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Space Government Politics

US Urged To Keep Space Shuttles Flying Past 2010 219

Posted by kdawson
from the clipping-the-wing-clippers dept.
DarkNemesis618 writes "A US Representative has proposed that NASA keep the shuttle fleet flying past its planned 2010 retirement date. The move would help NASA avoid reliance on Russian rockets during the gap between the Space Shuttle retirement and the start of the Orion program. One proposal would keep the shuttle fleet flying from 2010 to 2013 while another would keep the fleet alive until the Orion program is ready in about 2015. 2011 marks the end of the exemption that has allowed NASA to use Soyuz rockets for trips to the Space Station, and they would need an extension to keep using Russian launch vehicles. NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline."
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US Urged To Keep Space Shuttles Flying Past 2010

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  • Race goes on (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eebra82 (907996) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:05AM (#21736958) Homepage
    It's been 60 years since Sputnik took off. You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now. The current shuttles are getting a bit old now and the most recent problems/accidents/tragedies indicated the very same thing. Maybe Russian rockets is the safest route for now?
    • Re:Race goes on (Score:5, Insightful)

      by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:11AM (#21736992) Homepage Journal

      You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now.
      "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon"--Napoleon
      I submit that Napoleon may have had a better grasp of human nature.
      Your question could be recast as: "If ODF is there and all, why OOXML?"
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cbcanb (237883)
      The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle. But still, the shuttle does need to retire. The smart thing to do would be to launch capsules on the EELVs (Atlas 5 or Delta 4), but that has severe political problems (basically, a lot of people would be out of work).

      In the meantime, there are essentially a fixed number of shuttle external tanks left. Why not fly those out, whether it takes until 2010 or 2012, whatever, then move on after that?
      • Re:Race goes on (Score:5, Informative)

        by mpe (36238) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:36AM (#21737158)
        The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle.

        But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.

        The smart thing to do would be to launch capsules on the EELVs (Atlas 5 or Delta 4), but that has severe political problems (basically, a lot of people would be out of work).

        There's also the problem of the US having abandoned manned capsules over 30 years ago.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by icebrain (944107)

          But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.

          That's like saying that the 747 has a worse safety record than the shuttle, because something like 2,000 people have died on it, and it's been flying longer. More have died on the shuttle because it carries more people.

          Soyuz has also had two fatal accidents in roughly the same number of flights; there have also been several incidents in the past few years of the reentry guidance failing and the capsule going "ballistic".

          • Re:Race goes on (Score:4, Insightful)

            by rbanffy (584143) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:39AM (#21738376) Homepage Journal
            "Soyuz has also had two fatal accidents in roughly the same number of flights"

            I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles. they have flown since about 68, from the original models to the TMA variant currently in use. I am not sure exactly how many flights were done, but I am quite sure that, being in service for about a decade longer than the shuttle makes it quite sure it had flown more missions. Also, the last failure with loss of crew (during re-entry) happened long ago, a couple design iterations back. I think it's safe to assume Soyouz-class vehicles are a very mature design and, quite probably, safer that shuttles.

            There is no dishonor in having a less safe space vehicle. The shuttle is an incredible achievement. It's only unfortunate it was too ambitious.

            BTW, since they are expendable, one could argument every mission ends in partial failure, with the loss of the vehicle ;-)
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by agengr (1098271)
              "I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles."

              That's because they don't. The U.S. Space Shuttle has flown more!

              At present time, the 98th Soyuz flight is docked to the International Space Station. Atlantis is sitting on the launch pad waiting to fly the 121st Shuttle mission (STS-122). Despite the fact that the first Soyuz flew 13 years before the first Shuttle, NASA has historically been the more active space agency.

              "I think it's safe to assume Soyouz-class vehicles are a very ma
              • > waiting to fly the 121st Shuttle mission (STS-122)

                Fencepost error?

                Why don't 121st and STS-122 match up?
                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by AJWM (19027)
                  There were a couple of STS missions planned and designated but not flown. To avoid confusion (hah) they didn't change the mission numbers when one was cancelled.

