Chair Force Engineer

Monday, October 29, 2007

Downsize This, NASA!

At this juncture in Project Constellation, it's pretty clear that NASA did not pick its current shuttle-heritage architecture because of its performance benefits, and it did not pick it due to low development or operational costs. Instead, the Ares I & V promise to MAXIMIZE operational costs, owing to their inheriting of the "standing army" that was raised to support Apollo and was sustained throughout the Shuttle years.

By the same token, it's clear that the non-use of EELV's (Delta & Atlas) for Project Constellation had nothing to do with performance or economics. Delta and Atlas have already sunk their development costs, and an economy of scale could be achieved if the EELV plant in Decatur AL was cranking out the ~40 cores per year as it was designed to do. The economic case for the EELV's was made on the basis of 1) high flight rates, and 2) low fixed costs with a reduced labor force.

If NASA had adopted an EELV-based architecture, it would represent a shift from a workforce employed by NASA and United Space Alliance, to a workforce employed by United Launch Alliance. And what would become of the Shuttle Standing Army under an EELV-based architecture? While some of them could still work on Project Constellation (particularly the astronaut trainers and the life support technicians,) many of them would likely have to work on another job.

Congress has mandated upon NASA that the agency retain the Shuttle Standing Army to the fullest extent. It would certainly work against the Congressional incumbents, particularly those in Central Florida, if there was an exodus of jobs and the accompanying "brain drain" following the shuttle's retirement.

At the same time, I do not believe that the government has the duty to act as a jobs program, and I do not believe the American taxpayers should fund a standing army when a leaner force can achieve the same result. It may sound heartless, but I could care less if the Shuttle Standing Army was cut loose. The standing army is made up of talented and dedicated individuals who should have no trouble finding other work once the shuttle is finished. Such is the nature of the defense business. Defense contractors and civil servants must always remember that they serve the taxpayer, and there's no obligation for their continued employment after their service is over. The Air Force is letting 40,000 of its own people go during the force-shaping program, but neither Congress nor the American people seem to be concerned over the loss of jobs.

At the same time, an EELV-based architecture need not cut the shuttle workforce loose. While stock EELV's (Atlas V with SRB's, or Delta IV Heavy) are perfectly capable of launching Orion into earth orbit, a growth variant of the EELV's could launch out of LC-39, make use of facilities like the shuttle's Vehicle Assembly Building, and keep the standing army employed. ULA has promoted concepts such as Atlas V Phase 3, which would require a new launch site. One idea is to cluster five Phase 2 cores, while another would use a shuttle-derived core of 27-feet diameter. Doing so would put LC-39 back in business and retain the jobs of most who worked there.

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