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Space The Almighty Buck Science

A Brief History of the Space Station 380

Posted by michael
from the built-by-the-lowest-bidders dept.
HyperbolicParabaloid writes "A story about the history of the International Space Station, and its utility or non-utility for space exploration. One interesting insight: after the Challenger explosion it became obvious that we would never refuel a rocket with volatile fuel at a space station because the threat to the station would be so great. And did you know that to accomodate the Russians, the space station is in an orbit that makes it almost useless as a jumping off point to anywhere?"
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A Brief History of the Space Station

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  • Added insight (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JetScootr (319545) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:38AM (#8178963) Journal
    I have worked at NASA since before the first shuttle launch. I will post in my journal some added insight to this after work. Obviously, I can not post from work.
    What I post will be my opinion only, and not that of Nasa or my employer. Look this evening, around 8 pm central time.
  • by mu-sly (632550) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:38AM (#8178966) Homepage Journal
    From Glory to Sideshow: The Space Station's Story
    By WILLIAM J. BROAD

    Published: February 3, 2004

    In 1989, when the first President George Bush announced his plan to send American astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, he called the proposed space station "our critical next step in all our space endeavors." It would be a base in the weightlessness of space where big rockets would be assembled and blast off on voyages of exploration: "a new bridge between the worlds."

    Now, with the outpost hurtling through space 240 miles above Earth and with 16 nations struggling to complete the most challenging engineering project of all time, the station has suddenly become a $100 billion dead end.

    The current President Bush made no mention of it as a steppingstone in his speech on Jan. 14 reviving the call for missions to the Moon and Mars. Instead, he spoke of it as a site of biomedical research and an "obligation" that the United States had to help finish.

    Mr. Bush gave no clear indication how, or whether, the United States planned to use the station after its prospective completion in 2010. With NASA focusing its efforts and its budget on the Moon and Mars, the station's prospects are uncertain.

    "I'm worried that they're going to cut off the space shuttle before we have another vehicle that can fly," said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who is the only current member of Congress to have flown in space. "And that will drastically reduce space station use."

    What happened? How did the station go from star to sideshow? Experts cite a litany of factors: cost overruns, design changes, new perceptions of technical risk after the shuttle disasters and shifting national priorities. For instance, orbital changes to accommodate Russia after the cold war made it harder to use the station as a launching pad.

    The tale has no real bad guys, the experts say, but many false promises.

    "It was always a steppingstone to the stars," said Dr. Howard E. McCurdy, a space historian at American University. "It was sold as all things to all people."

    Dr. Alex Roland, a former NASA historian now at Duke University, said a moral of the story was that Congress and the public needed to work harder to hold the space agency accountable for its dreams.

    "They keep getting trapped in their own rhetoric," he said. "They're willing victims of it. But as public policy it's a disaster because it feeds unrealistic expectations."

    At the start of the space age, visionaries invariably saw outposts in earth orbit as jumping-off points. Dr. Wernher von Braun, in a famous 1952 article, told of a huge inhabited wheel. "From this platform," he said, "a trip to the Moon itself will be just a step."

    In 1968, Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" featured a giant outpost in Earth orbit that was a way station to the Moon and Jupiter.

    Finally, after decades of fantasies, President Ronald Reagan proposed in 1984 that the United States actually build a space station. It too was envisioned as a hub for colonies on the Moon and Mars. For Mr. Reagan, the station also represented a way to challenge the Soviet Union. In the cold war, Moscow made human outposts a hallmark of its space activities.

    But Congress did not vote construction money to pay for either Mr. Reagan's vision or that of the first President Bush. Not until 1993 did a new a new vision for space take shape, this one emphasizing harmony over rivalry. That September, President Bill Clinton announced that Russia had joined the station effort as a full partner. Its giant rockets were seen as a boon for the project and a good backup if the shuttles should again fail catastrophically, as the Challenger did in 1986.

    "One world, one station," said Daniel S. Goldin, NASA's administrator at the time.

    There was just one problem. For the Russian rockets to reach the grand unified station, it would need a different orbit.

    Shuttles flying out of Florida usually go into an or
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:01AM (#8179100)
      Some missing context:

      So the Clinton administration decided to erect the station at 51.6 degrees, hailing it as a "world orbit" accessible to all spacefaring nations.

      Which wasn't a bad way to save the project, when we had no obvious reason (or imaginary cash) to embark outwards.

      The Moon, experts say, has now taken on the role of steppingstone. "Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth's gravity is expensive," Mr. Bush said in his speech. "Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the Moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost."

      Many experts are skeptical of those claims, saying Mr. Bush overlooked the large energy costs of getting fuel and rockets to the Moon. Previous NASA studies for Mars missions have seldom if ever used the Moon as a launching pad because that would take about twice as much energy as going from the Earth or an Earth outpost.


      ...But now, we have an administration that's 1. desperately in need of new sources of energy and a big public-works project to drive an economic recovery, and 2. not afraid of nuclear rockets. The moon makes a much better staging ground for such devices than an inhabited planet you don't want to pollute, and lower gravity would make launch failures lower-risk (less chance of a nuclear core breaking apart on impact).

      Only trouble is, we need either all the facilities to construct these things on the moon... or to launch them all from Earth, which rather ruins the cost/benefit ratio.
      • Which wasn't a bad way to save the project, when we had no obvious reason (or imaginary cash) to embark outwards.

        But to save it for what? What are we getting for our $100 billion? It seems like there's a lot of scientific research that could be done for that amount with a lot bigger payoff.
    • Bullshit alert! (Score:3, Informative)

      by GPS Pilot (3683)
      Previous NASA studies for Mars missions have seldom if ever used the Moon as a launching pad because that would take about twice as much energy as going from the Earth or an Earth outpost.

      Here we have a NYT reporter overstepping his limited technical knowledge and making stuff up again.

