Defending Constellation

It’s probably too soon to be talking about the legacy of Mike Griffin as NASA administrator, since he still has about a year left on the job (assuming he doesn’t leave early or is kept on by the new administration). However, any discussion of his influence on NASA, positive or negative, in the years to come is likely going to focus in large part on the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) that he unveiled in September 2005 that outlines the launch vehicles, spacecraft, and other components NASA would need to execute the Vision for Space Exploration. And in a speech Tuesday at a Space Transportation Association breakfast in Washington, Griffin gave one of the more detailed, vigorous defenses of the current architecture yet.

Griffin said he decided to speak about Constellation because of “the inquiries I’ve had lately, in one form or another, concerning various aspects of our post-Shuttle spaceflight architecture.” While the architecture has changed little since it was released in September 2005, “the logic behind the choices made has receded into the background” and “new questioners lacking subject matter background appear”, thus making a review of the architecture timely. Much of the speech was just that: a recap of the process by which NASA chose in particular the Ares 1 and Ares 5 launch vehicles over EELV-derived or other alternatives, logic that can be examined in the text of the speech linked to above.

During the Q&A period, Griffin addressed some recent concerns about Constellation, starting with reports of the thrust oscillation problem on Ares 1. “I think I have rarely seen more of a mountain made out of less of a molehill than this particular technical issue,” he said, then spent the next several minutes endeavoring to “pound this one flat”. Thrust oscillation is a problem most solid-fuel rockets have, he said, and is caused when vortex shedding off fuel grains as the motor approaches burnout strike a resonant frequency of the casing. Griffin said there are any number of remedies to the problem, ranging from reshaping the fuel grains to detuning the motor case to avoid the resonant frequencies to isolating the stage or the payload. Moreover, he said, they’re not sure there even is a thrust oscillation problem: the current concern is based on old test data and conservative engineering. There are plans to collect test data on some of the remaining shuttle flights to see if pressure variations in the shuttle’s solids translate into loads on the vehicle.

Griffin sounded a little exasperated about all the attention given to the issue, as well as the impression in some corners that NASA was not being forthcoming about discussing the problem. “We’re kind of in a no-win position,” he said. “If we encounter issues and take them seriously, people think it’s a big deal and it’s a showstopper. If we encounter issues and say, ‘this is stuff everybody’s seen before, we’ll get to it’, then people think we’re not taking it seriously and we get beaten up for that. So it’s hard to know how to win.”

Griffin also took on reports that NASA was planning delays to some of the Ares/Orion test flights to deal with a funding shortfall. Griffin credited Constellation manager Jeff Hanley for finding ways to reshuffle the test schedule without delaying Orion’s introduction into service. “I don’t actually care, Jeff doesn’t actually care, [associate administrator for exploration systems] Rick Gilbrech doesn’t actually care what the intermediate milestone dates are. They serve the end goal, they don’t drive it.” The only problem with Hanley’s memo announcing the rephased test schedule, Griffin said, was that “headquarters got notified of it by the same email that the rest of the folks did.” Griffin said they’re looking at it to see if slipping the test schedule is the best approach before making a final decision that would affect the schedules of the companies working on the program.

At the end of the Q&A session, Griffin said he was “fascinated” by all the critical questioning about the thrust oscillation issue and other concerns. “It’s almost like people are looking for the ‘gotcha’. It’s like, ‘We know you’re hiding something, we just didn’t know what it was, but now we know.’ We’re not hiding anything.” Griffin said he’s tried during his tenure as administrator to be as open as possible with Congress and the White House. “Clearly, from Columbia, and Challenger before it, there is a history of suspicion about NASA, and I have worked really hard to try and dispel that suspicion. That’s been my biggest political challenge, to get people to understand that this management team is perfectly happy to share what we’re doing.” He concluded: “My biggest issue has been to restore people’s belief that NASA will tell the truth.”

42 comments to Defending Constellation

  • Yes. Another excellent speech by Griffin. Everyone interested in Constellation and the VSE should listen it .. the link is here: (audio 79 mins)

    Griffin has an almost impossible job balancing political, financial and technical issues, he needs full support.

  • It’s the cynicism that Griffin is referring to that I am trying to overcome by my website. It’s a whole lot easier to be negative than to be positive, but if supporters of space band together in promoting space exploration in general to the politicians (who don’t know one initiative from another, as far as the technical merits or difficulties,) then we can secure the funding to alleviate many of the problems caused only by a lack of budget.

  • John, the problem is I don’t give a crap about space exploration – I want space colonization, and ESAS DOES NOT GET US ANY CLOSER TO COLONIZATION.

    Those are the facts.

  • Luke Skywalker

    NASA not honest? Who woulda thought?

    We were told that ESAS would be shuttle derived. The only thing left of Shuttle derivation is the steel casings of the SRB’s and even that will change now to deal with this issue.

    Mike Griffin comes in, is told (he stated this himself), by the white house, that he won’t get the amount of money that he was promised. He goes on with his architecture anyway. Now he complains that he does not have enough money to execute on a plan that he was told when he came in that there was not enough money to pay for. Honest?

    Mike says that all we need is “a good map” of the Moon when every single person in the scientific community states that we need a precursor lander to the outpost site.

    That “good map” was supposed to cost $400M dollars. GSFC has been so incompetent that now this “map” is going to cost a billion dollars and will be no better than the data coming from the Japanese and Indian missions. Honest?

    That is just a start.

  • Physicist

    Michael Griffin is a delusional despot. Can him, and quickly, billions of lives are at stake.

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Griffin Fans –

    It appears that Mike Griffin has accepted the task of taking politically derived deadlines and putting the best program together to try to meet them. For instance it does not appear that NASA was consulted when the Shuttle retirement date was decided on. It does not appear that NASA was consulted when the date was decided on when the Station program would be considered complete. The White House staff decided on the dates and then told NASA what they were.

