Friday, August 15, 2008

NASA News conference: News is not good

In 2005, NASA announced the goal of having the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) flying in 2011. Three years into the Constellation program, that goal has now officially slipped four years. It sounds like one of Zeno's paradoxes: for every year of the program, you slip 1.33 years, so you never fly.

COMMENT: OK, some of the problem is budget (with blame to share among the President and Congress), and some is the nature of all large high-tech programs to develop unforeseen difficulties and require changes as the managers and engineers accumulate data. But you can't absolve NASA management on this. They knew roughly what was going to happen with the budget, and it was obvious some time ago that premature commitment to a launch vehicle solution was not the best path they could have chosen. Development of the Orion seems to be going pretty well in most areas (with the exception of the crater made by the with the Parachute Test Vehicle) , but integrating it with a launch vehicle that seems frighteningly marginal is not. The Ares-1 looks more and more like Vanguard every day: a vehicle which was sold as a simple upgrade of existing stages when the engineers suspected (and soon knew for sure) it was going to be a completely new rocket, with chronic technical problems and budget overruns. They eventually made Vanguard work, but there's a lot more riding on the Ares - literally.

I need hardly mention, but will anyway, that, as with all my posts, the comments in this one are strictly my personal opinions.

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