...scheduled for completion in July 2010. The Ares rocket’s evolving design presents the greatest challenge to this project, says John Fisher, Hensel Phelps project manager. “Changes to that vehicle are changes to the mobile launcher,” he notes.

Barely Begun

Constellation’s real work has barely begun. Still to come are completion of modifications now in progress at the Launch Control Center, High Bay 3 modifications in the Vehicle Assembly Building, demolition of the fixed and rotating service structures and modifications at Pad 39B, construction of an innovative emergency egress system at 39B and demolition and reconstruction of Pad 39A. The big construction years will be 2010-2011; 2012-2013 will be for test and validation, says Ruth Caserta Gardner, manager of the Constellation ground-systems project office. Still other work will be continuous until late in the next decade.

Gainesville, Fla.-based Jones, Edmunds & Associates is designing the removal of Pad 39B’s service structures, says NASA’s Jose Perez Morales. The demolition may begin about February or March 2010 and take about a year, he estimates. The pad will then get two new elevators, fiber to replace old cables and other modifications, he says.

The new 39B emergency egress system is being designed by RS&H, with Ride Centerline LLC, Washington, D.C., a designer of amusement-park rides. Design is nearly complete but is on hold to reevaluate some of its aspects, says Darold Cole, RS&H senior vice president. The system, which Perez Morales estimates at $20 million to $30 million, will replace a slide-wire basket with a tracked cart similar to a roller-coaster to carry astronauts rapidly to safety if necessary in the last minutes before launch.

Changes in Delivery

Pad 39B must be modified to launch Ares I, a slender rocket to lift the capsule, which holds up to six astronauts. The first crewed launch is scheduled for 2015. But modifications for Pad 39A will be five to 10 times bigger than for B, says NASA’s Gardner. Pad 39A will launch the hulking Ares V, lofting the heavy cargoes of equipment required to construct a permanent moon base. Design for that is scheduled for 2011 and construction in 2013, she says.

Jose Perez Morales

“We will demolish [Pad A] to concrete and bring it back as a whole new pad.”

— Jose Perez Morales,
NASA Pad Project Manager

“We will demolish [Pad A] to concrete and bring it back almost as a whole new pad,” says Perez Morales. He is more cautious than Gardner in predicting the schedule, possibly because of the impending program review. He isn’t certain when demolition will begin for Pad B, possibly in 2011-2012, he says. After that it will take six to seven years to put the pad into operation.

As the launch site, Kennedy hosts the program’s largest construction program, but 11 other sites around the country are supporting it. The biggest single brand-new facility so far is a $200-million-plus test stand for testing a new Ares I rocket engine at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, about 55 miles northeast of New Orleans. The 303-ft-tall test stand, designed in-house with support from Jacobs Technology, will allow testing of the new engine under varying altitudinal and atmospheric conditions.

Construction started in August 2007, and the 235-ft structural-steel tower was topped out on April 9. The project is roughly 40% complete, and 80% of the work by contract volume has been obligated, says NASA’s Stennis project manager Lonnie Dutreix.

NASA’s 3-million-sq-ft manufacturing facility in Michoud Parish, La., will be the program’s third-largest facility expansion. The Mission Assembly Facility was used for assembling Apollo components and later for the space shuttle. Ares I’s upper stages will be assembled there in a vertical configuration, then shipped to Kennedy for final assembly. The height of the plant’s assembly area will be extended to 160 ft for Ares. The project is in the design stages.

But the entire program is now being reviewed by Norman Augustine, a former chairman of Lockheed Martin and 30-year veteran of NASA programs who was named by Obama to lead a Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee. Its mandate is to “conduct an independent review of ongoing U.S. human space-flight plans and programs, as well as alternatives, to ensure the nation is pursuing the best trajectory for the future of human space flight—one that is safe, innovative, affordable and sustainable.”

NASA’s history of poor fiscal and contract management is likely to come under the committee’s review. A recent report from the NASA Inspector General says, “Since FY 2003, NASA has not been able to produce auditable financial statements or provide sufficient evidence to support statements throughout the fiscal year. These deficiencies have resulted in the independent external auditor disclaiming an opinion on NASA’s financial statements for the last six fiscal years.”

The uncertainty swirling around NASA is in contrast to the agency’s early days, when Americans held their breath as the first Mercury astronauts were lifted into space. Today, the concern is less for the fate of a single man than for the future of the agency.