Brian Berger has apparently gotten an early look at the Aldridge Commission report, now scheduled to be publicly released Wednesday.
It has some encouraging things, but there are also some areas of concern.
It says that NASA should rely on the private sector for transportation to LEO, which is good, but it also excludes human transportation from that, which is an implicit go-ahead for the Crew Exploration Vehicle on an expensive expendable. I find this program almost as economically senseless as the Orbital Space Plane was, if envisioned as a Shuttle replacement (a role that many are urging for it), but apparently there’s too much political pressure to build such a thing to kill it off completely.
I think that NASA is setting itself up for embarrassment a decade from now when their vaunted “Crew Exploration Vehicle” ends up costing hundreds of millions of dollars per flight while there are regular space tourism flights to orbit costing a couple of orders of magnitude less. By giving NASA permission to ignore the private sector for passenger services, the commission is simply putting off further the day that it will become a reality.
The other concern is this:
The commission also identified 17 enabling technologies needed to accomplish the exploration goals. These include an affordable heavy lift capability, advanced power and propulsion, automated spacecraft rendezvous and docking capability, high bandwidth communications, closed loop life supports systems, better spacesuits for astronauts and others.
“Affordable heavy lift capability” is not a technology, and its certainly not an enabling one. At best, to the degree that it’s a technology at all, it’s an enhancing one. “Enabling” implies that we can’t do without it. I absolutely reject the notion that it is essential, and if we believe that it is, it will simply hold us back in schedule while we wait for it to appear, and we will miss a lot of opportunities for innovation.
This heavy-lift fetish is going to be (or at least should be) one of the major space policy debate issues, because it is a hingepoint for the direction of our near-term future.