Friday, November 30, 2007


It seems that the Emperor finally found the second letter in his desk. Or maybe he has his own naughty and nice list. Or it could just be that after reading the GAO report he has finally started to rearrange the desk chairs on his Titanic staff. One of his minions, Skip Hatfield, the Orion Program Manager, was last seen driving down NASA 1 away towards happier pastures. That'll learn him to say no to Marsha. The sacrificial lamb named to replace him is none other than Mark Geyer, Jeff Hanley's deputy.

Hopefully, this is not the end, but only the beginning. And maybe the Emperor himself will see the folly of his ways. But for now, we can only hope that next week finds us being served at our favorite Italian restaurant in Huntsville by a new waiter. Steve Cook, al dente, per favore!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Noreaster a blowin'.

There's a cold wind blowing down E street tonight. And maybe in zip code 35812. Read the GAO report on Ares and form your own opinion before we give you ours.

We'll discuss it tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good To Go?

That's the headline Av Week used (minus the question mark, of course) to call attention to the fact that the minions have told their trusty contractor to start working on detailed design of the Orion CEV. All 22,000 requirements worth of it, that is. We guess that makes Orion roughly 1000 times more complex than a fighter jet, if requirements are any indication of complexity. Or maybe the minions don't trust their trusty contractor? Hence the specificity?

Of course, that number of requirements really isn't an indication of complexity (or trustworthiness for that matter). No, its really an indication of just how a big a debacle that Orion has come to be. An inexperienced team, driven by the self-proclaimed "Chief Engineer of the Universe," long ago lost sight of the systems engineering process that has been developed over the over the last 60 years or so.

Yet even with such specificity, several key items are not yet pinned down. Cockpit designs, water or dry land landings, and launch abort system details are still hanging in the breeze. But that's minor compared to life cycle cost details. Even with all that input from above, no one really understands the concept of operations well enough to determine how much the care and feeding of this elephant will cost future generations. Instead of specifying the desired capabilities, then developing a concept of operations, then deriving lower level requirements and detailed design, the Emperor inverted the standard way of doing business.

Good to go? We think not. The case study will be required reading for students of design 20, no, make that five years from now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Foaming at the Mouth

Remember back around Oct 20, we expressed some concern here about the pedigree of the STS-120 tank. The "Frankentank" had been pulled from STS-114, and was refurbed to address a number of problems, including:

- The Liquid Hydrogen Ice/Frost Ramps were modified at 14 locations.
- The Liquid Oxygen Ice/Frost Ramps were modified at four locations.
- The Liquid Oxygen Feedline Brackets were modified, as an interim measure, with a different foam configuration.
- Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Hydrogen PAL Ramps were removed.
- Bipod Harness Modifications including wire harness sealing/bonding was performed to preclude a debris event similar to the one observed on STS-114.
- Intertank Acreage Machining/Venting increased the area of vented intertank thermal protection system foam to reduce the potential for foam loss due to "popcorning," caused by air bubbles becoming trapped in foam and flaking off and falling away during heating and expansion during launch.

So, how did that all work out? Not too well it seems. In fact, more foam in bigger pieces came off the tank than any launch in recent memory. Fortunately, none of it hit the orbiter with enough dynamic pressure to do much damage.

And what did the minions do with this aberration? Why they "normalized the deviation," of course.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

From all of us at RocketsAndSuch, have a happy and delightful holiday.

P.S. We hope all of you are enjoying your turkey tonight, unlike the Emperor, who will likely keep up his diet of eating crow for some time to come.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Border Operations

Doc Horowitz, noted for his command of space shuttles and the former head of the Emperor's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, must keep a lawyer close to him at all times. Come along as we take a ride with Doc on the Revolving Door Express!

Way back in 2003, still working out of the astronaut office, Doc served as an advisor for the development of requirements for Ares/Orion. Then, one day he decided to leave the agency and followed some of his buddies out to ATK in Utah. But he must have been there only long enough to get a badge, because the very next day he was back in NASA HQ handing out models of the ARES-1 "stick," courtesy of the proposed first stage supplier, and his new employer, ATK.

How that worked out is a mystery to many. Government employees who help write requirements for new procurements are usually subject to the "revolving door law" which prohibits them from marketing their former government cohorts after leaving government for some period of time, usually a year or two. Just ask the former Air Force requirements official who went to work for one of the other major defense contractors. First he specified the requirements for a missile, then he helped to market one. The government said he should have waited a year to do so. He didn't. Law prevailed.

