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And (3, Interesting)

PunkOfLinux (870955) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268373)

I woke up at 4 in the morning to watch this...
Well, let's just hope nothing goes wrong with this.

I really wanted to see it land...

Re:And (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268388)

Great to see it was postponed! I didn't wake up to watch it.

Too much second guessing? (3, Insightful)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268615)

I remember back in the 70's and 80's when test pilots for the air force flew fighterjets that were considered "unstable" and the air force wanted to test different designs. The common understanding was, there is a greater chance of it crashing than landing. Yet, many good pilots wanted the chance to fly. What motivated them even when they knew there was a greater chance of crashing than landing?

There are some jobs that are very dangerous.

Can man make a shuttle that is perfect, that will never have a mishap? Does anyone know the statistsics, of how many launches and how many crashes? I am just guessing, but I would think NASA has an over 90% success rate. If that was my college physics class, I would be jumping up and down with joy. It is not like these astronauts took "physics for poets". They studied their topics in great detail, and they know it.

Getting back to my analogy. If the old air force test fighter pilot program had a failure rate over 50%, and NASA is under 10% failure (just a guess), then perhaps what is needed is a new understanding. Congress did not shut down the test pilot program because of accidents, it was considered too important. What is NASA? Eye candy? Do they want to put on a show, where the first injury causes a shut down? Or do they want to explore space, learn, and understand there will be terrible accidents along the way.

There is a great quote NASA should try and understand better. Life is the master teacher. Unfortunatly, it gives the tests first, and the lessons second.

Re:Too much second guessing? (1)

b4k3d b34nz (900066) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268912)

I don't have a reliable source for this, but supposedly there is around a 1 in 200 chance of something going fatally wrong on a shuttle flight. I believe NASA is working on somewhere around 120 space shuttle missions; Challenger and Columbia are the two where the crew has been lost. Those are the only two that I can think of--if they're the only two, then the chances are 1.6% right now of something going wrong.

I would be extremely happy if the astronauts made it down safely, but chances are working against them. Hopefully, the shuttle will be able to descend below the atmosphere before friction totally overheats the tears in the padding.

Re:And (-1, Flamebait)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268652)

STFU, if you were gay, you'd at least have style but you're just a fucking whinning nerd who's frustrated because he expected to masturbate to some expensive plane crash.
This is a non-news and your insignificant post just desserved what you wanted : "/. karma" some shit that's just worth nothing IRL.

Re:And (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268933)

Buy a TiVo and sleep longer

NASA? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268378)

Lets hope it doesn't again - Need Another Seven Astronauts

Re:NASA? (0, Troll)

moro_666 (414422) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268548)

i just guess that actually it doesnt have anything to do with the weather, their windows xp just crashed
and now they wait up there until they see longhorn ... happy waiting

Need Another Software Asap ...

Re:NASA? (2, Interesting)

wasted time (891410) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268895)

I know you were joking, but it surprised me to learn that they use Outlook for email services onboard. Watching NASA TV, I lost track of the number of times Capcom instructed the crew to reboot one of their machines in order to fix sync problems with Outlook.

FP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268379)

First post was delayed too.

I can't wait (-1, Troll)

CypherXero (798440) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268383)

I can't wait for the shuttle to return, because I'm getting sick and tired of hearing about it.

Re:I can't wait (2, Insightful)

PunkOfLinux (870955) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268389)

And then you'll keep hearing about how it safely returned/blew up in mid-air. So, either way, it's gonna go on for a long time.

Shoulda gone Canadian (5, Funny)

ndg123 (801212) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268384)

I hear they don't mind you landing in bad weather north of the border.

Re:Shoulda gone Canadian (3, Insightful)

Chaotic Spyder (896445) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268433)

pff Survivors in Toronto's crash last week 100% survivors in NASA's last crash 0%...

not trying to start a flame war here.. But seriously I don't understand how people can not take the fact that when a plane crashes and blows up and EVERYBODY survives it's a good thing...(chalk one up to the engneers who designed the plane so people could get out fast enough) why does the media have to paint such an evil picture on everything?

So NASA waits a day to land.. good for them.. God knows what will happen to NASA if shit happens to this shuttle...

