Aerospace veterans underrepresented in NASA’s post-shuttle strategy
NBC’s Jay Barbree, who has been reporting on space since…well, since human space flight began, has a commentary, NASA’s future depends on spaceflight neophytes. Barbree is old school, which is to say he doesn’t mince words. And his view of the selectees of NASA’s recent commercial crew development (CCDev) awards is not charitable. But then, we are talking about human space flight. As Barbree put it, “During the five decades that followed the first launch of an American into space…[t]hose responsible for the agency’s successes followed a simple axiom: Good is the enemy of great. NASA either flew with the best and most experienced, or not at all. This week brought the first hint that NASA’s standards could be dropping.”
“It’s not as if hiring the inexperienced was NASA’s only choice. For the same money spent on these commercial contracts, the space agency could have had a commercial U.S.-European rocket. It would have been provided by ATK Space Launch Systems, the builders of the space shuttles’ solid booster rockets; and by Astrium, the company that builds the liquid-fueled core stage of the European Ariane 5.
For the past 25 years, the space shuttle’s booster rockets have flown 214 times successfully. That’s 107 shuttle missions in a row, with two rockets for each. Meanwhile, France’s Ariane rocket has flown 41 times without a failure, and the hardware was originally designed to be human-rated — that is, cleared for flying astronauts. The Liberty rocket would have used NASA’s existing facilities at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, trimming back the costs of operation as well as the time needed for Americans to be riding their own spacecraft again.”
That ATK’s Liberty Launcher was not selected for further CCDev work came as no surprise. Not because of short-comings of the Liberty Launcher design–far from it. Rather, for NASA to have selected the Liberty Launcher would have been to admit that the determination of some at NASA, made far in advance of the Augustine Committee, that the Ares I must be canceled was in fact a mistake. The decision on the Liberty Launcher was, if the past two years are any guide, very likely a political, not an engineering call.