Some Random Mistakes
There are two things (that many of us, european, admire) you often adopt in America (surely, more than us) in your choices and decisions, one of which is the PRAGMATISM (that's like say "do the right thing") and the other one is the MERITOCRACY (that means to reward those who work well and to layoff those who make mistakes) despite, both principles, not so much adopted for several years in the recent NASA's story.
That's why the (six degrees holder) former NASA chief Mike Griffin (that has made a few right things but also tons, galaxies, of mistakes, mainly due to the, bad designed, weak, flawed and stellar priced Ares rockets!) has been quickly fired by the new White House administration, while, other Ares-1 "fathers", have left the (failed from start) Ares and Constellation programs just in time to avoid to be fired...
Unfortunately, the change of the NASA leadership and the deletion of the Ares rockets has been done too late, with the consequence of nearly SEVEN years LOST (2004-2010) and and $9 billion (so far) BURNED that (it seems) could reach the grand total of $12-15 billion, when, all awarded Constellation's contracts, will be finally closed.
Well, I'm sorry to say, that, also the new NASA leadership is at risk to be fired because 80% of the "new" NASA plan is WRONG (exactly like the old one) since (as I've already said several times, also MONTHS BEFORE the release of the new plan when the HSF Commitee has published its final report) HEAVILY INFLUENCED by the (quoted) bad and useless Augustine Commission's Report.
Not everything is already known (nor clear) in the "new" NASA plan, since it's like a gigantic (multibillion$) pie, now cutted in few, big, multi-flavours, slices, and each one includes many different projects, not all yet described in full details (also, since, many of these details, should be still defined in future) but, from the early infos and figures released about the NASA budget of the next five years, it's absolutely EVIDENT that, over 80% of the "new" plan, is aimed to wrong projects and bad directions, so, it should surely result in a further GIANT WASTE OF MONEY and FIVE more years LOST, to being again, in 2016, on the starting line!
While waiting to read soon further details about the new NASA plan, I can already say now (and more in my next articles) that, despite some, good and savvy decisions (like, the deletion of the, weak, flawed and expensive, Ares rockets and of the, stellar priced, Constellation 1.0 programs) the "new" plan has LOTS of crazy, illusory and suicide choices, like, first, the bad decision to replace the Space Shuttle with the unexisting, weak, uncertain and up to FIVE TIMES more expensive "commercial space" that "should" give to NASA (after spending over $10 billion + costs overruns) a very small (and ridiculous) fleet of toy-vehicles, ready to fly (if lucky) from 2014 + delays and costs overruns for the cargo vehicles and from 2016 + delays and costs overruns for the (hoping safe and reliable) "commercial" crew vehicles, after 4, 6, 8 or more years of cargo/crew US spaceflight GAP.
Other mixed absurd choices are... the lunar robotic exploration based only on a couple or very few, very expensive "precursors" (probably the same plan developed at the NASA Ames center, before being deleted, four years ago, by Mike Griffin) or the intersting (but very expensive and inefficient) Lunar Iron Man... the decision to scrap the safe and reliable SSME and to BURN great part of a $3.1 billion fund (+ costs overruns) to develop a new Kerosene/LOX engine (to be "operational" and used only around 2020 + delays) made "only" to replace the very good RD-180 that has the same performances and NOW, but is russian... the decision to invest only a very small amount of money to just "study" an HLV that "should" be really developed and built around 2020 or later... no real, good and funded plan to at least study in deep everything needed for future manned Mars mission... the layoff of over 23,000 experienced and skilled NASA employees... further million$ wasted in the toys-only-factories called X-Prizes... etc. etc. etc.
And... can we REALLY believe, that, one or more "new.space" companies, hundreds times smaller than NASA and the old/big aerospace companies, with a fraction of their engineers and scientists, very few years of experience with rockets (and nearly ZERO experience about manned vehicles) will be able to develop, test and build a safe and reliable capsule (maybe also able to return from the Moon) in HALF the time of NASA or LockMart and with only 10% of the Orion/Ares-1 (expected) R&D costs or... only 2% of the inflation-adjusted costs of the Apollo CSM and of the Saturn rockets??? ... WHICH sci-fi movie have you seen???
That's why I've said (and repeat here) that, thanks to the "new" plan, NASA will face, in the next years, a quick, deep and pathetic DECLINE.
Other points of the new NASA plan are described in a too generic way, now, so, we must wait more details to know if they're useful or a waste.
[update] Just to point to an interesting Aviation Week article that gives some interesting details (despite, great part, still in a generic form, as released by NASA) about the "new" US plan for space in the next 5-10 years, also, the article says that the new Kerosene/LOX engine, should use the $3.1 billion funds devoted to "new propulsion systems" only in the first FIVE years (of ten in total) of its R&D time, so, when the new (and completely useless) engine should be ready to fly (around 2020 or years later...) the "final" R&D costs of the engine could be skyrocketed to $5-10 billion or more... as tradition of all NASA projects... :)
[update] It seems that, the new and powerful Kerosene/LOX engine (when it will be available, in 2020...) should be used (also) as the basic component for a new HLV aimed for beyond-LEO missions... but... if the engine will be ready only in 2020... just adding a reasonable number of years... the new HLV should be ready to fly for its beyond-LEO missions only in 2025-2030... or years later... :(
[update] In my first article about Space, published in September 15, 2005 on my website (and proposed on several space forums and blogs) I've suggested to to keep the Space Shuttle fleet in service but modify it to fly (also) CREWLESS, and now, also Buzz Aldrin agrees with me saying... "I also call for not abandoning the technology we've derived over the past 30 years of shuttle operations -- the first shuttle, named Enterprise, rolled out in 1976! -- but evolve the shuttle into an unmanned heavy lift booster".
[update] As revealed in this exclusive Aviation Week article, China could develop a Saturn V class Moon rocket ... "the facilities of the space industry base under construction at Tianjin
will be adaptable to handle rocket diameters of 8 or even 10 meters, an
official there said last year, hinting that the plant was prepared to
build an equivalent of the Saturn V, whose first-stage diameter was 10.1
meters" ... "such a Chinese Moon rocket is at the study stage, the vice-president of
the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, Liang Xiaohong, says it
will have a thrust at lift off of 3,000 tons ... the Saturn Vís S-1C first
stage generated 7,648,000 lb. (3,470 metric tons) of thrust at sea level"... six months ago, I've already explained WHY China will WIN the new "commercial"
Moon race and my
analysis was based on the availability of the upcoming (25 tons payload) Long
March 5 but, clearly, two further and more powerful rockets, could accelerate
very much the China space program, so, the first chinese lunar landing could
happen much sooner than my 8-years-from-now prediction... (and, after all,
NASA has accomplished the same mission in the same time using the primitive '60s