Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whither Michoud?

The President, in no uncertain terms, set 2010 in stone. However, since that day in January 2004, its finality has been challenged.

Viceroy Hale tried to keep it afloat and it cost him his job. Sam Ting's self-interest continues to pressure several in Congress, and one presidential candidate, to suggest rejuvenation. The Russians and their tanks did their best to provide the rationale for us to do the same. Even the Emperor turned away from the direction he had followed most of his life to breath new life into it.

Now, come Monday morning, Mother Nature will have her say.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Horsin' Around

Former Viceroy Hale, self-admitted shuttle hugger, who lost his job over trying to keep the program's continuation options open, now says "that horse has left the barn."

Meanwhile, the Emperor is changing horses in the middle of the stream. Or maybe we should say jumping on a donkey (and, no, we are not talking about BroomHilda this time) in a desparate effort to hold onto his job. Having flip-flopped on STS and ISS now as much as his new candidate has on supporting the space program, he's looking to fill the gap with our un-trusty winged stallion.

And now you, too, know what you get when you put the former Viceroy's horse with the Emperor's donkey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Did We Mention, Not Soon?

The ORION PDR slipped to April-June next year this morning, as Viceroy Guyer threw in the towel, conceding that the design has not matured yet to the desired point. BroomHilda still wants to cook more of her witches' brew and maybe change the interior colors and wallpaper one more time.

GFE is also years behind the need dates. Chutes, LIDS, etc are not being resourced to meet qualification needs.

You know where this is headed. The head rolling is just around the corner.

The beat goes on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Soon, Not Simple, Not Safe

What hath the Emperor wrought?

January 14, 2004 arrived with so much promise. For 23 years, our space program had been going in circles just outside our atmosphere. The President spoke with purpose, to give purpose again to our nation's space program. A conservative time table nonetheless challenged the talented group to fly out of the circle to more distant destinations.

The first steps would be back to familiar territory. A reconnaissance orbiter at the moon by 2008. Competing prototypes of the crew exploration vehicle would have flown this year demonstrably pointing the way. An unmanned lander scouting for resources would embark on its journey shortly thereafter. A means of transporting humans to and fro with a large step up in reliability and safety was mandated for 2014. Ten years seemed more than sufficient to recreate a capability we had almost 50 years prior.

The mantra. Soon, Simple, Safe.

Now that is all but a memory.

Now we are told that 10 years to design, develop, test, and fly the CEV, ostensibly drawing on 50 years of heritage, is not long enough. The prototypes were thrown overboard long ago. As if to preface the coming storm, the lunar orbiter grew in size and complexity and has been delayed right out of 2008. Plans for the robotic lander were discarded as resources became scarce chasing other problems. Despite ditching the precursors, the reinvigoration of exploration is still somewhere over the rainbow.

Not Soon.

The launch vehicle, touted as a "no moving parts" replacement for the space shuttle, now resembles something more like a mummy with bling, wrapped in band aids bought with fool's gold. Tens of steering rockets keep it pointed in the right direction as it lifts off its pad. Springs, masses, dampers, batteries, and museum pieces for computers will, we are told, make it possible for our astronauts to endure the rigors of riding a wild bull. And this ride has to go for more than eight seconds.

Not Simple.

The capsule resembles its Apollo brethern in shape only. Apollo was statically stable on re-entry. Only the batteries unleashing the top hat and parachutes needed to work to get the crew safely to the ground. The "improved" vehicle is unstable, suffering from an immature and misguided set of requirements, which places trust in the electrons, valves, switches, and software required to fire thrusters to keep the capsule upright as it enters the atmosphere.

Not Safe.

We have lost the sense of urgency. We have lost our ability to design. We will lose crews if this system makes it to the pad. That only leaves us with Hope.

Hope is not a strategy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Helping Hands

Who would have thought just a couple of weeks ago, that we'd now be talking about a new "gap?" Ahhhh, you think we are just being funny and pointing to the space race with the Chinese to put footprints on the moon, don't you?

You would, of course, be wrong.

No, the new space race is to see who can get a new rocket with a man on top into orbit first. No, we're not talking about COTS either. Nope. The next space race appears to be setting up between ARES/ORION and .... the Iranian Safir.

Iran has announced that the goal of its nascent space program will be to put a man in space within 10 years. And we here at RandS have a suggestion on how to "help" them.

