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Space Technology

Russia To Save Its ISS Modules 280

Posted by Soulskill
from the reduce-reuse-recycle dept.
jamax writes "According to the BBC, 'Russia is making plans to detach and fly away its parts of the International Space Station when the time comes to de-orbit the rest of the outpost. ... To facilitate the plan, RKK Energia, the country's main ISS contractor, has already started developing a special node module for the Russian segment, which will double as the cornerstone of the future station. ... Unlike many Nasa and European space officials, Russian engineers are confident that even after two decades in orbit, their modules would be in good enough shape to form the basis of a new space station. "We flew on Mir for 15 years and accumulated colossal experience in extending the service life (of such a vehicle)," said a senior Russian official at RKK Energia...' Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires? There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever — old cars or weapons systems, but one rarely sees anything of the sort these days."
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Russia To Save Its ISS Modules

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  • by Norsefire (1494323) * on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:17AM (#28066055) Journal
    Construction of the International Space Station began in 1998 [wikipedia.org]. The soviet Union collapsed in 1991 [wikipedia.org]. Thus, ISS Modules did not exist in Soviet Russia and did not "save you".
    • by Xiph (723935) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:21AM (#28066075)

      That's ok, we can still make jokes.

      Jokes are only based loosely on reality, so it's alright to bend historical facts a bit.
      Like saying that Napoleon didn't ride a horse, because he read too many comics... (he had hemorrhoids, rumour says.)

      So here we go. In soviet russia, engineers saved old space station.. oh wait... no that doesn't work (too close to truth)

      In soviet America products design you to fail!

    • by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfileNO@SPAMmindless.com> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:22AM (#28066079) Journal

      I for one welcome our historically accurate but humourless overlord...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Zvezda module, which is the main Russian module of the ISS, was constructed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It's closely related to the core module of Mir, and was intended for Mir-2 until that was canceled. (Both these modules are in the Salyut family, which had its first launch in 1971. )

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by profplump (309017)

        So they just let it sit around on the ground for 15 years? The Zvezda module didn't launch until 2000. I could buy "designed in the '80s", but "constructed in the '80s" somewhat incromulent.

  • Why burn them up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KasperMeerts (1305097) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:21AM (#28066077)
    Instead of just plunging them in the ocean, wouldn't it be much cooler to put them in an orbit halfway between the Earth and the moon, as a sort of testament for future generations?
    It could be something like the pyramids or the the Eiffel tower or the Chinese wall.
    • by sentientbeing (688713) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:28AM (#28066115)
      Yeah we could advertise it: "the only man made object visible from earth"
    • by ericspinder (146776) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:29AM (#28066127) Journal

      wouldn't it be much cooler to put them in an orbit halfway between the Earth and the moon

      Yes, it would be cool to have space junk at a Lagrange Point [wikipedia.org]. It'd be even cooler to actually use it rather than leaving it as an hazard. However, I doubt if the station has that much propellant.

    • Re:Why burn them up? (Score:5, Informative)

      by camperdave (969942) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:09AM (#28066383) Journal
      The problem is that orbits aren't permanent. There are faint traces of atmosphere, micrometeor impacts, lentz/faraday deceleration (as an object travels through the Earth's magnetic field, electrical currents form in the metal components which produce a magnetic field that is in the opposite direction). Because of all of these effects, satellites, and the space station itself, all have station keeping rockets. These need to be refuelled every once in a while. So, it's not as if you could just leave the ISS unattended. It will come down.

      Besides, why not leave it where it is? It's not like it's in the way or anything. Boosting it to a higher orbit will be an expensive undertaking, and will add to the cost of resupply missions.
      • Re:Why burn them up? (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:09AM (#28066843) Homepage

        The problem is that orbits aren't permanent.

        On a long enough scale, no, no orbits are permanent. However, if you get above 3-400 miles or so orbital lifetimes start heading up into centuries. Above a thousand miles of so, millenia.
         
         

        Besides, why not leave it where it is? It's not like it's in the way or anything. Boosting it to a higher orbit will be an expensive undertaking, and will add to the cost of resupply missions.

