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NASA Space Science

Inside a Last-Ditch Effort To Save the Space Shuttle 134

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-always-get-what-you-want dept.
SkinnyGuy writes "NASA's Space Shuttle could have flown again as early as 2014 if a secret effort to repurpose them for commercial flight had succeeded. From the article: 'Though secret, the plan quickly gained support and Dittmar described how funding and interest grew dramatically. "Initially skeptical," she wrote, "people became caught up in the vision of a Commercial Space Shuttle funded entirely by private and institutional investors and put back into service to shape new markets." ...In the end, two crucial factors made it all but impossible to revive the shuttle program as a commercial enterprise or in any fashion. One was that so much of the Shuttle infrastructure has already been shifted to other efforts that the revival team could never pull together sufficient funds to return those resources to the Space Shuttles. Two: The SLS program.'"
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Inside a Last-Ditch Effort To Save the Space Shuttle

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:32PM (#38426526)

    the revival team could never pull together sufficient funds

    Really, you mean some eccentric English millionaire couldn't find ready funding for the mere $600-million-per-launch costs of the shuttle, along with a few billion to build the private infrastructure to put it up? Why you could have put satellites up for only 20x more than a rocket could do it. Or maybe you could have sent passengers up for only 100x what a ticket on Virgin Galactic would cost.

    Where do I send my money to invest?

    • by John Bresnahan (638668) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:34PM (#38426544)
      I'll bet Hugo Drax [wikipedia.org] could!
      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Drax was so good he found a way to take the Shuttles to the moon. Pretty impressive for a vehicle that couldn't leave LEO.

        • by sconeu (64226)

          He didn't take them to the moon. He took them to a gigantic space station in LEO.

          • He didn't take them to the moon

            Homer Hickam (of Rocket Boys / October Sky fame) wrote a now somewhat-dated yet still fun novel about a trip to the moon via the orbiter:

            http://www.amazon.com/Back-Moon-Novel-Homer-Hickam/dp/0385334222 [amazon.com]

            • by sconeu (64226)

              I've read it. It's a fun read, if an obvious "Mary Sue" type story.

              Of course, Hickam had two guys swap out the SSMEs ... mid flight. A bit unrealistic, if you ask me.

              • So I'm trying to remember - In the book do they actually land on the moon? What do they use as a landing craft? Do they walk on the moon...? Read the book a looong time ago...
                • by sconeu (64226)

                  One guy lands, using some custom balloon type thing. Unfortunately, it gets wrecked upon landing, and they jury-rig the Apollo 17 descent stage to get back to lunar orbit.

                  He walks around, and uses the Rover from 17 to go to the crater where the He3 firebeads were found.

    • The idea seemed doomed from the start, based more out of nostagia than actual practicality.

      You'd one one of the team would have said 'Hey guys, when you think about it, this just doesn't add up!'

      (Insert Imperial or Metric gag here)

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        The idea seemed doomed from the start, based more out of nostagia than actual practicality.

        You'd one one of the team would have said 'Hey guys, when you think about it, this just doesn't add up!'

        Not to overlook how the surviving shuttles have all been promised out to various cities. The competition was very keen with Cape Canaveral retaining one, while Los Angeles and Smithsonian in northern Virginia have the others.

    • by jedidiah (1196) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:47PM (#38427284) Homepage

      The shuttle was brilliant in it's moment but is now horribly dated. With all of the tech advances that have occured in the last 30 years, it's really time to retire the thing. There should have been a Shuttle 2.0 to replace it but we all know the politics of the situation.

      Instead of keeping this particular zombie alive, they should go back to the drawing board and perhaps draw inspiration from some of the other Shuttle designs that didn't make it.

      Although separating the cargo from the people is probably a good alternate approach to start considering. The whole bloody thing probably doesn't need to be engineered to the level where it becomes acceptable for manned use.

      • by EdZ (755139) on Monday December 19, 2011 @07:04PM (#38428008)

        The shuttle was brilliant in it's moment

        Not even that really. The Shuttle was a compromise between two programs: one for a cheap reusable launcher, and one for a craft that could be launched in one orbit, cross track itself over the soviet union and then back again to land. Dumping this cross-track requirement onto the shuttle crippled the program to achieving the original launcher goals, and the damn thing never did go sneaking over the USSR anyway!
        Thing sort of went thus: The shuttle design was meant to launch a lot, and thus amortise the up-front costs over many launches to launch cheap. The Air Force wanted to get in on this cheap launcher, but needed it to do some Other Stuff. The up-front costs rose. The increased cost meant fewer launches, and the design changes meant fewer launches. The cost per launch rose dramatically.

