SLS dress rehearsal begins, with press coverage limited by NASA

NASA today began the two-day-long “wet dress rehearsal” countdown of its first SLS rocket, with T-0 expected to occur at 2:40 pm (Eastern) on April 3rd.

The article at the link provides all the information you could want about this rocket, which is now about seven years behind schedule and having a cost so far about $25 billion. This quote however tells us much about the mentality at NASA:

But much of the test will happen without independent press coverage. NASA plans to provide sanctioned updates on the two-day dress rehearsal via the agency’s website and social media accounts, but news media representatives are not being permitted to listen to the countdown activities.

NASA has cited security and export control restrictions for the move. Numerous media representatives requested access to the SLS countdown audio for the wet dress rehearsal. Launch countdown audio feeds for other U.S. rockets, including those developed by private companies and hauling sensitive U.S. military satellites into orbit, are widely available to the news media and the public.

…NASA plans to release only text updates through the weekend. NASA TV will not be airing any live commentary for the final hours of the practice countdown. The agency’s television channel has previously provided live coverage of similar events, such as space shuttle tanking tests. [emphasis mine]

NASA reasons for not allowing anyone to listen to its audio feed — “security and export control restrictions” — is an utter lie. The real reason is that NASA fears the public’s reaction should anything not go exactly as planned. By blocking access to the audio feed, they can hide any faux pas.

NASA’s fear of course is misplaced. This is a test. No one will be surprised or outraged if it doesn’t go perfectly. Better to be open and up front than try to hide problems, because eventually those problems will be revealed and the cover-up will do far more harm to NASA’s reputation than the problems themselves.

The many new private rocket companies, SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Astra, Virgin Orbit, understand this, which is why they all make their primary countdown audio feeds available, though of course they almost certainly have secondary private feeds where engineers can speak more freely. Similarly, NASA did the same in the 1960s, and then during the entire shuttle program.

Now however “export control restrictions” and “security” requires them to be secretive? It is to laugh.