Each time a stage burnt out, it was like being in car that had just been rear-ended. The astronauts themselves described it as like "being in a train wreck".
Now this method, while simple in concept, using one honking great rocket to get all the bits, the lunar lander, the command module (or "people locker"), and the service module, well, it's not the best way of doing things. Really.
You see, there's two different requirements: one is a "failure is not an option" mission, to get the crew into orbit safely, regardless of cost. That requires a relatively small payload, a simpler, easier to build, and so safer booster.
The other requires huge quantities of raw power, but if it has a 95% reliability, not a 99.99% one, that's acceptable. Losing $100 million of hardware 1 time in 20 is not comparable with losing a crew. You can always replace spacecraft, and if you've got working space program, you'll be building backup hardware anyway, for future missions.
Making a booster "crew-rated" probably causes the costs to go up by a factor of 10. Perhaps more. One way you can get around some - not all - of the cost is to assemble a new booster from existing man-rated components. This was the idea behind the ARES-1 booster, below right. The concept was to use a Shuttle expendable strap-on solid fuel booster as the base, then add the new spacecraft, borrowing heavily from Apollo technology, on top. Except they had to make a few minor changes, and then a few more, and soon the cost savings largely evaporated. You ended up with something not as efficient as a new, purpose-built booster, yet costing almost as much, and with all sorts of new problems with vibration and other issues.
The 117-page report, posted Wednesday at nasawatch.com, shows an $80 million cost overrun this year for just one motor and a dozen different technical problems that the space agency put in the top risk zone, meaning the problems are considered severe. The report put the program's financial performance in that category.Given that a Democrat President may just effectively cancel the whole thing, there's little enthusiasm, and technical problems that could be cured given enough effort may not be.
Technical problems included software that may not be developed on time, the heat shield, a dangerous level of shaking during launch, and a hard-to-open hatch door. The report also said NASA's plans would shortchange astronauts' daily water needs, giving them only two liters a day when medical experts say they need at least 2.5 liters.
The report showed technical problems in operations for Orion nearly doubling from May to July, with 24 items now on the most worrisome list.
Outside experts say it's too early to be too worried, but they have some concerns.
"It doesn't surprise me that there are these kinds of pains given the early stage (of development) and the long time since we did anything like this," said John Logsdon, director of space policy at George Washington University. "NASA is trying to do this with inadequate and uncertain funding."
The problem is mostly the political system for not coming up with budgets that are passed and signed by the president so that NASA can go ahead with its financial plans, said W. Henry Lambright, a technology and public policy professor at Syracuse University. The budget for next year still has not been passed.
The political problems are endemic. But there may be a solution to the technical issues. Again from Space.com :
By day, the engineers work on NASA's new Ares moon rockets. By night, some go undercover to work on a competing design. These dissenting scientists and their backers insist they have created an alternative rocket that would be safer, cheaper and easier to build than the two Ares spacecraft that will replace the space shuttle.He's half right: it's only on paper. But to say it won't work at this stage is nonsense. It may not, but we can't know that, and anyone spouting such drivel is doing so for political, not technical reasons. The concept is shown below on the left. Compare with the official ARES system (grey background) next to it. ARES V, the heavy lift booster, is now even bigger and heavier than the Saturn V used to get to the Moon nearly 40 years ago. And it's growing bigger an heavier every month. So big, it's outgrown the Saturn V sized infrastructure, the transport crawler and vehicle assembly building, that have been waiting so long for a return to the moon.
They call their project Jupiter, and like Ares, it's a brainchild of workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center and other NASA facilities. The engineers involved are doing the work on their own time and mostly anonymously, with the help of retirees and other space enthusiasts.
A key Ares project manager dismisses their design as little more than a sketch on a napkin that won't work.
As you can see from the diagram below (click to enlarge), the re-use of existing components on the Jupiter is extensive, more extensive than on the ARES system.
The Jupiter booster is part of the Direct 2.0 program, as the ARES is part of the Constellation program. For those interested in the justification and safety calculations, the lastest report (PDF) makes interesting, and plausible, reading.
Reading the tea-leaves... the ARES program will continue for a while, growing more costly and with more delays, until it gets less and less high a priority in the budget, and finally fizzles out when the ARES V becomes so elephantine it needs mending with a new concept. Later, around 2020, after the US has had no manned space program for 10 years (apart from uncrewed ARES I shots to work out the bugs in the spacecraft, not the booster), there will be a re-start based on the Jupiter booster concept, and the Constellation spacecraft. The USA will eventually return to the moon at about the time the Chinese are starting to set up a permanent presence there, maybe around 2030.