back to article Rocket Lab picks up the pace while SpaceX sends a Dragon to the Space Station

SpaceX moved on from the exploding Crew Dragon and Rocket Lab celebrated a fifth launch last week while NASA's five-year Moon plan looked in ever more danger of unravelling. Reality check for Moon Trump 1 NASA spent the last week tying itself in knots as observers rightly challenged the agency for details as to how exactly it …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

    Great film, and great performances from everyone involved. If you like Sci-Fi from the good old days, you'll love this.

    That said, I have trouble imagining that NASA is going to have trouble with asking for the budget. Okay, not really, I can imagine full well what is going to happen, but if it doesn't get the budget to do the things that will allow for putting people on the moon again, then it is Trump that is going to be blamed, no ?

    Not that that will bother Trump in any way ; he'll just spout some nonsense and ignore the problem as usual.

    On a final note : they're still using the same spacesuits from the 60s ? I would have thought the suits would be replaced more regularly. Seems that NASA really is operating on a shoestring budget. That does not bode well for anyone going into space. The spacesuit is the last thing that stands between your body and the utter void of space. I'd prefer mine developed on a solid budget and well tested, thank you.

    1. Vulch

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      40 years ago was the 80s, not the 60s! The current suits were designed alongside the Shuttle and although the design is that old, the actual items in use were manufactured more recently. There has been a need for new components for a while as the old ones wear out and are taken out of service, but not enough in the budget for everything needed.

    2. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      On a final note : they're still using the same spacesuits from the 60s ? I would have thought the suits would be replaced more regularly.

      Designed 40 years ago, its 2019 - 40 years ago was 1979 *welp*

      The NASA EMU suit was first used in 1981, designed for spacewalking outside the Shuttle. They have a 15-year lifespan, so they replace them more regularly, but it's the same basic design.

      The ISS also has Russian Orlan suits aboard (they've variously used the M, MK and MKS variants).

      There have been lots of concepts of different space suits, but without any missions beyond LEO or proper funding, few of them have gone anywhere.

      Obviously SpaceX have got their new intra-vehicular suit for Crew Dragon launch, but that's basically a pressure shell and plugs into a life-support system to guard against loss of capsule pressure. No good for spacewalks. They will have to sort a separate surface-suit for EVA on the Moon and/or Mars, but since nobody has actually needed to develop a new EVA suit for spacewalks, nobody has invested the time into it. Incremental upgrades to the EMU and Orlan suits have been "good enough".

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

        "Obviously SpaceX have got their new intra-vehicular suit for Crew Dragon launch"

        Boeing have their own design for their Starliner too. As with the SpaceX one, it's a flight suit, not an EVA suit, and unlike SpaceX, they've actually let other people touch it.

        No news yet if you have to pay extra to get the model with the O2 warning light...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

          "No news yet if you have to pay extra to get the model with the O2 warning light..."

          Ouch! :-)

    3. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      I'm pretty sure that the space suits were designed in the 60's, not manufactured in the 60's.

      So it's not quite as bad as all that. Still with the massive improvements in materials in the last 50+ years, it is pretty damning that they havent got something together which is altogether tougher, lighter and much more comfortable for the Astronauts to wear...

      And yes, if they dont get the extra budget it is Trump's fault. 1) He gave NASA the order to get to the Moon whilst the Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House - he should have sorted out the money then. 2) He always claims to be the great negotiator. If the Democrats dont want to roll over and give him more money for anything, then he should, you know, negotiate...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

        "He always claims to be the great negotiator."

        The evidence point towards his negotiating skills being dependant on having a big stick. If he has nothing to threaten with, then he walks away and claims a win anyway.

      2. button pusher

        Back to the future...

        The Smithsonian has about 280 old suits kept in cold store, unlike the Hg/Gemini silver suits (basically Dan Dare style rubber suits) the Apollo suit base layers were more akin to medieval armour with rubber seals at shoulders/elbows/knees.

        New suits may be more comfortable to wear but possibly not tougher...

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      I don't think there's that much wrong with spacesuit designs from the 60s. Any changes are likely to be limited to materials and mechanics. But I'm also not sure if the suits being used on the ISS are suitable for moon work.

      But the main point is: sending meatware to the moon has been shown to be expensive, dangerous and of little value (in itself) apart from PR.

      Anyway, Trump has probably already long forgotten about it so no need to worry until the next big sci-fi film comes out, or the Chinese send something.

    5. Gordon 10

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      It's not a shoestring budget - however the problem stems from the requirement to send huge barrels of pork to favoured legislators districts. NASA's actual mission is to benefit American Senators, jobs and industries. Sending things to Space is a distinctly secondary task.

      Plus it suffers from the usual bloat and political dysfunctions all 60+ year old organisations would suffer from.

      The COTS programs like SpaceX have been successes because it limits the ability for Congress-critters to interfere - not for any inbuilt efficiencies the private sector might have.

    6. Ochib

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      John Glenn told a news conference his last thought before blastoff was, “I sure wish this rocket hadn’t been built by the lowest bidder.”

    7. Tom Paine

      Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

      I really hate to break this to you but the suits being a 40 year old dsign dates them to the early 1980s -- not the 1960s...

