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Space United States Science

The Return of Apollo? 653

Posted by michael
from the flyboy dept.
hpulley writes "Bell bottoms are back, the Stones are still touring and Time has a piece on how NASA's _new_ space vehicle may actually be the return of a very old friend, a highly modified and modernized version of the Apollo Space Capsule. Manned spacecraft might actually leave low earth orbit again! Initially they'd fly with Delta and Atlas but more powerful boosters could be developed. We could go to the Moon again, and perhaps to Mars but I'm getting ahead of myself. Does that mean the last 30 years of space flight have been for naught? Expensive steps backward?"
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The Return of Apollo?

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  • Yay! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PD (9577) * <slashdotlinux@pdrap.org> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:45PM (#6912292) Homepage Journal
    I'm a big fan of capsules to go into space. There's no reason why a capsule can't be reusable. They sit on top of the rocket, the best place for a payload. A rocket can be attached to the top for an escape option. They are a lot cheaper. On and on. NASA can still work on reusable boosters, without having to change the basic capsule design.
    • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrtroy (640746)
      "The most critical mistake: designing a spaceship to fly horizontally like an airplane but launching it vertically like a rocket. That one decision saved $5 billion in the 1970s but led directly to the loss of both the Challenger and Columbia. "

      I agree with you, and the experts, why the hell does a spaceship need wings?
      Launch the damn thing with a rocket, and once its space its ideal to have a capsule, not a shuttle.(which cant get above low orbit anyways).

      Lets advance the space program instead of ex
      • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by banzai51 (140396)
        Its a SHUTTLE, not a spacefaring craft. The point of the shuttle is to get into orbit and come back safely and reliably. How you you rather land back on Earth: parachuting into the ocean or landing smoothly like an airplane? The shuttle may not be the end all, be all for payload but it is a very good way to get HUMANS into and back from space. NASA invisioned taking a shuttle to a space station and from there boarding a SPACECRAFT to travel to the Moon or Mars or whatever.
        • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Informative)

          by ericesposito (623833)
          I would prefer to land into the ocean rather than die due to exposure to superheated gasses, or from the impact of plunging into the water at 120 mph.

          Many of the people here are into choice. Why not have the choice of using an economical capsule for missions that don't require the enormous payload that the shuttle can carry?

          For a simple trip, the shuttle is overkill. The payload bay is bigger than a bus. (I've seen a full-scale mockup of the Hubble telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It's ab
        • Re:Yay! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:28PM (#6912786) Homepage
          How you you rather land back on Earth: parachuting into the ocean or landing smoothly like an airplane?

          Those aren't the only two options. Russian and Chinese spacecraft parachute onto land. One could land smoothly like an airplane, without the ridiculous wings, by using a parafoil (indeed, such was seriously studied -- well, a similar idea Rogallo wing -- for the Gemini program). Or one could land smoothly yet vertically like a helicopter, Harrier jet, or Bell rocket pack.
          • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by RayBender (525745) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:53PM (#6913080) Homepage
            How you you rather land back on Earth: parachuting into the ocean or landing smoothly like an airplane? Those aren't the only two options. Russian and Chinese spacecraft parachute onto land. One could land smoothly like an airplane, without the ridiculous wings, by using a parafoil (indeed, such was seriously studied -- well, a similar idea Rogallo wing -- for the Gemini program). Or one could land smoothly yet vertically like a helicopter, Harrier jet, or Bell rocket pack.

            The real issue is not capsule vs. winged, the issue is whether or not you want to be able to accomplish a controlled, low-impact landing at a precise location. If you want to be able to re-use your spacecraft you pretty much have to be able to avoid bodies of water, large boulders, cliffs etc etc. A low-impact landing is important so that you don't break things when you land. As shown by the Shuttle, extensive refurbishment before every flight is a good way to make this too expensive. Almost as importantly, you want to be able to put down close to recovery facilities so you can get back to flying again quickly.

            Now, to get such a precise landing requires mass. If you use wings, they are heavy. If you insist on a capsule then you'll either have to have a big para-wing (heavy, complex to deploy, perhaps not so reliable), or landing rockets (heavy, and definitiely complex). Either way, you pay a mass penalty.

            The point I want to make is that you shouldn't be arguing over wings (at this point in the deisgn process), you should be deicing whether or not you need controlled landings.

            • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Insightful)

              by PierceLabs (549351) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:18PM (#6913364)
              Clearly the most informed and intelligent post this far and deserves to be modded up. That IS the entire issue that many of the armchair aerospace engineers here seem to be missing. There was a MISSION REQUIREMENT to build something reusable and something that could with more assurance could be brought to very specific landing fields. There was also a requirement to be able to payload thing into space and BRING THEM BACK. This mandates pretty much everything that's in the shuttle right now.

