Thursday, January 28, 2010

President Obama: No Bucks and no Buck Rodgers

NASA Photos
Yesterday, A NASA contractor put the last segment of a 345 foot long tower meant to support the Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft. It took about 9 to 10 months to build up the launch platform and tower though there is still much work to be left like adding all the ground support equipment (GSE), fueling and venting lines, swing arms and the Crew Access Arm. The schedule would have been to finalize the design of the GSE and umbilical arms by the end of this year as well as put the construction and installation of this equipment out for the bid. Construction and testing in 2011 and installation in 2012. Verification and validation will take place would have taken place in the 2012-2013 time frame and would have been ready for Ares I soon after that. NASA has built a tower that now has no purpose. In the last 5 years NASA has spent over $9 billion on the Constellation program and many of the visible milestones that have been accomplished include the following:
  • Successful design and launch of the Ares 1-X test rocket

  • Successful test firing of the 5 segment first stage for the Ares I with another test slated for later this year
  • Successful testing of elements for the Orion launch escape tower
  • NASA was about two months from performing the first pad abort testing of the Orion launch escape tower
  • Start of construction of a high fidelity Orion ground test article
  • Successful and timely construction of the mobile launcher (ML) for the Ares I rocket
It took 9 months to build the mobile launcher main structure. Now, I wonder how long it will take to bring it all down? What a way to spend $9 billion and get almost nothing for that money.

That's because President Obama has decided that America has no place in space. In reports that are coming out in the media, Obama is going to increase NASA budget but only for commercial transportation of astronauts and cargo to the ISS. No bucks, no Buck Rodgers as they said in "The Right Stuff." Another quote from that same movie is also very prophetic: "Funding makes this bird go up." Well funding for NASA isn't enough to get a model rocket off a launch stand. Our country, the only country to land humans on the moon will not be going back to the moon and instead we'll be putzing around in low Earth orbit if the President has anything to say about NASA direction. President Obama has diminished the very essence that makes this country great...the ability to overcome immense obstacles to achieve a great goal or accomplishment. Granted we've accomplished that goal over 40 years ago, but going back to the moon was going to be a stepping stone for our country to going further out into the Solar System.

Oh humans will go back to the moon and beyond. They just won't be Americans but more than likely Chinese, Russians, Indians and Europeans. To be clear, I wish those country's luck as they leave low Earth orbit and further human kinds knowledge of the cosmos. The US will be stuck in low Earth orbit in the International Space Station and that hurts.

Obama is giving NASA more money to have them spend it on companies that will get US astronauts only to the ISS and no further. Big effing deal, Mr. President. Why don't you just continue hitching rides on Russian Soyuz and save even more money? Oh right, we don't want to send any American jobs overseas. Forget that with the demise of the Shuttles and now Constellation program the US stands to lose more jobs than gain with the development of domestic commercial space transportation. And those jobs that will be lost are high paying tech jobs to boot!

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel which is an independent safety arm of NASA recommended against switching to unproved commercial systems to transport astronauts into space and to continue with the Constellation program. Apparently, astronaut safety is not a priority to the Obama Administration as is the space program in general.

To be fair, some of this is not the fault of the current administration. President Bush told NASA to go to the moon but neither he nor Congress gave them the money necessary to do the job thus NASA was falling behind the effort to develop Orion and Ares according to the time line that they laid out. And truth be told, NASA has been virtually ignored since July, 1969. No one cared about going to the moon or Mars or doing anything else and NASA has been forced to do more with less since that time. Same story different time. Now a little glimmer of hope is that reaction to the President's proposal is almost all negative and much of the negative reaction is bi-partisan in nature.

At the end of the day, the administration says they want to inspire children to study math, engineering and the sciences. What better way to inspire kids to go into these subjects than having a robust and world leading human spaceflight program?

Just a few days ago, I took my two young children to see the IMAX movie, "Magnificent Desolation" which chronicles America's missions to the moon. There is a scene in this movie where children talk about wanting to go to the moon and explore the Solar System. Sadly, the closest these kids and others like them who dream of flying to other worlds in the Solar System is by watching documentaries and Hollywood movies. America's astronauts will be staying in low Earth orbit for the forseeable future.

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