Re:Shoulda gone Canadian (2, Insightful)

Redrover5545 (795810) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268534)

There's a saying in the airplane industry expressing that idea:

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

Re:Shoulda gone Canadian (5, Funny)

Mark Hood (1630) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268599)

There's a saying in the airplane industry expressing that idea:

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

And the second half of the saying is: "and if the 'plane can be used again, it was a GREAT landing."


Any Landing (1)

uberdave (526529) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268765)

I used to have this as my sig:

"Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing" - Flight Sim Pilot

Re:Shoulda gone Canadian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268666)

I'm sorry, I forgot. Did the Toronto crash involve any kind of spacecraft? Is a per-crash survival rate comparison in any way relevent between the Shuttle and any normal airplane? When you consider that both shuttle crashes occured in airspace or during manuevers that no other winged aircraft attempts the answere should be fairly obvious.

Another point of confusion: Did anyone say that everybody surviving the Toronto crash was a bad thing, or not a good thing? Surely unnecessarily losing a multimilliondollar airplane (not to mention injuring passengers) is a bad thing, even in the presense of a good thing where everybody survives.

Hey, clouds can be dangerous! (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268651)

Sure, they may not seem like much. But the last crew died because of a piece of foam.

Time to start sending our engineers to Russia to learn a thing or two about resilent design.


Good luck to them (5, Insightful)

janek78 (861508) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268385)

I hope they get home safe. When I read about the ISS positioning itself for the first time in two years thanks to the gyros repaired/replaced by Discovery, I realised how amazing this mission was. Not just a prove that shuttles can fly again. MISSE experiment, supplies to ISS, repair works, a new platform. What an achievement! Kudos to all involved. Good luck coming home.

Re:Good luck to them (1)

Illserve (56215) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268473)

NASA is Kozmo reincarnated.

Although with really crappy service.

Re:Good luck to them (1)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268549)

I agree- let our prayers or good thoughts, whatever your inclination, be with the astronauts.
After the seven Russians escaped their tangled sub, I breathed a sign of relief. Hopefully we will all be able to feel the same when the Discovery touches down safely.
I just sincerely hope that there is nothing wrong with the shuttle, as our Russian Friends have offered to bring down our Astronauts if need be. As much as I would like to see the Shuttle land under its own power, who else, who lived through the 80s, is amazed and gets a smile on their face when they think of the British and US helping the Russian Sub and the Russians being willing to help our Astronauts... Maybe there is a chance for the world...

Re:Good luck to them (0, Flamebait)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268790)

Bah! Why is nobody amazed when I experiment with gas/air mixture, change oil, change the water pump, and put in new shock absorbers??? My car can now position itself too!

Better safe than sorry (4, Interesting)

Crixus (97721) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268386)

It's certainly better to be safe than sorry. And NASA is certainly going to be extra careful on this, the first launch after the accident, but I wonder if they would have landed in these conditions before?

Re:Better safe than sorry (1)

Erik Hensema (12898) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268445)

No they wouldn't. They've always required clear visibility in order to land the space shuttle.

Rain can damage the tiles. (4, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268560)

NASA did some testing with a P3 Orion to study the effect. 87-0035-001.html []

Re:Rain can damage the tiles. (2, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268590)

I wonder...
Rain usually only happens at altutudes lower than 5km. At that point, the tiles have already fullfilled their purpose, and eventuall cracking/damage shouldnt alter the shuttles ability to land.

Re:Rain can damage the tiles. (1)

xaaronx (660963) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268779)

But being able to see might help, I would think.

Re:Rain can damage the tiles. (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268870)

And airplanes land everyday in little visiblity by using instruments only. They did this long before gps.

We may be at the top of the food chain (1)

The Hobo (783784) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268398)

But nature is one of the last things man has yet to conquer and is still heavily vulnerable to.. now to invent the weather control devices they described in Star Trek... []

Re:We may be at the top of the food chain (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268454)

Yea, Yea, Yea, and if we had teleporters like we describe in Star Trek we wouldn't need the shuttle at all. Star Trek is Science Fiction [] It is not real and many elements my never be real.

Level of care (3, Interesting)

Henry V .009 (518000) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268400)

Are they being ultra-careful with this, or is this just normal-careful? I imagine that it's the second, but this mission has been weird so far. One of the hazards of being ultra-careful with the weather would be that you reject all the okay opportunities to land and have to take the worst at the end. Or land in Texas.

Re:Level of care (2, Informative)

tadmas (770287) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268442)

Are they being ultra-careful with this, or is this just normal-careful?