      The best place from which to embark on a Mars mission, in terms of lowest delta-V (i.e. least amount of fuel required), is a high earth orbit. Second best is from the moon's surface. The worst, by far, is from Earth's su
  • by erick99 (743982) * <homerun@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:39AM (#8178967)
    The space station, which could have been truly great, ended up being something classically accomplished by committee. It is bisected into halves that are almost identical so that the US has it's own half versus the the Russian half. A lot of concessions and compromises have kept the space station from realizing it's potential.

    Happy Trails,

    Erick

    • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:58AM (#8179083) Journal
      A lot of concessions and compromises have kept the space station from realizing it's potential.

      Yeah, "concessions and compromises" like, say, allowing redundancy in the type of supply vehicles so that if, say, the shuttle fleet was grounded, Russian Soyuz supply ships would still be able to get supplies and replacement crews to the ISS, as well as getting them back.

      Yeah, I can see how those "concessions and compromises" are a major bummer. Not.

      If you want to blame that shit on someone blame it on the penny-pinching politicians who scaled back the ISS's scope to cut costs.
      • diplomatic token. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by QEDog (610238) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:16AM (#8179210)
        As the article says:

        For instance, orbital changes to accommodate Russia after the cold war made it harder to use the station as a launching pad.

        Originally the ISS was going to serve as the garage for exploration of the solar system. But, political reasons for collaborating with the russians ("let's be friends to show everyone that the cold war is over") forced to change the orbit four out of the sola system plane to let the russians, from their higher latitude launch pads, reach it and help a bit. The ISS became from one of the greatest scientific endevours to one of the most expensive diplomatic tokens ever.

        • by sphealey (2855)

          Originally the ISS was going to serve as the garage for exploration of the solar system. But, political reasons for collaborating with the russians ("let's be friends to show everyone that the cold war is over") forced to change the orbit four out of the sola system plane to let the russians, from their higher latitude launch pads, reach it and help a bit.

          There were also those unstated goals of "let's keep all those Russian rocket scientists employed so they don't have to think about going to North Korea,

    • by mwood (25379) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:01AM (#8179101)
      Awww, come on. I dunno what was originally envisioned, but what we got is clearly a pilot project. It's way too small to be a serious refueling stop. I'm sure that all kinds of good science are being done as manpower and air leaks permit, but it's arguable that the most important thing we're learning from it is how to build space habitats.

      (Well, we're also learning that some Russians/Yanks are not so bad after all and that even our governments can get along if they care to try. That's very useful.)

      There are some things that we will have to scale up quite a bit in order to make a space station that's more than a floating lab. For one thing, we need a lot more transport capacity: more tonnage per trip and many more trips per year. It takes a *lot of stuff* to build a big space station, and at, what, 4000kg per trip? it's going to take forever.

      Obviously the *budget* is going to have to increase quite a bit. Sure, the ISS is already expensive, but ask yourself what it would cost to build lower Manhattan from scratch, from the seabed up, and you'll get a feel for the amount of material, work, and money it takes to build something like what you see in _2001: a Space Odyssey_.

      All this scaling suggests something else: *ownership* is going to have to scale up. The ISS is, technically, international since two nations are doing most of it, but what if there were a dozen nations as deeply involved, or a hundred? Of course each nation has its own limits as to what it could reasonably ask itself to contribute to such an effort. (Don't ask me how anyone is going to make the case to governments that are busy figuring out how they're going to pay for enough bullets to settle the score with the tribe next door.)-:

      All of these are doable if enough people care, and there are reasons to care. But it's going to be hideously expensive, it's going to take a long time, and it's going to take a lot of steps and leave a lot of pilot projects and outright failures in its wake. The ISS is doing a lot for us, but it's never gonna be that big wheel in the sky -- it never could have been.
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:23AM (#8179679) Homepage Journal
        It's foolish, or in fact downright stupid, to lift all the mass for a space station from earth. We should be thinking of doing construction in space. Maybe towing a large asteroid into orbit, doing assorted sonar tests on it to get an idea of its structure, and digging a hole (or series thereof) in it. Maybe solar smelting using parabolic mirrors, it's not my department. The simple fact is that it costs too much to put mass into orbit, so let's work with mass that's already there.
        • Towing a large asteroid into earth orbit would require an awful lot of space infrastructure we simply don't have.

          Gerry O'Neill had it right: mining colonies on the moon, with solar-powered mass-drivers to launch luner materials (raw or processed into metals) into orbit.
      • The ISS is, technically, international since two nations are doing most of it, but what if there were a dozen nations as deeply involved, or a hundred?

        Actually, there are 16 Nations [nasa.gov] participating, so this qualifies for "a dozen", doesnt't it?

        Besides that, you are right. The ISS is just a prototype. Talking about its qualities as research lab was just a way to show the investors (taxpayers) some justification for the expense. It was needed to quiet down all those "we have more pressing problems as to ca

      • For one thing, we need a lot more transport capacity: more tonnage per trip

        We already *have* a lot of tonnage in the Shuttle design. It's got a hefty payload. The problem is that the expense of that thing is usually not worth it. The Shuttle is rarely used to it's full cargo capacity, and that means it's always a waste of money to use. What we need is something who's cost to operate scales with the size of the payload - so small things are cheap to launch, and it doesn't get expensive until you launc
    • The space station, which could have been truly great, ended up being something classically accomplished by committee ... A lot of concessions and compromises have kept the space station from realizing it's potential.

      Making it a perfect counterpart to the similarly-designed shuttle.

      They both suck.

      Write them both off and spend the money on a space elevator.
    • by OriginalArlen (726444) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:17AM (#8179621)
      In the beginning, the space station was created.

      This has made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a Bad Move.

  • by essreenim (647659) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:39AM (#8178968)
    Hmm, it's in near earth orbit to accomodate the Russians.

