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.

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