But there was Doc, a day later, selling his wares.

Now fast forward to 2005. Doc is recalled from ATK to become the Emperor's ESMD chief. Guess who gets the contract for the Ares-1 first stage? ATK, of course.

And now, lets catch up to two months ago. For still unclear reasons, Doc resigns from NASA and rumors abound as to where he will end up. Come to find out he is now employed by the Aerospace Corporation, albeit a not-for-profit outfit. And there he was last month, back at a NASA review for an alternate abort system at LaRC, being paid by our tax money, to pass judgement on a concept he originally sketched on the back of a napkin.

We're guessing his lawyer must have worked for Hunter S. Thompson at some time. How else would anyone have learned to be so clever and keep people with such track records out of jail?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reinventing the Wheel

The Space Telescope Science Institute recently hosted astronomers to discuss projects in the pipeline for 2020 onward. Jon Morse, the director of NASA's astrophysics tried to keep the enthusiasm under control, "I would encourage folks to think about the future optimistically, but we do have to live within realistic funding levels."

Just as the space shuttle sucks up budget until its retirement from Constellation, the Hubble Space Telescope is sucking up budget from its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In turn, JWST is sucking up budget from other potential new starts. JWST alone now is expected to cost $4.5 billion by the time it completes its five-year mission in 2018. Of course, NASA will tell you that the reason other programs are having to wait on the drawing board is that the number has grown considerably since the program started. Or has it?

In fact, one only has to go back to the original estimates for JWST, and the numbers the NAR/ICE team considered when it independently reviewed the program at its start. Suffice to say, the NAR/ICE estimate is much closer to today's cost than the estimate ultimately used by NASA to kick the program off. You see, the problem isn't cost growth. No, the problem is budget planners putting their heads in the sand, ignoring the independent estimates, accepting the project's starry-eyed projections, having only to follow up years later with budget raids to fix cost overruns.

Getting back to Mr. Morse, he said that he doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, so NASA is planning to undertake more rigorous cost estimating procedures for the next decadal survey. And NASA is also planning to foot the bill for independent assessments. Where have we heard that before?

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's My Line?

And now, live from Washington, D.C, for the 876th time, let's meet our "What's My Line?" panel. Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier Associate Administrator for Space Operations National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. Richard Gilbrech Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate...AND (you can almost hear Jimmy Olson teeing it up), herrrrreeeee's the Emperor himself.

Only it wasn't a game show we were watching last week. It was the Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences Senate Subcommittee meeting on "Issues Facing the U.S. Space Program after Retirement of the Space Shuttle." And it wasn't John Daly as host. It was Senator Bill Nelson who led off the questioning.

"You’re stating that the policy of Nasa now is to have a hard date of September 30th of 2010 to shut off the space shuttle. What happens if you haven’t completed the remaining 13 flights on the manifest by that point?" the Senator asked.

Throwing himself in front of the oncoming dagger, aimed squarely at the Emperor, Bill Gerstenmaier talked about being able to complete the station and even working in two "contingency" flights before the cut-off date. If they can't make it, then they will come back to Congress and talk about options. But the plan is good enough that they shouldn't have to do that.

Seeing an opening to reinforce the answer, the Emperor points out that the last space shuttle flight is actually scheduled for Apr 2010, leaving 5 months of margin in the plan to complete the space station.

But the Good Senator presses on. "Looking at flight rate of four per year, what makes you think you can maintain that rate in 2009 and 2010 with only two orbiters?"

Gerst says we’ve been able to maintain fairly regularly. Options for flying Atlantis a couple of more times are available if needed.

And then, like on the old game show, its time to trip up the panel. “So what I’m hearing you saying is that you don’t have an absolute hard cut off date on Sept 30, 2010 in what you have just stated to me," says Senator Nelson. "And I would remind you that when Senator Hutchinson was the chairman of this subcommittee and we passed under her leadership the Nasa Authorization Act and in it in 'The Vision for Space Exploration' there is no mention of a hard cut off date there. So am I correct, I’m hearing you say 'no hard cut off date?'”

