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Goodbye Space Shuttle

by John Reed on July 21, 2011

It’s officially the end of an era in spaceflight. The great image above is part of this New York Times slideshow of the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ landing this morning at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the final landing for the shuttle program, ending a 30-year career by the iconic fleet of spacecraft.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Navydoc8404 July 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Very sad day!
Guess I will have to tell my son he can't be an astronaut….

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meatpopsicle July 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Plenty of other ships designed for LEO under development at the moment. In 3-5 years there will be an entire fleet of American commercial rockets and crew modules.

Nasa is still develope craft for long range exploration as well.

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ew-3 July 21, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Do you not consider the current fleet of Atlas/Delta rockets commercial?

My guess is that getting a man certified commercial rocket will be problematic, unless NASA is willing to spend big bucks to use it. The commercial market is really better suited for unmanned rockets. (higher volume, and why waste an expensive man rated rocket for an unmanned mission)

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Indian July 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm
Dfens July 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm

This is a great day for the US manned space program! The crappy program that kept us from going back to the Moon, nearby asteroids, and planets has finally had a stake driven through its black heart and died. Time to learn from our mistakes and move on. The first lesson we should learn is that this is what happens when you pay a contractor a profitable wage to design a new rocket. The Saturn V Von Braun designed while working for NASA was a thousand times better than the contractor designed piece of crap that followed, and I have no doubt that the capitalist built SpaceX rockets will be even better still. Fas cism should have been allowed to die with Hit ler.

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elportonative77 July 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

What? Capitalist, fascism, Hitler? Are you just angry?

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justaying July 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Do you even know what fascism is?

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Dfens July 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm

It is an economic system that is a version of socialism where the government controls what is built and by whom without owning the means of production directly. Why, did you think it was simply epithet? That's what most people seem to believe. It has been used as one to such an extent that it is quite difficult to use in a rational debate.

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blight July 22, 2011 at 11:12 am

That's more planned/command economy than fascism.

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SgtBilko July 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm

And now an actual grown-up answer. Fascism, as a world-view, is distinguished by three things:

"Etatism"-the belief that "Sovereignty is vested not in the people but in the national state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, the prestige, and the well-being of the state."

The "Fuhrer Prinzip"-absolute and complete obedience to a Leader who embodies the State and thus controlls its powers absolutely (combined with Etatism, this give the Leader the absolute power of life and death over every one of his people)

The "Cult of Eros"-this seems kinda tacked-on to me, but here goes: a principal of masculine bonding meant to enforce loyalty and solidarity in the State's/Leader's servants (I've never encountered it used this way outside of discussions of Fascism, and it doesn't get mentioned much even then. Seems you could have a perfectly dreadful Fascistic state without it).

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blight July 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Cult of Eros sounds essentially like cult of personality, though your description makes it sound more like man-man…what's the word…fealty? Like a pet to its master.

Dfens July 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Fascism is accused of being many things, but in reality it is simply an economic system. It is a version of socialism, but unlike communism where the government controls both what is produced and the means of production, fascism only controls what is produced. That limited aspect has caused many Americans to consider it to be something of a "capitalism lite" but it is not that at all. Just like any form of socialism the only way fascism can work is if capitalism does not.

That said, it is interesting how appropriate your observations about the resultant features of fascism are. When the government picks the economic winners and losers, it definitely results in all of the ways of thinking you mention. I think this has a lot to do with the nastiness in our political system between the major parties. It is, after all, a winner take all political contest where if your party takes power all the faithful have considerable wealth and power to gain.

It is truly a frightening system we are sliding into, but just like in Germany in the 1930s, it's greatest enemy is the light of reason.

justaying July 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm

The way you're throwing it around, I'd say you seem to think it is an epithet. Equating NASA, what is essentially a military/civilian research project…. with fascism? That's a huge leap. Using that logic, one could equate libraries with fascism because they're also publicly funded.

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Dfens July 23, 2011 at 12:01 am

Not at all. NASA decided they wanted to reduce launch costs through re-useability. They told industry bidders what they wanted, picked the winner, and Rockwell designed what they wanted with NASA paying the bills and providing them a tidy profit out of the tax coffers. That is the very definition of fas ist economic model. Rockwell did a poor job. They didn't meet any of the major program goals, and they drug the program out beyond anyone's imagination (at the time). NASA's response to their failures was to put a positive propaganda spin on every single failure to make it into a perceived success, because if they didn't, the contractors failure would be seen as their own failure.

For 30 years we've been trapped in low earth orbit because of that piece of crap. 30 years! And people still believe it is a success, despite all objective evidence to the contrary. To me, that is a scary propaganda success. It's not 1940s bad, but it is going right down that road.

IronV July 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Ironic you'd condemn fascism while touting Von Braun…

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Dfens July 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm

True enough. I'm glad someone caught that.

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theo July 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I distinctly remember Sen. Obama promising the extension of the Constellation program whilst campaigning in Florida during the 2008 election. It appears he broke another promise. Promises, promises… At least the Russians can drink their vodka tonite in grand style and toast away—-they won the Cold War and this is proof!! But then again, when Team Obama claims that NASA's primary goal is Muslim Outreach…who needs a stinkin' manned space program?

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blight July 21, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Constellation was dead at the start; and the "small government" people think NASA and education money is a "union" thing and not worth funding. You know how it is. Tax cuts and circuses.

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jamesb July 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm

They had a good run……..