              But as with most things, people aren't looking at how to design a different craft to meet those requirements, they are instead saying that the requirements arn't what they'd have done. Well see - that's why they're called requirements. If you have a mission that requires something, you have to build a vehicle that does that. To do otherwise would be like saying 'well helicopters are too slow so they get shot a lot so instead of making a helicopter we made a jet'.

              If you're going to debate things, at least debate within the parameters of the original requirements - not just your own desire to orbit the moon. While I would certainly argue that the shuttle and the saturn/titan programs should have been pursued in parallel, to suggest that only one of them makes sense defies reason.
              • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Informative)

                by dpilot (134227)
                Actually, some of the current shuttle design came out of military dictates. They wanted to be able to access high-inclination orbits normally useful for spy satellites, as well as Vandenberg launch/return. These requirements drove the delta-wing design, specifically.

                The Vandenberg requirement went away. Spy satellites go up on expendables. Most science is close enough to equatorial that a simpler shuttle design would have sufficed.

                But in making the ISS a joint US-Soviet project, we were pushed back into h
      • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by eriko (35554) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:56PM (#6913117) Homepage
        "The most critical mistake: designing a spaceship to fly horizontally like an airplane but launching it vertically like a rocket."

        I agree with you, and the experts, why the hell does a spaceship need wings?

        To land in a specific place? The Apollo capsules had a whole fleet spread across the Pacific to retrieve it and the crew.

        The problem with the Shuttle that flies today is simple -- the specifications, part NASA, part DOD, specifiy a mission that requires the use of attached booster rockets. Namely...

        1) The cargo bay is too large, and,

        2) The cross range capability is extreme.

        Why? The Air Force insisted that the Shuttle be able to, in one orbit, take off from Vandenburg AFB, put a KH-11 or similar sat into orbit (or retrive one) and land back at Vandeburg. The problem with this is that in one orbit, Vandeburg moves quite a way, since the earth is rotating.

        So, the huge bay was needed to handle the KH-11s, and the very large OMS engines were needed to get the Shuttle back to Vandenburg in one orbit.

        Drop these two requirements, and you can cut the OMS system by a half, the payload bay by at least a third, and, suddenly, you don't *need* the SRBs anymore. Indeed, the flyaway liquid fueled boosters become a possibility. You can drop one of the SSMEs off the craft, as well -- and lose the structure needed to hold it. And so forth -- or, even better, ride flyaways almost all the way up, and just have one SSME take you to orbit. Less OMS means less fuel tankage to deal with. And so forth.

        NASA wanted about 10 Billion in 1975 to build the Shuttle. They were told that they were getting 5. They said that they weren't even going to try -- it wouldn't work. DOD said that they'd be interested in the Shuttle as a military craft, with a few modifications and a couple of extra mission requirements, and wouldn't protest the extra budget money. So, the deal was made -- DOD got the huge cargo bay and the cross range capability, and NASA got the money to build it. Alas, they ended up with an impossible spec to build to -- and were only able to make it work with the SRBs and 3 SSMEs.

        NASA's biggest mistake with the Shuttle was taking that deal.
        • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Informative)

          by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:57PM (#6914506)
          To land in a specific place? The Apollo capsules had a whole fleet spread across the Pacific to retrieve it and the crew.
          I have in front of me NASA SP-2000-4029, Apollo By The Numbers by Richard W Orloff.

          From pp 305, Entry, Splashdown and Recovery table

          Mission - Distance to landing target point - Distance to recovery ship
          (distances in nautical miles)
          Apollo 7 - 1.9 mi - 7.0 mi
          Apollo 8 - 1.4 mi - 2.6 mi
          Apollo 9 - 2.7 mi - 3.0 mi
          Apollo 10 - 1.3 mi - 2.9 mi
          Apollo 11 - 1.7 mi - 13 mi
          Apollo 12 - 2.0 mi - 3.9 mi
          Apollo 13 - 1.0 mi - 3.5 mi
          Apollo 14 - 0.6 mi - 3.8 mi
          Apollo 15 - 1.0 mi - 5.0 mi
          Apollo 16 - 3.0 mi - 2.7 mi
          Apollo 17 - 1.0 mi - 3.5 mi

          Not one Apollo landed more than 3 miles from its landing target point, including Apollo 13 which had such troubles even getting home safely.

          Even if you double that miss distance to 6 miles, there are plenty of bays and lakes in the US which you could safely land in (12 mile diameter or more). San Pablo Bay or San Francisco Bay, any of the Great Lakes, 6 miles offshore basically anywhere, etc.

