/annoyance ratio to me (I hate getting dressed up, for one thing).

I don’t go out to eat, generally, unless there is some compelling reason, because I don’t intrinsically enjoy it. I think that restaurants are intrinsically overpriced (not relative to their costs of doing business, but relative to their value to me compared to cooking at home), I don’t know for sure what’s in the food, and can’t get it exactly the way I like it, the portions are too large, particularly on the carbs (again, for economic reasons), and I really don’t enjoy other people serving or waiting on me, particularly when a tip is expected. I really prefer to do it myself (I have the same annoyance with luggage in hotels).

To me the only reasons to go out to eat are a) to eat something that I couldn’t make myself due to lack of time or ingredients (which is why I almost never go to a steak house), b) as a social occasion with others or c) I’m travelling away from home and have no other choice. But it’s not something about which I ever think, “Boy, I’d sure like to go out to eat in some fancy restaurant.”

[Update a few minutes later]

The very first commenter over at Al Dente has another big reason I don’t like going out:

Too many restaurant owners think that noise = fun, and they actively try to keep the noise level over 90 db. I hate big chain restaurants with concrete walls and floors that have conversations bouncing and echoing off them until they turn into a cacophonous din. I have gotten up with my wife and left restaurants before ordering because the noise was too oppressive. And just for the record, some music enhances the meal (Frank & Dino at an Italian place, etc.), and some music ruins it (I don’t want to have to shout to my dining companions to be heard over the latest blaring hip hop hit). The nadir had to be when I took my wife to a little bar/restaurant in Dallas for an after theater drink, and we were seated beneath a speaker that was blaring some rap song that sounded like a Tourette’s patient giving X-rated how-to instructions to an apprentice rapist.

Particularly when I’m out with friends, trying to have a conversation, I like to be able to hear them and talk to them without shouting. Planet Hollywood? Please. There is absolutely nothing about a place like that to appeal to me, and if I’m with other people who want to go, I do my best to dissuade.

I guess this gets into a broader issue. I am not a “party” person. Which is not to say that I’m not social, or that I don’t enjoy the company of others. I enjoy nothing better than getting together with a bunch of interesting people, but the point of getting together is to discuss interesting things, not to be pummelled with mindless noise shoulder-to-shoulder with a throng. This was true for me even in college. I’ve always hated that. But I have enough problems with going out to eat without having to be assaulted with noise. I don’t understand the attitude that “more volume” equals “more fun.” But apparently for many people, it is, or the places wouldn’t inflict on them what is to me a punishment.

Dramatic Changes Ahead

I have more thoughts on anniversaries, and the new space policy, over at PJM.

[Update a few minutes later]

I would make one other point. If we’ve lost the moon, it happened five years ago when Mike Griffin came out with the ESAS results. Constellation was never going to get us back to the moon, in any affordable or sustainable way. As I noted in the previous post, the new policy is much more in keeping with the recommendations of the Aldridge Commission than Mike Griffin’s plans ever were.

[Update a few minutes later]

Jeff Foust says that it’s silly season in space policy.

As he says, we could wait until Monday to see what the policy actually is before fulminating about it, but where’s the fun in that?

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!