Discovery makes one final flight… but we must move on.

By Phil Plait | April 17, 2012 10:15 am

This morning, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery took one last flight. Mated on top of a specially-adapted 747, it flew from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Dulles airport just west of Washington DC.

My brother-in-law works in DC and got this phenomenal shot of it:

Discovery’s ultimate destination is the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex outside of DC. It will be put on display for people to see, which is nice, if bittersweet.

I have mixed emotions about all this. Discovery is special to me; it was the only Shuttle I saw launch live, in 1997, when it carried a camera I helped build up to Hubble Space Telescope. And of course, for decades the Shuttles were the main rocket fleet of NASA.

But they were expensive, and had a host of other problems (I enumerate many in an article I wrote for the NY Post). I really wish we had stuck with Werner von Braun’s plan to keep building bigger and better rockets, back when the Saturn V was thundering into the sky and it looked like we’d be walking on Mars by the 1980s.

But that future didn’t happen. We made that shining tomorrow into the somewhat drab today, where shifting political winds — both inside and exterior to NASA itself — have had us going around in circles for 30 years.

Still… sometimes that wind blows fresh. We’re still exploring the solar system, still looking up. Hubble’s still going strong with its 22nd anniversary next week. We have rovers on Mars, a spacecraft around Saturn, another on its way to Jupiter, and yet another orbiting the asteroid Vesta while setting its sights to move on to Ceres soon. Space X is about to launch its first rocket to the space station.

But all of this is still fragile, still tentative, still threatened. We need a far, far stronger presence in space. If you’re a US citizen, let your Senators and Representative know you support a strong space effort.

Listen to Bill Nye:

I know there’s a wave of support for space exploration. People want to touch the sky; as my brother-in-law wrote me about the Discovery flyby today, "Every building that had roof access was full, maintenance folks had ‘jobs’ to do on the roof between 10 and 11." They wanted to be a part of that piece of history.

Always remember: Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.


Related Posts:

… and then there were none.
Where the Shuttles will come to rest
Two Shuttles, nose to nose
Debating space

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space

Comments (58)

  1. mcb

    I wish I understood the wistfulness of everyone who claims they will miss the STS. It was used to do some fine work – perhaps none better than its delivery and support of the Hubble, but it’s as though its fans didn’t watch the Challenger explosion or the disintegration of Columbia. The design of the STS compromised crew safety from the conceptual stage, arguably in exchange for features the program never delivered, and experienced catastrophic failures which killed its crews twice in 135 missions. I say the sooner the shuttles are safely ensconced in museums the better.

    http://eclecticbreakfast.blogspot.com/2011/05/lest-we-forget.html

  2. BT

    That is one awesome shot of it coming in to DC.

  3. David

    Do we know what will happen to the Carrier 747?

  4. Sathish

    Can anybody explain how the mounting on the Boeing 747 is done ?.What would happen to the carrier now as asked by David?.Any links explaining this.

  5. FMCH

    Phil, I think you might like the pic with moon in the background. It was taken in Edgewater, just north of KSC. http://www.news-journalonline.com/breakingnews/2012/04/discovery-is-airborne-enroute-to-smithsonian.html

  6. josie

    “I wish I understood the wistfulness of everyone who claims they will miss the STS”

    It’s been a part of my life since I was in the single digits. My Mom woke me up in the wee hours of the morning to watch The Columbia launch.

    When the Challenger blew up my High School stopped classes and we watched the news.

    I was working on my dissertation at home when I saw the news of the Columbia crew not making it home.

    I will miss the Shuttle fleet not because it was an infallible triumph but because it was an inspirational part of my life…and because millions of pounds of thrust is just cool. Anytime I watched a launch or landing or maneuver in space I got to enjoy the fact that “Hey, we can DO that, and it is AWESOME”.

    I never worked for NASA, I didn’t probe into how much each launch cost or how the program was run. I don’t feel guilty about that. I am going to remember the Shuttles fondly and I can hardly wait to see where we go next. And I mean that in the literal sense –I still want people in space :)

  7. Jim Johnson

    Every time I see one of these Shuttle-mated-on-747 photos, I still always recall a political cartoon in a newspaper in the early eighties (before STS 1 launched, I think), depicting the shuttle/747 paired (as in the photo above), with the caption, “Not tonight dear, I have a headache.”

    Ah, the junk cluttering the attics of our minds.

  8. Russell

    Crop that photo and take out the ugly buildings at the bottom in order to have a much better shot.

  9. T-storm

    Could you imagine the awesomeness of a Galileo or Cassini type mission if launched with a Saturn V?

  10. BigBadSis

    #1. mcb: I, for one, will miss what it represents. As a famous person recently said: “Exploration of the unknown might not strike everyone as a priority. Yet audacious visions have the power to alter mind-states—to change assumptions of what is possible. When a nation permits itself to dream big, those dreams pervade its citizens’ ambitions. They energize the electorate. During the Apollo era, you didn’t need government programs to convince people that doing science and engineering was good for the country. It was self-evident.”

    The Apollo era is long gone and perhaps it’s good we moved on from the Shuttle era, except I don’t really think we’ve “moved on.” We’ve just stalled.

  11. Calli Arcale

    mcb:

    I wish I understood the wistfulness of everyone who claims they will miss the STS. It was used to do some fine work – perhaps none better than its delivery and support of the Hubble, but it’s as though its fans didn’t watch the Challenger explosion or the disintegration of Columbia.

    What, we’re only allowed to like things that are perfect? Then we will be very unhappy people, for nothing in this world is perfect — and spaceflight is *hard*.

    I used to correspond on an online forum with a guy who worked on the Shuttle program for its entire history. He was the first to admit its shortcomings — but he still loved it fiercely. He also had the unfortunate job of going out to Texas to help identify Columbia debris, and he talked of the strange moment when he was handed a piece of debris and realized it was a collar ring from one of the crew’s launch and entry suits. No way of knowing which one; all he knew was that someone had died wearing this. And it was someone he knew personally, since he’d met all of the STS-107 crew. He’d just never know which one.

    Never suggest that someone who likes the shuttle is ignorant of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Many of the people feeling wistful today were there — not just watching, but actually present. Waiting at the SLF to greet Columbia’s crew and then having to console the family members when Columbia never showed up, or sitting at a console in the launch control center and wondering why people had suddenly gotten so quiet. He was there for Challenger; he talked about how they were all celebrating when it blew up — traditionally, control is handed off to Houston as soon as it clears the tower, so they aren’t in control by that time and can relax. Which they did, for about a minute, until people started to work out what that odd cloud was — it takes a moment, sometimes, for the brain to catch up with what the eyes are telling it. And then they were all locked in to the room, part of the standard post-accident procedure to start preserving data. Do they miss Shuttle? Absolutely. These are people who dedicated their careers to the Shuttle program, moved their families to work on Shuttle, who had their whole lives shaped by it. How do you *not* miss something like that?

  12. Calli Arcale

    David @ 3: I understand the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, if it does not find a commercial use soon, will join its younger sister at Dryden Flight Research Center (at Edwards AFB) to serve as a source of spare parts for SOFIA, the 747-based infrared telescope.

