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Final Space Shuttle External Tank Ready For Its Closeup

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the shut-down-jobs-not-people dept.

NASA 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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Close up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828224)

I'm ready for my close up now Mr. DeMil

Good riddance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33829976)

It killed more people then the assault rifle I have in my closet. It's time the shuttle was put down. It's like an old rabid dog.

I know how they feel (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828254)

I felt the same way when the last Members Only jacket rolled off the line.

Re:I know how they feel (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828506)

I know! Without the handy collar snaps, now I have to wear an ascot to keep my neck warm. The ascot is fashionable, to be sure, but not as convenient or CLASSIC.

800 people to make one tank (-1, Troll)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828262)

They used 800 people to make one tank and they wonder why we want to end that boondoggle. It would be cheaper to put 90% of them on welfare and have a better more modern system.

Protip for NASA: Put the people on top of the rocket bits, way safer totally avoids the ice and crap falling on your spaceship issues.

Re:800 people to make one tank (-1, Flamebait)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828480)

Sounds like one of these stimulus programs. They would spend $10 million to give 5 people a job.

Embedded Video (4, Insightful)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828312)

There's a beautiful video of the lifting of the tank at Motherboard.

Or, if you're like me and tired of sites embedding a YouTube video and calling it "content", you can go directly to the video source [youtube.com] .

Besides, with embedded videos you miss out on the best part of YouTube -- all the great and insightful comments! :)

Re:Embedded Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828376)

Youtube comments are rarely worth the bandwidth but at times it's annoying that some embedded videos don't include a fullscreen button even though the main site supports it.

Re:Embedded Video (2, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829570)

Ah, you must be a Feyntube [julien-oster.de] user too!

800 employees? (4, Interesting)

edremy (36408) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828320)

Let's see: according to SpaceX, they have just over 1000 employees as of June 7th, the launch of the Falcon 9. That's to develop the Falcon 1, 1e and 9, the Merlin, Merlin-vac and Kestrel engines and to get a couple of them into orbit starting from scratch.

Meanwhile, it takes 800 people just to build a fuel tank for the shuttle, much less the folks needed to move it, assemble it to the stack, etc. Yeah yeah, I know, apples to oranges, but damn that's a lot of people to make a couple of tanks a year.

Re:800 employees? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828352)

To be fair they probably need 800 folks to make 1 tank a year or a 100 tanks a year. Much of the bloat is probably from the age of the project and simple graft by contractors.

Re:800 employees? (4, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828586)

Not so much graft by the contractors per say but graft by and for congress.
Think about how spread out build projects are for anything in the government.
KSC is where it is because of the law of physics and where land was available at the time. Very few people lived in that part of Florida in the 1940s so it was cheap to buy and it is far enough south to get a boost from the earth's spin and it is over the water.
They built the tanks and the first stage of the Saturn V in Louisiana because....
They have mission control and training in Houston TX because....
Huntsville is there because that was where the Army started working on rockets after WWII.
Why didn't they build the tanks at KSC and keep all the rest of NASA their?
Simple if you spread the money around you get support.
If you have a senator in North Dakota that just happens to have a factory that makes carpeting for the Space Shuttle you end up with a vote at budget time.
Sad but true with just about every government project of any size. If you look at the hand outs the give congress they will show all the sub contractors and all the jobs for any big project.

Re:800 employees? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828696)

The real solution to that is make these projects more like the post office. In that they can decide where things are built and all congress is involved in is big changes.

If our inflation numbers included fuel the post office would probably be doing fine, before anyone mentions their current issues.

Re:800 employees? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829806)

Sorry but that is no solution.
Frankly that is probably what happens now.
To get a budget you must have Congress on your side so when you do a project like this the companies do pick where to put the sub contractors. And they pick the subs that are in the areas that have the congressional votes that they need.
So you need to get the congressman from Idaho to change his vote on a figher plane? Simple you have the nose gear trailing link made in Rupert ID.
Need the congress person from NE to change their vote? You buy your wire from his district.

Re:800 employees? (4, Informative)

saburai (515221) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:800 employees? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829628)

Why is testing in Mississippi and not done at KSC?

Re:800 employees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33832684)

It's a matter of space (no pun intended). The Stennis Test Facility itself is about 13,500 acres but there is an acoustic buffer zone of 125,000 acres around it since when you're static firing really large rockets the sound isn't reduced as the rocket flies away. It also has water access which, like the construction facility in Louisiana allowed for transport of very large rockets (Saturn, etc) that couldn't be transported any other way.

Re:800 employees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33836138)

also KSC/Cape Canaveral is in the middle of a bird sanctuary which means that there are severe restrictions as to what it can be used for.

