Deconstructing Discovery

By Phil Plait | April 11, 2011 7:00 am

Spaceflight Now has an amazing and bittersweet series of pictures showing NASA technicians taking apart the Orbiter Discovery for cleaning and decommissioning.

The parts need to be cleaned of potentially noxious chemicals before the Orbiter goes wherever it is it’s going; NASA is selling the fleet to museums or other institutions which can guarantee they will be displayed properly.

It’s sad, but the future is still out there. That future is a little shaky and uncertain, but still holds lots of promise.

Tip o’ the nose cone to Fark. Image credit: NASA.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (57)

Links to this Post

  1. Adiós, Discovery [NASA] « El Webonauta | April 12, 2011
  1. vince charles

    While they’ve certainly done some impressive work, on balance I have to say… good riddance. The much higher cost of Shuttle operations has been holding us back to varying degrees. Operating them was actually competing with funding to put the payloads inside, which was the exact opposite of the STS program’s design intent.

    And the really maddening thing is that it could’ve gone the other way so easily. Had Reagan ordered a Shuttle-C like the Soviets tested, instead of a Challenger clone, the manned and unmanned lifters would’ve perfectly complemented each other.

  2. Yeebok Shu'in

    Sad to see the shuttles going, I remember watching the first flight and landing on TV in Australia.

  3. Richie

    It’s weird. Looking at that picture, I can hear the theme of Star Trek. Voyager to be exact.

    Regardless of what one might think of the show, the music on it’s own seems oddly fitting.

  4. I’d love to be in that hangar just to get a look at all the engineering and cool bits!

  5. wallace

    Sad to say, but it’s the end…a whimper, not a bang. We have gone as far as we will go, manned-space-wise. We no longer have the cultural will to actually take risks or spend the money needed to do great things.

    Kids, if you want to go into space, learn Chinese. The western space programs will be robotic. It’s all we can afford or are willing to risk.

  6. Before everyone gets too sad, keep in mind that this is part of the normal processing after each and every mission – kind of what happens after a Formula 1 race. The shuttle may fly like a brick, but it’s built like Lego! Once they’re finished they’ll put everything back together in more-or-less flight-ready condition.

    The reason most of us haven’t seen this until now is that NASA is doing a much more thorough job of publishing photos documenting the process for these last missions: http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/search.cfm?cat=4

  7. Rich

    Bad Astronomy readers may not realize but there is an intense competition as to where the remaining two shuttles will be displayed. I strongly recommend that one go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston – the home of mission control. This site has been the center of manned spaceflight since the beginning. Add your voice to the petition here: http://bringtheshuttlehome.rallycongress.com/3373/go/

  8. CameronSS

    Sadly, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center is out of the running…they need an 8000′ runway to land the Shuttle carrier on, and the Hutchinson airport only has 7000′. They decided that the 50 miles of highway they’d have to tear up to get it there wasn’t worth it. Would’ve been SO COOL to have one in Kansas.

    EDIT: Link to a story about it, goes along with Rich’s comment. http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/Shuttle-For-Sale-Previously-Owned.html

  9. Shatner's Basoon

    Who’d have thought it was mostly made of tin foil, mostly.

  10. Brian Schlosser

    The decision is supposed to be made tomorrow:

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2011-04-11-shuttle-retirement_N.htm

    If the USAF Museum at Wright-Pat doesn’t get one, I am going to be VERY CROSS.

  11. NoAstronomer

    @vince charles

    “The much higher cost of Shuttle operations has been holding us back to varying degrees. Operating them was actually competing with funding to put the payloads inside, which was the exact opposite of the STS program’s design intent. “

    True. But some things just have to be tried. We may have missed out on some science payloads, but what we got in return was un-paralleled experience in operating a space-ship. An expensive lesson to be sure, but a lesson we could not have learned any other way.

    I raise you one Hubble Space Telescope.

  12. Gary Ansorge

    ,,,and soon, VERY soon, we’ll have nuclear thrusters and jet packs and nuclear fusion and, and,, and,,,

    Dang, the future takes a LOoong time,,,

    Gary 7

  13. Trebuchet

    #8 Cameron, is that 7000 ft runway the former Naval Air Station, or do they have another airport? My late parents met at the NAS during WWII.

    The Museum of Flight in Seattle is still in the running for a shuttle. I’d love to see it there.

  14. Ron1

    @7. Rich Said: … “there is an intense competition as to where the remaining two shuttles will be displayed.”

    I know. I’m trying my hardest to get one for my front yard, it would be way cooler than the guy near Sylvan Lake, Alberta — he’s only got a Harrier jump-jet on his front lawn. :)

    Cheers

  15. Paul in Sweden

    I am going to miss the shuttles. It rubs me the wrong way that our astronauts have had to hitch rides in the past. However in another way I think it is really cool that Americans and Russians can work closely together. Heck I remember “Duck and Cover Drills”.

    Two years ago I took the wife and the then 16 yr old daughter to NYC and made a point of going to the 1964 Worlds Fair Grounds to see the mock ups of the old rockets.

