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NASA Space Politics

NASA Pitches Heavy Lift Vehicle To Congress 275

Posted by samzenpus
from the new-ride dept.
BJ_Covert_Action writes "Well, Congress demanded, last year, that NASA develop a budget plan and proposal for a new heavy lift vehicle in light of the Ares V cancellation. Recently, NASA gave Congress just what they wanted. On January 11th, Douglas Cooke pitched an interim report to Congressional members detailing the basic design concepts that would go into a new heavy lift vehicle. Congress required that the new heavy lift vehicle maximize the reuse of space shuttle components as part of its budget battle with President Obama last year. As a result, NASA basically copy-pasted the Ares V design into a new report and pitched it to Congress on the 11th. The proposed vehicle will require the five segment SRB's that were proposed for the Ares V rocket. It will utilize the SSME's for it's main liquid stage. It will reuse the shuttle external tank as the primary core for the liquid booster (the same tank design that is currently giving the Discovery shuttle launch so many problems). And it will utilize the new J-2X engine that NASA has been developing for the Ares V project as an upper stage. In other words, NASA proposed to Congress exactly what Congress asked for."
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NASA Pitches Heavy Lift Vehicle To Congress

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  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:21PM (#34854092) Homepage

    * Congress demands new Moon program
    * Nasa dusts off old plans, calls it Ares V
    * Congress cancels Ares program
    * Congress asks for new heavy lift vehicle
    * Nasa hands them the plans for Ares 5

    Man, talk about recycling...

    • by Confusador (1783468) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:39PM (#34854370)

      Really, it was expected that they would use the Ares V. The Augustine report had good things to say about it, their problem was with the Ares I. Killing Constellation was really about ditching that as no longer required so they could get serious about the V and the actual deep space equipment (whether it is for the moon, an asteroid, whatever). The problem that I see is that the mandate that they reuse as many shuttle components as possible means that they made some significant changes to the Ares V before giving it back to congress, namely reusing the SSMEs instead of RS-68. The SSMEs are amazingly efficient, but also amazingly expensive, so they don't fit on an expendable segment. Fortunately, they seem to have left themselves an opening to renegotiate that later, FTFProposal:

      “This design would allow NASA to use existing Shuttle main engine and booster component assets in the near term, with the opportunity for upgrades and/or competition downstream for eventual upgrades in designs needed for production of engines after flying out the current inventory of main engines and booster components"

      As always, though, this project is set up to fail.

      “However, to be clear, neither Reference Vehicle Design currently fits the projected budget profiles nor schedule goals outlined in the Authorization Act,”

      • by Moryath (553296)

        As always, though, this project is set up to fail.

        Uhm... it's the US Gov. Of course it's set up to fail.

        When NASA were given a mandate to do things and do them right, things got done well and got done right.

        When the fuckwits called Congress then decided NASA was to be targeted in every round of budget cuts and used as a political punching bag, and sent them the "do it all fucking fast and cheap and we don't fucking care about lives or quality" mandate, we got dead astronauts and errors all over the place.

        So

        • NASA is one of the few things that a socialist approach works extremely well for, and indeed is down right essential. NASA is a huge fucking waste of money; however it occasionally spits out something reusable right now, and often spits out engineering knowledge that provides a foundation for something down the line. Rocket science is completely useless as-is; it quickly filters into smaller, simpler designs for ICBMs (also useless-- war is an immutable evil that always depletes the economy in the same wa

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Peach Rings (1782482)

            It doesn't matter if science doesn't return a profit. The Hubble telescope is an unqualified success despite its crushing cost and zero monetary return because gazing at the stars and explaining the universe around us is a human development goal that supersedes petty priorities like a transient economic recession.

            Of course, there are starving mouths to feed around the world and other fundamental issues to address, not that the money is going there either..

            • by hitmark (640295)

              Well there is always the chance that some sensor data from there will make a physicist go "huh, that goes against existing theories" and suddenly we have all kinds of new understanding of physical events that provides a tangible benefit to everyone (or a new terror weapon, like the nukes that came out of certain atomic energy calculations).

              We have all kinds of things around us now because someone had the time and know how to sit down and study something in nature in detail. Hell, medical science basically c

        • by Unkyjar (1148699)

          Don't see why consolidating the location of fabrication and launch pad is anything but commonsense, regardless of secondary political motivations.

