Shuttle Launch updates for space buffs

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Andrew Testa, Jul 18, 2003.

  1. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    For you few space buffs, our daily corporate newsletter included the following material stolen from various news sources:

     
  2. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Long before STS-107, I had found solace in the fact that we were pulling back to only four or five launches a year (I've never recovered from STS-51L). As I've mentioned before, other than HST servicing, I believe the Orbiter should be used only for ISS-related missions while the complementary OSP eventually becomes our primary manned transport (and that the present system be phased out sometime in the next decade with a full-on replacement).

    I still have qualms about the capsule-based design (especially if it were to be a one-use-only system). Boeing already has a head start on technology with all its work on the X-37 system. So help me, I like a spaceplane, even one that might end up being launched atop a Delta IV.
     
  3. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    "I agree with zhose who say ve could launch a pot."

    I wonder if they could simply put a foam bumper along the leading-edge of the wings to absorb any future blows. It would quickly burn off in re-entry so the wing would have its original chord for landing.
     
  4. Mark Hedges

    Mark Hedges Second Unit

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    They ought to launch the goddamn thing into the atlantic ocean and start over. I doubt any government project ever promised so much and delivered so little as the space shuttle.
     
  5. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Mark, though STS never lived up to NASA's 1970s hype, you're selling the system short. It has taught us so much about operating a reusable spacecraft. Each flight is a learning experience, and NASA has come to grips with that fact.

    Further, throughout the 1990s, the STS launched more overall payload into orbit than any other system.
     
  6. Mark Hedges

    Mark Hedges Second Unit

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    You are right. We have learned a lot. And it has accomplished quite a bit. But its just that the 1970's hype was so far from reality-

    Promised: ~50 launches/year
    Achieved: ~5 launches/year

    Promised: ~$6 million/launch
    Achieved: ~$600 million/launch

    Personally I think what we have learned is that we don't really have the technology to make a robust reusable spacecraft. I think we should consider single-use vehicles, while improving materials and engines in order to develop a better engineered reusible craft.
     
  7. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    No one disputes that the shuttle hasn't lived up to the original hype. Part of that is due to the lies told to congress in an attempt to please everybody to secure funding, and a large part is that nobody really knew what would happen. The shuttle was something that had never been attempted before. Everything about it was new, from materials used to operational concepts. It was a test vehicle and production vehicle rolled into one. How could anyone know before hand how the materials would age, what maintenance would really be required?

    As Jack said, it has been a tremendous learning experience, both for what works and what doesn't. In that regard it's been a great success even if the hype was never realized.

    As far as what the shuttle should be used for, it really isn't as fragile as you think. There's still plenty of use for a vehicle that can haul 60,000 lbs and seven people into orbit. The core problem is one that will plague any vehicle that replaces the shuttles, no matter what its design: human complacency. When launches of anything become routine, people begin to believe that it will always be routine. If a flight comes back with a dent where there shouldn't be one, but it returned safely, then people come to expect that it's ok. And it creeps out from there, until you wind up at a point where people just don't believe that anything CAN go wrong. This is when the fatal mistakes happen, and they invariably get traced to a history of similar small occurrences that people got used to. Both Challenger and Columbia followed the same pattern.

    It's human nature. If something doesn't kill us, then we don't need to be as concerned about it. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain the same level of vigilance from the first flight to the 100th, and as we've seen many people just follow the flow.

    No matter how many safety features and escape systems are designed, there will always be susceptibility to human error or failure to recognize a problem. Criticality one issues will always be with us. They cannot be avoided. We have to accept that sometimes the odds catch up with us.

    "A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." -Shedd
     
  8. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Great post!
     
  9. Frank Anderson

    Frank Anderson Cinematographer

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    What depresses me is if you turn the clock back 20 years. It appears that everything is still the same as it was in 1983. Look what was accomplished in the 60's and 70's. In under ten years we went from no one in space to walking on the moon. Maybe it's irrational wishful thinking, but I was hoping for something a little more grander than what we're getting with the international space station. I was expecting something huge that had dozens of people living and working together. What good a possible moonbase would have ever served I don't know, but wouldn't it have been cool to have one? So here we are, over thirty years after the first moon landing, still thinking about what could be.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Win Joy Jr

    Win Joy Jr Stunt Coordinator

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    Andrew -

    Which birds did they take the C-C leading edge panels off of to do the test? I was shocked to hear there are two orbiters currently out of service...
     
