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.


kT said...

Hope is not a strategy.

Indeed it's not even considered a viable scientific method anymore.

We've long ago invalidated faith as a credible design methodology.

Those who can see some assemblance of a big picture approach to space colonization and development have completely lost both faith and hope in NASA's ability to perform any rational top down or bottom up engineering of large scale space colonization concepts and launch vehicle architectures and their implementations. They need to step aside and leave it to the pros now.

They had their chance. They failed.

Anonymous said...

Rocketman did you hear Geyer at this morning's tag-up? PDR slips into next year.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when you politicalize (if that's a word) a government agency. Oh wait, that's an oxymoron.

I've always felt that NASA needs to tear down its walls, to open the engineering to the greater public. While the average joe-six-pack thinks that NASA has the smartest engineers in the world, I think we're seeing otherwise.

Don't get me wrong, there are hundreds of smart people working at NASA. I know a few of them. But these assine decisions are being made that will tarnish NASA for years to come.

If NASA can't build a rocket, I don't think the US ever will. Gone are the days of Von Braun and Gene Kranz...the 1960's are over. Let's clean house, break down the political barriers and do "REAL ENGINEERING".

Anonymous said...

NASA needs to cease to exist. The rot and corruption are now an inextricable part of its essence.

Close the doors, sow the fields with salt, and wait a generation or two so all those involved are safely retired or dead. Then there might be a chance of starting a replacement organization that might function properly for a while.

Anonymous said...

anonymus said:

"If NASA can't build a rocket, I don't think the US ever will."

The US HAS! It's called EELV - Atlas V and Delta IV. They are 100% successful.

Let ULA Human Rate them. I can't think of anyone more qualified to do this than REAL rocket scientists.

Let's get on with it.

Anonymous said...

The US HAS! It's called EELV - Atlas V and Delta IV. They are 100% successful.

Hmmm, my mistake for not being clear. I should have said, "If NASA can't build a rocket to get us to the moon, I don't think the US ever will."

Look, man-rating an EELV is almost impossible given NASA's rule of thumb regarding redundancy. EELVs, while proven, doesn't fit in with VSE. It's like trying to use a hand-held blender to mix paint. You can do it, but its not what the blender was designed to do. DIRECT is a much more viable solution. IMHO, DIRECT is how NASA should be run (engineers coming up with the best solution supported by the numbers). Proof is in the numbers. Numbers don't lie. Let the numbers speak for themselves.

All this boils down to politics. It's a sad state of affairs that NASA, which has done so much (think Gemini and Apollo), has become mired in egos, back-room deals, and face-saving decisions.

While sacking NASA is an interesting thought, it's not practical. What's really needed is some house-cleaning by a responsible director whose supported by the VP and Congress. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but until a master politician who also understands engineering and management comes to the administrator position, NASA is doomed to repeat past failures.

Anonymous said...

"Man-rating an EELV is almost impossible"

Actually, it's very easy. The Redstone,
Atlas and Titan were all man-rated, and
each of these were existing ICBM's dragooned
into service for mercury, gemini.

The Titan 3M was the only one rated from the
start for human flight and it had solids.

The key element for any man rated vehicle
is Escape. Put a capsule with a escape tower
on an EELV and off you go.

Anonymous said...

The key element for any man rated vehicle is Escape

Actually, I was thinking about redudancy.

The Redstone, Atlas and Titan were all man-rated, and each of these were existing ICBM's dragooned into service for mercury, gemini

Actually, Redstone was a decendant from the V2 (not an ICBM...Although, I guess a V2 launched from Germany at Russia should be considered an ICMB). :p

However, this isn't the 60's anymore. Back in the glory days of NASA, I think they could have certified existing EELVs for man-rated flight (in fact, your example proves that).

However, given NASA's aversion to risk and the recent past history of designing in triple redundancy, you'll find it hard to convinence me that NASA would even consider EELVs.

I'm not saying that it couldn't be done or that it shouldn't be given its due engineering analysis...I'm just saying that NASA culture is of the mindset that if:

1) they don't build it, then its not reliable, and
2) if it doesn't have triple redundancy than its not "safe"

Anonymous said...