The Emperor doesn't see the twist coming. “No sir, we are...the President has directed that the space shuttle be retired by the end of 2010. And our budgetary planning does show that we will finish our last space station flight in fiscal 2010 and we have at this point five months of margin to do that. I believe we have a very solid plan to get there…”

Now its time for Senator Nelson to show why he's been in Congress for so long. Time to unmask the Imposter. "I want to challenge that, Dr. Griffin, because I’m reading from the President’s Vision for Space Exploration and it says quote, 'retire the space shuttle as soon as assembly of the international space station is completed, planned for the end of this decade.' End of quote. So where do you see that the President has required (a hard cut-off), is the word that you use?"

Its lonely at the top, standing naked in front of the world. For the Emperor now has no where to go. No one to turn to. Not even his most trusted minions can save him now.

“I stand corrected, sir.”

Unfortunately, that feeble response was not reported directly in the media. The fact that the Emperor didn't understand his boss's directions, or even the applicable law, is telling. That he is driving the space shuttle to an end date that has not been directed, but was in fact misinterpreted, shows that Nasa has not changed its ways since the days of the CAIB. Indeed, the schedule pressure to complete the station and retire the shuttle by 2010 is occurring under false pretenses.

"Normalization of deviation" is once again part of the Nasa culture, practiced by none other than the Emperor himself.

Remember the A-12?

Given the notable technical issues from last week's integrated stack review mentioned here previously, we have to wonder if the Head Constellation Minion, Jeff Hanley, is suffering from early dementia. In his staff meeting, he told his troops that the review was a resounding success and that the senior leadership of NASA was "overwhelmed and pleased" with the progress that has been made on the program to date.

Maybe dementia is too harsh. Perhaps, he's just hard of hearing?

Despite having a rocket that breaks itself apart and a capsule that needs some SlimFast, he said Constellation is now "out of formulation" and embarking on an approach to PDR.

Why an "approach" to PDR? Probably because at the rate its sliding to the right, no one will ever actually be able to catch up to it.

Double Bagger

Alas, Ms. Ivins romance with Italy was far too short for the objects of her "affections" back home. Last week, she was back at it again, using the Emperor's name in design reviews and spreading turmoil wherever her gaze landed.

Orion officials have all but signed the papers declaring that Orion will land in the ocean, bobbing like a cork waiting for recovery like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo did over 40 years ago. Putting aside the fact that our technology for accessing space is going backwards and that the life cycle costs just went up (need a navy now for recovery), deploying air bags on Orion to touchdown softly on dry land adds weight that the Ares launch vehicle can ill afford to lift. But should a bad day happen, and the launch abort system is activated on the pad, there is a vanishing small possibility that the capsule, now without airbags, could land on land. In that event, an astronaut might get a bruise, but would survive the ordeal.

Engineers reared in the concept of risk know that the right answer is to design the launch abort system to pull the capsule out over the ocean in highly reliable fashion. Let the probabilities speak for themselves...and leave the airbags behind. But our favorite cookie (or is that cooky?) engineer is not satisfied with the analysis and, speaking with the power of the throne, sends the engineers packing.

Add to that the hundreds of new level 2 requirements added to the mix last week to account for design features mandated, not derived from higher level requirements, previously. Why are level 2 officials telling the designers how switch panels are to be configured? There is appears to be no end of the tunnel for these poor folks, lighted or otherwise.

This is the time to be refining and reducing requirements. No wonder PDRs are slipping to the right. That always happens when you design from the inside out.

'Tis the Season.

No, we're not talking about Xmas. We're talking about the end of an administration's term. That is the time when you start to see the feathering of the nests that will later support former civil servants as they leave the government.

And we don't have to look have to look any farther than Mississippi State today. Without competition, the UK's Surrey Labs recently landed a contract to teach students there how to build small spacecraft. We guess we really don't know how to do that any more? Perhaps because NASA's budget is going completely towards fixing the decrepit Ares rocket and the plump Orion the capability to build small sats has been lost? Who wants to tell that to Ball, Orbital, and AeroAstro?

The real question is which of the Emperor's minions is going to benefit most when he leaves government? Mark your calendars for just after the election and see which Constellation official lands in the Magnolia State.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Minority Report

Remember the CAIB report? Remember the paragraphs about schedule pressure leading to disaster? Now read the following paragraph from the Emperor:

"Retirement of the Space Shuttle is on schedule for 2010 and critical to future Exploration plans. As we approach this date, we are hopeful that we can complete the ten remaining Space Station assembly flights, the servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, and the two contingency Shuttle missions to the ISS within this time frame. If it becomes clear that we will not complete the flight manifest by 2010, NASA will evaluate options and make adjustments consistent with not flying any flights beyond 2010. Continuing to fly the Shuttle beyond 2010 does not enhance U.S. human spaceflight capability, but rather delays the time until a new capability exists and increases the total life cycle cost to bring the new capability on line."

