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Inside a Last-Ditch Effort To Save the Space Shuttle

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the can't-always-get-what-you-want dept.

NASA 134

SkinnyGuy writes "NASA's Space Shuttle could have flown again as early as 2014 if a secret effort to repurpose them for commercial flight had succeeded. From the article: 'Though secret, the plan quickly gained support and Dittmar described how funding and interest grew dramatically. "Initially skeptical," she wrote, "people became caught up in the vision of a Commercial Space Shuttle funded entirely by private and institutional investors and put back into service to shape new markets." ...In the end, two crucial factors made it all but impossible to revive the shuttle program as a commercial enterprise or in any fashion. One was that so much of the Shuttle infrastructure has already been shifted to other efforts that the revival team could never pull together sufficient funds to return those resources to the Space Shuttles. Two: The SLS program.'"

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Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426526)

the revival team could never pull together sufficient funds

Really, you mean some eccentric English millionaire couldn't find ready funding for the mere $600-million-per-launch costs of the shuttle, along with a few billion to build the private infrastructure to put it up? Why you could have put satellites up for only 20x more than a rocket could do it. Or maybe you could have sent passengers up for only 100x what a ticket on Virgin Galactic would cost.

Where do I send my money to invest?

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (4, Funny)

John Bresnahan (638668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426544)

I'll bet Hugo Drax [wikipedia.org] could!

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426612)

Drax was so good he found a way to take the Shuttles to the moon. Pretty impressive for a vehicle that couldn't leave LEO.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (2)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427050)

He didn't take them to the moon. He took them to a gigantic space station in LEO.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427572)

He didn't take them to the moon

Homer Hickam (of Rocket Boys / October Sky fame) wrote a now somewhat-dated yet still fun novel about a trip to the moon via the orbiter:

http://www.amazon.com/Back-Moon-Novel-Homer-Hickam/dp/0385334222 [amazon.com]

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427720)

I've read it. It's a fun read, if an obvious "Mary Sue" type story.

Of course, Hickam had two guys swap out the SSMEs ... mid flight. A bit unrealistic, if you ask me.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430238)

So I'm trying to remember - In the book do they actually land on the moon? What do they use as a landing craft? Do they walk on the moon...? Read the book a looong time ago...

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430340)

One guy lands, using some custom balloon type thing. Unfortunately, it gets wrecked upon landing, and they jury-rig the Apollo 17 descent stage to get back to lunar orbit.

He walks around, and uses the Rover from 17 to go to the crater where the He3 firebeads were found.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430470)

That's right! Thanks for the refresher... Now I remember.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426924)

I'll bet Hugo Drax [wikipedia.org] could!

I don't recall his foray into space turning out so well.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (3)

Jackdaw Rookery (696327) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426700)

The idea seemed doomed from the start, based more out of nostagia than actual practicality.

You'd one one of the team would have said 'Hey guys, when you think about it, this just doesn't add up!'

(Insert Imperial or Metric gag here)

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427196)

"based more out of nostagia than actual practicality."

Space Nuttery in a nutshell.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427522)

The idea seemed doomed from the start, based more out of nostagia than actual practicality.

You'd one one of the team would have said 'Hey guys, when you think about it, this just doesn't add up!'

Not to overlook how the surviving shuttles have all been promised out to various cities. The competition was very keen with Cape Canaveral retaining one, while Los Angeles and Smithsonian in northern Virginia have the others.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426858)

Yup. Shuttle sucks at satellites.
Though to be fair a Virgin Galactic ticket while much less expensive gets you a lot less as well.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430072)

Still, While Virgin Galactic won't get you very far, a SpaceX Dragon capsule can get you to LEO and quite possibly to Mars or the Moon as well (given some extra supplies and a secondary booster). If you dig up the costs that SpaceX claims, you can do a circumlunar trip (aka recreating Apollo 8) for about $50-$100 million per seat. Even at that huge price, it is still cheaper than most estimates given for the Space Shuttle.

So which route gets you to more exotic destinations again?

BTW, ditto for the Soyuz spacecraft, and RKK Energia is already building the modifications for destinations beyond LEO, and can get you to LEO with their proven designs.

Even there, that isn't the only game in town. Paul Allen just announced a new spacecraft design that could even get you up to LEO for a comparatively cheap price.... something I've done "back of the envelope" prices of about $10-$20 million per seat. Boeing is also producing a spacecraft (CST-100) that can be launched on an Atlas V or Delta IV. So why would you spend 10x that price to go up on the Shuttle again?

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (4, Interesting)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427284)

The shuttle was brilliant in it's moment but is now horribly dated. With all of the tech advances that have occured in the last 30 years, it's really time to retire the thing. There should have been a Shuttle 2.0 to replace it but we all know the politics of the situation.

Instead of keeping this particular zombie alive, they should go back to the drawing board and perhaps draw inspiration from some of the other Shuttle designs that didn't make it.

