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  Was the space shuttle program a mistake?

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Author Topic:   Was the space shuttle program a mistake?
Duke Of URL
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posted 05-22-2012 02:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just wondering and without a dog in the fight: Now that the program has ended, was the shuttle a mistake?

I realize there were huge contributions made, but arguments can also be made that the entire shuttle concept was an enormous boondoggle.

Was it over-built with no clear purpose, especially with nothing like the ISS to fly to?

I read somewhere that it's size and cost had to do with military requirements and that it was hobbled by being both a military and civilian project, and the design compromises made it inadequate for either.

Finally, what would manned spaceflight been without the shuttle? Would private space travel and manned planetary projects have been sped up?

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 05-22-2012 02:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Playing devil's advocate, it can also be argued that the Apollo program was a mistake. It was a dead end program whose goal was to beat the Russians to the moon. Once that was done, then what? It took resources away from the X-15 and X-20 programs...

The space station was only one purpose of the space shuttle. It did what it was supposed to: deploy satellites and serve as a short-term space station.

Of course, it didn't do that cheaply or as frequently as it was intended, but is that the fault of the space shuttle itself or of the program?

One good thing about the space shuttle program is that it inspired a generation of people to pursue backgrounds good enough to be considered, and then chosen, by NASA. Ron Garan, a business economics major, was inspired to pursue science and engineering after seeing STS-1, for example.

And even if they ultimately decided not to apply for whatever reason, or were rejected, there are other people who were inspired by the space shuttle program in pursuing STEM disciplines.

Some shuttle astronauts will say yeah, they wanted to be an astronaut, but they weren't white, male, or had the military background. Having the shuttle allowed people with STEM backgrounds fly into space. And if we (the royal we) are gung-ho about making scientific advances in space, we need to fly those people up there.

capoetc
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posted 05-22-2012 05:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
When assessing historical events, it is useful to remember two things:
  1. Personalities matter

  2. People make decisions for what, to them, are good reasons at that time
Context of the times is important. In order to say any program was a "mistake", in retrospect, one must be able to assemble data available to decision makers at that time and then determine that another choice would have been more prudent.

At the time, the space shuttle was the next logical step.

BNorton
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posted 05-22-2012 07:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BNorton   Click Here to Email BNorton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by capoetc:
At the time, the space shuttle was the next logical step.

It (a winged re-usable spacecraft) still is.

Duke Of URL
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posted 05-22-2012 07:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good points, but allow me to reply that inspiring people to apply to NASA is circular reasoning, and that the next logical step after Apollo might have been a Moon base, space station like Skylab or a manned flight to Mars.

Again, I don't have a dog in the fight so please don't think I'm being argumentative.

Jay Chladek
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posted 05-22-2012 08:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, I am going to go out on a limb and try to provide an answer. Yes, I love shuttle, but I'll try and be as even handed as I can.

In short, no I don't think it was a mistake.

Given the climate of Congress and the White House in the early 1970s, NASA was trying to do what it could to stay alive and have a future after Apollo. They could only do so much with Apollo Applications, given that the Saturn V and Saturn 1B production lines were shut down before the last lunar flights were flown and AAP never got all the money it wanted either. The Air Force was also trying to come up with a more robust space program on their own, albeit one dedicated more to launching unmanned DoD satellite assets.

So, given the climate of the time, going with shuttle next made logical sense. If anything, going for the moon first meant there was no logical building block approach, like what von Braun proposed in the 1950s where you start with satellites, then fly a man in space, then build a ferry vehicle and next build a space station before using it as a springboard to further exploration (both of the Earth and out to the moon and onward). So NASA going with a shuttle program was trying to bring back something along the lines of a sensible approach... at least in theory.

Now there were some mistakes made in how the program was handled IMHO as doing the marriage of NASA's shuttle concept with what the Air Force wanted did end up making the shuttle more complicated than it needed to be. Since the Air Force wanted that 1,400 mile cross range capability to launch from Vandenberg, dump a satellite into a polar orbit and land on the NEXT orbit, it forced NASA to go with the heat shield design they went with. Ultimately, the USAF never operated a shuttle like that since so many other challenges couldn't be overcome.