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Dfens July 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

14 dead astronauts!

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Mastro July 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

It was weird watching the news coverage this morning- some smiling former model talking about the Shuttle like it wasn't a billion dollar death trap.

Maybe when I took a shower they made a token mention of the teacher they incinerated.

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blight July 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Apollo only lost three, but the Shuttle has been up more often.

I guess you don't drive (so many dead drivers) or fly (so many dead airline passengers)?

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Mastro July 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

Yeah- but the whole weird reason for the shuttle was to put up a lot of astronauts- so basically we increased the odds of a death (or 14)

Its like a coal mine- its dangerous and miners get killed- OK. But don't put an office down there and act surprised when the accountants get crushed by a rockfall.

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blight July 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

Two catastrophic failures. One because of a stupid O-ring, and the other from tiles.

If the shuttle wasn't re-useable, all of that stuff would've been single use. We'll never know if those foam tiles came off after one flight too many (they've come off before with no ill effects), or if that SRB hadn't been refurbished and built fresh would it have failed the same way?

Dfens July 23, 2011 at 12:10 am

Apollo didn't kill any astronauts. 3 were killed in a fire during a test involving Apollo hardware.

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blight July 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

No astronauts died on the ascent, in orbit, or re-entry, but the three guys who died on the pad were definitely astronauts, even if they died on the ground.

Jorma July 21, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Actually the entire unit at takeoff is the “shuttle”, the orbiter is what comes back to Earth and lands. Why nobody reports it that way? Dunno.

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Mastro July 22, 2011 at 10:12 am

Because its annoying.

And how are the disposable parts part of a "shuttle"? Shuttle implies back and forth.

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blight July 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

"At launch, the Space Shuttle consisted of the shuttle stack, which included a external tank (ET);two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs); and the Orbiter Vehicle (OV)"~the Dread Pirate Wikipedia

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Sam the man July 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Good riddance to a machine that was 100 times more expensive (that is correct by the way - 100X) than promised. Let's build much cheaper one-use rockets and get back to the moon and on to Mars

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Roland July 24, 2011 at 7:17 am

So whats the future Space Shuttle, Modified SR- 71? That runs on ions?

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Dfens July 25, 2011 at 8:12 am

Here is one of the many concepts crushed by the shuttle program: http://www.google.com/patents?id=jiA5AAAAEBAJ&amp…

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ben July 25, 2011 at 11:31 pm

The shuttle was a good system crippled by a combination of engineering flaws that only became apparent after it was already flying, and a lack of political capital to spend on fixing said flaws.

The heat protection system was disastrously fragile, and in addition to causing the Columbia to burn on reentry, the refurbishing costs were the primary source of cost overruns. This sucked so much money from the rest of the program that minor flaws in other systems had to be overlooked, and in turn caused the destruction of Challenger when they combined to burn a hole in the hydrogen tank.

There was nothing wrong with the program that couldn't have been fixed, but NASA felt that it was better to have a program that works poorly while you wait for a better political climate, than to have your program canceled to fund agricultural subsidies.
So instead of redesigning the expensive reusable heat shield that was too fragile to actually be reused, they decided to wait for a day which would never come.

So yes, NASA made a mistake when they chose the expensive aerogel passive heat shield over the liquid cooled metal, and carbon phenolic ablative shields.

On paper it seemed perfect, lighter than a reusable metal shield, and not needing replacing like the ablative shield. So who cares that the cost to refurbish the shield is so high, its not like we are going to replace large chunks of it after every flight.
Then comes the first flight and the tiles are getting torn to shreds by flying through rain clouds, and it's too late to ask for more money without political backlash.
So you wait…
And wait…
And a damaged heat shield kills some astronauts…
And you wait some more…
And then the replacement system gets canceled…
And then a young Idealistic millionaire shows up with a band of ex-NASA employees, and personally finances the design and construction of the system your engineers have wanted to make for the last 20 years.

Once the Dragon launch escape system is finished so the capsule can be man rated, the NASA bureaucrats and congress can go sit on a Saturn V and spin for all I care.

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mike j July 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Challenger happened because the severe cold weather caused the O ring to be inflexible, thus the burn-through. This in spite of the engineers telling the mucky-mucks it was dangerous to launch.

Columbia happened because they had a foam shedding problem, but relied on poor models to estimate foam strike damage. The mucky-mucks refused to double check that one bad impact even though it made the engineers nervous.

Both accidents were caused first and foremost by bad decision making. The shuttle as a system was basically robust for most garden-variety failures and hiccups, but was really, really fragile when it came to low probability events. When those low probability events happened, there was no way to get the crew out.

People thought they were smarter than they really are, and they got complacent.

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Dfens July 23, 2011 at 12:07 am

Everything on the Saturn V was single use, and it was cheaper and could be launched at a faster rate than the shuttle. We actually had a manned space exploration program with the Saturn V. With the shuttle we could spin people around the earth 100 miles up, just like Yuri Gagarin did in 1961. That's not exactly "going where no man has gone before."

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blight July 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Command economy more than fascism.

In any case, it was technically North American Aviation (same guys who built the CM) who were responsible for the space shuttle.

The cost bloat of the space shuttle and the closeness of price between Saturn V and the space shuttle indicates that the real "cost hurdles" associated with a heavy rocket is simply getting all that mass into orbit. Spacecraft technology was not mature enough to be easily and cheaply reused, but that's water under the bridge.

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