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Setbacks Cast Doubt On NASA's Ares Project 255

Posted by timothy
from the tax-dollars-to-space-at-best dept.
stoolpigeon writes with this excerpt from an Orlando Sentinel article about the Ares program, which paints a bleak picture of the program's future: "Bit by bit, the new rocket ship that is supposed to blast America into the second Space Age and return astronauts to the moon appears to be coming undone. First was the discovery that it lacked sufficient power to lift astronauts in a state-of-the-art capsule into orbit. Then engineers found out that it might vibrate like a giant tuning fork, shaking its crew to death. Now, in the latest setback to the Ares I, computer models show the ship could crash into its launch tower during liftoff. "
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Setbacks Cast Doubt On NASA's Ares Project

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  • by 2Bits (167227) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:42AM (#25523953)

    Experts say its problems stem from changes to the original design. These modifications, such as changing the engines and making the solid rocket boosters longer, created unexpected problems, including excessive shaking and the launch drift.

    Changing design too late in the game, not enough time to review what consequences those changes might create? Too many requirements squeezed into too tight a schedule?

    Hmm, sounds familiar to us who are doing large software projects.

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:33AM (#25524145)

      And like a large software project it also might be a lot of hoopla about day to day operations.

      If someone posted an hourly press release for my internal work process at work it would also be full of failures. "Gavin wastes an hour on an idea which goes nowhere." "Gavin thinks he has found solution but actually finds more problems." "Gavin runs projections and determines his initial idea would result in a complete failure."

      I would like to know whether the project is actually off track--or just working through the problems that are a result of doing something difficult. With any large project you spend most of your time screwing up. My favorite anecdote is from one of the editors of Apocalypse Now. They calculated the number of individual edits they made in the film and divided it by the number of days they were editing. If they had been able to work without any mistakes and just cut the film they would have only needed to cut two shots per day.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by godfra (839112)
        "Gavin writes a lengthy comment on Slashdot instead of documenting those processes as agreed last thursday."
    • by Jon Abbott (723)

      The other oddity with NASA's Constellation Program (Ares I, V, etc.) is that NASA did all the design work, and the contractors are just doing build-to-spec. That seriously messes with the contractors when design flaws are encountered (as mentioned in the story). The phrase "scope change" doesn't even begin to capture the essence of it.

  • by what about (730877) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:44AM (#25523957) Homepage

    Looking around and seeing the tons of greedy and incompetent managers I have no doubt that Dilber law (it states that incompetent people will get promoted to managment) has taken over the old rule that managers where people that may have been lacking "social" skills but at least they knew what they where doing.

    I have no problem to believe that suggestions and faults report of engineers where just ignored by some manager that decided that by doing so he will be in charge to build two projects (the faulty one and the possibly working one)

    I suggest that we go back to the old school, managers must be taken from successful engineers that have worked on the field ! They may lack some "social" skill but at least they know what they are doing

    • by JustOK (667959) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:55AM (#25523989) Journal

      Dilber law (it states that incompetent people will get promoted to managment)

      That's the Peter Principle.

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:54AM (#25524235) Journal
        "That's the Peter Principle."

        Yes, I remeber reading my dad's copy in the early 70's, and it doesn't say that "incompetent people get promoted" it says people get promoted to their level of incompetence and then remain at that level.

        BTW: The "zen" of the Peter Principle is to realize it applies to EVERYONE, including yourself. This is why the best project managers will happily admit they "don't know anything" when in reality they probably have 20+yrs experience on the floor.
    • by servognome (738846) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:58AM (#25524007)

      I have no problem to believe that suggestions and faults report of engineers where just ignored by some manager that decided that by doing so he will be in charge to build two projects (the faulty one and the possibly working one)

      You know many technicians, mechanics, and repairmen have a similar complaint about engineers - really smart people who don't know a damn thing about physically working on something. The Dilbert-esque manager is a simplistic stereotype, when the problems are likely much more complicated.

      • by Napoleon The Pig (228548) on Monday October 27, 2008 @07:29AM (#25525073)

        One job I landed for a summer while I was in school for aerospace engineering was as an apprentice helicopter mechanic. I would always catch flack for being an engineer and every little design flaw in the airframe was my fault (even though some of the airframes were built well before I was even born). Sometimes their complaints were legitimate, however other times I could give them an educated guess as to why the engineer designed something a specific way even though it may be more difficult to maintain. As with everything in life there are trade offs in the designs.

        That job was not only a lot of fun, but it also gave me a pretty unique insight that a lot of engineers don't get into what happens after the product is designed and out the door. Because of that experience the maintainability of a product is something that I try to keep in high regard when I'm going through the design process because I have been on the receiving end of some really bad designs that could have been (IMO) easily avoided.

