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Private Space Shuttle Flights

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the discovering-a-challenging-endeavour-for-enterprise dept.

NASA 244

An anonymous reader writes "It has recently been suggested that when the Space Shuttles are retired after their final flights this year, they may continue operations under the funding of private enterprise. United Space Alliance is considering a $1.5 billion per year proposal to take the fleet private. The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years, and NASA is retiring them for good reason. Is it safe to continue flights in private hands?"

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The Dept. (1)

Bardez (915334) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131060)

Is the department really in good taste? I'm ambivalent about it.

Re:The Dept. (1)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131342)

Why do you think it is in bad taste? It's a pun on the names of some of the Shuttles. Sure, Challenger is referenced, but Columbia is not, so the quip is not primarily referencing shuttles that blew up. It's just referencing shuttles.

Safe? (1, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131078)

Was it all that safe in government hands?

Re:Safe? (1, Insightful)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131098)

You payz yer money; you takez yer chances.

Re:Safe? (2)

capo_dei_capi (1794030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131226)

More like the investors take ter chances, investing in this enterprise (no pun intended).

Re:Safe? (2)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131190)

Is space flight at the present development of the state of the art ever safe? There has to be some risk, if really high tech stuff is to be developed. I'd trust private industry over the government any day of the week.

Re:Safe? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131364)

I'd trust "the most reliable means of space travel ... the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world" [esa.int] (but hey, you're free to trust private enterprises, they don't ever cut corners after all, no sir)

BTW, the final mission to Mir of the above spacecraft was privately funded IIRC, so that's not a new approach...

Re:Safe? (2)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131752)

Umm.. are you deliberately trying to be ironic?

You *are* aware that the Soyuz is operated by a "private enterprise" right?

They even have a website. [energia.ru]

Re:Safe? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131968)

In post-Soviet Russia, "private industry / enterprise" has a bit different meaning to you... (not only because they are a very direct descendants of... / supply only some parts of the puzzle / the whole party is by Roskosmos)

Re:Safe? (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131384)

I believe the standard reply to your post is "why trust a corporation with a profit margin to protect when you can trust a government that's unafraid of wasteful spending?" The number of lives lost in the US space program is paltry compared to certain attempts to get into space on a cost-cutting budget [youtube.com] . If there's a place in the universe where wasteful government spending is preferable to a "get it done" mentality, surely it's when so many lives are at stake if a rocket fails to launch correctly.

That being said, the private industry for space launch vehicles has been very efficient and reliable for launching satellites, but a shuttle is a very baroque piece of hardware with many points of potential failure. You also have the people factor: the NASA engineers who work with the shuttle today have been operating it for decades. That's either a lot of rehiring or a lot of lost experience.

Re:Safe? (3, Interesting)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131408)

Ah yes, the "private enterprise does things better than the government" meme. It is unfounded, of course, but sounds really good. This time, it's being applied to 30 year old space vehicles built for the government then operated and maintained by them (two of which suffered catastrophic failure, BTW). By some magical force (the Invisible Hand, perhaps), private enterprise will not only make them work better than ever before with a truly spartan budget, but with wealthy civilian passengers onboard!

1) Propose some bullshit idea to privatize a government function
2) Shut eyes really tight and repeat some capitalistic mumbo jumbo (any one will do)
3) ???
4) Profit!

Re:Safe? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131766)

Both catastrophic failures were due to the launch method rather than vehicle maintenance. Side mount for the lose!

Safe is a relative term (4, Interesting)

hellfire (86129) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131228)

Space travel is dangerous in general. Until private space travel takes off (no pun intended) we won't have a good set of figures to find out which is relatively safer, private space travel or public, and even then, private travel will have made it's way on the shoulders of publicly funded research into what was basically unknown until people were willing to take a chance.

I'm sure we can create a relatively useful and beneficial private space industry going with open minded entrepreneurs willing to cooperate with straightforward and intelligent government oversight. I hope that doesn't get in the way of summary's anti-business rail and the parent comment's anti-government hard-on rage he was going for.

Re:Safe is a relative term (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131278)

Until private space travel takes off (no pun intended) we won't have a good set of figures to find out which is relatively safer, private space travel or public

No legal business could survive for long if it killed one customer in fifty with their first purchase.

Re:Safe is a relative term (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131396)

The risk of death for open heart surgery [syracuse.com] is approximately 1/50. And you don't even get a refund!

Re:Safe is a relative term (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131504)

The risk of death for open heart surgery [syracuse.com] is approximately 1/50. And you don't even get a refund!

Perhaps, but they're presumably going to die without it so they're better off with a 2% chance of death. I doubt anyone is going to die any time soon because they couldn't go on a space tourism trip (absent aliens promising to cure cancer or whatever).

Re:Safe? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131274)

Was it all that safe in government hands?

When it is in private hands and someone gets hurt, the 'enlightened left' will dust off their "Corporate Greed" accusation book, thrown extensively at BP, to call for an endless series of conflicting demands. All leading to taking money away from the investors.

Re:Safe? (-1, Flamebait)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131652)

Was it all that safe in government hands?

When it is in private hands and someone gets hurt, the 'enlightened left' will dust off their "Corporate Greed" accusation book, thrown extensively at BP, to call for an endless series of conflicting demands. All leading to taking money away from the investors.

blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...blah...

Re:Safe? (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131456)

Space is deadly dangerous in all but the hands of God and perhaps Hollywood, so of course not.