    Of course, it could sit there for quite a long time before being cannibalized; SOFIA’s in good shape at the moment, and there’s the other SCA already out there. Nothing precludes it from being called back into service for a gig such as the Phantom Ray ferryflight. ;-)

  13. John Battema

    I was there this morning at Dulles when it arrived. It was pretty moving to see it fly past not once but twice before landing (for the first and last time, something arrived early at Dulles). I was in 1st grade when the first shuttle took flight, so it was always a part of life, hearing about new missions and yes, even the tragedies. I was even lucky enough to see Columbia launch in late 1999.

    What was most moving for me this morning was how excited and enthusiastic the crowd was, cheers and all…in some ways, it was really nice to see something *other* than tragedy bringing folks together.

  14. Jose Furtado

    It’s been 40 years since humans travelled beyond near earth orbit. The US is in far too much debt to spend more on manned spaceflight. The future belongs to entrepreneurs and those who want to risk their capital and possibly their lives exploring space. Socialism has killed the dream, like it always does when it enslaves a population.

  15. Adeolu

    The shuttle represents a part of Man’s history…i am a Nigerian….it is to me a symbol of man’s capabilities! I miss the program greatly

  16. Paul

    What, we’re only allowed to like things that are perfect?

    Even ignoring 14 dead astronauts, the shuttle was much less than perfect.

    The shuttle was a colossal programmatic disaster. It retarded progress in US manned spaceflight for decades. It wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. It utterly failed to achieve its stated goal of reducing the cost of reaching orbit and making spaceflight routine.

    (And if you point to the Hubble Space Telescope, no, that project does not justify the shuttle, not even close. I will explain why if you don’t understand.)

    Goodbye, Discovery, and good riddance. You are where you should have been long ago, heading for a museum.

  17. Kurt Erlenbach

    I was out at KSC this morning to watch it leave. An awesome sight to see Discovery leave for the last time. I saw almost every one of its launches, and while agree with the posters who say it was time to end the program, leaving the last time was certainly bittersweet.

  18. Wzrd1

    Wow, the two who damn an entire program due to costs, programmatic issues and TWO accidents!
    We should now junk all lunar data, shoot down the Hubble, throw away the lunar mineral samples and delete all continental drift data, as Apollo 1 killed ITS entire crew, hence, the program should have been scrapped at the onset. Apollo 13 nearly killed ITS crew. So, we should discard that science.
    It never should have happened.
    Indeed, we should abandon North America, as tobacco was brought to the world, with its massive cancer rate!
    Indeed, we should retreat back into caves, for houses burn down with entire families inside them.

    Were there safety issues? Yes. It’s called new technology and learning. You prefer doing nothing and living in ignorance.
    You can only fail if you try. If you don’t try, you cannot fail. But, you’ll never achieve ANYTHING by not trying.
    Meanwhile, I’m willing to bet that you drive around happily in your automobile, with the tens of thousands of deaths associated with those!

  19. @Wzrd1: Not only the costs, programmatic issues, and the fatalities, but the fact that the shuttle was a complete and utter failure on all of its original goals. It was supposed to provide cheap, safe, reliable access to space but toward the end of its life it wasn’t even allowed to perform missions it was designed for (such as servicing Hubble) without special precautions being taken.

    None of the endeavors with which you compare the shuttle have that issue.

  20. Another Josh

    I was in DC this morning, on Capitol Hill watching for the shuttle just outside of the Longworth House Office Building across the street from the Capitol. The sidewalks were full of congressional staffers out for a glimpse of the Shuttle as it flew by, running around to try and get the best vantage point. It really seemed like a great advertisement for NASA and future space travel, just seeing how captivated everyone was to see it.

    If that actually translates into action and future developments, I have no idea.

  21. Mike Saunders

    10. Callie

    Do they miss Shuttle? Absolutely. These are people who dedicated their careers to the Shuttle program, moved their families to work on Shuttle, who had their whole lives shaped by it. How do you *not* miss something like that?

    If I spent my time missing all the cool science endeavors throughout history and those that happened during my lifetime, I would never have any time to develop or start something *new* The past is past. We learn from it and move on.

  22. mcb

    @ No.4 josie

    “It’s been a part of my life since I was in the single digits.”

    Maybe that’s the difference. I watched coverage of the Gemini missions and then Apollo, with rapt enthusiasm. In those days everything we were doing in space was new.

    @ No.8 BigBadSis

    “Exploration of the unknown might not strike everyone as a priority.”

    I’m all for exploration and human space flight. The STS represented very little of either. Might we have gone to Mars on what we spent making overpriced and dangerous deliveries to low Earth orbit?

    @ No.9 Calli Arcale

    “What, we’re only allowed to like things that are perfect? Then we will be very unhappy people, for nothing in this world is perfect — and spaceflight is *hard*.”

    The STS concept willingly sacrificed crew safety in pursuit of performance and budget targets it never met and then it killed two crews while we watched. That’s not “hard,” that’s stupid or negligent, or both.

    @ No.13 Wzd1

    “Apollo 1 killed ITS entire crew, hence, the program should have been scrapped at the onset. Apollo 13 nearly killed ITS crew.”

    The non-lethal failure of Apollo 13 resulted from a malfunction of a component deep in a design that otherwise served admirably. The survival of its crew was a testament to human creativity and resilience. Until the STS came along, Apollo 1 was the one and only time NASA lost a crew to poor engineering, failure to think things through, or to insist on getting crew safety right. The STS program promised much than it delivered and in order to do so the design itself compromised crew safety from the get go.

    The STS did some important science, clocked a lot of miles, and captured the imagination of a generation too young to remember the good old days, but it was not NASA’s best work.

  23. MadScientist

    I remember the claims that the shuttle would be far cheaper than a SaturnV launch (well, that much was true although the cost of building the shuttles was incredible) – so cheap that by the end of the 1980s there would be at least 2 launches per week, etc. I also remember Werner von Braun fuming about what a stupid idea it was to reuse a high-power rocket motor. Von Braun was right – having the main rockets on the shuttle was an endless source of maintenance problems (though the engineers did a great job and the main rockets always performed in flight).

    What I would like to see as a shuttle replacement is a low-orbit unmanned reusable laboratory. With modern technology I don’t see any great need for humans in space (or perhaps I should say out of the earth’s immediate vicinity).

  24. Seems like we’ve come full circle from the first (test) flights of the Enterprise :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-YNcwc1ZME

    I miss the Space Shuttles. :-(

    I still think they were one of the former wonders of the world – the second greatest thing humans have ever designed, built and flown behind only the Saturn V-Apollo craft.

    For this :

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

    For all this :

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

    that they flew and did and carried and achieved.

    We cannot do now, what we used to be able to do. Where we should now be able to do all we could and much more.