    I thought they needed extra fans to accomodate the wind passed by the Russian cosmonots after eating all that dodgy Pizza hut grub.

  • by gus goose (306978) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:40AM (#8178974) Journal
    Jumping off the space station will not take you very far very fast. You will pretty much just stay in orbit with the ISS. By definition, it is in orbit. If per chance you DID jump off, in the direction of earth, then it would probably take about a year or so for your orbit to decay enough to re-enter earth's atmosphere.

    gus
    • by lone_marauder (642787) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:16AM (#8179209)
      An ejection from the ISS's orbit would get you as far from Earth as an ejection of the same energy from lower inclinations. The question is, once you look at the solar orbit you achieve, how much energy got spent on actual orbital change as opposed to inclination change (relative to the ecliptic).

      Even the craziest orbit will offer two opportunities per year for a clean ejection, but that is certainly very restrictive for use as a "stepping stone" to anywhere.
  • when it comes true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vargul (689529) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:42AM (#8178980) Journal
    do you people recall those many sci-fi movies and books made during the cold war which feature teams coined of american and russian heroes usually working together on a spacecraft or such...?

    obviously, it is not that easy.
  • by PatrickThomson (712694) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:42AM (#8178983)
    Here. [nytimes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The first thing I built wasn't a scale model of the Effiel tower or a working crane.

    The space station can run longterm experiments in microgravity while we teach ourselves about working *really* high iron.

    In my own life I too look at how things might be perfect all the time. But I don't expect them to be so. And so it is with all endevours. But somehow this one alone should stand out in singular fortuitious perfection?

    Less crack more science.
  • High inclination (Score:4, Informative)

    by amightywind (691887) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:43AM (#8178989) Journal
    And did you know that to accomodate the Russians, the space station is in an orbit that makes it almost useless as a jumping off point to anywhere?

    The station is in an inclined orbit of 50 degrees, because Baikonur, the Russians launch site, lies at about that latitude. It takes a lot more energy to launch a shuttle to that inclination than its normal 30 degrees. There are also fewer launch opportunities. One benefit of having the station at a high inclination is for earth observation. It flies over a lot of ground. But it is an expensive way to take pictures isn't it? The station was a bad idea pursued to the bitter end. Credit George W. Bush for changing NASA's focus on it.

    • by ThroatwobblerMangrov (749046) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:32AM (#8179315)
      It would have been a worse idea to keep the Russians out as they provide the cheapest and most reliable transportation system for supplies and the only human transportation system operable right now.
      It was never intended to use the ISS as a starting point for planetary missions.
      • Re:High inclination (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vladkrupin (44145)
        If I had a mod point, I'd give you another one.

        When you plan something big, you plan a big contigency plan, even if it's expensive. $400M Mars rovers have many contigency plans, most satellites at least have insurance, etc. One of the best contigency plans for a milti-billion $$$ space station would be to make sure that there is more than one nation that can fly to it. Now think of Shuttles... Even when they DID fly, they were worthless for boosting the altitude and doing correction maneuvers; the progress
    • by Tarwn (458323)
      Ah yes, blame Bush, common argument around here.

      The design for the original US space station underwent 7 redesigns in a period of 9 years. From inception in 1984 to 1993 the planned costs of the space station increased. The initial estimate from NASA was $8 billion. The second revision (1987) was caused by changes mandated by congress. By 1990 the cost estimate had grown to $38 billion (including launches). In 1991 congress mandated another redesign, the new redesign by NASA now has a cost estimate of $30
      • Ah yes, blame Bush, common argument around here.

        I said, "Credit George W. Bush for changing NASA's focus on it."

        I meant that as a compliment to President Bush.

    • Credit him with going against every single scientific analysis of the feasibility and utility of a Moonbase or manned mission to mars? The man has _ZERO_ authority on the subject and is not responding to the opinions of those who do have the credentials to make informed assessments who are saying exactly the opposite of his wind blowing rhetoric. How is it a bad idea to have a space station to study how humans cope with spaceflight, which is currently the primary M.O. of the project? No matter how many movi
  • Jumping off points (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vpscolo (737900) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:43AM (#8178995) Homepage
    Why doesn't NASA just go one step further and establish something on the moon. Surely that would be an even better jumping off point.

    Rus
  • Bah, Russians (Score:2, Interesting)

    by malus (6786)
    I enjoyed reading this piece over on Pravda [pravda.ru] about how America faked moon landing & how Russia is just The Best!(tm)
    • Interesting to note how "Pravda" (the infamous Soviet state mouthpiece which actually means "the truth" in russian!) now seems to have replaced every historical reference to Soviet Union with the simple and romantically innocent "Russia". The more evil achievements OTOH, like Russia's continuing occupation of eastern Finland, a result of Josef Stalin's expansionist attack during WWII, still don't see much sunlight in today's "Soviet Russia".

      PS. Also quite, umm, funny was the slogan at the top of Pravda's ho

    • by N3WBI3 (595976)
      This was a crap article, typical tin foil hat garbage. Not only did the Americans not land on the moon, but we also blew up an Atlas rocket in 65 to kill a couple of astronauts who would not 'go along with the program', oh and in 1967 we killed more ment by making sure the door would not open during a fire.

      Now I am probably just missing the sarcasm in your post, if thats the case your right it was funny..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:44AM (#8178999)
    Well excuse me, but as the Russians are about the only reason we have the ISS in the first place, it seems a little stupid to go complaining about having to accommodate them.
    • Not to mention that orbiting at 25 degrees just to Accomodate the americans is hardly better. The most efficient way of getting from Earth to orbit is at a 0 degree orbit. But hey, despite all the brilliant scientists, engineers and technical achievements to come out of Russia we should still regard them as backward and incompetent, right?
    • Well excuse me, but as the Russians are about the only reason we have the ISS in the first place, it seems a little stupid to go complaining about having to accommodate them.

