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Atlantis Lands, Ending the Shuttle Era

CmdrTaco posted about 3 years ago | from the we'll-miss-you dept.

NASA 256

Early this morning Atlantis landed at KSC in Florida. I've been following the trip intently ever since my trip to Florida to see the launch of the very last Shuttle. This really is the end of an era. Thanks go out to the thousands of NASA employees who made this happen, many of whom have been laid off. A number of them emailed me directly showing me pictures and sharing stories. I wish you all the best. As for America, here's hoping that we return to space soon.

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Atlantis... the end is here... (0)

UnresolvedExternal (665288) | about 3 years ago | (#36833536)

And now you face... the final cuurrrtaaaiiinnn...

All That Knowledge... (3, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | about 3 years ago | (#36833788)

...walking (booted) out the door. In 5 years NASA couldn't launch a shuttle even if they took Atlantis, mothballed it and all the facilities because no one will know how to do it anymore.

When they started working on Ares they had to send engineers out to look at the Saturn 5 rocket in Houston to try to rediscover its technology because all of the institutional knowledge was gone. And even after that, they killed it.

Imagine what it must be like to be an engineer at NASA...”work on this, no, work on that. Wait, forget that and do this. Never mind, do this instead”. You've all been there in IT probably.

If there ever was a time to establish clear, long term goals and technology focus, now is it. But they will drift aimlessly, buffeted by the whims of the Administration and Congress.

get Congress out of the way (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#36834014)

Some things have longer horizons than our 2/4/6-year election cycles. Like our financial institutions, our leaders and focused way too much on the short term.

The Pres & the Congress should set goals, NASA should submit an honest budget per project, and Congress should approve them or not as a whole. No more of this micromanagement crap -- "We'll give you 7 billion this year, but you've got to use solid rocket boosters made in the congressional district from Utah. Next term, we're going to cut your budget to make cheap points with the teabaggers."

Re:All That Knowledge... (5, Informative)

Burdell (228580) | about 3 years ago | (#36834020)

The knowledge isn't all gone just yet. My father worked on the guidance and control systems and simulations for all the Saturns except the first test vehicle, the Apollo-Saturn Telescope Mount, the Space Shuttle Main Engines, and Spacelab (as well as helping others in his group with things like Hubble and Gravity Probe B).

However, your point about the schizophrenic management is correct; since then he's worked on X-33, X-34, Ares I, and Ares V guidance/control systems/simulations, with effectively nothing to show for it. Now he's waiting to see if the White House will ever move on the next heavy-lift vehicle (that Congress already appropriated money for). He's coming up on 50 years working for NASA (45 years in civil service and almost 5 as a part-time contractor).

NASA's biggest challenge has always been funding and the year-to-year budget process. There really should be some way to budget more than one year at a time; that just doesn't work very well for long-term projects.

Re:All That Knowledge... (5)

ukpyr (53793) | about 3 years ago | (#36834224)

Hey, tell your dad thanks for putting up with all the garbage and trying to make a difference.

- A. Taxpayer

Re:All That Knowledge... (1, Interesting)

GooberToo (74388) | about 3 years ago | (#36834382)

However, your point about the schizophrenic management is correct; since then he's worked on X-33, X-34, Ares I, and Ares V guidance/control systems/simulations, with effectively nothing to show for it.

If anything, that only validates how extremely poorly run NASA is. The fact they want to create a guidance system for any specific craft is stupid, expensive, and extremely wasteful, especially knowing full well how schizophrenic major projects like that are.

Had they actually wanted to do what's right rather than just burn USD, they would have many projects completely distinct from projects like the X-33, X-34, Ares I, and Ares V, and so on. Its not like guidance is actually distinct. They all require guidance. A single, re-usable guidance system should be developed. This would actually save massive tax dollars and only require minor adaptation for specific application, be it X-33, X-34, Ares I, and Ares V, or whatever.

NASA needs to die because they purposely do everything they can to poorly manage their available resources just so they can justify an ever growing budget.

Keep in mind, I'm a massive supporter of NASA, but I extremely tired of all the purposeful waste for the sole purpose and waste.

Re:All That Knowledge... (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | about 3 years ago | (#36834742)

A single, re-usable guidance system should be developed

... or they should just have subcontracted all of it to Croatia. The mess would have been the same, but at least the cost would have been much less!

Re:All That Knowledge... (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 years ago | (#36834386)

While NASA might not be able to launch a shuttle, there certainly are several people who can, and are American as well. Just because NASA development efforts are falling apart and it seems like the bureaucracy at NASA is too big for its own good, that doesn't mean the knowledge is being lost either.

Instead, the real development efforts are now happening with private efforts. Anybody with half a brain and wants to design rockets that really fly, which will carry real cargo and real passengers into orbit are now no longer working for NASA or even many of the major contractors for NASA. Instead, they are working at places like SpaceX, Orbital, Blue Origin, Xcor, or Bigelow Aerospace. They are making things that either have or will shortly go into space.

The real proof that something has changed is how Boeing is treating spacecraft development. They have essentially ignored any direction from NASA in terms of designs and even they went and built their own spacecraft (the CST-100) that will fit on top of one of their own launchers (Delta IV). The technology to go into space is alive and well, with a whole group of people who know how to do it and are doing it routinely. It just isn't going through NASA centers for direction, planning, or funding any more.

