In light of our mandate to “…ensure the Nation is pursuing the best trajectory for the future of human space flight—one that is safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable…,” what do the defenders of Constellation think is “innovative” about it?
[Monday morning update]
Clark Lindsey has a summary of Augustine results to date, and some thoughts on their validity, particularly on the Ride subcommittee, which which I agree. They are comparing apples to eggs when they use a standard cost-plus industry analysis of Falcon 9 or a manned Atlas.
[Update mid morning]
John Kelly has some thoughts on what the Augustine options will include:
Yet another bid to replace the space shuttles appears doomed to cancellation.
This happens every time America tries to replace the shuttles. Past tries fell short technically, or blew the budget, or both. Ares is technically feasible. It’s closer to budget than earlier candidates. Still, it’s on political life support.
Panel members are frustrated because changing course means tossing aside time and money invested so far. They say there must be an overwhelming reason to kill it. Then, they keep citing a compelling reason: NASA’s budget can’t field the system on time. Not even close. Orion might not fly with people until 2017 at best. A moon landing? 2028.
Moreover, those dates are only possible if the shuttle is retired in 2010 and the station is forsaken in 2016. Sticking with Ares means a longer — and growing — space flight gap.
The panel is leaning toward a combination of launch systems, maybe including Ares V. The Ares I crew launcher is unlikely to be listed as an option that meets Obama’s goals.
And of course, Ares V makes no economic sense if there’s no Ares I, because much of the Ares I development costs were supposed to be a “down payment” on Ares V and, sans Ares I, it will have to be charged the full development costs on its own, making its cost even more insane. By the time the decision is made to go ahead with its very expensive development, it’s quite likely that private activities will have shown the way to becoming spacefaring, sans heavy lifter.
The reason that every attempt to replace Shuttle has failed is because the very notion of replacing Shuttle is flawed, as I pointed out five years ago in The Path Not Taken:
The chief problem with the Bush vision for NASA is not its technical approach, but its programmatic approach—or, at an even deeper level, its fundamental philosophy. This is not simply a Bush problem, but a NASA problem: When government takes an approach, it is an approach, not a variety of approaches. Proposals are invited, the potential contractors study and compete, the government evaluates, but ultimately, a single solution is chosen with a contractor to build it. There has been some talk of a “fly-off” for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, in which two competing designs will actually fly to determine which is the best. But in the end, there will still be only one. Likewise, if we decide to build a powerful new rocket, there will almost certainly be only one, since it will be enough of a challenge to get the funds for that one, let alone two.
Biologists teach us that monocultures are fragile. They are subject to catastrophic failure (think of the Irish potato famine). This is just as true with technological monocultures, and we’ve seen it twice now in the last two decades: after each shuttle accident, the U.S. manned spaceflight program was stalled for years. Without Russian assistance, we cannot presently reach our (one and only) space station, because our (one and only) way of getting to it has been shut down since the Columbia accident.
Even ignoring the fact that there will never be another Shuttle in the sense of a vehicle that meets all of its requirements, we have to stop thinking in terms of closing the dreaded “gap” with a NASA-developed vehicle with no redundancy. Every attempt to do so will suffer the same failure as the Shuttle itself. If it is to have a robust program, and one that is more than just a jobs program, NASA simply must learn to rely on the private sector for its human transportation at least to LEO, if not beyond, just as it does for unmanned payloads. This should be a prime lesson of the history of the past forty years since Apollo XI.