      • by Thinine (869482)
        Working with Boeing on a Delta 5 (call a special version for NASA the Ares 5 if you want, but I always thought Ares would be a better name for the program to land humans on Mars) sounds like a better idea anyway. That way we inherit as much of the commercial tech as possible, especially the RS-68. A new core with five 68s (could use the ET for that, but we probably want a redesign for structural support to handle upper stages) and the Delta 4 segments as boosters would be much more reliable than the SSME +
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:46PM (#34854460)

      Because Ares V is not the best design, but the best design that fulfills the requirements of using the existing workforce, SRBs, SSMEs, etc.

      This is basically ESMD's way of passing the buck back to congress and saying they can do one of two things:
      1. Build an HLV that keeps jobs in all the nice districts... OR
      2. Do it on time and on budget.

      In other words, congress' requirements are impossible to fulfill, and ESMD is saying it as politely as possible.

      • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:53PM (#34854566)
        Except it won't use the SSME, they are WAY too expensive for throw aways. The RS-68 with 80% fewer parts makes WAY more sense. The line item cost of the RS-68 is $13M vs $50M for the SSME and the production line for the RS-68 is still open and all suppliers are still current.
    • by JamesP (688957)

      Question

      Wasn't DIRECT that maximized the usage of STS and Ares was a clean sheet design (and that's why it was late, overbudget, etc, etc)?

      • Neither were clean sheet designs. They both adapted existing technology in new designs; Ares just adapted things a little more to better fit mission goals, while DIRECT adapted things less to cut schedule and budget.

        IMHO, the problem with DIRECT is that it didn't advance our capabilities. They were basically just proposing a single medium sized rocket (with multiple variants). To get to the moon would require a two launches that joined in orbit - a step backwards from the Saturn V days. It wasn't scalable f

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      That sounds really smart to me. The Nasa managers can be reasonably certain that the Congresscritters won't notice it's the same damn plan over and over, and won't have to start at square 1 each time a new set of politicians come in.

      The usual problem with Nasa projects is that Nasa projects take longer than a typical politician's term of office. It would be sort of like working in a company where the Big Cheese changed every 2 years, and each one wanted a completely different product produced in a completel

      • by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @06:06PM (#34854730) Journal

        Wow for the first time it might actually be a good thing for the country that congress never reads anything they vote on, never thought I'd see the day.

        In case anyone is wondering I was be sarcastic, the degree to which most our legislators allow themselves to be uninformed as to the content of the acts they vote on is shameful and terrible for our democracy in general.

    • NASA is just learning from politicians. They, too, introduce their pet projects again and again if they get rejected until they finally pass.

    • by robot256 (1635039)
      Since none of them are actually going to be funded long enough to get done, there's no sense putting in a lot of work on a new proposal for something slightly different every time. None of it really matters, since it's probably never going to get off the ground anyways.
  • by Mechagodzilla (94503) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:26PM (#34854170)

    Letting Congress pick rocket components is equivalent to me (colorblind) pick out the paint scheme for my house. Both will end in amazing disasters...

    • by TheL0ser (1955440) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:34PM (#34854290)
      Slightly worse, I'd say. You're a single person, so you can just point at a color, whatever it may be, and call it good. They have to pass a resolution to create a committee to appoint a group to review the plans, and then squabble about who gets what in their state.
    • Absolutely, and I think this is indicative of the sort of problem that plagues the legislative branch these days. Congress has the power to control almost everything, but that doesn't mean it should and it certainly doesn't mean the Senators and Representatives should be the ones making all of the detailed decisions. It's what delayed reversing DADT for so long - legislators thinking that, for some reason, they are more equipped to make a decision than the people currently running the military. NASA is a

  • A Bit Left Off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:27PM (#34854194) Homepage Journal
    The editors took the second paragraph of my summary out. They probably thought it was a bit too tasteless, or something, despite the important information in it. Here it is (also from the article linked):

    The catch is, NASA also admitted that they will not be able to complete the proposed rocket on the budget that Congress has given them. Neither will they be able to finish the rocket on time. Finally, NASA has commented that a current study being conducted by 13 independent contractors is still being conducted to determine if there is a better design out there that NASA has, 'overlooked.' NASA has stated that, should that study finds any alternate, interesting designs then, they will need to consider those seriously."
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Here is a interesting design they did not consider; Don't use the fucking SRBs, they suck.

