NASA

The fate of the shuttle, and NASA

On the heels of its extended editorial Sunday about the future of the ISS, the New York Times published another space-related editorial Friday, this time on the space shuttle. The editorial cites NASA’s decision to delay the STS-121 launch to next March, as well as the release of the Stafford-Covey final report and the much-discussed appendix by several members of the panel. The editorial goes over well-hashed arguments about the shuttle, suggesting that the delay and the report “ought to force the administration and Congress to take a much harder look at how long the shuttles should keep flying – or perhaps whether they should be flying at all.” I would expect that the future of the shuttle program to (again) be the subject of Congressional hearings this fall. It’s possible that these issues could affect the NASA authorization bill, which the Senate has yet to approve.

However, the Times’ suggestion that the shuttle be retired is mild compared to what Steve Forbes suggests in an editorial in his eponymous publication [free registration required]. In a proposal no doubt welcomed by any remaining libertarians, he calls for nothing short of dismantling the space agency:

One inescapable response: Abolish the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) or drastically scale back its mission. Since the moon landings over three decades ago, NASA has become an obstacle to advancing space exploration and travel. If NASA had been in charge of developing the automobile, we’d still be riding horses.

Some of his suggestions aren’t terribly new, such as endorsing tax breaks for private space exploration. However, he also argues that the “shuttle program should be turned over to the private sector”, and the ISS, too. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to develop a reasonable business plan for private operations of the shuttle.

57 comments to The fate of the shuttle, and NASA

  • I mostly agree with Steve Forbes, the notorious plutocrat, again to my surprise. His piece has some crackpot hype about making a moon base with tax exemptions, and he conveniently ignores NASA’s successful unmanned missions, but these are side issues. Forbes gives “scale back NASA’s mission” as an option, so we have room to agree on space policy.

    The New York Times, for its part, raises a question that should have been asked in January, 2004, in response to Bush’s VSE speech. NASA has since had trouble launching the shuttle even once per year. At this rate it might only fly six times or so between the VSE speech and the retirement date of 2010. What sense is there in spending $25 billion or so on so few shuttle flights? Who at NASA or the White House will step forward to refute Bush’s promise to complete the space station?

  • Cecil Trotter

    “NASA’s successful unmanned missions”

    Successful at what? Proving that a planet orbits a star 10 lightyears away? Mapping the Horsehead nebula more accurately?

    All just wonderful things to be sure but of what benefit, tangible benefit, are those things to mankind?

    Other than weather and communications satellites unmanned space missions serve little to benefit anyone but a few curious scientists. And I’m not against that, but the real benefit to be seen by all mankind will come from HUMANS going into space, living there and working there and harvesting resources that will be used in space and on Earth. The only really “successful” unmanned missions are those that support that goal, putting people in space and exploiting the resources there.

  • Needless to say, I agree with Cecil. However, he understates his case. The wonderful photographs of the Horsehead Nebula come from the Hubble Space Telescope, which is part of the human space program. And, the NGST would be a far more effective instrument if human maintenance engineers could be sent to its distant but easy-to-get-to planned location. Direct observation of extra-Solar System planets is best done from space, and again it’s best done with human-tended spacecraft.

    – Donald

  • Successful at a lot of things, Cecil. Successful at confirming and mapping the ozone hole, for example. That one goes way, way beyond entertaining a few curious scientists. Millions of cases of cancer and widespread extinction of species hang in the balance of that question.

    And successful at a lot of other measurements and mapping of the planet that we live on. Not just for the sake of science by any means.

    And successful at measuring the age, shape, and content of the universe. I do not think that only a few curious scientists care to know the age of the universe. The most you could argue is that a lot of people want to know that the universe is 6,000 years old, and only an elitist minority wants to know that it’s actually 13.7 billion years old.