I think that is a good thing, although the question begs to be asked, why keep NASA around anymore? If the vehicles being designed by NASA engineers or through NASA directorates keep getting canceled and there is no clear focus in terms of what to do next, I certainly wouldn't want to stick around if I was an employee there. The exciting stuff isn't happening at NASA any more, and they aren't even getting into space and doing stuff. Even the science directorates are being cut back.... for what? A big rocket that will never be used for a mission that is irrelevant because the destination that is its only purpose will no longer exist by the time it is built? Yeah, that is real inspiration to me.

WRONG (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 3 years ago | (#36834682)

What you just describe is exactly the situation that we have had.
With NASA pushing private space to take this on, we will move the knowledge into MULTIPLE companies that will keep moving forward. In fact, what is now going to happen is that SpaceX has massively one-uped ALL OF THE COMPANIES AND NATIONS in the world. What is going to happen is that UAL will be forced to create a new rocket, or lose possible launches. Even now, they have started work on a rocket idea for taking on the Ares V, now SLS as well as Falcon X. The SLS will be dead on the vine within 2 years when SpaceX announces that they are building Falcon X.

Mixed feelings (0)

cmdr_klarg (629569) | about 3 years ago | (#36833550)

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the end of the Shuttle era. While the Shuttle did not quite live up to the promise of making spaceflight "routine", this means an end to American spaceflight capability, at least for the short term.

I will echo what CmdrTaco said: I hope we return to space soon. I would also like to thank the 14 astronauts who gave their lives in the pursuit of space on the Shuttles.

Re:Mixed feelings (2)

AlecC (512609) | about 3 years ago | (#36833734)

While having immense respect for those who worked on the Shuttle program, and certainly honouring those who lost their lives in its operations, I feel that this is the end of a huge diversion. It turned out that the Shuttle was never as good an idea as it was originally made out to be. It certainly never lived up to its name. I feel, but I don't know, that this could have been recognised earlier and the U-turn being made now could have been made twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the "Concorde effect" cut in - nobody would take responsibility for axing a program on which tens of billions had been spend - so hundreds of billions more had to be spend on a flawed, albeit marvellous - project.

And look ahead: not may years ahead, America may have multiple launchers, some man-rated, some not, to give a broad spectrum capability at much lower cost. Sometimes, backtracking is the wisest thing to do.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

whargoul (932206) | about 3 years ago | (#36834016)

And look ahead: not may years ahead, America may have multiple launchers, some man-rated, some not, to give a broad spectrum capability at much lower cost. Sometimes, backtracking is the wisest thing to do.

As long as our Congress and the worthless fucking presidents we've elected over the past 20+ years are in control of NASA's budget we're not going to see anything worth-while out of them.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

Leebert (1694) | about 3 years ago | (#36834606)

A good quote from Bolden sent to NASA employees:

As we move forward, we stand on the shoulders of these astronauts and the thousands of people who supported them on the ground - as well as those who cheered their triumphs and mourned their tragedies.

This final shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we recommit ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the necessary-and difficult-steps to ensure America's leadership in human spaceflight for years to come.

(snip)

Children who dream of being astronauts today may not fly on the space shuttle . . . but, one day, they may walk on Mars. The future belongs to us. And just like those who came before us, we have an obligation to set an ambitious course and take an inspired nation along for the journey.

Yes, they're just words. But to quote Jim Kirk's son in ST II:

"But good words. That’s where ideas begin."

All I can say is that I hope he's right.

Re:Mixed feelings (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 years ago | (#36834674)

While there are a couple of factual errors with this interview (I'll forgive somebody in their 70's who otherwise was actively involved in the development efforts of a great many spacecraft programs) this interview by Jerry Pournelle covers many of the problems that happened with the Shuttle development:

http://www.pjtv.com/?cmd=mpg&mpid=86&load=5745 [pjtv.com]

It could have worked, but too many compromises were made on the Shuttle where those compromises compounded on each other to create many of the problems involved, including what ended up killing 14 astronauts.

I personally think there should have been a Shuttle II program that would have taken the lessons learned and built a new version of the basic design. Sadly, that never happened. What I hope does not get learned from the Shuttle is that reusable lifting bodies should never be used for spaceflight. The real problem with the Shuttle was trading development costs for operational costs, and expecting a government bureaucracy devoted to keeping jobs is going to help lower costs.

Re:Mixed feelings (3, Interesting)

SenseiLeNoir (699164) | about 3 years ago | (#36834600)

Althoguh I am british, I grew up in the 80's, and the spaceshuttle is one of those defining items of that era. I was saddended when chanllenger exploded, and even more upset when Colmbia exploded. I deep down expected it to finish its working life and end up in a Museum. Also to see some "anti-west" groups in the middle east "celebrate" the explosion really upset me.

Jeremy Clarkson wrote a book once, called "You've got soul". IT describes "machines" that are more than just a hunk of metal/plastic/etc, but have an affect on human psyche that incites adoration, and the impression of "soul". He described Concorde as one such machine. I would say the Shuttle is also one of such machine.

Congratulations to all involved, and remmber those who lost their lives.

Atlantis Lands (1)

Barryke (772876) | about 3 years ago | (#36833586)

Near SF bridge, no?

