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Shuttle to Launch Despite Objections 314

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-agead dept.
sam0ht writes "NASA has just named July 1st as the launch date for the space shuttle Discovery, a year after the last shuttle mission. Last July's mission was the first since the break-up of Columbia in 2003, but after foam again broke away from the main tank, the shuttle fleet was grounded. More foam has been removed from the main tank, but NASA staff are divided over whether this is enough to ensure the flight's safety, with some reporting that both the lead engineer and top safety official are against launching again so soon. Managers want to make only one major change at a time, and plan that if damage does occur, the crew would be able to stay in the International Space Station, to which they are delivering supplies, rather than trying to land a damaged shuttle."
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Shuttle to Launch Despite Objections

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  • Common sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Solra Bizna (716281) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:17PM (#15559113) Homepage Journal
    ...both the lead engineer and top safety official are against launching again so soon.

    If this thing blows up, guess who're going to be blamed for it?

    -:sigma.SB

    • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:30PM (#15559162) Journal
      Everybody except the top ppl. For some odd reason, the day of the the buck stops here is now that shit flows downhill.
    • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0racle (667029)
      Exactly what have they been doing in the past 5 years that they can't give the go ahead to something that has flown for over 20 years with only 2 disasters? They know they'd be blamed if something went wrong, and thats a big reason why they won't give their blessing. If something goes wrong they can fall back on "I told you so."

      The Shuttle is probably statistically safer then your car.
      • For christ's sake (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:47PM (#15559339)
        I would suggest you and all the other morons on here actually do some research instead of spouting off. The incidence of foam hitting the shuttle is extremely high and has occured since the beginning, if flights had continued at the same rate as they occured at the start of the shuttle program we would have had many more critical hits. If you don't believe me, ask NASA. Or better yet, read the emails and information that was available to the team members during the Columbia mission:

        http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b02/ en/common/item_detail.jhtml?id=305032 [harvard.edu]

        This is the same damn problem they've had since the beginning--only they've continued to make changes without enough testing. The fact that they recently altered the foam is good cause to be even more cautious.

        And to the people denouncing the engineers and gov't workers and accountability on this thread, get a clue and pick on another agency. NASA -- the entire agency -- is highly accountable for failed missions from the top on down because it relies on image and public support. The higher ups are accountable to a congress that wants more frequent launches and toys with the budget and priorities--and has a short memory with regard to why we have such a moronic shuttle design. The engineers are doing their job, they did it during columbia, they did it during challenger. In both cases management failed and senior management was fired/retired/encouraged to leave. So spare me the covering-their-asses mentality.

    • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stratjakt (596332)
      Government folks (non-contracted) abhor responsibility and accountability. I've worked a few federal contacts lately - actually one was supposed to be at the KSC, last week, but they cancelled it due to the launch because apparently when they scheduled it a month ago they didn't know they had a shuttle, but I digress..

      Nobody who works for the government will do anything, sign anything, and it's completely frustrating being an outside joe like myself who has a job to do. Although, I learned how to work the
      • Re:Common sense (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:46PM (#15559200) Homepage
        Any project is a compromise between quality, cost, and timeline. The goal is to balance these goals appropriately. I've seen many a bureaucracy where you have a QA group who has to sign off on all code, but they only get rewarded on the basis of how few issues come back to haunt them and not on how many projects get done. Therefore, their goal is to avoid signing anything at all - they would get the best bonsues if no code were released at all - since then nothing would fail. On the other hand you get a project leader whose only goal is to get the code out the door so that he can get a promotion before the complaints start rolling in.

        Why companies can't just give people incentives to relase code when it is ready and not before or after I can't understand...

        • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @08:13PM (#15559489) Homepage
          Ok, for those who didn't see the relevance - in this case you have engineers saying don't launch, and managers saying launch. It is in the interests of the engineers to never certify a launch - that way they can say "I told you so" if it blows up - as one of the parent posts pointed out.

          The point is that if somebody is only going to get beat up if the launch fails, and there is no penalty for unnecessarily cancelling a launch, then you're going to get nothing but no-go decisions. These engineers are working in government posts - the only way they lose their job is if they mess up. A mess up is defined as an exploding space shuttle. A deorbiting ISS is also a mess up, but in a different department. Therefore the shuttle support engineers are best off just leaving the thing on the pad while they tinker with designs until retirement.

          I'm sure many or most of the engineers dont' have this attitude outright - but the incentives are probably aligned this way - so deadlock is going to be the way things go until the shuttle is retired...
      • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

        by R3d M3rcury (871886)
        Well, I won't go that far, but I'll also point out that it's easier and safer for your career to say 'no' than to say 'yes.'

        Suppose you say 'yes,' the Shuttle goes up and disaster happens. You're to blame.
        Suppose you say 'yes,' the Shuttle goes up and everything is fine. No one cares.
        Suppose you say 'no,' the Shuttle goes up and everything is fine. No repercussions.
        Suppose you say 'no,' the Shuttle goes up and disaster happens. You were right all along.