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          The military demand for satellite recovery also added a lot to the cost, as I understand it. The shuttle was designed back in the era when they still used film cans in spy satellites, which meant they periodically needed to either restock them or replace them. As a result, the shuttle got a huge payload bay that was only used for an actual satellite recovery four times in the entire history of the shuttle program (five satellites, but Westar-6 and Palapa-B2 were a twofer).

          I'm sure it was nice to have the

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Monday December 19, 2011 @09:39PM (#38429196) Journal

      What amazes me is how many here think wonderfully of the shuttle when it was a massive failure by every conceivable metric. Watch the videos of Nixon talking about it, the plan was for a heavy lifter "space truck" that could take care of ALL the military's needs AND the civilian sector AND have a fast enough turn around that it would lower the cost per pound into space.

      Did it fulfill the military's needs? Nope it couldn't carry enough and cost too much so they stuck with the Delta. Did it fulfill the civilian need? Not really as the Soyuz could do it much cheaper. what about lowering the cost per pound? BWA HA HA HA HA HA not even close on that one.

      And that is of course before looking at the clusterfuck that was building the thing as every senator Porkus and congressman Kickbackus had to get a little chunk of the work to 'bring home teh bacon!" so it was spread all over hell and MUCH more expensive than it needed to be.

      At this point frankly i think we should toss not only the shuttle but the money pit that is the F35 and just ask the Russians how much they will sell us some SU27s along with MiG31s and have them throw in some Soyuz rockets while they are at it. i bet the total would be less for the whole smash than just the shuttle by itself cost.

    • by RoLi (141856)

      Or maybe you could have sent passengers up for only 100x what a ticket on Virgin Galactic would cost.

      Actually, the Space Shuttle was a vehicle for space tourism almost from the beginning [in-other-news.com].

      • Good link. Space tourism has become a more visible issue because the newly-rich technological class are buying seats with their own money, rather than US and foreign politicians using that of their own people.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        By "tourist" most people mean someone who buys a ticket themselves. If you're going to count every non-astronaut as a tourist, you had may as well include the Laika [wikipedia.org] as the first space tourist.

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arcite (661011) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:34PM (#38426548)
    Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sexconker (1179573)

      Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.

      Except that we're not.
      Space just isn't in the budget.

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by demachina (71715) on Monday December 19, 2011 @07:41PM (#38428312)

        Except we are. SpaceX is doing some wonderful work, bringing launch costs down by significant percentages and they are funding themselves with a mix of private and government launches so they aren't completely at the mercy of Congress and the POTUS which NASA's launchers are. They are also keenly focused on manned missions to Mars eventually which is the one manned mission that would be really exciting.

        Excellent article on the cool stuff they are doing here [airspacemag.com].

        I recall a recent story that NASA was so taken back by how low SpaceX's R&D costs were for a new launcher compared to NASA's, NASA sent in a team to study their economics. I think one key point was SpaceX does a lot of their work in house instead of contracting parts out to companies that gouge. There is a mention of this in the article linked above. SpaceX asked an outside company for a quote on a part, it was astronomical, so they built it in house instead for a fraction of the price, and when the salesmen called back they rubbed his nose in it.

        P.S.

        Anyone who thought they could fly the Shuttle as a commercial program and come anywhere close to break even was purely delusional. The Shuttle program was an extravagent jobs program masquerading as a space program at least as far back the Challenger accident which completely crippled everything it was supposed to do.

        • I think one key point was SpaceX does a lot of their work in house instead of contracting parts out to companies that gouge.

          That's because the shuttle program's primary purpose isn't to get to space, it's to distribute congressional pork. It's a welfare program for aerospace companies, and a way to reward campaign contributors. The shuttle was carefully engineered to spread the work across as many different congressional districts as possible. That's not what NASA was originally designing for, of course, but Congress was the one paying for it. The customer's always right.

          And in case anyone thinks I'm some kind of "national m

          • Same can be said for Ares/Constellation aka Porklauncher and its undead spawn the Space (aka Senate) Launch System.

