Re: cheap space flight

Michael Lorrey (
Mon, 18 Nov 1996 08:56:24 -0500

Eugene Leitl wrote:
> Hadn't NASA just lost a similiar prototype, which also used composite fuel
> tanks (albeit canonical oxygen/hydrogen in cryogenic storage), which was
> uniformly considered a major throwback for NASA's comeback plans
> (considering recent financial cuts)?
> I dunno, what NASA Ames does, strikes me as a high-quality outfit groping
> for new fields (paralleles to recent military research situation in
> Russia come to mind). Comments?
> ciao,
> 'gene

They are under a huge mandate from the pres. and congress to make their
tech. expertise useful to the economy, plus to release pretty pictures
from Hubble to keep the masses entertained (they are nice!). The Delta
Clipper (DC-X) was originally a concept that Gary Hudson was able to
inspire some engineers at McDonnell Douglas into putting a proposal
together for which they submitted to SDIO, as SDI was in need of heavy
lift reuable capability to put up their dream weapons, which would be
huge. DC-X was the first demonstrator to test logistical concepts and
powered landing concepts. NASA could never stand it, as they wanted SDIO
to have to go through them for launching. When SDIO got cut back, and
funding ran out, McDonnell went on with testing under their own funding,
and started a grassroots campaign to get congress to force NASA to fund
its development. As a result, the X-33 program was started, accepting
bids from all comers. Even though MD had the only demonstrated
prototype, they got beat out by Lockheed with their Venture Star
Concept, partly because the Venture Star is a "plane", and partly
because NASA was getting revenge on McDonnell by cutting them out. NASA
will now pay for all the R&D costs and the small scaled demonstrator and
I believe the first full scale prototype, but further construction and
operation will be done by Lockheed alone. Now that they've been forced
to have competition in the US (Ariane gets ignored politically), NASA is
now accepting bids by private corps to conduct and market all shuttle
operations at a fraction of current prices. They now want to focus on
pure science alone and get out of the launch business.

I think that this is probably the first intelligent thing they've done
since the Apollo program.