Willing to Compromise: 30 Years Since the 'Death Star' Missions (Part 1)

The Centaur-G Prime, mounted in its Centaur Integrated Support Structure (CISS), is readied for launch in the Shuttle Payload Integration Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

The Centaur-G Prime, mounted in its Centaur Integrated Support Structure (CISS), is readied for launch in the Shuttle Payload Integration Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

When Challenger was lost in the skies of Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986, it brought to an end the space shuttle’s “age of innocence” and exposed the deep flaws which plagued the fleet of reusable orbiters. In addition to the tragic loss of seven lives—Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Mike Smith, Mission Specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair and Payload Specialists Greg Jarvis and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe—the world also lost an orbiter which might, a few months hence, have deployed the shuttle’s first payload to another planet. In fact, had 1986 panned out as intended, Challenger and her sister ship, Atlantis, might have flown no fewer than two missions, just a week apart, to send robotic explorers deep into the Solar System. Those two missions, fraught with risk, were targeted to launch in May 1986, 30 years ago, this month.

Thirty years ago, had history been a little more kind, Challenger and Atlantis should have stood proud at Pads 39B and 39A, primed and ready to launch their respective spacecraft to Jupiter. The first, Ulysses would employ Jupiter’s colossal gravity to slingshot it out of the ecliptic plane and explore the Sun’s polar regions, whilst the second, Galileo, would become humanity’s first mission to enter orbit around the giant planet itself. With only a handful of days available in the “launch window,” Ulysses (on Mission 61F) would have flown on 15 May and Galileo (on Mission 61G) would have followed on 20 May. Both flights would have lasted between two and four days, creating the very real possibility that one shuttle might liftoff less than 24 hours after the other had landed.

At the same time, both 61F and 61G would highlight an appalling game of Russian roulette, played with a pair of multi-billion-dollar national assets and the lives of eight of NASA’s astronauts.

The crew of Mission 61F, scheduled to deploy Ulysses on the first Shuttle-Centaur flight. From left to right are Mike Lounge, Roy Bridges, Rick Hauck and Dave Hilmers. Photo Credit: NASA

The crew of Mission 61F, scheduled to deploy Ulysses on the first Shuttle-Centaur flight. From left to right are Mike Lounge, Roy Bridges, Rick Hauck, and Dave Hilmers. Photo Credit: NASA

“As with any flight,” said 61F Commander Frederick “Rick” Hauck in a NASA oral history, “if everything goes well, it’s not risky. It’s when things start to go wrong that you wonder how close you are to the edge.” The two missions became known as “Death Star” flights by Chief Astronaut John Young, because their risk encompassed far more than the obvious dangers associated with any other shuttle launch. Ulysses and Galileo both carried plutonium-fed nuclear generators and both would be propelled out of low-Earth orbit by a liquid-fueled rocket: the Centaur-G Prime, built by General Dynamics. Twenty-nine feet (9 meters) long and 13.1 feet (4 meters) in diameter, the Centaur was a thin-skinned “balloon tank,” depending upon full pressurization to support its weight. “If it were not pressurized,” explained Hauck, “but suspended, and you pushed on it with your finger, the tank walls would give and you’d be flexing the metal!” That said, the Centaur provided more oomph to deliver payloads toward interplanetary targets than solid rockets could achieve.

Historically, NASA’s safety rule of thumb dictated that no single failure should endanger the vehicle or its crew … but much of the Centaur’s pressure regulation hardware was non-redundant, with no backup capability. That was not all. The booster carried so much propellant—more than 36,370 pounds (16,500 kg) of volatile liquid oxygen and hydrogen—that engineers and astronauts feared it might “slosh” in the tanks and impair the shuttle’s controllability. If an emergency occurred, minutes after liftoff, necessitating a launch abort, the astronauts would have to dump the Centaur’s propellants whilst flying to a contingency landing site, either at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida or at one of the Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) sites.

To do that in a safe manner, both Challenger and Atlantis would be fitted with redundant parallel dump valves, helium systems to control them, and software to execute the abort. The valves were located on opposite sides of the orbiter’s aft fuselage and could remove the Centaur’s entire load within 250 seconds. However, their close proximity to the orbiters’ suite of three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) and Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods raised the risk of fuel leaks or explosions.

