Saturday, March 7, 2015

Retro Saturday: Ares Projects Quarterly Progress Report #1

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: AresTV YouTube channel.

Before Space Launch System, there was Constellation.

Before the Orion EFT-1 launch last December, there was Ares I-X.

This week's Retro Saturday is a look back at a NASA human spaceflight project that went so far off the rails President Obama proposed its cancellation in 2010, and Congress ultimately agreed.

The Ares Projects Quarterly Progress Report was released every three months to update the public on the status of Ares I, which was to be the launch vehicle to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the first report, released in August 2006. All the reports are available on the AresTV YouTube channel.

When President Bush cancelled the Space Shuttle on January 14, 2004, he delivered his Vision for Space Exploration which he said would “explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system.”

Within a few months, the launch system came to be known as Constellation.

Within that system would be two launch vehicles. The first, Ares I, would use a Shuttle-derived solid rocket booster as a first stage to deliver crew to the International Space Station. A more powerful booster, Ares V, would send crews beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and eventually to Mars. The astronauts would be carried in a Crew Exploration Vehicle, which evolved into today's Orion capsule.

The Ares V was a paper fantasy. The 2009 Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine Committee for chairman Norm Augustine, found that the Ares V “is not available until the late 2020s, and there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and lunar surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever.”

In July 2006, the month before this first quarterly video was released, the Government Accountability Office released a report concluding that Ares I was already in trouble. The GAO concluded that NASA budget estimates were far too optimistic, as was the schedule timeline, and that NASA's acquisition strategy for the Crew Exploration Vehicle lacked a sound business case.

None of this, of course, is mentioned in the quarterly report. It shows how NASA centers across the country were participating in the early design and development of Ares I.

The report estimated that the first uncrewed Ares test flight would be in May 2009. It actually launched in October 2009.

Click the arrow to watch the Ares I-X test flight. Video source: NASAKennedy YouTube channel.

To be clear, the Ares I-X was not an Ares I. It was a first-stage prototype with dummy upper stages. The second uncrewed test flight, Ares I-Y, was scheduled for March 2014 when the program was cancelled.

Although early estimates foresaw Ares I operational by 2014, the Augustine Committee concluded it wouldn't be flying with humans until 2017 to 2019. Even worse, the Bush administration had planned to fund Ares I and Orion by decommissioning the ISS in 2016, meaning Ares I and Orion would have nowhere to go.

So in February 2010, the Obama administration proposed cancelling Constellation to extend the ISS through 2020, and fund a commercial crew program to deliver astronauts.

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