13 votes

The SLS rocket is the worst thing to happen to NASA—but maybe also the best?

11 comments

  1. [4]
    vord
    Link
    This bit always grinds my gears. Yea, NASA went from 0 to moon in 11 years...because their budget was 2-4x higher than it has been since. And back then, they basically only had the one objective....

    It took the agency 11 years to go from nothing to the Moon. It has taken 12 years to go from having all the building blocks for a rocket to having it on the launch pad, ready for an uncrewed test flight.

    This bit always grinds my gears. Yea, NASA went from 0 to moon in 11 years...because their budget was 2-4x higher than it has been since. And back then, they basically only had the one objective. How many hundreds of projects has NASA been keeping going for decades? Every one slices that budget pie a little smaller.

    You want 1960's NASA progress? Give them 1960's level money and authority.

    14 votes
    1. [3]
      AugustusFerdinand
      Link Parent
      To counterpoint and play Devil's advocate: NASA went from literal zero to the moon in 11 years. NASA is far far from zero now, we're practically on the cusp of off-the-shelf spaceflight, and it...

      To counterpoint and play Devil's advocate:

      NASA went from literal zero to the moon in 11 years. NASA is far far from zero now, we're practically on the cusp of off-the-shelf spaceflight, and it has still taken 12 years to get to this point.

      4 votes
      1. papasquat
        Link Parent
        They didn't go from literal zero. They absorbed a ton of personnel and facilities from NACA, all of Weherner Von Braun's Nazi funded research from ABMA and Von Braun himself, a ton of ARPA...

        They didn't go from literal zero. They absorbed a ton of personnel and facilities from NACA, all of Weherner Von Braun's Nazi funded research from ABMA and Von Braun himself, a ton of ARPA resources, and nationalized JPL from caltech. As previously mentioned, they were also basically given a blank check and the entire country's almost singular focus.

        The space race wasn't a scientific curiosity like going back to the moon is now, it was a grave matter of national security. The government wasn't willing to let anything, not financials, safety, public opinion, personnel shortages, or political concerns get in the way of winning. Going back to the moon just isn't nearly as important to us as it was in the 60s. If there were some grave, present existential threat that required us to go to the moon as quickly as possible, it would have taken us a fraction of the time as apollo did to do it. We're not in that situation at all anymore though.

        12 votes
      2. vord
        Link Parent
        I don't entirely object, but we also have a lot more safety and environmental standards to adhere to than they did back then. If the thing didn't explode where/when it wasn't supposed to, mission...

        I don't entirely object, but we also have a lot more safety and environmental standards to adhere to than they did back then. If the thing didn't explode where/when it wasn't supposed to, mission accomplished.

        Better understanding of more advanced materials science means creating new implemenations can require substantial rework. Something as simplistic as O rings for 1 temperature threshold and use case may not be well suited for another.

        When Apollo launched, the computer in it was less powerful than a USB-C charging brick. We've undoubtably added additional computing power, which means more software to write and debug. More edge cases to test.

        Most of our modern computers are ridiculously fragile, and will not respond well to the influences of radiation and g forces involved in spaceflight.

        And it's always easier to start with a blank slate than having to retrofit existing things. I don't know how much of SLS design is being influenced by legacy baggage of the past 60 years, but I'm betting its not insignificant.

        3 votes
  2. [3]
    CALICO
    Link
    As long as it works. It's really easy to hate the SLS (and I think I do), but my biggest anxiety is whether it will work or not. There are events that were so impactful to us that we'll remember...

    As long as it works.

    It's really easy to hate the SLS (and I think I do), but my biggest anxiety is whether it will work or not. There are events that were so impactful to us that we'll remember exactly where we were, and exactly what we were doing, when they happened. For many Americans, the morning of September 11th, 2001 is one of the larger examples. For myself, I will remember in greater clarity the morning of February 1, 2003, when I learned the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry; I doubt I need to explain why, not to this audience.

    I'm less concerned about the cost of the SLS, the delays, and the missed opportunities, than I am concerned that I'll watch Artemis-1 explode on Monday morning—or otherwise fail its planned trans-lunar injection in the coming weeks.