          The precision landing question is validly "Do I land on a runway or do I need a 5-10 mile wide open space?". But that's very different than "needing an ocean full of recovery ships". If it's accurate enough that I can land it in San Francisco Bay and recover it with a coast guard boat or tug, and Apollo was, then there's no big deal at all unless there's an emergency urgent deorbit away from the usual landing zone (a problem which Shuttle shares, and if it lands mid-ocean is SOL).

      • by OmniGeek (72743)
        The orbiter itself may not rationally NEED wings, but the launcher should, unless you're talking really massive payloads. Here's why: The typical first-stage rocket booster uses most of its propellant just to get the first few dozen feet of altitude and few dozens of feet per second of velocity. If you use an air-breathing first stage (such as Scaled Composites' [scaled.com] X-prize candidate, which uses a turbojet carrier plane as the first stage, or Orbital Science's [orbital.com] Pegasus satellite launcher, which is lauched fro
    • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Funny)

      by stratjakt (596332)
      I'm a big fan of capsules to go into space

      What a goofy turn of phrase.

      I picture you sitting there with a "Go Capsules!" pennant in one hand and a giant foam hand with #1 written on it on the other. Wearing one of those dual beer-can hats, your shirt off and "Appolo" in written in greasepaint across your beergut.

      I'm so fucking bored it isn't even funny.
  • by banzai75 (310300) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912314)
    First we bring back the Apple I, now Apollo. Please tell me disco isn't coming back too.
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912317) Journal
    Does that mean the last 30 years of space flight have been for naught?

    No, it doesn't. We've learned a LOT about spaceflight in the last 30 years, from both successes and failures. The shuttle program had both hits and misses, and a lot of important research was conducted regardless.

    And I don't think anyones going to mars in one of those little tin cans. Imagine a year in that thing?
    • What spaceflight? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:50PM (#6912353)
      "No, it doesn't. We've learned a LOT about spaceflight in the last 30 years, from both successes and failures"

      Have we really done spaceflight in the last 30 years? Certainly nothing manned, outside of low-earth orbit which is barely space at all. Sure, we've sent tin buckets with cameras to a few more planets, but we were already pretty good at that.
    • I don't think anyones going to mars in one of those little tin cans.

      Those tin cans are great for the few hours it takes to ride out of and back into the planet's gravity well. Any reasonable Mars mission profile would entail assembling an inter-planetary ship in earth orbit and then flying that ship to martian orbit.

      Imagine, if you would, a few dozen Saturn V launches of equipment and supplies. The space station crew would assemble the pieces. Then a few capsules would bring the mars crew to their

    • by cybermage (112274) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6912552) Homepage Journal
      And I don't think anyones going to mars in one of those little tin cans. Imagine a year in that thing?

      Cramped quarters would be the least of their concerns:

      Getting back into space would be impossible with anything the size of the landers we used on the Moon. Anything like the Apollo hardware would be a one-way trip.

      Spending a year weightless would probably be cripling without some kind of exercise.

      I've read someplace that any Mars mission craft will need some sort of shielded "safe room" to protect the crew from bursts of radiation. That room alone would have to be atleast the size of an Apollo capsule. Also, while space is nearly empty, if you do hit something the damage to the hull could be massive, necessitating some sort of internal sealed room as well.

      Then, of course, there's the issue of food. A year there and back would be quite a payload on its own.

      Anything like the Apollo tech would make Mars impossible. Way too small.

  • by burgburgburg (574866) <splisken06NO@SPAMemail.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912319)
    why this would be necessary when we already have the Eagles used on Moonbase Alpha? I mean, they were built more then four years ago and they're still going strong (though they do occasionally get blown up by marauding aliens and stored nuclear waste).
    • why this would be necessary when we already have the Eagles used on Moonbase Alpha? I mean, they were built more then four years ago and they're still going strong

      Call me a conspiracy theorist, but after recently reviewing the film footage from Moonbase Alpha, I've joined the group of people who believe that the whole thing was a hoax.

      I'd love it just as much as the next guy if our government really had built a moonbase, and Eagles, and everything else back in 1999. However, if you carefully look at the

    • Absolutely. That, the space station, the lunar base, the interplanetary spacecraft in Jupiter orbit, the incredible advances in heuristic and algorithmic AI (the odd crisis of cybernetic conscience not withstanding), and the fact that Pan Am never really went bankrupt but instead monopolized orbital travel, and that weird thing on the Moon, have all been leaked to the public years ago, and then covered up by the government as though it were all just some story intended to amuse and entertain.

      But we know be
  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by teamhasnoi (554944) * <(teamhasnoi) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912323) Homepage Journal
    We've been to the moon? I thought Jonathan Frakes proved that it was a 40 billion dollar hoax!
  • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912324) Journal
    One thing's been learnt (even if it was learnt the hard way), and that's that the risks associated with going into space shouldn't be taken lightly.