    And, as you say, successful at exploring the prospects of future human space travel. Just because the prospects are bad, that doesn’t mean that it’s worth nothing to explore the question. Without NASA, we wouldn’t know just how blighted and hostile the rest of the solar system really is. The logical path is to keep exploring the solar system with unmanned craft until manned exploration looks practical, not to pretend that manned exploration is practical just to have a grand vision.

  • If human space travel is impractical, how do you explain Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the Space Station, not to speak of the odd Salyut and Mir? Human spaceflight is perfectly practical. It’s only a question of whether we want to do it, how much we’re willing to pay for it, and how much safety we’re willing to pay for. The rest is strategy.

    I agree with your implied arguement that it will probably take a very long time (thousands of years) to colonize the Solar System; where I think I disagree with you is that I believe the time to start is now and you appear not to.

    Every voyage starts with a single step. We’ve taken that step, but now it’s time to take the second step.

    – Donald

  • I said impractical, not impossible.

    Well, suborbital tourism might be practical.

  • Paul Dietz

    If human space travel is impractical, how do you explain Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the Space Station, not to speak of the odd Salyut and Mir?

    By noting that they were/are impractical?

  • TORO

    Following Challenger, the Alan Greenspan “right stuff irrational exuberance” continued fairly unquestioned. The media still loved the young champion.

    But some beautiful babies often become ackward adolescents, and the complacent, pampered ones that cannot control their calorie intake and not exercise can have morbid obesity set in.

    Now following Columbia, the exhubernace is gone. NASA still would like for it to continue. But there are too many review board dissenters, and too many NASA-infidel editorials entering what used to be sacred ground, desecrating NASA, and easily getting away with it. NASA cannot stop the end of exhuberance, but is the right stuff era gone? Will NASA really change that much?
    The right stuff era will make a tough resistance. They will not change or give up easily. Failure will not be an allowed option.
    The new administrator has his hands full to change and end the era. A new era will not come easily. Resistance is not futile in district embattled democracy.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Greg, who gets fed by the knowledge of the true age of the universe? If the answer is settled tomorrow be it 6,000 or 13 billion years old how does that feed anyone? How does it provide housing for anyone? Does that knowledge provide energy to heat their homes, propel vehicles or prepare food?

    This planet will not support 6 billion (and growing) people indefinitely. However impractical human spaceflight may be we had better be about the business of making it more practical NOW. Waiting until we need it most will be too late to start.

  • billg

    Forbes’ proposal, and most other space-related proposals by libertarian types, are intended to advance the interests and influence of their pet ideology, rather than the exploration and exploitation of space. Therefore, we have no more reason to pay attention to their suggestions than we do to, say, space chatter from Scientologists. Both communities hold to inexplicable opinions buttressed only by their beliefs.

  • Cecil: Human spaceflight won’t help feed people for the forseeable future. But some of NASA’s unmanned satellites do and will.

    This is off on a tangent from the main point. In his VSE speech, Bush promised to complete the space station. It was all about resolve. It was “we will finish what we have started” and “we will meet our obligations”. It was to be, and is, most of NASA’s budget while Bush is still president. Counting both the space shuttle and the space station, it was to cost, and is costing, more than $40 billion from FY 2004 to FY 2009.

    Now it’s falling apart. FY 2004 and FY 2005 have brought just one shuttle flight. There will be no way to complete the space station other than just declaring it “complete”. Did Bush slam NASA for falling down on the job? Did he retract his $40 billion promise as impractical or unnecessary? No, he congratulated NASA and gave it his confidence. That is how national resolve plays out.

    In order to wear the mantle of Winston Churchill, it is not enough to express unshakeable resolve — you must also be right.

  • “Unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to develop a reasonable business plan for private operations of the shuttle.”

    I don’t think there is a reasonable business plan for operations of the shuttle… certainly not if it is being launched into space. Perhaps as scrap metal?

  • Paul Dietz

    This planet will not support 6 billion (and growing) people indefinitely.

    The planet can support many times the current population, in comfort, for many millions of years.

