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  Space Shuttles - Space Station
  Is the Shuttle already over...and if not, should we end it?

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Author Topic:   Is the Shuttle already over...and if not, should we end it?
mjanovec
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From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 08-02-2005 03:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are we seeing the end of the Shuttle program with STS-114? By this, I mean, is there a chance this will be the last flight of the program? Or if the debris problems recurs on the next flight, will NASA shut the program down? Or if they persist in trying to fix the problems, will those problems ever be fixed to complete satisfaction to allow using the shuttle for its remaining planned missions? It seems like every day, the news gets a little bleaker. Not so much that the crew is in danger, but that new problems are discovered daily which the press hammers at constantly. If the public was briefly exhilirated by the return to flight, they must now be questioning whether the shuttle will ever be "safe" to fly...especially after 2.5 years of re-engineering following STS-107, while the problems of debris strikes seem to still be there.

Granted, it's a double edge sword. The more cameras and sensors that are available to record debris strikes and anomolies with the heat tiles, the more that small damage makes the news (especially following STS-107). Debris strikes that the media ignored in the past are now magnified in the extreme, making it appear that the shuttle is a doomed bird when they really only have a chipped tile here and there. Then again, the large foam chunk that fell from the external tank could just as easily have been a fatal strike if it hit the orbiter in the right spot.

(As a side note, with the spacewalk scheduled to repair the material sticking out from between the tiles, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to test a tile repair proceedure on the chipped tile near the nose gear door? There is nothing like an actual reentry to test the effectiveness of a repair.)

While I support a continued manned flight program, I'm leaning to the realization/opinion that the shuttle may be sapping whatever future the US space program has. It's a vehical that never really seemed to insire the public, other than STS-1, STS-26, and the first Hubble repair mission. After visiting the moon, sitting in low earth orbit on the shuttle (or the space station) just doesn't seem to inspire much interest.

In contrast, the Hubble telescope HAS been inspirational to the public, since it has opened up views of the universe never before seen. To the public, it feels more like exploration that sitting on the shuttle or the space station. It was the best dollar-for-dollar investment NASA made since Apollo ended, I feel. While the Shuttle has played a key role in the deployment and servicing of Hubble, it also seems to be something that an unmanned launch vehical could just as easily put in orbit and that a simpler crew exploration vehical could have serviced.

As one idea, I think NASA might be better served today by taking this road:

1. End the shuttle program as soon as possible. Perhaps fly a couple more flights to bring already-built modules to the space station, but end it there. Or end flying right away and use unmanned rockets to carry up the modules. Or end growth of the space station altogether. Determine whether the station has a significant future in the space program or whether it will sap away limited funding from the more "inspirational" efforts (space telescopes, moon missions, Mars mission, etc.). It wouldn't be the first time NASA prematurely ended a space program...just ask an Apollo era astronaut.

2. Accelerate the CEV to have readiness by 2009. The technology already exists in most part. (I would favor an Apollo style command/service module style vehical...something that would be easily adaptable to lunar flights as well). Simplicity is the key. Use proven designs and materials as a starting point. Either design a new rocket to carry the load (based on proven designs), use an updated design of a Saturn rocket, or use a hybrid of the shuttle technology tank/booster system, placing the new vehical on top of the stack (eliminating debris concerns totally), with an escape tower. Using funding that would have supported future shuttle flights to accelerate this process would be one option.

3. Build a bigger/better replacement to Hubble (i.e. another optical telescope capable of providing the same stunning imagery) and launch on an unmanned vehical...since the original Hubble will likely "die" before a CEV could service it. Set the launch to coincide with the startup of missions with the CEV, using the CEV to service the new scope.

4. Set a firm date for return to the moon. Not a target, but a firm date...like Kennedy did. Do the same for Mars. The public will support a mission if they know that there is a firm timetable in which to see the results. Goals with fuzzy target dates tend to get ignored.