Although separating the cargo from the people is probably a good alternate approach to start considering. The whole bloody thing probably doesn't need to be engineered to the level where it becomes acceptable for manned use.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (4, Informative)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428008)

The shuttle was brilliant in it's moment

Not even that really. The Shuttle was a compromise between two programs: one for a cheap reusable launcher, and one for a craft that could be launched in one orbit, cross track itself over the soviet union and then back again to land. Dumping this cross-track requirement onto the shuttle crippled the program to achieving the original launcher goals, and the damn thing never did go sneaking over the USSR anyway!
Thing sort of went thus: The shuttle design was meant to launch a lot, and thus amortise the up-front costs over many launches to launch cheap. The Air Force wanted to get in on this cheap launcher, but needed it to do some Other Stuff. The up-front costs rose. The increased cost meant fewer launches, and the design changes meant fewer launches. The cost per launch rose dramatically.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (2)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428368)

The military demand for satellite recovery also added a lot to the cost, as I understand it. The shuttle was designed back in the era when they still used film cans in spy satellites, which meant they periodically needed to either restock them or replace them. As a result, the shuttle got a huge payload bay that was only used for an actual satellite recovery four times in the entire history of the shuttle program (five satellites, but Westar-6 and Palapa-B2 were a twofer).

I'm sure it was nice to have the option for some of those Hubble missions in case they weren't able to fix it in orbit, but that's an awful lot of complexity for something that they last did back in 1996. And AFAIK, it was never done for the military. Not once.

Re:Seems like an obvious money-maker to me (4, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429196)

What amazes me is how many here think wonderfully of the shuttle when it was a massive failure by every conceivable metric. Watch the videos of Nixon talking about it, the plan was for a heavy lifter "space truck" that could take care of ALL the military's needs AND the civilian sector AND have a fast enough turn around that it would lower the cost per pound into space.

Did it fulfill the military's needs? Nope it couldn't carry enough and cost too much so they stuck with the Delta. Did it fulfill the civilian need? Not really as the Soyuz could do it much cheaper. what about lowering the cost per pound? BWA HA HA HA HA HA not even close on that one.

And that is of course before looking at the clusterfuck that was building the thing as every senator Porkus and congressman Kickbackus had to get a little chunk of the work to 'bring home teh bacon!" so it was spread all over hell and MUCH more expensive than it needed to be.

At this point frankly i think we should toss not only the shuttle but the money pit that is the F35 and just ask the Russians how much they will sell us some SU27s along with MiG31s and have them throw in some Soyuz rockets while they are at it. i bet the total would be less for the whole smash than just the shuttle by itself cost.

Good (4, Insightful)

arcite (661011) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426548)

Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.

Re:Good (3, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426594)

Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.

Except that we're not.
Space just isn't in the budget.

Re:Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38426796)

Except that we're not.
Space just isn't in the budget.

Well, more of the Shuttle wouldn't help that any.

Re:Good (5, Insightful)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428312)

Except we are. SpaceX is doing some wonderful work, bringing launch costs down by significant percentages and they are funding themselves with a mix of private and government launches so they aren't completely at the mercy of Congress and the POTUS which NASA's launchers are. They are also keenly focused on manned missions to Mars eventually which is the one manned mission that would be really exciting.

Excellent article on the cool stuff they are doing here [airspacemag.com] .

I recall a recent story that NASA was so taken back by how low SpaceX's R&D costs were for a new launcher compared to NASA's, NASA sent in a team to study their economics. I think one key point was SpaceX does a lot of their work in house instead of contracting parts out to companies that gouge. There is a mention of this in the article linked above. SpaceX asked an outside company for a quote on a part, it was astronomical, so they built it in house instead for a fraction of the price, and when the salesmen called back they rubbed his nose in it.

P.S.

Anyone who thought they could fly the Shuttle as a commercial program and come anywhere close to break even was purely delusional. The Shuttle program was an extravagent jobs program masquerading as a space program at least as far back the Challenger accident which completely crippled everything it was supposed to do.

Pork Transportation System (2)

DragonHawk (21256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429012)

I think one key point was SpaceX does a lot of their work in house instead of contracting parts out to companies that gouge.

That's because the shuttle program's primary purpose isn't to get to space, it's to distribute congressional pork. It's a welfare program for aerospace companies, and a way to reward campaign contributors. The shuttle was carefully engineered to spread the work across as many different congressional districts as possible. That's not what NASA was originally designing for, of course, but Congress was the one paying for it. The customer's always right.

And in case anyone thinks I'm some kind of "national military-industrial complex" whiner: I *work* for an aerospace/defense subcontractor. That doesn't mean I like how this stuff gets funded.

Re:Pork Transportation System (1)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429964)

Same can be said for Ares/Constellation aka Porklauncher and its undead spawn the Space (aka Senate) Launch System.

At least the J2-X engine development has been proceeding. It's a good solid design that has potential uses. So-so thrust/weight ratio but good Isp

Re:Good (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430190)

There were more than a few sub-contractors that were doing some parts for SpaceX that Elon Musk simply offered instead to buy the whole company rather than have the option for some other company to bump them down in priority. While not all of the suppliers have taken the bait, quite a few of them have.

The other issue is that SpaceX, by having most of the production including the critical production (both quality and time-dependent parts) in-house, they are also able to control the reliability of the whole system as well. This isn't being done because some companies are "gouging", but rather to make sure they can get the parts when they need them. That by bringing it in house they are also getting cheaper parts which are of higher quality is just a side benefit that also lowers their production costs and can ensure a consistent Q/A standard throughout the whole process.

