NASA ponders de-crewing the space station in November

By Phil Plait | August 30, 2011 10:13 am

Universe Today — a great site, and one you need in your daily web-reading routine — has a story up that NASA may have to bring the crew on the International Space Station back to Earth by mid-November.

This drastic measure has not yet been decided, nor will it be for a couple of months. The basic reason is two-fold:

1) The Russians are having a problem with their unmanned Soyuz rockets used to resupply the station. A rocket launch last week failed to achieve orbit due to an anomaly in the third stage, and the capsule was lost. The astronauts on board the space station have supplies that can last for quite some time (the final Shuttle mission brought up quite a bit), so the loss of the cargo was not so much an issue. The real problem is…

2) The ISS currently has two Soyuz capsules docked to bring astronauts home. These docked capsules have a lifespan of about 200 days due to fuel issues. One of them is supposed to bring three of the six astronauts home in September, leaving one capsule for the other three in case of a problem. A new crew of three was supposed to go up later in September, bringing the total crew of the ISS back up to six, but that mission may be delayed. If there’s only one capsule docked, only three people can leave in case of emergency, so the new crew must wait until a new capsule docks before going up.

If the Russians cannot get their rockets working by mid-November — about the time that 200 day period is up for the second docked capsule* — then the astronauts either take that capsule down, or stay aboard with no safe way to return home. The safe thing to do then is de-crew the station.

The Universe Today article has the details. Mind you, even if we still had the Shuttle program going, as I understand it this would still be an issue. For one, the problem is with the limited lifespan of the Soyuz capsules already docked, and getting a Shuttle up there wouldn’t help that (except to be able to take the entire crew back to Earth; without a working docked Soyuz they still can’t leave astronauts there). Second, planning a Shuttle mission takes a long time, and I doubt that NASA could’ve gotten one put together that quickly (unless, by coincidence, they had one ready to go anyway, but even then they still need a working, docked Soyuz for the remaining crew). Third, the reason the Shuttle retired is because they were getting old, and each launch was a bigger risk than the last.

So the least risky thing to do, if the Russians can’t figure out and fix the Soyuz rocket problem, is to bring the crew home, and wait to put the next crew up there when things are back online. The ISS can operate relatively safely in orbit for a while without people on board; that’s not optimal, of course, but possible.

This sucks, but it could be worse. That rocket failure was unmanned, so no one was lost. The ISS crew does have a lot of supplies, so they’re in no immediate danger. The best thing to hope for here is that the Russians get this fixed — and there’s word they may have found what the problem was, an important first step toward the solution. I’ll note that SpaceX is looking to have a capsule dock with the ISS in November, but it’s not clear exactly how this new situation affects that plan. The Dragon capsule is not human-rated, and unless there is clear and present danger to the crew they can’t return in it.


* The situation is actually complex, having to do with landing sites lining up with the ISS orbit as well as shortened daylight hours as winter approaches, limiting landing times.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: ISS, Soyuz, SpaceX

Comments (76)

  1. kevbo

    Dr. Evil never seemed to have these problems…

  2. Yeah, this really sucks. November is also quite a close deadline. What we really need is NO budget cuts for NASA, especially not right now.

  3. Very sad to hear this. :-(

    The safe thing to do then is de-crew the station.

    Safe and easy and cowardly.

    But as JFK famously said : “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

    And because they are worthwhile at a deep human level.

    Where’s our JFK when we need him? :-(

    In the 1970’s we could fly to the Moon.
    In the 1990s we had Concorde in the air.
    Until 2011 we flew the Space Shuttle.

    Why do I have this awful sinking feeling that we’re falling away and failing, throwing away all the advances we’ve made in past decades? :-(

    When will we start really “boldly going where no one has gone before” again?

  4. @1. Kevbo – Yes, but the JB’s Big Boy has significantly different flight characteristics than the Soyuz capsule. It’s also not terribly “dockable”. :)
    @3. Messier Tidy Upper – I completely share that sentiment. Everything we do now has such safety around it. Riding a bike? Better remember your helmet and pads. Riding a skate board? Remember your pads. Walking outdoors? Don’t forget your bubble wrap (snarky, you get the idea). I think the reason we have the X games is because kids haven’t grown up with a respect for the dangers of the world around them. When I fell on my bike and skinned my knee it HURT, dammit. I was more careful next time. But at the same time we’re only doing those things that are safe. Does put a pretty strong damper on “boldly going” anywhere – except the bathroom, maybe.

  5. Fry-kun

    > there’s word they may have found what the problem was

    Russians only ever use one word for everything. It’s as versatile as it is profane :)

  6. CB

    Funny you should mention that Bill DeVoe.

    “Hello. This is Captain Jean-luc Picard. On the bridge of the Enterprise, I have no problems with Number One. Number two is a different matter. That’s why I use Star Fleet brand enema. With a Star Fleet enema you can boldly go like no one has gone before!”

  7. Diogenes

    “cowardly”?

    Hey there, ITG! Glad to meet you. So, just how long can YOU hold your breath? A year, or just six months?

  8. QuietDesperation

    Why do I have this awful sinking feeling that we’re falling away and failing, throwing away all the advances we’ve made in past decades?

    Can we maybe avoid the collapse of the global economy first? Jebus Cripes, you people with your flowery rhetoric- the ultimate example of talk is cheap.

    And this is from a huge supporter of space *and* someone who has worked directly on space programs. I have stuff up there in orbit.

    Safe and easy and cowardly.

    So build a rocket in your yard and get launching.

    When will we start really “boldly going where no one has gone before” again?

    Sorry, but reality set in. It’s expensive and difficult and random shots at random targets so the starry eyed can puff up with vicarious pride won’t cut it anymore. We need the following:

    [1] A coherent plan with rationally defined goals and truly useful purposes. “Because it’s there” doesn’t cut it when you have to bring your own there there just to survive more than six seconds.

    [2] A huge reduction in the cost per kilogram to orbit.

    [3] Get politics out of it. Good luck on this one. The Space Shuttle and ISS were constructed of pure politics in how they won out over far superior concepts.

    On the plus side I won a $20 bet at work over the Russians letting us down. :-)

  9. K

    “We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountain, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”

    –Winston Churchill–

    Someone tell NASA to get to work! We can’t rely on the Russians!

  10. QuietDesperation

    @#5

    Yes, riding a bike is completely comparable to sitting on half a million gallons of igniting liquid oxygen and hydrogen.

    The “skinned knee” of a space program is a billion dollar spacecraft spread across the countryside like metal confetti, and half a dozen or so highly intelligent and trained human beings removed from the world.

  11. Doug

    But why be brave just for the sake of being brave?

    Back in the days of Mercury/Gemini/Apollo, we needed brave men to try what has never been done before, to prove that it could be done. They willingly risked their lives to accomplish wonderful things. I don’t think that’s the same situation we have now, where travel to space is a bit more commonplace.

    Now, don’t get me wrong — we may have more experience with launching things to space, but it’s definitely still dangerous. The recent launch failure proves that.

    All I’m wondering is how can we, safe here on Earth, call these people cowards for coming home a little early, just in case? I don’t think we can even blame the NASA administrators for coming to that conclusion.

