Sunday, January 11, 2009

We Have A Longer Way to Go

The path to the moon is now much longer than it was back in 2004. But, last Wednesday, the Emperor attempted his sleight of hand one last time to have listeners and readers take on faith that his way leads to the space highway. "Stick with me and I'll set you free." Or something like that.

In hopefully one of his last farewell oratories, he talked of the first Constellation elements "originally required to be in service by 2014." "Originally," and actually "still" required, as the law has not changed. What has changed was the original commitment by the Emperor and his ESAS minions to use all that off-the-shelf shuttle hardware and have them flying by 2011. Rather than blaming the radical configuration changes and reconciliations that have taken place under his reign since then, he blames his boss (who must be saying, "now what was it I hired you for?") and Congress. He says the "'gap' is not a surprise." We guess we should have expected ESAS to fail in its prognostications?

He cautions "against changes in the broad direction of our space program, because I believe that today we are spending our resources in pursuit of the right goals. We must not allow indecision and uncertainty to cause, again, the waste of billions of dollars already invested and the loss of any momentum we might have hoped to achieve." Hmmmmmmm? Exactly what is the broad direction and goals of our space program? Class? Anybody? Go to the moon, Mars, and beyond? Because it's there? Have the minions bothered to take the time to write down the detailed objectives of our "right goals?" No wonder the American school kids aren't clamoring into the math and science classrooms.

Having skipped a discussion of those objectives, let's meander into his justification for "Apollo on Steroids." Now the logic twists like pretzels to confuse the wide-eyed into believing big is beautiful.

Smaller capsules could fit on EELVs.
But small only supports ISS.
Goal (finally!) is to develop the option for sustained lunar presence for a crew of four for six months (Ahhhh, what are the four people doing for those six months? Looking for monoliths?).
So we need a BIG capsule.

Screeech! Where did that come from? Who said four was the right number? Who said six months was the right duration? To do what, exactly? These things have been stated so many times now they are taken on faith that there must be some set of objectives driving these requirements. What are they? Class? Anyone? Raise your hand, please. Maybe it takes four of us to hold off the three Chinese looking for souvenirs in Tranquility Base?

Let's follow the logic a little further. Since we now take on faith that we need a BIG capsule, the existing EELVs can't possibly work. So they need to be "tweaked." And, of course, that would take longer and be more expensive than fixing the multitude of problems facing ARES 1 today. Let's not forget that bugaboo, "human rating." The Emperor's paper rocket is twice as safe as what is already flying today. Wonder what Rickover would say about that statement? The Emperor provides us with numbers containing a couple of significant digits for reliability, performance, and budgets, so it must be true.

The same speaker tells us that the actual mass problem for Orion is the return weight on the parachutes. Oh my. Parachutes must be holding up the Orion PDR? Here we thought it was BroomHilda's make-up cabinet. Well, they have to be big to slow the BIG capsule to land in the water (yeah, we're going beyond Apollo here aren't we?). Parachutes are notoriously unreliable, growing more so with size. So how is the weight going to pulled out of those parachutes that the crew depends on for life itself?

Margin? What's that?

This is where Humpty Dumpty comes in. This is why we must think "architecture" not "point design," to coin a phrase.

The CEV does not need to be so big as to exceed the throw weight of an EELV. Just ask John Young. Only the launch abort system is on the critical path to stop payment to the Russians. Within the next two to three years such a system could provide access to ISS. That frees up resources to start work early on a heavy lift rocket(and keeps the jobs intact in Sen. Shelby's backyard).

Need more room for a trip to the moon? How about using all that volume right next door in the lander? It's supposed to support the crew of four (conceding that parameter for the sake of argument) on the lunar surface for a couple of weeks (another concession) for the three day trip out and back (can't concede that, it's physics)? The same EELV's lifting expensive geosynchronous spacecraft and trusted by insurance companies to do so, as indicated by their premiums, could get the job done. Human rating? Launch abort system and a transfer of some of those waivers from the space shuttle should do it. Mix well, improving with time to remove the waivers. And, oh by the way, a smaller CEV has smaller parachutes, for what that's worth.

Want even more room? Then follow the Russians' lead and launch a habitability module that does not complicate going up and down through the atmosphere with a BIG capsule. Maybe have an International Partner pay for it? Oh that's probably a bad idea, helping out the budget problem like that. Let our big investments in the military-industrial complex help out a bit, maybe get to the moon sooner? Nope, sorry, have to guard against this, we're told.

Architecture, not point design. We can say it many times, but we can't understand it for you. That much we know. And we say that with confidence and conviction.


Anonymous said...

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Anonymous said...

Its spelled "three years of continuing resolution".

Anonymous said...

We'll see what history says, but I don't think Griffin will be ranked near the top of the list with Webb and company.

Anonymous said...

I call BS on comment 1. If you're saying the Ares critics don't count, well, tell the Emperor to let us into the Arena - and without our hands tied behind our back like they were for ESAS.

No match.

#2: Three years of CR can't fix physics.

Anonymous said...

According to, Teddy Roosevelt is the author of the quote " It is not the critic who counts...".

In addition, I would submit another quote from TR : "“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

as bad examples of the latter: Mike "call me Spock" and Marsha "shut the f*cK up if you aren't an astronaut".

Anonymous said...

The point about person-months on the Moon is exactly right, and is the achilles heel of the whole plan. What ARE these folks actually going to be doing there? No doubt (as for the three person ISS) simply surviving, taking care of the outpost, and perhaps pretending to "do" a bit of science by choosing rocks to go back to Earth. It's about being there much more than it's about getting stuff done there.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between striving and being a blockheaded, stubborn, egomaniacal liar.

Anonymous said...

"There is no Try, There is only Do or Not Do"

-- Yoda

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Teddy also said "...carry a big stick, and you will go far".

Anonymous said...

Quote-- What ARE these folks actually going to be doing there? No doubt (as for the three person ISS) simply surviving, taking care of the outpost, and perhaps pretending to "do" a bit of science by choosing rocks to go back to Earth. It's about being there much more than it's about getting stuff done there.

And therein lies the danger of going back to the Moon before going anywhere else. How much is the public actually willing to pay to send a few folks to the Moon to play golf and try to stay alive for a month?

As planned, ESAS is heading us towards a dead end. If we're going to spend the money and take the risk to send people into space, it has to be for a more visibly useful purpose than just surviving!