In support of their roles on 61F and 61G, the two shuttles would have undergone extensive modifications. As well as the dump valves and associated plumbing, they would have been equipped with S-band data transmitters and flight deck controls to monitor the Centaur’s status. A Centaur Integrated Support Structure (CISS) at the aft end of the payload bay would have held the giant booster during ascent and throughout the pre-deployment checks. In mid-February 1986—had Challenger not been lost—Atlantis would have been rolled out to Pad 39B, carrying a “real” Centaur and a mockup of Galileo, for several weeks of fueling tests. She would then have returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for the installation of the “real” Galileo, then headed back out to Pad 39A in early April. By the middle of that same month, Challenger would have joined her on adjacent Pad 39B with Ulysses.

Artist's impression of the Galileo-Centaur deployment on Mission 61G in May 1986. The deployment of Ulysses, less than a week earlier, on Mission 61F would have been similar. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s impression of the Galileo-Centaur deployment on Mission 61G in May 1986. The deployment of Ulysses, less than a week earlier, on Mission 61F would have been similar. Image Credit: NASA

The result would have been only the second occasion in shuttle program history that a pair of shuttle stacks would have occupied both pads, simultaneously. In fact, the 39B complex had only newly entered operational service with the launch of tragic Mission 51L, after more than a decade of refurbishment and modification in the aftermath of its July 1975 usage for the U.S. “half” of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).

As NASA’s newest orbiter—having flown her maiden voyage a few months earlier, in October 1985—Atlantis had received many Centaur modifications during her assembly and, ironically, Challenger would have undergone hers in the aftermath of 51L. Atlantis’ cargo, the Galileo spacecraft, was several times heavier than Ulysses and, in January 1986, NASA accepted a recommendation to fly with her “Phase II” SSMEs running at an as-yet-untried 109-percent of rated performance.

The crews for the two missions were announced in May 1985. Rick Hauck had previously served as the Astronaut Office’s Centaur representative and it was unsurprising that he would command the first (Ulysses) mission. He was joined on Mission 61F by Pilot Roy Bridges and Mission Specialists Mike Lounge and Dave Hilmers. Meanwhile, the crew of Mission 61G comprised Commander Dave Walker, Pilot Ron Grabe, and Mission Specialists John Fabian and James “Ox” van Hoften. By mid-September 1985, however, Fabian had resigned and was replaced by another veteran astronaut, Norm Thagard.

One of the reasons for Fabian’s departure was his conviction that NASA prized commercial respectability over operational flight safety. During his time with the 61G crew, he recalled seeing a technician clambering onto the Centaur with an untethered wrench in his back pocket and another smoothing out a weld, then accidentally scarring the booster’s thin skin with a tool. In Fabian’s mind, it was bad enough that the two shuttle missions would be carrying a volatile booster with such limited redundancy, without having the additional worry of poor quality control oversight and a lax attitude to safety.

Actually, the presence of the Centaur dictated virtually every detail of the two missions. According to the 61F Crew Activity Plan (CAP), released by NASA on 14 January 1986, Hauck’s men would launch at 4:10 p.m. EDT on 15 May. Everything aboard Challenger would have kept at a barebones minimum: from the number of astronauts—the smallest shuttle crew since STS-6 in April 1983 and a size never seen again until the last flight of the program in July 2011—to the on-board provisions and the orbital altitude itself. Both 61F and 61G would enter relatively low orbits of 105 miles (170 km), simply because they needed the SSME performance just to get the heavy Centaurs into space. Additional weight savings were achieved by cutting secondary experiments, an otherwise-empty payload bay, and even the removal of the middeck galley.

The 61G crew, tasked with deploying Galileo. From left are Norm Thagard, Ron Grabe, Dave Walker and James 'Ox' van Hoften. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The 61G crew, tasked with deploying Galileo. From left are Norm Thagard, Ron Grabe, Dave Walker, and James ‘Ox’ van Hoften. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The presence of the Centaur also restricted the amount of time the astronauts had to deploy their respective payloads. Periodically, it was required to dump its boiled-off gaseous hydrogen, thereby keeping tank pressures within mandated limits. After too much time, it would have “bled” so much hydrogen that the remainder would have been insufficient to perform the requisite “burn” to begin the voyage to Jupiter. Consequently, for both 61F and 61G, mission planners scheduled just three deployment opportunities, the first occurring just seven hours after launch.

