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

    by kheldan (1460303) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:43PM (#39488771) Journal
    It's a very sad thought to me, that a once-great and powerful machine of such complexity is being reduced to little more than a static kiddie ride in a museum, even if it is the Smithsonian. I suppose part of this sadness comes from the fact that we don't have anything home-grown replacing it currently, and with the way things are going, we might not for many decades to come. As many of us did, I anticipated having reusable SSTO craft before now, driving the cost of the ride into orbit way down from what the shuttle cost. Instead we have essentially nothing.
  • The sad thing is how those engines are going to be put back to work: As a component on the SLS rocket, where they will be shot into space and left to burn up in re-entry as yesterday's leftovers to be literally thrown away.

    These engines are some of the most advanced rocket systems ever designed, and purpose built to be reusable, so the only design choice NASA has is to throw them away on expendable rockets?

    Not only that, but when NASA runs out of SMEs for the SLS rocket, they will have to come up with a new engine at huge expense, put it through a testing regime, and more or less redesign the rest of the rocket as a whole new vehicle anyway. Even from a financial savings viewpoint I fail to see how that is going to save any money, much less how SpaceX (to give an example) will have spent less for its entire rocket program than NASA is going to spend on this "refit" after the SLS is used up. More like spend about 3x the amount of money that SpaceX has spent to date for everything they've done.

    I don't know if I'll have the stomach to witness such waste when the SLS finally flies. Then again, I have significant doubts as to if that program is going to survive into the next presidential administration in America. It isn't even slated to fly until 2017 at the earliest, so it will be somebody other than Barack Obama as president and somebody other than Charles Bolden as administrator of NASA even if it does fly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:28PM (#39489363)

    Sounds like a reasonable theory. You wouldn't want someone filling the internal fuel tank then letting the engines rip.

    Having said that, it IS a damn shame. A museum is about exhibiting the real past. (At least, in theory.) There's no difference between a shuttle shell and a replica shell. The thing that made the shuttle "The Shuttle" -was- the electronics, the heat shielding, the engines, etc.

    Others have argued that there's a lot of top secret stuff on the Shuttle. First, the Russian Shuttle cloned most of the classified stuff so there's really nothing "secret" about it any more to any nation capable of building a shuttle. Second, most of the fundamental technology is from the 1970s/80s. It has long been superseded. It may still be classified, but it's no longer significant.

    Then there's the argument about hazardous material. This is a popular complaint in America, that XYZ is hazardous. It always fascinates me. Let's face it - the US is packed with actual hazards (drugs and toxic metals in drinking water, overdosable vitamins in food/drink, antibacterial soap that kills the good bacteria on your skin and leaves you dangerously exposed to deadly kinds, the entire tobacco industry, Microsoft, etc). The heat shielding on the Shuttle is unlikely to be anything like as toxic, provided the tiles are undamaged. Paint the damn thing in a transparent resin if you're that worried, same as they do already with conserved archaeological finds.* It'll be cheaper and still leave you with a genuine Shuttle.

    *The resin used is almost entirely chemically inert, so damage to artifacts is close to nil, has minimal impact on observation, and has well-defined properties so can be accounted for when running experiments.

  • by Mercano (826132) <mercano@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:19PM (#39489919)

    Not only that, but when NASA runs out of SMEs for the SLS rocket, they will have to come up with a new engine at huge expense, put it through a testing regime, and more or less redesign the rest of the rocket as a whole new vehicle anyway.

    Not quite. Once the stock of RS-25D engines left over from the space shuttle program are used up, they'll be replaced by RS-25Es, a cheaper one-time-use version of the space shuttle main engine. They may need to produce two more sets of the 25Ds before the E's are ready, though. They're reusing the old shuttle engines on a disposable rocket for two reasons: they're already a man-rated design, and the engines themselves are already paid for.

    Interesting note, Discovery's engines, at least, may make it to museum some day; looks like they're being earmarked for ground test structures, rather than flight. [nasaspaceflight.com]

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