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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 crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:51PM (#39488073)

    Let's see that wise-ass kid from next door beat me in his rice-burner once I drop one of *those* babies into my SUV.

    BTW, does anyone know if consumer-grade tires can handle 420,000 lbs. of thrust?

    • by mortonda (5175)

      Someone knows.

      For somewhat lest thrust, you could always watch the episode of mythbusters where they used three model rocket motors.

    • by Amouth (879122)

      well the beauty of using one of these engines on a car would be that you wouldn't have to worry about if the tires could handle the torque to transfer the energy into motion.. this thing just pushes you, so your limit on tires is going to be the overall weight of the car and the speed rating as they only have to roll and carry a load..

      but something tells me that this sucker is going to be heavier and going to push you faster than "consumer-grade" tires can do as most tires have a 2k lbs and 110mph limit..

    • by Robotbeat (461248) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:06PM (#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.

      • by SomePgmr (2021234)
        Good to know. That also kinda takes the hurt off the $28 million price tag for a gut job.
    • 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 khallow (566160)
        Well, there's a good chance that NASA won't get to the point where it's launching hardware on the SLS. So I wouldn't worry about it yet.
      • by nojayuk (567177)

        Rocket motors are effectively custom-made for the launch vehicles they are meant to propel in terms of rated thrust, endurance etc. They're not much use if they run at a lot less than their rated thrust since in that case they're heavier than they need to be and they can't be reworked to provide more thrust in any sort of economic manner since they were built down to a weight budget and will likely break if stressed beyond their design limits.

        The SLS proposal started with using the SSMEs as their motors a

        • 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.

          • by khallow (566160)

            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).

            The Pratt and Whitney RS-68, developed in the late 1990s, handles LOX/liquid hydrogen and has more thrust than the SSME.

            • by Teancum (67324)

              The Pratt and Whitney RS-68, developed in the late 1990s, handles LOX/liquid hydrogen and has more thrust than the SSME.

              I can only hope they get the contract when the times comes up. Werner Von Braun's shop has been shut down far too long for NASA to do something like that "in-house" any more.

              • by khallow (566160)
                Even if they don't get the contract, they're still making those engines for the Delta IV rocket.
            • by nojayuk (567177)

              There's also the Vulcain 2, a well-tested fully cryogenic motor generating 1340kN or in your quaint old-fashioned American units about 300,000lbs of thrust with a similar Isp figure to the RS-25 SSMEs.

          • Let me know when China, Russia, India, or any other country actual builds and deploys a true re-usable shuttle like launch vehicle. China has been announcing their grandiose plans for increasing their space capabilities for the past 10+ years and still have not shown the capabilities the US displayed 40 years ago. Let the Russian's use their vehicles for ISS supply missions (at least those that don't explode on the launch pad) and allow the US to spend it's time and money on other projects. It already has a

            • by vadim_t (324782)

              Russia did build one [wikipedia.org].

              • They launched it ONE time and it was unmanned. Where were the re-use capabilities displayed? Where was the orbital maneuvering capabilities displayed? The project was started as a military endeavor because the Russians were worried about the US using their shuttles as a nuclear launch platform. The Russian program was cancelled after 1 flight. To compare that weak effort against the space shuttle is ridiculous.

                Both China and Russia have a lot of advanced and gifted scientists but their projects have never

      • by Mercano (826132) <mercanoNO@SPAMgmail.com> 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]

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Didn't you hear? Newt Gingrich wants to start a Lunar colony. [go.com] Of-course no amount of rockets will help him there, what he needs is James Cameron with lots of movie shooting gear.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Of-course no amount of rockets will help him there

          To the contrary, rockets would help get stuff to the Moon, which currently is a big obstacle to a lunar colony.

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            First: that's no Moon.

            Second:

            To the contrary, rockets would help get stuff to the Moon, which currently is a big obstacle to a lunar colony.

            - so you are saying that the Moon is a big obstacle to a lunar colony? Obviously, that's what I said, that's why he'll need a lot of movie shooting gear and a professional to do it.

            Oh, Gingrich also talked about colonising Mars. He'll need to bring tons of red mud to shoot footage of that environment.

            • by khallow (566160)
              I'm just saying that a big part of the problem with colonizing the Moon is that you need to be there. Rockets would help you be there.
              • by roman_mir (125474)

                And I am just saying that colonising the Moon is just as a fine goal as any to steal a bunch of money, and nobody even has to go there, but fine movie footage can be produced regardless.

    • I recently watched a video of the shuttle liftoff with a speedometer included. The shuttle had a lousy 0 - 60 mph time, but she really hauls the mail from 60 to 17,000 mph!!!! Those little bastards might smirk until you pass them at the next traffic light at 10,000 mph.
  • The real reason... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:55PM (#39488125)

    for mummification and/or embalming, is to make sure the person is actually, really, dead. This isn't mothballing. It's making sure Discovery doesn't fly again.

    --
    BMO

    • by vlm (69642)

      True de-milling is when you cut various major structural elements. I haven't heard of anything like that.

