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US Urged To Keep Space Shuttles Flying Past 2010

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the clipping-the-wing-clippers dept.

Space 219

DarkNemesis618 writes "A US Representative has proposed that NASA keep the shuttle fleet flying past its planned 2010 retirement date. The move would help NASA avoid reliance on Russian rockets during the gap between the Space Shuttle retirement and the start of the Orion program. One proposal would keep the shuttle fleet flying from 2010 to 2013 while another would keep the fleet alive until the Orion program is ready in about 2015. 2011 marks the end of the exemption that has allowed NASA to use Soyuz rockets for trips to the Space Station, and they would need an extension to keep using Russian launch vehicles. NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline."

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Race goes on (4, Insightful)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 6 years ago | (#21736958)

It's been 60 years since Sputnik took off. You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now. The current shuttles are getting a bit old now and the most recent problems/accidents/tragedies indicated the very same thing. Maybe Russian rockets is the safest route for now?

Re:Race goes on (4, Insightful)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21736992)

You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now.
"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon"--Napoleon
I submit that Napoleon may have had a better grasp of human nature.
Your question could be recast as: "If ODF is there and all, why OOXML?"

Re:Race goes on (-1, Troll)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737142)

Your question could be recast as: "If ODF is there and all, why OOXML?"
MOD PARENT UP! +1 Troll!

Re:Race goes on (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737270)

Why? He made a valid point. It all boils down to who's format it is. Is it a Russian Rocket or a US Rocket? They both provide you a platform to get to space. (presumably) ODF/OOXML, they both provide a platform to save your documents. If NASA were Microsoft, they'd ignore the "competition's" offering until they can provide an alternative from their own shops so they didn't have to give money to someone else. Either that, or they'd buy Russia so it's not the competition anymore.

Re:Race goes on (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737410)

Why? He made a valid point.
Yeah I know. I just think it's funny when someone managed to find some inconsistency in local conventional wisdom. E.g. most people round here would think worrying about which nation makes the best rockets is a bit nationalistic. Which is odd incidentally, because if there's a war between the US and some rogue state, being far ahead in rocketry should allow the US to shoot down incoming missiles and despatch a shitload back to win the war with few US casualties. Plus if US politicians know their voters are safe from foreign missiles, they can continue to behave in the assertive way we're all accustomed to, and I think that's just funny to watch.

But when it comes to OOXML vs ODF people regard it as almost a religious issue even though in practice OOXML will probably end up as a defacto standard and be more widely deployed than ODF regardless of what we or the ISO committee say on their relative merits

His post linked the two things together, hence the +1.

Re:Race goes on (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737462)

Maybe if they didnt act like such jerks then you wouldnt need all that damn 'rocketry'. In this case there is no point at all to keeping the american rockets apart from stupid national pride. It's not even like you're depending on them forever, you're just cooperating with the russians until you have developed the next stage of your program. Why can't you learn to play nice - never watched Sesame Street? Or do they promote kicking your neighbour rather than sharing on Sesame Street these days? I'm a bit out of touch.

Re:Race goes on (2, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737524)

Why can't you learn to play nice - never watched Sesame Street? Or do they promote kicking your neighbour rather than sharing on Sesame Street these days? I'm a bit out of touch.
The world isn't Sesame Street. There are no mass murderering dictators in Sesame Street. It's an artificial evironment where pure altruism works. The real world isn't like that - there's a tiny minority that regards playing nice as a sign of weakness, but unfortunately they control a few soon to be nuclear states.

Mind you, I suppose Sesame Street morality is a pretty good approximation of how you should behave, since you're unlikely to have to deal with Kim Jong Il type psychopaths in day to day life since they get locked up. Maybe it's like Newtonian mechanics is a good approximation of the physics so long as you're not near a black hole or close to the Big Bang.

But don't use it to guide your foreign policy.

Re:Race goes on (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737596)

The real world isn't like that - there's a tiny minority that regards playing nice as a sign of weakness
In terms of the overall model, I think that playing nice is the more strategic approach.
Decision-making happens in a more tactical mode.
I submit that a good approach is to broadcast nice and expect to receive the opposite; you're right, or you're pleasantly surprised.

Re:Race goes on (2, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737782)

Meh, it works for Switzerland. I think when it comes to defense it's fine to develop your technology, but keeping a bunch of decrepit shuttles just for the sake of not being all chummy with Russia is sad. Very very sad :( One of these kids is not like the other, lalalalalalala...

Re:Race goes on (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737902)

Russia is quite possibly sliding back into autocracy so it's important for the US to be able to launch things into space without involving them. The Shuttle has been used to launch defense stuff as well as far as I know, and you can't be absolutely sure that relations with Russia will stay friendly enough that it is possible to use Russian rockets for that.

I can't really see the problem actually - at worst it's just a bit of welfare for US rocket scientists, at best it means that the US has a backup in case Orion has teething trouble and relations with Russia deteriorate. Neither of which is not impossible.

Re:Race goes on (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738426)

Even if you assume that it would be politically impossible for Russia to strand the International Space Station, you still have to consider calamity. What if the Russians have another huge explosion at their launch facility that sets them back months/years? What if they lose a Soyuz and have a large delay until the program is capable of another launch? The Space Shuttle is not the only rocket in history to explode.

Re:Race goes on (3, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738544)

Meh, it works for Switzerland

It "works" for Switzerland because they are a landlocked mountainous country with little natural resources surrounded by friendly neighbors. Switzerland came dangerously close to being invaded by Nazi Germany during WW2 and probably would have been (sooner or later) if Barbarossa hadn't turned out so badly.