    Since he accepted the task – probably over strong concerns – he must be judged by accomplishing the task. We know that the deadlines are not realistic. They are not technically supportable. But he has to try to find a way to accomplish them.

    We are in an extremely tough situation and our way forward does not appear to be supported by the budget or the technology.

    Mike accepted the task of going to Congress and telling them that we can make the deadlines – so he is going to be criticized for not making the deadlines.


  • Al Fansome

    The fact that Mike Griffin is making major speeches — publicly defending and justifying a technical decision made a couple years ago — is a sign of weakness. It shows that Griffin is worried that the next Administration, which will arrive in one year, will make a significant change.

    JOHN BENAC: It’s the cynicism that Griffin is referring to that I am trying to overcome by my website. It’s a whole lot easier to be negative than to be positive, but if supporters of space band together in promoting space exploration in general to the politicians (who don’t know one initiative from another, as far as the technical merits or difficulties,) then we can secure the funding to alleviate many of the problems caused only by a lack of budget.


    You have good intent, and your energy and enthusiasm is welcome. I am going to give you some unfiltered feedback in hopes that you will learn from your attempt, take that lesson to heart, and direct that energy and enthusiasm in a more effective manner. However, I do expect your first reaction will be to not like what I say.

    That said –> the fundamental premise of your strategy is completely naive. Let me say it again — Completely naive. It is not going to work.

    By your actions, you are repeating the failure of many smart people before you. There is no support for a significant increase in NASA’s budget. Many people have tried for decades to significantly increase NASA’s budget, and it is a futile exercise. Mike Griffin essentially acknowledged this when he said he has analyzed what NASA could do with a flat budget for the next 50 years.

    You are not going to get everybody to “band together”. Different people want different things. They are not stop wanting what they want because you ask everybody to join together and sing cumbaya.

    Some people (like Ferris and I, and many others) are committed to the large scale permanent settlement of space; and believe that we must fundamentally alter the U.S. Government’s relationship with the private sector in order to achieve that mission. We support the Aldridge Commission recommendations, which Griffin has ignored.

    Why has Griffin (so far) not heeded the Aldridge Commission recommendations? Because they contr

    The Aldridge Commission report was 100% spot on when it stated that an architecture must be affordable and sustainable, and the ESAS approach is neither.

    White House policy states that NASA’s plans must be judged on how they support “commerce, science, and national security”, but Mike Griffin’s ESAS architecture did not evaluate the options based on these 3 criteria.

    Griffin, in his speech, selectively picks and chooses national space policies to support his own pre-selected system.

    If NASA started with the White House policy that the 3 principal objectives are “commerce, science and national security”, an architecture analysis would generate a different conclusion.

    – Al

  • Everything up to the “However” on page 16 is excellent. The rational for the current 1.5 archeicture that follows though is exceedingly flawed.

    First off starting, on page 15, I couldn’t agree more with this statement and its one the primary reasons the DIRECT concept is superior to the current plan.

    Mike Griffin (pg15): “However, the decision to employ EOR in the lunar transportation architecture implies nothing about how the payload should be split. Indeed, the most obvious split involves launching two identical vehicles with approximately equal payloads, mating them in orbit, and proceeding to the Moon. When EOR was considered for Apollo, it was this method that was to be employed, and it offers several advantages. Non-recurring costs are lower because only one launch vehicle development is required, recurring costs are amortized over a larger number of flights of a single vehicle, and the knowledge of system reliability is enhanced by the more rapid accumulation of flight experience.”

    This is where Mike goes off the rails.

    Mike Griffin (pg16): “However, this architectural approach carries significant liabilities when we consider the broader requirements of the policy framework discussed earlier. As with the single-launch architecture, dual-launch EOR of identical vehicles is vastly over designed for ISS logistics. It is one thing to design a lunar transportation system and, if necessary, use it to service ISS while accepting some reduction in cost-effectiveness relative to a system optimized for LEO access. As noted earlier, such a plan backstops the requirement to sustain ISS without offering government competition in what we hope will prove to be a commercial market niche. But it is quite another thing to render government logistics support to ISS so expensive that the Station is immediately judged to be not worth the cost of its support. Dual launch EOR with vehicles of similar payload class does not meet the requirement to support the ISS in any sort of cost-effective manner.”

    First off, however you want to measure it, the Jupiter-120 is far superior in terms of life cycle cost and implementation time to the Ares-I forgetting for a moment the serious engineering flaws that may or may not be solvable or programmatic problems outlined in the GAO report.

    The fact that the Jupiter-120 has a capability far superior to the Ares-I, is a closer to match to the Space Shuttle, and is nearly 100% compatible with the current STS infrastructure is icing on the cake.

    The whole notion that the Jupiter-120 is more expensive on a lifecycle basis is beyond belief. Care to take the OMB, GAO or CBO up on that assessment of Ares-I vs Jupiter-120 life cycle cost Mike?

    The fact that we can also bring up an ISS logistics module along with the crew is not a problem in the pre-COTS ISS servicing time frame. Rather it is actually a significant cost advantage over Ares-I. In addition, we could actually finish the ISS with US taxpayer funded ISS elements to be put in warehouses under the current plan after the Space Shuttle’s retirement. Imagine that, NASA could actually finish what it started.

    By the time the Jupiter-120 ISS missions could possibly overlap a viable COTS solution for ISS logistics and crew rotation support we should be moving on towards the Moon anyway. Along those lines the Jupiter-120 would move off of ISS support, leaving that role to COTS, and would be redirected at maturing key spacecraft systems just like Apollo did prior to the addition of the upper stage need for the Jupiter-232. Apollo-8 and Apollo-9 missions come to mind. The Jupiter-232 also has a single launch capability to both the Earth-Moon and Sun-Earth Lagrange points for the crew should those exploration Archeictures prove to be more cost effective in the long term.

    Besides that the Jupiter-120’s superior volume and lift capacity creates a new intermediate class of launch systems between the EELV and Jupiter-2 series yet won’t require that the entire unmanned exploration budget over many years just to pay for the spacecraft an Ares-V could lift. It’s really volume improvement they are after anyway not the lift capacity.

