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NASA Clears Shuttle Fuel Tank for Flight 156

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the back-in-action dept.
Screamer49 writes "CNN is reporting that NASA approved a major design change in the space shuttle's fuel tank on Wednesday, clearing the last major hurdle before shuttle flights can resume as early as July 1." It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?
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NASA Clears Shuttle Fuel Tank for Flight

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  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:51PM (#15499970) Homepage
    After all the buzz about X-Prize contestants and brave space entrepreneurs, it seems like we're back to just complaining about NASA's ineffectiveness. Why hasn't the private industry boomed?
    • It's not private industry's fault....there's just a slight shortage of Burt Rutans in the world currently.
    • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:02AM (#15500009) Homepage Journal
      Because the winner of the X-Prize just took the money and then went on speaking tours. If Rutan had actually started offering black sky flights after he won the X-Prize we'd see some motivation by others to offer similar flights. Instead, everything is trying to come up with their own stunt to best Spaceship-One.
      • Because the winner of the X-Prize just took the money and then went on speaking tours.

        Because his program needs the money?

        I've been trying to put together a RAAM team. This will require what for me is a lot of money. To form the team and compete successfully I need to be home training, forming and training my crew, putting together the gear, planning strategy and tactics, etc.

        To get the money I need to be away from home, giving talks, courting sponsors, making public appearances for the benefit of my sponso
        • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:49AM (#15500176) Homepage Journal
          Here's a really novel idea about how Rutan could make money: offer black sky flights on Spaceship One. According to the Virgin Galactic web page [virgingalactic.com] they go for about US$200,000 each. At that price you'd expect Rutan would have started flights two weeks after he won the X-Prize. What'd he do instead? He put Spaceship One in the Smithsonian. WTF? The old Spaceship One FAQ (prior to the X-Prize win) has this to say:


          How much will it cost to get a ride into space?
          Rides will not be offered in SpaceShipOne. The price of a ride will have to take in consideration the cost of certification and establishing an airliner-like operation. One goal of this research program is to see how low it might be without the burden of regulatory costs. At program completion we will have good data for operational costs and may publish them.


          Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot. Then get them to sign a waiver as long as you're arm and you'll still have enough rich jerks with $200k each lining up to keep you flying two flights a day, every day, for the next five years.

          Speaking of five years, when will Virgin Galatic be offering flights? Who the hell knows. Their web site says:

          By the end of the decade, Virgin Galactic - the most exciting development in the story of modern space history - is planning to make it possible for almost anyone to visit the final frontier at an affordable price.


          Surely they don't mean US$200k, so how long will it take to go from that to an "affordable" price? 5 years? Can't be, that would mean they have already started flights. 3 years? Sweet, so they'll start flying next year? Don't count on it.
          • by kfg (145172) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:08AM (#15500249)
            Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot.

            With that strategy they should have people all ready to fly next week, eh?

            Perhaps the people running the private space programs know something about the legalities and economics of running a private space program that you don't?

            Here's something for you to try that might teach you about some of the problems involved:

            Start an America's Cup racing team. Try financing it, after the race, by giving people rides on the boat. That will require you to have a commercial captain's license, but maybe you can get around that by requiring that all of your paying passengers have commericial mates licenses and, officially at least, sign them on as crew. When someone offers you five grand to give a talk and introduce you to some potential sponsors tell 'em to go to hell. You don't have time for that, you have a business to run.

            Good luck.

            KFG
            • by Mad Marlin (96929) <cgore@cgore.com> on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:49AM (#15500347) Homepage
              If I had $200,000+ to blow I might actually consider blowing it on a spaceflight, and sign a crazy wild waiver (the ones that say in 24pt font at the top, "IF YOU ACTUALLY SIGN THIS THEN YOU ARE CRAZY"), and get a pilot's license, etc. I wouldn't blow that on a boat, much less a boatride, even if it did win some stupid race. It is going into space that people would pay for, not SpaceShipOne(TM) in specific. Even if each flight cost $5,000,000, there are people who would pay $7,500,000 for it, which means profit.
              • by kfg (145172) on Friday June 09, 2006 @02:18AM (#15500409)
                I wouldn't blow that on a boat

                Well, that's cool then, 'cause that won't even get you in line for a used one.

                Tell ya what, since you're interested in space, not boats, why don't you take the direct approach and get in touch with Burt and arrange to run his passenger flights for him, at your expense, your profit. A lease agreement, just like with . . .an airline.

