Saturday, September 6, 2008

Project Orion – KISS It!

There are a lot of things that I find vis-vie the Orion/Ares I program (officially known as the “Constellation Program”), that I don't care for very much. Namely, about shutting down the space shuttle program and wait until Orion is declared operational. The next item is going back to the Apollo Program and slap a new coat of paint on the hull and inflate the size of the capsule a bit and call it the future. KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid! What has happened to that concept and why is it not in our space program anymore?

What brings on this latest rant is a letter to the editor by one Greg DeSantis of Florida who's letter to Aviation Week & Space Technology September 1, 2008 issue was published therein (page 8 under 'Correspondence'). He was responding to an article in AW&ST (Aug 18, 2008, p.42 “The Fix Is In”). That article dealt with the oscillation problem they are finding out about with the Ares I booster. You see, something similar happened with the Gemini/Titan booster system. The vibration in the first 30 seconds of flight was so severe that the astronauts could not view the instrument panel.

Mr. DeSantis wrote: “The solution didn't take months of meetings and vu-graphs, and it didn't require adding 6,500 lbs of extra weight to the Titan. NASA simply sent astronaut Ed White to Ames to find a solution. We bolted a Gemini seat into the five-degree-of-freedom centrifuge, programmed the analog computers to simulate the vibration, and set about designing a damper to attach to the seat. The whole task from Ed's arrival to finished design took less than three weeks. White flew our design on Gemini 4.”

After reading DeSantis letter, I thought about how ironic it would be if some engineer with some brass ones just went down to the local auto parts place and picked up some shock absorbers and fitted it the test article in a chamber somewhere and NASA recreated this vibration exercise in the centrifuge. Oh wait... everything is done digitally in computers now. No one has the brains to think up something like this! Maybe if they go on line to get the specs for auto shock absorbers and program them into the Orion capsule attached to the seats and then run the launch program to see the effects then. It would still require a boldness that NASA no longer has.

I want to quote the remaining paragraph of Mr. DeSantis letter to AW&ST. “We did have a number of advantages though: No contractors or 'bean counters' were involved; we used 20-in. Slide rules and K&E drafting equipment; a Mark's Handbook; the best machine shop and machinists in the government; and a couple of young engineers who believed that working for NASA was the best job in the world. Look to the simplest solution.”

Amen brother.

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