That statement is an indictment in the making. The situation is akin to that of a threatening criminal before he has made his inevitable move. He taunts his prey from a distance, but never steps over the line until the appointed time. The police can not act, because no crime has yet been committed. And then the crime is fait acompli. Forensics are not needed to determine the perpetrator.

We, too, see it coming. The Emperor has now firmly, and irresponsibly, placed himself between a rock and a hard place.

Let's parse what he just said. The ISS needs to receive ten more Shuttle flights to upload the hardware required to complete its agreed to configuration. Two more flights are needed to upload spares to keep the ISS going until the Japanese HTV arrives with the large stuff only it can carry. It would be irresponsible to not complete these flights and therefore put the ISS at risk.

But it is also irresponsible to now say that all the remaining Shuttle flights must be completed by 2010 and not a day later. That double pressure whammy, complete the 12 flights or ISS is at risk, and those flights have to be completed by 2010 or else, is just what the CAIB warned about times two.

Sure, every dollar spent after 2o1o on Shuttle is a dollar that is not spent on the technically, programmatically, and now financially bankrupt Ares/Orion. As the Emperor points out, that does not enhance human spaceflight capability. But it just might save seven lives.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blame Game.

Would you like to play a game? You would? Great! Let's play the Blame Game!

Perhaps you feel guilty or uncomfortable about something. The quickest way to feel better about the mess you are in is to blame someone else for the predicament. In doing so you might be excused from taking any responsibility for the problem. That gives you the leeway to continue to do the wrong thing you are currently doing, because you are doing it because the last person in charge didn't do the right thing. Having thrown everyone off guard with your bold criticisms, you continue to persecute all available parties, and you'll probably feel pretty good doing it. Heck, if you manage to pull the wool over everyone's eyes you also reinforce your own feelings of manic power.

The Emperor, testifying in front of Congress today, said his purview now was a victim of poor foresight by previous NASA leaders and Congress. "I do not want to leave this hearing or this committee with the impression that we are in a good position," he said. "We are not. The failure to plan for a successor to the space shuttle, and to bring it online in a timely way, was a failure of U.S. strategic planning. We are not in the position I would wish the United States to be in. We are, I think, doing the best that can be done."

If you want to know how to fix the problem, read the previous posts here at RocketAndSuch. Its pretty clear that Nasawatch has. Nevertheless, we had no idea that the Emperor was just now opening the three letters in his desk. We thought for sure he'd be writing his own three by now.

Integrating Disaster

Simultaneous with Lori Garver's campaign stop, the Constellation minions are carrying out an integrated stack review of the Orion and Ares programs. Talk about long faces.

Let's start with the documentation. It was hoped that the TBDs would now be knocked down to single digits by now. Unfortunately, the number is still in the hundreds.

Problems? We got problems. Thrust oscillations, flight dynamics, and overweight systems for starters. One of the reasons that the number of TBDs is so high is that as the team unfolds the faulty concepts handed them by ESAS, they have to search around for band-aids to hold the program together. That has kept them from firming up the design and getting on with the program.

The Emperor, fresh back from his golfing vacation, will get his overview today and tomorrow. That will only preface the upcoming grilling he, in turn, will get from Congress in January. Those hearings are shaping up to be the beginning of the end.

Days of Futures Passed

If you were in attendance at yesterday's highly politicized AAS annual meeting luncheon, you may have seen a view into future under Hillary. Normally at such luncheons you might hear about the exploits of our Mars Rovers, or the Cassini probe at Saturn, or even the generation of new trajectories for getting to the nearest star quicker. But not yesterday.

Lori Garver, Hillary's advisor on things over her head, started her presentation with a video about Hillary. Suffice to say most of the folks in the room squirmed at the blatant misuse of the venue. Following the video we learned how Hillary will focus on taking the earth's temperature, robotic exploits in the solar system, and use of the 470 mile high national lab.

What we didn't see was pictures of spacesuits hanging off rovers on the moon.