        This is one of the reasons, and I know people will cringe when they read this, I actually believe that engineers make the better managers than someone who's just "a manager". When you have someone who has gone through the process and knows what the challenges are, they're going to make better decisions in the long run. If you throw someone with a suit at a project who has little to no technical background you're going to run into the PHB problem.

        [side rant]The same type of thing goes for the engineers. During work on the project there should be at least one engineer who has a background in safety, reliability, and maintainability (usually a systems engineer) to go over the work and point out major flaws in the design that can easily be fixed at that stage rather than after the product has been developed and you get complaints from all the mechanics. Unfortunately this seems to be something that a lot of companies forgo because it can be a very expensive process.[/side rant]

        What NASA seems to have is a disconnect between levels of workers. The engineers are saying one thing and the managers are doing another. I understand that trade offs need to be made when managing a project, but from what I've read there have been a lot of poor decisions in those areas. I'm not a part of all these shenanigans but I have former classmates who are on that project. One major problem NASA has is politics, not only within the organization itself but politics in DC for funding and everything that comes with it. That will gum up the works of any major project faster than incompetence.

        • This is one of the reasons, and I know people will cringe when they read this, I actually believe that engineers make the better managers than someone who's just "a manager". When you have someone who has gone through the process and knows what the challenges are, they're going to make better decisions in the long run. If you throw someone with a suit at a project who has little to no technical background you're going to run into the PHB problem.

          Actually, from my experience in software, the absolute worst P

      • Two wrongs don't make a right, you know? Yes, some engineers are incompetent, and some are as out of touch with reality as to design an engine block with the spark plugs underneath. (To pick an example of something a mechanic would dislike thoroughly.)

        1. Adding an incompetent manager on the next layer doesn't fix it. It just makes the total problem even worse. You can't say it's ok to add an incompetent boss, just because a lot of those under him will be incompetent too.

        2. Yes, an engineer will not know eve

    • That's a variation of 'The Peter Principle', the idea that people rise to their level of incompetence and stop getting promoted. It's a very powerful law in the middle management world, and NASA has become very enmeshed in its results. It's not cleaqr that's what's going on here, but the Shuttle was amazingly burdened with the results of it.
  • by iocat (572367) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:53AM (#25523983) Homepage Journal
    Common guys, this isn't rocket science!
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:55AM (#25523993) Journal

    Please, this is not a troll.

    So what are the alternatives? I understand that not only is the shuttle getting very old (and presumably less safe with already a 1:100 chance of failure per launch) but is extremely expensive in terms of dollars/lb. to orbit.

    Are there any reasonable alternatives that are available in say, 5 years? Such as using a man-rated Delta (very reliable commercial launcher) for the relatively small Orion crew capsule and perhaps some sort of Shuttle tank + Shuttle engines + 2 current boosters as a heavy lift vehicle? Or will the U.S. be without manned space flight capabilities in a few years (ceding it to the Russians and Chinese!).

    Any NASA/ex-NASA/space experts out there? (By the way, really disappointed that the SSTO efforts like the Delta Clipper and X-34(?) didn't work out. Also, no, the Japanese space elevator will not be available for at least 20 years and probably not within our lifetimes).

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      The reason why all these anti-Ares stories are in the news is because some bozos suggested that an alternative stack could be made from existing shuttle hardware. Some no-so bozos then fleshed out the details and proposed it as a serious contender. This is attractive to some people because a lot of jobs are involved with making the current shuttle hardware and if you can reuse it all then maybe some people will keep those jobs.

      Whether it is false economy or not, I don't know, but it's clearly political..

    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:14AM (#25524077) Homepage Journal

      Alternatives? Well, there is one huge one for starters:

      http://www.directlauncher.com/ [directlauncher.com]

      The DIRECT launcher is one that has been worked on by a number of years by some of the very same engineers who are working on the Ares vehicle. In fact, it meets the requirements of re-using existing shuttle components much better than the Ares, and doesn't even modify the SRBs (the solid rocket boosters) at all. Those are treated as commodities and used nearly in an identical fashion as they have been used on the Shuttle.

      Another alternative: Falcon 9 Heavy [spacex.com] This is being deliberately built with the goal in mind to become man-rated eventually, and will be making trips to the ISS on unmanned resupply missions. The first flight of this rocket (not the heavy variant but at least the Falcon 9) is going to be later on this year. The manned version will be using a completely new spacecraft as well, which SpaceX is calling the Dragon.

      You also have suggestions of using a man-rated Delta IV-Heavy rocket that certainly has the firepower necessary for launching a manned vehicle, and one unusual suggestion was to use a Falcon 1 as the 2nd stage on top of an Atlas booster.

