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2005-06-21 Home Front: Tech
The Folly of Our Age: The Space Shuttle
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Posted by Spavirt Pheng6042 2005-06-21 00:00|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [6479 views since 2007-05-07]  Top

#1 Yeah ok, but whatever you do, don't nix that "rods from God" or "God's rods" idea.
Posted by Rafael 2005-06-21 01:27||   2005-06-21 01:27|| Front Page Top

#2 CHALLENGER blew up when Reagan challenged the USSR, while COLUMBIA blew up post 9-11 during the WOT, where America's = Columbia's very existence and sovereignty is at risk of destruction!
Posted by JosephMendiola">JosephMendiola  2005-06-21 01:34|| n/a]">[n/a]  2005-06-21 01:34|| Front Page Top

#3 This person has no imagination, he doesn't mention that the very laptop he's using to type this article was made possible by a direct link to research done for the space program. Miniaturization.......the lifeblood of computer chips and spaceships, makes it possible to carry a "supercomputer" around under your arm. A mere 35 years ago the processing power in that laptop would've occupied a good size building. And it would've cost millions of dollars.

Why can't they someday grow crops in space? Nutrients, lights, oxygen, CO2, water, no pests or worms. A space farm. No droughts, no plagues of locusts, no storms or floods. If we don't go there, we'll never know these things.

All the astronauts know what could happen anytime they liftoff. Afterall, they're riding on a humongous, controlled, superexplosion, hurling them into space. Yet they willingy, no, gladly go. As would I. I'd like to see what effect a Budweiser would have in weightlessness.
Posted by Tom Dooley 2005-06-21 02:37||   2005-06-21 02:37|| Front Page Top

#4 Miniaturization.......the lifeblood of computer chips and spaceships, makes it possible to carry a "supercomputer" around under your arm. Sorry, this claim is laughable. The most recent computer equipment on the shuttle is so big and old (state of the art 25 years ago thats pre the IBM PC)that in the real world, you couldn't give it away and there is equipment that only someone who has been around the computer biz as long as me would recognize, such as the IBM AP-101S.
Posted by phil_b 2005-06-21 04:20||   2005-06-21 04:20|| Front Page Top

#5 Satellites carry obsolete electronics and for good reasons. First you never, never, ever carry an unproven design (in spatial tems that means who hasn't been around for a LOT of time) into the space: if the thing fails, or a hardware bug is revealed (remember the Pentium bug?) while in orbit you have blown up gazillion dollars.

Second: The newer the electronics, the smaller it is and the smaller it is, the more sensitive to cosmic radiation: A P4 with an its engraving of under 0.2 microns is LOT more sensitive to radiation than say, a 8088 ie the processor in the original IBM PC
Posted by JFM">JFM  2005-06-21 05:05||   2005-06-21 05:05|| Front Page Top

#6 Very interesting, JFM. That point never occurred to me. And I've been a science junkie for a looooong time.
Posted by trailing wife 2005-06-21 06:28||   2005-06-21 06:28|| Front Page Top

#7 There is no longer much pretense that shuttle flights in particular, or manned space flight in general, has any practical value.

Beg to differ - and I know this is a touchy subject since my husband spent 20 or so years of his career in space-related stuff.

The shuttle is old and desperately needs replacing. That said, there are a lot of reasons for humans to be in space. Exploration and eventually possible exploitation of space assets is one - and yes, I do know the energy economics involved, so I'm not suggesting we have tug boats lugging iron ore to earth. "Exploitation" might include colonization.

Or - and here it gets dicier from a geopolitical point of view - it might include defense.

Finally, while we've made some useful strides in robotics after a long gestation period of research, we are nowhere near able to build robotic systems that could, for instance, repair or refuel satellites in orbit.

There certainly are things for which robotic probes would be a good start. But there are also IMO very solid reasons for a manned space program.

