Buzz Aldrin: Fake rockets and a commercial solution

Buzz Aldrin was in fine form the other day in the Huffington Post. Here is what he has t say about the recent Ares-1 test:

Yes, the rocket that thundered aloft from NASA’s Launch Pad 39B sure looked like an Ares 1. But that’s where the resemblance stops. Turns out the solid booster was – literally – bought from the Space Shuttle program, since a five-segment booster being designed for Ares wasn’t ready. So they put a fake can on top of the four-segmented motor to look like the real thing. Since the real Ares’ upper stage rocket engine, called the J-2X wasn’t ready either, they mounted a fake upper stage. No Orion capsule was ready, so – you guessed it – they mounted a fake capsule with a real-looking but fake escape rocket that wouldn’t have worked if the booster had failed. Since the guidance system for Ares wasn’t ready either they went and bought a unit from the Atlas rocket program and used it instead. Oh yes, the parachutes to recover the booster were the real thing — and one of the three failed, causing the booster to slam into the ocean too fast and banging the thing up. So, why you might ask, if the whole machine was a bit of slight-of-hand rocketry did NASA bother to spend almost half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a “b”) in developing and launching the Ares 1-X?

The answer: politics.

Technical problems, the kind that follow every new rocket’s development, have haunted the Ares like leftovers from Halloween. The rocket as currently designed shakes so much during launch that shock absorbers are needed beneath its capsule payload. All of this takes time to fix — and money, money that NASA really doesn’t have. To stave off critics, three years ago the Project Constellation managers conceived of the 1-X flight to supposedly show some progress. They could instrument the rocket with hundreds of sensors gathering information never before obtained during a booster use in a Shuttle mission. It would give the launch team some practice in the assembly of an Ares. And NASA would find out if something as ungainly as the Ares 1 design – a thicker top than the bottom booster – could survive during ascent through the Earth’s atmosphere. Of course, all of the changes to the Shuttle launch pad to accommodate the Ares wouldn’t be ready in time, so they decided to just leave all of the Shuttle hardware, such as the rotating tower that envelops the Shuttles there. A success might just buy more time for Ares to fix its problems.

Its not just an attack on the Ares either he does offer an alternative:

Here’s my plan — and yes, I am a rocket scientist — cancel Ares 1 now and the version of the Orion capsule that is supposed to fly astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station. Instead, unleash the commercial sector by paying them for transportation services to the station. Could be capsules. Could be winged ships like the Space Shuttle, capable of flying back to a runway with its crews and cargoes, not splashing in the ocean like a cannonball. With the money saved, start developing a true heavy lifter worthy of the Saturn V’s successor. Could be a side-mount rocket like the Shuttles, with a tank-and-booster set flanked by a payload pod jammed full of cargo-or a space capsule with astronauts in tow. Or new upper stages capable of deep space missions. Let’s open ‘er up to a true competition, with designs from inside — and outside — NASA. If we bypass a foolish Moon race and let the development of the Moon be an international affair, we will have time to refine the super booster to make sure it is compatible with our deep space goals, like missions flying by comets or asteroids — or to the moons of Mars. Such a rocket would be ready when the time comes to colonize Mars. No more false starts and dead end rockets.

The whole article is worth reading and I like his proposal to commercialize manned space flight but I have more comments to make in my next post.


1 Response to “Buzz Aldrin: Fake rockets and a commercial solution”

  1. 1 Dennis Chamberland November 12, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Aldrin's commentary was sickening. Had NASA went out and bought and designed all new parts, he would have complained about that as well. I thought Aires IX was brilliant and save the tax payer billions. WHY was it brilliant? Because the rocket was aerodynamically a perfect Ares vehicle and because the PURPOSE of the misison was to collect aerodynamic data though max-q, which it did flawlessly. Alrdin has another agenda to sell, which was obvious in his follow up. Fake Rocket? Please!

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