      There are also dozens of projects that NASA has worked on since the Space Shuttle was originally laid down that you really just need to dig on both the official NASA website and onto space-related websites (or even "encyclopedia" websites) to find these plans. In spite of some actual hardware being built and billions of dollars into these programs, there is a huge graveyard of earlier attempts to build a successor to the Space Shuttle. Ares is just the latest example, unfortunately.

      Will government manned spaceflight capabilities end in the next couple of years? Yeah, I think it will. This is something akin to the U.S. Navy being unable to send a ship out to sea because the ships fall apart before they can clear the harbor.

      Private manned spaceflight in the USA looks considerably more promising, with about a dozen companies all at various stages of development that are all chomping at the bit to get a piece of the action. In other words, CNN and the rest of the news media will be on hand in space to greet future NASA astronauts in a congratulatory party when NASA actually gets it act together.

      BTW, I've also suggested that CNN is going to cover the first NASA landings on Mars with their own camera crews that got there through other means. The more I read about things like Ares, the more I'm convinced this will really happen.

      In some ways, I'm glad that NASA is throwing its surplus money into Ares even though it is a huge black hole sucking up any money you can throw at it. At the very least when these private spacecraft go on line, congress might just force NASA into buying tickets side by side with tourists. What an accomplishment from the agency that supposedly is on the leading edge of spacecraft development.

      • by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:28AM (#25524127) Journal

        Another alternative: Falcon 9 Heavy [spacex.com] This is being deliberately built with the goal in mind to become man-rated eventually, and will be making trips to the ISS on unmanned resupply missions. The first flight of this rocket (not the heavy variant but at least the Falcon 9) is going to be later on this year. The manned version will be using a completely new spacecraft as well, which SpaceX is calling the Dragon.

        But will it get us to the moon? That is the whole point of Ares.

        • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:55AM (#25524247) Homepage Journal

          But will it get us to the moon? That is the whole point of Ares.

          That isn't the whole point of the Ares. One of its first (early) missions is simply resupply to the ISS. Furthermore, you could build a spacecraft from Dragon + BA330 (Bigelow Aerospace) that would at least get you to circumlunar orbit, and in style. I'm sure Armadillo Aerospace wouldn't mind a contract for a lander :)

          Once you get up to low-earth orbit, the possibilities open up tremendously. Besides, even NASA isn't planning on the full disintegrating stack like the Apollo spacecraft for lunar travel any more. And yes, I'm advocating the earth-orbit rendezvous plans that were proposed back in the early days of Apollo.

          So yeah, I think something could be worked out to get us back to the Moon on the Dragon spaceship. Not by itself, but for a couple billion dollars that NASA plans on spending for each lunar mission, there are many ways to get it accomplished for a price far cheaper than what the Ares architecture will allow for.

          • BA330 is a space station module. How is that supposed to get anyone to the moon? Dragon is little more than a concept, so why do you think it will be cheaper and better than Orion?
            • Dragon is further along than is Orion. They have it built. OTH, Orion IS a concept. Of course, I have little doubt that it will also be built. Why is dragon cheaper? Because it is not trying to be the endall. It is designed to take ppl and/or cargo up and down from earth. No where else. It is not being designed to serve ISS, Moon, mars, etc. It has ONE FOCUS.

              BA-330 IS a MODULE. Not just a space station module, but a module. In fact, it is part of a system that includes 2 BA-330, A sundancer, AND a transpor
            • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @07:21AM (#25525037) Homepage Journal

              Dragon is not a concept... at least any more than Orion. Actual hardware has been built, and some very significant engineering effort has gone into fabrication methods as well as shop floor space devoted to its construction. I'd call that a bit more than a concept drawing.

              OK, I'll try to connect the dots here. The BA-330 would provide supplies and berthing areas for a large number of astronauts on a trip to the Moon (as I said, travel in style) with a decent enough booster that could propel the Dragon+BA-330 to circumlunar orbit. The Dragon by itself simply doesn't have the consumable surplus to make the trip.

              I'm not necessarily suggesting here this is the optimal solution, but it is taking spacecraft that are currently under development (the BA-330 is already built, but it is awaiting a means and need to get it up into space) and coming up with a solution that would be a whole order of magnitude cheaper than the projected cost of a single Ares mission... assuming that everything gets done on time and under budget with the most wildly optimistic estimates coming from NASA.

              I'm also strongly suggesting that NASA can and do much better than what they are doing at the moment, and that Ares doesn't have to be the only game in town to do everything for everybody and fill all of NASA potential manned spaceflight needs. The Space Shuttle was similarly built to do everything possible with a monolithic solution to all of NASA's potential projects, and became a disaster of its own making.