Draw your own conclusions, but as the former first lady appears headed back into the White House, our Vision appears to be getting a case of macular degeneration.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Caution: F(r)iction Ahead.

When: Thursday, November 15, 2007 10:00 AM EST

What: The Subcommittee hearing will address issues related to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, its remaining missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) plans to compensate should they not fulfill all mission requirements on schedule, and other issues facing NASA when the Space Shuttle is retired.

Who: The Emperor and his Minions

Looking Ahead.

"I don't think that the Vision (for Space Exploration) as written today is likely to survive the election, even if a Republican is elected," Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, told Popular Science recently.

Even the Emperor must be happy to hear Zubrin's comments. We're on the way to Vegas with that prognostication. $100 on first landing by 2020. If Zubrin says it, it can't be true.

Time For Policing COTS?

Did you hear about the "small" fire last week down at SLC-40 at the Cape? The pad where COTS provider SpaceX is setting up shop. If you read their press briefing, you'd think it was no big deal. “This kind of thing is not unheard of during large scale demolition. That’s why we have procedures in place. Everyone acted professionally and by the book, and fortunately no one was hurt,” said Norman Bobczynski, SpaceX’s launch site director.

Only problem is that there was a space shuttle in the air at the time. A shuttle headed for a landing at KSC, not far from the location of the fire. Truth be told, the shuttle was almost waved off when a dozen firefighters from the KSC landing party had to be detoured to SLC-40 to help get the raging fire under control. Fortunately, when the professionals took over, the fire was snuffed and the landing proceeded as planned.

But what if they hadn't been so lucky that day? What if the result was closer to the event that killed three people out in Mojave working on the Spaceship 2 propulsion system earlier this year? What if?

Isn't it about time that some safety regs be put in place at airports and at the Cape where this dangerous work is being undertaken? Shouldn't a sufficient and professional level of review be provided before more innocent "billionaires' helpers" are killed? Of course, the COTS folks will complain that the government is trying to get in the way of their success. But, do we really have to wait until they kill someone in space before action is taken?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Party On!

CBS News is finally catching up with a well known tradition that goes back many years. Rightfully, they are bringing it to the attention of the folks that pay for the tradition, the taxpayer.

You see this spaceflight stuff is risky business. So for all the contractor folks getting paid by the government on their cost plus award fee contracts, its important to also keep their spirits up. Come Dec 6, after the next shuttle launch, 300 honorees and their guests will spend five days and four nights at a luxury Florida hotel, attending receptions and of course, getting front-row tickets for the shuttle launch itself. These folks work for Boeing, USA, and other subcontractors who safely see each flight off the ground.

The cost? Reception ($64,000), dinner ($35,000), awards ($28,000), ground transportation (tour: $7,700; launch: $20,200), airfare ($105,000), hotel and food ($135,000 together), and meeting the Emperor: PRICELESS. Three launches this year, three parties, $4M. Sure wish we had that for our Christmas fund.

Good thing that $4M was in last year's budget, too, so that it shows up in the CR operating plan this year as well. Oh, don't you just wish you could bring back the rest of the traditions as well? Those days of drinking scotch and smoking cigars with Gen K. and Bill R. and the rest of the boys telling stories around the Radisson pool? Ahhhh, the good old days!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Not Enough Time to Get It Right...

Marshall Space Flight Center's Ares I First Stage Element Manager Alex Priskos doesn't like hypothetical questions. Nor does he like history much, unless it's of the revisionist kind. When asked by if the assumptions that formed the basis for the ESAS conclusions changed enough that they might no longer be completely valid, he responded like a pro wrestler, using 33 words where seven would have made the point. "ESAS was a study conducted in 60 days, representing a summary of years of exploration architectural studies. Since that study was concluded, over two years ago, the Constellation Program has evolved the architecture."

In spite of having access to that summary of years of studies, he could have just said, "We rushed it and got it wrong."

We also hear he may be planning on growing a goatee for the holidays.

Flat Pennies

"Penny-pinching at NASA could mean end of world," reads the headline in the Edmonton Journal this week. "NASA penny-pinching risks exposing humanity to a planetary catastrophe if a big asteroid evades detection and slams into Earth, U.S. lawmakers warn. Top NASA scientist Scott Pace said the agency could not do more to detect NEOs -- near-earth objects 'given the constrained resources and the strategic objectives NASA' has already."