The Swiss model isn't going to work for nations like Russia or the United States (too big, too much economic clout, too involved in World affairs). It isn't going to work for nations with unfriendly neighbors (Israel, Pakistan, India, Taiwan). It isn't going to work for nations located on natural invasion routes between stronger powers (Poland, the Low Countries, etc).

but keeping a bunch of decrepit shuttles just for the sake of not being all chummy with Russia is sad

It's not about "not being chummy" with Russia. It's about retaining a native space launch capability and not relying on other nations to do it for us. As a random example: Why the hell is Europe deploying Galileo? Shouldn't they just rely on GPS and the United States? Are they trying to "not be chummy" with us?

See the point?

Re:Race goes on (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738606)

No, I dont see the point since you are retaining your launch capability. I wasn't saying that countries shouldn't be fully autonomous, but I also dont see the point in this case of keeping these shuttles as a stopgap measure, when an alternative is already available until NASA has their new fleet sorted out.

Re:Race goes on (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738754)

No, I dont see the point since you are retaining your launch capability

We have another vehicle for human space flight besides the shuttle?

when an alternative is already available until NASA

An alternative that relies on the goodwill of a nation with whom we've had disagreements lately. What happens if that relationship sours (for whatever reason)?

It seems like every single time that a story about the shuttle comes around people around here waste no time in trashing it. Yes, the goals of the shuttle program (cheap and reusable) didn't exactly work out as planned. Yes, two disasters out of 120 missions don't exactly fill me with confidence. Yes, the ISS has become a money pit. In spite of all that though I would think that people around here would still support the program.

I don't want them to retire the shuttle fleet until a replacement is ready. I'd like to see them fly it more. Build out all the scientific modules on the ISS. Fly some more science missions like Columbia was on. Fly another mission to Hubble and keep it going past the 2013 retirement date. Are there risks? Sure. Would that stop you from going if you have the chance?

Re:Race goes on (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737486)

Plus if US politicians know their voters are safe from foreign missiles


So they care?

Re:Race goes on (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737572)

His post linked the two things together
I forged no special linkage.
Nationalism and the OOXML/ODF imbroglio are simply aspects of organizational behavior.
This revelation seems to have taken you aback.

Re:Race goes on (1, Insightful)

pegdhcp (1158827) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737006)

Well, I have ancient servers running on ancient Linux variants as well, just for showing off to Windows users. But it doesn't mean they are suitable for mission critical data.

Some people do not understand that makeup for hiding age works only for humans, and it is not fun to die in space while all liquid in your body is boiling...

Re:Race goes on (3, Informative)

mpe (36238) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737136)

Well, I have ancient servers running on ancient Linux variants as well, just for showing off to Windows users. But it doesn't mean they are suitable for mission critical data.

But your "ancient servers" probably don't date from the 1970's. Even your oldest server is probably more recent than the newest shuttle.

Re:Race goes on (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737172)

Well, I have ancient servers running on ancient Linux variants as well, just for showing off to Windows users.
Congratulations for the most pathetic reply of the day.

Re:Race goes on (2, Insightful)

cbcanb (237883) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737014)

The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle. But still, the shuttle does need to retire. The smart thing to do would be to launch capsules on the EELVs (Atlas 5 or Delta 4), but that has severe political problems (basically, a lot of people would be out of work).

In the meantime, there are essentially a fixed number of shuttle external tanks left. Why not fly those out, whether it takes until 2010 or 2012, whatever, then move on after that?

Re:Race goes on (4, Informative)

mpe (36238) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737158)

The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle.

But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.

The smart thing to do would be to launch capsules on the EELVs (Atlas 5 or Delta 4), but that has severe political problems (basically, a lot of people would be out of work).

There's also the problem of the US having abandoned manned capsules over 30 years ago.

Re:Race goes on (3, Informative)

icebrain (944107) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737454)

But have a lot better safety record. Only 4 vs 14 crew fatalities, with Soyuz having been flying longer.
That's like saying that the 747 has a worse safety record than the shuttle, because something like 2,000 people have died on it, and it's been flying longer. More have died on the shuttle because it carries more people.

Soyuz has also had two fatal accidents in roughly the same number of flights; there have also been several incidents in the past few years of the reentry guidance failing and the capsule going "ballistic".

Re:Race goes on (3, Insightful)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738376)

"Soyuz has also had two fatal accidents in roughly the same number of flights"

I find it unlikely Soyuz had the same number of flights as the shuttles. they have flown since about 68, from the original models to the TMA variant currently in use. I am not sure exactly how many flights were done, but I am quite sure that, being in service for about a decade longer than the shuttle makes it quite sure it had flown more missions. Also, the last failure with loss of crew (during re-entry) happened long ago, a couple design iterations back. I think it's safe to assume Soyouz-class vehicles are a very mature design and, quite probably, safer that shuttles.

There is no dishonor in having a less safe space vehicle. The shuttle is an incredible achievement. It's only unfortunate it was too ambitious.

BTW, since they are expendable, one could argument every mission ends in partial failure, with the loss of the vehicle ;-)

Re:Race goes on (1)

mha (1305) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737178)

I am sooooo tired of such statements as yours.

I don't say you are wrong - I don't know. So what I don't like is not WHAT you say but that you fail to even ATTEMPT to submit any justification for your statement. How do you come to your conclusion? It seems to me it is based only on a vague feeling you developed over the years.

Best: link to statistics that support your claim.

Second-best, but still better than "opinion": add at least ONE sentence that shows what you base your statement on.

Thanks.

Re:Race goes on (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737496)

Does the guy need to write a 20 page essay on each post just because you'd rather not encumber your critical mind to fill in the blanks yourself? Nor offer yourself any evidence in agreement to or to the contrary above. Seriously. Exercise (or quite possibly, exorcise) your mind. Read slashdot as you would a good book - read between the lines and enjoy the flow of creative thought as you step through another man's ideas. Or do you require fold out pop up pictures and such?

Re:Race goes on (1)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738326)

That argument might give a pass to someone whose reasoning is only roughly sketched out, but it doesn't excuse an outright argument by assertion.

