I was struck recently during a short analysis of U.S. human spaceflight programs by the length of time it has taken to go from program approval to piloted flight. The time has been growing, as well as the cost. There are good reasons for some of this, not the least of which is the shoestring budgets allocated for these programs, the ever increasing complexity of the task before the project teams, and the incessant and sometime intrusive oversight brought to bear on these efforts. At the same time, I found the lengthening of the programs troubling. What do you think about this?
- Mercury: approved October 1958, with first piloted (sub)orbital flight May 5, 1961 … 31 months.
- Apollo: approved January 1961, with first piloted orbital flight in October 1968 … 91 months (first test orbital flight was in November 1967 … 80 months).
- Space Shuttle: approved in January 1972, and first piloted orbital flight was in April 1981 … 111 months (first atmospheric flight of Enterprise was in February 1977 … 61 months).
- The Constellation program was approved in January 2004, and the first piloted orbital flight had been scheduled for March 2015 … 134 months. (first noncrewed real test flight—ignoring Ares I-X—had been scheduled for September 2012 … 104 months).
So the plans at the point of the president’s new direction offered last year would have meant that Constellation was not intended to yield a piloted flight until 50 percent more time had passed than a similar point in the Apollo program and 20 percent longer to get to orbit in the Space Shuttle program. Could this have factored into the decision to take a new approach to human spaceflight by the Obama administration?