Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Convergence

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.

9 comments:

kT said...

Turn away from the darkness!

Go towards the light!

Anonymous said...

I'm quite curious to know why R&S thinks
the AMS will fail on orbit.

Are there any public reference documents
to it's construction quality?

Given ISS stopped funding science paylaods
a few years back i wouldn't be surprised
if it is a complete disaster, but, i'm surprised
ting would push for it to fly if it has
major issues.

Lecter said...

Hmm. Even ignoring the "recertification" issue, this will last until the Shuttle breaks for the last time. Probably not with a "bang", most likely with a whimper (discovering a problem with a multi-$B fix).

Anthony said...

I am not crazy about keeping the shuttles running, but given the current lunatic ARES proposals, it makes more sense to go with the demons that you know. The USAF has made do with the B-52 and KC-135 for incredible amounts of time.

Anonymous said...

The KC-135 and the B-52 were designed by a different breed of engineers in an era where you didn't need three lawyers, an ethics advisor and 10 hours of diversity training each year.

I just saw the ICD's or what is supposed to pass for ICD's and they are every bit as bad as the specs. That leaves us with not knowing what it is supposed to do nor how it is supposed to go together.

Oops! I forgot! Sorry! Those full color posters on the walls! We'll just mail a set to every bidder and let them figure out what to build! Put a little red arrow next to the part that shouldn't even have been designed yet (amazing detail for equipment that is not supposed to exist). I'm sure the bidders will continue to give us a very good prices. I hear that they have been so good that meeting after meeting has been cancelled just so higher ups can sit around the table and talk about them.

Don't worry, keep rowing! RAMMING SPEED!

Anonymous said...

The KC-135 and the B-52 were designed by a different breed of engineers in an era where you didn't need three lawyers, an ethics advisor and 10 hours of diversity training each year.


But there were more than four of them. Well, more than three. If we had done something sane, like building Shuttle 2.0 and maintaining production capacity, I'd be fine with flying them for a long time. But we don't have any more, and we can't make new ones, and as such they're irreplacable and scarce national assets.

The shuttles are also symbols; losing one is a symbolic defeat for the US. It's not only the cost in lives, it's not only the billions of dollars, it's also a severe blow to prestige.

The whole Ares I program seems to me to be yet another symbolic defeat in the making. It is frustrating and even humiliating to see this debacle unfold.

How can it possibly be that five years after Columbia, NASA is betting the whole pot on Ares I, which is going to be barely able to limp into orbit at best, and self-destruct at launch at worst? And we won't know until we fly Ares I-Y, leaving, what, a year to overcome a possible catastrophic failure?

I'm almost forced to believe that NASA simply can't do it anymore. I know from experience that there are excellent people who work there, dedicated and talented professionals who give their hearts and souls to their jobs. It's as if something's just rotten within the institution itself.

Lecter said...

There's a very big difference between a B-52 and a shuttle. The B-52 is a much simpler, comprehensible animal. The engines have been replaced with modern, reliable equipment, and the airframe itself is very robust and the fatigue issues well explored. Add in the extensive flight experience (orders of magnitude greater than the shuttle), and you have a very reliable, well-understood system. Simply add the latest avionics to the airframe and you're good to go.

The shuttle is such a complex beast that nobody can really predict how all of the parts will interact in a given flight. It's too expensive and unreliable to collect much flight experience (5 flights a year is a laudable, heroic effort for the shuttle; for any other aerospace system it is puny), so there are undoubtedly more "sharp edges" we haven't encountered yet. I'm sure that one can generate a fantastic set of Microsoft Project Gantt charts and PowerPoint slides showing how you'll fly the shuttle until 2020 (I've seen some). Good luck on actually executing.

Anonymous said...

"I'm almost forced to believe that NASA simply can't do it anymore. I know from experience that there are excellent people who work there, dedicated and talented professionals who give their hearts and souls to their jobs. It's as if something's just rotten within the institution itself."

Brother/sister - you have hit the nail on the head. I weep for my friends who are excellent,dedicated,talented professionals who give their souls to the job and suffer the rotten results from the current NASA culture and leadership.

Anonymous said...

The picture of the wreckage on the floor of the desert, Fox News, 23 Aug 08, says it all. The dubious response was "We are studying the matter." What kind of NASA speak was that?

I am relatively new to the program but I am not going to grow old with the program. I've read their documents which are akin to toner and paper flying in loose formation. They couldn't even place a single, rational thought into writing.

The whole program will be metric down to level four where you can be anything you want after that. Didn't we have a problem at Mars with that kind of attitude?

Their thoughts are rife with such problems and contradictions. The documents paint a dark story of a solution being rammed down our throats and we have the job of creating justification for it.

If I had seen these documents when I was looking for a job, I would have kept on looking. The measures required to make it work are not politically acceptable - however it will be perfectly acceptable to management to auger into the ground in glorious fashion as the pictures in the news so starkly illustrate.