  25. Snark

    The reason for so much hand wringing on this issue is the high level of uncertainty concerning America’s future in space, especially human spaceflight. If a new vehicle were waiting in the wings to take the shuttle’s place within a reasonable period of time following the shuttle’s retirement, today’s events would be viewed with warm nostalgia. There is no new vehicle however. There is no plan. There is no formal objective other than keeping the ISS going with with no larger objective than keeping it going. In order to accomplish even that, it is only through the good graces of foreign nations.

    Before people retort back: “but what about SpaceX?, what about Virgin?, what about SNC?” one must be honest and recognize that none of these organizations are even close to flying a human orbital vehicle. They are building uncrewed cargo ships and sub-orbital space planes for rich people’s joyrides. Some are designed for a potential conversion to orbital human spacecraft – but all are reliant government funding to do so, all are wildly behind schedule at just the cargo part, and financial support for most are at the whims of the confused and ever-turbulent American political system. This is a system that is now incapable of considering beyond the next 6 months, never mind 6 years or 16 years. There are real concerns that enemies of commercial spaceflight in congress will successfully kill-off government funding for commercial spaceflight – effectively killing the whole effort. A significant reduction in funding in the effort has already been attempted by congressional enemies of commercial space this year. It will only get worse.

    Yes, NASA is also designing a human capsule spacecraft, but frankly the fact that if it is successful it will have taken at least 10 -12 years to build does not bode well for its survival. It was cancelled once already, and its backers in congress see it primarily as a jobs program for their districts. There is little hardcore interest in actual spaceflight from most of them. Continued support is entirely negotiable even from its political backers. This program will have to survive at least 3 political terms before ever seeing a flight – a less than likely outcome in the modern American political environment.

    In conclusion, I personally give the private programs a slightly better than 50/50 odds of producing one type of successful human orbital vehicle by 2018 at the earliest. I give the NASA vehicle less than a 30% chance of program survival to first launch.

    Quite simply put, it comes down to lack of commitment by America, and if no replacement does come forth in the 6 to 8 year period from now, it will be all over: America will quit human spaceflight for good sometime in the mid-2020’s when the ISS comes down or prior to that if the Russians decide to shut us out (or quit themselves).

    So, seeing a shuttle flying over the capital on the way to its entombment is fitting. It is perhaps the perfect analogy for the downward spiral that America is on – blithely watching a symbol its best days being laid to rest.

    Phil didn’t mask his worry about America’s future in space very well, and he has every right to be so worried. The whole situation is a damn mess

  26. MadScientist

    Hmm … I’d just like to point out that a ship is not safe at harbor; numerous instances of ships damaged in storms (and last year the tsunami in Japan) as well as ships catching fire or even being torn apart in an explosion while at port come to mind.

  27. Booker

    Okay, I need to be set straight on some history here. I thought the whole “Space Shuttle” “Space Station” meme was von Braun’s paradigm that was ingrained in NASA’s DNA. The Apollo “program” was a deviation from the ultimate blueprint because of the pressing need to beat Russians in space. I thought all we winged rocket ships, and doughnut space stations were the von Braun tablet of space-faring commandments. Not bigger and bigger expendable rockets. What was von Braun touting on “Walt Disney Presents”? After the defeat of the evil empire, and the re-entry of Skylab, the paradigm of a spaceplane and space station was revived, and promptly deformed by yuppie manager types who were infesting the agency, and following a “business model” in the definition and design of the STS system.

    The science people will buy it! Industry will buy it! Even the Airforce is on board! We can fly spies! We can still beat the Commies! And just think of it, Getaway Specials! Even school kids can send Science Fair projects to orbit, for cheap! We will make a killin’ I tells ya! A killin’!

    Also, I thought the construction of the STS orbiters served as a handy diversion to cover up the over-runs and design failures on the B-1 Bomber that was handily being built on an adjacent assembly line.

    Man I would love it if a really good investigative reporter started digging into the true history of the whole STS imbroglio, while the history is still around to be found.

  28. Grand Lunar

    I disagree with the viewpoint of building bigger rockets.
    Better ones yes, but they need not have been bigger. Just more reliable, like how the Atlas rockets became.

    Incidently, I think Saturn 5-class rockets would’ve been big enough for many jobs.
    We could’ve even used it to launch the shuttle, instead of something entirely new.

    I do hope that we do get a fresh breeze going.
    Supposedly, NASA is supposed to release it’s ideas for an actual destination.
    I’ve seen some good ideas out there, though I’d still hope for a lunar return to be a winner.

  29. Booker

    Oh, by the way, the decision to cease building full Saturn Vs was the most incredibly stupid, short sighted, and negligent perhaps in the history of this nation. What could have been accomplished by the Saturn cluster of vehicles, and subsequent derivatives, would have blown away any idiotic economics of the STS in spades. To think of the waste! God!

  30. Nigel Depledge

    MCB (22) said:

    The STS program promised much than it delivered and in order to do so the design itself compromised crew safety from the get go.

    Yes.

    If the SRB contract had not been promised to Morton Thiakol (sp?) in Utah, they could have been built significantly closer to Cape Kennedy. Had the SRBs been built near Cape Kennedy, they could have been transported whole and would not need to have been designed and built in segments. Because they were designed and built in segments, they had to have seals where those segments joined together.

    This is not the cause of the Challenger disaster, but it is a circumstance that contributed.

  31. Peter Davey

    There is a rather nasty scientific concept called “entropy”, which means that, if you don’t keep going forward, you end up going backwards. Stability becomes stagnation.

  32. Robin

    Yup, the Shuttle was far from perfect. It was expensive, difficult to maintain, and unable to perform the task set for which it was designed…..but man, I loved to watch that thing go and read every scrap of news I could on it during its service life. Having a pause in US human space flight will be suboptimal at least, but it’s something that we’ve experienced before and something from which we will emerge. There is no reason to believe that the US manned spaced program is dead and never to be revived, and likewise, there is no reason for people opposed to manned space travel to think they’re on the verge of some major victory.

    Socialism killed the US manned space program? Really? Well, first, as mentioned it’s not dead. Second, there are zero facts to support such a wild claim. No, what has put the brakes on for now is the combination of governmental political games and interference in NASA, poor management and foresight at NASA, lack of public interest in science in general, poor cost containment, and a few other factors, again, none of which are related in the slightest to socialism. It’s the hip thing now with people who have a political axe to grind to scream “Socialist!”, “Socialism!”. Unfortunately for them, such screams and tantrums only demonstrate that they didn’t pay attention in school and don’t know what socialism is and that they’re confused or ignorant about how our democracy works.

    2018 before any of the private companies get humans into orbit? I’ll take that bet. There’s no objective reason at all to think it will take until 2018. I’ll put big money on a private concern putting people in orbit before 2018.

  33. Paul

    There is a rather nasty scientific concept called “entropy”, which means that, if you don’t keep going forward, you end up going backwards. Stability becomes stagnation.

    There’s a rather nasty term called “pseudoscience”. You are engaging in it.

    Entropy has a specific technical meaning. It is not some sort of vague metaphor, as you are using it. Its specific technical meaning doesn’t imply what you think it implies.