    There hasn't been a functional human space program worth a damn (not by my metrics anyway) in my lifetime. The shuttle program—fiasco that it was—was at least proof of something, and its death on July 21, 2011 is yet another red letter day in my life.

    I'm putting a lot of emotional weight on the SLS's success, if only because its failure may end this new dream just as it begins. While commercial rockets may very well—someday soon—fill its gap, changes in public perception or policy could impact those as well. Hopefully not irreparably, but the gods of chance & fate can be cruel.

    Just, me have this. Let us all share it.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      If it's any consolation, I recall exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up during launch in 1986, and that didn't prevent another 25 years of Space Shuttle operations. There's too much...

      If it's any consolation, I recall exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up during launch in 1986, and that didn't prevent another 25 years of Space Shuttle operations.

      There's too much capital and national pride invested in the SLS at this point, too many powerful interests at stake, to let this program fail even if there are disastrous failures in launch or operation.

      3 votes
      1. vektor
        Link Parent
        Yeah. Worst case, they'll accept the risk and use the SLS to lift heavy objects into space and resort to e.g. Boeing or SpaceX to lift the crew up safely. Meanwhile they try to fix SLS to be safe....

        Yeah. Worst case, they'll accept the risk and use the SLS to lift heavy objects into space and resort to e.g. Boeing or SpaceX to lift the crew up safely. Meanwhile they try to fix SLS to be safe. Adds complexity and is kinda unnecessary, but whatya gonna do.

        2 votes
  3. Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    "Since NASA hadn't been a part of a larger national agenda for decades..." This bit from the article really hit me. This has been the crux of my disappointment with NASA, with Congress, and...

    "Since NASA hadn't been a part of a larger national agenda for decades..."

    This bit from the article really hit me. This has been the crux of my disappointment with NASA, with Congress, and ultimately with America ... possibly even humanity.

    Because space exploration has been a significant part of my "national agenda" for as long as I can remember ... and I was alive when Armstrong landed. And for 40+ years now, the US—and ultimately, the American people—have been disappointing me non-stop in this endeavor. We opened the door, looked outside, said "IDK, that looks complicated ... and expensive" and then we closed the door.

    The Moon is 250,000 mi away. Since Cernan and Schmitt got back almost 50 years ago, no human being has travelled more than 300 mi away from Earth.

    What is wrong with us?

    Edit: When Webb launched, I tried talking with someone about it ... they'd never heard of it, at all. So I explained how, over-simplified, it's a replacement for Hubble ... they'd literally never heard of the Hubble space telescope, either.

    4 votes
  4. AugustusFerdinand
    Link

    NASA's SLS rocket program has been a hot mess almost from the beginning. It has been efficient at precisely one thing, spreading jobs around to large aerospace contractors in the states of key congressional committee leaders. Because of this, lawmakers have overlooked years of delays, a more than doubling in development costs to above $20 billion, and the availability of far cheaper and reusable rockets built by the private sector.

    So here we are, nearly a dozen years after that authorization act was signed, and NASA is finally ready to launch the SLS rocket. It took the agency 11 years to go from nothing to the Moon. It has taken 12 years to go from having all the building blocks for a rocket to having it on the launch pad, ready for an uncrewed test flight.

    1 vote
  5. [2]
    Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    I keep reading that it "uses engines built for the Shuttle program". Does this mean they're building engines from the same design ... or literally using engines that were built some 15-ish years...

    I keep reading that it "uses engines built for the Shuttle program". Does this mean they're building engines from the same design ... or literally using engines that were built some 15-ish years ago, sitting in some warehouse since then?

    1 vote
    1. Ephemere
      Link Parent
      I thought the answer was "modifications on a design" but it seems like at least for some of the parts, indeed they've been in a warehouse. via...

      I thought the answer was "modifications on a design" but it seems like at least for some of the parts, indeed they've been in a warehouse.

      via https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/fs/rs25_core_stage_engines.html

      The SLS Program has an inventory of 16 RS-25 flight engines from the Space Shuttle Program to support the first four SLS missions.

      1 vote