I saw the launch of Ares I-X earlier today. It was both beautiful as well as vindicating to see a rocket that so many critics said would not fly blast-off and have a nominal flight right on the money.
One might think as a former NASA Administrator that I would have been granted a better viewing spot than right here in Huntsville staring at the screen of my brand new MacBook Pro 15". The plan had been for me to attend the launch. But Charlie Bolden, the current Administrator, called me last week to tell me that Deputy Administrator Garver became upset when she heard that I would be attending the test flight. She is apparently still very bitter about our talk last December.
My wife keeps telling me that I need to work on my people skills. But when someone whose chief accomplishment is as a space "policy" person starts to talk about launchers with me, I just...groan. How can you form space policy with regard to launchers when you can't even define "region of plasticity" for metal, what F is equal to, or what is specific impulse?
Anyway, when Lori told me last year that she thought that it was time to scrap the Ares I as our launcher to return people safely to low-earth orbit and instead use either the Delta IV or SpaceX's Falcon 9, which incidentally is two years behind schedule, I told her she was not in a position to know what rocket NASA should use any more than I was in a position to tell her how to manage a non-profit. She got upset and told me that I should stop yelling at her. I have never raised my voice. That is for stupid people, and I'm smart. Very smart. Especially compared to her.
Anyway, Charlie told me that my VIP pass had been cancelled but that he was forcing Lori to attend the test launch. We both laughed. Charlie is a great guy and is working hard to...well, manage is the best way to put it, his D.A.
The Ares I-X flew true, the test was a success, and the early word is that the predicted vibrations that were supposed to shake the rocket apart never got more violent than a rumble. People should understand one very simple lesson from the successful test flight of Ares I-X, which is that NASA knows space and is very good at it. For me personally, there is a great deal of satisfaction in the realization that Lori Garver and all of the other Ares I critics had to sit there as the Ares I-X put one more nail in the coffin of their misguided perceptions of the ills of the Ares I launcher.
We are getting to the point where it is apparent that we need to quit wallowing in the nonsense of canceling Ares I. Instead, we need to put the money that was promised into the program, and let the NASA engineers get back to work getting America back into space.