Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bagging It

Pulling her batphone out from under her cape, our favorite two-bagger, Broom Hilda, demanded another last minute change to ORION from the Emperor. "I need to be able to walk away from a landing on hard ground without breaking my broom-stick," she said. And the chief engineer of the universe said, "Make it so."

Since that time, the minions have been trying to shoehorn 1500 lbs of capability into a 300 lb box. Already overweight from carrying broomsticks, lipstick cabinets, gourmet galleys, and a separate powder room, ORION traded away the airbags required to cushion the 5m steroidal behemoth's landing on 30% of the planet's hard earth, opting instead for the alternate wet 70%.

Like the fat big toe of a clown's shoe, ORION will be fitted with an air bag system on just one side of the heat shield. The parachutes will be rigged to leave that forward edge of the capsule touch down first, the impact being attenuated by the mini-bag. In good Rube Goldberg fashion, if the toe of the vehicle is not lined up properly, ORION will fire its jets to swing it around on point, crew feet first. Squire Geyer says, "The landing would be rough, but engineers believe the crew would survive."

Say what? "Believe" the crew would survive? You mean they same way we "believe" a shuttle abort to the launch site would work? Or perhaps the same way we "believe" that a crew bailout of a shuttle would save the crew from a fate worse than being a witch's assistant?

All of that effort, for a very low probability event, and even then, no guarantees. There's some good decision making. Save that one for the textbooks.

But, as usual, the minions can never leave a decision alone, so Guyer says he will use the time that came about from slipping PDR from September (or was it really July?) to November to "evaluate whether the backup landing concept approach can be adapted to make dry-land landing the primary approach, and whether the life-cycle cost savings from keeping the capsule dry offsets any weight penalty."

Let us get this straight. Engineers spent many, many months (and $) looking at the problem and designed a minimalistic 1500 lb airbag system to do the job. That weighed too much, so they jettisoned the air bags and targeted the high seas off the left coast. Now if they happen to go long and end up in San Diego, they "believe" a 300 lb clown's toe can save the day. But, wait, maybe if we look at it again, we can take this "iffy" system and use it for primary, everyday, reliable land landing operations and save a few more bucks in towels.

And you wonder why the minion's chairs smell like monkeys?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Man, I love it when you let the world in how the Emperor really works: influenced by his few "closest friends", despite their lack of credentials as project managers, working engineers, etc. NASA is one of the worst examples of old boys/girls clubs in recent bureaucratic history.