  34. Jeff

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/oct/26/obama-readies-to-blast-nasa/

    This article by Robert Zubrin says that NASA will cut all future unmanned exploration of the solar system. I think this is bad because these are in my view even more valuable than the manned spaceflight program; although both are important.

  35. Not that I care to defend the shuttle. It was an ugly thing and probably misconceived. But it was designed (and costed) for 99 or so percent reliability – two catastrophic failures is about right.

    More people die on the roads in a day – many of them due to malfunction. We should send these cars to the museums as well.

  36. Brian Too

    What the critics of the Shuttle fail to appreciate, and do so at their peril, is the public support it engendered. If you doubt this, take a look at all the people who came out to see the retirement flyby. They didn’t do this because they had to, they did it because they were interested or wanted to show respect.

    Only a very, very few space programs ever connect with the public this way. Hubble was one such. Likely the Mars Spirit & Opportunity vehicles were another.

    So when you finish slamming the Shuttle, think about this. NASA funding ultimately stems from political support for these programs, and that ultimately stems from public interest. Whatever your pet program is, could use some of the juice the Shuttle program has. In spite of it’s failures, which we all know about.

    Think about that for a while.

  37. Darren Evans

    A couple more perspectives on the shuttle arrival atop the jumbo in video form:

    http://youtu.be/p10qjIUQuSA

    http://youtu.be/9wkupbNOYYU

  38. Woody Tanaka

    “Might we have gone to Mars on what we spent making overpriced and dangerous deliveries to low Earth orbit?”

    It was never a matter of money. Look at how much Americans are willing to waste on the insane-sized so-called “defense” industry.

  39. Paul

    What the critics of the Shuttle fail to appreciate, and do so at their peril, is the public support it engendered.

    Why should we care? The shuttle engendered support for itself. This is, in NASA parlance, a “self-licking ice cream cone”. If the shuttle wasn’t worth it, generating public support only made rectifying the mistake that much more difficult.

  40. mickey lee

    The many billions spent on the Space Shuttle program cannot be rolled up into a few museum relics. Most of that money went to salaries of countless workers all over the world, and the consumption of those workers. It went into homes purchased, clothing bought, food grown and consumed, education given to countless children of the workers. It has driven economies of numerous communities across the USA. Oh, by the way, it fed the imaginations of generations of engineers and scientists, and kids itching to be engineers and scientists. It fed the technology that I take for granted today, computers, cell phones, flat panel TVs, hearing aides, medical equipment of all sorts, and the list goes on. Over these years some small portion of my federal tax money went into that program, and got distributed around the world to those workers and to the quality of life we live today in the USA. I feel an amazing connection, as just one part of a gigantic whole. And I am proud of that connection and my tiny part in it. More proud for sure than watching my tax dollars go to unjustified wars, and now paying for the rehabilitation of many unfortunate US soldiers whose lives have been marred. Sure, the space program as a whole has gone askew at times, and money was wasted. But nothing close to the money wasted on so-called “national defense” projects. And the gigantic Social Secutity and Medicare/Medicaid fraud that is going on today by entepreneur crooks dwarfs the money spent on the Space Shuttle. McDonalds annual gross in hamburgers and fries is several times more than the NASA annual budget. We spend much more on fast food, empty calories, than we spend on NASA and its fruitful endeavors. I cannot wait to go over to the museum and see Discovery in person. I saw the flybys yesterday, and I was simply proud to be an American!

  41. Chris Winter

    @Jeff, #34:

    I think Bob Zubrin is a good guy overall, but he gets things wrong. In this case he’s exaggerating at best. There is no way President Obama could kill NASA’s entire planetary exploration program.

    Also note that this appears in the Washington Times, a paper with a certain rightward leaning. Take it with a grain of salt.

  42. Brian Too

    @38. Paul,

    Your entire response is a picture perfect example of what I was talking about.

    I’m not saying that the Shuttle program had problems, and big ones at that. I’m saying that the public remained engaged with it in spite of those problems.

    Many scientists have a technocratic and functional standpoint that distances themselves from the political dimension these programs have. Could Shuttle have been more scientifically productive? Could it have been safer? Did it lower launch costs as much as hoped for? Did it eat budgets that might have been better used elsewhere? The answers to these questions are trivial and you are simply repeating them.

    However critics assume that the alternative would always have been better. This just isn’t a wise standpoint. One major legacy of Shuttle is a public reservoir of memories and goodwill. This creates the political space to fund future programs. Maybe they will be “better” than the Shuttle, maybe not. However the point is that with funding they will have their chance.

    A program like Shuttle (meaning anything that captures the public imagination) makes the NASA pie bigger. A whole series of scientifically productive but publicly boring programs results in smaller NASA budgets every year. That’s what I mean.

  43. vince charles

    40. Brian Too Says:
    April 19th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    “However critics assume that the alternative would always have been better. This just isn’t a wise standpoint.”

    Umm, it’s a perfectly-valid standpoint to assume, because it’s the standpoint that _actually_ happened_. Before the Shuttle, payloads got launched by NASA, the DoD, and commercial comsat makers using Delta, Atlas, and Titan rockets. (The Ariane was also close to debuting.)

    After Challenger, comsat makers and the DoD moved to… Delta, Atlas, Titan, and oh yeah, that whole Ariane thing. You know, the one that captured more launches than the rest of the industry, combined? The one that took a little over 60 crew to launch, instead of over 10,000? The one that actually had a fair chance of flying on its scheduled date, and was responsive to the requests of the client?

    And then, after a few years more, even NASA itself moved deep-space missions off the Shuttle. (To say nothing of polar orbits, which never got onto STS manifests at all, and to a lesser extent high-altitude missions.)

    But don’t take my word for it:

    http://www.amazon.com/Robotic-Exploration-Solar-System-1957-1982/dp/0387493263/ref=lp_B001K8C4WI_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334883017&sr=1-1

    “Robotic Exploration of the Solar System: Part I: The Golden Age 1957-1982 (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)” (i.e., the pre-Shuttle era)

    http://www.amazon.com/Robotic-Exploration-Solar-System-1983-1996/dp/0387789049/ref=lp_B001K8C4WI_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1334883017&sr=1-3

    “Robotic Exploration of the Solar System: Part 2: Hiatus and Renewal, 1983-1996 (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)” (i.e., the Shuttle Gap)

    http://www.amazon.com/Robotic-Exploration-Solar-System-Part/dp/0387096272/ref=lp_B001K8C4WI_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1334883017&sr=1-2

    “Robotic Exploration of the Solar System, Part 3: The Modern Era 1997-2009 (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration) ” (i.e., NASA gets a clue, and ends the Shuttle-only launch policy)

    And I’ll add that, as Ariane got more Shuttle-like with the Ariane V, it got less competitive. The crude Proton is now about as popular in the market as Ariane V. Meanwhile, Japan’s H-II, also Shuttle-like, was never competitive at all.

  44. @ ^ Brian Too : That last paragraph of yours. So true. Seconded by me. Ditto all of your comment #36 as well. Well said. :-)

    @35. mat noir :

    Not that I care to defend the shuttle. It was an ugly thing and probably misconceived. But it was designed (and costed) for 99 or so percent reliability – two catastrophic failures is about right.