Not Man Rated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21738192)

During the initial developments of Orion, there was a lot of talk of using the current crop of heavy lift launch vehicles. There was one primary reason to use the shuttle SRBs as a basis: man-rating. It's not cheap to go back and man-rate a launcher.

Soyuz it great, yes it is old, but it works. It works pretty damn well too. Also, at $12 million a seat, it's pretty cheap!

Re:Race goes on (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738588)

The Russian rockets only have similar demonstrated reliability to the shuttle.

No. That's just plain wrong

Soyuz has been flying since the 60s, and the spacecraft has had 5 major revisions. There hasn't been a single crew fatality on the 4 most recent.

There *have* been two major accidents on the more recent models, neither of which resulted in any fatalities.

One of Souyz 18a [wikipedia.org] 's boosters failed to fully separate during launch, which triggered a safety mechanism to fully disengage the capsule from the rocket. Although the 21g acceleration felt by the crew must have been painful to say the least, everyone on board survived.

Soyuz T-10-1 [wikipedia.org] 's booster caught fire while it was on the pad and about to launch. The capsule's Launch Escape System was activated by radio command (the fire had burned through cables to manually activate the LES), and the capsule separated from the booster a mere two seconds before it exploded. Both crew were injured, but survived.

These two incidents actually demonstrate the inherent safety of Souyz over the Shuttle. In spite of chatestrophic mechanical failures, and lax safety standards, the crew were able to walk away from the incident in both cases. Also, given the rocket/capsule's disposable nature, replacement of the vehicle wasn't such a big deal (whereas the US has 3 shuttles at the moment, and couldn't build another if they wanted).

The Shuttle, on the other hand, doesn't have any sort of favorable modes of failure during launch or landing, in which the crew even has a faint chance of survival. Think of it as a ship without a lifeboat. Rockets and space travel are inherently dangerous, and the fact that the Shuttle doesn't have any sort of realistic escape mechanism is downright foolish.

FYI (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737052)

The answer is me. Ask your moms.

Re:Race goes on (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737382)

Counterpoint: the high water mark of human civilisation to date was one man standing aa a podium on September 12, 1962 and saying the words that even today make me weep like a Goddamn Frenchman every time I hear or read them:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard

Space exploration is, in the short to medium term, an emotional, irrational, prideful folly. I find it very hard to get excited about outsourcing it.

Re:Race goes on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737996)

so the apollo missions were undertaken because they were a hard thing to do?

interesting.

can i ask how does the cold war come into this?

can i also ask what benefits did putting a man on the moon have, that couldn't have been achieved with the sort of lunar rover program that the russians had, very successful in terms of collecting data and relatively cheap.

Re:Race goes on (1, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737616)

You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now.


It basically was, until a big cock was elected.

Re:Race goes on (1)

mulhollandj (807571) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737778)

http://www.jbs.org/node/5689 [jbs.org] Sputnik was just an excuse to create the Department of Education. What? Government lying to get more power? Never.

Re:Race goes on (1)

k_187 (61692) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737866)

If that's the case, why did it take 25 years for the Department of Education to be created?

Your math is off. (1)

Bill Kilgore (914825) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738370)

I was born a week after that launch, and I just turned 50, which is traumatic enough, you insensitive clod!

Re:Race goes on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21738392)

Learn to count. Year 1947 was 60 years ago. Sputnik was launched a bit later than that.

Re:Race goes on (1)

master_p (608214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738458)

It's been 2,800 years from the Troi war. You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now. Well, don't tell that to Iranians, Palestinians, Somalians etc.

Re:Race goes on (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738554)

You'd think the "who's got the biggest cock" race would be over by now.
What, in view of the overwhelming evidence of the peaceful progress towards maturity and reason in both Russia and the US over the last decade?

"Urged" by whom? (4, Insightful)

MollyB (162595) | more than 6 years ago | (#21736974)

from TFA:

U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Republican whose Florida district includes the Kennedy Space Center, proposed extending the shuttles' lifetime to close the gap until their replacement ships, called Orion, are ready for their first manned flights in 2015.
I think it is natural and logical Mr. Weldon takes this position. However, is crew safety being ignored in this calculation?

Re:"Urged" by whom? (4, Funny)

Cally (10873) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737336)

It's faith-based aerospace... as in, when you launch, you pray it doesn't go boom.

Re:"Urged" by whom? (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738622)

Don't worry, if you caused the loss of millions and the death of several highly qualified persons, there will always be a high paying job waiting for you at the FEMA.

Spend (0)

nighty5 (615965) | more than 6 years ago | (#21736982)

Can anybody explain the commercial benefit to space travel?

Given the significant resources spend for NASA, is this monies better off spent elsewhere or is this spent responsibly?

Re:Spend (3, Insightful)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737018)

The spend is justified simply because (and a certain well known physicist will back me up) if we do not learn to leave this rock we, as a race, will ultimately perish here.

I'm not sure that the STS as it was finally created could ever be called a 'responsible' use of resources but right now, it's the only manned launcher the USA has so they've got to work with it until Orion becomes available.

Re:Spend (2, Insightful)

Faylone (880739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737070)

Moreover, the money spent NASA isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to the defense budget

Re:Spend (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737276)

I heard a series of talks from a former nasa engineer-y-type, far from comparing nasa's budget to the defence budget, he pointed out that the annual budget for nasa is less than the annual budget for clearing up the national parks after each summer's round of camps.

Re:Spend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737426)

I'm not sure that the STS as it was finally created could ever be called a 'responsible' use of resources
It certainly can't [idlewords.com] . Not entirely NASA's fault, but you have to wonder what could have been if all the resources that were pissed away on the mostly useless orbiter and ISS had been spent more productively. I'd guess we would at least have a serviceable moonbase by now.

