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NASA Space Science

Inside the Mummification of Space Shuttle Discovery 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the intersection-of-sad-and-fascinating dept.
longacre writes "When Space Shuttle Discovery goes on display at the Smithsonian next month, it will be a shell of its former self, with most of its critical systems removed. This article has a behind-the-scenes look at the removal of the engines and their replica replacements, as well as photos of the orbiter in various states of deconstruction. 'From the very beginning it was understood by all parties involved — including the orbiter recipients — that the orbiters will be made safe and inert prior to display, as was made clearly evident in NASA’s request for proposals to house the orbiters. Discovery’s preparation for display took a year and cost approximately $28 million. Since the Smithsonian is a federally owned institution, this cost was borne by the U.S. government, unlike the other institutions that have to foot the bill for the preparation and delivery of the orbiters. The price tag did not stop the frantic push to get one by an eager group of contenders. At stake was not only a piece of American history and the prestige of housing an orbiter but the potential draw for millions of new paying visitors to the recipient museums.'"
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Inside the Mummification of Space Shuttle Discovery

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  • by Robotbeat (461248) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:06PM (#39489053) Journal

    The propulsion systems of Discovery are being used for the initial flights of SLS, the next NASA rocket which is going beyond LEO (first flight will be around the Moon). Why the heck doesn't at least the summary mention that? That's a far better use than rotting in a museum.

    "Durr, now that the Shuttles are retired, NASA is being shutdown, right?" Nope.

  • Re:I has a sad. (Score:4, Informative)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:26PM (#39489985) Homepage

    After the Cuban missile crisis, I don't want another cold war. There was so many bad ways that could have ended, but didn't. I understand the glory in innovation that came from the Cold War. But please, don't undermine the brinkmanship that came with it too. It's simply not worth it IMHO.

  • Assuming the planned number of SLS launches uses up all of the available SSMEs then it is no real hardship to restart the production lines and make more of them as needed. They are not much more complex to build than any other fully-cryogenic motor currently constructed by various manufacturers especially with fifty years of experience since the first crude LOX/LH2 engines were built and flown.

    Other than the fact that the assembly line which built these engines has been shut down for nearly three decades and many of the people who not just built the engines but also were involved with the engineering teams that designed them not only are retired but are pushing up daisies due to old age.... yeah, you might get that assembly line going again. It isn't going to get going again any time soon.

    And "any other fully-cryogenic motor" won't fit the bill either. For engines of this size and magnitude, there hasn't been a new rocket motor built even designed for several decades besides the Merlin engines by SpaceX. Companies like Orbital and Lockheed-Martin are even using Russian engines because they don't have the engineers in-house to make them, It is a sad state of American aerospace engineering I'll admit, but the problem is that nobody is doing stuff like that because somebody somewhere thought that we had all of the missiles and rocket engines we would ever need for eternity. Commercial sales of American launchers is so pathetic that it might as well be non-existent as most non-government space launches have been done by either Russia, the ESA, or China (with India getting ready to enter the mix).

    There is some hope for the future as there are dozens of much smaller engines (but still capable in theory of orbital spaceflight) that are under development in America, but nothing of the class or scale that would launch the SLS. I just don't see NASA willing to fly a rocket like the N1 that had over 40 rocket engines... which would again require a whole new rocket design.

    BTW, as far as SpaceX and the "off the shelf components".... Elon Musk got so disgusted with the supply chain he could find that he brought most of the part production in-house and even purchased several sub-contractors outright and had them move their production facilities to El Segundo to be inside the plant or right next to it. My point is that the replacement of the SLS engine (aka replacing the SSMEs once they've all been used up) is going to need the same sort of effort... an effort that still has yet to be funded by the U.S. Congress no less. So we are talking about a hypothetical rocket engine that has yet to even receive funding much less have any engineers even be devoted to getting it built.

    Perhaps instead they will simply purchase Merlin 2 engines for the SLS?

    Regardless, I think it is a total waste of a valuable resource to throw away the SSMEs in such a fashion as is currently programmed to happen. This is the "official" path that NASA is taking for the manned spaceflight program, and the one thing that is being used to sacrifice nearly the rest of NASA's budget including deep space missions. The use of the SSMEs is done to "save money", but I fail to see how in the long term (aka 10-20 years) that is going to happen either. It will save over the short term (aka about 2-3 years) some money, but not much.

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