Big RC tugs (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131084)

Convert them to unmanned drones. Save money by removing the life support systems.

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131168)

I like this....would make a nice reusable transport system for carrying up big stuff.

Re:Big RC tugs (3, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131322)

Payload to orbit of STS is in the range of quite a few other launchers. Nothing "nice" about system which ends up more expensive than them, and wastes ~90 tons of mass to LEO on airframe.

Re:Big RC tugs (2)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131186)

Ahh! You mean like the Boeing X-37B:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37 [wikipedia.org]

Hell of a craft. All the pros of the shuttle, with none of the cons.

Re:Big RC tugs (3, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131282)

...and boosted to orbit as a payload of expendable launcher (with Russian main engine, to boot)

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131466)

How does a Delta II or Atlas V qualify as a Russian Main Engine?

Re:Big RC tugs (2)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131708)

Fine: Soviet, basically - better? (really, next time, before replying, check what one of the rockets that you mentioned (and the only which lifted X-37 so far) uses as its main engine...)

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131244)

I doubt you would save much by removing Life support. You may gain a bit of payload.
Making it a UAV would be pretty easy. It is already FBW so adding the control system would be pretty easy.
Boeing has a bunch of cost saving improvements that where never funded that they could probably apply if they didn't have to make it man rated. Things like removing the APUs and replacing them with electrical systems.

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131806)

It's not the life support hardware in of itself that would save money in payload space. It's not having to spend that time testing and verifying *safe* functionality of said life support hardware. That's where the real money will be saved.

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

GCPSoft (1176501) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131332)

Buran was remotely controlled, so no big deal with that approach...

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131394)

Remotely commanded is probably better wording?

Re:Big RC tugs (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131412)

If only the life support system was the reason for the expense of the Shuttle, it not delivering on any of main points as advertised, and large expense per launch...

$1.5 billion? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131090)

I'm sure that with that kind of budget something better than the shuttle could be developed, at least for the uses they mentioned in TFA

Re:$1.5 billion? (2)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131302)

Just imagine what Scaled Composites would be able to do with $1.5 billion!

Re:$1.5 billion? (4, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131448)

Just imagine what Scaled Composites would be able to do with $1.5 billion!

I was thinking of Ariane [wikipedia.org] , those $1.5 billion would buy twenty flights, each sending twenty tons to low-earth orbit.

Re:$1.5 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131430)

Maybe the problem was that there was this huge budget? NASA had a push a couple decades ago for cheaper, faster, better.. It wasn't a complete success, but there were a lot of good things that came out of it, including the rovers and some other tech.

Someone one explained how the shuttle got to be the way it was... Hundreds of groups wanted features. The only way to do this was to strap a really big rocket to the side. Then lots of other systems had to be beefed up.

In the hands of private enterprise many things would probably happen:
1) The manned shuttle would be scrapped.
2) Cheaper tech would be developed to put satellites into space. It's still fundamentally a difficult endeavor to put machinery into space, but our current thinking assumes you need a big rocket so that's how it's done. Maybe a cargo plane could be used for part of the journey.... Maybe dozens of smaller satellites could be deployed rather than massive single satellites? It's sort of like having a large truck.. It can carry anything so you don't think of getting a bicycle because the truck can carry stuff..
3) Land prices in Merritt Island, FL will skyrocket.

Re:$1.5 billion? (1)

cheetah (9485) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131468)

Last I had heard the estimated cost per shuttle flight was over $1 Billion. Due to the way NASA does accounting they don't put out an official cost per flight. When the program started they wanted to be flying the shuttle every 2 weeks. The program was always going to be costly year over year but the idea was that with many flights we would be getting a great value. As the program has flown less flights per year the costs have gone WAY up.

So when I heard that they wanted to do this for $1.5 billion per year I was wondering how they do it... looking at NASA's budgets they spent $3.1 billion on the shuttle last year and another $724 on Space and Flight support. I don't see how a private company is going to strip that much cost from the program.

The FY2011 Budget which includes past years.
  http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428837main_NASA_FY_2011_Congressional_Justificaton_Budget_Book_Rev-01_BOOKMARKED.pdf

Calculated risk (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131116)

Is it safe to continue flights in private hands?

Probably not while maintaining the current track record, no. But I can guarantee that many, many astronauts and potential astronauts would find the risk entirely acceptable.

New Shuttle! (3)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131122)

If I can wave the magic wand, I would have NASA build a new Space Shuttle by learning to do it better the second time around. Of course there's arguments winged vehicles are limited and retro spam cans are safer (though water landings are dangerous, almost lost Grissom), however, there are limits to parachute size.

OK so the Shuttle has its flaws but so did the Tri-Motor. But that didn't stop engineers from building a better airplane, they nailed a useful design with the DC-3 and some of them are still in service! In the late 70s and in 80s, it was said if NASA spent more on development, the operational costs would have been lower (and perhaps could have eliminated some inherent dangers of non-stoppable boosters, foam shedding, and other scary stuff).

Re:New Shuttle! (3, Insightful)

publiclurker (952615) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131172)

The big problem with the shuttle is that they had to give it a huge payload in order to get the military to sign on and get the necessary funding. If they were to start again using modern technologies, they should be able to create something smaller for human launches that is both safer and cheaper.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131372)

that's just it the shuttle has never done one the of the key features it was designed for. bring back to earth the really big satellites.