            At least the J2-X engine development has been proceeding. It's a good solid design that has potential uses. So-so thrust/weight ratio but good Isp

        • by Teancum (67324)

          There were more than a few sub-contractors that were doing some parts for SpaceX that Elon Musk simply offered instead to buy the whole company rather than have the option for some other company to bump them down in priority. While not all of the suppliers have taken the bait, quite a few of them have.

          The other issue is that SpaceX, by having most of the production including the critical production (both quality and time-dependent parts) in-house, they are also able to control the reliability of the whole

      • The budget's there, it's just that NASA is involved in a million and one things that have nothing to do with space exploration and travel these days.

        If NASA stops doing atmosphere science (the NOAA does that) and biology (NSF grants to universities do that) and etc they will find they have the money to actually put people into space again.

        The problem is that in order to attempt to expand their budget infinitely, their purview has also expanded beyond any reason.

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ircmaxell (1117387) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:04PM (#38426868) Homepage
      I really can't stand this *cost effective* bs. People keep coming out and saying how expensive the shuttle was, and how much of a waste of money it was. In reality it was actually very cheap in comparison to other things we spend money on. Source: XKCD [xkcd.com]

      Shuttle
      Total: $194 billion
      Per Launch: $1.43 billion
      Per Year: $6.46 billion

      Apollo Program
      Total: $192 billion
      Per Launch: $11.94 billion
      Per Year: $17.45 billion

      Federal Fraud
      Per Year: $125.4 billion

      Iraq War
      Per Year: $98 billion

      Ballistic Missile Submarines Per Year: $12 billion

      Federal Interest on Debt
      Per Year: $198 billion

      US foreign military aid
      Per Year: $11.5 billion

      So yes, it was expensive. But we spend money like it's going out of style (heck, the 2009 stimulus was 115 times the annual cost of the program. It was even 4 times the total cost of the program)!!!

      So sure, let it die with nothing to replace it. Because nothing ever came from it [nasa.gov]...
      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:15PM (#38426960)

        I really can't stand this *cost effective* bs. People keep coming out and saying how expensive the shuttle was, and how much of a waste of money it was. In reality it was actually very cheap in comparison to other things we spend money on.

        And it was very expensive compared to alternative methods of getting things into space. Falcon 9 Heavy should be able to put more payload into space for a tenth of the price.

        • by peragrin (659227)

          Yes but it can't retrieve that payload.

          The thing about the shuttle that was never used all that often was the fact that you could do something like retrieve large satellite return them to earth for repairs and re launch them.

          In the end it was cheaper to just build new and waste resources.

          what we really need is a decent SSTO setup. that will save money.

          • by grumling (94709)

            Except that it's cheaper to launch a new satellite, with advanced technology, then it would be to retrieve and relaunch. The Hubble may be an exception, but recall that it wasn't returned to Earth, but repaired (at great expense and risk) in space.

            The expensive parts of a satellite are launching them and where you park them, not the electronics.

        • And it was very expensive compared to alternative methods of getting things into space. Falcon 9 Heavy should be able to put more payload into space for a tenth of the price.

          In a universe where just throwing raw loads of mass into orbit as cheaply as possible is the goal of the space program... that would be useful. But that's not the goal, and never has been.

          A subcompact is cheaper than an RV or a tow truck, but nobody would ever confuse the two or send the former to do either of the latter's job.

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            In a universe where just throwing raw loads of mass into orbit as cheaply as possible is the goal of the space program... that would be useful. But that's not the goal, and never has been.

            So what exactly is the goal if it's not to put lots of stuff into space cheap?

            If you put stuff in space cheap, then you can do pretty much anything else you want to do up there. I have a hard time imagining a world where we'll be better off if we pay ten times as much to put the same stuff into orbit.

            • by lennier (44736)

              So what exactly is the goal if it's not to put lots of stuff into space cheap?

              To put a tiny amount of very expensive, very important and very fragile stuff into orbit as gently and safely as possible, regardless of cost?

              • by Teancum (67324)

                For a great many years there has been an issue of even getting stuff into space, and there is a larger issue of the ICBM research that for a time was parallel to civilian rocketry efforts as both had roughly the same goal: to put something up high above the Earth.