  • TORO

    Stabilizing world population, whether 6 billion or 26 billion or whatever, is a long term problem.

    Send humans to Mars is a long term problem.

    Speaking of term problems, politician focus on the short term in democracy.

    Look for China to stabilize their population and send humans to Mars before democracy.

    We still seem to have more freedom, but we can’t seem to plan ahead. What would Jefferson recommend we do in this day and age?

  • Paul Dietz

    All just wonderful things to be sure but of what benefit, tangible benefit, are those things to mankind? [...] Other than weather and communications satellites unmanned space missions serve little to benefit anyone but a few curious scientists.

    The unmanned missions to the outer planets revealed that Jupiter’s magnetosphere contains trapped plasma at a surprisingly high pressure. The beta (ratio of plasma to magnetic pressure) was well above what conventional fusion reactors could contain, and the plasma was being contained without instabilities.

    After theorists determined why this was so, a fusion reactor concept exploiting the phenomenon was developed. It’s being worked on right now at MIT.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg:“Human spaceflight won’t help feed people for the forseeable future. But some of NASA’s unmanned satellites do and will.”

    Hubble won’t feed anyone. Galileo won’t. New Horizons won’t. Voyager won’t. And you might notice I already stated that weather and communications satellites were beneficial to everyone, I guess I should have specified any and all Earth observational type spacecraft so as not to give you the opportunity to nitpick.

    As for your tangential diatribe against Bush on ISS; do you know who started the ISS as it is presently envisioned? That would be Clinton, so yes Bush has his hands full in finishing Clintons expensive and near pointless boondoggle. But then Clinton never was interested in ISS as a space project; he simply used it as a foreign policy tool.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Dietz: “The planet can support many times the current population, in comfort, for many millions of years.”

    Not with current technology.

  • Cecil Trotter

    And Paul, when MIT gets that fusion reactor up and running I’ll retract my statement on the limited beneficial applications of unmanned missions to the outer planets.

    By the way, I am not against such missions anyway. Just trying to point out the foolishness of some who praise ALL unmanned space missions while in the same breath condemn ALL manned missions.

  • Paul Dietz

    Not with current technology.

    The advances needed to do so are much less than the advances needed to colonize space. Why? Because it will be easier to build habitats on Earth, where there is readily available pressure, water, oxygen, etc. than it will be to do so in space.

    Conventional agriculture, if applied around the world with yields already achieved, could feed 100 billion people. Mineral resources are plentiful and recyclable. The only exception is fossil chemical fuels, and they can be substituted for without recourse to space.

    Now, it may end up that it’s easier to solve some problems with space resources, but the analysis that’s been done in the last few decades shows it isn’t necessary.

  • Paul Dietz

    And Paul, when MIT gets that fusion reactor up and running I’ll retract my statement on the limited beneficial applications of unmanned missions to the outer planets.

    Will you also refrain from claiming benefits from manned excursions off the planet until that also delivers the actual goods?

  • Cecil: The space station is rather closer as a topic to Jeff Foust’s post at the top. I agree with you that Clinton dropped the ball. He should have cancelled the space station, but he didn’t. I hope that you would have thanked him for it if he had.

    That’s water under the bridge now. Bush is the president that we have, and the space station is in his hands. He could cancel it, with a bit of courage. Instead, he resolved to complete it. It’s now clear that this kind of resolve is spelled L-I-E.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Ditez: “Will you also refrain from claiming benefits from manned excursions off the planet until that also delivers the actual goods?”

    I have not claimed any current benefits from manned space exploration in the vein of providing resources to feed, shelter and provide energy to mankind. What I have stated is that those are benefits we will see in the future as a result of manned space exploration and in order to reach that future we must work toward that goal beginning now. If we wait until we desperately need those things it will be to late.

    Kuperberg: “Bush is the president that we have, and the space station is in his hands. He could cancel it, with a bit of courage. Instead, he resolved to complete it. It’s now clear that this kind of resolve is spelled L-I-E.”

