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Space Science

Russian Ship Resupplies Space Station 24

Posted by michael
from the borscht-and-vodka dept.
nuke-alwin writes "The Kansas City Star is reporting that a Russian unmanned space ship has brought fresh supplies to the International Space Station. Since the grounding of the space shuttle fleet the ISS depends on the Russians to get supplies. The crew have also received satellite telephones for the first time."
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Russian Ship Resupplies Space Station

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:16PM (#6839883)
    I'm sure many will disagree, but the cost of the shuttle program is horrendous, and NASA's insistence on using it has led to some cataclysmically stupid decisions. One example: the ISS (which is an utter joke compared to Skylab or Mir) was placed into a rapidly-decaying orbit not because that was a good idea (it isn't) but because the shuttle could get there.

    Most of the satellites that are "launched" by the shuttle suffer from the design constraint that they have to fit into the friggin' bay AND have room for the accompanying boosters that will put them into their real orbit once the shuttle lets them out. Again, the shuttle can't go high enough for real deployment.

    The idea of capturing and reparing satellites is inherently absurd; most aren't where the shuttle can get 'em and the total cost of the program utterly dwarfs the expense that would have been incurred had they said of the Hubble "Well, we screwed it up...build another one and get it right this time."

    The safety record sucks. After Challenger Richard Feynman put the probability of a fatal accident at one in fifty. So far, NASA's on the money and the nature of the shuttle is such that if someone dies, everybody dies.

    Lest I be misunderstood, I understand the romantic and scientific appeal of manned space flight, of the visceral sense of satisfaction we can have as a species when we look up to the skies and say "We live there." I'm a strong proponent of that. I also recognize the complaints that the money spent on that is money not spent on (feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, inoculating the sick, fill in your pet cause). The manned space program is hellishly uneconomical and a great deal of that can be laid at the feet of the shuttle program.

    It's a white elephant without a mission, a bastard child of a spacecraft and an airplane which like most gadgets that try to do two fundamentally different things does neither well. Its payload capacity compared to heavy-lift rockets is a joke, it's barely capable of crawling out of the atmosphere, it's presented a tremendous constraint to the rest of the space program by forcing many missions to be less than they could have been in order to be shuttle-doable, and it bears repeating that every fifty flights it kills everyone on board.

    It's time to ground the shuttle fleet permanently. Space isn't going anywhere. Stop pouring the hundreds of millions of dollars into the shuttle program and pour them into a new design effort. Scrap the silly "space-plane" concept and develop a family of lifters and craft that _can_ be used for many things but don't back NASA into a corner that forces them to use it for all missions. Make crew safety an inherent feature (recognizing that there are tradeoffs and that getting out of the gravity well is a fundamentally dangerous activity). Stop throwing good money after bad on that ISS as well, and use the collective resources of the two programs to start over. It's not true that the second design is always better than the first (see again ISS and Mir/Skylab) but you're wise to play those odds.

    Let's do it over. And do it right.
    • by njchick (611256) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:05PM (#6840482) Journal
      What's the point in scrapping the ISS and building another one in a higher orbit? Wouldn't in be better to boost the ISS into a higher orbit once we have the capability to get people there.

      Actually, I remember reading that most space junk is located on the orbits just above the ISS, so boosting it could increase the risk of debris penetration.

      It's also worth noting that the heavy lift rockets are not man-rated. Titan is quite unreliable, and the heavy versions of Atlas and Boeing are yet to fly. They will consist of 3 booster cores. If one of the 3 fails, the mission fails. The spacecraft would need to be able to separate and land safely if it happens.

      It's a major limitation - either the spacecraft has wings or it cannot carry heavy payloads, so that parachutes or rockets could slow it down for an emergency landing.

      • Titan is retired, they aren't going to launch any more Titan IV's.

        We should be making a new capsule based system. It can be a reusable capsule, and it would be a lot cheaper than the shuttle. Our current Atlas and Delta rockets could launch it easily. Atlas used to be a man-rated booster, and it could be again. The Deltas are descended from the Thor ICBM, and haven't been man-rated in the past, but with their impressive record no doubt could be.

        We should not be carrying payloads with the astronauts. They
    • by reporter (666905) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:21PM (#6840903) Homepage
      The aim of the space shuttle was to provide a re-usable space-entry vehicle. One of its uses is to repair satellites. For that particular mission, the space shuttle has been a tremendous success. Please read "Hubble Space Telescope put into hibernation after critical system failure [cnn.com]". It describes the latest mission to repair the Hubble Telescope. Indeed, when the Hubble Telescope was first launched, it had a defective lens. If the space shuttle had not sent a crew into low-earth orbit to repair the lens, we would still be seeing blurry images from the outer regions of space.

      The problem is not the shuttle per se. The problem is quality engineering at NASA. Note that the Hubble Telescope and several later NASA projects have been plagued with quality-control problems. Please read about a horrendous engineering mistake in "Metric mishap caused loss of NASA orbiter [cnn.com]".