  12. Mark

    SpaceX, you’ve got three months to get that capsule human rated. If you can keep a crew up there, or provide them with a safe way to get down, you’ve won.

  13. Gus Snarp

    @Messier Tidy Upper and Bill DeVoe – I couldn’t disagree more. In the fifties and sixties we were on a radical mission to do something no one had ever done before. The level of safety now expected was simply impossible. Even then NASA built redundancies for safety into every moon mission. If they hadn’t we would have lost the three astronauts on Apollo 13.

    Now we are going to an existing space station to do some worthwhile science, but the safety precaution of having a working escape pod is entirely reasonable, coming home when safety mandates, with the possibility of sending another crew up in the future, is entirely reasonable. Even in science fiction there’s always an escape pod.

    Manning the ISS without the docked Soyuz, much like riding a bicycle or skateboarding without the technologically advanced helmets and safety pads we now have given what we now know, is monumentally stupid.

    But more to the point, why don’t we just build our own rocket and capsule? OK, it’s been a few years, but we have the knowledge, we have the technology, how long would it take, if we really wanted to do it, to build a rocket and capsule that could replace Soyuz for ISS service?

  14. TerryEmberson

    It’s alright. We temporarily left Skylab unmanned for a time too, so we could get the Shuttle technology up to snuff and push the lab into a higher orbit to prevent decay.

    Wait… no… we never ACTUALLY got the shuttle to move Skylab did we. I still can’t understand why we spend so much time on the Shuttle, but I also can’t understand why we dropped the Shuttle program before we had an adequate replacement (which we should have had before the new millennium).

  15. khms

    @12. Mark:

    SpaceX, you’ve got three months to get that capsule human rated.

    What a monumentally stupid thing to say.

    The whole point of getting something human rated is proving that it is safe. There’s no way to do that in three months. I doubt they’ll even be able to construct the launch abort system (a.k.a. landing rockets) they have planned for this, much less demonstrate it’s all safe.

    On the other hand, if you don’t care about safe – then the Falcon9 + Dragon combo just needs some couches and air systems. SpaceX has already demonstrated that they can launch and retrieve the thing. Of course, even those components need to be developed …

    Oh, see this quote from the third article Phil referenced:

    “We as much as they want to fly as soon as possible,” said Kathy Lueders, the station program manager responsible for safety reviews of visiting vehicles. “It really doesn’t help us to go hurry into a mission and then have some issue occur, and then we’re looking at a slip in schedule anyway while we try to go figure it out.”

  16. @13. Gus Snarp – I agree that we need to be careful and as we go further out into the universe (moon, asteroids – even the Trojan ones, Mars, et al), but at some level we need to be *willing* to go out there. Right now it seems like we don’t even want to entertain the possibility because: a) it’s too expensive, and b) it’s too risky. I’m fine with bringing the astronauts home. I’m disappointed, though, that we’ve lost the will to expand the breadth of human knowledge and begin our new phase as a space-faring species. Pendulums swing both ways and the 60s saw radical expansion. I just think that 40 years of compression are enough and we should be looking to expand again.
    To your point about why we don’t build our own – look the administrations of the past couple of decades. The expectation that private enterprise would take the lead in that space (and, admittedly, some are) would allow NASA to focus on other missions. Unfortunately, expectations weren’t met and now we’re stuck on the horns of a dilemma.
    I think the prudent course of action is to bring the astronauts home. Really horrible things *can* happen, but just as early seafarers claimed “here there be dragons” and went there anyway, we need to keep pushing the envelope, not reside safely inside it. Adversity and challenge are what improve us as individuals, as a country, and as a species. I just fear that without it, we’ll just up like Eddie Izzard’s Austr0-Hungarian Empire – “slowly collapsing like a flan in a cupboard”.

  17. andy

    Really the dream of human expansion into outer space basically came crashing down with the Mariner 4 flyby of Mars in 1965. The last potentially not-instantly-lethal destination in the solar system was revealed to be a hostile wasteland – nowhere left to go. All that was left was a little publicity stunt on the Moon to show off technology to the other side of the Cold War, and then we’ve been flailing around in LEO ever since.

    There is still no credible business plan requiring us to send people into space other than maybe giving a handful of billionaires an expensive holiday (and no, asteroid mining does not make economic sense). We have a spacefaring civilisation – but unmanned Earth-orbit satellites turn out to give return-on-investment, human in a can doesn’t.

  18. Gonçalo Aguiar

    So yeah… we finally have a place we can call home in outer space and what we do to it? We de-crew it…
    Even ISS got hit by a bank foreclosure of sorts… Or was the housing bubble burst? Don’t know…

  19. Messier, JFK pushed the Apollo program for one reason: to beat the Soviets. He is on record as saying that he wasn’t that interested in space otherwise. Flowery Saganesque ideals may sound nice, but they tend to get you nowhere. We’ll start boldly going where no one has gone before again when there’s another Space Race or when private industry gets involved. Forget your Gene Roddenberry fantasies; in this universe, power and greed rule, and if our civilization has any future in space it will be more along the lines of the Terran Empire than the Federation.

  20. Chris Birch

    I used to wonder what it was like living in England at the decline of the Empire.

    I no longer need to wonder.

  21. Cesar

    What I want to know is, can the ISS be safely de-crewed?

    I know Mir was without any crew for some time, but was the ISS designed so it could survive without a crew? And would astronauts later be able to dock to and reclaim the station? How risky to the station is for it to be left for some time without anyone nearby to fix any problems?

  22. César

    man, what a sad headline to read. this planet has all of it’s priorities wrong.

  23. Gus Snarp

    @Cesar – from the Universe Today article:

    They would configure the station that all systems were running redundantly, such as cooling and heating, and they would isolate each module by closing all hatches.

    “Assuming no significant anamolies, which would be two system failures in a redundant system, we can operate indefinitely,” Suffredini said. He added that, of course, they prefer not to operate without crew for an extended time, mostly because of the loss of science opportunities. But they can do things like avoidance maneuvers or reboosts remotely from the ground.

    So apparently it can be safely de-manned.

  24. Alan(UK)

    Messier Tidy Upper says, ‘Safe and easy and cowardly.’

    Any accident (and in space they are invariably fatal) will result in just one more visit to the ISS – to de-orbit it. There will be absolutely no chance of anyone building another ISS – international or not.

    One can see why the US Congress is reluctant to fund the JWST. It serves a particular purpose – to find out things that Congress would rather not know. But the ISS – does anyone in Congress even remember what it was built for?

    “In the 1970′s we could fly to the Moon.
    In the 1990s we had Concorde in the air.
    Until 2011 we flew the Space Shuttle.”

    These all served some political, economic, or military purpose in their day. All resulted in the expenditure of enormous sums of money. Money was thrown at the Moon program to achieve a ‘first’ but the program was prematurely terminated when the political point had been made. Concorde had money thrown at it until the cost per plane became totally uneconomic – the few that built were only ‘sold’ to the maker’s national airlines. The Space Shuttle had money thrown at it but it never achieved its goal of providing cheap and frequent flights to LEO – after Challenger, the idea of risking a quarter of the fleet and seven lives just to put up a communications satellite made little sense.