    NASA beaurocrats got real complacent and lazy, perhaps not with Challenger but definitely so with Columbia. In future, they'll be less reluctant to listen to the advice of their engineering teams and will take fewer risks with the lives of their astronauts.

    The lives lost on Challenger and Columbia won't be the last but, hopefully, they won't have been lost in vain.
  • by mrtroy (640746) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:48PM (#6912336)
    In other news, the website reporting this releases their 50 year old bandwidth. Which is really slow because well, there wasnt the internet then.
  • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:49PM (#6912343)
    It worked. Also a space craft with wings seems to complicate most flight operations as opposed to simplifying them. Is it really more efficient to have the shuttle land than to just fish a capsule out of the water? It seems that numberous take-off and flight issues are created by the addition of wings simply so the craft can land like a plane.
    • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Funny)

      by tinrobot (314936) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:08PM (#6912586)
      Well, they used to send an aircraft carrier loaded with about 5000 sailors and various support ships just to fish 3 people and a capsule the size of a Volkswagen out of the drink... that's pretty complicated and expensive.

      I say the capsule floats... why not just put an outboard motor on the thing and drive it home? You could do some fishing while you're at it...

      On second thought, maybe there's a solution somewhere in the middle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:50PM (#6912347)
    Initially they'd fly with Delta

    Bad decision. They should fly with Southwest or Jet Blue.

    Avoid Delta. United too, for that matter.
  • Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pmz (462998) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:50PM (#6912352) Homepage

    Shoot 'em up, let them drop like a rock. The inherent simplicity of Apollo is its virtue, IMO. The Shuttle is more like the government bureaucratic approch to space travel, while Apollo was designed by engineers back in the good-ol-days.
  • by chiph (523845) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:51PM (#6912368)
    Atlas, etc. are good rockets, but they can't beat the sheer power and relatively low G forces of the Saturn V. Since they'll (mostly) be going to LEO, as well as building a capsule that is 5-8% larger to accomodate a 4th passenger, why not take another look at the Saturn series of rockets?

    They could use the upper stage as a cargo hold -- arrive in orbit and unlock/unbolt the sides (can't use explosive bolts that close to the ISS) to remove your stuff. Anyone know the diameter of the Saturn V third stage compared to the shuttle's cargo bay?

    Chip H.
    • Back in about 1987, or 1988 while the shuttle was grounded, NewsWeek had an entire issue where the front cover was a man in a space suit and the bold title was "Lost In Space". It was all about the problems with NASA.

      One classic quotable that I'll never forget.

      There was discussion about resurrecting the Saturn V program. You know, build big dumb boosters instead of the shuttle. Cheaper, etc.

      The detractors said you could never resurrect Saturn V. That would take 10 years of work. (Original Satu
      • Infrastructure (Score:3, Informative)

        by CharlieG (34950)
        There are some real reasons it would actually take LONGER to build a SV today than it used to...

        1)Environmental Laws - some stuff isn't allowed to be used anymore (asbestos anyone?)

        2)Infrastructure. The US has lost a LOT of it's Mfg infrastructure in the last 30 years. Just as some LOW tech examples - You could not build the Golden Gate Bridge or the old GG-1 Railroad engine anymore! The steel mills and forging mills don't exist - not only in the US, but ANYWHERE. It would take TIME to build new plant
    • by Ratphace (667701) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:50PM (#6913044)

      Correct me if I am wrong, but the design plans were lost for the Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo mission and none of the designers are alive anymore.

      I remember watching a documentary on Discovery Channel about how the design of the rockets were lost and the only thing left is a rocket or two on display at Kennedy Space Center (or some other Nasa Branch).

      That being said, this is why they completely abandoned the rocket for any future use, even though it was the most powerful one ever made, they simply didn't have the schematics to replicate it and I guess reverse engineering the ones on display isn't an option since they were of course hollowed and setup for display purposes.
      • by SvnLyrBrto (62138) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @11:38PM (#6918303)
        Simply google for "saturn v blueprints" and you'll find any number of sources debunking that "the Saturn V blueprints were destroyed" nonsence.

        The difficulty with reviving the Saturn V is not in the absence of the plans... those are safe and sound; but in the fact that the Saturn V was built with 1960's technology, most of the parts aren't made anymore, and many of the companies that made parts of the Saturn V don't even exist anymore. Furthermore, the production facilities that made said parts have long since been either shut down, or retooled. And NASA's own facilities, including the all-important Launch Complex 39, have long since been modified from Saturn V specs, for use with the shuttle.