I think they're being ultra-careful. From what I've heard, they would normally land in these conditions.

However, they really don't want to take a chance. Imagine if something did go wrong: the public outcry would be so big that it would virtually mean the end of manned space flight for a very long time, and that's not something NASA wants to risk.

Re:Level of care (1)

(startx) (37027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268543)

well, if you had R'd TFA you would know that the backup landing sites are in California and New Mexico, and if Florida still has bad weather they want to try and land somewhere tomorrow.

Re:Level of care (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268649)

The landing conditions are within NASA safety range - but they aren't great. On earlier missions they most likely would have scrubbed the first landing attempt as well. This is routine and has happened many times before.

Tomorrow they will most likely try to land - either at Kennedy or Edwards but if the weather is bad they will likely scrub again and go for Wednesday. On Wednesday they will land unless it's really bad. Then (this is assuming that Kennedy, Edwards and Mexico are out) there are a number of other airfields around the world which are long enough for the shuttle. It will be a tight call between another airfield or trying again on Thursday. Note the shuttle only has 3 wave off days planned - so a thursday landing would be eating into the safety margines.

Few things to remember.....

The shuttle lands very fast and at a very steep angle and is landed manually. You need decent visibility to land. Current conditions are within limits but not great.

Once the shuttle fires its deorbit burn that's it - is has to land. It can't circle the field for a couple of hours waiting for the clouds to clear. It takes 90 minutes or so from de-orbit burn to landing.

All shuttle missions are designed with time in hand in case they can't land. I think this mission has 3 days. If you look over the shuttles history its not uncommon for landing to be delayed. The 3 days is 3 days with normal safety margines. If push comes to shove they could most likely survive for around a week.

NASA likes to land at Kennedy as then the shuttle doesn't have to be transported back there for the next launch (on the top of a boing 747 BTW). This saves a couple of weeks in turnaround times, damage in transport, cost etc. Unless to forcast for the rest of the week was awful they would not have considered an Edwards landing today.

The pilots have the most practice at landing at Kennedy.

Re:Level of care (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268822)

Mexico? Don't you mean New Mexico? You know, the state between Texas and Arizona?

Guess I chose the wrong day (5, Funny)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268402)

to give up glue sniffing

+1, Airplane! Reference (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268450)

Re:Guess I chose the wrong day (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268458)

"It's coming right at us!" (runs and jumps out the window).

They are sh*ting their pants (3, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268404)

TFA: The cloud cover, although within NASA's safety limits for landing, was enough to make mission controllers uncomfortable about attempting a Monday touchdown in Florida. They must be really scared. Whole mission long they are scared to land, scared to do this and that because of the previous accident. Get over it! Space is dangerous and if you are scared, don't go there, there are enough chinese/russians/europeans to go there without that fear.

Re:They are sh*ting their pants (2, Insightful)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268533)

This isn't a matter of fear - it's a matter of managing perceived risk/benefits. If the shuttle were to crash again it would be a massive PR disaster - as well as somewhat upsetting for the loved ones of those who would die who know and accept the risks

To give an analogy - if I drive around the block rather than make a dangerous turning then I'm a safe and carefull driver - not a coward.

Re:They are sh*ting their pants (0)

sonoluminescence (709395) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268572)

Although parent is a troll it makes a valid point.

Even in the heady days of 21st century space flight is still an inherently dangerous activity.

If I were and astronaut (and I'd go tomorrow if they asked me) I'd except the risks and get on with it. I'm not suggesting that the crew up there at the moment aren't doing this but I think all the worry and the hype is unnecessary.

There are plenty of really dull ways to die. If I had the chance to risk my neck as a crew member on a space shuttle I'd condiser the danger an occupational hazard.

Good luck to the crew.

Re:They are sh*ting their pants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268589)

What hope have space defence systems if clouds make the radar and other high tech systems useless.

Re:They are sh*ting their pants (1)

ggzeama (886517) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268659)

Being brave when you have some chances to improve your odds it's idiotic. I cannot believe that mission controllers are idiots (though I have some doubts about you).
I believe that actual fear of NASA is linked to the fact that "public opinion" will cut its funds in a case of a disaster, not because of this, after all, dull launch.
See any Hercule Poirot in space ?!? ... that makes me freak out :P

I intend to ask my fellow Australian (1)

ZombieChiefExecutive (892832) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268405)

Dr Andy Thomas if he saw any UFOs or aliens while waiting for re-entry.