    I was so disappointed!

    Where they once had a scale display of an entire Saturn V first stage now sits a single engine…. Still impressive but not the same.

    Like Skylab, the shuttles will fade from our memories as we move on to better things :)

    Everything changes. Discontent of change is older than our written history.

  16. Jamie

    @14.Paul: Go to the Air & Space Museum in Washington–you can walk through a skylab. Its not forgotten–its trod upon by millions (ok, perhaps thousands).

  17. CameronSS

    #12 Trebuchet: Looks like the former Naval Air Station is now a private gliderport south of town. Hutchinson Municipal is east of town and the one I was referring to. They both have 7000′ runways (though Hutch Muni is 7004′, officially :P).

  18. Paul in Sweden

    @15. Jamie

    I would love to go to DC again. The last time I was in DC was in the mid 80s and when I wasn’t working I was hitting the bars there and in Georgetown….what a waste. Should I ever have the opportunity to travel to DC again I will have a sleeping bag with full intention of taking up residency in the Smithsonian. :)

    Thanks for the Skylab tip, my buddy is down in FLA and it is not too far a hike to DC so you have put the Air & Space Museum on my wish list.

  19. DennyMo

    The scale and perspective on that picture is really deceiving. Is the bit suspended on the crane supposed to have come out of the gap in front of the guys with the ball caps? Even after going to the linked site and checking out the rest of the pics there, it doesn’t look like it would fit at all. What am I seeing wrong here?

  20. “True. But some things just have to be tried. We may have missed out on some science payloads, but what we got in return was un-paralleled experience in operating a space-ship. An expensive lesson to be sure, but a lesson we could not have learned any other way.”

    Expensive to the tune of some 400 billion dollars and 14 dead astronauts. And in exchange we ‘learned’ that over specification and pork rolling kills good design, and that NASA doesn’t the gumption to say NO to congress, or be honest with the rest of the American population. Problem is, we knew the first already.

    The initial shuttle concept was a good idea and made sense. But the monstrosity we ended up with was designed to fulfil USAF requirements to haul 30 tons into orbit, and glide 1000 miles off course during reentry. Low cost, reliability, and safety, went out the window as soon as NASA agreed to these terms. And they’ve never been able to bring themselves to admit this.

    The shutle is a technically impressive machine, but it is also an ugly, money grabbing death trap that has held back all forms of space exploration for 30 years. Good fracking riddence!

  21. Paul

    John: no, the inital shuttle concept didn’t make sense either. The payloads needed to reach the flight rate that would have justified its construction simply weren’t there. Nor would it have been reasonable to expect it to have been able to achieve such a flight rate, even if the demand had magically materialized.

    The real alternative would have been if the US expendable launch industry had been supported and encouraged. We might have had something like SpaceX decades earlier, and saved a boatload of money in the process, and been farther along in space as well.

  22. Gonçalo Aguiar

    I thought that the ENTIRE space shuttle was going to be sent to some museum, like the Enterprise…

  23. gss_000

    @20. John Routledge, @21 Paul

    I can understand your frustration (especially John’s), but I have to comment on a few things:

    Expendable launch industry: Check out the EELVs’ history. The production of the Delta IV and Atlas V was supposed to lower costs much like they say SpaceX will now. I think SpaceX has a better chance on it, but we’ve been down this road before and sometimes it’s not just a matter of what you develop but the timing of that development.

    Shuttle as Death trap: I always find it strange no one who uses this argument mentions how i the development of SpaceShipTwo, several engineers have already died Thee was an accident years ago with engine development. Now it’s different to compare flying to development on the ground, but there have been fatalities tied to commercial space.

    NASA saying “No”: It can’t. NASA is by law required to follow what is laid down in authorization and appropriations. Sure it designs the rockets, but when told: Build a reusable craft that can do X, Y, and Z, it must follow. This is the issue with the SLS since that is highly specified by Congress. NASA has limited ways around it.

    Was the shuttle needed?: Frankly, I think yes. It has done a lot, maybe not what was initially hyped in the 70s, but it has changed the game if only to get LEO access routine enough that private companies think it possible to enter the game. Before the shuttle I don’t think anyone would have done that. While expensive, the program pushed the boundary when no one else was willing to spend the money. Now it is time to let others take over but let’s not hype them and overpromise in the process.

  24. Calli Arcale

    Goncalo Aguiar — yes, the entire Shuttle (well, the Orbiter, anyway) will be sent to a museum. But first it has to be made safe, and this means making sure the propulsion systems are clean. The RCS and OMS thrusters use monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, which are very toxic, and they don’t want to risk sickening some poor museum goer when a forgotten drip finally evaporates. (It takes a very long time for these to evaporate, which is actually the beauty of these propellants.) So the propulsion modules are being removed and sent to a facility which will purge all of the lines and make sure it’s all spiffy for museum display. At the same time, they are also removing any hardware which NASA is not donating to museums. This includes the main engines, which they’re keeping as priceless engineering models, and which will be replaced with mockups. (Enterprise has always had mockups, so they’ll look like that.) There are also some systems within the vehicle which are still classified, for interfacing with USAF payloads, even though it’s been over a decade since the last DOD mission. That all has to go. Then they have to put the cleaned propulsion modules back on, and they’ll be ready to ship the Orbiter out.

