Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space
When the e-mail from Doug Cooke, head of NASA’s Constellation program, blinked onto Ross Tierney’s computer screen a few weeks ago, he bolted upright. The two men sit on opposite ends of the debate over the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program, and the outreach signaled that something peculiar was happening in Washington, D.C.
Tierney, an amateur space buff, is an outspoken advocate for Jupiter Direct, a rocket designed to replace NASA’s Ares 1 and Ares V, the two launch vehicles at the heart of NASA’s Constellation program. This Bush-era program aims to bring supplies and crew to the International Space Station and, later, to the moon. Cooke’s e-mail invited Tierney to make a presentation about the Direct rocket, which was developed by a rebel group of moonlighting NASA engineers disgruntled with the Ares 1.
The Jan. 19 meeting, which also included NASA human spaceflight boss Bill Gerstenmaier, was ordered by NASA administrator Charles Bolden. “The meeting went very well,” Tierney says. “They seemed quite receptive to our ideas.”
Little more than a week later, anonymous Obama administration officials told reporters that NASA is set to ditch the Ares 1 and V by cutting all funding for the program from the budget. Insiders now tell PM that the two launch systems will eventually be replaced by a single shuttle-stack heavy-lift rocket that could be similar to the Direct proposal. That rocket relied heavily on components from the space shuttle and Ares, with the shuttle’s external fuel tank serving as the body of the main rocket. Two five-segment versions of the shuttle’s solid-rocket boostersâ€”currently under development as the first stage of the Ares 1â€”would help provide the initial oomph. In single-stage form, such a new rocket could lift 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit, making it a more capable space-station taxi than the private rockets being developed under NASA’s initiatives to fill the post-shuttle gap. Fitted with a second stage, the new rocket would also be able to launch robot probes and astronauts toward whatever deep-space target NASA chooses in the post-Constellation era.
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