We propose that we trade their nuclear aspirations for some help from our rocket scientists. Make the planet a better place to live. Let's give The Emperor, Steve C, Jeff H, Doc H, and BroomHilda to the Iranians in a gesture of peace. All that and a bag of chips.

If that doesn't set back their program 10 more years, nothing will.

(p.s. We know the Iranians don't usually think of women as technically adept. So giving them BroomHilda shouldn't be cause for alarm, and she already knows how to wear a bag on her head anyway.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tumblin' Dice

Always in a hurry, the Emperor never stops to worry,
Don't you see the time flashin' by.

Honey, got no money,
We're all sixes and sevens and nines.

Oh, my, my, my, we're rocking statically unstable,
Don't think that we'll be able,
To keep our ride upright to the ground.

But baby, baby, there's fever in the funk house now,
Got to fire RCS all the way to the ground,
Don't want to let my precious cargo down.

You got to roll me and call me the tumblin dice, (call me the tumblin')
Got to roll me, got to fire those jets, got to roll me
Call me the tumblin' dice.


The Petri dish is one of those simple little inventions in which amazing things take place. Shallow glass in the shape of a dish and filled with growth media. Add a dab of bacteria and the colony will grow if the food is to its liking. Now put two different types of biological specimens in the dish and sometimes convergent evolution causes the two organisms, not closely related at the start, to independently acquire similar characteristics while evolving in separate and varying ecosystems.

Such has happened in the Petri dish that is the Space Coast in Florida. The candidates vying for votes in this critical state have now converged to effectively the same plan for its future. What started, for an instant, to look like an issue that might roll forward into the campaigns has now been resolved.

And so Sam Ting wins his ignominious battle and will finally see his payload fail on orbit. That cracks open the door to flying the space shuttle past 2010. Like Pringles, we won't be able to have just one, but thanks to the Russians, we will have another, and then another, and then...

ARES-1 will get to go forward for another year until it shakes itself out of our future for good on its first flight. Our tried and not always true back-up will be ready on the pad, the "gap" will be closed, and a new one will be formed by the Chinese soon thereafter.

With twice a year shuttle flights, COTS will become a ill-conceived reminder to all who ever attempt to bring commercial fruits to the government. The Space 2.0 crowd will start to have their reunion parties and reminisce like the Space 1.0 crowd did with the Emperor in Alamogordo last week ("We share scar tissue.").

The Emperor will live on with his six degrees and promises to protect the aging assets. Like Skywalker, his intentions found the dark side and set the wheels in motion. He mortgaged our spacefaring dreams and all that remains are the aging hulks from the 70s, flying with band-aids, aiming for the 2020s.

Yes, the campaigns have converged, and our futures may now be foretold.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

COTS? Maybe Not?

Right on the heels of the Falcon 1 splash, comes a major milestone for the pinch hitters, and potential holders of the COTS flame, Orbital.

Anyone care to bet how that came out?

You guessed it! They didn't pass the milestone.

Maybe its time to paint the horses red, white, and blue again for good luck?

Out on the left coast, our other friends are getting ready to splash another one. QA is all but in hiding. Pinhole hydraulic leaks are patched with silicon instead of getting a more productive repair. Can't make any money sitting on the ground. Get the thing in the air!

Anyone care to bet on that little roll motion that set up during the last launch will eat the next launch's lunch?

The Russians still haven't figured out what's going wrong with their separation bolts either. As they dance through Georgia, we can see that they may be distracted from worrying about such mundane things.

Hard to believe that the most reliable way of getting to the space station is something called a space shuttle. All the folks scrambling to grab an orbiter for their museums when the system is retired probably might want to get some rest. Instead, they may want to start looking around for the couple of $B it's going to take to refurb them, not as museum pieces, but for extended flight well into the next decade.

Covering Tracks (con't)

Back on June 14 we told you how "new blood" seemed to be the watch words for winning new contracts from the Emperor. And on July 10, we told you how the minions were covering tracks in their procurement activities, hiding source selection material for source board selections being overturned on E Street.

Now it appears one of those selections is getting ready to draw blood. To see how, solve this equation:

GAO + spacesuits = Time to get the FOIAs out.

Too bad the other contract losers of late didn't protest their selections as well. We might have had some more experienced contractors working on getting us back to the moon.

ARES-1? Maybe Not?

We’ve all heard the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Unfortunately, the minions have been directed to do a lot of things they don’t have a grasp on. And then they are told how smart they are by people that don’t know any better. Experienced mentors are hard to find. Just ask Steve Cook. Maybe not?