        He's talking about after the station is shut down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        What about if you had solar cells and a tether? It seems like you could use the solar cells to generate electrical power and use the electrical power to generate lift using the tether.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrodynamic_tether [wikipedia.org]

        The downside I can think of is that over very long periods of time micro meteorites would slowly destroy the solar arrays and the power supply would gradual fail. Maybe a better option would be to use the tether to move the satellite into a very high orbit over a long time. Ess

    • by udoschuermann (158146) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:25AM (#28066957) Homepage

      1a. It takes a lot of energy to move something the size of the ISS into an orbit high enough not to fall on our heads in the relatively near future;

      1b. There is no orbit halfway between the earth and the moon. Even if you considered one of the five "stable" Lagrange points, they are not all that stable in the long run, not for unattended, unfueled vehicles anyway;

      2. I think it admirable that the Russians are not merely throwing their stuff away but at least show the willingness to keep it up there and try to reuse it. Even if this fails in the end, they will learn a lot from the attempt. And too many of us are conditioned not to maintain and repair things, but throw them away when they break (or even when they're simply not in style anymore) and buy new.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brusk (135896) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:22AM (#28066085)

    Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

    Mars rovers? Voyager? NASA seems to be doing okay with that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rvw (755107)

      Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

      Mars rovers? Voyager? NASA seems to be doing okay with that.

      How about Toyota? Just watch Top Gear killing a Toyota Hi Lux [youtube.com].

      • by shmlco (594907)

        Ditto. Years ago an automobile was all but dead once (if) it reached 100,000 miles. Today's versions regularly hit 100,000, 150,000, or even 200,000 and keep on rolling.

        People don't give the darn things enough credit. You design a device that will run for a decade or more with minimal maintenance and that will start up after a week of sub-zero winter nights in Wisconsin or after spending days on end broiling in the Phoenix heat.

        Consumer electronics are on a much faster track, but even there they DO more. Tr

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:24AM (#28066091)

    In college, I wrote a web browser. It was fully functional and supported everything that IE supported at that time. My professor was amazed. Not only because I was able to implement such a complicated thing in VB, but also in that I was able to do it over the weekend.

    I got an A, but I never told anyone the secret. Now, years after I graduated, I can divulge my methods. Or, should I say *heh heh heh* Microsoft's methods. I simply reused Microsoft's IE COM component and wrapped it in a slick VB shell. Code reuse, not only at the code level, but at the binary level!

    So in the real world, it also makes sense to reuse technology and existing parts rather than rebuild them from scratch. Especially so for space-based things that require huge investment per kilogram just to get them up there. And by reusing older parts, we can standardize on the interfaces and create Lego-like systems that can easily work together instead of needing custom parts every time.

    The only thing I really worry about is all that Russian fungus.
    http://www.space.com/news/spacestation/space_fungus_000727.html [space.com]

    • by Norsefire (1494323) * on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:35AM (#28066161) Journal
      How did using code from IE minimize mistakes?
    • by sopssa (1498795)

      I played around with the same IE COM component as a kid, it was nice to have coded your own browser. On the other hand, I also coded my own operating system that would run on top of Windows and had a fixed 4 seconds delay in the OS loading screen. You could even shutdown computer from my operating system, as I figured out what WinApi function to call. All in VB! :)

    • by omnichad (1198475)
      How on earth could your professor not catch that? As soon as I started reading that, I immediately thought embedded IE.

      The dead giveaway is when it perfectly emulates all of IE's features ('bugs').
    • by rbanffy (584143)

      About the fungus, you could depressurize the habitable modules while in "storage". That probably wouldn't kill the fungus, but, at least, would halt its development during the time they are not used.

    • Were you honestly hoping to impress someone on Slashdot with your project? Some of us have worked on real browser code.

      Code is not like hardware at all, it doesn't degrade in the same sense or get damaged in the same way with age.

      The general concept of reusing something you have available instead of building something new is a good one, but it isn't always the right thing to do from an engineering perspective.

  • Products that last (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KiloByte (825081) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:29AM (#28066123)

    I so miss things which are made to last. Perhaps this is not a product of rocket science, but the chair I'm sitting on right now is a pre-WW2 german-made one. A regular chair, not one of Aeron types or whatever. Why? Because no desk chair I ever bought lasted more than a year; the one I inherited from my grandparents which they in turn inherited from their ancestors is still working fine.

    I fully agree with the article poster's sentiment for old German products. Bring such chairs to the orbit and the ISS will be able to continue forever.

    • Survivorship bias (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ex-geek (847495) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:45AM (#28066243)

      It is called survivorship bias. Almost all of the things produced in the past have long since broken down. We only see what stood the test of time and therefore tend to assume that things were built to last back in the day.

      • by Shihar (153932)

        I wish I had a pile of mod points. That was wonderfully insightful.

      • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:05AM (#28066353) Journal
        While I agree that there is a bias built-in, the simple fact is that things WERE better built 50 years ago. The reason is simple; Steel vs. plastics. Today, the items are likely to be made out of plastics which do not last as long. The reason is costs. The items that survived from long ago WERE EXPENSIVE. But look at today's goods. If you buy something from Target, Walmart, heck even American Furniture, it was likely made in China, was made out of the bare bones minimal wood, screwed together (maybe), and costs a great deal less. OTH, if you buy an ethan-allan piece, it is heavy, much better wood, better construction (rabit groves, etc), glued AND screwed, 10 or more coats of fine laquer, etc, etc, etc. And what does it cost? 10x more. Which is going to last for another century?
        • Whoops; Better pieces have Mortise/Tenon or dado. In addition, the cheap chinese is loaded with Veneer over cheap wood, while other countries use solid wood. Our dining room table was made in one of the break-away USSR republics (forget which one), but excellent workmanship. Cost us 1K for the table (and that was heavily discounted due to scratches, which we got out). The new chinese tables from same place were 800, but total junk. I give them 10-15 years lifetime. This table will be around for 50 or more.
          • by adolf (21054)

            Odd. I have an old ethan allen dining room set. The glue joints holding the chairs together are all failing. The formica table surface is delaminating from the substrate on the table.

            There's no evidence that any of it was ever misused -- there's hardly any evidence that it was used at all. I got it from an old man who lived by himself, and the only thing to show any wear at all was the one chair he actually used to sit in.

            So, the whole set basically wore itself out just sitting around barely being used.

        • by jmv (93421) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:17AM (#28066425) Homepage

          The reason is simple; Steel vs. plastics.

          It's not that simple. You *can* make things that last out of plastics. My son is playing with plastic toys I used to play with and they're in good shape. The problem now is with cheap, thin plastics.

        • by ex-geek (847495) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:40AM (#28066635)

          the simple fact is that things WERE better built 50 years ago

          That is not a simple fact, but a grandiose fact claim on your part.

          Some products may have been more durable in the past, some not so much. You would have to look at a case by case analysis, do some testing, empirical work to figure out what is true.

          Metal and steel rusts and bends. Lots of mechanical and moving parts can cause all sorts of problems, line shafts wear out, cloth cables, springs, reed relais, etc.

          Wooden joints that where glued or screwed together tend to get loose, etc.

          No material is perfect. And cost saving can leed to simplicity, which can benefit durability greatly.

          I believe that especially eletronics and computing is getting much better. Complicated VHS tape drives broke down all of the time. Reel to Reel tape drives had lots of problems. Optical is better and solid state even moreso.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Walkingshark (711886)

            Anecdotal evidence time: My family's panasonic microwave that we bought around 1986 or so has only just recently been replaced, and not because it broke down, it just wasn't heating quite as quickly as my mother liked so she decided to replace it. The cheap piece of crap she replaced it with will probably last five years and need to be trashed. Planned obsolescense [wikipedia.org] is, sadly, very real and part of the same Wall Street culture that gave you the current financial crisis, the real estate boom, the S&L scan

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:41AM (#28066643) Homepage

          It isn't so much a case of metal vs. plastic as of things being designed with computers and modern materials.

          An engineer working on paper would deliberately over-spec the materials and parts to account for margin of error, but now computers loaded with precise details of each material available can calculate exactly what is required to, e.g. pass a particular safety test or hold a particular load.

          There was a BBC Horizon program which mentioned this back in 1982. Back then it was standard behaviour to over-spec anything safety related (e.g. bridge supports) by a factor of three, a it tended to spill over into non-safety things too. I don't know what they do these days.

          • Same as it has ever been. You get (and got) what you paid for.

            A lovely fiction book to read which talks about the condition of working class tradesmen in England in the early 20th century is "The ragged trousered philanthropists" by Robert Tressell. The novel is about one man's attempt to survive the situations many people found themselves in, and on the way you get great descriptions of what life was like for working class folk. Cheap furniture which fell apart for sure, and the book describes how the supe

        • Re:Survivorship bias (Score:4, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:18AM (#28066905) Homepage

          But look at today's goods. If you buy something from Target, Walmart, heck even American Furniture, it was likely made in China, was made out of the bare bones minimal wood, screwed together (maybe), and costs a great deal less. OTH, if you buy an ethan-allan piece, it is heavy, much better wood, better construction (rabit groves, etc), glued AND screwed, 10 or more coats of fine laquer, etc, etc, etc. And what does it cost? 10x more. Which is going to last for another century?