Personally I say NASA keeps one shuttle, one tank, one pair of SRB's, etc ready to go, and in 5 years when it is time to retire the hubble for the last time. go retrieve it.

Every Astronaut, scientist, and engineer will gladly come back to NASA for a short time to make it happen.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131688)

That's some expensive sentimentality.

Especially when you consider the scientific legacy of the thing (that is, the science produced using Hubble is far more interesting than the dead instruments).

Re:New Shuttle! (5, Insightful)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131840)

Why? Retrieving Hubble would make no sense at all.

99.9% of its cost was just getting it into orbit to begin with. If anything, it would make MORE sense to give it one last hard shove AWAY from the Earth once it's about to become uncontrollable, so that N years from now, somebody can go salvage, refurbish, and put it back into service. Maybe tow it to the moon, Mars, or somewhere else. Or turn it into an orbiting shrine or tourist attraction someday.

Then again, I was rather relieved when NASA got the loony idea of asking the Russians to sign off on its plans to deorbit the ISS after its official service life is over in 2014, and the Russians politely (but firmly) made it known that they intend to keep it in orbit (with duct tape & WD-40, if necessary) until the day they literally can't stop it from falling into the Pacific. We might be insane enough to buy into the accounting profession's madness that an asset whose full lifecycle cost has officially been zeroed-out is now without value and must be disposed of immediately, but the Russians still recognize that they have a really, really expensive asset in a valuable location that cost an unholy amount of money to get there, and they're going to wring every last ${currency-unit} they can out of it before writing it off and abandoning it.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131902)

They might not abandon it for quite some time (at least in the style of Ship of Theseus...) - gradually morphing their segment into "new" station [wikipedia.org] (an official spacedock this time, apparently)... which seems only like a good approach.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131854)

Launch two or three new Hubbles (just on expendable boosters this time) for the same cost, please?

(maybe the ability to bring back space weathered junk was not such a great thing after all...)

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131508)

Yup, that's what most people never realized.
The main purpose of the shuttles was to carry HUGE military payloads into space.
Everything else was gravy.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131966)

The big problem with the shuttle is that they had to give it a huge payload in order to get the military to sign on and get the necessary funding.

They'd have ended up with a huge cargo capacity anyhow - as the original plan with the Shuttle as the people carrier and a separate heavy lift booster as the cargo carrier never came to fruition. NASA was already moving in that direction when the DoD came onboard.

If they were to start again using modern technologies, they should be able to create something smaller for human launches that is both safer and cheaper.

Safer? Probably not. (The Shuttle is pretty much as safe any capsule.)
 
Cheaper? Almost certainly, but you get what you pay for. A compact car is a lot cheaper than a pickup truck, but it's also much less capable and less flexible.

Re:New Shuttle! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131490)

Most "retro spam cans" landings were on the ground (yes, there are limits to parachute sizes - but far after sensible limits of crew and hence capsule size; plus there are other landing systems possible...)

Why "retro", anyway? Have we forgotten that spaceplanes were the mode of space travel in scifi of 30s, 40s or 50s? (no doubt influenced by rapid advances in airplane technology) How the blunt ballistic shape came out as a bit of a surprise, after long domination of dreams with spaceplanes? (on which many Shuttle designers and decisionmakers were no doubt raised, so there might have been a problem with pushing ... perhaps not particularly good idea; kinda like those "airplanes" from our times [goo.gl] (we can even build them! Start with a Harrier, remove wings and canopy...doesn't mean it's a good idea), no doubt influenced by advances in marine tech; vs. "retro" [wikimedia.org] ; not many flying boats around, too)

"all we got" department (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131150)

nothing else flies except Soyuz. and won't for several years (unless you're a spook working off-budget and have a friend at Vandenberg AFB.) it's a slickly clever plan to push the danger and the responsiblity out to a contractor. it will, by necessity of course, succeed.

Re:"all we got" department (3, Interesting)

Alereon (660683) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131476)

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft have already conducted successful orbital and reentry operations and will be performing resupply missions to the ISS this year. As you mentioned, there's also the Soyuz for crew exchange missions until the Dragon is man-rated, and both the European Space Agency and Japanese Space Agency will be operating unmanned resupply operations, in addition to the Russian Prospekt missions. The reality is that we're not suffering from any gap between our space transport needs and available capabilities, attempts to convince the American public otherwise are simply transparent cash-grabs by the military industrial complex (Boeing, Lockmart, and the other contractors that make most of their money building things that go boom), supported by Republican congressmen in love with pork.

Re:"all we got" department (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131608)

nothing else flies except Soyuz.

Want to fly to space? Learn Russian.

and won't for several years (unless you're a spook working off-budget and have a friend at Vandenberg AFB.)

Not Vandenberg, but maybe the Secret Squirrels at Groom Lake (aka, Area 51) have something up their sleeves. But I wouldn't bet on it. A hobby pilot in Texas told me about "scramjet" sitings around the area, all rumors of course, but who knows. Probably the Kremlin is better informed than the American public about this. The Russians are very smart. Their spy motto is, "Why pay for an expensive spy satellite, when we can bribe a disgruntled scientist for a fraction of the price for better information?"

it's a slickly clever plan to push the danger and the responsiblity out to a contractor. it will, by necessity of course, succeed.

Yeah, that outsourcing risk worked wonders with BP and Tony Hayward in the Gulf of Mexico. Hey, maybe he is looking for a new job? Could we convince him to take a ride in a spacecraft, that his own company built? Probably not.

