NASA’s Constellation Program Draws Big-time Criticism

Recently, a group of 10 people with various attachments to the aerospace industry started a 11 week tet-a-tete under the auspices of the Obama White House, charged with reviewing America’s space flight goals for the coming decade(s).

One of the biggies, the Ares Program that’s supposed to replace the Shuttle by 2015, is already prone to cost over-runs and is plagued by tech issues (severe vibrations in Ares 1 rocket designs). The Orion capsule itself, slated to hold six crew has been down-rated to carry 4 because of cost issues.

Another problem is the 5-6 year gap that NASA will have in helping to staff the ISS because the shuttle will be retired next year and no more monies are budgeted for the program because the money is slated to fund Ares. The gap was supposed to be cured by ‘renting’ Soyuz flights from the Russians, our ‘friends’ since 1991.

Needless to say, this is unpalpable to some politicians and the folks who will be unemployed when the shuttle goes offline.

So what to do?

According to this article and photo gallery at New Scientist, there are at least 6 options the US/NASA should consider instead of the Constellation Project. These could be cheaper to develop and decrease the gap between the shuttle and future lunar/interplanetary capabilities.

Whether the 10 panel committee even considers these options or not is another matter, a lot of money has already been alloted to contracters located in various polticians’ home states.

And you better believe those contracters contribute to these congress-critters’ political action committees.

Space Program Under Scrutiny

In Search of NASA’s Next Rocket

………………………….

You know NASA’s in trouble when one of the agency’s icons of the past, Buzz Aldrin, is totally critical of the Constellation Project:

As I approach my 80th birthday, I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The ­agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour. It will derail our Mars effort, siphoning off money and engineering talent for the next two decades. If we aspire to a long-term human presence on Mars—and I believe that should be our overarching goal for the foreseeable future—we must drastically change our focus.

Here’s my plan, which I call the Unified Space Vision. It’s a blueprint that will maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, avoid a counterproductive space race with China to be second back to the moon, and lead to a permanent American-led presence on Mars by 2035 at the latest. That date happens to be 66 years after Neil Armstrong and I first landed on the moon—just as our landing was 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

Another big beef Aldrin has is the gap between the shuttle and Orion, which I mentioned earlier. And I agree, it’s a strategic blunder geo-politically.

Then again, maybe it’s meant to be a blunder?

Buzz Aldrin to NASA: US Space Policy is on the Wrong Track

….

Another former NASA astronaut, Bob Crippen (pilot/commander of the first shuttle mission), speaks his mind about the ‘gap’ :

The current plan calls for a several-years-long gap between the end of the shuttle program and the first flight of the Constellation program, NASA’s initiative to return to the moon and beyond. That gap could mean another brain drain as talented, skilled contractors and NASA employees must take their institutional knowledge elsewhere. 

We were in that situation when we started the shuttle program — training a new, inexperienced workforce. As one of the few people in the world who has piloted a never-before-flown spacecraft, I’m here to tell you — you want experienced engineers and technicians on your team. 

I also witnessed firsthand the economic devastation of the aerospace industry downturn while working at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the 1970s. The six-year gap between the Apollo and shuttle programs cost America more than 400,000 jobs. The Space Coast, Houston and other cities that thrived on aerospace were hit especially hard. Once again, we face the prospect of thousands of layoffs and the residual economic blow nationwide. The current plan calls for a several-years-long gap between the end of the shuttle program and the first flight of the Constellation program, NASA’s initiative to return to the moon and beyond. That gap could mean another brain drain as talented, skilled contractors and NASA employees must take their institutional knowledge elsewhere. 

We were in that situation when we started the shuttle program — training a new, inexperienced workforce. As one of the few people in the world who has piloted a never-before-flown spacecraft, I’m here to tell you — you want experienced engineers and technicians on your team. 

I also witnessed firsthand the economic devastation of the aerospace industry downturn while working at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the 1970s. The six-year gap between the Apollo and shuttle programs cost America more than 400,000 jobs. The Space Coast, Houston and other cities that thrived on aerospace were hit especially hard. Once again, we face the prospect of thousands of layoffs and the residual economic blow nationwide.

So there are a few heavy-weights who have a critical analysis of this point in NASA’s history and these are very telling. Most, if not all find the gap of 5-6 years between the shuttle and Orion not only unacceptable, but potentially dangerous foreign policy.

These critics aren’t against international cooperation per se, in fact they endorse it when it comes to developing lunar resources.

But it’s the lack of launch capability and focus is what they find most apalling in NASA’s plans.

Not to mention the economic losses on the ‘space coasts.’

Obama must minimize downtime before NASA’s next big project

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