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Space Government Politics

US Urged To Keep Space Shuttles Flying Past 2010 219

DarkNemesis618 writes "A US Representative has proposed that NASA keep the shuttle fleet flying past its planned 2010 retirement date. The move would help NASA avoid reliance on Russian rockets during the gap between the Space Shuttle retirement and the start of the Orion program. One proposal would keep the shuttle fleet flying from 2010 to 2013 while another would keep the fleet alive until the Orion program is ready in about 2015. 2011 marks the end of the exemption that has allowed NASA to use Soyuz rockets for trips to the Space Station, and they would need an extension to keep using Russian launch vehicles. NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline."
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US Urged To Keep Space Shuttles Flying Past 2010

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  • Re:Race goes on (Score:4, Informative)

    by mpe ( 36238 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:33AM (#21737136)
    Well, I have ancient servers running on ancient Linux variants as well, just for showing off to Windows users. But it doesn't mean they are suitable for mission critical data.

    But your "ancient servers" probably don't date from the 1970's. Even your oldest server is probably more recent than the newest shuttle.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:5, Informative)

    by mpe ( 36238 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:36AM (#21737158)
    The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle.

    But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.

    The smart thing to do would be to launch capsules on the EELVs (Atlas 5 or Delta 4), but that has severe political problems (basically, a lot of people would be out of work).

    There's also the problem of the US having abandoned manned capsules over 30 years ago.
  • Re:Spend (Score:2, Informative)

    by Neo Quietus ( 1102313 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:39AM (#21737170)

    "For comparison, NASA's FY 2008 budget of $17.3 billion represents about 0.6% of the $2.9 trillion United States federal budget." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget [wikipedia.org]

    0.6% of the federal budget is not a lot of resources to be devoting to the promise of space travel, especially considering the possible rewards.

    As for commercial benefits, there are some (and there are other, non-commercial benefits), but why does a government agency have to do things that have commercial benefits? Won't, you know, companies do that? Government agencies can do research that my have no other benefit than to simply increase our understanding of the universe, or do research that isn't profitable but still useful.

  • LC-39C (Score:5, Informative)

    by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:50AM (#21737212) Homepage
    The obvious solution to this problem would be to construct pad LC-39C as an Ares platform.

    LC-39C was originally projected as a third Saturn V pad in a line north of LC-39B but was never constructed although a stub of it's intended crawler-way points towards the north from the dog-leg in the LC-39B crawler-way. There were actually a total of three unbuilt platforms to the north as part of an 'Advanced Saturn' program but the other two look like they'd need significant land reclamation.

    The existing crawler-transporters should be sufficient to handle both the STS and Ares I as NASA is building brand-new MLPs for the Ares system.

    Compared to the total cost of the Ares/Orion system, a new LC-39 pad would like like a bargain.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Informative)

    by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:45AM (#21737454)

    But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.
    That's like saying that the 747 has a worse safety record than the shuttle, because something like 2,000 people have died on it, and it's been flying longer. More have died on the shuttle because it carries more people.

    Soyuz has also had two fatal accidents in roughly the same number of flights; there have also been several incidents in the past few years of the reentry guidance failing and the capsule going "ballistic".
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @09:43AM (#21737832) Journal
    If he was serious, then he would say that the shuttle should continue flying until a replacement is working and in place. That could be oriion, but it is far more likely to be COTs. The reason why he said until Orion is that it is expected to need close to the same amount of ppl as the shuttle (4K+ at Kennedy). OTH, Falcon will have no more than 100 ppl at kennedy, and 50 is likely closer around 2010. In addition, virgin is expected to come on-line around 2011 with their LEO space system, with less than 50. And finally, we have the 2'nd COTs entry. It will most likely be one that is close. I am guessing that it will spacedev (using ULA's launcher, they have an engine for the back, just need the craft, which they are looking to use the H-20 design). Spacedev would possibly be ready by 2010.

    But it would make sense to continue flying the shuttle until one of the alternative systems is in place. As soon, as it is in place, the NASA shuttle ppl should be wound down. Quickly. But this pub is simply up to the same tricks as those from 200X; run up a moster deficit.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Informative)

    by agengr ( 1098271 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @12:27PM (#21739726)
    "I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles."

    That's because they don't. The U.S. Space Shuttle has flown more!

    At present time, the 98th Soyuz flight is docked to the International Space Station. Atlantis is sitting on the launch pad waiting to fly the 121st Shuttle mission (STS-122). Despite the fact that the first Soyuz flew 13 years before the first Shuttle, NASA has historically been the more active space agency.

    "I think it's safe to assume Soyouz-class vehicles are a very mature design and, quite probably, safer that shuttles."

    They are statistically the same. Both have lost two crews, and when you consider the number of people flown safely to the number of people lost, they both have around 98% success rate.

    The Soyuz TMA (the most recent Soyuz variant) has had some frightening close calls lately. It's interesting to note that when Endeavor had a dinged heat-shield tile, the media was circling NASA like hawks. But when the *second* Soyuz in 4 years lost guidance/navigation on re-entry and subjected the crew to a bone-crushing, high-G, hundreds of miles off-course re-entry, it got just a blurb in trade magazines.
  • Re:Spend (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shooter6947 ( 148693 ) <jbarnes007.c3po@barnesos@net> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @12:29PM (#21739760) Homepage

    [the STS is] the only manned launcher the USA has so they've got to work with it until Orion becomes available.

    This misses the point. The problem is that NASA told congress that they could indeed keep flying the shuttle while developing Orion, for an extra $1B per year. Congress said, "great. keep flying the shuttle, develop Orion, and do it without the $1B." NASA is not getting enough money to do both. The point of retiring the shuttle is to free up that ~$6B/year and spend it on the next-generation launch system, Orion, instead. We can't do both without a significant increase in budget, which is just not going to happen.