    I don’t think the Space Shuttle was ugly. I guess beauty is indeed in the beholder’s eye but look again at the clips I’ve linked in comment #24 above.

    Watching the Space Shuttle rocket into the skies made my spirit soar, the craft was a marvel and, as I said, one of the greatest things Humanity has ever made.

    It flew the most people and the most different astronauts into space – the first woman – Sally Ride, the first African American – Guion “Guy” Bluford, the first Australian astronaut Andy Thomas and so many more.

    It launched the Hubble Space telescope, the Galileo probe to Jupiter, Magellan to map Venus and Ulysses to see the solar poles among many more. It built the International Space Station and docked with Mir helping build space co-operation. (Click on my name for wiki-list of missions.)

    It was the first and by light years the best reusable space plane and surely the most capable and successful spacecraft behind only the Apollo-Saturn V system.

    Was it perfect? No – but is anything? Are there legitimate critiscism to made about the Sapce shuttle design, were there things it couldn’t do – like fly beyond low earth Orbit and take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond like we’d hoped? Yeah, but let’s not overlook what it was able to do and what a successful program the Space Shuttle was and all it did for so many. For me, the biggest problem was it wasn’t followe d up with mark II, mark III and more Space Shuttle type successors.

    @39. Chris Winter : I do blame Obama at least in part for much of the current sad state of the US human spaceflight program. He could’ve thoughtand acted so much better. the buck stops with him.

  45. vince charles

    Yet again, you show that you do not make budget decisions- and why would you? As an Australian, you _do_not_make_budget_contributions to NASA, DoD, or likely a majority of private space operations.

    The Soviets did, in fact, follow up with a mark II shuttle, and it helped grind their civil space program into oblivion for about a decade. ESA, with the benefit of hindsight, had the sense to ax their mini-shuttle. And even that was atop a launcher that had been fully justified on its own.

    “It launched the Hubble Space telescope, the Galileo probe to Jupiter, Magellan to map Venus and Ulysses to see the solar poles among many more. It built the International Space Station and docked with Mir helping build space co-operation. (Click on my name for wiki-list of missions.)”

    Again, click on MY bibliographic references for the “Shuttle Gap”- an opinion from two people who are actually qualified to render it. You fail to mention all the projects that got bumped from the payload bay, nor all those that never even got in due to technical or budget conflicts. You certainly don’t mention all those spacecraft that chose not to bother with Shuttle issues at all- including NASA’s own.

    “It flew the most people and the most different astronauts into space – the first woman – Sally Ride, the first African American – Guion “Guy” Bluford, the first Australian astronaut Andy Thomas and so many more.”

    Again, you are not informed enough to note that not only was the Shuttle originally intended to have fewer seats, but the resulting manifests were loaded with “seat fillers”- crew who had work made up to justify their flight. The military was under less of this political pressure, and flew Shuttle missions with empty seats all the time:

    http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/09/too-many-astronauts-too-few-se.html

    Are you some sort of Trojan Horse? Do you wish to see the Shuttle continue flying, or rather spending, so that NASA will collapse entirely?

    I could’ve gone easier on you. But your insistent, incessant postings pass judgement while not passing muster. You are asking to be shot down, again, and again.

  46. vince charles

    Forgot a cut-and-dried example:

    “It launched the Hubble Space telescope, the Galileo probe to Jupiter, Magellan to map Venus and Ulysses to see the solar poles among many more.”

    Gee, you fail to note that there were supposed to be TWO spacecraft in the International Solar Polar Mission, and that they were intended to launch in the mid-Eighties. Dual spacecraft would have given us even better spatial information (one north, one south) on the Sun and gamma-ray bursts. But Ulysses is what we ended up with, years behind schedule due to the Shuttle, while still burning funds all the while. Funds that could have started a follow-on, or some other worthwhile mission.

    You also fail to note that when a Hubble successor was proposed (Hubble Origins Probe), the project was not foolish enough to even postulate a Shuttle launch.

    You fail, yet again, to note that Shuttle limitations resulted in Magellan’s risky trajectory. STS overruns also contributed to the severe descope of the mission from Venus Orbital Imaging Radar- a much more capable probe.

    You certainly fail to note that repeated Shuttle delays are the likely cause of the Galileo high-gain antenna failure… and the certain cause of the bizzare, kludged trajectory, and its excess hydrazine consumption, wear, and radiation exposure.

    For these reasons, even NASA itself declared enough is enough, and moved Mars Observer off the Shuttle. (Oh, and the entire rest of the Mars program too… and the Lunar probes… and even most LEO missions.) I suppose in your esteem, Mars Observer was simply not worthy of the payload bay? And that you know more than four consecutive NASA administrators… including a Shuttle mission commander?

  47. Brian Too

    @43. vince charles,

    You can win every argument and still lose the war. The war is for public support and political capital. Win the war and funding becomes, well not exactly easy, but possible. Lose the war and watch the funding dry up. That causes all NASA space programs, worthy or not, to dry up and die.

    Meanwhile your argumentation is so deeply flawed that I will not address it in detail. Ariane was great… until ESA changed it. So why did they change it? JAXA was never great. Proton is great but “crude”?

    You are still arguing over opportunity costs. The thing about opportunity costs is that we do not know how successful the lost opportunities would have been… because they died without funding.

    See a pattern here? No, probably not.

    The funny thing is that there is a good argument to be made against Shuttle and you are not making it. Even Shuttle became boring in it’s middle and late life. It became a butt of jokes about how the mission control announcers would say, immediately after liftoff, “shuttle mission STS-99, restocking groceries and replacing failed toilets”, or some such.

    So the question is, Shuttle retained public support, in spite of 2 lost vehicles, with crew (RIP astronauts), launch costs that never came down, far fewer launches than design called for, loss of the military payloads, loss of the deep space payloads, only LEO capability, public boredom during middle and late life, tragically delicate tiles, foam insulation that never stuck adequately, one-shot unpowered landings, and probably a dozen other sins I can’t even remember now.

    Why? There’s more going on there than just “a self-licking ice cream cone”.

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    Interesting (hopefully) article here :

    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1643957/US-museum-welcomes-space-shuttle-Discovery

    Via SBS world news Australia & also via the same source here :

    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1644087/Space-veteran-Buzz-Aldrin-speaks-to-SBS

    An interview with Buzz Aldrin plus another such interview :

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/8454539/buzz-aldrin-interview-full-transcript

    via NineMSN with different questions and askers.

  49. Messier Tidy Upper

    @33. Paul :

    “There is a rather nasty scientific concept called “entropy”, which means that, if you don’t keep going forward, you end up going backwards. Stability becomes stagnation.” – #31. Peter Davey – ed.
    There’s a rather nasty term called “pseudoscience”. You are engaging in it. Entropy has a specific technical meaning. It is not some sort of vague metaphor, as you are using it. Its specific technical meaning doesn’t imply what you think it implies.