Overselling the shuttle as being an easy craft to turn around and capable of 12 flights a year was also a mistake since it was America's first pass at such a system. Also making it the ONLY launch vehicle for satellites, space probes, DoD stuff and other things was also not a smart idea. I think if more development money had been put fourth by Congress, some of those operational costs could have been controlled better though. So NASA was just as much a victim of the budget as they were of their own over-ambitious goals. But, I have a feeling a few administrators at NASA at the time shuttle's concept was fleshed out figured they had to over-sell shuttle to even get the thing built since the leaders in DC were getting more fickle.

In terms of what we got with the shuttle we ended up with, sure it was expensive. But it taught us SO many things. In today's aerospace design climate of drawing board projects getting cancelled before they even get metal cut on them, it is a miracle the shuttle even got built. Perhaps it could be said the timing was just right for shuttle as our engineers were smart enough to build something like that while those with the purse strings were "dumb" enough to go along with it rather than saying "that sounds too hard, lets not do it."

I think if NASA had been able to get funding for a space tug as well as shuttle, it would have made shuttle a much more capable craft. Sure, it could launch satellite and probe payloads, but the space tug would have allowed payloads to be trucked back down for recovery from higher orbits for repair or return to Earth, making the mission capability for the craft much better. Using such a craft ONLY for launching and repair of satellites in LEO doesn't give you much by comparison.

All things being equal, shuttle was able to teach us a lot of good lessons and a lot of not so good lessons. We will ultimately never know what NASA would have done if they hadn't developed shuttle. But ultimately I believe in a few decades, something with a similar capability (with a space tug this time) will need to be developed if mankind is going to try and make Earth orbit beneficial, be it for development of microwave power satellites or even just for helping to sweep some of the junk stuck in orbit out before collisions of dead satellites give us more of a debris problem than we currently have. When that new craft is developed (or even just a passenger carrying craft with wings), the designers are going to look at the lessons learned with NASA's space shuttle.

But if you want a tangible success from shuttle, look at Buran. Even though the USAF didn't use the shuttle in the manner they wanted it to, it worked VERY well as a way to get the Soviet Union to spend money on developing a duplicate capability (just like MOL spawning Almaz). And if WE thought it was hard and expensive to make the shuttle, the Soviets took a decade longer and sunk MORE resources into theirs. While I don't believe Buran caused the Soviet Union to go bankrupt, it certainly contributed to the cold war ending when it did.

SpaceKSCBlog
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posted 05-22-2012 08:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceKSCBlog   Click Here to Email SpaceKSCBlog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Duke Of URL:
Now that the program has ended, was the shuttle a mistake?
I wouldn't say it was a "mistake" so much as an evolutionary dead-end.

As others have noted, it was a political compromise that drove the final design.

The main problems, in my opinion, were:

  1. Mixing cargo and crew together. This increased the cost, because cargo had to be "human-rated" (although no such thing actually existed at the time).

  2. Side-mount for the crew vehicle. The additional weight meant placing the crew vehicle on the side, exposing the crew to falling debris, and eliminating any effective escape system.
I don't see much point in bashing the people who made these decisions forty years ago. A different time, and different circumstances. Learn from their decisions and move on to something new.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is a clear example of this.

Duke Of URL
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posted 05-22-2012 10:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Doesn't the SpaceX and NASA designs make the shuttle look like a wasteful detour?

The whys and wherefores of why the shuttle was built are irrelevant.

I admired the shuttle and it showed we had capabilities far outstripping other programs. The US space program is an example of we are capable of doing. No other country is close. I don't say this boastfully, but I don't think another agency could do a Shuttle for the next two decades.

I worry that it lead us to a dead end and we're about to squander the lead we gained 50 years ago.

Cozmosis22
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posted 05-22-2012 10:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cozmosis22     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Duke Of URL:
Doesn't the SpaceX and NASA designs make the shuttle look like a wasteful detour?

No! We now have hundreds of experienced astronauts because of the STS. We have developed a wealth of knowledge regarding life in weightlessness thanks to the shuttle program. It was not a mistake or a detour and the only error was grounding the spaceships before the next generation was ready to fly.

APG85
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posted 05-23-2012 03:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for APG85     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I completely agree. It was a horrible mistake to ground the shuttle before developing a "next generation Shuttle" ...one with an escape capability.

