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Space United States

NASA Prepares for Space Rescues 249

Posted by michael
from the happy-birthday-douglas-engelbart dept.
wallstreetprodigy23 copies and pastes "Space shuttle commander Steve Lindsey is preparing for a mission he hopes will never launch: the rescue of other astronauts in orbit. If a crisis arises during shuttle Discovery's planned return to flight in May, Lindsey and a crew of three could be called upon to lift off aboard sister ship Atlantis on an emergency mission that would be the first in the history of human space exploration. Rescue flights were hotly debated at NASA after shuttle Columbia broke up in the skies above Texas two years ago this Tuesday. Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved. Because of the accident, NASA will have a backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at least the next two flights in case another ship suffers damage similar to what brought down Columbia."
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NASA Prepares for Space Rescues

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  • by fembots (753724) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:04PM (#11523009) Homepage
    If Columbia is used as an example, shouldn't NASA be looking at policies that allow them to delay a launch and/or return, and conduct a thorough inspection of the craft? From what I have read (from the transcripts), it was too late for Columbia to do anything by the time they realized something was wrong. Catching Genesis mid-air with a helicopter didn't work.

    • by FrYGuY101 (770432) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:09PM (#11523050) Journal
      People at NASA were aware that the foam hit the shuttle wing though, and simply dismissed it.

      You can bet your ass if something similar happens on the next few flights, they're going to inspect the damage, rather than ignore it.
      • No. They knew it HIT the wing. They did not know it made a big hole.
      • You can bet your ass if something similar happens on the next few flights, they're going to inspect the damage, rather than ignore it.

        If the exact same problem happens again, they'll inspect the damage. But they knew after the Columbia mission that they needed to stop ignoring problems, that they couldn't look at a problem, and say it didn't kill us the last few times, so it's routine. Both the foam and O-rings were recurring problems that happened never to be severe enough to destroy the shuttle, so the
    • They are doing these things also. Delaying the launch has always been there, since it's often necessary due to weather and equipment failure. (Not delaying the launch when it should and could have been delayed is why Challenger blew up.) Delaying the return is now an option as well. Presumably they will be given extra supplies, and all shuttle flights will be put into an orbit that can reach the ISS, so the worst case is that they have to hang out there until the problem is fixed or they're rescued. I belie
      • by Johnno74 (252399) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @08:31PM (#11524151)
        I heard a very sensible sounding option just after the Columbia accident which has since faded away, which would seem to give the best of both worlds: it leaves the door open for an orbital rescue, without the expense & bother of having a 2nd shuttle prepped to go.

        Instead of either having a shuttle on "warm standby" (which must cost millions per day) or skimping on the normal procedures to get rescue mission up there before food, air & power run out (playing double or nothing really), isn't it more practical to have an unmanned rocket stocked with supplies standing by that can be lifed off with just a few days preparation.

        This rocket could be fueled and match orbits with the damaged shuttle, and the shuttle could dock and take the supplies onboard, and then the astronauts major problem before a properly propared rescue mission arrives would be boredom.

        Maybe chuck a few gameboys onto the supply rocket ;)
    • Catching Genesis mid-air with a helicopter didn't work.
      If I remeber correctly, the accelerometer was put in upside down. The helicopter-catching part of the mission had nothing to do with its failure.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:05PM (#11523023)

    be good practice for them and the whole world benefits at the same time

    all for less than the price of a months war in Iraq [costofwar.com]

    • the whole world benefits

      And how does the whole world not benefit from the fact that more than half of the Iraqi population just stepped up and voted, launching a democracy in an region famous for embracing midieval thoughts about things like space shuttles? Come on now. These things are not mutually exclusive.
      • Lets see. Travel is restricted, they aren't allowed to drive today, airports are closed. There is a strictly enforced curfew. The election has been carefully orchestrated to ensure the most popular factions in the country are not represented on the ballot. Half the population is scared to go out, for fear of being killed in extremist actions. The other half is scared to go out, for fear they will be killed by the occupying army.

        I'm really curious. Just what is so great about this kind of enforced 'f

        • Just what is so great about this kind of enforced 'freedom'?

          It's less than two years after a genocidal maniac's brutal tribal thug-ocracy got torn down. This election took place in half the time it took to the first ones in Germany and Japan, after those tyrannical regimes were turned into government-by-the-people propositions. So, you'd rather that midievil-minded bastards like those that are proclaiming "democracy is evil" should run the place? That what millions of happy, dancing Iraqis just stood up
    • The first couple of flights are merely test flights. Much as the original ones were.

      all for less than the price of a months war in Iraq

      How much is a vote worth?

  • it seems good news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Paolo DF (849424) *
    So, they assume that somehow troubles in space can be solved with a rescue mission. This is good. I think people is more incline to think that space troubles are disastrous.
    • by jacksonj04 (800021) <nick@nickjackson.me> on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:54PM (#11523412) Homepage
      Problems in space shouldn't need a fully stocked shuttle ready to go in 24 hours, they should have some method of getting astronauts back onto earth without needing to waste time at this end.