    Yes he certainly could cancel the ISS, but that would be a stupid thing to do. With billions already invested in what is already in orbit and billions more invested in hardware sitting on the ground that would be wasted if not put in orbit now is not the time to cancel ISS. The Clinton administration is responsible for the horrendous mismanagement that is ISS, Bush was just handed the problem. There is no good or easy solution to be had at this point. There is only bad or worse, with cancellation being the worst.

    You can bandy about words like “lie” all you like; it doesn’t alter the truth of the matter. It only goes to further prove your total lack of honesty and objectivity.

  • CNN currently has a poll entitled “Will the Space Shuttle fly again?”:

    http://www.cnn.com/POLLSERVER/results/19594.exclude.html

  • kert

    Well, solar power from space could realistically supply a very tangible benefit for humankind. Its the most direct application for space development that average person could understand.

    The idea has been around from the dawn of space age.

    Now, how much has NASA done in this area, apart from paper studies ? A mere tech demonstrator perhaps ? ….

    I’d say development of SPS technology should be far more important to future of humankind than a next Jupiter probe mission for instance.

  • Cecil, while I agree with almost all of your wider points above, I think the following statement is wildly unfair. “As for your tangential diatribe against Bush on ISS; do you know who started the ISS as it is presently envisioned? That would be Clinton, so yes Bush has his hands full in finishing Clintons expensive and near pointless boondoggle.”

    The Space Station was started, for better or worse, by Mr. Reagan and many of the pointless redesigns and increased costs happened during his watch. The Reagan administration deserves full credit and blame for those actions. Perhaps Mr. Clinton should have cancelled the program and perhaps not — hindsight is rarely 20/20 but it’s always better than foresight. However, Mr. Clinton (or probably more accurately Mr Gore) did stabilize the program; did find a political reason for its existance that moderates in both political parties could subscribe to (whether you agree with that reason or not); and if I remember my dates correctly his administration did see it through to the verge of or earliest beginnings of actual construction. Whether you like Mr. Clinton or not, it is hard to argue that he did any worse a job of managing the project than any other president.

    – Donald

  • Mike Griffin has sent a letter to the New York Times essentially restating NASA’s current position on retiring the Shuttle:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/21/opinion/l21nasa.html

    It’s refreshing to see so little spin in such a statement.

    Griffin argues that stopping the Shuttle now would have grave consequences for the US pre-eminence in space. In my view the Shuttle has already had grave consequences for the US pre-eminence in space, and delaying the Moon preparations by 5 years to continue the Shuttle is the true mistake.

    Furthermore, Griffin suggests that stopping the Shuttle now would devastate the workforce necessary for future human spaceflight. If he means that it will return the Shuttle’s “standing army” to high skill engineering jobs in the private sector where they can benefit US industry and the economy then I’m all for it. Yes, I expect it will be a horrible experience for the men and women involved, but in the private sector a similar process usually takes place during economic downturns, and that restructuring makes the economy strong in the long run. Anyway, I bet some of those expertise could give a real boost to alt.space ventures.

    If Griffin was referring to the devastation of the astronaut corps and all those who support their activities at JSC, then yes they will be without a vehicle for a few years. I watched Eileen Collins’ shuttle landing from the roof of the aeronautics dept. at Caltech and her subsequent walkabout and press briefing on NASA TV. This is a lady I have a great deal of respect for, and from the heart she said that it was tremendously important to the astronauts that we support the Shuttle program.

    Those words I have thought long and hard about, this is a lady who I think truly believes that the Shuttle _is_ space exploration. However, without anything useful enough to justify continued visits to the space station anyway, I just don’t see how the needs of the astronaut corps could be a legitimate reason in itself to continue the shuttle. And I find it difficult to imagine that a gap of 5 years would devastate the expertise of those who support them.

