The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, August 6, 2005
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WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE SPACE SHUTTLE: The most intelligent suggestion I’ve heard so far is that if we have to keep the Space Station going to save face, then at least we should stop sending people up in the Shuttle (from Prof. Alex Roland on the PBS News Hour). Use the Russian Soyuz to bring people back and forth; it has a better safety record than the Shuttle. Convert the Shuttle to total automatic control, as to bring the heavy equipment up and down.

It would take some money and technology to covert the Shuttle to unmanned operation, especially for the docking maneuvers at the Space Station. However, to fix the foam problem on the Shuttle’s fuel tank so as to make it safe-enough for people is also going to take a big chunk of money and technology. If they get the thing patched up and send people up in it again, NASA anticipates getting another 15 to 18 missions out of the Shuttle before retiring it in 2010 (and there’s still that 1-in-50 to 1-in-100 chance of another deadly catastrophe on each flight). If they covert it to freight-only, they can take more chances and maybe get 25 flights in before the last one goes boom or crash. Hey, there’s always that Enterprise mock-up vehicle for the Smithsonian.

It’s going to be 2015 or so until the next manned American space ship gets going. That will be the “Crew Exploration Vehicle”, which Boeing and Lockheed are now competing for. But stay tuned – NASA and Congress seem to change their minds every couple of years on what the replacement for the Shuttle will be. Two years ago it was the “Orbital Space Plane”. Before that there was the X-38, the X-37, the X-34, the X-33 . . . . . . But OK, let’s not rush. Let’s try to get it right next time. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Shuttle. NASA is trying to get a modular, flexible vehicle that can be adapted to a variety of missions through rearrangement of its ‘building blocks’. I’m glad to say that the early designs for the CEV keep the people-vehicle far away from the rockets. That was the inherent design-flaw of the Shuttle, the one that will go down in the “worst engineering decisions” record book.

Maybe in 20 years or so, they’ll have the orbital tether in service, totally eliminating the need for 3-2-1-0-blast off! You just get in a slow elevator, and in a couple of hours you’re up in the final frontier. For now, though, I’m glad that I satisfied my blood-voyeurism urges and listened to the Discovery blast-off last Tuesday, because it’s probably going to be the last space-gladiator show here in the USA for a long, long time. Maybe forever (which would be a very good thing, as I’m now mature enough to realize).

Hope the Discovery and its crew make it home just fine on Monday.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:26 am      

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