RS Classic: Let’s Talk about the Space Shuttle and more

>> Wednesday, May 12, 2010

As is no longer in existence as it was (and they wouldn't let me on when they were), I'm going to recycle some of my old and beloved posts here 'cause, hey, I liked them. And, since I'm consumed with my current writing project, I feel less guilty.

Here's the first that wasn't "Hi, I'm me." from August 29, 2008:

I don’t know how many of you feel about the Space Shuttle. I’ve been working in the space industry for nearly 20 years and my own feelings are not clear cut. I read the blog for Wayne Hale yesterday. Wayne Hale was the manager for the Space Shuttle. I know him and I know he cares deeply for this program, for what he did. He knows the end is inevitable.

The Shuttle program is coming to an end. People are talking about extending it like that’s a viable option. But the people who supported this program and provided eighty kagillion [kagillion is a technical term] tiny custom parts have moved into other businesses. Some are suppliers that have moved to more viable customers, providing materials that will be in demand for the long haul. Or they’re retiring. After all, the Shuttle’s been around for more than twenty years. Or they’ve already become part of the exploration effort.

The decision can’t be undone.

Truthfully, I’m not as fond of the Shuttle as Wayne is. Since my focus has been safety, it’s hard for me to look at it without seeing as a collection of things that can go wrong, some of which we didn’t see coming. I see it as a technological achievement that has also killed fourteen astronauts and I, like Wayne, never want that to happen again.

I see it as a mishmash of conflicting requirements, an exceptional engineering feat that was sold as more than a single item can be. Those unrealistic expectations have tarnished it despite the hard work it has done year after year, coming home chipped and worn from the horrendous environments of space and reentry. Yet, battered and limping somewhat from the clever workarounds we need to keep it’s aging systems working effectively and reliably, it can still do what nothing else we have can do: take big loads into orbit and bring them back down safely. And it can protect crews as large as seven going up and down. Building a replacement has been a nontrivial task and we’re not there yet.

No, I’m not as fond of the Shuttle as some. But a lot of good people have devoted decades to her care. And she has done some damn fine work. I know her problems, but I respect her and the job she’s done.

Here’s hoping her last few flights go off without a hitch.

Ironic, isn't it, how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Who knew? It's still pertinent. The cool thing about recycling this is that it makes me think of something I don't think I have written about. Next time, then.


  • Roy

    Unfortunately, while the shuttle program is winding down, the Constellation program seems to be hanging in limbo, going nowhere. For those of us who believe that the future of humanity lies in what we can discover in space, this is frustrating. At least the President has backed off from cutting it from next year's budget, but the proposals as to what will go forward are stunted and of no real use to the kind of exploration the original Constellation program was geared for. It's a mess, and I fear for the future of U.S. involvement is space exploration. This is no time to be going nowhere in the face of the rampant anti-science atmosphere growing in this country!

  • Stephanie Barr

    Let's be clear; the president never proposed a budget cut. Never.

    And, as for the effectiveness of the Constellation program, well, there's been a great deal of controversy about that, even in NASA, for several years. No offense, but it was a mess before Obama got there.

    His plan was never to destroy all human spaceflight but to focus on technologies to move us beyond where we've been before - a step we missed when we tried to rush Constellation through using old technology and on an anemic budget. That thinking is not anti-science, though it's been portrayed that way. From a PR standpoint, I will admit it was bungled. And bungled good.

    Here's the key element. I believe, absolutely, the president is dedicated to moving forward in space the smartest way possible. What's at issue here is that there are some very good reasons to change direction from what we'd been doing (especially given, best case, what it could buy us). Whether we should turn a little away and rework or whether a floor to ceiling overhaul is required, well, that's where there's controversy.

    Many see it as cut and dried, but most of them have vested interests in the way it is now. As, technically, I do too. However, I believe in space and human spaceflight. To me, I want to get there the RIGHT way, not just ANY way. I'm behind any plan if that's the direction it's going. Unfortunately, all the plan's are a mess with the politics and strong emotions spraying everywhere.

    So, although I don't know what path we will take, I know that Bolden is dedicated to do things right. I think Obama is too. Whether, however, the politics involved will allow us to move forward in a cogent way remains to be seen.

  • Roy

    About the rest of the stuff, well, you know more than me about it, after all. I'm just giving my general impression from what's been put out by the news media. But one thing you're dead wrong on - the President did indeed cut the Constellation program out of the 2011 budget, and promised to oppose any Congressional efforts to save the program. It's all down in black and white in this news release for Feb. 1, 2010, the day the White House released the budget to the public. This was part of a general decision to freeze all non-defense discretionary spending for three years in the face of the escalating federal deficit.

    Obviously somebody talked him out of it by the time of the April 15 Space Conference. But the way the White House press office expressed it on Feb. 1, the Constellation program was considered non-essential in the face of the economic situation.

  • Stephanie Barr

    When I first read your comment, I thought you said he'd cut NASA's budget (as many many people have said in the news). He didn't. He did cut Constellation, however. You're right there. But not necessarily human spaceflight (depending on how you look at it).

    Did you see the Augustine commission report? I think that was a big driver. Still, it was not handled well as far as NASA or the public was concerned.

  • Project Savior

    Just from my own research it seems the main driver of the decision to cancel the Constellation program was it little to reduce the cost per launch as opposed to the shuttle. They made up for it by making the Ares V much bigger hoping for reduced cost per pound. But there are concepts on paper to vastly reduce the cost per launch, but they'd never be prototyped, tested, rebuilt, tested and made into a final product by the 2020 deadline for the Constellation Program.

  • flit

    hmmmm .... now I'm wondering if I have anything worth pulling out again. Will have to have a look one o' these days

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