Damn birds, lets just exterminate em all

Re:800 employees? (0)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829818)

They don't test shuttle tanks in Mississippi.
They could have tested in Florida and in fact did do some testing for a 240" solid booster in south Florida and they test Centaurs in West Palm to this day.
The large space? They where building the VAB so building a production building in Florida would have been simple.
There is a good reason for it to be Louisiana instead of say AZ. But the reason that it wasn't in Florida was to spread the "wealth" around.
In many ways it isn't a bad idea if you look at maximizing the economic benefits or a program. But if you look at just the cost it adds up.
That is one of the good things about a lot of big government programs like that.
Yes they cost a lot of tax dollars but a good amount of that money gets recycled from the jobs that it creates.
You also have the RnD benefit as well.
I am not even saying that this is the worst or best way to do these projects. Just that is the way they are done.

Re:800 employees? (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 3 years ago | (#33835940)

They don't test shuttle tanks in Mississippi.
They could have tested in Florida and in fact did do some testing for a 240" solid booster in south Florida and they test Centaurs in West Palm to this day.
The large space? They where building the VAB so building a production building in Florida would have been simple.
There is a good reason for it to be Louisiana instead of say AZ. But the reason that it wasn't in Florida was to spread the "wealth" around.
In many ways it isn't a bad idea if you look at maximizing the economic benefits or a program. But if you look at just the cost it adds up.
That is one of the good things about a lot of big government programs like that.
Yes they cost a lot of tax dollars but a good amount of that money gets recycled from the jobs that it creates.
You also have the RnD benefit as well.
I am not even saying that this is the worst or best way to do these projects. Just that is the way they are done.

Actually, they DID test the space shuttle tanks in Mississippi. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPTA-ET [wikipedia.org] . They don't test every tank there, but they tested the early ones and they test tanks that have certain kinds of problems, such as leaks.

As for building the tanks in Florida, the Kennedy VAB in Florida is 8 acres. The Michoud facility in New Orleans is vastly larger: more than 43 acres. Saying "because they built the VAB in Florida they could have built a manufacturing facility for large scale boosters" shows little knowledge of how the tanks are produced and how much space it takes to produce them. There was an existing 43 acre facility laid out to produce large scale industrial products in LA that the government already owned. The only additional cost of putting production there was barge traffic to Mississippi/Florida. Compare that to the cost of building a new 43-acre environmentally controlled facility from scratch in Florida, and I don't think that's a trivial decision. You can convince me, but you haven't thus far.

I'll freely admit that most of the Michoud space is not currently used. Original production plans were to produce one or two tanks per month, which grossly overestimated the Space Shuttle's turnaround efficiency. In the end, much of the Michoud capacity was not needed. But if you want to make the argument that Michoud was selected wholly or even primarily as a political favor, you have more homework to do.

Re:800 employees? (1)

Sod_Bloke (996127) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829486)

Silver lining...
When there is no more need for tanks or carpet, the layoffs are spread out. If a government program went defunct and the resulting layoffs destroyed the economy of an entire county, the backlash could be severe. Despite the inefficiencies, or the political reasons for manufacturing from sea to shining sea, at least the eggs aren't in one basket and the workers may be able to find other employment.

I completely agree on the votes matter. If building toilet seats in Onalaska WI kept a Representative in his chair for 6 more years, he wouldn't think twice about signing his name.

Re:800 employees? (1)

joggle (594025) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830004)

Where does the money come from for those programs? For the most part it comes from tax payers. What would be the incentive for people to pay taxes in one state with all of the jobs going to another? If all of the construction was done in Florida then all of the people in the other states would be paying taxes for those salaries without seeing any direct benefit.

So while there's certainly a political incentive, it's also more fair for the jobs to be distributed regionally as well.

Re:800 employees? (1)

jayteedee (211241) | more than 3 years ago | (#33832384)

Good start, but you can add several other HUGE budget busters to your list.

Paperwork. Think volumes like medical companies filings for FDA approval of a new drug.

Handholding for way too many people/bureaucrats. Huge teams for PDR, CDR for EVERY SINGLE TANK. Congresscritters out to get a vote/photo-op. All those are of course budgeted at the beginning into the tank production costs.

Rescheduling. Government in their infinite wisdom decides that if task A can be done by X people in Y time, then same task can be done by 1/2X in 2Y time. Somebody slips the schedule and all of a sudden Specialist B must only work 20hr/week on the project. And where can he charge the other 20??? A even if this were to work out in reality (NOT), there are these people called managers who are still taking a piece of the pie who now are basically doubling the management time. And, of course, no time is allocated to rescheduling the project, milestones, subcontractor deliveries, etc.