Old Space Shuttles (1)

jacouh (1991750) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131170)

I'll not let my daughters to take those trips.... Good luck!

What's the point? (2)

outlander (140799) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131176)

What is the purpose of re-using them? Is it purely as a space tug, or a space cargo shuttle that has self-guided re-entry, or is it something else? It seems to me that a lot of the stuff we do in orbit doesn't have to be staffed with humans for everything,....I mean, why else keep making software do new stuff?

(Yes, I want space tourism. But I kinda doubt it'll happen in my lifetime; the logistics and geopolitical issues conspire to make it bloody unlikely that governments will allow civilian space tourism....)

Re:What's the point? (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131260)

(Yes, I want space tourism. But I kinda doubt it'll happen in my lifetime; the logistics and geopolitical issues conspire to make it bloody unlikely that governments will allow civilian space tourism....)

Er, what [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:What's the point? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131330)

(Yes, I want space tourism. But I kinda doubt it'll happen in my lifetime; the logistics and geopolitical issues conspire to make it bloody unlikely that governments will allow civilian space tourism....)

Er, what [wikipedia.org] ?

He meant "civilian space tourism for cheap"

But as things are going, we will never afford to leave this rock, because the big companies want to run us dry.

Re:What's the point? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131590)

But as things are going, we will never afford to leave this rock...

Maybe from a bit different reasons. Even with generally easy terrestrial travel... most people tend to die close to where they were born. If we ever venture outside Earth... I don't see why that would change; migrations might actually be even rarer - not to mention space tourism. Not very efficient compared to how we can already send thousands of humans (or materials to make them) miniaturized and in deep hibernation [wikipedia.org] , so genetic diversity wouldn't be a problem.

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131594)

He meant "civilian space tourism for cheap"

But as things are going, we will never afford to leave this rock, because the big companies want to run us dry.

No worries, after more than one will figure out how, the launches will be outsourced to China - tickets to be sold at Wall-Mart.

Re:What's the point? (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131754)

He meant "civilian space tourism for cheap"

No he didn't. He meant "any civilian space tourism at all". He said that governments would not allow it. Which as you know is completely bogus as it has already happened and no government has stopped it.

Re:What's the point? (2)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131334)

What is the purpose of re-using them?

To keep the ATK money train rolling.

Absolutely safe (1)

KugelKurt (908765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131182)

Private enterprises would never ever sacrifice security to cut costs

Re:Absolutely safe (1)

anom (809433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131436)

Just like the government never would (has) either!

Re:Absolutely safe (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131668)

Which is why every private transport company has been a security disaster. Wait, nope it hasn't. Being unreliable and lethal tends to be bad for business and as the industry matures it's sure to be updated with security regulations.

If you want safe then strapping yourself on top of tons of rocket fuel to be shot up into space probably isn't the best idea anyway, the margins before something goes catastrophically wrong are slim no matter who runs it.

That said, I think the Shuttle is a rather poor business case. With something like SpaceX you can feed yourself launching satellites which only carry an economic risk, then use your most conservative and trusted designs for human transport. The Shuttle is just too expensive for that.

Will OSHA Approve? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131188)

If they fly them as a private business with US employees, will they be subject to OSHA requirements?

It would fall to the FAA (3)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131218)

To determine the airworthiness of the shuttles. Then the real question would be whether or not the FAA could possibly gather the balls to issue airworthiness and pilot certificates. It's a very interesting question. If it could be done, it might greatly speed the privatization of space.

Should have been retired 24 years ago... (-1, Troll)

Super Dave Osbourne (688888) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131232)

In honor of those lives lost in 86, the billions of dollars spent to try and keep America at the front of a futile space race, and millions starving instead of being fed to do so, the fleet should have been grounded a LONG time ago. I hope America focuses on what is really important, and that is to serve its people, the folks that make things work and tick well in this country. NASA is a pig, a money pit, we all know it. Yes, some tech comes from it, but so great tech comes from other things as well... So, why is it that NASA has such deep pockets and its a private enterprise already? Going 'private' is not going to happen, it is already private with FAT government spending and waste. The bricks are not safe, thus being retired.

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (4, Insightful)

Anubis350 (772791) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131450)

I realize you're probably a troll, but I'll bite (if for no other reason than you have an awesome UID

In honor of those lives lost in 86 [...] the fleet should have been grounded a LONG time ago

I'm pretty sure that none of the people whose lives were lost would consider it an honor for the fleet to be grounded. Pilots, researchers, and anyone else who undertakes to get onto a giant chemical rocket pointed up accepts that there's some risk, and they accept it willingly. This isn't a job at McDonalds that people take because they have no other choice, this is a job that highly skilled and motivated people take, despite (relative to what many of them could be doing in private industry) crappy pay, shitty hours, and lots of hard work. Not to mention that all told space travel under NASA has been exceedingly safe, being a commercial pilot would, in fact, likely be riskier to life and limb, it's just that when things go wrong with space flight in it's current state they go *wrong*.

and millions starving instead of being fed to do so [...] NASA is a pig, a money pit, we all know it

NASA is such a tiny portion of the federal budget that the idea of calling it a money hog is laughable. No one is starving because of the shuttle program, and the basic research NASA has produced has, in fact, helped farming methods, food safety standards, food packaging and shipping technology, food processing technology... etc. Not to mention that your argument is a false dichotomy, the only two things the govt spends money are not NASA and food...