One other thing that SpaceX is working on as well is to see that the employees on the production line get to practice their skills. Tasks which you only perform every couple of years are likely to be rusty or perhaps you even repeat mistakes made in the past for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which is because it is often a whole new team doing those tasks as the "old guys" have moved on to other things. Instead, the production tempo that SpaceX is working for is to reduce that cycle time for most employees to less than a month (preferably about two weeks) to be repeating some given task in the production line. That gives them the opportunity to refine the production techniques and offer legitimate suggestions for improving the process by guys bending metal and making the essential parts of the rocket.

For instance, the Merlin engines are expected to have a production queue that to meet the upcoming launch manifest is going to need a new rocket engine every week, on average. Most other rocketry companies have never had a production rate that high except when the ICBMs were being built at the height of the Cold War.

Re:Good (1)

RocketRabbit (830691) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428862)

The budget's there, it's just that NASA is involved in a million and one things that have nothing to do with space exploration and travel these days.

If NASA stops doing atmosphere science (the NOAA does that) and biology (NSF grants to universities do that) and etc they will find they have the money to actually put people into space again.

The problem is that in order to attempt to expand their budget infinitely, their purview has also expanded beyond any reason.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38426624)

But, but, I have this plan to save the DeLorean [slashdot.org] ! It's going to be electric. And I just a little bit more money. And customers.

Re:Good (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426666)

All I need to get her off the ground is a million dollars...and a factory...and some food...and a place to crash for a while.

Re:Good (4, Insightful)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426868)

I really can't stand this *cost effective* bs. People keep coming out and saying how expensive the shuttle was, and how much of a waste of money it was. In reality it was actually very cheap in comparison to other things we spend money on. Source: XKCD [xkcd.com]

Shuttle
Total: $194 billion
Per Launch: $1.43 billion
Per Year: $6.46 billion

Apollo Program
Total: $192 billion
Per Launch: $11.94 billion
Per Year: $17.45 billion

Federal Fraud
Per Year: $125.4 billion

Iraq War
Per Year: $98 billion

Ballistic Missile Submarines Per Year: $12 billion

Federal Interest on Debt
Per Year: $198 billion

US foreign military aid
Per Year: $11.5 billion

So yes, it was expensive. But we spend money like it's going out of style (heck, the 2009 stimulus was 115 times the annual cost of the program. It was even 4 times the total cost of the program)!!!

So sure, let it die with nothing to replace it. Because nothing ever came from it [nasa.gov] ...

Re:Good (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426960)

I really can't stand this *cost effective* bs. People keep coming out and saying how expensive the shuttle was, and how much of a waste of money it was. In reality it was actually very cheap in comparison to other things we spend money on.

And it was very expensive compared to alternative methods of getting things into space. Falcon 9 Heavy should be able to put more payload into space for a tenth of the price.

Re:Good (0)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427158)

More payload, sure. But smaller cargo dimensions (the shuttle was 4.6m x 18m vs 4.6m x 11.4m). But lower orbit capabilities (200km vs 960km for the shuttle). But without the ability to bring back cargo (the shuttle could retrieve payload from space for return to Earth). But with lest liftoff thrust (17MN vs 30MN).

You don't get something for nothing. I'm not saying it shouldn't be replaced. But this *it's so expesnive, it must die* bs is nothing more than rhetoric. But as of yet, the only alternative to it (the Falcon Heavy) still has not flown. And it also has no human capabilities as of yet (it's designed to be human rated, but there's no crew module, which would take quite a while to design and build). So kill it, it must die! But we won't have something to take the place of it anytime soon...

Re:Good (3, Interesting)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427484)

No crew module?

You're aware of the Dragon capsule?

http://www.spacex.com/updates.php [spacex.com]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_(spacecraft) [wikipedia.org]

Yes, they're still testing it because they have to, but I am certain there are some folks out there that thought we'd be able to use Soyuz missions for crew rotation for a while until a replacement for the shuttle's capabilities is found.

Soyuz can handle crew rotations, Progress can handle food and cargo missions. With the long history of the Soyuz and Progress programs, no one likely factored in their thinking that an undiscovered problem would ground the program for weeks/months.

Eventually SpaceX will have crew and cargo capabilities and other launch alliance partners might have viable vehicles as well.

This is no bigger a setback to manned space than the Challenger or Columbia. Since many of the major ISS compunents are in orbit, I would say it is a much better time to have a gap in spaceflight capabilities.

Re:Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427832)

None of that matters, because the Falcon Heavy is PRIVATE ENTERPRISE and we all know that PRIVATE ENTERPRISE is inherently superior to anything that anything non-private could possibly come up with. Except that most of the basic research that went into building private space vehicles was paid for and given away by the US government. The free market freakazoids love to leave that part out of just about anything they say concerning the subject. They like to act like nothing anybody ever does in government is ever any good. Well, to a point, they're right.

The problem is that most of them don't know what they're right about. Take the Space Shuttle. Early designs were cheap enough, safer than what was built because of the lack of solid fuel rockets, and built to have quick turnaround. Engineers who knew what they were doing came up with these things. Then the President (Nixon) and his OMB, plus Congress, got involved. This whole space program thing was so 1960s and they had wars to worry about and money to funnel to defense contractors and such. Then the Air Force got involved. They gave enough money to finish the Shuttle program, but only if they made it bigger and able to lift and return their spy satellites. Well, a whole bunch of stuff went out the window with that one--quick turnaround, boosting the orbiter with it's own engines alone, etc--and we got a big spacecraft that had amazing capabilities but which was kind of pushing it for the engineering knowledge and experience of the time.