Can't do more to detect NEOs? We don't think that's quite right. The minion should have said, "Can't afford more, because we are draining the bank on the Ares-1 rocket." A rocket that is falling prey to many a technical issue these days. A rocket already six months behind schedule and not even off the paper yet. A rocket we certainly won't need at all if the planet is slammed by a wayward rock.

Of course, the lawmakers should have asked Pace for one of those fancy Steve Cook viewgraphs. You know the type. We're sure it would have convincingly showed how to launch a mission, Rube Goldberg style, about as convincing as the case for Ares, to defeat such a pesky critter.

Of course, a better approach would have been to look at those "strategic objectives" again. Perhaps, "save the planet" should rank in front of "build new toys for the Emperor?"

Emperor Snubbed By The Boss

Guess who showed up at Ellington Field this week for the triumphant return of the Discovery astronauts? Why, President Bush! No, not Barbara's husband, 41. He visited the Johnson Space Center and talked to the astronauts in orbit last week. No, this time it was 43 himself. Even Governor Perry and the Texas Secretary of State made it.

And guess who wasn't there to show the boss around? The Emperor was no where in sight (except for the view of the 18th tee in Florida). Not invited. Nada.

What's that tell ya?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shareholders...Its Time For Questions!

OOOPPS! Ares-1 first stage PDR slips six far. Hmmmmm. "There are significant threats to the performance to be worked as the project works towards [PDR]," the memo reads. Remember AIAA-99-2797? That's just one of the "significant threats."

And let's not forget the aviation safety report is more than six months late and still nowhere in sight.

Boeing's 787 slipped six months and they fired the VP responsible for the program. Shareholders would have it no other way. So how is it, then, that Steve Cook gets to keep his job? As shareholders in the good old US of A, we would like to see our tax dollars go towards a more productive end, not a dead end. As stewards of our tax dollars, Congressfolk should start asking the hard questions now before good money chases bad. Why do we have to wait for the Emperor to leave office to get the facts? Answers that include, "this sort of thing is normal in a development program" are unacceptable.

Why isn't the Emperor taking control and saving his program from landing in the water (the mostly likely spot to find an Ares-1 after ignition)? Maybe he's still looking in his closet for something to wear to his next speech perpetuating the 50 year old NASA spin-off myth.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Add another reason to the long list of why the Emperor's, Doc Horowitz's, and Steve Cook's wonder stick is so badly broken. Get yourself a copy of the paper whose catalog number is this column's title. We'll save you the effort and give you the title: "Automated 3-D Solid Rocket Combustion Stability Analysis." Yep, seems that all three failed rocket science 101. Put another way, Ares-1 seems to be shaking itself apart.

Fortunately, some of the minions have read the paper and are doing their homework now. Take one four segment shuttle SRB, unstrap it from the damping effect of being attached to the large ET and Orbiter, add a fifth segment, stir well with fire and viola'. Watch it fly apart at the seams. Recent analysis of the five segment booster revealed that it is susceptible to combustion instabilities not easily overcome.

No, let's put that another way, too. Ares-1 problems will be easily overcome when it flies on an Atlas booster.

Tonight's Top 10 List

The Emperor spoke in the windy city this week to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of NASA. We'd like to share some thoughts on his comments. But we have to warn you. This will be like shooting wombats on Tatooine.

1. "In my usual clueless fashion, I had failed to notice - until receiving a question from a member of the media - that this is the first time we have had women commanding both the Space Station and the Space Shuttle." The Emperor is out of touch, now admittedly so. No wonder he had no clue that his minions were messing up the aviation safety survey, right under his nose. Someone who is so out of touch with such important facts as these, is not paying attention to briefings, not in control of his organization, and potentially oblivious to even more important facts involving safety.

2. "It is my goal to get these critics to recognize that the development of space is a strategic capability for our nation, a view completely in keeping with the founding principles of the American nation - pushing back the frontier." No kidding? Why is it then, that the Emperor, the Chief Engineer of the Universe himself, is unable to propose a solution that would be ready to field when the space shuttle is retired. If he were so intent on getting his critics to recognize this strategic importance, you'd think he'd put his innovative minions and his six degrees to work coming up with something to fill the gap.