        Obviously, looking at a cost/benefit analysis, if y
      • Re:Common sense (Score:4, Insightful)

        by NecroPuppy (222648) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @09:25PM (#15559652) Homepage
        Government folks (non-contracted) abhor responsibility and accountability.

        Not really.

        It's just that by various laws, we (government employees) can't take that responsibility.

        Take your average government contract. Of the government side people working on the contract or with the contracted group, a very small subset of them are actually authorized and allowed to make changes no matter how much sense there may be to make those changes. The average government employee may be held liable for a stop work order or a contract change, when they don't have the authority to make it. So yeah, there is some passing of the buck in that regard.

        And yeah, there are idiots like you describe who pull a 4 hour day and fill out a time card for 8 hours. But I saw the same thing in the private sector, and worse. At least government side, the people I work with know what we have, so they don't end up ordering a bunch of stuff that walks out the door as soon as it gets shipped in.

        But, at least in my small part of the government world, we come in when the job demands. If that means working over holidays, pulling a 24 hour day or more, or whatever is needed to make the fleet go, then we do it.
    • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Keebler71 (520908)
      If this thing blows up, guess who're going to be blamed for it?

      The same people who will be recognized in the silence of obscurity if the mission goes off flawlessly.

  • grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 (525388) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:18PM (#15559121) Homepage Journal
    If this group was in charge of the appolo missions we'd still be doing near earth orbital testing.

    Space is dangerous, expensive, and offers very few good opportunities. If you want to get anywhere you have to take risks. I'm not saying that people should just throw their lives away for nothing, but every trip they make into space breaks new ground and teaches them new lessons. If you want the rewards you have to be prepared to walk away with a bloddy nose now and again, especially in a game like this.

    It may be harsh, but I would say that if they are trying to make space travel 100% safe, it's just plain never going to happen. Right now I think we should be happy with 90%. From a purely practical perspective, if a dozen people lose their lives to accellerate the space program 10 years, I would call that a good trade. And I'd be happy to be one of those 12.
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Pyromage (19360) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:32PM (#15559166) Homepage
      Yeah, but keep in mind the Challenger, as an example: they launched *knowing it was dangerous*. And guess what happened? It was!

      The crew know what they signed up for, probably better than any other explorer ever has. But knowing the normal risks they run isn't the same as asking them to go up when they know the thing that brought the shuttle down last time hasn't been fixed!
      • Re:grow a pair (Score:4, Insightful)

        by stratjakt (596332) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:37PM (#15559183) Journal
        The thing that brought the shuttle down really cant be fixed.

        It may not strike a chunk of foam, but hey, it might smack a big old bird on the way up, ro get nicked by a meteorite or some space-junk.

        They are going up this time with a contingency plan to possibly repair such damage after it happened, but it's always going to be dangerous.
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:4, Insightful)

      by murrdpirate (944127) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:36PM (#15559180)
      Exactly. We have a pretty good safety record considering what we're doing. It gets more and more expensive and takes more and more time to reach slightly higher safety levels when we're as high as we are. I think it might be safer in the long run to try to reach a reasonable safety level of around 90% and actually get some experience. We've been doing the same stuff for decades, if it was acceptable then, why isn't it acceptable now?
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HaloZero (610207) <protodeka&gmail,com> on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:50PM (#15559208) Homepage
      And when Thirteen blew up due to a bad tank coil - 2/3rds of the way to the moon - they actually FIXED the problem before Fourteen left the pad.

      Yes, it's perfectly dangerous, but there's no reason to make it worse by not performing your due dilligence, and building a spaceworthy craft. Yes, there are going to be problems, but there's something to be said for learning from your mistakes.
      • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Alien Being (18488) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:26PM (#15559290)
        That's an unfair comparison. The explosion on Apollo 13 was the result of straightforward engineering and manufacturing errors. The shuttle suffers from an inherent design flaw.
        • While you do have a point, it is completely irrelevant in the context of this case. The fundamental design of these vehicles was never in question. That being said, would you care to make a counter-comparison?

          My opinion pertains to troubleshooting a problem, and the ability or willingness to take the time to fix the problem correctly, in order to increase the productivity of the program in a safe manner. It would seem that others disagree with my position, and say that the crew are prepared to take the r
        • I look at old systems such as B-52s still flying missions and question whether the problem is *inherent*. How about, nobody has been asked to come up with a better solution. Why not "peel the banana" and have a coating on the external tank that is *designed* to safely fall away? Or use something like Space ShipOne/White Knight that uses and an aerodynamic system for initial assent?

