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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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  • by (54)T-Dub (642521) * <tpaine@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:45PM (#6912291) Journal
    At least they will be getting away from the concept that spacecraft need wings. The whole idea of the shuttle is rediculous because of this. The wings decrease the payload capacity dramatically and increase the propetency for failure even more.
  • by RazzleDazzle (442937) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912315) Journal
    If old technology is good, especially after it is modernized, like giving its computer RAM measured in MB instead of B, what is the big deal? Its not like NASA doesnt spend a lot of money on R&D on products they use, why is it bad just because it is old, it's probably still a very good design.
  • RTFA? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by (54)T-Dub (642521) * <tpaine@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912318) Journal
    maybe you should RTFA first too

    Beyond the general shape of the capsule, however, the report reveals that little else from the Apollo CM would be retained.
  • 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.
  • mars + Apollo? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TrippTDF (513419) <hilandNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:47PM (#6912325)
    I can't imagine spending 6 months in something as small as the apollo craft, get the mars, and then come back in the same soup-can-size thing. Anything we send to mars as to be a little bigger, for the crews sake.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Space Elevators (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Psychic Burrito (611532) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6912419)
    I think NASA should start thinking about space elvators:
    • Cheap. Launch costs can drop down a factor of 1000. More programs to do. Makes space tourism possible!
    • Expansible. Create another elevator by running climbers up the first elevator.
    • Safer. You're not sitting on a dynamite box to get up. You don't rely on heat tiles to get down. Build a climber that uses two ropes for added security.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:56PM (#6912427)
    We always impose and anthropomorphic view on space. Our scifi depicts space travel as being safe for human physiology and amenable to our lifespans. Note that every futurist view of space travel seems to depend on some breakthrough that allows us to explore space in our expected lifespans.

    Yet the reality is that all we know about space is that it is toxic to humans. And still we don't know of any way that we might travel anywhere meaningful in the two to three hundred years we might live as purely organic creatures under the best predictions of biotech (if we could even keep from going insane that long out there).

    Face it, humans as they exist now are not getting off of this rock. It is likely we will have to merge with machinery to explore space..in essence, stop being purely organic. It is likely that meaningful space travel will require tens of thousands of years of time out there. This means unmanned is the best way to go, and a hybrid model is likely in the future once you get past all the crap scifi feeds us about present day humans surviving for long periods of time (physically and mentally) in space.

  • by kfg (145172) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:58PM (#6912453)
    The old technology worked, even in the face of catstrophic disaster.

    The new technology does not.

    Me, I'll put my money on the most successful technology, rather than the merely most recent idiocy.

    KFG
  • Re:Space Elevators (Score:2, Insightful)

    by linzeal (197905) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:59PM (#6912468) Homepage Journal
    Can you name any process of making carbon nanotubes 300km high or more yet? I would presume the process may be easier in space but you will also have to contruct it through the ionosphere which may complicate things even further.
  • 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.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by banzai51 (140396) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6912556) Journal
    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.
  • Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by david.given (6740) <dg@NOsPaM.cowlark.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 JCCyC (179760) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:07PM (#6912564) Journal
    Which makes this remark all the more silly:

    Does that mean the last 30 years of space flight have been for naught?

    Come on. Satellites. Voyager. Hubble.
  • The right stuff (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AllenChristopher (679129) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:07PM (#6912573)
    "Didn't they just come off of serious embarassment with the Columbia disaster and now they are going to re-instate 50-year-old technology?"

    When you have a bowl of soup, do you eat it with a fork just because the fork was invented thousands of years later than the spoon?

    Sometimes an older approach is the right approach for a specific job.

  • by ericesposito (623833) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:08PM (#6912578)
    The 50-year old technology is generally more reliable than anything that we come up with now.

    As the article states, Russia has had any problems since they've been using capsules in 1971. The US never lost a space crew in a capsule. We've lost two in the shuttle.

    Ever hear of the Voyager spacecrafts? They worked for 30+ years with less computing power than your average dishwasher.