  25. @Rich:

    As I understand it, Cape Kennedy is considered just about certain to get one of the orbiters, just as the Smithsonian is considered certain to trade out the Enterprise for a shutte that flew in space. Really, the competition is going to be over who gets the Enterprise and the final space-flown orbiter.

  26. Robert Gibson

    Interesting, the technicians are handling heavy eqipment overhead and toxic materials, yet no hard hats, no safety glasses, no masks. I thought NASA had tightened up its safety procedures.

  27. RwFlynn

    @5. wallace
    Learn Chinese, or get rich to hire some company to put you up there.

  28. Tom Huffman

    Sad to see one of our most illustrious spacecraft grounded for good.

    By the way, Phil: have you seen the great duet between astronaut Cady Coleman on the International Space Station and Ian Anderso, of Jethro Tull fame?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeC4nqBB5BM

    Also, tomorrow is Yuri’s NIght, the worldwide celebration of the flight of Col. Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Google on Yuri’s Night. See if there are events in your area.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    The Space Shuttles weren’t perfect and didn’t quite live up to all the early expectations and yet I still think they are at least one of the very finest things human minds have ever created and human hands have ever built.

    The Shuttle program has given us so much – a personal, off the top of my head, top ten list:

    1. It has flown more human individuals into orbit than any other craft incl. the likes of John Glenn, Sally Ride (first female astronaut) , Andy Thomas (the first Aussie astronaut who hails from my home town), the first African-American astronaut and along with so many others.

    2. The Shuttles launched and then flew several repair and upgrade missions to the Hubble Space observatory. In my view this feat alone made the Shuttle worth it and has given us all, well, just so incredibly much in theway of science and beauty and wonder.

    3. The Shuttle launched the Magellanspaceprobe that mapped venus in unparalled detail.

    4. The Shuttle launched the Galileo spaceprobe to Jupiter flying past asteroid gaspra for Humanity’s first close up encounter of an asteroid en route and subsequently orbiting our solar systems largest and nearest gas giant giant planet for years gifting us so much ne wknowledge and spectacular images of this gargantuan world.

    5. The Space Shuttles lifted to orbit and made possible the International Space Station.

    6. The Space Shuttles took three of the four NASA Great Observatories into Low Earth Orbit – the Chandra X-ray space observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory as well as the HST mentioned already at #2.

    7. The Space Shuttles launched the Ulysses spaceprobe on its ling and rewarding if unheralded odyssey to the Solar poles and Jupiter -and back repeatedly.

    8. The Shuttles gave us so many new – and fixed satellites – and so much more experience with launching them. We rely on any of these satellites today in a variety of ways.

    9. The Space Shuttles worked on international diplomacy bringing America and Russia closer together and helped them work co-operatively on such missions as the trips to Russia’s old Mir space station.

    10. The Shuttle flew spacelab into orbit on a number of flights – a dedicated space science station within the Shuttles cargo bay.

    The Space Shuttles were also a learning experience – the first spaceplanes ever built, the first reusable spacecraft ever built and I suspect the largest, heaviest and most technologically advanced gliders ever constructed.

    IMHON, The Shuttles are still the best method we’ve got of sending people and cargo into the black and will likely hold that record for a long time to come. Statistically, surely they’d have to be the most successful craft ever with them flying so many missions, doing so much science and transporting so many people into the skies.

    Sadly, I suspect we’ll only really appreciate how good they were when they’ve gone.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue7_P9RrwDY

    For an awesome videoclip of the Discovery‘s final flight.

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I8DZivcnMM&feature=related

    For how the all started with the Enterprise- first in a series. Nostalgic & I think fascinating.

    Then see :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQSCn8O6omY

    For what I think is one of the most magnificent and moving clips ever posted on the internet – highlights of the launch of the Atlantis STS-129 mission by Michael Interbartolo.

    (Yes, I might’ve posted this before a few times – but this is those who haven’t seen it or wish to see it again – I’ll never get tired of this one myself. Hope that’s okay.)

  31. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. vince charles & 20. John Routledge :

    The shutle is a technically impressive machine, but it is also an ugly, ..

    Ugliness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, mate. Personally I find the Shuttle beautiful and your comment (#20) to be ugly and mean-spirited. Tastes differ.

    But look at the clips that are awaiting moderation above such as Interbartolo’s STS-129 & STS-133 highlights and so many others. A shuttle aunch is a spectatcle that fills me atleats with awe and joy. Don’t you ever feel at least some of that seeing a Space Shuttle launch too? Have you no admiration for this technological marvel at all?