                Piece of cake and lots of money to be made. You're just one signed passenger away from being a millionaire.

                But you might well find that the very first step you have to take after inking the deal is to hold a press conference and then go on a speaking tour to stump up your startup money and find your first passenger. If you don't simply have a godzillion dollars from somewhere, that's . . .how . . .it's . . .done.

                It doesn't matter whether it's boats, or bikes, or cars, or space ships. That's a McGuffin. It's a business; and one reliant on continuing cutting edge R&D at that. Go read a history of Henry Ford. It's exactly the same deal.

                And Henry had to quit designing cars to run his car company.

                Do you really want Burt Frickin' Rutan to have to quit designing just to play footsie with some rich twits?

                I thought that was the initial complaint.

                KFG

              • You aren't allowed to sign a waiver saying "If you actually sign this then you are crazy", and if that ship blows up with you in it, you can bet the relatives are going to drag you through every court in the land trying to get money. You'd never get insurance against that kind of thing.
                • I think the real point people are missing is what kind of ride Spaceship One had going into orbit. It wasn't exactly incident free with it spiraling for about a minute. They may have even been lucky that wasn't catastrophic.
          • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:11AM (#15500255)
            Yeah, well, the same people who can afford to blow $200,000 dollars on a 30 minute vacation can, by extension, afford REALLY good lawyers. Or, rather, whoever inherits their money after they die in a fiery ball can afford really good lawyers. Faced with someone with enough money, even winning the lawsuit would be almost as expensive as winning it, 10 meter long waiver or not. Frankly, I am amazed than anyone is willing to even make a go at this as a business. Virgin has a chance simply because they have the cash to survive a few court appearances, but any smaller company? not a hope.
          • by Bitsy Boffin (110334) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:43AM (#15500331) Homepage
            At that price you'd expect Rutan would have started flights two weeks after he won the X-Prize. What'd he do instead? He put Spaceship One in the Smithsonian. WTF?
            A test pilot made 2 sub orbital space flights in it, that doesn't in any way mean that it's a good idea to make a 3rd. SS1 would not have been suitable for offering paid flights, simply, it wasn't safe to do so.
            • Then it's my opinion, and the opinion of many others, that Rutan had no right to claim a win for the X-Prize in that case. The purpose of the prize was to encourage the development of a vehicle that could be used for space tourism. Obviously that's not Rutan's fault, the X-Prize rules should have been more specific, but if Virgin Galactic starts making flights some time soon, everything will be forgiven.

              • And it's my opinion that if people were really more interested in taking joyrides into space than criticizing businesses they have no experience in, they'd pay more attention to what's going on. SS1 was a technology demonstrator. That was the goal of the X-prize. From there it is still necessary for someone with the money and entreprenurial will (and a favorable market, which I'm not fully convinced exists) to take it from a demonstrator to a real product and accompanying service. Virgin Galactic has licens
            • Actually didnt *two* pilots make *three* suborbital flights between them? Nitpicking maybe, but still....
          • Establishing an airliner? WTF? Seriously dude, require your passenger to aquire a pilot's license, do the minimum required number of flight hours and designate them as a co-pilot.

            Think about this. SpaceShipOne seats two. SpaceShipTwo (the passenger version) seats 11. If we assume the profit flying 11 is, say, $50,000 per person, then the cost to fly the thing is $1,500,000. You can't fly one person for a reasonable price. All the safety comments people have made aside, it's just not economical to f
            • It may be *more* profitable to fly 11, but it certainly isn't unprofitable to fly 1. Unless you think it cost Rutan $200k per launch, which is just crazy.

              As for the jerk comment, don't take my comment out of context. What I said was that even if you put a dozen barriers up and charged an obscene amount of money you'd still make a profit. For a passenger to make it through that kind of filter they would have to be unusually determined, and when people like that are put into regular, not challenging, situa
              • It may be *more* profitable to fly 11, but it certainly isn't unprofitable to fly 1. Unless you think it cost Rutan $200k per launch, which is just crazy.