    As most space projects are now international, any political purpose, indeed national pride, is served just by joining in. We have Hershel and Planck at L2 and now RadioAstron in an orbit swinging out to that of the Moon. Men just cannot go to the places where the real science is being done – any volunteers for five years at L2? Manned missions are limited to two planets, a few moons and some asteroids – one of the planets being Earth. Unmanned flights can reach anything in the Solar System – we have already visited all the planets. We are “boldly going where no one has gone before”.

    There are lots of exciting things going on it is just that they are not headline news – it is just not ‘death or glory’ stuff.

  25. Robin

    @Messier:

    I’m sorry: to even suggest that de-crewing the ISS is cowardly is wrong. Sure, in the past we’ve ignored safety concerns and got away with it….and sometimes we didn’t. I’m willing to be that a crew incident on the ISS past when the de-crewing could happen would stop at least US manned space travel for quite a while and would more than likely make worse the funding issues that NASA faces right now. Of course it’s easy to make such “brave” statements when seated safely at a computer. It’s easy to gamble with the lives of others when yours shares not one iota of that risk. For all we decry the lack of critical thinking politicians and people apply to AGW, vaccines, evolution, et al, some skeptics are quick to abandon it when convenient.

    It is, however, not written in stone that the ISS will be de-crewed. It’s entirely possible the cause of the latest Progress failure will be found and fixed in time for later scheduled launches before November.

  26. Grimoire

    man, what a sad headline to read. this planet has all of it’s priorities wrong.

    All? No, they just don’t agree with yours. The whole planet? You think the billion or so without access to basic, clean water would agree with you?

    So yeah… we finally have a place we can call home…

    Well, a home for a very, very few, expensively trained people, anyway.

  27. Grimoire

    we have already visited all the planets

    Well, not quite yet Pluto and- oh… yeah. Never mind. ;-)

  28. Jay

    “I used to wonder what it was like living in England at the decline of the Empire.

    I no longer need to wonder.”

    And yet science and technology continued to progress long after the vast British Empire withered away until all that remained was a small island of the island off the coast of Europe. Maybe our empire won’t be the leader in the new technological advances, but those advances will still be accomplished by someone. And those advances will allow future residents of this empire to have better lives than us, much like current Brits have far better lives than of those living during the height of the British Empire.

  29. TerryEmberson

    @28. Grimoire Says:

    we have already visited all the planets

    Well, not quite yet Pluto and- oh… yeah. Never mind.

    So… you mean we delisted Pluto just so we wouldn’t have to visit it?

  30. andy

    Good riddance to the British Empire, a nasty and brutal piece of work that is unfortunately still making its consequences felt today. I do not mourn its loss.

    Bad old colonisation versus space colonisation: in the former we didn’t recognise the inhabitants as being human, in the latter we may not recognise the inhabitants as being alive…

  31. Jonathan

    I remember thinking when we first crewed the space station that it might never again be true that every living human being was on Earth.

    So it goes…

  32. Viadd

    Can they just send up an uncrewed replacement Soyuz capsule? (Can those fly and dock uncrewed?)

    If they are fairly sure–but not ‘bet cosmonauts’ lives’ sure–that the flight will work, then they will have a fresh capsule for 3 people who will make an extended stay and they can send down the other 3 in an expiring capsule. If the replacement fails, then all six can come down as currently planned.

  33. Grand Lunar

    On Universe Today, an article says that the cause of the crash may have been identified.
    Least that’s a start. Helps with the feeling of optimism I have with the issue.

    And that contrasts with the doom and gloom I see in the comments here.

    I mean, really people? This wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. Just until the issue gets fixed.
    Why all the talk of cowardace, priorities, and such? We’re not giving up on the ISS, you know.

  34. Saw this (or something like it) coming. We are getting entirely out of the space business. The shuttle gone with no plan to replace it, all manned space flight cancelled for a generation at least, hugely important unmanned missions canceled. I know that most of the people running on the other side are antiscience as discussed earlier, but the current administration has been the worst ever for science. I was in preschool when we first walked on the moon, and now I’ll likely be on social security before we have anything like a real space program again.

    I know some will say this is because of the Russian vehicle, but we could easily have had a much better vehicle of our own now and this wouldn’t be a problem.

  35. Brian Too

    Geez people, get a grip! The Soyuz design is one of the oldest, best known and most reliable spaceships ever built. The Russians had a problem, that’s all. Give them a chance to find the answer and fix it.

    Look, if your car croaks by the side of the road, what do you do? Get lost in existential angst? Give up on all cars everywhere? Pine for your own personal maglev train? Or do you call for help and repair your balky ride?

    Right now I’d bet on the Russians. And chances are in a couple of years, one of those private sector lift operators will be ready for prime time too.

  36. Gary Ansorge

    Much ado about nothing. This is standard safety procedure. Just de-crewing the ISS for a few months is no big deal.

    I’ll bet the Russians will find and fix their problem within the next two weeks. Now, if we could just get the Chinese involved with the ISS, we could have some competition in launch pricing.

    Gary 7

  37. RwFlynn

    Good lord! The cynicism in here is making me want to eat a tub of ice cream in a dark room while watching Star Trek reruns. The end of the world, this is not.

  38. Jamey

    @Brian Too#35 – Yeah, but when our car breaks down on the side of the road, they don’t *INSTANTLY* force everyone else driving that make and model to stop as soon as possible, and not drive again until a method to keep that break down from ever happening again is found.

    There’s no real reason to prevent another Progress from being launched. Sure, maybe you want to give it an extra going-over to make sure every hose is seated right and every wire solidly attached, but really – we’re going overboard on this safety crap. It wasn’t even a manned mission!

    Hell, for that matter, do they stop all commo satellite launches when one goes FUBAR? Or does the insurance pay off and they go on to the next payload due to be launched?

  39. Wzrd1

    @Jamey #38, no, but when TWO launches go FUBAR, operation FUBAR is halted and the faults found. ANYTHING that we launch up into space is REALLY expensive. Shredding and burning that REALLY expensive stuff is double-plus ungood.
    So, the Russians wisely halted launches until they figure out which stenbolt is substandard.
    Lest the Russian leadership tire of the REALLY expensive losses and shove a quantum torpedo up their butts and kick hard to launch.

    And yes, they DO stop all comms birds launches if TWO launches in a row fail. It’s an indicator of a QC failure.
    See REALLY expensive. Keep going and you’re uninsurable, which is unacceptable.

  40. Wzrd1

    OK, I’m slightly confused on one thing. That said, I’ll comment on a few statements and questions from earlier, without reference, as I’m feeling lazy.
    The ISS *HAS* been unmanned in the past, it IS a known happenstance in the past. The modules CAN NOT BE CLOSED, they have cables and hoses going through the hatches.
    Mir suffered a collision with a cargo craft, ages ago, punching a hole in one section. THAT created problems as outlined above as well. The cosmonauts rapidly began pulling cables and hoses to close the hatches while they still had air.

    OK, the item of confusion:
    WHYINHELL are the return capsules running out of fuel while static and docked? Are they using them for maneuvering the ISS? That is the ONLY reason they should be running low on fuel in 200 days, as the fuel cells should be shut down while docked.
    They’d be kept “warm” by umbilical.
    Anyone have clarification on that one?