                The problem is that ICBM research ultimately has divergent goals from civilian rocketry, or in other words for putting stuff into orbit or into space far beyond the Earth. With an ICBM, the goal is to deliver the warhead as quickly as possible to

                • by Guspaz (556486)

                  For civilian rocketry, you need a rocket that can be reliably launched, but it doesn't have to sit on the launch pad all that long after being prepared, and can use volatile cryogenic fuels like liquid oxygen that an ICBM really doesn't use very well (even though some countries still use it for ballistic missiles).

                  I'm not sure if you'd qualify liquid oxygen as a fuel. It's a propellant, sure, but it's used to oxidize the fuel rather than as fuel itself. SpaceX uses Kerosene as fuel, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

                  • by Teancum (67324)

                    Why does it matter what is "fuel" and what is technically "oxidizer"? If you had a tank full of LOX and were flying in the atmosphere of Titan, it indeed would be the "fuel" in a jet engine where the Methane would be pulled freely from the atmosphere.

                    It really doesn't matter when you are hauling all of the chemicals needed for a reaction anyway, nor is Oxygen really necessary as long as when you are combining two chemicals together to produce an exothermic reaction with a high ISP. It just happens that Ox

            • by ArsonSmith (13997)

              the point is to be as expensive as possible and provide jobs for PHDs and Engineers so they don't leave the country.

            • If you put stuff in space cheap, then you can do pretty much anything else you want to do up there.

              In a world where launch costs dominate program costs, that would be a reasonable claim. But we don't live in such a world. Not even close.

              • by Guspaz (556486)

                Of course we live in such a world. If you want to launch a new communication satellite to GTO, would you rather pay $50 million to SpaceX for part of the payload of a Falcon Heavy launch, or $900 million for two shuttle launches?

                Even if SpaceX didn't exist, you'd never use the space shuttle for launching payloads into orbit, because even the pre-SpaceX alternatives are enormously cheaper for getting your stuff into orbit. SpaceX isn't competing with the shuttle, that was never the intent; the shuttle isn't

      • by Intron (870560)

        Of existing launch vehicles, I think India's PSLV is cheapest for putting a medium sized payload into orbit with good success (18/20). Wikipedia says around $17M per launch.

      • by lennier (44736)

        This "Federal Fraud" program for launching commercial payloads into LEO seems legit. Tell me more!

        The Ballistic Missile Submarines look cheaper though. How much do they charge per launch?

      • Also worth checking out the graphical worker/CEO pay comparison in the top-left area.

        1965 or 2007 hourly worker pay looks like a small house (only 10c improvement over that time, inflation adjusted), 1965 CEO hourly pay looks like an apartment complex, 2007 CEO hourly pay towers over them all like the freaking Empire State building.

    • Indeed. Remember the sick joke about NASA standing for "Need Another Seven Astronauts"? The shuttle has a terrible safety record, and a lot of the problems are fundamental to the design. Best to let it go.
  • Three (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 14erCleaner (745600) <FourteenerCleaner@yahoo.com> on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:36PM (#38426562) Homepage Journal
    3. It's incredibly expensive, and no private entity is going to fund it at half a billion dollars per launch.
    • Re:Three (Score:5, Informative)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:47PM (#38426690) Homepage

      Not only is the cost prohibitive but restarting Shuttle Operations would require, in essence, taking virtually all the support personnel (the thousands of them), hire them off of whatever they are doing now and re organize them back in the Shuttle team. The system is incredibly complicated and relied on a truly enormous ground team to manage it. That's what I don't get about Dittmar - she was the lead for that group. Unless she felt she really could hire everybody or come up with a smaller, more 'efficient' group, it was never going to fly.

      It isn't just the hardware. The wetware is probably more important.

      Same reason we couldn't restart the Saturn V - by the time you rebuild the engineering team, you might as well start with a new design.

      • by Tekfactory (937086) on Monday December 19, 2011 @06:21PM (#38427622) Homepage

        In watching the MIT Opencourseware series on engineering the shuttle it was pretty flatly stated that the engineers that worked on the shuttle did the same jobs on the shuttle program that they did on the Apollo program.

        So in at least that aspect the team wasn't broken up.

        They could have built a big rocket instead of a side-saddle launch vehicle, it had a lot to do with politics (Nixon and the Vietnam war) and who was head of NASA at the time.

        Promises were made on the reuseable launch side and how many launches a year we'd get out of the system bringing the lifecycle cost way down.

