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NASA Prepares for Space Rescues

michael posted more than 8 years ago | from the happy-birthday-douglas-engelbart dept.

Space 249

wallstreetprodigy23 copies and pastes "Space shuttle commander Steve Lindsey is preparing for a mission he hopes will never launch: the rescue of other astronauts in orbit. If a crisis arises during shuttle Discovery's planned return to flight in May, Lindsey and a crew of three could be called upon to lift off aboard sister ship Atlantis on an emergency mission that would be the first in the history of human space exploration. Rescue flights were hotly debated at NASA after shuttle Columbia broke up in the skies above Texas two years ago this Tuesday. Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved. Because of the accident, NASA will have a backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at least the next two flights in case another ship suffers damage similar to what brought down Columbia."

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Spot the problem first (5, Interesting)

fembots (753724) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523009)

If Columbia is used as an example, shouldn't NASA be looking at policies that allow them to delay a launch and/or return, and conduct a thorough inspection of the craft? From what I have read (from the transcripts), it was too late for Columbia to do anything by the time they realized something was wrong. Catching Genesis mid-air with a helicopter didn't work.

Re:Spot the problem first (4, Informative)

FrYGuY101 (770432) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523050)

People at NASA were aware that the foam hit the shuttle wing though, and simply dismissed it.

You can bet your ass if something similar happens on the next few flights, they're going to inspect the damage, rather than ignore it.

Re:Spot the problem first (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523348)

No. They knew it HIT the wing. They did not know it made a big hole.

Re:Spot the problem first (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523455)

Gee, could that be why GP said "foam hit the wing" and that they would inspect in the future?

Naaaah!

Re:Spot the problem first (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523460)

They must be using some steel-foam or something because I couldn't kill a rabit with the foam they stick in computer boxes.

Re:Spot the problem first (3, Insightful)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523468)

If you smacked the rabbit with a suitcase-sized piece of the foam at ~700 MPH you sure as hell could....

Re:Spot the problem first (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523480)

Good point. I don't know how foam would travel at 700mph, I think the atmosphere makes that impossible.

Re:Spot the problem first (3, Insightful)

tftp (111690) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523495)

You are right, actually. The foam virtually stands still in the atmosphere... but the Shuttle rams it at 700 mph (since it has an engine.) The end result is the same.

Re:Spot the problem first (2)

starbird (409793) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523506)

Ironically the foam is there so that condensation ice doesn't form on the external tank. The ice would break off at liftoff and could potentially damage the orbiter.

Re:Spot the problem first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523073)

If Columbia is used as an example, shouldn't NASA be looking at policies that allow them to delay a launch and/or return, and conduct a thorough inspection of the craft?

They have looked at such policies. But the thing is, even if they had seen Columbia's damage and delayed its return, there was nothing they could have done.

No on-board patch kit. No alternative re-entry technique. No rescue shuttle. No way to reac h the ISS.

Re:Spot the problem first (0, Offtopic)

RavenndudE (831260) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523308)

http://freeminimacconga.blogspot.com/

Re:Spot the problem first (2, Insightful)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523360)

They are doing these things also. Delaying the launch has always been there, since it's often necessary due to weather and equipment failure. (Not delaying the launch when it should and could have been delayed is why Challenger blew up.) Delaying the return is now an option as well. Presumably they will be given extra supplies, and all shuttle flights will be put into an orbit that can reach the ISS, so the worst case is that they have to hang out there until the problem is fixed or they're rescued. I believe they have equipment and procedures in place for an inspection as well. The rescue mission is on top of that.

The thing is, a shuttle mission involves an incredible amount of preparation. People have theorized that if everybody at NASA had realized that Columbia was in trouble as soon as it was launched, and they had rushed Atlantis (the next shuttle in line to launch) through prep for a rescue mission, they might have maybe possibly been able to get there before everybody died of starvation or lack of oxygen or whatever would have killed them first. If a rescue mission is going to be an option, then it needs to be prepared before the main mission is launched, simply because it takes so damned long to get a shuttle into orbit.

An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523019)

Plowing for several large companies, I'd always done my work on Windows. Recently however, a top online investment firm asked us to do some work using FreedBSD. The concept of having access to source code was very appealing to us, as we'd be able to modify the kernel to meet our exacting standards which we're unable to do with Microsoft's products.

Although we met several fertilization challenges along the way (specifically, FreedBSD's lack of Token Ring support and the fact that we were unable to defrag its ext2 file system), all in all the process went smoothly. Everyone was very pleased with FreedBSD, and we were considering using it for a great deal of future internal projects.

So you can imagine our suprise when we were informed by a labourer that we would be required to publish our source code for others to use. It was brought to our attention that FreedBSD is copyrighted under something called the GPL, or the GNU Preventive License. Part of this license states that any changes to the seed are to be made freely available. Unfortunately for us, this meant that the great deal of time and money we spent "touching up" FreedBSD to work for this investment firm would now be available at no cost to our competitors.

Furthermore, after reviewing this GPL our labourers advised us that any products compiled with GPL'ed tools - such as gcc - would also have to its source code released. This was simply unacceptable.

