July 6, 2011

"Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?"

Asks John M. Logsdon — professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board — in the MIT Technology Review:
The selection in 1972 of an ambitious and technologically challenging shuttle design resulted in the most complex machine ever built. Rather than lowering the costs of access to space and making it routine, the space shuttle turned out to be an experimental vehicle with multiple inherent risks, requiring extreme care and high costs to operate safely. Other, simpler designs were considered in 1971 in the run-up to President Nixon's final decision; in retrospect, taking a more evolutionary approach by developing one of them instead would probably have been a better choice....

The shuttle was much more expensive than anyone anticipated at its inception.... The shuttle's cost has been an obstacle to NASA starting other major projects.

But replacing the shuttle turned out to be difficult because of its intimate link to the construction of the space station....

Today we are in danger of repeating that mistake, given Congressional and industry pressure to move rapidly to the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle without a clear sense of how that vehicle will be used. Important factors in the decision to move forward with the shuttle were the desire to preserve Apollo-era NASA and contractor jobs, and the political impact of program approval on the 1972 presidential election. Similar pressures are influential today. If we learn anything from the space shuttle experience, it should be that making choices with multidecade consequences on such short-term considerations is poor public policy.
ADDED: Was the shuttle program too expensive? It cost $209.1 billion. Think of it as a jobs program and compare it to the Obama stimulus, which is said to have cost $278,000 per job. The stimulus was $666 billion, more than 3 times the cost of the shuttle program, which went on for many years and which went way over budget.

101 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Blah, blah, blah. Did we get space weapons up into orbit first using shuttle payloads, or not?

What a waste of money? Yeah weapons always are a waste of money from one point of view.

The Manhattan Project cost more than the Space Shuttle.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)





US Space Policy has been goofy since JFK…rather than Apollo NASA wanted DynaSoar…staying close to home, growing incrementally…instead we keep building bigger and better…or more and more expensive.

Call me a Randian, but let’s let private enterprise develop space rather than the gub’mint.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)

Did we get space weapons up into orbit first using shuttle payloads, or not?

What a waste of money? Yeah weapons always are a waste of money from one point of view.



What “space weapons” which have been outlawed since 1964, IIRC.

ricpic said...

Progress is always tied to profit: that dirty word. If and when mining companies are given a free hand to extract minerals from Mars the progress in space vehicles will astound. But since the horrid beautiful people want space to be pristine progress will have to wait.

Curious George said...

A government program turns out to be short sighted, politicized, and cost more than planned?

In other breaking news, the sun rose in the east this morning.

bagoh20 said...

The NASA bureaucracy is just too old and too big. Start over.

Emphasize private sector and unmanned, but otherwise shoot-for-the-stars ambition is what we need, and I do mean NEED. There is nothing more basic to our species than exploration, and discovery. Without that we are extinct, even if we do still hang around fornicating.

traditionalguy said...

Joe has a point... There are no space weapons, and that's our story. Nothing to see here. Move along.

gerry said...

Turn things over to Russian entrepreneurs. They'll get it done.

Sandy said...

RE: Was the shuttle a mistake?
Yes, it was too big with a large payload AND human crew. The requirements to certify a vehicle safe for human crew are mind numbing.

The shuttle should have been smaller, and tasked to only carry crew into orbit. Heavy payloads should have been launched with cheaper disposable launch systems where a launch failure would have been bad but not resulting in loss of life.

This conclusion can only be reached after the fact. Hindsight makes us all geniuses.

Scott M said...

There are private companies that, in short order, will be able to do heavy lift cheaper, better, and faster than NASA. If we treat the privatization of Earth-to-orbit like we did the railroads a couple centuries ago, we'll have vacation getaways in space in our lifetimes.

bad touch said...

Most govt. programs end up costing more than projected...nothing new about that. The "new NASA" will hopefully do more than check up on global warming - and Muslim outreach.

MikeR said...

Gulp. Shuttle was a disastrous mistake. It swallowed the space program, and quickly evolved it into a jobs program for 20,000 engineers. After every mission, it had to be overhauled, essentially taken apart and put back together. That's how it was designed, and they were never willing to try redesign in any way that would risk those 20,000 jobs.

The amount of energy to get to orbit is about the same as the amount of energy to fly to Australia, but imagine what a plane flight would cost if you had to take the plane apart every time. You might approach the overall billion dollars per Shuttle flight.

I'm happy if money goes to space, but anyone who cares about it should fight to support the current privatization program that the Obama administration has (sometimes) supported. Some of these private companies will get to orbit for a hundredth of what NASA spent, and will really open up space. At last.

exhelodrvr1 said...