Re:Spend (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737592)

Moonbase. That's no moonbase. It's a cheese mining facility. Chewie, turn this ship around. I'm lactose intolerant.

Re:Spend (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21738416)

"...right now, it's the only manned launcher the USA has so they've got to work with it ..."

NO! WHY! You make it sound as if we're the only people in the world who ca do this sort of thing. We're not. The Russians, even the Germans, are much better than we are. Why dot't we just let them get on with it.

As an aside, now we've shown the world that we really can't be trusted with hiugh technology, and only use it for warfare and torture, I think it would be better if we went back to a more rural existence, and left dangerous things like rockets to our moral betters.

Of course, the way the dollar's going, we will all probably be living off the land soon anyway.....

Re:Spend (1)

PolarBearFire (1176791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738750)

In the interest of furthering discussion, I would dispute that. I've said it before, you can nuke every square meter on this planet, and assuming you survive the blasts, Earth would still be the most habitable planet on this solar system. The dream of space colonies wether in orbit, on the moon or on other planets is in my estimation centuries away, not decades as most people would like to believe. The real reason space technology should be the primary focus of human endeavor is because of all the technological breakthroughs it provides. Aside from war the space race has provided the greatest leaps in technology and other knowledge for human kind. And it is very arguable that investing in space technology pays more dividends than investing in war.

Re:Spend (2, Interesting)

joe_cot (1011355) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737106)

  1. Tourists. It's already clear that the richest will spend millions of dollars and months of training in order to go into space. Entrepreneurs are betting that slightly-less-rich tourists will spend a great deal (~100k, maybe less) to be able to go into space, which requires more safety and a smaller crew (ie 2-3 pilots and 20 dead weight tourists).
  2. Satellites. It currently costs a great deal to launch satellites into orbit, and companies have to look to another country (ie Russia) to launch them for them.
  3. NASA. NASA has a) gone into orbit, b) gone to the moon. Both are done and done, yet they still have to keep spending a great deal of their budget improving the ability to launch into orbit. From NASA's perspective, it would be much cheaper to simply buy the rockets and shuttles from the private sector, so they can focus their efforts on bigger and better prospects

Overall, the commercial benefit to space travel is the amount of money NASA can save, companies that need satellites can save, and private space tours can make off of 60th birthday presents. The private sector will hopefully produce streamlined, easily-manufacturable rockets and shuttles that will save everyone involved a lot of money and time. Hopefully this doesn't turn out like the arms business, where private companies profit off the hardware while taxpayers foot the R&D.

Re:Spend (2, Interesting)

nbucking (872813) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737124)

That is a debate that has gone on for too long. Of course space benefits commercial. Think of the money to be made in mining ore from other planets. That is thinking in long term though. Short term it is merely for trucking millionaires into space. Mid term it could mean big money for resort owners to be the first one to rent condominiums in space or even the moon. There are a lot of people who would line up for such things. Probably not practical minded people though.

NASA is like any other government organization. They are monitored closer than private companies. Profit can get in the way of science. Due to being always in the public eye they tend to be picked on. They have there successes and their failures. Their main purpose is extend our knowledge of a vast unknown. This sometimes includes Planet Earth. There is a lot of articles on this good and bad. But the main thing is that they are indeed a key investment for our future. I am not in a position to prioritize it above other expenditures. It certainly should be a high priority.

Re:Spend (1)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737528)

You're leaving out a whole bunch of stuff.

Here's just a few money-making ventures available to an orbital station:

  • Orbital solar power facilities
  • Exotic alloy production
  • Culturing of carbon nanotubes and metal whiskers
  • Production of large perfect crystals
  • Production of extremely thin films
  • Platform for launching other craft
  • etc., etc., etc.


These are just a few off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.

Re:Spend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737162)

I think with space travel it is the same way as it is with all research (at least as it concerns fundamental areas), you might not see how there might ever be any financial benefit from it, but you should do it because you never know. As far as I know we profit much from the past space travel projects so why not this time (apart from the fact that the ISS is a very important laboratory for a variety of experiments you are unable to perform on earth). Traveling to Mars might only be some very expensive adventure but who knows if we don't discover something useful on the road.

Re:Spend (2, Informative)

Neo Quietus (1102313) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737170)

"For comparison, NASA's FY 2008 budget of $17.3 billion represents about 0.6% of the $2.9 trillion United States federal budget." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget [wikipedia.org]

0.6% of the federal budget is not a lot of resources to be devoting to the promise of space travel, especially considering the possible rewards.

As for commercial benefits, there are some (and there are other, non-commercial benefits), but why does a government agency have to do things that have commercial benefits? Won't, you know, companies do that? Government agencies can do research that my have no other benefit than to simply increase our understanding of the universe, or do research that isn't profitable but still useful.

Re:Spend (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737740)

I think that some of the question is, sure, it's used for science and development. But, even for science and development, there are ways to calculate cost effectivness.

Some would ask, what would happen if we took half that and invested it in green energy, such as wind, solar, nuclear, and oil replacement technologies such as cellulostic ethanol?

I personally think that we can and should do both. Arguements will always exist for prioritization.

But then I think that we should of had a replacement for the shuttle long ago. For stuff like that your goal should be to always have a replacement available - IE by the time they can't build new shuttles, they should be able to build the replacement for the shuttle.

Re:Spend (4, Interesting)

mha (1305) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737264)

This questions is invalid.

It comes down to asking "what is the commercial benefit of live"?

This conversation happened and says it all:
Q: Why did you climb that mountain?
A: Because it is there.

What do you live for? What is "the economy" for? No economist would ask such a question. Because the ENDS of the economy are not subject of that science, only how to best achieve it. What those ends are, what people values in life, is NOT a subject of economic debate - at least not as real economists are concerned (sure there are those who want to impose their values on you but that is their personal issue and not subject of the science called "economics").