Although we had planned for no one outside of this company to ever use, let alone see the source code, we were now put in a difficult position. We could either give away our hard work, or come up with another solution. Although it was tought to do, there really was no option: We had to rewrite the code, from scratch, for Windows 2000.

I think the biggest thing keeping FreedBSD from being truly competitive with Microsoft is this GPL. Its mercurial requirements virtually guarentee that no business will ever be able to use it. After my experience with FreedBSD, I won't be recommending it to any of my associates. I may reconsider if FreedBSD switches its license to something a little more fair, such as Microsoft's "Shared Source". Until then its attempts to socialize the software market will insure it remains only a bit player.

I welcome you for your time.

Re:An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523068)

+1 Informative.

Re:An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523085)

+1 WTF.

Re:An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523090)

+1 Troll of the day

Re:An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523095)

This may be the precursor to a major mission-critical paradigm shift for global players and local merkets alike and could be leveraged by off-shoring and out-sourcing the stockholder-value to old people in Korea.

Note: In Nagasaki, they like bukakke. [ebaumsworld.com]

Re:An agrarian view on Shuttle systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523101)

I had a response to this but there is so much wrong with ur post from off topic to "labourer" to "Preventive" I am just going to say ur a moron without a clue.

How about rescuing Hubble ? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523023)


be good practice for them and the whole world benefits at the same time

all for less than the price of a months war in Iraq [costofwar.com]

Re:How about rescuing Hubble ? (2, Interesting)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523294)

the whole world benefits

And how does the whole world not benefit from the fact that more than half of the Iraqi population just stepped up and voted, launching a democracy in an region famous for embracing midieval thoughts about things like space shuttles? Come on now. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Re:How about rescuing Hubble ? (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523589)

And how does the whole world not benefit from the fact that more than half of the Iraqi population just stepped up and voted, launching a democracy in an region famous for embracing midieval thoughts about things like space shuttles?

For all of it's faults, Hussein's Iraq was a secular state...it's likely that after all is said and done there, it will end up under the control of religious fundamentalists and be a region more tending towards medieval thoughts about technology.

If this was a step toward an actual stable democracy with respect for human rights, there might be some benefit to the world. But this elections is more show than substance. Sunni regions mostly boycotted.

We're still in for either years of occupation with tens-if-not-hundreds of thousands more human beings turned into bloody lumps of gristle and hundreds of billions of dollars spent - or an Iraqi civil war. Pardon me if I don't feel like cheering.

Re:How about rescuing Hubble ? (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523464)

The first couple of flights are merely test flights. Much as the original ones were.

all for less than the price of a months war in Iraq

How much is a vote worth?

it seems good news (2, Interesting)

Paolo DF (849424) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523031)

So, they assume that somehow troubles in space can be solved with a rescue mission. This is good. I think people is more incline to think that space troubles are disastrous.

Re:it seems good news (4, Interesting)

jacksonj04 (800021) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523412)

Problems in space shouldn't need a fully stocked shuttle ready to go in 24 hours, they should have some method of getting astronauts back onto earth without needing to waste time at this end.

Escape modules or 'lifeboats' would be a much nicer solution. Especially if (I saw this on one of the comments further down) the lifeboats are sitting idle in orbit anyway and can propel themselves to the shuttle.

Hell, even ready-to-go unmanned rockets with lifeboats could be launched from points on earth to almost any orbit very quickly. I would rather be climbing into a re-entry ready pod than wait for another shuttle to rendezvous with me. Notice the ISS has an escape pod and doesn't rely on Thunderbirds.

Rescue?! (5, Funny)

Sabathius (566108) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523033)


Thunderbirds are GO!

Great timing. (5, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523036)

I'm not a rocket scientist, so let me make sure I have this right:

1) Build space station.
2) Send astronauts to space station.
3) A few years later, start brainstorming a rescue plan.

Government Bureaucracy (2, Interesting)

Bob_Robertson (454888) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523124)

Your premise seems to be that bureaucracies should act rationally. They Do Not.

Public Choice Theory demonstrates that what is "rational" to a government bureaucrat is not "rational" under the logical framework of private enterprise or individual action. The motivations are all messed up, as viewed from the outside.

The pioneers of space were expendable, to the bureaucratic mind, because creating a method of "rescue" would cost more than training new recruits and weathering the bad publicity.

The rocket scientists themselves were employed to do a job, and if they didn't like it they could seek employment elsewhere.

Bob-

escape pod (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523037)

- remove the shuttle on board thrusters and just use stapons

- with the weight saved put an ejectable cockpit / escape pod like the F111 or stick a small one in the cargo bay - there should be room.

Manned spaceflight? (5, Interesting)

Toby The Economist (811138) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523054)

> ...because of the accident, NASA will have a
> backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at
> least the next two flights in case another ship
> suffers damage similar to what brought down
> Columbia."

It took a hundred flights for the Columbia failure mode to occur. There has been no other flight where an in-flight emergency occured such that rescue might be considered.

Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

It seems to me there is a lack of proper vision in the space programme.

