Space … the final cash receipts
I covered the U.S. and international space program for a decade, 2000-2010, along with aerospace programs like missile defense and rocket development.
Often I get asked questions like “Why did NASA get rid of the space shuttle?” … They didn’t Congress and the Bush White House stopped that program. “Why don’t they (NASA) build something else?” NASA, aerospace engineers, every kid in the third grade, wants to build new launch vehicles – read rockets – but ROCKETS COST GOBS OF CASH, and the U.S. Congress only likes to spend GOBS OF CASH killing people or putting them in jail or bailing out mismanaged banks.
I recently wrote this to a friend of mine when he asked, maybe it will help anybody out there who has similar questions.
“It is not NASA that doesn’t want to replace a launch system, ie the space shuttle. It is Congress that approves a five year or decade long plan, only to modify or stop it three years later.
There were several programs started to replace the shuttle. (In 2002) The Orbital Space Plane was going to be a smaller version of the shuttle, and was based on about three decades of NASA and aerospace industry research.
In 2005, the Bush Administration and Congress stop work on the Orbital Space Plane
(after billions were already spent) and approved the Orion spacecraft, then intended to be a six person space vehicle, and the Ares rocket system (both since cancelled, restarted and heavily modified) were intended to be the replacements.
The Ares rockets were a two part launch system – ie two separate rockets, the Ares I and the Ares V. Ares I was to launch the capsule with the people who would orbit Earth. The Ares V would loft huge amounts of payload along with another fueled stage that the Orion capsule would link up with in Earth orbit and then use the fueled stage to blast it to the moon, Mars, Jupiter or points in between.
Projected costs were very expensive — projected (by some) close to $1 TRILLION DOLLARS over a decade and a half to go back to the moon — and Congress (read their 20 something year old aides) took the knife to the bits they did not understand. This pretty much ended the return to the moon and sent Ares into a development spiral of changing missions, which change the systems which added costs.
There just isn’t enough support in the 50 states of the union to understand/care about what NASA wants to do. NASA had solid support in the 10 states that it has centers in and where aerospace work is done. Generally states with a large military presence, mostly the South and the West, will support NASA because they think it is still a space race with the Russians (now our partners in the International Space Station) or the Chinese.
Most people are woefully ignorant of what aerospace provides in terms of research – especially medical research. They think it was all Tang and Velcro, two products that predate NASA by years (Tang) and decades (Velcro).
Now, the Obama White House wants a private shuttle type program for crew to station. This has its ups and downs. Generally private companies don’t have the safety standards and tend to cut corners when it comes to safety. With the world watching, a private spacecraft tragedy would set human spaceflight back decades.
When focused, NASA has a great safety records. They lost two crews in 30 years over 134 shuttle launches. I don’t think a private company could repeat that. However, it is private contractor companies who run NASA launch systems. The Federal Government tends to add weight to any consequences that may come from an accident.
Funny enough, Sierra Nevada, a private aerospace company, wants to build the DreamChaser spacecraft (the winged vehicle in the photo with this reply). It is based on a NASA design from some two decades ago that the Japanese Space Agency took and improved but scrapped due to costs.
In short, to answer your question: NASA, aerospace companies and other nations want to build new spacecraft, but they cost A LOT OF MONEY because they are basically handbuilt. There is no Ford Motor Company for spaceships. That is what happened to the space shuttle – it COST TOO MUCH MONEY – and was a lightening rod for those who do not care or do not understand the benefits of space exploration. “
And the Multi-billion dollar of right turn rocket development continues on … but the view graph cartoons get better.
(NASA’s John Houbolt explains the critical weight-saving advantage of the LOR scheme. Because the lunar excursion vehicle (“L.E.V.”) in Houbolt’s plan weighed only 19,320 pounds, compared to 82,700 pounds for the lander required for direct ascent or EOR, the total weight that must be boosted to earth escape could be reduced by more than half using LOR. L-62-5849)