Hell, if we'd funded NASA better we'd probably have a shuttle replacement flying by now.

it is already private with FAT government spending and waste

Uh, what?

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131526)

NASA's budget is a fraction of the size of many other programs that are funded by the government; claiming that it is the reason people are hungry and poor is disingenuous at best. The Shuttle was a stepping stone; a "proof of concept" if you will. It was designed for boosting things into relatively low orbits around the Earth, and did fairly well at that task. It was also useful for establishing a long-term habitat in orbit - another stepping stone to bigger and better things. Cancelling the entire program "in honor of lives lost" would not have honored those lives. Their lives were lost in the pursuit of something bigger, something greater. Turning away from that challenge to bemoan fate and pick at navel lint "in their honor" would seem a poor way to remember them.

The Shuttle fleet WAS grounded a long time ago. The program was very nearly killed a few times, as Congress and the news media looked for places to lay blame for a tragedy. It was grounded, but eventually allowed to start back up when new safety precautions and tests were put in place. You don't improve by quitting after a failure, you improve by picking yourself back up and learning from what went wrong.

Is there waste, graft and corruption in NASA? Possibly. Okay, probably. I challenge you to find any organization of that size where no such thing exists. Heck, there aren't many organizations of ANY size that can claim to have perfect report cards. Deep pockets though? Hardly. If they were deep, they wouldn't worry about shutting down the Cassini-Huygens, Voyager or Hubble programs due to lack of funds. The machines still work, but you have to pay for the people, equipment and electricity to keep the programs running here on Earth.

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (0)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131738)

NASA's budget is a fraction of the size of many other programs that are funded by the government; claiming that it is the reason people are hungry and poor is disingenuous at best. The Shuttle was a stepping stone; a "proof of concept" if you will. It was designed for boosting things into relatively low orbits around the Earth, and did fairly well at that task. It was also useful for establishing a long-term habitat in orbit - another stepping stone to bigger and better things. Cancelling the entire program "in honor of lives lost" would not have honored those lives. Their lives were lost in the pursuit of something bigger, something greater. Turning away from that challenge to bemoan fate and pick at navel lint "in their honor" would seem a poor way to remember them.

The Shuttle fleet WAS grounded a long time ago. The program was very nearly killed a few times, as Congress and the news media looked for places to lay blame for a tragedy. It was grounded, but eventually allowed to start back up when new safety precautions and tests were put in place. You don't improve by quitting after a failure, you improve by picking yourself back up and learning from what went wrong.

Is there waste, graft and corruption in NASA? Possibly. Okay, probably. I challenge you to find any organization of that size where no such thing exists. Heck, there aren't many organizations of ANY size that can claim to have perfect report cards. Deep pockets though? Hardly. If they were deep, they wouldn't worry about shutting down the Cassini-Huygens, Voyager or Hubble programs due to lack of funds. The machines still work, but you have to pay for the people, equipment and electricity to keep the programs running here on Earth.

I think Mr AC's sentiment is pretty much what I was thinking of posting, so here it is.

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131554)

Billions? Billions gets you one aircraft carrier or one B-2 bomber.

In the grand scheme of things, Billions isn't such a big deal really.

Wiping out NASA won't magically balance the budget or allow us to afford every entitlement you can think up.

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (2)

oracleguy01 (1381327) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131556)

I take it you don't consider space exploration important. Despite what you think, space exploration should be something near the top of everyone's list to worry about.

Why? A multitude of reasons, firstly the perpetuation of the species. If we can live in space and/or on another planet, say Mars. In the event of a major widespread illness or natural disaster, there would be enough people living on another planet to survive. The second reason is population, with 7 billion people on the planet it is getting pretty full, we need new places to expand. Thirdly, natural resources, we can probably find lots of much needed natural resources on the other planets in the solar system.

Being able to have space stations in orbit or other places in the solar system would allow for the safe R&D of dangerous technologies, for example if research on infectious disease could be done on a space ship or space station, in the event of an accident they wouldn't risk the entire planet.

Plus space exploration has a major trickle down effect on a lot of other industries. For example long range (like to go to mars) space ships are going to need efficient long term power generation, food production and high speed communications, compact life support systems, all that technology can be applied to other areas here on earth. Not to mention all the jobs it can create since people need to design and build that stuff.

All those rockets NASA burned up during the Mercury program to get a working launch vehicle that could send an object into orbit paved the way for all the satellite systems we now enjoy.

As for the people that died in 1986, while tragic and completely avoidable, we have to realize some people are going to die pioneering this frontier. Sure NASA has been caught twice now (Challenger and Columbia) taking some safety for granted but that is a fixable problem. If you think they should have stopped in 86 because of the loss of the Challenger, they should have stopped after the Apollo 1 fire killed three astronauts. But it didn't stop them, they figured out what went wrong and made to design changes to prevent it happening again. And with Challenger while being negligent in authorizing the launch, afterwards they did redesign the O-ring system to better prevent the issue from happening.

Re:Should have been retired 24 years ago... (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131842)

Houston, we found a creationist here.

Is it safe? No. (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131268)

So what? As long as the risks are duly disclosed, people should be able to buy dangerous goods and services for themselves.

Re:Is it safe? No. (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131370)

Tell that to the farmers who will have burning debris falling from the sky.

Another victim (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131482)

Tell that to the farmers who will have burning debris falling from the sky.