Ancient tech. Nobody pays for upgrades from DOS to recent OS's since the delta-quals are way too expensive. The porting itself is reasonable, but nobody will trust that the new stuff works exactly like the old stuff unless it goes through extensive retesting. And even then someone will raise a bogus issue and add significantly further to the nightmare. So some sub-systems are ancient. Ni-Cads, DOS, kerosene/LOX, aluminum, 486's, RS422, hydraulic TVCs, ancient analog electronics that are 10X their original cost since the main production line is obsolete and custom runs are made to produce them.

All above also applies to defense work. Virtually the same bureaucracies in place, and these types of things happen ALL THE TIME. $200 hammer or toilet seat is a BARGAIN!

Re:800 employees? (1, Insightful)

Tiger4 (840741) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828426)

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

And considering they are only where NASA was 50 years ago, "The company plans next to launch a Falcon 9 to place a capsule into orbit." I wouldn't be comparing them to a fully developed operation just yet. NASA might be fat but they at least can get a fully mission capable shot off.

Re:800 employees? (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828514)

They already did put a mockup capsule in orbit. NASA can't do that if both are given the same reasonable sum of money.

Re:800 employees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828678)

To be fair, the people working at SpaceX learned from the people who had done it already, whereas the people who did it at NASA learned how to do it...from themselves as they did it.

Re:800 employees? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829046)

And those people learned from the other folks at NASA and Ze Germans!

Re:800 employees? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829556)

To be fair, the people working at SpaceX learned from the people who had done it already, whereas the people who did it at NASA learned how to do it...from themselves as they did it.

"To be fair", NASA would take at least an order of magnitude more money to do what SpaceX did.

Re:800 employees? (5, Insightful)

TheEyes (1686556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828524)

And considering they are only where NASA was 50 years ago,

To be fair, the Shuttle is where NASA was 30 years ago

Re:800 employees? (1, Insightful)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829054)

The Shuttle hasn't been a static design for the last 30 years.

Re:800 employees? (1)

PyroMosh (287149) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830250)

Not 100% no.

However some avionics upgrades, and some safety upgrades after the Challenger and Columbia disasters hardly make it a state of the art design. The shuttle's being retired for reasons.

Re:800 employees? (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828794)

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:

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/environment/elon-musk-environment-fines/ [laweekly.com]

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!
-Acetone!
-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."

Darn.

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

Re:800 employees? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829542)

I have all of those but the last in my house.

Re:800 employees? (3, Informative)

Amouth (879122) | more than 3 years ago | (#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? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828906)

Didn't SpaceX get fined for cutting too many corners?

And how is that different from anything the NASA supply chain does? SpaceX just had a little bad luck with the EPA lottery that month.

Re:800 employees? (4, Informative)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828944)

"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.]

Re:800 employees? (1)

Snufu (1049644) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830724)

Great. These private companies are the model of efficiency and delivery. Let them see how far they get with "space tourism".
All the more reason for the gubmint to get out of manned space flight and direct those federal funds to purely scientific endeavors.

Re:800 employees? (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 3 years ago | (#33831102)

Be sure not to confuse the suborbital tourism companies with the orbital launch companies.

Virgin Galactic, Armadillo, and others are working the tourism market, which is suborbital in nature. (Though Armadillo at least appears to have higher ambitions, the tourism market should pay the bills nicely.)

Commercial orbital launch has been going on for years. The unusual thing about SpaceX's Falcon is that it was developed with no government funding at all; NASA is just another customer buying a service rather than a guarantor of development. And for what it's worth, SpaceX's launch prices are substantially lower than the other commercial providers.

Re:800 employees? (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829070)

The fine was for things like storing hazardous waste for too long and improperly labeling things. This isn't so much cutting corners due to cost as laziness on the part of employees responsible for the waste- you see issues like this in almost any academic laboratory, for example. It's a constant struggle to establish and maintain the discipline to remove waste promptly and thoroughly label everything in a workforce.

Re:800 employees? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829150)

Yep, you don't need many people if you don't intend to do the whole job.

Yep, because properly labeling and sealing hazardous waste containers is such a mission critical part of the job of launching rockets. Don't get me wrong, such a violation is probably unsafe to some extent and should be fined, but describing a labeling and disposal error on SpaceX's part as not intending "to do the whole job," falls into the category of needless opinionated spin and borderlines on hyperbole. Even IF SpaceX had handled their hazardous materials correctly, it probably would have cost them a few thousand more dollars and probably would not have needed one more employee whatsoever, so the OP's point that SpaceX developed three launch systems that have been demonstrated to work in a short time on a low budget with only 1,000 employees still stands exactly as true as it did when he said it. Your point, however, is nothing but scandalous hyperbole meant to generate negative publicity for SpaceX because, well...I don't know why. You have your own agenda but it certainly seems like a stupid one to me.