  41. Messier Tidy Upper

    @9. QuietDesperation :

    “Why do I have this awful sinking feeling that we’re falling away and failing, throwing away all the advances we’ve made in past decades?”
    Can we maybe avoid the collapse of the global economy first?

    Because we can’t do two things at once which is why we have a choice between having one hospital or one police station but not operating both a hospital and a police station and a fire station and council tip and a council dog pound and a law court etc. too?

    The ‘Space OR the economy’ is a classic if all too often dragged out example of a false dichotomy. We can and should have both.

    Money is invested in space exploration and spent on Earth. Giving up the Space Shuttle put thousands of good people out of work. Sheesh, doing that helps the economy improve – NOT. :-(

    Jebus Cripes, you people with your flowery rhetoric- the ultimate example of talk is cheap.

    What’s wrong with a bit of flowery rhetoric at times? As for it being cheap, I agree – although it does take time and mental effort. But then if I could do more than talk, if I were in a position of power and had the money to back up my words I would. I contribute what I can.

    So build a rocket in your yard and get launching.

    I think my local council would have something to say about that. We’re not even allowed to launch fireworks anymore. :-(

    But if I could I would.

    “When will we start really “boldly going where no one has gone before” again?
    Sorry, but reality set in. It’s expensive and difficult and random shots at random targets so the starry eyed can puff up with vicarious pride won’t cut it anymore.

    The Moon shots were hardly random. There are many reasons why our Moon was -and remains a good target for exploration – and there is so much we’ve left undone.

    Expensive and difficult? Yes. The best things usually are. Does that mean we shouldn’t do them? Sometimes its worth the expense and we learn and accomplish more when we discover how to overcome the difficulties. Hosting an Olympics is expensive and difficult. Winning a war even more so. Leading the world is a tough thing to achieve.

    Should we settle back happily to second class power status and let those are are willing to put in the effort and make the sacrifices do so instead. If other nations become world leaders and start to boss us around will that make you happy – and how will it affect future generations to be under a foreign powers rule?

    I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to call on Americans to be more patriotic, to start showing more faith and pride in their nation and way of life – but here it is.

    We need the following:

    [1] A coherent plan with rationally defined goals and truly useful purposes. “Because it’s there” doesn’t cut it when you have to bring your own there there just to survive more than six seconds.

    Yes – and we need to stick with past plans that have been made too. We also need to stop just planning and start actually doing.

    I think a lunar return and colonisation this time plus viists to nearby asteroids and then humans on Mars is the obvious goal we should be planning to achieve.

    [2] A huge reduction in the cost per kilogram to orbit.

    Yes. We need to work on that too – but also if we have to make do with what we’ve got we should do that anyhow. We built Apollo, we built the Space Shuttles – decades ago. Surely we can build modern, improved versions and put them to good use?

    [3] Get politics out of it. Good luck on this one. The Space Shuttle and ISS were constructed of pure politics in how they won out over far superior concepts.

    That is a tough one & I agree we should strive for it too. Get domestic politics as far out of things as possible. Put the rocket scientists in charge and back their ideas.

    International politics is something we used to help us get into space last time – and there are valid reasons for saying they still apply today. We can and are well advised to both co-operate with allies (eg. Japan, Europe, Australia) to get further and more into space – and simultaneously race our enemies (China, Iran & the Arab world) so they don’t end up with a huge technological and military advantage over us.

  42. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. K Says:

    “We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountain, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”
    –Winston Churchill–
    Someone tell NASA to get to work! We can’t rely on the Russians!

    Good quote.

    Here are a few more for y’all :

    “Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”

    – Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight.

    ***

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”

    – President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    ***

    “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”

    – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Mercury astronaut killed in the ‘Apollo 1’ fire.

    Good quotes by courageous, intelligent men. I second them completely.

    @20. Sith Master Sean :

    Messier, JFK pushed the Apollo program for one reason: to beat the Soviets. He is on record as saying that he wasn’t that interested in space otherwise. Flowery Saganesque ideals may sound nice, but they tend to get you nowhere.

    In isolation and alone maybe. In combination with other factors hopefully not.

    There were a couple of aspects driving the Apollo program. Beating the Russians was one – but acccomplishing the hitherto unthinkable dreams and exploring and “coming in peace for all mankind” was another. All these sentiments and motivations played their role, methinks.

    Carl Sagan wasn’t silly and made a good practical case for space too. I miss him. We could sure do with someone – with many more someones – like him around today. :-(

    We’ll start boldly going where no one has gone before again when there’s another Space Race or when private industry gets involved. Forget your Gene Roddenberry fantasies; in this universe, power and greed rule, and if our civilization has any future in space it will be more along the lines of the Terran Empire than the Federation.

    Quite probable, I agree. Roddenberry’s view always was just a bit too saccarine for my taste. Still, who knows? The future isn’t predictable and there is a lot of good as well as evil in us. Humanity has its (metaphorical) better angels as well as its darker side.

    @34. VinceRN : I fear you are correct. :-(

    I really hope you are not.

    Guess in the next few years we’ll see. Right now its all looking pretty depressing. :-(

  43. QuietDesperation

    We are getting entirely out of the space business.

    I work in space related R&D. My plate is full for years. *Manned* space is not the only thing.

    To be honest, we need to step back from that and decide what the heck we intend to do and why. As I said above, “because it’s there” doesn’t work outside the gravity well. We need a purpose. We need to get the private sector involved more. I’m so tempted to send Space X a resume- they’re just a few miles from where I work now.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 33. Grand Lunar :

    On Universe Today, an article says that the cause of the crash may have been identified. Least that’s a start. Helps with the feeling of optimism I have with the issue.
    And that contrasts with the doom and gloom I see in the comments here.
    I mean, really people? This wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. Just until the issue gets fixed. Why all the talk of cowardace, priorities, and such? We’re not giving up on the ISS, you know.

    I hope you’re right.

    But this bigger picture of constant retreat from our past capabilities looks pretty grim to me. Maybe I’m just in an unusually bad mood but as I noted we used to have Apollo, the Space Shuttle, Concorde and now .. we don’t.

    We were supposed to develop better technology and go further into the Black with time and progression into the future not abandon what we’ve had and lose the abilitity to go to the places as we could that we once could. :-(

    @28. Grimoire : “we have already visited all the planets
    Well, not quite yet Pluto and- oh… yeah. Never mind.

    Pluto is too a planet – an ice dwarf variety of planet just as Jupiter is a gas giant and Earth a rock dwarf. Also we *are* visiting it with New Horizons in 2015.

    @ 26. Robin :

    @Messier: I’m sorry: to even suggest that de-crewing the ISS is cowardly is wrong. Sure, in the past we’ve ignored safety concerns and got away with it….and sometimes we didn’t. I’m willing to be that a crew incident on the ISS past when the de-crewing could happen would stop at least US manned space travel for quite a while ..

    And there’s the problem and the cowardice I refer to.

