This is the latest plan NASA is considering to get us to infinity and beyond.
It would break the shuttle into pieces. It would take the engines off the orbiter, put them on the bottom of the fuel tank, and throw the rest of the orbiter away.
Then it would put the astronauts in a capsule on top of the fuel tank.
It's sort of like putting Mr. Potato Head's nose where his hat used to be, and switching his arms and ears around.
Why didn't someone think of this before?
Wait a minute. Someone did!
Some space buffs and engineers came up with the idea in 2006, without the requisite $5 billion in research-and-development funding from Congress. They worked under the program name Direct and dubbed their creation Jupiter.
Direct gained a cult following, particularly when it became apparent that NASA's Ares rocket had about as much chance of getting off the ground as Rosie O'Donnell wearing a helicopter beanie cap.
But that was something NASA Administrator Michael Griffin — the brain and the brawn behind Ares — would never admit.
Ares was his vision, his place in history. Many tried, but he would be the one to rescue NASA from years of floundering, the one to finally send people to Mars and beyond. Standing straight and tall on the launchpad, Ares was a 21st-century Washington Monument.
Jupiter was a 20th-century Mr. Potato Head, with his nose where his hat should be.
Oh, the horror.
Gone would be the billions of research-and-development dollars flowing into NASA, money spent on minor details such as figuring out how to stop Ares from shaking astronauts to death at liftoff.
So Griffin unleashed the NASA public-relations machine against Jupiter. It defied the laws of physics. It was a dodo bird that would never fly.
Meanwhile, a growing group of dissident engineers within NASA were reaching the same conclusion about Ares. To them, this Jupiter idea wasn't so crazy.
But Griffin kept pumping billions into Ares with the full blessing of the Bush administration. Like Brownie over at FEMA, Griffin was doing a heck of a job.
President Barack Obama didn't agree. He showed Griffin the escape hatch and went looking for a replacement.
Several good candidates surfaced, including Steve Isakowitz, the chief financial officer at the Department of Energy. His strength was NASA's weakness: fiscal management.
Enter Sen. Bill Nelson, dubbed "Ballast" by some astronauts before his 1986 shuttle flight.
Ballast Bill wanted no part of fiscal management at NASA. So he blocked Isakowitz and any other nominee who might deliver it.
Nelson finally signed off on Charles Bolden, a former astronaut who delighted Fox News by saying that his foremost job at NASA was to reach out to "Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering."
As opposed to going to the moon, for example.
The White House did some quick backstroking. And ever since, Bolden has failed to impress.
He is Ballast Bolden.
Obama wants to dump Ares and turn much of the space program over to the competitive world of private enterprise.
He sees the future in companies such as SpaceX, a start-up venture in California that is developing rockets at a fraction the previous cost.
Nelson and the anti-government Republicans in Texas and Alabama want no part of this.
They want big-government inefficiency and all the wasted billions that brings their states. They are joined by the aerospace giants, which see their guaranteed profits and $100,000 shuttle tool belts threatened.
So here we sit. Ares won't fly. Congress won't give it up. Obama won't fund it. NASA is devoid of a strong leader to break the logjam.
And this takes us back to Direct's Jupiter.
The rocket that NASA once said was not physically capable of flight has now become a NASA option.
"It turns out Direct was right," a NASA engineer working on the project told the Orlando Sentinel this week.
Now they tell us? This means that NASA either is completely incompetent, has been lying for four years or is praying its last Hail Mary.
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times