The manned space program ended with Apollo (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833600)

The shuttle was nothing more than a high altitude glider. Unfortunately all the money wasted on the shuttle could've gone to legitimate exploration using unmanned probes and rovers.

Re:The manned space program ended with Apollo (0)

91degrees (207121) | about 3 years ago | (#36833700)

But if you're sending unmanned probes and rovers, it leads me to ask why do we even do that? We can probably get a lot more bang for buck focussing on science on the planet.

Re:The manned space program ended with Apollo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834114)

We do it because we're curious and because we can.

We've yet to create a tool as versatile as having boots on the ground. Sure, we have enhanced capabilities, but there's only so much one can do remotely.

I, for one, would LOVE to get a full-time geologist on mars for a study.

Re:The manned space program ended with Apollo (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#36834570)

You seem to think that all the shuttle did was go back and forth to LEO. The shuttle was the scene for a great deal of study in microgravity; from biological reactions to materials science. None of which could have been done with unmanned probes and rovers.

So long... (3, Funny)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 3 years ago | (#36833604)

...and thanks for all the fish.

Did it land... (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 3 years ago | (#36833608)

Just outside San Francisco Bay, after destroying the hive ship?

they moved it to the moon and that why we can't (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 3 years ago | (#36833752)

they moved it to the moon and that why we can't go back to the moon.

Not an end, but a beginning (5, Insightful)

BZWingZero (1119881) | about 3 years ago | (#36833622)

While the Shuttle program has ended (and its been a spectacular run), I guess the only things to look forward to are the MPCV, CTS-100, Dragon, DreamChaser, and the New Sheppard.

I think the future is looking pretty bright.

Re:Not an end, but a beginning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834212)

That assumes the windbags in congress don't keep cutting back on the space program because there are more important things to spend our tax dollars on. That $14B per year could be better spent on blowing more stuff up on foreign lands.

Re:Not an end, but a beginning (1)

BZWingZero (1119881) | about 3 years ago | (#36834462)

Then its a good thing that 4 of those craft I named are planning on being flown with or without NASA's help. (NASA funding would just accelerate the process.)

Re:Not an end, but a beginning (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 3 years ago | (#36834734)

Actually, only 2 of those are certain. DreamChaser, MPCV and CTS-100 all depend on gov. money. Right now, only Blue Origin and SpaceX are planning on continue putting in money to fly humans regardless of what CONgress does. Though to be fair, I suspect that Boeing would continue since Bigelow is pushing them hard.

Re:Not an end, but a beginning (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | about 3 years ago | (#36834696)

That's where it helps (but doesn't entirely solve the problem), that we're talking about private companies doing most of these projects. Of course, they still need lots of contracts from the government or they will have trouble with funding, but at least their direction and priorities aren't being yanked around every two years.

Take a project that is going well so far (as Dragon apparently is). If the US gov't doesn't throw enough money their way, perhaps another government or consortium of governments might?

Re:Not an end, but a beginning (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 years ago | (#36834800)

This assumes nothing. All of the vehicles mentioned are being built with private funds, not government appropriations. The only assumption here is that somehow congress isn't going to pass a law taxing these companies and otherwise making it illegal to actually get these private vehicles sent into space. Almost as bad as making it illegal would be to put up so much red tape and regulatory bureaucracy for private efforts that they can't afford to get anything up simply because of government compliance costs.

While I think they could calm down on the regulations a little bit, the FAA-AST certainly is at least trying to encourage private efforts. It would be nice if NASA, the Air Force, and other government agencies which purchase spacecraft and launches could buy from these private efforts rather than try to build their own vehicles (like the [*cough*] SLS program), but "the windbags in congress" don't have to waste their time in trying to help pay for this stuff.

That $14B might be better spent on air conditioning for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Irony Not Lost (2, Insightful)

knirps (1727352) | about 3 years ago | (#36833624)

The US manned spaceflight program comes to an ignominious end at the same time the Texas school board votes on whether to teach evolution in science class. And people wonder why we've lost our leadership in science and manufacturing.

Re:Irony Not Lost (3, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about 3 years ago | (#36833744)

Do not taunt Texas' faith based education! We will return the USA to space using "God Pods" developed with our Evangelical sciences.

Re:Irony Not Lost (1)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | about 3 years ago | (#36833834)

Nah, they'll just keep banging into the great crystal dome and falling back on Earth, not like these heathen's "shuttles" and "rockets" launched into the godless atheistic void. So there will be no point in creating those "God Pods" at all.

Re:Irony Not Lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834568)

Hooray for Hubology!

Re:Irony Not Lost (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833890)

You had to know some jackass would bring up evolution and religion.

What's funny is this stupid fucker doesn't even understand that the guys who put men on the moon with slide rules and pencil and paper grew up in a school environment filled with religious references which today, would cause the entirety of the ACLU staff to fall over dead from a stroke.

Even a casual observer can see the correlation between the systematic repression of any and all religious expression in schools and the decline of academic achievement.

