Constellation Program = RIP

February 18th, 2010

The Obama administration recently pulled the plug on NASA’s Space Shuttle replacement plan, commonly referred to as the Constellation Program (CxP). This was a half baked concept hatched by the Bush administration a couple of years ago. CxP is also something I’ve been a critic of since its inception. However, now that the program has been mercifully euthanized, I do feel a tinge of sadness seeing all the great hardware headed to the scrap heap. Again, this is just another example of the old Bush administration’s mind-boggling ineptitude. CxP really lacked innovation from the start, which would have been critical for sustained momentum. To the casual observer, the program seemed quaint. It was often dubbed “Apollo on steroids” by Bush officials, which didn’t help the wow factor either. But what really sank the program was ballooning cost. Bush sold the program as an economical replacement to the current Space Shuttle; however overruns quickly started to spiral out of control once the project was under way. Before I go any further, I should point out what CxP actual consisted of:

  • Ares I (rocket)
  • Ares V (rocket)
  • Orion (crew capsule)
  • Earth Departure Stage (EDS)
  • Altair (lunar lander)

The Ares I rocket was designed to carry the Orion capsule into orbit while the Ares V was intended to carry the Altair and EDS. The Ares I had already been successfully tested by the time the program was canceled, but many of the other CxP components were still being developed when everything got axed. So how will NASA get our astronauts into orbit once the shuttle is retired? For the short term, NASA will have to rely on Russia for rides into orbit. Of course the hope is Elon Musk’s SpaceX will eventually be ready to put their Dragon crew capsule and Falcon rocket into service, but as I’ve written before on this blog, I’m skeptical SpaceX will ever be able to pull this off. It’s too bad we can salvage the Orion component of the program and develop that to completion. I think if we modify the Delta IV Heavy rocket in parallel to a scaled down Orion program, we would have a decent shuttle replacement. Of course with Federal deficits being what they are these days, my predictions are NASA will not have a manned space in five years simply because all the options, including using private firms, will simply be too expensive.

Entry Filed under: Science

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