      Escape modules or 'lifeboats' would be a much nicer solution. Especially if (I saw this on one of the comments further down) the lifeboats are sitting idle in orbit anyway and can propel themselves to the shuttle.

      Hell, even ready-to-go unmanned rockets with lifeboats could be launched from points on earth to almost any orbit very quickly. I would rather be climbing into a re-entry ready pod than wait for another shuttle to rendezvous with me. Notice the ISS has an escape pod and doesn't rely on Thunderbirds.
  • Rescue?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sabathius (566108) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:06PM (#11523033)

    Thunderbirds are GO!
  • Great timing. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:07PM (#11523036)
    I'm not a rocket scientist, so let me make sure I have this right:

    1) Build space station.
    2) Send astronauts to space station.
    3) A few years later, start brainstorming a rescue plan.
    • Your premise seems to be that bureaucracies should act rationally. They Do Not.

      Public Choice Theory demonstrates that what is "rational" to a government bureaucrat is not "rational" under the logical framework of private enterprise or individual action. The motivations are all messed up, as viewed from the outside.

      The pioneers of space were expendable, to the bureaucratic mind, because creating a method of "rescue" would cost more than training new recruits and weathering the bad publicity.

      The rocket sci
    • Re:Great timing. (Score:3, Informative)

      by twostar (675002)
      Hm, lemme check, yep, the Space Station crew has a rescue plan: Jump into Soyuz and land back home.
    • There is a rescue plan for the space station, they bail out in the Soyeuz.
  • Manned spaceflight? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toby The Economist (811138) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:10PM (#11523054)
    > ...because of the accident, NASA will have a
    > backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at
    > least the next two flights in case another ship
    > suffers damage similar to what brought down
    > Columbia."

    It took a hundred flights for the Columbia failure mode to occur. There has been no other flight where an in-flight emergency occured such that rescue might be considered.

    Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

    Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

    It seems to me there is a lack of proper vision in the space programme.

    We have manned spaceflight, but being used in a way where unmmaned spaceflight could be perfectly well used instead (probably at lower cost, and certainly with zero risk to human life).

    Manned spaceflight *is* vital, but not for Shuttle flights! manned spaceflight is necessary to establish colonies on other moons and planets.

    Humans will not really start colonizing other worlds, though, until the Space Elevator is built; then it will become practical.

    I expect this to occur within my lifetime, assuming we don't destroy the planet first.

    --
    Toby
    • Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

      While I see your point and think this is pretty dumb to waste all this money on rescue missions that will never fly, it's needed. Why? What if the same thing happens again in the next few missions? NASA is completely fucked and would be getting a fraction of the money they get now. It would be a long time before they recovered. If something else went wrong, and two consecutive missions saw the death

      • by BeerCat (685972) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:51PM (#11523381) Homepage
        Is this reliance on a back-up plan not just another example of a lot of Western society becoming increasingly risk-averse?

        During an age of exploration, deaths were treated as a hazard of the job - Amelia Earheart's disappearance did not stop the aviation industry from developing. If the same thing happened today, there would be public outcry about how to make {fill in transportation mode} "safer" (= find someone to blame when things go wrong)

        Keeping with the aviation parallels, Lindbergh would probably not have been allowed to take off today - single engine, no radio, no forward visibility and so on - and yet he is (rightly) credited with pulling off an amazing feat*, rather than "doing something foolhardy and dangerous"


        * being picky, the amazing part was landing at his chosen destination (Paris), rather than flying non-stop across the Atlantic, as that had already been done back in 1919 by Alcock & Brown [aviation-history.com]. Or that he did it solo.
        • Keeping with the aviation parallels, Lindbergh would probably not have been allowed to take off today - single engine, no radio, no forward visibility and so on - and yet he is (rightly) credited with pulling off an amazing feat*, rather than "doing something foolhardy and dangerous"

          * being picky, the amazing part was landing at his chosen destination (Paris), rather than flying non-stop across the Atlantic, as that had already been done

          Actually, to be completely accurate, Lindbergh is famous for winn

    • by Tackhead (54550) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:32PM (#11523247)
      It took a hundred flights for the Columbia failure mode to occur. There has been no other flight where an in-flight emergency occured such that rescue might be considered.
      >
      >Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

      The point is - like all Generals more concerned with keeping their stars than the welfare of the troops under their command - to fight the last war.

      To understand NASA, you need to stop thinking like and engineer and start thinking like a bureaucrat or politician.

      I advise reading the last Slashdot thread on "Political Software Development" while under the influence of large quantities of alcohol. (And if you're a NASA administrator and something goes wrong on your watch, re-read the thread while switching to Valium.)