          Neither. The joinery on an Ethan Allan piece is dodgy, and while the wood is better than you'll find at Walmart - it's still cheap crap wood. While the finish is lacquer, it's cheap lacquer sprayed on in as thin a coat as possible. Etc... Etc...
           
          Ethan Allen (and other such places) make a great show of their quality, but for show is all it is. Down underneath (where the uneducated/average consumer won't notice it) it's as cheap as they can get away with. But they sure *look* impressively high quality.

      • I can understand that comment, and while there is truth to it, there is some bias to it.

        Take the example of SnapOn Tools. SnapOn Tools are bleeding expensive. Not just a little, but REALLY expensive. But their products are indestructable and made for day long use in the industrial setting. If you amortize the SnapOn Tools you are actually paying less.

        SnapOn could change and build a product that lasts X years ensuring them a money stream. Yet they don't because they know they have been and are number 1 for t

      • Re:Survivorship bias (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DinDaddy (1168147) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:54PM (#28067673)

        While that is true, it ignores some facts. Products designed in the first half of the last century did not benefit from the sort of design and analysis tools that allow corps to engineer something to several nines for an expected time to failure like they can now.

          Consequently, product designers often used seat of the pants over-engineering to be sure the product would not fail early and give the company a bad rep. Consequently, there were a lot of appliances and such that were pretty damn robust.

        I have a GE hand mixer that my mom got in 1961 that has been used weekly or monthly my entire life and still is completely functional. To this day I associate the smell of ozone with baking because of it.

    • by TheCarp (96830) * <sjc&carpanet,net> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:50AM (#28066267) Homepage

      I am an on and off motorcycle rider. One day at the shop, I saw an OLD BMW motorcycle that looked well, vintage. It had no shine, it was matte, it looked like it had been riding forever. An old man tapped me on the shoulder, and informed me that my inspection needed to be renewed, so I took care of that.

      Later I saw the same bike at the motorcycle gear/coffee shop thats a bit out of town. I had stopped for a coffee before my ride for the day and I heard a couple of older men talking....
      "You need a new transmission"
      "I do not. That transmission is fine, why would I want a new one that might not be good. This one has 650,000 miles on it. Every 200,000 there is a bearing that dissintigrates and I have to replace. That is a good transmission."

      650,000 miles on one bike and still riding. Not THAT is a quality vehicle. I mean, I am sure he must take care of it, but damn.

      -Steve

      • This reminds me of the VW Beetle owned by the great Bob Pease (still going strong by the way) who used to replace the engine on his Beetle "every 150000 miles whether or not it needed it." - though being driven in California at moderate speeds by a careful driver had a lot to do with that.
        • by TheLink (130905)
          Replacing the whole engine is quite a big difference from replacing a bearing.

          FWIW, my crappy old car is not far from reaching 150K miles and I don't intend to replace the engine when it does, nor expect to need to. The engine seems fine, the transmission is not so fine.

          Maybe you're missing a digit? I think there are VW beetles that do a million miles.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kheldan (1460303)
        I'm not terribly surprised, really.
        Theoretically, given the availability of replacement parts, you can just keep replacing parts on a machine ad infinitum, and it will continue functioning; if you do everything right, it's performance will always be at the level it was when the machine was brand-new. I have practiced this to a certain level myself -- much to the horror and amazement of most of the people in my social orbit. The biggest drawback to this philosophy is that it's usually not cost-effective. I
    • It's a feature of inflation.

       

    • I fully agree with the article poster's sentiment for old German products.

      There are still some things made properly (i.e. without the designed-in short lifetime), but their number is declining, alas. Cheap shit forces good shit out of the mass market, and into expensive niches. This trend has been very clear for at least 15 years (I speak as a PhD engineer with 30 years experience).

      The design objective nowadays is not really 2 days past warranty, but one day. Unfortunately, some fool puts an extra day into leap years, which necessitates one or more additional days of overengin

  • Not worried (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:32AM (#28066143) Journal
    More likely than not, America is going to allow Bigelow to attach a few units on there and they will ultimately replace the cans. They will be cheap and 100% appreciated by the occupants since they are MUCH BIGGER and QUIETER. In fact, if Obama and Bolden (our very likely next NASA head) were smart, they would continue COTS-D AND buy a Sundancer to attach to the ISS. Since NASA will not likely want to trust the Sundancer, it can be used for storage and the door kept closed in normal use. It will cost us 200M (assuming a falcon 9 launcher), which is chump change. By getting Bigelow started, it will lead to cheap new space stations for NASA, private space station, and perhaps military (important in light of China's new announcement of their multiple military). Finally, the Sundancer and the metal noodes can be replaced by BA-330's increasing the size of the ISS appreciably.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      More likely than not, America is going to allow Bigelow to attach a few units on there and they will ultimately replace the cans.

