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Lessons Of History -- 'That B.W.M.'

“So, What Do You Think Of That B.W.M. Over There?”

By Wes Oleszewski, Aero-News Network Spaceflight Analyst 

Back in 2010 I was at the Kennedy Space Center’s press site covering the STS-135 launch for the Aero-News Network.

Of course, while doing that you spend a lot of time simply waiting for things to happen. In that process I was chatting with a well-known space reporter who had been covering such events for many years. Our conversation touched on the Obama administration’s recent defunding of NASA’s Constellation program. The reporter thumbed toward the recently constructed mobile launcher that had been intended for the also de-funded Ares-I vehicle and asked me,

“So, what do you think of that B.W.M. over there?”

“B.W.M.?” I frowned in reply.

“Yeah,” he smirked, “Big Waste of Money.”

Considering that the Obama administration had, literally with the stroke of a pen, recently wasted more than 11 billion dollars in spaceflight investment that had actually passed through Congress by a margin of about 400 to 8 votes, that restatement seemed quite out of place.

“It’ll only be a waste when they take a torch to it,” was my reply.

As history will show, the only thing that was actually wasted was time as well as the dedication and work of countless folks who had been working on Constellation. In the end the United States Congress acted with far more sense than the rabid de-developmentalists in the Obama administration. Led by Florida Congressman Bill Nelson, the determination was made that the nation did need a heavy-lift booster that could loft loads far greater than anything on the private sector’s drawing boards at that time.

Thus, the Space Launch System, or SLS was born.

Although we still occasionally see the term “Senate Launch System” used by armchair critics, which is intended to imply that the vehicle was somehow fully designed by politicians in conference room on Capital Hill, the phrase is little more than a social media slur. In fact, the SLS is a redeveloped version of the Ares V from the Constellation Program. Of course, it had to be released to the public as something different in order to allow the Obama administration to feel as if their cancellation of the launch vehicle remained.

Yet the basic configuration of the SLS is the Ares V crew variant.

Sorry, Ares phobics, (and I’m 100% sure I’ll be attacked just for using the word “Ares” here) but the truth is that as soon as the SLS was green-lighted, the development of the shuttle-derived heavy launch vehicle picked up where the Ares V cancellation had left it.

The vehicle was groomed into what we saw rolled out at KSC last week.

Yes, there are many very key differences, such as the upper stage and a switch from 5 main engines to just 4, yet the SLS runs along the same lines as those that would have brought the Ares V into operational status.

A similar political tap dance took place on the spacecraft itself. Originally cancelled in the Obama administration’s budget, the Orion was simply renamed as the “MPCV” which was an acronym for the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in order to save the president’s administration from their rightful humiliation. That moniker, however, soon went the way of the extra four digits on U.S. zip codes. Everyone just refused to use it and in 2014 the Orion arose from the Obama myopia and successfully flew in space sporting it’s proper name from the Constellation program.

So it was that on the evening of March 18, 2022, the first flight-ready SLS rolled triumphantly our of the VAB and was transported to Launch Complex 39B. It did so upon a mobile launch platform with the launch support tower that was once built for the Ares I but has now been fully adapted to support the largest and most powerful launch vehicle in the world.

That mobile launcher is the exact same one that was so smugly coined as “that B.W.M.” a dozen years ago.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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