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NASA Science

Space Shuttle Atlantis Last Night In Space Orbit 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the end-of-an-era dept.
techtribune writes "Tomorrow will be a bittersweet day for the crew aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis as they begin their return home to Earth. This will be the last space shuttle re-entry, the last landing, and the very last crew to pilot the shuttle in U.S. history. The Atlantis Space Shuttle undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after delivering a lot of supplies, batteries, and other hardware to the station. They are bringing a lot of trash and everything else that needs to be brought back to Earth, as it's the very last opportunity for NASA to do so on its own." In a related topic, MarkWhittington wrote in with a story about why we stopped going to the moon and why there are no plans to go back.
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Space Shuttle Atlantis Last Night In Space Orbit

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  • Just a thought... they carefully cut out all excess weight for a shuttle launch because every extra pound is some $massive.amount. On the way down, however, is it really more of a "pack it all in" mentality?
    • That's right, the cost to bring stuff back is negligible compared to the cost of taking it up.

      • by Arlet (29997)

        That's right, the cost to bring stuff back is negligible compared to the cost of taking it up.

        Depends on how you look at it. The shuttle has to take up heavy wings and heat shields in order to bring stuff down.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Depends on how you look at it. The shuttle has to take up heavy wings and heat shields in order to bring stuff down.

          This is the only thing the Shuttle excels at: bringing things back from space intact. It's pretty much the only thing ever made (except for the Buran) that can accomplish such a task.

          For every other task, it's horribly cost and fuel inefficient. Even for servicing large satellites it's not efficient. Replacing them is cheaper.

          So what could we possibly want to bring back from space? There's

          • by SomePgmr (2021234)
            That sounds like an awful lot of aggravation and expense when you could just send a camera. It's not like we hadn't called BS on the Soviets with photos before.

            But either way, at least we got a lot of use out of the thing... despite the price tag.
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Actually it was much worse than that Mr AC. you see the original proposal had the Shuttle listed as a "space truck" which would have bay large enough that NASA, the military and civilian corps could all use it, be able to do quick turnarounds, basically making for a cheaper system that would fulfill many roles. It failed horribly at that mission.

            It was too small for the military and most corps who stuck with the Delta series, had slow turnaround, it pretty much failed on everything that was in that origina

        • by tverbeek (457094)

          Those are... sorry: were already paid for.

          • by Arlet (29997)

            The point is that the design of the shuttle was influenced by the requirement to bring back heavy objects safely back to earth, and that design is pretty expensive going up.

            Sure, after launching it, the cost of bringing it back down are small, but then again, a lot of things are cheap after they've already been paid for.

             

  • Apes (Score:5, Funny)

    by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @03:30PM (#36827190)
    I say we all put on ape costumes and greet them at the shuttle door just to screw with their heads.
    • by david.given (6740)
      I'm hoping they just say 'screw it', divert to the backup landing strip in the Azores, and head for the beach.
    • by antdude (79039)

      Don't forget to change the statues and monuments too. ;)

      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        Don't forget to change the statues and monuments too. ;)

        OK, we're gonna have to get the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand... Are the Ghostbusters available?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @03:34PM (#36827236)

    Mr. Whittington's article is written with very little depth. He doesn't even answer his own question. Nixon siad it was too expensive... really? that's it?
    Sure the space shuttle program ended up being truly massively expensive, but the entire world surrounding the space program also changed in the mean time and far more valuable things occured in science than "going to the moon"
    Going back to the moon from then until say now... wouldn't have had half the scientific value of say Hubble or zero G experiments of the 80's.

    It's exciting... yes. And we should go back. There's a pratical side to a moon base that would be extremely valuable in the future. Far less fatigue for atronauts, a fantastic opportunity at power and heat generation at the boundary between the near and far sides of the moon. the ability to use local building materials for some things. A grand opportunity indeed. I'm just scratching the surface.

    Is any of this in his article? No. It's just whining.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Mr. Whittington's article is written with very little depth. He doesn't even answer his own question. Nixon siad it was too expensive... really? that's it?

      It was too expensive at billions of dollars per flight, and it was at the edge of what was technically feasible so the risk of losing a crew was substantial.

      And the shuttle was supposed to be the cheap alternative. It just didn't work out that way.

      We will go back to the moon when it's affordable. I believe SpaceX have been suggesting they could fly a Dragon around the Moon for $100,000,000 and change, so they could probably land some tourists there for a few hundred million.

    • The article was very shallow and the links in it were to books he had written. Gee, I wonder what's up with that?

    • I have a copy of Art Bell (of coast-to-coast AM fame) interviewing Ingo Swann [biomindsuperpowers.com], author of Penetration: The Question of Human and Extraterrestrial Telepathy.

      Ingo was the creative genius behind the CIA's remote viewing program (which was shut down after 20 years because it "didn't work". Conveniently this was just after the soviet union fell apart). In the interview he talked about how he was asked to remote view the moon by an agency that didn't officially exist. "50% of what I know I put in my book, Penetra

    • Mr. Whittington's article is written with very little depth. He doesn't even answer his own question. Nixon siad it was too expensive... really? that's it?