So what do they do now? (2, Interesting)

jasohill (797697) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268421)

Do they haul out the experiments and try and get some work done, or do they surf space porn for the next few hours while they wait? It's a mystery to me.

Re:So what do they do now? (1)

idonthack (883680) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268437)

Go to sleep.
The only thing I hate more than a hypocrite is a person who hates hypocrites.
Generated by SlashdotRndSig [] via GreaseMonkey []

Look on the bright side (-1, Offtopic)

Farkov (905957) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268422)

Maybe the rain would put out the fire :)

Re:Look on the bright side (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268537)

heh that made me laugh, too bad I don't have modpoints right now.

Yeah, but I bet they're trying to make something u (4, Funny)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268430)

Right now the astronauts are sitting in the shuttle, wondering when it's going to land. NASA has probably given them some B.S. story about 'technical difficultys' and passing out free headphones so the passengers can watch the crummy in flight movie.

Hopefully, some of those astronauts will make a fuss and get their next ticket for free, or, at the very least NASA will upgrade them to 1st class when (and if) they chose to fly NASA again.

Re:Yeah, but I bet they're trying to make somethin (1)

Flounder (42112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268570)

They're just waiting for their shipment of lemon-scented napkins.

Pong (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268443)

Woohoo, spare time for the crew.

Time to play weightless ping pong.

Why the mission has been so eventuful (5, Interesting)

psyklopz (412711) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268457)

Most would likely agree that this mission has been more 'eventful' than many in the past. And I'm sure most would agree that the general public (if they care at all) are getting more and more of a feeling that the shuttle 'just isn't doing it for me anymore'.

And that may be exactly the point.

Now, granted, NASA wants a safe mission. But several of these problems may have simply been overlooked in the past because space exploration is inherently dangerous anyway, so some risks are accepable.

There is actual politcal value in a mission that seems plagued with problems. I'm getting the general feeling from the media that it's almost all NASA can do to get this thing up in the air one more time.

If enough people get the same feeling, NASA could seem very justifiable to request mroe money for a shuttle replacement. And maybe that's the real goal of this mission.

that's my conspiracy theory for the day :)

Re:Why the mission has been so eventuful (2, Funny)

n-baxley (103975) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268544)

That kind of plan could easily backfire into a "Why do we need the freaking space program anyway. If they can't even do these simple things right, let's just forget the whole thing." mode of thinking. Not feeling in the least, but it certainly could be one outcome of this mission with all of it's "problems".

Re:Why the mission has been so eventuful (2, Funny)

Lipongo (704267) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268677)

I have heard several times on the radio and know that several articles have been written questioning the space progam's usefulness. We spend countless amounts of money on space exploration and short of the satellites alot of people believe that very little has been gained. Granted I do not feel this way, there are alot of people who do.

Re:Why the mission has been so eventuful (2, Funny)

karnal (22275) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268751)

You have a very good point.

A lot of people also don't see the need for taxes, since it doesn't impact their lives in any way that they can see "directly." Fortunately, there are those of us who know better.

(note: not saying the tax system is perfect, just making a general point..)

How long? (1)

Oostertoaster (808578) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268463)

According to TFA, the amount of cloud cover is within safety limits, but is making controllers nervous. Also according to TFA, the weather forecast for tomorrow is the same. Just how long can the shuttle stay up there before they need to use the alternate site in California?

Daytime landing preferred. (1)

Nick Driver (238034) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268551)

Of course, they'd be most comfortable with a daylight landing with clear visibility even though the ship is fully equipped for landing in IMC.

I'd wager that they'll be landing in California this time.

Re:How long? (2, Insightful)

Flounder (42112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268583)

They should have purchased that cloud insurance. You just know those clouds are planning something.

And when they _do_ land... (1)

WegianWarrior (649800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268471)

...the media is going to be all hyped up about how the 'daring' astronauts 'managed' to land despite the 'problem' with the heatshield...

Don't get me wrong, I do think the astronauts are pretty brave, but I also refuse to believe that NASA would let them land if they thought it was remoptly possible that the shuttle would burn up on reentry this time around. The whole freaking mission has been hyped up - now move on and build the CEV [] please. The shuttle is just too expensive to maintain.

The real delay - Spaceport Security. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268482)

It seems all that stuff they are bringing back from the ISS, well, they have to claim each individual item and fill out a bunch of forms for customs and Homeland Security.