      • Re:A Bit Left Off (Score:5, Interesting)

        by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:46PM (#34854462) Homepage Journal
        Well actually, they very well may have considered it. Or, at least, NASA may have. Congress tends to be the entity demanding that the same SRB's get used on the new vehicle that were on the shuttle system. You can thank Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Richard Shelby for this, in part, because they are defending the industries that provide jobs to the areas they represent. As a result, they both push heavily to have certain technical requirements inserted, via budget line items, into legislation regarding NASA's designs.

        In a recent copy of Make magazine Dick Rutan, Burt Rutan's test pilot brother, was quoted saying, "In America, the Apollo program was the greatest thing we ever did. A young president wrote a check and got the fuck out of the way..." I think that sums up nicely the role that politicians should play in engineering. But then, I'm old fashioned like that.

        There is quite an argument to be made that this whole thing is a political ploy by NASA to either force Congress to pay for what they are asking for, or to loosen up on the stupid ass requirements an allow NASA to design a truly optimal solution. Whether or not the ploy will work, backfire, or do nothing will be seen with time I suppose.
      • Re:A Bit Left Off (Score:4, Informative)

        by yincrash (854885) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:47PM (#34854480)
        Can someone explain the disadvantages of SRBs? Is it just that they are more explosive?
        • Re:A Bit Left Off (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jherico (39763) <bdavis@sai[ ]ndreas.org ['nta' in gap]> on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @06:04PM (#34854704) Homepage
          Well, for one thing, SRB's don't have an off switch or a throttle. Once ignited your only options are 'let it burn until it runs out of fuel' and 'detonate the entire rocket at once (which is what happened when the SRB's on the Challenger went out of control after the launch stack fell apart).
          The Shuttle SRB's in particular are built in segments which are connected by O-Rings, and that design vulnerability is part of the cause of the Challenger disaster, although this particular failing is less about SRB's in general than political ass-hattery.
        • by jandrese (485)
          Two things:

          1. They're less efficient than liquid rockets.
          2. There is no "off" switch.
          • by jd (1658)

            Calling them less efficient is not entirely honest. Solid fuel requires no cryogenic storage (which is bulky) and solids have a higher density than liquids of the same composition (ice/water is a rare exception). They also give more thrust per pound of fuel.

            It is accurate to say that you can't control them - they're either on or off. That makes them less efficient at certain specific tasks. But they're actually far more efficient in terms of any important metric (mass or volume).

            Most serious alternatives to

        • Well these particular SRB's are troublesome because they are segmented. Typically, SRBs boast the advantage of being simpler. You get a lot of bang for a relatively cheap design. You put a nozzle on the end of a tube packed with fuel, light a spark, and watch the fireworks.

          The SRB's employed by the shuttle, and the ones proposed here, are not a simple tube. They have multiple tubes bolted together in segments. This means that, between each segment, there are interfaces that have to be designed to compens
        • Re:A Bit Left Off (Score:5, Informative)

          by Caerdwyn (829058) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @06:18PM (#34854866) Journal

          Manufacturing solid rocket motor fuel is, essentially, a casting operation: you pour the liquid into a mold, then the liquid sets into a solid in the shape you need (and the shape is critical in rocket motors). The trouble with the solid rocket boosters as used in the Shuttle is that they are so big you have to cast them in segments, then stack them and join them. Wherever there is a seam between the segments, the burning solid fuel tends to burn into that seam; this increases the surface area that is burning, which increases pressure, which increases burn rate, which increase pressure, ad explosium. It's a very difficult (meaning: expensive and risky) problem to manage, and as we found out with Challenger, cold temperatures can cause shrinkage which opens up those seams, changing the internal geometry of the motor. Multi-segment SRBs are just plain trouble.

