I reread several times Jons’ post on NASA under the next administration that recommends against having NASA focus on anything one finds important. I think he made good points throughout and it should have made for lively discussion. I didn’t comment there as I didn’t have anything useful to add. I felt that I should have had strong opinions to throw out there, but couldn’t find them. A lot of people that used to jump in discussion of that nature were also conspicuous by their silence. Could it be because many of us have become indifferent to the flagship programs of NASA?
All of us know of good work by NASA in various programs. How long has it been since the NASA flagship program was the one that produced the good work? ISS, SLS, Orion and the James Webb telescope seem to be trudging along with the press releases at regular intervals celebrating some milestone or another. It is so hard for someone of my interests to see any of them leading to useful space settlement and development that indifference is probably the best to be hoped for. The alternative is to see them as roadblocks to progress and the enemy. I have enough on my plate without adding gratuitous enemies.
In response to someone calling for one of the flagships to be cancelled, Ed Wright noted that the congressional funding would just be diverted to another similar program by the congressman that kept the first one going. That’s just the way it is as SLS morphed from Aries, which derived from Shuttle, which kept the Saturn/Apollo teams together and so on. Tilting at that windmill will just lead to busted lances and bruises.
So what do I want NASA to do? I don’t know. I accept Jon’s point that it shouldn’t be anything I am passionate about. That is about as far as I can get. Some will no doubt suggest that NASA should put a base on the moon or some other favorite direction. Does anyone believe that ISS on the moon would be any more productive than ISS in LEO?
About half a layer down are the commercial partnerships. I thought it was far more separate than that up until the commercial crew awards. A couple of capsules to go on slightly modified existing launch systems for $6B+ and over half a decade sounds like the same thing only different. Billions for assured safety even as ISS crew transport is dependent on Russia, and Russia has acknowledged QA problems on some of its’ launch systems. Rand Simberg has covered this ground on his blog and in print. If there were a serious push for crew transport, Dragon 1 would have had taxi life support and fast rendezvous capability years ago for a fraction of the money. Boeing and Sierra Nevada could have pushed something through just months later if results rather than process oriented. I think it is sufficient to say that I find the current efforts uninspired.
Stepping a bit farther out, there are the efforts of SpaceX Blue Origin, and ULA among others for reusable orbital systems, or at least some of the components. I guess I am a bit jaded on the various hypes and want to see some gas-n-go operations before I get exited. It is basic math that a weekly turnaround vehicle of 10 ton capacity could put 500+ tons of material in orbit per year per tail number. Basic observation also is that once development is done more vehicles are relatively low cost. Knowing that one company with a handful of such vehicles could launch far more annually than than the whole world does now is also less than inspiring until I see it start happening. It will happen sooner or later, and likely from a direction I don’t expect.
The suborbital companies that I expected to lead the way don’t seem to be forging ahead at the pace I expected. Lynx on hold, Blue Origin is a question, and Space Ship Two seems like it would be better named Bransons’ Braggadocio. For suborbital research flights of RLVs, Masten seems to be the last man standing. I have posted my thoughts that suborbital companies would develop teams, vehicles, and procedures for fast turnaround that would scale into orbital systems with the same characteristics. It’s hard to see that happening right now with the possible exception of New Sheppard.
I don’t see the big idea concepts coming together even by the private players. The Mars Musk plan doesn’t seem credible or well thought out. Monster rockets don’t have a good track record for affordability, or even reliability for that matter.
Space will be developed. It will likely happen in a manner that I don’t expect. That makes my chances of making a useful contribution quite low absent pile$ of luck. So right at the moment I am a bit indifferent to the current state of play in space development, or maybe it’s just holiday blues. Either way, I’m going to try to go to Space Access next year to try to shake this lethargy