How is a vehicle the same shape as Apollo with a CG and resultant L/D the same as Apollo any less stable than Apollo? The answer is it isn't. Apollo was stable once pointed in the right direction, but it wasn't monostable where its CG was located. Same is true for Orion.

Anonymous said...

anonymus wrote:
"2) if it doesn't have triple redundancy than its not "safe""

NASA's Human Rating requirements Standard has already eliminated this requirement due to the inability for Ares/Orion to comply. So an EXISTING EELV provides more redundancy than the current requirements.

Anonymous said...

Orion may have the same shape, but it doesn't have the same c.g. or inertia ratios of Apollo. Apollo was bi-stable and a canard could always flip it over to blunt end down. Orion is not bi-stable. It is unstable and will not settle into either stable state that Apollo had.

Steve said...

The problem is not this or that technical issue. The problem is leadership. When President Bush asked for Apollo on a flat budget, NASA should have said no, it can't be done.
But NASA management lied to the liar, and they told the engineers to try.
Of course they failed, there was not enough resources to do Apollo over on 5-10% of the original budget.


DrL said...

I don't understand the "politicize" comments here -- "politics" had nothing to do with it (despite the gratuitous swipe at the current administration for not opening up the funding floodgates as much as some want). Griffin and the folks around him were convinced that they were 1)very smart, smarter than those who've struggled with this problem for years, and 2)hence know the answer a priori (the Ares architecture). Nothing political about that, unless ramming an architecture thru a trade study is a political event . . .

RayGun said...

President Bush didn't ask for Apollo. So Steve, please take your Bush Derangement Syndrome to the Daily KOS or This is a failure of NASA leadership. If Mike Griffin had a ounce of common sense he wouldn't be building two new rockets. The cost of Ares could of put a lot of hardware and people into space and eliminated the gap.

kT said...

President Bush didn't ask for Apollo.

Yes, he did :

It's right there : 1. The Moon.

Please take your Bush Derangement Syndrome to the Daily KOS or

You, sir, are a liar. George W. Bush is a liar. End of discussion.

RayGun said...

From you link, KT.
"Implement a sustained and AFFORDABLE human and robotic program
to explore the solar system and beyond;
Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a
human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for
human exploration of Mars and other destinations;
Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and
infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about
the destinations for human exploration; and
Promote international and commercial participation in
exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic

Doesn't say build two new rockets that will cost 30 Billion to develop. Key word is AFFORDABLE. So why don't you (KT) and Steve go
smoke a joint, or have butt sex, or whatever you libs like to do when your not hating the President.

kT said...

So why don't you (KT) and Steve go
smoke a joint, or have butt sex, or whatever you libs like to do when your not hating the President.

Is this what you consider a credible response when you are confronted with irrefutable evidence of your clear lie?

George W. Bush ordered a return to the moon by executive order.

Nothing is going to change that, except another executive order.

Hopefully it won't be a president with your kind of respect and appreciation for the truth.

Anonymous said...

drl said: politics" had nothing to do with it

With NASA, everything is political.

Leadership is politics. Being a leader means playing politics. Ask anyone who has ever managed employees before.

Anonymous said...

It would appear that some of the commentary is straying away from the subject matter. Perhaps some restraint is in order.

I've read all of the commentaries to date and with the number of problems this program has, it would appear that success is just not in the cards.

Now, the question for all of us is this: "Do we continue the Don Quixote tilting at windmills for the remainder of our careers or get up and get out and find something else to do?" Do we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or by rising up, oppose and overcome? Sometimes the greatest effect is rendered by removing one's talents from the process.

Something to think about.

kT said...

Are you suggesting surrendering to the inevitable, quitting or otherwise giving up on stopping Ares, Orion, Constellation and the entire VSE?

Not a chance. The entire thing is so deeply flawed, corrupt and criminal, as to require an entire new war.

The war on NASA. Get used to it.

We're dealing with creationism here. The republican vice presidential candidate is a freakin creationist! And you're going to let that have another free pass?

Not a chance. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, a decent moon architeccture could
be done, using ISS, propellant depots and
EELV's, that would have been
sustainable and ultimately a great success.

Apollo on steroids, what a joke.