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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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  • Re:Spend (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joe_cot (1011355) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:27AM (#21737106) Homepage
    1. Tourists. It's already clear that the richest will spend millions of dollars and months of training in order to go into space. Entrepreneurs are betting that slightly-less-rich tourists will spend a great deal (~100k, maybe less) to be able to go into space, which requires more safety and a smaller crew (ie 2-3 pilots and 20 dead weight tourists).
    2. Satellites. It currently costs a great deal to launch satellites into orbit, and companies have to look to another country (ie Russia) to launch them for them.
    3. NASA. NASA has a) gone into orbit, b) gone to the moon. Both are done and done, yet they still have to keep spending a great deal of their budget improving the ability to launch into orbit. From NASA's perspective, it would be much cheaper to simply buy the rockets and shuttles from the private sector, so they can focus their efforts on bigger and better prospects

    Overall, the commercial benefit to space travel is the amount of money NASA can save, companies that need satellites can save, and private space tours can make off of 60th birthday presents. The private sector will hopefully produce streamlined, easily-manufacturable rockets and shuttles that will save everyone involved a lot of money and time. Hopefully this doesn't turn out like the arms business, where private companies profit off the hardware while taxpayers foot the R&D.
  • Re:Spend (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nbucking (872813) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:31AM (#21737124) Homepage
    That is a debate that has gone on for too long. Of course space benefits commercial. Think of the money to be made in mining ore from other planets. That is thinking in long term though. Short term it is merely for trucking millionaires into space. Mid term it could mean big money for resort owners to be the first one to rent condominiums in space or even the moon. There are a lot of people who would line up for such things. Probably not practical minded people though.

    NASA is like any other government organization. They are monitored closer than private companies. Profit can get in the way of science. Due to being always in the public eye they tend to be picked on. They have there successes and their failures. Their main purpose is extend our knowledge of a vast unknown. This sometimes includes Planet Earth. There is a lot of articles on this good and bad. But the main thing is that they are indeed a key investment for our future. I am not in a position to prioritize it above other expenditures. It certainly should be a high priority.
  • Re:Spend (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mha (1305) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:02AM (#21737264) Homepage
    This questions is invalid.

    It comes down to asking "what is the commercial benefit of live"?

    This conversation happened and says it all:
    Q: Why did you climb that mountain?
    A: Because it is there.

    What do you live for? What is "the economy" for? No economist would ask such a question. Because the ENDS of the economy are not subject of that science, only how to best achieve it. What those ends are, what people values in life, is NOT a subject of economic debate - at least not as real economists are concerned (sure there are those who want to impose their values on you but that is their personal issue and not subject of the science called "economics").

    It comes down to this: If there are enough people with enough power to get their will then whatever it is they want it gets done. Period. That's how everything works. Democracy too. Only distribution of power is different in different societies.

    So, if you don't want that anyone goes to space, convince them or become powerful enough to prevent it. But don't ask for the purpose - there is none. Each person has to decide for themselves what they want from/in life. That is true whether you're an atheist or a devoted catholic (I'm an atheist who ended up on two catholic pilgrimages :-) thus far). For atheists that's clear, but also religion teaches that what you do in life is YOUR choice, god doesn't tell you. (It does say you get judged afterwards but more about HOW and not WHAT you did). So if I decide my purpose is to get to Mars then that's it. If I kill people to get what I want I leave human values behind. If I can convince enough people (with enough resources) to help me (or if they want it themselves anyway) there is no use asking the question "why". Because I want it.

    Imagine an intelligence waaaaay beyond human capabilities. Of what use is it? It's a great computer, not more! Without feelings, desires, there is NOTHING to drive it towards some end. There is no logical reason to do ANYTHING. You can ALWAYS ask "why", endlessly! At some point you have to decide you don't give a d..., or you never have a reason to act, ever. That's also why very intelligent people, with IQs far above average, are NOT the most successful ones in life. Sure, *some* intelligence sure helps, but at some point it gets much more important to feel the inner DRIVE to live and so things, and NOT ask questions "why"! That's (the main reason) why a dyslexic Richard Branson is a multi-Billionaire and 180+ IQ writer Stanislaw Lem (one of my favorites) only wrote lots of very thoughtful and philosophic books, with an increasing air of skepticism and melancholy.