          As anyone who has worked in large-scale casting can tell you, there are limits as to how much you can cast in a single pour. Your liquid is cooling even as you pour it, changing in volume as it cools. If you pour in multiple phases, letting it cool between phases, you're introducing seams, and subsequent pours can partially remelt previous pours, causing expansion in the previous seam and possible cracking (which are uncontrolled seams and surface area... if your solid core has internal cracking, there is a very high chance of explosion). And large continuous pours also have the potential for cracking as the early parts of the pour solidify and cure while the later parts are still molten. This, plus limits on how large a segment of solid rocket fuel you can transport without flexing (cracking) safely, is what puts upper limits on single-segment solid rocket motors.

          Solid rocket motor technology on large scales comes mostly from ICBMs. You want solid motors on your ICBMs, as a single-segment motor is more rugged than a liquid fueled motor, your launch vehicle is readily transportable and self-contained, does nto need a refueling infrastructure, and is always ready to use (keeping liquid fuels in tanks for a long period of time is dangerous and high-maintenance). ICBMs don't have to throw 60,000-plus pounds of payload into orbit, therefore they don't need engines larger than can be cast in a single segment.

          Nothing wrong with SRBs for sub-orbital missions with moderate payloads, or orbital missions with small payloads. But for the mass that a heavy lift booster needs to throw into orbit and beyond, they just don't scale well.

          The sad fact is that the political and budgetary environment are constraints of problem-solving at NASA, just as surely as mass, temperature, volume, gravity and materials technology are constraints. Any viable proposal needs to take into account and address ALL constraints.

          This is why all senior NASA people seem to get grey hair early.

          • by jd (1658)

            The Russians avoided the stacking problem (and the problems involved in large rocket nozzles) by having very large clusters of SRBs. This approach seems to be relatively reliable (the Russians don't seem to have noticeably more launch failures than the US).

            As I've noted elsewhere, though, hybrid rockets (using a mix of solid and liquid fuels) seems to be the way to go, as it gives most of the benefits of solid with most of the benefits of liquid. It may also reduce the casting problem, as half your fuel doe

            • by Caerdwyn (829058)

              The risk-reward-constraint issues with solid rocket boosters come down to this:

              REWARD: solid rocket boosters have a better ratio of thrust-per-pound-of-motor, and single-segment SRBs are very reliable and mechanically simpler than liquid fuel. They are also cheaper in a pound-of-payload-to-orbit per dollar calculation when the entire cost is calculated.

              RISK: multi-segment SRBs are more prone to failure than single-segment SRBs for many reasons (increased manufacturing complexity, increased vehicle assem

        • The main drawback is that you can't simply turn a SBR off, which can become a real problem in case there is already another problem (where you would like to shut the engines off prematurely, e.g. to abort the mission). And when you HAVE already a problem, trying to separate them early in a possibly not really controlled situation could even add to the problem, since then you have a rocket that suddenly lacks the weight it carries, has a rather unpredictable vector and will then be completely uncontrolled (w

        • by bertok (226922)

          Can someone explain the disadvantages of SRBs? Is it just that they are more explosive?

          They can't be turned off once ignited, can't be throttled, and they have high-pressure & high-temperature along the entire body of the booster instead of just in a relatively small "engine" at the bottom like liquid-fuelled rockets, which means they're a significant safety hazard if placed alongside liquid fuel tanks, like in most rocket designs.

          What happened with the Challenger disaster is that a seal near the middle of one of the boosters failed, and the hot pressurised gasses escaped and cut into the

        • Present incarnation can neither be throttled nor shut down. This is the reason for the incredibly expensive and likely to fail crew escape system that will make a feeble attempt to jet off of the stack while said stack is still under (potentially uncontrolled) power. The SRBs contracted through ATK are generally considered a make work for the state of Utah.
      • by MiniMike (234881)

        using thin 6-inch strips of aluminum.

        Oh, is aluminum foil also made in the same congressional district as the SRB's?

      • I'm aware of that, I actually submitted another story about that very issue just before I submitted this one. I suppose I should have used the word, "model," rather than, "design," as that was my intended meaning. I only meant to point out that it would be the same tank model in this "new" vehicle. Thanks for the catch though.
      • Technicians will reinforce the remaining struts as a safety precaution, using thin 6-inch strips of aluminum. [ap.org]

        Aluminum?! What a waste of money! They should be using duct tape!

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Sounds pretty responsible to me, they are admitting they don't know how to meet the objective Congress has set for them with the resources they are being allowed and also admitting they are not Gods and some other aerospace engineers might have some ideas they never thought of.