The problem was that so much emphasis was put on getting to the moon, more effective long-term approaches were not considered. And then reaching the moon was effectively the end of the race, not just the first leg.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)

Joe has a point... There are no space weapons, and that's our story. Nothing to see here. Move along.




Any time you have some evidence or definition of “weapon” to back up your assertion, a statement of truth unsupported by any evidence, I’ll pay you some mind. Until then, thanks for playing….

Really we need big ideas? How about shipping dead pig and sheep carcasses long distances? Is that big enough? Too prosaic, fundamentally changed the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and shipping and international trade…how about we just let it evolve and see where we end up?

traditionalguy said...

The Shuttle could carry repairmen up to fix stuff, like Hubble's lens...and also insert and update Peace Keeping Machinery.

garage mahal said...

Call me a Randian, but let’s let private enterprise develop space rather than the gub’mint.

Who is stopping them?

ndspinelli said...

Certainly the Challenger and Columbia were mistakes.

Scott M said...

Who is stopping them?

Nobody that I know of. It's proceeding at a pretty heady pace given all the hurdles they had to overcome. You are okay with private development of space, are you not? Do you think astronauts should have a union?

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)






It seems to be the gestalt of the area…space means, “big, expensive, unique.” It’s the realm of the Saturn V or the KH-11.

More and more it’s not, but NASA can’t seem to let go of that view, NASA, NRO, the USAF they all seem to harken back to the idea of “space” means a few, big, unique, expensive somethings….But reality is intruding…Aerostats and blimps taking the place of satellites for Communications and Intelligence is one example. And what drives that is the need for bandwidth to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we can’t wait or afford for larger more expensive systems to come on-line.

Joaquin said...

*YAWN* Monday morning quarterbacking.

edutcher said...

The shuttle cost more because it was a government project.

Joe said...
(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)

US Space Policy has been goofy since JFK…rather than Apollo NASA wanted DynaSoar…staying close to home, growing incrementally…instead we keep building bigger and better…or more and more expensive.

Call me a Randian, but let’s let private enterprise develop space rather than the gub’mint.


Lyndon Bird didn't help it, either

I remember reading about the DynaSoar about '62 and it seemed like a great idea.

bagoh20 said...

"Do you think astronauts should have a union?"

8 hour days or we strike!

I imagine an astronaut strike where they refuse to come down.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)
Who is stopping them?


No one, right now…You may be a leftist Id-jit, but let’s not start a fight over this, we may be in agreement.

HOWEVER, there was a really strong chance that Space might NOT be private, Congress enacted some legislation on the issue, IIRC, and NASA did certify Virgin and others to carry materials to orbit…conceivably the “gub’mint” could have thrown certification and flight safety road blocks in the path of private development.

Methadras said...

Any price tag that government sets on anything must be realistically increased 50 to 100 fold.

garage mahal said...

You are okay with private development of space, are you not?

Knock yourself out.

rhhardin said...

A space harpoon program would have been cheaper.

Alex said...

The NASA bureaucracy is just too old and too big. Start over.

Exactly. They are too entrenched and single-minded about a space shuttle program. We need to encourage the private sector space program. Already rocket technology that puts satellites in space(Delta) is far beyond the shuttles.

Leland said...

I agree with Randian Joe, and I work on the Space Shuttle.

Scott M said...

A space harpoon program would have been cheaper.

There was a Cold War project called THOR that was exactly this. Satellites consisting of nothing more than communications, limited manuevering/station-keeping, and bundles of kenetic harpoons...basically a couple meters of dense metal with limited glide guidance.

Put a couple of rings of them around the globe at the proper orbits and you could have a weapon capable of reducing an area the size of a couple football fields with explosives needed.

Jerry Pournelle did an excellent write-up years ago. I'll have to see if I can dig it up. Needless to say, trying to prevent the eventual weaponization of space is probably going to be akin to prohibiting Americans from drinking alcohol.

AJ Lynch said...

When I watched a Shuttle launch, I usually asked myself "Did they choose the most complicated design and method to get up there"?

Scott M said...

"WITHOUT" explosives needed.

Sam Hall said...

We HAD a heavy lift launch vehicle called the first two stages of Apollo but the fools at NASA threw it away.
We also had a very heavy vehicle in design. The test vehicle was called Putt-Putt. Yes, Project Orion. It would have worked fine, we just needed to tell the watermelons to piss off.

Original Mike said...

"Today we are in danger of repeating that mistake, given Congressional and industry pressure to move rapidly to the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle without a clear sense of how that vehicle will be used."