                  NASA has never been able to come up with a consistent mission numbering system. (Remember the STS numbering systems up to Challenger (51L - '5' for 1985, although it actually launched in '86; '1' for launch from Kennedy vs Vandenberg (which would have been '2' except the lauach pad was decertified for Shuttle ops before ever used) and the 'L' as
                  • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                    by icebrain (944107)

                    There were a couple of STS missions planned and designated but not flown. To avoid confusion (hah) they didn't change the mission numbers when one was cancelled.

                    They did that not just because of canceled missions, but also re-sequenced ones. The reasoning was that keeping the same mission designations (STS-XX), but flying them out of order, was less confusing than having to go through and change press kits, mission plans, payload specifications, and everything else each time there was a schedule change. Remember, shuttle launch manifests are drawn up well in advance, and crews train for at least a year or two for a specific mission.

            • I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles...I am quite sure that, being in service for about a decade longer than the shuttle makes it quite sure it had flown more missions

              I can't find an exact list, but Soyuz and Space Shuttle flights do appear to be close in the number of missions. Wiki: List of human spaceflight programs [wikipedia.org]

              ---------------

              Soyuz: (approx.)

              40 - Soyuz 1-40 (orbits, plus flying to space stations Salyut 1 - 6)
              15 - Soyuz T1 to T-15 (flying to Salyut 7 an

            • I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles. they have flown since about 68, from the original models to the TMA variant currently in use.

              You are correct - including all the manned variants, the Soyuz has flow about 85 times. The Shuttle has flown nearly 120 times.

              I am not sure exactly how many flights were done, but I am quite sure that, being in service for about a decade longer than the shuttle makes it quite sure it had flown more missions.

              It's not the leng

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by rbanffy (584143)
                While I agree with you that both have about a 2% chance of ending in tears (or flames) per flight, both failures of Soyuz craft happened very early in the vehicle history as opposed to shuttle failures that were recent and caused the grounding of the fleet while the causes were not discovered and repaired. All in all, we can consider the Soyuz security record as improving. The same cannot be said about the shuttles and that makes me say Soyuz looks safer than the shuttles.

                There are other factors involved:

                -
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by DerekLyons (302214)

                  While I agree with you that both have about a 2% chance of ending in tears (or flames) per flight, both failures of Soyuz craft happened very early in the vehicle history

                  Both failures? The Soyuz has a long history of significant failures - from the fatal accident on the first mission, to the computer failure on the most recent mission.

                  Soyuz are much simpler machines and this makes them easier to understand and remove design flaws.

                  Soyuz spacecraft share many components with

      • by mha (1305)
        I am sooooo tired of such statements as yours.

        I don't say you are wrong - I don't know. So what I don't like is not WHAT you say but that you fail to even ATTEMPT to submit any justification for your statement. How do you come to your conclusion? It seems to me it is based only on a vague feeling you developed over the years.

        Best: link to statistics that support your claim.

        Second-best, but still better than "opinion": add at least ONE sentence that shows what you base your statement on.

        Thanks.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Does the guy need to write a 20 page essay on each post just because you'd rather not encumber your critical mind to fill in the blanks yourself? Nor offer yourself any evidence in agreement to or to the contrary above. Seriously. Exercise (or quite possibly, exorcise) your mind. Read slashdot as you would a good book - read between the lines and enjoy the flow of creative thought as you step through another man's ideas. Or do you require fold out pop up pictures and such?
          • That argument might give a pass to someone whose reasoning is only roughly sketched out, but it doesn't excuse an outright argument by assertion.
      • The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle.

        No. That's just plain wrong

        Soyuz has been flying since the 60s, and the spacecraft has had 5 major revisions. There hasn't been a single crew fatality on the 4 most recent.

        There *have* been two major accidents on the more recent models, neither of which resulted in any fatalities.

        One of Souyz 18a [wikipedia.org]'s boosters failed to fully separate during launch, which triggered a safety mechanism to fully disengage the capsule from the rocket.
    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      Counterpoint: the high water mark of human civilisation to date was one man standing aa a podium on September 12, 1962 and saying the words that even today make me weep like a Goddamn Frenchman every time I hear or read them:

      We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard

      Space exploration is, in the short to medium term, an emotional, irrational, prideful folly. I find it very hard to get excited about outsourcing it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by CarpetShark (865376)

      You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now.