        If you really were going to get the band back together, do a new vehicle a top mounted shuttle alike with self-diagnostic engines and a vehicle that doesn't need to be rebuilt every launch. Many comments were made in the MIT lectures about what they'd do if they redesigned the shuttle with AutoCAD instead of on drafting tables.

        A shuttle continuation program now would have higher upfront capital costs because lots of the program facilities were dismantled. This would not be for much more than nostalgia's sake and would be proof man can't learn from his mistakes.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          The issue isn't the engineering team, but rather the technicians who actually build the equipment. In spite of the thought you can simply train any random group of primates to build this stuff, the actual construction of rockets is a highly skilled task that frankly few aerospace engineers could actually accomplish without a whole lot of experience. If they have any experience at the process at all, it is likely something they've gained from doing rocketry as a hobby rather than something they've done sit

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            In spite of the thought you can simply train any random group of primates to build this stuff, the actual construction of rockets is a highly skilled task that frankly few aerospace engineers could actually accomplish without a whole lot of experience.

            SpaceX managed to do that, plus all the R&D to actually put payload into orbit, for less than the cost of a single shuttle launch.

    • If the Shuttle cost a half a billion per launch, you'd have a point. But the truth is, in cash out of pocket, the shuttle costs less than a hundred million per launch. The balance is either the amortized share of fixed costs, or the amortized share of sunk costs like construction and R&D.
       
      Just as with so much else with high overhead, the solution to the Shuttle's 'cost' problems shouldn't have been to stop flying it - it should have been to fly it more.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        If the Shuttle cost a half a billion per launch, you'd have a point. But the truth is, in cash out of pocket, the shuttle costs less than a hundred million per launch.

        That'll be why NASA's shuttle budget was only $500,000,000 a year.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Why should "sunk costs" and other related "fixed costs" not be included with the launch cost of the Shuttle?

        BTW, I agree that the Shuttle should have been flown more often, but there were a number of factors that kept the flight rate low as well. Even at the peak of the Shuttle program when everything seemed to be working and there was a huge backlog of launches to be made, there were never more than a dozen flights per year. Even with both pad 39A & 39B in full launch tempo and a theoretically unlimi

  • To Oblivion... and beyond...
  • I'd expect a major reason commercial repurposing of the Space Shuttle fleet would fail would be a lack of need (the true seed of demand) for a commercial space program. Space programs in general are so expensive and have little practical value, which is why they are funded by governments in the interests of discovery. You can't really market something that no one would ever be able to afford, even if the demand was there... which I find hard to believe was ever there in the first place.
  • by alen (225700) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:50PM (#38426720)

    if this were turned over to private industry they would centralize the entire project in one or two locations and piss off a lot of congress people who currently have a piece of the pie.

    no nonsense of putting parts together in different locations and transporting them around the country

    • if this were turned over to private industry they would centralize the entire project in one or two locations and piss off a lot of congress people who currently have a piece of the pie.

      In some universe where this was trivially done and wouldn't require years of construction and tens of billions of dollars in investment - this would be a sensible statement. But, as with so many comments on the Shuttle, you're wildly disconnected with reality.

  • Hmmmmm.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kakapo (88299) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:01PM (#38426830)

    This is tripping my BS detector. Googling for "Kevin Holleran" site:uk returns next to nothing about this "millionaire" other than that someone of that name was the director of a half dozen companies, not of which look particularly spacey. Can you really get to be a Shuttle-investing millionaire and leave no google trail at all?

  • Dumb design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilo.v (1445373) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:01PM (#38426832)
    It was a dumb design from the beginning.

    1) You don't haul cargo in the same vehicle as humans. Cargo doesn't need the super-expensive "last 1%" reliability that a human crew demands.

    2) You don't put the vehicle next to the rocket. You put it on top, where ice can't hit it, and exploding booster rockets are survivable. The astronauts on the Challenger, as least some of them, survived the explosion and died on impact with the water. A small crew capsule perched on the top, with a parachute system, might, just might, have survived.

    3) You don't need humans up there at all. The future, for a generation or two at least, is unmanned exploration of the solar system. Look at where virtually all the meaningful scientific knowledge has come from in the last 20 - 40 - 60 years: unmanned probes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Err, Challenger did not explode. The booster ripped off the fuel tank (because it war burning through an O-ring, and there was lots of lateral trust from the rupture). After the booster ripped off, the vehicle turned sideways and aerodynamic forces caused it to disintegrate. The "plume of vapour" was actually liquid oxygen and hydrogen from the fuel tank, that also disintegrated. And no, it not even catch on fire.