Re:800 employees? (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829778)

Yep, because properly labeling and sealing hazardous waste containers is such a mission critical part of the job of launching rockets.

It is a mission critical part of any job that generates hazardous waste. Furthermore, it is, ultimately, a very simple part; if you can't do it properly, why should I expect you to be able to handle any difficult part either?

Besides, let's not forget that each and every disaster of NASA can be tracked back to an oversight. Why did Challenger blow? Because NASAs top brass didn't pay attention when they were told it was too cold for the O-rings. Why did Columbia disintegrate? Because NASAs top brass didn't pay attention when they were told that a piece of foam might have hit the shuttle on takeoff.

Spaceflight with chemical rockets is pushing physics and our technology as far as they go, and physics are eager to push back given any chance. Any oversight provides just such a chance. Complaining about the improper disposal of litter might seem anal-retentive, but the cold truth is that as it stands, spaceflight requires anal-retentive attention to every last detail, least a disaster ensues. And if SpaceX doesn't have such people, it should hire some ASAP.

Re:800 employees? (2, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830714)

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.

Re:800 employees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33832132)

quite a few? I think you need to count it all up again.

That isn't to dismiss what SpaceX has done so far, but they are FAR from being an ongoing operational concern.

Re:800 employees? (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829008)

Companies always start lean and mean. That is how they get successful. But once Space X kills someone you can bet a layer of checks "bureaucracy" will sneak in. After 50 years you will have more managers and safety people than people doing the work to begin with. A private company might be able to last a little longer but as all the big banks show even they get sloppy and go under until they are bailed out by the taxpayers.

Re:800 employees? (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 3 years ago | (#33836488)

Right, but if SpaceX gets that far (50 years) then they will have proved that a private company can develop and launch an orbital rocket system and be profitable in the long term doing so. Assuming they have stuck to their stated goals at all this will have noticeably reduced the cost of spaceflight, especially if they get involved in and survive a price war with then encumbants.

Once all that has been proved then that opens the doors for others to do it and _that_ is IMO the most important thing needed to develop a technology, as soon as you can have technology startups then IME that develops the state of the art at wartime levels of progress but with consumer level costs. So who cares if in time SpaceX gets full of bureaucracy? There'll then be plenty more ready to do so as long as it can be proved that the launch business is profitable for the newcomer.

Ex NASA employees (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829086)

Don't forget that they got a head start by stealing away former NASA employees with higher wages than the government would provide.

Re:800 employees? (1)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33834346)

Don't worry, the way I read it, they shut down the 800 people too - harsh!

Farewell traveler (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828328)

In some ways I'm sad because we've seen the last of these magnificent vehicles in their space faring roles.

In other ways I'm sad because we have no future plan to go to space, travel to another planet, send a man to somewhere man hasn't been before.

We look at the changes going on here on Earth, glaciers melting, oceans rising, magnets, how the fuck do they work? And it is just so obvious that we need to get off this goddamned planet and out into the universe and start staking our claims.

It feels like we're in the late Middle Ages and we just need a Christopher Columbus to usher in a new age of exploration and colonization. But everyone looks inward to see what they can affect here when that is ultimately just a losing battle. Looking outward, upward, always twirling, this is how we will outlive this planet.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828396)

We have a plan, it involves not wasting money on boondoggles like the shuttle. I am generally a fan of letting government deal with certain task, lets say fire, police and some basic level of medical care, but this is an arena where a new group of private firms can do it better and cheaper. The shuttle is private built as well, just by big entrenched contractors.

Re:Farewell traveler (2, Insightful)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829600)

The problem is there are some things that are under the category of 'betterment of mankind' that don't align well with the private sector. Flying up and down to a space station? Sure, that could probably be a private sector driven thing. Flying people to Mars for the first time? Probably not. It's like exploring the Mariana Trench - We should do that, because it helps us to understand our blue marble, but it's nothing the private sector is that interested in.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829820)

It would be if we offered them the money. Elon claims to be champing at the bit to be building something to go to mars.

Re:Farewell traveler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33832306)

What is the difference between the government paying a contractor to launch a rocket as opposed to, oh wait, the government paying a contractor (United Launch Alliance, the company that actually maintains and launches the shuttle is a private company) to launch the shuttle.

Seriously man, regardless of the situation, it is going to take government funding these endeavours. And yes, I agree, there should have been a move to try and build up a space industry. There hasn't been for various reasons, but that is neither here nor there.