We are taking a giant leap backwards with the capsule concept (unless we are talking lunar capability) and I believe history will show that we are making a mistake especially going full scale with the commercial market. Wings in orbit is the logical evolution in LEO and I'll bet most astronauts, off the record, would agree.

Shuttle was the pathfinder and we should continue with the next generation. Imagine what we could design today with the knowledge gained by 30 years of STS operations...

jimsz
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posted 05-23-2012 06:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think it was a mistake in that it was a one trick pony with an administration that gave it no definable goals.

Combine the above with the ISS and you have a program that is lacking.

If the shuttle would have been a part of a two pronged manned space program, one for the shuttle/LEO combined with going back to the moon or Mars it could have been dynamic.

It wasn't. The shuttle program should have been ended a decade or two ago.

SpaceKSCBlog
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posted 05-23-2012 09:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceKSCBlog   Click Here to Email SpaceKSCBlog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Overlooked so far is *why* shuttle was cancelled.

Read through the final report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. It's quite scathing.

They concluded that Shuttle is "a complex and risky system." Shuttle couldn't be cancelled because it was needed to finish ISS, otherwise they might have pulled the plug.

Instead, it was recommended that NASA move on to something else as soon as possible, a design with the crew vehicle back on top.

Those who think shuttle should have continued to fly after ISS completion are totally ignoring why the decision to cancel it was made in the first place. The problem that destroyed Columbia, falling debris, continued even after flights resumed and the problem was supposedly fixed. In fact, STS-134 Endeavour had gouges on its belly when it reached the ISS. The damage was thoroughly analyzed, and it was concluded that the gouges were too shallow to be of concern, but it was a reminder that each flight post-Columbia was a calculated risk. How many more bullets were we supposed to dodge?

The end of shuttle had been planned since January 2004, when President Bush proposed its cancellation. The subsequent years were spent phasing out the program, shutting down second- and third-tier contractors, and ending orders for critical items like more external tanks.

An analysis in 2009, when the new Administration arrived, showed it would have taken two to three years just to get a new tank and reverse all the cancelled contracts — if those companies were even still in business. Meanwhile, NASA would have been paying $3 billion a year just for people to sit around polishing the chrome. That was money that could have been invested in the next generation of spacecraft.

It should also be noted that, whether it's Constellation or SLS, a "time out" would have been required so NASA could redesign the VAB, LC-39, the O&C and other critical facilities for those new programs.

I've written about this several times on my blog, but if you're interested click here to read the article that gets to the bottom line of why shuttle was cancelled.

issman1
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posted 05-23-2012 12:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If there was a major "mistake" it was not facilitating any means that offered STS-51L Challenger's crew survivability during first stage powered flight. Having said that, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has no escape system either for its flight crew and passengers.

But I won't criticize the shuttle for its re-entry disaster, since even Soyuz and Shenzhou plus other vehicles under development could experience mishaps.

kyra
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posted 05-23-2012 01:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The great mistake was in how the program was sold as "guaranteed access to space" that would provide up to 50 flights per year. In addition to paying for itself with commercial satellite launches, tourist modules and huge microwave relays for energy.

Even as a child watching the scrub of the STS-41D mission I thought something was seriously amiss. Sure enough, even the military realized that, and began to reschedule some flights back to expendable rockets about the time of STS-51C.

The program was not a mistake, but it was initially oversold. Who knows if STS-1 would have ever left the ground if the program had not been oversold as a utopian space airliner.

The shuttle was the maturing phase of rocket launched spaceflight. It will always be more dangerous than conventional aviation. The next major leaps in spaceflight will come from other means of propulsion. At that point we will have what the shuttle promised to deliver in the 1970s colored glossy photos and more.

The shuttle will remain the symbol mastery of LEO spaceflight via rocket technology. It did this nation lots of good while it flew.

Ronpur
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posted 06-27-2012 09:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The shuttle program a mistake... no, a reusale spacecraft is a must.

The shuttle DESIGN a mistake, yes. Early designs were much more economical in the long run, but they had higher development costs but were fully reusable. Crew and cargo together was a error too. Side mounted and SRBs were economical compromises, and they killed 14 astronauts because of it. Putting a shuttle on top of a Saturn V stage would have been brilliant, and kept that production line going, and giving us a heavy lifter.