        With all of the modifications to the design that would be necessary to start production on a new run of Saturn V's, on modern production lines, with modern manufactureing techniques, with modern components and electronics; it'd be easier just keep the basic math, but design an entirely new rocket. Certianly, it'd be a damn sight easier than finding vendors to recreate the '60's era parts to build new examples of the original design.

        But not a whit of the Saturn V design or data is "gone".

        cya,
        john
  • by Cerberus9 (466562) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:52PM (#6912386)
    Bell bottoms are back, the Stones are still touring and...

    Oh, wait. For a minute there I was expecting this apollo [richardhatch.com].
  • Escape velocity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cybermace5 (446439) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:53PM (#6912391) Homepage Journal
    So, we still do things the way they were done 40 years ago. I refuse to believe that the best way to get into space is to fill a monstrous tube with combustibles and light it all up, just to get a few tons of gear in orbit. Before serious interplanetary exploration, we should establish a good moon base, and do vehicle construction and launches from there.
    • Re:Escape velocity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6912547) Homepage
      I refuse to believe that the best way to get into space is to fill a monstrous tube with combustibles and light it all up, just to get a few tons of gear in orbit.

      A few tonnes?

      Saturn V could lift the best part of 100 tonnes into orbit. It could have lifted the whole ISS in 2-3 launches, pretty much. (Skylab was huge compared to the ISS, and was at a much higher altitude).

      By way of contrast, the Shuttle has only just got up to 30 tonnes, and the Shuttle is more expensive per tonne; and can't achieve the same altitude, and certainly isn't capable of lunar missions.

      So what's the point of the Shuttle anyway? Because it's partly reusable so therefore it's cheaper isn't it? Umm, actually...

      • Re:Escape velocity (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pmz (462998)
        So what's the point of the Shuttle anyway? Because it's partly reusable so therefore it's cheaper isn't it? Umm, actually...

        The Space Shuttle would be a good case study for why the federal government is not able to take on these sorts of projects. The politics and bureaucracy destroy any optimism of the original plans.

        While it might be a bit scary at first, privatization is the only practical route to space from now on.

        Now if we could only convince them to stay out of matters of public schools, health
    • Muito Appreciado! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MickLinux (579158)
      Much appreciated!

      I agree wholeheartedly: A mars mission would be as much claptrap as our moon missions were. Pointless to any real space development.

      Much better would be to start a moonbase.

      Indeed, when it comes down to it, why bother sending men at all, initially? Send some radio/robotic controlled smelting factories, mining equipment, and transport equipment, and establish the base before you ever put anyone up there. Then send supplies and stock the place. Once that is all ready, then and only th
  • by redtail1 (603986) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:53PM (#6912393)
    Great idea. The Rocky franchise bottomed out after Drago broke him in that exhibition. I foresee dozens of Rocky sequels featuring Apollo and other members of the undead...
  • by Tumbleweed (3706) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6912407)
    "Express elevator to Hell, goin' _DOWN_!"

    Sounds like a fun ride. Screw bungee jumping!
  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6912409)
    By the time the shuttle was designed, it became a tool that did a lot of things okay, but nothing all that great. It has always been more expensive than the rockets it replaced and now with no more Soviet Russia (no jokes) we may be able to co-develop better booster technology. Russia has always had more powerful rockets and seem to be able to hit orbits more accurately than the US.

    Also, I honestly think this Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) idea is foolish and stupid. Most of what I have read seems to indicate that a dual stage system would lower the cost per pound from USD 100k to about $6k and one could have two pieces that are reusable. To me that makes a lot more sense and by all acounts more doable.

    If we are serious about keeping the ISS up there, the next generation of space craft could save space to be a delivery and construction/repiar work on satelites and the ISS, then save expiraments for the ISS.

    • Hey, serious question - do you have something to back up that comment about the Soviets being able to hit orbits better than American rockets? It's something I've never even thought about, and it would be interesting to read more about that particular issue. Thanks!
  • by PingXao (153057) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6912416)
    Not at all. Look at how much we've learned. The experience we've gained has been enormous. We learned that building a reusable winged spaceship is doable, but doing so on less-than-shoestring budget isn't the smart way to go. Once we've established a real infrastructure in orbit, in another hundred years or so, I think a reusable shuttle will again make sense. Right now it doesn't. It was supposed to be cheap. It's not. It was supposed to be safe. It's not as good as it could be. When you think about it, both Challenger and Columbia were doomed by the Rube Goldberg contraption that boosts the orbiter into space. The original design called for a reusable flyback booster as well. That was scrapped early in the program to save money.
  • Back to the Past? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChuckDivine (221595) * <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:56PM (#6912438) Homepage

    Not quite.