It comes down to this: If there are enough people with enough power to get their will then whatever it is they want it gets done. Period. That's how everything works. Democracy too. Only distribution of power is different in different societies.

So, if you don't want that anyone goes to space, convince them or become powerful enough to prevent it. But don't ask for the purpose - there is none. Each person has to decide for themselves what they want from/in life. That is true whether you're an atheist or a devoted catholic (I'm an atheist who ended up on two catholic pilgrimages :-) thus far). For atheists that's clear, but also religion teaches that what you do in life is YOUR choice, god doesn't tell you. (It does say you get judged afterwards but more about HOW and not WHAT you did). So if I decide my purpose is to get to Mars then that's it. If I kill people to get what I want I leave human values behind. If I can convince enough people (with enough resources) to help me (or if they want it themselves anyway) there is no use asking the question "why". Because I want it.

Imagine an intelligence waaaaay beyond human capabilities. Of what use is it? It's a great computer, not more! Without feelings, desires, there is NOTHING to drive it towards some end. There is no logical reason to do ANYTHING. You can ALWAYS ask "why", endlessly! At some point you have to decide you don't give a d..., or you never have a reason to act, ever. That's also why very intelligent people, with IQs far above average, are NOT the most successful ones in life. Sure, *some* intelligence sure helps, but at some point it gets much more important to feel the inner DRIVE to live and so things, and NOT ask questions "why"! That's (the main reason) why a dyslexic Richard Branson is a multi-Billionaire and 180+ IQ writer Stanislaw Lem (one of my favorites) only wrote lots of very thoughtful and philosophic books, with an increasing air of skepticism and melancholy.

So maybe you are too intelligent if you keep asking "why" ;-)

Re:Spend (2, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737494)

This questions is invalid.

[snip]

So maybe you are too intelligent if you keep asking "why" ;-)
No, you've simply misinterpreted the question. The question is "Why are YOU spending MY money to achieve YOUR ends."

 

Re:Spend (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737822)

My guess is the answer is supposed to come down to:
"Because I am the government, and I decide what is best for the people"

I suppose historically this would have come down to:
"Because I am the king (i.e. I am better at fighting than you, or my Ancesters were and therefore I command the loyalty of others who are better at fighting than you are)"

These days I suppose the real situation is:
"Because I've decided to make a living out of playing the power/politics game and this is a piece on my chess board; if you want to join the game and fight me for power go right ahead"

Re:Spend (1)

sammydee (930754) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738466)

Dude - you just summed up my entire life stance in one post. I've always got funny looks when I try to explain this to people because most people have real trouble believing that there isn't some overriding purpose in their lives. Maybe I'll direct them at this post in future.

Re:Spend (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738778)

That's (the main reason) why a dyslexic Richard Branson is a multi-Billionaire and 180+ IQ writer Stanislaw Lem (one of my favorites) only wrote lots of very thoughtful and philosophic books, with an increasing air of skepticism and melancholy.
Or:

Richard Branson is only a multi-Billionaire while 180+ IQ writer Stanislaw Lem wrote lots of very thoughtful and philosophic books.

I know who I'd rather have been.

Re:Spend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737554)

> Given the significant resources spend for NASA, is this monies better off spent elsewhere or is this spent responsibly?

          NASA accounts for only 0.5% of US federal spending. NASA's budget is insignificant compared to the total amount of money that the federal government spends each year.

http://mrsquid.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

Re:Spend (1)

Dersaidin (954402) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737604)

Theres only 1 planet of resources here. Look at how we explored Earth as an example. Think of the commercial benefit of discovering other land in the 1500 - 1800.

Re:Spend (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737646)

Can anybody explain the commercial benefit to space travel?


Well, it means you can go space-shopping with all your space-buddies.

Seriously though... since when has space been about (immediate) commercial benefit? Some of us are still interested in the science way more. That science will (and does) lead to commercial benefits.

Re:Spend (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738342)

That's the problem, the resources are NOT significant! The US spends nearly as much in one DAY on Iraq as they do one YEAR on NASA. The 2007 calendar year budget [wikipedia.org] for NASA amounted to 0.6% of the $2.9 trillion dollar budget. It is small wonder NASA hasn't really accomplished many high profile things. A bloody large portion of what NASA does get doesn't even make it to their space programs but to more terrestrial pursuits--like weather science. To those who'd speak of national security, terrorism, blah, blah, blah, in defense of irrational expenditures in Iraq consider this, in all of human history no factor has contributed more to the lack of national security than the way that country treats its neighbors (as in poorly). On the other side intellectual pursuits have had a long history of building bridges between nations, and peace at home as well as abroad. Even the middle-east was once known as a hub of intellectualism, known for its tolerant and peaceful people... Of course that didn't stop the warmongering, imperialist west from changing that.

Re:Spend (1)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738432)

Can anybody explain the commercial benefit to space travel?
There are numerous commercial benefits some of which have mentioned by other people, but one that has not yet is GPS. Maybe this came out of the defense budget but the underlying research into putting satelites into orbit was done as part of the original space race. This spawned a real world benefit which now everyone is coming to rely on.

Given the significant resources spend for NASA, is this monies better off spent elsewhere or is this spent responsibly?
Maybe. But then the US spends far more on defense. Some of this defense budget is about defending the US from foreign attack but an awful lot is just pissed up the wall on projects that will never come to fruition.

The US also donate over 2 billion dollars every year to Israel. If you want to talk about return on investment what return do US citizens get from this? Apart from earning the hatred of large parts of the Arab world since alot of that money is donated in the form of Military hardware. The fact is that the nation of Israel would not exist if not for the US Govt constantly propping it up with massive injections of cash and tanks.

(http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/U.S._Assistance_to_Israel1.html)

This investment is going to have to continue indefinately as well, since there is no way that Israel will ever become self-sufficient in our lifetimes unless they invade Iran and steal all their oil.

