His eyes were at least as blue as any I had ever seen before, buried in a gentle and intelligent face. His movements were gentle and supple, too, the carefully measured movements of a supremely confident individual. When the line of engineers and managers stretching out in front of me finally melted away, those blue […]
His eyes were at least as blue as any I had ever seen before, buried in a gentle and intelligent face. His movements were gentle and supple, too, the carefully measured movements of a supremely confident individual. When the line of engineers and managers stretching out in front of me finally melted away, those blue eyes never left my face until I, too, moved on. His name was Neal Armstrong. Two weeks earlier, he and Edwin Aldrin — two lighthearted gazelles — were frolicking across the lunar landscape while Michael Collins quietly orbited the moon in the Apollo Capsule circling overhead. Up there on our roomy stage at Rockwell International, Armstrong had told us that, when he and his two companions were in their Apollo capsule 350 feet above Cape Canaveral awaiting liftoff, it suddenly dawned on them that “our 6 million-pound Saturn V moon rocket was 90-percent high explosives divided between three enormously powerful stages each of which was awarded to the lowest bidder!” He and his compatriots were the heroes. But, he showered compliments on us, nevertheless. “The S-II stage, designed and built here in Seal Beach, California, provided us with the smoothest ride of all,” he told us. “I’m not sure why it turned out to be so smooth. But I am quite sure nearly every expert in this room could explain it to me in five minutes or so.” Rockets, old and new, have exploded — and failed in various other ways! — on a fairly regular basis. America’s modern multistage chemical rockets carrying unmanned satellites into orbit, have a 94-percent success rate. They fail on one flight in 16. Those with astronauts on board are, on average, four times more reliable: over the years, they have failed on about one mission in 64. Booster rockets are extremely delicate machines. Consequently, the September 1, 2016, ground-test failure of the Falcon 9 built by SpaceX, was not at all surprising. According to the Los Angeles Times, their (unmanned) flights headed for Earth orbit have experienced a success rate of 93-percent. In other words, the SpaceX boosters have failed, on average, on one flight in 14, a tad more frequently than the long-term average for American boosters headed toward space. New booster rockets fail more often during their initial break-in period when their designers are trying to find and eliminate any flaws in their design. In the early days of the space program, the first seven Vanguard rockets, for example, failed to reach their desired orbits. Will the failure of the $72 million Falcon 9 with a $200 million Facebook Communication Satellite on top cause SpaceX to stop launching satellites into orbit? Not likely. The destruction of the Hindenburg Dirigible did cause a thriving industry to collapse. But there are hardly any other examples of disasters that have caused the captains of Industry to bail out of a successful business. Most satellites and their boosters are adequately insured. And their insurance payouts almost always arrived promptly without serious hassle. Will large numbers of customers abandon SpaceX as a result of this expensive ground-test explosion? Not likely. Measured in terms of dollars-per-pound delivered into orbit, a launch on the Falcon 9 costs only about half as much as a launch on any other competitive booster produced and marketed in the United States. This article was written by Tom Logsdon who teaches frequent short courses for The Applied Technology Institute Headquartered in Riva, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Annapolis, just North of Washington, D.C. Upcoming courses to be taught by Mr. Logsdon include: * “The GPS and Its International Competitors.” Colorado Springs, Colorado. December 5-8, 2016 * “Launch Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics.” Albuquerque, New Mexico, January 23-26, 2017. *The GPS and Its International Competitors” Columbia, Maryland. February 20-23, 2017. *Launch Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics.” Columbia, Maryland. February 28- March 3, 2017. * “Team-Based Problem Solving” Columbia, Maryland. March 21-22, 2017. * ”The GPS and Its International Competitors.” Columbia, Maryland. April 17-20, 2017. _________________ BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. “Rocket Explosion is Another Crisis for Elon Musk.” Russ Mitchell. Los Angeles Times. September 2, 2016. Pg. C2. 2. “Launch Delays Likely after Blast.” Samantha Masunga. Los Angeles Times. September 2, 2016. Pg. C1. 3. “Rocket Launch is a Blow to SpaceX, Facebook.” Samantha Masunga and Jim Puzzanghara. Los Angeles Times. September 2, 2016. Pg. 1.