Re:Irony Not Lost (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834178)

You can mod flamebait, till you the day is over, but we all have to remember, that like plate tectonics, the big bang, and yes, even religion, evolution is a theory. We can teach theories till the people backing them gasm, but that won't make them true. In the case of evolution vs creationism, they are commonly thought to be mutually exclusive. While that may or may not be true, just as with any controversial issue, it makes sense to see both sides before coming to any conclusions. I'm not saying that teachers should become priests, but teaching evolution as the one true answer causes one-sided thinking.
When I had to go through High School Bio, my teacher prefaced Darwin with, "I don't even believe the theory I'm teaching you right now, but you have to make your own choice." He didn't teach it as though it was the one true answer. He tought it as what it is, a theory, and just a theory. I wish more teachers did that...

Mod parent up! (0)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | about 3 years ago | (#36834702)

Mod parent and grandparent up. Disagreeing with this guy is not a reason to mod him down. And this is coming from a "heathen brethren."

--TSP

Re:Irony Not Lost (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 3 years ago | (#36834896)

We see evolution in bacteria and plants and animals all the time, and yet, idiots like you claim that this is theory. The original poster declared that US manned spaceflight was over, though only the shuttle is over. No wonder we have issues in the USA. Idiots deny what is plain as the nose on their face.

Re:Irony Not Lost (3, Informative)

DrgnDancer (137700) | about 3 years ago | (#36834180)

There's no repression of religious expression at schools. Indeed the very ACLU you pan has on numerous occasions defended the rights of students to express their religious beliefs in school: Here's [gainesville.com] one, here's [gazette.com] another. A simple Google search reveals dozens of similar stories. What the ACLU objects to, along with most religious freedom advocates, is the coercive expression of religion in schools. A teacher has no right to lead students in a prayer that some present may not believe in. He or she is representative of the authority of the school and in turn the government, they should not give the impression of coercing students into prayer. Similarly, events like graduations and pep rallies are for everyone, turning them into religious events is neither fair nor constitutional. As a side note, that same teacher would be fine leading a prayer in an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meeting, as participation in such a thing implies a certain level of acceptance.

Long story short, religious expression in schools is fine. Students can wear all the religious jewelry they want, wear the goofy t-shirts they want, talk about God in the hallways and the lunchroom, even have clubs that focus on one religion or another. The caveat to that is that it has to be fair: If Bob can wear a cross, I can wear a pentacle; if Sue can can start a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, Sarah can start a Torah study group. It also should not be a part of official school events like classes, assembles, or graduations. At that point it is infringing on the rights of others.

Re:Irony Not Lost (3, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | about 3 years ago | (#36834668)

As long as pop quizzes exist, there will be prayer in schools.

Re:Irony Not Lost (0)

DrgnDancer (137700) | about 3 years ago | (#36833894)

That's different though, see. It's perfectly reasonable and rational to think that science is amazing and capable when it comes to developing technology to take us into orbit or interconnect the globe in a web of communication; but completely wrong about all that biology and biochem stuff. I mean clearly the fact that we can measure time and distance with sufficient accuracy to hit a missile in low earth orbit moving at many times the speed of sound with another missile is completely coherent with the idea that we can't accurately measure the rate of decay for carbon. The fact that we can sequence and even modify genes in experimental medical procedures is obviously irrelevant to the fact that those gene sequences show us clear evidence of evolution.

You see I like technology but science challenges my beliefs, so I experience no cognitive dissonance in using one while dissing the other. They're unrelated disciplines really.

Re:Irony Not Lost (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 3 years ago | (#36834838)

You did miss the irony. The US manned spaceflight program continues. We are simply hitching rides with Russia the same way that we did after Columbia. While are no longer SOLELY in first in science and manufacturing, we still remain amongst the top. Our problem is that ppl skew the results, just like you did.

"End of an era," indeed (5, Insightful)

schmidt349 (690948) | about 3 years ago | (#36833678)

The fact that the Shuttle was still flying in 2011 isn't just a testament to its longevity. It's a sad reminder that, at least for now, human spaceflight is at the mercy of the schizophrenia that is the American political process.

NASA has consistently brought together some of the finest minds in the world to do what the preceding finest minds thought was impossible. Then, because this is America, we take a bunch of mouth-breathers who probably got Cs and Ds in basic high school science courses and make them the bosses and the gatekeepers, the people who decide that it's more important to systematize the abuse of human rights at airports and buy the jokers at the Pentagon their newest murder toy than it is to push the frontiers of knowledge and ingenuity.

I'm putting my hope for the future of space exploration in private hands. Not because I fetishize the free market, or because I think government is evil, but because human spaceflight is way too important to be put in the hands of the American electorate, which is probably the stupidest and most poorly-informed decision-making body since the Athenian ekklesia.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833756)

The fact that after 30 years we are not just rolling right into a replacement more than proves your point. Mod up.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (3, Informative)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 3 years ago | (#36833930)

The SLS [wikipedia.org] is a perfect example of that. It's sometimes called the "Senate Launch System" because of all the design constraints written into the funding legislation. For instance, they require that it use a certain kind of fuel so that a company in somebody's district will be sure to get some pork out of the deal, that sort of thing.

The first manned flights of SpaceX's Falcon/Dragon craft can't come soon enough for me.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 3 years ago | (#36833790)

The fact that the Shuttle was still flying in 2011 isn't just a testament to its longevity. It's a sad reminder that, at least for now, human spaceflight is at the mercy of the schizophrenia that is the American political process.

American human space flight...

