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NASA still unsure how to end Constellation and move forward

NASA has been plagued with financial issues and a continued lack of innovation, but now faces the equally daunting task of leaving behind the Constellation program.

President Obama and numerous space observers have been appalled at how poorly operated NASA has been in the past, with internal struggle and political opposition expected to make change even more difficult.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has garnered support from some politicians who said the White House is doing whatever it likes instead of working with experts.

As part of the agreement to end Constellation, NASA is expected to pay $2.5 billion to contractors already working on the Ares Rockets, Altair lunar lander, and Orion space capsule.  However, it's unknown how accurate the $2.5 billion estimate is, even though NASA relied on its own analysts and industry analysts to calculate the price.

NASA originally hoped to return to the moon by 2025, as other space nations plan to send lunar spacecraft and manned missions in the same time frame.  China, Japan, Russia, India, and several other developing space programs have expressed interest in landing on the moon by 2030 -- space industry observers think China will be the next country to reach the moon.

The 2011 budget has likely ended any chance of NASA returning to the moon, with private companies expected to help transport astronauts into space.

President Obama must now try to limit ongoing bickering as he works with NASA, private contractors, and legislators during his presidency.  The U.S. space agency will now rely more on the private contractors until current funding problems are sorted out in the future.

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RE: The moon
By randomly on 3/1/2010 3:50:58 PM , Rating: 5
The incremental cost of a shuttle launch is less than $100 million, what pushes it up to the half billion mark is having to amortize the $2+ billion a year in infrastructure and standing army costs whether you launch or not, over the very low launch rate.

This is what explodes the myth of the economies of using reusable vehicles. Unless you have very high yearly launch rates expendable vehicles are cheaper over all. This is why there are no more reusable launch vehicle proposals. Even reusing the Shuttle SRBs is no better than a break even with using expendable SRBs. It does add considerably to safety though because of the opportunity for post-flight inspection.

I understand your frustration with the high overhead at NASA, but you have to be extremely cautious about firing such specialized and skilled workers. They can be difficult to replace when needed. It took something like a decade after the decimation of NASA employees following the shutdown of Apollo to reconstitute a capable workforce.

I've seen uninformed management make this mistake before. Letting go a key employee with highly specialized and rare skills assuming they can easily replace them and then 3 years later to their horror they are still limping along unable to find a replacement. Be careful.

RE: The moon
By porkpie on 3/1/2010 3:54:38 PM , Rating: 2
" what pushes it up to the half billion mark is having to amortize the $2+ billion a year in infrastructure and standing army costs whether you launch or not.."

That's just the point. The Shuttle scratches a majority of its launches due to its massive complexity. The on-time launch rate for some RLVs is 5 times or more higher.

" Even reusing the Shuttle SRBs is no better than a break even with using expendable SRBs"

That's because our "reuseable" SRBs have to be essentially rebuilt after every launch.

RE: The moon
By CheesePoofs on 3/1/2010 5:21:37 PM , Rating: 2
Just because the shuttle is currently the only RLV doesn't mean all will behave the same and will be equally complex. See SpaceX.

RE: The moon
By porkpie on 3/1/2010 5:37:33 PM , Rating: 2
I meant to say ELVs there. You're correct, the failings of the Shuttle are not a blanket condemnation of RLVs in general.

RE: The moon
By JediJeb on 3/1/2010 4:49:28 PM , Rating: 4
I think the original plan was many more launches over the lifetime of the Shuttle Program, but with the Challenger and Columbia disasters and just a lower interest in space overall that didn't happen. Maybe if the ISS had been completed 10 years earlier and further interest in things like low gravity manufacturing had come to be then reusable craft may have been the way to go. If a reusable craft could be made simple enough to launch every month or less then it would be a better choice over disposable.

RE: The moon
By ajfink on 3/2/2010 2:29:17 AM , Rating: 2
If a large number of NASA employers are let go and they find their way to private aerospace companies trying to reach space, it would actually do a lot to spread out a lot of valuable knowledge in the private sector.

That being said - Mars or bust.

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay
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