Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shakey Shakey, Breaky Breaky?

As if we need another reminder as to how tenuous our low earth orbit outpost is, another reminder came our way recently. And just so we can use another word twice, we'll explain how our tenuous atmosphere, some excitable structures, and the Russians could end up nearly in a story about the day the space station almost broke.

As you know, the top edges of the air around us leaks away from the home planet every day. Some of those friendly molecules, on occasion, find their way way up into low earth orbit. If they happen to run into anything, they slow the very thing down. For those of you familiar with the mechanics of orbit, you know that if something slows down, its orbit decays.

That, of course, is a continuing story for the space station, locked in a silent circular treadmill above mother earth. As runaway air runs into it, the international complex reels from the blow and drops back towards the water below. To avoid an untoward demise, rockets are occasionally fired to speed the whole thing up, raising its altitude once again. Up and down and round and round she goes.

This time the Russians were called upon to fire the rockets on Mr. Putin's side of the fence. Pulsing away, the thrust came on up for the rising. But then things started to go really really (really) bad as the pulsing matched the tinker toy's resonant frequency almost shaking the tinker, and the astronauts onboard, out of the toy. This went on until, at just shy of the breaking point, the burn was terminated.

Putin's potentates apparently put a little too much special sauce in the burn calculations. Having worked the recipe so many times before, it makes you wonder how steady their hands are on things that count, like the keys to those silos we heard about 50 years ago that gave us reason to go to the moon in the first place(they got Putin, we got Spudis, who do you think is right?).

So now the achy, almost but not quite, breaky spaceship whizzing now apparently not so interminably above our heads, is under watchful scrutiny to see if any stress or distress was introduced into its many assembled pieces.

And maybe 2016 will be a lucky year to make it to after all.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Headless Chicken Rises, And Falls, Again.

Sometimes life's little coincidences are the funniest things. Take Mike the Headless Chicken, for example. Born in 1945, Mike lead a tranquil life on a Colorado farm for some six months before his luck was capped, so to speak. Our subject, a Wyandotte rooster, lived for another 18 months after its head had been cut off, strutting its stuff as a sideshow freak of nature after that fateful day.

Some of you, no doubt, are beginning to see the dark trail of humor in front of us.

First, the name of our poor cluck may remind you of a certain bygone Emperor. Rest assured that this is purely coincidence, but certainly not contrived. A Headless Chicken, of course, is akin to what he left behind. Strutting and crowing, by all appearances staying balanced, but moving in no particular direction as the disbelievers watch carefully for signs of a hoax.

So, too, are the Viceroys Cook and Gerst, are now balancing on the line, following appropriations directions where they can, and tweaking budgets where it suits them. Without further guidance they are shuffling funds to keep the shuttle flying and to focus on the fraudulent ARES-1X sham test...getting closer to the point of letting its schedule dictate Hubble repair launch operations. Unable to get her most important task to the finish line, the Snow Princess is without portfolio and returning to her palace, her magic ineffective in healing our modern day chicken's ills.

In the end, our topless friend, Mike THC, succumbed to a fit of choking when its owners failed to clean his windpipe. This coincidence, which is playing out before our very eyes, is not too funny after all.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Your Table is Ready?

Like the waiting list at your favorite restaurant, several names are written on a particular piece of paper on D Street. Many are crossed out now. No one, it seems, wants to assume the throne.

The challenges are many. A stick that won't fly. A capsule too heavy to fly on the stick that won't fly. A lander too wobbly to meet the capsule that is too heavy to fly on the stick that won't fly. A rocket too heavy to craw to the pad to carry a lander too wobbly to meet the capsule that is too heavy to fly on the stick that won't fly.

At least the stork is still able to fly to ISS.

Who would want this job? Who, indeed?

Monday, January 19, 2009

View From The Mountain

Off in the distance, the embers are still glowing. Those with torches and pitchforks have retreated to the alleys, for now, but maintain a watchful eye over the former Emperor's lair. Only the chimney stands and all watch for white smoke to appear, signalling an end to the firefight.

Rats and cockroaches still scurry about the remains of the E Street Theater. Their fate now rests with the Snow Princess and the demolition team ready to build anew on the ashes of the last four years. Those who have have been previously Shanked fear no more. A new spring is not more than a name away.