    I agree with this next statement.

    Mike Griffin (pg16): “On the other end of the scale, we must judge any proposed architecture against the requirements for Mars. We aren’t going there now, but one day we will, and it will be within the expected operating lifetime of the system we are designing today. We know already that, when we go, we are going to need a Mars ship with a LEO mass equivalent of about a million pounds, give or take a bit. I’m trying for one-significant-digit accuracy here, but think “Space Station”, in terms of mass.

    I hope we’re smart enough that we never again try to place such a large system in orbit by doing it in twenty-ton chunks. I think we all understand that fewer launches of larger payloads requiring less on-orbit integration are to be preferred. Thus, a vehicle in the Saturn V class –some 300,000 lbs in LEO – allows us to envision a Mars mission assembly sequence requiring some four to six launches, depending on the packaging efficiency we can attain. This is something we did once and can do again over the course of a few months, rather than many years, with the two heavy-lift pads available at KSC Complex 39.”

    Now for the non-sequitur.

    Mike Griffin (pg17): “But if we split the EOR lunar architecture into two equal but smaller vehicles, we will need ten or more launches to obtain the same Mars-bound payload in LEO, and that is without assuming any loss of packaging efficiency for the launch of smaller payloads. When we consider that maybe half the Mars mission mass in LEO is liquid hydrogen, and if we understand that the control of hydrogen boil off in space is one of the key limiting technologies for deep space exploration, the need to conduct fewer rather than more launches to LEO for early Mars missions becomes glaringly apparent.”

    Whether we use 4 launches (Ares-V) or 5 launches (Jupiter-232) we are still going to need some means of storing cryogens over long durations and transferring them in space. The other limitation is on the Mars Entry Descent and Landing portion of the mission. What we can ultimately land on Mars in one piece will limit what we need to throw at Mars anyway.

    All this not withstanding the Jupiter-244 can actually place more mass and the same volume into orbit as the Ares-V if that ever became a limitation which it most likely will not. Concerning packaging efficiency most of the mass we need in orbit is propellant and there aren’t better ways to package cryogens then we do now. A propellant depot is one of the key enabling technologies for Mars and our spacecraft will ultimately be limited by what we can land or afford which ever comes first.

    And now for the crescendo of non-sequiturs;

    Mike Griffin (pg17): “So if we want a lunar transportation architecture that looks back to the ISS LEO logistics requirement, and forward to the first Mars missions, it becomes apparent that the best approach is a dual-launch EOR mission, but with the total payload split unequally. The smaller launch vehicle puts a crew in LEO every time it flies, whether they are going to the ISS or to the Moon. The larger launch vehicle puts the lunar (or, later, Mars) cargo in orbit. After rendezvous and docking, they are off to their final destination.”

    Actually the only thing that is really apparent after working thru the logistics issues of an expansive Lunar and Mars exploration program is that we should place all the propellant in orbit first followed by the entire time sensitive and extremely expensive mission package of a dry spacecraft with crew. By tanking up the spacecraft and Earth departure stage in space and we can do just about anything using this approach over the long haul.

    Of course Wernher Von Braun figured this out a long long time ago lest we forget.

    Concluding remarks by Dr. Wernher Von Braun about the Mode Selection for the Lunar Landing Program given to Dr Joseph F. Shea, Deputy Director (Systems) Office of Manned Space Flight, June 7, 1962

    “Let me point out again that we at the Marshall Space Flight Center consider the Earth Orbit Rendezvous Mode entirely feasible. Specifically, we found the Tanking Mode substantially superior to the Connecting Mode. Compared to the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous Mode, it even seems to offer a somewhat greater performance margin. This is true even if only the nominal two C-5’s (tanker and manned lunar vehicle) are involved, but the performance margin could be further enlarged almost indefinitely by the use of additional tankers.”

    Beyond logistics are two other key aspects of the VSE, that being International participation and COTS. By opening up the delivery of propellant to depot in Earth orbit to COTS we have placed over 80% of the mass we need in orbit for VSE into the private sector. In addition because we separated the expensive spacecraft and critical crew delivery requirements, more cost effective approaches of delivering payload to orbit could be used because the manufacturing cost of propellant is orders of magnitude cheaper than anything else we place in space.

    International participation in an American lead VSE is also enabled as long as they place their share of the propellant using their nation’s launch system.

    I have to thank Mike though in put together in a very well written and concise way (pages 1 to15) all the ways that DIRECT actually fulfills every single letter of the VSE policy directive in direct contrast to the current plan that violates nearly every requirement.

  • gm

    an interesting thread on NewMars about the Ares-1 “vibrations” problems:

  • reader

    Stephen, the ones you have outlined are just some of the significant failures in his reasoning, there are quite a few of others.
    I am honestly wondering whether Griffin would want to have a an actual open two sided discussion, explaining these logical failures in reasoning.
    By the way, shouldnt this argument have been open for discussion BEFORE ESAS was commited to ?

  • Reader, I agree there are a number of other errors. I’m just addressing the assertion that somehow one STS derivative launch system couldn’t possibly support the near term ISS mission while still fulfilling the longer term Mars exploration objectives. It’s important to read all the policy requirements before anyone jumps to far a field of the STS derived approach as well. Having said that I certainly agree that the EELV would be a good ISS flight gap closer even if it is not a good STS workforce gap closer like the Jupiter-120 is.

    I have had over seven presentation at NASA HQ pre Sean, pre Columbia, pre VSE, pre Mike, pre ESAS, and even one post ESAS (that was the last time any guesses as to why) along the lines of building the Jupiter-120. Each time up to bat they gave a different yet uncompelling reason as to why this straight forward approach for a launch system after the Space Shuttle was not the best solution.

