Skip to main content

View Diary: What NASA Could Be (320 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  I think that Obama just wants to... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dburbach, elfling, alizard, Uthaclena, jessical

    change the "inevitable" meme of the Ares program that Mike "Stewie" Griffin seems to be locked into at any cost.

    Ares is proving to be a big boondoggle; NASA's version of the Sergeant York that dogged the Army so badly with cost overruns in the Eighties. A mishmash of spare parts, poorly integrated, do not make a decent program.

    (I humbly submit my credentials for some technical expertise in this regard: I worked on electrical systems for the AV-8B Harrier II during its test program from 1983-1986. By the time the plane was finished, it was an almost completely different aircraft. Other than a few fuselage components, the new Harrier had almost no commonality with the old one, and that was a good thing. I have no problem with change so long as it's not just for its own sake.)

    A SRB-only first stage for the Ares I (the people-lifter version), adapted from the shuttle but with an additional segment to allow a longer burn  may have almost intractable problems- there's a chance it could bash into the tower on launch, it may have a 25-Hz resonance with high amplitude that could literally shake its crew into unconsciousness. What's worse, is it is overweight, and there is almost no way to make it anymore lighter without cutting into safety margins or crew size, which was supposed to be the two things Orion was to do better than Apollo. It might not even make it into space in its current conception.

    Ares V is even worse, at least from a technical standpoint, because NASA wants to do it quickly. But it was also supposed to be done on the cheap, and you can't do cheap and fast in aerospace, not simultaneously. Much of it is totally different from the shuttle, which is a pity because there is actually much decent hardware on the STS. Ares V would be a beautiful heavy lift beast of a rocket, but NASA is now forced to re-engineer all of the old Shuttle technology to do it - widened main tank (which is more tricky than first thought), updated second-stage rockets, and new SRBs, when we still have 600 segments for the old shuttle. We'd be better off license-building Energiya's big girls.

    I also have a problem with the idea of developing two new and very different rocket systems when there are so many other solutions already available- the Atlas V and Delta launchers are both proven systems, and could be made human-launch rated with some work. (The Atlas was once used to haul Mercury and lots of early space probes to their mission destinations, so it's kind coming back home.)

    Some NASA engineers have come up with a decent interim solution - DIRECT, also known as Jupiter. It is not as heavy-lift as the Ares V (100-140 tons vs. 200 tons for the Ares. It's overkill for the Orion manned capsule- but you could haul a lot more with the capsule if you wanted to, like a Skylab-sized mini-space station, or a good-sized module for the ISS to continually upgrade it. Most of the work on it has already been done, on the side or in semi-official paper projects.

    DIRECT is not re-inventing the wheel - it's the shuttle main tank and existing engines, minimally adapted, to put things on top of it, where a flawed solid rocket booster or falling ice is far less likely to kill people on their way or on the way back. Some of it is actually making it somewhat more heavy by under-engineering it for sturdiness rather than light weight. We can also use up all those SRBs. At 8 segments per launch, we can get 75 of these off the ground. But it will allow the existing engineers and production people to keep their jobs while we get time to develop a "WOW" project, like single-stage-to-orbit or some other nifty next-gen solution.

    Of course, that's what Griffin doesn't want- he want Ares, or nothing at all. The latter option puts all of NASA in jeopardy, and that's what Obama flat out doesn't want.

    I humbly disagree with DarkSyde- I have no respect for Griffin. From the aerospace perspective, "Stewie" is very much a Bush-bot. He's enamored of "transformatory", sweeping changes which become disasters when they don't work, leaving anarchy in their wake. And they simply can't imagine failure, so there's never a Plan B. NASA will be the technological New Orleans, a scientific Afghanistan, if Ares fails. And it is looking more and more likely like it will.

    I don't know why Michael Griffin is doing this- like everyone here, I feel he would be better served if he just let Obama's investigatory teams do their work- he could have increased Ares' chances of survival if he had. Maybe he's got skeletons in his NASA closet like so many of his Bush cronies seem to have once they leave office. Perhaps it's ego- Ares is his baby, and he'll be damned to see criticism of his brainchild. Perhaps it's pure obstructionism out of pique from being on the losing side of the worst president in modern history. Who knows- all I know is he must go.