Finally, re: spinoff technology, don't underestimate how much got seeded by our space and defense R&D. Really tough, complex technical challenges have a way of generating whole new technologies that would not - or at least have not - been developed in more common research programs. The work on the early re-entry capsules and then on the tiles that make up the shuttle heat shield is directly related to composite materials all around us ... not only your non-stick frying pans but also the composites that help to make stealth fighters stealthy.

Ditto re: software and chip technologies, many of which have their roots in defense and space research. A portion of my own career gave me some visibility into that process.

Oh, and those robots? Until very recently, estimates were that DOD funded approximately 90-95% of all robotic-related research in the US.

I am not necessarily advocating here for the militarization of space in the form of, say, bases on the moon. I do think it would be shortsighted to believe no one else has such possibilities in mind in their new space programs.

Hard complex problems with a compelling focus - such as defending against missile attacks or putting and keeping humans alive in space - have a way of paying for themselves down stream. It helps, though, if you are willing to move on past the obsolete systems when their cost-benefit has gone negative. Unfortunately, the 90's econ bubble was purchased in part by gutting what should have been work on follow-on systems. The shuttle is all we have right now, a dangerous and wrongheaded position for us to be in IMO.
Posted by rkb 2005-06-21 07:06||   2005-06-21 07:06|| Front Page Top

#8 Whadda less-on© - (not even a moron). And where does he want all this "wasted" money to go? To the UN?
Posted by Bobby 2005-06-21 08:05||   2005-06-21 08:05|| Front Page Top

#9 The shuttle is a terrible disappointment.

Currently it costs about 40 million dollars to put someone up on the shuttle. The Russians can put someone up for 20 million dollars and make money on the deal.

What is needed is a cheaper launch!

Posted by bernardz">bernardz  2005-06-21 08:27||   2005-06-21 08:27|| Front Page Top

#10 I cannot endorse either the tone or some of the specific claims in this article (2000 tons of equipment on a Shuttle?) but the gist is correct. The Shuttle is a bill of goods, doing the same job as expendable rockets at two or three times the cost. The various missions that require a human presence are, as represented, absurd make-work projects with little or no scientific validity.

The truth, unacceptable for many, is that chemical rockets just do not have the energy density to carry humans into space in any meaningful way. The Shuttle, dangerous monstrosity though it is, is almost at the edge of what is possible with this basic technology. It is unlikely, or at least absurdly impractical, that Human beings will ever go farther with this technology than they already have.

In the early 60s, the US launched Project Apollo, which eventually put 12 people on the Moon at a cost of 40 billion dollars. At the same time, there was another parallel program aimed at the same purpose, Project Orion. This was designed to put 150 people on the Moon at a cost of 5 billion dollars. Orion was nuclear-powered, using small fission bombs to drive itself into orbit and interplanetary space. There is every indication that it would have worked. Orion was cancelled in 1963, a consequence of the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Its method of applying nuclear energy would be completely unacceptable in today's world
but there are other, much safer, ways to use nuclear energy and these are once again being explored for future programs. See NuclearSpace.
Posted by Atomic Conspiracy 2005-06-21 08:46||]">[]  2005-06-21 08:46|| Front Page Top

#11 absurd make-work projects with little or no scientific validity.

Science might not be the only, or even the main, reason for humans in space, AC.
Posted by rkb 2005-06-21 09:29||   2005-06-21 09:29|| Front Page Top

#12 AC has it right. We will go no farther until a better method of propulsion is devised. It has to be light, compact and capable of allot of sustained power. You can't do that with chemical thrust.
Posted by Yosemite Sam 2005-06-21 10:37||   2005-06-21 10:37|| Front Page Top

#13 I wonder what Derbershire thinks about the number of test pilots and expensive planes the US military has lost over the years. If that's the cost of doing business why is space travel different?

