Just you're all aware, I'm going to go off on a rant here in a second, but I want to offer this caveat first: Research is great, science is great,
and pushing the limits of engineering is great. I'm a fan of science, I like to read and learn about science, and I have a great deal of trust that
science will, ultimately, help to make the world a better place.
However, more research, more science, more engineering, and more development are NOT always the answer for everything. Research and development has
an appropriate place, and that is on experimental technology-demonstrators like the X-planes, such as the
, a scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet). We don't know much about scramjets, so NASA
built a 12 foot long working model, attached it to a pegasus rocket (which acted as a booster stage), and flew it, and crashed it (per mission plans),
and learned from it. The next one will be better. That's research. Total cost: about $230 million.
A great example of how NOT to do research would be the X-33
program. NASA spent over $900 Million, and
Lockheed-Martin another $357 million, trying to build a working, aerospike-powered, single-stage-to-orbit craft. Then they decided it was impossible
with current (2001) technology, and would probably be impractical for the foreseeable future. So they cancelled it, after more than $1 billion spent
and years of promising the public a safe, cheap, reusable launch vehicle.
Turning the Ares V into an excuse to to "some much needed R&D" (as SteveR put it) has only one likely conclusion: an expensive, drawn-out,
ultimately fruitless program that turns the general public off to space travel even more than they already are. No return to the moon, no landing on
Mars, no Big Freakin' Rocket to launch space station components, next-generation probes - perhaps an unmanned interstellar mission? - etc.
As cmdrkeenkid said, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Simple is (relatively) cheap, it is reliable, and it can be improved as more advanced technology
(technology that may have been researched on an X-craft type platform when our "simple" craft was first built) becomes available. That's why the
Russians kept a space program flying through a revolution, an evolution, civil unrest, and an economic collapse: the
rocket they fly to the ISS (and flew to Mir, Salyut, etc.) was first flown in 1966,
and they've made modifications to this original design as new technology became practical. That's why they can offer $20 million orbital flights,
with a space stations stopover included.
Turning Ares V into a "research and development" project gets us nowhere. Research needs to be done on new launch technology, I agree. But let's
keep research in its place.