…and the crowd yawns. “I doubt that in the coming months and years I will be commenting much on Orion or the other shiny, precious projects in Mr. Griffin’s Constellation,” says Clark S. Lindsey, one of my favorite bloggers. I’m absolutely with him on that. Three point nine billion in NASA funny money through 2013, an additional $3.5 billion from 2009 to 2019, and hundreds of millions more for incidentals, according to the New York Times. And they won’t stick to that budget, because as Warren E. Leary and Leslie Wayne point out in their Times article, “there is little incentive to stay within budget once a contract has been awarded.”
All this for a manned lunar landing that will accomplish little more than was done by project Apollo almost 40 years ago. Orion, as NASA administrator Mike Griffin himself admits, is just “Apollo on steroids.” It’s still a throw-away capsule design to be built without consideration for cost or sustainability. NASA will throw these rockets at the moon, plant more flags, maybe pull up a few Chinese ones, and go back home. There’s some lip service being paid to having Apollo 2.0 act as a stepping stone to Mars, but I don’t think that idea is being taken very seriously by anyone. Can someone correct me if I’m wrong?
No, this looks to me mainly like a giant corporate welfare project designed to keep Big Aerospace and certain congressional districts happy.
Orion will plod along racking up cost overrun after cost overrun, while the entrepreneurial space community will surge ahead. You want to see some real action in space, check out Space Adventures, with its planned commercial lunar flyby mission. Odds are it’ll handily beat Apollo 2.0 back to the moon, and for a tiny fraction of the cost.
Funny, Leary and Wayne don’t even mention NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, ostensibly designed to give the burgeoning entrepreneurial space community a leg up in supplying NASA with commercial orbital spaceflights. Is that because with a measly $500 million spread out over five years and two competing companies it’s too insignificant for serious consideration?
My own sneaking suspicion is that now that NASA has carefully selected the best of the commercial orbital space programs it will transform that miserly carrot into a stick as soon as it looks like either SpaceX or Rocketplane Kistler is in danger of leaving Lockheed Martin in the dust.