Oh, and they have to take their shoes off when they land, too..

How timely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268491)

The first landing at 4:47 was called off, then decided not to try the second attempt, which would have been at 6:22, and wait until tomorrow instead. They decided this at around 5:05 this morning

Anyone who learned this from a story posted on slashdot at 8:05 is hereby order to bring their "nerd" credentials and certifications to your nearest Best Buy "geek squad" counter for revocation and shredding.

for (0)

cacoe (870499) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268493)

one short terrible moment, i read it as "destroyed" instead of delayed... oh my god, i was shocked. thank god it didn't really read that *breaths*

Re:for (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268737)

hold on... the real title is:
"Shuttle Explosion Delayed on Tuesday"

It has always been like this (3, Insightful)

jurt1235 (834677) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268495)

A bit of not perfect weather and the shuttle can not launch or touch down, nothing new here.
Ofcourse they are more nervous, if they have a disaster, it will be the shuttles last flight, and with no new crew launch vehicle ready, the chance that NASA will loose a big part of its funding is very realistic, because why would they need so much money if they can not bring people and equipment to the spacestation anyway (That is the political question, not mine!!).

Anyway: We can ask the Japanese to build a huge hand 08/0411205&tid=216&tid=126 [] which can catch an object the size of the space shuttle. They already have the speed about right (shuttle lands with about 270MPH(??))

NASA is afraid of... FLUFFY, FLUFFY CLOUDS !!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268510)

Let's hope it's not actually RAINING tomorrow, or they may be REALLY afraid to land!

Re:NASA is afraid of... FLUFFY, FLUFFY CLOUDS !!! (3, Informative)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268807)

If you were going to be in an unpowered descent through a vertical distance of around 250 miles (not to mention the horizontal distance), you'd be a little concerned, too.

Here in nearby Daytona Beach, we've been having near-daily thunderstorms. The clouds caused the abort of the landing because, once you do your deorbit burn, Houston can't say "Oh, wait, it's raining now, better turn around and go back into orbit."

American engineering (0, Flamebait)

evilandi (2800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268512)

Well, of course! Presumably, the Shuttle comes from the same American school of engineering that sold helicopters that can't fly in cloud, to the British Ministry of Defence [] .

Re:American engineering (0, Flamebait)

mirio (225059) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268685)

I guess the British are great engineers...which is why they fly their own helos instead of buying them from the Americans? What's your point, Troll?

Re:American engineering (1)

BenjyD (316700) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268717)

And Apache helicopter gunships that can't fire missiles without damaging their tail rotor.

Who has the contract on the radar (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268728)

According to the BBC article, the radar, which is the real problem, was bought under a different contract. While it may be an American radar, I won't be surprised if it is European. Do you know which?

Re:American engineering (1)

ggzeama (886517) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268865)

If it is soooo bad, did the americans threaten british to buy it? Your military is incompetent on this matter, not the americans. They just simply made a deal.
And BTW, it can fly in the clouds. Read carefully.

Real reason: poker tournament (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268519)

The real reason, I have it on good authority, is that there is an interplanetary poker tournament taking place on the ISS today that the Shuttle crew wanted to attend.

TV images (1)

jurt1235 (834677) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268529)

And ofcourse, TV images of a shuttle in the clouds, do not work good. NASA has to show the shuttle landing without the clouds so people can see it works OK again.

And now for the sarcasm version:
And ofcourse, TV images of a shuttle exploding in or above the clouds are totally useless. The networks need a clear view of the sky to be able to get the topratings which only a disaster can give them.

Wow... This is too much for my poor little heart.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268541)

Damn, all this action and excitement. They'll be true american heroes when they land. My heart was twisted like a towel and slapped against the ass of Jesus Christ so entertaining is their dangerous mission... If their Job wasn't so dangerous you could almost believe that by repairing their shuttle at the space station and all this stuff they're trying to make a look-we're-fucked-but-we-refuse -to-die-like-those-columbia-heroes-PR-stunt of the whole mission...

I just ask myself what was their mission instead of having all kind of hardware problems and glorious solutions?

Re:Wow... This is too much for my poor little hear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268593)

Funny thing, the NASA web site has that sort of information. Clicky the web browser icon, clicky the NASA web site, clicky the Shuttle story, clicky the Mission link, crushy beer can against receding forehead.