OK! I will! Tell us exactly which farmers were burned?!

And I'll also tell that to all the little children who have been burned and molested by, not only the astronauts but by all the the aliens brought back by the shuttle! And let's not forget all the other made up tragedies that you've pulled out of your ass ...

Oh, Let's not forget the space shuttles that have flown up your ass causing you such horrrrriiiiible harm! Boo hoo! You're a victim of anal space shuttle launches!

Timing is Everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131272)

As long as they always launch on the first days of July.

Maybe BP will consider buying it. They could send up the corporate board for special G20 reunions. No pesky protestors. Or so I've heard. ;>

"Unsafe at any Speed" (1)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131290)

I wonder what Ralph Nader would say? The Corvair has a better safety record than the Shuttle program.
The Shuttles weren't safe when they were new. Now with countless millions of miles on the odometer, they really didn't improve with age. Sure many improvements were made over the years, but the whole system was flawed from the beginning.
Put them out of their misery and get them to the museums before there is another tragedy!

Re:"Unsafe at any Speed" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131360)

I wonder what Ralph Nader would say? The Corvair has a better safety record than the Shuttle program.
The Shuttles weren't safe when they were new. Now with countless millions of miles on the odometer, they really didn't improve with age. Sure many improvements were made over the years, but the whole system was flawed from the beginning.
Put them out of their misery and get them to the museums before there is another tragedy!

Oh. My.God.

The shuttles were safe... they are safe ... compared to the Apollo program or any other rocket program. As a matter of fact, I'll state with utmost certainty that the shuttle program is the safest in the known Universe without a doubt.

Re:"Unsafe at any Speed" (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131428)

But don't you get it? Private industry will run them! They know how to run things on time, on budget, and with a fantastic safety record! Not like that mean old incompetent government. What have those socialist assholes ever done?

Re:"Unsafe at any Speed" (3, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131472)

In the Shuttle's defense, I must say it has much better acceleration and a much higher top speed than the Corvair. Oh, and it flies too!

The fundamental flaw in the Shuttle design was putting the booster tanks beside the Shuttle instead of below it. It's successors won't make the same mistake.

Newsflash for you: Space Travel is NOT Safe! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131620)

That's right.
It's dangerous out there.
Mankind is just still in the infancy of space travel. Getting from ground level to low earth orbit is not a ride to the corner supermarket in your momma's Camry.
Heck, even just getting up to the edge of space (not orbit) and safely back down to Earth like Rutan's Space Ship One did is fraught with peril.

The best we can do yet is to make calculated and managed risks with the space technology we have yet developed. And those risks are orders of magnitude greater than the risks of everyday terrestrial travel, or even travel via commercial or private aircraft thru the skies.

Still, I would take the risk and go into space in a heartbeat, if I were offered a chance and somebody else was footing the bill.
Even in a tired, old, commercially operated retired Space Shuttle.
Heck, I'd even do it in a Russian spacecraft.

Obligatory (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131892)

In Soviet Russia the space mission aborts you!

No way. The infrastructure is gone. (4, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131300)

Won't work. The Shuttle required a huge infrastructure, employing about 15,000 people as late as 2009. Layoffs have been underway for years. Manufacturing and repair facilities have been closed down. The parts stock has been depleted. It's over.

Re:No way. The infrastructure is gone. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131464)

Well, yes this proposal is a long shot....but it is coming from the Boeing/Lockheed-Martin joint venture that has been operating the shuttle facilities for many, many years and that knows the parts, workforce, and infrastructure better than anyone else. USA plans to use spares from one orbiter to keep the other two running. LM's Michoud Assembly Facility folks say they can churn out new external tanks within 24 months, and have some part-built ones (ET 94, 138, 139) that can be available faster. PWR is willing to continue to build and refurb SSMEs if demanded (they've reopened the production line for small runs as needed in the past few years). ATK is indicating they will reluctantly agree to continue building more 4-seg SRBs if there is no lucrative contract for them to make new 5-seg SRBs, but competitor Aerojet wants to make a bid for this business too.

Re:No way. The infrastructure is gone. (1)

KugelKurt (908765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131492)

No problem. Private investors would outsource the service work to India and/or China anyway.

free money for old tech (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131320)

If I got rigth what TFA said, there is a company down there in florida, which will loose a lot (all?) revenue when the shuttle program ends. What they are proposing is to use tax money that are dedicated to development of new technology to study for 6 months if they can fly two of the four old shuttles for 1.5B/year (also tax money) for NASA. They are not proposing any savings (1.5B/2 shuttles=3B/4 shuttles) and they are not developing any new tech. The only valid point they have is the job security of their employees.

Refresh (2)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131344)

I have often wondered how much it would cost to build new shuttles? The technology is better now, cheaper, and there are plans obviously. No expert here, just a question.

ULA doesn't know how to estimate costs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131350)

good luck flying them for $1.5B/year.... averaged over the life of the program, shuttle launches cost around $2B EACH. The costs ~$500M come from taking years with 7 flights and 6 flights and subtracting the costs - i.e. it only includes variable costs.

30 years? (3, Informative)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131374)

The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years

That's a little disingenuous, while Discovery and Atlantis are from the original fleet are 27 and 26 years old respectively, Endeavour was a replacement first used in 1992 and therefore only 19 years old. Note that ALL of the current fleet have gone through significant refits. If I recall there were two refits for Discovery and Altantis and one for Endeavour.

and NASA is retiring them for good reason.