    …money grabbing

    Because you’d want to do pioneering spaceexploration, developmentand science on ashoe-string with the cheapest craft getting the go instead would you? :roll:

    Yes, space travel is costly. So is motor-racing, so is bailing out the banks and liberating other oppressed lands from their dictators. Some things don’t – and can’t – come cheap but are still very much worth doing.

    … death trap

    All but two of over a hundred and thirty Shuttle flights have landed safely. There were two terribel accidents, yes, but then how many people die on the road or inaccidents or mountaineering or doing other dangerous (& not-so-dangerous) things they love and feel are worth doing every day?

    that has held back all forms of space exploration for 30 years. Good fracking riddence!

    I disagree.

    I think the Shuttle has advanced space exploration and astronomy and our understadning of the cosmos beyond us in many ways – see my comment # 29 for just some of these.

    Also see my links that explain in visual terms and much we’ll be missing when the Shuttle is gone.

  32. vince charles

    “It has flown more human individuals into orbit than any other craft incl. the likes of John Glenn”

    A publicity stunt. Glenn lobbied for an empty seat; when NASA realized they couldn’t say no, they made up experiments to do on him.

    “The Shuttles launched and then flew several repair and upgrade missions to the Hubble Space observatory…”

    Except that Shuttle problems kept Hubble on the ground, increasing the program cost. And as for Shuttle servicing, the cost of a servicing mission isn’t that far off from a Hubble II… and likely Hubble III, in total.

    “The Shuttle launched the Magellanspaceprobe that mapped venus in unparalled detail.”

    Again, Magellan was greatly impacted by the limitations of Shuttle launch. To avoid conflicts with Galileo, Magellan had to loop the Sun an extra time, risking failure of the insertion motor. No STAR motor had ever been exposed that long before.

    “The Shuttle launched the Galileo spaceprobe to Jupiter”

    Are you TRULY this ignorant about the Galileo program? REALLY??? Numerous Shuttle delays likely led to the high-gain antenna failure, reducing your “spectacular images” by an order of magnitude or so. They definitely led to programmatic restructuring, which you don’t appreciate- do you know what kind of megabucks we’re talking about?

    “The Space Shuttles lifted to orbit and made possible the International Space Station.”

    Except that a Shuttle-C or leftover Saturn would’ve cut assembly time in half, and largely eliminated the Zvezda/Interim Control Module risk. Skylab put Salyut to shame, largely because it was self-contained. Oh, and this is without the European and Japanese harping on us for risking Columbus/JEM delays due to… you guessed it… Shuttle problems.

    “The Space Shuttles took three of the four NASA Great Observatories into Low Earth Orbit”

    And we’re the worse for it. Hubble I’ve mentioned. Compton would’ve been more sensitive without the Shuttle’s safety rules and weight ceilings. Chandra (the former AXAF) is known to mission scientists as “AX-half” due to all the cuts in its mission capabilities; the Shuttle’s orbit limitation and later, limited envelope would drastically reduce the sensitivity of a directly-launched observatory, requiring a risky propulsion system. And the fourth of four NASA Great Observatories? It was moved off the Shuttle… BECAUSE ITS MANAGERS WEREN’T SHTUPID. Go read up on SIRTF- the former Shuttle InfraRed Telescope Facility, quickly renamed Space InfraRed Telescope Facility, so it might not, again, become Stuck-on-the-ground InfraRed Telescope Facility.

    “The Space Shuttles launched the Ulysses spaceprobe”

    Again, the Shuttle program DELAYED the Ulysses spaceprobe by years. Wikipedia not working for you right now?

    “The Shuttles gave us so many new – and fixed satellites”

    Comsat people abandoned human servicing pretty quickly… BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT STUPID. It was obvious after two or three data points that human servicing costs more than it saves. NASA finally gave in and built its science missions without human-tended capability by the late ’80s/early ’90s. NASA even went so far as to move its TDRS birds- key infrastructure- onto plain ol’ expendable missiles.

    “The Space Shuttles worked on international diplomacy bringing America and Russia closer together and helped them work co-operatively on such missions as the trips to Russia’s old Mir space station.”

    You’ve got that backwards- due to post-Cold-War budget cuts, the Shuttle-Mir program made each one a nice rationalization for the other. The reason Shuttle-Mir looked good is only because Shuttle cost overruns prevented us from having an “American Mir”- and before that, repeated delays in the first Shuttle launches prevented it from rescuing Skylab.

    “The Shuttle flew spacelab into orbit on a number of flights – a dedicated space science station within the Shuttles cargo bay”

    AND??? Have you read the Spacelab manifests?

    “The Space Shuttles were also a learning experience – the first spaceplanes ever built, the first reusable spacecraft ever built and I suspect the largest, heaviest and most technologically advanced gliders ever constructed.”

    Yes, no, no, no. The X-15 and to a lesser extent lifting bodies flew, plus Soviet experiments. The Soviet VA reusable capsule was built and flown (just canceled before any could be re-flown); the unmanned Gemini demonstrator (yes, Gemini) was the first spacecraft ever reused. And the Gimli Glider is likely heaviest by a bit; it’s clearly larger. You also need to read up on Buran.