We have manned spaceflight, but being used in a way where unmmaned spaceflight could be perfectly well used instead (probably at lower cost, and certainly with zero risk to human life).

Manned spaceflight *is* vital, but not for Shuttle flights! manned spaceflight is necessary to establish colonies on other moons and planets.

Humans will not really start colonizing other worlds, though, until the Space Elevator is built; then it will become practical.

I expect this to occur within my lifetime, assuming we don't destroy the planet first.

--
Toby

Re:Manned spaceflight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523157)

(probably at lower cost, and certainly with zero risk to human life)

...just so long as we don't tip off the martians to our presence, or have something crash land [usatoday.com] in somebody's home.

Re:Manned spaceflight? (3, Insightful)

drgath159 (821707) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523209)

Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

While I see your point and think this is pretty dumb to waste all this money on rescue missions that will never fly, it's needed. Why? What if the same thing happens again in the next few missions? NASA is completely fucked and would be getting a fraction of the money they get now. It would be a long time before they recovered. If something else went wrong, and two consecutive missions saw the death of astronauts, or two out of three, same thing, NASA is fucked.

This is nothing more than simply giving people a sense of security. Not really the astronauts themselves as I'm sure they are confident nothing will happen, but more for the rest of the country.

NASA can't just say, "it was a freak accident that wasn't our fault, it's not going to happen again so we don't really need to do anything." If they don't have these rescue missions planned, that's what they'll be saying.

Re:Manned spaceflight? (3, Insightful)

BeerCat (685972) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523381)

Is this reliance on a back-up plan not just another example of a lot of Western society becoming increasingly risk-averse?

During an age of exploration, deaths were treated as a hazard of the job - Amelia Earheart's disappearance did not stop the aviation industry from developing. If the same thing happened today, there would be public outcry about how to make {fill in transportation mode} "safer" (= find someone to blame when things go wrong)

Keeping with the aviation parallels, Lindbergh would probably not have been allowed to take off today - single engine, no radio, no forward visibility and so on - and yet he is (rightly) credited with pulling off an amazing feat*, rather than "doing something foolhardy and dangerous"


* being picky, the amazing part was landing at his chosen destination (Paris), rather than flying non-stop across the Atlantic, as that had already been done back in 1919 by Alcock & Brown [aviation-history.com] . Or that he did it solo.

Re:Manned spaceflight? (3, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523247)

It took a hundred flights for the Columbia failure mode to occur. There has been no other flight where an in-flight emergency occured such that rescue might be considered.
>
>Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

The point is - like all Generals more concerned with keeping their stars than the welfare of the troops under their command - to fight the last war.

To understand NASA, you need to stop thinking like and engineer and start thinking like a bureaucrat or politician.

I advise reading the last Slashdot thread on "Political Software Development" while under the influence of large quantities of alcohol. (And if you're a NASA administrator and something goes wrong on your watch, re-read the thread while switching to Valium.)

Re:Manned spaceflight? (2, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523262)

Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

I wonder. A shuttle surely doesn't have to be on the pad and fuelled up. It just needs to be in one piece and launchable. They need to do this anyway for the next mission. It should be okay.

The only downside is it would slow down the rate that they can launch shuttles. They would have to have 2 in service per launch and only have one being refitted at the time.

Re:Manned spaceflight? (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523687)

The only downside is it would slow down the rate that they can launch shuttles.
Not the only downside, since it costs a lot of money to keep that extra shuttle on standby. Not a minor issue for the Shuttle program, which has always had a hard time justifying its costs.

Re:Manned spaceflight? (2, Interesting)

jerryasher (151512) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523660)

Yes, I don't know why I need a smoke detector, fire extinguisher, air bags or seat belts either. EXPENSIVE!!!

And don't get me started on inflatable ramps in airplanes, or life rafts in ferry boats. All of this is ridiculous given that the vast majority of people never need them.

Jebus, just realized that many buildings have automatic sprinklers, yet when I cruise around the city, I almost never see buildings that have burnt down.

Bastards at my apartment complex used sheetrock rated for a 45 minute fire. No wonder they charge so damned much for rent.

Fucking wankers on 9/11 used boxcutters (no evidence to that actually but that's a different rant). Now whenever I go to the airport, even my fingernail clippers are suspect. WHAT IS TSA THINKING?

After Sioux City Iowa, I understand the MD/Boeing and the FAA started rewiring DC10s and MD11s to make sure that all four hydraulic lines aren't routed along the same line. Talk about planning for yesterday's battles! As if! As if an engine would ever explode again. And no wonder those damn planes are so expensive. Can you imagine even putting in quadruply redundant systems in the first place?

Sheesh, you're absolutely right.

Wanker.

Rescue Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523058)

From all the dupes (fire the janitors)

Checking the rescue shuttle (0)

igny (716218) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523059)

If a crisis arises during shuttle Discovery's planned return to flight in May, Lindsey and a crew of three could be called upon to lift off aboard sister ship Atlantis on an emergency mission that would be the first in the history of human space exploration.

Wouldn't they have to check and double check the rescue shuttle, looking for problems which caused mayday? If searching and fixing the malfunctions in the rescue shuttle takes even just a few days, wouldn't this rescue be too late?