Take the issue of controllability of Doc’s (remember him? must be doing time somewhere by now?) spaghetti string? Five segments of looseness, being pushed from the bottom, and making organ tones around just above 10 Hz as it lurches upward. You’d think someone designing rockets would have been familiar with the problem. Maybe someone did but thought it would be a fun problem to solve. Maybe not?

So our soon, simple, safe rocket, now has more moving parts than an Atlas 5. We dare you to run the reliability numbers on the two. That SRB now looks about as stock as the Cheerios car at Richmond looks like a real Dodge. Maybe not?

So out come the pencils and the computers and the power point charts. Numbers churn. S squareds and omega squareds are scribbled down. Simple control problem spews out on the paper. Given enough bandwidth and a bunch of little rockets up top, and some spring, mass, dampers down below, we can get the Emperor’s limp rod in the air. Maybe not?

“Not so fast!” yells Mr. Nyquist. “Looks good on paper,” he says, “but don’t forget about transforming those s’s into z’s!” Ahhh, yes, the real-world implementation of a control problem . Pick a computer and a bus to move sensor data and take controlling actions back and forth to those vibration dampers. Moving a continuous reality to the chunked-up digital world should be easy these days. Maybe not?

Time for another number: 1553.

Mr. Nyquist is about half-satisfied. He’s sending the spaghetti into the sauce.

And here’s another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul. Maybe not?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

High Stakes Tit for Tat

Life often follows art, or so it often seems.

In the movie 2010, tensions mount between the US and the Soviets (yes, they are still around in the future as seen from 1984 when the movie was produced), over Central American issues. As a result, the crews from a joint Russian-American space mission are forced to go to their respective corners (spacecraft) until it is clear that both are dependent on each others' survival and that they need to work together to get home.

Funny how a relic from that era named Vladimir is creating similar tensions today, albeit in a different part of the world, and raising similar issues for those flying far over our heads.

While the blogs debate the ultimate impact of the Emperor's failure to protect our interests in this matter by creating a gap in our ability to autonomously access the ISS, the minions are finding themselves squarely on the front line, quietly playing a role with international policy overtones. For with every pass over the troubled region, the Russian crew members are vigorously capturing reconnaissance data with hand-held cameras from their advantaged post on ISS.

The problem, for our partner adversaries, is that the only channel available for downlinking those jpegs comes from you know who. Consequently, the minions have been practicing bandwidth diplomacy, filtering the downlinks over the last couple of days, inhibiting the transmission of any bird's-eye view of the battlespace to their intended recipients, much to the annoyance of our station-mates.

So when the shoe gets on the other foot, it will be hard to complain when we, too, are ignored for putting the thumb out for a ride to and from the outpost in the sky. The precedent we are setting today will come back and bite us in 2010. And we only have the Emperor to thank for being in this very precarious position.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

Today ends the dog days of summer, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Many families, including the media's, use this time to work in last minute vacations before school starts. The halls of Congress are dark. True American heroes distract us with reports of gold in the Far East. And somewhere in an alley off E Street a fiddle is beginning to play a mournful tune.

Out front, behind a cut out cardboard box, two puppets appear. In a confusing celebration of double speak, Charlie McCarthy (played by Viceroy Cooke) and Lamb Chop (played by Viceroy Hanley) start their performance. Anita Sinclair once wrote, "Through puppetry we accept the outrageous, the absurd or even the impossible, and will permit puppets to say and do things no human could. We allow a puppet to talk to us when no one else can get us to speak. We allow a puppet to smile at us even when we have not been introduced. We also allow a puppet to touch us when a person would lose an arm for the same offence."

And so the show begins. Charlie and Lamb Chop tell the assembled few of their trials and tribulations. For them, clocks only run backwards, adding hours, minutes, and seconds to already long days, months, and years. Calendars grow thicker, pages seemingly added without reprieve by Father Time. Leaves whither and fall, yet spring never reappears.

Poor Lamb Chop also draws attention to her disabilities. Being stuck in a sock handicaps the soul, preventing it from sensing life's offerings to the fullest extent. Without fingers to click a mouse, or pick up a telephone, it is easy to lose track of the world around her.

And so Lamb Chop resorts to irony for her biggest laugh. The audience watching the puppet suspend belief, if just for an instant. They ignore the Emperor's own hand moving inside the sock as she announces that she is "not privy" to the Emperor's very public testimonies. Here we have a sock, just asking to be thrown in the dirty clothes bin. Very funny stuff. Guffaws all around.