    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      Note to Congress: Don't think you're smarter than NASA engineers. You're not.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:28PM (#34854198)

    Sounds more like corporate welfare then science to me.

    Let's just ask Elon what a Falcon XX will cost instead.

    • Frankenstack (Score:3, Interesting)

      The Falcon 9 is a heavy lift vehicle. It can deliver 32000kg to LEO at a cost (supposedly) of $95M per launch. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9)

      I can't find any figures for NASA's new Frankenstack, but I'm guessing its capabilities would be approximately similar. Except that they have $10bn budget to play with, so we can be reassured that the cost will expand to consume the budget, even if they are using obsolete technologies.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I know that, but I want to spend one billion of that ten on Falcon XX. Which is a super heavy lifter.

        • Re:Frankenstack (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Tekfactory (937086) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:51PM (#34854538) Homepage

          SpaceX plan costs $1 Billion just to develop the Merlin 2 engines and "qualify" them on Falcon 9 rockets in 3 years. I assume by qualify they mean flight tested, I don't know if a Heavy Lift vehicle needs to be man-rated. Of course the Falcon 9 will have to be man rated to carry a Dragon capsule with crew onboard, so if qualify means man rated so much the better.

          You have $9 Billion left to build the Rocket, and finish the Dragon capsule crew module version which is already funded.

      • by lee1026 (876806)

        A quick wikipedia search will tell you that the Ares V plan on having a payload of 188000Kg, or about 6 times more.

      • The Falcon 9 is a heavy lift vehicle. It can deliver 32000kg to LEO at a cost (supposedly) of $95M per launch.

        Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] that the Ares V is supposed to carry 188,000kg to Low-Earth Orbit--more than 5X as much.

      • I believe you mean Falcon 9 Heavy, which are essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together. In either case the Ares V was being designed to carry 188,000kg to LEO so it's not even in the same ball park.
    • According to Elon's testimony before congress SpaceX already has plans for a heavy lift vehicle should NASA ask for such a vehicle.

      Ooh I was just going from memory of the Wiki article, I hadn't read this

      http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=space&id=news/asd/2010/08/05/07.xml [aviationweek.com]

      Presuemable its $1 Billion to develop the Merlin 2 engines...

      I guess all they have to do is bid it at what Constellation is budgeted for...

    • We don't want to have legions of unemployed tech workers that could run of and share their knowledge with first world paradises like Russia or China.

  • The idiocy of using the solid rocket boosters on a new generation heavy lift vehicle is mind-boggling. If I were a NASA engineer, I would rather shoot myself than work on such an obviously ill-conceived project. Lets just give SpaceX a 1 billion dollar contract to develop the Falcon XX over the next 3-5 years. I'm sure they are capable. We just need to keep congress out of the loop as much as possible, and that's all there is to it.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Actually I think thats the point ESMD is trying to make here. Congress mandated that they use SRBs et. al., so ESMD comes back and says "all right, we can do it, but it WILL be late and overbudget."

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        > Actually I think thats the point ESMD is trying to make here. Congress mandated that they use SRBs et. al., so ESMD comes back and says "all right, we can do it, but it WILL be late and overbudget."

        I think this is essentially NASA's way of telling Congress that there are two options:

        * a rocket that uses as many Shuttle-legacy components as possible and continues delivering a stream of funding to politically-important congressional districts
        * a rocket that meets Congress's schedule and budget requiremen

    • The idiocy of using the solid rocket boosters on a new generation heavy lift vehicle is mind-boggling.

      Why is this? I might agree with you regarding man-rated craft, but if the Ares V is for "cargo" only, why is this such a bad idea?

  • by vinn (4370) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:39PM (#34854368) Homepage Journal

    This is basically the Jupiter Direct program advocated by quite a few insiders at NASA. It was designed by some NASA engineers moonlighting. So, this isn't some half-baked scheme by Congress to try to engineer something themselves. I didn't look at these final details, but it does sound like they added more SRB's than originally planned.

    For more information, see the wikipedia entry:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIRECT [wikipedia.org]

  • There are many heavy lift launchers out there now in the private sector. Surely it would be much cheaper and quicker to validate one of the existing designs. SpaceX has had two for two successful launches of their Falcon 9. Their economics are excellent too - and without the use of dangerous and difficult SRBs.