    To bring it up a few decades, the standard, commercial 80386 processor is more radiation tolerant than some radiation-hardened newer chips.

    Old technology doesn't mean out of date.

    Your multimillion dollar Boeing 777 aircraft still has windshield wipers.
  • It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by corebreech (469871) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:08PM (#6912583) Journal
    The shuttle was ridiculous. The only rationalization for the design is if you're going to bring stuff back from space, and to my knowledge, we've never once done that.

    No, we are always putting stuff into space, and plain old rockets do that job very, very well.

    If the thing took off like an airplane, then that would be different. But it doesn't.

    It's almost as if they went to the drawing board asking themselves how they could make a craft that suffers from all the problems of reusable rockets while offering all new problems in re-entry.

    Let's ground the damn things already.
  • Muito Appreciado! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MickLinux (579158) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:11PM (#6912617) Journal
    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 then send people. After that, get some real industries going, up there, such as better nanotube construction.

    Meanwhile, down here on earth, start using our earthbound nanotube construction to make taller and taller launchpads [it turns out that, done right, nanotubes are about as strong compressively as in tension]. Those launchpads will amount to huge savings in rocket mass.

    At some point, between the earthbound nanotube production, and space-based nanotube production, we should be able to get an actual space elevator going. ...though I don't doubt that will make a few mistakes similar to Hubble's curvature, and watch our first few NASA elevators come crashing down... (duck!)
  • 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 ramk13 (570633) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:17PM (#6912679)
    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 the cost? The space elevator is not a bad idea, but it VERY far from a mature idea and should be treated as such.
  • GPS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cCOWornell.edu minus herbivore> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:19PM (#6912694) Homepage
    Probably one of the issues requiring a carrier was that the capsule's exact splashdown location was not known, requiring the recovery fleet to have extensive search capabilities.

    With modern technology, the capsule can tell the recovery fleet where it is.
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:20PM (#6912714)
    Do you mean the one little problem with this idea, the good ol' "it would work great if we had this magic stuff that no one has invented yet and we have no idea if anyone will invent it" problem?
  • Winged spacecraft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by siskbc (598067) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:25PM (#6912753) Homepage
    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 like that is what they want, but is supposedly 20 years away.

  • We stood still (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:32PM (#6912821)
    "So definetely as a mankind we did not stand still."

    "We" stood still. At best, we were marching in place. We got more experience in the Earth orbit matters, not space. "To boldly go where the Gemini capsule had gone before many years ago" is not any sort of advance.
  • Space race? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jmarkantes (663024) <jason@NOSpAM.markantes.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:38PM (#6912906)
    It is kinda interesting that now China is aiming for the moon, and the US decides (kinda outta right field) to bring back the system the got them to the moon long ago. Maybe a hint of jealousy?

    This could be cool.

    J
  • by Sgt York (591446) <jvolm@eart[ ]nk.net ['hli' in gap]> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:45PM (#6912987)
    Echoes one of my personal favorite short stories, for the ending, if nothing else.

    Niven's "Bottom of a Hole" (or a similar sounding title). Two men are talking, one very old man (about 150, I think; born pre-WWI) and one younger man, born after the colonization of the solar system. The age difference isn't addressed again until the end, and you've kind of forgotten it by that point.

    At the end, the question of "Why explore, why seek esoteric knowledge?" comes up. The younger man asserts that entering space was not to seek esoteric knowledge, that the benefits of going into space are obvious, and lists them.

    The old man counters by asking, "But did they know about all that before they went?". The younger instantly replies "Of course they did!", then remembers the other man's age, and adds, "Didn't they?"

    The rest of the story was OK...not great. But that last line stuck with me.

  • by 5KVGhost (208137) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:52PM (#6913067)
    We came pretty darn close to losing Apollo 13 in space, though.

    Not that that comparing these stats really means anything. People die on tugboats and on cruise ships, but comparing those two numbers won't tell you which is "better". Space is dangerous. We can make it safer, but some people are going to die. It's about time we get past that.
  • 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.