    We're finally seeing an admission from the aerospace establishment that the shuttle has failed as an experiment. Wings on space craft are essentially a burden. Mercury-Gemini-Apollo demonstrated that you could come back to earth -- even in a controlled fashion -- without wings. Shuttle had wings to meet an Air Force requirement on cross range capability. Now the Air Force doesn't even use the shuttle.

    So, the immediate future of vehicles intended to reach orbit looks like something that's been proven to work for both the United States and Russia. It's good to see people actually looking for something that works well.

    In other ways, though, this development is a further criticism of the NASA culture. Much has been reported about the suppression of dissent in the safety culture. This is one aspect of a larger suppression of independent thinking in aerospace culture. The lack of new ideas shows another aspect. The unwillingness to examine things outside the industry (the "not invented here" syndrome) demonstrates still another.

    New ideas and technologies thrive in free atmospheres. People are more willing to try new things. Good ideas get promoted. Faulty ones, even if held by people with power, are more likely to be challenged. For the aerospace industry to succeed, such a model must be embraced, not shunned.

    • Winged spacecraft (Score:3, Insightful)

      by siskbc (598067)
      Wings on space craft are essentially a burden.

      As mentioned briefly in the article, I would say that a *rocket-propelled* spacecraft with wings is a burden - it just doesn't make sense. However, if they could get something that takes off like a plane, then has a weaker rocket stage once it gets into the thinner upper atmosphere, that could be doable. Similarly, it could fly upon a very shallow re-entry, potentially preventing heat buildup, allowing it to land quite normally.

      Ultimately, I think something

    • by Sgt York (591446)
      As Edison would put it, we did not fail. We found another way to not make a launch system.

      The shuttle was a good experiment, it was good to do it. However, it went on far too long.

      We kept throwing good money after bad, trying to salvage something from it, and we lost the gamble. In hindsight, it was a bad choice, but at the time (the 80s, early 90s), there was good reason to think it would work and we could salvage the program. It turns out the detractors were right. Now, let's move on. Back to the drawing

  • by s20451 (410424) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:57PM (#6912447) Journal
    The Russians have had to do space on the cheap for years, and their response was to stick with the Soyuz capsule, which has now been in service for nearly 40 years, and is one of the most reliable launch vehicles available, and certainly far less expensive than the shuttle.

    The last fatal Soyuz accident was in 1971. In 1983, a Soyuz rocket exploded on the pad, but the crew was whisked to safety thanks to an escape rocket, which is lacking on the shuttle. Given the choice, I would fly to space on a Soyuz any day over the shuttle.
    • Overall, the safety record of Soyuz is just fractionally better than the Shuttle, but it's not statistically significant.

      However, as noted, the Soyuz has not had a failure in over 20 years, and the current design has had no fatalities in at all.

      However, there have been some injuries during landing; sooner or later a fatality is not unreasonable.

      I don't see much to choose right now, although there are theoretical reasons for thinking that Soyuz could be somewhat safer.

    • " Given the choice, I would fly to space on a Soyuz any day over the shuttle."

      Bottle of vodka? $16 rubles.

      That pretty Ludmilla sitting next to you in babushka-and-spacesuit? $30 a night at a Tel Aviv brothel.

      Lance Bass, earthbound and angry because you stole his seat? Priceless.
  • by poptones (653660) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:02PM (#6912504) Journal
    Now, a capsule alone might not make it to mars, but I doubt ANYTHING launched in one piece from earth would make it that far. Thus, the space station, the robotic arm - all that stuff is tech we needed (and still need) to prepare us. So what if we use a small capsule to go back and forth? You think we could have done what we did with Hubble using one of those lead kettles the FSU uses to shuttle people back and forth?

    The capsule system was inherently "modular" thus the inspiration for this bit of classic SF [space1999.net]. The only irony I find in all this is how accurate SF may have once again proven to be.

    Just don't tell anyone in Hollywood. After seeing what they did with Lost In space, I don't want even a chance of them getting hold of my fave SF series for one of their ticky-tacky plotless rehashes.

  • by gaijin99 (143693) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:03PM (#6912517) Journal
    The biggest problem with the US Space Program is that ever since we got to the moon they've been thinking small. Nothing really works well, or does much for you, until you scale it up to a decent level. Imagine if post-Columbus the various European nations had sent out a couple of row boats every few years...

    As with so much in life an investment is necessary to get the returns. To really benefit from space we must spend tens of billions on basic infrastructure. The ROI will be worth it. Big projects. A catapult for bulk loads would be a good start and possible with off the shelf technology.

    Even better would be a genuine attempt to build a space plane. All the half-assed three or four million dollar projects to date were nothing more than a waste of time.