      Certainly it is not going to fly again. Where would you get SRBs? Where would you get a ET?

      • by rts008 (812749)

        Where would you get a ET?

        Well, if you're close to Washington, D.C., you could try Capitol Hill. Outside of the D.C. area, any corp. boardroom would be a likely place. ;-)

    • by khallow (566160)

      The real reason for mummification and/or embalming, is to make sure the person is actually, really, dead. This isn't mothballing. It's making sure Discovery doesn't fly again.

      I don't know why that post got modded so high. NASA will reuse the engines that it yanks off and much of the gear that's on a Shuttle is either proprietary/secret (eg, TDRSS) or hazardous (toxic chemicals, can catch on fire, etc). There's no point to keep a Shuttle in operating condition since no one intends to fly it again.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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

      • by idontgno (624372)

        There's no difference between a shuttle shell and a replica shell.

        One who speaks so glibly hasn't considered the Ship of Theseus [wikipedia.org]. The shell is no less the shuttle than the entire shuttle was; otherwise, the shuttle on the ground after a mission and before reconstitution wasn't a shuttle either. I mean, it lost TPS tiles! And burned up fuel!

        Unless you're arguing for some arbitrary "feels right" distinction, some bright line that exists only in your mind between "still a shuttle" and "not a shuttle any more

        • Or, on the contrary, mightn't the Theseus's Ship paradox suggest that the "feels right" distinction is the only distinction that matters for these sorts of questions?

      • I think reducing the weight is the main thing here. As an exhibit, one possibility, the new electronics will just need to project Hubble images onto windows - like you're flying around.. and play some space music. And some flashing lights, of course.
      • by Teancum (67324)

        One of the chemicals used in the Space Shuttle was Hyrdazine [wikipedia.org], a chemical that is very dangerous and indeed toxic. It is also a chemical that I think is very wise to have removed before the shuttle is moved to a museum, hoping that the hose containing a small bit of the stuff might not come lose just as you have a touring group of a couple dozen 1st graders walking under the hose containing a few dozen pounds of the stuff.

        The dangerous chemicals are there for a reason when it was in use, and while it was on

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      for mummification and/or embalming, is to make sure the person is actually, really, dead. This isn't mothballing. It's making sure Discovery doesn't fly again.

      --
      BMO

      Because of what, NASA is worried that there will be an imminent global disaster whose aversion can only be achieved by dusting off retired old spaceships and sending them off on a last-ditch mission to save humanity, and wants to be sure their precious shuttles aren't sacrificed in such a way? I think you're right, NASA clearly isn't watching the right sci-fi movies.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:08PM (#39488291)

    Smithsonian doesn't charge. (But maybe they should start, to help fund their expenses.) Like other government-owned institutions charge.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:09PM (#39488303) Homepage Journal

    "this cost was borne (sic) U.S. government"

    should read:

    "this cost was borne (sic) U.S. taxpayers"

    A common mistake. Even when our government doesn't pay for it, they borrow on our good names. The buck won't stop in the Oval Office.

    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      Well, look at it this way. It's probably a lot cheaper to preserve it that to launch it into space twice a year at a cost of $600 million a pop.

      • So, in fact, we're saving $1.172 billion.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by operagost (62405)
          That's D.C. math right there! File that along with calling increasing funding by a smaller amount than you increased it last year as a "cut".
    • Sorry, but your (sic) is misplaced - as "borne [wiktionary.org]" is a perfectly legitimate word and was properly used by the author.

    • This isn't "just to be accurate". It's to be pedantic and trollish.

      And look, I replied. Well played.

      • by rickb928 (945187)

        Says you. I'm pointing out our prevailing belief that the money our government spends is somehow theirs. And that it's wrong.

    • by Galestar (1473827)

      "this cost was borne (sic) U.S. government" should read: "this cost was borne (sic) U.S. taxpayers' children"

      FTFY... it was simply added to the national debt load you guys will pass on to your children.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Well, it's the currently living generations that will pay for this economic disaster that the past generations (and the current) have perpetrated upon the society with all this socialist/fascist/totalitarian nonsense.

        Is it going to be the children? The children need to run away and not pay for all these immoral 'obligations' that the old generations have placed upon them.

        • by mug funky (910186)

          way to go blaming everyone but yourself.

          "it's not MY fault! i don't vote or pay taxes!"

          i'd love to see a fascist-socialist. really would love to see that. would that be left or right wing? what do you mean there can't be anything else?

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Why would I blame myself and what kind of argument is that?

            I said: the children shouldn't be paying for these immoral obligations placed upon them by the former generations, and this is correct. Their ancestors have moved to USA in a search for freedom and better life, clearly the children can do the same thing - move in a search of freedom and better life for themselves.

