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Aldrin: Let Private Sector Develop Space Shuttle Replacement

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 26, 2009
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NASA Orion

NASA Orion

Writing in The Huffington Post, Buzz Aldrin said NASA is making a mistake by replacing the winged shuttle with smaller ocean-landing Orion capsule:

Two Shuttle accidents — each caused by NASA hubris — combined with a tight budget have caused NASA to retire the fleet. Understandable, I think. But in a move that truly makes no sense, they will be replaced by…the space capsules we long ago outgrew. And to save even more money, these cannon-ball-like capsules would land once again in the ocean, not on dry land. To recover Orion will require deployment of ships in several landing zones. How much will that cost? Much of the Orion will be expendable, such as the heat shield. It seems we have decided to throw away our Shuttle experience and go “back to the future”.

Our space partners and competitors are also designing capsules for their astronauts-because, for them, capsules are a step up. No other nation has ever had the logistics capability resident in a winged or lifting body vehicle-except us. And seems to be ready, in a penny-wise and pound foolish way-to abandon our own leadership in space transportation. By landing on a runway, gliding back from space, these unique re entry machines have many opportunities on each orbit of the Earth to find a landing site — an airport or military airfield, say. Those capsules, since they don’t glide anywhere, must line up more or less at their intended landing site. Bad weather? Oh, gotta stay up another day. Experiments? Gotta wait!

And we are compounding that felony by retiring the Shuttles before even the limited Orion capsules are ready to fly.

But I’ve got a better idea. Why not stretch out the remaining Shuttle flights for five years-flying once a year or so. Open up a commercial competition for a logistics vehicle to the station that includes a vehicle that can land on a runway, using the heritage learned from the 30+ years of the Shuttles. Any breakthroughs reached in the labs aboard the International Space Station can’t wait for days while the navy hauls Orion out of the ocean and returned to port. A runway-capable vehicle can do that-and that is what we should build to follow our Space Shuttles. If NASA can’t do it, let the private space entrepreneurs do it.

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