      And even that statement, while widely believed, is wrong. Yes, three missions were canceled under the Nixon Administration - but all that did was move the final flight up from '73 or '74 to '72.

      Apollo was actually killed in the bruising budget battles of '66 and '67 - when the production of Apollo hardware was suspended and the Apollo Application

  • by yoghurt (2090) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @03:39PM (#36827294)

    People stopped going to the moon and skylab because they ran out of useful things to do there.

    The reason for people in space is because it makes for better marketing.

    All the science is done by unmanned probes. The Mars rovers have been a huge success. Sure they are less capable than a human, but they are much cheaper, they can stay there a long time, you don't have to bring them back and if something goes wrong on Mars at least nobody gets hurt hence you can tolerate a modest risk of failure.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "All the science is done by unmanned probes."

      Space is utterly hostile, we MUST have superb probes, remote-manned systems, and robots to interact with it efficiently.

      If something cannot now be done efficiently by a machine, that means "build a better machine" (the development and life cycles of systems without local crew can be much faster) not "send meat tourists NAO for teh tasty DRAMA!".

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Sure they are less capable than a human

      They're a lot more capable than a corpse, which is what you'd have if you tried to send a human to Mars on anything less than a thousand times the budget of a robotic mission.

    • if something goes wrong on Mars at least nobody gets hurt hence you can tolerate a modest risk of failure.

      What the hell is wrong with somebody getting hurt?
       
      And the reality is, neither Congress nor the general public is in the slightest bit tolerant of even the tiniest risk of failure, manned or unmanned.

    • One problem with NASA is it is focused almost entirely on exploration and not on development -- in part because efforts towards building space habitats in the 1970s were give the "Gold Fleece" award and NASA did not stand up to that. We need initiatives again to build space habitats on the moon and using asteroids. What could be more useful than figuring out how to support quadrillions of human lives and untold Earth's worth of other plants, animals, and bacteria etc. in the solar system like Gerry O'Neill

  • hopefully this will be the last story about the last shuttle and the last landing and the last parking and the last unloading and...

    But I doubt it.

  • I just hope they get it on video for the Smithsonian. I cried last night at the last defecation.

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      I just hope they get it on video for the Smithsonian. I cried last night at the last defecation.

      Why, what had you been eating? Oh, theirs

      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        I just hope they get it on video for the Smithsonian. I cried last night at the last defecation.

        Why, what had you been eating? Oh, theirs

        Nice dig, but he'd have to be up in the shuttle with them if he were to eat their defecation.

        Before landing, I mean.

  • I assume the Commander is usually the last one out? I guess then... Christopher Ferguson will be the last astronaut to disembark from a space shuttle.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's not in Low Earth Orbit?
  • Risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @03:53PM (#36827454) Homepage

    The reason that our space program is dead in the water is that we are pathologically afraid of the risk of anyone dying. If there's an accident, the entire program shuts down. Not for a couple of weeks, but for nearly a decade while congress has meeting after meeting, and even more bureacracy is put into place to hamper all programs. The solution is a lean, mean, risk taking NASA that can get a new vehicle out there flying every year to test out the technologies and toughen up the astronauts for the conquering of space, which will be the most difficult thing that the human race has done to date.

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      While you're correct that the agency does not like to take risk, you're pretty far off on the "nearly a decade" assessment. The flights after Challenger and Columbia were both on the order of 2.5 years after the accident.

      With that said, if it was my money in that billion dollar vehicle, I'd probably err on the side of safety too. *shrug*
      • by PRMan (959735)
        It IS your money in that billion dollar vehicle (if you're a US Citizen)...
        • by Tetsujin (103070)

          It IS your money in that billion dollar vehicle (if you're a US Citizen)...

          That doesn't actually make it your money.

      • I'd also point out that, after the Apollo 1 accident, the manned phase of the Apollo missions was delayed for 20 months--close to 2 years. And that was during the supposed "guts & glory" phase of the American program.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The reason that our space program is dead in the water is that we are pathologically afraid of the risk of anyone dying. If there's an accident, the entire program shuts down.

      There are shedloads of astronauts; if a crew was hit by a bus it would be replaced very quickly. What you can't afford is to lose a space shuttle when you only have three of them and can't make any more; that is why the program stops for years every time one is lost.

      • Don't rain on his ranting with logic, I was getting half a stiffy listening to his machismo.

      • by powerlord (28156)

        The reason that our space program is dead in the water is that we are pathologically afraid of the risk of anyone dying. If there's an accident, the entire program shuts down.

        There are shedloads of astronauts; if a crew was hit by a bus it would be replaced very quickly. What you can't afford is to lose a space shuttle when you only have three of them and can't make any more; that is why the program stops for years every time one is lost.

        Agreed. Heck, just polling the slashdot readership, you could probably come up with enough qualified people to crew a couple of dozen flights at least (qualified = meeting basic health/skills requirements to complete astronaut training).

