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« What The MSM Doesn't Want You To Read | Main | The New New Deal »

"Apollo 2.0"

Henry Vanderbilt isn't very happy with NASA's exploration plans:

This Apollo redux has the same fatal flaw as Apollo: The specialized throwaway systems invented to get (back) to the Moon ASAP were (will be) far too labor-intensive at far too low a max flight rate to allow affordable followup. The new ships are not only based in significant part on existing Shuttle components and facilities, but they are to be operated in significant part by the existing Shuttle organization. IE, tens of thousands of people narrowly specialized in various aspects of flying a handful of astronauts on a handful of missions a year - at, by the time all this fixed overhead is added up, billions of dollars a mission.

Like Apollo, NASA's new ESAS plan has built into it the seeds of its shutdown by some future Congress, once the warm glow of the first few daring missions has once again faded...

...Once what's come out unofficially so far becomes official, we will have no choice but to decline further support for new NASA exploration funding, and if as seems likely we can't persuade our fellow SEA members to join us, we will have to regretfully resign.

Sadly, I find nothing at all here with which I can disagree.

[Update a few minutes later]

Aviation Week also says (correctly) that it's Apollo redux, and is skeptical about its political prospects.

...basically using a replay of the Apollo approach of the 1960s, with updated electronics.

And here's another problem:

Rewriting the exploration-hardware development plans drafted under his predecessor, Griffin will exert tighter control over hardware design, leaving much less to the imagination of the contractors and perhaps building the new vehicles in NASA facilities.

Shades of X-38...

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 19, 2005 04:59 AM
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Tracked: September 19, 2005 02:10 PM

Griffin wanting tighter central control over exploration hardware design, oddly enough, doesn't look like a problem to us. This we see as essentially trying to recreate the old Redstone Arsenal approach, where Wernher & Co designed the rockets and contractors built what they were told.

It worked better than what NASA has done since, nominally have the contractors do design yet keep an entire NASA design establishment constantly looking over their shoulders and joggling their elbows. An arsenal approach would eliminate much of the duplication and in theory at least could make for a more efficient integrated operation. There's plenty of precedent for effective government arsenal engineering development organizations; NASA might in fact be better off going back to that model.

Of course, that leaves the question, can Mike Griffin fill Wernher von Braun's rather large shoes? We'd think the test a more realistic one if Griffin were to try a more advanced approach (like, say, orbital assembly of missions leading to reusable deep-space vehicles) rather than merely recreating the general system von Braun already made work forty years ago.

Henry Vanderbilt
Executive Director,
Space Access Society

Posted by henry vanderbilt at September 19, 2005 10:30 AM

Hell we can just take it straight from the horses mouth:

"Think of it as Apollo on steroids," Griffin said. "It's a significant advancement over Apollo. Much of it looks the same, but that's because the physics of atmospheric entry haven't changed recently," he said. "...We really proved once again how much of it all the Apollo guys got right."

Posted by Josh Reiter at September 19, 2005 11:18 AM

It's Apollo Redux, but unfortunately it's with Apollo's costs as well.

Looking for bright spots, this scheme may open opportunities in the future for other launch providers, or for companies providing cheaper transfer of bulk cargo to HEO or beyond (reusable solar-electric tugs, anyone?), to save NASA's bacon when the budgets get tighter.

But I'm probably being too optimistic.

Posted by Paul Dietz at September 19, 2005 01:19 PM

Wow. Just shy of fifty years between the first moon landings and the projected new series. Just to give some further perspective, I wasn't alive when the LAST man lifted his foot from the moon, and I'm pushing thirty.

I find this Appollo redux effort to be disappointing, but entirely expected. NASA doesn't have a mission; it has constituencies of bureaucrats and contractors to satisfy, and I'm sure pressure is being exerted from all quarters. The mission architecture reflects this. Reconfigured Shuttle hardware keeps the current production teams busy, and thus keeps their political representatives happy.

But thirteen years? At that rate, NASA may well get back to the moon, but I'd take bets on whether or not they'll beat other organizations to the punch. SpaceX's Falcon IX, if it can be made to fly, could launch a serious moon effort on its own (presuming some on-orbit assembly, ec.). In thirteen years I'll be in my early forties. I'd be deeply surprised if no one else makes a moon effort before then. Indeed, I think someone needs to write Robert Zubrin and ask him to drop his longstanding objections to on-orbit assembly and redesign the Mars Direct program to be launchable in 25 tonne chunks. Mars could be done in the same timeframe that NASA wants to redo the moon, and be done for a fraction of the cost.

Posted by Peter at September 20, 2005 02:50 AM

I haven't talked to him on the subject recently, but my impression is that Bob Zubrin is about as likely to give up on a heavy lifter and go for orbital assembly of Mars expeditions as the new Pope is to take up Unitarianism. Bob has been, well, closely focussed on a new expendable heavy lifter for as long as I've known him.

That aside, when the first new NASA expedition finally lands on the Moon, what's the first message they're likely to get? "This is the Bigelow concierge. Would you like valet parking for that?"

Henry Vanderbilt

Posted by henry vanderbilt at September 20, 2005 11:51 AM

3 steps forward, and 2 steps back!
Nasa is crasy but I don't think they have any intention the go maybe hogland is right about what is out there,or he is a moonbat.

Posted by christopher coulter at September 25, 2005 11:03 AM

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