Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vote of Confidence? 

SPACE.com [AP] -- NASA Engineers Work on Alternative Moon Rocket

When I posted earlier about the "DIRECT" proposal for an alternative next-generation manned spacecraft system to the Ares/Orion/Constellation which NASA has determined to use,  I obviously didn't appreciate the full extent of the irony in this situation.  Engineers working with NASA on the preposterous Ares/Orion mess during the day have been "going under cover" to work on the DIRECT alternative program on their own time.  There can't be a much more "direct" indication of just how bad Ares/Orion/Constellation is doing than the complete lack of confidence of the engineers working on it. 

There is a much more sinister implication to the story, though.  Michael Griffin's "new NASA" is still the management-heavy agency that gave us Challenger and Discovery, where politically powerful people of critically limited vision still rule the engineers and scientists---who have to make things that actually work---by intimidation:

"A spokesman for the competing effort, Ross Tierney, said concerned engineers at NASA and some contractors want a review of the Ares plans but can't speak out for fear of being demoted, transferred or fired."

NASA, for its part, dismisses the DIRECT effort as "a napkin drawing", preferring its own ideas:

Thrust Oscillation: Parasorber and Thrusters lead Ares I options - NASA SpaceFlight.com

This is the first artist's depiction I've seen of the "Active Pulse Thruster" concept.   This belongs on the Comedy Channel, not a manned spacecraft.  The "Parasorber" idea is apparently some monkey-business with the first stage recovery parachutes acting as counter-oscillating mass dampers, which seems unlikely to have enough "throw weight" to counter the expected oscillation.  Then there are foreshadowings of putting the crew in special shock-absorbing seats....for ascent!

"These oscillations are capable of rendering the astronauts incapacitated, or worse."

NASA asserts that the suborbital flight with a dummy capsule/service module on a 4-segment solid booster scheduled for next year demonstrates the maturity of the Ares/Orion concept.  The biggest problem they may have to look forward to is where to find a supply of people foolish enough to get into these things.


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