And Elon has 1 complete success of the Dragon 1 out of 3 (hmmm why aren't we seeing any more launches of that rocket), and a partial success of the Dragon 9. He has a LOT more work to do, as everybody else does. He hasn't actually proven that the company can do anything in space operations. That is nowhere near as simple as people like to think it is. The rockets are easy comparatively.

Actually one thing that is suspicious, where are all these private customers. Seems that he only has NASA as a customer. Again, that doesn't change the situation, NASA is still the customer as it is today, and all that does is change who is getting the money.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#33833074)

First of all, it's not Dragon 1 nor Dragon 9, but Falcon 1 and Falcon 9.

Falcon 1 doesn't have more launches right now simply because there's no need for them. They are working on Falcon 1e, an upgraded version, that has more marketable potential (better specs).

Besides, Falcon 1 was really a testbed for technology used for Falcon 9. Yes, it's a nice rocket for microsats and such, but there isn't much commercial demand for launches on Falcon 1e's scale, even though SpaceX provides them at the lowest price on this planet.

Also, Space X has nothing to do with "space operations". They are in launch business, they currently don't give shit about "operations" at large, thankfully -- better to stay focused on what pays the bills. Their Dragon capsule is just a means of getting people into and out of the orbit, nothing permanent about it. It's supposed to be docked to ISS or whatever while up there, and then the ball is in someone else's court.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830454)

Flying people to Mars for the first time?

It's called 'tourism' and it's a huge industry. Right now no-one who wants to go to Mars can afford the fare, but the more we develop a private spaceflight infrastructure, the cheaper it will become.... IMHO tourists will walk on Mars before NASA's astronauts do.

Probably not. It's like exploring the Mariana Trench - We should do that, because it helps us to understand our blue marble, but it's nothing the private sector is that interested in.

Wasn't James Cameron talking recently about his plans to explore the Marianas Trench?

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 3 years ago | (#33836570)

Let's not forget getting to Mars would be a whole lot easier if we had a decent LEO infrastructure (construction facilities, fuel depots, am i asking too much to dream of a mine on a captured asteroid?)
If shutting down the space shuttle program allows private companies to take full responsibility of trucking cargo/people to LEO and then start to compete on cost which then allows us to afford a decent LEO infrastructure, then please please let be the one to turn the off switch on the shuttle.

Re:Farewell traveler (0, Troll)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828428)

Christopher Columbus was just an asshole who sucked at math. The world was known to be round for thousands of years at that point, the only unknown was that there was a continent in the way between a western route from Europe to Asia. Had he been right about this Western Route he would have starved to death on the open ocean.

On top of this the Vikings and many others had already been to the new world.

Re:Farewell traveler (-1, Flamebait)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828470)

The vikings are like the British cryptographers. They may have done a bunch of cool stuff, but their total impact is negligible.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Discovery [wikipedia.org]

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828532)

On top of this the Vikings and many others had already been to the new world.

Obviously we know this, but Columbus headed a wave of exploration.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828588)

No, a wave of gold seeking. They did not care about exploring at at all. Exploring was a side effect.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828766)

And in an attempt to steer this thing back on topic, this just goes to show that we need to reduce the cost of entry into space so businesses can make a buck there. Say, a space elevator to mine asteroids for rare-earth to ship to Japan.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828858)

Short of magic I fail to see how that is possible. Even if we found an asteroid near earth, heck lets say this side of the moon, and it was solid platinum it would not be worth going to get.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33835448)

Well it really does depend on the market [slashdot.org] , and how popular things get. I mean, we're extracting oil from tar sand in frigid northern Canada.

But the magic [wikipedia.org] is in development [liftport.com] for a space elevator to be built. Powering the climber is another challenge, but with something to hang onto, the cost of getting into space could drop by a factor of 10 to 100.

And for twice the length, you can get slinged into deep space. Mining the moon or mars have that gravity well to deal with, while the asteroids are just kinda floating around. Push them towards Earth and they'll get there eventually.

It's, you know, an "out there" idea. But if you want people to leave, they need a reason. If you want people to invest cash into the possibility, then they're going to have to have some sort of return.

Re:Farewell traveler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828432)

After 37 years of playng a major role in the U.S. space program, Lockheed Martin Corp. made it official: the era of building space shuttle fuel tanks at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility is over, along with scores of jobs.

<snip>

The last of the 136 external fuel tanks built at Michoud arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27.

Holy shit! How did they keep up that breakneck pace all those years!

and who to say what's being worked at area51 like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828522)

and who to say what's being worked at area51 like places?