    Besides my comparatively minor and unsuccessful efforts we have the officially chartered Challenger and Columbia reports (both of witch detail the same management failures we are now experience all over again for the Ares-I), the VSE authorization act language (that Mike did and excellent job of bringing together in his speech creating all the rope one would need to hang the current plan from a high tree), the Aldridge Commissions report which described the critical success requirements for the VSE implementation (that the current plan seems to go out of its way to violate at every turn), and now the GAO report (which details the serious programmatic risks that have only been amplified by the serious engineering issues NASA knew about many months ago but before the GAO report).

    The simple fact is that the Jupiter-120 and Jupiter-232 configurations were the primary inline STS derived configuration developed by NASA engineers over twenty years ago while I was still in College. This idea is not new and it’s a 100% product of NASA engineers. The more recent Ares-I/V pretended STS derived solution is the odd ball in the line up of NASA launch system heritage and is not the rule.

    I just keep wondering how long we have to keep put up with this silliness.

  • Keith Cowing

    Fansome says:“You have good intent, and your energy and enthusiasm is welcome. I am going to give you some unfiltered feedback in hopes that you will learn from your attempt, take that lesson to heart, and direct that energy and enthusiasm in a more effective manner. However, I do expect your first reaction will be to not like what I say. That said –> the fundamental premise of your strategy is completely naive. Let me say it again — Completely naive. It is not going to work.”

    Gee, Al, what wonderful advice to give. It is wrong, however, One person can have an effect. How curious that the site suddenly had all those space questions at No. 1 within an hour or two of my postings on NASA Watch and SpaceRef andin our newsletters – whereas there had been none in such prominent positions before. What a coincidence.

    For John, I say keep at it – the doubters of the world be damned.

  • Al:

    Let me ask you a question: Where does the number 16 billion come from? Is that one of the constants of the universe?

    As an engineer, I often think of things in terms of how things relate to each other. For example, the number of people supporting an issue relates to the number of votes that a politician gains when they have a favorable position on that issue.

    The number of times a candidate gets a supportive email, a call, or fax regarding a somthing is related to the perceived number of people in the constituency that support that something.

    We flatter ourselves when we think that a candidate seriously weighs space solar power verses asteroid mining as competing alternatives. All they know is that their policy people counted 30% input on Iraq, 40% on the economy, and 1% on space issues from their polling mechanisms.

    What I am trying to do is change that 1% to 2%. A tipping point for that could be flooding the politico debate with space related questions (I sent the first chain letter regarding this opportunity on January 13 to dozens of places across the spaceflight industry.) Nobody is singing cumbaya, but rather than bicker on forums that nobody but themselves read, some are directing their energy toward the primaries.

    Break your paradigm that we can’t have our cake and eat it to. 16 Billion is not a constant of the universe. It is a function of other factors. (and it has been going down over the past decade.)

    Personally, I think that NASA is not the best entity to push humans into space in the long term. Cancellation of the X-33 burst my bubble. I believe that as soon as the technology can blossom in the private sector, That will start the self-sustaining expansion into space. But I’m not about to go out on the forums that only space interested people read and try to convince them of my ideas.

    I have read the space websites for years and often felt frustrated that few people were ever doing anything about the problems. I felt frustrated that I wasn’t do anything. I know that many feel the same.

    Al, forgive me for being a newbie to this forum, but I guess I haven’t learned yet what makes your opinion so valuable that I should listen to you.

    I’ll just keep on keeping on, and in the meantime mobilize the lots of other people who haven’t learned the lesson that you are trying to teach me.

    Are you telling me that it would be beneficial to the world if I didn’t do Are you telling me that can not have a positive impact?

    Substantiate that.

    John Benac

  • Keith Cowing

    I started NASA Watch from a small condo on an ISDN line in 1996. The webserver was in my front bedroom. I soon got on TV. Ever since I have been on national TV at least once a month for more than a decade.

    One person can indeed make a difference. Imagine what two, twenty, two hundred persons – in similar circumstances … can do.

  • Al Fansome

    BENAC: Are you telling me that it would be beneficial to the world if I didn’t do Are you telling me that can not have a positive impact?

    Not at all.

    I am glad that you are doing something specific out on the world in response to your frustration. I just heard a little of a cumbaya appeal (Donald does them to).

    I spoke up BECAUSE I see the large potential value in what you are doing.

    BENAC: I believe that as soon as the technology can blossom in the private sector, That will start the self-sustaining expansion into space.

    Since you believe this, your strategy would probably be more effective if you account for this belief.

    You have a choice —

    1) You can put your energy into increasing the NASA budget by X dollars, all of which will go to Constellation (who do you think is in charge?). What is the actual result of sending a few more dollars to Constellation? Then next year, you can repeat the same exercise.


    2) You can put your energy into encouraging the private sector to succeed. If this happens, it becomes (as you say) “self sustaining”. You can then sit back and enjoy the year-after-year compounding results of your efforts.

    Now, you may think you can do both. But your current strategy is choice #1.

    – Al

  • Habitat Hermit

    What? Is it somehow impossible that stressing the importance of space to politicians will also make them more responsive to initiatives, needs, and requests from the private space industry?

    Oh well best to keep silent then.

  • Al Fansome

    HERMIT: What? Is it somehow impossible that stressing the importance of space to politicians will also make them more responsive to initiatives, needs, and requests from the private space industry?


    It is pretty simple.

    For those who want politicians to be “more responsive to initiatives, needs, and requests from the private space industry”, then it is much more effective to stress the importance of the private space industry.

    Saying “space is important” is a platitude, not a strategy.

    – Al

  • This debate is a microchasm of what has stymied the space industry for decades. Here we are, on some forum that only space interested people read, arguing about the best way to peruse objective x (in this case, how to promote the spaceflight industry.) We are spending our energy talking to ourselves, and in the meantime, this debate is doing nothing to promote the private space industry OR the “space in important” message as it is promoted at

    We say to ourselves: “there is only one way to do things. We need to figure out that way and convince everyone around us, and then progress will happen.” I don’t buy it.

    Al, what have you done to stress the importance of the private space industry to anyone who could make a difference to the private space industry?

