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NASA Internal memo: 8/1 Cx Update - Around the Program

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Tuesday, August 4, 2009

image From: Hanley, Jeffrey M. (JSC-ZA111)
Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 12:13 PM
Subject: 8/1 Cx Update - Around the Program...

Greetings all - it's been a key couple of weeks just past, and I wanted to just share a few things...

First, congrats to the Ares I-X team for the stacking of superstack 1 on top of the I-X solid motor in VAB Hi-Bay 3. This was a key milestone, enabled by a tremendous team effort among all parties to bring stack 1 DFI testing to a successful conclusion in time to allow stacking to proceed as planned. My appreciation goes out the DFI team for their tremendous 'surge' to get this important testing done.

Next, the I-X team also completed their first full up launch count simulation in the Young/Crippen Firing Room at the LCC, and mods continue at Pad B in anticipation of a late October launch. This is all being done in concert with ongoing Space Shuttle operations by our broader human spaceflight team, integrating programs, centers, and contractors into one integral effort. The 'alchemy' of I-X is bringing together the expertise across the human spaceflight team, and even beyond - as we also have key contributors from the EELV program central to effort as well.

Elsewhere, Orion PDR is in full swing and progressing toward their PDR board at the end of August.

Meanwhile, welding continues on the Orion Ground Test Article Command Module at Michoud. Ares has Development Motor 1 on a test stand in Utah ready for firing by the end of the month... it passed its Test Readiness Review recently. And the Lunar folks supported a key face-to-face session this week to review progress in ongoing trades and analyses that will inform the Lunar Capabilities SRR next year.

In all, a tremendous amount is happening, and Dale and I are gratified at the resolve the team has shown to move forward while the nation's leadership reviews the future of US human spaceflight. 'Thank you' seems wholly inadequate.

In the words of Walt Disney, 'Keep moving forward'...

Regarding the Augustine panel's work, the program had opportunities during the panels visits to Houston, Huntsville, and Cocoa Beach to showcase just some of the substance of this program, the product of your labor of the last four years. We hope we did it justice given the time available. I want to thank all who contributed to the material that was presented, and to the presenters in all three locations. I feel we accomplished what we set out to accomplish - which was simply to make certain any options and recommendations from the panel are taken with as full an appreciation of the progress to date as possible.

Lastly, I would like to share the text of my closing remarks to the panel, as I believe it frames the primary choices that lay before our stakeholders, for whom we will execute whatever forward plan emerges...

On behalf of the 10,000 civil servants and contractors around the nation that have worked to create the Constellation Program, I want to thank the commission for the opportunity over the last three days to highlight the four years of progress to grow from concept to real designs and hardware.

In these closing remarks, I would like to take us back to fifty thousand feet - to revisit the 'decision space' that underpins NASA's present Constellation Architecture.

Through the last four years, NASA was given explicit guidance to define a program to meet three essential goals. Those are...

1. Significantly reduce the net cost of LEO access, and
2. Achieve unprecedented levels of crew safety, and
3. Extend 'sphere of human operations' beyond LEO (from 250 nmi to 250,000+ nmi)

To achieve any one of these would have been a significant accomplishment. To contrive an architecture that achieves all three simultaneously would be truly historic.

As a nation, we are now confronted with some crucial and perhaps course altering decisions in human spaceflight. Now we must ask: Do we press forward or retreat to reformulate our strategy? How important is crew safety? Do we really need/can we really afford 'heavy lift'? Why can't all of this be done commercially? And maybe we shouldn't even consider exploration beyond LEO in the first place!

For me, the crux of these challenges centers around the axis of 'risk'... and about what NASA's core purpose is.

To me, it's pretty clear. NASA's value to our nation stems in part from 'trailblazing', from government taking the risks that no one else can afford to take. In a word, "risk is our business". "Not because it is easy but because it is hard" is the wonderful and poignant JFK quote from the 60's. Commerce is a consequence of exploration - the physical trails we blaze pull on technology; which pulls our economy; which pulls our way of life. The evidence of the collateral benefits echoes across NASA's 50 year history.