    The Space Shuttles are definitely a learning experience- we won’t do an open-ended demonstrator, call it operational, and then put (most of) our eggs in it again.

    “IMHON, The Shuttles are still the best method we’ve got of sending people and cargo into the black and will likely hold that record for a long time to come. Statistically, surely they’d have to be the most successful craft ever with them flying so many missions, doing so much science and transporting so many people into the skies.”

    People? Maybe, I haven’t tallied the Soyuz record, and it’s not really obvious to compare them per-flight or per-seat. Cargo? You must be joking. Even the hardpoints in the payload bay were kludged up.

    I’ll also guess that you’re unaware of seat-fillers. NASA is under pressure to fly the (excessive) number of astronaut trainees, including “foreign exchange” astronauts, and finds miscellaneous tasks to justify them. When the Department of Defense was running the occasional Shuttle flight, they often left seats empty… BECAUSE THEY WEREN’T STUPID.

    “Sadly, I suspect we’ll only really appreciate how good they were when they’ve gone.”

    By the time of STS-51, we already appreciated that humans get in the way of pretty much any cargo not related to those humans. Hence, the Department of Defense started flying their own (unmanned) launchers again. I’m going to guess, having flown Shuttle missions several times, that they know something you don’t.

    How do I know all this? Because I designed a Shuttle payload… or at least, we tried, before the ridiculous safety requirements associated with manned launchers (certainly that one) ground our proposal to a halt. In fact, we could have been manifested on STS-107, in which case this post could have been far longer.

  33. vince charles

    “I think the Shuttle has advanced space exploration and astronomy and our understadning of the cosmos beyond us in many ways – see my comment # 29 for just some of these.”

    It’s always easy to be Monday-morning quarterback, but… see my comment #31 for how astronomy has not advanced as far as it would have. As for space exploration (for those who define it as “humans only”), go read the post-Apollo proposals. The Shuttle was pitched along with the Space Station, Space Tug, and manned expeditions beyond the Moon; when faced down by the Bureau of the Budget, NASA abandoned- that’s right, MTU, abandoned a manned Mars landing!- and settled for the Shuttle alone. They figured low-cost launch would eventually let them catch up on those other goals. They were wrong.

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Vince Charles : Well it’s easy to say they got it wrong in hindsight.

    Yes, I’d have preferred a journey to Mars too – but history has happened as its happened & without a time machine (& FSM knows, perhaps even *with* a time machine) we can’t change it.

    We opted for the Shuttle & for its its faults and problems – which could’ve happened with anything we did – after all Apollo and allother craft have had their issues too – the Shuttle has been, heck is still, a magnificent flying machine which has accomplished a heck of a lot.

    @ 32. vince charles :

    A publicity stunt. Glenn lobbied for an empty seat; when NASA realized they couldn’t say no, they made up experiments to do on him.

    Perhaps so – but it was still great to see & a successful feat from which we learnt stuff and I think John Glenn deserved another flight. Glenn would’ve made a good president too, probably. ;-)

    Except that Shuttle problems kept Hubble on the ground, increasing the program cost. And as for Shuttle servicing, the cost of a servicing mission isn’t that far off from a Hubble II… and likely Hubble III, in total.

    Perhaps that’s true but, again, lets be grateful for what we did -and still do have. Could-a-beens weren’t, history is as it is – & the Hubble Space observatory has delivered some astounding stuff. We should be grateful for that and appreciate what we’ve got.

    Same applies tomany of your other cases there.

    The X-15 and to a lesser extent lifting bodies flew, plus Soviet experiments. The Soviet VA reusable capsule was built and flown (just canceled before any could be re-flown); the unmanned Gemini demonstrator (yes, Gemini) was the first spacecraft ever reused. And the Gimli Glider is likely heaviest by a bit; it’s clearly larger. You also need to read up on Buran.

    The Buran came after the Shuttle, was a near-clone and flew only once unammaned. The X15 and I think the others mentioned didn’t fly in orbit and were restricted to atmospheric or just above atmospheric flight.

    The Gemini capsules were reused & reusable?! That’s news to me! :-o

  35. vince charles

    “We opted for the Shuttle & for its its faults and problems”

    We? WE??? While no single person can take credit/blame for anything this large, the one person who probably had the biggest single hand in ‘opting for the Shuttle’ would probably be Spiro Agnew. Top NASA managers were actually lukewarm about the Shuttle by that point; the design iterations and budget negotiations (including DoD demands) left it looking unlike what NASA had intended. Those NASA managers DID have at least some foresight, not hindsight- as John Routledge has already noted, what they didn’t have was enough backbone. And Spiro Agnew won.

    In the future, please think twice before you post the word ‘we’, unless you actually intend to include Spiro Agnew or such. Did you vote for him? DID YOU PAY HIS TAXES??? Definitely don’t be so presumptuous as to think that you speak for NASA, when your understanding appears to be sub-Wikipedia.

