Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dr. Griffin on the Augustine Committee - Part 8 of 11

8) "Technical problems" with Ares-1 are cited several times, without any acknowledgement that (a) knowledgeable observers in NASA would disagree strongly as to the severity of such problems, and (b) Constellation's "technical problems" are on display because actual work is being accomplished, whereas other options have no problems because no work is being done.

Ares 1 certainly has technical problems. Maybe NASA could fix the problems, maybe not. The fixes may come at the cost of schedule, cost, capability, or safety. They may force another go-around with Orion and Ares 1 design changes affecting each other in a viscous circle. Or ... we may discover in a few years that the fixes turned out to not be so bad. I'll let the Augustine committee take on these issues with input from NASA and the Aerospace Corporation. It's good to have an independent, arms-length assessment outside of NASA, since a NASA presentation of its own problems is by definition not objective. This is why we have auditors and similar independent assessments all the time throughout government and industry.

If Griffin is upset that the Augustine committee is skeptical about Ares 1 technical, schedule, and budget issues, he should take comfort that they are equally skeptical about the schedules presented by United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, and advocates of certain non-Ares HLV ideas.

I would also note that some NASA Constellation employees have quit, and spoken out against Ares. There is also the Direct team, which its public spokespeople claim includes NASA Constellation employees, to at least consider.

At any rate, the severity of Ares 1 technical problems is a bit besides the point. The real issues go back to the Augustine Committee charter, as well as the goals of the VSE. How do we help encourage commercial space? Certainly not with the non-commercial Ares 1. How do we fit the budget? Certainly not with Ares 1, which is expensive to develop and will be expensive to operate. How do we get ISS support online sooner than the program of record? Certainly not with Ares 1, which started with a goal of 2012 operational capability, and 4 years later has in effect slipped ~6 years to 2017-2019 according to the Augustine committee.

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