Since I’m still sick at home today, I figured I’d take some time to blog a bit. I don’t want to waste too much time getting into a jousting match with Mark, but I figured there were a couple of useful points worth making. [Ed: This turned into a rather long and excessively snarky fisking, so I decided to pare it back a bit to the important points]
I think that by Jon’s definition any plan to return to the Moon, whether it was done by NASA, the Chinese, or by Elon Musk would be considered Apollo Part 2. It could be done any number of ways, but the end result is that people will be back on the Moon.
Well, this is rather missing my point. I was using movie sequels and TV sequels as an analogy for what was going on with the ESAS plan. The key point was that although a few of the technical details are slightly different, the plan is going to be executed in a very similar way, doing very similar stuff, and will for very similar reasons not be economically sustainable. NASA could do things substantially different, by choosing a technical architecture and management approach that was more amenable to real development. Just because Star Trek the Next Generation was just a 80s/90s rehash of the old socialist misadventures of the original, doesn’t mean that all sci-fi movies have to be the same. It’s quite possible for example to do a Firefly or something else entirely.
In other words, it’s quite possible to do lunar exploration in vastly different and more effective manners than NASA is choosing to do, and those methods would therefore be very justifiably not considered just an Apollo 2.0.
Now, it could be that Jon is suggesting that any return to the Moon would be “boring” and therefore to be avoided. By that criteria, would it mean that he would support going directly to Mars? It’s a differnt place, after all. One can’t be sure.
Nope. I don’t think NASA should be wasting money on doing and Apollo to Mars either. I think going back to the moon, and this time developing it and settling it, and opening it up for normal non-government employees to visit and live on is a very good goal. I wouldn’t be involved in the Moon Society if I thought the moon itself is a waste. What I was merely concerned with was that the method being proposed was not conducive towards the ends that really matter.
Now we get closer to the meat of Jon’s argument. A government financed, government operated return to the moon is “socialistic” and therefore, evil. Now, it seems to me that if we define any activity that a government might undertake to be socialistic, then there seems to be only two real forms of organizing a society: socialism and anarchy.
Well, I wouldn’t go entirely that far. I’m a Bastiat style minarchist. So long as government isn’t stealing from one person to give to another, or using force or coersion, I’m perfectly willing to put up with it. I think that government has some role in society. I just think that involuntarily taking billions from the nation to feed the dreams of a few is morally repugnant. That said, I also realize that I’m in the minority on this, and that NASA isn’t going away anytime soon. Since NASA isn’t going away, I’d at least like to see it try and operate in the least damaging way possible. “First do no harm” should be the motto of the day, or at least “first try to do as little harm as physically possible, please” would be better than what we have now.
I’d like to see NASA acting more as a customer. I’d like to see them buying off-the shelf systems for off-the shelf problems, instead of constantly trying to operate their own launchers. I’d like to see them using more firm-fixed fee contracts for services, and less cost-plus contracting. Commercial launchers have been available for years now. Better ones are coming on line all the time. There is a glut in this industry. If NASA has to exist, at least it could buy from them instead of trying to create their own redundant operational systems.
If NASA were planning on doing something more along those lines (as it could if it wanted to), instead of just trying to preserve jobs and do everything in-house, I’d be more supportive of it.
Now, I like the idea of space going tankers. I used the concept for Children of Apollo. But, it’s new technology, the development of which has certain pit falls that have a greater chance of increasing the cost and expanding the schedule of the program than NASA’s idea of going with the tried and true. I think it’s a worthy idea to develop in the view of enhancing the infrastructure once people start going to the Moon on a regular basis.
The big problem is that by not developing the technology up front, and designing it in from the start, it will be very difficult to retrofit it in later–basically require substantial redesign of the whole system.
Developing the capability to do on-orbit transfer of cryogens is no more difficult for NASA now than developing rendezvous capabilities was for NASA back in the 60s. If they’re going to be blowing a 100 Billion dollars on going back to the moon, they sure as heck ought to at least put $200-500M into trying to make sure it’s done right. If NASA insists on doing things exactly the same as Apollo did it, then why the heck do they deserve to get the same amount of money up front? Do you really think that wasting $15B on uncertain technology development projects for the two new launches is really money better spent than trying to demonstrate on-orbit refueling so you don’t need new launchers?
[D]oes Jon suggest that using five or nine or whatever number of EELVs is going to be cheaper than using two larger launch vehicles?
Heck. Yes. Does Mark Whittington suggest that with the $15B development costs, and $3B+ per year fixed cost that somehow NASA’s launchers will be cheaper? Seriously, for the amount they want to design and field the Stick and the Longfellow, they could buy 60 Delta IVH flights, 150 Atlas V flights, or nearly 540 (!) Falcon IX flights (if those become available). How on earth is NASA going to be cheaper, unless you ignore the $15B development cost and the $3B/year fixed costs?
Not to mention the cost of man rating the launchers, which I’m told is very expensive and very time consumning.
Ah, the man rating red herring. All you need for man-rating above and beyond what is already needed for a commercial launch on a Delta or Atlas is a reliable abort system and a way for detecting when it needs to be initiated. The Stick already requires the former anyway, and the latter really isn’t that expensive or difficult. Most of the required sensors are probably already there. Sure, it might require a half dozen engineers a few months to work out the rest of the details, but we’re not talking about anything on the same scale as a $15B vehicle development program.
For comparison, DC-X and DC-XA had all the require sensors that would be needed for “man-rating” a EELV (in fact what they had was probably overkill) and DAQ for much much less than $100M in non-recurring engineering costs, and probably less than $5M in per unit recurring costs.
Heck, even Mike Griffin himself knew this argument was a load of crap as is evident from his quote on the Space Review that I quoted here previously:
In other testimony, Griffin has made it clear that he is not opposed to using EELV vehicles effectively unmodified from their current versions to launch crewed vehicles. In a May 2003 hearing by the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee on NASA’s Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program—a short-lived effort to develop a manned spacecraft that was superseded by the CEV—Griffin noted that the term “man rating” dated back to efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to modify ICBMs to carry capsules. “This involved a number of factors such as pogo suppression, structural stiffening, and other details not particularly germane to today’s expendable vehicles. The concept of ‘man rating’ in this sense is, I believe, no longer very relevant.”
The Atlas 5 and Delta 4 EELVs, he noted, have a specified design reliability of 98 percent, in line with experience with the premier expendable vehicles to date. If such a vehicle was used to launch a crewed spacecraft equipped with an escape system of just 90 percent reliability, he noted, the combined system would have a 1-in-500 chance of a fatal accident, “substantially better than for the Shuttle.”
In other words, this whole “we’d have to man-rate them and that would be so expensive” bit is just a rash of bull, especially compared to the expense of developing two new launch vehicles. It’s the same sort of jiggering of the requirements to force the results you want that I pointed out in one of my recent posts. If they were willing to use off-the shelf commercial launchers (which are far safer and more reliable than the converted ICBMs that NASA used for Mercury and Gemini), they could get them man-rated for a rather marginal extra cost, probably round-off error compared to the current cost per flight, let alone compared to a $15B new vehicle development.
But since there are no launch vehicles in existence or likely to be in existence in the near future that will meet NASA’s requirements, then–sadly–returning to the Moon, at least initally, has to be done the old fashioned way.
No it doesn’t have to be done the NASA way. There is a better way, but NASA doesn’t want to do it that way because if would force NASA to actually change, to actually show some backbone. NASA doesn’t have to give in to all the whining porkbarrel politics. If they came up with a clear vision that was cost effective and promoted commerce, they could get enough supporters in Congress to get it passed. They didn’t even try. That’s sad.