        • by hcdejong (561314)

          On its own, no. But then again, neither would Ares.
          Using Falcon 9 might solve one of the (apparently) large hurdles in the project, i.e. getting a heavy-lift man-rated launcher up and running.

        • Not on it's own. You would need to assemble a ship in orbit out of two or three launches. But... This is how Ares is intended to be used too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      SpaceX is going to launch their midrange launch vehicle later this year. They project to have their heavy LV available in 2010.

      So I suppose in five years it is quite likely they'll be selling it, even if they miss the 2010 date by disasters and setbacks which are normal in the unforgiving field of rocketry.

      I'm a confessed fanboi, so I hope they succeed. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927)

        Just to be clear (for both you and another poster) from what I've been told the Q4 2008 date on the website indicates that the vehicle will be delivered to the cape by then, not necessarily a launch.

        However, they should be running the full mission duty cycle engine test on the F9 in McGregor soon... should be exciting, hopefully its on a weekend so I can head up there.

        • Really? On the website it says 'Falcon 9 maiden flight Q4 2008'.

          Lucky, lucky on you being able to go and watch. I'm unfortunately some thousands of miles southward. :)

  • An even more bleak picture comes from this blog/editorial:

    http://rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com/2008/10/getting-specific.html [blogspot.com]

    It seems as though NASA hasn't learned about what went wrong with the development of the Space Shuttle and are bound and determined to repeat those mistakes of the past and make new ones on top of that. This is a rocket being designed by committee, with some of the top management folks who don't want to compromise on the basic premise: to "reuse" as many of the Shuttle parts as possible.

    I hate to break the word to anybody still ignorant on this, but so little is being re-used from the Shuttle design that they might as well have gone back to the Saturn V design instead, or even made something completely from a blank piece of paper and rebuilt the supply chains from scratch.

    There are also so many engineers who are working for NASA that are complaining about this design that at the very least somebody in political leadership (aka congressmen & senators) ought to be starting to listen to the grumblings going on here. The lines of communication between Griffin and the engineers doing the actual number crunching and the basic design of this vehicle are completely broken.

    Of course, NASA has a wonderful [wikipedia.org] reputation for listenting to its engineers [wikipedia.org] that you can put full confidence in the NASA administration being able to listen to what needs to be fixed.

    • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:22AM (#25524105)

      If what is stated in the summary is true, then I think I've simply have to give up any trust in the prowess of NASA.

      What happened to this organisation that managed to put people on the moon, that managed to build a huge telescope in orbit around the earth, that even built a permanently manned space station? How is it possible they can't even design a rocket to take us to the moon?

      It is for sure not an easy task - but with the immense expertise that should be present within NASA, and commercial rocket launches now being commonplace, I'd say even geostationary orbit is an off-the-shelf technology, and I don't believe the step from there to the moon is that big, technically speaking.

      Not having enough power to lift off in the first place, come on! Someone didn't read the design specs, or were they not written down properly? It is really the most mundane if not stupid problem I can imagine when designing a moon rocket system.

      The other two mentioned problems (liftoff drift and the shaking) seem to me more like scaling issues, that presumably can be solved. Nasty ones I bet when you find them out, but the fact that they are found on the drawing board already means they're known issues. Then why making so much fuss about it! I bet they have had to deal with many more design issues that they found out only when modeling their new upgraded rocket.

    • by Pharmboy (216950)

      That is what is confusing me, why don't they just update Saturn? They know it works, it has a decent track record, it can carry the load. After all, we are talking about the rocket, not actual capsule. At the very least, (as you state) it would have made more sense to START with the Saturn V and move forward.

      • by Jon Abbott (723)

        Here [space.com] is an interesting story about the Saturn V blueprints and why NASA doesn't want to rebuild from them.

  • US vs. China (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theolein (316044) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:00AM (#25524015) Journal

    As the Chinese already have a working man-rated launch vehicle, I suspect that the US will have to make the Areas work no matter what, or else you'll be seeing the Chinese on the moon first (and at this rate even the Russians and the Europeans too, since the Europeans are currently looking at man-rating the Ariane and launching astronauts with a modified ATV).

    There, my contribution to the Slashdot US vs. the rest of the world slanging match.

    • Re:US vs. China (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:32AM (#25524143) Journal

      ..or else you'll be seeing the Chinese on the moon first...

      Ahem [wikipedia.org]

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:39AM (#25524403)

        That part of the problem is that the US had a very successful manned space program with many firsts (including the moon landing). In fact the US continues to have a very successful unmanned space program. The recent Mars missions, the rovers and the Phoenix Mars mission, have been very successful.