As the men with the burden of command, Hauck and Walker spent much time questioning their judgement about how many failure modes and problems they could live with. A few days before Challenger was lost, they were working an issue pertaining to the redundancy of helium actuators for the Centaur dump valves. “It was clear,” said Hauck, “that the [senior managers] were willing to compromise on the margins in the propulsive force being provided by the pressurized helium. We were very concerned about it. We went to a review board to argue this was not a good idea to compromise on this feature. The board turned down the request.” Defeated and angry, Hauck returned to the Astronaut Office and called his crew together. Safety had been compromised, he told them, and if they wanted to resign from the mission, they would do so with his full support.

Of course, none of them did so. Years later, Mike Lounge rationalized their thinking. In the bulletproof days before Challenger, NASA still rode the coattails of past glories: the Apollo lunar landings and the salvation of the Skylab space station. “We assumed we could solve all these problems,” Lounge told the NASA oral historian. As if to underline the point, the 61F crew was in a flight procedures meeting on 28 January 1986, reviewing the techniques they might need to vent the Centaur’s propellants in an abort. “Until Challenger,” Lounge added, “we just thought the things would always work.”

 

The second part of this article will appear tomorrow.

 

 

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50 comments to Willing to Compromise: 30 Years Since the ‘Death Star’ Missions (Part 1)

  • Shlomo

    It is a shame that Shuttle Centaur never got operational it would allow for such interesting missions and increase the utility of STS dramatically.

    • it would allow for such interesting missions and increase the utility of STS dramatically

      It would have also turned the Space Shuttle into an even more dangerous death trap than it already was! Carrying 16.5 metric tons of highly volatile liquid hydrogen and LOX inside the cargo hold of a crewed spacecraft to launch a satellite that could be more safely sent on its way on a conventional rocket without risking the lives a human crew or billions of dollars of hardware is the very definition of “stupid”.

      • TomDPerkins

        Worth mentioning that compared to how it was sold, NASA with the Shuttle killed 14 astronauts and met 4% of it’s goals.

        • Joe

          Could you please define what 100% of its goals were and what:
          (1) 96% of its goals it did not meet?
          (2) 04% of its goals it did meet?

          Thanks.

          • TomDPerkins

            Between it’s claimed launch costs and rates, and the fact it was supposed to have 400 launches out of 4 intended orbiters.

            Instead it managed no decrease in costs, very slow turn around, and only 135 flights out what should have been 500 since they made 5.

            It was amazing it worked at all, and that it only had 2 catastrophic failures–but that’s not a good thing either way from a proper perspective. It should have been far more reliable–had to be to meet it’s goals–and could have been, but the same culture which said take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat lead to the design choices which killed the astronauts.

            If you want me to put the coefficients on the multiplier string which takes 1.00 to 0.04, I’ll try to think them through again.

            • Joe

              So, lets examine SpaceX record on CRS:
              (1) Originally promised to deliver cargo for $900/kg.
              (2) When contract signed agreed to deliver for $80,000/kg.
              (3) Promised 12 flights by end of 2015.
              (4) Flew 6 flights by end of 2015.
              (5) Promised to deliver 44,000 lbs. of cargo by end of 2015.
              (6) Delivered less than 22,000 lbs. of cargo by end of 2015.

              Could even throw in their performance on Falcon Heavy:
              (1) Promised it would fly in 2013, it did not.
              (2) Promised it would fly in 2014, it did not.
              (3) Promised it would fly in 2015, it did not.
              (4) Promised it would fly in 2016, time will tell.

              Be sure to “put the coefficients on the multiplier string” on those matters as well.

              • Shlomo

                Current F9FT has similar performance to original FH based on 1.0 cores they just develop their base rocket and that seems to go well.
                Nasa is in charge of payloads for the dragons and they signed
                “12 flights valued at about $1.6 billion from SpaceX.
                These fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts will begin Jan. 1, 2009, and are effective through Dec. 31, 2016 ”
                It is unlikely that SpaceX will lift 20 000kg by end of this year but they have the capability to simply fill dragons with water bags and artificially boost their “delivered cargo” instead of taking the stuff that NASA want’s

                • Joe

                  Or they could load bags with Flying Rainbow Colored Unicorn droppings and launch 22,000+ lbs. of them with the Acme Slingshot (endorsed by Wylie Coyote; patent pending).

