Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What Is The Gap?

I don't even know anymore. Buzz Aldrin has written another article, this time over at the Huffington Post.

A number of my former colleagues, and other critics, have expressed concerns about the plan, and in particular, they express grave reservations about 'the Gap' -- the end of the Space Shuttle Program, and the inability for the US to provide human access to space -- save for limited flight opportunities and capabilities with our Russian partners, pending the maturing of the commercial space transportation capabilities, or other future systems to meet these needs.

So it's about "human access to space". Ok, to do what? Why do you want human access to space? What's the point of it? Unless you address that question you can't seriously talk about what kind of access to space you need. Will suborbital access do? No? Ok, how about one orbit? No? Ok, how about 2 days? No? How about 2 weeks, the endurance of the shuttle? No? Oh, permanent access to space? Like at some sort of space station? Wow, how ya gunna get there? Oh, that's right, you need the Soyuz to do that. Sigh.

I would also continue with the President's current plan to take advantage of the investment that we have already made in the Orion capsule, and use this capability as a lifeboat, or Crew Return Vehicle (CRV), for ISS, so we can fully man space station and exploit its magnificent capabilities.

Why? If it is cheaper to just buy more Soyuz lifeboats, why wouldn't you do that and free NASA to work on going beyond Earth orbit? How come using the Soyuz has been acceptable since 1992 (yes 1992) but all of a sudden the US needs a domestic lifeboat. What kind of partnership is it if the US is looking for ways to cut Russia out of the game?

I have proposed extending, or commercializing, the space shuttle system, which would preserve the opportunity for reduced manifest (one or two flights per year) support of the International Space Station, while also preserving the capability to develop a shuttle derived heavy lift launch vehicle to meet our future space exploration needs, and as importantly, maintain the critical technical workforce that supports our nations space transportation capabilities. A capability that we are in grave danger of losing in the few months ahead...

Jobs! You're gunna lose your jobs! Look at me, I care about your parochial interests! How does extending, or commercializing (oh, it is commercialized, as much as anyone is interested in doing) the Space Shuttle going to provide "human access to space"? Flying up on the Shuttle is necessarily a two week visit to space. You can't stay up there, because you don't have a lifeboat, and if you're going to buy them from Russia then you might as well launch humans on them. As for one or two flights per year, that is exactly the flight rate that the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said was too little to be safe..

Unlike Buzz Aldrin, there are some people who really think of The Gap as the lack of a new program to transition the workforce to. I think these people are more honest and, make more sense, than people who bang on about "being reliant on the Ruskies". They care about the layoffs and they want to see jobs preserved. As such, the recent "compromise" bill really is addressing The Gap. It extends the Shuttle just enough to keep jobs around for another financial year, or two, and it offers a new program where contractors can start to be transferred to (remember, no civil servants have been laid off).

The question is: do you want a jobs program or a space program?

You can't have both.

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