  11. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Win, those leading-edge panels for the ballistics/foam test were taken from the Atlantis.

    Frank: Remember, everything NASA does is constrained by its budget, which is proposed by the White House and then approved by Congress. Interestingly, Congress has been a little more open to boosting NASA's budget than has the current White House. Of course, we can't say more than that, vis. Forum rules.

    What I'm getting at is this: NASA is a $15 billion agency when, at the very, very least, it should be a $40 billion agency (hell, more than that, in my book!).

    Without the funds, NASA is limited in its ability to carry out its mission properly (which will be a key point in the CAIB's final report next month). Yes, we would all love in the ISS something more along the lines of the ambitious rotating space station in Stanley Kubrick's little space movie from 1968. But the ISS has had a long, tortuous, politically undermined history ever since the original dual-keeled Space Station Freedom was proposed in the wake of Reagan's 1984 State of the Union address.

    By the Clinton administration, NASA's then chief, Dan Goldin, was bluntly told that in order for the space station project to be kept alive the Russians had to be made a primary partner in the new, scaled-back ISS program. NASA would have preferred, for reasons that have since been proven correct, to go it alone.

    But Congress kept threatening to cut off the purse. (It narrowly survived by one vote during one Congressional hearing in 1995.)

    As it is, we're lucky even to have a manned space program, much less the ISS.

    The problem with the United States when it comes to manned spaceflight is that while the country and its citizens definitely want a space program, they don't seem to want to pay for one.

    And therein lies the ongoing problem.

    Also, it's worth noting that the Nixon administration was entirely willing to bring the manned program to an end after Skylab and the 1975 ASTP mission. Only a strongly worded memorandum from Casper Weinberger to Nixon kept the Space Transportation System (aka, "space shuttle) alive.

    I could go on and discuss the 1969 Space Task Force Group's recommendations made to the Nixon administration in September, 1969, which offered three grand scenarios for the post-Apollo space effort. Proposal One had it all: a completely reusable spaceplane, an ambitious manned space station staffed by more than a hundred personnel, a lunar base, and a nuclear-propelled manned mission to Mars by 1982 to 1985.

    What we got instead was a scaled-back version of Proposal #3: a space shuttle (only) with an eye to an eventual small space station.

    Until private enterprise somehow finds a true profit-motive for manned flight, we're at the mercy of political winds and whims when it comes to re-energizing NASA.

    Considering what NASA is up against, therefore, I can't get over what a good job the agency has done (complacency and tragedy notwithstanding).
     
  12. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Also, Win: Nothing to be shocked about regarding two of the Orbiters being out of commission. All four Orbiters were undergoing major cockpit and avionics upgrades, first in Palmdale, and, now, at KSC. Columbia was the first Orbiter to have undergone this upgrade (in Palmdale), and had flown one post-upgrade mission successfully prior to the ill-fated STS-107 mission.

    Believe me, these upgrades are both necessary and good.
     
  13. James L White

    James L White Supporting Actor

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  14. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    Frank,

    Jack pretty much said it all, but I'd like to sum up: The reasons so much progress was made in the 60s and early 70s had nothing to do with a desire to explore space. JFK didn't care one bit about space exploration, he was only interested in making sure the US kept a technological edge over the Soviets, and the USSR propaganda machine had many in the US scared that they were on the verge on controlling space. It could as easily have been a race to reach the bottom of the Mariannes Trench and man a permanent base on the bottom of the ocean, had the Soviets declared their intent to do it first.

    Were they the "good old days" of NASA? Not a chance. All of the problems and squabbles and political backstabbing were present then as well, they just never made it to the news as they do now. NASA was put on a pedestal due to it's insulation from public scrutiny. Today it's put under a microscope due to our instant and constant news access. There's nothing happening at NASA that hasn't been happening all along, it''s just that with the new microscope you can see all the crud that was invisible before.