          It may be cheaper in the long run to replace the shuttle but I haven't seen enough discussion of the alternatives to know tha
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Interesting)

      by demachina (71715) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:07PM (#15559250)
      "It may be harsh, but I would say that if they are trying to make space travel 100% safe"

      This particular team is an institutionalized bureaucracy. Their pay is the same whether they fly or not. Not flying is substantially easier and safer. They are mostly just trying to preserve their jobs until CRV or some other program comes along to which they can all be transfered and which point CRV will become extraordinarily expensive jobs program with a poor track record.

      There is actually somewhat greater job security in flying infrequently, and stretching out how long it takes to finish the ISS, because when they finish the 16 flights or whatever their careers are over unless their is a big new project to transfer to, i.e. CRV and the return to the Moon. They just have to be careful that they don't frustrate the politicians that pay them to the point they pull the plug on them prematurely. Not flying in the name of safety is the safest methodology.

      The Shuttle payroll stays the same, yet their flight rate has reached a truly glacial pace since Columbia. I sure would be curious to see what the actual cost per flight has been for the last flight and this one. I'm guessing probably in the $5-10 billion range per flight, and these two missions have accomplished nothing beyond hauling supplies to the ISS which should have been done with a cheap, expendable booster. Though when we spend $8 billion a month on Iraq to no obvious good end, I guess $5 billion isn't so bad. But still, we spend so little money on space and technology(outside weapons) you are left wishing the dollars we do spend were spent more wisely than to just keep jobs going in Texas and Florida for political reasons. I assure you whenever NASA's budget comes up the jobs program it drives is way more important to the politicians that fund them than are what they actually accomplish which is why the manned program has a huge payroll and accomplished very little. NASA kind of needs to be like a corporation, where either you succeed or you go under. The way it is now they can fail and just keep failing.

      The basic problem with our space program is their is no objective, there is no goal, there is nothing to reach where there will be celebration and a sense of accomplishment. At this point the objective is just to kind of keep the shuttle from another catastrophic failure and kind of half finish the ISS. At that point there is a 50/50 chance success will be declared and then they will have to figure out how to abandon the ISS safely since it sucks money out of more worthwhile endeavors, and does next to nothing useful.

      At this point getting getting a life boat colony on Mars, mining asteroids, or finding a new energy source are the only objectives that really excite enough to justify manned presence.

      Getting a permanent colony on Mars would be priceless. It would teach us a lot about ourselves and our society, compell innovation and give people who hunger for a frontier a place to go, and there are always people hungry for a frontier.

      At the rate our exploding population is exhausting both mineral and energy resources on our home planet, starting to explore space alternatives would be worth doing though it will be a long time before they will be viable. When we start running out of minerals having asteroid mining proved will be priceless.
      • Thank you for making this point so well. As the situation currently stands there is no incentive to take any risk in the shuttle program (and many other government programs). This isn't entirely bad, it works well for things that aren't difficult or inherently risky, but when pushing envolope it just doesn't work. I don't think the people working on the program are actively thinking about job security in the macro perspective of prolonging the shuttle program. My personal experience leads me to believe that
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Interesting)

      by solitas (916005) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:18PM (#15559269)
      The space program has sufficiently proven that it can't accelerate ten years in twenty years. The first launch was 4/81, the first accident was 1/86 (#51), the second accident was 1/03 (#107) - there have been something like 113 launches since 1981 (how'd they get the numbering screwed up?) and they're still doing it the same way. and there's nothing being visibly tested (press releases, test launches, etc).

      IMO: when it comes to "accelerating the program" I don't think it matters so much what experiments they're doing so much as how they're getting them up there.

      The U.S. manned space program went from 'nothing' to 'shuttle' in about 21 years (1960-1981), 'nothing' to 'moon' in about 8 years, did 'moon' for three-plus years, did 'Skylab' for only SIX MONTHS, has been running at 'shuttle' for the last 25 years, was stuck at 'o-rings' for two-plus years, and has been stuck at 'foam' for the last three years.

      Where has 'acceleration' been 'lately'?

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Where has 'acceleration' been 'lately'?

        Probably "hiding" between a pair of "apostrophes".
      • Re:grow a pair (Score:3, Insightful)

        by IdahoEv (195056)
        Acceleration will return with remarkable speed the day China lands dudes on the moon.

        Because nothing kicks a country in the ass like a perceived enemy they want to outdo. CF. the "Space Race", which only happened because of a gargantuan pissing contest between two big countries.

        Which by the way, is a fantastic thing, despite a negative name like "pissing contest". When it comes down to it, a technological show-off pissing contest is a lot better thing than a war. Think how many lives would have been spa
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kfg (145172) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:24PM (#15559286)
      If this group was in charge of the appolo missions we'd still be doing near earth orbital testing.

      I take it you are unaware that Von Braun was under constant pressure for being too slow, too much a perfectionist and too insistant that everything be as close to just right as we could make it before he would agree to light the fuse?

      In fact he drove the "let's just plug ahead and get this baby done" folks nuts with his attitude that we should "just plug ahead and get this baby done right".

