Monday, October 27, 2008

Another round on Ares-1

The Orlando Sentinel has done a good bit of research on NASA's Ares-1 rocket and reports that, while engineers and astronauts agree it can be made to fly, no one believes the current budget (far over the original budget) or the 2015 timeline. One engineer complains managers "think they can mandate reality" (a disease not restricted to NASA) and astronauts complain about the reduction in redundancy of systems on the Orion CEV driven by problems with Ares.

COMMENT: I have to be clear here, as I've worked for companies with NASA clientele and need to reiterate that this is my opinion as a private citizen, space historian, and general space buff. Any rocket has problems in the design and testing phases (ask SpaceX) but this thing scares me. NASA leadership seems committed to tweaking the design into eternity rather than to swallow the sunk costs and seriously consider that another alternative might be safer and, in the long run, cheaper. I'd rather live with a longer gap in US crew launch capabilities than accept an unreasonable risk to the crews if a marginal design is forced to fly for reasons based mainly on budget and stubborness. What happens next depends in part - but only in part - on the election. As a voter, I don't think either Presidential candidate will be able to push up NASA's funding significantly, meaning not enough to either perfect Ares-1 or replace it on anything close to the current schedule. (I would not be surprised if a President Obama reversed course and slashed human spaceflight, or allowed Congress and OMB to slash it, given the need to fund other domestic commitments he's made.)

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