The astronauts know the risks and the costs seem big but are nothing compared to other items in the Federal Budget. Was the shuttle a mistake? Yes, in my humble opinion the Air Forces demand that it be able to carry their larger sattelites (which the Air Force no longer wanted after Challenger disaster) screwed the shuttle from the early days. And the shuttle is nothing compared to the space station.

But to paraphrase a wise man, you go to soace with the equipment you have, not the equipment you wish you had. Otherwise you'd never go.
Posted by rjschwarz">rjschwarz  2005-06-21 10:46||]">[]  2005-06-21 10:46|| Front Page Top

#14 There is a general recognition that the Space Shuttle is dated, and that NASA isn't really up to the task of making a better mousetrap. That is why there is a big push to involve free enterprise in the concept. Scientists have a habit of being too focused on discovery for its own sake. When money is involved, practicality is at the forefront. For example, NASA requires a ground crew of 100 or more personnel; a private launch may only need 5-10. NASA is risk averse, having been severely punished for its accidents; but a private company would just dust itself off and try again, not having the luxury of taking a few years off to scrutinize its operations from top to bottom. Sure, it's a tragedy when an employee dies, but high risk is their choice, and why they get the big bucks. The real space race will begin when there is major money to be made. This will be mining for H3 on the moon. Dozens of major corporations will team up to make literally trillions of dollars. N.B.: Mining creates civilization. It is the most powerful economic engine around, stimulating every other economic sector. A nation's power rests in its mines.
Posted by Anonymoose 2005-06-21 10:57||   2005-06-21 10:57|| Front Page Top

#15 #4 .... Nevertheless, research for space travel is directly linked to the miniturization that you find so laughable.
Posted by Tom Dooley 2005-06-21 13:57||   2005-06-21 13:57|| Front Page Top

#16 Every time I see an article like this I find myself agreeing with parts of it. Yes the Shuttle is dated and grossly over priced. But most of the cost involved with each mission is in the standing army that maintains, and operates the orbiter and its systems. As a stand alone heavy launch vehicle the SRBs and the ET stack modified to carry either non man rated SSMEs or the Russian designed engines now showing up on US launch vehicles would rival the old Saturn V in launch capacity. But such a system should only be used for unmanned launches of heavy payloads. Certain missions can only be preformed by people in orbit. The Hubble servicing missions for one. The initial repair mission should not of been required if adequate testing on the mirror had been done but thats water over the dam. Over the years a number of options have been looked at for manned space flight. All of which have gone nowhere for a varity of reasons. One of the ones I like best is called Black Horse
And there others. Rutan has been doing in flight testing of a subscale system for t-space of an air launched manned system
Posted by Cheaderhead 2005-06-21 15:57||   2005-06-21 15:57|| Front Page Top

#17 I think Snoopy wrote this piece

"it was a dark and stormy night"
Posted by 2b 2005-06-21 16:10||   2005-06-21 16:10|| Front Page Top

#18 Here's a picture of the main processors used in the space shuttle. The chip is made by Singer (yes, the sowing machine company). Serious dejavu for me. Singer had a weird hardware partitioned architecture that was terrific for real time applications. Nothing else came close in the late 70s. It also used ferrite memory (little metal discs), which had the nice feature of being non-volatile and allowed hot restarts. Everyone else had stopped using ferrite memory 10 years earlier. In reality this is 60s technology and its still flying in the shuttle. Amazing!
Posted by phil_b 2005-06-21 16:44||   2005-06-21 16:44|| Front Page Top

#19 I've always been partial to Clarke's elevator.

Derbyshire (looking at the archive of his NRO articles) knows (or, implies he does, anyway) a little about a lot. Methinks he knows a lot about very little. But 'tis 'Merika, he can write anything he wants. We are equally free to laugh, fisk, etc.

If we aren't going to look for another mudball to augment / replace this one, then I consider the book closed. We are merely rearranging deck chairs.