Atlantis? (0, Offtopic)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523061)

So, if the Atlantis were launched for such a rescue mission, how would it get back without a "zed-pee-em"?

Um. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523063)

Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved

You mean... like... while the giant fireball was consuming the ship? Or afterward, while the wreckage was falling toward the earth?

Rescuing Russians? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523080)

Hmm, I wonder if this system could also be used to rescue Russian, Chinese or even Europeran astronauts in orbit in the future, and if NASA would use it for this. This is surely the kind of thing that would be an ideal colabriative mission beteen nations.

Re:Rescuing Russians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523112)

Never mind the Russians for just a moment. I wonder if this system will be used to rescue American space tourists now that private enterprise is making forays into space?

Next Two? (4, Insightful)

vbdrummer0 (736163) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523086)

Woudn't it make more sense (humanly and logically, not necessarily financially) to always have a backup shuttle ready? Sure as hell, there won't be a screwup so soon after restarting flights; NASA won't allow anything to get off the ground this early with any problems at all; it would look bad for PR. But later, like in a few years, they'll have slacked up, and something could go wrong. Hopefully, they'll have a backup flight ready to go if/when that happens.

Re:Next Two? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523199)

So as far as I know launching a backup shuttle isn't just a matter of having people on call and having the shuttle maintenance done. They have to like transport the shuttles into place, and I think that takes like three days or something. The thing is big.

Then there is the shuttle maintenence. That's a bitch and a half. They practically rebuild the shuttle after every flight.

Re:Next Two? (1)

PornMaster (749461) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523309)

It's a good idea to wear a helmet, gloves, and knee and elbow pads every time you ride your bike, but you don't, do you?

Re:Next Two? (1)

vbdrummer0 (736163) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523466)

No, but I sure as hell would if ~7 other people's lives were at risk on account of my being cheap.

Re:Next Two? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523711)

you can't have a backup for the backup..

and finances are usually about logic.

I'd think the bigger problem is that the 'backup' shuttle is identical to the shuttle going up there... - see the problem?

Why not an escape capsule? (4, Insightful)

popo (107611) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523087)


Look at the size of the original orbital capsules. Excape capsules could be created that take up 1/2 the space, could survive re-entry, and easily fit within the cargo area. Wouldn't that be much cheaper than a sister shuttle at the ready?

Re:Why not an escape capsule? (1)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523137)

Or better yet, put a satellite with a reentry capsule stocked with food and supplies in orbit. In an emergency, the satellite could rendezvous with the shuttle, the astronauts could get in the capsule and return to Earth.

Re:Why not an escape capsule? (1)

AmigaAvenger (210519) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523170)

just because it is in orbit doesn't mean you can get to it. case in point columbia couldn't have gotten to the iss if it wanted to. fuel and time are the two biggest constraints, lack of either and you are done.

Re:Why not an escape capsule? (2, Interesting)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523213)

The idea was that the satellite could come to you.

Re:Why not an escape capsule? (1)

Servo5678 (468237) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523644)

The idea was that the satellite could come to you.

In Soviet Russia, satellite comes to...

Aw, screw it.

Must. Resist. Corny. Joke. (1)

BeerCat (685972) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523674)

Aww, too late...

This is one of these "Soviet Russia" satellites, isn't it

the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshell (4, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523212)

The whole thing was an overengineered government boondoggle. It didn't make sense then, and doesn't make sense now, while looking at it logically.

The motivations of the various parties are clear enough.

-NASA was politicking, they didn't want to have a situation like Apollo where the last few flights were eliminated because of changing conditions and or national boredom. A reusable craft almost demands use. They also wanted to create a consistent work environment rather than running a constant R&D shop. Government employees are not good at R&D, in general. Most R&D establishments in the military, for instance, morph into bureaucratic wastes of money over time due to the fact that government oversight doesn't lend itself to dynamic activity. If the unique, dynamic overseers of the project, those exceptional people who have drive and ambition within government, leave their posts - the project stagnates. NASA is no exception.

-The pilots wanted something aircraft-like to fly, damn the fact that it's not a useful shape for a spacecraft. That was the design spec, and safety was compromised to meet it.

-The politicians were throwing a bone to NASA and appropriated the funds based on the successful lunar missions. Oversight on this was near-nil, except for the dollar figure which was chopped in half, exacerbating the problem.

So they seized on an Air Force requirement regarding the capability to return payload from orbit, which ultimately has been used very infrequently, and used that as a justification to achieve all their other disparate goals.

They promised all kinds of capabilities such as quick turnaround which are bogus in reality. They promised cheaper per-flight costs. They promised greater safety. A lot was promised that never materialized.

Note that none of the real justifications for a reusable, aircraft shaped spacecraft had anything to do with science, advancing human exploration, or efficiency. Pretty much tells the whole story, no?

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

dafoomie (521507) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523410)

Most of the problems with the shuttle can be traced back to Nixon, he wouldn't fund it unless it could be used for launching and retrieving military satellites. NASA wanted a completely different design, and thought that the current shuttle would be insane, cost less in the short term but vastly more in the long term. Nixon didn't care about long term costs, because he wouldn't be in office anymore.