    As for not having American access to the Station in the interim, we'll just have to deal with paying the Russians. Unless the NASA COTS [wikipedia.org] system works out. Elon Musk over at SpaceX [spacex.com] may very well have his Dragon [wikipedia.org] capsule and Falcon 9 launch vehicle ready about that time to take over from the Shuttle.

  • Private industry (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @01:41PM (#21740668) Journal
    NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline.

    Although it says this in the summary, the linked article doesn't seem to actually have anything to support this claim. In fact, it's looking like according to their current schedule the private SpaceX Dragon crew/cargo capsule [wikipedia.org] will be flying demonstration flights 2008-2010. With an additional purchase commitment from NASA, they could probably finish and be able to transport cargo and crew to the ISS even sooner.

    http://www.spacex.com/dragon.php [spacex.com]
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Informative)

    by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:32PM (#21741464) Homepage
    There were a couple of STS missions planned and designated but not flown. To avoid confusion (hah) they didn't change the mission numbers when one was cancelled.

    NASA has never been able to come up with a consistent mission numbering system. (Remember the STS numbering systems up to Challenger (51L - '5' for 1985, although it actually launched in '86; '1' for launch from Kennedy vs Vandenberg (which would have been '2' except the lauach pad was decertified for Shuttle ops before ever used) and the 'L' as an alphabetic sequential designator for missions in a calendar year)). They did something similar with Apollo - the first actual manned Apollo was Apollo 7, since it was the 7th launch of the Apollo stack (earlier launches were tests), but they retro-designated as Apollo 1 the Grissom-White-Chaffee mission which burned on the pad (it's original designation was Apollo 204 after the designation for the capsule).

    Gemini 3 was the first manned Gemini, and Gemini 7 launched before Gemini 6 (because of an earlier launch abort by 6). With the Mercury series, they just designated all the capsules -7 (Friendship-7, Freedom-7, Sigma-7, etc) after the "Mercury 7" astronauts. (Technically those were the call signs, the actual mission designators also specified the booster, eg Shepard's flight (the first) was "Mercury-Redstone 3", Glenn's flight was "Mercury-Atlas 6", etc. Mercury-Redstone 4 was Grissom's flight, Mercury-Atlas 4 was an unmanned test, Mercury-Atlas 5 carried Enos the chimp)

    So, don't get hung up on NASA mission designations. The numbers only bear an approximate relation to actual mission sequence.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:3, Informative)

    by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:14PM (#21742096) Homepage
    What are you talking about? Not only does the Shuttle have an abort mode for the entire ascent,

    It has zero abort modes for the first two minutes of flight (while the solids are burning). After that it has the "return to launch site" mode for engine failure -- which nobody really expects to work -- followed by a transatlantic abort (might work, and it least it doesn't involve flying a 180 turn and trying to find the KSC landing strip); and abort-to-orbit (for a single engine failure late in the launch.

    It has no abort modes for anything other than simple engine out, such as an SSME or OMS pod explosion.

    it has used them SUCCESSFULLY!

    It has only used abort-to-orbit, which wasn't even really an abort, more of a press to MECO.

    And no vehicle that has ever flown has an abort mode once it commits to re-entry.

    Gemini had ejection seats, as did the first couple of flights of Shuttle Columbia. Not much help if the heat shield fails, of course. It's possible that the Soviet shuttle (Buran) had a go-around capability if it missed its landing approach, certainly it did for its approach and landing test flights.

    At least Shuttle has the option of bailing-out if they have insufficient glide energy to reach the landing strip.

    Nobody really expects that to work, either, and of course the silly pole is totally useless if the vehicle is in anything other than a stable glide.

    They could have designed (at an admitted weight penalty) the whole crew capsule to be separately ejectable complete with recovery parachutes. It's likely that the Challenger crew would have survived had that been the case, the crew compartment was pretty much intact until it hit the water.

    Both Shuttle losses were due to the major design defect of mounting the damn Orbiter on the side of the ET/SRB stack.
  • Re:Race goes on (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:03PM (#21743896)
    It "works" for Switzerland because they are a landlocked mountainous country with little natural resources surrounded by friendly neighbors.

    Funny. I thought it works for Switzerland because everybody has a couple of rifles in their closet (or on their back), and knows how to use them. If you drive through Switzerland in the summer, you don't hear the sound of music; you hear them practicing with howitzers. Their neighbors aren't so much "friendly" as they are "not stupid".

    Switzerland came dangerously close to being invaded by Nazi Germany during WW2 and probably would have been (sooner or later) if Barbarossa hadn't turned out so badly.

    Doubtful. A cute story to demonstrate why Hitler was in no rush to invade Switzerland: Shortly before World War I, the German Kaiser was the guest of the Swiss government to observe military maneuvers. The Kaiser asked a Swiss militiaman: "You are 500,000 and you shoot well, but if we attack with 1,000,000 men what will you do?" The soldier replied: "We will shoot twice and go home." And the Soviet invasion was probably one reason, but there were many more [wikipedia.org].

    The Swiss model isn't going to work for nations like Russia or the United States (too big, too much economic clout, too involved in World affairs). It isn't going to work for nations with unfriendly neighbors (Israel, Pakistan, India, Taiwan). It isn't going to work for nations located on natural invasion routes between stronger powers (Poland, the Low Countries, etc).

    So you don't think Switzerland in 1942 had unfriendly neighbors [wikipedia.org]? You really put the "revisionist" into "revisionist history". You somehow managed to get to +4, so I'm not sure if nobody knows Swiss history, or if you're just a truly excellent troll.

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