    It may not technically be called or exactly analogous with “entropy” but I think what Peter Davey said there that :

    if you don’t keep going forward, you end up going backwards. Stability becomes stagnation.

    is very true – historically speaking.

    Look at what happened to China and Japan when they cut themselves off from the world until the world beat down their metaphoorical doors inthe 19th /20th centuries.

    Look at how European cultures that explored and advanced scientifically overcame stagnant cultures such as the indigenous ones and the Ottoman and Russian (tsarist) empires. Or how homo sapiens spread and took over the planet whereas neanderthals and homo floriensis became stayed put and went extinct.

    @45. & #46. vince charles : As you might expect I completely disagree with you. You are wrong and I’ll have a more detailed rebuttal of your erronous and insulting comments later.

  50. Messier Tidy Upper

    @45. vince charles :

    Yet again, you show that you do not make budget decisions- and why would you? As an Australian, you _do_not_make_budget_contributions to NASA, DoD, or likely a majority of private space operations.

    So that means I don’t have the right to have and express my opinion? I don’t think so somehow!

    The Space Shuttle flew someone I’ve seen, an astronaut from my home city, Andy Thomas, into orbit -sverela times and delivered him to Russia’s Mirspace station for a tour. The Space Shuttle is an American program, sure, but it is broader in its scope and has affected and delivered joy (and very occassionally sorrow too) to people all around our globe.

    The Soviets did, in fact, follow up with a mark II shuttle, and it helped grind their civil space program into oblivion for about a decade.

    Yeah, ’bout that, y’know the collapse of the Soviet union around that time just may have had a litttle more to do with the Russian space programs woes, eh?

    The Russians always suffered from having much less money than the USA. I think the fact that they didn’t fly their Buran more than once was a great pity and a mistake on their part.

    ESA, with the benefit of hindsight, had the sense to ax their mini-shuttle. And even that was atop a launcher that had been fully justified on its own.

    Again, the ESA has less money, and, again, I think that was the wrong call.

    Again, click on MY bibliographic references for the “Shuttle Gap”- an opinion from two people who are actually qualified to render it. You fail to mention all the projects that got bumped from the payload bay, nor all those that never even got in due to technical or budget conflicts. You certainly don’t mention all those spacecraft that chose not to bother with Shuttle issues at all- including NASA’s own.

    You are totally missing the point.

    I’m not saying the Space Shuttle was perfect or that there weren’t some issues with the program only that we should remember the good it did do. The space probes like Galileo, Magellan, Ulysesses and more that it *did* launch successfully.

    IOW, Give the Space Shuttles credit where credit is due.

    “It flew the most people and the most different astronauts into space – the first woman – Sally Ride, the first African American – Guion “Guy” Bluford, the first Australian astronaut Andy Thomas and so many more.”
    Again, you are not informed enough to note that not only was the Shuttle originally intended to have fewer seats, but the resulting manifests were loaded with “seat fillers”- crew who had work made up to justify their flight. The military was under less of this political pressure, and flew Shuttle missions with empty seats all the time:

    So what? That doesn’t make what i write untrue or change the fact that the Sapce Shuttles did fly more astronauts into space than any other craft.

    Once again, you miss my point and once again, you fail to acknowledge and credit the Space Shuttles for their successes and all the positive things they did achieve.

    Are you some sort of Trojan Horse? Do you wish to see the Shuttle continue flying, or rather spending, so that NASA will collapse entirely?

    Don’t be ridiculous and offensive – of course NOT! :-(

    What I want is to see NASA properly funded and building and flying spacecraft like the Space Shuttles but even better and more capable. I wish they’d built new Space Shuttles with revised designs and improved capabilitites able to take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond. I want the opposite of what you suggest – a strong, really well funded and directed and advancing NASA that is flying and building constantly with no long gaps between older model spacecraft being retired and newer ones flown.

    @46. vince charles :

    Gee, you fail to note that there were supposed to be TWO spacecraft in the International Solar Polar Mission, and that they were intended to launch in the mid-Eighties. Dual spacecraft would have given us even better spatial information (one north, one south) on the Sun and gamma-ray bursts. But Ulysses is what we ended up with, years behind schedule due to the Shuttle, while still burning funds all the while. Funds that could have started a follow-on, or some other worthwhile mission. You also fail to note that when a Hubble successor was proposed (Hubble Origins Probe), the project was not foolish enough to even postulate a Shuttle launch. You fail, yet again, to note that Shuttle limitations resulted in Magellan’s risky trajectory. STS overruns also contributed to the severe descope of the mission from Venus Orbital Imaging Radar- a much more capable probe.

    You’re missing the point once again.

    Could things have been done differently? Yeah. Might that ahve worked better? Perhaps, who knows? Were they still done as they were and should we acknowledge that the Space Shuttle did suceed in those missions? By Jove yes!

  51. Continued @46. vince charles :

    For these reasons, even NASA itself declared enough is enough, and moved Mars Observer off the Shuttle. (Oh, and the entire rest of the Mars program too… and the Lunar probes… and even most LEO missions.) I suppose in your esteem, Mars Observer was simply not worthy of the payload bay?

    No, don’t be silly.

    Mind you, if we’re playing hypotheticals here, who knows maybe in a parallel universe where the Space Shuttle launched the Mars Observer things may have been different and it may have suceeded rather than being lost.

    And that you know more than four consecutive NASA administrators… including a Shuttle mission commander?

    Course not & I’ve never said I did. :roll:

    Do you know more than Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Eugene Cernan and all the many other critics of Obama’s space policy as noted in the article linked to my name?

    There are some strong and varied opinions here onthis topic and they aren’t all on your side.

    I’m on Neil Armstrong’s side, guess you ain’t.

    @45. vince charles :

    I could’ve gone easier on you. But your insistent, incessant postings pass judgement while not passing muster. You are asking to be shot down, again, and again.

    I have the right to have and express my views just as you do.

  52. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ For clarity :

    @46. vince charles :

    “For these reasons, even NASA itself declared enough is enough, and moved Mars Observer off the Shuttle. (Oh, and the entire rest of the Mars program too… and the Lunar probes… and even most LEO missions.) I suppose in your esteem, Mars Observer was simply not worthy of the payload bay?” – vince charles.
    No, don’t be silly.

    Meaning of course, that yes the Mars Observer spaceprobe *was* worthy of being launched from the Space Shuttle payload bay if they’d chosen to do so.

    BTW. vince charles, last time I looked this was Phil Plait’s blog not yours. If he asks me to change my commenting style or not post on certain topics here then I’ll listen, you not-so-much.

  53. vince charles

    47. Brian Too Said:
    April 20th, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    “You can win every argument and still lose the war. The war is for public support and political capital. Win the war and funding becomes, well not exactly easy, but possible. Lose the war and watch the funding dry up. That causes all NASA space programs, worthy or not, to dry up and die.”