The view from the mountain is cold and snowy. Not the place to be without clothes.

An eerie silhouette appears in front of the full moon. The receding apparition of a straw broom and knobby figure beneath a hat full of sky brings applause and shouts of glee. A new dawn is breaking on the horizon.

Our job is almost done here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Skeet Shooting

Four pigeons wait all in a row. Poor pigeon catches wind but does not want to go.

Three pigeons wait all in a row. Poor pigeon gets no air and stubs his toe.

Two pigeons wait all in a row. Poor pigeon stops, won't make enough dough.

One pigeon left by itself in the breeze. Then the weekend comes and we're left with a tease!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Culinary Catastrophe

Sensing blood in the water, the sharks are beginning to circle in tighter circles. The Emperor is close to his lifeboat, yet the rest of the crew are still manning the bridge, lacking a similar means of escape as the water rises all around them. Alas, the futility of it all will soon become evident.

The Italian Waiter calls for a late reprint of the menu for his last supper. But a walk through the mess hall reveals empty shelves. The cabinets are bare. The new menu does not reflect what is really available in the sinking kitchen.

Likewise, test programs for the doomed "Stick" that were deemed too expensive and jettisoned overboard last year are magically reappearing on schedules, albeit without supporting budget. Something fishy is going on in Alabama.

The fish and floating bottles of wine now surrounding the Waiter are a product of the rising waters, and not from the transformation of similarly floating loaves of bread. "The Snow Princess will see that we are doing the right things to make this program work and we shall be saved by her benevolence," says the goateed one. "But, sir, we have no means of cooking such a meal and the water continues to breach the bulkheads," say the minions.

"Don't bother me with details, just be sure to print today's selections on glossy paper with a spiral bound."

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.

Friday, January 9, 2009

All Hands on Deck

Today the Emperor barnstorms into Houston for a fond farewell. More rehash of the progress his minions have made on a yellow brick road to nowhere.

We hope (we know, "hope is not a management tool," he just can't help himself with the continued endearments to his once prospective employer) he brought his golfclubs and enjoys the warm winter weather. Thankfully, he doesn't really have much else to do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Guns Blazing

Thursday morning some of you will have your eggs and toast while reading your national industry newspaper's interview with the clothless wonder. The lies and deceit will cause you to unconsciously clean your silverware before use. And, some of you will find yourself hearing the news firsthand at a breakfast with the Emperor himself. All will come away feeling queasy.

A day late and several billion dollars short, a defense of an empty headed program will be articulated and then posted for all to contemplate. Without a shred of integrity, going out with guns blazing and fingers pointing, the Men's Warehouse poster boy will try to quell the critics with a detailed analysis of why his lunar architecture is the only way to fly.

Be sure to look carefully at the assumptions and questions asked and answered before shaking your head in a particular direction. Remember, just about anything can be drawn to make a point on a log-log plot.

The lady is in the buffet line and she filling up her tray, but she is not singing yet.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gold Stars Rising

Back in September, a little hiccup that is now helping to formulate space policy almost went unnoticed. One hundred days ago, some gold stars were released to circle the earth...and another spacecraft. Just one day after launch, Shenzhou-7's orbital module released a small satellite, Chinese flag and all, which has now accomplished its primary mission.

We say almost unnoticed, but for the Protectors of the Free and the Brave. They have been monitoring the small free-flyer circle its mothership, almost as if it were prey. It does not take much imagination to replace the mothership, adorned with the same gold stars, with a spacecraft carrying quite different looking flags.

Nor does it take much imagination to imagine the Protectors concern for "what could be." In this case, history is repeating itself. The thought of a hammer and sickle on the moon scared people many years ago. Little satellites circling big satellites scares some people. Gold stars on the moon scare some people today even more. This is not speculation virally spurred on by some Bloomberg writer. This is the fire behind the smoke.

The Protectors also know, with some experience, a bad program development when they see it. They do not believe the Emperor capable of leading the minions to take the grey beachhead before chicken beaks start hanging in the new storefront at Tranquility Base. Those with wings for lapel pins already have the tools in the inventory and the know how to get the job done.

After all, the Protectors started us on the way to the beachhead 50 years ago before the civilians knew how to do it on their own. And soon, they will be getting ready to do it again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

The sun is rising from the south west.

Time for change is almost here.