Another thing...NASA needs somebody with an imagination once again. Start coming up with imaginative names for your programs. "Space Shuttle" just doesn't cut it. Oh, wait, sorry...I should have said "Space Transportation System" (yawwwwwnnn). Where are the people that came up with names like "Mercury," "Gemini," and "Apollo?" Heck, even "Skylab" is more interesting than what we have today. I've recently heard the name "Project Constellation" being used for Moons/Mars initiative and can't help but think that, finally, someone might be getting it right again. Now they just need a snappy name for the CEV.

What NASA needs to do is to bring Imax cameras to the moon (and someday, Mars), shoot loads of film, and then use it (in conjunction with a production company) to create a movie experience for all of us to experience what it is like to stand on the moon. While collecting lunar samples is of great importance, it would be great to have a mission or two primarily dedicated to capturing the experience on film and bringing it back for mankind to share. Oh, sure, collect samples too, but have a main goal of capturing the experience on film. With today's film technology (or even the technology we'll have in 10 more years time), I would think that the films brought back could be absolutely stunning. Not to take away from the Apollo films, which were stunning in their own way...but new large format films of the lunar surface could really give us the impression of "being there" as we watch them. And why not collect several rock/soil samples for touring exhibitions of these films? Have the rocks available for public viewing. Maybe even have a handful of rocks available for the public to touch with their own hands (under supervision, of course) at these exhibits. If NASA wants public support, they need to find ways such as this to bring the experience back to the public.

Anyway, I'm just venting a few thoughts. I don't claim to have the answers, but I have to suspect that I'm not alone in my frustrations with the current Shuttle program. And I know I'm certainly not the first one to bring up these points. But I'm happy to hear whatever opinions or disagreements others might have about what I've said.

Mark

Matt T
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From: Chester, Cheshire, UK
Registered: May 2001

posted 08-02-2005 04:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You read my mind. The current shuttle mission is turning out to be one of the low points of manned space flight, a mission that seems to be dedicated to nothing more inspiring than making it home in one piece.

It's utopian to imagine that doing away with the shuttle now would usher in a new era of firm goals and huge budgets, but it would certainly accelerate the movement towards new craft and new missions.

And as for lunar IMAX - bring it on

Cheers,
Matt

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Aztecdoug
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From: Huntington Beach
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posted 08-02-2005 04:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aztecdoug   Click Here to Email Aztecdoug     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On the contrary, I think this shuttle flight is a highest point in manned space flight since Apollo 13. When has a spacecraft ever had the ability to pull over for repairs in space before?

NASA has fixed various satellites before, they even squeaked home on Apollo 13. But here, they have essentially pulled into the garage, gotten out and, God willing, they will make the repairs tomorrow.

This is the type of stuff we need to get used to heading into the future. No space ship is ever going to be perfect. This is how we will get to Mars and beyond.

And donít forget, the way things look now, they will accomplish 100% of their mission objectives.

Not bad... to the crew of STS-114, two thumbs up!


------------------
Kind Regards

Douglas Henry

Enjoy yourself and have fun.... it is only a hobby!
http://home.earthlink.net/~aztecdoug/

[This message has been edited by Aztecdoug (edited August 02, 2005).]

mjanovec
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From: Midwest, USA
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posted 08-02-2005 05:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good points, but I disagree somewhat.

No disrespect meant to the crew of STS-114, who are doing a great job and will likely fulfill all of their objectives. I've never had a problem with the performance of the astronauts, who has historically performed beyond expectations.

But this is nowhere near the high point of the post-Apollo 13 era...at least in my book. The fact is, the re-designed external tank still failed the litmus test. After 2.5 years, it still isn't a safe tank to fly (and may never be).

For me the post-Apollo 13 highlights of NASA have been:

1. Apollo 15/16/17. I lump these together, because these three missions turned Apollo into a true program of exploration...beyond just a race with the Soviet Union. Too bad most people turned off their TV sets and missed the best missions. (I blame that on NASA's poor ability to engage the public's interest...something that has only gotten worse over time.)