True. Nobody expected the program to go this long without a replacement. Up until the 80s and the Shuttle NASA had been fairly aggressive with new R&D. It's really easy to point fingers and assign blame, but quite frankly the hope and dream of the 60s has long been buried in bureaucratic mismanagement and budget cuts. There are a lot of people at NASA who, if given a budget and a free rein, could inspire us again.

I really feel sorry for the under 30 crowd who never got to see the Apollo missions. Personally the only one I remember is the Apollo/Soyez linkup but being a kid in the 70s you had the impression that things were happening and that the future was in spaceflight...

Re:30 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131856)

For my generation (I'm 21), the ISS had a certain grandeur to it during some of the early assembly missions. It's unfortunate that there hasn't been better PR from NASA about the station - it's really quite a feat that we have it up there.

Not a bad idea (1)

tool462 (677306) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131388)

With the estate tax (aka "death tax") in place, this could be a fantastic source of funding for the gov't. Every time there's an accident and one of the billionaires on board dies, half their estate will go to the gov't and half to their heirs. NASA could use these funds to pay for the shuttle replacement program.

Re:Not a bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131488)

Every time there's an accident and one of the billionaires on board dies, half their estate will go to the gov't and half to their heirs.

Do you seriously believe this? You've never heard of trust funds or privately held corporations that just happen to employ one's heirs? Wealthy people write the laws, which is why they don't pay taxes.

Why the shuttle? Use the Russians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131422)

If the shuttle is down to the single function of servicing the space station, why not throw that 1.5 billion to build capacity/redundancy with the Russians who seem to be doing a better job cost/safety wise. Unless we're taking up another or servicing Hubble.

In the end, United Space Alliance will win as they get a cheaper "buy american" spin off, lets NASA go on to bigger and better programs, and saves the embarrassment of having Russia having the sole ability to service the ISS.

An act of desperation (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131426)

While I doubt USA (the company not the country) has a lot of options, this reeks of desperation. The Shuttle has huge flaws and liabilities that don't go away merely because you transition its operation to private hands.

1) There are only three Shuttles (one which has been mothballed). Lose one and it's the end of the program. Who would develop a $1 billion probe that could only be launched on the Shuttle, knowing that there's a double digit chance that the Shuttle ends through accident by the time the project is ready to launch?
2) Even as $1.5 billion a year, that's $750 million per launch. For payload, that's $20k per kg. Everything else that the US has is much cheaper than that per kg and per launch, even the Delta IV Heavy.
3) There's no reason to expect the Shuttle to achieve this cost goal. NASA manned launch contracts typically are low balled by a factor of two or more. Given that the current cost of the Shuttle is $3 billion per year and the bid cost is $1.5 billion, I think it likely that we'd see little in the way of cost savings.
4) You have to restart significant portions of the Shuttle assembly line. The external tank (ET) and Space Shuttle main engines (SSME) manufacture have been completely shut down, for example. They'd have to rehire a bunch of people.
5) There's little need for the Shuttle and its capabilities. The biggest feature, "downmass" (or moving stuff from the ISS to the ground) can be covered with the ATV, HTV, or Dragon. And after the Shuttle ends you have some part of $3 billion per year freed up to perfect these other approaches.

In summary, while the USA proposal crosses one of the key Shuttle privatization hurdles (actually finding someone to do it), it still doesn't make sense.

Why not? (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131494)

Only a couple of shuttles blew up due to poor maintenance while they were publicly run; how much worse can it be when the maintenance budget is managed by someone trying to actually make a profit?

Why not build new shuttles? (1)

the_mind_ (157933) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131584)

Why does NASA not build new shuttles of the old design? The material and the actual building cost must be only a fraction of the original development cost.
It can't be because of it being an "old outdated design" or "unsafe" as they have been using them all this time. And with the 20 years of lessons and experience gained there must be some minor changes that will improve them.

Yeah sure, a newly designed shuttle/rocket/whatever probably would probably meet today's needs better. But a newly built old space shuttle is still better then nothing at all

And it surely must have been many times cheaper than the Constellation program mess.

Economics of space flight (3, Interesting)

steveha (103154) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131604)

There is no way a private company could keep the shuttles flying and make any sort of profit.

Even when they were brand-new, the shuttles needed an insane amount of work to service them after each flight. According to Henry Spencer, in postings on sci.space, it took a "standing army" of NASA employees months of work to prep a shuttle for the next launch. The main engines need to be pulled and overhauled, tiles need to be inspected and damaged tiles replaced, and I don't even remember all the details.

I remember he said it takes a million signatures to launch a shuttle. As in: work gets done, someone runs down a checklist and makes sure everything is good, and someone signs off that the work is complete. That, times a million.

As others have noted here, the payload capacity of the shuttle is rather large, which isn't actually that useful most of the time. On the other hand, the shuttle can only reach a low orbit, which is also not ideal. So basically a shuttle flight can lift a stupidly large payload to low orbit, then it needs man-centuries of maintenance before it can do it again.