    Have you written a letter to any congressmen? Do you know anything about HR 4916 or 4308 and what have you done to promote them? When are they coming up for vote? Does your representative support those bills? Have you told him your opinion about them?

    Al, if you want to stress the importance of the private spaceflight industry, go for it. I want you to. I agree with you. But don’t waste you time telling other people who aren’t doing exactly as you say that what they are doing is ineffective and they should do something else, because that is the trap that has kept NASA from doing anything truly innovative for decades.

  • Keith Cowing

    Al Fansome – just what is it that you *do* to further the cause of space exploration?

    John is *doing* something – and in so doing, he is motivating others to do something.

    Your contribution is …. what? Complaining about what John is doing?

  • Habitat Hermit

    Al I know you’ve already received a reply and perhaps I’m simply lost behind a barn (happens ^_^) but doesn’t facilitate you sending exactly that kind of message to the politicians of your choice if you so wish? To me it looks like they don’t force your message, it’s content (which you write), or which bills and measures you decide to support.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong or if there is something else that isn’t right.

    I’ll admit I’ve probably done far less than any of you and I won’t contact any of the US politicians etc. because I’m not a US citizen (nor do I currently aim to be one) and to me personally such direct action would feel like stepping over a line I don’t want to cross (I’m sure you all think I’m too meddlesome as it is but I’ll continue to opine and argue ^_^).

    But it seems like a good effort and I don’t see what’s wrong with it.

  • Actionforspace, I agree we need all the help we can get by whatever legal means we can use.

    Let’s assume for a minute that suddenly space exploration by some miracle goes from 1% of the political debate to say 10%. Let’s also assume that this translates into more public sector funding for space exploration say 3x what we get today. If we as a community continue burning big piles of money doing incredible stupid things, as represented by the current VSE implementation plan, all we will generate as a result of this unprecedented get out the vote effort is more smoke.

    No chain is stronger than its weakest link. Since Apollo was shut down NASA has spent enough money and placed enough mass in orbit (counting the Space Shuttle mass that serves only to warm up our atmosphere on its return) to have built a Mars colony at this point. While we would all like to have more money this is not the weak link in manned space exploration at this point in time. In fact I submit that the unmanned exploration side of NASA has been very efficient in the amount of return per dollar spent.

    The basic problem is that by public policy the Apollo program was shut down. It was also by public policy the Space Shuttle and ISS were put forward as a replacement activity for manned space exploration. The manned side of NASA has been constrained by this external imposition of public policy for the last thirty years. So the lack of any discernable progress in the manned exploration of space beyond LEO by NASA was a product of public policy by our elected representatives.

    We have now finally broken free of this public policy with the VSE authorization act as Mike did an excellent job of laying out in his speech. The problem right now is not the new public policy but the execution of that new public policy. The politicians and the average voting citizens don’t execute public policy using public money the NASA administration does.

    While I applaud everyone’s efforts to keep space exploration and its importance on the radar screen, 99% of our problems are related to bad decisions within a group of people that should care and know better.

    Demographically the long term political support and therefore funding of space exploration are pretty much setup for us at this point. It’s a false hope that we really influence this one way or the other.

    This means that the rate of success by which the new public policy of moving manned exploration out of LEO is entirely driven by how efficiently the manned space exploration community spends these resources.

    There is a saying that “all the Evil needs to triumph is for Good to do nothing”. Shilling for a bad plan to keep the peace, standing by while NASA management creates a virtual bubble of sycophants around it and not calling to the mat out right lies and half truths is not going to get us anywhere fast.

    I’m also a strong believer that you can’t be a critic of something unless you are willing to offer up for public debate a comprehensive solution to some extremely tough problems. We are always looking for all the free advice and help we can get to make the plan below even better.

  • Keith Cowing

    Metschan: “Demographically the long term political support and therefore funding of space exploration are pretty much setup for us at this point. It’s a false hope that we really influence this one way or the other.”

    Yet another defeatist.

  • Space Cowboy

    Keith, the past two and a half years are not cause for great optimism. We’re all happy that you blew this story wide open, finally, but we are under no illusions at all that anything will change, short of a financial or environmental disaster, which it now appears we will be getting much sooner than first anticipated.

    Large SRBs on heavy lift launch vehicles applied to some vague and naive notion that space can be ‘explored’ by humans in a sustainable and affordable manner in the near term, simply are not rational. Period. There is no reason for optimism at all, on the contrary, the handling of this space exploration program has been an embarrassment from the get go.

    Until we have a sustainable, rational and affordable method of high volume and low cost evolutionary transportation of low earth orbit, manned space flight will remain just that, flying in space. Flying in space about a large nickel iron core planet, with an active biosphere overlying active geological processes, is far more important in the short term in solving the undeniable financial, ecological and environmental problems we now face, and promise a far more effective means of engaging a rapidly growing population with greatly decreasing educational opportunities, than does any ill advised, ill conceived and unprepared jaunts into the cosmos, in the name of some remarkably juvenile invocation of an exploratory basis of human nature.

    Well advised, conceived, planned and prepared programs of exploration with any hope of sustainability and affordability, will be based on the use of instruments, not humans, and are expected to yield orders of magnitude greater results in the short term. Humans will still do the flying, instruments will still do the observing, that’s the way it’s always been, and until orders of magnitude greater infrastructure in space is developed, that’s the way it will be. No amount of optimism is going to change that fundamental physic, nor will any wild increase in funding. Any great increase in funding will most likely be wasted just as the last two and a half years of VSE and ESAS were.

    The being said, there are launch vehicles and launch vehicle architectures out there already that hold the promise of a path to high volume orbital reusability, without an exorbitant research and development price tag or the intrinsic failure modes or show stoppers, besides the usual suspects.

    Those systems will demonstrably not include the use of solid rocket boosters or low volume heavy lift launch vehicles, as we all know by now.