  • well, duh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:55PM (#6913098)
    Yep, it does mean the last thirty years were pointless. Couldn't you tell?

    Capsules are inherently stable ballistically. Aerodynamically speaking they must plunge through the atmosphere at the exact correct angle because of their very shape. Which is why waybackwhen, Von Braun et al chose that shape in the first place (and why the Russian TMA could land without computer guidance without coming to pieces and killing american astronauts.)

    The shuttle, on the other hand, is NOT aerodynamically stable and the margin between safe reentry and horrible disaster is breathtakingly small, as we have seen. It was a noble experiment which failed, which does not mean the experiment itself was a failure.

    Now if we continue to fly these things, that would be.
  • Re:Escape velocity (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pmz (462998) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:57PM (#6913132) Homepage
    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 care, taxation....
  • by Sgt York (591446) <jvolm@eart[ ]nk.net ['hli' in gap]> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:04PM (#6913202)
    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 board. In the meantime, we need something that we know works well; and the last truly successful design was Apollo.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda@eOPENBSDtoyoc.com minus bsd> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:04PM (#6913205) Homepage Journal
    The shuttle hits the ground at 200 MPH. A capsule at less that 15MPH. A capsule will land wherever, a shuttle requires a special supersized runway, and if your landing gear is damaged you are in a world of hurt.
  • by iCat (690740) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:06PM (#6913222)
    Anything like the Apollo tech would make Mars impossible

    That's why we should build a Mars vehicle in LEO, ferrying components/crew using Apollo tech. Ambition is key here - build a craft as large as we can, so it can take the large payload required and allow the crew enough room to prevent them going insane. Oh, and it would rotate to produce artificial gravity. And it would be nuclear powered too. With a ship's cat.
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:20PM (#6913384)
    What's your point? Up until recently the Shuttle had gone 18 years without a fatality.

    It just takes one to reset the counter, and the Russians keep banging the Soyuz' around.

    To be fair, though, they haven't been as creative in finding uses for their spacecraft. The Soyuz is fine for what it does. It can do all it does, but it does all it can.
  • by maetenloch (181291) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:37PM (#6913607)
    The old technology worked, even in the face of catstrophic disaster. The new technology does not.

    Just remember that the old technology was from the mid-60's and required huge budgets and support staffs.

    The 'new' technology (i.e. the space shuttle) is actually from the mid to late 70's and was constrained by a vastly reduced budget.

    Also the results of the shuttle program are probably a more reliable measure of the long term safety of space flight since they've flown for a lot more missions. The Gemini and Apollo programs had a combined total of less than 30 missions, each using custom, throw away vehicles.
  • by OmniGeek (72743) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:07PM (#6913954)
    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 from a jet plane), you eliminate a LOT of mass. An airplane is just LOTS more fuel-efficient than a rocket at 40,000 feet and below. Use an air-breather from zero to 30,000 feet and 250 knots, and a rocket for the rest.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MajikGuru (566603) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:16PM (#6914073)
    I don't see why NASA doesn't make a Soyuz-style capsule and attach it to a Saturn 5-style rocket. That would seem to be the best of both worlds, imo.
  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:17PM (#6914089)
    This isn't that difficult. Your problem is you're assuming the same craft should be used for takeoff from earth, travel to mars or wherever, and then reentry back into Earth's atmosphere. If you use different craft for different tasks, you can get a much better solution.

    A large, reusable, interplanetary craft should be built in orbit, using the space station as a building site. This craft doesn't have to endure the rigors of takeoff and reentry, so it won't be a problem using it over and over. The only problem is getting all the parts up into orbit to build it, but we're already getting experience with that in building the ISS.

    Tiny, expendable, reentry capsules can be used to ferry people back and forth from Earth's surface. Stick one on top of a rocket, send some people up to the ISS, and they'll get in their interplanetary craft and go to Mars. Some other people, who just returned from Mars, will hop in the newly-arrived capsule and drop back to the Earth. A few extra capsules could even be stacked on top of one rocket to provide some spares to be kept at the space station in case an evacuation is necessary.
  • by kfg (145172) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:51PM (#6914453)
    Yes, I remember. Literally. Because I lived through it. I'm an old fart. I remember watching Alan Shepard's flight on TV and dreaming about someday working in the space program myself.