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523733)

I'm right there with you blaming Nixon initially, but there were many chances to alter the program - whether it was Ford, Carter or Reagan - they all had opportunities to rationalize the program.

The fact that none of them did gives each a measure of culpability, or more specifically makes their staffs culpable. Each had a political appointee at NASA who could have done something about it.

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523414)

Not a useful shape? They have to steer and slow down in the atmosphere you know. Or maybe you thought they landed at 10000 miles an hour?

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

MenTaLguY (5483) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523681)

That's exactly the problem. Non-airplane shaped craft are much easier to slow down and land, without all the complicated flight paths and associated steering requirements.

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523701)

Find me another manned spacecraft that has an aircraft shape. Buran [nasa.gov] 's only flights were unmanned.

Thank you for permitting my demonstration of your sophistry [google.com] .

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523430)

Actually one of the main reasons for it being aircraft shaped was that the Military wanted a craft that could return classified payloads not jsut to earth, but directly to a US territory, instead of splashing down in an ocean where it could potentially be stolen by a passing enemy ship or submarine. Hence the requirement for it to be able to glide and come into a controlled landing.

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523638)

The Soviets solved this with Soyuz. I'm sure we could have arrived at a different solution.

Re:the shuttle program from the start, in a nutshe (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523689)

Soyuz cant return a payload to earth... Plus it impacts at quite a rate into the ground, im pretty sure I read somewhere that thats one of the reasons Soyuz hasnt ever been adapted to reusable status, the stress placed on the frame. A glider would bring a payload back to earth nice and gentley.

Re:Why not an escape capsule? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523292)

Re-entry capsules aren't that big - but for one that could take the entire crew they would be heavy and cut down on available payload.

The solution that I'd love to see is *spacesuits* engineered to survive re-entry. Heck, I read a science fiction story about parachuting in from orbit over 10 years ago.

The best part is that you'd have people lining up to try it once you figured out how to do it safely and repeatably. The world record for highest parachute jump went supersonic on the freefall portion of the trip, so it would be a matter of working from there. Figure out the heat and strength requirements of the suit (hard or soft shell?), what techniques the jumpers would need to use (spread themselves out or tuck in?), work out the parachute protection / deployment details..

Michael: Not bound by ethics? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523098)

Posted by Michael : October 6, 2003 09:44 AM

Why I Just Deleted Something From the Comment Section

During the night, someone posted a comment to Slashdot: 'How Were You Fired?' that recounted an interesting personal story about a law firm that lied to its associates as it did economically motivated layoffs, telling the survivors that the departed were cut for quality rather than financial reasons. Eventually the poster him/herself got the chop.

It was a good read, but the poster had second thoughts after hitting the Post button and e-mailed me, asking me please to remove the item. And I just did.

I don't as yet have carefully worked-out policies for how I will deal with issues that may arise in the comments section. But I do know this:

1. I was satisfied in this case that the request to delete came from the actual original poster.
2. I don't consider myself bound by journalistic ethics here, just basic ethics. I am in any case somewhat suspicious of claims of role morality, which I intuit usually do more harm than good. But that is another, deeper pool.
3. I intend that my actions here be guided by considerations of fundamental decency. In this case the poster was worried (incorrectly I think, but that's easy for me to say) that the post might cause harmful consequences if the workplace was ever identified. No particular interest other than saving a readable and interesting item was served by keeping it. The balance seems clear.
4. I think I should disclose when I cut something, and I did so in what's left of the comment.

Similarly, were someone to post a commercial message, or something really vile, I would have little compunction about chopping it. Other than that, I don't have policies yet.

Hotly debated? (5, Insightful)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523109)

Rescue flights were hotly debated at NASA after shuttle Columbia broke up in the skies above Texas two years ago this Tuesday. Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved.

No, not unless rescuers were launched by a full-speed ICBM the very instant the shuttle broke up. Unless Houston can immediately get news of a wing break, this is a non-starter. Space travel is an inherently dangerous business--going into harsh atmospheres (if any atmosphere at all), lack of gravity and air pressure to keep you in shape, old and tough-to-maintain equipment in space shuttles, etc; I'm shocked there's any debate.

If I was an astronaut I'd be thinking about my two choices during any mission:

  1. I return alive after a perfect launch and mission.
  2. I'm fucked.

3. Things go wrong and I fix / work around them (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523218)

Surely Apollo 13 shows your dichotomy to be false.

Re:3. Things go wrong and I fix / work around them (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523295)

In that case, I seriously hope space shuttle rescues are/become as simple as a module jettison [si.edu] . It seemed like extreme luck there.

Dichotomy...forgive me, I'm a sucker for good English.

Re:Hotly debated? (2, Insightful)

nuclear305 (674185) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523243)

"No, not unless rescuers were launched by a full-speed ICBM the very instant the shuttle broke up. Unless Houston can immediately get news of a wing break, this is a non-starter."

You entirely missed the point. The question raised wasn't "Could the Columbia crew have been saved WHILE it broke up?"