        Remember, there are only so many astronauts because they only have so many spots, because they only have so many Orbiters to launch. The launch vehicle is the choke point in the chain.

        On a slightly related note. Just happened on this:
        http://filkertom-itom.blogspot.com/200 [blogspot.com]

    • by epine (68316)

      we are pathologically afraid of the risk of extraordinarily brave and competent individuals dying on a PR junket

      There's nothing the fuck up there. But let me know if you have a viable business model for harvesting cosmic rays with ugly bags of mostly water.

      Meanwhile, the space program consumes many of the best and brightest who could be working on pressing problems down here. As for unmanned exploration, it's not like we're on some kind of short term deadline. Planets tend to hang for the long haul.

      Or is

      • I might add it seems to me that running a glitzy space program (on the back of a trillion dollars in debt) seems like entirely the wrong kind of venture for a world superpower mesmerized by the looming death-throes of the carbon economy.

        Then again, nothing clears the mind like making a beeline for calamity when your your fate is welded to a fragile vessel surrounded by an infinity of not air.

    • so let's be like the USRR where they edited out a astronauts who died.

    • by Canth7 (520476) *
      While I'm not certain that the risk of death is the cause of the manned space program's demise, this is certainly the reason we haven't planned any manned missions to Mars. There are other branches of the military where the risk of death and the consequences are well accepted. For example, mining, offshore fishing and armed conflict all accept a certain level of risk due to the nature of the job. If politicians and the public accepted the risks then we could easily organize a 1 way trip to Mars with a remot
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      It's true, the Russians lost a lot more men and women than NASA did, but they also did a lot more pioneering stuff with far fewer resources. It isn't just human lives lost either, but a general fear or failure. The Russians used an iterative processes of building prototypes and flying them, then fixing any problems they discovered. If one blew up it wasn't such a big deal, where as NASA did a lot more design and testing on the ground so they could be reasonably sure everything would work on the day.

  • Come home safely. Enough said.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:11PM (#36827686)
    Orbiting on land would probably make a huge mess.
    • And "space alien" = somebody from out of town who smokes marijuana.
    • Actually the concept of the last night is rather flawed for an orbit too. Given the average orbital period is 90 minutes the title refers to the last 45 minutes in orbit.
    • by david.given (6740)
      There's a special term used for orbiting on land. It's called 'lithobraking'. I believe that Mars Climate Orbiter was one of the most famous spacecraft that used this technique.
  • Space travel with chemical fuels just barely works. Massive efforts on weight reduction have made it sort of work. But with all that weight reduction, everything is too fragile to be reliable. This hasn't gotten much better in the last 45 years.

    There is no chemical fuel with a higher energy density than liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen, and the US has used that for almost half a century. Nuclear propulsion would work better. Nuclear rocket engines were built in the 1950s and 1960s. But they're so messy...

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      Specific Impulse is more important than energy density. Lithium/Flourine/Hydrogen liquid propellant is the best. No worries, once off earth better to burn "longer" than "harder" and we have other technologies with higher specific impulse, 8 to 25x that of liquid chemical
  • on the shuttle Atlantis".

    I sense this being a future article that will appear on Slashdot in the next few days!
  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @04:56PM (#36828266)

    There was no reason to go back.

    With the technologies available in the 1960s all the research done on the lunar samples and from orbit showed the Moon to be a dead, worthless rock in space.

    The Mercury program was about increasing heavy lift to Low-Earth Orbit, the Gemini program was about working and maneuvering in Low-Earth Orbit while Apollo was about getting very large loads into Low-Earth Orbit and to the Moon.

    Of all those programs, Gemini is the one we should have continued, an affordable and maneuverable system that could stay up for two weeks, more of a sports car in space while the Soyuz is a remote controlled car.

    The current collapsed of NASA's manned space flight program isn't the fault of Bush, or Obama, it's the fault of NASA, since Challenger failed NASA has screwed up every attempt to make a successor to Shuttle. The day Scaled Composites flew to space, NASA should have sunk a billion dollars (one shuttle flight) into Scaled Composites to build an orbital space craft. But NASA didn't just like NASA never got a super-heavy lift rocket off the ground despite Congress telling them to in 1987 or NASA balling up two shuttle replacement programs in the 1990s.

  • Not really an answer to this article but I met a couple (anchor and cameraman) with China Central TV in Titusville covering the STS-135 launch. I asked what they think that many Americans say it will be the Chinese that will walk the surface of the moon next. She said they hope to be as good as the Americans.
  • The reason we stopped going to the moon was that the contract on that soundstage was up, and it was needed for filming The Six-Million-Dollar Man.

  • May you have fair (solar) winds and following seas. You will be missed, you and your sister ships served very well and performed better than expected, even with the casualties. May you come home safely and get the rest you deserve.

    As some one who grew up in central Florida right along side the shuttle program I must admit that this brings tears to my eyes. Not so much because its going away, but because its going away with no replacement. We've basically given up. It'd bother me far less if there was a

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