Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


Old comments migrated to Disqus, currently working outtechnical issues

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is NASA Overrated?

I caught David Limbaugh on Sean Hannity's show yesterday. While hawking his new book, he made an offhand remark that NASA is one of the few things the government does well. This was related to some sort of charges that Obama employed heavy-handed tactics regarding his treatment of the Constellation program.

NASA is something the government does well. Really?

I had long thought that NASA dropped off the learning curve regarding the International Space Station. The plan to have different countries build different modules of the ISS struck me as dumb. Look at the thing. Isn't the hull design a bit Rube Goldberg-ish? I'm no rocket scientist, but it seems plain that a more simplified hull plan would be more cost-effective and more efficient regarding space utilization.

The station should have been built internationally the same way my computer was built. One country builds the hull and chassis (or the rocketry equivalents). One build the solar panels. Others build different sets of internal systems.

Rand Simberg is a rocket scientist, and in 2009 he wrote this article expressing various perceptions about NASA's history. He dishes out criticisms of the Space Shuttle:

We now know that the shuttle was a mistake. It has not lowered the cost of access to space; it has not made access to space more routine; it has not proven safe. The shuttle had to meet too many requirements—it had to be everything for everyone, but on an insufficient budget to do all that was required. Because it had to carry a certain class of classified military payloads, it was very big. Because it originally had no space station to go to, it had to serve as a sort of mini-station itself with a multi-day orbital capability. Early plans to launch the shuttle with booster rockets that could fly back and land on a runway were scrapped in favor of solid rocket boosters that parachuted into the ocean; these had a much higher recurring cost, and one of them destroyed Challenger in 1986. Because of the payload requirement and the lack of funding, the shuttle uses an external fuel tank (the tall, rust-colored part of the shuttle) that is just discarded after each launch; this wastefulness dramatically increased costs, and the tank’s foam insulation was responsible for the loss of Columbia in 2003.

Read the whole thing. There's lots, lots more. One recurring bone of contention is NASA's unwillingness to adopt an all-craft-must-be-reuseable policy.


Site Meter