Rather, it was "Could we have realized the problem while in orbit and kept the shuttle in orbit long enough to rescue the crew in some way?"

It's unlikely the crew could have been saved even if the severity of the problem had been realized since it would have taken days if not weeks to prep another shuttle.

This is why they're going to prep another shuttle for possible rescue--so that if something goes wrong and the crew has to remain in orbit, they can launch a rescue within a reasonable amount of time.

Re:Hotly debated? (1)

eraserewind (446891) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523738)

But the point is surely that they decided there was nothing to prevent Columbia from re-entering. The availability or otherwise of a rescue facility won't make a bit of difference once you have made that decision (or blocked people from gathering enough data to make it an informed decision).

Expensive Boondoggle (5, Insightful)

strelitsa (724743) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523120)

Isn't this a lot like retrofitting a rusted, worn-out '89 Ford Escort with front and side airbags, chrome wheels, and Corinthian leather seat covers? Pimp My Ride is fine for MTV but should not be practiced as US space policy.

The Shuttle has had its day. Stop sinking so many dollars into this antiquated, fragile, expensive money pit and design and build a space transportation system that belongs to this century, not the last.

Re:Expensive Boondoggle (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523239)

Isn't this a lot like retrofitting a rusted, worn-out '89 Ford Escort with front and side airbags, chrome wheels, and Corinthian leather seat covers? Pimp My Ride is fine for MTV but should not be practiced as US space policy. The Shuttle has had its day. Stop sinking so many dollars into this antiquated, fragile, expensive money pit and design and build a space transportation system that belongs to this century, not the last.

Exactly. Much of what's going on now in the space program is said ride-pimping and self-maintenance (horrendously underfunded [slashdot.org] self-maintenance at that) Combine space travel with tax cuts [ctj.org] and you'll see one of them just must go without perfect national conditions. Instead the U.S., like Microsoft, has lots of enemies worldwide, lots of security holes, and are now trying to create "rescues" like these for problems they helped make, by making strides sans foresight.

Unlike MS, the US has dug themselves in a budget hole, so it'll be tough to settle any of these trials/tribulations.

Twice the Problem (3, Insightful)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523123)

So, let me get this right. If, by some chance, the horribly overcomplicated shuttle breaks in orbit, we'll launch another horribly overcomplicated shuttle that *probably* has the same design flawas the first?

This is a perfect example of people trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

Since its introduction, two shuttles have been lost. That's about 15 years of operation per accident. I'd take thoes odds any day. But one fucking shuttle blows up because of a freak accident and then we have to spend millions of dollars to ensure the sound-byte-informed public that it won't happen agian.

It's just like that fucking terrorism thingy. We send billions on crap while more USians died on the roads in Sep 2001 ever died in terrorist attacks.

Pull your fucking heads out and spend the money where you can actually see some return.

Re:Twice the Problem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523287)

interesting points, but:

a) the chances that two shuttle would fail in a row is exceedingly small;

b) the brownie points of successfully doing the first in space rescue would be nice to have (damn shame nasa's management needs try #2 to get this idea through their heads);

c) shuttle launches are not really very much like terrorism.

Re:Twice the Problem (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523435)

They are independent events. There is no reason why they can't fail twice in a row. If the first one fails the probability of the second one failing is not magically smaller, it's the same. I would even argue that it is greater since the second launch would be a rush job.

Re:Twice the Problem (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523345)

It's just like that fucking terrorism thingy. We send billions on crap while more USians died on the roads in Sep 2001 ever died in terrorist attacks.

Yup, and of course a whole lot of those were due to basic human negligence. Not to be confused with trying to deal with people who proclaim that "Democracy is evil" and "we'll behead the families of those that vote." Happily, 60% of the people in Iraq just stepped up in the face of that terrorism to do something about it. Anything we can do to lessen the likliehood that you and I both die of smallpox, or can't ever go back to our hometowns during our lifetimes because they've been peppered with radioactive waste, or, or, or... this is an area that's not mutually exclusive with NASA's work, but NASA's work won't mean crap if, say, everyone at JPL or Kennedy gets smoked. It's worth both areas of work, and the orbital technologies that we're buffing up to help with the fight against these idiots works for NASA, too. There are a lot more rocket scientists employed than would otherwise be so long as we pump up our intelligence gathering and combat tools.

Re:Twice the Problem (2, Informative)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523458)

Your post is a bit contradictory. First, you seem to indicate that the rescue is useless because the second shuttle could fail too. Second, you say that the chance of losing a shuttle is very small. These two concepts don't fit together.

Two shuttle in fifteen years is not small, because the shuttle launches so rarely. There have only been a little over a hundred shuttle launches, so the rate of failure is something like 1 in 70. While this is fairly comparable to, say, the Soyuz system, Soyuz is much older and more mature, and its recent accident rate is significantly lower. The shuttle's safety record is not that great compared to other launch systems. Soyuz has survived the rocket exploding on the pad. Apollo survived a lightning strike during launch. The shuttle was killed once by cold weather and once by a chunk of ice. The accidents weren't freak, they were symptoms of a systematic failure in design and management at NASA. These are efforts at patching those failures, which does make a certain amount of sense, even if they aren't likely to fix the root cause of the problem (namely, the shuttle is badly designed and NASA management believes that it's invulnerable).