      People onboard lost conciseness due to lack of oxygen. But you did get it right that they died

      • by tunapez (1161697)

        People onboard lost conciseness due to lack of oxygen. But you did get it right that they died when they hit the water.

        Perhaps they briefly regained conciseness to summarily endure an epigrammatic plunge to the terse seas below...

    • Re:Dumb design (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:51PM (#38427316) Homepage

      Everything you've said is completely correct. But I'd like to point out an additional, often underappreciated problem with the shuttle. The US military insisted that the shuttle be able to take off from a variety of other locations including Vandenberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandenberg_AFB_Space_Launch_Complex_6 [wikipedia.org]. They wanted it to be able to launch into a near polar orbit, send out a satellite and land all in a single orbit of the Earth. This was so that if things ever got hot with the USSR we could launch additional spy satellites faster than the Soviets could shoot them down. This article http://www.space.com/1438-chapter-opens-space-shuttle-born-compromise.html [space.com] discusses this in detail. There are also other requirements that the military had but it seems that the details remain classified. So we should add to the list:

      4) You don't use a single vehicle that you try to design to do every possible orbit on the off chance that it might be useful.

      • by demachina (71715)

        "with the USSR we could launch additional spy satellites faster than the Soviets could shoot them down"

        If we were to reach a point the USSR was shooting down U.S. spy satellites the chances are we would be spiraling in to a total war and SLC6 would have been a staggeringly easy target to destroy, with a missile from a submarine for example.

        It would also be completely impossible for you to launch a Shuttle and its satellite payload faster than the USSR could launch relatively simple and inexpensive anti sate

        • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
          Yes, there's no question this was a worst case scenario. Although not all versions of the scenario involved the Soviets shooting down all the satellites. One point that was made was that a small satellite would be harder to shoot down, so the shuttle could be used to launch a single satellite in a specific orbit and then land back before the Soviets could respond. All of the scenarios where they wanted these ridiculous polar orbits were situations that were one step away from Doomsday. But you are correct t
          • by demachina (71715)

            First strike nukes would seem to me to be a more plausible explanation. A shuttle launch wouldn't trigger the same alarms a ballistic missile launch would. You open the cargo bay doors over the Soviet Union and launch a bunch of small rockets with nukes attached to take out high value targets, especially to decapitate the government and try to disrupt the command and control to initiate the counter strike. Assuming the Soviets let the shuttle launch go unchallenged, their response time to an attack from

            • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
              Ah, and that's an option that only has a chance of working if it is kept classified. That seems plausible.
    • Re:Dumb design (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday December 19, 2011 @06:07PM (#38427478) Homepage

      You don't haul cargo in the same vehicle as humans. Cargo doesn't need the super-expensive "last 1%" reliability that a human crew demands.

      Right - which is why all the unmanned cargo rockets have pretty much the same reliability as the manned boosters. In reality, yes, cargo does require that reliability because they costs billions of dollars and nobody is going to put cargo that valuable on anything but the best.
       

      You don't need humans up there at all. The future, for a generation or two at least, is unmanned exploration of the solar system. Look at where virtually all the meaningful scientific knowledge has come from in the last 20 - 40 - 60 years: unmanned probes.

      This sounds suspiciously like you've defined yourself into a circle - by using the weasel word 'meaningful'. I'd consider the results of the analysis of the rocks brought back by Apollo (manned BTW) pretty meaningful. (Not to mention all the science that's *not* part of the space program.)
       
      You also fail to consider just how slow and limited unmanned craft are: In just four days on the Moon, the Apollo 16 rover (manned) covered 7.2 miles. In five *years* on Mars, Spirit covered just 5 miles. (The couple of times the Lunar Rover became stuck, either the crew drove it out with a few minutes work, or in one instance they picked the Rover up and turned it so that it was on better ground.) Between the two of them, in twelve *years* worth of combined operations, the Mars rovers have covered 25 miles. In total driving time of eight *hours* (and total surface time of nine *days*) the Lunar rovers covered a combined 27 miles. And when you count in the time spent on foot across all the Apollo missions...
       
      You also fail to consider that currently, everywhere it's practical to send men rather than robots - we send men. Whether it's inside a failed nuclear reactor, on the Antartic ice sheet, or at the bottom of the ocean. Robots just aren't as versatile as a people.
       
