NASA – Deciding What the Budget Will Buy

Jupiter 130
DIRECT Jupiter 130
Image Credit: DIRECT Launcher

An article in Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel hints that two years after saying that the DIRECT project’s Jupiter 130 rocket “defied the laws of physics”, NASA engineers are putting the finishing touches on their nearly identical design: four space shuttle engines underneath the external fuel tank, two four segment solid rocket motors just like the shuttle stack, and the crew and cargo on top.

The design made sense in 1992, 2004, 2008 and it still makes sense now.

“It turns out Direct was right,” said one NASA engineer working on the project but not authorized to speak publicly.

Many of the engineers working on the shuttle-derived rocket favor building a new rocket with new technology and propulsion systems but said that they recognize that Congress is unlikely to give them the money or the time they need to do that. Under the constraints NASA faces, the Direct-like approach is probably the best way forward, they said.

[Edit 9/16/2010]

And now comes a scathing commentary by Mike Thomas in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel: “NASA incompetent — or just lying to us?”

Obama wants to dump Ares and turn much of the space program over to the competitive world of private enterprise.

He sees the future in companies such as SpaceX, a start-up venture in California that is developing rockets at a fraction the previous cost.

Nelson and the anti-government Republicans in Texas and Alabama want no part of this.

They want big-government inefficiency and all the wasted billions that brings their states. They are joined by the aerospace giants, which see their guaranteed profits and $100,000 shuttle tool belts threatened.

So here we sit. Ares won’t fly. Congress won’t give it up. Obama won’t fund it. NASA is devoid of a strong leader to break the logjam.

And this takes us back to Direct’s Jupiter.

The rocket that NASA once said was not physically capable of flight has now become a NASA option.

“It turns out Direct was right,” a NASA engineer working on the project told the Orlando Sentinel this week.

Now they tell us? This means that NASA either is completely incompetent, has been lying for four years or is praying its last Hail Mary.

Yikes

For previous commentary here, see the following: