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Space Shuttle Gains Remote-Control Landing Capability 248

rufey writes "An article over at Space.com mentions two new tools that Space Shuttle Discovery will have aboard during its upcoming flight, designated STS-121, scheduled to lift off on July 1, 2006. One tool is for tile repair. The other tool is a 28-foot-long cable that would be used to connect an avionics bay located on the mid-deck with the flight-deck controls. The cable enables flight controllers on the ground to land the Shuttle completely by remote control, including the ability to lower the landing gear. The remote control landing would be used in the case where the Shuttle was damaged to the point that it would be too risky to land it with humans aboard, but could be landed without humans aboard in an attempt to save the vehicle. The astronauts would take refuge on the ISS while mission control in Houston attempt to land a damaged Shuttle."
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Space Shuttle Gains Remote-Control Landing Capability

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  • Buran (Score:5, Informative)

    by CommunistHamster ( 949406 ) <communisthamster@gmail.com> on Friday June 30, 2006 @04:51AM (#15634847)
    IIRC, The soviet space shuttle Buran (Snowstorm) had remote landing capabilities from the start of the project http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle_Buran [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:Buran (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bitsy Boffin ( 110334 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:05AM (#15634889) Homepage
      Buran's first and only orbital flight was entirely unmanned, I'm not sure if that was remote control or pre-programmed flight plan though. I think the latter.
      • Re:Buran (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:51AM (#15635096)
        People always try to put down the Russians. Why? Yet the world knows that these folks can achieve a lot more with far fewer resources. To make matters worse, they (the Russians) do not go arround bragging about their achievements.

        The Russians did their Buran thing with no fan fare yet and it was more modern and stayed technologically superior to anything we Americans produced for 17 years. Heck we even do not know what they have in store for us.

        For sure...if they can control their spaceships from earth, I do not see why landing a shuttle remotely is that tough. Please do not diminish the Russian achievements.

        • Re:Buran (Score:5, Insightful)

          by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:37AM (#15635196)
          To make matters worse, they (the Russians) do not go arround bragging about their achievements.

          In Soviet Russia.... they certainly did brag about their achievements. For instance, Sputnik and Gagarin got huge exposure. But until they had achieved their aim, they preferred to keep quiet, so if it did go pear shaped they could just pretend they weren't even trying.

          • Re:Buran (Score:3, Informative)

            by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
            Well the truth is there wasn't a lot to brag about. When the Russians flew Braun the US could have done the same. Remote control flight isn't new. The US didn't see a need for it in the shuttle until now.
            BTW the reason that the Braun wasn't manned we because they didn't have a working life support system installed yet.
            • Re:Buran (Score:4, Insightful)

              by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @02:42PM (#15638171) Homepage
              The US didn't see a need for it in the shuttle until now.

              More like: the astronauts refused to allow it until now. The Shuttle program, along with the Apollo and Gemini programs before it (and to a lesser extent, Mercury), is pretty much controlled (politically and administratively) from Houston, by astronauts and former astronauts in management positions. Dating back to the original Mercury astronauts, they have insisted on an element of manual control with no computer in the loop. This is partially a control issues (recall the original astronauts were almost all test pilots), and partially job security and ego. The use of chimpanzees on the first couple of Mercury flights led to some embarrassing comparisons.

              While few of today's astronaut corps come out of the test pilot tradition, the "mandatory man in the loop" is ingrained into NASA culture, and defended fiercely by JSC (if you don't need men (or women) aboard, do you need a Manned Spaceflight Center?).

              Mind, I'm all for putting people in space -- the more the merrier, and what's a little risk if the people are willing to take it? But refusing to install a capability they could have had 20 years ago (and autoland for aircraft goes back way further than that) for ego reasons is stupid.
        • Re:Buran (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <[dfenstrate] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:01AM (#15635272)
          Funny you say that when the subject of conversation is a copy of an American project. Or do you suppose that the shuttle/buran geometry is the only way to do the job?

          Not to say the russians didn't make some good stuff, but this isn't the best choice to discuss it on.
          • Re:Buran (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Bitsy Boffin ( 110334 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @09:33AM (#15635680) Homepage
            Externally, the Soviet shuttle design appeared to be a copy of the American. But that's as far as that went. Buran had no engines for a start, it was strictly a payload for Energia. Certainly the engineers who created Buran looked at the American shuttle when they were coming up with the general principle, but in the same way that an aircraft designer looks at other aircraft.

            One could say that Airbus copied Boeing because airliners all look pretty similar. One would be an idiot to make that comment though, the reality is that they are vastly different beasts.

            • Re:Buran (Score:2, Insightful)

              by dfenstrate ( 202098 )
              Externally, the Soviet shuttle design appeared to be a copy of the American. But that's as far as that went. Buran had no engines for a start, it was strictly a payload for Energia. Certainly the engineers who created Buran looked at the American shuttle when they were coming up with the general principle, but in the same way that an aircraft designer looks at other aircraft.

              One could say that Airbus copied Boeing because airliners all look pretty similar. One would be an idiot to make that comment though,
              • Re:Buran (Score:4, Insightful)

                by gerardrj ( 207690 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @12:08PM (#15636904) Journal
                Likewise the SST program is not one to use when claiming American superiority of anything.
                Sure we managed to build a fleet a and fly it, but the program is a dismal failure as is the ISS.

                The shuttle fleet were designed for 100 flights each and a service life span or 10 years. The program was intended to be a routine "bus" service to orbit. Of the five flyable units built, two have self-destructed due to design and maintenance failures. On every criteria the program was founded for they have not even remotely lived up to the intentions. I call that a failure.

                The equivalent would be purchasing a car that you intend to drive to work every day, but instead it only works once every six months. Oh... and almost half of the cars sold will spontaneously explode killing everyone on board. The repair costs will skyrocket every year since the continual failures will cause a feedback loop to where every major component has to be completely inspected and/or re-built after every use.

                Who's to blame? The political process in the U.S Government that continually starves NASA's budget is part of it. NASA's own administration is also a large part of it; they have become so wound up in the minutia, they forget to look up and see the stupidity of the questions they are trying to answer.

          • The story here is a lot more simple then you make it out to be. When the US Space Shuttle was designed it went through dozens, even hundreds of prototypes before they settled on a design. They spent millions of dollars to figure out the optimal shape and configuration for the craft.

            When the Soviet Union decided to build a shuttle they didn't immediately just copy the US version. They tested a number of different aircraft designs. In the initial stages of development they wanted to build a craft that could t
        • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:39AM (#15635440)
          ... and it's not a conspiracy theory - it's because there's enough room for three people and a few post-it notes.
          Getting in a Soyuz simulator un-suited is an unpleasant experience. Doing it for real is only for very dedicated people.
          This is not something that people are going to want to get into space with big-time.
          We've moved from something pointing to routine space travel (shuttle class vehicles) to glorified escape pods.
          Yes, their stuff is reliable - so is a 1955 GMC stepside pickup. You want to use one to get a current big budget construction job done?
          If we were still flying Gemini-era equipment, there'd be a crowd here yelling about how backwards we are.
          They have not distinguished themselves in expanding horizons, pushing the envelope, whatever you want to call it.
          Yes, they have far less resources, but that's like saying a kart racer is the real winner at LeMans, just cause he got out there.

          As for "stayed technologically superior" - if by that you mean it auto-landed, then remember the only two-orbit flight was done with no environmentals or on-board software other than what was needed to complete a pre-programmed flight. And that was it. The rest are incomplete and never flew. You may want to factor in the fact that one of the vehicles and its launch equipment sat in an old hangar so long that they and the building they sat it rotted and collapsed, killing 8 people.

          I'll take existing STS over Buran any day, I'll take a 99% STS over Soyuz or CEV.
          Before you bring up the safety issue - what do we find acceptable? NASCAR has had 32 drivers killed, and we still hand them $1.3B every year. NASA's FY 2007 request is $1.7B.
        • On the contrary. My father-in-law works for LockMart and he got to witness a launch from Baikonor of a LM vehicle using a motor designed with the help of (IIRC) Energia (it was basically a "here's a lot of cash, we want your motor" deal). It was the first time since Saturn that the US was able to put up such a huge payload using one of our puny non-shuttle birds. The engineers were rightfully impressed, and we have lots to thank the Russians for. Hell, all of our plans for the "shuttle replacement" look
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:32AM (#15634952) Journal
      the shuttle lands you !
    • Re:Buran (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zemran ( 3101 )
      I now have a mental image of a guy in an anorak, standing on a small hill with a little black box (8" x 8") with a long aerial sticking out the top and two joysticks on the front, guiding the shuttle in to land... but I do not think the short cable was a good idea...
    • Re:Buran (Score:2, Interesting)

      by brcha ( 803546 )
      I am not sure that "Buran" means "snow-storm" in russian, despite it was written like that on wikipedia and babelfish.altavista.com also translates it like that.

      In Serbian, which is very similar to Russian in may aspects, "Buran" means "something that is like 'bura'" and "bura" is a type of wind that makes the see go mad, makes big waves, ... (not tornado, just a stormy weather). In Russia, "bura" can probably refer to a "snow-storm" as well, but then "buran" means "something that is as wild as a snow-storm
      • Re:Buran (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ASkGNet ( 695262 )
        I am not sure that "Buran" means "snow-storm" in russian, despite it was written like that on wikipedia and babelfish.altavista.com also translates it like that.

        It does. The Russian word for "bura" is "burya".
      • Russian adjectives do not end with -an, like they do in Serbian. They have to end on -oy or -iy.
    • Re:Buran (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 )
      Shuttle could have had this capability forever as well. I remember hearing that it was a political move by the astronaut office that the landing gear had to be manually deployed, assuring them a job for the duration of the program.
      • by Kombat ( 93720 ) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:23AM (#15635367) Homepage
        I remember hearing that it was a political move by the astronaut office that the landing gear had to be manually deployed, assuring them a job for the duration of the program.

        You heard wrong. The shuttle gear is deployed manually to ensure that a short circuit doesn't inadvertently extend the gear while the shuttle is still in orbit, thus causing the tires and hydraulics to explode in the vacuum of space, rendering the shuttle unable to land.
        • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:34AM (#15635418) Homepage
          The real issue is that the shuttle could not survive a reentry with the landing gear deployed. Deploying the landing gear destroys the integrity of the thermal protection system, and there is no capability to retract the landing gear in flight.
          • You're absolute right. As another poster pointed out, the shuttle does not carry any onboard equipment for closing the gear doors. Once they've been opened, they remain open until the shuttle has landed, and the ground crew preps the shuttle for the next mission. There are many reasons why opening the gear doors is a very well-protected, stricly manual operation. There's no turning back once those doors are opened.
        • The difference between a standard atmosphere and the vacuum of space is 14.696 psi. Airplane tires normally run around 120 psi. The extra ~15 psi is within the design of the tires. Also, the best information on google states that they are already exposed to vacuum.

    • It only took what, 20 years?
      I'm sure next they'll announce a new re-useable capsule ala soyuz, going back to the cheap&reliable method.
      ... oh ... wait ... nevermind ...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The soviets have also used automated docking for a long time, something the US has still to implement afaik. The regulary launched russian progress cargo ships use this when they dock to ISS. If you havent seen it in action I recommend searching for it on youtube or google video, it looks cool :)
  • by Captain Perspicuous ( 899892 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @04:58AM (#15634868)
    So far, the ISS has always only be filled up to the number of people that can be immediately evacuated with the always-attached escape vehicle. Now, we're filling it up more? I understand this is an emergency, but imagine the ISS gets hit by space junk and 3 people can go back to earth while the other have to wave goodbye on the ISS and die?

    Additionally, I think the Space Shuttle needs to load a connector to dock to the ISS - will this now be always loaded into the cargo bay or what?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I have dibs on the movie rights
    • by basingwerk ( 521105 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:11AM (#15634900)
      I think we have to accept that, in space flight, humans are not safe, else we spend the whole budget trying to work around "what if?" situations. That's brutal, but we all have short lives, and they all end the same way. It's good fun to send folks into space and see them on TV, but part of the fascination is to do with the isolation and danger of it.
      • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:15AM (#15635041) Homepage Journal
        I think we have to accept that, in space flight, humans are not safe

        Humans were safer flying apollo. The full apollo stack had three totally independent pressurised environments (CM, LM and pressure suits). Even the pressure suits had two independent air and cooling systems. The heat shield was only exposed immediately before use and by design it was a lot stronger than the shuttle TPS.

        It was a bloody good system. Comparable in reliability to the life support systems used in scuba diving. And it had heaps of redundancy. Even in the near disaster of apollo 13 I can think of half a dozen things which the crew might have tried if their work arounds failed.

        The shuttle has a bad architecture, and current efforts at fixing it are working against the original design.

        • by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:26AM (#15635058) Homepage
          The shuttle has a bad architecture

          Like what, the fact it has enough cargo space to bring a school bus to orbit? I agree, it's time to move to the next-gen space vehicle, but the shuttle has done a terrific service to manned space flight. Guess I'm just tired of the bandwagon effect - everyone, let's pile on to the shuttle-hating team!!

          Apollo was safer, and Soyuz is safer than Apollo. But you're flying in a cramped closet. The shuttle is still THE best space vehicle in the world.
          • And Skylab was launched into orbit on a lone Saturn V, what's your point?
          • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:40AM (#15635202) Journal
            Apollo was safer, and Soyuz is safer than Apollo. But you're flying in a cramped closet. The shuttle is still THE best space vehicle in the world.


            The best by what criterion? By costing a helluva lot more to do the same job, just to resemble travelling in a mac truck instead of a car? Just as a national penis size symbol along the lines of "we can afford to haul a giant truck into orbit, even at the expense of blowing up a few astronauts now and then"? Or maybe as a way to waste whatever space budget is left on a couple of uber-expensive flights per year instead of several flights with a smaller vehicle?

            Yes, in an ideal world, where money and resources are unlimited, flying in style in a giant airplane would be cool. In the real world, you have a finite space budget. Wasting it on lifting something that size _and_ on trying to patch an unsafe design is actually detrimental. The same budget would allow a helluva lot more if it wasn't wasted on the shuttle.

            Even the original shuttle design would disaggree with your assessment that the current shuttle is good. Just as a quick reminder:

            The original shuttle design was, basically, the equivalent of a car. It was little more than a reusable capsule with wings. It was supposed to be reusable, cheap, safe, and pay for itself by doing lots of trips up and down. It also had buggerall cargo space and was only supposed to go into sane orbits.

            Except NASA didn't have the budget for it. So they look at who else has a budget to put stuff in orbit: the Airforce. They're shooting these huge spy satellites into space. So NASA goes to the Airforce and says basically "you know, if you gave us your l(a)unch money, we could put those satellites in orbit for you safer and cheaper. And even bring them back down if needed! You won't have to launch another Titan rocket ever again. Won't that be nice?"

            The Airforce payloads were, however, (A) bloody huge, and (B) went in a polar orbit, so they'd sweep over the soviet union. That's what the Airforce needed done. So if they're to give their space budget to NASA, then NASA had to guarantee they could do that. Enter the new shuttle concept: a freaking huge truck that can load one of those in its cargo bay.

            Look at that huge cargo bay, and that's what it's for. It's not to give the astronauts leg room or anything, it's just big enough to pack one of those huge spy satellites.

            The aftermath:

            1. Even for those satellites, using a manned shuttle is fucking stupid. You don't need humans onboard to put a satellite into orbit, when a computer can do the same thing. And you don't need to deal with the media fallout when you blow up some humans. (Not to mention the irresponsibility of risking some human lives when you can do the exact same without them.) And you don't need to lift a huge ultra-expensive shuttle either, when you can just lift the satellite itself instead.

            So do you want to know how those satellites are launched nowadays? By the Airforce, with a big rocket.

            2. For smaller satellites, which was the original shuttle's idea, now the thing is too big and expensive. It's like using an 18 wheeler truck to haul your computer. It's just not worth it.

            So how are all those satellites launched nowadays? With a smaller rocket.

            3. For hauling humans into orbit, it's too big, too expensive, and too unsafe. And it becomes even more expensive by trying to patch that unsafe design.

            4. But wait, isn't it used to haul materials up to the ISS? Isn't that worth having a huge flying truck? Well, guess what? The same applies as for the Airforce's satellites: the cargo can go up with a cheap rocket just as well. A computer can put it into any kind of orbit you want it in. And the Russians have been doing just that, for a fraction of the cost, _and_ more reliably. Who do you think supplies the ISS when the shuttle is grounded for months trying to figure out what foam to use and where? Right. Traditional Russian rockets do.

            Even if you needed something assembled into space, there's no reason whatsoever to carry the humans and the cargo together. You can put the humans up with a small shuttle and whatever cargo they need up with a rocket.
            • For sure. Big dumb boosters that are automated are the way to lift heavy stuff into space. Single Stage To Orbit vehicles is what you want for humans. They're two different problems and solving them with one vehicle is an insane compromise.
            • Just one example, but the Columbus ISS module is pretty much depending on the Shuttle for transport to the ISS. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no other launch vehicle in use that could transport Columbus to the ISS. Pretty stupid to put all your eggs in one basket? Perhaps, but at the time of its development, it was pretty much unthinkable that the Shuttle fleet would be grounded long enough to let Columbus (or the whole ISS for that matter) slide into irrelevance...
        • I agree that the apollo repesents a better strategy for human space travel than the space shuttle. Heck even NASA agrees with you, as the shuttle 'replacement' looks to be a scaled up version of it. However I must disagree on this...

          The full apollo stack had three totally independent pressurised environments (CM, LM and pressure suits). Even the pressure suits had two independent air and cooling systems.

          The space suits were only designed for operation on the moon, and could never be use while operatin

    • I would imagine that they would leave the shuttle attached until the next shuttle or soyuz came to take them back. Then they would release the damaged shuttle and land it remotely. Then if something were to happen to the ISS, you could take your chances with the shuttle. Regardless, strapping yourself to millions of gallons of explosive fuel and then traveling 20,000 miles/hr in a relatively lightweight and flimsy vehicle is always going to be dangerous, but there will never be a shortage of people signing
    • The three get back to earth and then get hit by a bus.

      Seriously, it's easy to postulate any number of disasters happening at the same time, but what are the odds?

  • 28 ft ? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Spliffster ( 755587 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:05AM (#15634887) Homepage Journal
    A 28 ft long cable to "remote-control" the shuttle ? they are not gonna go far this time, are they ? ;)
    -S
    • Re:28 ft ? (Score:3, Funny)

      by gbobeck ( 926553 )
      they are not gonna go far this time, are they ?


      They will be able to go far enough to take a pee break, grab a beer (read: a Space Brewski, or Tang), and make a decent sandwich. In ideal conditions, they won't even miss the big game.
  • by Ours ( 596171 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:06AM (#15634890)
    including the ability to lower the landing gear
    Yes, I suppose that's sort of a "must have" feature when landing a big glider-like object.
  • by coobird ( 960609 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:15AM (#15634908) Homepage
    The Shuttle Orbiter already has automatic landing capabilities [nasa.gov]. Although the system has never been used all the way to touchdown, the Orbiter does make most of its trip back to the ground on autopilot until the commander takes over of the controls as it nears landing.
    • From memory, the original shuttle design specifically excluded remotely lowering the landing gear. The reasoning was if the entire landing could be remote controlled, there was no reason for a human crew.
      • This "feature" was there to give the hightly-trained and expensive pilots sopmething to do during a mission where they are essentially passengers for 99.99% of the time..........