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

      I wonder. A shuttle surely doesn't have to be on the pad and fuelled up. It just needs to be in one piece and launchable. They need to do this anyway for the next mission. It should be okay.

      The only downside is it would slow down the rate that they can launch shuttles. They would have to have 2 in service per launch and only have one being refitted at the time.
      • The only downside is it would slow down the rate that they can launch shuttles.
        Not the only downside, since it costs a lot of money to keep that extra shuttle on standby. Not a minor issue for the Shuttle program, which has always had a hard time justifying its costs.
        • Well, for the forseeable future, maintenance shouldn't be a problem since the three remaining shuttles have all had extensive OMDP periods already.

          And servicing a shuttle is a sunk cost. You have to pay for those people somehow. What it means is that if one shuttle is flying, you likely can't have cargo installed in one of the other two in preparation for a rescue launch. Since cargo installs are done at the launch pad, there's no worry about having the launch stack assembled, only fueling it, and makin
    • Yes, I don't know why I need a smoke detector, fire extinguisher, air bags or seat belts either. EXPENSIVE!!!

      And don't get me started on inflatable ramps in airplanes, or life rafts in ferry boats. All of this is ridiculous given that the vast majority of people never need them.

      Jebus, just realized that many buildings have automatic sprinklers, yet when I cruise around the city, I almost never see buildings that have burnt down.

      Bastards at my apartment complex used sheetrock rated for a 45 minute fire.
      • by Dun Malg (230075)
        Fucking wankers on 9/11 used boxcutters (no evidence to that actually but that's a different rant). Now whenever I go to the airport, even my fingernail clippers are suspect. WHAT IS TSA THINKING?

        I think this one analogy is out of place here. The only reason something as stupid as a box cutter was effective on 9/11 was that, for all 30-odd years of hijacking history, hijackings were without excecption committed by people intent on using the living passengers as bargaining chips. People knew that the odds

      • I think you miss his point.

        It was NOT "Why have a rescue mission standing by?"

        It WAS "Why have a rescue mission standing by for ONLY two flights?"

  • Rescuing Russians? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Hmm, I wonder if this system could also be used to rescue Russian, Chinese or even Europeran astronauts in orbit in the future, and if NASA would use it for this. This is surely the kind of thing that would be an ideal colabriative mission beteen nations.
  • Next Two? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vbdrummer0 (736163) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:13PM (#11523086)
    Woudn't it make more sense (humanly and logically, not necessarily financially) to always have a backup shuttle ready? Sure as hell, there won't be a screwup so soon after restarting flights; NASA won't allow anything to get off the ground this early with any problems at all; it would look bad for PR. But later, like in a few years, they'll have slacked up, and something could go wrong. Hopefully, they'll have a backup flight ready to go if/when that happens.
    • It's a good idea to wear a helmet, gloves, and knee and elbow pads every time you ride your bike, but you don't, do you?
    • you can't have a backup for the backup..

      and finances are usually about logic.

      I'd think the bigger problem is that the 'backup' shuttle is identical to the shuttle going up there... - see the problem?
  • by popo (107611) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:13PM (#11523087) Homepage

    Look at the size of the original orbital capsules. Excape capsules could be created that take up 1/2 the space, could survive re-entry, and easily fit within the cargo area. Wouldn't that be much cheaper than a sister shuttle at the ready?
    • Or better yet, put a satellite with a reentry capsule stocked with food and supplies in orbit. In an emergency, the satellite could rendezvous with the shuttle, the astronauts could get in the capsule and return to Earth.
      • just because it is in orbit doesn't mean you can get to it. case in point columbia couldn't have gotten to the iss if it wanted to. fuel and time are the two biggest constraints, lack of either and you are done.
      • by Migraineman (632203) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @07:48PM (#11523845)
        Have a look at the orbital mechanics - you can raise or lower your orbit by changing your speed a little. That's a mostly-scalar operation. You go up and down, but stay in the same orbital plane (please forgive the obvious simplification.) Now think of your orbital path in terms of the velocity vector. Rotating your orbital plane 90-degrees, for example, requires that you reduce your vector velocity in one axis to zero, while raising the vector velocity in the perpendicular axis to the original amount. So, how much energy did it take to get your original vector velocity? That's right, the whole launch amount. So to turn 90 degrees, you'll need two complete launches worth of fuel and expendibles. That's oversimplified too, because you need to haul that two-launches-worth of booster and fuel up with you in the initial launch. The Rocket Equaiton [mit.edu] makes that scenario prohibitive.

        Similarly, hauling the rescue capsule around on every frickin' launch has similar implications. It's tremendously wasteful to haul extra weight around "just in case."