    Humanity may very well be saved by NASA's actions, both in the short term (global warming) and over the long term (by giving humanity's descendants a way out when our sun begins to evolve off the main sequence in another 750 million years or so). That's a risk I'm unwilling to take. Just for that short-term risk, Obama may want to simply call Griffin in his office on January 21 and tell him, a la Donald Trump, "You're fired." Knowing Obama, he'll already have his replacement vetted.

    •  Question for you Black Brant (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Where do you think NewSpace should fall in the larger NASA policy vision?

      •  I absolutely love it, long term. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

        I think it's like a hothouse program, which should be nurtured and allow to grow in all kinds of new directions. The companies in NewSpace become, in effect, NASA's "Skunk Works", with all kind of wierd and wonderful ideas, some of which may transform how we get into space and explore it and our own planet.

        I posted above that I like the idea, long term, of several entrepreneurial companies competing on equal terms with the big boys. They must be given the resources to compete, or else their proposals are just "that's nice..." papers given short shrift by the High Panjandrums of NASA, who are still locked into the "if it's not Boeing or Lockheed or Martin Marietta, it's not worth our time" mindset. Even if these are only to popularize space travel, they're OK in my book. It's the "take Grandma up in the Curtiss Jenny" way of making space available to the average Jane.

        I would like to see the idea of making NewSpace project manager oriented, with the best minds taking it upon themselves to make a program work- and not to ruin someone's career if it doesn't work, but was still well run anyway. NASA is expensive science, and failure sometimes occurs. Sometimes you learn from the failure. (Sometime I'll quit lurking like I usually do and give a little diary of the things in the Harrier II program where we screwed up, but learned from the failure.)

        Short-term, unfortunately, we're going to have to use interim solutions to keep people going up into space, and use less than optimal solutions to keep our programs afloat. Long-term, however, who knows? Maybe the cheapest way into space for the next 50 years is bumping around in a Virgin Galactic engineer's head- but he's never had a way to put it into effect...

    •  X-33 (0+ / 0-)

      It's another X-33

      •  X-33 (0+ / 0-)

        It really saddens me that the X-33 never made it to space. Nasa choose to go with a revolutionary rather than evolutionary design (such as composite tanks rather than well-tested aluminum ones), and that made costs skyrocket. Pity, it would have been nice to have one of our own ships ready to step in by the time we shut down the shuttle program.

        I demand the government respect my 18th amendment rights!

        by Decih on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:21:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Lockheed perspective (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          A couple of years before X-33 was canceled, I was at a presentation given by a senior Lockheed-Martin lobbyist.  

          He put up a slide of the X-33 and commented, "Man, if they ever get to the point of trying to launch this thing -- which I very much doubt -- I don't want to even be in the same state.  KaBoom!  But hey, if NASA wants to give us $2 billion for it, we'll sure take it!".


    •  The thing about Griffin... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dburbach, elfling, alizard

      is that he wrote a very well-respected, you might even say seminal, book, "Space Vehicle Design" which, while very generalized, provided an excellent overview of the field.

      So when W appointed him NASA Director I was quite taken aback, here was someone with actual technical knowledge being put in charge, what a surprise.  I must admit though, I immediately lost respect for Griffin knowing that he had W's respect, even if I lost a little respect for my own objectivity in the process.

      Griffin has proven to be a poor administrator, as technical types unfortunately often are.  He's also shown himself to have an ugly political bent that gets mixed into the discussion far too much for what should be an organization dedicated to the scientific method.

      I consider myself an Agnostic because the only thing I believe in less than God is certainty.

      by aztronut on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:11:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Couldn't agree with you more there... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I didn't read the book, but I knew he was well-respected.

        As with all Bush appointees, however, I learned very early on that each of them are appointed solely on the basis of loyalty to Bush, with actual competence a secondary concern.

        As a result, NASA under Michael Griffin is solely a Bush ego project, and a big boondoggle for the defense companies by proxy- Griffin is saying "how do I make my boss- and by extension, myself, look good with this? And how do I make my corporate bosses the most money in the process?"

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site