NASA’s Heavy-Lift Launcher? Can’t or Won’t?March 13, 2011
Mark Whittington has a great piece on Yahoo News about why NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has stated that NASA “won’t…and can’t” build a heavy-lift (up to 130 tons) launch vehicle in the near future.
The can’t doesn’t have to do with not knowing how, or any lack of technological ability. It has to do with politics. Congress is not completely taken over by the Obama Administration anti-space exploration policy of “been there, done that.” They’ve sort of adopted a “wait and see” attitude, and so have many in NASA, apparently. Quite a bit of semi-clandestine development went on in the Constellation program following its cancellation because the contractors were still owed the rest of their contracts, so they kept working, and the government had to make good on the payments. It could very well be that in two years the administration in Washington could change to something much more NASA-friendly. Congresscritters know this, and a lot of them, including a lot of Democrats who serve states that would benefit from the increase in NASA funding, are just biding their time until he’s gone.
Bolden, unfortunately, has to carry water for the Administration. He has to say this stuff. As a former astronaut it must be killing him. He has to say we can’t build a heavy-lift (we built the Saturn V in seven years – using not just companies like Lockheed and Boeing, but Chrysler, for chrissakes) when he knows it isn’t true.
As I’ve said before, space vehicles are one of those things that can be developed faster, at least to a degree, if you throw more money at it. We have to run a lot of low-cost simulations and studies now because we don’t have the money to bend tin and shoot the thing up and see how it works. Sometime, check out the development of the Atlas missile, before it became the Mercury orbital launcher. It wasn’t successful on the first try. In fact, it had a lot of really spectacular failures. There was a point where the designers at Convair weren’t sure the thing would work. They stuck with it and pounded out the bugs, and it was deployed all over the US as a first-strike ICBM.
The auto companies need work, I heard. maybe we can give them the job of building the Ares V. GM sort of belongs to the government, doesn’t it? If Chrysler could build the Saturn V first stage, GM could build this thing.
And if nobody else can do it…SpaceX has a plan…