Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NYT on Constellation's and NASA's future...

The NYT has caught up with the rest of the crowd in producing articles questioning Constellation and NASA's future. In summary it discusses cost, weight and vibration problems with Ares I, some complaints about "a my-way-or-the-highway attitude that stifles dissent and innovation" that supposedely exists at higher levels in the program, and briefly rehashes some of the claimed conflict between the Obama transition team and NASA head honcho Michael Griffin.

Perhaps the most surprising (and scary) aspect of the article to me was that it claims that the Obama transition team also questioned the 5 year gap in US manned space flight capability that will exist between when the Shuttle is retired Old Yeller-style and Ares I would supposedly start flying astronauts. Supposedly the transition team asked question about how much it would cost to narrow this 5 year gap and/or the cost of retaining one or two shuttles in flying order (see pages 1 and 3 of the NYT article).

To me this is more worrying than the claims that the Ares I program is in trouble. Previous coverage of this issue gave the impression that Obama's team was pragmatic and fiscally responsible and wanted to avoid cost overruns and potential white elephant programs. This article gives exactly the opposite impression... scary!

Yet narrowing that 5 year gap by speeding up Constellation development will cost a lot of money. Keeping any shuttles going will cost even more. Where is that money going to come from?

The shuttles have only ever been useful for one thing: Hubble servicing missions. The space station is a 20 billion dollar waste that does nothing. Together the ISS and the Shuttles have squandered vast amounts of money without producing a sustainable manned space program, or indeed may have prevented there from being a sustainable manned space program. Lets ditch the shuttle and the ISS ASAP. So what if there is a 5 or even 10 year gap in launching astronauts into space, if at the end of it you end up with a sustainable space program?

There is also a reasonably interesting slide show of images of a J-2X engine, an Ares upper-stage mock-up and an Orion capsule mock-up (although later slides are mainly artists impressions or unrelated SpaceX stuff) and a multi-slide interactive (flash) graphic of the Constellation program that nicely illustrates the proposed Ares I and Ares V rockets.

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