Such are the dog days of summer.

Slip Slidding Away (to be continued).

NASA Exploration Systems Architecture Study Final Report, November 2005:

"The Emperor was named the new NASA Administrator in April 2005. With concurrence from Congress, he immediately set out to restructure NASA’s Exploration Program by making its priority to accelerate the development of the CEV to reduce or eliminate the planned gap in U.S. human access to space. He established a goal for the CEV to begin operation in 2011 and to be capable of ferrying crew and cargo to and from the ISS."

Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, August 11, 2008:

The official IOC for an Ares I crew launch vehicle able to send a crew of six to the International Space Station (ISS) in the Orion crew exploration vehicle is March 2015.

We suggest you ask yourselves, "Are you better off than you were three years ago?"

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Needle and the Damage Done

A little part of it is in everyone. Addicts continue to do what will eventually kill them because they think they can get away with it just "one more time." They always do eventually quit, but not usually on their own terms.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida wants just one more shot of the shuttle milk-blood. He's going to ask the next Emperor to spend "$300-400M" to get one last shuttle flight to ISS carrying Sam Ting's magic machine. He says the hardware is already available in the form of an extra external tank that is kept in reserve for a rescue mission. Since it would be the last space shuttle flight, and since the ISS is a safe haven, the rescue tank would not be needed and could be put to good use.

Say what?

We love the contorted logic of addicts.

Ahhhhhh, Sen. Nelson, sir. Just how would you get that crew off the safe haven if that last tank happens to let go of its precious foam? Have you asked the Russians if they have three or so Soyuz's in the pipeline and ready to go on short order to save Ting's lambs? Maybe you'd rather ask the Chinese for help?

While we don't expect our Senators to really have a handle on what things cost or to balance our national checkbook we would hope that they would draw the line at trying to understand probability theory and its implications for human lives. That $300-400M could go towards making AMS a free flyer and for putting that last ET in the Smithsonian where it belongs. That makes a lot more sense than putting seven more bodies in Arlington.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Keep Me in Coach!

Speaking of selling one's soul...

Speculation is running rampant as to who is rich enough, dumb enough, and in a world of hurt enough to pay off the umpire after three strikes and keep the Bad News Bears in the game for at least one more try at Fire with a Little Less Smoke. In a post debacle statement Saturday night, the pitcher of record told his team that, in effect, he had made a small fortune out of his large one, burning through the $100M+ that he had set aside to get to home plate. Banging the Drum slowly, he said he was ready to accept blood money to make payroll for at least one more at bat.

Hmmmmmm, how to solve that riddle? Rich enough? Lots of folks like that in a League of Their Own. Dumb enough? Ditto. The Field of Dreams (a.k.a. Silicon Valley) has benches filled with losers who are looking to put one over the fence without working for it.

And then there are those Long Gone loony tunes. Not many of those Lunar X-Prize teams are going anywhere without the cheap ride the Falcon was going to provide. No ride, no moon, no exposure, no revenue? World of hurt.

So who is The Natural answer? Perhaps one needs to put all this into Google to find out who his Paying Pals are?

Bridging the Gap

The stock boys are back in the warehouse doing inventory this week. With new life instilled in the shuttle huggers by the Number One former shuttle hater, one wonders just how far into the gap can one go?

External tanks are the obvious question mark. There is sufficient inventory of raw materials in the pipeline, thanks Wayne, to fly at about a twice per year rate until 2014 or so.

SSMEs also have something to add to discussion. Twelve flight sets could be fielded with what's on the shelf. Let's see, two flights a year, that's six years....2014 again.

So the numbers are starting to come up in the ballpark. All but that $3B number, course. But let's not get silly over that.

However, people are also required to make this student body right work. (Un)fortunately, the writing has been on the wall for four years, and many of the engineers at Michoud actually started believing it. Any new assignment is grabbed as fast as the ejector seat handle can be found. The tank contractor has also signalled that D-Day will come sometime in September as the need for tanks beyond 2010 appears to peter out. If the aging shuttle is to be provided an opportunity to take itself out of work via natural causes, instead of the previously proposed rational plan, then something is going to have to change in the next 90 days or so.

What's an Emperor to do?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Where the Southern Cross the Dog

In Moorhead, Mississippi the Southern Railway line and the "Yellow Dog" line of the now Illinois Central Railroad cross each other at right angles. It is said that here Robert Johnson met Papa Legba and sold his soul in exchange for being able to play the blues guitar like no other.

