Sunday, February 2, 2014

IIWK: Piecemeal Space Program

"But there was another way to get to the moon. You've heard of 'fast, cheap, and dirty?' Call this the von Braun plan, fast, very expensive, and very dirty. ...The Apollo program was possibly the stupidest way of getting somewhere..."
 - Travis Broussard, from Red Thunder, by John Varley

I am of the mind that space is a worthy goal to spend government and private funding on, but the way the US government has set about doing that, NASA in particular, is all wrong.

Many critics have been all too eager to point it out, but too many of those critics have no viable alternative. I think I do, and it's inspired by nothing more than a computer game.

Kerbal Space Program (KSP for short) takes building a complicated ship like a rocket and turns it into a process that is about as easy as snapping together K'nex (which is a much more creative process than snapping together Legos).

While rockets and spaceships are composed of thousands upon millions of often individually manufactured pieces, what Kerbal does is take meta-pieces (a single type of gas tank, a single type of booster, et cetera) and assumes that they work flawlessly. If you crash the ship, sure, it will probably explode, but the meta-pieces all work dependably.

If only we could do that in real life...

This is my proposal:

Start a design and testing program. Design and build every meta-piece separately. Make them dependable. Make them idiot-resistant (I recognize that idiot-proof is an impossibility). Test them to hell and back. Then, and only then, build your ship out of those meta-pieces.

Logically, (though logic admittedly doesn't always seem to work) that should significantly reduce the risk and danger of going into space. I would think the statistics would reflect this point of view, but honestly, I haven't done the math.