      And what good will replacing the cans do when all the support systems on the trusses and the solar panels wear out?

      And yes, the solar panels will wear out - both due to mechanical wear on the rotary joints (without which you can't keep the panels aligned for max power output and minimal drag), and radiation damage to the cells themselves.

      Finally, the Sundan

  • Longevity (Score:3, Insightful)

    by matt4077 (581118) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:33AM (#28066151) Homepage
    When the ISS is decommissioned, I doubt it'll be for technical reasons. It's obviously not a consumer product and NASA and their contractors have shown they can build stuff that lasts (like the Mars Rovers, Voyager, the Space Shuttle or any of the hundreds of satellites). At some point the ISS will simply stop being useful. Some say that day had come the day it was launched, but I'm sure there's a little bit of science and a lot of engineering research and PR that the ISS has and still is useful for.
    • by matt4077 (581118)

      I should add that there's a problem with the general sentiment of "everything was built so much better in the past". Firstly, that might simply be cognitive bias. The old stuff that lasts is still around so you'll base your judgment on that, neglecting everything that broke down and is long forgotten. Secondly, it's not that we have forgot how to build solidly. We've just learned to build cheaply. Plastics just weren't available in the past so you had to use metal. There was less knowledge about materials s

  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:33AM (#28066153) Homepage

    Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires? There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever -- old cars or weapons systems, but one rarely sees anything of the sort these days."

    No, but the space industry is one of the few where things are built to last. Portable consumer electronics are among the worst for quality except for a few notable examples like the iPod Mini and the Nokia 6310(i). Soldered-in lithium batteries, surface-mount MLC flash memory and electrolytic capacitors don't last all that long. Satellites are over-engineered, if anything goes wrong with them you can't put it in a cardboard box with styrofoam and send it back to the manufacturer.

    The quality of cars hasn't actually gone down - when The Wall was knocked down lots of old Soviet cars like the 2-stroke Trabant were abandoned for second-hand German cars. Of course manufacturers are filling up modern cars with cheap consumer electronics and cheap Chinese DC motors to move every little thing because apparently buyers are too lazy to use their hands for anything. So while all the in-car entertainment and motorised windows,cup holders, sun roofs and central locks might break the car itself (engine & chassis) will probably be in a better state after 20 years than a '70s car would have been after 20 years since engine technology has improved and the underside of the car is better protected from rust.

    • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:45AM (#28066237)

      Trabant was not a soviet car, it was a GDR designed and made one.

    • Thank you for mentioning MLC flash RAM.

      For whatever reason, the great majority of Slashdotters would like to believe that MLC-based SSD (solid-state disks) are just as good as SLC-based ones. That's bollocks. SLC will last at least 100 times longer than MLC flash RAM. If your application writes often to flash, the device with SLC will last 100 times longer, but most likely even more than that. That's the difference between a device breaking ("expiring") in 100 days vs. in 30+ years.

    • by peragrin (659227) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:33AM (#28066547)

      While you can't box up a satellite you can return it to the manufacturer. Burning through the atmosphere will void the warrenty but it leaves such a mark on the company.

      The really hard part is targeting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      So while all the in-car entertainment and motorised windows,cup holders, sun roofs and central locks might break the car itself (engine & chassis) will probably be in a better state after 20 years than a '70s car would have been after 20 years since engine technology has improved and the underside of the car is better protected from rust.

      Indeed. Around the time I graduated high school (1981, in North Carolina) a car with 50k miles on it was usually nearing the end of it's useful life and a car with 100

    • Spray on some new paint and they still look new, 40 years later. In fact, it's so durable that disposal is a problem.

      They're still used to tour Berlin btw. You can go on a "Trabi Safari".

       

      • by Marcika (1003625)

        The Trabant had a composite body shell

        Yes, a composite of plastic, resin and cotton waste, reinforced with cardboard... It doesn't rust, but that's about the best thing you can say about it. The carbon composite body of a Corvette, it ain't.