            As to fascist-socialist: any fascist is a socialist. Left/Right is meaningless in this sense, fascism is a socialist movement, the diffe

    • by Cazekiel (1417893)

      I'd rather have a few cents chopped from my paycheck for this than everything it's been used for so far. Education > War, in my book.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      "this cost was borne [by the] U.S. government"
      should read:
      "this cost was borne [by the] U.S. taxpayers"

      Same thing. It's not like anybody doesn't know that the government taxes them to pay for running things, research, etc.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Same thing. It's not like anybody doesn't know that the government taxes them to pay for running things into the ground, research, etc.

        - FTFY.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Whether a particular government (local, state, or country) runs things wel or into the ground depends on who's running it. The difference between a Governor running his state into the ground (Ryan, Blago) and the CEO of a corporation running her (I'm thinking Carly Fiona as a good example) company into the ground is that the Governor will get booted out of office (and in Illinois, usually imprisoned) while the CEO leaves with a golden parachute.

          Here in Springfield, our electric company is run by city govern

    • by brentrad (1013501)
      As someone who paid several thousand dollars in taxes for 2011, I fully approve of my taxes going to preserve history such as this, for everyone to enjoy (no matter if they are poor enough to pay for admission or not) at the Smithsonian. My wife and I visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum a few years ago, and it's one of the coolest places I've ever visited.

      Now these stupid wars we've been in for the last decade - THOSE I have a huge problem with my taxes going towa
  • The price tag did not stop the frantic push to get one by an eager group of contenders

    Really? How come NASA had to drop its price to actually sell the shuttles if everyone was so eager to buy one?

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/01/17/1714204/lacking-buyers-nasa-cuts-prices-on-shuttles-and-old-engines [slashdot.org]

    • It's an economic principle called the law of demand. See the HP TouchPad. Starting at $500, no one wanted one but at a firesale price of $99, they sold out.
    • by bws111 (1216812)

      They were eager to buy them at $28M, not at $40M. What is so unusual about that?

  • Unless the fuel tanks get used for that purpose.

  • 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.
    • Instead we have essentially nothing.

      Hey, we've got the Russians. Right?

    • by khallow (566160)

      I suppose part of this sadness comes from the fact that we don't have anything home-grown replacing it currently

      Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9. With a little work, they could have an Orion capsule on a Delta IV Heavy too.

      And given the weak launch market at present, capsule designs are a better choice than winged vehicles.

    • When one door closes, another one opens. Necessity is the mother of invention... You see where I'm going with this? This isn't an end of space flight and exploration. What we have here is a transitional period that quite frankly is long overdue.

      • It seems that after the end of the cold war, the US ran out of real enemies and won't bother touching China. So they invented cheaper enemies - iraq, iran, the goat-herders in afghanistan, the usual. Easier to deal, cheaper, and more money to the warlords. I mean, come on, the money they were spending during cold war with research and development, now they spend in guns. Simpler, faster, easier to hide.

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

          by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:26PM (#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.

          • Don't get me wrong. I would not want another. I just said that the nature of the wars created by those who have interest on them has changed. One with less risks, with invented enemies. I wonder how long it will take for them to run out of imaginary enemies before they turn into the "aliens".

            • Radical Islam isn't a made up enemy. It does exist. It's an insidious and dark force upon humanity. This is not a "western" war where one side wears one uniform and the other wears another. Both identifiable in the battlefield. Terrorism is a tactic by the enemy. To them, it's justifiable (and it's honestly truly effective). To western morals, it's not. That's the difference. I suppose you could say the American revolutionaries were terrorist too in the way they employed non-conventional tactics for that ti

  • It is really cool to see this thing wide open, as well as all the work that goes in to making a Shuttle "Museum Ready". Most people assume (I assume, so a double whammy) that it's pretty much a fit and stuff type of operation.

  • The pictures in the article showing the NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with the shuttle on its back made my inner LotR-geek scream, "I can't carry your engines... but I can carry you!"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This will be cool to see in real life, but sad that such a capable machine was scrapped when it could have continued missions for sometime yet.

  • ...and if it's been stripped like the one I saw, don't bother going. It isn't worth walking up the ramp to see it. Just an empty shell. They didn't even leave more than a few wires dangling around. And you couldn't walk into any of the crew areas. Nothing.

    • by pavon (30274) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:09PM (#39490485)

      The only older one available for viewing is the Enterprise*, which was never a functional shuttle. It never had any of the engine components, or thermal tiles. Much of the electronics and other interior finishing were never installed, and the few useful pieces of equipment that were installed were later removed as spare parts for the actual shuttle fleet. It truly was an empty shell.

      These should be quite a bit better than that, even after removing much of the guts.

      *Or it could have been one of the mockups, like Explorer.

  • "See the Shuttle that didn't actually kill anyone!"

  • GPC - General-Purpose Computers [nasa.gov] - "Five identical general-purpose computers aboard the orbiter control space shuttle vehicle systems. Each GPC is composed of two separate units, a central processor unit and an input/output processor. All five GPCs are IBM AP-101 computers. Each CPU and IOP contains a memory area for storing software and data. These memory areas are collectively referred to as the GPC's main memory."

    GPC-4 issue awakens crew [nasaspaceflight.com] - July 2011

    General-Purpose Computers [nasa.gov] - NASA

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