Then Challenger happened, and the Air Force all of the sudden didn't want the shuttle any more. Problem was, it was already built, mostly to their specifications, and now NASA could either use it or lose it because Congress was still funneling money to defense contractors and other stuff which was much more important. They did manage to authorize the building of Endeavour, which was only possible because of some stuff that had already been built, but what they should've done was started work on a replacement for the shuttle. NASA, meanwhile, continued to do some spectacular things with what they have and continued to get approximately zero credit for any of it in the popular press because the corporate media has to keep up the drumbeat that government can't do anything right.

So many years go by and we still didn't do the smart thing. Somebody decided to build new vehicles based on stuff we already had, but ideas like that never get very far because brand new privatized stuff is "better", so we effectively have no manned space program in the US right now, we have an uneducated and unimaginative public that over-estimates the percentage of the federal government NASA consumes by a factor of 10 and sometimes 100, and little hope of fixing the problem of nobody actually going and telling the engineers "We want to do X, go design something that will do that" and then leaving them the hell alone, the lack of which is what caused the shuttle to be so expensive and flaky in the first place.

BTW, if anybody thinks private companies are run any better--well, just like government stuff, some are, some aren't, and the ones that aren't--I'm glad most of them don't deal in space travel.

Re:Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38428274)

lower orbit capabilities? The next launch of the Falcon 9 is to the ISS, which is currently 350km up. And they say it could be used to put a payload on mars. That is equal to and higher orbit capabilities, respectively. Also, the dragon module has soft landing, so it can and will be used to bring payload and eventually persons back to earth. Liftoff thrust is irrelevant, payload delivery capability is more important. The only thing the shuttle had on it was cargo dimensions (assuming your numbers are correct).

Re:Good (2)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427208)

Yes but it can't retrieve that payload.

The thing about the shuttle that was never used all that often was the fact that you could do something like retrieve large satellite return them to earth for repairs and re launch them.

In the end it was cheaper to just build new and waste resources.

what we really need is a decent SSTO setup. that will save money.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38428180)

In the end it was cheaper to just build new and waste resources.

I don't think you have thought that one through.

Re:Good (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428266)

Except that it's cheaper to launch a new satellite, with advanced technology, then it would be to retrieve and relaunch. The Hubble may be an exception, but recall that it wasn't returned to Earth, but repaired (at great expense and risk) in space.

The expensive parts of a satellite are launching them and where you park them, not the electronics.

Re:Good (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427254)

And it was very expensive compared to alternative methods of getting things into space. Falcon 9 Heavy should be able to put more payload into space for a tenth of the price.

In a universe where just throwing raw loads of mass into orbit as cheaply as possible is the goal of the space program... that would be useful. But that's not the goal, and never has been.
 
A subcompact is cheaper than an RV or a tow truck, but nobody would ever confuse the two or send the former to do either of the latter's job. Yet, when it comes to space, such delusion is common, nay - expected.

Re:Good (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428332)

In a universe where just throwing raw loads of mass into orbit as cheaply as possible is the goal of the space program... that would be useful. But that's not the goal, and never has been.

So what exactly is the goal if it's not to put lots of stuff into space cheap?

If you put stuff in space cheap, then you can do pretty much anything else you want to do up there. I have a hard time imagining a world where we'll be better off if we pay ten times as much to put the same stuff into orbit.

Re:Good (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429746)

So what exactly is the goal if it's not to put lots of stuff into space cheap?

To put a tiny amount of very expensive, very important and very fragile stuff into orbit as gently and safely as possible, regardless of cost?

Re:Good (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430206)

the point is to be as expensive as possible and provide jobs for PHDs and Engineers so they don't leave the country.

Re:Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427088)

Except the Apollo Project actually reached the moon, the Shuttle was well short of that.

How about comparing a shuttle to a solid fuel rocket for putting up a satellite?

Re:Good (2)

Intron (870560) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427358)

Of existing launch vehicles, I think India's PSLV is cheapest for putting a medium sized payload into orbit with good success (18/20). Wikipedia says around $17M per launch.

Re:Good (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429692)

This "Federal Fraud" program for launching commercial payloads into LEO seems legit. Tell me more!

The Ballistic Missile Submarines look cheaper though. How much do they charge per launch?

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38426944)

Somethings are best left to die. The world is moving on with other, more cost effective promising technology.

Not to mention must NEWER and SAFER post 80s and 90s tech, that hasn't already been used over and over and over and over.

Re:Good - the Shuttle was a deathtrap. (1)

saccade.com (771661) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428766)

Indeed. Remember the sick joke about NASA standing for "Need Another Seven Astronauts"? The shuttle has a terrible safety record, and a lot of the problems are fundamental to the design. Best to let it go.

Three (3, Insightful)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426562)

3. It's incredibly expensive, and no private entity is going to fund it at half a billion dollars per launch.

Re:Three (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426690)

Not only is the cost prohibitive but restarting Shuttle Operations would require, in essence, taking virtually all the support personnel (the thousands of them), hire them off of whatever they are doing now and re organize them back in the Shuttle team. The system is incredibly complicated and relied on a truly enormous ground team to manage it. That's what I don't get about Dittmar - she was the lead for that group. Unless she felt she really could hire everybody or come up with a smaller, more 'efficient' group, it was never going to fly.