                You wanna bet? It takes an ungodly amount of fuel to fire a rocket engine that size for a few minutes, and fuel is not cheap. And that doesn't pay for R&D, staff, fuel for the mothership, insurance, etc. I would not be at all surprised to find that each of those SS1 launches cost in excess of $200k. Rutan didn't pay for it, of course... Paul A
      • by jonwil (467024) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:36AM (#15500136)
        Isnt that what Branson is doing with Virgin Galactic, offering that kind of flight?
        And using technology he got from Scaled Composites too (IIRC)
    • by patio11 (857072) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:06AM (#15500023)
      ... in the one field that using space makes sense in: launching satellites. What private industry is not doing is throwing billions down the money hole to examine, e.g., the effect of weightlessness on spiders. Thats because private industry doesn't get new billions every year even if it had a string of failures and no successes for the last N years.
    • by RsG (809189) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:19AM (#15500075)
      Because private industry is motivated by short term profit, and the benefits of a space program are all long term (or non-profitable - "pure" science like astronomy is of no commercial value).

      Let's say you want to build a solar power plant in space, or a mining operation on the moon or in the belt, or an orbital facility for producing materials that require vacuum and/or free fall. The startup costs are immense, and it'll be decades before you see a profit. Why invest the money in it now when you could put it somewhere else that'll turn a profit sooner and more reliably? That's how the free market works after all, money takes the path of least resistance, and that's why private industry fairs poorly at anything long term. Government agencies can be short sighted too, but they aren't required to make a profit, and so while they are often ineffecient, they can do things no industry has the patience for.

      Half the benefit to space travel is to the whole of mankind; a chance to spread beyond our home world, and a pathway to greater understanding about the universe. These things aren't appealing to the private sector. The other reasons for going to space - valuable resources such as those in the belt, abundant solar energy, technological offshoots that come from developing better craft, etc - those aren't easy enough to turn a quick buck on.

      When space technology progresses to the point where low earth orbit is easily accessable, then and only then will the private sector step up and start seriously considering offworld activities such as the ones mentioned above. Remember that it was government agencies, not the private sector, that made satelites possible, and yet now that putting satelites in orbit is easy you have plenty of commercial applications springing up. The public sector paved the way for satelites, and the communications companies took advantage of that when it became cheap enough. And even the X-prize craft were following what had already been done by NASA, they were just finding new ways of doing it.
      • You have a lot of very good points, but the fact remains that the market is exceptionally good at producing advances simply because it is dynamic in a way that federal agencies are not and will never be. Technological advances become exponential - one innovation by one competitor will spawn a slew of innovations elsewhere. So while private companies are motivated by profit in the short term, just by their nature they produce incremental advancers towards long term goals. Moreover, there are other industries
        • by RsG (809189) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:27AM (#15500294)
          Airlines are a bad point of comparison. They're generally seen as profitable (and by and large they have been, though many have hit trouble more recently), they use existing, well understood technology, and they replaced much older methods of long range travel that predated them.

          Space travel isn't profitable yet. People aren't going from point A to point B and crossing outer space in the process - to profit from space, you must go from the ground to orbit, and bring something back that's worth the trip. Space is mostly empty, and gravity is a strong barrier to entry.

          Space travel technology isn't both cheap an reliable yet. Cheap rockets make the satelite business possible, but reliable, reusable craft capable of attaining orbit with a signifigant payload are incredibly expensive (the X-prize craft didn't meet those qualifications, though they were cheap and reusable). Airplanes existed for years before the formation of airlines, and jet propulsion existed for a long time before jetliners were brought into widespread service. It was largely factors like military R&D that made modern airlines possible - jets were weapons before they were anything else.

          Lastly, we were traveling from Europe to North America (to give two examples) for centuries before planes were invented. The pathway was already there, and already profitable and useful. Airlines slowly but surely superceded ships as the means to travel long distances. Centuries from now we might have an equivalent in space - if we start with ion drives and later develop fusion propulsion, that would be similar - but right now we're at the stage where intercontinental travel was in the medieval period.

          The private sector needs an incentive to go to space. All they have now is the satelite business. Why should they feel the need to go any further than that? There isn't anything to be had up there yet, at least not at the prices they're willing to pay. A billion dollar airliner fleet isn't that expensive if it makes 100 billion in airfare after all. What incentive is there to drop a few billion dollars on space craft when it will take another decade of R&D before they can turn a profit?
          • So...

            I think that means the goverments need to create ways of processing high-value or otherwise impossible to produce goods (or information) in space, from materials available in space. If industry can see a proven way to make money from it, you couldn't stop them finding a way to get there.