  36. vince charles

    As I said, you need to read up on Buran. Still. And Gemini, and Galileo, and Ulysses, and Spitzer, and the Augustine Report (both of them), etc. etc. etc. Here’s a good intro:

    http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4221/contents.htm

  37. Paul in Sweden

    @29. Messier Tidy Upper Says:
    April 11th, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    The Space Shuttles weren’t perfect….
    ——————————

    Nope, they were not perfect but they were pretty freakin’ cool :) …and I know you think so too. My wording may not be the best but I like you marvel at the numerous missions. .I still hold my breath when I see taped launches.

  38. Nigel Depledge

    No Astronomer (11) said:

    True. But some things just have to be tried. We may have missed out on some science payloads, but what we got in return was un-paralleled experience in operating a space-ship. An expensive lesson to be sure, but a lesson we could not have learned any other way.

    I saw an interesting Horizon documentary about Shuttle recently, and your comment reminded me of it.

    Apparently, NASA went to the USAF when they were trying to design Shuttle because the USAF had plenty of experience of supersonic rocket planes (the X-planes). In return for sharing their data, the USAF insisted that Shuttle be large enough to heft large spy satellites into orbit.

    And thus was born the overweight shuttle that couldn’t carry enough fuel to get itself into orbit (hence the ET) and needed an extra kick to get through the first few miles of atmosphere (hence the SRBs).

    A good by-product of this compromise was that Shuttle was large enough to launch Hubble.

    A bad by-product was what happened to Challenger and Columbia.

  39. Nigel Depledge

    @ John Routledge (20) and Paul (21) –
    I kind-of agree with both of you.

    Yes, the Shuttle we ended up with (I say “we”, but really, I should say “you” since I’m not a USAian) was a hideous compromise.

    But also the initial concept was not feasible with the available technology (a launch every 2 weeks? Seriously?).

    Given that Shuttle’s heat-shield tiles needed to be overhauled / inspected / replaced after each landing, has anyone yet solved the problem of a properly re-useable space vehicle?

  40. Nigel Depledge

    gss_ooo (23) said:

    Was the shuttle needed?: Frankly, I think yes. It has done a lot, maybe not what was initially hyped in the 70s, but it has changed the game if only to get LEO access routine enough that private companies think it possible to enter the game. Before the shuttle I don’t think anyone would have done that. While expensive, the program pushed the boundary when no one else was willing to spend the money. Now it is time to let others take over but let’s not hype them and overpromise in the process.

    I disagree.

    Shuttle has done less than Soyuz to make access to LEO routine.

  41. One Eyed Jack

    Another example of government waste!

    I know a couple guys downtown that will cho… errr, disassemble Discovery overnight. Play it right and we might even get an insurance check out of it, but you didn’t hear that from me. (wink wink)

    -OEJ

  42. guest

    They are not “selling” them. Museums must simply pay the cost it takes to get them to the museums.

  43. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (30) said:

    Because you’d want to do pioneering spaceexploration, developmentand science on ashoe-string with the cheapest craft getting the go instead would you?

    Yes, space travel is costly. So is motor-racing, so is bailing out the banks and liberating other oppressed lands from their dictators. Some things don’t – and can’t – come cheap but are still very much worth doing.

    I think you missed the point.

    The whole idea of Shuttle was to make spaceflight cheaper. It didn’t.

  44. Nigel Depledge

    @ MTU (29) –
    I think you are right to highlight what Shuttle has achieved, but it does call to my mind one simple question:

    What, of those achievements, was made possible only because NASA went with Shuttle instead of some other kind of human-rated launch system?

  45. Mike Mullen

    The only thing wrong with that picture is that it wasn’t taken in 2001, or better still 1991.

  46. vince charles

    “A good by-product of this compromise was that Shuttle was large enough to launch Hubble.”

    Sorry, but that’s a tautology. Hubble is the size of a KH-series spy satellite, because it was built by our spy-satellite manufacturer, using spy-satellite technologies. Since the Air Force demanded a Shuttle large enough to launch a KH-series bird, Hubble’s design naturally followed. Informed commentators are pretty sure it’s a KH-series that’s pointing up, not down. Oh, and it was descoped. Hubble’s primary mirror is smaller and less capable, since otherwise it would reveal several KH-parameters.

  47. vince charles

    “@ MTU (29) –
    I think you are right to highlight what Shuttle has achieved, but it does call to my mind one simple question:

    What, of those achievements, was made possible only because NASA went with Shuttle instead of some other kind of human-rated launch system?”

    Nigel, you’re dead-on on this one! Messier Tidy Upper continues:

    “Perhaps that’s true but, again, lets be grateful for what we did -and still do have. Could-a-beens weren’t, history is as it is – & the Hubble Space observatory has delivered some astounding stuff. We should be grateful for that and appreciate what we’ve got.

    Same applies tomany of your other cases there.”