Clouds Delayed Due to Shuttle Landing (3, Funny)

Wonderkid (541329) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268547)

When we see headlines like this, we'll know mankind has grasped true control of the weather.

don't mod this down! Peak oil in 5 years! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268550)

This is not a joke. We're running out of oil and the oil companies are admitting it. At least let the truth get told and stop modding it down! 5cavallo []

Oil: Caveat empty

By Alfred J. Cavallo
May/June 2005 pp. 16-18 (vol. 61, no. 03) © 2005 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world's largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.

In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed.

Meanwhile, average consumers have taken their cue from the market, where rising prices have always been followed by falling prices, leading to the assumption that this pattern will continue forever. In truth, the market price of crude oil is completely decoupled from and independent of production costs, which average about $6 per barrel for non-OPEC producers and $1.50 per barrel for OPEC producers. This situation has nothing to do with a free market, and everything to do with what OPEC believes will be accepted or tolerated by the United States. The completely affordable market price--what consumers pay at the gasoline pump--provides magisterial profits to the owners of the resource and gives no warning of impending shortages.

All the more reason that the public should heed the silent alarm sounded by the ExxonMobil report, which is more credible than other predictions for several reasons. First and foremost is that the source is ExxonMobil. No oil company, much less one with so much managerial, scientific, and engineering talent, has ever discussed peak oil production before. Given the profound implications of this forecast, it must have been published only after a thorough review.

Second, the majority of non-OPEC producers such as the United States, Britain, Norway, and Mexico, who satisfy 60 percent of world oil demand, are already in a production plateau or decline. (All of ExxonMobil's crude oil production comes from non-OPEC fields.) Third, the production peak cited by the report is quite close at hand. If it were twenty-five years instead of five years in the future, one might be more skeptical, since new technologies or new discoveries could change the outlook during that longer period. But five years is too short a time frame for any new developments to have an impact on this result.

Also noteworthy is the manner in which the Outlook addresses so-called frontier resources, such as extra-heavy oil, "oil sands," and "oil shale." The report cites the existence of more than 4 trillion barrels of extra heavy oil and "oil sands"--producing potentially 800 billion barrels of oil, assuming a 20-25 percent extraction efficiency. The Outlook also cites an estimate of 3 trillion barrels of "oil shale." These numbers have figured prominently in advertisements that ExxonMobil and other petroleum companies have placed in newspapers and magazines, clearly in an attempt to reassure consumers (and perhaps stockholders) that there is no need to worry about resource constraints for many decades.

However, as with all advertisements, it's best to read the fine print. ExxonMobil's world oil production forecast shows no contribution from "oil shale" even by 2030. Only about 4 million barrels of oil per day from Canadian "oil sands" are projected by 2030, accounting for a mere 3.3 percent of the predicted total world demand of 120 million barrels per day. What explains this striking disconnection between the magnitude of the frontier resources and the minimal amount of projected oil production from them? Canadian "oil sands" are actually deposits of bitumen (tar), which are the result of conventional oil degradation by water and air. Tar sands are of a completely different character than conventional oil deposits; making tar sands usable is a capital-intensive venture that requires special procedures such as heating to separate the tar from the sand, mixing the tar with a diluting agent for pipeline transport, and constructing specially equipped refineries for processing.

The most serious constraint, though, is natural gas supplies. Production of oil from tar sands requires between 400 and 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas per barrel of oil produced, depending on the extraction method used. Natural gas production, despite a near doubling of drilling activity, is flat or decreasing both in Canada and in the United States--which has prompted prices to triple over the past few years. Given these high gas prices, it almost makes more sense just to sell the natural gas directly rather than use it to produce oil from tar sands.

Extracting oil from the 3 trillion barrels of oil shale cited in the Outlook presents its own challenges. The term "oil shale" is also quite misleading, since there is no oil in this mineral, but rather an organic material called kerogen, which is a precursor of petroleum. To extract oil, the shale (typically between 5 and 25 percent kerogen) must first be mined, then transported to a plant where it is crushed, then heated to 500 degrees Celsius, which pyrolyzes, or decomposes, the kerogen to form oil. After processing, most of the shale remains on the surface in the form of coarse sand, so large-scale mining operations will produce immense amounts of waste material. An estimated 1-4 barrels of water are required for each barrel of oil produced, both for cooling the products and stabilizing the sand waste. To satisfy these water requirements, petroleum companies once contemplated diverting the Columbia River--a feat that can be excluded today on political and environmental grounds.