At least with NASA there is a small glimmer of hope that they may start bringing back valuable raw materials or come up with further advancements in technology that will benefit the US.

Perhaps not the brightest of ideas. (4, Insightful)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21736988)

TFA seems to suggest extending the STS life while also cutting costs. This sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I know that strapping yourself to a rocket and heading for space is never safe but it would be better not to make it more dangerous. At the same time, I can see that extending the life by 6 months or so would help alleviate the current pressures on the STS for the station-construction mission (but that's not what the article discusses)

I presume the reasoning for not wanting to rely on the Russian crew launch system is that any souring of the American-Russian relationship could make the deal problematic. How about if it were via ESA and the forthcoming Soyuz operation at French-Guiana? Would this side-step some of the possible relationship issues?

Re:Perhaps not the brightest of ideas. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737242)

I presume the reasoning for not wanting to rely on the Russian crew launch system is that any souring of the American-Russian relationship could make the deal problematic.
Absolutely. Somewhat increasing coldness on the top has been apparent for quite some time now. Besides, Uncle Sam is still NASA's main customer. No way to trust Rusky for *that* kind of missions!

Re:Perhaps not the brightest of ideas. (1)

Vulch (221502) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737398)

The Soyuz pad at Kourou won't be set up for manned launches. It may get that capability added, but not before 2010. And besides, the launchers and manned craft will still come from Russia and a large proportion of the ground crew will be Russian. It's also French territory and US-France relationships haven't exactly been strain free...

Re:Perhaps not the brightest of ideas. (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738782)

Relationship and politics aside, the Ariane launchers and Kourou site are designed for small to medium size cargo (mostly satelites), and even with manned Sozuz, they couldn't (and nothing currently can) replace the shuttle ability to turn into a mobile construction tool for the ISS. So even if it is expensive and bloated, we all need something able to permorm similar tasks, not just lift containers.

Re:Perhaps not the brightest of ideas. (1)

j_to_the_ard (955046) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737850)

TFA seems to suggest extending the STS life while also cutting costs. This sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I couldn't agree with that more.

The US Government spends as much per day in Iraq as the total budget for the upcoming "Mission to Mars."

I have no affiliation with the following site, but I always enjoy taking a look at the visual representation of spending. See if you can find NASA!
http://www.thebudgetgraph.com/site/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1 [thebudgetgraph.com]

Fatigue (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21736994)

The whole problem is that these vessels were designed with a predetermined useable shelf life and pressing beyond these constraints results in not only metal fatigue but also other unexpected results [myminicity.com]

Re:Fatigue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737168)

At least they're tying their spam links into the context of the article now, too bad the [myminicity.com] gives it away noob.

Yes, but on the bright side... (5, Insightful)

tekrat (242117) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737056)

Now they can launch that telescope thingie that was going to be left to wither because all the remaining flights have been scheduled for finishing the ISS -- and with delays, they still won't be done by 2013 anyhow.

Hey NASA can go waste all the billions they want, it's still a drop in the bucket compared to wars which suck up a lot more money and produce even less useful results than NASA.

It's too bad the privatized companies (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX, Armadillo) can't ramp up development to meet the need. Oddly enough, *their* space race will produce the only results that will actually lower the cost per pound to orbit.

It's too bad we're all so scared of failure these days. Consider that during the development of aircraft, a lot of people died. A lot of people died just trying to cross the Atlantic. We didn't halt aircraft development every time some lunatic in a biplane was lost in a storm. But for some reason, we're afraid to blow up the occasional person to get into space. We need to get over that. A lot of people are going to die before we're able to easily leave the planet as easily as we currently visit another continent. That's just a reality and no amount of double checking is going to change that.

Well, for test flights anyhow, we could always use that Humanoid Robot (REEM-B) some guy spent three *whole* years developing! ;-)

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737304)

But for some reason, we're afraid to blow up the occasional person to get into space. We need to get over that.
You first.

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (5, Insightful)

entrigant (233266) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737852)

But that's just it, isn't it? There are many, many people who will GLADLY take the risk and be "first". Anyone who wishes to deny us a space program has no right so say no on the grounds of danger if there are people who understand and willingly accept the danger deciding the benefits far outweight it. Me first? Sure, point me to the shuttle.

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (1)

sexyrexy (793497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737430)

Yes, quite bizarre. It's almost as if we value human life more than our ancestors and predecessors. Almost as if we don't cut someone's head off for insulting the king, stone children for mouthing off to their parents, or slaughtering every woman and child in the heathen city we just conquered because they were, well, heathen. We let people have trials before they go to prison (well, usually).

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (1)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737560)

Yes, quite bizarre. It's almost as if we value human life more than our ancestors and predecessors.
Or perhaps we are so risk averse, that humans will soon look like turtles carrying little nerf cottages on our backs so nothing can harm us.
  slaughtering every woman and child in the heathen city we just conquered because they were, well, heathen.
Oh really? [savedarfur.org] [insert picture of owl here]

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (1)

Loke the Dog (1054294) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737824)

Lots of people have died during space missions, especially if you count all those who have died in events surrounding the space missions. In that case, we're up to several hundred.

Finding people willing to go wouldnt be a problem even if the chance of dying was 90%. The problem is finding the RIGHT people. If safety standards are lowered, you'll get more nutcases and people who's brain can't quite judge risks. These are not the kind of people you want to be handling million dollar equipment.

Lastly, space is 100% prestige and publicity these days, so doing science and looking good while doing it are just as important. Ask the russians if they think its cool that they are just as famous for killing rocket scientists in huge fireballs as they are for putting the first man in space. Unlike other screw ups, space disasters tend to be too spectacular to cover up.

