Chair Force Engineer

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Review of "The Space Review"

I really enjoyed this week's installment of The Space Review. While I usually do enjoy reading it every Monday, this week was exceptionally good. It made me want to comment on two of the more stimulating articles.

Wayne Eleazer talks about how the Delta IV and Atlas V were developed and why we're at this point today. He points out that the Air Force tried to envelope the needs of the commercial sector when the EELV requirements were initially drafted. The service's failure to accurately predict the needs of commercial vendors led to the adoption of solid rocket boosters for both rockets.

I would consider myself to have a libertarian perspective on life; I shun big government (yes, the big bloated bureaucracy that cuts my paychecks) and I embrace free-market capitalism. My approach to EELV would have been to let the industry develop the rocket based on their own commercial projections, and to treat the government as just another customer. Of course, national security demands that a launcher be built regardless of commercial projections. To solve the problem, I would have the government guarantee a certain number of launches to the first vendor that could meet the government's requirements. That's similar to how Falcon I was devloped and the Defense Department's current contract with SpaceX.

Eric Hedman (who has previously written on an EELV-based architecture for lunar return) makes valid points regarding the viability (or lack thereof) of the Ares rockets and the alternatives. He shows some bias (as do I) towards Direct Launcher. I especially like this paragraph:

If NASA management won’t seriously look at this proposal, I’m asking Congress to do their job as the “board of directors” of our government. This decision is crucial for the future of the US manned space program. Don’t let the design be finalized before know that a potentially much better option wasn’t considered. If this proposal is dismissed without serious consideration, NASA may lose the support and confidence of the many space enthusiasts that pester their representatives in Congress who, in turn, help keep NASA funded. I can’t say if the Direct Launch concept is the best ultimate choice, but I do think the concept need a fair hearing before irreversible changes to NASA’s infrastructure are started.

I don't believe that Direct Launcher is being given a fair hearing within NASA, because Michael Griffin is irrationally enamored with The Shaft. At least the NASA senior management gave lunar orbit rendezvous a fair hearing back in 1962 (back when it was a fringe idea,) and their open-minded approach allowed Apollo to get to the moon by 1969.

Mark Whittington tries to rebut Eric Hedman's call for congressional scrutiny, and while I share his concerns about congressmen (who largely aren't savvy on technical matters) making engineering decisions for NASA, I also believe in the congress's constitutional power of the purse, and their moral obligation to American taxpayers to ensure that tax dollars are wisely spent. We can only pray that the legislative aides will do their homework about the competing moon plans, and make compelling cases to their bosses to approve the best of those plans.