    So maybe you are too intelligent if you keep asking "why" ;-)
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hal_Porter (817932) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:58AM (#21737524)

    Why can't you learn to play nice - never watched Sesame Street? Or do they promote kicking your neighbour rather than sharing on Sesame Street these days? I'm a bit out of touch.
    The world isn't Sesame Street. There are no mass murderering dictators in Sesame Street. It's an artificial evironment where pure altruism works. The real world isn't like that - there's a tiny minority that regards playing nice as a sign of weakness, but unfortunately they control a few soon to be nuclear states.

    Mind you, I suppose Sesame Street morality is a pretty good approximation of how you should behave, since you're unlikely to have to deal with Kim Jong Il type psychopaths in day to day life since they get locked up. Maybe it's like Newtonian mechanics is a good approximation of the physics so long as you're not near a black hole or close to the Big Bang.

    But don't use it to guide your foreign policy.
  • Re:"Urged" by whom? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kpau (621891) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:27PM (#21743320)
    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 arena to even our allies? Should choose our allies (or at least which of their factions) more carefully?
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:28PM (#21744260) Homepage Journal
    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:

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

    - Soyuz spacecraft share many components with the Progress family and both systems end up helping work out the bugs from each other.

    - Soyuz are expendable. Any damage suffered in one trip ends with it.

    - Shuttles, on the other hand, are devilishly complex machines. The fact the two fatal failures happened late in the life of the vehicles and both resulted from the underestimation of poorly understood risks can be explained by the sheer complexity of the system. Far too many things can go wrong. And twice they did.

    - Both vehicles have suffered numerous failures. One can only wonder how many times the thermal insulation of the shuttles suffered nearly fatal damage that was repaired and the machine flown (successfully) again.

    - Shuttles accumulate damage during their lifetimes, much of it is poorly understood and may lead to unpredicted failure modes in the future.

    - I find it astonishing that not a single EVA, on more than 100 flights, was conducted to inspect vehicle damage (from ice, birds or whatever other unpredictable factors) after launch. This is simply bad science. The shuttle is not a commercial, mature technology - it's pretty much an experimental vehicle - and a valuable one. The priority should be on learning how it behaves, not on hauling cargo. A Saturn V could do that a lot better than a shuttle. I think a Saturn 1-B could haul cargo better than a shuttle.

    I don't think expendable craft like the Soyuz are what will turn us into an interplanetary civilization, but we need to understand reusable craft a whole lot better before we can call them safe.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icebrain (944107) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:31PM (#21744302)

    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.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @09:50PM (#21747242) Homepage

    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 the Progress family and both systems end up helping work out the bugs from each other.

     
    So claims the theory. But there are two problems when you compare the theory to the reality:
    1. Soyuz has an ongoing history of failures leading to near fatal accidents, significant incidents, and loss-of-mission incidents. The learning effect everyone keeps handwaving about simply does not show any evidence of occurring.
    2. Sure, Progress has many systems in common with Soyuz - but there are several critical systems that are not common. And virtually all of the systems not common have experienced failures leading to accidents. (Fatal or not.)

    Shuttles, on the other hand, are devilishly complex machines. The fact the two fatal failures happened late in the life of the vehicles and both resulted from the underestimation of poorly understood risks can be explained by the sheer complexity of the system. Far too many things can go wrong. And twice they did.

    One accident occurred early in the program, and one late. Both happened due to well understood risks - the odds of which happening were incorrectly estimated. This has absolutely nothing to do with the complexity of the system.
     
     

    Soyuz are expendable. Any damage suffered in one trip ends with it.
     
    Shuttles accumulate damage during their lifetimes, much of it is poorly understood and may lead to unpredicted failure modes in the future.

    In rational engineering, an expendable device is considered a poor device - because it is impossible to test it under realistic conditions. Each flight is the first flight. On the other hand, reusable vehicles can be overhauled and repaired in the event of minor failures. (And thus do not 'accumulate' damage.)
     
     

    One can only wonder how many times the thermal insulation of the shuttles suffered nearly fatal damage that was repaired and the machine flown (successfully) again.

    Roughly (IIRC) zero times across the life of the program.
     
     

    but we need to understand reusable craft a whole lot better before we can call them safe.

    Which is an odd thing to say - since we haven't demonstrated a clear understanding of expendables either.

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