  • In the summary they mention Germany equipment that lasts forever. In the shed of my parent's house there is an electric switch made by Siemens, from before WW2 - and it works perfectly to this day! Sure, it's a simple device, but it had to survive countless switchings, and in a rather polluted environment (industrial zone nearby, with oil refinery, iron foundry etc.). The switch is still impeccable both electrically as well as mechanically.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FussionMan (65370)

      I still see a lot of GM cars and trucks from the 80s' on the roads and in decent shape. Most American made products actually last a long time.

      On the other hand, Chinese made stuff is not always very long lasting and usually poor quality, but it is very cheap.

      Soviet made products, electronics and cars, did not have a good reputation in Easter Europe in the past.

      • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:22AM (#28066445) Journal

        I come from a country that used to import Chinese crap way before that became "fashionable", and let me tell you, chinese products had a reputation of being crap already 30 years ago. With the trend in engineering as mentioned in the summary, things hadn't improved. Sadly, such lack in QC (or simply disregard for human life) extends to chinese food products as well. For that reason, I never ever buy any food or cosmetic product made in china, and actually avoid everything else whenever possible. Last time when my wife found this "lovely dinosaurus-shaped puppet", I was forced to buy it even though was china-made.

        As for russian technical products, this is (or used to be, at least up until 15 years ago, I'm not up to date on their latest trends in production) a very weird mix of excellent quality parts and abysmal quality parts, assembled together with the greatest attention about 50% of the time, but also assembled together with half-arsed nonchalance the rest of the time. And often the two approaches at assembling are found in the same product. This results in an analog oscilloscope that would otherwise last forever and have excellent measurement parameters, if it wasn't for the CRT that, when produced, didn't quite meet the vacuum tolerances, and the capacitors in the probe being made from spit. Just for one example.

  • No surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sucker_muts (776572) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [nvp_rekcus]> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:41AM (#28066203) Homepage Journal
    What's so difficult to understand about the fact that new products don't last as much as they used to? Back in the days the production and design processes were not as advanced as today, so a lot of margin of error was needed to produce equipment that worked the way it needed.

    Today, there are a lot of different price categories for a lot of goods. So to give the people what they really want (cheap stuff), the components that are used in today's products are mostly the cheap ones that are produced without big margins of error for reliability purposes. This obviously means that they won't last forever, but boy are they cheap! Why should someone buy a very expensive TV that's garanteed to work for 50 years when in 15 years time there would be new models with a lot of new functionality anyway?

    Sometimes I don't understand why some people are saying that that old equipment was so much better because it lasted forever, but I think the explanation to that is so simple.
    • by Enleth (947766)

      Well, I've got a Marantz Superscope R-1232 amplituner manufactured in 1971, which was really at the bottom end of the Marantz product range, and AFAIK it was priced accordingly (affordable for almost everyone), yet it still works perfectly without a single repair in almost 40 years of use.

      • by Jon Abbott (723)

        That is awesome. I thought I was proud of my Yamaha YST-C10 stereo, which is roughly half the age of your Marantz. Still works except for the occasional electrical glitch in the cassette deck. My dad has all Marantz gear, and it all still works.

    • Old Stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raygundan (16760) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:02AM (#28066339) Homepage

      Old stuff seems to last forever because the old stuff we have left is the stuff that survived. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's plenty of old junk-- but that went out with the trash years ago. Every era manufactures a bunch of unreliable crap, too.

      To make matters worse: through sheer chance, some unreliable junk survives for a century now and then, too. While this stuff is all at the statistically unlikely end of the bell curve, and 99.9% of its cohorts have vanished, what remains by dumb luck reinforces the idea that "stuff was made better in the old days."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by omnichad (1198475)
      The problem with cheap versions of everything is that it artificially deflates the cost of living. I know that post 1950's the dual-income home drove inflation to a point that we've never recovered from. A family can no longer live on one salary in the middle-class salary range. But when you add to that the idea that everything's "cheaper," the demand for high quality items vanishes, rendering them unaffordable luxuries.

      I'm not a Big Government fan, but maybe we need to regulate quality of manufactur
      • No. It's no going to have an adverse effect on the economy, if you tax products according to their quality.
        That is: Good things also get a tax break, so that all in all, there in no difference an average taxation.