    When people die while mountaineering or motor-racing those sports carry on. An F1 race continues even after drivers are killed. I’ve watched that in person – look up the San Marino F1 GP 1994 for instance. Or read some of the stories of what happens on Mt Everest or what happened during the race to the South and North poles. Those taking part know and accept the risks.

    When an aircraft crashes, we don’t abandon flying planes.

    Some activities are inherently, unavoidably dangerous and yet also incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

    Human space exploration is one of those.

    Accidents, loss of life shouldn’t cause us to refuse to go again. To even delay other missions. Yes, we shouldn’t take unnecessary chances, we should make things as safe as we can – but we shouldn’t take NO chances at all or give up altogether.

    .. and would more than likely make worse the funding issues that NASA faces right now.

    True. But, again, that’s because the modern culture of risk averseness or more bluntly cowardice and lack of willingness to be bold.

    Of course it’s easy to make such “brave” statements when seated safely at a computer.

    Give me a chance to go into space and I’ll take it. I’m happy to volunteer. I’d even go to Mars one-way and stay there. If I lose my life doing so, please don’t stop everything because of it.

    If I’m given the opportunity to do so I’d jump at it. I’m sure I’m not alone in that either. Astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts are all volunteers doing what they do because (largely) they love it. Like mountaineers, like sky-divers, like racing drivers.

  45. QuietDesperation

    The ‘Space OR the economy’ is a classic if all too often dragged out example of a false dichotomy.

    Yeah, I know, but we need to get this house in order and no one, Dems or Reps, is even proposing what really needs to be done. That’s why it’s all static. Businesses are scraping by, some even doing OK, but no one is expanding because of the uncertainty and the credit gloom.

    Giving up the Space Shuttle put thousands of good people out of work. Sheesh, doing that helps the economy improve – NOT.

    So we just keep lofting them until they all blow up?

    What’s wrong with a bit of flowery rhetoric at times?

    Just tired of it. Probably has to do with growing up with it (I recall watching the original Star Trek when it was first broadcast as a wee one) and never seeing it pan out. It’s rainbows and hope. Rainbows only have substance in Equestria, hope is not a strategy.

    The Moon shots were hardly random.

    By random I meant we just did it as part of the Cold War. Gotta hit that target before the Soviets! Fire! We were not reconnoitering future base or assaying mining locations. We didn’t build an infrastructure in orbit that could possibly still be in use today. Just dudes on the moon picking up a few rocks. Whee.

    Does that mean we shouldn’t do them?

    Never said we shouldn’t- I just want a detailed, long term business plan. Yes, I said business plan. There’s products and profits to be made in space. It’s entirely possible it could be a self supporting enterprise some day. But enough of all the “ZOMG! Send a human to Mars now!” stuff.

    If other nations become world leaders and start to boss us around will that make you happy – and how will it affect future generations to be under a foreign powers rule?

    I don’t know how you got from space policy to this. Could you possibly provide a flow chart? I’ll switch on the dramatic music if it helps.

    Yes – and we need to stick with past plans that have been made too.

    Even when they are not good plans? That’s how the government got so big in the first place. We pile new stuff on the old stuff endlessly.

    I think a lunar return and colonisation this time plus viists to nearby asteroids and then humans on Mars is the obvious goal we should be planning to achieve.

    Nearby being a relative term, of course.

    Colonize what? Like I said above, there is no there there. And humans on Mars is another one shot wonder that will gobble up all the limited resources and then fizzle out. Yes, it will.

    We need to develop near Earth first. We need permanent beachheads. Doing all those things you want would be enormously expensive if we have to do everything from deep within Earth’s gravity well.

    Yes. We need to work on that too – but also if we have to make do with what we’ve got we should do that anyhow. We built Apollo, we built the Space Shuttles – decades ago. Surely we can build modern, improved versions and put them to good use?

    Fine, but let’s have a good, detailed plan in place. All I want is goals, milestones, you know?

    That is a tough one & I agree we should strive for it too. Get domestic politics as far out of things as possible. Put the rocket scientists in charge and back their ideas.

    Not going to happen. That’s sort of where all this discussion hits the wall and becomes hot air.

    and simultaneously race our enemies (China, Iran & the Arab world) so they don’t end up with a huge technological and military advantage over us.

    China isn’t going to do anything to truly hurt their biggest market. Iran knows they cease to exist if they push things too far. I wouldn’t worry overmuch about the rest. They’ll be their own undoing.

  46. Wzrd1

    Messier #42, I’d have sufficed it to the argument of hospital vs a bandaid. The latter is sufficient for one, therefor sufficient for even an abdominal evisceration. One is good for all, regardless of the lunacy of a boo-boo vs guts spilling out onto the ground.
    Works FAR better, FAR less words to have some nitpicker to pick the nit and ignore the damned eggs.

  47. Booker_53

    Why are we bothering with putting people in space? If we want to do science, we can easily send a zillion robotic missions to accomplish major objectives at orders of magnitude lower cost than sending “peopled” missions. Objectively, the STS “program”, and the ISS started out as solutions looking for a problem. Oddly enough the Reagan administration came up with the idea of the space station so the space shuttle would have something to do (this from an anti-gumment president denouncing wasteful spending…). When the word went out that the USA was going to build a Space Station, and the science community was tapped for ideas to use the space station, the science community collectively yawned. The whole point and purpose for the STS, and later ISS was to fulfill some inane corporate memory of Verner von Braun’s necessary steps to space exploration, that became obsolete with the development of hardened dedicated processors, and flight-ready artificial intelligence hardware/firmware. There is no point in sending sentient water bags, that seep, and excrete, and need oxygen, and blow poop out into the cosmos, when lean clean robotic craft can accomplish vastly more information gathering, and wisdom development, for vastly less. Forget about colonization. We crap out this planet, we crap out our future. Face it space cadets, this is reality.

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    @17. Bill DeVoe :

    @13. Gus Snarp – I agree that we need to be careful and as we go further out into the universe (moon, asteroids – even the Trojan ones, Mars, et al), but at some level we need to be *willing* to go out there. Right now it seems like we don’t even want to entertain the possibility because: a) it’s too expensive, and b) it’s too risky. I’m fine with bringing the astronauts home. I’m disappointed, though, that we’ve lost the will to expand the breadth of human knowledge and begin our new phase as a space-faring species.

    ^ This! Well said & seconded by me. :-)

    .. I think the prudent course of action is to bring the astronauts home. Really horrible things *can* happen, but just as early seafarers claimed “here there be dragons” and went there anyway, we need to keep pushing the envelope, not reside safely inside it. Adversity and challenge are what improve us as individuals, as a country, and as a species. I just fear that without it, we’ll just up like Eddie Izzard’s Austr0-Hungarian Empire – “slowly collapsing like a flan in a cupboard”.

    ^ Also this too. Again, spot on, so true & seconded.

    @25. Alan(UK) :

    Any accident (and in space they are invariably fatal) ..

    Wrong. Apollo 13 had an accident – and Lovell, Haise and Swigert lived to tell the tale of NASA’s finest hour.

    Russia’s Mir station got rammed by its Soyuz</iB vessle, caught fire and suffered .. exactly zero fatalities.

    .. will result in just one more visit to the ISS – to de-orbit it. There will be absolutely no chance of anyone building another ISS – international or not.