    But now that there is no national security reason to earmark money for long term space efforts, our problems are compounded. As congress controls the purse strings, we are limited to the range of their vision. Significant and permanent space exploration requires a financial plan that stretches for decades. Congressional planning changes with the tide of politics, and it's difficult to secure significant money for more than four to six years. As Jack detailed, the ISS has been jerked around for years.

    Barring the beginning of a new national security reason to accelerate access to space, it will remain a low priority. I don't expect to ever see a moon base or manned mission to Mars. I'll be happy if we can develop cheaper, safer, and more varied means to reach LEO while increasing our unmanned presence to all the planets. That's all we'll have the money for in the foreseeable future. It's not what we want, but it's where reality is taking us.

    Andy
     
  15. Frank Anderson

    Frank Anderson Cinematographer

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    Guys, I understand money is an issue, it always will be. Lack of funding has certainly killed many ideas. The way I see it, it's killed them all. All we see are drawings of what they would like to do. Time after time they go up, do some tests, maybe release a satellite, they come down. It's become so routine how many people on average watch one now? It's been the same for over 20 years. How much does it cost to launch a shuttle? I have no clue, but I'm curious, isn't it cheaper to launch satellites by rocket?

    I know absolutely nothing about spaceflight and such but it just does not seem right that we are still doing things the way we were 20 and 30 years ago (i.e. launches vs something else). I know about escape velocity and it take a lot of fuel. I know friction causes heat. I assume there's nothing that can be done to slow decent to prevent or lessen friction? Gliding in doesn't seem to have been a problem so far but can't they come up with something more controlled? Maybe I've been watching to much science fiction. I just wish NASA was more advanced. Maybe I shouldn't have watched The Right Stuff SE last week.

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Then surely, Frank, you remember that line of dialogue: "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

    If NASA had been allowed to do what it always has wanted to do, the future imagined in that little Stanley Kubrick movie might have come about (more or less).

    As for the Orbiter's being a glider upon reentry, it's the best solution for which the agency had the money. The Soviet Buran space shuttle had air-breathing engines which would have given it fly-around capability had it come in off-target.

    Sounds great, eh? But bear in mind that the Buran had no onboard rocket motors; it relied solely on the huge Energya launch vehicle; the Buran herself was strictly payload.

    NASA's original plan for a "space shuttle" called for a completely reusable system, featuring a manned, liquid-fueled booster that would ascend as far as fifty nautical miles and then release the orbiter component.

    But Congress balked at the price tag. Then, in order to keep any sort of space shuttle, NASA had to take the Air Force's requirements into consideration. The idea was to make this system America's universal means of launching payload into orbit, including military needs.

    For its entire history, the Space Transportation System has been compromised by political considerations and never-ending cost-cutting.

    As Andrew noted, NASA's mandate in the 1960s was not some grand ideal of space exploration; its mandate was to beat the Soviets. President Kennedy was willing to consider a space station as a national goal, but what he really wanted was a project his advisors could assure him would result in a U.S. victory. And the best and the brightest felt a manned lunar landing was an attainable goal.

    NASA should never be faulted for lack of vision. Those who control its budget should.
     
  17. Ashley Seymour

    Ashley Seymour Supporting Actor

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    What I'm getting at is this: NASA is a $15 billion agency when, at the very, very least, it should be a $40 billion agency (hell, more than that, in my book!).

    Interestingly, Congress has been a little more open to boosting NASA's budget than has the current White House. Of course, we can't say more than that, vis. Forum rules.

    Maybe it's irrational wishful thinking, but I was hoping for something a little more grander than what we're getting with the international space station. I was expecting something huge that had dozens of people living and working together. What good a possible moonbase would have ever served I don't know, but wouldn't it have been cool to have one?

    Jack, I think we all understand that even if this administration had made a goal of increasing NASA funding by $3Bil a year for eight years that as soon as the next administration came along that there would be questions about all the prescription drugs that could be bought with that $40Bil, or kids education, or job training, etc.

