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Thu Jun 4, 2015, 06:09 PM

Mourning the loss of the Space Shuttle "NASA's 40-year embarassment"

Margaret Lazarus Dean mourns the loss of the space shuttle, NASA's 40-year embarassment. Author Margaret Lazarus Dean joins the ranks of other authors who've written about America's space program. Her book: Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight, celebrates and mourns the space shuttle years.

Margaret Lazarus Dean, an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, loved the shuttle more than most. She loved it so much that she attributed distinct personalities to the individual vehicles. Columbia was “bumbly, a chunky older sister forever dropping crumpled tissues from her sleeves”; Challenger “the fuzziest, friendliest of the orbiters”; Endeavour “a quirky cousin from another country.” She loved the shuttle program so much that over and again in 2011 she forsook her students and husband and young son to drive the 700 miles between Knoxville and Cape Canaveral and witness the surviving shuttles’ final launches. She loved it so much that she wrote a book about these trips: Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight. A memoir of technological obsession, it reminds us that even when a machine fails by all other criteria, it can still succeed erotically.

Like so many obsessions, Dean’s began in pain. After her parents’ divorce, she spent childhood weekends with her father at the National Air and Space Museum, marveling at the high-tech relics and thinking that “despite their long and growing list of appalling limitations, grown-ups had at least done this: they had figured out how to fly to space.” On a film shot by shuttle astronauts she saw Judith Resnik, fourth woman in space, destined to die in the 1986 Challenger disaster, floating asleep and surrounded by the dark ringlets of her hair: “I fell in love.” In a passage that reads almost like Freudian fetish origination, Dean explains that her obsession began there, with “the air-conditioned, musty smell of Air and Space … a space-scarred Apollo capsule, the floating black curls of Judith Resnik, and my father’s calm voice.” Dean grew up, became a writer, and wrote a first novel about Challenger and a NASA engineer’s daughter. When the shuttle’s retirement was announced, she knew what her second book’s subject would be.



I can relate! I've loved the dream of space since childhood. I loved the shuttle when it was just a dream; I listened to NASA films (this was before the days of video) with Wernher von Braun describing the shuttle, rolling his 'r's as he described the orbiter. I was part of an organization called the L-5 Society, inspired by the work of Princeton physicist, Gerard K. O'Neill.

L-5 Members had high hopes for the shuttle and the proposed shuttle-derived vehicles. It was to be the vehicle that opened up space to routine travel. Gerry O'Neill did much of his work on space manufacturing using cost estimates for shuttle-derived vehicles. There were numerous studies about using space shuttle tanks as building modules for space stations and crew habitats.

And we were continually disappointed, sometime tragically. We mourned the loss of the Challenger crew. We were continually disappointed to find that the shuttle didn't really fulfill any of its promises:
  • It was supposed to fly 36 times a year; there weren't more than 7 launches per year, usually less.
  • It was supposed to bring down the cost of reaching low-Earth orbit; it turned out be be about twice as expensive as the old reliable launchers like Delta and Atlas.
  • It was supposed to make space travel routine and safe; there were two fatal accidents, giving a shuttle astronaut about a 1.48% chance of dying on any mission.

Given all that, like Margaret Lazarus Dean, I still loved the shuttle. It democratized space, opening it to a much wider slice of humanity than Apollo, including older Americans like 54 year old Dr. William Thornton, Dr. Sally Ride, our first woman in space, and Col. Guion Bluford, first African American in space.

That large payload bay was never completely filled; it was supposed to carry up to 60,000 lbs. It never carried more than half that; nevertheless, it allowed for historic firsts like the repair of the Solar Max Mission spacecraft in 1984, the Hubble Telescope servicing missions, and construction of the International Space Station.

With all its failings, I loved the shuttle, celebrating its achievements, and mourning the deaths of brave astronauts. The hope of routine access to space lies in the future. Maybe we will finally become the space faring species that we hoped shuttle would make us; but, that's not assured.