            I guess some "killer app" or process that needs weightlessness or vacuum (or both) to work... maybe some high temperature manufacturing process... oh, like producing titanium or osmium or tungsten or something... from a
            • Yeah, that sort of thing been proposed. There are actually dozens, if not hundreds, of useful commecial applications of space travel that would work if even low orbit were easily accessible.

              Off the top of my head, there are materials that can be made easily in space like Aerogel, which is incredibly valuable here in earth. Google it or look it up in Wiki to see what I mean - this stuff has amazingly useful properties, and weighs next to nothing. Mass producing it would mostly be a matter of getting a fac
          • to profit from space, you must go from the ground to orbit, and bring something back that's worth the trip.

            That "something" is your passengers and their memory of their experience. Instead of air liner, think cruise liner.

    • Why hasn't the private industry boomed?

      Because it loses money?

      KFG
    • by unixluv (696623) <unixluv.gmail@com> on Friday June 09, 2006 @02:21AM (#15500418)
      it seems like we're back to just complaining about NASA's ineffectiveness.

      Most people don't understand NASA. NASA does what most other people think is impossible. I'm sorry if it takes a little longer.

      And it takes longer because Congress decides how much money NASA gets, in large part, from year to year. Would you buy a new car or new house if you don't know if you can make the payments next year?

      And lastly, many of NASA's projects go on for decades. NASA had a big involvement with the development of the F-22 Raptor, [nasa.gov] designed the variable-sweep wing on the F-14, [nasa.gov] the hypersonic X-43, which made the world speed record, [nasa.gov] and has a sucessful Mars program. [nasa.gov] Now how many private companies would be willing to take these projects on, when most people think it couldn't be done?
      • I am British, and i deeply admire NASA. Sure they have made a few cock-ups in the past, but they have also done some tremedous achievements, which they also tend to share with the world (Thanks to US federal rules, stating Federal Agencies cannot claim copyrights). And not just in space related things, take beowulf clustering, I believe that was originally developed in NASA.

        I think NASA has contributed a lot of wealth that not many people are aware of, and this simply woudl not have happend had they been do
    • Private industry is making significant steps. After winning the X-prize in fall of 2004, Rutan estimated that it would take about 4-5 years until SpaceshipTwo was ready for regular flights. That schedule still looks reasonable, with the first flight around 2008, and passenger flights around 2009. Furthermore, several other groups [economist.com] are continuing to work on suborbital vehicles to compete with Virgin Galactic, including XCOR and Blue Orgin. Bigalow is progressing far better than people expected and will be lau
    • Because there's a limit to what you can do at 100km at suborbital speeds.
  • Faith in NASA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1 AT verizon DOT net> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:58PM (#15499996) Homepage
    My faith in NASA has deminished over the years. I'm only 25, but I can't recall any mission in the last 10 years (well a really public one any way) that didn't have some kind of hiccup. Even the Mars Rovers. But don't get me wrong. I hope this really works well and NASA is getting back on their feet and restoring their image. But when it launches and gets into orbit and there isn't any "Houston we have a problem....'s", then and only then I'll break out the bubbly.
    • Re:Faith in NASA (Score:5, Informative)

      by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy AT tpno-co DOT org> on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:05AM (#15500017) Homepage
      Even the Mars Rovers

      You're kidding me. Yes, there were a few issues, but those things are STILL going. They were designed for, what...a couple months of usage?

      I'd call that a big win. You will notice this big win does not owe it's success in any way to the shuttles however.
      • But it wasn't hitchless. I know that things will eventually happen with huge projects, especially in space. But the one rover stopped sending data. That's a big hitch.
        • I respectfull disagree with the importance of the "hitches". As us Brits know, its hard enough sending single probe to Mars (Beagle 2)*. NASA sent two rovers SUCESSFULLY, and BOTH are operating far beyond what they were originally specified to.

          NASA is full of smart and passionate engineers and scientists. They have great resolve to overcome setbacks, and keep on going. (Our own space program seems to be ditched because of one failure).

          Please do not become like us British, complaining and makign a big deal a
          • If recent evidence is true, in that Beagle "unluckily" landed in that small crater, we may have soem distinction of scoring the first ever interplanetary "Hole in one"
            Only if you were aiming for it, otherwise it was just the golf equilivant of hitting it into a pond.
          • Woohoo! I knew I liked British people for a reason. Trans-Atlantic props for a great post, bro.