        T.
      • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:52AM (#15635239) Homepage Journal
        The reasoning I heard was that opening the doors for the landing gear cannot be un-done.

        Remember, this is 70's technology. At the time, they were more afraid of computer glitches than they were of pilot error. The systems in the shuttle can open the doors for the landing gear, but they can only be closed with ground equipment. (saves weight) Any sort of computer glitch affecting the landing gear doors, and they're stuck on-orbit with 3 big holes in the bottom of the craft and no way to close them. FWIU, the landing gear doors have been the only completely manually-operated part of the shuttle.

        Decent reasoning, for the time. I suspect we're a little more comfortable with computer control, now.
    • My brother is an airline pilot. A Kat C procedure lets a modern airliner basicly land fully automatic (sight below 150ft.). However, if the weather conditions allow it they will land that damn thing by hand just for the fun of it (and for not to loosing training, it's said that older pilots have particularly problems flying manually because some of them get out of training due to too much auto-piloting).

      Spaceshuttle is able to land fully automatically too, however it is said that the pilots usually prefer
      • by tomknight ( 190939 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:32AM (#15635182) Homepage Journal
        Shagging in the toilet's pretty challenging. I'll agree it's not that interesting (after the first time) but it's always a tricky manoeuver...
      • They've written the automatic landing procedure in C? that proves C is the best language around! and the most safe!!! ...wait a minute. What is that Kat thingy???
      • by Kombat ( 93720 ) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:45AM (#15635461) Homepage
        My brother is an airline pilot. A Kat C procedure lets a modern airliner basicly land fully automatic (sight below 150ft.). However, if the weather conditions allow it they will land that damn thing by hand just for the fun of it (and for not to loosing training, it's said that older pilots have particularly problems flying manually because some of them get out of training due to too much auto-piloting).

        Wow. This is an example of a little information being a dangerous thing.

        First of all, it's called a "Category III ILS Precision Approach", not a "Kat C procedure. It requires 3 criteria to all be in place in order to be attempted. The landing facility must be equipped, certified, and current. The airplane must be equipped, certified, and current. And the pilot-in-command attempting the approach must be certified and current for Cat III approaches.

        Secondly, it is not a routine landing. Not all runways at all airports are equipped with Cat III ILS. Airlines make a lot of flights to smaller airports that just have the basic Cat I or II ILS systems, or even localizer-only, ADF, or VOR non-precision approach guidance systems. Pilots land "by hand" almost all the time. The "auto-lands" are the rare occurences, and they are required to do them every so often to keep current.

        Landing the space shuttle is very, very different from landing an airliner. The glideslope is ridiculously steep. There is no second chance. The shuttle is practically plummetting at between 6000 - 8000 feet per minute (normal aircraft descent at around 500 feet per minute when on approach for landing). The shuttle enters the approach pattern at over 35,000 feet. If it needs to do a 360 degree turn, it will lose over 30,000 in altitude. It has an absolutely horrible glide ratio. Its glideslope angle is 20 degrees (normal glideslope angle is 3 - 5 degrees). It comes in at almost 300 mph (waaaay too fast for any other normal aircraft). It truly is a very special aircraft.
        • by StressGuy ( 472374 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @09:39AM (#15635715)
          The Shuttle, due to it's configuration, has what is called a "non-minimum phase response" in pitch. Simply put, when you pull back on the stick, it goes down for a while first, then, after it gets sufficient angle of attack, it will start to climb. It does the opposite when you push the stick forward. That is, the increse in wing camber makes it want to go up first, then, as it pitches down, it will start to dive. So, in addition to all the issues stated above, there is also this rather nasty behavior.