    The fundamental problem remains one of education – educating the general ignorant public, and the ignorant politicians who represent them, that in no manner is 9 to 10 billion people on an average life bearing planet a sustainable or affordable proposition, and that short of a rapid and catastrophic reduction in population, space is the only solution to these problems, which most recently includes the specter of financial collapse, rapid global warming and sea level rise, environmental catastrophe and endless religious and resource wars involving food, water, energy and air.

    Until people in general smarten up, space is a losing proposition.

    That will be the space legacy of GWB and Michael Griffin.

  • D. Messier

    I don’t know why NASA and Mike aren’t considered trustworthy. Maybe its the time they destroyed a public record and Griffin told the AP that they had plenty of blank CDs to replace it with. Or the agency rejection of the AP’s FOIA request for the aviation study. Or NASA’s release of said study on New Year’s Eve in an almost indecipherable form after a 14 month battle. Or the need for the AP to file another FOIA to get information about NASA’s taxpayer-funded rocket.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Ten years doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference.

    BTW, whatever happened with that Congressional request to Justice for a criminal investigation? Is it active? Was it dropped? Any indictments likely? I haven’t seen any follow up on it.

  • gm


    sorry, but, I (don’t only) think that the Ares-1 is a bad designed rocket (that can’t fly) but (also) that it could become VERY dangerous if a manned or test launch abort occurs

    that since and SRB-5, without the ejected Orion and the broken 2nd stage, it could reach (and fall on) the cities around KSC, as explained in this ghostNASA article:


  • Keith, actually I think there is much to be optimistic about. First, we finally have a public policy that requires NASA to expanded manned exploration beyond LEO. You were very instrumental in that. Second, you have been very helpful in maintain public support for NASA helping to preserve the money we are getting, thanks for that as well.

    Where I think we disagree is that I believe the current plan is squandering all the good work you have done above. Further, rather than just sitting back and criticizing the current plan we have made an attempt at developing an alternate plan to a very tough engineering, budgetary, and political problem open for public review. This plan was product of fired, retired and even current NASA engineers that adheres to the sprite and letter of the VSE authorization act you helped bring about.

    I to this day don’t understand why you are so negative about our efforts or why somehow the fact that I won’t name names (besides those who requested to be listed) is an argument against our credibility.

    I believe the plan stands on its own merits anyway even if it were written by Elmer Fud in a vain attempt to hunt rascally rabbits on the moon. Why you are against a plan that will help remove the last impediment towards achieve the objectives you have fought so hard for for so long is question only you can answer.

  • Keith Cowing

    I wasn’t aware that I “helped bring about the VSE authorization act”.

  • New Moon Rising – Publication Date (July 1, 2004)

    VSE Authorization Act (December 30, 2005)

  • […] just might be for most healthy 80-year old rich guys, NASA’s Constellation program looks like retread Apollo schlock. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  • Keith Cowing

    Stephen: so long as your concept only has 5 people publicly affiliated with it – one of who sells rocket models for a living and others who do graphics – I am not inclined to take your ideas any more seriously than I already have. The fact that NO ONE is lending their name to this is puzzling.

    And don’t give me that “afraid to speak out/lose their jobs” line. Yawn – after 12 years I sort of understand that concept. Rather, where are the thousands of people outside of NASA with expertise that could speak out and endorse this? Happens all the time. The fact that it has not happened speaks volumes.

    Oh yes – what ever happened to your earlier proposal – the one you were convinced was THE ANSWER? Note the graphic of some launch system that has 4 SRBs, 2 ETs and a monster core, multi-staged vehicle? See

    When you follow the link in this posting it goes to something totally different i.e. a DIRECT concept. What happened?

    That’s the problem with Powerpoint concepts with pretty pictures – they just disappear.

  • Concerning Support

    Actually it speaks volumes of why we are in the mess we are in. In summary their is plenty of blame to go around for the beltway crowd for the lunacy of the Ares-I the NASA engineers have been forced to endure to this point.

    We do have a lot of support but obviously not enough at this point in time. Ever the optimist, I’ll look forward to reading about the switch over in NASA Watch after it is finally obvious to everyone. You know like the fatal Ares-I vibration problem you just discovered, something I knew about a year before Mike which makes it almost two years before you.

    It helps to have an open line of communication with the engineers disparately trying to solve the unsolvable problems handed to them by Mike’s Ares-I. Obviously a broken line of communication to the engineers in the know is something both you and Mike share in common but for different reasons.

    Keeping the lines of communications open starts with trust, a trust I will absolutely not violate no matter how many times you ask.

    The Jupiter-120 is the NASA engineer’s solution to the Ares-I mess and has a NASA heritage that goes back almost thirty years. Why don’t you get this? Do you have any contacts out side of the beltway? How is it that you suggest we hook up the engineers who understand these fatal problems with the politicians that could help them ‘without’ violating Federal Employee lobbying rules and getting people fired in the process?

    Concerning the Past

    Our AIAA 2006 paper was up on the web site for a year for free with over 10,000 downloads. You can still purchase it from AIAA Space 2006 though. Just a warning, the free version of AIAA Space 2007, up their now, will be replaced by AIAA Space 2008. See unlike the current NASA management we try to continuously improve things which begins with not thinking you are the master engineer of the universe and can actually be wrong. All real engineers would rather produce a good design than be right all the time. That’s what being a real engineer is all about Mike.

    The Jupiter-3, which has more than twice lift capacity of the Ares-V while requiring just a quarter of the amount of new flight hardware still has many of the same problems as the Ares-V. One, they both require significant a reconstruction of the existing launch infrastructure. Two, the capability of placing that level of mass in orbit in ‘one’ launch is not needed provided we have a propellant depot which opens up serious COTS and International participation, key policy elements of the VSE equal in importance to the destination sequence lest we forget.

    It takes only 5 launches of the Jupiter-232 to do what 4 launches of the Ares-V can do. For all manned VSE missions over 75% of the mass required is propellant so the ability to store this in space will be critical regardless of the slight lift capacity advantage that the disruptive Ares-V will have over the direct STS derivative Jupiter-232.

