I am with Phil on this. It is important to leave this to the commercials. NASA has been running human space transport for 5 decades now and it has not gotten any cheaper, only more expensive in that time. Within a just a few months of the pure possibility of NASA giving human transport away to the commercials, not one, but several possible providers have emerged that all would be doing it much cheaper than NASA could have every done it.
When people hear commercial space transport they inevitably think of SpaceX and Elon Musk. This is also where the critics usually try to gain leverage with the “risky, unproven, new company, etc” line of arguments.
SpaceX is great and they sure have been the pace makers of this latest development, but they are not the only ones in the new effort for commercial human transport.
There are others. Among those are big names:
Lockheed Martin (both with their own capsules and cooperating as ULA with their rockets AtlasV and Delta II heavy) .
These are big air and space companies with a decades history of providing NASA with the technology used to launch humans savely into space. ULAs rockets are relied on by the DOD to launch billions of defense hardware into space every year. ULA has a near perfect trackrecord for this. These are the same companies that would have built components for Constellation and that have provided components for the shuttle programme. So the “savety” argument is absolutely silly and just meant as a distraction.
There are also other smaller companies involved, that will bring new and exciting technology to the table for human space transport. Just look at the recent press released by Sierra Nevada Corp and Orbital. They are both working on orbital space planes. Sierra Nevada Corb already has finished structural testing on a full scale prototype of the frame of its Dream Chaser space plane.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule might look like a simple capsule design to some, with very little innovation to it. Some people have been trying to paint it as inferior to Orion (the capsule from the Constellation programme).
Well that could not be further from the truth. It is a very robust and a very versatile, REUSABLE design.
Both capsule and heat shield are designed to widthstand the reentry not only from orbital speeds, but also from lunar return and even Marsian return. Thats right, Dragon could be used for both lunar and mars missions, making Orion obsolete.
The manned version of Dragon will also feature and innovative “pusher” Launch escape system, making it saver than Constellation. And Dragon will use the same system for retro- rockets for a save pin- point- landing on land, instead of a splash down in water. So yes, Dragon will land almost exactly like the scifi space ships we saw in the 50ies and 60ies. That will be pretty cool, I am sure and again it is much better than what Orion and Constellation would have done (water splash down).
Space X will also have a heavy lift launcher in its portfolio next year already (first launch scheduled for 2012, but experience tells me it might turn into 2013), the Falcon 9 heavy.
For other ways how commercial providers can contribute to real space exploration look at NASAs recent presentation of the Nautilus X. Based on commercial technology with mostly off the shelf parts, theis FULLY REUSABLE, modular true spaceship shows us the way to do a real, affordable and therefore also SUSTAINABLE Space Exploration Architecture.
This is the way to go! No one shot moon missions that let us a do a few hopps on the moon and that are then cancelled because the money runs dry, because they are waaay to expensive. Instead this is an architecture that can support space exploration for many years, if not decades. It is modular and explandable. It can easily be adapted to different missions from lunar exploration to mission to asteroids and even Mars.
It can be fully supported by commercial providers. Many of its components are built by commercial providers too. E.g. the habitats and storage modules which are Bigelows inflatable habitats.
So why do some congress men insist on constellation or now a NASA led heavy lift effort?
Well it is fiscal interests, pure and simple. Certain companies, such as ATK are important defense contractors. They would, oh what a surprise, also be the biggest contributors to both the now cancelled Constellation programme as well as the new HLV programme.
The senators that have been insisting on the new HLV programme are- again no surprise- those that have facilities in their states that would benefit most from this.
E.g. Senator Shelby (R) from Alabama. Guess where ATK has its headquarters? Thats right, Alabama!
Then we have Bill Nelson (D) from Florida. He of course wants to keep the Shuttles standing army in place for a government run jobs programme. Well that jobs programme is what makes the Shuttle so expensive to operate and he wants to keep it going at all cost. That would also mean that space would never be affordable and that it will stay something that only the elites will ever have access to.
Then there is Senator Hall (R) from Texas.
What do we see here? Wasteful government spending is not just reserved for the democrats. No, both parties will happily take part in this, as long as it suits their lobbies. The republicans are just better at covering their tracks, since they mostly spend on defense and things like that and since defense expenses are almost never questioned for their size, they get away with it more easily. That is all
As an external observer, I think that the US needs an independend 3rd opposition party that keeps the other two honest. Otherwise they will just keep passing the spending ball back and forth between the two with the voter having very little of a choice.
Anyway, after this little lesson in politics, where does that leave the space programme?
In dire need for an overhaul! By passing much of the cost on to competing(!) commercial companies that are contracted via fixed price contracts (instead of the expensive cost plus contracts that NASA usually uses), you leave the government out of the actual space transport business and stop it from interfering with how rockets are designed (e.g. Nelson inserted wording into a bill to make sure ATK HAS to be contracted for the HLV, no matter what) and operated.
IMHO, no matter what political side you are on, whether you are a republican, a democrat , a libertarian and especially if you are a tea party voter (who are supposedly soooo in support of private enterprise and sooo against wasteful government spending), you should be supporting the administrations plans for NASAs future. It is the only way that will lead to a more affordable and sustainable space program . And maybe, one day, if things work really well, space will be affordable enough for the rest of us as well and not be reserved to a small elite and some really rich people. You think that this is impossible? Space Tourist and famous game developer Richard Garriot recently said in an interview, that had the price of his ticket been in the single digit millions, the experiments, he did for his sponsors on the ISS, would have paid for his entire ride and stay on the ISS.
So write to your congress- men and inform the public. The future of manned spaceflight in the US, maybe the world is in your hands!
This news has been published by title Pulse Opinion : That Excuse For Cancelling This Week’s FEC Meeting Was Darn Funny
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