Re:"End of an era," indeed (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 3 years ago | (#36833878)

The fact that the Shuttle was still flying in 2011 isn't just a testament to its longevity. It's a sad reminder that, at least for now, human spaceflight is at the mercy of the schizophrenia that is the American political process.

American human space flight...

The International Space Station would *not* exist in any similar way if it were left to the Russians, the ESA, JAXA, etc. Humans are up there right now thanks to American demand. Sure, humans from other countries' space programs have gone there, but how many cosmonauts do you think there would be if it weren't for the desire to compete with the USA? Human spaceflight would be massively different (and almost nonexistent) if it weren't for American involvement. So yes, human spaceflight is by and large at the whim of the US budgeting and appropriations process.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 3 years ago | (#36834006)

The International Space Station would *not* exist in any similar way if it were left to the Russians

That's because the Russians know it's a dead end and a money pit. They already learned that with Mir long ago.

how many cosmonauts do you think there would be if it weren't for the desire to compete with the USA

Conversely, how many astronauts do you think there would be if it weren't for the desire to compete with the Soviets? Remember that NASA *began* as the U.S.'s response to Sputnik.

Human spaceflight would be massively different (and almost nonexistent) if it weren't for American involvement.

Human spaceflight would be massively different (and DEFINITELY nonexistent) if it weren't for Soviet involvement.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834078)

Have you ever heard of the Salyuts and Mir? The Soviets pretty much had space stations nailed-down long before Alpha Station / ISS was even a daydream.

No, Skylab doesn't count as a success.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 3 years ago | (#36834170)

No, the ISS wouldn't be the same, but you do realise that many of the core Russian ISS modules are pretty much unchanged from when they were designed for Mir 2?

I think you dramatically over hyped just how reliant the world is on the Americans for space flight - and thats a sign of arrogance.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833896)

because russia and china are choke full of spaceships?

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833816)

While I largely agree with what you're saying, we need to keep in mind that human spaceflight in many ways still falls into the category of "basic science/research", as opposed to "applied science/research". Unfortunately, the private market has never been particularly enthused about "basic research", where the returns on investment, which potentially could be astronomical, are less-clearly defined and much further out time-wise than they would like.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

elrous0 (869638) | about 3 years ago | (#36833906)

Your epitaph is about 40 years too late, my friend. The space shuttle was never about "the future of space exploration," any more than the Gemini/Apollo era was ever about anything other than the Cold War. The shuttle was about politically-connected contractors, jobs, and PR.

Far from promoting science and engineering, NASA has spent most of is existence focusing on political propaganda of one variety or another--to the point where even the basic science of the shuttle and its other programs have been laughably distorted in the popular mind. Most people think the shuttle can do everything from stopping meteors to flying to the moon, largely because NASA has spent so much effort obfuscating the fact that it can't even leave low earth orbit (and has so exaggerated its potential over the years). The "science" that the shuttle has conducted has been more of a reflection of NASA's desperate efforts to keep it relevant (and, hence, keep what little of their budget was left after the Apollo era). It's a similar story with the ISS--a floating lab which does very little real science but which very much gives NASA the ability to justify its yearly appropriations.

As for *actual* exploration, well it's largely a money pit. There are no other inhabitable bodies out there and no way to ever make them sustainable. That's a cold, hard fact. Humans are forever tethered to earth, for good or ill. Escapist fantasies of hopping in space ships to colonize other planets make for great science fiction. But in the real world, in the long term, we need to seriously focus on keeping the earth sustainable and survivable. Because it's all we have, now and forever.

And as for Mars, well, man may very well one day set foot on Mars. But I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money that when he does, he won't have a NASA patch on his environmental suit.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834474)

Wow, talk about being pessimistic. Do you really believe that in the billions of stars out there that none of them have a planet that has a oxygenated atmosphere and standing water? How special do you think we really are? If life was a one in a billion chance then there's going to be quite a few planets out there which have life as we know it.

As for exploration being a money pit, I say pffft. One small asteroid (metallic or otherwise) would be worth a massive fortune and would probably be worth enough to fund quite a few more trips to collect more. Orbital foundries could be used to refine and even forge the ores before shipment back to earth. Once we actually get over the crest of space travel to where we can zip about in our solar system (even if it takes months or years to get anywhere), we are going to have a crap-tonne of raw materials for our use.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (4, Insightful)

Bucc5062 (856482) | about 3 years ago | (#36834604)

But in the real world, in the long term, we need to seriously focus on keeping the earth sustainable and survivable. Because it's all we have, now and forever.

When I read comments like that I am reminded of many similar quotes by limited thinkers. Staying with the tech theme I'll go with "640K ought to be enough for anybody"...Right!

By now, as a species, I feel we need to realize that never and forever are not terms that apply to limitations of the human mind. What we can think, what we can imagine can become real. Thought, word, and deed lead to creation. The drag on human progress is not our lack of capability, but of commitment. In some cases it takes seeing beyond our lifetime to acheive the goal; that is lacking in today's leaders and populus and a drag on progress.

Unless we wipe ourselves out (war, natural disaster, pestulence) I know that humans will expand beyond this planet one day. Colony ships? Sustaining enclaves on other planets within our system? However the manner, we will do so because at the core of our being is the need to go past the next hill, the next mountain, beyond the horizon, outside our atmosphere, and more. Someone will choose to take that next step forward. This planet is now too small for our minds, but it is small minds that will chain us here for a long time.