      Hmm...not quite. Don't forget that the US has funded almost the entire program...even the Russian-built modules when the Russians threatened to abandon the project.
  • "Insight" my foot (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:44AM (#8179005)
    One interesting insight: after the Challenger explosion it became obvious that we would never refuel a rocket with volatile fuel at a space station because the threat to the station would be so great.

    Presumably, refueling tanks would be tacked on the ISS, not kept inside the pressurized sections for storage. Therefore, unless the tank violently busts apart (unlikely, a steady leak is far more probable, even in case of a collision), there's no danger of the fuel leaking out and roasting the space station to oblivion. More likely, there'd be a leak, frozen fuel would be dumped in space, and the tank would empty more or less fast, possibly forcing the controllers to stop the ISS from spinning and/or reorient it. There is no such thing as volatile fuel in an atmosphere-less environment.
    • Re:"Insight" my foot (Score:5, Interesting)

      by torpor (458) <jayv&synth,net> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:00AM (#8179092) Homepage Journal
      There is no such thing as volatile fuel in an atmosphere-less environment.

      Ummm... rubbish. Volatile fuel is its own atmosphere.

      What you mean is, if we keep the two reactive agents which constitute most modern fuel system designs -away- from each other, then we should be able to safely store this material in space.

      Still, I don't see why, with all that wiiiiiide empty space out there, we have to bunch it all together in the same x/y/z ...
  • by pointzero (707900) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:47AM (#8179020) Homepage
    Russian parts, American parts... ALL MADE IN TAIWAN
    Ok back to work.
  • Sigh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeffkjo1 (663413) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:51AM (#8179041) Homepage
    And did you know that to accomodate the Russians, the space station is in an orbit that makes it almost useless as a jumping off point to anywhere?

    While this may be true, the ISS was already to be in a horribly useless orbit to begin with, Russians or not.
    Because of a weakness in the shuttle and the immense weight of the station, the station is in a perpetually decaying orbit. That is, to say that the shuttle, each time it docks with the station, has to fire its boosters while docked in order to push it back to a higher orbit. If the shuttle doesn't go back to the statio within the next few years, the ISS will go the way of SkyLab. (The Progress and Soyez ships do not have enough power to push the ISS high enough.)

    Why put the station in such a poor, low orbit? Because the shuttle can't fly that high.
    A recipe for disaster if I ever heard one.
    • Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:55AM (#8179060)
      "Why put the station in such a poor, low orbit? Because the shuttle can't fly that high."

      It's not in a low orbit because of the shuttle, it's in a low orbit because it's manned and therefore cannot go higher without being either in or beyond the Van Allen belts: in the belts you'll kill the crew real fast, outside the belts you'll kill the crew the next time there's a solar eruption that emits a lot of radiation. No manned station is going to be much higher than ISS without a lot of radiation shielding.
      • "outside the belts you'll kill the crew the next time there's a solar eruption that emits a lot of radiation"

        Something that people seem to forget about when they propose sended people to Mars!
        • True, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 0123456 (636235)
          On a Mars trip you'd be carrying hundreds of tons of fuel for the return journey, and quite a few tons of supplies of various kinds. That alone makes a half-decent radiation shield for the trip from Earth to Mars... shielding on the way back would be more complicated.
          • That assumes that all the radiation is coming from the sun, which is not the case for cosmic radiation
            • No, but by far the biggest risk comes from solar flares. Normal cosmic radiation might give you cancer a decade later, but solar flares will give you death in a few hours or days.
              • I found this:
                http://www.earthtym.net/spacemyth.htm
                says that cosmic rays are much more harmful than gamma rays and "Without protection against cosmic rays, expected human survival in space would be 17.5 days."
                don't know how reliable the facts are on this site though
      • Re:Uh, no (Score:5, Informative)

        by GileadGreene (539584) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:58AM (#8179514) Homepage
        Actually, the parent post is closer to being correct. The Van Allen belts have their lower edge up around 1200-1400 km. The station is orbiting at a much lower altitude than that (mean altitude somewhere around 380 km). That low altitude is mostly driven by the capability of the shuttle, which can't go a whole lot higher than that (especially at the inclination that the station is at). It'd be nice to put the station higher, since that would cut down atmospheric drag a lot, and thereby seriously reduce the amount of stationkeeping (aka "reboosting") they would need to do.
        • "The Van Allen belts have their lower edge up around 1200-1400 km."

          That very much depends on your definition of "edge": it's not as though one meter below you're taking no radiation and one meter above you're dying... the radiation dose increases significantly with altitude, and even at 500km the dose is several times larger than at 400km. You just can't fly much higher than ISS for months at a time without being exposed to a dangerous amount of radation.
      • Re:Uh, no (Score:2, Informative)

        by demo9orgon (156675)
        Link to some information culled from a debunking site RE: Van Allen Belts [thekeyboard.org.uk]

        Hopefully this will help clear up the whole radiation issue. Can't say enough cool things about the magnetosphere.

        And as for NASA and whatever we suppose its mission or goals or even what its strategy is...we should probably remember it's a political strap-on. Sure it sees lots of time outside the government's underwear drawer, but regardless of whatever new "Mission" (think of various colored condoms being rolled onto it) NASA is g
  • Thankfully... (Score:5, Informative)

    by C10H14N2 (640033) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @09:55AM (#8179063)
    "And did you know that to accomodate the Russians, the space station is in an orbit that makes it almost useless as a jumping off point to anywhere?"

    I'm sure the astronauts currently living on the station are quite thankful for this as the United States does not have another vehicle and they would all be dead if Russia could not reach them now that the shuttle has been grounded for a year. Should China and/or Japan enter into this endeavor from a launch vehicle point of view, being accessible is hardly a detriment to the utility of the station.