It isn't just the hardware. The wetware is probably more important.

Same reason we couldn't restart the Saturn V - by the time you rebuild the engineering team, you might as well start with a new design.

I think you're wrong, at least partially. (4, Insightful)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427622)

In watching the MIT Opencourseware series on engineering the shuttle it was pretty flatly stated that the engineers that worked on the shuttle did the same jobs on the shuttle program that they did on the Apollo program.

So in at least that aspect the team wasn't broken up.

They could have built a big rocket instead of a side-saddle launch vehicle, it had a lot to do with politics (Nixon and the Vietnam war) and who was head of NASA at the time.

Promises were made on the reuseable launch side and how many launches a year we'd get out of the system bringing the lifecycle cost way down.

If you really were going to get the band back together, do a new vehicle a top mounted shuttle alike with self-diagnostic engines and a vehicle that doesn't need to be rebuilt every launch. Many comments were made in the MIT lectures about what they'd do if they redesigned the shuttle with AutoCAD instead of on drafting tables.

A shuttle continuation program now would have higher upfront capital costs because lots of the program facilities were dismantled. This would not be for much more than nostalgia's sake and would be proof man can't learn from his mistakes.

Re:Three (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427298)

If the Shuttle cost a half a billion per launch, you'd have a point. But the truth is, in cash out of pocket, the shuttle costs less than a hundred million per launch. The balance is either the amortized share of fixed costs, or the amortized share of sunk costs like construction and R&D.
 
Just as with so much else with high overhead, the solution to the Shuttle's 'cost' problems shouldn't have been to stop flying it - it should have been to fly it more.

Re:Three (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428306)

If the Shuttle cost a half a billion per launch, you'd have a point. But the truth is, in cash out of pocket, the shuttle costs less than a hundred million per launch.

That'll be why NASA's shuttle budget was only $500,000,000 a year.

umm no (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38426580)

he's dead, Jim

The Shuttle Program is already headed... (1)

rodney dill (631059) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426604)

To Oblivion... and beyond...

Re:The Shuttle Program is already headed... (2)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426632)

I used to go to Oblivion, then I took this arro...oh fuck it.

Three: (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426630)

I'd expect a major reason commercial repurposing of the Space Shuttle fleet would fail would be a lack of need (the true seed of demand) for a commercial space program. Space programs in general are so expensive and have little practical value, which is why they are funded by governments in the interests of discovery. You can't really market something that no one would ever be able to afford, even if the demand was there... which I find hard to believe was ever there in the first place.

She's coming back! (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426658)

The STS is NOT the best vehicle to use for a private space venture, check out the consumables and maintenance schedule (or guess from the component list). It'll sump all your dough. It would be MUCH smarter to make a liquid fuel space plane / space car from scratch. Make sure that you learn the orbital mechanics side and safety critical systems side or you will break.

3. investors would make it too efficient (3, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426720)

if this were turned over to private industry they would centralize the entire project in one or two locations and piss off a lot of congress people who currently have a piece of the pie.

no nonsense of putting parts together in different locations and transporting them around the country

Re:3. investors would make it too efficient (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427322)

if this were turned over to private industry they would centralize the entire project in one or two locations and piss off a lot of congress people who currently have a piece of the pie.

In some universe where this was trivially done and wouldn't require years of construction and tens of billions of dollars in investment - this would be a sensible statement. But, as with so many comments on the Shuttle, you're wildly disconnected with reality.

Hmmmmm.... (4, Interesting)

kakapo (88299) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426830)

This is tripping my BS detector. Googling for "Kevin Holleran" site:uk returns next to nothing about this "millionaire" other than that someone of that name was the director of a half dozen companies, not of which look particularly spacey. Can you really get to be a Shuttle-investing millionaire and leave no google trail at all?

Dumb design (4, Insightful)

ilo.v (1445373) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426832)

It was a dumb design from the beginning.

1) You don't haul cargo in the same vehicle as humans. Cargo doesn't need the super-expensive "last 1%" reliability that a human crew demands.

2) You don't put the vehicle next to the rocket. You put it on top, where ice can't hit it, and exploding booster rockets are survivable. The astronauts on the Challenger, as least some of them, survived the explosion and died on impact with the water. A small crew capsule perched on the top, with a parachute system, might, just might, have survived.

3) You don't need humans up there at all. The future, for a generation or two at least, is unmanned exploration of the solar system. Look at where virtually all the meaningful scientific knowledge has come from in the last 20 - 40 - 60 years: unmanned probes.

Re:Dumb design (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38426932)

Err, Challenger did not explode. The booster ripped off the fuel tank (because it war burning through an O-ring, and there was lots of lateral trust from the rupture). After the booster ripped off, the vehicle turned sideways and aerodynamic forces caused it to disintegrate. The "plume of vapour" was actually liquid oxygen and hydrogen from the fuel tank, that also disintegrated. And no, it not even catch on fire.

People onboard lost conciseness due to lack of oxygen. But you did get it right that they died when they hit the water.

Re:Dumb design (1)

tunapez (1161697) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428326)

People onboard lost conciseness due to lack of oxygen. But you did get it right that they died when they hit the water.

Perhaps they briefly regained conciseness to summarily endure an epigrammatic plunge to the terse seas below...