    As for the upholding international commitments argument, the NY Times article already popped that balloon… or deflated it at least. I hope that this particular assertion will be dissected carefully if there are any hearings on this. If NASA is so suddenly worried about upholding commitments, perhaps they should start closer to home…

  • Greg: “I said impractical, not impossible. Well, suborbital tourism might be practical.”

    Hmmm, come to think of it, in the real world _orbital_ tourism has been demonstrated as a small but presumably profitable business before suborbital tourism. Now, I recognize that there are a lot of non-commercial reasons for that odd state of affairs, but I think it more-than-demonstrates the “practicality” of human orbital flight. Likewise, I doubt Space Adventures and the Russians would be offering Zond-style trans-lunar flights unless they could make money at it. We may see the beginnings of “practical” cis-lunar flight long before any of us expected. . . .

    – Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Donald: “The Space Station was started, for better or worse, by Mr. Reagan”

    No, Space Station Freedom was started by Reagan; Clinton made the ISS a jobs program for the Russians. He then let Gore/Goldin or whoever was supposed to be managing the thing turn it into “The Money Pit”.

    But nevertheless, I find it interesting you point out my “wildly unfair” statement on Clinton yet you give Kuperberg a pass on his “resolve is spelled L-I-E” whack at Bush.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Parker: “As for the upholding international commitments argument, the NY Times article already popped that balloon… or deflated it at least.”

    How did they do that? They made an assertion that maybe the ISS partners would love an out for themselves to kill ISS but they offered no proof for that assertion. Just making the assertion dosn’t make it fact.

  • Dfens

    Don’t you think NASA is a relic of the cold war? As I recall, NACA was renamed NASA and put in charge of manned space operations to mitigate Soviet nuclear weapons concerns regarding the launch of large rockets from US soil. Maybe the thing to do is put all vehicle procurement and operations under the USAF. NASA could launch manned or unmanned payloads on USAF vehicles. This would get rid of a lot of the bloat and the big dollar aspect of NASA and let them focus their energies on the more high tech stuff.

    In this scenario, they keep Ames and Langley, but give most of Johnson to the USAF, and probably lose Marshall and Stennis.

  • David Davenport

    [ NACA was renamed NASA and put in charge of manned space operations to mitigate Soviet nuclear weapons concerns regarding the launch of large rockets from US soil. ]

    President Eisnehower created NASA so that manned space flight would not be a strictly military activity. I don’t think that this motive is altogether out of date today.

    I do agree that the DOD may get an increasing share of space funding. For example, I expect plans for the Shuttle-derived medium and heavy launch missiles won’t work out, and NASA will come to depend on the Atlas and Delta launch systems. Marshall SFC doesn’t get turned over to the USAF, but MSFC will shrink in importance and in head count.

  • Mike Griffin’s letter to the New York Times says that no matter how few times the space shuttle flies between now and 2010, they’re going to call the space station complete and stop building it. That’s like calling a house complete after a set period of construction, whether it has a roof or not. It is exactly the kind of resolve that’s spelled L-I-E.

    Nor is this the only Bush policy based on the same kind of resolve. In the big picture, the space station is just a minor example of resolving to “finish the job” when the job and the finish line are both arbitrary. Although I promised David Davenport that I would stick to space policy here, so I will not pursue that tangent.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Kuperberg: “Although I promised David Davenport that I would stick to space policy here, so I will not pursue that tangent.”

    Promising not to pursue the tangent after you’ve already pursueded it… Is that spelled L-I-E?

  • Dfens

    It would seem to me there is plenty of interesting subject matter at hand. The inflammatory rhetoric only serves to censure that discussion.

  • Paul Dietz

    I have not claimed any current benefits from manned space exploration in the vein of providing resources to feed, shelter and provide energy to mankind.

    No, but while decrying the uselessness of unmanned space activities, you have made breathless predictions of the utility of future manned space activities.

    Ah well. I guess double standards are better than no standards at all.