        I'd propose a "tow truck" kind of solution. To pose an analogy, how often do you use the spare tire in your car? Maybe never? (Automakers won't sell a spare-less car mostly due to negative market perception.) If you don't have a spare tire, what will you do? You'll get on the cell phone and call a tow truck. (I realize you can't just pull over to the curb in space, but bear with me.) The cell phone and tow truck represent elements of a repair (i.e. rescue) infrastructure we have in place. The better the infrastructure, the less you need to haul around the materials to be self-sufficient. I'd rather see a Delta 4 Heavy (or equivalent) equipped with a Crew Extraction Vehicle (CEV.) Yep, it's a capsule that fits a crew of N in horrible discomfort just long enough to return them to earth. I'm thinking extreme Spam-in-a-Can. They wedge inside however they must. There will be rudimentary water and food aboard - think a couple of bottles of Aquafina and some granola bars. They soil their undergarments, if necessary. A shower will be waiting for them when they return. Feces washes off.

        The "infrastructure" part involves doing all the pre-flight coordination with the manned mission, and would require that the tow truck could be prepped and launched within 2 days or so of declaration of an emergency. Since it's on the ground, the CEV only has one orbital insertion to deal with. It'd need to mate up with the manned mission, but that's part of the infrastructure too.

        Since the CEV is unmanned on launch, it can be configured to use solid boosters. That's going to mitigate liquid-fuel handling issues. It also mitigates flight profile problems - high G-loading tends to do bad things to ugly-bags-of-mostly-water. But the meatbags don't board the CEV until it's already on-orbit, so you only have the human-friendly (re)-entry profile to deal with, right?

        The Crew Return Vehicle (not to be confuced with my CEV, above) is a boondoggle. Passengers are seated in relative comfort. They get all sorts of space to move around. The CRV even has wings and a pilot. And it's supposed to be reusable. What a bunch of crap. My CEV, on the other hand, is horribly cramped and has exactly one job to do - return the crew to earth safely. Once. Period.

        In writing this, I'm thinking that "tow truck" is the wrong term. The CEV is more of a taxi. We abandon the original damaged spacecraft.
    • The whole thing was an overengineered government boondoggle. It didn't make sense then, and doesn't make sense now, while looking at it logically.

      The motivations of the various parties are clear enough.

      -NASA was politicking, they didn't want to have a situation like Apollo where the last few flights were eliminated because of changing conditions and or national boredom. A reusable craft almost demands use. They also wanted to create a consistent work environment rather than running a constant R&D shop. Government employees are not good at R&D, in general. Most R&D establishments in the military, for instance, morph into bureaucratic wastes of money over time due to the fact that government oversight doesn't lend itself to dynamic activity. If the unique, dynamic overseers of the project, those exceptional people who have drive and ambition within government, leave their posts - the project stagnates. NASA is no exception.

      -The pilots wanted something aircraft-like to fly, damn the fact that it's not a useful shape for a spacecraft. That was the design spec, and safety was compromised to meet it.

      -The politicians were throwing a bone to NASA and appropriated the funds based on the successful lunar missions. Oversight on this was near-nil, except for the dollar figure which was chopped in half, exacerbating the problem.

      So they seized on an Air Force requirement regarding the capability to return payload from orbit, which ultimately has been used very infrequently, and used that as a justification to achieve all their other disparate goals.

      They promised all kinds of capabilities such as quick turnaround which are bogus in reality. They promised cheaper per-flight costs. They promised greater safety. A lot was promised that never materialized.

      Note that none of the real justifications for a reusable, aircraft shaped spacecraft had anything to do with science, advancing human exploration, or efficiency. Pretty much tells the whole story, no?
      • Most of the problems with the shuttle can be traced back to Nixon, he wouldn't fund it unless it could be used for launching and retrieving military satellites. NASA wanted a completely different design, and thought that the current shuttle would be insane, cost less in the short term but vastly more in the long term. Nixon didn't care about long term costs, because he wouldn't be in office anymore.
        • I'm right there with you blaming Nixon initially, but there were many chances to alter the program - whether it was Ford, Carter or Reagan - they all had opportunities to rationalize the program.

          The fact that none of them did gives each a measure of culpability, or more specifically makes their staffs culpable. Each had a political appointee at NASA who could have done something about it.
      • Actually one of the main reasons for it being aircraft shaped was that the Military wanted a craft that could return classified payloads not jsut to earth, but directly to a US territory, instead of splashing down in an ocean where it could potentially be stolen by a passing enemy ship or submarine. Hence the requirement for it to be able to glide and come into a controlled landing.
        • The Soviets solved this with Soyuz. I'm sure we could have arrived at a different solution.
          • Soyuz cant return a payload to earth... Plus it impacts at quite a rate into the ground, im pretty sure I read somewhere that thats one of the reasons Soyuz hasnt ever been adapted to reusable status, the stress placed on the frame. A glider would bring a payload back to earth nice and gentley.
            • you cannot use the words 'gentle' and 're-entry' in the same sentence, except in a diametrically opposed context. There is NOTHING gentle about a re-entry from orbit into the atmosphere. It's simple physics, the vehicle descends, comes in contact with the atmosphere, producing drag. Drag slows it, causing it to descend farther, causing an increase in drag, and this becomes a 'self feeding' situation, the resultant forces from which are huge.

