Progress on Reusable Vehicles

The interview with William Parsons was interesting [“Managing Through Tough Times,” Profile, June 2, page 22], but I have never seen any publication ask NASA one obvious question: What progress toward fully reusable launch vehicles has NASA made in the last 30 years?

Ten years ago, G. Harry Stine made the point in his book “Halfway to Anywhere” that fully reusable vehicles are essential for enabling commercially successful space operations beyond imaging and communications satellite constellations. NASA has fumbled the DC- X, canceled the National Aerospace Plane and the X- 33, and all of the technologies that were developed during these programs sit on the shelf.

NASA is supposed to be developing technologies for use by the commercial aerospace sector, which it does very well for the aviation industry. Instead, it has fallen into a no-risk flags-and-footprints pit. The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is nothing more than a redo of Apollo – a political publicity shot that will set up no infrastructure for permanent manned and commercial operations in space, and I see no plans for remedying this in the future.

W. Paul Blase