Philip
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posted 06-29-2012 08:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The STS-program was initiated as a two-fold: an economic reusable spacecraft capable of military missions bringing satellites in/from LEO. Some military payloads have been flown on regular civilian Shuttle missions afterwards.

The orbiters' cargo bays were unique and the program will be remembered because of the Hubble Space Telescope and its five repair missions.

Sadly the general public will remember the program because of two dramatic 51-L and STS-71 missions as the press covered these in great details while most of the 135 missions didn't get the coverage these really deserved.

The Space Shuttle certainly gave a large number of non-pilot astronauts (payload and mission specialist) the opportunity of a life time to fly in space!

garymilgrom
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posted 06-29-2012 08:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board made a fair analysis of the Shuttle in its report. Quoting from the CAIB volume 1:
Although an engineering marvel that enables a wide-variety of on-orbit operations, including the assembly of the International Space Station, the Shuttle has few of the mission capabilities that NASA originally promised. It cannot be launched on demand, does not recoup its costs, no longer carries national security payloads, and is not cost-effective enough to carry commercial satellites. Despite efforts to improve its safety, the Shuttle remains a complex and risky system that remains central to U.S. ambitions in space. Columbia's failure to return home is a harsh reminder that the Space Shuttle is a developmental vehicle that operates not in routine flight but in the realm of dangerous exploration.
My personal opinion is that the failure of the program to meet its original promises does not mean the entire program was without merit. Manned space flight serves an emotional purpose - to excite and inspire others - and in this the Shuttle did a superb job.

Jay Chladek
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posted 06-29-2012 04:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Phillip brought up an interesting point about the shuttle payload bay. It was a very unique capability. Having your own portable, self-contained worksite did pay very big dividends in a lot of projects, not just Hubble (although Hubble is the most high profile repair job of the bunch). Servicing a free floating spacecraft without an RMS can be a very tricky prospect when each little bump an astronaut does to a satellite imparts motion on it (just look at the frustrations the 41C astronauts had with the T-Pad and MMU combo on Solar Max before they hauled it in with the arm).

By pulling payloads in, shuttle could shut down their power systems (touching a live solar array can be a risky proposition BTW when you are wearing a 3.6 psi balloon filled with pure oxygen), change gyros (which you can't do if a spacecraft is still live), replace other systems, test, then relaunch the payload once again (or bring it back from orbit as with STS-51A). That was a very nice capability to have.

The payload bay also came in very handy for Spacelab missions, Spacehab ones, Space based radar mapping, astronomy using different systems (Hubble wasn't the ONLY thing flying for that purpose) and all sorts of other stuff. The ESA alone learned a lot making the Spacelab hardware for shuttle, which in tern gave them and their manufacturing contractors valuable experience for their contributions to the ISS in the form of the MPLMs, Columbus and the ATV.

David C
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posted 07-13-2012 06:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Ronpur:
The shuttle program a mistake... no, a reusale spacecraft is a must. The shuttle DESIGN a mistake, yes.
I'd change the slant of that slightly. The original aims of the shuttle (frequent access, re-usable, large volume payloads up and down) were a logical next step. However, funding and technology didn't keep up resulting in a castrated design. Pushing ahead with this design, i.e the shuttle program instead of cancelling and coming up with something else was a (understandable, self interested) error. This is not bashing people, but unless you can identify the good and the bad it's pretty hard to learn from experience.

To me, there must come a point where management recognises that their design is so badly compromised that they have to scrap the project. Personalities and livelihoods alone make this very hard to do.

Jay Chladek
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posted 07-13-2012 10:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would say though that shuttle has one advantage of pretty much every NASA program that was considered after it was developed... unlike those other programs the shuttle got built. Drawing boards, simulation studies and testing only gets something so far. Sooner or later, the hardware has to be built and tested in active conditions. Other programs (such as the NASP Orient Express) came along with the promise of figuring things out before cutting the sheet metal and we found out the simulations didn't really go far enough. By comparison, Venture Star was hobbled by the dang composite fuel tank problem when the original test vehicle wasn't intended for orbital flight anyway (it was a test bed). But because of that problem, the project got scrapped (and as I understand it, Lockheed apparently figured out a way to make the composite fuel tanks AFTER the program got cut).