    Even without including the new kid, there are many viable existing designs.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Because Delta IV Heavy is 23MT to LEO vs 160MT for Ares V. The proposed Falcon 9 Heavy is 32MT to LEO. Ariane 5 ES is 21MT. No commercial launcher is anywhere near big enough for a moon shot let alone a shot to Mars.
      • by fnj (64210)

        23 MT? 23 megatons!? That is a lot of payload.

        But seriously, why do you need a certain payload weight per launch? For example the ISS is 375 tons, built in place from many pieces individually assembled in place.

        • by afidel (530433)
          Because we lost the pickup truck and now only have the possibility of little capsules that can dock with assembled modules. Though I guess in theory if 23,000kg is enough to launch a habitat module with airlock, maneuvering engines and something like Canda Arm you could assemble in space. I'm not sure you save anything over an Ares V launch though, that's why we have the *really* smart people looking at it and they seem to think that a super heavy launch system is the way to go.
        • Those are the numbers are metric tons, not megatons and they are for low earth orbit. The purpose of a heavy lift vehicle is to get to the moon or beyond. The cargo capacity to the moon is exactly 0 for all existing rockets, and 0+0+0 still equals zero :) So you need something bigger just to assemble things in parts like you suggest.

  • Every lady refuses a gentleman's first proposal.
  • by mrwiggly (34597) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:49PM (#34854510)

    Well, first off all the problem with discoveries tank is due to a manufacturing problem with the stringers, not a design flaw.

    Second of all, why use SSME's? They are designed for re-use, and have restart capability that will not be needed. A better choice would be the rocketdyn's RS-68, single use, cheap as fuck, provides more lifting power.

    • I'm aware of the materials issue with the tank. I didn't mean to imply that the design was the cause of the the issues, but rather, that this particular tank model (as there are other tank models and designs in existence, though not in use) is being used with the current Space Shuttle. In other words, I should have worded the sentence, "the same tank model that is currently giving the Discovery shuttle launch so many problems." My bad. The stringers, however, are part of this particular tank model. So it i
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @05:49PM (#34854514) Homepage

    Congress required that the new heavy lift vehicle maximize the reuse of space shuttle components as part of its budget battle with President Obama last year

    So congress made engineering decisions for NASA. They told NASA to reuse some parts from something else. And does Congress even know if that actually saves money? There have been plenty of times I've been told to develop something and to reuse an existing piece of code, and I've had to disappoint someone by pointing out that reusing their old COBOL EXE does not actually shrink the timeline. :-( In mechanical engineering, I've learned that reusing parts often adds a lot of work.

    Maybe that isn't the case here, but Congress should instead have set constraints and let NASA decide how best to implement it. No doubt the new request also tells them what vendors to use, and what state to by them from, and where to eat lunch so that the money gets spread around to their own pet projects.

    • Congress required that the new heavy lift vehicle maximize the reuse of space shuttle components as part of its budget battle with President Obama last year

      So congress made engineering decisions for NASA. They told NASA to reuse some parts from something else. And does Congress even know if that actually saves money? There have been plenty of times I've been told to develop something and to reuse an existing piece of code, and I've had to disappoint someone by pointing out that reusing their old COBOL EXE does not actually shrink the timeline. :-( In mechanical engineering, I've learned that reusing parts often adds a lot of work.

      Maybe that isn't the case here, but Congress should instead have set constraints and let NASA decide how best to implement it. No doubt the new request also tells them what vendors to use, and what state to by them from, and where to eat lunch so that the money gets spread around to their own pet projects.

      No, Congress doesn't make engineering decisions. They make budget decisions, i.e., they ensure money get spent in their district by defining what to buy. If Congress made engineering decisions and something went wrong, they might get blamed and that would not be a good thing.

      • by fnj (64210)

        That's not budget decisions. Budget decisions say how much money you get to do the job. What you are describing is classic pork barrel from narrow minded selfish bastards.

      • by snookums (48954)

        No, Congress doesn't make engineering decisions. They make budget decisions, i.e., they ensure money get spent in their district by defining what to buy. If Congress made engineering decisions and something went wrong, they might get blamed and that would not be a good thing.