Re:Dumb design (4, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427316)

Everything you've said is completely correct. But I'd like to point out an additional, often underappreciated problem with the shuttle. The US military insisted that the shuttle be able to take off from a variety of other locations including Vandenberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandenberg_AFB_Space_Launch_Complex_6 [wikipedia.org] . They wanted it to be able to launch into a near polar orbit, send out a satellite and land all in a single orbit of the Earth. This was so that if things ever got hot with the USSR we could launch additional spy satellites faster than the Soviets could shoot them down. This article http://www.space.com/1438-chapter-opens-space-shuttle-born-compromise.html [space.com] discusses this in detail. There are also other requirements that the military had but it seems that the details remain classified. So we should add to the list:

4) You don't use a single vehicle that you try to design to do every possible orbit on the off chance that it might be useful.

Re:Dumb design (1)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429440)

"with the USSR we could launch additional spy satellites faster than the Soviets could shoot them down"

If we were to reach a point the USSR was shooting down U.S. spy satellites the chances are we would be spiraling in to a total war and SLC6 would have been a staggeringly easy target to destroy, with a missile from a submarine for example.

It would also be completely impossible for you to launch a Shuttle and its satellite payload faster than the USSR could launch relatively simple and inexpensive anti satellite missiles to destroy them. You would also need a bottomless stockpile of satellites sitting some place ready to go. If you follow the Air Force and NRO's infatuation with staggeringly expensive spy satellites having a stockpile of them to launch daily would have completely bankrupted the U.S.

So if that was in fact the Air Force's objective for the Shuttle and SLC6, it was pretty much nuts. As best I recall they squandered something like $6 billion on SLC6 and they never used it. I toured it once inside and out after it had been mothballed thanks to a friend. What a complete waste of money, which is something you can say about almost everything the Air Force has done since World War II, its the epitome of defense industrial complex gone mad.

The only way you could actually do what you are suggesting is with large numbers of low cost satellites probably air launched with something like a Pegasus from a B-52, one of the few launchers the USSR couldn't have easily destroyed on the ground.

Re:Dumb design (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429724)

Yes, there's no question this was a worst case scenario. Although not all versions of the scenario involved the Soviets shooting down all the satellites. One point that was made was that a small satellite would be harder to shoot down, so the shuttle could be used to launch a single satellite in a specific orbit and then land back before the Soviets could respond. All of the scenarios where they wanted these ridiculous polar orbits were situations that were one step away from Doomsday. But you are correct that they were as a whole pretty ridiculous. It does make one wonder what the still classified orbit profiles were and whether this was designed to any extent as a cover for them. But the military desire for single polar orbit and return capability is well documented.

Re:Dumb design (2)

demachina (71715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430876)

First strike nukes would seem to me to be a more plausible explanation. A shuttle launch wouldn't trigger the same alarms a ballistic missile launch would. You open the cargo bay doors over the Soviet Union and launch a bunch of small rockets with nukes attached to take out high value targets, especially to decapitate the government and try to disrupt the command and control to initiate the counter strike. Assuming the Soviets let the shuttle launch go unchallenged, their response time to an attack from LEO immediately overhead would be extremely short.

Re:Dumb design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427416)

It was a dumb design from the beginning.

It was not a dumb design given the state of the art in the early 1970s, when the main design decisions were made. It was, however, a compromise design, meant to meet the conflicting requirements of NASA, the Air Force, and the NSA.

1) You don't haul cargo in the same vehicle as humans. Cargo doesn't need the super-expensive "last 1%" reliability that a human crew demands.

At the time, that was not a consideration. For that matter, compared to the 40,000 people killed per year in automobiles, spaceflight really is not a big contributor to the death rate in the US. It's higher profile, that's all.

People die all the time. Some of them are just lucky enough to die in space.

...You don't need humans up there at all..

Again, that was not obvious at the time. It was assume the people would go into space and do all the things that people do; it was not at all clear that the technology would evolve to the point where people are unnecessary, and should stay home and watch tv while robots take all the risks.

Re:Dumb design (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427478)

You don't haul cargo in the same vehicle as humans. Cargo doesn't need the super-expensive "last 1%" reliability that a human crew demands.

Right - which is why all the unmanned cargo rockets have pretty much the same reliability as the manned boosters. In reality, yes, cargo does require that reliability because they costs billions of dollars and nobody is going to put cargo that valuable on anything but the best.
 

You don't need humans up there at all. The future, for a generation or two at least, is unmanned exploration of the solar system. Look at where virtually all the meaningful scientific knowledge has come from in the last 20 - 40 - 60 years: unmanned probes.

This sounds suspiciously like you've defined yourself into a circle - by using the weasel word 'meaningful'. I'd consider the results of the analysis of the rocks brought back by Apollo (manned BTW) pretty meaningful. (Not to mention all the science that's *not* part of the space program.)
 
You also fail to consider just how slow and limited unmanned craft are: In just four days on the Moon, the Apollo 16 rover (manned) covered 7.2 miles. In five *years* on Mars, Spirit covered just 5 miles. (The couple of times the Lunar Rover became stuck, either the crew drove it out with a few minutes work, or in one instance they picked the Rover up and turned it so that it was on better ground.) Between the two of them, in twelve *years* worth of combined operations, the Mars rovers have covered 25 miles. In total driving time of eight *hours* (and total surface time of nine *days*) the Lunar rovers covered a combined 27 miles. And when you count in the time spent on foot across all the Apollo missions...
 
