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Wanted: Space Agency That Works
Lately within the circles of the space community there have been two camps form - those who support NASA and those who don't. Many people believe that NASA is the only way to go. With a few changes, they can be the agency that they were during the heady days of the Apollo program. Others believe that NASA's day is over and that it is time to move on. Most however, don't even care.
I am not opposed to NASA. I am not for NASA. I am for Space. If that takes NASA to get us there, then so be it. If the private sector can do a better job, that is fine too. Should there be a merging of the two worlds? Yes. We need to figure out what it will look like, but I am digressing.
The reason NASA is blasted for how it handles things is because of the public perception about the organization. NASA appears to get everything wrong. No matter the amount of money put into this group, something dramatic always seems to happen.
Either it is all good or all bad - there isn't much room between. Those who are in NASA know what I mean. There are lots of great works going on inside of the foremost space organization, but most go unnoticed. The public only sees what is prominent and generally that news is all bad. Last week's happenings are a good example.
The ISS repair space walk had to be scrubbed again because a space suit was not working. Funny, I would have figured they would last longer. How long should a space suit last sitting on the self anyway? At about $1 million each I would expect them to be able to last at least a year or two.
Doesn't NASA keep its gear in good working order? And I don't want to hear about the harshness of the environment either. We have divers who can die just as easily in their 'harsh' environment too. You don't hear much about equipment failure there. It does happen, but there is always a way of getting parts, even in the most remote of areas. Admittedly, the ISS is a long way to send replacement parts, but why can't we do that?
And that begs the question…
Why don't we have a cargo vehicle built? Why don't we have a quick and solid fix like the ones NASA is famous for? We keep hearing about the reliance on Russian spacecraft (Progress and Soyuz) because we don't have anything to use. We don't have the money to do anything either. We are stuck.
What a crock. And this is what hurts NASA the most. They don't appear to be doing anything to solve the problems in front of them. So lets solve a problem. Lets build a cargo vehicle. It needs to be cheap, light, deliverable and workable. Let's be NASA for a bit. Ready? Here we go.
Let's start with the money first. Where do we get it from? Well, we were supposed to have 4 to 6 shuttle flights by now should we have kept to schedule. At a cost of $700 Million a flight that comes out to 2.8 to 4.2 billion dollars.
Now some of that is support and those costs don't go away. So let's give the benefit of the doubt and say that only 25 percent of the cost of flying the shuttle is actually used to fly the shuttle. That is still about a billion dollars to work with.
We can't build a tin can cargo vehicle and pay to have it on the pad, standing by to send supplies to the ISS for that kind of money, can we? I think we can.
Now lets look at the hardware side of things. For that we need a vehicle and a cargo container. We have (had?) the space shuttle. We have some Atlas and Delta rockets available too. I'm sure Boeing and Lockheed will be glad to sell us some. Aren't there enough parts in the pipeline to get 2 or 3 of these ready to launch?
How much money are we really talking? Are people worried about the fairness of a bidding process? Don't bother with it. We'll order 2 from each company with the capability we need and be done with it. NASA should always have a vehicle on call, ready to setup and launch. Period.
The last piece of the puzzle is the container itself. If we want to promote a 'can do' attitude, then the best course of action is to show that we can in fact do. NASA built the entire Gemini program in less than 4 years.
We should be able to build a simple cargo container capable of reaching the ISS in less than a year. Personally, I would see this a great challenge for NASA to farm something out to the private sector. If I had $100 million I know that I could get a cargo system built and launched and do it in less than a year? Any takers?
This solution does not have to be perfect. We can expect some loss. As cargo containers, if you lost 1 out of 5 you would still be doing good since right now the supply level is nearly zero.
That's better odds than finding a working space suit on the ISS right now.
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Queen Isabella's Ghost
Honolulu HI (SPX) Jun 25, 2004
In an earlier article I commented on the use of bad historical analogies by spaceflight advocates, specifically the tribute fleets of Ming Dynasty China. Lately I have been seeing lots of bad historical analogies drawn from a somewhat later time, the great age of European sea exploration, writes Jeffrey F. Bell.