We shouldn't leave. (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828568)

And it is just so obvious that we need to get off this goddamned planet and out into the universe and start staking our claims.

And planets that can support us will more than likely have indigenous life forms. Are we to repeat what has been done on this planet with regards to indigenous populations?

The only reason we have to leave is because we're destructive, wasteful, and this irrational belief that everything around us is for us to exploit.

Re:We shouldn't leave. (1)

electron sponge (1758814) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828710)

And planets that can support us will more than likely have indigenous life forms. Are we to repeat what has been done on this planet with regards to indigenous populations?

Hell yes, and this time we don't have to worry about 'human rights'. No humans, no rights.

I kid, but seriously, I bet it ends up going that way should we ever develop interstellar capability.

Re:We shouldn't leave. (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828768)

I dunno, that works out pretty well for bacteria.

Re:We shouldn't leave. (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829106)

The only reason we have to leave is because we're destructive, wasteful, and this irrational belief that everything around us is for us to exploit.

Destructive and wasteful activity doesn't last long in space (because you die as a result). A move to space would cure some of the beliefs that can exist on Earth.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

m2shariy (1194621) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828620)

The difference here is that Columbus had a vehicle able to efficiently travel in the ocean. And rocket propulsion is extremely inefficient. "To get off this goddamned planet and out into the universe and start staking our claims" using rocket propulsion would be the same as for Columbus to go across the ocean on a $30 inflatable raft from a Wallymart.

Re:Farewell traveler (1)

johneee (626549) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828758)

As other commenters have said, lots of people out there (Musk, Branson) have plans, and they're working in the private sector because they see profit out there for the taking.

Similar to Columbus really, who was a private citizen (who raised funds from a public figure, but as a personal thing, rather than as an employee of the crown) trying to make personal and corporate profits by going on his trip.

So yeah, we're really actually getting closer to that rather than further away.

NASA TV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828330)

Saw this the other day on NASA TV - which has an HD feed full time now... launches are awesome.

Moon rocket from Red Mars? (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828340)

one new plan imagines using old shuttle parts, including pieces of the tank, to build a new moon rocket.

This seems to be taken from Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars [wikipedia.org] in which the interplanetary spacecraft is composed of used shuttle fuel tanks.

Re:Moon rocket from Red Mars? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829490)

In Red Mars the interplanetary ship was basically a giant wet lab, it was actually the fuel tanks from all the shuttle launches that brought the rest of the equipment into orbit. It takes surprisingly little extra Delta-V to get the tank into a stable orbit, a small solid rocket mounted on the bottom would have been plenty to do it and could have provided more living space than the entire ISS with a single launch (without any internal equipment of course). It was an idea that NASA had invested considerable research into but the tests were cancelled after the Challenger accident. As an aside, I'm not convinced that most people realize just how much the Challenger explosion derailed the manned space effort, there were a lot, and I mean a lot of potentially game changing ideas that were close to fruition that were canceled as a result of that single accident.

Back to the hypothetical reuse of shuttle parts, I think what they are talking about is something more like the rocket [wikipedia.org] designed by NASA (and other) engineers in their spare time. It would use a re-purposed shuttle fuel tank as the main body of the rocket with a second and possible third stage stacked on top of it, and use space shuttle solid rocket boosters for a heavy lift variant.

Re:Moon rocket from Red Mars? (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 3 years ago | (#33833282)

Yes. In other words, a work of fiction.

New Shuttle Derived HLV is Design By Congress (4, Insightful)

ausoleil (322752) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828392)

While it may seem like a great idea to re-use and re-purpose old Shuttle designs for a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) on the surface, in fact, it's something that is not being done for its technical merit. Instead, this design is one that's mandated by Congress. The 535 meddlers instructed NASA not to design and implement the best design or the most practical and capable craft, instead, it told themk in it's latest funding bill that it must use 'elements of other programs "to the extent practicable."

The congress-people of course want the jobs and prestige that comes from having the companies that build new spacecraft and their parts in their districts.

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said in a prepared statement that:

“The NASA Authorization bill rejects the Administration’s reckless cancellation of NASA’s human space flight program and provides a framework to continue NASA’s exploration program.

“I am encouraged that the bill outlines a NASA-designed heavy lift rocket capability and continues Huntsville’s leadership role in NASA’s human exploration efforts. Given the ongoing struggles of up-and-coming space companies to keep their contracted schedules, the bill provides some level of accountability and a defined threshold for safety. With the passage of the NASA Authorization bill, it is clear Congress understands that bravado does not necessarily make a rocket company viable.

