[LINK] Finally up to date on the Shuttle

Frank O'Connor foconno1@bigpond.net.au
Mon, 3 Feb 2003 15:56:17 +1100

My thoughts on the shuttle generally coincide with what I've seen 
here ... with a few added musings:

1. A lot of the uses to which the shuttle has been put didn't really 
require it ... more often than not launching satellites, telescopes 
etc etc could have just as easily been done by cheaper (even on a per 
launch basis) and more safe unmanned boosters

2. The shuttle program currently absorbs the lions share of NASA's 
budget - even after 22 years.

3. The shuttle is 1960's/70's technology, horrendously complicated, 
and comprised of literally millions of parts that are basically 
sub-contracted to the lowest bidder.

4. Vertical launch technology may have been the go in 1970, but 
sitting 7 people on top of a million parts, and a hydrogen bomb's 
worth of rocket fuel and expecting things to go right every time 
isn't realistic. The VL part of the shuttle concept is what incurs 
the most expense, the most risk and the most danger.

5. HOTOL (Horizontal take off - jet-ramjet-rocket - horizontal 
landing) and other alternatives are much more viable now, much 
cheaper in terms of fuel loads and the like, much more efficient and 
theoretically much safer, and can theoretically carry higher payloads 
as less on-board space needs to be devoted to fuel.storage.

6. In terms of time between launches, preparation time and effort, 
cost-per-launch, actual rather than projected re-usability and 
convenience/efficiency the shuttles have not exactly had a stellar 
record. I mean if they had been Boeing airliners, airlines would have 
given up the ghost years ago as carriers of people or freight.

7. NASA's main kudos over the last 30 years has been gained from 
robotic and probe based missions.

I was not a shuttle fan from the moment I saw the concept on paper 
... it seemed like a lot of very complicated fuss and bother to get 
stuff into low orbit then (even if the economics NASA put to Congress 
had panned out), it absorbed too much of the budget that could 
otherwise have been devoted to exciting stuff like Lunar and 
planetary manned missions, it never postulated being able to do more 
than build limited size orbiting space stations (and to date we have 
how many?) and in many ways the technology wasn't even on par with 
the Apollo technology that they wanted to shut down.

Since the shuttle NASA has largely become an inefficient low orbit 
hauler with very few what I'd call great achievements.

I suppose I'm a bit of a romantic ... but I miss those days in the 
60's when the Russian and US space programs made the whole world hold 
their breath. When the world would stop and wonder and what was 
achievable by us as a species if those brave men and women could do 
what they did on an almost monthly basis. I remember seeing Sputnik 
sail over Melbourne, those huge Russian Inergia boosters, Glenn in 
the night sky, the massive Apollo boosters,  the day we all watched 
the Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins land on the moon, Mariner and 
Voyager during the 70's ... everything seemed achievable them. The 
feeling was basically 'can do' and seriously idealistic.

The shuttle took a lot of that away from NASA (and the breakup of the 
USSR effectively canned the Russian program) ... and for that I'll 
probably always be a bit resentful. Then again, NASA may have decided 
that it achieved it's raison d'etre after it had fulfilled Kennedy's 
1961 commitment ... and just decided that something else was needed 
to keep the budget intact ... so maybe blaming the NASA hierarchy 
rather than the shuttle is the go.   :)


At 1:39 PM +1100 3/2/2003, Howard Lowndes wrote:
>On Mon, 3 Feb 2003, Chirgwin, Richard wrote:
>>  Noting Jeff Fulton's correction about the company name, thanks for the
>>  history, Stil.
>>  Jan, you're right - it's not 'just a Yank thing'. It's a "manager thing".
>>  Not only do managers resent any engineering advice that might cost money,
>  > but there's a more general resentment and even propaganda against
>>  engineering and scientific expertise in general. The immortal quote from
>>  some goof in Sydney Water at the time of the giardia crisis stays with me,
>>  "But engineers always want to gold-plate everything" (which was said AFTER
>>  the cost-cut purification systems failed and gave people a life-threatening
>>  illness).
>>  Over the next few days, all manner of ignorant people will defend their
>>  decisions; and they will do their best to hide the fact that their sole
>>  expertise comes from the whisperings of an accountant at one elbow and a
>>  lawyer at the other.
>You can probably add to that management performance bonuses focussed on
>bringing such tasks in under budget.
>Common sense says that whilst the accountant would have sought economy
>and cost cutting, the lawyer would have sought arse-covering and caution.
>...but then I must be wrong as I use "common sense" and "lawyers" in he
>same sentence.
>>  Richard
>>  > -----Original Message-----
>>  > From: Stilgherrian [mailto:contour@prussia.net]
>>  > Sent: Monday, 3 February 2003 07:20
>>  > To: Link
>>  > Subject: Re: [LINK] Finally up to date on the Shuttle
>>  >
>>  >
>>  > Just on the O-ring point...
>>  >
>>  > At 07:47 +1100 3/2/03, Jan Whitaker wrote:
>>  > >Re the O-rings, I know a guy here who did a complete analysis of the
>>  > >chain of events on that for future risk management preparation.
>>  > >Actually, Ann, certain people knew 100% that the O-rings weren't
>>  > >engineered to these conditions.  The problem was that the top brass
>>  > >ignored the engineering advice -- but I can't remember the reason
>>  > >for ignoring it -- there was one.
>>  >
>>  > The decision to "not mention" to O-ring problem wasn't made by NASA
>>  > but by the contracting firm that produced the solid-fuel boosters.
>>  > (From memory it was General Dynamics, but don't quote me on that.)
>>  > The engineers within the company were aware of and worried about the
>>  > problem because of the low air temperature at Challenger's launch,
>>  > and they wanted to scrub the launch on that basis.
>>  >
>>  > However the company in question had previously had reliability
>>  > problems with the solid-fuel ballistic missiles they were also
>>  > producing (Minuteman?), and feared that a reliability problem with
>>  > their shuttle boosters too would screw their chances of further
>>  > lucrative missile contracts. So management "make a  management
>>  > decision" to not pass on the engineers' concerns.
>>  >
>>  >
>>  > And on this point...
>>  >
>>  > >I'm also not sure that it's a 'yank' problem, either.  You gotta
>>  > >admit that the US space program is one of the most highly engineered
>>  > >things ever done.  It just isn't perfect.  Not much is.  The public
>>  > >just doesn't appreciate how high risk those flights have always been.
>>  >
>>  > Agreed thoroughly. There have been two shuttles lost since they were
>>  > first introduced. Isn't that actually within the expected loss rate?
>>  >
>>  > Stil
>>  >
>>  >
>>  > --
>>  > Stilgherrian <contour@prussia.net>
>>  > Internet, IT and Media Consulting, Sydney, Australia. ABN 25
>>  > 231 641 421
>>  > mobile 0407 623 600 (international +61 407 623 600)
>>  > fax 02 9516 5630 (international +61 2 9516 5630)
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>>  >
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