              Doesn't matter how you twist it, re-entry is going to be exposed

  • Hotly debated? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by game kid (805301) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:16PM (#11523109) Homepage
    Rescue flights were hotly debated at NASA after shuttle Columbia broke up in the skies above Texas two years ago this Tuesday. Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved.

    No, not unless rescuers were launched by a full-speed ICBM the very instant the shuttle broke up. Unless Houston can immediately get news of a wing break, this is a non-starter. Space travel is an inherently dangerous business--going into harsh atmospheres (if any atmosphere at all), lack of gravity and air pressure to keep you in shape, old and tough-to-maintain equipment in space shuttles, etc; I'm shocked there's any debate.

    If I was an astronaut I'd be thinking about my two choices during any mission:

    1. I return alive after a perfect launch and mission.
    2. I'm fucked.
    • Surely Apollo 13 shows your dichotomy to be false.
    • Re:Hotly debated? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nuclear305 (674185) *
      "No, not unless rescuers were launched by a full-speed ICBM the very instant the shuttle broke up. Unless Houston can immediately get news of a wing break, this is a non-starter."

      You entirely missed the point. The question raised wasn't "Could the Columbia crew have been saved WHILE it broke up?"

      Rather, it was "Could we have realized the problem while in orbit and kept the shuttle in orbit long enough to rescue the crew in some way?"

      It's unlikely the crew could have been saved even if the severity of t
      • But the point is surely that they decided there was nothing to prevent Columbia from re-entering. The availability or otherwise of a rescue facility won't make a bit of difference once you have made that decision (or blocked people from gathering enough data to make it an informed decision).
    • The Columbia Accident Investigation Board found that a rescue would have been possible, but difficult:

      Had the hole in the leading edge been seen, actions could have been taken to try to save the astronauts' lives. The first would have been simply to buy some time. Assuming a starting point on the fifth day of the flight, NASA engineers subsequently calculated that by requiring the crew to rest and sleep, the mission could have been extended to a full month, to February 15. During that time the Atlantis,

  • by strelitsa (724743) * on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:18PM (#11523120) Journal
    Isn't this a lot like retrofitting a rusted, worn-out '89 Ford Escort with front and side airbags, chrome wheels, and Corinthian leather seat covers? Pimp My Ride is fine for MTV but should not be practiced as US space policy.

    The Shuttle has had its day. Stop sinking so many dollars into this antiquated, fragile, expensive money pit and design and build a space transportation system that belongs to this century, not the last.

  • Twice the Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical.gmail@com> on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:18PM (#11523123) Homepage
    So, let me get this right. If, by some chance, the horribly overcomplicated shuttle breaks in orbit, we'll launch another horribly overcomplicated shuttle that *probably* has the same design flawas the first?

    This is a perfect example of people trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

    Since its introduction, two shuttles have been lost. That's about 15 years of operation per accident. I'd take thoes odds any day. But one fucking shuttle blows up because of a freak accident and then we have to spend millions of dollars to ensure the sound-byte-informed public that it won't happen agian.

    It's just like that fucking terrorism thingy. We send billions on crap while more USians died on the roads in Sep 2001 ever died in terrorist attacks.

    Pull your fucking heads out and spend the money where you can actually see some return.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      interesting points, but:

      a) the chances that two shuttle would fail in a row is exceedingly small;

      b) the brownie points of successfully doing the first in space rescue would be nice to have (damn shame nasa's management needs try #2 to get this idea through their heads);

      c) shuttle launches are not really very much like terrorism.

    • It's just like that fucking terrorism thingy. We send billions on crap while more USians died on the roads in Sep 2001 ever died in terrorist attacks.

      Yup, and of course a whole lot of those were due to basic human negligence. Not to be confused with trying to deal with people who proclaim that "Democracy is evil" and "we'll behead the families of those that vote." Happily, 60% of the people in Iraq just stepped up in the face of that terrorism to do something about it. Anything we can do to lessen the li
    • Re:Twice the Problem (Score:3, Informative)

      by HeghmoH (13204)
      Your post is a bit contradictory. First, you seem to indicate that the rescue is useless because the second shuttle could fail too. Second, you say that the chance of losing a shuttle is very small. These two concepts don't fit together.