3. "For about a half-cent of every federal dollar, our nation's investment in exploring that frontier and, one day, colonizing other worlds, also ignites the development of technologies that benefit us here on Earth. It produces space-based capabilities like communications, weather monitoring, remote sensing, and GPS navigation that have been estimated to contribute $220 billion/year to our economy. " Living on borrowed, ancient history once again. ESAS made the argument that you didn't need new technologies to go to the moon. Upon ascending to the throne, the Emperor cancelled a billion dollars in investments targeted at new technologies. So either he's talking about what happened 50 years ago, or he's lying about today. Can't have it both ways. Show us the link between NASA's investments today and GDP tomorrow! Show us the money!

4. "More importantly, this investment in NASA inspires millions of people to pursue careers in science and technology, enormously benefiting our nation's broader economy. " Talk about hyperbole! Inspires millions? We graduate about 70,000 engineers every year from college. Certainly only a small fraction of them end up working with NASA. Maybe we are misunderstanding his point? Is NASA inspiring the Chinese now?

5. "NASA is in the inspiration business, and the resulting technological innovation drives our nation's growth. If America is to remain a leader in the burgeoning global competition, I contend that we must continue to be a nation known for our innovation, and we must continue our work on the New Frontier of space.' Hubble is inspiring. The Mars Rovers are inspiring. Cassini is inspiring. Tell us how an overweight, 50 year old capsule riding 30 year old rocket technology is inspiring?

6. "Our children and grandchildren are not as inspired by space exploration as they once were." Wait a minute. See 4. We thought we were inspiring millions. Don't believe that? See 5.

7. "As Admiral Hal Gehman noted in his report of the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board a few years ago, 'previous attempts to develop a replacement vehicle for the aging Shuttle represent a failure of national leadership.'" Let's examine the history. SEI. We think the Emperor had his hand in that proposal. X-33. How many ways can we violate basic physics? OSP. Big thing with wings on 50 year old rocket. Gehman was right. Our past attempts have been a failure of national TECHNICAL leadership. That is also why young engineers avoid NASA like the plague today. Kids can smell a stinker from miles away.

8. "China could easily execute such a [Apollo-8 like] mission with their planned Long March V rocket, currently under development and reportedly rivaling any expendable rocket in the world today. I have no doubt that they will have it in use, as they plan, by around 2012." Follow us on this logic thread. The Long March V is a 25 MT rocket. It will be comparable to our Atlas 5 Heavy and Delta 4 Heavy. The Chinese will be able to reach the moon in 2012. Yet the Long March 5 does not yet exist and our Atlas and Delta do. Shouldn't we have been able to use such technology to get back to the moon before 2012, especially if we don't have to invent new rockets? Indeed, the gap exists because of the Emperor's own choosing.

9. " Quite frankly, I do not have all the answers for everything NASA must do, or everything each of us must do collectively and individually to counter the alarming trends of which I spoke earlier. The first step, though, is to recognize the problem and to realize that we are in this together." Finally, truth.

10. "On October 29, 1960, exactly 47 years ago, the junior senator from Massachusetts spoke..." We'll save you the speech. The important thing is the invocation, once again of words from 50 years ago. And therein lies the Emperor's biggest problem. Not one original thought has found its way out of his head into our program of exploration. Instead, he is regurgitating ancient ideas, pumping them with steroids, and leaving them for the next generation to recognize as failure.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Leave the Crying to Us.

Good grief! Alan Shepherd must be rolling over in his grave right about now, if he was watching the departure of the Discovery crew from the ISS yesterday. Whatever happened to our steely-eyed rocket men (or women for that matter)? Why, there were enough tears to float an external tank yesterday during the farewell. We guess its a sign of the times, and not a very good one.

Back in the early days of flight, our astronauts controlled their emotions. Do you think Neil Armstrong could have landed on the moon if he got all misty-eyed with the thoughts of what he was about to do? Heck, even Buzz Aldrin managed to hold it together. Why then, are we suddenly seeing all of this emotion bantered about?

Some of you are saying, "wait a minute!" Our astronauts are only human representatives of ourselves. Ambassadors of Orbit. Its good to see that they are human after all. Lets see all of that, diapers and everything.

No thanks.