                  It still would not meet the original terms of the contract. NASA extended the terms to 2017 to allow both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to appear to be complying and they still will not.

                  • Gray Roger

                    You tell ’em Joe. SpaceX Rainbow Unicorn droppings clearly proved your point about Space Shuttle efficiency without trying to turn the conversation to a completely different subject to cover your lack of any counter-argument.

                    • Joe

                      You posted three rather disjointed responses within 4 minutes:
                      (1) May 9, 2016 at 2:44 pm.
                      (2) May 9, 2016 at 2:46 pm.
                      (3) May 9, 2016 at 2:48 pm.

                      Lucky thing my “lack of any counter-argument” protected your delicate psyche.

                      Would hate to witness you reaction, it I actually had a point. 🙂

                    • Gray Roger

                      I think we are completely safe from having to witness my reaction to you actually responding to the topic.

                      It’s clear you will do all you can to avoid it.

                      Let’s talk about how many posts I made and how many posts you made, and how many posts mention SpaceX or Unicorns. That’s a great way to avoid even attempting a counter-argument for the topic which must not be named.

              • Gray Roger

                Wow!

                Breathtaking!

                I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a point argued so eloquently!

                TomDPerkins – clearly you are wrong. The Space Shuttles did fly as many times as they were supposed to at the price they were supposed to. The evidence is clear. SpaceX flying behind schedule and NASA paying SpaceX less than the upper limit of the CRS contract but more than their initial budget projections proves it!

                Next up we will hear about how the Space Shuttles managed to be checked out and re-launched as quickly as a conventional jet aircraft because “my daddy can beat up Elon Musk!”

            • Vladislaw

              notice how you were talking about the space shuttle, which consumed 200 billion, and joe segued into SpaceX and the couple billion spent on that? Why can’t they stay on topic on the shuttle. 10 million a launch once a week.

              You were talking about the space shuttle not spacex.

              • Joe

                Do not like talking about SpaceX underperformance do you.

                Just suggesting a level playing field. If you are going to go back to criticize the Shuttle apply the same standards to SpaceX.

                • TomDPerkins

                  There is no under performance to speak of by which the NASA’s efforts look good.

                  Are you one of deeply dishonest people pretending that SpaceX is under-performing on weight, when the only possibility from the start of them meeting the original weight goals is for SpaceX to forcibly place lead shot on the ISS against NASA’s wishes?

                  • Joe

                    “Are you one of deeply dishonest people pretending that SpaceX is under-performing on weight, when the only possibility from the start of them meeting the original weight goals is for SpaceX to forcibly place lead shot on the ISS against NASA’s wishes?”

                    Then why were those weight goals placed in the contract and why did SpaceX sign up to them?

                    Who is being dishonest here?

                    • Vladislaw

                      Space shuttle … space shuttle ..

                    • Joe

                      “Space shuttle … space shuttle ..”

                      Very informative, thanks.

                    • Gray Roger

                      “Space shuttle … space shuttle ..”

                      Stop. We cannot talk about poor performance of the Space Shuttle in this article about the Space Shuttle. We have to try and change the topic to poor performance about SpaceX.

                      We don’t have any agenda to promote here.

                      We just want to balance the discussion by talking about the performance of SpaceX when performance of the Space Shuttle comes up in an article about the Space Shuttle.

                    • Joe

                      You really need to get a grip.

                    • Gray Roger

                      I’ve got a complete Grip.

                      We must not talk about that topic. Quick, let’s find something else to talk about.
                      Have the Russians ever considered using yak butter as an oxidizer in their rockets?

                    • TomDPerkins

                      “Who is being dishonest here.”

                      I think it’s clear I’m saying you are being dishonest, and you are.

                      With respect to weight, SpaceX is not in breach of it’s contract with NASA, because it has carried up to the ISS what NASA has given it to carry. If the 20,000 is a minimum, then it is NASA which is in breach because it has not provided as required, the 20,000 to SpaceX for it to carry.