    DIRECT v1, v2, concepts and AIAA 2006, 2007 and 2008 papers (coming soon) all share a common theme that the Jupiter-120 is a superior first step towards preserving America’s existing Heavy Lift capability over the Ares-I by any measure one would care to make.

    Even Mike admitted to this at the STA speech but he claimed that having a vehicle capable of 45mT to the ISS was somehow ‘over’ designed even though it would allow for a fully lunar capable Orion and ISS logistic module on every launch. Ironically or by design, take your pick, the Ares-I won’t be up and running until after the ISS is due to be retired or handed off to COTS anyway which begs the question of the supposed ‘advantage’ the Ares-I has over the Jupiter-120 in terms of ISS support.

    I don’t think Skip would think, after trying to shoe horn the Orion on the Ares-I (better known as the worlds most dangerous and expensive flying paint shaker) would agree with Mike with the Jupiter-120 being ‘over’ designed. Which is why he is no longer there.

    See a pattern yet Keith? Just disagree a little with Mike and you will be shown the door.

    What do you think would be in store for the NASA engineers that actually produced a better VSE plan than Mike working in their off time?

    Now if you want to expand beyond just criticizing stuff and actually be part of the solution that gets America’s manned space exploration out of this Ares-I mess let me know. If not just keep on harping from the sidelines while we go on to make history against your headwind and other shills for the Ares-I. It will just make the coming victory that much sweeter.

    It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow.

  • Keith Cowing

    Enjoy your Powerpoint fantasy, Stephen. I’m sure you will have loads of fun “making history” as you put it.

    You still did not tell us where your earlier launch concept went – it just disappeared … Powerpoint presentations have a habit disappearing like that …..

  • Well Keith it’s your lucky day. If you weren’t somehow part of the 10,000 downloads and you can’t afford the 15 dollars to buy it from AIAA you can still download it from our web site by using the following link that has been the same and active since day one;

    If you want bigger pictures than screen shots from the pdf just go to Google and type “Jupiter III-X”

    If you want we could put back up the old version of the landing page for this link which was basically a picture of the Jupiter-3 and a reprint of the abstract but I’m sure you would come up with a new strawman to replace this one so what is the point.

    If this will be in fact be your ‘last’ remaining issue as to why we aren’t ‘credible’ than I would more than happy to do this just for you, or are there other ‘credibility’ issues?

    I mean after all their must be other credibility issues because the Ares-I has the backing of the entire management chain at NASA and Mike has explicitly rejected the concept that one STS derived configuration line could possibly do both the ISS and Mars missions.

    The Ares-I must represent the most perfect and credible launch system ever put forward by the mind of men (key the lights shining on the Ares-I with angelic music) representing the apex of everything we have learned and what a rocket could ever hope to be. I mean how could a rag tag bunch of rocket engineers like myself, in our free time no less just to make it fair, possibly come up with a better design than those anointed by the beltway working 24/7 ? It just strains all logic does it not?

    I think your credibility detector needs a serious realignment bordering on reversal when you think the Ares-I is good engineering and the Jupiter-120 is a ‘powerpoint’. Come to think of it maybe I’m asking too much of you. What is your formal degree in anyway?

    First, the Jupiter-120 manufacturing, integration, and launch infrastructure is nearly 80% in place today to support the Space Shuttle in direct contrast to the Ares-I. Second, the Jupiter-120 relies on the existing STS stack arrangement between he SRB and the External Tank that has successfully placed the Space Shuttle in orbit while isolating the crew from the serious vibrations associated with all solid rockets since their invention by the Chinese over two thousand years ago (sorry Mike no Scooby Doo mystery here). Still no solution in all those years either I might add. It’s kind of along the lines of making useful dull knives, square pegs in round holes etc. Third, the engines required by the Jupiter-120 are already in use on the Delta Launch System in direct contrast to the brand new J-2X engines required by the Ares-I and identified as a serious “unaccounted for” programmatic risk by the recent GAO report that was missing in NASA’s 2015 launch date prediction. Fourth, the Jupiter-120 doesn’t even require an upper stage in the first place unlike the Ares-I (important time and money saving tip for all you super shoppers out there wanting to minimize the gap). Fifth, the extra lift capacity of the Jupiter-120 (48mT) over the Ares-I (18mT and falling) will enable the Orion designers to field a fully lunar mission capable spacecraft from day one (Without making any allowances for Ares-I paint shaker from hell effect) while providing the extra capacity for an ISS logistics in the same launch saving what would take two launches of the Ares-I assuming it works at all, which from what I know is a big ‘if’ bordering on near impossibility. Maybe we need to add a 6×6 square on the good old 5×5 likelihood vs. seriousness chart.

    Bottomline: Jupiter-120 is the historically dominate NASA configuration (Pre-Mike) concept with roots all the way back to the first days of the Space Shuttle. The Ares-I and Ares-V are the odd balls in the line up. In addition, the Jupiter-120 is more than three years ahead in actual hardware development time than the current Ares-I representing billions of dollars in savings for the reasons above.

    But just keep on believing in Mike after all he has got to be credible. But don’t rely on your opinion of Mike because at his confirmation hearing he said he is the smartest NASA administrator ever so it must be true. God bless us everyone.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    That’s all fine and dandy, Stephen, we know you love your launch vehicle.

    Others of us have wider more unbiased views of the situation. For instance, from mr. Griffin’s perspective, the advantages of Ares V is that it is a larger version of Direct. From your perspective, the advantages of Direct is that it is a smaller version of Ares V, one not dependent on long lead time elements. Others feel that expendable heavy life launch is unjustified.

    Other’s have other perspectives, other advantages, other disadvantages, in fact, others direct their launch vehicle architectures to completely different space program structures and goals, and then their advantages become glaringly self evident, for instance, high flight rates, compatible with existing launch vehicle architectures, the complete abandonment of solids with the attendant advantages of lower gross liftoff weight, smaller launch vehicles, the possibility of incorporating reusable elements or even a reusability flight test program into the launch vehicle development program, and finally, the obvious and demonstrable cost and efficiency advantages of liquid fuels.