As the Falcon 1 debris splashes into its watery grave, the Emperor will now be forced to call on Legba again. He will say that $3B is a small pittance to keep the space shuttle flying while providing an excuse for the his ever delayed steroidal aspirations. He will endure the sting of a scorpion and sign his name in blood, selling his soul to remain on the throne.

One cannot have one's cake and eat it, too. Indeed, as the late George Carlin said, "What should I eat, someone else's cake instead?" Well in this case, that's exactly what is going to happen. It is not possible to keep the space shuttle flying AND get Constellation by 2015-16 simply by buying an extra piece of cake.

The problem is that there are not enough "cake tins" with which to bake. Just ask former Viceroy Hale. He lost his job trying to keep the shuttle pipeline stocked to the expense of Constellation, before the Emperor got religion. If you don't give up the launch pads, the MPLMs, the OPFs, the test stands, and the personnel, then you are going to have to build new infrastructure for the pieces and parts you originally intended to inherit for almost free.

And it will take more than a few days to construct the replacements.

Of course, flying through the gap will cost a whole lot more than the $3B the Emperor says he needs to make up for Washington D.C.'s "silliness." Gehman be damned. Then again, he said it would only take $2B to pull in the Constellation schedule to 2014, an investment his very own program manager soon said he couldn't deliver on.

Nor has an responsible investment been made in the private sector to take over the shuttle's mission to supply the space station through the gap. $170M won't put gas in that car.

Anyone who takes the Clothless Wonder at his word has not been tracking his excuses as this program heads for the water. He will say anything to keep his job. Maybe he should heed the word of one of his predecessors who similarly bridged across two administrations but recognized the problem at hand almost 10 years ago. A choice must be made. Or all will be lost.

"In the next decade or so, we should be completing our work in earth orbit and getting ready to explore our solar system and beyond. We can't afford solar system exploration until we responsibly turn these earth orbit activities to a cutting edge private sector. The reality is that Federal spending constraints will not allow NASA to both stay in earth orbit and explore beyond. And things will probably not improve in the foreseeable future." - Dan Goldin, 1999 Space Frontier Foundation

The Beginning of the End

After trying for at least three times to get the third Falcon 1 off the ground, the SpaceX COTS rocket precursor was lost (it appears, for the third time) about three minutes into flight, just as the second stage was supposed to light up.

While we empathize with the good folks who poured their hearts into the effort, anyone believing a start up company will come riding in on flame and thunder to fill the gap the Emperor has created should now become very concerned about our ability to service the space station and even more concerned about our country's future beyond the surly bonds.

Least there be any doubt now about what happens when you paint a rosy picture while puttting risks to the side, what happens when you work without margin at the front end of a progam, and what happens when you fail to adequately test all operational aspects of a rocket machine, you only need look in the water in the South Pacific near Kwaj. Software can be forced to violate physics from time to time, but smoke and fire is cleansing.

That future is now headed straight for the cliff. With the Emperor whoring himself out, joining ranks with the likes of John Glenn and others questioning the retirement of the space shuttle, we will continue to be marooned in low earth orbit. We will find ourselves mourning the loss of more spacefaring friends as we rationalize ignoring the Columbia recommendations and cross the line in the sand set by the Gehman commission. And when that day comes, our leadership who allowed this to happen, who couldn't pass an eighth grade science test, will just say Rocket Science is too hard and shut off the spigot.

The Man with No Clothes has put us in this position. Unfortunately, no one that matters is pointing at this wardrobe malfunction. It is the beginning of the end.

Chute Me Out of My Misery

In a scene portending the future, the Orion Parachute Test Vehicle is no more, after it became inverted following extraction in a test from a C-17 aircraft. The capsule inverted in the air and was unable to get its parachutes deployed. After being torn from the capsule, the chutes drifted away like so much confetti, as the capsule itself crashed to Earth, putting a rather large dent in the ground.

This is not the first Constellation parachute failure. Last year, a Drop Test Vehicle with an Ares I pilot parachute failed when the riser connecting the parachute to the DTV didn't do its job.

Landing without a parachute is hard. But even on the cursed ORION, landing with them is hard. So hard, in fact, that the Russians have told their American counterparts, no doubt with a smirk, that their equipment (and maybe their cosmonauts), which are built for stout anyway, would not likely survive an ORION landing.

Parachutes are hard. No wonder the Emperor is starting to favor that big thing with wings again.