Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gap Myth

Clara Moskowitz has published an article that tries to dispel a half dozen myths about the new space policy. Rand Simberg published an article back in May which tried to do the same. Whenever I read these articles I tend to see more myth usage than busting. As I've tried to articulate before, there's a lot of misunderstanding of the so-called "Gap" which neither of these articles bust.

No discussion of Shuttle retirement makes sense if you don't mention two important things:

  • The Soyuz has always been the vehicle used to rotate crews to the ISS as it has to act as a lifeboat - something the Shuttle can't do with it's 14 day on-orbit endurance.
  • Ares I/Orion was supposed to be ready when the expedition crew size went from 2 to 6. It was clear it wasn't going to be, so NASA bought more seats on Soyuz which upped the required production of Soyuz, which increased the average price per seat.
It should be clear, the myth here is that The Gap has much to do with Shuttle at all. Suppose the Shuttle had kept flying and Ares I/Orion had continued to be the train wreck that it is, how would that change the situation? Well, it wouldn't. NASA would still need to buy more Soyuz vehicles because they need lifeboats for the increased crew size on the station. Remember, the Shuttle can't act as a lifeboat.

As a result of this framing of The Gap we get people calling for Shuttle extension without explaining how that would solve the lifeboat shortage. I should say, not everyone misunderstands The Gap, I've had discussions with people who suggest such things as buying Soyuz vehicles and launching them in the Shuttle cargo bay as on-orbit backups. It's not a great idea, as the Soyuz only has a 6 month endurance, but it at least recognizes what the real problem is.

2 comments:

  1. Kind of a moot point. Yeah the shuttle was scheduled to retire about now, and Soyuz or Orion weer supposed to be used as the Lifeboat/crew transport after that. But the point of concern of the gap is without shuttle or something, NASA can't launch people anymore. It will have no ships of any kind, so really it will stop being a real maned space program like post Apollo, but with no follow on in sight. Even worse then that, it will be forced to buy rides on the soviet Russian developed Soyuz ships that were in our shadows '60's.

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  2. So what you're saying is it's all about preeminence? If that's the case, stop bagging the Russians to make yourself feel better.

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