        Well those two things help lead to being lazy about future manned space missions. After all that's not the competitive "We've got to do it first," thing going on. Then there's the fact that the unmanned missions are much, much cheaper and seem to produce plenty good data.

        You have to remember that sending people in to space has thus far not been all that necessary, nor is there a real economic reason (beyond tourism). If it was a case that there was a lot of money to be made, like say you sent someone to the moon and they brought back billions of dollars of valuable resources, well then sure, there'd be plenty of motivation to keep a modern manned mission going. However as it stands, there's no economic benefit. So the benefit is entirely scientific. Well, that's sure as hell not worthless, but unmanned missions seem to do the job brilliantly.

        I mean suppose you are running the program and I come to you and say I have some research I want to do. I can do it two ways: I can either design and build an automated system, which has a chance of failing, or I can send people, who based on past experience have about a 1% chance of dying (that's roughly NASA's record at this point, about 1 in 100). Also, the automated system is much cheaper to do, and can potentially work for longer, though perhaps not quite as flexible.

        Which do you choose?

        I'm certainly not against NASA modernizing it's manned space program I think it's worthwhile. But let's maintain a realistic assessment of how useful it is and how priority it is. The US has already sent people to the moon, a number of times in fact. Doing it just for bragging rights isn't useful at this point.

        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          The purpose of the manned space program is PR - and I don't mean the "national prestige" stuff of yesteryear. What I mean is that the American tax payer doesn't really wanna fork a whole lot of money to such basic research as space probes. After all, they already pay into a national science foundation, why can't space science get it's funding out of that? NASA is a separate agency because science isn't the goal.. it's a means to an end. What's the end? "Space". It's the lofty concept of where we're go

          • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @08:17AM (#25525331) Homepage Journal

            I don't think the average American taxpayer even has a clue for how much (or how little) money is being spent on NASA. Most of the "ordinary" (but perhaps a bit older) folks that I talk to about NASA think that it is getting funded at 1960's levels, and can't for the life of them figure out why we aren't on Mars yet.

            Indeed, most of the folks who complain about NASA "waste" are complaining that with the 10% of the federal budget devoted to NASA (it is actually 1/10th of a percent, more or less) that there are much better way to be spending that sort of money.... like on education or to help protect against global warming. Barack Obama is one of these that has proposed just this sort of wild accusation about "wasteful spending" by the government on spaceflight.

            "The Space Program" has changed quite a bit from the 1960's, and I just don't see the innovation coming from NASA or the gutsy moves like the Apollo 8 flight that really tried to push technology right to the edge. Put into a more modern context, the Apollo 8 flight was like a manned trip to Jupiter and back would be today.

            I have thought a "what if" situation where somehow all of the Science-related programs of the federal government were thrown together into something called the "Department of Science" that would include the NSF, NASA, and NOAA. Then again, I'm not a huge fan of "efficient" government either.

            BTW, I'd have to agree with you on something here as well. Leadership in this area (spaceflight) is something that has been significantly lacking from Washington DC for quite some time. There are a bunch of dedicated engineers and research scientists, as well as a huge corp of astronauts, that want nothing better than to "boldly go where nobody has gone before". The Vision for Space Exploration was a good first baby step that has been missing for nearly three decades, but it certainly isn't as stirring as "we choose to go to the Moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard."

            "We are returning to the Moon" just seem to ring hollow in that sort of context.

      • Is it comfortable sleeping on those laurel so many decades afterward ?
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:00AM (#25524017)
    ... that engineers at NASA have formed a group to develop an alternative to "Ares", because of the perception that it was too little for too much effort. And the fact that NASA has so far rejected their plan without having looked at it seriously.

    I have been saying this for years now: NASA has been dropping the ball when it comes to man in space. It has been doing great with robotics, but otherwise has been dropping the ball.

    You want to see another man on the moon from the United States? Make it a $10 Billion dollar prize. NASA blows that (or pretty close) on a single Shuttle launch. I bet private industry would do it in under 10 years.

    NASA has been losing it, big time. Can they make a comeback? I would be the happiest person if they did. But I have my doubts.
    • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:04AM (#25524287) Homepage

      well they're already trying that concept with the Lunar Lander challenge.

      but space research has already been commercialized. all of NASA's technology is developed by private contractors. that's why it costs so much to build and launch the shuttle. on top of the actual development costs (materials, salaries for engineer/scientist/researchers, etc.) a large portion of their budget spending is needed to feed commercial profits--companies like Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. as well as smaller private contractors that also need to make a profit on each contracted component.

      cut out the CEO salaries, corporate profits, and replace business politics with a scientific meritocracy, then you'll see a much more efficient space agency. a lot of other national space agencies seem to be able to do more with less (as with NASA in the past), so there's no inherent problem with public space research.