      • by zsazsa ( 141679 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @09:34AM (#15635687) Homepage
        Spaceshuttle is able to land fully automatically too, however it is said that the pilots usually prefer to land that damn thing manually (if saftey allows it) just because they might never ge a chance to do that again.

        While the final approach is typically flown by hand, the Shuttle has only been flown in from orbit to landing completely manually once. This was done on STS-2 in 1981 by Joe Engle [af.mil], who started out as an X-15 pilot. Pretty amazing.
  • Landing gear (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:25AM (#15634936) Homepage Journal

    The last I heard the landing gear release was a simple manual switch with no connection to the flight control system. TFA describes the new cable as a "Data Cable" so there must also be a new connection between a computer system and the landing gear switch.

    Its strange that this was not mentioned in the article. Perhaps this change was made earlier?

    Oh and BTW I am still reading the apollo 17 ALSJ [nasa.gov] and much is made of the exploding foam incidents on apollo 16 and 17. The stuff was literally rocketing up into the sky around the LM during both missions. You would think that somebody would think (foam == bad) as a part of the lessons learnt from apollo. Drilling holes in the stuff is clearly not enough.

  • by vogon jeltz ( 257131 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:46AM (#15634988)
    " ... including the ability to lower the landing gear".

    You know you're landing gear up when it takes full throttle to taxi.
  • by dpmapping ( 873820 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:52AM (#15635006) Homepage
    Does no-one remember seeing the prototype for this being demonstrated in Airplane II (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083530/ [imdb.com])?
  • R/C Shuttle (Score:5, Funny)

    by scherrey ( 13000 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:06AM (#15635027) Homepage
    "Well at least we got the vehicle back! Let's get some beer!"
  • The other tool is a 28 foot long cable that would be used to connect an avionics bay located on the middeck with the flight-deck controls.
    If not a kite than maybe one of those plastic motorised control line model planes that we had as kids. You know, the ones that flew round and round in circles at the end of a long string [dkd.net].

    Ah, everything old is new again ;)
  • I seem to recall the original shuttle design had everything computer controlled so totally automatic landings were possible, in fact strongly recommended.

    But the astronauts hated the idea of just being useless cargo, so they *demanded* some human input be required. Flying the landing just right by hand was not feasible, so they settled on flipping the landing gear switch as a paltry validation of the need of humans on the shuttle.

    They also asked to control the brakes, and this was tried a few times, bu

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:59AM (#15635111)
      "But the astronauts hated the idea of just being useless cargo, so they *demanded* some human input be required."

      It's more down to the fact that they hated the idea of dying because the computer lowered the landing gear in orbit. There's no way to raise the landing gear on the shuttle from inside: the hydraulic systems to do so don't exist and the landing gear doors have some heat-protection added after they're closed on the ground.

      And the lack of trust of the autopilot was somewhat well founded: John Young had to fly part of Columbia's first re-entry manually because the real aerodynamics at hypersonic speed turned out to differ enough from the models that the shuttle would probably have been destroyed if there were no people on board.

      Now, of course, they've done more than enough re-entries to trust the computer to fly most of the way, but you're still dead if the computer has a brain-fart and lowers the gear in space. Similarly, the Apollo command module had a switch to completely disable the system that opened the parachutes until just before landing.
    • But the astronauts hated the idea of just being useless cargo, so they *demanded* some human input be required.

      In what alternate universe do the astronauts have any authority at all over the design engineers at NASA?
    • The brakes have always been manual/automatic. The problem with the breaks was that the carbon fiber pads were wearing too quickly, especially when landing at the shorter runway at the cape.
      As for astronauts as "useless cargo", nope. The only way to fully automate a spacecraft is to know exactly how everything is going to work, what can go wrong, and how to fix it during a mission. There is no way that kind of knowledge can be built into something as complex as a spacecraft with untried technologies befo
  • (1) 1 tool, Tile repair
    (2) 100 kg (lb?), Bondo
    (3) 100 gallons, paint, primer, "battleship gray"
    (4) 1 CD, "David Allen Coe's Greatest Hits"
    (5) 1 Dog, vicious, evil
  • "The astronauts would take refuge on the ISS while mission control in Houston attempt to land a damaged Shuttle."