            (*) FYI, Opportunity already beat you blokes by coming to rest inside Eagle Crater, which was only about 10 meters across and 1 or 2 deep. From 80 million miles away, baby!
        • They've exceeded their lifetime many times over! Its absolutely astounding that you'd call it a hitch that they have an expected end-of-life.

          Are you still driving a 1984 Pinto in mint condition or something?

      • All the science that the Mars rovers have done could have been done by a human team in the first day of their expedition.
        • All the science that the Mars rovers have done could have been done by a human team in the first day of their expedition.

          A human team which would have cost enough to send 30 missions like the rover ones to Mars?
          • and would do 100 times as much science as 30 missions will ever do.
            • what science would that be?? Pray tell, what science do you propose? Seriously, tell me some things that need to be done on mars that a rover and some from-orbit-reconossance could not do?

              I REALL am curious. For real. This is something that I have not thought too much about and would love to hear from someone like you who has obviously (judging from your statements) spent some time considering.

              Thanks.

               
              • It's called geology, and if you actually ever speak to a geologist in your life, as them how well they can do their job with rovers and satelite photos.
        • All the science that the Mars rovers have done could have been done by a human team in the first day of their expedition.

          Except that a team of humans is so absurdly expensive to send, if we were to even have the technical capabilities to do so, and increase catastrophic mission failure exponentially.

          In short, what you suggest is idiotic at best. Which can only mean one thing: Mr President, please stop posting on slashdot.
    • Lord knows the Apollo missions never had any problems....at least as long as Tom Hanks stays out of it.
    • My faith in NASA has deminished over the years. I'm only 25, but I can't recall any mission in the last 10 years (well a really public one any way) that didn't have some kind of hiccup.

      Welcome to the real world. I'm 45, I've spent 35 of those years following the space program closely - and I can't think of any missions, manned or no, without some form of hiccup. NASA isn't perfect, never has been, never will be - they are merely closer to that state than virtually anyone else.

    • I'm only 25, but I can't recall any mission in the last 10 years (well a really public one any way) that didn't have some kind of hiccup.

      Ah, the follies of youth...

      I think as you gain more experience, you'll find that all projects have hiccups. It's a matter of whatever your project design, teamwork, and/or management is strong (or competent) enough to overcome these hiccups..

      As other posters have pointed out, although the Mars rover program had issues, overall the project was a success. If you're

    • You should be hoping to hear more "Houston we have a problem....'s", NASA is suppose to be pushing to the edge. Instead, because of outcries about "hiccups" and deaths, they have taken the safe route. We are more than willing to invade another country and lose 3000 soldiers for oil, but we seem to take issue with losing 7 lives on a space trip.

      Look, when NASA gets back into the groove, we will lose more lives. We will also have hiccups. Prepare for it. Just understand that NASA has to do what it takes to g
      • We are more than willing to invade another country and lose 3000 soldiers for oil, but we seem to take issue with losing 7 lives on a space trip.

        So you are saying, then, it's okay to for the 3000 soldiers to die for their country?
        • I am saying that our nation has no problem with losing 3000 soldiers, but has an issue with NASA losing a mission.

          Plain and simple, the soldiers and the astronauts knew exactly what they were getting into. It is sad to lose them, but they volunteered. And in the case, of the astronauts, I would gladly trade for their seat on the shuttle or a moon or mars trip, even if it was say 51/49% chance (I want better than 50%).

          Now, if you are wondering what is my belief WRT bush's invasion of iraq and the lose of
    • You should read the histories of the Apollo and Gemini projects.

      There's never been a manned space flight that didn't have all kinds of problems, from minor glitches to major catastrophes.

      There's always a fuse blowing, a cable not wired correctly, a setting reversed, etc.

      Sometimes it's really minor stuff, like having a switch break and toggling it with the tip of a pen.

      Sometimes it's a major catastrophe, like losing all your fuel, power, and life support consumables in a fuel tank explosion.