Governments blaze trails - commerce exploits them, and economies grow. This is what the history of exploration - and human behavior - tells us. The 'silk roads', the mastery of the oceans, the 'manifest destiny' of our nation, all were driven by government-funded trailblazing. Government literally 'laid the track' across America, and transcontinental commerce and emigration consequently flourished. How fitting that the 'golden spike' sits just a few miles from where we are about to test the Ares I first stage rocket in August.

In the human exploration of space, it is on the frontier where we should be taking our risks. I believe most would agree that today's frontier is beyond low earth orbit. But in order to cross the ocean, we need to have mastered crossing the harbor first! Thus, creating the safest earth to orbit launch capability in history is teaching us the hard technical lessons that remain (what does it mean to 'human rate' a launch system? How does one provide a high probability of crew survival if something goes wrong?). The commercial sector will need these tough questions answered for truly commercial crew access to space to flourish - until the risk is sufficiently low to 'bet' on a return on investment in the cargo (be it crew or hardware).

As you know, we are using Ares I, derived from the investment we are making in heavy lift, to address these remaining barriers to 'human rating' a launch system and achieve higher levels of safety for the 'first hundred miles' of every exploration journey. So that as we push out into the frontier, the acceptance of higher risk to mission success or crew safety is toward our objective.

Heavy lift addresses risk in another fashion - and it stems from the unfortunate 'inconvenient truths' of physics - that being, God has made it a real chore to climb out of Earth's gravity well. The propulsive technologies of our time are nearly at the limit of what chemical systems can do.

In our judgment, when performance and cost are fully accounted for, to explore beyond Earth's gravitational influence within the next decade or so takes a launcher that can accelerate at least 50 tonnes to 'escape velocity' in one shot. While one could express an architecture that could do it in more than one launch, simple statistics suggest that a segmented approach pushes mission risk (the likelihood of not achieving the mission objective) unacceptably high, and simple economics suggest that per-mission costs consume more money that could be used in other ways.

Heavy lift in the class we are discussing is unique. No one else is building it - it is not something one can just go to industry to 'purchase'. Our country built a heavy lift production capacity in Apollo only to convert part of it to a low-earth-orbit-only capability in the Space Shuttle and discard the rest. The Space Shuttle is in fact a 'medium lift class' system built on the remnants of a heavy lift infrastructure. We now face a choice - take this unique industrial capacity and either convert it or discard it. Either retool and rejuvenate our nation's heavy lift capacity or abandon it.

These are not simple questions... there are benefits and costs associated with either path.

Constellation is the manifestation of one of those paths - the path where heavy lift is the key to human exploration beyond Earth's influence. The path where the risk we take, be it technological risk or astronaut safety risk, should be on the frontier and not in the first hundred miles.

We are executing this path today. Our team has real hardware in test and fabrication, and real designs are maturing - we are learning hard lessons every day as a team.

We are indebted to our national leadership for the opportunity to once again dream and plan and build boldly, as an agency and as a nation. It is at the heart, for me anyway, of what it is to 'be NASA'.

Teddy Roosevelt, in speaking of the American spirit, said it this way...

"Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

"Daring mightily" is what our father's generation did - at the expense of human life and national treasure - in order to blaze the trails necessary to even be here having this choice to make. They created the 'art' of human spaceflight.

Heavy lift. Unprecedented crew safety for the "first hundred miles". These are the choices that color our present plan. We appreciate the burden you sit with in weighing these options for our collective future. In these economic times it is challenging to think of sizeable financial investment to stimulate untold commerce. We know that you sit with our nation's constraints and challenges, an environment not unlike 40 years ago.

We anxiously await your findings and the decisions that rest in front of the nation, and we will execute that plan - whatever shape it takes - to the best of our ability.

Thank you for listening... j

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