You also fail to consider that currently, everywhere it's practical to send men rather than robots - we send men. Whether it's inside a failed nuclear reactor, on the Antartic ice sheet, or at the bottom of the ocean. Robots just aren't as versatile as a people.
 
Where the 'science' consists of just collecting raw data, like the strength of a magnetic field or taking pictures by the gross lot, yeah, robots rule. But once you want to do anything but simple repetitive tasks, robots fall way behind.

Re:Dumb design (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428412)

Total cost of the Apollo program in 1999 dollars: $~100B. Total cost of Spirit + Opportunity: $~1B.

Apollo cost per mile: $~4B.
Rover cost per mile: $~0.04B.

That doesn't even account for the fact that Mars is a MUCH more difficult place to reach.

I don't really care if my data has a few years extra latency. Those little guys are vastly more efficient, and I'd very much rather have a hundred small-scale programs like that going on than to run another Apollo-scale program. For the amount invested we'd just be streaming down GOBS of data in comparison.

Like you say there are things that humans can do better sometimes, but dragging the rover out of the ditch isn't a good example: If it was a robot, we'd just shrug and send off another one thereby increasing the cost of the mission from 1% of Apollo to 2%.

That's not to say I'm against manned spaceflight generally. I think it's important for us to keep venturing off of this rock. Short term, though, there are a lot of other things that should be done first. Longer term, let the commercial sector work on manned spaceflight for a while. They'll get the costs down in ways NASA can't dream of.

Re:Dumb design (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428502)

You also fail to consider just how slow and limited unmanned craft are: In just four days on the Moon, the Apollo 16 rover (manned) covered 7.2 miles. In five *years* on Mars, Spirit covered just 5 miles.

The Soviet Lunoknod 2 rover [wikipedia.org] covered 23 miles on the Moon in 1973. The Apollo rover ran on non-rechargeable batteries, so there was an upper limit on range. The robotic rovers were solar powered and could recharge, although rather slowly, and could keep on going.

Get over it already (1)

greymond (539980) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426866)

Stop thinking about space and get over it. Our bodies can't handle fast space travel anyway, so leave it to the octopi.

Re:Get over it already (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428982)

I don't know... 67,000mph is a fair clip.

Acceleration is a bit of a problem, though.

Who would ride that bomb? (4, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426878)

Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (3, Insightful)

aslagle (441969) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426920)

I would. In a heartbeat.

ooooh, too soon? (2)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426970)

I prefer to think of it as " more bang for the buck ".

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426990)

Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

That's the other problem. A government can get away with killing its employees one time in sixty, but a private company can't.

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

lennier (44736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38429958)

That's the other problem. A government can get away with killing its employees one time in sixty, but a private company can't.

*ahem* http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/aldrich.safety.workplace.us [eh.net]

US private railroad fatalities in the late 1800s: 7 in 1000 per year, before the dead hand of state interference throttled the life out of etc etc. I imagine most of those employees weren't on one-time one-year contracts.

I'm sure private space will care a lot more about the safety of its employees.

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427070)

Doesn't the Shuttle have a horrible track record? 2 out of 135 flights blew up? Who would roll those dice anyway?

Almost as bad as Soyuz...which had 2 out of 117 flights fail in ways that killed their crews. Plus more than did things like crash into Mir and suchlike....

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427206)

Almost as bad as Soyuz...which had 2 out of 117 flights fail in ways that killed their crews.

Yes, several decades ago.

Soyuz has also re-entered backwards, the way Columbia did. The Soyuz crew survived, the shuttle crew didn't.

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428030)

Columbia didn't re-enter backwards...

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428284)

Columbia didn't re-enter backwards...

If I remember the sequence of events correctly, turning backwards after the wing broke enough to lose any remaining yaw control was what made it break up.

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427292)

According to this link [esa.int] there were more than 1700 successful Soyuz launches. Are you sure it's not as safe?

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427602)

There haven't been any disasters I'm aware of with the more modern soyuz systems... there were definitely some design flaws in the older systems

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427438)

Climbing Everest has a death rate of something like 5% depending on how you measure it, yet there's a waiting list.

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427528)

“One of the advantages of our purely commercial approach is that it allowed our engineers to consider alternative suppliers and advances in manufacturing, materials, processing, and production across the globe and across several industries,” Dittmar told http://www.nasaspaceflight.com

With O-rings from China, what could possibly go wrong?

Re:Who would ride that bomb? (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428474)

Sign me up. Hell, sign me up for a one-way trip to Mars. I'll do it today if you give me enough research gear and supplies to keep me going for a few months when I get there, and I know I'm not the only one.

All but (1)

hammeraxe (1635169) | more than 2 years ago | (#38426946)

In the end, two crucial factors made it all but impossible to revive the shuttle program as a commercial enterprise or in any fashion.

Ok, this is offtopic, but this has been bugging me for some time. Is it just me or the statement "all but impossible" doesn't actually say whether it was possible or not? "All but impossible" as in "everything except impossible"? Or as in "almost impossible"?

How can a phrase have two meanings that are conflicting (according to this [thefreedictionary.com] )? And if it does why do people keep using it....