      Sometimes it's so
      • Lest others smuggly convince themselves that NASA must then be a complete loser house, the above goes for probably almost every major project in every industry to the beginning of time. People have this (somewhat understandable) idea that a bunch of Japanese engineers wearing ties got together and drew a bunch of conceptual drawings, took them to the factory, started selling Toyota Corollas 6 months later, and by the end of the year had a reputation for making one of the most reliable cars on the rode. The
  • by retrosurf (570180) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:00AM (#15500003)
    From comp.risks [ncl.ac.uk]:

    NASA managers decided on Thursday to skip a launch pad test of the shuttle
        Discovery's redesigned fuel tank because of the risk the test itself could
        damage the tank. The test would have entailed filling the shuttle's fuel
        tank with cryogenic propellants and testing its systems. The fuel tank has
        been the focus of NASA's shuttle safety upgrades since the 2003 Columbia
        accident. [Source: Irene Klotz, NASA to skip shuttle tank test ahead of
        July launch Reuters, 5 May 2006; PGN-ed]

  • Is this just a safety thing or are there other improvements? Surely there must be, since it was so long ago that the original shuttle was designed? Ligher? Stronger? Better colors?
    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:33AM (#15500125) Journal
      "Better colors?"

      Now that you mention it...

      NASA's PR department has done extensive research over the last 3 quarters and discovered that their audience is strangely disproportionately skewed towards males. In an effort to interest young girls in NASA, the external tank will be repainted in "OMG! Ponies!" pink. There are also plans to take a pony up to ISS. :^)
    • Is this just a safety thing or are there other improvements? Surely there must be, since it was so long ago that the original shuttle was designed? Ligher? Stronger? Better colors?

      Nope. Completely redesigning something like a shuttle fuel tank takes an incredibly long time, not to mention building new ones.
    • As Floey said:
      Nope. Completely redesigning something like a shuttle fuel tank takes an incredibly long time, not to mention building new ones.

      Or, to give you a better idea of just how much work would go into a full redesign, it took them almost a year to OK taking some foam off of the current design. Now, granted, if you were to do a full redesign, a lot of that work could be done in parallel for each modified/new section, but you're still talking lots and lots of engineer months here.

  • by patio11 (857072) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:03AM (#15500012)
    It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?

    I never noticed it wasn't active. I could probably think of a government program that is less relevant to my life than the Shuttle program but it would take me a while. Wake me when manned spaceflight accomplishes *anything* that can't be done better and cheaper either with robots or just on the ground (Tang is a wonderful drink*, but there's no reason to blast someone out of the atmosphere to drink it).

    * Yes, I was probably the only person in the entire world who actually had a taste for Tang.

    • So after my a blast of nostalgia I just decided to Google for a local seller of Tang (got to be SOMEONE still with a stock, right?) Apparently Kraft sells hundreds of millions of dollars of it every year, 90% of it outside the US (concentrated in Latin America and Asia). I feel so much less alone now.
    • You're certainly right about the shuttle program, it's a black hole, but let's not bag the whole concept of humans in space ok? If we were to send just one geologist to Mars he could do more science than any of the robots that have been sent their in the first hour of his arrival. That said, manned space flight shouldn't be about science. It should be about conquering and colonizing a new frontier.

      Hopefully soon, commercial space flight will focus more on the exploitation of space resources than pure sci
    • Don't get functional and active confused. Virgins are functional, not active. Viruses are active, not funtional. See part's 2 and 3 of this defintion (more 2 than 3).
    • Cheaper, yes, but better? The Mars rovers have taken three years to do something that the average person could do in a couple of days. Keeping people on staff to process that data and issue new instructions for that long isn't going to be exactly cheap, either.
    • "I could probably think of a government program that is less relevant to my life than the Shuttle program but it would take me a while."

      Other than deliver your mail and maintain some highways, what did the federal government do for you yesterday?

      Heck, do you really feel the effect of, say, Homeland Security more than the space program?
  • by NPN_Transistor (844657) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:05AM (#15500016)
    So it took an entire year to decide whether or not to attach a little piece of foam to the space shuttle? Even the development of Windows Vista is going faster than this!
    • by Slithe (894946)
      Hell, even the development of Duke Nukem: Forever is going faster than this!
    • A friend of mine who works out on Sea Launch [boeing.com] from time to time was telling me that insulation has been falling from shuttle booster rockets since day one, and most of it a lot bigger than the piece that damaged Columbia.

      It's a shame the insulation issue wasn't nailed a long time ago, but just like building crosswalks on our city streets it often takes a couple of fatalities to make something happen.
    • Even the development of DNF is going faster than this!
    • Yes, but if Duke Nukem forever has a problem then what, a few gamers will get upset?

      If the shuttle has a problem at launch: You have several million tonnes of shuttle and associated boosters and fuel tanks, and all the nasty chemicals therin landing in and around the Atlantic Ocean. Not a good thing.