Re:"End of an era," indeed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834458)

s/stupidest/most stupid/r
  (Know your superlative forms.)
 
--Your ignorant electorate

Re:"End of an era," indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834892)

I hate to tell you guy, but there hasn't been a viable candidate in the past 35 years or better with NASA and the space program's best interests in mind. The big party machine just isn't that interested and, until we break it or it breaks itself, it will be business as usual.
 
So yes, the guy on the street is a stooge when it comes to science and technology. So is the guy in the Whitehouse who keeps pulling NASA's strings so that he can look like some kind of pioneer and visionary. So is the guys who create and vote on the budget. So are most Slashdotters, to be honest. But even with all of this the problems at NASA are far reaching into the organization itself. There's a million things that could go wrong and most of them have. The entire system isn't geared towards real space exploration in a progressive fashion. Even those who should have space exploration as their singular goal are fumbling the ball.

NASA's Exorbitant Cost! (4, Insightful)

jabberwock (10206) | about 3 years ago | (#36833738)

... At roughly $60 per capita annually, I think the cost of the space program is justified by its entertainment value alone.

Return to Space? (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833754)

Geez kids, get a grip! We haven't 'left space'. We have active missions out there right now (Vesta? ring a bell?), and we'll continue to send people to the ISS on Russian ships. Within 10 years we'll likely have manned capability again, but humans in space return far less than the robotic missions.
 
We need better robotics to take the next step, which is picking a resource (like a large mostly-metal asteroid), bringing it into orbit and exploiting the shit out of it.
 
Equating the U.S. space program solely to dicks and tits in space is stupid, childish, and shortsighted. But then no one thinks of Americans as especially visionary these days.

Re:Return to Space? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 3 years ago | (#36833858)

Geez kids, get a grip! We haven't 'left space'.

Thank you.

Lots of people here spent the last 5 years bitching about how the shuttle was old and needed to be retired, now it's happened and everybody's making gloomy predictions about how we'll never leave the atmosphere again.

Re:Return to Space? (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 years ago | (#36834904)

Lots of people here spent the last 5 years bitching about how the shuttle was old and needed to be retired, now it's happened and everybody's making gloomy predictions about how we'll never leave the atmosphere again.

Those weren't the same groups of people. The Shuttle did need to be retired, and thank goodness it was. Constellation needed to be killed too, and it was. Having manned spaceflight being built by a central design bureau that doesn't care about costs is where the problem is right now.

The really sad thing is that the people who wanted to see the Shuttle program continue should have fought for that a couple of years ago, at least spoken up when the Michoud facility which built the booster tanks was being shut down, together with many other facilities that provided logistical support for the Shuttle program. With those facilities now in mothballs (IMHO they should simply be retooled for other purposes or demolished) and the labor force which built those parts now dispersed to the unemployed, other jobs, and retired, the ability to get all of that going again is nearly impossible and certainly wouldn't be supported by a Congress hell bent on cutting budget items. The Shuttle program likely could have gone on for another 5-10 years, but the decision to stop flying Shuttles was made quite some time ago.

Re:Return to Space? (1)

MMatessa (673870) | about 3 years ago | (#36834184)

How many active space exploration missions are there? One or two? Over a dozen. Studying Mercury, Mars, Saturn, Vesta, and on the way to Pluto.
Here's a map [planetary.org] of them all.

We haven't left (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833778)

here's hoping that we return to space soon.

Where exactly do you suppose that Ron Garan and Mike Fossum are right now? The space shuttle is not the entire manned space program. There have been Americans in space continuously for more than a decade, and there will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

First launch, last landing (1)

BahamaDave (79370) | about 3 years ago | (#36833786)

I was a student at FIT when the first shuttle launched and had the honor of watching the live launch from a small boat about a mile and a half from the launch pad. It was a memorable experience of raw power.

This morning I was woken by the sonic boom as the last shuttle was still supersonic on approach. Somehow fitting personal bookends to a wonderful program.

So Long Shuttle (1)

jaksongitr (945731) | about 3 years ago | (#36833818)

CmdrTaco, thank you for the coverage of the launch. I was there and following your, NASA and weather tweets all morning up until the launch. 'Tis quite a memorable experience indeed, I'm just glad they made it back safe and sound and off into history they go. Just wish America could get its act together so something this awesome doesn't have to end due to financial concerns.

... this means Russia ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833824)

... is the leader in space again!

The Russians won in the end (-1, Flamebait)

Builder (103701) | about 3 years ago | (#36833832)

They may have not got there first, but they can still go there while America can't. So they lost the sprint, but they won the endurance race.

Re:The Russians won in the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833922)

But didn't they get there (space) first? Don't the Russians hold all all of the early space "firsts"?

Re:The Russians won in the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833974)

FYI: Russians actually did get there first, just google "first man in space"

Re:The Russians won in the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834214)

FYI: Russians did get there first. Just google "first man in space".
P.S. Who the heck deleted my comment, I wonder?