It may come as a surprise to Shelby that SpaceX is preparing its second launch of the Falcon9 rocket, this time with its Dragon capsule on top. It is currently schedule for no earlier than 10/23 of this month. The test launch is to once again test the Falcon9's operations and give information they can use to further refine them, and it is to test the Dragon in orbit. Dragon will eventually be used to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, as well as deliver cargo to it in an unmanned configuration. In other words, Senator Shelby, human space flight atop American rockets is far from dead. Not only that, private concerns have orbited a test flight and is on the verge of another while NASA awaits the whims of Congress.

With folks like Shelby around, protecting their interests rather than doing the right thing, it will be surprising if any NASA-designed craft orbits humans after the last shuttle lands next year.

Re:New Shuttle Derived HLV is Design By Congress (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828632)

How do you think we got the shuttle?

Let engineers design and managers manage, whenever managers design you get this sort of result.

Re:New Shuttle Derived HLV is Design By Congress (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828882)

Why was the above marked troll? It's completely spot on, and the only reason Congress has specified a HLV design which maximizes usage of the Shuttle infrastructure in Alabama/Texas/Utah is for (admittedly critical) political reasons, not engineering reasons. I mean, I guess you could say that the comments by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Al) about SpaceX and ULA are trolling, but still...

Re:New Shuttle Derived HLV is Design By Congress (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828886)

My god, the moderator abuse is strong today. Parent is not trolling, he's perfectly correct. Shelby is a Republican (read: hates Obama), actually a turncoat Democrat, (read: Stockholm syndrome) and is one of the Senator's from the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (read: NASA center for Shuttle propulsion, external tanks, payloads and crew training; plus ISS design and assembly; PLUS (and here's the rub) the Ares I, Ares V, and Constellation) with thousands and thousands of FEDERAL EMPLOYEES. So yeah, when Shelby mouthes BLATANT OUTRIGHT LIES like "...the Administration's reckless cancellation of NASA's human space flight program..." it's perfectly permissible to point out that he's a LYING self-interested LIAR who LIES and needs to get a clue about the interests of the rest of the country.

Re:New Shuttle Derived HLV is Design By Congress (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829802)

While it may seem like a great idea to re-use and re-purpose old Shuttle designs for a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) on the surface, in fact, it's something that is not being done for its technical merit. Instead, this design is one that's mandated by Congress. The 535 meddlers instructed NASA not to design and implement the best design or the most practical and capable craft

While that may be true, Ares I was NOT the most capable craft. This was known to the engineers before the project even began and became increasingly clear as it progressed. First with the thrust oscillation problems, then with the needed gutting of the Orion spacecraft to accommodate the underpowered rocket which had it's lift capacity continually overestimated.

The plan approved by Congress mandates something like the DIRECT option (a SD-HLV, likely inline), which will give us a vehicle that is far more capable and that will be completed quicker than Ares I and for less money.

End of an Era (2)

fahlesr1 (1910982) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828538)

I remember watching shuttle launches in Elementary school. Its sorta sad that they're almost gone for good. Even more so without a clear replacement!

Re:End of an Era (1)

pdboddy (620164) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828660)

This. I never got to see a launch in person, but I have always felt awe every single time I watched one of the Shuttles launch. I hope that the US will continue to explore space, and continue to put people up there under their own program.

Re:End of an Era (2, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829074)

I work at KSC so I go to watch every launch in the VAB parking lot. It's one of those things that is almost impossible to convey. The experience can't be recreated with the current technology. The sound is so loud that from 3 miles away car alarms go off and loose clothing dances on your body. The light is so intense it's like watching someone weld with a gas torch. What you see on HD isn't even close because the TV can't put out that kind of brightness. After watching a launch the SRB exhaust flames are burned into your retinas for about an hour.

Re:End of an Era (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830552)

And I was thinking of living close to that area when I retire, and go near that gigantic countdown clock for every launch, in much the same way that folks at the Florida Keys sit on the shore to watch the sun set.

Kind of sad when you go to the link, and describes it as the last rocket...

Re:End of an Era (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829200)

"Even more so without a clear replacement!"

That's asking a lot. I'd be happy with an opaque replacement.

Shuttle Launches in the Indian Ocean??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828608)

I was unaware of the existence of the secret launch site on Diego Garcia!

Re:Shuttle Launches in the Indian Ocean??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828666)

Dude, The shuttle launches form Florida - but by the time the external tank re-enters, it has traveled as far as the Indian ocean.

TFA is idiotic (3, Insightful)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828756)

While much of what TFA states is true, it deliberately avoids mention of a very important fact: NASA won't need to run its own launch program if it can buy flights from the private commercial sector. Which is, in fact, the plan.

