Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will NASA make Commercial Crew impossible?

NASA supports (or has been told to support) the idea of letting commercial vehicles carry crew members to the ISS. Not surprisingly, there are different levels of support for this radical idea within the agency.
NASA, very properly, wants to impose standards for "man-rated" launch vehicles, much as the FAA certifies airliners. This is not new for NASA: it did the same thing for the Redstone, Atlas, and Titan II boosters in the 60s when rockets developed outside NASA were adapted to carry astronauts. Former Shuttle program head Wayne Hale, though, thinks NASA's new proposed standards are so burdensome no one may be able to meet them. Hale writes:
"The document runs a mind-numbing 260 pages of densely spaced requirements. Most disappointing, on pages 7 to 11 is a table of 74 additional requirements documents which must be followed, in whole or in part. Taken all together, there are thousands of requirement statements referenced in this document." The questions raised by Hale and the commenters on his blog is whether NASA is setting the bar so high that its standard cannot be met.
COMMENT: It's hard to decide whether this apparent overregulation hides malicious intent or just reflects an abundance of caution in an agency where all the people who have done this job before have retired. Either way, NASA needs to, and presumably will, take comments from industry and may do some modifying to get the job done without making the job impossible

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