Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reluctantly Sticking With It

Most of the alt.spacers are quite angry (and justifiably so) that it will take $3 billion instead of $1 billion to modify the Shuttle SRB for use on The Stick/AresI/Crew Launch Vehicle. I'm certain that some of that figure has to do with final development and certification of the 5-Segment SRB, which was not part of the original baseline. If that's the case, I think that the extra $2 billion is money well-spent, because the 5-Segment SRB would have been needed for the future heavy-lifter.

Now that NASA is committed to The Stick, it's best to "stay the course" and make their chosen solution work as best we can. If NASA changes direction now, the Vision for Space Exploration will likely rack up more cost overruns, face further schedule slip, and get canned by Congress. Unlike a lot of the alt.spacers, I was too young to witness "the heroic age" of manned spaceflight. The most heroic thing I've seen NASA do is fix an orbiting telescope. I want to see NASA do something heroic again, like landing on the moon--even if it's not the most technically sound way of doing it.

Back during the heroic age of the 60's and early 70's, nothing would have scared NASA away from using existing boosters for a manned capsule. Redstone, Atlas D, and Titan II were all considered "good enough" for manned spaceflight, even though they had all been designed for launching warheads instead of humans, and some of those rockets had spotty success records.

Obviously, NASA's previous decisions on manned space launchers were influenced, in part, by a very tight schedule that decreed a moon landing before Jan. 1, 1970 (and before the Soviets, if possible.) There was no time to develop "man-rated" boosters from the ground up. At the same time, I think that NASA's choice of The Stick was motivated less by "man-rating" and more by a desire to retain shuttle-related jobs (at the expense of the American taxpayer.)

The Stick will use the same facilities and a similarly-sized workforce to that used by Apollo and Shuttle. NASA should have learned how to make things more efficient over the last 45 years, but they choose not to implement these methods because of the initial costs of doing so, and the lost political support that results from laying people off. LockMart and Boeing, for all their faults, have at least applied their years of experience in making their EELV processing as lean and automated as possible.