    *Ahem* China? Okay it won’t be international but they’re planning to build a space station of their own.

    As for the ISS, maybe so. Maybe that’s because our culture is so “risk averse” so lacking in courage and stuffed to bursting with lawyers and those that want to wrap everyone in cotton wool that we’re just not going to do anything remarkable anymore for fera of lawsuit or injury. If so that’s a sad comment indeed on the state of our culture and what its become. Time that culture was changed for the better.

    @48. Booker_53 : Because we’re human and that’s our nature and what we wish to do.

    Because humans have flexibility, versatility and capabilities beyond even the most advanced robots.

    Because we may well need people to shift incoming space rocks and save us all from death from the skies and because of a thousand other things. Because we learn more and gain an extra dimension and understanding and value from having human individuals inspace and on new worlds that robots cannot deliver. Because of the reasons cited in the quotes posted in comment #43 and this one too :

    “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
    – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

  49. Robin

    @Messier:

    Again, bravery is easy from an armchair when you share none of the physical risk. It is perfectly normal and expected to halt missions when a possible system failure is found and not yet fixed. You’ll recall that we had big mission halts when Apollo 1, Columbia, and Challenger had failures. Yeah, those cost lives, but lives are something that you’re perfectly willing to spend, so the comparison should be valid with you. There have likewise been grounding of aircraft–military and civilian–when critical issues have been found.

    Even without factoring in the potential human cost, it makes no sense operationally to not put a halt on missions when such failures happen. Flying rockets is not the same as driving your car or even flying a Boeing 737. It’s difficult from your comments to see if you even understand the complexities of such launches, test flights, human space flight, et al. Remember how cavalier attitudes were before a little o-ring got cold, didn’t seal well, and allowed a bit of hot exhaust gas to vent in the wrong place?

    Perhaps, in the future, all critical mission decisions will be made by polling random people, at home, about whether a given mission should be go or not, but until then we’ll just have to be satisfied with the people who actually are trained, educated, and experienced with space flight, space flight systems, and the like to make those critical decisions.

  50. QuietDesperation

    *Ahem* China? Okay it won’t be international but they’re planning to build a space station of their own.

    OK. Am I the only one not bothered by it? Bully for them. Do you see it as a threat? Do you have any idea what sort of space assets we have- stuff that we will definitely *not* be backing off from? They won’t be able to dump the bilge without us knowing it.

    Maybe that’s because our culture is so “risk averse” so lacking in courage and stuffed to bursting with lawyers and those that want to wrap everyone in cotton wool that we’re just not going to do anything remarkable anymore for fera of lawsuit or injury.

    You keep bringing this up, but it has zero to do with risk management on space missions. There is no tort problem in the space industry. Like Robin said above, experts with vastly more experience in this than you markedly disagree with you. Does that not mean anything?

    Curious: do you agree with the current grounding of the F-35 fleet? Or should the sky jockeys saddle up and fly, and possible electrical system faults be damned? So what if we wind up with a billion dollars in scrap metal and a few households missing a parent! At least we showed COURAGE!

    Does everything in life have to be Thermopyle?

  51. andy

    We can and are well advised to both co-operate with allies (eg. Japan, Europe, Australia) to get further and more into space – and simultaneously race our enemies (China, Iran & the Arab world) so they don’t end up with a huge technological and military advantage over us.

    Well this is it in a nutshell isn’t it? For all the flowery rhetoric about human destiny, leaving the cradle and “we come in peace for all mankind”, the history of human spaceflight is basically a game of one-upmanship against that most reliable of bogeymen, the foreigners. Preferably against those who have a different political ideology to help the “us versus them” feeling and maybe bring some quasi-religious fervour to the proceedings. Because once you get past the nationalism and the xenophobia, it turns out there’s precious little reason to send people up there.

  52. Buzz Parsec

    @41. Wzrd1, the ISS has not been uncrewed since the 1st crew (Expedition 1) boarded in Nov 2000. (The 1st few modules were launched without people, and there were some shuttle flights to outfit it before this, so there were temporarily people on board prior to Nov 2000, but it’s been continuous since then.)

    However, unlike Mir, most of the hatches don’t have cables and ducts running through them and so can be closed off easily. The US segment has CBM hatches (mostly), where the electrical connections, data, water, cooling and air are outside the tunnel or are jumpered inside the vestibule, which is the space between the two module hatches. So both hatches can be closed to seal off the modules from each other without disconnecting anything. (I think there are some thick air hoses (look like clothes dryer ducts), like the ones you see utility workers use when working underground, to feed fresh air between some of the modules, but these are easy to pull back out of the way.)

    This was one of the lessons they learned from Mir, which had tons of cables and ducts running through the hatches. I think the Russians have also incorporated some of these improvements into their part of the station as well. (The European and Japanese modules use the US system.)

    So closing all the hatches is not nearly as big a deal as it was on Mir when the Progress collided with it or when they had the fire.

    BTW, the actual in-orbit life of the 2nd Soyuz extends until January, but they want to land before late November for a number of reasons. All the recovery equipment and expert personnel are in central Russia, so they want to land there if at all possible. It’s pretty far north, so days get very short in December and January, and they want to land in daylight if at all possible. This means they have to deorbit when the ground track passes over the recovery site in daylight, and due to shifting orbit phases, there are few if any opportunities to do this for several months after the middle of November. Also, the weather gets really bad there in the winter, and they don’t want to land in the middle of a blizzard. (They would do any or all of these things in a dire emergency, and have in the past, but they won’t do this in the normal course of events.)

    The first Soyuz (the one that’s been up there longer) can stay up until early November, but there are some landing window problems in October, so they’d prefer to land in September. I think they’ve already announced they won’t be returning on Sept 8 as previously planned, but haven’t announced the new date yet. Rumors I’ve seen say about Sept 18-20. This will give those three crew members more time to help prepare the station if it needs to be abandoned, and will fill in a bit for the delayed launch of their replacements.

    The next SpaceX Dragon is due to be launched on Nov 30, and to dock with the station in early December. (I’m not sure if docking is official yet or not. Originally the 2nd flight was supposed to just rendezvous and test proximity operations, but not actually dock. The 3rd Dragon was supposed to do this. However for months now, they’ve been talking about merging the 2 and 3 test flights (the 1st one was last December), doing all the flight 2 testing, and then if everything went well, going ahead with the flight 3 capture and docking.) However, the proximity operations include verifying the station crew can control the Dragon remotely, which they can’t do if there’s no one on the ISS. Also Dragon can’t dock automatically with the station (unlike the Progresses and the European ATVs.) Instead it has to park close to the station and be captured by the robot arm, and then moved to one of the CBM ports. (Technically, this is called berthing rather than docking.) This requires people on board to operate the arm. So if they have to abandon the ISS in mid-November, they’ll either have to postpone the Dragon or (possibly) launch it earlier. I don’t know how much they can move it up (SpaceX has claimed they postponed it from October to November mostly because NASA wasn’t ready for it yet, but they tend to blame NASA for delays), and the ISS crew will probably be super busy preparing the ISS for abandonment, finishing up experiments that would otherwise be spoiled etc. and there would only be 3 of them to do all this. So if they do have to abandon the station, the Dragon would probably get pushed back til next year. On the plus side, they should be able to carry “low-value” cargo (stuff that is worth less than the cost of launching it, such as food, water, air and clothing) to replace much of what was lost on the Progress. They wouldn’t want to carry a $20M scientific instrument or expensive custom-made parts on a test flight, but if the docking fails, they wouldn’t mind losing a bunch of polo shirts and 100lbs of Tang.