    Surely you’re not suggesting the voters need to be lied to. Mars Pathfinder generated more interest than any comparable probe, Shuttle or no Shuttle. The fact that it went “no Shuttle” meant it generated more interest for _less_ money. The later rovers only reinforce my point. Meanwhile, the ISS contradicts your point. The ISS rationale was largely political, not technical, and yet I hear no Station buzz from the “lay” people.

    Of course, if we’re talking about public support and political capital, Hubble has to come up. And yet, fourteen KH-series reconnaissance satellites (on which Hubble was based) launched just fine on Titans, before and after Hubble. Then add the KH-follow-on birds. The proposed Hubble reflight (Hubble Origins Probe) would have flown on an Atlas just fine, and in fact preferred it.

    (And if I have to repeat it, human servicing has turned out to cost more than it was worth, which is why NASA, DoD, and private firms stopped designing craft to be human-serviceable. The DoD, NASA, and private builders have found that reflights just make more sense, and the space-insurance industry makes for a pretty convincing second/third/fourth opinion. Meanwhile the DoD has gone quite far with robotic servicing, and both NASA and private groups are trying to do the same. You don’t know how much robotic servicing military and civil groups are capable of now, and are planning on in the near future.)

    “Meanwhile your argumentation is so deeply flawed that I will not address it in detail. Ariane was great… until ESA changed it. So why did they change it? JAXA was never great. Proton is great but “crude”?”

    Congratulations, you’ve just demonstrated that you don’t work on rockets. The reasons for the Ariane 5 design could go on for pages and pages. Suffice it to say, Arianes 1 to 4 justified themselves through earnings from commercial-launch contracts, and Ariane 5 tried to keep the streak going as markets shifted naturally. This includes a shifting commercial-satellite market, the way launch-services contracts are now drafted, and the shifting markets for rocket technology and propellants. For instance, the various choices of fuels were an accident of history, followed by another accident of history, and the engineers coped as best they could. In contrast, the Shuttle accommodations did not change- you changed your project to fit, and you liked it.

    Similarly, the Proton design is an accident of Soviet history. No sane engineer would design that from scratch, this would be obvious to a rocket builder. It was redeemed by key subsystem designers turning out quite good work- and now, the accident of Russian history clearing the books of certain costs. Engineers from Lockheed, Saab Aero, etc. didn’t hurt, either. Sane engineers are now working on its replacement, the Angara, which is completely different from Proton.

    “You are still arguing over opportunity costs. The thing about opportunity costs is that we do not know how successful the lost opportunities would have been… because they died without funding.”

    NO, I’M NOT, and we know quite well. I do not need to speculate between launch services, because as mentioned, Delta, Atlas, Titan, etc. kept right on flying payloads that had abandoned the Shuttle. And they continued flying just fine, for less money, closer to schedule, and with the occasional customer requests that one can’t foresee. This is not speculation, this is not argument. This is successful comsat dividends in the bank, military and TDRSS assets on station, science data in the archive, etc. Deep-space launches after the Shuttle Gap soon equalled launch rates before the Shuttle. Why do you deny these successful launches exist? It is the Gap-era missions that died without funding- my point, not yours. And why do you suppose they did not get funding?

    “So the question is, Shuttle retained public support, in spite of 2 lost vehicles, with crew (RIP astronauts)… Why?”

    Again, it seems like you’re claiming that the public needs to be lied to. Or that there’s some multibillion-dollar dance that’s put on, which you endorse. If so, you must support the Soviet Shuttle program to be consistent. The Soviet Shuttle design, too, was what the politicians wanted, not what the mission scientists wanted at all. The irony is that Zenit and Energia turned out to be the better launch vehicles, again by virtue of having no Shuttle to drag along. For the quite simple Zenit in particular, both the Soviet government and commercial markets eventually agreed- oh, the irony!

    “There’s more going on there than just “a self-licking ice cream cone”.”

    Apparently you are not aware of what Nixon (and specifically, Agnew) was sold to fund the STS, or rather, the STS we got. The cone goes deeper than you think. Meanwhile, Ariane keeps on signing launch contracts. DoD spy satellites and NASA’s TDRS birds launch just fine again, out of the public eye. Soyuz rockets and Soyuz capsules both fly, with little public fanfare, including for commercial contracts. Heck, Vega is the red-headed stepchild of the launch market, with public indifference at best, and still got about a billion euros from the politicians- do you know why? (Do you _really_ know why?) And Spiro Agnew is still an asterisk on history. Your political-backing argument is a weakness of a space program, not a strength.

    “…there is a good argument to be made against Shuttle and you are not making it. It became a butt of jokes about how the mission control announcers would say, immediately after liftoff, “shuttle mission STS-99, restocking groceries and replacing failed toilets”, or some such.”

    I don’t need to, the Rogers Commission had noted that argument just fine. The absurdity of jeopardizing a national asset on a logistics flight would later be shown in ISS assembly (or lack thereof). Far from being boring, the issue became an international incident. Is that the political dance you intend?

    In that report, Richard Feynmann concluded “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” In other words, the flight record and the launch market is right, and you’re wrong.

  54. vince charles

    50. Messier Tidy Upper Said:
    April 22nd, 2012 at 3:35 am

    “So that means I don’t have the right to have and express my opinion? I don’t think so somehow!”

    Until you pay taxes to the United States Government, your opinion will be just another internet post. And yet, you think your opinion is somehow “for the ages,” from neanderthals to monoliths.

    “Yeah, ’bout that, y’know the collapse of the Soviet union around that time just may have had a litttle more to do with the Russian space programs woes, eh?”

    Except, you have little perspective on that too. On seeing the Space Shuttle, Soviet engineers considered it breathtakingly complex. Within a few years, their Shuttle’s cryogenic engines had half the parts count of the SSME, while maintaining similar performance. Their thrusters were both easier to work on while being more efficient, and their crew escape system was better- it actually existed! There’s something about paying for a Shuttle program while invading Afghanistan that brings down large organizations. I recall you endorse expeditionary war too.

    “I think the fact that they didn’t fly their Buran more than once was a great pity and a mistake on their part.”

    And have you paid a single ruble in taxes to them, either? I’m going to say no. But go ahead, call up Popovkin and see how long you get to talk.

    “Again, the ESA has less money, and, again, I think that was the wrong call.”

    The launch industry disagrees with you. Huygens disagrees with you. Mars/Venus Express disagrees with you. Rosetta disagrees with you. SMART definitely disagrees with you, and MicroThrust, in particular, will laugh in your face. There’s something about hard resource limits that keep you on the ball.

    “we should remember the good it did do. The space probes like Galileo, Magellan, Ulysesses and more that it *did* launch successfully.”

    So the kid still gets a medal just for finishing the race. No, the kid gets a penalty, for weaving all over the track, and blocking the other runners lapping him. Again, you fail to note that having a fixed budget or other resource limitations forces you to stay focused, and stick to a preset goal. You fail to note this, probably because you love talking about other peoples’ budgets. You talk as if they’re barely limited, too.