    Clearly, the utility of being able to reach the station from Asia for existing missions far outweighs the utility of using the station as a departure point for missions that have yet to be defined. Besides, the station design is that of a scientific laboratory, not of an orbital drydock. Having already ruled out refueling, can you imagine constructing a transport vehicle in the middle of that tangle of trusses and solar panels? If both construction and refueling are out of the picture, what's left? A snack bar? Seriously, that thing isn't even designed to handle an espresso machine.
    • Re:Thankfully... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alwsn (593349)

      I'm sure the astronauts currently living on the station are quite thankful for this as the United States does not have another vehicle and they would all be dead if Russia could not reach them now that the shuttle has been grounded for a year.

      It wasn't as if all of the shuttles blew up at the same time. If for, whatever reason, a crew was stuck in the ISS and the Russians couldn't/wouldn't send something up to get them, NASA would haul ass and send up another shuttle. NASA had only lost 2 shuttles in 100

  • by stratjakt (596332)
    You sure they're a bunch of rocket scientists with cold, hard facts and plenty of good data and insight, and not just complaining because of a political agenda - ie; it's election time and they're running a slurry of "look how the conservatives are wasting our money for broken stuff when they could be giving prescriptions to old people" articles?

    Who cares if its a jumping off point for anywhere? It was never intended to be, AFAIK. It was never meant to be an interplanetary gas station. It's an orbiting
  • Space Station (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RayBender (525745) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:04AM (#8179119) Homepage
    It seems to be fashionable to complain about the space station these days, but the fact is that the current mess in U.S. spaceflight has more to do with funding priorities than any details of the space station design or implementation. IF Congress had been willing to spend a reasonable amount of money up front, so that a number of painful design compromises had been avoided, then we'd have a working, useful Shuttle/Station infrastructure right now. I'm talking about things like the decision to go with solid boosters on the Shuttle, or the decision to abandon Skylab. Remember, after Apollo, NASA saw it's budget drop by 80% and stay there.

    Space development is a big bootstrap problem, and the only way to get a virtuous cycle of development and payoff going is to prime the pump with lots of cash. What happened was that funding levels stayed at a level below "critical mass", but have been maintained long enough that it still adds up to a lot of money. Unfortunatly it's been frittered away in a long string of abortive, wasted efforts (Skylab, Freedom, NASP, X-33, X-34, SLI, OSP, etc etc.) If they had just STUCK with any one of those long enough to actually make it work, instead of abandoning it as soon as the first development challenge came along, MAYBE we'd actually be somewhere by now...

    As for the decision to work with the Russians on ISS; if we hadn't done that there wouldn't BE a space station. We'd still be on the ground. Notice how the Russians currently supply: the core module, propulsive attitude control, orbit maintenance, life support functions (O2, CO2 removal, water, food, sleep locations), crew transport, the EVA equipment being used, a major part of the power, basic telecom, and some other things. The U.S. supplies: a mostly unused lab module (complete with air leak), some power, a $700 million connector node, high data-rate comm and a lot of paperwork requirements.

    As for NASA's progressively more and more conservative attitude; that spells the death knell for actually doing anything. If you can't transfer fuel in space because it might be danegrous, then you won't actually ever go anywhere beyond LEO or maybe the Moon (in limited cases). Captain Obvious says: space has risks. You have to just learn how to deal with them, not just sit back and decree you won't ever run them. At least not if you want to actually accomplish something... duh.

    • Re:Space Station (Score:4, Interesting)

      by OldAndSlow (528779) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:00AM (#8179528)
      As for the decision to work with the Russians on ISS; if we hadn't done that there wouldn't BE a space station. We'd still be on the ground. Notice how the Russians currently supply: the ...

      And the US paid them to do all of that. One of the reasons for Russian participation in ISS was to give their rocket scientists something to do besides sell themselves to nations that might be trying to build ICBMs (such as N Korea). It would have been cheaper and faster to build the Russian contributions ourselves.

      The trouble with ISS is that it has no real mission. If we really needed an experimental platform in LEO, why did we let Skylab fall? Turns out using unmanned vehicles lets you do safer and cheaper research on anything except the effect of space flight on humans. But NASA keeps marketing manned flight because they know that it sells well enough to keep their budget flowing. They push manned flight even when it kills real science.

      I was working on the Earth Observing System (EOS) (also known as Mission to Planet Earth) when the ISS was given the go-ahead. ISS ate the EOS budget. It went from $15 billion, to 11, to 7, to (ISTR) 4 before I left. So we don't have the really good data that EOS would have given us on issues like global warming. Instead we have a missionless kludge that resulted from 4 (I think) down-designs.

      NASA used to have visionaries and great engineers. Most of them left (or lost heart) after the end of Apollo and the end of Skylab. Now they are salesmen and bureaucrats

      • Re:Space Station (Score:5, Interesting)

        by RayBender (525745) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:34AM (#8179785) Homepage
        And the US paid them to do all of that.

        Not quite - we paid for one of their modules, the other they paid for. Of course, with their economy being a shambles they had trouble getting the money on time, so there were delays. But remember, we had delays too, and money was no excuse. Boeing did some pretty wacky shit, including inadvertently throwing away a $50 million O2 tank that they had to go rooting through a garbage dump for...

        It would have been cheaper and faster to build the Russian contributions ourselves.

        That is simply not true. 1) we had no design heritage or operational experience with station hardware that had actually flown (Skylab was a one-shot deal so there was no regenerative life support, for instance). They had 30 years of it. 2) Experience with the hardware we actually did build shows that it would have been ridiculously expensive, and likely late. The U.S. Node 1 cost $700 million and was late; and it doesn't actually contain anything. The Russian service module is a self-contained space station, and it cost $200 million.

        The trouble with ISS is that it has no real mission. If we really needed an experimental platform in LEO, why did we let Skylab fall?