                    • Joe

                      So according to you, even though the contract clearly calls for the delivery of 20,000 kg by the end o 2015, SpaceX is not “in breach of it’s contract with NASA” as long as NASA does not make a formal/public complaint. That of course is something NASA is not going to do as long as SpaceX remains well connected politically.

                      https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/418857main_sec_nnj09ga04b.pdf

                      Page # 7:

                      “The guaranteed minimum value of this contract is the negotiated value of 20,000 kg (20 MT) of upmass to the International Space Station (ISS) based on the values established in Clause I.A.4.”

                      This subject has been beaten into the ground. It is clearly obvious to any objective observer that SpaceX signed up to deliver 20,000 kg by the end o 2015 and failed to do so.

                      I know the internet rule is “he who post last wins” so if you want it have it. It will not make you right and I am not going to continue to respond to the same repetitive talking points.

                    • TomDPerkins

                      NASA has no complaint to make on the basis of weight unless and until SpaceX says it cannot carry up on a flight what NASA asks it to. The parts of the contract you have yourself quoted show delays are handled on a different basis.

                      Your trolling on this point is sufficiently unintelligent I suspect you are yet another sockpuppet of Gary Church, this low uncunning is about his speed.

                    • Joe

                      I would invite you to talk to the board moderators as to whether I am a “sockpuppet” of Gary Church or any one else.

                      As to whom is doing “unintelligent” trolling, I did not just make 5 angry disjointed posts in 22 minutes

                      (1) May 12, 2016 at 11:12 am
                      (2) May 12, 2016 at 11:12 am
                      (3) May 12, 2016 at 11:15 am
                      (4) May 12, 2016 at 11:28 am
                      (5) May 12, 2016 at 11:34 am

                      Calling people, liars accusing them of being “sockpuppets”, etc.

                      Nor have I suggested that anyone should be executed or commit suicide (as you did here – May 12, 2016 at 11:12 am):

                      “Someone should have gone to jail or eaten a pistol.”

                    • TomDPerkins

                      ” I would invite you to talk to the board moderators as to whether I am a “sockpuppet” of Gary Church or any one else. ”

                      You can invite whatever you like. I’ll go by, sounds, smells, looks like a skunk, it’s a skunk.

                      I haven’t made any disjointed posts. But you are implicitly arguing that because SpaceX didn’t forcibly deposit mass on the ISS against NASA’s wishes, they are in default on the contract by weight.

                      “Nor have I suggested that anyone should be executed or commit suicide” <– I never claimed you did, did I?

                      “Someone should have gone to jail or eaten a pistol.” <– I stand by that. The “take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat” statement is prima facie evidence of homicide by criminal negligence.

                    • Joe

                      So now I am not only a liar and a “sockpuppet”; but a skunk as well (according to you).

                      It may amaze you to know that some people do not consider you stating something (engineer hat/management hat) then quoting yourself reaches the standard for “prima facie evidence”.

                      If I thought it would do any good I would suggest you seek help for your anger management issues.

                      But since that is unlikely, will just say:

                      Have a nice day.

                  • Gray Roger

                    Face facts TomDPerkins.

                    SpaceX signed a contract with NASA. That contract allowed NASA to order up to 20 000 kg of payload with launch and prep services at agreed upon set prices. If they don’t order 20 000 kg of payload and only pay for what they order, the taxpayers are being swindled?

                    Don’t you see how this completely proves the Space Shuttle’s efficiency by avoiding the subject?

                    • Joe

                      “That contract allowed NASA to order up to 20 000 kg of payload with launch and prep services at agreed upon set prices.”

                      https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/418857main_sec_nnj09ga04b.pdf

                      Actually the 20 tonne up-mass was a minimum amount to be delivered.

                      Page # 7:

                      “The guaranteed minimum value of this contract is the negotiated value of 20,000 kg (20 MT) of upmass to the International Space Station (ISS) based on the values established in Clause I.A.4.”

                      But as you say “Space shuttle…space shuttle”

                      Try to calm down and have a nice day.

                    • Joe

                      As much as I understand what you mean, you and these folks are using pseudonyms from some arcane literary references to go back and forth with each other under assumed names.

