January 29, 2010

It must take a rocket scientist to figure this out

I find it absurd that today, NASA's remembrance day for those who gave their lives to further the cause of space exploration, the Interwebs are buzzing with speculation about the president pulling the plug on the Constellation Program.

He claims it will be better to turn rocket-building over to private companies.

Whom does he think built the Ares-1X? The SeaBees?

NASA directs the program, but the heavy lifting is -- and always has been -- done by private companies.

The Saturn V rockets were built by Rocketdyne. The lunar landers were built by Grumman.

Orbiters for the space shuttle program were built by Rockwell International with parts by Grumman and General Dynamics. The shuttle's external tank is made by Lockheed Martin. The solid rocket boosters have motor segments made by ATK, with avionics and final assembly by United Space Alliance, which is a partnership between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Co.

This New York Times story says NASA is getting a budget increase over five years. But if Constellation is scrapped, it seems much of that budget increase must go to a whole new round of requests for proposals, design review meetings, and test flights.

Ares already had a successful test flight. So why are we starting over? And why does the president who came closer to nationalizing our banks than anyone since FDR want to privatize the space program? Does he not realize that the Ares was built by private companies? From NASA:

ATK Space Systems of Promontory, Utah, is the prime contractor for the first stage reusable solid rocket boosters. Jacobs Engineering in Tullahoma, Tenn., is the prime contractor for Ares I-X avionics, with Lockheed Martin of Denver, Colo., as subcontractor. Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, Ala., is the prime contractor for developing the roll control system. United Space Alliance of Houston, Texas, is the prime contractor supporting launch operations at Kennedy Space Center.

Mr. Change wants to discard the work already done by these private companies so astronauts can fly on rockets built by ... private companies. But there are only so many companies capable of building a rocket that big. Apparently it escapes him that the companies most likely to bid on a "commercial rocket" will be those already named.

That's not change. It's just a waste.

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