      Understand that at that point in time he had seen, and even been personally responsible for, more launch failures than any man alive

      KFG
      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:28AM (#15560294) Homepage Journal
        Absolutely right: perfectionist, budget-buster, and committed to testing every part before putting them together.

        I highly recommend the new von Braun biography, "Dr. Space".

        One thing NASA has forgotten from his legacy is the need for absolute honesty in engineering. He rewarded people for coming forward and admitting screwups even when they might have been blamed for loss of a vehicle.

        Honesty, safety margins, and a culture of "there's no such thing as 'sort of' working" give you machines that work and that don't kill people. Von Braun's team designed the Saturn first stage. It's entertaining to calculate the total energy that was stored in one of those, and divide it by c squared. 300 milligrams. All released in a few minutes. Von Braun's team made that work safely and successfully every single time.
    • Re:grow a pair (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      That's exactly the way it was 600 years ago, when people were trying to discover our own planet. How many sailors died trying to find the new world, or travel the northwest passage. We hear of Christopher Columbus and Magellan, but there was probably many other sailors who weren't so successful in their voyages. And there were probably a lot of crew members that we don't know a lot about, who gave their lives to discover the new world. People give their lives every day for wars about oil and religion.
    • I strongly agree with your sentiment that there are times when great risks should be taken to achieve great rewards. However, when it comes to the STS, I have two objections:

      1) The rewards from the shuttle program aren't particularly great. We live in an age of computers and robotics, so it seems to me that developing automated systems to do basic things like satellite repairs would be a logical use for the dollars currently used to send humans on routine missions. Apollo at least had romance and glory t
  • by ettlz (639203) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:18PM (#15559125) Journal
    1. Do not ignore the engineers.
    2. Do not ignore the engineers.
    3. Do not open the windows.

    Ignoring engineers hasn't got the Shuttle very far in the past. From the Challenger Wikipedia article:

    [Feynman] was so critical of flaws in NASA's "safety culture" that he threatened to not sign off on the report unless it included his assessment, which appeared as Appendix F. He pointed to the discrepancy between management claiming a 1 in 100,000 chance of serious failure and the engineers claiming 1 in only 100, a risk one thousand times greater.
    • by kimvette (919543) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:30PM (#15559158) Homepage Journal
      You got it wrong. It's:

            1. cut funding
            2. ignore the engineers and launch anyhow
            3. blame the engineers when something goes wrong
            4. State the problem is not what even high-school dropouts suspect is the problem
            5. Ignore the engineers for weeks until it becomes patently obvious to even idiots that the problem engineers warned about and laypersons expected was the problem IS the problem
      • You forgot... 6. Have Congress rape NASA's budget further by requiring earmarks for their favorite local pet projects having any kind of a "space" theme.
        • 7. Employ a keen sense of irony by killing any R&D programs that might lead to affordable, reliable, and frequent access to space before they produce results, using the excuse that the research and development programs have run over-budget. Ignore the fact that the greatest budget over-runs occur in the operational Space Shuttle program. Hope nobody notices that a viable alternative might threaten continued funding of the Shuttle program. See X-33, DC-X, et. al.
      • The nay-sayers here aren't engineers, they're beurocrats.

        They may have once been engineers, in a former life, but once you get that cushy government paycheck, your job becomes "not being held accountable for stuff".

        It's no accident that "the lead engineer and top safety official are against launching".

        BTW, it may seem I've contradicted myself, but "lead engineer" doesn't imply any actual engineering any more than "software project lead" implies that the guy could cobble together a four-line vb script.

        They a
    • You do not talk about Shuttle Flight Club.
    • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:48PM (#15559342)
      Are engineers on the line for effectiveness, or just safety? If safety is the only consideration, the obvious course of action is never to fly.
  • sweet (Score:4, Funny)

    by M0b1u5 (569472) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:20PM (#15559128) Homepage
    Good. About friking time I had a new wallpaper for my 3840 x 1024 desktop.
    Each time the shuttle goes to the ISS I get new wallpaper.
    That might be just about the best thing to come out of the ISS program. *sigh*
  • by HardCase (14757) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:24PM (#15559141)
    From space.com [space.com]:

    Two senior NASA managers - chief engineer Chris Scolese and Bryan O'Conner, the associate administrator of Safety and Mission Assurance - did have concerns over the potential risk of foam debris posed by a number of insulated ice frost ramps along Discovery's external tank, NASA officials said.

    About 34 foam-covered ice frost ramps line the shuttle fuel tank, insulating brackets that connect a cable tray and pressurization line.

    "From their particular discipline, they felt they wanted their statement to be No-Go," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations said. "But they do not object to us flying and they understand the reasons and the rationale that we laid out in the review for flight."
    • >"From their particular discipline, they felt they wanted their statement to be No-Go," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations said. "But they do not object to us flying and they understand the reasons and the rationale that we laid out in the review for flight."