2. Hubble space telescope (and the Hubble repair missions). In the spirit of exploration, few tools have opened up the universe like Hubble has. This has been NASA's best public relations tool in the past 15 years, yet was the first thing on O'Keefe's chopping block after STS-107.

3. STS-1. In hindsight, this was perhaps the bravest mission of them all...putting two men in an untested design (other than the Enterprise landing tests, that is).

The space program is at it's best when it opens new frontiers of discovery. Yes, there is a purpose and reason for having a presence in earth orbit, since that will help us move back to the moon and beyond (Project Gemini proved that). But I just don't see that happening with the Shuttle or the ISS at this point. The fact is, will the repair techniques being tested now have any significance after the Shuttle is phased out? It seems like a stop-gap measure to protect themselves against a less-than-ideal thermal protection system.

Such repair techniques weren't needed with the heat shields of Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo...it wasn't necessary for those craft. One could argue that the heat shield was so well designed for Apollo, that not even the Service Module explosion in Apollo 13 could damage that shield (although, admittedly, luck probably played a role there too).

I understand your point about being able to fix your ship in space, since it's possible a Mars spacecraft may need repairs in it's long mission. But the fixes that will serve a Mars mission shouldn't be fixes dealing with re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere. We should have had that problem licked decades ago.

Also, STS-114 isn't the first time we've fixed our own spacecraft (externally) while in space. Pete Conrad and the crew of Skylab 2 beat them to it.

While I was excited to see the Shuttle return to space (like everyone else), in hindsight it might have been better to scrap the program immediately after STS-107 and begin work on the CEV right away. If all of the sweat that went into RTF went towards the CEV, we maybe could have had an operating vehical in the very near future. And once the CEV was given a couple of test flights to the ISS, a good next mission would have been servicing Hubble.

Instead, we're still flying a trouble prone vehical 24 years after it's maiden flight, not getting humans anywhere other than low earth orbit. While I want the Shuttle to succeed as much as anyone else, I want to see forward progress too. If we're still fighting a nearly 30-year old design in order to come home safely, then one has to wonder whether it is dragging down any other efforts we're trying to accomplish...

Aztecdoug
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From: Huntington Beach
Registered: Feb 2000

posted 08-02-2005 06:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aztecdoug   Click Here to Email Aztecdoug     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mjanovec:
Good points, but I disagree somewhat.

Also, STS-114 isn't the first time we've fixed our own spacecraft (externally) while in space. Pete Conrad and the crew of Skylab 2 beat them to it.


Okay, you got me on the Pete Conrad Skylab fix, I forgot that one.

------------------
Kind Regards

Douglas Henry

Enjoy yourself and have fun.... it is only a hobby!
http://home.earthlink.net/~aztecdoug/

mjanovec
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Posts: 3593
From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 08-02-2005 06:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Aztecdoug:
Okay, you got me on the Pete Conrad Skylab fix, I forgot that one.

Don't feel bad. I forgot about it too...until I was just about ready to hit the send button. ;-)

BrianB
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posted 08-03-2005 12:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for BrianB   Click Here to Email BrianB     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'd like to throw in a couple of thoughts.

While I do share a lot of your frustrations and concerns with the shuttle program, I think ending everything after this flight would be a mistake for a couple of reasons:

1. Ending now would probably mean that future ISS modules would never be delivered. A new heavy lift capacity would have to be developed, and modules would probably have to be modified. I think that the will and momentum to do this just wouldn't be there. I believe NASA has made commitments to deliver modules, and backing out wouldn't do their reputation any good.

2. If 114 is the last flight, I think NASA runs a real risk of being identified with failure, rather than success. This could mean that the last 2 (or perhaps 3 if you count Hubble) major space programs (ISS, shuttle)would end prematurely on a somewhat sour note.

Public interest and support for space is lukewarm at best. Ending shuttle flights now leaves a large gap until the next high profile US manned flights would take place. What would this do to support for the moon and Mars?