This.

The space station was another project with a poorly designed mission. It essentially was built so that the shuttle had somewhere to go.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)
When I watched a Shuttle launch, I usually asked myself "Did they choose the most complicated design and method to get up there


I think NASA felt that UNLESS it was big and manned, no one would care and they wouldn’t get any funding…unlike prosaic commercial activities, PR really was a central point of NASA’s approach… Your meat comes to you, your bread comes to you, your vegetables, your Chilean Sea Bass, most likely, via a long chain of UNKNOWN international commercial links and carriers, with thousands of unknown and faceless minions moving it thru the chain…its is so transparent you probably don’t even think about it.

NASA did not feel that it could take that approach…UPS justifies itself by delivering the goods and making a profit, NASA doesn’t measure it’s “success” that way, so big and manned and expensive was the way to go. It was a wrong approach, but one that made bureaucratic sense, the failure was not so much in NASA but in the White House and Congress. Rather than turning the Shuttle over to NASA, they’d have done better to turn it over to Delta Airlines or FedEx.

Kirk Parker said...

To ask the question is to answer it. Do any serious commentators ask, "Was the microprocessor worth it?" or "Is indoor plumbing worth it?"

Original Mike said...

"A space harpoon program would have been cheaper."

A.K.A. Rods from God.

Lucius said...

Eh, this is all too "Def-Con Four" for me.

I don't get the romance of low-orbit space missions. I know lots of people would like to say they've been into space; I'm sure the view would be awesome.

But it's not Mars colony/Millennium Falcon stuff. Don't we know, at bottom, we kid ourselves?

NASA is a ship of fools, pretending we should all get starry-eyed over piddly space missions.

But private space ventures also strike me as a sort of Club Med endeavor. And meanwhile, the Chinese will bring weapons.

chuckR said...

The Shuttle design predated private enterprise's ability to develop rockets and launch payloads by about 3 decades. While they developed the first space truck - mostly reusable - the compromises required made it like a truck built by Italians - flashy and costly to own and service. Their worst sin was changing the LOX/H2 tank insulation to something more environmentally friendly - hello, Columbia disaster (probably). Meanwhile, the Russkis' rockets have been refined to the point where they are the flying equivalent of an old Dodge Power Wagon. NASA should not be in the trucking business anymore.
Big science costs big dollars and results in big politicking. For example, there is a fear that the Webb telescope is sucking the oxygen out of alternative science projects. Its costs are so high that it can't fail. There will be no repairing it in orbit as it is headed to a Lagrange point far, far away. Maybe NASA could focus on cost effective robotic repair and servicing. Webb will be launched on an Ariane 5, an expendable launch system.

Original Mike said...

At this point in time, NASA should limit itself to research missions. The kind of things private companies have no motivation to do. The government should cede manned missions to the private sector. But prying the pork from Congress will be very difficult.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)
To ask the question is to answer it. Do any serious commentators ask, "Was the microprocessor worth it?" or "Is indoor plumbing worth it?"


Show me where the Shuttle had this kind of effect on the US or the World…I don’t doubt the impact of the Hydrogen Bomb and the Space Race on creating the Information Society we currently inhabit, but show me where the SPACE SHUTTLE, had such an impact.

Dave Cornutt said...

Blogger's system ate my first comment. I'll try again...

"conceivably the “gub’mint” could have thrown certification and flight safety road blocks in the path of private development."

It's not just "might"; it's inevitable. As soon as someone gets something working, the regulatory agencies will be off the hook. And wait until the first time there's an accident... liability will be unlimited and the lawyers will have a field day. And do you want to build that spacecraft in, say, South Carolina? Forget it bud. You'll build it in a blue state with a unionized workforce, and like it. SpaceX has read the tea leaves. They're doing the bulk of their work in California, even though they could get it done elsewhere (cough, cough, Alabama) for about half as much. Let's face it, the game's already over, and the good guys lost. And NASA had nothing to do with it one way or the other.

I'll tell you what makes sense for anyone that wants to invest in space development. What makes sense is to move the entire operation, including the business and engineering functions, offshore. Set it up in the Caribbean. You have the physical trajectory advantage of a low-latitude launch site, and the market advantages of freedom of financing and minimal regulation. That works for an investor. But what does it do for America?

Fred4Pres said...

NASA is a big bloated mess. We need to rethink the space program and make space exploration profitable. Think of space as the new world and relatively limited incentives to spur exploration. Let's start with a private space station in geosync orbit and a lunar base, followed by Mars. I want to see this happen. Let's get going.

Kirk Parker said...