      It basically was, until a big cock was elected.
    • http://www.jbs.org/node/5689 [jbs.org] Sputnik was just an excuse to create the Department of Education. What? Government lying to get more power? Never.
      • by k_187 (61692)
        If that's the case, why did it take 25 years for the Department of Education to be created?
    • by master_p (608214)
      It's been 2,800 years from the Troi war. You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now. Well, don't tell that to Iranians, Palestinians, Somalians etc.
    • by RomulusNR (29439)
      Given political developments lately, I for one would prefer that the US avoid being beholden to the Russian space program. It sucks that twenty years after the Cold War no one else has a viable option. The Shuttle is 25 year old technology and it's stunning that no one else (either political or industrial) besides Russia has been able to come up with a comparable solution. (What would Ron Paul say about that, I wonder? Three cheers for government research!)
  • "Urged" by whom? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MollyB (162595) * on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:08AM (#21736974) Journal
    from TFA:

    U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Republican whose Florida district includes the Kennedy Space Center, proposed extending the shuttles' lifetime to close the gap until their replacement ships, called Orion, are ready for their first manned flights in 2015.
    I think it is natural and logical Mr. Weldon takes this position. However, is crew safety being ignored in this calculation?
    • by Cally (10873) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:22AM (#21737336) Homepage
      It's faith-based aerospace... as in, when you launch, you pray it doesn't go boom.
      • Don't worry, if you caused the loss of millions and the death of several highly qualified persons, there will always be a high paying job waiting for you at the FEMA.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kpau (621891)
      Short answer: yes... its obvious he has no clue whatsoever as to WHY the shuttles are being retired. The comparison with the Soyuz safety record is hilarious since their system is so matured and the kinks worked out decades ago. The Soyuz and its launch methods are dumb, stupid, and EXTREMELY reliable. Yeah, its a risk letting the Sovi--- I mean, Russians be our gateway to space for a while. Should have thought about that a few years ago? Shouldn't spend our time being such bleeping asses in the world
  • by reality-bytes (119275) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:10AM (#21736988) Homepage
    TFA seems to suggest extending the STS life while also cutting costs. This sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    I know that strapping yourself to a rocket and heading for space is never safe but it would be better not to make it more dangerous. At the same time, I can see that extending the life by 6 months or so would help alleviate the current pressures on the STS for the station-construction mission (but that's not what the article discusses)

    I presume the reasoning for not wanting to rely on the Russian crew launch system is that any souring of the American-Russian relationship could make the deal problematic. How about if it were via ESA and the forthcoming Soyuz operation at French-Guiana? Would this side-step some of the possible relationship issues?
  • by tekrat (242117) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:21AM (#21737056) Homepage Journal
    Now they can launch that telescope thingie that was going to be left to wither because all the remaining flights have been scheduled for finishing the ISS -- and with delays, they still won't be done by 2013 anyhow.

    Hey NASA can go waste all the billions they want, it's still a drop in the bucket compared to wars which suck up a lot more money and produce even less useful results than NASA.

    It's too bad the privatized companies (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX, Armadillo) can't ramp up development to meet the need. Oddly enough, *their* space race will produce the only results that will actually lower the cost per pound to orbit.

    It's too bad we're all so scared of failure these days. Consider that during the development of aircraft, a lot of people died. A lot of people died just trying to cross the Atlantic. We didn't halt aircraft development every time some lunatic in a biplane was lost in a storm. But for some reason, we're afraid to blow up the occasional person to get into space. We need to get over that. A lot of people are going to die before we're able to easily leave the planet as easily as we currently visit another continent. That's just a reality and no amount of double checking is going to change that.

    Well, for test flights anyhow, we could always use that Humanoid Robot (REEM-B) some guy spent three *whole* years developing! ;-)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:14AM (#21737304)

      But for some reason, we're afraid to blow up the occasional person to get into space. We need to get over that.
      You first.
      • by entrigant (233266) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @09:46AM (#21737852)
        But that's just it, isn't it? There are many, many people who will GLADLY take the risk and be "first". Anyone who wishes to deny us a space program has no right so say no on the grounds of danger if there are people who understand and willingly accept the danger deciding the benefits far outweight it. Me first? Sure, point me to the shuttle.
      • by rtaylor (70602)
        If there was a 100% chance that the flight would be one way (explosion on return) I would still be very tempted to go for a 6 month stay on the space station.