Re:The Russians won in the end (2)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 3 years ago | (#36834252)

I have seen this comment so many times lately ... Anyone who was there in 1975 when the last Apollo-Saturn launched could have said the same thing. From 1975 to 1981, between Apollo and the Shuttle, we went into a period where the US had no operational manned space capability and I don't recall near the wailing then about how the US had given up on manned space flight. Now we are probably looking at a similar time period until the US again regains the ability to provide its own manned launch capability. In many ways the 1975-81 period was grimmer than it is now. We still have Americans in space on the ISS, we still have a robust (American and international) unmanned program, we have promising private ventures to provide space launch services -- none of which we had in the late 70's, and we had similar talk then about how in general "America was in decline". The emblematic event of the late 70's in space exploration was Skylab falling uncontrolled out of orbit because was the Shuttle was so late becoming operational. We came through that time OK, though it took a while. The Shuttle != US space exploration, not even close; it's time to move on.

Re:The Russians won in the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834518)

Just testing Anonymous Coward commenting. Sorry for spamming. Feel free to mod down.

Re:The Russians won in the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834780)

What are you talking about? The russians were the first to put an artificial satellite in orbit (Sputnik), and were the first to put a man in space (Yuri Gagarin). So, by all acounts, they "got there first".

Get your facts straight.

Thanks (5, Insightful)

cbcanb (237883) | about 3 years ago | (#36833844)

Atlantis flew a magnificent mission, capping a great career. She, and her sisters, have been great ships and deserve to retire with honour.

Yeah, they were expensive. Yeah, people think robots are cooler. Yeah, they couldn't go to the moon or Mars. And yeah, in hindsight hanging a somewhat fragile spaceship on the side of a booster probably wasn't the best idea.

But Atlantis and her sisters' record of achievement is magnificent, and will probably never be matched. They launched space probes, they conducted research into materials, life sciences, earth sciences, astronomy, and countless other fields. They serviced satellites and space stations, and brought tonnes of equipment back to earth for study and reflight. They provided a convenient platform for experiments and payloads that would otherwise have had to construct their own complete satellites. They did all this 133 times successfully, with only two losses, and in the space business you'd take that success rate any day of the week.

lament from a British lefty (2)

tverbeek (457094) | about 3 years ago | (#36833852)

Although written years earlier, Billy Bragg's "The Space Race is Over" [youtube.com] seems appropriate.

Space is too expensive to be a national endeavour (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833854)

So stop exploiting science for nationalistic ends.
Does America need a launch capability, if there exists one elsewhere on the world?
Though I guess working united toward a goal is communism. And that just wouldn't be right.

Re:Space is too expensive to be a national endeavo (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 3 years ago | (#36834042)

But Mr. President, we must not allow a space gap!

Re:Space is too expensive to be a national endeavo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834352)

So stop exploiting science for nationalistic ends.

No

Does America need a launch capability, if there exists one elsewhere on the world?

Yes.

Though I guess working united toward a goal is communism. And that just wouldn't be right.

You must be a left-winger. That simplistic view of communism is so wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to start, but if that's really what communism was then it would have worked out way better than it has so far.

Great (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 3 years ago | (#36833866)

Those engineers can now work at Google to make office software. Sigh.

Good (2)

blahbooboo (839709) | about 3 years ago | (#36833872)

Look, it WAS a great achievement. But like most things in the USA, for the last 30-40 years we never move on to something better. I believe with the space shuttle still flying we would never get a new program moving. The shuttle a great technical achievement, but an inherently flawed design for efficiency and frankly BORING at low earth orbit capability. Furthermore, at 0.5 BILLION per launch, it was just a waste of money repeating the same thing (essentially) again and again and again. We could launch two vehicles -- one for humans and one for the cargo for far less than this single shuttle bus.

Now lets see if we can get more practical MODERN vehicles moving forward now that this 1960/1970 vehicle is finally put out to pasture where it belonged 15 years ago.

Re:Good (2)

daid303 (843777) | about 3 years ago | (#36834164)

I hope so. I hear very little to nothing about any replacement.

I'm European, and the USA spaceflight is one of those things that I used to look up to in my young years. I used to build little paper space-shuttles. And without a replacement there this dream is dead.

sad news... US manned space, dead at 50 (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#36833900)

I just heard the sad news on the radio, the United States manned space program was found dead on it's runway in Cape Canaveral this morning. Foul play is suspected.
I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss it -- even if they didn't enjoy it's work, there's no denying it's contributions to the advancement the distribution of federal pork. Truly an American icon.

NASA employees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36833904)

> Thanks go out to the thousands of NASA employees who made this happen

Very few NASA employees were involved with "making" Shuttle flights happen. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Thiokol engineers were.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead! (1)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | about 3 years ago | (#36833956)

And since nobody died, we can celebrate!

Emperor! (1)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | about 3 years ago | (#36834134)

Emperor, our golden age as ended. (Click to end turn)

End of U.S manned space flight capability(?) (3, Interesting)

MrKaos (858439) | about 3 years ago | (#36834162)

This is a sad day because I see no realistic plans to replace the shuttle's capability of putting a human in space, even if it's only LEO. It looks like pretty much everything to replace it has been canceled.

N.A.S.A, another victim of the Iraq war. Such a pity to witness it's demise.