Re:Yes, but on the bright side... (1)

StonedYoda47 (732257) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738648)

I know that slashthought is to hate the war in Iraq and all, but you do realize that many, many advances have come about during war? War causes innovation. There have been some neat advances in medical science as a result of the Iraq war, better body armor, etc that will have commercial applications. I think it's a bit one-sided to say that the money was wasted.

Follow the money (5, Insightful)

mach1980 (1114097) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737062)

Is it that hard to imagine why senators want US dollars to be spent in their home states instead of going to Russia?

My guess is that this is a national economy thing and has nothing to do with flight-worthiness or risk analysis.

Re:Follow the money (1)

32771 (906153) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738184)

The article states:

"As the shuttles' 2010 retirement nears, NASA planned on getting exemptions to a congressional ban that prohibits purchases of Russian Soyuz rockets. The ban was imposed to curb the spread of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, which Russia is accused of helping."

I still think you are right however, this is Mr. Weldons attempt at getting his share of the pork.

I'm worried about this because it would require a considerable amount of money to go into the shuttles. The article states "Griffin said it would cost $2.5 billion to $4 billion per year to keep the shuttles flying past 2010", so this would probably require an increase in NASA funding which they probably won't get.

The problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21737094)

The problem is they need to start converting the Shuttle launch pads for the upcoming Ares system well before they can even start testing, so simultaneous Shuttle operations are impossible.

LC-39C (4, Informative)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737212)

The obvious solution to this problem would be to construct pad LC-39C as an Ares platform.

LC-39C was originally projected as a third Saturn V pad in a line north of LC-39B but was never constructed although a stub of it's intended crawler-way points towards the north from the dog-leg in the LC-39B crawler-way. There were actually a total of three unbuilt platforms to the north as part of an 'Advanced Saturn' program but the other two look like they'd need significant land reclamation.

The existing crawler-transporters should be sufficient to handle both the STS and Ares I as NASA is building brand-new MLPs for the Ares system.

Compared to the total cost of the Ares/Orion system, a new LC-39 pad would like like a bargain.

Something I forgot; the VAB. (1)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737296)

I'd forgotten that the assembly platforms within the VAB are tailored to the STS.

It'd be interesting to know how NASA intends to work this as the crew-launching Ares I is a long, thin stick whereas the Ares V is an ostensibly shuttle-shaped two boosters and a central LH2/LOX tank.

The only thing I can think of is that they might crane platform-inserts into position when servicing an Ares I and then use the existing Shuttle platforms when servicing an Ares V.

An Object Lesson (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737206)

As long as they didn't use them (or have to use them) for everything, they could maintain them at a slower pace and lower cost, and keep them flying for a long time.

Consider the B-52. It's been flying for over 50 years. It's not expected to perform all air tasks -- there are other planes for specialized work. Thus, the Buff doesn't get worn out because it's able to be kept up. There are more advanced planes flying. But the Buff is still flying too.

The shuttle could be kept flying for 50 years as long as there were suitable alternatives for certain missions.

Re:An Object Lesson (1)

klik (93694) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737844)

You are right about the b52, but you forget that almost all b52s flying have been renovated so many times that little of the original aircraft other than some primary bodywork still makes up the plane. The Shuttle is nowhere near as stable a frame for that sort of thing.

Re:An Object Lesson (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738100)

I could argue that the B52 is still flying mostly because it's a freakily well designed plane for what it is.

The builders happened to hit the mix just right, and even with 'strip to the frame' refits every so often it's showing it's age. For example, it's not really rated for operation in hostile airspace anymore, instead it's a standoff plane - launching cruise missiles rather than dropping bombs.

The shuttle is much more of a white elephant. We don't have enough launches to obtain the body of knowledge and automation to reduce expenses, and it's a strain to launch any given shuttle once a year.

But I'll agree that we'd be able to make do with the shuttle for much longer if it wasn't used for everything. For one obvious example: A seperate system for lifting ISS modules/supplies. This would make servicing Hubble* easier.

Then again, after we have a seperate system for heavy lifting things like ISS modules, I'd put a seperate 'satellite servicer' craft on the list - something like an ISS module with engines that could take supplies lifted by the cargo craft and go do the servicing without hauling what's effectively a relaunchable space station up from earth gravity every time.

To make up for the fact that the shuttle has a bay larger than our likely repair craft can be - go with a bigalow type inflatable system. A couple PSI and suddenly you have a huge bay.

*Of course I think that we should have a replacement for this available as well.

Politics as usual (4, Insightful)

El Yanqui (1111145) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737294)

Politics too often trumps science and common sense. Here's a congressman who wants a lucrative deal in his district, that's the story.

I like how the congressman describes it as an "arbitrary" date for decomissioning and that the risks won't increase overnight. I say send a congressman up on every mission after the shuttle's sell by date.

They probably can be used effectively for many years, but that doesn't mean that they should. Every bit of extra maintenance and upkeep performed on an old system, every bit of extra testing to make sure parts still function and every investigation into a failure will slow the space program and new developments. This is pork politics no matter how it's dressed up.

Re:Politics as usual (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738132)

I like how the congressman describes it as an "arbitrary" date for decomissioning and that the risks won't increase overnight. I say send a congressman up on every mission after the shuttle's sell by date.

Given the thrill that space flight still has, such that you do get billionaires buying flights, I think that such a requirement would actually increase the odds of the shuttle program continuing.

Even if only 10% of congress want rides, that's still 73 people wanting to go up.

Very Dangerous (-1, Troll)

Derek the Donutmaker (1204868) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737356)

I can see all sorts of problems extending the life of these modules, and it will almost certainly result in a catastrophe like what happened in 1977 which most people seem to have forgotten [tinyurl.com]

Re:Very Dangerous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21738696)

> I can see all sorts of problems extending the life of these modules, and it will almost certainly
> result in a catastrophe like what happened in 1977 which most people seem to have forgotten.

          Okay, I will bit. What catastrophe did happen in 1977, aside from the Death Star blowing up?