      Can anyone understand this?

      How can "No-Go" and "do not object to us flying" possibly be true at the same time?
  • Good! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:26PM (#15559148) Journal
    Glad to know there's someone with a set of balls at NASA.

    If we wait for everything to be 100% iron-clad safe, we'll never leave this rock.

    There's always going to be a nay-sayer somewhere up the chain. Beurocrats get so uptight about their jobs that that they'd never greenlight anything, for fear of being accountable for something (feds are 100% allergic to accountability, anyone who's ever worked a government contract will know this).

    Godspeed and have some fun up there.
    • Bad! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:12PM (#15559255) Homepage Journal
      It's not a question of hormones. NASA is willing to take risks. NASA management however has a skewed understanding of their incentive, which results in the wrong things for the wrong reasons. We have built a system which costs dramatically more to fly than the nation is willing to spend. It costs so much to fly that we have reduced our expectations and plans over and over and over to fit within the flight budget, even as monies are re-allocated from doing stuff to flying the Shuttle. This silliness must stop.

      Every time the Shuttle flies, we fall about six months further behind where we could be. We still have not started to think about replacing it with a system that will deliver reliable, inexpensive and frequent access to space. The capsule replacement on the drawing board won't be inexpensive and it won't fly frequently. It's a stop-gap measure to provide access to the International Space Station, assuming the Shuttle can fly without disaster something like 18 more times to finish the construction. That is definitely not certain. The loss of only one more orbiter -- even in a ground accident as has nearly happened -- will make it all but impossible to finish construction of the ISS.

      If you think human and other activity in space is important then you should be in favor of immediate cancellation of the Shuttle program. I don't know what sort of wake-up call that Congress and NASA need to get the hint, but we really need to start working on a next generation system right now.
      • Re:Bad! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by stratjakt (596332) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:28PM (#15559295) Journal
        we really need to start working on a next generation system right now

        We are [popularmechanics.com], and quoth that article: "The winning concept will be chosen in 2008, and the manned vehicle flown in 2014."

        But, in the meantime, the Shuttle is all we got, and we should use it, rather than waiting until 2014 to go back up into space.

        What if Lewis and Clark waited for the railroad to be built before heading West because canoes and horses were too risky?
        • The CEV is not intended to bring a serious reduction in the cost of access to space. It will probably be less expensive to fly than the current Shuttle, and it might be possible to fly it as often as a couple times a month if needed, but it is not a next-generation space access system. CEV is needed, but it is not all that is needed.
          • it might be possible to fly it as often as a couple times a month if needed

            That's what they said about the space shuttle. Originally, they planned for a 2 week turn around with the shuttle. All things being perfect, they might be able to pull this off, although I don't think it has ever happened, or ever will happen. I also don't think there's enough demand to launch 2 shuttles a month.
    • It is tempting to simplify the issue, but here is the problem we have. In April of 1981, we once again launched people into space, albeit LEO, and everything was good. We had a theory that we made a great improvement with a reusable space craft that would have quick turn around. This not only might provide cost saving, but also opportunities for the common researchers, or even student, to have a greater access to the space environment. But there were two problems. The first, which was pretty quickly di
    • by p3d0 (42270)
      You need to know who is in favour of launch and who is opposed. I guarantee, if management wants the launch and the engineers want to postpone, then postponing is the right choice.

      And I'm not saying that only because I'm an engineer. :-)

  • Finally! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 99luftballon (838486) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:33PM (#15559173)
    The ISS project is dying on it's backside without the shuttle and we need the fleet to get operational as soon as possible. Yes, there is danger but there always will be with space travel. The astronauts know this and accept it and if they want to step down there are plenty more qualified people eager for the chance. But these issues highlight a larger problem. We need a new space vehicle - the space shuttle was always a pale shadow of what it could have been. If we are to get the ISS functioning properly and go onwards to the Moon we'll need either a much heavier lifting platform or a totally new way of getting into orbit.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by demachina (71715) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:18PM (#15559266)
      "The ISS project is dying on it's backside without the shuttle"

      What exactly is it the ISS is doing that makes it worth keeping alive, especially when its diverting billions of dollars from all those new things you list, so they mostly aren't happening?

      Whenever people start lobbying in favor of the ISS I generally ask what has the ISS done that justifies the price tag, the zero G physiology research simply doesn't. The Russians did far more for far less on Mir, and still today the gist of it seems to be intensive exercise helps fight the effects of zero G. Not sure that really justifies a $100 billion price tag. I'm sure you can dig up some esoteric research done on the ISS but I assure you, you could could have gotten far better research spending the $100 billion elsewhere.

      Someone also always says its crucial practice for taking the next step. With this I guess I can agree, it has been an invaluable lesson in how not to run a large space project.
  • by NevarMore (248971) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @05:37PM (#15559184) Homepage Journal
    Spending money on the ISS is a good thing. If it has to get the funding and upgrades it needs as 'plan B' so be it, it's still funding.