    Wrong again- we know what we could have had, and it ain’t what we got. The ’70s were widely acclaimed as the “Golden Age of Planetary Exploration”; the mid- to late-’90s and early 2000s were the “Golden Age of Asteroid and Comet Exploration.” And in between? The yawning gap of NASA’s Shuttle-only launch policy. Only when NASA embraced the cheaper Delta II for deep space did we restart probes in earnest. And yet, Messier Tidy Upper cites Magellan, Galileo, and Ulysses- scraping the barrel for the exceptions, not the rule.

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ vince charles : Wrong again- we know what we could have had, and it ain’t what we got.

    Not true – what you say is supposition NOT fact.

    We don’t know and barring access to some alternative universe we can’t know what might’ve been.

    History happened as it happened we can imagine and wish and wonder what things might be like had things unfolded differently – but we can’t really ever know.

    <blockquote. Messier Tidy Upper cites Magellan, Galileo, and Ulysses- scraping the barrel for the exceptions, not the rule.

    Yet the Shuttles did launch those successfully and we need to be grateful for that methinks.

    @ 38. Nigel Depledge :

    Apparently, NASA went to the USAF when they were trying to design Shuttle because the USAF had plenty of experience of supersonic rocket planes (the X-planes). In return for sharing their data, the USAF insisted that Shuttle be large enough to heft large spy satellites into orbit. And thus was born the overweight shuttle that couldn’t carry enough fuel to get itself into orbit (hence the ET) and needed an extra kick to get through the first few miles of atmosphere (hence the SRBs). A good by-product of this compromise was that Shuttle was large enough to launch Hubble. A bad by-product was what happened to Challenger and Columbia.

    Challenger and Columbia flew safely and successful on all bit two of their 38 combined flights. [wikipedia -shuttle program flight stats.] Space travel is dangerous – as is life in general. You can get killed crossing the road, we allhave to die from something one day and it always seems a great shame to me that we remeber only the disasters and not the triumphs and the many more successful Space Shuttle flights.

    The Shuttle could’ve been designed differently, but it wasn’t. What we got wasn’t perfect, wasn’t all we hoped. But I still think it was a pretty impressive and very successful spacecraft.

    @39. Nigel Depledge :

    Given that Shuttle’s heat-shield tiles needed to be overhauled / inspected / replaced after each landing, has anyone yet solved the problem of a properly re-useable space vehicle?

    Well I guess that depends on your definition. But the Shuttle ceratinly seems to qualify as well or better than anything else we’ve flown with to date.

  49. Messier Tidy Upper

    To put my feelings on this discussion here in a nutshell :

    It just seems to me that some ungrateful folks are whinging about what the Shuttle was not and what it could have been rather than appreciating what it *was* and what it *did* accomplish.

    The Space Shuttle has been a success – perhaps a mixed one with flaws, perhaps not all we’d hope it was, but a success and a technological marvel nonetheless. Could it have been better? Yes. Was it still a pretty awesome thing? Yes. Did it actually succeed about 90% of the time? I think so.

    The Shuttles have brought us a lot of good things, good memories, dramatic spectacles, remarkable achievements, new knowledge and new perspectives on what spacecraft can be and do. The Shuttles did launch Magellan, Galileo , Ulysses, the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton, ISS and so much more. :-)

    Let’s remember and celebrate it for that and be grateful to the people who put in the work and in many cases risked their lives and did so much to make the Shuttle as good as it has been rather than bewail what its not. Ok? Is that really so much to ask?

    PS. Apologies for any typos that may creep in. I always see them too late to fix them, durnnit! :-(

  50. Messier Tidy Upper

    @35. vince charles :

    “We opted for the Shuttle & for its its faults and problems”
    We? WE??? While no single person can take credit/blame for anything this large, the one person who probably had the biggest single hand in ‘opting for the Shuttle’ would probably be Spiro Agnew. Top NASA managers were actually lukewarm about the Shuttle by that point; the design iterations and budget negotiations (including DoD demands) left it looking unlike what NASA had intended. Those NASA managers DID have at least some foresight, not hindsight- as John Routledge has already noted, what they didn’t have was enough backbone. And Spiro Agnew won. In the future, please think twice before you post the word ‘we’, unless you actually intend to include Spiro Agnew or such.

    The word ‘we’ there was applying to the whole of Humanity especially the Western world, mate. Used in the common sense of “we the people, we in the West, us humans.”

    This was somehow not clear to you? You really don’t think that’s a legitimate use of the langague? Really? :roll:

    Did you vote for him? [Agnew] DID YOU PAY HIS TAXES???

    Why would *I* be expected to pay *Spiro Agnew’s* taxes for him? ;-)

    I would have been ineligible to vote for Agnew on two grounds – too young and an Australian rather than an American citizen. Spiro Agnew is just a figure from distant history to me like JFK and Yuri Gagarin.

    Definitely don’t be so presumptuous as to think that you speak for NASA, when your understanding appears to be sub-Wikipedia.