SpaceX, Boeing, and others are developing rockets and vehicles for just this market. They're very likely going to get these birds in the air well before any new NASA rocket system, and they're surely going to do it cheaper.

NASA-designed rockets were necessary Back In The Day when launching was about national prestige more than anything else. There were no other options. But in today's world, a government-owned and -operated rocket program is a funding sink, a political football, and a jobs program. NASA is not better off sinking billions into rocket development, when it could be spending that development money for programs that will bring us new capabilities such as on-orbit refueling and assembly. (Which are absolutely necessary prerequisites to long-term missions beyond low Earth orbit.)

Don't pine for NASA to look back to past glory. Instead, be glad they're being compelled to offload the relatively easy stuff and look forward. Ad astra, baby.

What an utter waste we didn't push them into orbit (0)

anUnhandledException (1900222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828908)

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. When you consider the cost to put something into LEO is about $5K to $10K per kg the "value" of pushing these into orbit for future projects is massive.

The reality is that the tanks don't "fall" back to earth. They have enough velocity and altitude at the time they separate to achieve LEO. Two thrusters push the tank back to earth.

800 tanks... what a mindblowing waste of orbital construction material.

Re:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (1)

anUnhandledException (1900222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33828984)

Oops that 136 tanks not 800.

Leaving 800 people who build the tanks in space would just be cruel.

Re:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (2, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (2, Informative)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (1)

anUnhandledException (1900222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829468)

Why would they have to be uncontrolled?

I mean as is the ET would be uncontrolled but no reason they couldn't be collected, secured together and boosted to higher orbit. Periodically the tanks could be boosted via space shuttle to higher orbit (just like space shuttle routinely does w/ ISS to avoid re-entry).

I wasn't suggesting it was "Free" or that it could be done with no changes but rather we boosted 3 million kg to the edge of space only to crash them back into the earth. Seems highly wasteful.

Re:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (1)

Clueless Moron (548336) | more than 3 years ago | (#33829716)

Why would they have to be uncontrolled?

Because every STS mission has different launch parameters. Different inclination, different altitude, eccentricities and orbital velocity, not to mention that since the exact launch time is unpredictable you're never even going to be anywhere near the RA of any previous tank. You'll end up with a swarm of ETs in all kinds of different orbits, effectively completely un-collectible.

Now, because we're talking rocket scientists here it's not like it never occurred to them to think of ways to use the tanks, at least on a per-mission basis. See here for a list of ideas [nasa.gov] . Mostly it has to do with making use of the unused fuel and using tethering to steal momentum from the tank so as to increase the effective payload.

My guess is that they decided not to bother because the payload boost payoff would generally be too unpredictable, which means that if you estimated wrong you've blown pretty well the whole mission. So since you're never realistically going to want to rendezvous with an old tank ever again (since you're always bringing up a new one), the only sensible thing is to bring them out of harm's way.

Re:What an utter waste we didn't push them into or (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33830180)

That would be 800 pieces of space junk, each one in different orbit - for the month that they'd last there anyway. Just because the ISS can keep its orbit through intensive stationkeeping, doesn't mean an inert fuel tank will be able to do the same.

Not the people! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33828934)

The completion of the last tank meant the shut down of the assembly line – and the 800 remaining people who worked on it

Don't shut down the people! Those poor powered-down, helpless people, just standing there, rusting. They're probably still good for something. Like painting my fence.

Ni6ga (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33829030)

is part ofg the declined in market for the project. from one folder on fucking percent of in our group

I'm ready for my closeup Mr.Demille (nt) (1)

yoyoq (1056216) | more than 3 years ago | (#33830366)

nt

A missed opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33833078)

One thing that has always disappointed me about the program is that they liquid tanks were discarded. They seemed to me to have a lot of potential value in space. Those tanks were nearly in orbit when they were discarded and still contained a small amount of unused hydrogen and oxygen. It seems to me that at least some of those tanks could have been lifted into and parked in high, stable orbits, using residual fuel and oxygen and small satellite maneuvering engines.

Those tanks could easily handle one atmosphere and were insulated. They could have formed the cores of future space factories, for zero gravity manufacturing [spaceislandgroup.com] research and tourism, and whatever else turns out to be better done in space.

Eventually those things will probably happen, but if there were giant habitable tanks sitting in orbit unoccupied and vacant, it would likely happen sooner.

There's always the could-have-beens.

I don't know (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#33834938)

Maybe it's time that NASA listened to their engineers about rockets.

just for a change...

I never understood (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#33835360)

I never understood why they never built some sort of system into these so that they could be reused and cost less in the long run....although I could some issues if the shuttle blows up because of reuse or degradation by reuse.

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