  • Cecil: “But nevertheless, I find it interesting you point out my “wildly unfair” statement on Clinton yet you give Kuperberg a pass on his “resolve is spelled L-I-E” whack at Bush.”

    Sorry about that, Cecil, I gave Greg’s comment the comment it was worth. I am the first to see the bad in Mr. Bush, but it is my opinion that he probably meant “complete the Station” quite sincerely and, at the time, it seemed an achievable goal to most of us. Just because I believe that somebody is an awful President doesn’t mean I believe that they are _always_ lying. Mr. Griffin is probably skating on thinner ice when he repeates the phrase now than Mr. Bush was when he first made it.

    However, you are doing what you accuse Greg of doing when you defend Reagan and criticize Clinton regarding the Space Station, and that is worthy of comment. Mr. Reagan’s Administration started the Station, turned it into a money pit, and achieved nothing of consequence on the project. Mr. Clinton inhereted the Station on the verge of cancellation in Congress, justified and continued the project and brought it to the verge of construction, and turned it into a money pit. How is that a worse performance than Mr. Reagan’s?

    – Donald

  • Dfens

    Again I have to say, the “money pit” status of the space station was really the fault of a lot of people with good intentions, rather than that of one president or another. Acquisition reform in the ’80s had broad based industry support, which should in and of itself raised some red flags, but didn’t.

    No one seemed to think of the fact that if you pay the contractor profit on development, they would see it as being in their best interest to drag development out as long as possible. Ironically, when the customer pays you to do development work, they feel they should be more involved in the development process, to ensure they aren’t buying a pig-in-a-poke. This results in huge NASA standing army of no value added, shoulder-looker-overs. Instead of this army of people actually holding the contractor’s feet to the fire, it actually makes NASA less prone to terminate a program that needs killin’ because ending the program ends such a huge number of NASA jobs at the same time. It is a vicious, and remarkably stable cycle. The bottom line, however, is that you lose.

    The thing is, Reagan didn’t have to buy it, nor did H.W. Bush, nor did Clinton, nor does W, but they all have, and none of them even seems to know it has to be fixed.

  • I agree with you Dfens. The Space Station disaster has continued over several administrations and all are to blame in failing to “change the system.” In that it’s supposed to be Republicans who want to “change the system,” I might lay a little more blame at their door, but only as a measure of hypocrisy. The unfortunate fact is that the middle class voters of this country want to talk change, but nobody, and certainly not the voters that both parties are trying to reach, are prepared to pay the price in lost jobs and disruption, particularly if either happen in their region.

    Mr. Bush has no political incentive to create real change at NASA, especially if he can make progress toward something that looks like the VSE without massive change. I even suspect Mr. Griffin’s orders might include something to the effect of “minimal disruption,” although nobody is likely to admit that publicly.

    In all of this, I suppose I agree with Greg’s cynicism. Where I disagree with him is that I think this is the genius of the VSE proposal. The Administration has found a potentially achievable way forward _without_ politically impossible change. He has shown that a lunar base is at least theoretically possible without the improbable budget increases of the Bush Sr. proposal or the politically impossible demands of the more radical elements of the alt.space crowd, and he has picked one of the few administrators who just might be able to pull it off.

    I too have my doubts that this will ever happen, and I’ve made some of the reasons clear on other posts, but this is a genuinely new approach and it is certainly worth some time and effort to see if it can be made to work.

    – Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Dietz: “No, but while decrying the uselessness of unmanned space activities…”

    You obviously haven’t read what I’ve wrote and I don’t expect you to start doing so now so I’ll refrain from even bothering to correct you.

  • Dfens

    I hate to admit it, Donald, because I identify myself as a conservative, but it seems incongruous for a party to identify itself as conservative and yet have as a solution to all the problems of aerospace “throw more money at it” instead of going back to a process that clearly worked better than what we have today. Uh, you know, like a conservative would. It makes it seem as though the difference between the parties is merely the kind of welfare they support, but I’m not bitter.

