Back to the future: NASA and the new orbiter

I was reading this article discussing NASA and its up coming announcement of which contractor will build the ‘new’ generation of orbital and lunar rockets.

I think a replacement for the aging (and disappointing) space shuttle fleet is a good thing. And this design seems pretty simple…and something NASA is familiar with already, as its just a progression from the old Apollo rockets (even the lander looks to me to be very similar to the one’s used for moon landing in the early 70’s). Though this article doesn’t go into it, I recall reading that NASA is actually sending out engineers to museums and such to look at the old Saturn rocket components and the landers to study how engineering problems were solved in the past by NASA. I’m not sure if this is comforting or scary…

Anyway, for debate…thoughts on the direction NASA is going? Thoughts on the proposed mission profile? Thoughts on NASA’s proposal to basically outsource re-supply operations to the space station (and thoughts on whether or not said space station will even still be in use by the time these things start coming on stream)?

Finally, whether you think going back to the moon is wise or not (and by all means, discuss this too), thoughts on the probability of this actually happening? For a bonus, probability of a Mars mission?


Wow, what a waste of money. And that’s coming from a huge NASA fan.

The wrong one:

It’s a little known fact that the US actually already landed a moon, back in the 70’s, then decided to dismantle that program because it cost too much and there wasn’t much there to justify the expense of further return trips.

Returning a second time appears to be predicted to cost more, take a longer period of time and presumably will lead to the same outcome. After all, its not like the moon has become wildly more interesting in the last 30 years.

There’s a lot of new and exciting projects (like Squinks) that could be funded beyond thier founders dreams with a fraction of that 100 billion.


That’s one more reason for me to get out of Florida ASAP.

This thing will never fly. Here’s what NASA does when it comes to manned spacecraft:

  1. Come up with ambitious idea.
  2. Try to implement it, spending billions of dollars.
  3. Hit some snags, spend a few billion trying to overcome them.
  4. Run out of money and/or lose interest.
  5. Give up.
  6. Repeat.

And it’s a damned shame, too.

Aw, c’mon. You’ll get a nice tan…

The CEV/Orion is a big disappointment. An uninspired design from the very agency we expect inspiration from. I was so excited to watch the first shuttle fly back in high school. Had I been told back then that this tin can would be the next step I wouldn’t belive it.

Burt Rutan, Robert Bigelow, and other entrepreneurs provide me with hope, however. That’s where the real inspiration is coming from today.

Actually, the “return to the Moon” thing is more of a PR excuse for the audience’s sake, to cover that behind CEV Orion (BTW, it’s Lockheed-Martin who got the bid) is the sour (to many) acceptance that we could have done just as well by going on with incremental upgrades from what existed in the 1970s (just like the Soviets/Russians did). Of course, in true NASA fashion, we’re paying severalfold the money to reinvent the wheel, but that’s a tradition by now. Moon aside, something like CEV does make sense – a compact manned vehicle that can be kitted out with mission-specific peripheral modules, rather than the all-things-to-all-people mess that the STS was. The agency politics at NASA have always demanded that there be no “competition” to the “flagship” manned program, but in the case of the STS it went to the extent of expecting to make this one large, very complicated and fidgety system be at the same time the sole crew ferry vehicle, heavy-lift vehicle, AND orbital work platform for BOTH government AND commercial purposes. That said, the unimaginativeness of the final Ares/Orion CEV concept dies speak of a NASA with a Holiday Inn mentality: “no surprises”, let’s do a re-work of something we alreacy know for certain we can do.

I’m in favor of that, myself. The shuttle doesn’t work well enough. This will, by god.

After we get this effing working, let’s get experimental. In the meantime… contract to some people who really care to build it. They’ll make a profit, and they’ll plow it back into their own designs.

But what we need is the lift. Do it right. Not fancy.

The real key? Declare that one dead astronaut in 20 is an acceptable loss and proceed from there.

I have not been so excited about manned space flight since the days of Apollo - we are going back to the motherf***ing Moon, goddamit! Back where we belong, out into space for real!

