Harden my heart?

There was the Space Shuttle, and it flew, and it was beautiful. But on a cold January day in 1986, it fell from the sky and killed seven astronauts. We got it flying again, but then we started looking at heavy-lift unmanned launch vehicles.

First there was Shuttle-C, C for cargo. Same boosters and engines as the Shuttle, but with an expendable module. There was even talk of recycling the External Tanks into Space Station parts. It seemed doable, and we wanted to make it work. But we saved weight with the aluminum-lithium External Tank to launch more cargo on the regular Shuttle, and Shuttle-C was cancelled.


Then there was Advanced Launch System, or ALS. We heard a lot about it, but it never seemed to get far off the drawing board. It was cancelled. We sighed and moved on to the National Launch System. This was going to have a simpler version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, which actually did lead to the Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. We struggled and argued with one particular manager who was perfectly fine with the status quo despite a glaring problem with weight and balance – we’d just solve that “later”. Later never came. We changed Presidents and then administrators, and NLS soon followed ALS into File #13.

Then there was the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. Over budget and nowhere near off the drawing board, cancelled. The Magnum Launch System. I don’t think it got out of the Advanced Concepts office before it, too, was canned.

Then there was Single Stage to Orbit, or X-33. The neat-o keen composite tank blew up during testing, and that was that.

Ares. I never had a warm fuzzy feeling about Ares. Why would I? Look at the wreckage of blown budgets, drawings that never made it to the machine shop, study after bleepin’ study through the years. But we put our heads down and tried to color inside the lines and do our parts, and we hoped that it would all work out. I think that was what concerned me the most – the managers had many a glib speech (loved the one by the manager who then retired two weeks later), but we never really saw it coming together.

And now SLS. Derided as the Senator Launch System for the politicians who keep it funded.

But then I see this.


That’s the adapter that will go between the Orion capsule and a Delta IV rocket, having just finished structural load testing.

I want to believe it will fly, and there will be more to follow. On the negative side, I see budget battles and n00b engineers and moving launch dates. On the positive side, I touched flight hardware. I did a science on this. We need a replacement for the Shuttle so we can have heavy lift capability and stop hitching rides with the Russians. (Oh, and didn’t all those stories about the Sochi Olympics make you feel good about sending our astronauts over there.)

I want to believe. I really do.

Dammit, don’t break my heart again.


Filed under Personal, space

5 responses to “Harden my heart?

  1. captainned

    Just let SpaceX do its thing. The spirit of Delos D. Harriman will finally triumph over the gov’t launch cabal.


  2. I used to work with a retired Air Force LTC who worked on Air Force Space Missions. The stories he told me about the “Shuttle Mafia” that took control of NASA and wouldn’t allow anything new see the light of day were disheartening, but believable. Let’s hope they’re all gone by now.


  3. They will likely break your heart again, Roamy. NASA used to be an agency Engineers would kill to get into. The memories of the 60s and projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were seductive sirens that drew us like moths to a flame. A classmate from Tennessee Tech went to NASA and ended up in charge of the microcomputers on the shuttle (we sent him a humorous mailgram when the 1st launch was scrubbed because of the micros), and another Tech grad, earlier than me, also went to NASA.

    I don’t know of any Engineers that want to go to NASA these days. Like so much of FedGov, it’s been taken over by dilettantes and Lawyers. I feel for you, but they’re going to break your heart again.


  4. Roamy, you forgot to mention when NASA got their hands on DC-X and promptly wrecked it.

    I’m not sure NASA ever was a very good vehicle developer. Mercury/Gemini/Apollo were all part of a plan to get a man on the moon, then return him alive. Despite the “moon nuts” (in a nice way) hopes, there never really was a space system developed. Once we managed Apollo 11, the entire project was dumped. Washington would have probably pulled the plug on moon flights after 11 if the hardware hadn’t already been built or in progress.

    The Shuttle was designed as part of the Mars project, and when that went down the tube they did anything they could just to get the Shuttle built, including (as Tim pointed out) killing every other available launch vehicle. I’ve read stories myself that NASA went out of its way to buy out any startup they couldn’t regulate out of existence. Sometimes I wonder if they wrecked the DC-X on purpose.

    NASA should quite mucking about with launch systems and buy services from private enterprise. Then they should get back to their NACA roots and focus more on R&D and x-projects which allow us to actually learn new things about aerospace. NACA never built their own aircraft; they developed techniques which private companies used to make better designs.


  5. Marine6

    For just as long as the “primary duty” of the Administrator is “outreach to the Muslum world” I think you can kiss your dreams of a meaningful space program goodbye. I fought for years to build support for manned space on Capitol Hill only to see the the entire program crumble. Nobody in this administration seems to understand that NASA was, and should be, a primary technology driver in our economy. Nobody spends money in space. It is all spent right here on Earth. And that money supports highly productive jobs and develops cutting edge technology that spins off all across the economy. But, unfortunately, I believe that there are far too many people in this administration who are suffering from a terminal anal-cranial inversion.