  • I can sympathize, Dfens, having much the same problem in reverse. In many ways, owning my own home and being decidedly middle class, I’m a natural “conservative.” If the Republican’s with lose the social agenda and adapt a more rational theory of government than throwing wrench at it and hoping for the best, I might even vote for them. As it is, I’m too honest to claim to be a fiscal conservative while advocating large-scale technocratic projects in the same breath (ever notice how “fiscal conservatives” never bring up the freeway system?), and I’m not expecting the Republicans to practice their preaching about leaving people alone to live as they like any time soon. . . .

    – Donald

  • I think that there is room for one thin ray of respect for past presidents beyond what Dfens has said. My impression is that none of Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 really liked the space station, but none of them tried hard to cancel it. It was never really impossible, but the political price was a bit too high. Bush 43 has a bit less of an excuse, because he has a more compliant Congress than any president since Lyndon Johnson. In any case, none of these presidents were quite oblivious to the badness of the space station.

    Reagan was different. Reagan bought the space station hook, line, and sinker.

  • I will agree with Cecil to the point that the Station Reagan bought was a very different beast from what the Reagan Administration let NASA design. As I recall, the initial design for the station that Reagan approved was both remarkably small and simple. If we had built that, rather than beginning a process of endless design, re-design, and re-re-design, adding complication upon complication (which was well underway during Reagan’s second Administration), it need not have been the financial, technical, and political disaster it eventually came to be.

    There is nothing wrong with the Space Station as an idea. There is everything wrong with it’s execution, almost from day one.

    – Donald

  • Oh, yes, it is worth noting that we may be starting down a similar path with the VSE. Mr. Griffin’s changes to the VSE may or may not be “better,” but they do represent a change of strategy from what was in place only a few months ago. If Mr. Griffin does not adapt a stable strategy and stick to it at least though the rest of the Bush Administration, I will lose any hope of the VSE ever coming to pass.

    – Donald

  • Reagan’s stated justification for the space station was that it would lead to “quantum leaps in our research in science, communications, and in metals and lifesaving medicines”. This was a deluded description of any proposed version of the space station. No astronaut on any foreseeable space station is going to cure cancer or invent transparent aluminum. From day one, the space station was to be a science laboratory that scientists didn’t want. It was indeed almost destined to be a financial, technical, and political disaster.

  • Far be it from me to defend Mr. Reagan, but you might also note that he mentioned my justification for the Space Station, one that still holds true today: “Just as the oceans opened up a new world for clipper ships and Yankee traders, space holds enormous potential for commerce today. The market for space transportation could surpass our capacity to develop it. Companies interested in putting payloads into space must have ready access to private sector launch services. The Department of Transportation will help an expendable launch services industry to get off the ground.” This part of Reagan’s strategy worked out rather better.

    “Our second great goal is to build on America’s pioneer spirit…and that’s to develop that frontier. A sparkling economy spurs initiatives, sunrise industries and makes older ones more competitive.”

    Colonizing and industrializing the new world did not cure cancer or develop transparent aluminum either, but most Americans think it was worth doing. I have always agreed with you that the Space Station could not honestly be justified on the basis of science, and should not have been. That does not mean that the project, properly managed, was not worth doing. Only you seem to feel that science is the only thing that can justify a human activity like exploring space.

    – Donald

  • Dfens

    Engineers are generally not sneaky by nature, but we can be if we have to be. I remember one time I put a finned aluminum avionics box in a place where the flight crew of an airplane was going to hit their head on it all the time. My boss wouldn’t hear of putting an interior panel around it, so I talked the vendor into sending him a letter stating that it would be much more reliable with forced air cooling (which was true). When he asked me to run a duct to it, I said sure. Somehow the “duct” looked and worked just like an interior panel.