    Time and time again NASA illustrates the things that can go perfectly right and horribly wrong when engineers and pioneers are held accountable to politicians via managers/beauracrats.

    Sometimes it works. Kennedy told them to put a man on the moon, and they did it. They were tasked in the 70's with making a reusable spacecraft, they did pretty good for a first project, especially getting it to last damn near 30 years. Then in the 80's they were tasked with long term space visits, had some help with that, but got it done still.

    Now the managers are no longer managing but worrying about political decisions. Without good management the actual work stalls as the geeks don't know what to work and jump ship.

    I'm torn as to how to resolve this. I don't want public money going to private companies, nor do I want to see it squandered in a dinosaur of an organization.

    At the very least acknowledge that NASA has some issues and see what we can do to ease any restrictions against private companies moving into orbit and sharing with them research that was done with public money at NASA.
    • by sunspot42 (455706) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:00PM (#15559228)

      Spending money on the ISS is a good thing.

      Why? The ISS is going to cost US taxpayers in excess of $100 billion, to boldly sit where Skylab has sat before. Since we don't currently have a reliable manned booster to rotate crew on and off the station (having trashed the working, reliable, relatively inexpensive and more powerful Apollo launcher for the unreliable, outrageously expensive Shuttles), or a reliable means of emergency escape, the ISS is limited to 3 crewmembers on a longterm basis. That's barely enough staff to keep the station running, which means there's virtually no science taking place aboard the station.

      I say abandon the ISS now, along with the Shuttles, and divert those tens of billions of dollars into designing and building a state-of-the-art launcher utilizing the lessons learned from the successful Apollo program and those parts of the Shuttle program (such as the engines) which have proven worthwhile. Or spend that money on researching and developing tech which could dramatically lower the cost of access to space, such as carbon nanotube structures or new propulsion technologies. Either would be a far better use of taxpayer money than the useless ISS or the expensive, unreliable Shuttle, which I believe are now up to a billion dollars a launch, making them the most expensive launcher ever by a wide margin. We could launch fleets of astronauts into space aboard Russia's safer Soyuz booster for the price of a single Shuttle launch. Like the ISS, the Shuttle is a crippled dog and needs to be put out of its (and our) misery.

      • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Sunday June 18, 2006 @09:41PM (#15559687)
        Since we don't currently have a reliable manned booster to rotate crew on and off the station...

        Yeah we do; it's called the Soyuz. There's no reason why we can't just build a bunch of them instead of continuing to launch overgrown school buses at the thing!

        See, that's the big problem with NASA. They're stuck in this stupid mentality where they think they either have to use the Shuttle or design something brand new and impossibly perfect. That's a false dichotomy. Any replacement for the Shuttle doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be better than the Shuttle. Freakin Apolllo fits that description; they could just build some more of those! And all they'd have to do is change the shape of the hatch to be compatible with the ISS and run the sucker off a graphing calculator instead of the heavy 60's-era computer technology.

    • Kill it now. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:18PM (#15559268) Homepage Journal
      They got the Shuttle to last nearly 30 years by flying it dramatically less often than planned, and spending dramatically more than planned to fly it at all. Reliable, frequent, and affordable access to space can only happen by euthanizing the Shuttle program.
  • The failure rates are like 1 to 75-100 compared to the Project Constellation 1 to 2000.

    The main reasons that killed the shuttle was safely, costs, lost of life and other payload rockets like the Ariane, Atlas and so on. I think a few years from now SpaceX will have most control over payload rockets.
  • "Managers want to make only one major change at a time, and plan that if damage does occur, the crew would be..." uh, yeah, the crew would the people who thought that launching was a good idea.
  • eject (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pizpot (622748)
    Maybe a small cockpit, in a capsule that could eject would be smart.
  • by Hercules Peanut (540188) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:31PM (#15559302)
    I'm sure I'll get slammed for this but, well who cares. I remember watching the first shuttles go up. It seemed like we flew a lot of shuttle missions without any problems (sans Challenger, I know BIG PROBLEM). The point is that it seems like problems are far more common now with all of the new tech and more importantly lessons learned than in the old days.

    What's happened? Did we redesign something? Are they so old that the parts are wearing out and we can't replace them as well as we built them to begin with? Are we just publicizing problems more now than we used to? I haven't seen anything to tell me why it seems we can't launch a shuttle without something faling off when the old ones flew without a publicized hitch.

    Anyone?
    • by tftp (111690) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @08:50PM (#15559559) Homepage
      What's happened? Did we redesign something?

      Yes. Most of Shuttle's electronics had been upgraded, probably more than once.

      Are they so old that the parts are wearing out and we can't replace them as well as we built them to begin with?

