Saturday, August 2, 2008

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.

6 comments:

kT said...

There is a Phoenix myth.

I can only suggest that people research it, for some perspective.

Anonymous said...

Elon's message to the troops seems almost upbeat in the manner of any Silicon Valley executive. Yes, we've had setbacks, we've failed and put the entire company at risk, but we must move forward not backward, upward not forward, and always executing executing executing on our strategy...

Who in the Valley has not heard this before? Elon has to stop talking about moon flights for $80 million and other such things and concentrate on launching something without flaws in it. This ain't software, Elon old buddy. You can make billions releasing software with bugs and incompatibilities. You can't do that with rockets.

Specific Imp said...

Elon I think is now coming to understand why it is so damn expensive to make a rocket that flies on a regular basis. His estimation of the engineering support is off by a large factor. There is no business where total (and very public) failure is the result of even the most trivial oversights. It is as if the penalty for for crossing the yellow line, not signally your turn or rolling through a stop sign was death. It affects your thinking.

If he perseveres in the face of this adversity he really will be a hero. But such heroism often comes at disproportionate costs. Far larger costs than he has estimated to date.

Anonymous said...

"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."

I still think there should be a well-funded COTS D phase or something like it, and it should have been started a long time ago. I don't have particular winners in mind - they could be SpaceX, Orbital, EELVs, or someone else. There should be at least 2 winners in case of problems with 1, and to increase healthy competition.

The gap is growing. Shrinking it with Ares or the Shuttle will be much more expensive than COTS D, and will not result in any vast improvement compared to shrinking the gap with COTS D systems that are inherently new and useful (the Shuttle will still have to go away, and getting Ares done a bit earlier isn't that much of an improvement).

Anonymous said...

There is a common thread in Spacex and NASA, their weakness is the need to publish upbeat press releases which deny reality, and then demand that all of the employees agree with the bullshit. This leads to an organization which believes its own bullshit, which generally works OK for a while in many industries, but not in the rocket business.
When Elon said that launch #2 was a success, he denied the problem the attention it deserved.
When the Constellation team found out that a stock SRB with a SSME wouldn't work, they should have re-scoped the project, instead of pretending the stick could be fixed on a flat budget.

Anonymous said...

Elon should rename the Falcon to the Pelican
given it's propensity to go fishing.