      i don't have anything against the commercialization of space per se. if private corporations want to invest in cutting-edge technology like space travel, they should do it. but the commercial sector prefers to wait for the pure research to be done by someone else and then come in only after the technology is stable enough to develop commercial applications that they can profit from.

      so it's usually up to the government to fund pure research. and that works great when it's truly public research. but when you mix public research with commercial industries, that's when you get the problem we're faced with today, where the government is basically subsidizing a commercial space industry that has gradually replaced public space research. and this just shouldn't be happening. if private corporations want to commercialize space, they can do it on their own dime.

      besides, no one is stopping commercial industries from doing space research. just look at Virgin Galactic and Space X. national space programs has pioneered space technology and done much of the hard work for private industries. we shouldn't have to pay private corporations to commercialize space. commercial research doesn't benefit the public. it's like subsidizing the telecom industry and then letting the private telecoms charge us to use the infrastructure we paid for in the first place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mikelieman (35628)

        Jerry Pournelle summarized the issue well.

        http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q3/view532.html#Wednesday [jerrypournelle.com]

        I came to a number of conclusions, the most important of which was that $1 billion spent right would in fact develop the technology -- all engineering, no new science needed -- to build an orbital ship that would operate as airlines do. Fly, inspect, refuel, fly again. Once that ship is built, additional orbiters will cost about what big commercial airplanes cost, and operate about the way airlines do

      • by Teancum (67324)

        One of the reasons why contractors are being used by NASA in this way is because it requires people with very specialized talents that are only needed for a short (comparatively) period of time.

        Contractors work out best if you have a huge project that needs some attention for a few months or maybe a couple years, and then you can "dismiss" those workers afterward to move on to other endeavors. If the contractor is being smart and not getting screwed over by the contractee, they are going to be charging a h

        • Hiring employees is preferable when you know in advance that you are going to have them around for awhile and are going to have a nearly continuous need for their services.

          Fixed that for you.

          (Now if only someone would do the same for italics inside a blockquote)

  • by PitViper401 (619163) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:01AM (#25524019) Journal
    Despite what people will say about the environmental side-effects, I still feel that Project Orion [wikipedia.org] is the best possible way for us to get back to space fast, and actually travel useful distances with a live crew.
    • Despite what people will say about the environmental side-effects, I still feel that Project Orion [wikipedia.org] is the best possible way for us to get back to space fast, and actually travel useful distances with a live crew.

      Well I am glad we are launching "old bang bang" from your country...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Nuclear thermal lightbulbs don't produce radioactive fallout, and provide better thrust.
  • Shuttle II (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Melee_Fracas (1092093) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:02AM (#25524031)

    I remember, as a kid, being very excited about reports that the reusable 'Space Shuttle' was going to be like a 'space pickup truck' and reduce launch costs to $50/lb. It was still expensive, but I remember calculating the price for a kid my size. ($4500. Wow!) Then the cost went up to $100/lb. Not great, but still cheaper than what we had. Then $500/lb. Tolerable, I guess. Then they quit talking about it at all.

    NASA has done a lot of amazing things in the last 30 years, no doubt. But their manned program is a complete fuck-story. Just once, I'd like to see senior NASA management acknowledge a problem in the manned program, own up to causing it, and taking the action necessary to fix it. I like it that they've split cargo and humans (after 30 years of agonizingly expensive lessons that have greatly diminished American space capability) and are going back to mostly disposable systems (again, after 30 years of expensive lessons). But, why--Oh, why!?--can't they get this right?

    It looks like they're going to drive this thing into the ground, just like the shuttle. The public secret is that the NASA manned program shows all the signs of a dysfunctional organization, and has for 30 years. The next president, senate, and congress need to seriously look at scrapping NASA's manned program and building a new one from scratch, possibly outside of the auspices of NASA. For the good of the country and of humankind, I hope that they do.

    • The next president, senate, and congress need to seriously look at scrapping NASA's manned program and building a new one from scratch, possibly outside of the auspices of NASA.

      The way I see it, we already are: Check out SpaceX and the other private space programs.

  • Maybe they should just remake the gear from Apollo. We know it worked (cue the conspiracy theorists) and we could definitely do quite a lot of stuff with it, given advancements in technology in the past 40 years. Just compare the monstrosity that was the Apollo guidance computer (thousands of RTL NOR ICs, magnetic core memory) to something modern to do the same thing (Hell, my pocket calculator could likely provide much of the functionality if you rad-hardened it.) and you can save a ton (probably literal

    • Re:Remake Apollo (Score:4, Informative)

      by davmoo (63521) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:58AM (#25524263)

      The problem is, believe it or not, some bright genius (or group of them) at NASA decided that, once upon a time, a large quantity of the documentation for Apollo was not worth saving. Documentation for many assemblies has been lost, as have many of the men and women who built them.