      Yes. It was reported many times that they found cracks in these cryogenic tubes, in those control wires, in that RSS panel, and so on. That is on top of regularly scheduled replacement of parts. Some of these parts can not be made exactly as they were made 30 years ago. Metals and alloys changed, CNC mills changed, cooling oil for those mills changed, milling bits' material changed - and all that can affect everything. Worse with electronic parts - you can't buy today many components that were mainstream 5 years ago - they are not made any more, fabs ripped apart and upgraded to new technology. So you need that old i80186 silicon rev B2 ? Tough luck.

      Are we just publicizing problems more now than we used to?

      Probably so. NASA top echelons graduated from engineering to politics, and when an engineer would be searching for a technical solution these folks are searching for a PR solution, as if one can talk a machine into not failing.

    • What's happened? Did we redesign something? Are they so old that the parts are wearing out and we can't replace them as well as we built them to begin with? Are we just publicizing problems more now than we used to? I haven't seen anything to tell me why it seems we can't launch a shuttle without something faling off when the old ones flew without a publicized hitch.

      What happened is that we realized what the real risks are. There are several failure scenarios which we had irrationally hoped were one-in-a-h
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:35PM (#15559314)
    The moonshot was a "fuck money, whatever it takes to get there" project. They got the best people, the best equipment, priority funding and restrictions simply didn't exist. Success was paramount. Failure was no option, whatever the cost, no failure may happen, for this is a fight of ideology.

    Now, this changed big time. NASA gets the people it can afford, it gets the equipment the contractors that bid lowest and offer the best counter-contracts offer, they receive funding whenever something's left from the bomb budget and they have to deal with environmental restrictions and people complaining about the noise of their testing facilities.

    Space flight has turned from a prestige object into a business. It has to try to be profitable. Now, it is VERY hard to actually be directly profitable in manned space flight. The moonshot did boost economy and quickened development in many, military as well as civilian, areas, especially we, in the IT biz, would be far from where we're today without the space program.

    But today, everything, even science, has to be profitable. That's the big problem with the NASA today. They aren't "worse" than they were in the 60s, they don't slack or work more sluggish. It's just not space race time anymore.
  • Rollout Pictures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikeboone (163222) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:42PM (#15559335) Homepage Journal
    I came across this site with images of the shuttle rollout [stanford.edu] to the launch pad. A few pages in are some panoramics as well. Whatever its technological flaws, the shuttle is pretty to look at. I wish everyone involved the best until we can get the shuttle's replacement off the ground!
  • ice ramps (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18, 2006 @06:50PM (#15559346)
    Think the controversy has to do with the ice ramps on the side of the tank. They have seen some accumulation of ice on these ramps. Yet, these particular ramps have not caused a failure in the past. Given that there have already been changes I think management at nasa is reluctant to add more variables to the launch. The management looked at the historic probabilities over a hundred or so flights. Until more data is gathered on the ice ramps proving there is an issue, then change them.

    My problem is, I think there should be a skeleton crew on these test flights.

    Looking forward to seeing ISS completed and shuttle retired. On to the constellation program!

    By the way, ISS can have many uses. eg. researching how full a liquid fuel tank is in space. ( or any liquid tank ) There are numerous research possibilities -- just requires some imagination and real problems...

    Anyhow, if the shuttle does blow then its over for the shuttle. That is right from the administrators mouth.
  • If the next shuttle explodes then just blame it on their O/S.
  • by zogger (617870) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @07:06PM (#15559380) Homepage Journal
    ...a good possible use for the remaining shuttles is to launch them unmanned and somehow attach them to the ISS or park them near by for other uses. On the ground sitting still they are OK. Up in space floating around they are OK. The transition in and out of the atmosphere is where they *blow goats*, so do that one more time with no humans in them. As already-up-in-space vehicles and as work/living space they are fine,and they are already built and functional. I say move them to orbit one last time and never return them back down, haul some cargo up with the last launches of them but stop risking humans in them with launches and reentry nonsense. Comes a time to cut your potential losses. Just the savings over the next few years would do wonders for NASA's budgets and to help re-fund a lot of the unmanned satellite jazz they are dropping-because the shuttle sucks down most of their cash. Spend the time designing the next replacement vehicle, and let the Rooskies haul the folks back and forth, they got the rig that works for that.
    • park them near by for other uses

      They need fuel to stay there - you can't "park" them in low earth orbit and expect them to stay there for long, and you can't get them to go any higher due to the same fuel problems. You could put a big tank full of fuel in the cargo bay and have that as payload with some sort of hack to feed that into the main tank - but they are not currently designed to stay up for long. I find the design of the thing hanging off the side of the launcher really bizzare in the first place

  • The top guys who know what they're doing KNOW it's a bad idea, but management says do it anyway.

    Said management is definately looking a little pointy-haired.