    Best would be to immediately begin work on an elevator. Current best estimates say that an elevator could be built in about ten years, with a budget of six billion. Considering that the US is spending more than $8 billion per month in Iraq, I'd say we obviously have $6 Billion to spend over the course of ten years...

    When you think small, you get small results. I don't care if its NASA, or a private corporation, or a group of various space agencies and corporations, but we must begin thinking big or else nothing will ever happen.

    • Best would be to immediately begin work on an elevator. Current best estimates say that an elevator could be built in about ten years, with a budget of six billion. Considering that the US is spending more than $8 billion per month in Iraq, I'd say we obviously have $6 Billion to spend over the course of ten years...

      I'm sorry but this is probably coming from the same people who made the cost estimates on the shuttle. We don't even have the technology to do this (materials and more), and you already know
    • by Unknown Poltroon (31628) * <unknown_poltroon1sp@myahoo.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:41PM (#6912943)

      "Say Columbus took the Apollo route to the New World. He starts off with three ships. Along about the Canary Islands he sinks the first ship, just throws it away, deliberately. And it's his biggest ship. Come [163] to the Bahamas, he throws away the second ship. He reaches the New World ... but his third ship can't land there. He lowers a lifeboat, sinks his third ship, and rows ashore. He picks up a few rocks on the beach and rows right back out to sea, across the Atlantic ... and at the Strait of Gibraltar he sinks the lifeboat and swims back to Spain with an inner tube around his shoulders.
      "If that's what it took to cross the Atlantic, this part of the world would still belong to the Seminoles."

  • Late result (Score:3, Funny)

    by GoneGaryT (637267) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6912554) Journal
    Saturn 5, Ariane 4.
  • Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by david.given (6740) <dgNO@SPAMcowlark.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:07PM (#6912561) Homepage Journal
    I'm really glad this is getting political room. The shuttle was a waste of money, material and lives from the day it was conceived, and the really sad thing was that everyone involved knew it.

    The Russian space industry is doing things right in a way that NASA have never managed. The Russians have focused on making spaceflight boring: so boring, in fact, that the last accident in a Soyuz capsule was in 1971. That's a safety record that makes the shuttle look a bit sick. It also helps that the cost is a tiny fraction of the shuttle; I worked out once that you for the price of a single shuttle launch, you could get the Russians to lift about four times the amount of cargo, plus people, in five seperate vehicles and still have change.

    From an engineering point of view, the lesson is painfully obvious: generalisation means compromises. The shuttle is trying to be a heavylifter and a man-rated lifter and a space station and a reentry vehicle, so no wonder it sucks. Much better to focus on small, simple vehicles that do one thing very well.

    The Russians have the best man-rated lifter in the world: the Soyuz. It doesn't do much, just takes people from the ground to LEO and back again, but it does it cheaply and reliably. They have the Progress, which I believe is the world's only orbital tug; it can launch, rendezvous with a vehicle, dock, undock and ditch safely, all by remote control. No-one else has anything like it. They have a whole selection of reliable heavylifters, although they are beginning to get competition in that area.

    If the Russians with their, ah, mostly broken economy can do it, why are the Americans having so much trouble?

    I just wish it were politically feasible for someone with money to just buy the entire Russian space industry, lock stock and barrel, and do some decent investment...

  • by Spencerian (465343) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:13PM (#6912632) Homepage Journal
    Very shortly after the Columbia accident, a handful of old veteran astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin (likely the smartest engineer of the original astronaut groups) and John Young (first pilot of Columbia and the only astronaut from the original groups to fly Gemini, Apollo, and the Shuttle) were consultants to determine if Apollo technology could be used for a low budget to-and-fro human transport, as well as a rescue vehicle that could be mated as lifeboats to the International Space Station.

    This, I thought, was a great idea. After the Apollo 1 fire of 1967, the Command Module (CM) was drastically redesigned for safety and was a winning design throughout the program. It especially showed its toughness during Apollo 13. The CM was completely powered down after the accident, and, 3 days later, was restarted on its reentry batteries (with a tiny bit of juice from the Lunar Module), and no electrical shorts occurred despite the heavy condensation in the spacecraft.

    The Apollo CM design is tried and true. I prefer it as a lifepod, and NASA should reconsider the viablity of a combined vehicle that launches (with an orbiter atop) like a heavy plane to high altitude, where it serves as the launcher for the orbiter, which can use conventional and disposable boosters for the return trip. I still believe that glider vehicles make more sense and provide more abort options. Consider that Columbia and her sisters still have more ways to bail or return than a typical airliner.

