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NASA Space Transportation Science

Final Space Shuttle External Tank Ready For Its Closeup 106

tedlistens writes "The last Space Shuttle's external tank was recently lifted into a 'checkout cell' in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, one of the largest buildings in the world. The completion of the last tank meant the shut down of the assembly line – and the 800 remaining people who worked on it – at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank contains the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen that, along with the solid rocket boosters, powers the Shuttle into orbit. Though they are not typically reused — ten seconds after the engines cut off, the tank falls away to break up over the Indian Ocean, away from known shipping lanes — one new plan imagines using old shuttle parts, including pieces of the tank, to build a new moon rocket. There's a beautiful video of the lifting of the tank at Motherboard."
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Final Space Shuttle External Tank Ready For Its Closeup

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  • Re:800 employees? (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:00PM (#33828794) Journal

    Didn't SpaceX get fined for cutting too many corners? Yep, you don't need many people if you don't intend to do the whole job.

    Nice try, but not quite: []

    What did it do? Move the kids out of the room for this:

    SpaceX was found to be improperly storing or disposing of ...

    -Isopropyl alcohol!
    -Acid etch corrosive waste!
    -Rags with chromium on them!

    Eh. This is all stuff you'd find in your local grease monkey's garage. It's not that bad. In fact, we talked to they Environmental Protection Agency inspector who visited SpaceX, and he wasn't horrified by what he saw. (Sorry Elon haters).

    "I would say there was nothing egregious, as in nothing was spilled on the ground," said U.S. EPA enforcement officer James Polek. "The manufacturing facility is very well organized. The hazardous waste storage are was not."


    What's more the inspection took place last year and the company already corrected the violations, Polek told the Weekly.

  • Re:800 employees? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Amouth ( 879122 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:01PM (#33828804)

    to be fair you are referencing an EPA fine - which just about ANY manufacturing company can easily get hit with if the inspectors show up at the right time - and NASA i'm sure has just as much a chance as anyone else.

    you realize you can get fined 10k by OSHA if you stack pallets to high? and thats 10k per stack - each is a violation.

    that EPA fine has nothing to do with having less people but rather a break down of protocol. Or a lack of tainting in the regulations.

  • Re:800 employees? (Score:5, Informative)

    by peacefinder ( 469349 ) <> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:10PM (#33828944) Journal

    "I wouldn't be comparing them to a fully developed operation just yet."

    Okay. But to be fair, NASA has -zero- active fully-developed orbital manned launch programs right now. Shuttle was killed as a program years ago by Bush, it's well beyond the point of returning to active status*. And NASA Ares 1 is not as close to operational readiness** as is SpaceX Falcon 9.

    [*: The production facilities are closed and not easily restarted. Bringing the shuttle back for more launches beyond available parts would be nearly as expensive as a whole new rocket program.]
    [**: In fact it appears Ares 1 cannot meet the original operational parameters even if fully-funded. Check out the Augustine commission's report.]

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:21PM (#33829076)

    The sad thing is that the fuel tanks could have been easily pushed into orbit. Imagine the cost savings of having 800+ fuel tanks to use for building a space station or orbital construction yards.

    First you have to build a tank which can be reused for living space and not blow up on launch because a hatch in the side opened up by accident. Then you have to deal with the high drag and the insulation popping off in vacuum and creating clouds of orbital debris.

    And those are just two of the problems that spring to mind; you're not just carrying a metal can up to orbit and then cutting into it with a can-opener in order to live inside.

  • Re:800 employees? (Score:4, Informative)

    by saburai ( 515221 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:34PM (#33829250)
    I can't speak to the other cases, but they built the first stage of the Saturn V in Louisiana because... 1. They needed a very large industrial space. The factory is a converted aircraft production facility built during WWII. 2. They needed deep water access to ship the giant vehicles. External Tanks and the Saturn S-IC cannot be shipped by road or rail. 3. The selection was tied to accessibility of both Kennedy Space Center in Florida (for launching) and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi (for testing). Once you start to pick a few locations, logistics become non-trivial and your next choice becomes more constrained. I can't assure you that graft had nothing to do with it (can you assure me that any part of any government program in history didn't have some back-deal component?), but the locations were not selected purely for political effect.
  • by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:37PM (#33829296)

    The only problem with your plan is that then there would be 136 large, uncontrolled, massive pieces of space junk that are a risk to anything else up there until they are utilized. Not to mention the orbit probably wouldn't be stable and they would eventually come back down anyways, but not necessarily over uninhabited sections of the indian ocean. Better to have a controlled re-entry than either risk current LEO objects (like the ISS) or risk lives on the ground with falling space junk.

  • Re:800 employees? (Score:3, Informative)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @06:39PM (#33830714) Homepage Journal
    And by their record so far, SpaceX has been perfectly anal-retentive with respect to their launch vehicles and launch operations. Yes, they screwed up with the hazardous waste thing and they were lucky that they did not screw up with something more critical. But as it stands now, they have quite a few successful launches, and, thus, flight tested vehicles under their belt. That is a hell of a lot more than NASA can say for their most recent launch vehicle development program (Constellation and Ares I ring a bell).

    I am not saying that SpaceX should encourage or even tolerate such an oversight, but I am saying that that particular issue was actually a non-issue and trying to wave it around as evidence that Space X is incapable of doing their goal of developing launch vehicles is complete and utter bullshit. And that is coming from an aerospace engineer and launch vehicle analyst that is currently working in the industry.

"Wish not to seem, but to be, the best." -- Aeschylus