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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?
  • "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 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?
  • 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:Race goes on (Score:1, Insightful)

    by pegdhcp (1158827) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:14AM (#21737006)
    Well, I have ancient servers running on ancient Linux variants as well, just for showing off to Windows users. But it doesn't mean they are suitable for mission critical data.

    Some people do not understand that makeup for hiding age works only for humans, and it is not fun to die in space while all liquid in your body is boiling...

  • Re:Race goes on (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cbcanb (237883) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:15AM (#21737014)
    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:Spend (Score:4, Insightful)

    by reality-bytes (119275) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:15AM (#21737018) Homepage
    The spend is justified simply because (and a certain well known physicist will back me up) if we do not learn to leave this rock we, as a race, will ultimately perish here.

    I'm not sure that the STS as it was finally created could ever be called a 'responsible' use of resources but right now, it's the only manned launcher the USA has so they've got to work with it until Orion becomes available.
  • 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! ;-)
  • 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.
  • Re:Spend (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Faylone (880739) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:23AM (#21737070)
    Moreover, the money spent NASA isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to the defense budget
  • Re:Spend (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:05AM (#21737276)
    I heard a series of talks from a former nasa engineer-y-type, far from comparing nasa's budget to the defence budget, he pointed out that the annual budget for nasa is less than the annual budget for clearing up the national parks after each summer's round of camps.
  • 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.
  • Re:Spend (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:52AM (#21737494)

    This questions is invalid.

    [snip]

    So maybe you are too intelligent if you keep asking "why" ;-)
    No, you've simply misinterpreted the question. The question is "Why are YOU spending MY money to achieve YOUR ends."

     
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:52AM (#21737496)
    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?
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @09:36AM (#21737782) Homepage Journal
    Meh, it works for Switzerland. I think when it comes to defense it's fine to develop your technology, but keeping a bunch of decrepit shuttles just for the sake of not being all chummy with Russia is sad. Very very sad :( One of these kids is not like the other, lalalalalalala...
  • 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.
  • 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:Race goes on (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:54AM (#21738544) Journal

    Meh, it works for Switzerland

    It "works" for Switzerland because they are a landlocked mountainous country with little natural resources surrounded by friendly neighbors. Switzerland came dangerously close to being invaded by Nazi Germany during WW2 and probably would have been (sooner or later) if Barbarossa hadn't turned out so badly.

    The Swiss model isn't going to work for nations like Russia or the United States (too big, too much economic clout, too involved in World affairs). It isn't going to work for nations with unfriendly neighbors (Israel, Pakistan, India, Taiwan). It isn't going to work for nations located on natural invasion routes between stronger powers (Poland, the Low Countries, etc).

    but keeping a bunch of decrepit shuttles just for the sake of not being all chummy with Russia is sad

    It's not about "not being chummy" with Russia. It's about retaining a native space launch capability and not relying on other nations to do it for us. As a random example: Why the hell is Europe deploying Galileo? Shouldn't they just rely on GPS and the United States? Are they trying to "not be chummy" with us?

    See the point?

  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:09PM (#21742010) Homepage
    The Space Shuttle is not the only rocket in history to explode

    You don't say... [youtube.com] ;)

    Seriously -- a 2% failure rate after a statistically significant number of launches is actually pretty good by orbital rocketry standards. The real problem with the shuttle is launch costs. Which was largely a design problem, which was largely a budget-cuts-while-mandating-increasing-scope problem. And rather than try and advance the state of the art, and actually put forth the funding for it, our solution is just to go backwards.

    Here's to SpaceX pulling off cheaper access to space by use of good design principles and not repeating same-old, same-old. If they keep their schedule as tight as they've been doing, Orion will be practically obsolete on its maiden flight. The Falcon-9 heavy is scheduled to launch just one year after the maiden flight of the Ares I (Orion's delivery system), and has similar stats -- except for the Falcon having by far the cheapest inflation-adjusted price per kilogram of any payload delivery system in history, let alone any man-rated payload delivery system. And the Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to launch two years before the first unmanned Orion launch.

    Perhaps I'm lettingn the cart get ahead of the horse here. Orbital spaceflight is a graveyard for small companies, and even big companies typically change their "revolutionary" prices after insisting that they won't once the craft launches successfully. But I like the Falcon series' design, and am impressed with their progress so far. So, here's to hoping.
  • Re:LC-39C (Score:2, Insightful)

    by O2H2 (891353) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:46PM (#21744484)
    The obvious and low cost solution is to RAZE LC-39 and let it return to the swamp from which it came. The same goes for the VAB. You can launch all the crew you can afford from TWO brand new launch pads on the east coast and a matching set on the west coast. They are the Atlas and Delta IV pads and they are capable of supporting launch rates five times greater than present utilization. The cost to add crew facilities is trivial compared the cost of LC 39/VAB/crawler maintenance.

    Stop thinking you need to invent stuff that has already been invented by seasoned professionals in the commercial launch industry. Trust me we have solutions for whatever troubles your heart about spaceflight. We are systematically blocked by pervasive not-invented-here syndrome and an near total lack of hands-on know-how at NASA. We planned out an entire cost effective architecture that would have put people on the moon in 2012 for about 20% of NASA's projected costs. This was to be commenced in 2007. The offer still stands. Have you heard of it? Probably not- it has been systematically blocked from publication by NASA administrators and their henchmen for years now.

    But you can keep on with ARES- it will be history within 15 years if it flies at all- remembered as a pimple on the leprous butt that was Shuttle. Sensible designs will outlast it- as they did Saturn.

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