"He not busy being born is busy dying."
-Bobby Zimmerman (aka Dylan)

Whatever the cost, we need exploration, by humans when appropriate... Simply put, cuz we can think, we can imagine, we can see what does not yet exist. Robotics is so far from that reality that his grand statements just boggle.

NASA, and it was a mismanaged Clintoonian Rainbow Dickhead cum PC Institution boondoggle for almost a decade, once upon a time was a major seed-corn source. No society can have too many sources of fundamental research / seed-corn. Those that eat theirs during the Socialist Winter, can expect a Communist Spring - to go Joe M on ya for a moment. It can be a source of seed-corn again, if run properly and staffed with brilliance - not PCite Rainbow Dildos and MBA's - 5 or 6 of the latter and 0 of the former ought to suffice, I believe, but just as with all our other 3 & 4 letter agencies, it has been packed with New Age sycophants and prolly needs a good spring cleaning. I hope the new Administrator is like-minded.

Just my $0.02 after watching the source of most of my childhood dreams dragged through the PC looneybin and, now, the mud. Very Heavy Sigh.
Posted by .com 2005-06-21 18:51||   2005-06-21 18:51|| Front Page Top

#20 .com, I think NASA has been a seed-corn sink for about twenty to twenty-five years now.
Posted by Phil Fraering 2005-06-21 19:09||]">[]  2005-06-21 19:09|| Front Page Top

#21 And given the current administrator's obsession with replacing the shuttle with a shuttle-derived vehicle, especially one using the worst bits-and-pieces from the shuttle like the SRB.

(See this thread at Rand Simberg's site for information on one of the proposed systems, apparently a favorite of Griffin from back before he became administrator, and what I believe to be a fairly cognent criticism thereof. My favorite quote from the thread, from Erik Anderson:
Message to NASA: you can go to the moon and Mars, or you can spend the money instead subsidizing Thiokol and polishing pads 39A and B. There is not enough money to do both.
That about sums up my feelings on the matter.
Posted by Phil Fraering 2005-06-21 19:19||]">[]  2005-06-21 19:19|| Front Page Top

#22 In #11 rkb says:
Science might not be the only, or even the main, reason for humans in space, AC.

I couldn't agree more, rkb. I was referring to the Shuttle missions that are tailored to use its manned capability, like the multiply repeated Spacelab missions. I probably should have been more clear.

In the long term, it is inevitable that we will move into space in a big way. It is new territory, becoming available through an increase in our capability, just as the increased capability provided by little boats allowed certain prehistoric people to migrate from the Continent to England.

I think authoritarians fear this because they realize, perhaps subconciously, that a self-sufficient community in space would be largely beyond the reach of centralized power.
The Trotskuite Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, aka GnawAn'Pis, is vehement in its opposition to mining or settlement in space, yet they seem to skirt around any direct statement of the reasons for their opposition.
The most telling indication is their claim that such efforts would provide a "refuge for the elite" which they consider a bad thing.
Posted by Atomic Conspiracy 2005-06-21 19:27||]">[]  2005-06-21 19:27|| Front Page Top

#23 I've heard about the proposal to use the SRB as a man rated launch vehicle for the CEV. As it has no emergency engine shutdown procedure short of blowing the top end of the casing after the CEV has blasted free at much higher G loads than the launch itself would generate I think its a dead horse to start with. CEV if built will most likely use the Delta 4 or the Atlas Heavy. As I said above the basic Shuttle launch stack minus the orbiter is capable of putting around 100 tons into orbit. Front mounting the payload on the ET would eliminate the problem of foam and ice impacting the playload while mounting the engines under the ET would also eliminate the problem of vehicle flex on the pad during the time the engines start. If you look at video of a shuttle launch you will see the whole vehicle pitch forward by at least a foot at the orbiters nose once the SSMEs are brought to takeoff power. All this happens befor ethe SRBs ignite and puts a lot of stress on the SRB field joint for the segments.
Posted by Cheaderhead 2005-06-21 20:29||   2005-06-21 20:29|| Front Page Top

#24 Cheaderhead writes:

I've heard about the proposal to use the SRB as a man rated launch vehicle for the CEV. As it has no emergency engine shutdown procedure short of blowing the top end of the casing after the CEV has blasted free at much higher G loads than the launch itself would generate I think its a dead horse to start with.