That said, I have to agree that the rescue mission is useless. If NASA were still serious about manned spaceflight, they'd have dropped the shuttle when Columbia broke up (if not way sooner) and developed a system that actually makes sense.

Isnt it a bit harder - (1, Insightful)

thewldisntenuff (778302) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523155)

Than just sending up a rescue ship? I mean, lets say at worse theres some catastrophic disaster that causes Ship A to be a total loss. How does Ship B ferry the rest home? Are the shuttles built and designed to hold and land with two crews? You create the potential for either overweight shuttles on re-entry, or you could cause loss of human life if they get bumped around enough on landing/re-entry. An okay idea, but I think wed be better off with solutions that either involve-

A- An escape module
B- A way to repair the shuttle while in space

-thewldisntenuff

Re:Isnt it a bit harder - (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523197)

Uh, if you lauch with no payload, there's no way in hell the crew weighs more than 65,300 pounds (Maximum Payload)

Weight and balance. (2, Interesting)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523315)



The Shuttle's return mode is as an Aircraft (glider) and as such it needs to keep its Centre of Gravity within acceptable limits.

Just adding 7 persons to the front-end of the shuttle would undoubtedly shift the C of G of an unladen craft quite a way forward. Whether this would go beyond the C of G limits I cannot say. The only obvious solution to the C of G problem would be pumping liquid stores and / or Hydrazine aft.

However, I do not believe they are intending to tackle this problem. My guess is that the first launches after return to service may only have crews of three or four, thus enabling a 'rescue' flight with a crew of three to come back with a total complement of seven.

The other issue with bringing back more than seven would be adequate seating to prevent the inevitable injuries which could occur during re-entry for an un-restrained person.

Put seating in the cargo bay (1)

kiore (734594) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523443)

"The other issue with bringing back more than seven would be adequate seating to prevent the inevitable injuries which could occur during re-entry for an un-restrained person."

Couldn't this be solved by create a sealed pod with additional seating that could be placed in the cargo hold of the Shuttle?

This could also be designed to remove the balance problem.

NASA employees have been flying first class for far too long. It's about time some of them got to try steerage.

Re:Isnt it a bit harder - (2, Informative)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523474)

While a typical shuttle crew is seven, it can be flown with only a pilot and copilot. The rest are there for the non-flight bits, like seeing whether ants can learn to sort tiny screws in space. Can they come back to Earth with nine? I don't know, but it's not quite as bad as having to hold two full crews.

But... (3, Insightful)

MavEtJu (241979) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523163)

But who is going to rescue the people on the rescue-mission?

Re:But... (2, Insightful)

ragnarok (6947) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523208)

The Russians.

Re:But... (1)

Baricom (763970) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523487)

...for a suitable fee.

CAIB Recommendations (4, Informative)

SlashCrunchPop (699733) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523211)

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board Recommendations [www.caib.us] say nothing about a rescue plan:

Recommendation One:

Prior to return to flight, NASA should develop and implement a comprehensive inspection plan to determine the structural integrity of all Reinforce Carbon-Carbon (RCC) system components. This inspection plan should take advantage of advanced non-destructive inspection technology.

This recommendation was issued because of the board's finding that current inspection techniques are not adequate to assess structural integrity of RCC, supporting structure, and attaching hardware.

Recommendation Two:

Prior to return to flight, NASA should modify its Memorandum of Agreement with National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to make on-orbit imaging for each Shuttle flight a standard requirement.

This recommendation was issued because of the board's finding that the full capabilities of the United States Government to image the Shuttle on orbit were not utilized.

Recommendation Three:

Before return to flight, for missions to the International Space Station (ISS,) develop a practicable capability to inspect and effect emergency repairs to the widest possible range of damage to the Thermal Protection System (TPS,) including both tile and Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC,) taking advantage of the additional capabilities available while in proximity to and docked at the ISS.

Before return to flight, for non-station missions, develop a comprehensive autonomous (independent of station) inspection and repair capability to cover the widest practicable range of damage scenarios.

An on-orbit TPS inspection should be accomplished early on all missions, using appropriate assets and capabilities.

The ultimate objective should be a fully autonomous capability for all missions, to address the possibility that an ISS mission does not achieve the necessary orbit, fails to dock successfully, or suffers damage during or after undocking.

Recommendation Four:

Upgrade the imaging system to be capable of providing a minimum of three useful views of the Space Shuttle from liftoff to at least Solid Rocket Booster separation, along any expected ascent azimuth. The readiness of these assets should be included in the Launch Commit Criteria for future launches.

Consideration should be given to using mobile assets (ships or aircraft) to provide additional views of the vehicle during ascent.

If they implement everything as recommended there is no need for a rescue plan and I doubt such a plan would actually work, it seems more like a publicity stunt to reassure the masses.

risk levels (1)

drp (63138) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523231)

I bet that NASA would be exponentially less expensive and more effective if they were willing to have the astronauts assume the same risk as your average NASCAR driver. It's extremely safe for what they're doing (whipping around at 200 mph, which is no small feat) and everybody involved knows the risks and still willingly participates.