    starring Harrison Ford, Donald Sutherland and Samuel Jackson
  • I know that the Oxygen generators on board the ISS are able to support life for 5 people right now IIRC... If Discovery is damaged during liftoff tomorrow, and the crew has to take refuge aboard the ISS, how long would it take NASA to get Atlantis or Endeavor up to save them? While I have every confidence in NASA, I am just wondering if any of you know how long the C02 scrubbers and O2 generators can hold out with 9 people on board?
  • It is about time this capability was added to the shuttle. Makes if the return to flight test flights or some of the ISS construction missions could be flown unmanned.

  • So some space virus wipes out the crew, and Houston decides to remotely land the shuttle and bring the virus back to Earth. Good going, NASA, I was hoping to avoid the whole Captain Trips situation this century...
    • "Though I'm passed one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still
      And I think my spaceship knows which way to go,
      tell my wife I love her very much she knows

      Ground control to Major Tom:
      Your circuit's dead, there's something wong.
      Can you hear me Major Tom?
      Can you hear me Major Tom?
      Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you ...

      Here am I floating round my tin can, far above the moon
      Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do"

      If only they had this back then... then Major Tom could be safe and Da
  • Landing Gear (Score:2, Redundant)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 )

    The cable enables flight controllers on the ground to land the Shuttle completely by remote control, including the ability to lower the landing gear

    Well, I would *hope* it would include that ability, otherwise the whole thig is pretty useless isn't i t?

    Just trying to figure out why the poster decided to include that comment. I mean, is that supposed to be some major accomplishment? It's probably just a signal "lower landing gear" to a system - seems like a very minor part of a complex operation to me

    • Re:Landing Gear (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moosesocks ( 264553 )
      The landing gear has been, up until now, virtually the only piece of the shuttle that was not automated or not able to be controlled remotely.

      On the shuttle, once the landing gear is down, it is down for good. It cannot be retracted, and opening the landing gear doors compromises the heat shield.

      Thus, the designers of the shuttle were weary of the fact that a computer glitch could cause the gear to open up while in orbit or too high up on the descent, causing a chatestrophic mission failure from which ther
    • Unmanned landings have been a capability all along.
      Columbia originally was planned to fly the first flight back in 1980 unmanned.
      Lowering the landing gear was disabled from the automatic system for safety reasons. Once it's down, it can't go back up. The gear are moved to the "up" position by ground technicians before the shuttle is ferried back to the processing facility.
      Since a failure of the automatics that results in lowering the landing gear is irreversible, it was disabled. I suspect by removing th
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:29AM (#15635393) Homepage
    Just wondering. I realize that it would only be used in an extreme emergency... and that even if the remote landing system didn't work properly, the surface of the earth is very large and the risk to people on the ground would be small.

    I also wonder whether it wouldn't be possible (and perhaps safer) to use the shuttle's remaining fuel to lift it into some stable orbit... (thereby, of course, only postponing the problem).
  • I hope everyone in Mission Control turns off their cell phones and other electronic devices during landing.
  • The astronauts would take refuge on the ISS while mission control in Houston attempts to land a damaged Shuttle

    Um, wouldn't it be better to try to land the shuttle after everyone is safely off the ISS? The shuttle has copious amounts of Hydrogen and Oxygen and other supplies that could be useful for keeping people alive, while waiting for a rescue mission. Also the rescue mission could bring repair materials for the shuttle.
  • Does this include flying the HAC turn as well, for alignment with the runway? That's quite a thing to have to do manually over a data link... As well as the actual landing itself.

    Or does the Shuttle already have this capability, and the remote is only for the Air Data probes and landing gear?

  • ....what happens when they run out of shuttles *?*

Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. -- A.H. Weiler

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