                      While that may be fun for them, it is of no interest to me.

                      My interest in this particular discussion is limited to the following:

                      (1) Ben Evans wrote a nice historical piece on the shuttle program (as he has on Mercury/Gemini/Apollo). This is historical because the Shuttle (like Mercury/Gemini/Apollo) is no longer an active program.

                      (2) The “Usual Suspects” just could not resist trying to turn the comments section into another Shuttle Bashing Session. Why is a good question:
                      (a) Do they think they can get Shuttle cancelled again?
                      (b) Do they just hate Shuttle so much that they must dis it?
                      (c) Is this a way to distract from SpaceX shortcomings?

                      I do not really care. Just noted that they should apply the same standards to SpaceX as they do when “spitting on the Shuttles grave”.

                      The resulting temper tantrum Gray Roger speaks for itself.

                    • Vladislaw

                      INDEFINITE QUANTITY (FAR 52.216-22) (OCT 1995)
                      “(h) This is an indefinite-quantity contract for the supplies or services specified and effective for the period stated in Clause I.A.2. The quantities of supplies and services specified in the Schedule are estimates only”

                      20.5
                      “In the event of a NASA- or Contractor-requested delay of the delivery window beyond 30 days, the Contracting Officer shall direct the Contractor, in writing, of the revised delivery window, and allow the Contractor to submit a proposal for the effect of any delay beyond 30 days on the task order price of all affected CLINs, delivery schedule, or other terms of the contract. This may result in any of the following: an equitable adjustment to the price of all affected CLINs in the task order (any), change in the delivery schedule, and change in the period of performance.”

                    • Joe

                      Quoting a FAR document dating back to 1995 is very interesting.

                      It might even provide a “loop hole” to get SpaceX off the hook.

                      That is it might if you could provide a link to the place where NASA specifically requested that SpaceX not meet the 20,000 kg. requirements clearly spelled out in the CRS contract.

                      Nice try, but no cigar.

                    • Vladislaw

                      I quoted from YOUR LINK to YOUR document… sheesh

                      You make it sound like the NASA contract with SpaceX was carved in stone by the finger of God on mount Sinia and Griffin came down the mountain with tablets.

                      This was a NEW commercial enterprise that NEVER existed before. You think ANY contractor would paint themselves into a corner?

                      the Nice try no cigar is on you …

                    • Joe

                      You quoted from the contract a section referencing a Far document from 1995.

                      Additionally:

                      “This is an indefinite-quantity contract for the supplies or services specified and effective for the period stated in Clause I.A.2. ”

                      Establishes that the amount delivered could (with extra remuneration) be increased not decreased.

                      As the section I quoted clearly stated:

                      “The guaranteed minimum value of this contract is the negotiated value of 20,000 kg (20 MT) of upmass to the International Space Station (ISS) based on the values established in Clause I.A.4.”

                      So 20,000lbs. minimum with the possibility for increases is what was signed up to and not delivered on.

                      “You make it sound like the NASA contract with SpaceX was carved in stone by the finger of God on mount Sinia and Griffin came down the mountain with tablets.”

                      No just a legal contract that would (except for political cronyism) have had to be renegotiated (with public scrutiny) when SpaceX failed (by over 50%) to live up to its commitments.

                      Keep flailing if you have to, but “looking for loopholes” will not make the obvious facts go away.

                    • TomDPerkins

                      And the honest, obvious fact is that if NASA does not give SpaceX 20MT to carry up to the ISS, it is NASA and not SpaceX in default on that point.

                    • Joe

                      Congratulations, you have just come up with the new slogan for “Commercial Space”:

                      “The Customer is always wrong.”

                      Sadly that appears to be the way the crony capitalists of SpaceX(and their internet fans) want it.

                    • TomDPerkins

                      Like I said, you don’t have an honest argument to make.

                      You are here to lie and say it is SpaceX’s fault NASA hasn’t provided 20MT for SpaceX to carry to the ISS.

              • Gray Roger

                Pay no attention to that subject behind the curtain!

                We were talking about SpaceX inefficiency in this article about SpaceX, not about poor Space Shuttle Performance! Don’t try to change the subject to poor Space Shuttle performance. That subject doesn’t exist!