Adding spice and excitement is the chance the shuttle will be destroyed during the mission. (The people on board might or might not die: historically each shuttle lost has killed everyone, but one of the exciting failure modes would be for the landing gear to fail and the shuttle skid to a stop, never to fly again.) Henry Spencer estimated that the shuttle is only 99% likely to avoid being destroyed, which is terrible odds. (I believe he made that estimate after Challenger and before Columbia.) The shuttle has had 132 missions and two catastrophes; I have no reason to think it has gotten safer since then. (Yes, lessons have been learned and applied, so I shouldn't expect the exact same catastrophes again. But what other catastrophes might happen with an aging space shuttle?) Also according to Henry Spencer, if two tires on any single landing gear arm blow out during landing, that would total the shuttle (probably without hurting any astronauts). That has never happened, but one tire blowing out has, more than once.

As many have said for many years, what we really need is a "space pickup truck". There are times you want a giant moving van, but much of the time you are better off with the smaller capacity pickup truck.

What we really need is a launch vehicle that can take a small payload (one single ton would be plenty for many useful purposes) into orbit, then land, be minimally serviced, and then do it again tomorrow. You could ferry people and supplies up and down quickly and easily. You could have one or even several on stand-by to launch in case of some sort of emergency. You could send large things up in modules, and connect the modules once in orbit.

The ideal reusable vehicle would be a "single stage to orbit" (SSTO) design. You want your space pickup truck to have as low a total cost of operations as possible, so having pieces fall off it during launch is a complication you want to avoid.

If you must, do a two-stage to orbit. Some serious proposals have called for two manned vehicles, docked, with one lifting the other part-way up and then a pilot flying it back down while the other vehicle goes the rest of the way to orbit.

I believe that, when we get our "space pickup truck", it will have been developed by private industry. Armadillo Aerospace, SpaceX, XCOR, and various others are trying various things, and after enough generations of prototypes, somebody will get an affordable system for moving things and people in and out of space.

Many things become possible once you have cheap and reliable access to space. For example, if you want to send people to Mars, you would do well to ship fuel, oxygen, and other supplies up in a bunch of little cheap flights, rather than trying to do the Apollo thing of having a complete and self-contained system launch from Earth.

steveha

Keep one in space (4, Interesting)

tekrat (242117) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131614)

Every illustration, poster, image, of a "space station" produced from 1975 to 2007 showed a docked shuttle. Usually it was some "expanded" version of the ISS, and there was always a shuttle in those images, docked.

I propose we keep one in space. Send it up unmanned, remotely piloted (or send up a single pilot, who's return flight will be provided by the Russians), and keep it docked to the ISS.

This way, the ISS has an "emergency boat" or escape craft if something goes extremely wrong. Furthermore, as Apollo 13 showed us, it's good to have an extra "lifeboat" that the crew could evacuate to if there's a problem aboard the ISS that can't easily be fixed.

It could be both an escape pod and an extra shelter. We know that seven people can fit on the shuttle's living quarters and you can bet the folks up there would appreciate the extra space.

Plus is has it's own O2 scrubbers, fuel cells, and could even be used as a tug to boost the ISS into a better orbit someday. Why throw it away? That makes no sense if we've already got people up there.

excuse me? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131800)

The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years, and NASA is retiring them for good reason.

What would that good reason be? Just because they share the same name and basic design as something that started flying 30 years ago? The design *has* evolved, you realize, right? There *have* been updates.

The Russians are still flying Soyuz. It is a design that's closing in on 50 years old. Should they stop flying it just because it's an old design, despite the fact that it is the most reliable manned space system?

The Boeing 747 was designed in the 1960 and first flew in 1970. A standard 747 airframe is expected to do about 20,000 takeoff-landing cycles and last 25-30 years of daily service. Many of the currently flying airframes were built in the 1980s. Should we junk the entire fleet, too?

The Mars Rovers have lasted well, well beyond their mission lifetimes (about twenty times longer, in fact). Should they have been shut down after 90 Martian days just because they would have been old at that point?

Just because something isn't new and shiny does not automatically mean that it is no longer fit for its designed purpose. It also does not automatically mean that nothing has been done to improve the design.

That said, there are some good reasons that the Shuttle program needs to be shut down now, primary among them being that the program has been in process of retirement for a long time and it would not be possible to reverse that process to continue the program without excessive expenditure. My wholly uneducated speculation is that the proposed $1.5B per year is a gross underestimate because I have yet to see any large project that isn't off by an order of magnitude in the initial numbers. But suggesting by innuendo that the fleet needs to be retired just because it is old is broaching on sophomoric.

liability/crew? (1)

onionlee (836083) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131810)

who would be the crew and who would be mission support? i doubt many of the government employees would decide to leave government employ and miss out on their future pension checks.

also, who would be liable in case of an accident? would it be nasa's fault for giving them "faulty equipment"? or could the company even be held liable in the case of an accident in space?

If the Phoenicians where as scared as the US is... (1)

orionpi (318587) | more than 3 years ago | (#35131828)

If the Phoenicians where as scared as the US public is of making a dangerous voyage they would have been forgotten. We can't make the most complicated machine ever built, built by the lowest bidder as safe as a minivan. Then again, if you consider accident risk per mile, the auto industry has a high standard to match. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We've learned a lot, thank you. Park em. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35131972)

Wikipedia indicates that the incremental cost-per-flight is $60M per flight, and assumes that the three remaining shuttles remain operable. (With a regrettable and perhaps inevitable tendency to become inoperative ... suddenly.) The original disaster potential was estimated during shuttle development at one every 75 missions.

I say park 'em, and admire the program for the amazing ride that it has been. (Expensive, incredible, dangerous, exhilarating, and more - regardless of whether you are pro or con.)

My nickle going forward is on Scaled Composites and Sir Richard.

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