Orion isn’t replacing the Space Transportation System(STS). NASA is abandoning the STS, which serves as an orbiting laboratory and as a transorbital payload system.

Orion is too cramped to support labwork, and can’t carry payload.

Orion is a basic vehicle plan for Moon/Mars missions, with the Moon shots serving as “practice runs”: Apollo on Steroids.

There is much utility in a serviceable vehicle of type STS. Perhaps someone in ESA or in the private sector will develop it.

Why is it “on steroids”? It just sounds like its “Apollo redux”, but then I don’t know that much about the specifics of either the Apollo vehicle or the new proposed one.

What capablilities does this new gadget have that the circa 1970 ones didn’t have?

Orion will be able to carry four astronauts to the moon, not just the paltry three of the Apollo missions.

Or eight extremely small astronauts.

Or three astronauts and a space hooker.

Larger capacity, longer-endurance spacecraft.
Reusable capsule and partial-reusable booster.
Intended *from start * to use mission-specific peripheral modules to augment capabilities for missions other than moonshot
Family of lift high-commonality vehicles, from medium to heavy lift – Saturn did have some element of that, but was never really taken advantage of.

It’s on very mild steroids, really :wink:

Look, they’re desperately trying not to say “we’re gonna spend all this money on something modest and unspectacular but that will work decently and which we can develop into something better later, rather than on knocking anyone’s socks off”. It’s a lot of pride to swallow.

NASA’s mistake, as mentioned, was (a) putting all its eggs in one basket to use STS as crew ferry AND orbital lab AND heavy lifter AND work platform, that (b) was over-“sold” as the system that would “make spaceflight routine”.

A sensible Space Program would have allowed some scaled-back MSF ops based on Apollo/Saturn (with heavy lift courtesy of Saturn V*) to continue while figuring out how well the Shuttle fleet could really run. Of course, economic considerations made it impracticable.

(*The Sat-V based Skylab 32 years ago was bigger/heavier than ISS modules)

And we can use something like that, while we get to a proper STS-type vehicle.

Look to private sector. ESA sank Milliards of their pre-Euro currencies on the Hermes spaceplane and it never got off a CAD screen. Before NASA hammered and pounded the requirement specs so as to essentially “force” an “Apollo On Steroids” solution, the conceptual proposals from the contractors included some very interesting ideas (heck, the original Lockheed proposal for the CEV was a winged/lifting body design!) The more critical part about it is if NASA will give up its traditional insistence that the only MSF system flying the colors must be their current-flagship system.

There are missions for which a similar-to STS class vehicle is needed: when you have a heavy lift payload or self-contained orbital lab work that requires continuous human tending and you want the *whole * enchilada to come back down; or you need to manage free-flyer orbital labs or pick up a large load that needs to be man-tended on the way down; or you need to move a large crew.

But at the same time as that is developed, meanwhile you can have a system for other purposes where if you want a light payload delivery, you copy the Russians and create an Orion-derivative unmanned cargo drone. If you want an orbital mechanical work platform, say to fix (but not return) Hubble, you can create a dedicated orbital-shop module that you park in orbit, then when you need to use it with a crew, you dock an Orion on one end and a module with fuel and mission-specific supplies on the other and fly it to meet the work site. You want an orbital experiment lab, that’s what Space Stations are supposed to be for. Launch satellites/escape stages? We’ve had expendables to do that for 40 years.

And blackjack! In fact, forget the astronauts!

But where will the rich space tourists & the guys from the boy bands ride?

I would suggest that it wasn’t NASA or the “space experts” mistake on STS - It was Nixon’s. Nixon’s Space Task Group in '69 recommended a vigorous human space program that included continuing lunar exploration. The vision was a couple of Apollo missions per year leading to a full-fledged lunar base - probably sometime in the 80’s. Nixon decided that developing a reusable shuttle was the way we wanted to go instead.

This is for all intents and purposes the same thing - 30 years later – except we have Mars as the goal.

So Apollo on steroids … I dunno/can’t say not technically true But I think: *Building logically on Apollo’s successes * - *Taking the next logical steps * are also true and more where I would want to go with that.