    • Re:Remake Apollo (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:07AM (#25524303) Homepage Journal

      While I would have to agree that it was a huge mistake to abandon the Saturn family of rockets in the 1970's, any attempt to revive the project would simply be starting all over again with a whole new rocket design.

      More importantly, all of the talent that went into building the Saturn V, including much of the undocumented "fixes" and the folks who were on the line actually putting the thing together have long since retired or simply died. Also, none of the suppliers for the Saturn V even exist.

      Heck, I'm not even sure you could find the manufacturing capabilities for many of the Saturn V components in America any more. Most of that capability has been shipped overseas to places like China, India, and Taiwan. And you wonder why those countries are getting rockets of their own going?

      • that ppl are calling for restarting Saturn, when it really was not anywhere near as tested as the shuttle's. Given the choice of Saturn or Direct, I would take Direct. MUCH faster to get off the ground. While I like the lift capacity of the Ares V, I wonder if it will survive Congress and our budget hits that we are about to take.
  • by Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:13AM (#25524071)

    How have our standards of failure become so high that we freak out because there could be flaws in simulations? This is the POINT of these projects, to push ourselves forward

    Nobody wants to have to scrap their work to fix a problem, but it's going to happen. If it's not, we're not pushing ourselves hard enough. Probes are going to crash, projects are going to overrun, people are going to make mistakes. If we keep at it, however, thats when we reap the rewards.

    No doubt we need to eliminate needless risk and move what other risks we can away from the loss of life and property, but lets not confuse that with eliminating any risk at all. To remove all risk is to end all progress and change.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:16AM (#25524085)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but we had a series of really nice, multi-stage rockets... what, forty years ago? Just off the top of my head, we had... Vanguard, Atlas, Saturn, Delta, Titan.. And they all worked pretty well.

    We seem to have made them in the "dark ages" of technology, too, relatively speaking.

    What's the problem now? Are our engineers less smart? Do we have fewer materials? Are we under a budget that's too strict? There has to be something that's keeping us from being able to do this. I mean, we made a fricking space plane twenty years ago to build up public opinion and convince people that we were on the edge of the future -- now we can't go back and make a rocket?

    I mean, at worst, what's keeping us from looking at, say, the Saturn design and updating it with modern technologies, materials, and safety measures?

    I feel like I'm missing something here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by srothroc (733160)
      Also, what? I didn't check "Post Anonymously" and I /am/ logged in. Yet it posted as Anonymous Coward? Sigh.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by damburger (981828)

      You're wrong.

      The rockets you mention had a hell of a time getting to work properly. Stuff that makes the problems with Ares look tame. In the 50s all the US could do was make big explosions, before they got the hang of systems management.

    • It might seem unrelated but this "management project" might be easier to experience for most of us. Lord of the Rings Online PvMP. Tactics.

      Two sides, uneven numbers and uneven skills. Battles tend to be tank rusk vs tank rush, or zerg vs zerg. Hit the other with all you got and see if you can wipe them out. It is the nature of the game. In the battle area there are keeps to take. First thing a SMART leader who understands KISS does is ask himself. Do I really want to add complexity to the battle by giving

      • by justinlee37 (993373) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:22AM (#25524551)

        In Lotro PvMP one of the basics is "you need numbers". A complex task is to try stategies like creating a diversion, flanking etc etc. Everyone who thinks they know about war might think these are valid tactics but forget one thing. KISS. Even an attempt at flanking the enemy is FAR to complex to pull off.

        It might be "FAR too complex" in your videogame, but people fighting an actual war realize the value of flanking.

        Flanking is valuable because of KISS - when the enemy has to cover his 12 and his 6 at the same time, vs. two of your units that only have to cover their 12, he covers both less adeptly than he would cover one. It's a win for you.

      • Mod Parent +1

        ( I never knew how this works, but PLEASE WORK NOW!)
    • What's the problem now? Are our engineers less smart? Do we have fewer materials? Are we under a budget that's too strict? There has to be something that's keeping us from being able to do this.

      Well, we've got all these neat new development processes and guidelines to ensure that our development activities comply fully with the imposed development processes, whether they are sensible or not. In other words, we have process compliance at the expense of results, and many of the processes are complete pigs which are often inflexible (think of Six Sigma, for instance). The main problem in recent decades has been the succession of Fad-of-the-year dogmas excreted by business schools and accumulating in

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by killmofasta (460565)
      Dont forget, We still have Saturn. There are still two Saturn rockets in Kennedy Florida, that we can still use.