        I think you're being facetious, but just in case you're not... Telling people what to buy is not a budget decision. A budget decision is telling people how much they can spend. That budget decision can come with some friendly suggestions like "We'd be fine with you re-using some of that inventory of Shuttle parts you have, if it would make things cheaper."

        If you tell someone what parts to use, that is most definitely and engineering decision.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      The usual reason: money and power.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      In mechanical engineering, I've learned that reusing parts often adds a lot of work.

      That depends entirely on the scope and the modularity of the parts being reused. There's a big difference to saying "reuse this one obsolete imperial screw that no one uses anymore somewhere in your design" to build a refinery and here's an entire crude unit complete and ready to go just line up the piping.

      I have seen some people try to save money by reusing existing pipeing when replacing sections that are corroded. After fucking around for weeks flushing cleaning cutting welding flushing cleaning hydr

  • Seriously, why not?

    Dig a deep hole in the ground, put a 150kt nuke (the max allowed by the Partial Test Ban Treaty) in it and put a 6,000 TONS of more or less raw materials on top of it, and then push the button.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      They want the things launched into space to survive the trip.

      It's already tricky to engineer things like satellite components so that they can withstand the force and vibration of liftoff on a rocket.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Maybe because of the fallout and the crap flying everywhere?

  • Oh ho! Let's see them fake a moon landing in HD this time! /tinfoil
  • A facepalm is the only suitable response to this. I don't even think a double facepalm quite conveys the necessary sense of palm meeting face.

  • NASA just acts as a Beuracracy that hands money out for contracts {only if they get results ) and they get 100% out of the actual sending people into space.

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @08:33PM (#34856322)

    I think this whole thing is gonna die no matter how it is presented (which is too bad because all this great technology and we all still going to the same place Yuri Gagarin visited nearly 50 years ago).

    I believe it was Dennis Wingo who wrote a comment on nasawatch.com that proposing HLV is a non-starter. Reason is such a launch vehicle is so expensive there is no way such a program will be approved by congress. It would be nice to have a Saturn V class vehicle that can place 100 tons in one shot but if you ain't got the money, then do planning for lower cost lower payload rockets (there are several). Supposably Sean Okeffe, NASA administrator before Mike Griffin, as a longtime Washington DC politico understood this so didn't push for a HLV. But he was replaced by Mike Griffin (man o man you should read the rants about Griffin on nasawatch). I don't know all the details but enough to bring up some interesting discussion (new topic for /.?)

    I read on Wayne Hale's blog that OMB made the edict to Augustine Commission to not present any options that cost more than $3B which limited options "worthy of a great nation's exploration." Kind of reminds me of funding large programs, either put a lot of money upfront on development but save on operational costs, or skimp on development and have a more expensive operations cost.

    I think the biggest question that needs to be answered is why go back to the moon and on to Mars? Back in the 60s, we knew exactly why a HLV had to be built. It was needed for Apollo so we can beat the Reds to the moon. Otherwise if they get there first, they will plant the Soviet flag on the moon seizing the high ground and enslave the rest of world in Communism. Now that all may sound silly but if you read all the history, it was serious back then. However, looking back the Apollo program could have "failed" like the Soviet lunar program (Korolev never had the resources needed for a HLV and much of the Politburo argued among themselves), the USAF MOL never flew (it just kept getting more and more complex), and John Houbolt at LaRC was able to successfully get the LOR adopted (which was among a few key fundamentals to have Apollo/Saturn work without violating the laws of physics). Also note that Saturn V was built to fulfill a single task. It was too expensive for "routine" flights to the moon, and Ares V is trying to be "routine" which I can never see congress funding.

    I'd love to see us go back to the moon and see what the old Apollo sites look like now (and... what if they were to find the rovers on blocks with the tires missing?!?!). However, if I could wave the magic wand, I would direct NASA to do research and development in making access to space lowcost. So far all orbital access requires major bucks and a huge standing army just to get a small elite few into space (I'm not elite and I wanna go!)

  • As this point, I'm rooting for the Chinese space program to steal some of NASA's failed ideas and try to put men on the moon by 2020. Unlike the US, they still have the money, manpower, and manufacturing capabilities to pull it off.

    Honestly, It seems that the US government is only interested in funding NASA properly when they're losing the space race.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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