"To ask the question is to answer it"

Or, for Joe, apparently not. :-( Sorry, I thought it was self-evident from the context that the answer was NO not worth it. Things that are self-evidently worth it (e.g. agriculture) don't get that question asked about them, except by Unabomber-level cranks.

Scott M said...

I want to see this happen. Let's get going.

I've got a couple hours free on Saturday.

LarsPorsena said...

"Blogger Fred4Pres said...

NASA is a big bloated mess. We need to rethink the space program and make space exploration profitable. Think of space as the new world and relatively limited incentives to spur exploration. Let's start with a private space station in geosync orbit and a lunar base, followed by Mars. I want to see this happen. Let's get going."

Where's the profit in a lunar base?
Where's the profit in the Hubble?
Where was the profit in the Apollo program?
How do you incentivize measuring CMB radiation or searching for gravitational waves?

Scott M said...

Where was the profit in the Apollo program?

It was a glorified weapons program, just not the kinetic kind. It served it purpose admirably.

As for the others you list, it doesn't matter. There IS profit in satellites and Earth orbit. If the private companies and compete that down to costs fractions of what we're dealing with now, putting a permanent base on the moon won't be such an onerous undertaking.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)
Where's the profit in a lunar base?
Where's the profit in the Hubble?
Where was the profit in the Apollo program?


Where’s the profit in Marconi’s “spark transmitter?” Or in Watt’s steam engine? Or the profit in sending folks to New Zealand or Australia? In the end it was, and it did happen.

Scott M said...

Whew...the ol' typing gland is tuckered out today. Typos aplenty.

LarsPorsena said...

"..As for the others you list, it doesn't matter..."

In the largest sense they are the only things that do matter. Well, maybe only to me.

Herman Carol said...

Yes.

LarsPorsena said...

Time to stop dumping money in particle accelerators? No profit there. Need to shitcan some observatories too.

Original Mike said...

"I want to see this happen. Let's get going."

I want a space elevator.

Original Mike said...

Lars - You list a lot of research projects that are sane mission for NASA. The problem with the shuttle/ISS is that so much of what they do is either not research, or resaerch done in the most expensive manner possible.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I don't think I've ever seen so little disagreement on an Althouse thread. I almost feel like I should disagree just to be contrary; but I can't find anything here to disagree with.

Original Mike said...

"I don't think I've ever seen so little disagreement on an Althouse thread."

Based on previous comments, the only one who might disagree is our hostess.

Michael K said...

RE: Was the shuttle a mistake?
Yes, it was too big with a large payload AND human crew. The requirements to certify a vehicle safe for human crew are mind numbing.


There is an interesting discussion of this at Chicago Boyz. Neville Shute Norway was an aeronautical engineer and famous novelist. In his autobiography, "Slide Rule," he discusses the British airship project of the early 1930s. Two airships were being built, R 101 by the government and R 100 by a private company. The comparison has a lot to say about the shuttle project.

"The story of the R101 is one of the great warning stories of design by government. It’s a classic in the field of engineering failure. Engineering decisions were made on the basis of politics that sought to use the airship as (1) a symbol of national greatness, (2) a military assets (3) a tool for socializing travel cost for the elite and (4) a way for politically connect vendors to cash in supplying materials and parts. The ship was redesigned and modified over and over again becoming both as expensive and as study as a Faberge’ Egg. It crashed on its maiden operational flight killing 48 of its 55 passengers and crew. The only bright spot was that many of the senior politicians and administrators who has so mangled the project died were on board and died by the consequences of their own foolish.

The exact same pattern would be duplicated in development and operation of the Space Shuttle."

Good enough for government work.

Kirk Parker said...

"I don't think I've ever seen so little disagreement on an Althouse thread."

With so little political hay to be made over this, there simply aren't any JournoList talking points on it--so our friend J literally has nothing to say about it.

Browndog said...

""Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?""

NO.

Mission: To build a reusable manned spacecraft.

Mission Accomplished.

MikeR said...

"Mission: To build a reusable manned spacecraft."
If you have to rebuild it completely after each mission, it's not exactly the "reusable" some of us had in mind.

Sofa King said...

Was the shuttle program too expensive? It cost $209.1 billion. Think of it as a jobs program and compare it to the Obama stimulus, which is said to have cost $278,000 per job. The stimulus was $666 billion, more than 3 times the cost of the shuttle program, which went on for many years and which went way over budget.



A "jobs program" is really only even *possibly* an economic benefit if it employs people who would otherwise be unemployed. A "jobs program" that sucks up the cream of national science and engineering talent that would doubtlessly otherwise be employed for profit, and then directs it towards unproductive (or underproductive) ends, is almost entirely an economic loss.