With non-OPEC oil production reaching a plateau and frontier resources not viable, ExxonMobil proposes that increased demand be met in two ways. The first is greater fuel efficiency. (That alone should convey the seriousness of this report: When have you ever heard a petroleum company make a plea for vehicles that use less gas?) New cars in the United States are expected to go 38 miles on a gallon of gas in 2030, instead of the current value of 21 miles per gallon. This goal is actually quite modest, as new cars sold in Europe since 2003 already achieve 35 miles per gallon.

The other way ExxonMobil believes demand will be satisfied is from vastly and rapidly increased OPEC production: "After 2010, the call on OPEC increases quickly, requiring OPEC to add more than 1 MBD [million barrels per day] of capacity every year," notes the Outlook. "OPEC's resources are large enough to achieve this rate of expansion, and we expect that investments will be made in a timely manner."

This assessment is somewhat ominous. OPEC has not expanded production capacity much at all recently. Moreover, such production increases are only possible from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. For these countries, and indeed for most OPEC members, petroleum and petroleum products are their only significant export. As such, they have a vested interest in obtaining the best possible price for their non-renewable resources. OPEC nations would be quite unlikely to increase production as rapidly as needed unless compelled to do so. To put this shortfall in perspective, in 2003 Algeria produced 1.1 million barrels per day; a new Algeria would need to be brought on line in the Persian Gulf each and every year beyond 2010 just to keep up with the projected increase in demand. Consequently, once non-OPEC production reaches a peak, conventional world oil production could peak shortly thereafter, and prices (never explicitly mentioned in the Outlook) would rise in accordance with the laws of supply and demand.

What all this means is that the petroleum industry is approaching a turning point. Conventional petroleum production will soon--perhaps in five years, ten at best--no longer be able to satisfy demand. For their part, American consumers would do well to take a cue from their Western European counterparts, who enjoy a comfortable lifestyle despite a per capita use of petroleum that is half of that in the United States. The sooner the United States begins this transition away from oil, the easier it will be. That's a far more attractive option than trying to squeeze oil from stone.

Hybrid technology? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268577)

OK, thanks for the warning. I guess what you're saying, beneath the trollishness, is that the next Shuttle had better use hybrid gas-electric technology, to bide the time until hydrogen fuel-cell technology matures sometime after 2010.

Shuttle (-1, Troll)

ntufar (712060) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268567)

Q: What is the difference between Russian space rocket and the Shuttle?
A: Russian rocket burn in the atmosphere, Shuttle is reusable.

Q: What is the difference between a cosmonaut and an astronaut?
A: Astronauts burn in the atmosphere, cosmonauts are reusable.

YOU FAIL IT! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268569)

Thing for t,he []

shuttle landing (1) (630682) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268594)

IT is a great achievement and lets await the safe return of the astronauts to earth.

what are they doing... (2, Funny)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268595)

this morning, NASA called off today's landing. are they flying it in a holding pattern over the airport?

Need to re-think the Shuttle Program. (1)

Ohmster (843198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268612)

Truly hope the landing goes through safely tomorrow. In a broader context, need to take a fresh look at the space program. One of the best things I've read on this subject was yesterday. More here: l []

Turbulance (1)

Lipongo (704267) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268618)

Please remain seated as we fly above this local weather. We will be delayed unfortunately due to this turbulent weather.

The Folks at Edwards Have Their Fingers Crossed (3, Insightful)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268619)

I know the people at Edwards AFB [] are hoping for a divert to their location.

I was stationed at Edwards when STS-111 [] landed there after several days of bad weather in Florida.

We piled into the shop truck and drove up to the ridge that overlooks the runway and Rodgers dry lake. We parked at an optical tracking station, which was up and running. The camera operator gave us a bearing to the northwest, towards Santa Barbara, to watch for the shuttle.

We knew it was inbound when the camera began tracking. It was just a speck, but within seconds it was overhead and the double sonic boom was impressive even by Edwards' standards, where sonic booms are an almost daily occurance.

It passed overhead and turned once, landing flawlessly on runway 22. From first sighting to touchdown was only fifteen to twenty seconds.

Later that day, after pre-flighting a jet, we drove out to the taxiway to get a closer look at Endeavour [] .