        Since most people that go up do come down, I would be more than happy with those odds if given the opportunity.
    • by sexyrexy (793497)
      Yes, quite bizarre. It's almost as if we value human life more than our ancestors and predecessors. Almost as if we don't cut someone's head off for insulting the king, stone children for mouthing off to their parents, or slaughtering every woman and child in the heathen city we just conquered because they were, well, heathen. We let people have trials before they go to prison (well, usually).
      • Yes, quite bizarre. It's almost as if we value human life more than our ancestors and predecessors.
        Or perhaps we are so risk averse, that humans will soon look like turtles carrying little nerf cottages on our backs so nothing can harm us.
          slaughtering every woman and child in the heathen city we just conquered because they were, well, heathen.
        Oh really? [savedarfur.org][insert picture of owl here]
    • Lots of people have died during space missions, especially if you count all those who have died in events surrounding the space missions. In that case, we're up to several hundred.

      Finding people willing to go wouldnt be a problem even if the chance of dying was 90%. The problem is finding the RIGHT people. If safety standards are lowered, you'll get more nutcases and people who's brain can't quite judge risks. These are not the kind of people you want to be handling million dollar equipment.

      Lastly, space is
    • by Rich0 (548339)
      Or we could just develop these technologies on the ground, and use robots for the actual flights. What exactly do we need to do with people in space anyway, that can't be done with a probe?

      Sure, in the very long term colonizing other planets sounds like a good idea. However, there is no reason you have to have people in space to develop the technology to make this possible - go ahead and build a moon base - just don't put any people in it until there is a real reason for them to actually be there. You ca
    • But for some reason, we're afraid to blow up the occasional person to get into space. We need to get over that.

      China doesn't mind blowing people up for the glory of the empire. This is why the next people to step foot on the moon and the first people to step foot on Mars will be Chinese. The US is no longer in the space race.

  • Follow the money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mach1980 (1114097) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:22AM (#21737062)
    Is it that hard to imagine why senators want US dollars to be spent in their home states instead of going to Russia?

    My guess is that this is a national economy thing and has nothing to do with flight-worthiness or risk analysis.
  • As long as they didn't use them (or have to use them) for everything, they could maintain them at a slower pace and lower cost, and keep them flying for a long time.

    Consider the B-52. It's been flying for over 50 years. It's not expected to perform all air tasks -- there are other planes for specialized work. Thus, the Buff doesn't get worn out because it's able to be kept up. There are more advanced planes flying. But the Buff is still flying too.

    The shuttle could be kept flying for 50 years as long as the
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      I could argue that the B52 is still flying mostly because it's a freakily well designed plane for what it is.

      The builders happened to hit the mix just right, and even with 'strip to the frame' refits every so often it's showing it's age. For example, it's not really rated for operation in hostile airspace anymore, instead it's a standoff plane - launching cruise missiles rather than dropping bombs.

      The shuttle is much more of a white elephant. We don't have enough launches to obtain the body of knowledge a
  • Politics as usual (Score:4, Insightful)

    by El Yanqui (1111145) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:09AM (#21737294) Homepage
    Politics too often trumps science and common sense. Here's a congressman who wants a lucrative deal in his district, that's the story.

    I like how the congressman describes it as an "arbitrary" date for decomissioning and that the risks won't increase overnight. I say send a congressman up on every mission after the shuttle's sell by date.

    They probably can be used effectively for many years, but that doesn't mean that they should. Every bit of extra maintenance and upkeep performed on an old system, every bit of extra testing to make sure parts still function and every investigation into a failure will slow the space program and new developments. This is pork politics no matter how it's dressed up.
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      I like how the congressman describes it as an "arbitrary" date for decomissioning and that the risks won't increase overnight. I say send a congressman up on every mission after the shuttle's sell by date.

      Given the thrill that space flight still has, such that you do get billionaires buying flights, I think that such a requirement would actually increase the odds of the shuttle program continuing.