Browndog said...

"Mission: To build a reusable manned spacecraft."
If you have to rebuild it completely after each mission, it's not exactly the "reusable" some of us had in mind.


Yep.

Somewhat proportional to "rebuilding" every commercial aircraft after x air miles..

Look you can argue NASA has lost sight of it's original mission--ever since political appointees with political agendas began running the show.

But, you can't say the Space Shuttle program was a failure.

Failure is when you give a commie child like Obama the keys to a new toy-

NASA's new mission:

-muslim outreach (self-esteem in science)

-"men who stare at ice" (monitoring glaciers from space to prove global warming)

...talk about expensive "missions"...

Original Mike said...

"But, you can't say the Space Shuttle program was a failure."

Not a "failure failure", for sure. But in rating it's level of success, you have to account for all the space things we could have done with all that money. The road not taken is hard to quantify, but it's real, nontheless.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Browndog said...

But, you can't say the Space Shuttle program was a failure.

The whole program was justified on a cost per pound to orbit number. They missed that number by orders of magnitude.

The program was further justified by a specific number of launches per year. They also missed that number, though not nearly as great a miss.

That may not be a failure, but it's not a ringing success, either.

The crews did their work successfully. Most of them came home alive. Some great goals were accomplished. But far greater goals were promised, and never met.

Steven said...

The Shuttle did not enable the space station. The design of the space station was chosen deliberately to give the Shuttle something to do. Had Al Gore's panel in 1993 picked the single-piece space station launched on the heavy lift stack design, we'd have had a space station completed sooner and cheaper.

Why did Gore's panel pick the more expensive, slower-to-build version of the station? Congressmen who wanted Shuttle flights and diplomats who wanted an "international" station instead of a US space station. Which is to say, pure politics.

Browndog said...

All I really have to say is that the Space Shuttle program was a result of the scientific building blocks developed in the '30's.

Generation after generation, improving and expanding the science.

USAF test pilots sacrificing their lives to test the science-

Now, it feels all for not-

When this last mission is over, it will be a sad, sad, day for America.

To me, it's just another example of American exceptionalism thrown under Obama's bus.

-signed,
former USAF (SAC) Propulsion technician

Cedarford said...

Crypto-Jew
"Call me a Randian, but let’s let private enterprise develop space rather than the gub’mint."

==============
Private enterprise has significant limitations. No space telescope, no interplanetary, solar, lunar science mission is something they want. Some things government does that private enterprise "could tale over" - for fee weather forecasting, global surveys held in one company's hands, for fee GPS fixes - no thanks. I'd rather not get a 5 dollar fee everytime I use GPS or get a weather forecast.
Nor will they fund any "man in space" project that does science or med studies or Zero-G recycling.

Nor military satellites other than as a gov't contractor and then only with stipulation that the US controls the technology they paid to develop - so the international corp does not have license to sell it to anyone they want to make a buck.

That of course will leave the geniuses of the free market plenty of opportunity to cintinue to have satellites for comms and broadband...and theit tiny niche market to ferry filthy rich "space tourists" aloft.

SDN said...

Who is stopping them?

Among others, the FAA. All vehicles (including research prototypes) which operate under 100k feet have to meet the FAA standards for passenger airplanes. Just one more example of how garage's favorites can regulate anything to death.

Cedarford said...

On point about the space shuttle and ISS - not a single significant scientific or commercial breakthrough, a major discovery - has happened from "the hero astronauts and mnned flight" in 40 years.
Don't blame Nixon so much - he was told by NASA people that a reliable, low cost reusable Shuttle was ideal. But after Nixon, the Shuttle failed to show it was reliable or could operate at lower cost than booster rockets that could put cargo up in space for 1/4th to 1/8th the cost of the Shuttle.
We were stuck with the dog when the idiot Gore forged the ISS agreement with Russia in 1993 - and the "vision" was the Space Shuttle as the only suitable "workhorse ferry". Which was like using a yacht as a garbage barge. 300 million a launch, not counting the cost of the hero astronauts and thousands of "hero" NASA support people on the ground.

Basically, we were stuck in stasis for 40 years with only the shuttle as a heavy lift vehicle. The successor "Constellation Program", pushed by the influential astronaut mafia within NASA - was so messed up and promised to be so costly it had to be cancelled.

Fortunately, unmanned space missions went through quantum improvements while the manned program was stuck in early 70s ideas and technology.
We honestly won't miss the manned program if we want capabilities and results at far lower cost. Unmanned is free to use new untested technology,,so you now have better sensors, more capability, longer missions, at a fraction of the cost of manned spaceflight missions.