        Its mission is that it's necessary for a sustained human presence in space - both for research and as an assembly point/stepping stone for further missions. If you reject the idea of human space flight, then yes, it doesn't have a mission. Skylab fell for the reason I've been lamenting: Congress and the people just never really cared enough to actually fund space at the required level.

        They push manned flight even when it kills real science.

        What do you mean by "real" science? The kind of science you happen to do, right? Look, ISS shouldn't take all the blame for the death of MTPE. Congress could and should have funded both at a reasonable level... Besides, in case you havene't noticed, the current Prez has gutted MTPE /EOS/SEC as well as the Station. I doubt he likes research into global warming...

  • by Spencerian (465343) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:09AM (#8179160) Homepage Journal
    To escape the Earth's gravity and not be forcibly pulled back, you would have to leave at about 25,000 MPH, or about 7 mi/sec. That's a lot of energy to move a moon shuttle from Earth orbit. Note that it took the entire, very large third stage of the Saturn V rocket just to move the LM and CSM to the moon. If you have small payloads, like space probes, it's not so bad. But economically, there's a way to spread things around.

    A space station still works great as a waypoint. It just wouldn't be practical to start your adventure to anywhere except the Moon from there. So, create a new shuttle that can better move men and supplies with much greater abort options (hint: Fly the shuttle by a new next-gen plane to near-space [62 mi) then pop the bastard from there with far less needed fuel and still keep an abort option as both orbiter and booster plane are glideable or have powered-flight capacity).

    Such a station would indeed have at least two (backups, remember?) moon shuttles, flyable only in space. What? Fuel? Who says you need to use liquid fuels? Try solids that can be lit and relit in space. The fuel cores could be sent on shuttles without as much worry about volatility than liquids. There is one way to stop a burn in space--stop the oxidizer (you're in vacuum, figure it out). Hypogolic fuels (ones that dont need an igniter--they burn when two substances touch) are still a nice bet as well, and may be safer to upload in separate trips.

    Let the moon itself be the fuel depot, optionally--there is probably a way to produce what is needed there.

    From the moon, with its puny 1.47 mi/sec escape velocity, trips to anywhere work great and require less energy to achieve. Most importantly, astronauts would have TWO in-space safe-haven return locales in case things get ratty somewhere along the Earth-Moon transits.

    Once you're in route to Mars, however, you better be able to make oxygen from a can of Spam, because rescue options would be pretty sparse.
    • Small point of order - technically, L4 or L5 would be the best jumping off points. Actually, L1 would work great, too, except for the necessary station keeping. However, that might be offset by the fact that if you just give something a push away from L1, it'll accelerate, while if you push something away from L4 or L5, it'll just go into orbit around those points.

      -T

    • by Ribald (140704) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:39AM (#8179376)
      What? Fuel? Who says you need to use liquid fuels? Try solids that can be lit and relit in space. The fuel cores could be sent on shuttles without as much worry about volatility than liquids. There is one way to stop a burn in space--stop the oxidizer (you're in vacuum, figure it out).

      Hmm. I'm not sure it's that easy. I'm pretty sure that solid-fuel rockets have the oxidizer mixed in with the fuel and are fully self contained. The SRBs on the Shuttle, for instance, have nothing pumping an oxidizer in.

      There are (in my experiences) two types of propulsion engineers--those who love solid fuels, and those who hate them.

      On the positive side, it keeps you from messing with those nasty hypergolic fuels like hydrazine.

      On the negative side, once you light it, there's no easy way to stop it until it's out of fuel--it's like a big highway flare. IIRC, if the shuttle needs to abort early in the launch sequence, the only thing to do is to jettison the SRBs and let them go flying merrily on their way (to be destroyed later by range safety).

      Liquid fuels can be throttled or shut off. A solid booster's thrust can only be controlled by how the fuel is poured in the casing (star patterns and whatnot give high initial thrust, then back off), and not easily shut down.
      • by Spencerian (465343) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:22AM (#8179668) Homepage Journal
        Yep, I agree. That's how current solids and liquid fuels work.

        But anything is impossible until its not. I don't have a real answer, since I'm just an enthusiast, not an engineer. A solid fuel has to be stoppable--the question is how could it be done and still be relightable? That's a nice new engineering question.

        Unfortunately, once the Shuttle SRBs are lit, NOTHING can be done to abort until they are spent. Attempting to let them loose while powered may likely create a Challenger-esque ET destruction sequence, either by collision or imbalanced separations, leaving the Orbiter/ET to tumble.

        Oh, yeah. While nice, hypergolics are ugly. But cryogenic fuels are worse.
      • There's a new generation of solid rocket motors in the works that use a solid fuel core and a liquid oxidizer. The solid fuel is usually a rubber or parafin. The oxidizer can be LOX, H202 or NOx. To turn off the engine, as suggested, you simply shut down the pump, to throttle the engine you reduce oxidizer flow.

        It works & NASA is seriously interested. The Scaled Composites is using a rubber + NOx engine in it's X-prize entry, SpaceShipOne.

  • by PSaltyDS (467134) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:13AM (#8179196) Journal
    "And did you know that to accomodate the Russians, the space station is in an orbit that makes it almost useless as a jumping off point to anywhere?"

    Since THIS space station was never intended to be a "jumping off point", why is that a problem? Since the Russian capsule is the only way to get people there and back for now, accomodating thems seems like a good decision at this point. If we get to build a space station intended for "jumping off" in the future, it will be built in the required orbit, and I hope Russia, Japan, China, and lots of European countries join in on it!