    However, the Russians seem to have narrowed down the cause of rocket problem and this discussion might be moot. There are several unmanned launches on the schedule for September and October (including another Progress), and if they can fix the problem, they’ll shuffle the schedule around to have at least 2 unmanned launches before launching the next manned Soyuz (I think NASA is insisting on this) in late October, about a month late, but well before the 2nd group of 3 astronauts need to return to Earth.

  53. Electro

    @quietdesperation

    The inherent risk of space flight is well understood by all involved and by a LARGE percentage of the readers here.

    Glib dismissals such as
    “…build a rocket in your yard and get launching.” and
    “Yes, riding a bike is completely comparable to sitting on half a million gallons of igniting liquid oxygen and hydrogen.” indicate a lack of understanding of the reasons why we choose to go to space.
    Our advancement as a species, and likely our very survival, rides on it.

    I have never seen an interview with an astronaut that implied they did not fully understand the risks, indeed, we call them heroes for that very reason.
    I am not suggesting that they foolishly throw their lives away, but the men and women who leave their comfortable homes and loving families behind for one chance to make a difference, to advance the cause of us all, seem to view the endeavour differently,
    they unanimously and vehemently disagree with you.

    I am sorry, but your qualification of your argument
    “as…someone who has worked directly on space programs. I have stuff up there in orbit.” does not grant you anything other than an argument from authority.
    I am sure there are a great number of soulless hacks working in aerospace,
    their numbers alone statistically demand it.

    Human space exploration is one of those areas where “platitudes” and “flowery rhetoric” are entirely appropriate, it is the pinnacle of human achievement.

    The US budget issues will be worked out, for better or for worse, regardless of the relatively piddling amount spent on NASA.

    But, if you are a numbers guy, flat-lining the space program will cost many billions more in the long run, unless you never intend to restart it.

    Or mebbe I’m just grouchy this morning.

  54. Electro

    After my coffee, and upon reflection, Yes I am just grouchy.
    My apologies, Quietdesperation.
    Uncalled for.

  55. QuietDesperation

    After my coffee, and upon reflection, Yes I am just grouchy.

    Yes, especially since I’ve said repeatedly I support space and all I want is a better plan. My comment about the dangers of launches was simply in response to others who were making comparisons to riding a bike, not that we shouldn’t take risks. My comment about having stuff in space merely meant that I’m an obvious supporter of space activities as I make living at it. My beef with flowery rhetoric is that it is all too often put forth as the only reason to do things, even though it’s not really a reason. And so on. But I’m just a soulless hack, so what do I know?

  56. Nigel Depledge

    Chris Birch (21) said:

    I used to wonder what it was like living in England at the decline of the Empire.

    Wait, what?

    You mean it’s not there anymore??

  57. Nigel Depledge

    Alan (UK) (25) said:

    Concorde had money thrown at it until the cost per plane became totally uneconomic – the few that built were only ‘sold’ to the maker’s national airlines.

    You should be aware that, although Concorde was not economically viable in 1974, British Airways made it profitable in the 1980s and 1990s by re-inventing the business model.

    Air France never ran Concorde at a profit, to the best of my knowledge.

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (41) said:

    WHYINHELL are the return capsules running out of fuel while static and docked? Are they using them for maneuvering the ISS? That is the ONLY reason they should be running low on fuel in 200 days, as the fuel cells should be shut down while docked.

    Well, I can take a plausible guess:

    It’s not that they’re using the fuel, it’s that the fuel just decomposes all by itself. IIUC, many space vehicles use what are known as hypergolic fuels (the Shuttle used these in its orbital manouevring and attitude control thrusters). With a hypergolic fuel, the fuel and the oxidiser explode on contact, so you have no need for any ignition system. The downside is that they are extremely reactive chemicals. So, it seems reasonable to me to assign a rather conservative “shelf-life” to the fuel when it is in a vehicle in space (‘cos otherwise you run the risk of getting into your ship only to have the engine fail to fire).

  59. Grand Lunar

    @45 Messier Tidy;

    -“I hope you’re right.”

    So do I!

    -“But this bigger picture of constant retreat from our past capabilities looks pretty grim to me. Maybe I’m just in an unusually bad mood but as I noted we used to have Apollo, the Space Shuttle, Concorde and now .. we don’t. ”

    True.
    However, in this particular case, we’re not retreating from the ISS.
    And in the long run, we’ll gain more capabilities, provided the commercial companies can deliver on their promises (or whatever you want to call them).

    -“We were supposed to develop better technology and go further into the Black with time and progression into the future not abandon what we’ve had and lose the abilitity to go to the places as we could that we once could.”

    Again, true, and it is this that frustrates me as well.
    We had it good with the Saturn 5, IMO. It could’ve been used for so much more. We all know what became of it.
    I hope we learn to not repeat these mistakes. Russia seems to have learned that.

  60. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (47) said:

    Messier #42, I’d have sufficed it to the argument of hospital vs a bandaid. The latter is sufficient for one, therefor sufficient for even an abdominal evisceration. One is good for all, regardless of the lunacy of a boo-boo vs guts spilling out onto the ground.
    Works FAR better, FAR less words to have some nitpicker to pick the nit and ignore the damned eggs.

    I have no idea what you are trying to say here, but I can tell you this – nits are the eggs of the head louse. So to pick the nits, it is – by definition – impossible to ignore the eggs.

  61. QuietDesperation

    WHYINHELL are the return capsules running out of fuel while static and docked?

    Last time they fueled up, they drove away with the gas cap off.

  62. Jack O'neill

    Thor will get them home.

  63. vince charles

    So much handwringing and hypochondria in these comments. Let’s see, where do I begin?

    >
    Nigel Depledge Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Wzrd1 (41) said:

    WHYINHELL are the return capsules running out of fuel while static and docked? Are they using them for maneuvering the ISS? That is the ONLY reason they should be running low on fuel in 200 days, as the fuel cells should be shut down while docked.

    Well, I can take a plausible guess:

    It’s not that they’re using the fuel, it’s that the fuel just decomposes all by itself. IIUC, many space vehicles use what are known as hypergolic fuels (the Shuttle used these in its orbital manouevring and attitude control thrusters). With a hypergolic fuel, the fuel and the oxidiser explode on contact, so you have no need for any ignition system. The downside is that they are extremely reactive chemicals. So, it seems reasonable to me to assign a rather conservative “shelf-life” to the fuel when it is in a vehicle in space (‘cos otherwise you run the risk of getting into your ship only to have the engine fail to fire).
    >

    Close, but not exactly. The Soyuz capsule is limited by its use of “storable” hydrogen peroxide as thruster fuel in the reentry module. Hydrogen peroxide was chosen as it’s next to the pressure vessel, and has no toxicity or breakdown products that can incapacitate the crew. However, hydrogen peroxide is only storable in perfectly-clean containers. As no one has actually reached zero impurities, the fuel decomposes slowly over time. The Soyuz now refrigerates its reentry propulsion system to extend the fuel lifetime, and thus the capsule flight duration, but eventually you have no more peroxide left.