    Frank, yes it is irrational thinking to suggest spending $40Bil on something that is "cool."

    Why not roll NASA into the Army Corp of Engineers? NASA is a make work project for engineers. Who wants to make something simple and elegant when they can engineer the hell out it?

    The problem with all of these comments is that the goals for manned space exploration is not clear and a need is not pressing. Go to space for what? To build and man a space station. For what purpose? If it is not commercially viable it is going to be a hard sell. Coming up with a good motivating goal for manned space exploration is the real issue. Now, reduce the cost substantially, say by a factor of 10 or more, and the sell becomes easier. Forget tweaking the space shuttle. It will never be the vehicle that leads us boldly into space.

    Why not take another look at a series of "out of the box" ideas? The proposal of Gerald Bull, before he got cozy with Iraquis and wacked by the Iraelis, was to use low tech to blast equipment up to a space station and the moon. Put stuff in a big gun and blast it into orbit. He even proposed man could be launced the same way. Now don't get all nervous and compare his gun with a 155mm howitzer.

    Why not concentrate on placing remote robotic stations on the moon to launch moon dirt and rock to stationary orbit where a space station could be constructed? Again, the reason why not is because there is no compelling reason to have a space station.

    As of right now, the best commercial case for a space station would be to have it house hundreds of communication satellites. It would be a huge collecting and transmitting disk and also be used to collect and repair other communication satellites in orbit. If it were working on a pay as you go, or even a project with a reasonable deficit, then other scientific research could be attempted.

    Going to Mars or putting up a space station with the current level of technology, is like Jules Verne walking into congress and asking for funding for a nuclear powered submarine to circle the earth. Come back to this thread in 50 years and there will be enough advances in Artificial Intelligence that the subject of space exploration will start to become exciting.
     
  18. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    Ashley,

    The original concepts for the Space Station were actually commercially viable. As originally intended it was to be a way station and repair facility for satellites. A critical portion was the Orbital Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned tug that could retrieve damaged or dying satellites and return them to the station where they could be refurbished. This would have saved millions in new launch costs. The station was also viewed as an assembly point for other vehicles. In this capacity it would have been extremely useful.

    Unfortunately, when the inevitable accounting caught up with the engineering, it was discovered that not only was the job too difficult, but the costs were far beyond reasonably expected budgets. Once all the budget trimming was done, all that was left was a micro-gravity lab, and an insufficient one at that.

    But like the orbiters, we have learned a lot from the process. Nobody had ever constructed a vehicle in space before, and many of the difficulties didn't become known until well into the hardware construction. The next time a vehicle is constructed in orbit it will be easier and cheaper due to the lessons learned from ISS.

     
  19. Mark Hedges

    Mark Hedges Second Unit

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    I think Ashley makes a lot of sense. There needs to be a better reason or need to go into space before you see more resources being thrown at it. [POLITICAL COMMENT REMOVED BY ADMIN. PLEASE, NO FURTHER SUCH REMARKS.]

    James White - read my second post about what was promised and what was achieved.

    Quite frankly I thing any manned mission to Mars with the current technology would be tantamount to a death sentence for the astronauts involved. I would them less than a 50% chance of returning to Earth alive, and a 0% chance of them returning to Earth unaffected by cosmic radiation.
     
  20. Lee L

    Lee L Supporting Actor

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    While there may be some commercial uses for a space station, I'm pretty sure ganging communications satellites would not work. As it stands, the space station is a much too low orbit(just over 200 miles IIRC) and moves in relation to the ground. Even if they placed a station in a geostationary orbit (approx 23,000 miles) the satellites need to be seperated miles apart in order to not interfere with each other and be recevied from earth.

    Personally, I also get down from time to time that we don't spend more on NASA (usually after watching The Right Stuff or some collections of NASA Apollo footage on DVD's.) I'm not sure how many more deaths and loss of multi-billion dollar equipment it will take to see that cutting the funding is short sighted. You will pay one way or the other at some point.
     

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