      Two shuttle in fifteen years is not small, because the shuttle launches so rarely. There have only been a little over a hundred shuttle launches, so the rate of failure is something like 1 in 70. While this is fairly comparable to, say, the Soyuz system, Soyuz is much older
  • Than just sending up a rescue ship? I mean, lets say at worse theres some catastrophic disaster that causes Ship A to be a total loss. How does Ship B ferry the rest home? Are the shuttles built and designed to hold and land with two crews? You create the potential for either overweight shuttles on re-entry, or you could cause loss of human life if they get bumped around enough on landing/re-entry. An okay idea, but I think wed be better off with solutions that either involve-

    A- An escape module
    B- A w
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Uh, if you lauch with no payload, there's no way in hell the crew weighs more than 65,300 pounds (Maximum Payload)


      • The Shuttle's return mode is as an Aircraft (glider) and as such it needs to keep its Centre of Gravity within acceptable limits.

        Just adding 7 persons to the front-end of the shuttle would undoubtedly shift the C of G of an unladen craft quite a way forward. Whether this would go beyond the C of G limits I cannot say. The only obvious solution to the C of G problem would be pumping liquid stores and / or Hydrazine aft.

        However, I do not believe they are intending to tackle this problem. My guess is that t
        • Just adding 7 persons to the front-end of the shuttle would undoubtedly shift the C of G of an unladen craft quite a way forward. The only obvious solution to the C of G problem would be pumping liquid stores and / or Hydrazine aft.

          This is not a tricky problem to solve. In round, rather generous numbers, let's say those 7 people mass 1400lbs. They routinely carry and drop off cargo several times as massive than that, and the orbiter itself weighs nearly 200x that. If 1400lbs is really enough to shift t

    • by HeghmoH (13204)
      While a typical shuttle crew is seven, it can be flown with only a pilot and copilot. The rest are there for the non-flight bits, like seeing whether ants can learn to sort tiny screws in space. Can they come back to Earth with nine? I don't know, but it's not quite as bad as having to hold two full crews.
    • Overweight Shuttles (Score:3, Informative)

      by MonkeyCookie (657433)
      Since the space shuttle was designed to bring back satellites from orbit, I don't think a few extra people would make a difference. Satellites tend to be a lot heavier than people.

      Not to mention that the shuttle is so heavy that a few extra people would hardly make a difference in the overall weight.
  • But... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MavEtJu (241979) <slashdot@mave[ ].org ['tju' in gap]> on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:23PM (#11523163) Homepage
    But who is going to rescue the people on the rescue-mission?
  • CAIB Recommendations (Score:4, Informative)

    by SlashCrunchPop (699733) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:28PM (#11523211)
    The Columbia Accident Investigation Board Recommendations [www.caib.us] say nothing about a rescue plan:

    Recommendation One:

    Prior to return to flight, NASA should develop and implement a comprehensive inspection plan to determine the structural integrity of all Reinforce Carbon-Carbon (RCC) system components. This inspection plan should take advantage of advanced non-destructive inspection technology.

    This recommendation was issued because of the board's finding that current inspection techniques are not adequate to assess structural integrity of RCC, supporting structure, and attaching hardware.

    Recommendation Two:

    Prior to return to flight, NASA should modify its Memorandum of Agreement with National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to make on-orbit imaging for each Shuttle flight a standard requirement.

    This recommendation was issued because of the board's finding that the full capabilities of the United States Government to image the Shuttle on orbit were not utilized.

    Recommendation Three:

    Before return to flight, for missions to the International Space Station (ISS,) develop a practicable capability to inspect and effect emergency repairs to the widest possible range of damage to the Thermal Protection System (TPS,) including both tile and Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC,) taking advantage of the additional capabilities available while in proximity to and docked at the ISS.

    Before return to flight, for non-station missions, develop a comprehensive autonomous (independent of station) inspection and repair capability to cover the widest practicable range of damage scenarios.

    An on-orbit TPS inspection should be accomplished early on all missions, using appropriate assets and capabilities.

    The ultimate objective should be a fully autonomous capability for all missions, to address the possibility that an ISS mission does not achieve the necessary orbit, fails to dock successfully, or suffers damage during or after undocking.

    Recommendation Four:

    Upgrade the imaging system to be capable of providing a minimum of three useful views of the Space Shuttle from liftoff to at least Solid Rocket Booster separation, along any expected ascent azimuth. The readiness of these assets should be included in the Launch Commit Criteria for future launches.

    Consideration should be given to using mobile assets (ships or aircraft) to provide additional views of the vehicle during ascent.

    If they implement everything as recommended there is no need for a rescue plan and I doubt such a plan would actually work, it seems more like a publicity stunt to reassure the masses.

  • by AmPz (572913) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:43PM (#11523326)
    I'am quite sure I have read something long ago that there is in fact an agreement between the various space agencies in the world that if a crew is in danger, any agency with an available spacecraft will make a rescue attempt. I might be wrong. But it would make alot more sense to have an inter-agency cooperation regarding space rescue then for each agency to have backup spacecrafts and crews ready at all time.
    • Which space agencies would they be ? They number of agencies currently able to put a human carrying flight tested launch into space is precisely two:
      the United States and Russia.

      China is close, but their technology is still very much in the development stage. Only the US and Russia have anything like the ability to launch an off the shelf vehicle with limited warning.