          • TomDPerkins

            Okay. And with more detail.

            NASA has been in existence 52 years. It spent 25% of that time actually advancing space access. Mercury-Gemini-Apollo 13 years 1959 to 1972. Shuttle lost decades run 1972 to 2011.

            Shuttle was supposed to lower space access costs to $118/lb instead over the lifetime of the program it cost $25,000/lb. Curiously that is at about what SLS will come in at, must be a crony capitalist gravy train floor.

            So right there we’re down to NASA via Shuttle Program meeting 0.118% of it’s goals.

            Not sure how I got as high as 4%. I must not have looked at the $118/lb figure against the actual cost of a potential lb to orbit provided.

            I should point out that’s without dinging them any on the delays or missed launch rates. Or how the stress of trying to “manage” their way out of their bad engineering decisions cost 14 astronauts their lives.

            “Take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat.” <– Someone should have gone to jail or eaten a pistol.

            • TomDPerkins

              Grr. Should by 57 years. It spent 52 of those years with a nominal baseline mission including providing access to space. Now it buys access to space.

              Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Orbit is orbit. For the same orbit and same pounds, cheaper is better.

              SpaceX can do that, and it clear NASA cannot or will not.

              • James

                Lot of countries and companies will sooner or later do whatever SpaceX can do and probably at equal or even lower costs.

                Russia already has extensive flight experience with kerolox and hydrolox rocket engines more efficient than SpaceX’s Merlin kerolox rocket engine.

                And the nifty Russian RD-180 can be throttled from 47% to 100% of its normal thrust

                Blue Origin’s hydrolox BE-3 is already flying into space, and can be extensively throttled, and is being reused.

                Notice the recent excited ‘claims’ of ‘unfairness’ about using American surplus solid rocket motors for cheap access to LEO.

                Notice the efforts by some folks to keep cheap India launchers isolated from American satellites.

                SpaceX faces lots of real and tough competition.

                Yep, perhaps “cheaper” isn’t “better”.

                Maybe NASA’s goal was never cheap access to LEO.

                Or as someone once put it quite bluntly:

                “Personally I think that most people running the space programs around the world are very happy with high launch costs, outside of manufacturing and selling. High launch costs basically keep the riff-raff out and reduce the number of players.”
                From Page 11 of ‘Toward a Theory of Space Power: Defining Principles for U.S. Space Policy’ By James Oberg May 20, 2003

                Cheap access to LEO is now the new mantra for lots of folks, companies, and countries around the world.

                And those new “players” will be quite successful in achieving that high tech and profitable ‘national security’ ‘cheap access to LEO’ goal.

                Space launcher capabilities and skills are often dual use skills and share technology with ICBMs.

                Yikes! Are much more numerous builders of cheap ICBMs getting real busy around the world going to be “better” for our planet?

                Who can prove that lots of “cheaper” ICBMs will be “better” for humans?

                The new cheap access to LEO “players” may have lots of issues and concerns they will bring along with them into Cislunar Space, including having been labeled “riff-raff”, or worse, by some of the folks and governments in Europe and America.

                Cheap access to LEO means Cislunar Space is going to get a lot more crowded and quite complicated. Humans seem to complain and loudly argue about everything. Many disputes of various types in Cislunar Space will most likely occur.

                SpaceX is a business and doesn’t, and most likely cannot, represent the American and European governments in Cislunar Space.

                However, the SLS and international Orion will clearly represent the American and European governments in issues and exploration during the evolving and sophisticated political, technical, and business complications of Cislunar Space.

                Note that Cislunar Space has been defined by American law to include the surface of the Moon.

                And most likely, the more missions per year that the SLS and international Orion fly in Cislunar Space the “cheaper” each of those missions could become.

                Perhaps one thing being “cheaper” might not be the full measure of the diverse risks and costs of everything that “cheaper” might bring with it.

            • Joe

              “Shuttle was supposed to lower space access costs to $118/lb instead over the lifetime of the program it cost $25,000/lb. Curiously that is at about what SLS will come in at, must be a crony capitalist gravy train floor.”

              And for CRS SpaceX promised to “reduced” the $25,000/lb to $36,000/lb (an actual increase of 44%).

              A great victory, supposedly, except SpaceX failed to do even that.

