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« Death Of A Science Teacher | Main | How Far We've Come »

Wrong Lessons Learned

In light of the latest assembly mission to the ISS, Clark Lindsey points out one of the many absurdities with the ESAS approach:

I've noted before that I find it odd that a fundamental goal of the Constellation project design is to minimize in-space assembly. This is a task in which NASA has actually become quite good. If NASA went to the next stage and combined its in-space operations capabilities with fuel depots and a space tug, it would have the tools and skill sets to do some amazing stuff, especially if it worked in close cooperation with private ventures like Bigelow.

Unfortunately, as with building Ares 1/5 instead of using existing (e.g. EELV) or nearly ready vehicles (e.g. Falcon 9, K-1), the aim seems to be to time warp back to 1972 and continue on to Apollo II, ignoring much of what was learned and developed subsequently.

Indeed.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 06:01 AM
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I've noted before that I find it odd that a fundamental goal of the Constellation project design is to minimize in-space assembly. This is a task in which NASA has actually become quite good.

Have they?

They seem to have been proficient at the work they've needed to do on the ISS and they've not lost anybody on a space walk yet. But that's not to say they're good at it.

Ideological issues aside, is anybody clear on the reasons for these decisions. I understand that for each assembly mission they'll have run a lot of tank based practise runs and simulations - the training alone must be pretty costly.

In situ construction is something people need to get good at, but are NASA really there now?

Posted by Dave at June 13, 2007 10:06 AM

In situ construction is something people need to get good at, but are NASA really there now?

They're a lot better at it than they are at developing new launch systems, which they haven't done in over three decades, and all recent attempts at which have been disasters.

Of course people must be trained for specific missions. That doesn't mean they aren't good at the general procedures of assembly and orbital operations. Certainly it could be improved, but it's good enough to use it as a basis for moving forward. Instead, NASA is designing an overpriced transportation architecture that doesn't require it at all.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 10:20 AM

In violent agreement with Rand here. NASA has become quite good at on orbit assembly as they have been doing it for almost a decade now and have built up a cadre of trained technologists across the knowledge field. They are going to throw this all away just like they did the rocket scientists at MSFC in the 70's. We have seen the result of that debacle playing out every day.

I was with John Grunsfeld recently and was very surprised to hear that on the last HST mission, when they were replacing a subsystem never meant to be replaced on orbit, that he was able to remove 64 screws from a box in less than 32 minutes. That was very impressive.

The EVA branch at JSC has developed a wide range of tools to be used by crewpersons on orbit doing real work. I am incredibly encouraged by this and what can be done in the future.


Posted by Dennis Ray Wingo at June 13, 2007 10:46 AM

As I said, they're certainly proficient, but I would be interested in hearing what insiders say about this. Its certainly something that's needed.

Rand: No comentary on the EADS annoucement yet?

You might even get me to eat some words over that one old boy.

Posted by Daveon at June 13, 2007 11:32 AM

No comentary on the EADS annoucement yet?

I've busy, and haven't looked at it in any detail. Given my current level of ignorance about it, I'll just say that I'll be surprised if they actually go forward with it, let along make it a success. And I don't say that because it's European. I'd say the same thing if Boeing or Lockheed Martin were to announce that they're getting into that business. It doesn't fit either their business model or their shareholders' taste for risk.

Just out of curiosity, what words would you be eating?

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 11:38 AM

Well, they're the experts at it and yet in their future architectures they are choosing to minimize it. Doesn't that indicate that although they know how to do it, they think that it should be minimized?

In other words, why think that you are still smarter than they are at something that you admit that they are good at?

Posted by Blake Thomas at June 13, 2007 12:35 PM

Well, they're the experts at it and yet in their future architectures they are choosing to minimize it. Doesn't that indicate that although they know how to do it, they think that it should be minimized?

Yes, it does indicate that. That doesn't meant that they're right, or logical about it. In order to minimize one thing, you have to maximize another. They have chosen to maximize launch vehicle size. Every study performed on the subject, including those funded by NASA, says that's the wrong approach.

In other words, why think that you are still smarter than they are at something that you admit that they are good at?

If anything I wrote could be construed to mean that I thought such an absurd thing, I might be able to answer that question. As it is, it's a complex question (as in, "...when are you going to stop beating your kids?") that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Do you want to take another shot and try to make a logical and sensible comment?

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 12:55 PM

They might not be logical or right on the topic, which would be why it would be nice to hear some internal thoughts on why they didn't want to go down that route from some people who took the decision. Afterall, there are plenty of logical reasons why they might not want to do it, regardless of how good at _it_ they are.

Words? Well, on the first glance I'd be prepared to take back some of my comments on the nature of the market size. Although, on re-reading it smacks of EADS being far far more interested in the downrange and suborbital potential of the solution rather than joy rides into space.

OTOH - it might never be heard of again.

Posted by Daveon at June 13, 2007 04:38 PM

Regarding Astrium's tourist jet Dave mentioned above, I thought this was funny, taken from the AP link on NASA Watch:

"EADS Astrium said it hoped the space jet which looks much like a conventional aircraft although it is outfitted with rocket engines will be operational by next year, with the first flight scheduled for 2012."

It's going to be operational by next year but not fly until 2012? How do the early passengers get to space, happy thoughts?

Mike

Posted by Michael Kent at June 13, 2007 06:07 PM

It's going to be operational by next year but not fly until 2012? How do the early passengers get to space, happy thoughts?

Yes, I thought that hilarious as well, and was going to comment on it, when I got around to commenting at all, but to be fair, it's more likely that it's a misinterpretation by a clueless journalist than an actual description of EADS' plans.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 06:11 PM

Might not be that likely, really, we're talking EADS here.

I'm willing to bet their idea of "operational" has nothing to do with actually flying.

Posted by Habitat Hermit at June 13, 2007 06:30 PM


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