Today is the sixtieth anniversary. I wrote this on the fortieth anniversary, and it holds up pretty well, I think. “Because it is hard” is a dumb reason to do something.
Whoever had the brilliant idea of building a rocket out of 1970s technology apparently was unaware, or had amnesia about all the problems caused by hydrogen with the Shuttle.
“I would simply say to you that space is hard,” he said at an August 27 briefing when asked what lessons NASA could take from the extended delays in SLS’s development. “We are developing new systems and new technologies, and it takes money and it takes time.”
Yes, space is hard. It’s even harder when you make terrible design choices in order to provide a jobs program for existing workers and contractors. There is little new about either these systems or technologies.
For its part, Webb suffered repeated delays and cost overruns even before the COVID-19 pandemic slowed work on a number of projects in both the public and private sectors. Initially meant to launch in 2010 at a cost of $3 billion, Webb eventually launched last December at a final cost of more than $10 billion. Similarly, the enormous Space Launch System rocket has cost more and taken far longer to lift off from Kennedy Space Center than originally planned – though NASA now expects to finally launch the rocket that will take astronauts back to the Moon at the end of August or beginning of September.
All the same, criticisms focused on excessive delays and busted budgets tend to fall by the wayside when we see the results of America’s space exploration programs. That’s certainly been the case with Webb, whose first images have received a rapturous reception by the media and public alike. But few people would say that this sense of wonder and inspiration is the reason America invests as much of its national resources as it does in space exploration, and even fewer would say it’s worth the financial costs involved.
One of these things is not like the others. I’m confident that history will record that SLS/Orion played a trivial, if not non-existent role in actual space exploration. And (as always) I would reiterate that out exploration of space will be much more effective when it is rightly viewed as not an end, but a means to a grander goal: the development and settlement of a new frontier, and the expansion of life and consciousness into the universe.
Courtney Stadd has a lengthy review of it.
Eric Berger describes the difficulties of and prospects for separating the Russian and non-Russian segments of the ISS.
Thoughts on the implications of the invasion, from Bob Zimmerman.
The repercussions of this for the space industry could be broad and unforeseeable.
It was always a mistake to make ourselves so reliable on Russian/Ukrainian hardware.
Ukrainian invasions have affected our own space policies in the past.
As Jeff notes, if the Russians pull out of ISS, their human spaceflight program wouldn’t have much to do.
Eric Berger runs through the potential implications for space.
I’m supposedly quoted in this piece (or at least I gave Jim some suggestions), but unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall.
It’s been fifty-five years since the pad disaster. It was the day before my birthday.