      In fact, the US and the then Soviet Union agreed a common 'docking' arrangement in order to be able to provide mutual aid. Although, the SU

  • The main things to consider about this whole rescue shuttle thing..

    1) That an emergency is spotted in time to allow for a stationary orbit to allow for docking.

    2) That they have determined the cause of said emergency and it is a low probability of occurring to the rescue shuttle.

    3) That the emergency occurs during the 2 least stressful phases of operation (launch and on-orbit) of the three phases of flight.

    Probably the most important is the second caveat. Do you launch another Shuttle if you don't k
  • Why not just slow down a bit before entering the atmosphere? I mean the shuttle is going thousands of mph and they come down red hot and like a bat out of hell. Why not try to have more fuel onboard and slow down more so you don't need as much protection against the heat. If you slowed down to the Earth's rotation you could just fall into the atmosphere with no heat, like the X prize contestants did. Maybe just scrub off some speed like they do now only do it longer.
    • Re:Speed (Score:5, Informative)

      by p3d0 (42270) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @11:54PM (#11525507)
      Why not just slow down a bit before entering the atmosphere?
      Have you seen the rocket boosters they use to launch the shuttles? They'd need the same boosters to slow it down again. And then they'd need way, way bigger rockets just to lift those boosters into orbit in the first place. The total amount of fuel required is staggering.

      Let me tell you the two most important things you need to know to get some idea of how staggeringly hard your proposal is to implement.

      The first thing is the speeds involved. These guys are going 17,000 miles per hour. That's 7 times faster than a rifle bullet, and it weighs as much as 30 big SUVs. How do you propose to take this monster and make it "slow down a bit"? If they can't brake in the atmosphere, then need to use rocket power to slow back down to, say, 1,000 miles per hour (the speed of Earth's rotation at Florida plus a couple hundred mph) so they can land.

      The second thing is even worse: the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation. It tells us how much propellant is needed to achieve a given speed change (impulse). This is not based on any particular rocket technology; it's a fundamental law derived directly from Newton's third law of motion (the equal-and-opposite-reaction one).

      Tsiolkovsky's equation is calibrated to the exit velocity of the propellant. If you want your rocket's velocity to change by N times the propellant's exit velocity, its mass must reduce by a factor of e^N. In the case of the Shuttle going to orbit, N=2.7, and the "mass ratio" e^N=15.5, meaning that only about 1/15 of the vehicle makes it to orbit. The other 14/15 was rocket fuel.

      If you want to deorbit the Shuttle using rockets, then you'll need to double your delta-V, because you must first go from zero to 17000, and then from 17000 back to zero. This gives N=2x2.7=5.4. However, this is too high, because you're not fighting air resistance and Earth's gravity when you're re-entering like you are when you're taking off. So let's be conservative and say it's only N=4.5. Then your mass ratio becomes 90, so the fuel tank needs to be 6.4 times larger than they already are! If you have seen the Shuttle's fuel tank, you know this is absurd.

      The best thing about deorbiting in the presence of an atmosphere is that it costs no rocket fuel. However, it does have its dangers.

      • Re:Speed (Score:4, Interesting)

        by merlin_jim (302773) <James.McCracken@NOsPaM.stratapult.com> on Monday January 31, 2005 @01:09PM (#11529512)
        Have you seen the rocket boosters they use to launch the shuttles? They'd need the same boosters to slow it down again. And then they'd need way, way bigger rockets just to lift those boosters into orbit in the first place. The total amount of fuel required is staggering.

        Not necessarily. Electromagnetic braking against the earth's field is possible. There are some practical limitations to the technology right now... but we've only tried it once! The biggest barrier is making it efficient enough to make a big difference in the entry velocity. The second biggest is figuring out what to do with all that energy you're creating, though since it's already high voltage a forward-pointing ion engine might be a possibility.

        The third problem is resistive wire heating. If we could make a spoolable paintable superconducting wire, we could solve that easily too. Why paintable? Give it white paint to reflect sunlight and you can probably keep it at liquid nitrogen temperatures with a moderate heatsink system...
  • The next two flights will be the most triple checked in Shuttle history as all eyeballs will be on NASA. It is unlikely that anything will go wrong on those flights. It's the 10th or so flight and beyond when NASA is again crunched for time and money when it gets extra dangerous. People will ignore and cover up things because they don't want to be the cause of a holdup.

    Shuttle should never fly again and the money better spent on newer and simpler methods of getting man from ground to orbit. The shuttle
  • I'm more curious about how many people on the rescue team have read The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint [edwardtufte.com]?

    (If you haven't already, go grab a copy. It explains how PowerPoint killed the Columbia astronauts, and if that doesn't drive the message home, I don't know what will...)
  • If the probability of failure is so high that the first mission fails, isnt it also very probable that the second shuttle will suffer the same failure? Would they just be killing 14 astronauts instead of 7?

