Monday, December 17, 2007

They're Baaaaack!

To re-use some words from the late great Dean Martin's holiday album, "Baby it's cold outside."

After being let go from his last job for, shall we say, "reusing some words," Bill Readdy resurrects himself and becomes the chairman of the board of the Challenger Center (now we can say that Joe Allen wasn't the smallest guy to have the job after all). And, despite global warming and Al Gore, it seems to be getting pretty cold out side. Lots of frost. Lots of snow. Lots of ice. Warm places are freezing over.

Yep, the shuttle huggers are back and they have their snow tires on.

We've all heard the news of Rep. Weldon's misguided intentions. His new legislation to "ensure our future in space" seeks to inject $2B extra a year into the Emperor's grubby hands to keep the space shuttle flying twice a year and accelerate the development of its less capable replacement. And just what will these shuttle flights accomplish? Not much, unless even more funding is made available to carry stuff on those flights. Heck, that patriot, Sam Ting, just might just get his giant kitchen magnet flown to the ISS after all. That alone would account for about a year and half worth of those flights.

But after AMS is taking care of, then what? What's worse than flying crew with cargo? Fly crew as cargo? Or maybe flying crew as cargo past 2010? How about what is becoming known within the Agency as "Plan B."

Last week the rest of the minions had to come to grips with the fact that Wayne Hale is, deep deep down, a hugger. We told you about the contention for test facilities to test the new flow sensors for the SSMEs. These sensors will allow the shuttle to get around flaky ECO sensors in the external tank that sometimes, maybe, might signal when the LOX and LH2 tanks in it are empty. The shuttle Viceroy had called for a meeting to assess the impact to the J2X test program, which was first in line to use the test stand at Stennis Space Center. When it was clear that the Constellation folks were better prepared to make their case, Viceroy Hale cancelled the meeting.

Responding with a whimper to that action, Constellation Viceroy Jeff Hanley let fly a memo acknowledging the existence, within the Agency, of a "Plan B." The plan (along with variations A, C, D, E, F, and G) describes how the huggers intend to keep just enough pieces and parts and processes available, under the Emperor's radar, to allow the shuttle to fly past 2010. Already enough metal has been procured quietly to build two new tanks beyond those needed for the Emperor's current game plan. And the unmanned orbiter play book is being dusted off again, this time with Gerst's blessing. In acknowledging Plan B in public, Hanley is, in effect, saying, "Hey guys, when the Emperor leaves, don't forget I tried to help y'all out. Please save a spot for me!"

While all of this is interesting, the implications for the Emperor are more intriguing. For all of its heresy, Plan B is one of the first very strong signals that the minions recognize that the end is near. The sad part is that, unless the Emperor makes a mad dash for the holiday sale at Men's Warehouse, we still have 18 months to wait. Eighteen more months for the huggers to gather strength. Paraphrasing John Young, it will only get harder to go back to the moon.

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