It's time to reconsider the criteria for selecting astronauts. Entrusting rare, several billion dollar assets to crybabies does not seem to us to be a wise decision. And the folks that lead on the ground should come under some scrutiny as well. Reading prosey letters from Wayne Hale to his team is enough to make us gag. If our rear-ends are strapped to a couple of million pounds of explosives, we would want someone with exceptional military training watching over us. Someone who is comfortable with a firearm. Someone who knows the meaning of life and death. Someone who will focus on the task at hand without images of flowers and teddy bears entering into their thoughts.

Maybe it's one page of the Emperor's playbook that our astronauts should follow. Leave the emotion behind on earth. Your life, our future, indeed exploration depends on it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kudos and Some Questions.

Whether a daring-do or a hyped up exercise in obfuscating the Emperor's week of misfortune, today's spacewalking team deserves our praise. The positives are that the flight and ground team was able to prepare an unscripted spacewalk of major complexity (astronauts, tools, robotics, anomaly responses, etc.) in just a few days time. They executed flawlessly and restored the damaged solar panel to nearly full operating capacity. Now on to the flawed joint on the other side.

The success of today's efforts, however, continues to beg a few questions. First, if such a task could be choreographed in such a short period of time with acceptable risk, why do we spend so much time, and therefore taxpayer dollars, preparing for the more mundane tasks? Perhaps we are being just a little too conservative?

The second question is the big one. If such operations can be undertaken in short order with great success, why are our astronauts so afraid of doing more operations like that in space? If we did, we could actually launch smaller packages on existing rockets, putting the investment into the vehicles that will open access to the solar system. Instead of buying Ares-1 and Ares-5, we could fly on Atlas and Delta, continuously improving their reliability in the meantime, assemble our merchant fleet on orbit, and get on with exploration today, instead of 2020.

Of course, we all know the answer to that. Sen. Shelby is more immediately interested in keeping his own job than he is in seeing this country reassume a leadership position in space. Maybe he already goes out often for Chinese food?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Nothing up my sleeve...

The Emperor's minions made smoke and fire in the Utah desert yesterday. What they did do was successfully fire a four segment reusable solid rocket motor. The two-minute test provided important information for continued launches of the shuttle. What they claimed, but what the test did not do, was provide realistic data for the development of the Ares-1 rocket.

The four segment solid differs from its Ares successor in several key ways. First and foremost, Ares-1 is a five segment booster. Because it is loaded with more propellant, but has the same nozzle size as its four segment cousin, engineers must change the way the propellant is burned so as to keep the same flow of stuff coming out of the tailpipe. You can only push so much water through a hose of a fixed diameter, after all. The additional segment and change in propellant configuration, in its grain and interior layout, will make the Ares-1 booster a brand new rocket.

Soon you'll be hearing about the upcoming Ares-1x test flight. Its a shuttle four segment SRB past its shelf life date with an inert fifth segment added on top. Bolted on top is an inert, metallic second stage and CEV boilerplate. No fifth segment, no test of the real Ares-1 first stage. No fuel-filled second stage sloshing around on top, no test of the flight dynamics. Since this in no way physically or dynamically resembles a real Ares-1, what is the point of this test?

The only thing it will validate is that the ground system can light up an Ares-1-like rocket on the pad. Everything that happens downrange from that is, dare we say it, fraud.

Smoke and fire. Always good for a diversion when reality is too tough to deal with.

Sporty EVA

John Young, that age-wisened all-knowing mentor of spaceflight, said it best when he characterized tomorrow's EVA to fix a rip in the ISS solar panel as "sporty." Now the media is picking up on the threat of electrocution and spacewalker Parazynski being over an hour from the safe confines of an airlock should something go radically wrong. But can it?

One has to wonder, as we do here at RocketsAndSuch, if the stirring of the media isn't a deliberate attempt to heighten the drama associated with this spacewalk and once again position the Emperor's minions as heroes. A little positive press, perhaps, after the Emperor's terrible performance on airline safety studies on Capitol Hill this week? That would go a little way to repairing the damage done in that fiasco.

For if it is not premeditated spin, consider the alternative. Is it possible this spacewalk is as dangerous as it sounds? Is it also possible that "schedule pressure" is once again at fault in causing the spacewalk to happen this weekend, rather than waiting until all of the kinks are worked out in ground simulations? Without a successful repair, the ISS will not be able to support six crew and accept the International Partner modules next up on the launch pad (and let's not forget the disabled rotating solar panel joint that could turn out to be just as heinous).

2010. Let's hope that date is not causing rash decisions to be made back here in late 2007.