      Mine's the one with three bob and a packet of Pacers in the pocket.

      1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

        Re: Kudos for mentioning Iron Sky

        Three bob? Not since '71 so definitely 15p when the space suits were designed.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NASA has plenty of budget

    About 20 billion dollars a year. But it cannot manage to develop a new rocket within a decade, despite effectively just reusing Shuttle hardware. The fact is they primarily seem to act as a jobs program these days, and they need to outsource most of what they do.

    1. Trollslayer
      Thumb Down

      Re: NASA has plenty of budget

      It's not swapping car engines.

      Particularly if the crew get turned into chicken nuggets when the craft explodes.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: NASA has plenty of budget

      NASA gets that budget on the condition that they throw about $2B/year down the SLS toilet. One of the reasons they could not build a a rocket in a decade was because they were required to keep their old contractors in business by ordering modified space shuttle parts. NASA gets to spend a little of their budget on science and exploration and have achieved wonders with it. Imagine what they could do if the US senate did not tell them how to spend their slice of tax payers' money.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Don't worry people, North American is now part of Boeing...

    ... and thereby the approval of new Moon rockets and capsules will be quickly done, adding some software to fifty years old designs to "improve handling characteristics" but saving on sensors and making them expensive options for NASA...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

    They can't dust off the Saturn-V plans for the heavy lift rocket ?

    Or (as I suspect) are we in the territory that it would cost more to actually track down the plans and find companies that could (re)build the components ?

    1. Ochib

      Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

      In addition to the (vast) amount of existing technical documentation on those designs, there's a (probably vaster) pool of knowledge that the individuals who actually built the things collected during the process. Nearly all of those people are dead or retired now.

      Most of the individual manufacturers, subcontractors, and sub-subcontractors involved have merged or collapsed, and their internal process documents may have been lost; their documentation may have been very carefully stored in a warehouse somewhere, but the guy who knows where has retired as well!

      Building Apollo and Saturn required particular manufacturing processes which are now obsolete. The tools needed to make the tools to make the rockets no longer exist.

      To rebuild Saturn/Apollo, we'd first have to rebuild a substantial slice of the US aerospace industry as it existed circa 1965, and all that just to be able to carry out the same kind of missions we lost interest in 40 years ago.

    2. Tom Paine

      Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

      Possibly of interest:

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

      One example would be that many parts of the Saturn V were hand built, in ways that nobody really practises any more, because we have better ways of doing it.

      For example, the guidance system uses core rope memory, and there's probably about five people in the world who could could wire one of those up, but then these days we'd use something solid state instead which is faster, cheaper, more robust and with more capacity in a smaller package. (ditto every other piece of electronics on the SV)

      For another example, much of the F1 engine is hand welded, and not many people have those welding skills any more, so instead you'd have to redesign it to use a more modern design that can be welded (better) by a machine. But if you're already redesigning that much of the engine, why not update other parts as well, until you end up with a completely different engine. By that point, you might as well design a new rocket that actually does what's required, rather than trying to fit your mission around what the Saturn V can/could do.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "hey can't dust off the Saturn-V plans for the heavy lift rocket ?"

      I'm quite sure most of it doesn't meet actual NASA requirements for safe manned missions....

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

      Not sure why the downvote, seemed a perfectly sensible question (and thanks to the posters that gave decent and informative replies).

      Ah, "sensible question" - in these straitened times we obviously can't have too many of those .....

      1. BigSLitleP

        Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

        I'd guess you got downvoted because of two things:

        1) That question has been answered many, many times on here and many more out in the real world

        2) Because your question carried a bit of pomposity and snobbishness in it's phrasing, and on the internet no one can hear you snark.

        Of course, it may have been an honest question but a lot of us are trained to meet honest questions with eyerolls due to our years of user interactions.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Before we look forwards, has it been explained why ...

      They've already thought about rebuilding an improved version. Sadly, it wasn't selected

  5. Tom Paine

    safety testing and space suits

    Very interesting read

  6. Caver_Dave Silver badge


    I remember Bill Stone talking about NASA visiting him to ask about the redundant systems used in his cave diving rebreather rigs. NASA told Bill that they didn't employ redundancy in their EVA suits.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: Redundancy

      Maybe it's a case of the odds of failure don't justify the increase in complexity.

      1. Francis Boyle

        Or because

        weirdly a flooded cave is a more hostile environment than the vacuum of space. In space you only have to worry about catastrophic failures, in the cave every failure can be catastrophic.

        1. Dagg Silver badge

          Re: Or because

          I always remember a diver describing cave diving as Russian Roulette with 5 chambers full.

    2. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Redundancy

      That actually makes some sense. Most NASA EVAs are in very close proximity to a ship with working life support, e.g. the redundancy is your buddy stuffs you back in the airlock. A diver in a cave could be hours from rescue, or even reaching a place where they can surface and get a breath of air. In some ways it's a far more hazardous environment, we just don't think of it as such because the hazards are less exotic.

      A similar situation arose with the lunar rover. If the rover broke down, astronauts could be stranded, since there was only one of them. So they never drove further than walking distance from the lander. They could still cover more ground in a single EVA that way, just within a limited radius.

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