There are lots of reasons why it's a bad idea. Unfortunately it's also the brand new boss's idea, which means it may be used no matter how bad it is. (It didn't stop them from picking Lockheed's design for the DC-X followup, for instance).
Posted by Phil Fraering 2005-06-21 20:33||]">[]  2005-06-21 20:33|| Front Page Top

#25 Phil F - Okay, you're established as the Voice of Doom on this thread. Is Der Administrator a total blockhead? Is there no hope, sniff sniff? The PC-hole, she be deep - and I'm not convinced, just yet, that Bush & Co will do whatever he sez without question. So, what have you got that's constructive? I still have those pesky unfulfilled dream thingys, you see, and I'd like my grandchildren (at least) to realize them, since I can't.
Posted by .com 2005-06-21 20:40||   2005-06-21 20:40|| Front Page Top

Okay, you're established as the Voice of Doom on this thread. Is Der Administrator a total blockhead? Is there no hope, sniff sniff? The PC-hole, she be deep - and I'm not convinced, just yet, that Bush & Co will do whatever he sez without question. So, what have you got that's constructive? I still have those pesky unfulfilled dream thingys, you see, and I'd like my grandchildren (at least) to realize them, since I can't.

(mode voice=Yoda)
No! There is another!

I think a lot of the vehicles currently being built to service the suborbital market (Rutan hasn't finished designing SS2 yet, but I can point out Rocketplane, Inc. in Oklahoma, XCOR Corporation, Blue Origin, TGV's Michelle-B, Armadillo Aerospace's work, etc.) could all wind up being "rough drafts" of the bottom stage of a two-stage reusable launch vehicle system.

Heck, if you want to see something interesting, both in the success and failure department, go to Armadillo Aerospace's site and check out the videos. They're currently in the process of switching away from peroxide as a fuel, because for the past three to four years they've been held up by an inability to obtain useful grades of hydrogen peroxide in useful quantities.

But other than those above groups and likeminded people... DOOM! GLOOM! FAIRBANKS!...
Posted by Phil Fraering 2005-06-21 21:29||]">[]  2005-06-21 21:29|| Front Page Top

#27 Y'know, you have to publicly disclose if you own Armadillo Aerospace stock, lol!
Posted by .com 2005-06-21 21:51||   2005-06-21 21:51|| Front Page Top

#28 .com: I just have a fondness for vehicles that take off and land vertically, the way the gods and Robert A. Heinlein *meant* them to do.
Posted by Phil Fraering 2005-06-21 23:03||]">[]  2005-06-21 23:03|| Front Page Top

#29 Short term use the shuttle to carry payloads but send it up unmanned. Send up bulk cargo so that if it blows no loss. They could use Kerosine (potential rocket fuel for earth orbit access with easy transfer ability, can be used for braking and thus avoid heat shield issues) or water (propellant for space travel to get out of low earth orbit for whatever ship needs to).

Longer term, stack some solid rocket boosters together to create an unmanned heavy lifting vehicle. Either that or shuttle C design. This could be used to get our space only space ships up there.

Longest term, charter rockets from private companies.

Either way send the men up in one of the space planes being developed by private industry. Nasa should contract out for those flights and encourage them.

The design needs for a good heavy lifting vehicle and a troop transport vehicle are different and there is no point creating both. Also there is no point NASA needs to own and run everything. They should move into contracting services and worry about the next step. Then the one after that as industry catches up.
Posted by RJ Schwarz 2005-06-21 23:49||   2005-06-21 23:49|| Front Page Top

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