    Space station is like that. There were a lot of things said to justify it to the politicians, but really it is a gateway to space exploration. That’s what it has always been. Once we get a heavy launch vehicle, that’s what it will be. No matter how mismanaged the program was, it still has some potential to fulfill that purpose. Really, the biggest impediment to that mission was Clinton’s increasing the inclination of the orbit for the benefit of our Russian pals. If nothing else, it had some value in that it provided a second power base within NASA. One which was vocal about the shortcomings of the shuttle for space exploration.

    To clarify one point for Donald, the space station as proposed to Reagan was much larger and less expensive than any version of what could be called the “baseline design” these days. That was the depressing part about working on it. Every year our annual program rephase would make it smaller, less capable, and a whole lot more expensive. And the contract change took care of the cost overruns from the previous year. Everyone wins, uh, except for the taxpayer, of course. We used to joke that it would be “man in a can” by the time it was actually in orbit.

  • Dfens, maybe you can answer this. I know that large inclination changes are difficult, but how hard would it be to achieve a better inclination a couple of degrees a year, using surplus fuel.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    Donald: changing the inclination by 60 degrees requires nearly as much delta-V as getting to orbit in the first place. The mass of storable chemical propellant for reducing the inclination down to the Cape’s latitude would be more than the mass of the station itself, I think.

    Electric propulsion probably makes more sense, since the station does have substantial PV arrays. However, reducing the inclination would make it impossible for the current Russian launch site to launch to ISS, so this couldn’t be done until they had an alternate launch site at lower latitude.

  • Dfens

    If my calculation is anywhere near correct (no guarantees) it would take about 60% of the energy required to boost the station into orbit to change the inclination 30 degrees. I have jokingly made the proposal in the past that we should use astronaut waste as reaction mass for a rail gun thruster. I believe the only reason they carry it back to Earth now is to study its unique property of having no odor.

    I got this in an email from a friend this morning:

    From the today’s (8/23/05) selection of science and technology articles:

    what the Japanese are doing.
    what the Chinese are doing.
    what the Americans are doing.

  • You should be glad that we aren’t doing what the Japanese are doing.

  • Dietz: “Electric propulsion probably makes more sense, since the station does have substantial PV arrays. However, reducing the inclination would make it impossible for the current Russian launch site to launch to ISS, so this couldn’t be done until they had an alternate launch site at lower latitude.”

    And lo and behold…

    http://www.russianspaceweb.com/kourou.html

  • Dfens

    With friends like that…

    Greg, I did what the Japanese are doing for several years. Remember the High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) program NASA Langley had going for a number of years? The Pacific Rim is a prime market for a supersonic jet in that class. Unfortunately HSCT was only ever about research to get funding to do more research. Building an actual airplane would have messed up everything. Finally, the fact Boeing bought MD ended it. If the Japanese stick with designs like that, their program won’t get too far. There are, however, some pretty obvious options that would work well.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Parker: “And lo and behold… http://www.russianspaceweb.com/kourou.html

    True that Russia will be launching vehicles out of Kourou but I still doubt that they would like the idea of being required to launch from Kourou to reach ISS. I think they will still want their primary launch site to be closer to home.

    But it’s really a moot point, ISS’s orbit is not going to be changed anyway. I would bet good money on that.

  • Dfens

    Whoops, I meant the change in velocity (delta V) would be about 60% and even got that wrong, it would be 50% for 30 degrees. The formula is 2*sin(A/2)*100. I was working on no caffeine. That’s not a huge delta V, so I suppose it would be possible. It’s too bad shuttle was so far behind schedule that we let Skylab burn up. That thing was huge! It would have made a good starting point for the current station, and it was in a decent orbit.

  • Ofens

    > It’s too bad shuttle was so far behind schedule
    > that we let Skylab burn up. That thing was huge!
    > It would have made a good starting point for the
    > current station, and it was in a decent orbit.

    Huh? Skylab was in a 50 degree inclination orbit. That’s not so different from the 51.6 degree orbit of ISS. What difference does 1.6 degrees make?

  • Dfens

    Damn, you’re right. Can we talk about something else now? I’m obviously lost in space.