Re:All but (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427062)

For the same reason "Inflammable" and "Flammable" have the same meaning--because English sucks and we make it up as we go along.

Re:All but (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427970)

I've always interpreted it as almost impossible, but yeah, stupid term.

Definition of ALL BUT
: very nearly : almost <would be all but impossible>

Examples of ALL BUT

        Without you the job would have been all but impossible.
        We had all but given up hope.

First learn how the Shuttle came about... (4, Informative)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427012)

... and why it was designed the way it was. What was their intentions (flight every two weeks) but what resulted (astronomical operating costs). Cannot really blame those that made the decisions as Shuttle was the ***first*** attempt for a lowcost reusable spaceship. It was a huge effort requiring lots of work and tough decisions, the kind that mentally cripples most folks*. Consider the first "reusable" airplanes for transport of multiple passengers and cargo had their host of problems (i.e. Tri-motors).

Here it from the guys that made the decisions in these MIT lectures (there are many, below just a few). What moved me the most is much of talent, infrastructure and companies that designed, built, and tested items of the Shuttle no longer exists. I say give it up on trying to revive Shuttle. First rebuilt the industrial base, otherwise we will struggling like Korolev trying to get resources.

MIT 16.885J Aircraft Systems Engineering, Fall 2005
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/ [mit.edu]

Lecture 1: The Origins of the Space Shuttle by Dale Myers
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-1/ [mit.edu]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiYhQtGpRhc [youtube.com]

Lecture 2: Space Shuttle History by Aaron Cohen
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-2/ [mit.edu]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ2H06sseLM [youtube.com]

Lecture 3: Orbiter Sub-System Design by Aaron Cohen
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-3/ [mit.edu]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDMbBjH8ZSs [youtube.com]

Lecture 4: The Decision to Build the Shuttle by John Logsdon
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/lecture-notes/lecture-4/ [mit.edu]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOAyzURugaw [youtube.com]

*I talked to someone that worked on wind tunnel tests of various Shuttle configurations in the early 70s (his work was dynamic pressure measurements from shockwaves). There was a period when people were working double shifts in the wind tunnel facility (16 hours on, 8 hours off instead of usual day, swing, grave shift crews) while people at NASA HQ were arguing with the OMB. Idea of SRBs meant they drilled holes and mounted SRB segments on the ET portion of wind tunnel model (didn't bother to remove it from test section for work in machine shop). This double-shift work went on and on. Finally after (I think it was months) and on a Friday, they said "alright, we can go back to regular single shifts and will see you Monday." This person I spoke with said him and another guy he worked with went to have some pizza and beer. The other guy died the next day, he was only 49 years old.

Re:First learn how the Shuttle came about... (2)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427180)

The shuttle was supposed to have two sister projects.
1. a Space Tug. The Space tug would go to high orbit to retrive satellites for the shuttle to bring home or take them too.
2. a Space station. The shuttle would fly to the space station and drop off satellites for the space tug to take to higher orbits and return broken satellites that that space tug had retrieved that could not be fixed at the space station.

Of course a few things happened.
1. Electronics got a lot better. Satellites now last for a good long time.
2. Moore's law. A five or ten year old satellite often wouldn't be worth fixing. By that time a new satellite will be so much better than the old one that it should probably just be replaced.
3. Fiber optic cables carry more data for less money so not as many satellites are needed as people once predicated.
4. The cost of per launch went up as NASA and Congress traded cost per lunch for lower cost for development.

Re:First learn how the Shuttle came about... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428648)

5. They never bothered to build the space station even though they had a nice plan for doing it from the shuttle main fuel tanks, and no one is sure why.

the SLS system (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427120)

for reference, albeit somewhat off topic, is the american effort to remedy discomfort experienced when utilizing a superior system developed by soviet engineers decades ago to quickly and inexpensively launch orbital and interstellar spacecraft. It was arguably not outsourced to a corporation as we would know it during its inception.

Too Dangerous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427302)

The space shuttle has a very high failure rate and is simply too dangerous

0c0m (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38427466)

ggod to write you

Quit beating a dead horse (1)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38427714)

The shuttle was a step backward from the Saturn V. One tenth the load capacity! The main reason we built it was to entice the Russians into building the Buran and strain their economy.

No investment ! (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428252)

Ok, you are a venture capitalist....someone brings an idea to you. Hey, here we have 3 NASA space shuttles, designed 40 years ago, that pretty much have to be rebuilt after every use, are only able to get into low space orbit, costs millions per mile to fly. Would you be interested in throwing some money into this investment, to fly people & maybe small objects into space? They would be laughed out of the office!

Wait a minute... (1)

herojig (1625143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38428990)

All of this talk of the space shuttle being dead is pretty silly considering there is a space shuttle (unmanned) orbiting the globe spying on everyone and their brother, and run by the US Gov't. And who is paying for that? That's right, US taxpayers.

There's one other little factor to consider.... (1)

Shadowmist (57488) | more than 2 years ago | (#38430680)

The shuttle was simply unsafe for commercial use. We lost two spacecraft with all hands in less than two hundred launches. That may be an acceptable risk for test pilots. But if one out of every hundred commercial airlines exploded on take off or fell to pieces on landing... I imagine that people would have a far dimmer view of flying. Commercial use is for proven technology... and that was something the fairly ramshackle Shuttle never achieved.
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