              • James

                “And for CRS SpaceX promised to “reduced” the $25,000/lb to $36,000/lb (an actual increase of 44%).”

                And is that increased cost good or bad news for anyone with a brain who is scared of every billionaire in the world deciding to make easy government money by launching satellites on cheap low tech ICBMs/launchers?

                Or is it simply a case of a ‘soft’ and ‘unimportant bogus requirement’ to enable a political friend of the President to once again get his hands deeply into the pockets of taxpayers and fund his private, cheap, and low tech ICBM/launcher?

                How much careful computer and other types of security is required for the designs and parts of a private, cheap, and low tech ICBM/launcher?

                Now that we have had a President sending emails to the in-home private server used by the 67th United States Secretary of State, I suppose we can just forget all that national security baloney and just do whatever is politically and economically convenient, right?

                Now everyone in the world should be able to buy and sell whatever private, cheap, and low tech ICBM/launcher technology that turns a ‘profit’, right?

                Everything, or anything, is OK because we’re headed to Mars, right?

                Does that remind you of: ‘What profit a man if he sells his soul to gain a world?’

  • Pedro Gonzalez

    Here’s a detail you left out: the mobile launch platforms needed to be modified. The MLP used for 51L was to be used for 61G. This created pressure to launch 51L in order to complete the modifications in time to launch 61G.

  • James

    ““As with any flight,” said 61F Commander Frederick “Rick” Hauck in a NASA oral history, “if everything goes well, it’s not risky. It’s when things start to go wrong that you wonder how close you are to the edge.” The two missions became known as ‘Death Star’ flights by Chief Astronaut John Young, because their risk encompassed far more than the obvious dangers associated with any other shuttle launch.”

    “One of the reasons for Fabian’s departure was his conviction that NASA prized commercial respectability over operational flight safety.”

    Rockets are complex and risky and have some ugly failure modes. Space travel is also risky.

    Putting people on large rockets that are aimed at space and under the control of a risk denying political management is a recipe for killing astronauts.

    NASA’s current ‘Mars soon’ nonsense is indicative that nothing has been learned by NASA’s risk denying political management.

    Thank you Ben Evans for this review of our history.

  • The Wanderer

    Is conway costigan famous?

    • James

      He is a critic.

      Trillions of dollars are at stake.

      In such a situation a critic should expect trouble .

      • The Wanderer

        A professional critic? Unlikely. He has troubles with his ego.

        • The Wanderer

          Actually, this is pointless. Bye.

        • James

          America was founded by critics. I don’t remember our history books discussing if those critics were “professional” or had “ego” “troubles”. Maybe I missed something unimportant.

          And your “professional” qualifications in psychiatry are what? And what “troubles” drives your “ego” to make “pointless” posts?

          Have you posted somewhere about the “ego” “troubles” of a very confused guy who likes to dip his hands into the pockets of American taxpayers while wildly and loudly proclaiming he’s going to retire on Mars real soon and haul thousands of folks with him to that Galactic Cosmic Radiation hell?

          That guy with the greedy hands is also telling everyone on the planet that cheap access to LEO, which also means cheap ICBMs, is easy for a small company to do. His taxpayer funded international encouragement of the proliferation of cheap low tech ICBM technology may eventually lead to destruction and death across various parts of America and the rest of our planet.

          The Russian RD-180 rocket engine is currently used on the Atlas V rocket precisely because we Americans didn’t want the Russians to enable the world wide proliferation of cheap ICBM technology.

          How times change and our national security policy can quickly do a 180 degree flip with little public discussion. A political friend of the President demonstrates to the world how cheap and low tech easy it is to build ICBMs and the mass media becomes ecstatic.

          Our current President seems to think his political friend’s demonstration to the world of a low tech path to building a cheap ICBM is simply brilliant and should be rewarded with more taxpayer money.

          With the future security of our world at stake it would seem we need a lot more critical posts by folks like Conway Costigan.

          And perhaps some thoughtful silence from the loud guy with the greedy hands, and his many inane minions, who unknowingly or knowingly advocates for low tech methods to build cheap ICBMs, would be nice.

          Yep, I’m also a critic like Conway Costigan. And of course trouble will come my way, too.

          I can live with trouble and even smile about it.