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Subject: Are we going back in time (while others go forward)?
afrc    7/13/2008 12:36:46 PM
It certainly looks like we are going back to basics with the new Constellation launch system. VentureStar project got canceled, as well as some other bold projects. Areas I seems to duplicate Delta Heavy in many ways. The system is cheaper than Space Shuttles for sure, but it also makes me wonder whether we moved an inch since the days of Apollo missions... some 40 years ago. hXXp://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/ares/index.html
 
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afrc       7/13/2008 12:40:07 PM
Sorry. The system gave me an error when I tried to post, so I tried several times and apparently got multiple posts.
 
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Lance Blade       7/28/2008 5:39:35 PM
From what I can gather, Project Constellation seems to be self-defeating. It aims to push the Final Frontier and develop a new series of launchers, yet Ares 1 is a Shuttle's SRB with a payload delivery motor on top. This is taking the incremental approach to the extreme. Even worse, the risk profile for developing this new series of launchers would likely be worse than that for the new Delta IV Heavy. Instead of consolidating on the success of the Delta IV, which is a beautiful example of how the "modular" approach to provide varying lift capacity, results in standardisation, lower manufacturing and operating costs, and most importantly, low risk - the latest rocket in the series, the Delta IV Heavy, despite a partial failure on its maiden launch, was a complete success on the 2nd, carrying a USAF satellite into orbit - instead of pursuing that route, they now plan to launch payloads with a solid fuel booster, which has serious disadvantages over liquid fuel for the following reasons:
1.) Impossible to control output on demand - "throttle back"
2.) Very difficult to extinguish once lit
3.) Burst casings can lead to loss of entire vehicle and possibly crew (Challenger disaster being the most tragic one)
 
This would seem to overwrite any safety benefits to be gained by use of the incremental approach, while offering no real advantages over adapting the Delta IV Heavy for human spaceflight. It is a waste of money and does not compete with the Delta IV series on cost, reliability or versatility. I just hope enough high-ranking NASA officials realise this in time, and stop this white elephant before it costs American taxpayers billions more dollars.
 
My personal opinion is that the whole Ares series was some form of political gambit by the brass who wanted to prove to the world that something good came out of the legacy of the Space Shuttle. With their ideological cries of "we'll only use tried-and-tested tech!", they stubbornly ignore the blatant truth that, technology has moved on since the 1960s, and what back then was risky tech, is now in common use all over the world. The Delta series is there. The vast experience in assembling modular structures in space is also there. The incredibly successful Mars Exploration Rover programs could easily be adapted to give the Mars expedition far more tools than ever before. Yet instead, they insist on going to Mars in recycled Shuttle components, landing with a 30 year old system to plant the flag Apollo-style, and then promptly leaving in a multibillion dollar smoke trail that gives America no real gains in science or technology.
 
The political meddling becomes even more blatant when we factor in that, while Mike Griffin "welcomes" other partners, it's clear he only welcomes them as small nuts in his large corporation. As evidenced by his declining European offer to help with Orion, he certainly wants Americans to be first to set foot on Mars. Understandable from the point of view of a beurecrat sponsored directly by the American people; nevertheless, ESA has now gone to work with the Russians to develop their first manned spacecraft. While neither Europe nor Russia intend to go to Mars in the near future, only a fool would deny Europe's recent achievements in space exploration. Was it wise to show them the door, from a pragmatic "let's get this done" point of view?
 
Time will tell, of course. NASA has enough muscle to push through its own debacles and in-politicking, as has been proven time and again. The question is, will that money last all the way to Mars, or will this wonderful visionary project, like some others before it, stagnate and ultimately collapse in a heap of fragmented high-tech developments, spinoffs and a nagging sense of dissatisfaction that will only serve to shrink NASA's budget even further?
 
In the 1960s, NASA knew what they wanted and how to get there, and they did, while in the USSR, a parallel development collapsed in a debacle of epic proportions, largely because clever people put personal feelings above their work once too often. It would be a terrible shame if a similar episode happened to NASA.
 
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