    No aerodynamic vehicle can survive with a damaged wing, in any case, which is why a CM-style rescue vehicle and parachutes are appealing. I just don't like the use of old ballistics like the Atlas (which have a nice record of exploding). Man-rating rockets like these is a pain in the ass.
  • by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:26PM (#6912774) Journal
    The structure of the capsule would be modified so it could handle the 105 kilopascal (15 psi) air pressure used in the ISS today, rather than the 34 kPa (5 psi) pure oxygen environment that Apollo used. - The Space Review

    Hmmm - I thought they went to a Nitrogen/Oxygen mix after the Apollo 1 fire?
  • by pjt48108 (321212) <pjt48108NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:36PM (#6912870) Homepage
    Here is one of my favorite web sites, which this article reminded me of, and which I thought some of you might enjoy: http://www.astronautix.com [astronautix.com].

    The place is filled with tons of mad info about programs that are, were, and never got out of blueprint stage. I am sure this will satisy those readers for whom the two paltry links in the story are far from satisfying. Lotsa cool pictures and thingies.
  • by The Lynxpro (657990) <lynxpro@noSPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:52PM (#6913070)
    The Russian Shuttle was built like a tank. Since it was built after the majority of our own shuttles, isn't its heat tiling superior? Perhaps NASA should acquire it...
  • by Saint Stephen (19450) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:07PM (#6913246) Homepage Journal
    Listen, the rational part of me says -- of course we went to the moon, there's 10000 facts to back it up. But the emotional part says: WHY THE HELL don't we ever go back? I was like 2 when we last went.

    Especially given all the neg press Nasa has, and even if its a huge waste of money and we won't learn anything, could somebody explain to me why we at least just don't go back *ONCE* every *THIRTY YEARS***, just to give people like me assurance, yep, they didn't bullshit me, we CAN do it.
  • by JohnnyCannuk (19863) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:16PM (#6913348)
    Remember this? [nasa.gov]

    The people here who bellyache about cost and danger and whether it should look like a plane or not, should look at this. It was a very serious contender for the X-33 program. It is a SSTO vehicle which is far more manueverable than the shuttle and far safer. And until an unfortuneate accident in 1997, the US had an actual working model. It is used to carry people into orbit. You want payload? Use a Detla V or an Arriane. You want a reusable work horse for people? Strongly consider reserecting this.

    Oh and BTW
    Space travel will be dangerous for the forseeable future. People will die. Maybe less people would die if we are more concerned about discovery and science and exploration than about cost. It's going to be expensive, but as one earlier poster pointed out, we are likely to get more out of a few billion spent on space exploration than we do out of the 8 Billion per MONTH spent in Iraq.

    There. I feel better now.

  • So, basically... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbbac (568880) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:01PM (#6913881)
    ...we're back to following the Russian's lead on spaceflight? Kennedy is rolling in his grave.
  • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:39PM (#6915002) Homepage

    The space shuttle was originallt speced out to be a REUSABLE spacecraft, just check the tires, top off the fluids, and it's good to go again.

    In part, that changed during it's design when it turned out that reusable in that sense just wouldn't work out for some of the parts.

    In other cases, we found out that in practice, various other componants were not really reusable.

    Instead, the shuttle was actually REBUILDABLE though it was mostly designed to be reusable.

    It probably would have worked a lot better had it been designed to be rebuildable from the start, and it certainly would have been cheaper than rebuilding a craft that wasn't designed to be rebuilt.

    For an example, replace the very expensive and fragile (as it turns out, too fragile) heat tiles and carbon panels with a cheap ablative resin. On landing, sandblast the char away and re-apply. Instead, since it had to be reusable, they went with the much more expensive and risky tiles and panels.

    Another interesting idea might be to leave parts of the thing in orbit. Each flight could dock with the service module and use it for the duration of their mission, then disconnect and leave it for the next crew. The part that returns would need to carry the expendibles, and have the self contained capability to return should something go wrong. That may or may not be useful (after all, space is a hostile environment, so unpowered equipment may not be durable enough to use again without serious work and time that is not available or worth it), but it's an interesting concept to consider.

    That would also shift the burden of redundancy somewhat since it would no longer be necessary to trade off capacity vs. more redundancy. In theory, the entire service module could be replaced in orbit if it came to that. Even life support provisions could be provided. At the end of a mission, just before seperation, any reserves that were not used in the mission could be transferred to the SM for use on a later mission.

    Another interesting option after further research is to actually use tethers to transfer momentum from the returning capsule to the SM in order to get what amounts to a boost for nothing.

    I don't think that NASA has done absolutely NOTHING in the last few decades, it's just that by sticking with the shuttle as-is, it hasn't been able to take much advantage of the things it's learned. A more modular system is in order so that they don't get stuck again with an all or nothing technology update. Capsule, booster and SM should be seperate projects which are updated and improved more or less seperatly.

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