Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Changing Rockets in Mid-Flight

NASA is – once again – attempting a feat no other nation has ever tried – switching manned rockets in mid-flight. They are attempting nearly the impossible: designing and building a new manned space exploration system while operating another and they will be doing this with no net increase in their budget. This is a feat that is staggeringly complicated and so improbable that it literally boggles the mind.

But as improbable as it may sound, NASA is, after all, the same agency that has repeatedly accomplished the impossible and made it look so commonplace that it was nearly boring. Now they’ve ratcheted up the stakes. Not only are they continuing to launch the terribly expensive shuttle and building a massive space station, they are designing and about to build a new manned spacecraft with an interplanetary range at the same time (compare that to the shuttle with a 350 mile range!!). And to make that happen, they have to redesign the bureaucracy behind it all as well as the launch pads and all associated ground systems. Meanwhile, they have to keep the shuttle and station system going with no increase in manpower and no increase in dollars. At the same time, they are managing a fleet of unmanned interplanetary spacecraft from Mercury to Pluto - collecting information, images and mapping worlds for the first time in human history.

How does anybody actually do all that? It doesn't even sound possible.

Well, you have to put some world class brain power to work 24/7, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. NASA is churning and burning these days. While China and Japan and other manned space wannabees are busy making it work the first time, NASA is juggling two astonishingly complex experimental systems together and making the transition that will pave the way for permanent manned lunar and Mars bases. And they are doing all of it without even a single indication to anyone outside the agency of how historically amazing it all really is.