BrianB

mjanovec
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From: Midwest, USA
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posted 08-03-2005 12:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Those are all excellent points. Ending programs on a sour note might be worse than seeing them through to their somewhat natural end.

I guess the answer will become clearer in the coming months once we learn of the results of efforts to fix the foam problems once and for all.

Matt T
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From: Chester, Cheshire, UK
Registered: May 2001

posted 08-03-2005 06:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The new reality at NASA is that we can't have it all. The budget doesn't exist currently to fully man the ISS, and the Bush 'vision' doesn't include any big budget increases.

Why spend valuable resources on a space shuttle (that is certain to be retired) delivering components to a space station that will only ever be fully functional at the cost of the new programs?

Cheers,
Matt

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www.spaceracemuseum.com

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-03-2005 08:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gene Kranz has weighed in on this topic in today's New York Times editorial "From Giant Leaps to Baby Steps" (via NASA Watch):
quote:
TO read and listen to the coverage about the space shuttle, you would think NASA's mission team has taken careless risks with the lives of the seven astronauts who went into space on the Discovery last Tuesday. During the launching, foam fell off the external tank. For the risk-averse, the only acceptable thing to do now is retire the shuttle program immediately and wait for the divine arrival of the next generation of spacecraft. I am disgusted at the lack of courage and common sense this attitude shows.
Read the full editorial here.

Matt T
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From: Chester, Cheshire, UK
Registered: May 2001

posted 08-03-2005 10:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I couldn't agree with Gene more. Retiring the shuttle because it poses a risk to the astronauts would be cowardly and foolish. Retiring it because it's a LEO money pit on it's last legs would be a braver and more sensible move.

Cheers,
Matt

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mjanovec
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From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 08-03-2005 01:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Matt T:
I couldn't agree with Gene more. Retiring the shuttle because it poses a risk to the astronauts would be cowardly and foolish. Retiring it because it's a LEO money pit on it's last legs would be a braver and more sensible move.

I have to agree. I've never really had an issue with flying the shuttle as a safety factor...two accidents in 113 flights isn't a completely terrible loss rate considering the inherent danger of space flight. One could argue that Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo had astonishing low loss rates, with "only" one fatal accident and only a couple of aborted missions (GT-8 and Apollo 13).

While every effort should be made to eliminate dangers as much as practically possible, there will never be a completely safe vehical (just as there is no completely safe car or airplane). I just worry that the press attention paid to the recent foam shedding will cause NASA to become mired in fixing foam for another 2.5 years before attempting to fly again. I would rather have them fly while they fix the issue "on the go," making upgrades as necessary. The ISS is there as a lifeboat if needed. And a backup shuttle is there should it be needed.

The three fatal accidents in NASA's career seem to come down to either "go fever" or an attitude that "it didn't bite us in the past, so we'll probably be okay." There have been amazingly few fatal hardware flaws over the years. If NASA can fix the management flaws that led to these disasters, they will be much safer than any one fix to a piece of hardware can accomlish.

While I personally think that the shuttle should end sooner instead of later, I also agree it should go out on a high note. A few more mission to ISS to finish adding the modules currently under construction is okay. The a Hubble servicing mission would be an ideal way to end the shuttle program.

After that, resume the larger mission to "boldly go" where we haven't gone before...first by returning to the moon (visiting sites we have seen before) and then moving on to Mars.

Astro Bill
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posted 08-15-2005 05:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Astro Bill   Click Here to Email Astro Bill     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Speaking yesterday on The McLaughlin Group, John McLaughlin stated that the space shuttle is "dead" and that another mission would "give Americans a nervous breakdown". Pat Buchanan stated that the next few shuttle missions should be under the control of the military (taken away from NASA). Tony Blankely stated that Eileen Collins was not in control of the mission and was along for the ride. The discussion went way down from there. You can see and hear the entire discussionin the last five minutes of the show at http://www.mclaughlin.com/

[This message has been edited by Astro Bill (edited August 15, 2005).]

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