  • by mwood (25379) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:18AM (#8179219)
    How does the Challenger explosion connect with orbital refuelling? I suppose the ISS is a lousy place to store SRBs on cold days, but (a) the SRBs are thrown away before you reach orbit, and (b) one day in vacuum is as cold as another. Naturally fuel storage and transfer wouldn't take place inside the habitat, anymore than the corner gas station keeps its gasoline in jugs stacked in the office. Of course, the gas station is surrounded by oxidizer and the space station isn't, so fuel safety is a somewhat different proposition in orbit....

    Why are people questioning the energy cost of hauling fuel and interplanetary spacecraft to the moon for launching? That's the dumb way to do it. You make the fuel and the spacecraft *on the moon*. The whole point of starting from orbit, or from the moon, is to avoid hauling hundreds of tons of stuff up from ground level in the first place. It's been the plan for 50 years or more.
    • "How does the Challenger explosion connect with orbital refuelling?"

      The shuttles were going to carry liquid-fuelled boosters to launch interplanetary probes like Galileo. After Challenger blew up they rethought that and cancelled any such future flights.

      "You make the fuel and the spacecraft *on the moon*. The whole point of starting from orbit, or from the moon, is to avoid hauling hundreds of tons of stuff up from ground level in the first place"

      And how exactly do you expect to "make spacecraft on the m
  • station, the (Score:4, Informative)

    by kulakovich (580584) <slashdot AT bonfireproductions DOT com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:18AM (#8179226)
    1) Once the U.S. congress cut the funding for the habitaion module, the ISS officially became an orbiting pork barrel. It takes 2.5 people to maintain the station, and with 3 aboard that's .5 peopple for science. The hab module would have accomodated 7 scientists.

    2) On fuel-in-space and There is no such thing as volatile fuel in an atmosphere-less environment.

    Let's keep looking at this: Volatility doesn't mean simply explosive, and it is true that fuel requires an oxidizer in space, however, here are some problems:

    a) Fuel is "sticky". Not sticky like glue, but when it comes into contact with things in microgravity, it stays there.

    b) Fuel is caustic and corrosive. There are so many things that we do not want fuel sticking to, such as gaskets, joints of mechanisms, windows, experiments, instruments, and space suits because

    c) Much of the fuel for satellites and such are not simply liquid oxigen and nitrogen, but stuff like Hydrazine, which has too many immediate dangers to list. In short, a small amount coming in through an air lock after an EVA could asphyxiate everyone on the station, be ignited by static, etc.

    d) In case all that wasn't enough - just how can we approach the ISS if there is a cloud of fuel around it*? We can't fire any thrusters (with their own oxidizers) into a cloud like that.

    Ok I'll zip it now.

    kulakovich

    * Yes, I know, there is already a cloud of bits and pieces and ice and etc. But that is nothing compared to a fuel leak.
    • d) In case all that wasn't enough - just how can we approach the ISS if there is a cloud of fuel around it*? We can't fire any thrusters (with their own oxidizers) into a cloud like that.

      At least to this point - use solid or liquid fuel, not pressurized gas. That way, if there's a "leak" in the container, it'll just stay still, not spray out everywhere (remove the excess air from the container - keep it at near-0 pressure inside, no matter how full it is). Then, no worries. Technically, you wouldn't even

  • Mir (Score:5, Interesting)

    by david.given (6740) <dg@cowlark.cCURIEom minus physicist> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:22AM (#8179246) Homepage Journal
    What I don't understand is why the ISS wasn't built next to Mir.

    Okay, Mir was, towards the end, practically falling apart. But... it worked. It had guidance systems, attitude control, life support, power systems, everything you need for a long-term space vehicle. It also had mould, dents, leaks and a shredded solar panel, but we're not that bothered about that.

    Start building the ISS as a set of add-on modules to Mir. Take advantage of Mir's facilities until you get the chance to replace them: run off the existing power bus until you get the replacement solar panels sent up (or, preferably, some RTGs). Use Mir's life support until the air recycler is installed. etc.

    Eventually the new modules will be supplying all the functionality and the old parts of Mir will be unused. At which stage, you can either use them as living space, or depressurise them and mothball them. Maybe one day you can recycle the raw materials; even as scrap, Mir was ludicrously valuable.

    But no, Mir went down in flames and the ISS went down in budget. All for annoying political reasons. IMO it's highly unlikely that the ISS will ever do anything useful. By the time it gets large enough, the commercial stations will be eclipsing it.

    • by Chemisor (97276) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:58AM (#8179993)
      Okay, Motif was, towards the end, practically falling apart. But... it worked. It has widgets, programmers who know it, stability, and attitude (or was that altitude? I forget...) control too. It also has mould, dents, leaks, and a shredded-looking user interface, but we're not that bothered about that.

      Start building GNOME as a set of add-on modules to Motif. Take advantage of Motif's facilities until you get the chance to replace them. Run off the existing codebase until you get the replacement interface set up. Use Motif's technical support pool until the documentation recycler is installed. etc.

      Eventually the new modules will be supplying all the functionality and the old parts of Motif will be unused. At which stage, you can either use them as scratch space, or depressurise them and mothball them. Maybe one day you can recycle the raw materials; even as scrap, those ancient electrons are ludicrously valuable.

      But no, Motif went down in flames and GNOME went down in budget. All for annoying political reasons. IMO it's highly unlikely that GNOME will ever do anything useful. By the time it gets large enough (as if it isn't already), other commercial products will be eclipsing it.
  • by tarranp (676762) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:31AM (#8179305)
    It is widely known, but little commented on, that the manned space program being conducted by the U.S. and Russia is a collosal waste of money that is producing little in the way of meaningful scientific or technological research. Rather the I.S.S. is primarily justified within the policy making organs of the U.S. government as a means to keep experienced Russian engineers employed and thus minimize the risk of them being employed by a nation with a desire for interconinental balistic missile technology and who are reckless enough to use it.

    Basically, the manned space program in the U.S. and the USSR has become a giant welfare project for aerospace engineers.