There will be NO Orion (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737376)

So nursing the SS program along to do MAYBE 1 or 2 launches a year is a waste of effort. All it does is stall the inevitable. Whether it's 2011, 2013 or 2015 manned spaceflight in the USA will be over. The Vulcans aren't coming to Montana, sorry.

What about the Phoenix? (1)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737474)

Whatever happened to the Phoenix [spacefuture.com] ? VTOL, SSTO, and a dollar-per-kilo payload to orbit cost a mere fraction of either the shuttle, the Soyuz, or the Orion.

Re:What about the Phoenix? (1)

32771 (906153) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738016)

Here is a nice article:

http://www.physorg.com/news6341.html [physorg.com]

Here is a quote:
""Where is the sexy new stuff?" they ask. "For that matter, where is the sexy old stuff? Why isn't Mike Griffin pulling out the blueprints for X-30/NASP, DC-X/Delta Clipper, or X-33/VentureStar? Billions of dollars were spent on these programs before they were cancelled. Why aren't we using all that research to design a cheap, reusable, Single-Stage-To-Orbit vehicle that operates just like an airplane and doesn't fall in the ocean after one flight?"

The answer to this question is: All of these vehicles were fantasy projects. They violated basic laws of physics and engineering. They were impossible with current technology, or any technology we can afford to develop on the timescale and budgets available to NASA. They were doomed attempts to avoid the Cold Equations of Spaceflight. "

He goes on to explain why SSTOs won't work and so on. I found Dr. Bells articles depressing and insightful. In the end I would rather settle for something that works rather than some space cadets wet dream that hasn't a chance of taking off.

Well and then there is the first project Orion which would have to suffer from not-on-my-planet syndrome but it might have worked.

 

Private Sector (1)

s31523 (926314) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737650)

NASA's other option lies in the private sector; but thus far, the progress from that quarter does not look sufficient to meet the 2011 deadline.

4 years to deliver a space shuttle replacement, yeah lets bet on that option. If NASA and our government were serious they would have offered some sort of financial assistance, say dollar for dollar matching on R&D or startup capital. I mean, just sitting around 'hoping' for the private sector to bail out your space agency does not seem like a very good plan. All of this worrying, aka planning, should have been done a long time ago.

Pure politics. (1)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737682)

This is just pure politics and has nothing with space travel to do at all. The most sane thing would be to work with the russians that already have a very good launch vehicle that doesnt go kaboom! every other flight. Atleast until a viable alternative can be made avaliable. Lets face it, the space shuttle won because it looked like a spaceship, not because of its superior advantages to rockets. Heck, most fuel goes up in lifting the dead duck up that could have been better spent on payload.

This one is about jobs, not security. (2, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737832)

If he was serious, then he would say that the shuttle should continue flying until a replacement is working and in place. That could be oriion, but it is far more likely to be COTs. The reason why he said until Orion is that it is expected to need close to the same amount of ppl as the shuttle (4K+ at Kennedy). OTH, Falcon will have no more than 100 ppl at kennedy, and 50 is likely closer around 2010. In addition, virgin is expected to come on-line around 2011 with their LEO space system, with less than 50. And finally, we have the 2'nd COTs entry. It will most likely be one that is close. I am guessing that it will spacedev (using ULA's launcher, they have an engine for the back, just need the craft, which they are looking to use the H-20 design). Spacedev would possibly be ready by 2010.

But it would make sense to continue flying the shuttle until one of the alternative systems is in place. As soon, as it is in place, the NASA shuttle ppl should be wound down. Quickly. But this pub is simply up to the same tricks as those from 200X; run up a moster deficit.

Those brave pilots... (1)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737840)

Yikes, considering how often my old classic LandRover breaks down, I would not want to fly an old classic Space Shuttle.

Yeah, I know. I cannot compare a rusty old relic with a well maintained shining example of top NASA technology, but even so, hats off to the people brave enough to fly into space in something designed in the early 70s. In real terms is probably not that different to people who fly Sopwith Camels for the hell of it - just more spectacular and better publicized when it goes wrong.

This should not suprise anyone (1)

rhadamanthus (200665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737948)

Too much money involved to not get the attention of some politicians. In terms of "do-ability", the real question is how the shuttle managers will get around the lack of spares/supplies that have been minimized and/or completely shut down in preperation for the retirement date.

The shuttles *scare* me, and here's why. (1)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 6 years ago | (#21738476)

The thing that most people don't know about the shuttle is the number of pressure modules on it. These are mostly high-pressure titanium-alloy composite-wrapped spheres, with service pressures ranging to 4500 psi or so. Outside the space program, the absolute life limit of a fiber-wrapped composite pressure vessel is 15 years. After 15 years, it must be condemned and removed from service.

They are *well* past the original design lifetime of the pressure vessels on the shuttle. Additionally, there is no manufacturer who *can* make replacements at this point. It would require them to retool a line and start from scratch, and no business is going to do that for less than a king's ransom, and even if they did, it would require time to build the line and test the vessels.

In order to keep flying with pressure vessels *well* past their "expiration date", NASA has run some tests and decided the vessels were capable of (safe enough) continued service. Still, they were concerned enough to rewrite the procedures. Now, they ramp up the pressure to less than the rated service pressure, and they wait until basically the latest possible time to "top off" to the required values. This leaves the pressure vessels under full stress for less total time, but there's still the risk that they'll "go boom" (and if you've never seen what even a 3000-psi 80 cubic foot scuba cylinder can do when it ruptures... well, as Keanu Reeves would say, "Whoa...").

Anyway, they've "extended" the service life of the pressure vessels on the shuttle, but they do not have arbitrarily infinite lives. It's certainly not a single thing that is forcing NASA's hand into retiring the shuttle fleet, but you can be damn well sure that the condition of the high pressure vessels is right at the front of many an engineer's darkest fears.
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