      Saturn was extrodinarly sucessfull. It's existing saftey measures are fine. What is Missing? Manpower. We now lack the training and science in people to be able to run the program.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Correct me if I'm wrong, but we had a series of really nice, multi-stage rockets... what, forty years ago? Just off the top of my head, we had... Vanguard, Atlas, Saturn, Delta, Titan.. And they all worked pretty well.

      We seem to have made them in the "dark ages" of technology, too, relatively speaking.

      What's the problem now? Are our engineers less smart? Do we have fewer materials? "

      Why will nobody say the obvious? WE didn't build Saturn. The Germans did.

      While we had German engineers, we were pretty hot in

    • by S-100 (1295224)
      It is harder now than it was then. In relative terms, the money is fairly scarce. The Aries project is not a source of national pride and the cold-war competition is no longer there to any great degree. Back in Mercury/Gemini/Apollo, the best minds available in the west were working on all phases of the problem. Now, the best minds are scattered throughout the aerospace industry, as well as a number of private sector rocket programs. Back in the space race era, there simply wasn't time for huge bureauc
  • by level4 (1002199) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:32AM (#25524375)

    To my admittedly outsider's eye, NASA looks and acts exactly like your classic dysfunctional monopoly bureaucracy. These things are common and seem unavoidable - everything that I've read about the Ares debacle is right in line with a sclerotic, mismanaged, change-averse (and risk-averse .. just not the right type of risk) fiefdom-addled government clusterfuck we see time and time again. Hell, not just government - occasionally we see this in the private sector too, when a trenchant monopoly manages to establish itself somewhere and then proceeds to lose sight of everything that got it there in the first place and rots from within. Microsoft of 5 years ago, by all accounts, got pretty close to that, but there are many others, especially in defense.

    What kills this is competition, genuine competition, that forces the organisation to adapt or perish. Nothing other than imminent risk of complete death will force such organisations to subject themselves to the kind of creative destruction needed to re-invent themselves.

    I personally believe that NASA in its present form is lost, but forms can change. The key element is the competition now arising from other countries' space agencies. NASA no longer has a monopoly; it will not take long before the results from other agencies - done better, faster, cheaper - will force radical change at NASA.

    It's not the 1960s again yet, but when China and India announce dates for their moon landings, you can bet the clock will start spinning backwards within days.

    I've said it before, I'll say it again. I love America, but it desperately needs competition. The same could go for NASA. Well, it'll get it soon enough.

    Funny how NASA - and America in general - needs foreigners to keep itself in line. Back in the day it was Von Braun. Now it's Hu Jintao who will provide the electric shock necessary to revive this intransigent patient.

    America isn't a country, it's a team. It needs to fight, it needs to compete, it needs constant challenge. If there's no "enemy", it gets lazy and tears itself apart. Just like every other empire in history. I use that word without any perjorative intention, by the way - there is simply no other way to describe a country with so many overseas military bases. Of course America is an empire, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    But god, it needs competition. The good news is - competition is on the way. In space, and everywhere else, America now faces its first real competition in generations.

    I for one am on the edge of my seat, waiting for the games to begin, and looking forward to what the "real america" - the one that competes, and wins - can come up with. USA!

  • "We were told by a person directly involved [in looking at the problem] that as they incorporate more variables into the liftoff-drift-curve model, the worse the curve becomes"

    Yes captain obvious, when that Seagull poop builds up on the nose cone of the inboard solid rocket booster it increase the chances
    of striking the tower during liftoff...

  • With the effective end of the shuttle program already (we're down to what, one launch a year now?) it's clear that the end of manned spaceflight is in view. The Russians will continue for a few years more as they work down their inventory of ex-ICBM boosters to get people into near earth orbit. The Chinese and the Indians will have a few launches for national pride and zero engineering and scientific benefit. But by 2020 the era of manned spaceflight will be over and out. And in case you haven't been watchi

  • This is the vehicle that ATK Thiokol tried to sell as "Safe, Simple and Soon [safesimplesoon.com]"

    Oh, well.

    (I started writing this comment and got a strange feeling of deja-vu. It turns out that my last slashdot comment 67 days ago was virtually identical. This is getting scary.)

  • DIRECT Launch System (Score:5, Informative)

    by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Monday October 27, 2008 @09:32AM (#25526109) Homepage Journal

    Back in the late '70s I bought a book, published by NASA, that described the planned followons to the shuttle... based on using the Shuttle engines and launch system in other configurations, including a heavy lifter. This scheme was never followed through, but it should be.

    There's a group of NASA engineers working on it again. They call it DIRECT 2.0 [directlauncher.com].

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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