Cedarford said...

Browndog said...
""Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?""

NO.

Mission: To build a reusable manned spacecraft.

Mission Accomplished.

================
Wrong. You missed the reason WHY they wanted a reusable manned spacecraft and components.
MIssion: Go with the reusable concept because "reusable would lead to dramatically lower costs than the old one-use rockets".
Shuttle turned out to be 4-8 times more expensive than the alternatives.

Abject mission failure.
Neat toy, but so is the white elephant ISS.

MikeR said...

"That of course will leave the geniuses of the free market plenty of opportunity to cintinue to have satellites for comms and broadband...and theit tiny niche market to ferry filthy rich "space tourists" aloft."
This misses the point. Right now you can't visualize what they-all would do with cheap private access to space, so you just list what has been done so far. But you probably wouldn't have been able to visualize what everyone would do with a PC, either, or automobiles.

Col Mustard said...

Senior people in Air Force space and missile programs were not enthusiastic supporters of the STS.
Far from it.

It was short on capabilities and virtually guaranteed cost over-runs in AF space budgets, sucking money from more promising (military) projects.

There was significant resistance to carving up budgets to support the Shuttle. The Carter Administration grew tired of this and made it clear that resistance was futile.

AF and NRO concern about all heavy lift depending on an incredibly complex man-rated system subject to endless delay and grounding was validated when Challenger was lost.

Thankfully, national security officials had persuaded congress to approve acquisition of 10 unmanned Titan LVs during transition to the Shuttle. That order was later greatly expanded.

Without unmanned LVs, America's space programs would be in deep doo-doo. Without shuttle, not so much.

There is no question, having a man on board is what captures public attention and support. MSM puts all the attention on people v. payloads.

Original Mike said...

"Neat toy, but so is the white elephant ISS."

Well, it is fun to observe the ISS going over head. That sucker's really bright. Surely worth a few billion, just for the show.

Revenant said...

Did we get space weapons up into orbit first using shuttle payloads, or not?

We did not.

Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?

Yes. It was a launch vehicle that carried less, cost more, and blew up more often.

Eric said...

*YAWN* Monday morning quarterbacking.

Not at all. It was pretty well understood by the early 80s the shuttle would never live up to its promise of inexpensive access to space. The real problem isn't that the shuttle ended up with large turnaround times and crushing maintenance costs. It's that the program wasn't cancelled almost 30 years ago.

Peter said...

"But, you can't say the Space Shuttle program was a failure."

I would say it was a failure because it failed to meet its design objectives.

The first of these was, it was to have been so inexpensive to operate as to replace all one-time-use launchers. It obviously did not do that- it didn't come close.


The second was, it was to make space transportation to orbit routine- "a DC-3 to low earth orbit." But if DC-3s had a one percent chance of total failure (loss of vehicle and everyone on board) few would have been willing to board one. We now know that NASA vastly underestimated the risk of catastrophic failure.

The vision of 1970 was that space travel would develop much as commercial avaiation did: 33 years from Wright Bros. to DC-3, and another 35 to Boeing 707 jetliner.

That obviously did not happen. Todays space launchers are only slightly better than those of the 1960s. Materials science has come up with some improved materials, but most of the improvement has been enabled by the huge improvements in electronics.

Considering that sending people into space remains fantastically expensive and seriously risky, why do it?

Low-earth orbit tasks (commercial and scientific) could be done remotely, with machines teleoperated from the ground. And probes to the planets are best done with robots.

So, why do it? NASA's view has always been that it needs celebrity astronauts to create the public interest that leads to political support. Yet, NASA's mission- to celebratize the astronauts- has failed.

The second reason is, for national prestige. And perhaps there's something here, but only if costs, risks, and benefits are quantified.

MikeR said...

"So, why do it?"

"For all but a brief moment near the dawn of history, the word 'ship' will mean simply - 'spaceship.'" - Arthur C Clarke

Browndog said...

Holy cow-

I guess I'm in complete disagreement with the sentiment on this blog-

Snobby-headed embracement of failure, is what comes to mind-

It didn't achieve it's full objective: fail

It cost more than projected: fail

science....

Back to defending the Public School System at all cost-

Fen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fen said...

Any time you have some evidence or definition of “weapon” to back up your assertion, a statement of truth unsupported by any evidence, I’ll pay you some mind.


"SGT, what is a Marine's most formidable weapon?"

"Sir, other than my mind, my communications system."