    As I’ve noted, I was speaking about history and people in general and not claiming to speak for NASA as some spokesperson of theirs – which I wouldv’e thought was evidently clear from context.

    Just because my opinion differs from yours does NOT make my understanding of things “sub-wikipedia”. Reasonable intelligent people can hold different views and see things in different ways without either of them being idiots – or needing to resort to name-calling -you know. Right? :-(

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Vince Charles (47) said:

    Hubble is the size of a KH-series spy satellite, because it was built by our spy-satellite manufacturer, using spy-satellite technologies. Since the Air Force demanded a Shuttle large enough to launch a KH-series bird, Hubble’s design naturally followed. Informed commentators are pretty sure it’s a KH-series that’s pointing up, not down. Oh, and it was descoped. Hubble’s primary mirror is smaller and less capable, since otherwise it would reveal several KH-parameters.

    I never knew this before. Does the fact that I know it now mean the MIBs will be knocking on my door in the middle of the night …?

  52. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (49) said:

    Challenger and Columbia flew safely and successful on all bit two of their 38 combined flights. [wikipedia -shuttle program flight stats.] Space travel is dangerous – as is life in general.

    My point was that Challenger and Columbia fell prey to failure modes that were only made possible because of the hideous design compromises inherent to Shuttle.

    A Saturn V (for instance) could not have failed by those modes. Nor could any other launcher that was a straight stack.

    Furthermore, Challenger’s failure can be traced back to the fact that the SRBs were built in Utah. Because the SRBs had to be transported so far, they had to be made in sections. Because they were made in sections, there had to be joints. A convincing argument can be made that, had the SRBs been built close enough to the VAB that they could have been barged in (and therefore they could have been built as a single unit), the failure mode that took out Challenger would have been impossible.

  53. Chris Winter

    MTU wrote: “Challenger and Columbia flew safely and successful on all but two of their 38 combined flights.”

    In the case of Challenger, this was due in large part to luck. Perhaps you don’t know of the previous instance of exhaust gases blowing by the seals in the SRB joints. There was at least one. And then there was the well-known (to engineers) limit of the seals to respond properly at low temperatures. Which leads to NASA violating its own safety criteria for the launch on 28 January 1986.

    The bottom line is that shuttle was underfunded in development, resulting in a vehicle with less than optimum design, was constructed in as many congressional districts as possible, resulting in extra failure modes, and was flown several times in defiance of good evidence of problems. The accident record, grim as it was, could well have been worse.

  54. Chris Winter

    RE: where the orbiters end up, or don’t, I think this comment by Wayne Hale will be of interest:

    http://waynehale.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/why-houston-did-not-get-a-shuttle/

  55. Messier Tidy Upper

    @54. Chris Winter : The accident record, grim as it was, could well have been worse.

    Could’ve been better with a little more luck had a couple of things gone otherwise too. It is what it is.

    I see your point but still.

    The Shuttles and where they’re going got a mention on Letterman the othernight too – anyone else see that?

    @53. Nigel Depledge :

    My point was that Challenger and Columbia fell prey to failure modes that were only made possible because of the hideous design compromises inherent to Shuttle.

    Well ‘hideous’ is in the eye of the beholder. Compromises yes.

    A Saturn V (for instance) could not have failed by those modes. Nor could any other launcher that was a straight stack.

    True -but then the Saturn V and other such boosters had their own issues – pogo-ing toname just one and I saw one TV documentary that suggested the escape tower mechanism for them couldn’t have worked in reality.

    Space exploration and travel is dangerous. Inherently and almost unavoidably so.

    The designers of whatver launch systems we have can – & do – strive to minimise this but until we build a space elevator (beanstalk) or develop star trek type transporters its going to remain so.

    It is also worth doing and worth remembering that the astronauts are volunteers who know what they’re doing and what the risks are. There are many worse ways to die.

    Furthermore, Challenger’s failure can be traced back to the fact that the SRBs were built in Utah. Because the SRBs had to be transported so far, they had to be made in sections. Because they were made in sections, there had to be joints. A convincing argument can be made that, had the SRBs been built close enough to the VAB that they could have been barged in (and therefore they could have been built as a single unit), the failure mode that took out Challenger would have been impossible.

    It’s a shame they didn’t try that, I agree. Perhaps a later Shuttle type spaceplane system will be built along those lines based on what we’ve learnt from the Shuttle program. I hope.

    If its been a learning experience then, that’s something.

  56. Messier Tidy Upper

    until we build a space elevator (beanstalk) or develop Star Trek type transporters its going to remain so.

    Meaning something like this :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

    Which would actually work better on Mars or the Moon or Mercury than on Earth due to our denser atmosphere and higher gravity well.

    I think the key to our space future is getting away from Earth and started on other worlds, come to think of it getting started properly – and continuing with our development rather than falling backwards, full stop.

    Seems like we got to our Moon – took that One Giant Leap – then have just fallen back on our butts and sat there ever since, alas. :-(

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