Re:risk levels (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523436)

I'm pretty sure they sign a paper that makes NASA not responsible if they die.

Re:risk levels (1)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523491)

Does the average NASCAR driver have a 1 in 70 chance of dying every time they take to the track? That's what the current average risk is for a shuttle flight at the moment.

Rescue plans in place long ago? (4, Interesting)

AmPz (572913) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523326)

I'am quite sure I have read something long ago that there is in fact an agreement between the various space agencies in the world that if a crew is in danger, any agency with an available spacecraft will make a rescue attempt. I might be wrong. But it would make alot more sense to have an inter-agency cooperation regarding space rescue then for each agency to have backup spacecrafts and crews ready at all time.

Re:Rescue plans in place long ago? (1)

sjf (3790) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523714)

Which space agencies would they be ? They number of agencies currently able to put a human carrying flight tested launch into space is precisely two:
the United States and Russia.

China is close, but their technology is still very much in the development stage. Only the US and Russia have anything like the ability to launch an off the shelf vehicle with limited warning.

In fact, the US and the then Soviet Union agreed a common 'docking' arrangement in order to be able to provide mutual aid. Although, the SU was probably more interested in getting access to the US's superior (and more reliable) docking technolgy. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/library/report /1989/LCE.htm [globalsecurity.org]

My guess is that this is the agreement you're thinking of.
-S

Something's missing (1)

opec (755488) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523396)

Another rescue shuttle prepared in case the rescue shuttle needs rescuing.

Some caveats (1)

rijrunner (263757) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523406)


The main things to consider about this whole rescue shuttle thing..

1) That an emergency is spotted in time to allow for a stationary orbit to allow for docking.

2) That they have determined the cause of said emergency and it is a low probability of occurring to the rescue shuttle.

3) That the emergency occurs during the 2 least stressful phases of operation (launch and on-orbit) of the three phases of flight.

Probably the most important is the second caveat. Do you launch another Shuttle if you don't know if there is a systemic problem? Do you launch if it is low probability? Consider the foam impact issue. Foam impacts were more the norm than the exception. It's just none had led to vehicle loss before. What would the judgement call be in that situation? Launch now that you now know that the impacts can cause a loss of shuttle? To be honest, I am not sure that they would have launched a shuttle to rescue Columbia under the conditions at that time, even had they known fully in advance it would mean the loss of the shuttle and crew. At that point, many of the shuttle launches had been hit by foam, so the odds were the rescue one would be also and there was a demonstrated 1% loss rate related to foam impacts. They probably would have, but the possibility is there that a systemic problem could cause the loss of two crews and shuttles.

Speed (1)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523407)

Why not just slow down a bit before entering the atmosphere? I mean the shuttle is going thousands of mph and they come down red hot and like a bat out of hell. Why not try to have more fuel onboard and slow down more so you don't need as much protection against the heat. If you slowed down to the Earth's rotation you could just fall into the atmosphere with no heat, like the X prize contestants did. Maybe just scrub off some speed like they do now only do it longer.

Re:Speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523697)

Earth's rotational speed is about 17 times slower than shuttle orbital speed. The shuttle requires an external fuel tank plus two disposable boosters to get up to orbital speed; it would require a similar amount of fuel to get it back down to rotational speed. (In fact, that kind of mission would require much more than twice the fuel, because in addition to the launch and slowing-down fuel, you'd need extra launch fuel to lift the new slowing down fuel!)

Huge waste of money. (1)

nlinecomputers (602059) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523508)

The next two flights will be the most triple checked in Shuttle history as all eyeballs will be on NASA. It is unlikely that anything will go wrong on those flights. It's the 10th or so flight and beyond when NASA is again crunched for time and money when it gets extra dangerous. People will ignore and cover up things because they don't want to be the cause of a holdup.

Shuttle should never fly again and the money better spent on newer and simpler methods of getting man from ground to orbit. The shuttle's bad design make more accidents very likely.

I hope it works. (3, Funny)

Luke727 (547923) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523532)

2 down, 3 to go

My money is on Endeavour

Value of astronaut life? (0, Flamebait)

gumpish (682245) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523533)

Exactly where do you draw the line when it comes to the cost of saving a handful of high-profile people? (Astronauts.)

Are 7 so-so scientists really worth the tens of millions of dollars needed to launch a rescue mission?

Re:Value of astronaut life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11523757)


Are 7 so-so scientists really worth the tens of millions of dollars needed to launch a rescue mission?

If one of them is me, yes.

obligatory monty python reference (1)

RJNFC (541996) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523720)

"Just launch the five shuttles" - "Three shuttles, sir!" - "Right, three shuttles..."

zerg (1)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 8 years ago | (#11523722)

I'm more curious about how many people on the rescue team have read The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint [edwardtufte.com] ?

(If you haven't already, go grab a copy. It explains how PowerPoint killed the Columbia astronauts, and if that doesn't drive the message home, I don't know what will...)
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