      If the shuttle has a problem during re-entry: The mid-west has several thousand tonnes of shuttle and associated nasty stuff falling on it. Again. This time it may kill someone.

      If it fails in orbit, well... 7
  • Its nice, but. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tetrahedrassface (675645) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:07AM (#15500028) Journal
    Its nice to see a fully functional space agency again. Sure. But its also worrysome that funding for robotic exploration is being cut to pay for it (Moon to Mars, or next week just the moon). Programs at JPL are scrambling to ensure funding. Yet.. despite all the neat bells and whistles of manned spaceflight, robotics have done more to further knowledge of our universe than any manned mission ever thought about. The astronauts didn't put a telescope on the moon, but they jumped around a lot.

    Id post AC, but screw it. Im telling the truth. :)

    O

    • It would take plenty of time for a machine to, say, analyze a rock and decide whether or not one should further examine it. A human could do this in a few seconds. Don't just take my word for it, though. Here is a passage from Robert A. Braeunig's Rocket and Space Technology [braeunig.us] page that debunks the Fake Moonlanding Myth:

      The moon rocks allegedly collected by Apollo astronauts were actually collected and returned to Earth by robotic spacecraft.

      Any mission capable of returning over 800 pounds of rock and s

    • It will not be cut for much long. Griffin is basically funding the one thing that will make NASA move forward (bigger rockets, new space capsule). Congress is getting mad because ppl like you are writing them telling them to keep robotic exploration going; Good. What will happen is that congress will have to increase funding for NASA so that robotic can continute as can the moon shot. Keep in mind that this is what NASA does all the time. For example, the voyager were funded for something like a year. It ha
    • The cuts are being made to originally projected future budgets. The science budget will actually continue to increase year-over-year, but not nearly as much as planned before the Columbia accident. If the CEV lives up to its long-term potential for lower-cost human access to space (hard to lose given the size and complexity of the shuttle), the science budget actually stands to benefit in the long term.

      No need to post AC, you're pretty much right about the science achieved by robotic missions, but there
  • by w33t (978574) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:16AM (#15500059) Homepage
    What would have been nice is if the space shuttle had been built as it was supposed to be built. The space shuttle was originally a two part system - not entirely dissimilar to the spaceship one paradigm.

    The original specs for the space shuttle entailed the orbiter (pretty much the same as it is today) and a "reusable booster [wikipedia.org]" vehicle. The "booster" was going to be a hybrid jet/rocket [www.abo.fi] about the size of a 747 (which explains why the shuttle fits so nicely on one) and was going to fly right to the edge of space and deploy the orbiter for the rest of the journey.

    The idea was scrapped primarily because of budget contraints. It seems likely these cutbacks were brought on by the vietnam war and the civil unrest occuring around the southern states.

    It is a fact that both shuttle disasters have in no way been the fault of the orbiter in any way whatsoever. The Challenger was lost due to the booster rocket and the Columbia from the external fuel tank.

    IMO - Rotating the shuttle 90 degrees and strapping it onto a big fat rocket is the biggest kludge in engineering history. Now NASA has no choice but to continue to shoe shine that billion dollar...you know what.

    I hate it so much because I love the idea of the Shuttle so much. I love how that thing flipping LOOKS! It's the greatest spacecraft in history! But now it's got such a reputation when it was never the orbiter's fault. And now we take a leap backwards and go with a capsule again (yes, it's tried and tested - but so is walking, but it's not the best means of travel).

    Citing "technical difficulties" with the booster vehicle idea is a cop-out. If we had built the shuttle with the booster vehicle then I think it likely we would have learned much more than we have about reusability and runway-to-runway space flight. Heck, I venture to speculate we may have solved the single-stage-to-orbit problem already.

    Let's just hope we don't get stuck some other war which will sap the budgets out of our technological development...
    • some other war (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nido (102070) <nido56NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:46AM (#15500339) Homepage
      Let's just hope we don't get stuck some other war which will sap the budgets out of our technological development...

      You obviously haven't been paying attention. :)

      "United States Federal Government on the fast-track to bankruptcy, News at 11"

      The only reason "we've" lasted so long with the twin deficits (trade and federal budget) as large as they are is because of the "petro dollar".

      Sometime in the 70's, a U.S. president struck a deal with an Arab royal family that was, essentially, "we'll use our military to keep you in power, if you accept our 'dollar' and only our 'dollar' in exchange for your oil."