    When the day came that I could, and the offer was made, I had to turn it down because I could bear the idea of associating myself with the shuttle.

    Some of my oldest friends, we're talking from childhood here, do. None of them are especially happy about because every one of them knows they could do much better.

    You seem to have missed the point here. Look, when people talk about ressurecting our rail system they don't mean that we should replace all of our modern trucks with 1950's railroad technology. They mean we should return to using rail as a concept for mass transportation of goods and people with new and up to date trains because it's a concept that works.

    No one is suggesting that we return to using 1960's computers, radar, engines or space suits.

    What they're suggesting is that conventional payloads on top of a conventional rocket booster is a superiour solution to getting masses into space and returning a live crew.

    And they're right. Apollo never had a tile fall off, a wing fail or some Rube Goldberged solid booster glued onto the rocket explode and set off the liquid fuel in the main tank.

    The only failures of Apollo systems were systems that are still necessary for the support of a live crew; and those systems are already markedly better.

    So is our recovery technology. We recover the booster shells from the space shuttle. What makes you think we couldn't recover them just because they launch a capsule instead of a "plane?"

    Need I really go into the expense and support staffs required just to deal with the ludicrous heat tiles after every flight?

    The shuttle does many things poorer than a capsule on top of a booster can. It does nothing better than that system does. It is more complicated, less sensical. . . and fails in ways that conventional boost system can't while retaining all possible ways a conventional boost system can fail.

    It's silly.

    You want a reusable space plane? Fine, so do I. I remember how completely cool the X-15 was. Let's build an up to date version. I'll help. For food.

    You want to put a pile of hardware into low earth orbit? Fine. Put it on the nose of a rocket and send it up. It's the right thing to do.

    Each technology according to its abilities, each mission according to its technological needs.

    KFG
  • Re:Yay! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:37PM (#6914986)
    I hope we are not debating how well the shuttle design met the original requirements. Clearly the requirements had a "second system" effect going, i.e. a basket load of goodies vs. a narrow single focus.

    We should be looking at what we want to do right *now* and in the near term. What kind of vehicles do we need, what are the requirements to do *just* that? Cost is still a major issue, but I hope we have learned that safety is also a big issue. Losing 7 people and a billion dollar+ vehicle at a time is a hard pill to swallow...

    For LEO launch returns to ISS do we need a complex 7 person craft? No!

    Do we need re-usable? Not if it's more expensive!

    Do we need to land on a runway like a plane? Not if it's a small vehicle that can fit on the back of a semi! Not if they are cheap enough that you can have several of them ready to go at once.

    Do you need to land on a dime? A quarter? A Helipad? A football field? A dry lake bed? The salt flats? A large lake? The ocean? They are all "controlled" to some extent. What's the most inexpensive, flexible and safe way to do it?

    Lastly, do we need to return payload from orbit on the same vehicle as humans? No, design a separate vehicle specifically for that. Keep the human based vehicles simple and single functioned.

    Adding uneeded requirements creates complexity. That costs us in design/operational effort and increases risk. The money saved from this approach can then be better spent on making significant breakthrough's on cargo transportation.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @07:54PM (#6916546) Homepage
    What's your point? Up until recently the Shuttle had gone 18 years without a fatality. It just takes one to reset the counter, and the Russians keep banging the Soyuz' around.

    That IS my point. That's what 'not statistically significant means'. Please try to keep up Mr Anonymous :-)

    To be fair, though, they haven't been as creative in finding uses for their spacecraft.

    But I don't agree with this point in the slightest. The Ruskies have actually launched paying space tourists, they've actually turned a profit on that third seat, but I don't see the Shuttle doing that; ever. It's all a big screw up on NASA's part really.

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