  64. vince charles

    And then, Messier Tidy Upper drags out the old Concorde BS again.

    59 Nigel Depledge Says:

    “You should be aware that, although Concorde was not economically viable in 1974, British Airways made it profitable in the 1980s and 1990s by re-inventing the business model.

    “Air France never ran Concorde at a profit, to the best of my knowledge.”

    IIRC, British Airways finally made it profitable from an operations standpoint, and possibly a capital-cost standpoint. But it was still not enough to pay back research and development costs, and thus the Concorde (as a program, flown via either airline) never made money. Remember, the planes were sold to the airlines at below cost. They were then pushed through the air by massive amounts of both fuel, and taxpayer funding.

    So, MTU, when can we expect your next Concorde BS?

  65. vince charles

    45. Messier Tidy Upper Said:

    “When people die while mountaineering or motor-racing those sports carry on. An F1 race continues even after drivers are killed. I’ve watched that in person – look up the San Marino F1 GP 1994 for instance. Or read some of the stories of what happens on Mt Everest or what happened during the race to the South and North poles. Those taking part know and accept the risks.

    “When an aircraft crashes, we don’t abandon flying planes.”

    And there’s the histrionics and handwringing I refer to. _Every_single_one_ of these activities are undertaken by private organizations, with no (direct) government funding or decision making. Hence, a private organization does the cleanup and damage control. But when a government program causes a violent, yet discretionary death, with taxpayer monies, the citizenry can (and has the right to) question the decision making, and question it vehemently.

    Of course, how informed, how long-term, and how thoughtful and deliberate those citizens are will affect their questioning, versus simple reactionaries. When it comes to aerospace engineering, however, the citizenry is woefully uninformed. Hence, the Concorde and Shuttle both managed to keep flying, despite being textbook examples of failures in marketing, logistics, and accounting.

  66. vince charles

    44. QuietDesperation Said:
    August 30th, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    >
    “”We are getting entirely out of the space business.””

    I work in space related R&D. My plate is full for years. *Manned* space is not the only thing.
    >

    As is mine, QuietDesperation, as is mine.

    I smirk a bit when people (falsely) claim space exploration is entirely manned, and thus ending. It means they won’t interfere with all my unmanned work… unless they’re politicians. One politician claimed GPS was developed without the government. Another anecdote in the business is that a top General shouted during a space briefing, “What do I need space for? I’ve got this GPS in the palm of my hand!” I’ve come to expect such handwaving from lay persons, but to see it posted openly and unapologetically in the comments sections of this blog is baffling.

  67. vince charles

    42. Messier Tidy Upper Said:

    “Money is invested in space exploration and spent on Earth. Giving up the Space Shuttle put thousands of good people out of work. Sheesh, doing that helps the economy improve – NOT.”

    Ugh- the Shuttle is frequently delayed and always goes over budget precisely _BECAUSE_ it requires tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile an Ariane has a ground crew of a few dozen. The Shuttle is simply a bad way to get to space, even if you can throw away money- you’re still throwing away schedule.

    “Leading the world is a tough thing to achieve.

    “Should we settle back happily to second class power status and let those are are willing to put in the effort and make the sacrifices do so instead. If other nations become world leaders and start to boss us around will that make you happy – and how will it affect future generations to be under a foreign powers rule?

    “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to call on Americans to be more patriotic, to start showing more faith and pride in their nation and way of life – but here it is.”

    Arrrgh! Please STOP referring to yourself as an American, and attempting to direct the execution of American tax dollars! Or are you THAT frustrated with your local council that you have Americanization fantasies, playing out vicariously through internet blog comments???

    “We built Apollo, we built the Space Shuttles – decades ago. Surely we can build modern, improved versions and put them to good use?”

    First, there’s the “we” again. I’m going to assume you meant “we” as in the human race… except you don’t appear to like Chinese and Arabs, on principle.

    Second, the modern, improved Apollo/Shuttle is called “the CCDev competition,” but again you rejected that on principle before the first example ever flew. A thirty-six hour hop up to a completed space station, then back down, is utter overkill for a Shuttle orbiter, and thus diverting funds from other missions. Oh, that’s right, they’re _not_your_funds_, so of course you get to decide what the vehicle should look like and how it should be managed. Small, lightweight capsules (i.e., NOT Orion/MPCV, let alone Shuttle orbiters) are the simplest, and thus best and safest, way to do crew rotations. Massive pork-barrel schemes with overengineered craft are the worst and riskiest.

  68. vince charles

    Some perspective, finally:

    37. Gary Ansorge Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    “Much ado about nothing… I’ll bet the Russians will find and fix their problem within the next two weeks.”

    And you win the bet! In fact, it was closer to two days! (…relative to your posting, that is, not to the date of the rocket failure.)

    Prior experience shows that failures of Russian boosters has largely been due to human error, with contaminants in the propellant tanks a common (and commonly frustrating) investigation result. So someone gets yelled at, some documents get revised… and the relatively simple and cheap boosters fly again.

  69. vince charles

    25. Alan(UK) Said:

    “The Space Shuttle had money thrown at it but it never achieved its goal of providing cheap and frequent flights to LEO – after Challenger, the idea of risking a quarter of the fleet and seven lives just to put up a communications satellite made little sense.”

    Yes and no… communications satellites were pretty much gone before Challenger exploded. The question is, who exactly made the call. I’m not sure off the top of my head, but I recall that comsat companies had stopped purchasing Shuttle capacity, before they were told not to bother asking. Commercial comsat companies, that is. Both NASA and the Department of Defense flew government comsats for a while, before they, too, realized that other launchers simply ran better.

    That’s right- NASA flew the first of its TDRS comsats on the Shuttle, but finally abandoned _their_own_ride_ in the Nineties. Later TDRS birds rode on Atlases, because someone at NASA got tired of throwing money away.

  70. Nigel Depledge

    @ Vince Charles (66) –

    Thanks for that correction.

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Vince Charles (67) said:

    IIRC, British Airways finally made it profitable from an operations standpoint, and possibly a capital-cost standpoint. But it was still not enough to pay back research and development costs, and thus the Concorde (as a program, flown via either airline) never made money.

    Fair point. It would have taken a huge revenue to recoup the massive development cost of Concorde.

  72. Ben H.

    Phil, you wrote:

    “A new crew of three was supposed to go up later in September, bringing the total crew of the ISS back up to six, but that mission may be delayed. If there’s only one capsule docked, only three people can leave in case of emergency, so the new crew must wait until a new capsule docks before going up.”

    There is no way for the crew to even get to ISS without flying a Soyuz capsule so your last sentence that implies they could possibly get on ISS without a Soyuz, is very confusing.

    Your last sentence should be “any capsule can only have three people on board so there cannot be more than three crew until the next Soyuz is allowed to launch.”

    – Ben H.
    NASA JSC, Houston, TX

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