    The Concorde falls within your MO as well. You state that it was cool, and should still be flying. This is because you seem unaware that it was hemorrhaging money, and was hurled skyward by massive taxpayer subsidies. I’m going to guess you’ve never bought a Concorde ticket for thousands of dollars, and have paid few pounds or francs to their respective subsidizers. You have, likely, bought a seat on a boring, old subsonic plane. By doing so, you endorse and support _actual_ engineering, and airline operations, and contractors, and the rest of the aircraft field, uncool as it is. You just won’t accept that your notions of what’s cool don’t actually work in the real world, by operating profitably. No, that’s for British and French workers to buy for you, whatever the price.

    It continues with the Shuttle. You think it’s cool, despite never actually having done any Shuttle or payload work. With that rationale, there’s nothing I can say to you about unusual interfaces, imposed safety limits, odd operating hurdles and outright operating gambles, unresponsive “liaisons,” shifting manifests and schedules and budgets, and other sundry red tape. All of which are much milder or possibly nonexistent on ANY competing launch vehicle. But hey, the launch acceleration is kept low, so the kid gets a medal anyway, right? And never mind the high acoustic loading, the dirty payload bay and prep area, the thermal extremes, and the abort demands… mostly inherent to the Shuttle design and operating concept, and not very solvable with any “Shuttle Mark II” that even resembles this orbiter.

    You think it’s cool, because you’re a spectator seeing it through a screen. You’re not seeing it as the payload, which is the whole point of a Transportation System in the real world. You’re certainly not seeing it as a mission manager, just trying to get a 15-minute ride. You’re definitely not seeing it as a payload manager that’s looked into the competing launchers, and what they offer as standard, let alone optionally. You’re definitely not seeing it as a taxpayer… you’d give the kid a medal anyway, and it isn’t even YOUR KID.

    Wernher von Braun was shown OTRAG, and became a backer. OTRAG had massive potential, and is valued as a consultant to private launcher firms to this day. And yet, the OTRAG vehicle (plus the similar Scorpius and Neptune) is about as uncool as it gets, so clearly it can’t work, right?

    “Could things have been done differently? Yeah. Might that ahve worked better? Perhaps, who knows?”

    Yes, and we know this fact quite well. I know as a launch customer. The project managers know, from over twenty years of past experience. The scientists know, from the usable data returned since about 1996. The boards and many shareholders know, from their birds operating successfully. The competing vehicles (including Delta again, and Atlas again, and Titan again) certainly know, from their launch backlogs, filled by managers, scientists, shareholders, and other launch customers like myself. You? You don’t know.

    “Mind you, if we’re playing hypotheticals here, who knows maybe in a parallel universe where the Space Shuttle launched the Mars Observer things may have been different and it may have suceeded rather than being lost.”

    The stated failure mode would not have changed on a different launch vehicle. It was inherent to commercial components, being flown by some amount differently from what their vendors had designed and built. This philosophy ran through the entire spacecraft bus; if the one failure mode had not occurred, there were others lurking within the design… who knows? Actual project engineers know.

  55. vince charles

    51. Messier Tidy Upper Said:
    April 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 am

    “Do you know more than Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Eugene Cernan and all the many other critics of Obama’s space policy as noted in the article linked to my name? There are some strong and varied opinions here onthis topic and they aren’t all on your side.”

    “The Space Shuttle flew someone I’ve seen, an astronaut from my home city, Andy Thomas, into orbit ”

    Funny you should mention. We’ve had millions of dollars of hardware, jeopardized by astronauts being too “cowboy”. Multiple managers have stated on record that some astronauts will “fly anything.” It’s perfectly fine to risk your own life; I know plenty of doctors who smoke. However, it’s no longer just your life when you pilot a taxpayer vehicle, replaceable only at massive cost, in a backlogged schedule. Jeopardizing my hardware makes it my business; jeopardizing my project also means it’s my career. Someone who is not completely rational about their own life is not who should steer the future of my project and my career. For this reason, project managers prefer their payloads on cheap, simple, obvious, _unmanned_ systems… and have done so for twenty-five years.

    Your ability to name-drop one astronaut on a personal (?), not professional level does not make me value your opinion on what’s cool. My speaking with managers and technicians (including those who state plainly that they ‘would never fly that thing’) makes me value what the past decades have shown to actually work. We know now.

    “I have the right to have and express my views just as you do.”

    Sure, except my projects, my career, and my tax dollars are at hand. Yours aren’t, just your feelings on what’s cool.

  56. vince charles

    “BTW. vince charles, last time I looked this was Phil Plait’s blog not yours. If he asks me to change my commenting style or not post on certain topics here then I’ll listen, you not-so-much.”

    Phil has a very hands-off policy. You should have noted this with your posts on global warming. Or, should I say, your initial posts on global warming, remember?

  57. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ 56, 55, 54. vince charles : Clearly we see things very differently and come from very different perspectives.

    The idea that you need to pay tax dollars in the relevant nation to have an opinion on subject X strikes me as some kind of logical fallacy.

    It also seems if not technically a logical fallacy then certainly a huge and fairly insulting over-generalisation to call astronauts “cowboys” – for starters, many of them of course are women too!

    To me, vince charles, it seems clear that you hate the human spaceflight project and value money over a hell of a lot of other things that and many others would consider more important. Your view of space travel and the goals and wishes of Humanity generally seems to me to be very limited and I think you are missing the point – in fact missing a whole lot of broader points. You clearly have a lot of expertise and may well have accomplished a lot in your life and your narrow field but I think you may be missing the forest for the trees as the saying goes. I don’t think you get it.

    I guess you probably think the same about me.

    As for the BA being willing to allow everyone their say here and havinga hadns off policy, sure, seems to be the case. I try to make a positive contribution here, informing, entertaining and making people think and yes putting my case on some topics. I’m certainly not perfect and never claim to be and, yeah, on some issues – in part because of arguing over things on this blog I’ve changed my views.

    If you don’t agree with that asessment and don’t like what I’ve got to say here, then, well, it saddens me but I certainly can’t and won’t force you to read my comments. Its a big varied cosmos out there and not everyone will agree with me – or you – or anybody else – all the time. (Shrug.)

    Que sera sera.

  58. Great article linked to my name here on the final retirement of the Space Shuttle.

    I watched the very first ever launch – attempt -of the Space Shuttle ‘Columbia’ back when I was a little kid. I stayed up way past my bedtime awed by this then all-white all-new sleek spaceplane like something out of an SF cartoon come to life.

    The Space Shuttle has flown so many times -135 or so – since and delivered so much joy and science, provided sucha lot of wonder and knowledge for us all. All but two of its flights landed safe and sound.

    I’ve seen or listened to many of those flights – at least parts of them like the launches. Sometimes on TV, sometimes on the internet, once whilst on an astronomy camp looking at the stars listening to the radio coverage as Andy Thomas, Adelaide’s own astronaut headed up to Mir for a stay.

    It was one of the marvels of the modern world.

    It will be very sorely missed.

    It will be a very long time before we see its like again – if we ever do.

    ***

    “”The unfortunate decision eight and a half years ago to terminate the shuttle program, in my opinion, prematurely grounded Discovery and delayed our research.”
    – John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth who achieved that 50 years agao this year.

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