We almost made it before Security Forces chased us down and told us to get the heck out of there. In retrospect, we were lucky we didn't spend an hour or two face down on the concrete.

What to do? (4, Interesting)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268636)

Can anyone point me to a link that describes what the astronauts do with this extra day in orbit? Considering the expense of getting them there, I find it hard to believe that they just sit around for this extra day picking their nose and farting, but it would seem like all of the experiments would have already been stowed.

Can they make use of this extra day?

On a related note, I'm well aware that the astronauts have plenty of air+power+water+food for this extra day, but how long could they actually stay in orbit before one of those things ran out? Just curious; mostly to know how conservatively these things are planned.

Re:What to do? (4, Funny)

cdrudge (68377) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268867)

Today is the day they get to shoot lots of file footage. The old stock video of them throwing a carrot across the room as a "missle", bubbles of water floating around, and running on a treadmill while nearly weightless were starting to get data. They also get to bug the commander with "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Lets Hope (1)

Digital Warfare (746982) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268665)

Lets hope they remembered to check the fuel gauge :)

Lemme make sure I've got this right... (2, Interesting)

Loligo (12021) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268708)

Our tanks have targetting systems that can see through smoke and lock onto targets miles away, our troops have glasses that can see at night, and I can go down to the local sporting goods store and buy a laser rangefinder that will accurately measure distances out to a mile or so with a margin of error of an inch or less ... but a SPACESHIP can't land because of a few clouds?

The cynic in me agrees: This is a publicity stunt. There's no reason to keep the shuttle up there except that clear skies make better photo-ops.

Re:Lemme make sure I've got this right... (2, Informative)

pondlife (56385) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268863)

You're talking only about visibility, but clouds do more than just block your line of sight - they're often associated with air turbulence and various (possibly nasty) forms of precipitation, including icing.

Bearing in mind that the Shuttle glides in to land, and has no way to go around (ie abort the landing and go around for a second attempt), that means you only have one chance to get it right. So things like cloud cover, wind direction etc will affect the Shuttle much more than they would an aircraft, which can fly around bad weather, land at any number of alternate sites etc.


*SPOILER ALERT* (2, Funny)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268710)

Here's this weeks timeline in advance:

Monday August 8th 2005: A cloud is in the sky, NASA decides to postpone landing

Tuesday August 9th 2005: A slight breeze is detected, landing will be pushed back to Wednesday.

Wednesday August 10th 2005: Wind Chill Factor sited as cause for continued delay

Thursday August 11th 2005: A small flock of birds is spotted near the runway, landing cancelled due to safety and environmental protection concerns..

Friday August 12th 2005: Barometric Pressure Non-Optimal, landing postponed.

Saturday August 13th 2005: Humidity levels cause concern, after some deliberation it is announced that Mission Control will again delay the landing to "play it safe".

Sunday August 14th 2005: Another cloud is spotted, landing delayed.

Let's just hope they manage to get perfect weather conditions so they can land the damn thing sometime soon.

Re:*SPOILER ALERT* (2, Insightful)

outlineblue (472351) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268763)

well tuesday and wednesday sound good, but thurday should read as following:

Thursday August 11th 2005: Crew not responding. Presumed dead from lack of oxygen.

To add insult to injury.... (4, Funny)

Monkey Angst (577685) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268759)

The Moon People keep holding up "If you lived here, you'd be home now" signs every time the shuttle swings by.

Of course they'll delay... (-1, Flamebait)

larien (5608) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268815)

Why spoil the chance of a good firework display because of some clouds?

Pussies (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268833)

the subject says it all.

Heat Tiles and the Filler Material? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268835)

is to disapate the heat... so in the area where there is a gap now between the tiles could that in fact allow for the plasma to penatrate the inner skin of the shuttle? now I am not a nasa expert but if one does not wear a condom chances of conception are much greater then with...

Fuel (1)

ukleafer (845880) | more than 8 years ago | (#13268849)

I hope those chaps have enough petrol to stay up there another day.

ILS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268875)

Even large commerical airports have instrument landing systems that can land planes in zero or near zero visibility, why doesn't the shuttle landing strip have them?

Re:ILS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13268909)

it just may be that in fact that isnt the reason to postpone the landing... I am a sceptic, and I think we are in for a fireworks show... I can just hope that I am wrong... for those men and women on the shuttle are true pioniers....
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