Browndog said...

Todays space launchers are only slightly better than those of the 1960s.

Fuck you.

Your whole post screams it, but this sentence begs the statement above.

From men burning up on the launch pad, to burning up on re-entry to further expand the knowledge of mankind, to spurring it's curiosity, to challenging itself to expand it's human Endeavor, allowing itself to fail, in order to someday succeed, I say again-

Fuck you.

Dave Cornutt said...

"Snobby-headed embracement of failure, is what comes to mind-"

Browndog, part of the thing that I've fighting uphill against is that damn near every person in the industry who declares themselves a "space expert" is more interested in finding someone to blame for the fact that we don't have Skittles-farting unicorns by now than they are in actually doing something about it. A lot of what passes as the commercial sector breaks down into people who either have pie-in-the-sky dreams about how they're going to build a Mars spacecraft in their garage, or who simply covet NASA's funding. I often pose this question to them: "If you and I were Congressmen, and I introduced a bill that cut NASA's budget with the provision that said budget cuts cannot go to any purpose other than retiring federal debt, would you vote for it?" Hardly anyone ever says yes.

And then there's the ones who are just plain vindictive. I'm going to name a name here, and it's a prominent name: Rand Simburg. Rand hates NASA and he hates nearly everyone who has anything to do with it. He would be perfectly happy to see the entire American aerospace industry die as long as it took NASA down with it. Somehow that's supposed to make everything all right, and then without that pesky NASA out of the way, people will be beating Rand's door down to write him billion-dollar checks.

There are people in the industry who have said "screw all that, we're cutting metal", like the SpaceX guys. More power to them. Unfortunately, I don't think they will get very far. As I said before, as soon as anyone gets something working, the feds will come around looking for their cut, and their cut will be big. Big enough so that there will be no margin left. And investors sense that. That's the biggest reason why there is so little venture money in the industry.

Those science and engineering cream of the crop guys? They're going to Wall Street to write computer-arbitrage code. Or to Hollywood to work on movie CGI. Eventually, some will get tired of this. At that point, if the Chinese government is smart enough to recruit them, they're gone.

RobertW said...

The SciFi classics documented a different timeline.
1. achieve space travel
2. build a space station.
3. colonize the moon.
5. colonize Mars.

While doing this discover how to travel faster than light or get conquered by some alien monsters.

Browndog said...

Dave Cornutt said...

I appreciate your comment-

And, apologize for the coarse language, but there was no other way to express my sentiment-

Folks don't understand that this knowledge will be lost.

Every inch of the space craft is a result of passed on knowledge-

It is not a theory penned to paper;perfect in text-

It is scientific experiment and kinetic philosophy set to motion by men and women willing to put their lives on the line to test it-

Calling it a failure from the safety of an academic analysis chaps my ass.

Stick - Zar dei colli rossi said...

No one talks about the change to "environmentally friendly" foam insulation. You know, the foam that "unexpectedly" started falling off, killing astronauts in the process.

Fred4Pres said...

Not doing a lunar base or a mission to Mars were the mistakes. But while the best time to do plant an oak tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is today.

Unless you feel good conceeding the moon and the stars to the Chi-Coms and the Ruskies.

Eric said...

Unless you feel good conceeding the moon and the stars to the Chi-Coms and the Ruskies.

I'm okay with it if all they're going to do is plant-the-flag vanity missions like Apollo.

Manned space advocates need to do something they haven't been doing without resorting to soaring rhetoric about pilgrims: Answer the question "Why?"

There's a reason we haven't been back to the moon for forty years or so. It's not because we forgot how to get there. It's because there isn't any reason to go. It's a lifeless rock. The environment is such that if you established a colony the people there would spend all their time underground, and they'd always require supplies from the earth.

So why not just move them into an old salt mine here on earth and call it a moon base?

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Eric said...

Manned space advocates need to do something they haven't been doing without resorting to soaring rhetoric about pilgrims: Answer the question "Why?"

We've answered the question for 5 decades now. And as usual, shortsighted people dismiss the answers as "soaring rhetoric" and "pie in the sky".

If you don't know the answer by now, it's because you choose not to know it. Or accept it.

Eric said...

We've answered the question for 5 decades now.

No you haven't. I haven't seen a single proposal that survives the most cursory cost/benefit analysis.

Clyde said...

If the government was running the airlines the same way they've run the space program, we wouldn't have been to Cleveland since 1969, either.

Revenant said...

And as usual, shortsighted people dismiss the answers as "soaring rhetoric" and "pie in the sky".

I prefer the term "ill-conceived".

