In a recent article at the Space Daily website, John Strickland makes the case that there needs to be more reusability built into the in-space assests of the VSE. One of the most important points that he makes in the article is that if NASA proceeds with it's plans to throw away everything but the capsule after each and every mission, leaving no real assets in space, then the program can be canceled at any time in the future when the Congress decides that it no longer wants to fund the effort. However, if you design the in-space assests with reusability in mind, the equation changes dramatically. Rather than pouring money into the development and manufacture of expendable components, the same money becomes an investment in space-based infrastructure. And as we've seen with the shuttle and ISS, once you have a significant investment in infrastructure in place, it becomes much more difficult to kill the project and abandon that investment. Mr. Strickland also make the observation that the Apollo program ended up being based on a largely disposable architecture because that was the quickest way to get men on the moon with the technology available at the time. He points out that we really aren't in any hurry this time. So why not do it right?
The NASA's plan, as it currently stands, is probably in the best interest of NASA and it's contractors. This plan probably represents the best that they can afford to do if they are forced to do it all by themselves. Whether or not they can sustain this program over decades remains to be seen, but it seems pretty clear that if they continue in this manner they will not be able to expand the scope of the program to any significant extent. At the Return to the Moon conference in July, Chris Shank made it clear that NASA can not even afford to go to the moon unless they find a way to spend much less on the ISS. Unfortunately, NASA has not had much success with reducing its costs in the past. And so, we keep returning to the simple fact that as NASA's vangard heads out into space, they must bring the commercial sector along with them.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that any form of space exploration can be sustained without building up some kinda of in-space infrastructure. Exactly what kind of infrastructure is needed is a question which has been occupying my mind for the past few years. I've been contemplating what kinds of infrastructure would need to be put into place to accomplish various missions. I've found that there is alot of overlap in these missions, especially if you break each one up into smaller legs which can be accomplished with a common set of hardware. In future posts in this blog, I would like to begin to explore these smaller missions and the infrastructure that I think would permit them to become self-sustaining. I welcome any constructive comments or feedback anyone has to offer.