      Where the 'science' consists of just collecting raw data, like the strength of a magnetic field or taking pictures by the gross lot, yeah, robots rule. But once you want to do anything but simple repetitive tasks, robots fall way behind.

      • Total cost of the Apollo program in 1999 dollars: $~100B. Total cost of Spirit + Opportunity: $~1B.

        Apollo cost per mile: $~4B.
        Rover cost per mile: $~0.04B.

        That doesn't even account for the fact that Mars is a MUCH more difficult place to reach.

        I don't really care if my data has a few years extra latency. Those little guys are vastly more efficient, and I'd very much rather have a hundred small-scale programs like that going on than to run another Apollo-scale program. For the amount invested we'd just

        • Those little guys are vastly more efficient

          You state that as if it were a fact, when the reality is your trying to substitute "cheaper' for 'efficient" and hope nobody notices. And it's not a matter of "a little latency", it a matter of 'a huge list of things robots can't do". (Or once again, you're trying to move goalposts and change definitions, while hoping vainly nobody notices.)

          Like you say there are things that humans can do better sometimes, but dragging the rover out of the ditch isn't a g

          • You state that as if it were a fact, when the reality is your trying to substitute "cheaper' for 'efficient" and hope nobody notices

            Cost is one half of the measurement of cost efficiency. The other half is how much work you achieve. You were quantifying it in miles covered, so why is it wrong for me to say "efficiency = cost / miles driven"?

            Or once again, you're trying to move goalposts and change definitions, while hoping vainly nobody notices

            Erm, are you mistaking me for someone else? I don't think we've ever met before.

            Well, no, once again you're not only wrong - but stupid. We aren't sending a replacement even though it got stuck.

            Fuck you too? :) I'll give you the benefit of the doubt there.

            We aren't sending more because all the money got blown on wasteful programs. And no, it's not ever going to be send an exact replacement; ideally it would

      • by Animats (122034)

        You also fail to consider just how slow and limited unmanned craft are: In just four days on the Moon, the Apollo 16 rover (manned) covered 7.2 miles. In five *years* on Mars, Spirit covered just 5 miles.

        The Soviet Lunoknod 2 rover [wikipedia.org] covered 23 miles on the Moon in 1973. The Apollo rover ran on non-rechargeable batteries, so there was an upper limit on range. The robotic rovers were solar powered and could recharge, although rather slowly, and could keep on going.

  • Stop thinking about space and get over it. Our bodies can't handle fast space travel anyway, so leave it to the octopi.

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:04PM (#38426878)

    Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

    • by aslagle (441969) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:10PM (#38426920)
      I would. In a heartbeat.
    • I prefer to think of it as " more bang for the buck ".
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

      That's the other problem. A government can get away with killing its employees one time in sixty, but a private company can't.

      • by lennier (44736)

        That's the other problem. A government can get away with killing its employees one time in sixty, but a private company can't.

        *ahem* http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/aldrich.safety.workplace.us [eh.net]

        US private railroad fatalities in the late 1800s: 7 in 1000 per year, before the dead hand of state interference throttled the life out of etc etc. I imagine most of those employees weren't on one-time one-year contracts.

        I'm sure private space will care a lot more about the safety of its employees.

    • Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

      Almost as bad as Soyuz...which had 2 out of 117 flights fail in ways that killed their crews. Plus more than did things like crash into Mir and suchlike....

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Almost as bad as Soyuz...which had 2 out of 117 flights fail in ways that killed their crews.

        Yes, several decades ago.

        Soyuz has also re-entered backwards, the way Columbia did. The Soyuz crew survived, the shuttle crew didn't.

        • by StikyPad (445176)

          Columbia didn't re-enter backwards...

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Columbia didn't re-enter backwards...

            If I remember the sequence of events correctly, turning backwards after the wing broke enough to lose any remaining yaw control was what made it break up.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        According to this link [esa.int] there were more than 1700 successful Soyuz launches. Are you sure it's not as safe?

    • by Intron (870560)

      Climbing Everest has a death rate of something like 5% depending on how you measure it, yet there's a waiting list.

    • Sign me up. Hell, sign me up for a one-way trip to Mars. I'll do it today if you give me enough research gear and supplies to keep me going for a few months when I get there, and I know I'm not the only one.