    I could go on and on, but you appear to be another cheerleader for the president’s version of ‘how things ought to be’ and the blinds you to all of the other options of ‘how things could be’. You guys really think you can save this program with Direct, but in reality you are talking about minor development and operational improvements of something that is already completely out of scale and out of touch with the needs of the taxpayers.

    You need to quit spinning and start justifying the foundation of what you are trying to do, which from my perspective sets you up to simply act as more cheerleaders for the president’s VSE, a space program architecture which many still feel is completely unjustified by the reality of existing economic and future environmental conditions.

  • Keith Cowing

    Well put, Amerigo.

    Stephen: why you seem so intent upon converting me from AC to DC (Ares Cult to the Direct Cult) escapes me since I’d rather see a wide range of launch vehicles – preferably smaller, cheaper, commercially procured launchers – placing smaller, modular components into space – components that can be mixed and matched ala LEGOs to accomplish a wide variety of missions. That’s how commercial transport systems work on Earth. Why should space be any different?

    OK – your turn to post another 400 word cheerleading rant.

  • Amerigo, I agree that there were and still are a number of ideas surrounding if and how we should conduct manned exploration post ISS/Space Shuttle era. As Keith well knows but seems to forget (I’m beginning to think that Frank wrote 99% of that book by the way his emails to me are infinitely more rational) the VSE authorization was the result of a two year bipartisan process. Mike Griffin gave an excellent review of this in his speech at STA (staying on topic alert). Pages 1-15 of his speech was very logical and it’s Mike’s ability to state complex problems in concise simple terms that I really admire about him, which only makes his actions that more confusing and disappointing.

    Amerigo, my question to you is what did Mike say (specifically his description of the VSE policy, pages 1-15) that you disagree with?

    Keith, here is an extra-credit question for you. What policy directive would your plan violate with your lego land in space approach?

    Here is a clue it’s the same one the Mike violates but doesn’t look like he is violating.

    Keith, still waiting for an answer to some of my questions.

  • Keith Cowing

    Stephen asks: “Keith, here is an extra-credit question for you. What policy directive would your plan violate with your lego land in space approach? Here is a clue it’s the same one the Mike violates but doesn’t look like he is violating.”

    Gosh, I haven’t a clue. But then again I am not in one of those rocket cults (such as yours) so I guess I am not enlightened.

  • Answer;

    Page 5 STA Speech by Mike Griffin his Quote from the VSE authorization “The Administrator shall, to the fullest extent possible consistent with a successful development program, use the personnel, capabilities, assets, and infrastructure of the Space Shuttle program in developing the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Crew Launch Vehicle, and a heavy-lift launch vehicle.”

    Now do you think going with a 100% EELV (not heavy lift BTW Strike 1) solution for the VSE, thereby requiring the complete dismantlement of the current STS manufacturing, integration and launch infrastructure (Strike 2), is consistent with this policy directive?

    Like it or not when you use public money you need to follow the directives hand to you by the elected representatives of the citizens that go with that money. The VSE authorization was passed with strong support from both parties and was signed into law. The forces that crafted this language are still alive and kicking.

    Now maybe at some point in the future a new Congress will pass a new law signed by a new President that effectively abandons serious manned exploration beyond Earth Orbit or publicly funded manned exploration altogether but right now this is the law. The President aside, the NASA congressional district politics is alive and well so it’s hard to imagine how anyone could make a serious dent in level or which districts the money flows into.

    Of course Mike isn’t too far behind your plan in that his plan dismantles almost 90% of the current infrastructure, requiring new infrastructure at great expense, risk and time delay, in order to assemble the Ares-I and Ares-V. Not to confused with a real STS derived launch system like the Jupiter that looks just like all the other inline STS derived solutions forwarded by NASA since Challenger but before Mike.

    Forgetting pesky policy directive for a moment do you think the two decades it took to put the ISS together using 20mT chunks constrained to a 5 meter diameter (just like EELV’s would impose on us for VSE) represents the best way to get a serious VSE off the ground and out of Earth orbit anytime in the next three decades? Why would we constrain ourselves to an approach that all the runner up space powers will have and must use when we have a perfectly good HLV system already up and running that just needs a little love?

    Again still waiting for questions asked two posts back.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Me personally? There is NOTHING I agree with in terms of space policy and executive direction of all of our national scientific institutions and assets during these seven years of the Bush II administration. Sean O’Keefe, Michael Griffin, John Marburger, Conrad Lautenbacher and the entire upper management at NOAA, NWS and NHC, and in particular GWB’s Vision for Space Exploration, this entire crew and their agenda, has severely crippled this nation’s ability to respond to any of the current financial, economic, scientific, technological, environmental and ecological challenges of our day.

    This is the biggest disaster ever to befall the United States of America, and you have yet to witness the majority of the damage that has been done.

  • […] exploration architecture that he made in a speech last month. This is an expanded version of a post here on the speech, with a review of the logic that NASA followed under Griffin that led to the current two-vehicle […]

  • Captain Howdy

    Keith Cowing may have been a NASA employee, but he’s a terrible *journalist* and a know it all. The Ares I vibration problem wasn’t broke by NASAwatch, but Chris Bergin’s website.

    As an average US citizen who happens to love his space program and who wants to see it succeed, Direct isn’t simply 5 guys with an idea like Cowing thinks, it’s an old idea put together by NASA engineers. Stephen is right in this nonsense.

    The Ares I is a waste of money when the capability already exists to orbit a ROBUST Orion Cev. With Ares I, the capability of the CEV has been stripped like a 73 Monte sitting on blocks in downtown Compton.

  • […] not merely about deciding between manned and robotic space flight. The decisions to be made concern the architecture of the vehicles: [I]n a speech Tuesday at a Space Transportation Association breakfast in Washington, Griffin gave […]

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