      Even if only 10% of congress want rides, that's still 73 people wanting to go up.
  • So nursing the SS program along to do MAYBE 1 or 2 launches a year is a waste of effort. All it does is stall the inevitable. Whether it's 2011, 2013 or 2015 manned spaceflight in the USA will be over. The Vulcans aren't coming to Montana, sorry.
  • Whatever happened to the Phoenix [spacefuture.com]? VTOL, SSTO, and a dollar-per-kilo payload to orbit cost a mere fraction of either the shuttle, the Soyuz, or the Orion.
  • NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline.

    4 years to deliver a space shuttle replacement, yeah lets bet on that option. If NASA and our government were serious they would have offered some sort of financial assistance, say dollar for dollar matching on R&D or startup capital. I mean, just sitting around 'hoping' for the private sector to bail out your space agency does not seem like a very good plan. All of this worrying, aka planning, should have been done a long time ago.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @09:43AM (#21737832) Journal
    If he was serious, then he would say that the shuttle should continue flying until a replacement is working and in place. That could be oriion, but it is far more likely to be COTs. The reason why he said until Orion is that it is expected to need close to the same amount of ppl as the shuttle (4K+ at Kennedy). OTH, Falcon will have no more than 100 ppl at kennedy, and 50 is likely closer around 2010. In addition, virgin is expected to come on-line around 2011 with their LEO space system, with less than 50. And finally, we have the 2'nd COTs entry. It will most likely be one that is close. I am guessing that it will spacedev (using ULA's launcher, they have an engine for the back, just need the craft, which they are looking to use the H-20 design). Spacedev would possibly be ready by 2010.

    But it would make sense to continue flying the shuttle until one of the alternative systems is in place. As soon, as it is in place, the NASA shuttle ppl should be wound down. Quickly. But this pub is simply up to the same tricks as those from 200X; run up a moster deficit.
  • Yikes, considering how often my old classic LandRover breaks down, I would not want to fly an old classic Space Shuttle.

    Yeah, I know. I cannot compare a rusty old relic with a well maintained shining example of top NASA technology, but even so, hats off to the people brave enough to fly into space in something designed in the early 70s. In real terms is probably not that different to people who fly Sopwith Camels for the hell of it - just more spectacular and better publicized when it goes wrong.
  • Too much money involved to not get the attention of some politicians. In terms of "do-ability", the real question is how the shuttle managers will get around the lack of spares/supplies that have been minimized and/or completely shut down in preperation for the retirement date.
  • The thing that most people don't know about the shuttle is the number of pressure modules on it. These are mostly high-pressure titanium-alloy composite-wrapped spheres, with service pressures ranging to 4500 psi or so. Outside the space program, the absolute life limit of a fiber-wrapped composite pressure vessel is 15 years. After 15 years, it must be condemned and removed from service.

    They are *well* past the original design lifetime of the pressure vessels on the shuttle. Additionally, there is no m
  • Why I do get the feeling that its "one step forwards and two steps back" with the Orion program, when compared with the shuttle? This thing only looks good for docking with the space station and any notion of servicing satellites is thrown out of the window.
    • by Y-Crate (540566)
      The Orion is designed to basically function as the shuttle's crew compartment + SpaceLab module; which will be able to carry out the kind of work the shuttles are doing right now.

      Actually servicing satellites is something that (except for rare cases like the Hubble) ends up costing more than it would to just send a new one up there.

      Additionally, the limited useful life of the Orion will mean that the spacecraft won't have to be cobbled together from one-off copies of parts that went out of production two an
  • Take the proposed budget for Orion and the current operating cost of the shuttle and use that cash to bid for commercial manned spaceflight [geocities.com]. Change the missions to better utilize the ISS if necessary.
  • So extending the shuttle lifetime will be one of the first decisions of the new [Madame] President. The main important parts are the troublesome rocket engines, but tiles etc. too.
  • Private industry (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @01:41PM (#21740668) Journal
    NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline.

    Although it says this in the summary, the linked article doesn't seem to actually have anything to support this claim. In fact, it's looking like according to their current schedule the private SpaceX Dragon crew/cargo capsule [wikipedia.org] will be flying demonstration flights 2008-2010. With an additional purchase commitment from NASA, they could probably finish and be able to transport cargo and crew to the ISS even sooner.

    http://www.spacex.com/dragon.php [spacex.com]
  • No surprise here. Now the Goo tube generation can say they thought they were going to get a shuttle replacement and were proven wrong. Every generation guesses wrong the first time.

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