    While in the short term this is a cheap way to slow the inevitable acquisition of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by increasinlg underdeveloped and recklessly led nation states, in the long run it is a losing game:

    First, because the spread of technology is inevitable, and secondly because the field of aerospace engineering is distorted, with many more engineers seeking training in schools than there is a true economic demand for. These people are not only diverted from turning their talents to more productive areas, but later in life will lobby to keep the pork coming.

    President Bush's proposals are an even bigger waste. I wouldn't mind if they were to be funded by voluntary donations, but the thought that people will be taxed to fund this boondogle when they already have to work so hard to make ends meet irritates me. I would like to see government getting out of the fields of scientific research & space travel. Let us keep our tax dollars and spend it on the charities that we want to fund. Let us pick our priorities. I think the results would be quite surprising to people who think that government support is required for these projects.
    • This is the ugly truth that is often ignored - this project is largely political, with huge bonuses for Boeing etc and Russian engineers who might otherwise be employed by North Korea.

      ISS serves no scientific purpose with its current staff level. ISS serves no functional purpose with its current staff level. The crew has one job - keep it from falling apart. They are in fact custodians.

      It doesn't matter that ISS is a failure in the conventional sense - it is a huge plus for Boeing who I am sure is billing t

  • Sort of (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LooseChanj (17865) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:37AM (#8179352) Homepage
    Click [google.com]

    ISS was never intended to be a "jumping off point" to anywhere. The move to 51.6 to accomodate the russians was a political move. Thank Clinton, it was his bright idea to bring in the russians as full partners in the hope their missle techs wouldn't go somewhere else...like say Iran. Given ISS' mission (microgravity research, NOT a spacedock quit watching star trek) any orbit will do, but KSC's due east 28 degrees would be best case in terms of payload.

    I actually turned down a chance to tour ISS elements in the processing facility. :-(

    Amusing ISS historical anecdote: While preparing to close the payload bay doors for the launch of Destiny (the US lab), it was discovered the camera on the elbow of the shuttle's robot arm came within an *inch* of the labs hull. Much hemming and hawwing, and I forget what the final solution was, but I think it's a little amusing that after all the billions had been spent, all the test had been done, they got an "awwwwwwcrap" at literally the 11th hour.
  • by BigGerman (541312) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:37AM (#8179358)
    I dont think the ISS orbit was chosen to accomodate Russians.
    It takes the least amount of fuel to put something in orbit if said orbit at the the same angle as lattitude of the place you are launching from.
    51.6 degrees (ISS orbit) is lattitude of Baikonur, Russian space port. The space station was started by launching large building blocks by Russian D1 boosters. I do not think there is an equivalent to those in US. So the choice of orbit was natural to maximize the available technology.
  • by Threed (886) <nowhere&atall,com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @10:55AM (#8179497)
    Given its high orbital inclination, ISS isn't the ideal first stop, but it's still possible to go places. In a simulator, I've gone from ISS's orbit to the moon without changing inclination. It looks scary, but really it's no worse than any other trans-lunar-injection. As for fuel cost, well, the simulator gives you a huge fuel budget but the non-coplanar transfer orbit is still WAY cheaper than changing inclination before heading out! I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the cost is the same.

    For a lunar-orbit-rondezvous mission, I can see one potential problem: the possibility of having to wait longer for a launch window from the surface to the command module.

    All that said, I kind of like GWB's plan of jumping out of our commitment to ISS as soon as possible. Consider it an experiment in international space cooperation, more than a scientific platform. The experiment is over, lets learn what we can from it and move on.
  • I find it interesting the way that the station was designed due to politicol reasons as much as technical reasons. Also, I think it makes Clinton shine for what I always complimented him for.

    Clinton decided to sacrifice a lot of technical advantage to stick the station over Russia, which seriously aided international relations. I've always said that Clinton did wonders for international relations.

    Bush, by contrast, pushes a mars mission with the idea of a jump from the moon which the experts say is crap.
    • Clinton was never a friend of NASA, often allowing the then-administrator Dan Goldin to slash-and-burn some of the best projects and people out of the agency. However, he did recognize the value of using the ISS as a bridge program with Russia, if not for any other reason to give their rocket scientists something to do besides sell designs to North Korea. Pragmatically, from this view, the ISS has been a good program.

      However, IANARS (I am not a research scentist), but I am unaware of any "flagship" resear

  • --Carl Sandburg, "Washington
    Monument by Night," from Slabs of the Sunburnt West
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:37AM (#8179812)
    Its all very nice talking about space stations the moon and mars etc but really , its all a bit pointless until a type of propulsion technology is
    created than can get people off this planet as easily as an airliner taking off AND be used in space. Chemical fueled systems just don't cut
    it and Ion engines are so underpowered as to be useless even in space (15 MONTHS just to get to the moon! Gimme a break!). What the solution is I don't know but
    currently we're still at the space vehicle equivalent of a canoe , not even a 16th century galleon, and if we wish to start exploring space then we're going
    to need something a damn site more useful than what we have at the moment.
  • obvious? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:29PM (#8180801) Homepage
    It's obvious to me that there are plenty of safety precautions that can be used to allow refueling of spacecraft at a space station.

    (1) Use binary fuels. E.G, LH/LOX. On Earth liquid hydrogen is seriously flammable, and liquid oxygen will make other things ignite. In space, liquid hydrogen will find no oxidizer to make it burn, and liquid oxygen will disperse into vacuum too quickly to make objects around it burn very well.

    (2) Use breakaway tethers. The other major hazard with using volatile fuels is that fuel components from a punctured tank may jet away, imparting kinetic energy to its source. An incident like this with a spacecraft or fuel storage tank hard-docked to a space station might potentially deorbit both. By attaching both fuel reservoir and spacecraft (while fueling) to the station with a breakaway tether, this danger is significantly reduced.

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