It isn't that there is no problem for which "manned space travel" is the solution. It is that every problem for which "manned space travel" is the solution has other solutions that are faster, cheaper, better, or simply more plausible.

For example, if you want to colonize another world (for whatever harebrained reason) you could (a) send unmanned machines there that then grow custom-engineered humans that can endure the local environment or (b) remote-terraform a world and then bulk-ship frozen colonists there or (c) etc etc or (zz) do something totally retarded like ship actual living and breathing humans through space so they can manually perform tasks they utterly suck at compared to robots, under conditions that will instantly kill them if any one of a thousand things goes wrong.

Option (zz) does make for entertaining fiction, though. Which is the real reason people still like the idea.

Just me said...

Awwww. Poor Ann still hasn't got the memo that she still doesn't understand the stimulus. That fact alone, makes me ignore this post. It just goes to prove that a "smart person" hasn't read what's in the law. Yet another failed blogger who doesn't read the law, but makes judgements on it.

Really -- quoting a number that includes dollars for road improvements? Seriously?

You need a new career, Ann.

John Lynch said...

Should we put people on a plane that kills the crew one time out of 50?

That was the average when the Columbia burned up. That's when I decided the shuttle was a bad idea.

John Lynch said...

And there is no reason to go to other worlds to live there. The Earth will always be more hospitable. We don't flock to live in Antarctica but we talk about living on Mars. Why? At least we can breathe the air down there.

If we want to send people there needs to be a reason. The reason needs to be more than "it's cool."

I'd support sending people to Mars just for the science. In the real world that means scrapping the ISS to free up the money to do it. Resources are limited.

And we'd lose people doing it, so we'd have to be realistic about it instead of pretending that it's routine. That's what happened to the shuttle.

Original Mike said...

"There's a reason we haven't been back to the moon for forty years or so. It's not because we forgot how to get there. It's because there isn't any reason to go."

There are a lot of reasons to go to the moon having to do with science. For example, the telescopes we could put there would represent a huge advance over what we can do now. The Hubble, for example, has advanced our knowledge of the Universe immensely, and it's just a pip squeak compared to what we could do with a fixed installation. No atmosphere is a PLUS for astronomy. The far side of the moon is a spectacular place for radio astronomy.

Original Mike said...

"Should we put people on a plane that kills the crew one time out of 50?"

We don't put "people". We put pilots and scientists who understand and accept the risk.

Revenant said...

There are a lot of reasons to go to the moon having to do with science. For example, the telescopes we could put there would represent a huge advance over what we can do now. The Hubble, for example, has advanced our knowledge of the Universe immensely, and it's just a pip squeak compared to what we could do with a fixed installation.

The Hubble is a good example: it is unmanned.

There are reasons to put telescopes on the moon (although in almost all cases a Lagrange point makes much more sense). What there isn't, is a reason to station a person there to babysit them.

Original Mike said...

"There are reasons to put telescopes on the moon (although in almost all cases a Lagrange point makes much more sense)."

Aperture rules. A fixed lunar instrument can be MUCH larger.

You also want the ability for people to service them, and that would require temporary residence (e.g. a few days at a time). Construction itself would require a longer stay.

Eric said...

Aperture rules. A fixed lunar instrument can be MUCH larger.

Larger than an earth-bound telescope, sure. But an earth-orbit telescope could be even bigger, and it would be easier to maintain. The Hubble has been serviced a couple times.

And exactly what kind of earth-shattering science to you think a lunar telescope would produce such that the hundreds of billions to construct and maintain a lunar base could be justified? Give me a few hundred billion to dole out and I'll get a much better scientific return on the money. With a fraction of it I'll even build an orbital telescope larger than any you could put on the moon.

Revenant said...

Aperture rules. A fixed lunar instrument can be MUCH larger.

Use aperture synthesis on a space-based array of smaller telescopes instead.

Original Mike said...

Aperture synthesis improves resolution. It does not improve sensitivity which is the limiting factor for cosmological research. Because of observational cosmology, we have learned in the past two decades that baryonic matter (the stuff that makes up us and everthing we interact with) makes up only 5% of the contents of the Universe. We don't know what the other 95% is!!!! Yet Eric, apparently, is sure that discovering the rest of the Universe (which resides not only "out there" but also right here on Earth) will be of no practical use.

The Hubble is a very small telescope. It has the big advantage of not having an atmosphere to look through. But it's small aperture also severely limits it's performance.

Akai_Tsuki said...

Joe has a point... There are no space weapons, and that's our story. Nothing to see here. Move along.
los angeles workers' compensationbinary options brokers