Review: Space transportation systems, present and future
by Jeff Foust
|McElyea warns in Project Constellation that “Describing an evolving program is much like describing a lava lamp or clouds in the summer sky.”|
Project Constellation takes its name from the underused designation for the Orion spacecraft and Ares launch vehicles that will replace the Shuttle and—if all goes well from a technical and budgetary standpoint—send humans back to the Moon. This book provides an overview of the Orion and Ares programs, going into some technical detail about key components, such as the engines that will be used. About half the book is text and diagrams covering the development of these systems, with the second half reserved for color photos and illustrations of these vehicles. Given that the overall Constellation program is a moving target, with shifting details and deadlines—as seen as recently as last week, when NASA administrator Michael Griffin told Congress that the first manned Orion flight was now scheduled for March 2015, considerably later than previously planned—Tim McElyea has done a good job keeping on top of these changes, within the limitations of the book publication cycle. He includes, for example, a reference to an internal NASA study of an “Ares 4” launch vehicle that could be used in place of both the Ares 1 and Ares 5 for lunar missions, a study that only became public earlier this year.
McElyea is aware of the dynamic nature of the Constellation program, and includes an author’s note at the beginning of book where he states, “Describing an evolving program is much like describing a lava lamp or clouds in the summer sky. One can describe it in generalities and be reasonably accurate but the closer one gets to describing the details the greater the potential becomes for inaccuracies over time.” That is certainly the case for Constellation, which could face even bigger changes in two years’ time, after a new president takes office and decides to put his or her stamp on the space agency. In any event, Project Constellation provides a brief but illuminating snapshot of the current state of the program, just as Space Shuttle Fact Archive gives a summary of the essential facts about the system to be replaced by Constellation.