        If anything, it will literally make everything better. :)

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:42AM (#28066211)

    Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever -- old cars or weapons systems

    As the owner of a rare, older Audi, I find this concept hilarious. A number of components last just about the warranty period- a number of solenoid valves, for example. Numerous hoses break (turbocharged engine- the hoses split and leak.) The radiator end-caps (and thus all the fittings) were of a plastic that broke after a couple of years. Alternators last a few years tops because of their location and cooling design (they are fed air straight through the bumper, so lots of water and crap.) BMW and Mercedes largely had the same issues as they were all being fed the same shit by Bosch and others. Don't be fooled: automotive companies contract out or shop off the shelf at major supplies like Bosch. The climate control and seat controls in my car are straight out of the AC/Delco parts bin, amusingly enough...despite it being an Audi.

    Manual transmissions and differentials? Absolutely. The engine block/valvetrain/internals/exhaust, you got it. The (hot-dipped-galvanized) body? Yes. Most of the interior electrics? Yup. All relatively bulletproof and will last longer than you want to keep the car.

    Ask B5 A4/S4 owners about their driver information display or ABS modules. Or front suspension links on the original A4...

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      BMW and Mercedes largely had the same issues as they were all being fed the same shit by Bosch and others.

      As the owner of a 1982 MBZ 300SD, I break wind in your general direction. I do have a problem with my EGR, but since it's a diesel it's only a stink problem. I need to fix it, though. 350,000+ miles, wewp.

      Regrettably, the W126 body is [often] considered to be the last great Mercedes. But it does point to the end of an era.

  • why not use the rest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @09:45AM (#28066241)

    instead of burning them up/dumping them, why doesnt Russia also make use of the other components for its own project??
    if US is willing to dump them then its junk for the US and Russia could use them i guess.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FilatovEV (1520307)

      I guess that maintainance of space modules is sheduled/directed by their manufacturers. Since various modules aren't produced in a single center, but are created by different countries, it may be impossible for a single country to lead on the whole project.

      Then, there are concerns of national prestige. When MIR was to be destroyed, there were proposals to sell it to China. For some reason, the different option was chosen. Same concerns might take place for other space-faring countries as well.

      That's why I'm

  • Is Russia the last country where engineers are not (yet) forced by corporations to intentionally produce designs that fail two days after warranty expires?

    Well, no. As another poster has already pointed out, NASA's still got some stuff that's working well-past design goals. I'm sure that 'western' bits of the ISS could be have their working lives extended in the same way, if the political will was there.

    Russia has excellent engineers that often found ingenious solutions in the 'make do and mend' Soviet era. Nothing's changed in the Putin-directed puff, propaganda and hubris era. The execution of the ideas often compromised by poor materials and processes

    • by Enleth (947766)

      You have it right there. I'm using a Soviet-made C1-99 oscilloscope from the 80s, which still works, still holds calibration settings for a few years at a time and still amazes me with its design. When I opened it for the first time, to replace a thread-secured cord socket (the cord got damaged and I wasn't able to find a new one that would fit) with a modern C14 socket, I was surprised to find a ~1,5m long coil of shower hose securely attached between the circuit boards, definitely factory work. It wasn't

  • In Russia... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bensam123 (1340765)

    In Soviet Russia, things outlast you!

  • Russian radio (Score:3, Informative)

    by grumling (94709) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:07AM (#28066371) Homepage

    Many Russian/Soviet era military radios were tube type with regenerative receivers. They were supposedly designed so they would continue to work after an EMP. The reality was that they didn't have access to transistor patents, and tube factories provided jobs. The radios worked very well until the tubes went bad. As long as you looked at tubes as a disposable item, like a battery, you could say that they were made much better than the US equivalent. However, in reality, the silicon based radios were far superior in both function and reliability, and EMP hardened systems were developed, nullifying the tube's main advantage. My dad, a radio collector, has a Zenith Royal 500-D that has never had anything done other than replace batteries that still works as it did in 1955. There are almost no tube radios of that era that have maintained the stability of even those early transistor sets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      yeah, like the soviets really gave a flying fuck for patents... most of their IT industry was created by unashemedly copying american designs from IBM, DEC and intel. to the point that their clones were pin compatible with intel 8080s...

  • The last time they had a MIR toilet seat land in the middle of Seattle (then tried to blame the targeting mistake on "gremlins," no less). They just don't want another fiasco like that.
  • by spywhere (824072) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:33AM (#28066557)
    They tend to design things to outlast the competition.

    Look at the Kalashnikov: crude, but timeless. Our tax dollars have bought hundreds of thousands of AK-knockoffs in the last few years alone, for our puppets... I mean allies.
  • by bagofbeans (567926) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @10:51AM (#28066719)

    It's possible to design much electronics to last a long time. I'd say that 95% of the reliability comes from not using wet electrolytic capacitors, which dry out with heat x time. The reliable test equipment I have from the 60s and 70s uses solid tantalum caps with a very long service life. And my mil-supplied, 50's built, tubes only, up to 500V variable voltage bench supplies use oil/paper caps and work perfectly after 50 years.