About time! (0)

Wildmuffin (2395384) | about 3 years ago | (#36834226)

Considering the US is up to (and above) their neck in debt, shutting down their space program is the only sensible thing to do. Time to face the music. You are broke and living on borrowed money. Sincerly, A concerned european

Re:About time! (1)

HellYeahAutomaton (815542) | about 3 years ago | (#36834346)

NASA has been budgeted from 1958 to 2008 amounts to $471.23 billion dollars—an average of $9.06 billion per year. "Medicare & Medicaid ($793B or 23%), Social Security ($701B or 20%), Defense Department ($689B or 20%), non-defense discretionary ($660B or 19%), other ($416B or 12%) and interest ($197B or 6%)."
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget")

The $18.69B spent by NASA in 2010 is a far cry from the $1.5 trillion in social programs we are wasting money on.
Please keep your misguided mathematics to yourself. NASA isn't what is making America broke.

The impact NASA has is like a stick of gum in a grocery bag full of caviar, lobster tails and prime rib.

howzabout looking at this rationally for once?!!! (4, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#36834554)

wrong! [wikipedia.org]

We need to fix our budget starting by reducing spending on the biggest parts of the budget first:
1. medicaid & medicare, 23%- get rid of the inefficiencies of a for-profit insurance and medical system. (I admit, this requires further study on my part),
2. social security, 20% - adjust the eligibility age to properly reflect changing demographics. Make it so it automatically adjusts in the future. It's supposed to be a safety net to avoid poverty in old age, quit selling it as part of your retirement planning.
3. military spending, 20% - try being a good neighbor instead of a raging drunken dickhead. Maybe promote Democracy, transparency and accountability instead of propping up the tin-horn dictator de jure just because he hates the guys we hate and can keep the oil flowing. Like NASA, spend the money on what we actually need, don't use this budget as a means to dispense pork.
4. discretionary spending, 19% - once we get those first three bigger portions straightened out, then we can start looking at the piddling little stuff. With NASA getting like 0.6% of the budget, there's a lot of other things that should be looked at first.

Anybody that doesn't tackle those items first is just pandering and re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
Fix it before it corrects itself.

no, I am not available to run for office. I will however consider calls for me to be made dictator.

Re:howzabout looking at this rationally for once?! (2)

dainbug (678555) | about 3 years ago | (#36834640)

>2. social security, 20% WRONG. Social Security is Debt neutral. Or should be. The "Fiscal Conservatives" keep robbing it to hide their irresponsible spending habits. It certainly does need a tweak or two, but it is not part of the federal debt. (its just owed a lot of money by Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, Bush(43), and Obama.
Oh where is Al Gore and his lockbox when we need him?

Re:howzabout looking at this rationally for once?! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#36834894)

Good points, thanks.

Part of being debt neutral is not paying out more than you have coming in. Hence, adjusting the eligibility age to properly reflect demographic changes.
And yes, SS, originally, in theory, was supposed to be a separate item from the budget as a whole. But as you've pointed out, in reality, everybody's had their hand in that cookie jar to temporarily cover up their budget problems in other areas.

Re:howzabout looking at this rationally for once?! (0)

Rotten168 (104565) | about 3 years ago | (#36834818)

How about NASA use their climate change funding (which Obama prioritized in 2010) towards, you know, space exploration?

Shuttle was a job program -- Burt Rutan (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 3 years ago | (#36834274)

and he was right. Just one shuttle launch needed how many thousands of people and billions of dollars? And for the price of 1 shuttle mission, how many Falcon launchers can you buy?

But then that was irrelevant, since the primary purpose of the program was to generate jobs and keep the esteemed senator from Utah happy.

21 July 1969 - Man Walks on Moon (1)

joelsherrill (132624) | about 3 years ago | (#36834312)

21 July 2011 - NASA ends manned space flight program. And that's your talking point... There are so many sarcastic things to say about this and so little time.

Re:21 July 1969 - Man Walks on Moon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834902)

Like how the year difference is 42? It's all starting to make sense now!

Next NASA Mission! (1)

dainbug (678555) | about 3 years ago | (#36834582)

Televised Robot Rover Battles on Mars. Their scientific missions complete, their batteries running low....Fight Fight Fight!

No! Wait! NASA Mars Rover NASCAR! I'd only watch it to see the crashes! On MARS!

Now that is what the US tax payers want! Top notch science entertainment.

America's next top model-In-low-earth-orbit. Americas got talent-in-the-vomit-comet. This stuff writes itself.

NASA history backwards (5, Funny)

Kohath (38547) | about 3 years ago | (#36834598)

Someone else said it originally, but if you play NASA's history backwards, they start out with no manned space flight capability, develop shuttles, and eventually land on the moon.

Climate change funding (0)

Rotten168 (104565) | about 3 years ago | (#36834654)

We had to stop the program so NASA could increase our climate change research. I'm so glad we have our priorities in order!

Next Mission (1)

dainbug (678555) | about 3 years ago | (#36834714)

Given the realities of our insane political systems. (Lets all change our reality instead of living in this crappy one please)

But.. given: The only mission that seems viable is sending probes, rovers, satellites to every heavenly body we can see. All the planets, all the moons, all the stars that we can reach.
Space telescopes

I need new computer wallpaper from my big new monitor.

Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36834888)

Small side note about the Canadian robotic arm: it was developed just so we could give the finger, from space, to any other country.

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