    At the end of the day these shuttles are really old - isnt it time to say goodbye to them & cut the loses? Its a bit like an old car that you have to keep spending more & more to get through the MOT - its better to get rid of it & save the money for a better car..
  • by willith (218835) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @07:51PM (#11523860) Homepage
    The Columbia Accident Investigation Report [nasa.gov] listed one permutation of a rescue mission that could have been launched to save Columbia, if anyone had realized the true severity of the damage to her wing. According to the report, a second shuttle (I believe it was Endeavour, but it's been a while since I read the report) could have been rolled out and launched in a matter of days, skipping the normal three-month pre-launch safety checklist.

    The second shuttle could have rendezvoused with Columbia and brought to station-keeping directly below her, such that the two shuttles' cargo bays were facing each other (Columbia would have been orbiting upside-down and backward relative to the ground, as is standard). Columbia's crew could then have transferred to the rescue shuttle via tether.

    All of this could have been done inside the week-long window before Columbia's consumables were exhausted; after the rescue, Columbia would have been de-orbited into the ocean.

    One of the things that will be mandatory on all remaining shuttle launches will be for all shuttles to be able to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, in the event something like this happens again. This was not an option for Columbia, for a couple of reasons--she was unable to boost to the ISS's altitude, and she lacked the correct docking mechanism to couple with the ISS.
  • Requiring that a second shuttle be ready for rescue operations is certainly a feasible way to reduce risk of re-entry failure; but doing so for the first few launches seems to be to be a waste of resources. The probability of catastrophic tile damage must always have been small, or the shuttle wouldn't have flown so many times before the first mishap. Flying for a few times with rescue backup, and then stopping, gives everyone a nice fuzzy feeling about the return to flight -- and then permits returning t
  • I've always thought that humans and cargo should launch using seperate vehicles. Big dumb boosters for cargo and small tough protected vehicles for humans. Make the human vehicle reasonable aerodynamic for atmospheric flight reasons and simple to launch. Air launch possibly? We know a lot about making small tough vehicles (war planes) and we know a lot about air launch (SpaceShip 1, X-15 etc). I was taught to never put all my items in one basket. It works in computer science, why not at NASA?
  • Are they going to return to casual complacency that quickly?
  • I remember back at the tail end of the Apollo program, there was discussion (at least in principle) of the two countries providing rescue assistance to each other in the event of a mishap in space. The Apollo-Soyuz docking mission was a proof-of-concept for that.

    Now that Russia and the U.S. are sometime partners in space exploration instead of bitter rivals, and each country is actually capable of launching rescue missions on fairly short notice (i.e. we usually have functional vehicles on hand), I'd hop

  • Come on, they had a pretty good design [astronautix.com] for a single-person re-entry vehicle that weighed 215kg in the 60's. What could they do with the materials we have now?

    Of course, I wouldn't want to be the astronaut that has to manually orient his return vehicle for reentry by pointing a handheld gas gun in the direction of travel..... but if I had no other choice, I'd probably spend 5 minutes thumbing through the manual and leap on in. Mind you, a ballistic reentry would pull 8 or so G's.

    Hell, another 15 years and
  • by Autonomous Crowhard (205058) on Monday January 31, 2005 @04:28PM (#11531645)
    While it would be feasible to rescue the people off of the shuttle, what about rescuing the shuttle itself?

    If the shuttle is abandoned in orbit you can bet it will be in a 120-160 mile LEO. Given the apsect ratio of the craft and the height of the orbit, you can bet the craft wouldn't stay up long. That means that NASA would have three choices: 1) boost the craft to a higher more stable orbit until something can be done, 2) perform a fix and try to land the craft unmanned, 3) de-orbit quickly so the craft wreckage lands where they expect.

    1) Unless they plan to have Atlantis permanently tasked as the rescue ship, there is no way this can be done. The booster would have to already be in the cargo bay and good to go. You would prefer to not have to tell the folk in the VAB they've got 1 week plus to take out what ever payload is in the bay and replace it with the booster.

    2) This one might actually be feasible. If you assume that the craft is already lost then you can try your fix and bring it down unmanned. If I remember correctly, NASA has already done some tests on completely autonomous landings. Aiming for Edwards AFB gives you lots of room to land and plenty of open area for wreckage if things don't work.

    3) Unfortunately we know that NASA/JPL are all to willing to bring down currently functional spacecraft in the name of a known wreckage footprint. The main issue with this would be how long they can wait. How long could the shuttle stay on orbit unmanned and still be able to perform a realtively stable de-orbit? I'm guessing not long.

    Now consider this scenario: There is an impact on the leading edge of the wing. The tiles are damaged but they don't appear to be pierced. It's a good bet the craft could be brought down safely. Will NASA have the will to take the chance of losing the crew?

Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. -- A.H. Weiler

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