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:03AM (#28066801)

    Unfortunately, much of NASA is focused on building things, not doing things. Look at the argument [washingtonpost.com] over the repair capabilities that made the Hubble a success : Nasa is letting go of those capabilities. The new Manned Space Flight System - Orion - will not have the capability to repair future Hubbles. In my opinion Hubble is the biggest success NASA has had since Apollo, and as before we are going to let the capability die.

    The builder types of would respond "its cheaper to build new ones," except, of course, we more or less won't. The current paradigm means that we will launch a telescope, have it fail, and then wait 20-30 years until another of the same type can be orbited. And, there seems to be no real effort expended on new types of propulsion [digitaljournal.com] and certainly no effort on new types of manned propulsion.

    The Russians, meanwhile, view everything they have ever launched as an asset. You bet that they are going to use their ISS modules as long as they can, and maybe just a little more.

  • Reliability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Talisman (39902) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:10AM (#28066845) Homepage
    "There used to be a lot of equipment manufactured by various countries (Germany is the first one that comes to mind) that lasted virtually forever..."

    I understand the principle you are referring to, but I'm not really sure if it's a case of people remembering, or even imagining things more fondly than they really were. And I mean that literally; I'm not sure.

    My grandfather, who passed away 16 years ago, left behind in his garage a lawnmower with a Briggs & Stratton engine. He originally purchased this lawnmower sometime in the late 50's. That lawnmower is *still* in my mother's garage, and still fully operational, some 50 years later. The only maintenance required is a bit of gasoline and a new spark plug every 10 years or so.

    *50* years and still running strong

    Fast forward to a car I owned in college. It was a 1985 Volkswagen Golf. The car was 5 years old when I got it; my mother owned it before me. It had about 60,000 miles on it when I got it, but it already had a cracked head (faulty radiator), CV joints were replaced 3 times (it was an engineering defect - anyone who owned a Golf or Jetta from about that time can attest to this), faulty fuel injector (it would stick at WOT sometimes when you floored it), headliner collapsed, sunroof broke twice (couldn't open it), and several other minor problems, and this was BEFORE I got it. I owned it for under two years and by then it was such a heap of garbage we decided to simply trade it in on something new, as it was too expensive to keep repairing. Mt grandfather bought me a 1992 Nissan pick-up, the no-frills base model, and it was mechanically the best vehicle I've owned to date, and I'm currently on my 8th automobile. I put over 200,000 (really rough) miles on it, and the only thing that ever failed was a bearing in the transmission, which was most likely my fault for driving it like a dragster. Was only $600 to repair, including parts and labor. Everything else worked great.

    Going back in time again, I also have some of my grandfather's toys. They are stored away, and never touched, but the craftsmanship was so delicate, they never would have made it this long if continually played with. Even simple mechanisms like the Jack-in-the-Box readily break.

    So taking into consideration the materials used in the past (heavy duty plastic, metal, solid wood) versus those in use today (thin plastic, cheap alloys, synthetic/pressed wood), as well as the business ethics of planned obsolescence (i.e. build something that breaks right after warranty) I would say that overall, if all manufactured products were compared to their equivalent from many decades past, it does seem that a higher percentage of products are now built more cheaply than they once were.

    However, considering engineering advances, I'd put my Nissan up against any 1950's Ford or Chevy for reliability. And as has been mentioned by other posters, it's often what you pay and who you buy from. If you buy cheap, you shouldn't expect longevity. Of course there are exceptions to that, as well. My Nissan pick-up in 1992 was $9,000 out the door. The next most reliable car I've owned is my Viper, but it cost 10x as much as my old Nissan.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @11:17AM (#28066901) Homepage

    "Russian components...American components...ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!" -Lev Andropov, from Armageddon [imdb.com]

  • As our 25 year old stoves and 15 year old water heaters are breaking, we find that most stoves and hot water heaters break in under a decade and under six years respectively.

    As you can imagine, it's irritating because it is so obvious.

    It is a real hassle to have to replace these things more often.

    I think they may be cheaper adjusted for inflation- but sometimes a single piece comes up a lot as the source of failure so you have to think that upgrading that one piece from plastic to steel would prevent a lot

  • This is how we fix problem in the Russian space station!

    [hits panel with tool]

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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