      The only way to fix the quality problem is to (1) increase funding to NASA projects so that American engineers are not overworked and (2) increase competition for NASA. One way to increase funding for NASA is to rescind the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and to shut down the American Institute in Taiwan [yannone.org], saving about $17,000,000. This money can then be earmarked for NASA. In short, there is simply much wasted money in Washington. If we can recover the wasted money, then we can set it aside for NASA.

      As for increasing competition, we could encourage Japan to spend heavily on its own space shuttle. Over the last 10 years, the Japanese government has wasted billions of dollars on useless public works projects that do little prop up the economy. A far better use for that money is researching and building re-usable space-entry vehicles. The resulting competition with NASA would significantly improve the quality of engineering at NASA. (Note that the last 15 years of competition with Toyota has signficantly improved the quality of automobiles produced by General Motors.)

      ... from the desk of the reporter [geocities.com]

    • by apsmith (17989) * on Sunday August 31, 2003 @10:50PM (#6842150) Homepage
      All your points are well taken - though I think it would be cheap enough to keep ISS in orbit while we figure out what we really want to do with it; I wouldn't junk that just yet.

      But who is the "us" in your final "Let's do it over"? The biggest obstacle to an economic boom in space right now (tourism, solar power satellites, bigger comm sats, etc.) is the cost of reliable launch (and return for human travel). The overriding goal of our space efforts should be to enable those costs to be reduced, however possible. Reducing the cost of routine access to orbit was a primary original goal for the shuttle (reusable after all) - but NASA has, basically, failed. Billions of dollars have been spent since then by NASA and the DoD on other attempts to reduce space access costs, without much to show for it.

      Meanwhile there are dozens of private entrepreneurs with space companies dying to compete with new ideas and new technologies, but they don't fit into the NASA/DoD government-controlled requirement/specification process, and have horrible troubling coming up with deep pockets to finance their ideas. The X prize [xprize.com] is making some difference there, but it's clearly not enough to overcome the hurdles these companies face.

      We could save a lot of money by continuing to use the Russians and other non-US launch vendors, but NASA is generally forbidding (by Congress) from doing so. And the ITAR regulations act as yet more protectionist trade barriers for the US space industry, reducing international competition in the area and keeping the monopolistic costs high.

      Here's what I believe the US government should do:
      • Clarify NASA's mission - if it is to be pure R&D, then
        get NASA out of the routine space launch market. Scrap or
        sell off the remaining shuttles, and contract for routine launch services
        from private companies as a regular customer, not in "cost plus"
        defense-contractor mode.
      • Lift the protectionist restrictions that prevent NASA from using
        foreign launch services that are far more cost effective.
      • Fix the onerous "ITAR" regulations that hobble US companies trying
        to manufacture space components and sell them overseas, and equally hobble
        US companies trying to use cost-effective overseas launch services.
      • Have the commerce department, energy department, NSF, and other government
        agencies work with NASA to focus R&D on things that can become
        important economic engines in the coming space age: space tourism,
        space solar power, space industrialization.
  • CDs? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jabberjaw (683624)
    Is it possible the Russian space agency is afraid of the DCMA,RIAA etc.. Seriously, wouldn't an iPod/Zen/whatever be more efficient than bringing CDs?
  • KC Star? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stubtify (610318) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:38PM (#6840001)
    Anyone find it weird that of all the possible periodicals which covered this story Slashdot picked the Kansas City Star? I mean, seriously, was the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle booked?
  • As most of /. is aware, the ISS and shuttle is a stupid program from all scientific and commercial standpoints. However the main purpose is politics, and there it is a success. The main purpose of keeping both programs in the US is to keep smart Russian scientist and rocket support personel from getting jobs in some other country (think IRAN, IRAQ) developing their long range misstle (nuke and conventional) delivery programs.

    Thus that the Russians can and do supply the ISS is a good use of their abilitie

  • by annisette (682090) <fdnewell@hotmail.com> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:48PM (#6840726)
    Some good old days stuff: Apollo 17 on it's way to the moon, the American SST program (like the Comcord it would of not been profitable but good food for smart minds) AND such things as Texas Inst. making billions off of the simple hand held calculator (a byproduct of the space program). The space program at the time was paying off 25 to 1 for every dollar invested, by marketing the results of their research. Then lets see the moon program was too expensive, the SST was wayyy too cool, so the end to it all. Within a year 270,000 very smart, veryyy smart people lost their jobs (thank the war gods for absorbing them all over time). Now thirty years later it cost 500,000,000 USD's just to get a man(s)/woman(s) into orbit. I am starting to trail on the point I wanted to make, something about the military so I will end by saying we could be making ice cream on the moon by now, selling it and making a profit. With room and money for our smart folks, their ideas, to groove with our future. Yes, I choose icecream because it goes great with schmokking.
  • by polymath69 (94161) <(dr.slashdot) (at) (mailnull.com)> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @08:47PM (#6841594) Homepage
    The crew have also received satellite telephones for the first time.

    Of course, on the ISS, they're simply called "telephones."

    • Apparently they'll have the phones for landing. The last crew landed in the wrong place and it took a while to find them. With that kind of precision is it really a good idea to be sending people into space at all?
    • Well - at least reception should be good from up there.

      "Hey, Hank - see what the signals like now... I can see the satellite coming round."

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