  • Rocket to Nowhere (Score:2, Informative)

    by bbc (126005)
    This article should not have been published without a link to Maciej Ceglowski's excellent analysis, Rocket to Nowhere [idlewords.com]. It seems to answer a lot of questions folks have here.

    A quote: "Taken on its own merits, the Shuttle gives the impression of a vehicle designed to be launched repeatedly to near-Earth orbit, tended by five to seven passengers with little concern for their personal safety, and requiring extravagant care and preparation before each flight, with an almost fetishistic emphasis on reuse. Clearl
  • "Managers want to make only one major change at a time, and plan that if damage does occur, the crew would be able to stay in the International Space Station"

    Astronauts: So we're safely out of the damaged ship, so how do we get back now?
    Ground Control: Dunno, we only make 1 large change at a time.
  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon&gmail,com> on Monday June 19, 2006 @09:44AM (#15561139)
    It's apparant, to me, there's NO way to make the Shuttle 100 percent safe....there's no way to make ANY spacecraft 100 percent safe. Space is a hostile environment. The astronauts know this. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the shuttle has flown before with foam ramps falling off the shuttle. What happened to Columbia was very unfortunate, but in my book, it's a freak accident. There are so many variables that had to happen JUST RIGHT in order for the vehicle to be lost. All that can be done is try to minimize it. It can't be prevented. What happens if a Heron or some other big bird is in the way when the shuttle launches? Odds are, a BIRD can bring the shuttle down just as easy as a piece of foam. The odds are very low that this will happen but NOT zero. Does that mean we don't launch?? No.

    What I do see happening is a return to the traditional capsule like format. It could even be done in a reusable format MUCH easier and less prone to problems then the shuttle. We have to keep in mind....space is different. We can't send airplanes into space. We have to send spacecraft into space.
  • by ONOIML8 (23262) on Monday June 19, 2006 @10:15AM (#15561293) Homepage
    When I joined the workforce it was with Uncle Sam: the federal government. That's the same outfit, for those of you who might be unaware, that runs NASA. The federal government is a large and interesting organization that has a rule book for everything and everything is done by the book. Or Else. As it was explained to me, the government doesn't like having to explain replacement of expensive things because of stupid mistakes. They make enough stupid mistakes as it is. They also find it difficult to deal with angry families or foreign nations when these accidents impact those entities.

    My early work experience was very similar to the business of space travel. I worked on high performance fighter aircraft. You had to focus very hard on safety and doing your job right because the danger level was already higher than most people see in their lives. On top of that, I was an armament systems specialist which means that I worked with things intended to blow up or otherwise kill people. Usually these devices were intended to kill large quantities of people or destroy very large and heavily armored vehicles or buildings. Safety was therefore extremely important because you didn't want one of these things going boom at the wrong time or place. Our goal was in fact to have the pilots fly around with these things and bring them back to us in one piece not having killed or destroyed anything. If/when we pulled that off it was A Good Thing(TM) . We were told, and I have witnessed, that if we took the time to do our jobs safely we would be doing them faster and at less cost than if we threw caution to the wind. Yes, I said that I have witnessed it.

    Safety was preached to us all day, every day. We began each day with a mission briefing, a prayer and a safety briefing. On the flightline we started every load with a safety briefing. At the end of the day we debriefed so that we might learn from the experience and be more safe tomorrow. If, at any step of the operation, anyone thought conditions were unsafe, they would speak up and everything stopped until the situation was corrected. It didn't matter if the person crying safety was a general or the newest airman fresh out of tech school and wet behind the ears. The fact that I ended my enlistment with all of my limbs is a testament to this culture of safety. When you consider the dangers involved....it's pretty darn mindblowing.

    If you compare tactical fighter operation with shuttle operation, the danger levels are very similar. Why then do we have NASA willing to launch a shuttle despite their top people saying it is unsafe to do so? When the engineers are saying "STOP", why is the mission allowed to proceed?

    This is not the first time that NASA has had a disregard for safety. In fact it's something of a way of life for them. Remember the Apollo 1 disaster and the hatch that couldn't be opened by the astronauts? And that's not the first such stupid unsafe act they were involved in. NASA and the CIA have always had this acceptable risk culture as part of their flight operations.

    The military has a culture of safety and, although their jobs are extremely dangerous, they do not believe in acceptable risk. The military is always working to make their jobs safer. NASA, on the other hand, has a culture of acceptable risk. They seem to figure that their jobs are dangerous and that's just the way it is. I'm thinking NASA could learn quite a bit from DoD. Yes, I actually typed that.

    If we're ever going to get off this rock, space travel has to become safe. If we're ever going to use space to our advantage it has to become affordable, and that means we can't be accepting high risk all the time. Therefore this culture of acceptable risk is holding back our space program.

    The Russians don't have the safest space program around but they sure have a cheaper space program that is just as active. The Soviets, when they ran the show, had a hell of a lot of stupid accidents. Then again, they have never spent the kind of

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