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Battle Of The Launches All Over Again

File photo: Launch of Ares-1
by Launchspace staff
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Jan 14, 2009
Here we go again! Everyone wants change. So, why not change our minds about how NASA gets to the International Space Station (ISS), the moon and beyond. Second guessing is the national pastime in Washington, DC. Not only do we second guess NASA decisions, but we do it often, we do it early and we do it late. It is a whole of career thing. In fact, there are some who make it a career.

They are the Professional Second Guessers. Some are very smart, educated and have good ideas. Some have too much time on their hands and like to make life difficult for government agencies and officials, and anybody else who is handy. Those with good ideas need to get them to NASA early in the process and leave NASA to evaluate them. Those with too much time should get a life. You know who you are.

Yes, it is true that the Ares I design leaves much to be desired. Nobody has tried to hide this fact. It must carry out a very complex mission. As a space launch vehicle it is under-powered and very expensive. But, NASA could not start with a clean sheet of paper.

The design was originally restricted to a Space Shuttle derivative that must carry a crew into space for multiple mission types.

For several reasons Congress was not going to foot the bill for a whole new launcher. Based on early analyses, a Shuttle-derived vehicle seemed to satisfy expected cost constraints by retiring the Shuttle after completing the ISS and then phasing out the expense of ISS operations. Budget savings plus inflationary adjustments were expected to pay for new space exploration initiatives.

In 2004, when this all started, little attention was paid to a potential multi-year gap in U.S. human spaceflight and the fact that we would have a multi-year dependence on the Russians for ISS resupply and crew rotation.

Now that relations with Russia are somewhat frayed there is a genuine concern about continued cooperation in operating the ISS after 2010. So, somehow NASA has maneuvered itself into a position with few tenable options regarding the future of the space station. If this were a chess game Russia would have the winning move - checkmate.

Why doesn't anyone seem to like Ares I as the Shuttle replacement? There seems to be several reasons. First, there is a general perception that Ares I represents a giant step backwards in time and technology, when compared to the Saturn V or Shuttle. Second, it is at least partially a child of political expedience. Nevertheless, none of this means the vehicle will not work.

NASA and its contractors know how to build a launch vehicle, and every challenge can be overcome. In the final analysis the main question is: Will a workable Ares I vehicle fit within the NASA budget, deliver the required safety and performance, and be available in a reasonable time frame?

NASA is fighting wars on several fronts. The President-Elect wants to consider using a military launcher instead of Ares I. The private sector is proposing the DIRECT solution. Additionally, a number of other potential options are out there.

Mike Griffin is defending the Ares I option, as he should. We are almost five years into the Ares I development. Billions have been spent on an architecture that is centered around this design. The Shuttle Program is preparing for retirement in 2010.

Frankly, it is too late to be fiddling with the design. We are already projecting a five-plus-year gap in U.S. human space flight and it could potentially be much more than five years. It seems the logical thing to do is to continue with the Ares I, until and unless the design proves to be worthy or to be fatally flawed. If the former is the case, then NASA is justified in its pursuit.

If the latter occurs, then NASA has to go back to the drawing board for a new design and to Congress for more funding. This is the way the system works. Deal with it and let's move on.

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NASA Seeks Concept Proposals For Ares V Heavy Lift Rocket
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 08, 2009
NASA has issued a request for proposal for the Ares V rocket that will perform heavy lift and cargo functions as part of the next generation of spacecraft that will return humans to the moon. The request is for Phase I concept definition and requirements development for the Ares V rocket. Proposals are due to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., no later than 1 p.m. CDT on Feb. 9.

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