NASA’s Safety Panel: Ares I Safer Than COTS
The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released it Annual Report for 2009 this week. One of the findings in the 117-page report was that the Ares I is the best option for NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station after the Space Shuttle retires. The primary consideration for this conclusion – the Ares I was designed with crew safety as its primary criteria. See a concept image of the Ares I here.
The authors of the ASAP Report, in fact, made perfectly clear that they disagree with the conclusions of President Obama’s Augustine Commission regarding the future of manned space flight in the US (see an excellent article on the subject from NewScientist here) that the best way to deliver astronauts and material to low earth orbit was to use commercial spacecraft.
The Augustine Commission had backed commercial systems, and NASA currently has a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract in place with Space X to use the Falcon 9 rocket to send cargo to the ISS, beginning in 2012.
Regardless of whether the ultimate decision is to launch people with commercial systems, the Ares system, or something else — or even to decide to abandon human space flight entirely, it must be very difficult for the brave and loyal people working hard every day at NASA. Not only does the Agency seem to have no current direction, the policy arguments over the best direction for the future seem to be overly public.