Billed As Better, Safer, Cheaper Alternative To Ares... But
NASA Won't Comment
NASA won't talk about it, and is doing their best to keep others
from doing so as well... but a proposed launch vehicle originally
devised after the Challenger disaster has recently attracted more
ears to listen to its possible benefits.
Called Direct 2.0, or the Jupiter 120, the program actually
began life as NASA's own work back in 1986 as a concept to restart
the space program after the loss of Challenger. Conceived by
Marshall Space Flight Center, Direct had the capability of
launching unmanned cargo, and even potentially a restarting an
Apollo spacecraft program. Though the plan was officially shelved,
rocket enthusiasts and engineers, including several working for
NASA, have picked up the project in their spare time.
The Orlando Sentinel reported last week advocates argue its far
better than anything NASA currently has in the works, and could get
the US space program back on the moon faster and cheaper while
saving thousands of jobs in Florida. Supporters point to the
simplicity of Direct's design as a way to reduce the projected
five-year gap in US manned spaceflight once the shuttle's 2010
Despite the attention Direct is
garnering, NASA supports Ares as the backbone launch system
currently under development for the Orion crew exploration vehicle
and the Constellation program aimed at a US return to the surface
of the moon.
As ANN reported, NASA is aiming at a April
2009 flight test of the Ares I first stage rocket, derived from the
current shuttle's solid-rocket boosters, in anticipation of a 2014
manned flight first launch.
Direct supporters believe their system could fly as early as
2013 for less than the projected cost of Ares. The concept, based
on the current shuttle external fuel tank, allows engines to be
attached to the bottom of the unit thus satisfying the
congressional requirement to use as much of current shuttle program
equipment as possible.
The Sentinel cites an unfinished internal NASA study -- shut
down and disowned by the agency last fall -- showing Direct 2.0
would outperform Ares. The initial results showed Direct 2.0 was
superior in cost, overall performance and work-force retention.
Supporter Stephen Metschan, CEO of TeamVision Corp., a
software-design company promoting the concept, excited Brevard
County space advocates with Direct 2.0 at a presentation in
Washington last month aimed at finding ways to mitigate job losses
at Kennedy Space Center after the shuttle retirement.
Metschan stated his company's software -- frequently used by
NASA to evaluate rocket systems -- showed Direct had superiority
over Ares and that data is being used to refine the design. He
noted people were willing to lend their expertise to the project
for free because they believe in it and because they see it as a
way to continue utilizing shuttle hardware and the KSC work
"It certainly makes sense," said Edward Ellegood, a space-policy
analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "If it can deliver
what it claims, I think it's worth a closer look."
Those supporters won't hear anything about Direct when US Sen.
Bill Nelson, D-FL, holds a hearing Monday in Cape Canaveral to
discuss future jobs and spaceflight prospects at KSC. Ares critics
say that's because NASA hates the Direct, largely because the
agency and its administrator, Mike Griffin, are totally committed
to the Ares rocket despite a host of design troubles.
NASA is hard at work to stifle talk about Ares alternatives by
warning Congress that any move to abandon Ares risks grounding the
US space program for decades. "At some point, the studying has to
stop, and the work has to commence," Griffin has said.
With a new presidential administration taking office next year,
NASA programs certainly will face new scrutiny, and the
before-mentioned unfinished NASA study indicates the Ares program
may be vulnerable.
NASA denies the existence of such a study. But e-mails obtained
by the Orlando Sentinel and interviews with NASA employees and
contractors indicate last fall a study was initiated to compare
Ares and alternatives in case a backup plan was needed.
An engineer for a NASA contractor who is working on the
Constellation program at KSC -- and on the Direct design, on his
own time at night -- said anonymously to the Sentinel, "A lot of us
turned to this [Direct] because we realized Ares is not going to
fly. . . . Based on the ground rules placed upon NASA by Congress
-- that as much of the shuttle system as possible needed to be used
-- Direct is the best solution." He added he feared for his job if
his name was used.
The Senate panel Monday in Port Canaveral will not be addressed
by Direct supporters. A spokesman for Nelson's office said he
wasn't sure whether the subject would come up during the
But Metschan is confident his supporters will attend a rally
before the hearing. Organizers are hoping to attract 6,400 people,
to dramatize the number of laid off workers at KSC if Ares moves
forward. Direct supporters will hand out pamphlets seeking more
converts and the public scrutiny he thinks the project
"All we want is a chance to prove that Direct is what we say it
is," he said.