After Columbia STS-107

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One who creates has a metaphorical tool kit consisting of only two items of nearly equal importance.
 
The first and more important is the pencil.  Use it to jot down tentative ideas, take notes from listening and write notes to pass along.  Even as concepts become detailed, firm, and adored, it should not be abandoned.
 
The second is the eraser, because not everything will work.  Not everything that does is worth building.
I am Terry Wilson, of Calgary, Alberta (Canada), and I care deeply about space exploration and the people involved in it.  Before getting into the specifics, as I did previously, I would like to get one thing clear:
 
This is not a NASA site, it is an amateur aerospace project trying to figure out what we should be doing after Columbia.  After Columbia STS-107
 
Most recent efforts of After Columbia Project have formed the bridge between part of the professional space community, and part of the amateur space community.  Those parts are typified by a humble technical approach that sees one's own ideas as disposable if they aren't economical or feasible enough.  In professional aerospace circles, Grant Bonin of 4 Frontiers (http://www.4frontierscorp.com/dev/assets/Bonin,%20Grant%20-%20CV.pdf) exemplifies this approach.  What causes some problems is that I also see the ideas of others as disposable in the same sense, even if they are successful and flying.  Two excellent examples are the Space Shuttle and Galileo's spin bearing assembly (not the reason for the high gain antenna's failure during the actual mission.)
 
NASA (exceptions noted) is not such an environment.  This page used to detail why, but why do that?  Let us shine the light on the right path, not on the faults that got us on the wrong one.  Briefly, it should be noted that Constellation, the current piloted planetary program, is a "wrong path" concept.  Apollo also was, despite its sound technical design and successful completion; this is the reason it got cancelled.  The Shuttle and Station speak for themselves in long schedules and huge budgets for dead-last value performance.  NASA could stand for Nearsighted Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The organizations leading NASA (being Congress and the White House) are even more myopic when they look to the sky.
 
Finding the Right Path
 
See the Flight Controller's Creed for a start.  There are also Donna's Laws (from Donna Shirley's Managing Martians, Broadway Books 1998...the end.)  There are no typos in the original...any mistakes are mine.
 
"- The customer isn't always right, he may want something that can't be done for the money.
- A really creative team will probably as contentious as it is brilliant. [I concur!!]
- You may have to give up credit for an idea to see it happen.  [done that, but I won't tell you which idea.]
- There is never enough time and money - but you'll have to get the job done anyway.
- Everything is a big hassle; if it isn't a big hassle you probably don't understand the situation. [I disagree, but I still thank God for every meal.]
- Work should be done playfully as often as possible. [Follow your passion, be passionate about your work...then it becomes play.]"
 
To summarize, we must be open to the opposition's best ideas.  We must be willing to let the numbers tell us the truth.  We must be willing to expose ourselves and our ideas to criticism and listen to the pundits (my pundits are wrong about 95% of the time, but I still listen.)  Advice is cheaper than tests, hindsight is cheaper than ignorance.  Whether it's a launch or anger management course, blowing up on the pad is a bad thing.
 
The space world's most widely used duds:
- Liquid Hydrogen...it is too light, too cold, too expensive, and embrittles the most economical (steel) and highest performing (titanium) tank materials.  Okay in upper stages.  (Delta IV, but many other vehicles use it as a core stage.)
- Solid motors in commercial space applications. (Pegasus, Taurus, Vega, Delta II, Atlas V, Ariane 5...dang near anything that isn't SpaceX, Russian or Chinese.)
- SSTO, which stands for single stage to orbit. (Tried many times...never got to fly.)
- Taking wings into orbit.  (Tried many times, flown on many test vehicles and two operational concepts.  The results of Shuttle and Buran may speak for themselves.)
- Taking airbreathing engines into orbit.  Suborbital is okay.  (Tried a few times.)
- The Big Dumb Booster (pick any two.)
- Faster, Better, Cheaper (pick any two.)
 
The Future of Spaceflight:
- Liquid Methane (analysis after analysis is showing that it is an ideal upper stage fuel where the performance of Liquid Hydrogen is not needed.  It will last longer in long duration applications, can be made on Mars and occurs naturally on Titan.)
- Liquid Ethylene (same positive properties as liquid methane but more expensive on Earth and Titan.  In ISRU on Mars, it loses very little, but you can make twice as much of the stuff per available unit of hydrogen (taken either from a cistern or shipped from Earth...either way is expensive.)  The jury is hung on whether it is cheaper than methane on Mars, we don't have enough evidence to make the case either way.
- Liquid Oxygen (relatively safe, dirt cheap, good performance and already widely used.)
- Partial Reusability (first stages, not orbiters.)
- Turbopumps in large boosters; "Big Practical Booster" will replace the "Big Dumb Booster" and "Expensive Smart Booster."  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is already doing so.
- Cheap boosters will not lead to cheap spacecraft (don't ask me, ask Futron; www.futron.com; http://www.futron.com/pdf/resource_center/articles/gearingfactor.pdf is a two page summary.)  But...it should lead to bigger, more capable spacecraft at the same price.
- Space Tourism and Colonization (only markets large enough to support future cheap boosters.)
 
I should finish that not all of this site and stuff marked "aftercolumbia" reflects the above...After Columbia Project has made mistakes, and some are still floating around (http://aftercolumbia.tripod.com/ists/id4.html).  Perhaps we are about to discover that there are mistakes on this page, in which case it should be changed.  Join up at Meadville or Yahoo (links at Home) if you think that is the case.
(c) 2007 After Columbia Project