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:23PM (#38427012)

    ... and why it was designed the way it was. What was their intentions (flight every two weeks) but what resulted (astronomical operating costs). Cannot really blame those that made the decisions as Shuttle was the ***first*** attempt for a lowcost reusable spaceship. It was a huge effort requiring lots of work and tough decisions, the kind that mentally cripples most folks*. Consider the first "reusable" airplanes for transport of multiple passengers and cargo had their host of problems (i.e. Tri-motors).

    Here it from the guys that made the decisions in these MIT lectures (there are many, below just a few). What moved me the most is much of talent, infrastructure and companies that designed, built, and tested items of the Shuttle no longer exists. I say give it up on trying to revive Shuttle. First rebuilt the industrial base, otherwise we will struggling like Korolev trying to get resources.

    MIT 16.885J Aircraft Systems Engineering, Fall 2005
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/ [mit.edu]

    Lecture 1: The Origins of the Space Shuttle by Dale Myers
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-1/ [mit.edu]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiYhQtGpRhc [youtube.com]

    Lecture 2: Space Shuttle History by Aaron Cohen
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-2/ [mit.edu]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ2H06sseLM [youtube.com]

    Lecture 3: Orbiter Sub-System Design by Aaron Cohen
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-3/ [mit.edu]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDMbBjH8ZSs [youtube.com]

    Lecture 4: The Decision to Build the Shuttle by John Logsdon
    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-4/ [mit.edu]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOAyzURugaw [youtube.com]

    *I talked to someone that worked on wind tunnel tests of various Shuttle configurations in the early 70s (his work was dynamic pressure measurements from shockwaves). There was a period when people were working double shifts in the wind tunnel facility (16 hours on, 8 hours off instead of usual day, swing, grave shift crews) while people at NASA HQ were arguing with the OMB. Idea of SRBs meant they drilled holes and mounted SRB segments on the ET portion of wind tunnel model (didn't bother to remove it from test section for work in machine shop). This double-shift work went on and on. Finally after (I think it was months) and on a Friday, they said "alright, we can go back to regular single shifts and will see you Monday." This person I spoke with said him and another guy he worked with went to have some pizza and beer. The other guy died the next day, he was only 49 years old.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      The shuttle was supposed to have two sister projects.
      1. a Space Tug. The Space tug would go to high orbit to retrive satellites for the shuttle to bring home or take them too.
      2. a Space station. The shuttle would fly to the space station and drop off satellites for the space tug to take to higher orbits and return broken satellites that that space tug had retrieved that could not be fixed at the space station.

      Of course a few things happened.
      1. Electronics got a lot better. Satellites now last for a good lo

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        5. They never bothered to build the space station even though they had a nice plan for doing it from the shuttle main fuel tanks, and no one is sure why.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          Simple.
          Budget cuts.
          They also had follow on Saturn Vs as well.
          They could have launched a station that was really big. it could have used the second and all of the third stage of a Saturn V.
          Just use the "Skylab idea in the third stage and then while living in that part build out the living area in the second stage.
          They also could have launched a "Wet" version of Skylab into lunar orbit and used that as a base to explore the moon.
          It all comes down to money.

  • for reference, albeit somewhat off topic, is the american effort to remedy discomfort experienced when utilizing a superior system developed by soviet engineers decades ago to quickly and inexpensively launch orbital and interstellar spacecraft. It was arguably not outsourced to a corporation as we would know it during its inception.
  • The shuttle was a step backward from the Saturn V. One tenth the load capacity! The main reason we built it was to entice the Russians into building the Buran and strain their economy.

  • All of this talk of the space shuttle being dead is pretty silly considering there is a space shuttle (unmanned) orbiting the globe spying on everyone and their brother, and run by the US Gov't. And who is paying for that? That's right, US taxpayers.
  • The shuttle was simply unsafe for commercial use. We lost two spacecraft with all hands in less than two hundred launches. That may be an acceptable risk for test pilots. But if one out of every hundred commercial airlines exploded on take off or fell to pieces on landing... I imagine that people would have a far dimmer view of flying. Commercial use is for proven technology... and that was something the fairly ramshackle Shuttle never achieved.
  • Yeah, yeah, expensive and really difficult to engineer. Stop being wimps and just do it. We've sent chimps into orbit just for shits and giggles, now do something useful again. Call it environmentally friendly and you'll have all the money you want.

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