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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 @03:32PM (#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?

  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arcite (661011) on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:34PM (#38426548)
    Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.
  • Three (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 14erCleaner (745600) <FourteenerCleaner@yahoo.com> on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:36PM (#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:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:37PM (#38426594)

    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.

  • by alen (225700) on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:50PM (#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

  • Dumb design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilo.v (1445373) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:01PM (#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:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:04PM (#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]...
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:04PM (#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 @04:10PM (#38426920)
    I would. In a heartbeat.
  • Re:Dumb design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:11PM (#38426932)

    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 when they hit the water.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:15PM (#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.

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

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:07PM (#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.

  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:21PM (#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.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by demachina (71715) on Monday December 19, 2011 @06:41PM (#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.

  • 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.

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