So even if the shuttle had its flaws, it took operational use to find them (admittedly in some areas it didn't take much testing). I said it before and I'll say it again, Shuttle is part of a time when we did dare to dream bold. Today it seems we've lost that bold nature. Granted boldness has to be kept in check to a certain extent. But think what happened the last time somebody "promised the moon". If that had happened in today's climate, I doubt we would even be a fraction of the way there before somebody pulled the plug by saying "it is too hard and too expensive."

David C
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posted 07-14-2012 07:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sure Jay. I think that many of us would concur with your feelings about the "current climate". However; X-15, Voskok, Mercury, Gemini, and Voshkod were about just getting up there. Shuttle was meant to be about doing it a better way. Once funding was shown to be unavailable the idea of it's being an operational system was, to me, unsound. Whilst flight is eventually required to validate your concepts, I don't consider flight in itself an achievement - it's been done.

If the shuttle had then been converted into a "research plane" project I think that we would have got most of the benefits at much lower cost. I'm sure that there would have still been accidents, but their negative impact would have been greatly reduced (how many people know who Mike Adams was?). I think this would have produced a better and more sustainable solution in the long term.

Yeah, I wish we still took bold steps, but bold does not mean reckless. Shuttle was a step too far, the space program has been paying the price for years, and will continue to do so for a very long time.

Jay Chladek
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posted 07-14-2012 11:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know how turning a shuttle into a "research plane" would have lowered the cost (unless it had been cancelled because some Congressman figured it didn't have a legitimate "mission"). To do that would have practically required a total revamp of the design at the drawing board level and it would not have been a shuttle anymore. What do you have then? A Dyna-soar 2.0, or an orbital X-15 (an orbital followup to the X-15 was considered, but never built). Research planes for their own sake also tend not to get much funding. The X-15 was probably the last cutting edge research program that met its goals. Sure there were the lifting bodies that came after, but their research was more in the late aspects of flight with approach to landing as opposed to conducting research on the way up during boost (and they were built to collect research data for shuttle). The X-20 Dyna-Soar could have been the true successor to X-15, but it got cut when it lost its operational mission for the Air Force (direct overflight of other countries for recon or tactical purposes).

Every space program is a tradeoff of development cost versus operational cost. Shuttle's problems can primarily be traced to that. The original plans for shuttle would have been very expensive on the development cost side in order to get operational costs down with the manned flyback booster (assuming problems didn't crop up with both systems that likely would have elevated the operational costs anyway). But when the development money didn't come, NASA and the contractors had to scale it down and change the configuration to save development dollars and as a result, operational costs went up... a lot. In a sense, the robbed Peter's budget to pay Paul. Chose any other rocket/space system and you run into similar tradeoffs. Constellation was running headlong into them as we saw the Orion lose an initial land landing capability with airbags in favor of an ocean recovery (meaning one would practically have to either develop a fleet of recovery ships or rent the Navy to pull the crew out of the craft and recover the vehicle, just like Mercury through Apollo).

Technically in terms of shuttle being a "research craft" after Challenger's loss on STS-51L, that is essentially what NASA got. But the research took place in the ship... on orbit for many days each mission. So instead of commercial satellites and the tiny handful of DoD payloads that flew after STS-26R launched (plus Hubble, the Endeavour retrieval and repair of a satellite and the space probe launches), the payloads were dedicated to research science missions and research into construction techniques for the ISS. STS-107 ironically was going to be the LAST of the dedicated science missions as all that was getting moved over to the ISS. After that, shuttle was going to become mainly just what its name implied... a "shuttle" from the ground into space of people and cargo, there and back.

In the total lifetime of the shuttle, yes launch and landing are certainly the most risky times. NASA's failing is they didn't seek to understand just how critical certain elements of the design were on two major occasions, until they got it spelled out for them in bright yellow contrails in both 1986 and 2003. At that point, they realized just how dangerous it was and the meaning of "single point failure". But rather than completely grounding the craft, they took steps to help prevent the same accident from happening the next time once they had things spelled out to them.