      Even though manufacturing started fleeing the U.S. in the 80's (in response to inflationary pressures at home) and the trade deficit started ballooning, the dollar has held it's ground relative to other countries' currencies. Why? Because the trade partners who were now building "our" stuff for "us" needed the dollar to buy oil for themselves. So, instead of having a "trade" - a U.S.-produced widget for a Tawaineese-produced widget - foreign manufacturers were happy to take a "dollar", because they could go buy a barrel of oil with it.

      The petro-dollar has been breaking down for at least 6 years. Saddam said he wanted Euros for Iraqi oil circa-2000. Iran and Venezuela are now moving in the same direction. Who's to blame them? What good is a dollar, if you've already got all the oil you need?
      • I usually give links to back up what I say...

        See John Perkin's Confessions of an Economic Hit Man [economichitman.com] for more on the Feral Government's response to the 70's oil crisis. Before "we" got involved, the Saudis let goats eat their garbage, because they were all so good that none of them would stoop to the level of garbage collector. Now they import asians to pick up the trash. And so on...

        The commentary on the petro-dollar were largely inspired by a recent Freedom Report [free-nefl.com] from Texas congressman Ron Paul [ronpaul.net] (not onli
    • The original specs for the space shuttle entailed the orbiter (pretty much the same as it is today) and a "reusable booster" vehicle. The "booster" was going to be a hybrid jet/rocket about the size of a 747 (which explains why the shuttle fits so nicely on one) and was going to fly right to the edge of space and deploy the orbiter for the rest of the journey.

      I had a thought that the shuttle orbiter should have been built as an evolution of the Apollo service module, with TPS, cargo bay and wings; and the

    • The initial design was also a whole lot smaller. It was enlarged to give it the capability of launching and servicing military payloads. I'm not entirely sure, but I think that's what brought about the strap-it-to-a-big-rocket plan. It was an engineering response to political stupidity.

      The capsule isn't a leap backwards anyway. The 'reuseability' of the shuttle is a joke. The ability to bring large payloads back to earth is nice, but it doesn't really come up that often.
    • The shuttle is just too big.

      Once it reaches a certain size/weight, it becomes very heavy. To counter this weight, you need wings with a lot of lift. Once you make a vehicle that can carry this weight it becomes very large itself. Lift creates drag and size creates drag, so you need to put on enough thrust to fight the drag up to 40,000 feet, maybe 50,000 if you want to stretch it. Finally, you need to put in enough fuel to fight this drag created by the vehicles and vehicle lift requirements for at least 15
  • by gasmonso (929871) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:20AM (#15500079) Homepage

    Next stop Mars!!! Or the boring old space station AGAIN :(

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • The summary only mentioned half the story. The tank has been upgraded too. Besides the sensor changes, NASA estimates this tank to be just under a megaton, a substantial improvement in power from the previous airbursts.
  • From the NASA website:

    "Well basically what we've done is created a hybrid shuttle. Given a Toyota Prius electric motor, we started playing with it. We ended up attaching solar panels to the side of the shuttle, which provide energy to the motor once the shuttle leaves the atmosphere. This provides us with enough remaining government funding to actually launch the ship, with gas prices at THREE DOLLARS AND FIFTY F**KING CENTS, PEOPLE!!"

    Shell and Exxon were not available for comment, as apparently the entire
  • Headline (Score:2, Funny)

    by ms1234 (211056)
    Am I the only one seeing the headline and thinking: Why did they empty it before launch?
  • by Duds (100634) <dudley@e n t e r s p a c e . org> on Friday June 09, 2006 @03:36AM (#15500592) Homepage Journal
    It's nice to have a more functional space program again, isn't it?

    Might want to wait to make that assertion :)
  • by The Wicked Priest (632846) on Friday June 09, 2006 @06:55AM (#15500967)
    You mean, the way they cancelled valuable unmanned missions to make room in the budget for questionable manned missions? Yeah, that's great.
  • by HotBBQ (714130) on Friday June 09, 2006 @07:48AM (#15501084)
    Good news for us locals. The is quite a bit of worry about the shuttle program ending dramtically sooner if the external tank problems didn't get fixed. NASA brings in a lot of money to Brevard County.

Of course you can't flap your arms and fly to the moon. After a while you'd run out of air to push against.

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