Keep in mind in the space business (as with any other "high risk business") while steps are taken to account for everything possible, not everything can be completely accounted for. You have to eventually fall back on the data and fly the vehicle. That is one thing the general public will entirely realize. Such engineering disasters are also not due to one smoking gun... they are a chain of events and choices. Break a link in that chain (such as say not launching in freezing conditions on January 28, 1986...) no disaster (or at least no disaster in exactly that way as something else could still happen).

Concerning the "research plane" argument... in the course of 135 missions, shuttle has generated launch data (rides into orbit approximating 10 minutes each... except for Challenger which only survived a little over 75 seconds before breakup) for about 22.3 hours of total time. De-orbit to reentry time over the course of 134 missions (assuming about 45 minutes, from deorbit burn to touchdown) is a little over 100 hours total time (Columbia broke up about 15 minutes before touchdown). And before and after each mission, each orbiter was taken apart, had parts replaced and systems examined (maybe not to necessarily collect every bit of data they should have, but a lot of data was still collected). Even during the process of preparing the orbiters for museums, parts were removed and analyzed to check for wear in areas where they couldn't do it before.

So just in those two phases where shuttle is in the atmosphere, we've got nearly 123 hours of research data at speed ranges and altitudes higher than what the X-15 flew. And during all this time solid rocket boosters were refurbished for use (with a segment or two from the earliest shuttle launch being used on STS-135), external tank construction was improved to save A LOT of weight compared to those first half dozen "standard weight" tanks that flew on early shuttle flights (and I'm not just talking removal of the white paint, which only accounted for about 550 lbs.) and additional refinements were made in countless other areas. This is just stuff that directly supports the shuttle vehicle itself. It doesn't include anything from the payloads flown which have mapped the Earth, mapped Venus, examined the Sun's poles (among other things), flown to Jupiter (and dived into its atmosphere), looked out into the distant reaches of the universe, did hundreds of hours of research into materials science (electrophoresis and furnace type), biological and medical studies, atmospheric studies, plus additional astronomical studies in visual, infrared, X-ray, cosmic ray and magnetic ranges... I could go on.

Yup, quite a "research plane" I would say.

David C
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posted 07-15-2012 02:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David C     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow Jay, I didn't want to force you into writing a book!
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
To do that would have practically required a total revamp of the design at the drawing board level and it would not have been a shuttle anymore.
Yep, I am suggesting that once it obviously couldn't meet its operational goals, a properly conducted FMECA would have lead to revised goals and a total re-design. This would have also been a smaller fleet with much smaller support.
quote:
The X-20 Dyna-Soar could have been the true successor to X-15, but it got cut when it lost its operational mission for the Air Force (direct overflight of other countries for recon or tactical purposes).
I believe it was also cut because the program was a complete mess (Mr. McDivitt is on record with words to that effect).
quote:
Every space program is a tradeoff of development cost versus operational cost. Shuttle's problems can primarily be traced to that.
Yes and no, what I'm suggesting is that the operational objectives were then plainly unattainable (I'm sure you saw the PR BS of the late '70s), even to those outside NASA. At that point continuing on with a castrated design doesn't seem to have been a good move.
quote:
Concerning the "research plane" argument... in the course of 135 missions, shuttle has generated launch data
Undoubtedly excellent aerodynamic data was obtained, but I suggest that similar (quite possible better) information could have been achieved faster and more cheaply.

So far as the shuttle's on orbit research is concerned post STS-51L I consider much of it to be of the "self licking lollipop" variety - I think the same can be said of much of the ISS research program. After Challenger most of the really interesting stuff was just considered to risky to perform (stand fast what may, or may not have occurred on DoD missions).

Enjoyable discussion. Still, the shuttle is gone and the real question is what next.

Fra Mauro
Member

Posts: 1017
From: Maspeth, NY
Registered: Jul 2002

posted 07-31-2012 02:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It took a lot of thinking to come up with my answer to this seemingly simple question. While it breaks my heart to say so, since the program kept feeding my life's passion, the answer is yes. To throw away the Apollo/Saturn technology instead of using it to push on to the next goal (Mars/Moonbase/Space Station?) was ignorant.

Then to try a new technology, while over-promising and under-funding, was also ignorant.

The space shuttle was the best vehicle that the U.S. was willing to fund — a nation that has lost its' way in space.

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