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Reply Mourning the loss of the Space Shuttle "NASA's 40-year embarassment" (Original post)
LongTomH Jun 2015 OP
JDPriestly Jun 2015 #1
jeff47 Jun 2015 #8
MicaelS Jun 2015 #16
Warpy Jun 2015 #2
delrem Jun 2015 #3
msongs Jun 2015 #4
Gloria Jun 2015 #5
Thor_MN Jun 2015 #13
Duppers Jun 2015 #18
AlbertCat Jun 2015 #6
Gloria Jun 2015 #7
Cleita Jun 2015 #9
phantom power Jun 2015 #10
n2doc Jun 2015 #11
Johonny Jun 2015 #12
hunter Jun 2015 #14
eppur_se_muova Jun 2015 #17
SoLeftIAmRight Jun 2015 #15
caraher Jun 2015 #19

Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 06:30 PM

1. Was it a victim of Republican cheapness?

The Space Shuttle program, officially called the Space Transportation System (STS), was the United States government's manned launch vehicle program from 1981 to 2011, administered by NASA and officially beginning in 1972.

. . .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_shuttle_program

I'm asking? So much of our infrastructure that is not directly used for the military has been diminished by the Republican tax cuts and attempts to "starve the beast" of our national government. Was this also such a case? Or is the blame to fall elsewhere?

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Response to JDPriestly (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 07:43 PM

8. No, it just was a program that didn't make sense.

You have a $2B orbiter. Each engine costs $40M. Re-using the engines is risky. So do you risk the $2B to save $120M?

(They did have massive inspection and re-certification process by the end of the program, but it didn't save that much over the cost of new engines, since the construction of the engines also got cheaper over time.)

Basically, you've got this giant vehicle you are running in and out of Earth's gravity well. That's hard and expensive. And "it worked last time" isn't sufficient for turning the shuttle back around quickly.

So it just didn't make sense compared to "old-fashioned" disposable rockets. It's a lot lighter (and thus cheaper) if nothing or a small capsule is all that has to return to Earth.

That being said, the Shuttle program was extremely helpful in trying to figure out how to do re-usable spacecraft in a way that made sense.

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Response to JDPriestly (Reply #1)

Mon Jun 8, 2015, 02:32 PM

16. Partially...

The original design called for a two piece fully reusable system. Nixon cut the budget for that, partially because he hated the space program as it was a legacy of Kennedy and Johnson, partially to tame inflation. If we had the fully reusable system we would not have had the Challenger disaster.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 06:31 PM

2. 40 years at the dawn of space travel and with only two massive disasters?

I'd call it a damned good track record instead of an embarrassment.

It was definitely time for a redesign. I've been in a decommissioned one and there really wasn't room for much of anything, especially the crew. It looked a lot bigger from the outside than the inside.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 06:46 PM

3. NASA's budget

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

Read it and weep.
Read about the $8.5 Trillion "lost" by the pentagon while blowing crap out of the ME and tear your hair out in agony.

Priorities, brothers and sisters.
Yes, NASA isn't schools and infrastructure, but the scientific advancement that accompanies it is indisputable, and $8.5 trillion can be spent in a lot of places it wasn't, *including* schools. Not only that, but the world-spanning acclaim engendered by the peaceful pursuit of science, education, health and well-being, is the *only* counter to the "anti-Americanism" engendered by despicable wars of choice.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 06:58 PM

4. given the millions of miles traveled, they were safer than driving a car nt

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 07:02 PM

5. OH, I LOVED the Shuttle and saw the Endeavour as it flew over

Las Cruces on its way to LA a few years ago.

Here's the video...it is really quite moving. You will see the wonderful Organ Mountains that I see from my backyard

I stood on the dam right under it as it flew by with tears in my eyes. It first flew up to NASA, then came around and flew over the city, out to the west...

It was the thrill of a lifetime!!!! The large complex as it turns toward the dam is the assisted living place my mother was in at the time.

This video gives me chills every time I watch it...the background music is perfect...the cello/viola? at the end is heartwrenchingly poignant ....to tell you the truth, watching it yet again, I'm tearing up right now.



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Response to Gloria (Reply #5)

Fri Jun 5, 2015, 08:07 PM

13. I had a similar experience at Daytona Beach in college, spring of 1982

 

I was 30 yards off shore, in waist deep water, standing next the father of my girlfriend when we heard cheers form the beach. After the reflexive pulling in our stomachs, we realized they probably weren't cheering us. They were all looking up, so turned around and saw Columbia riding on a 747 down the coast to the KSC.

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Response to Gloria (Reply #5)

Fri Jun 12, 2015, 04:51 AM

18. similar experience here too.

I was within 600' to 700' (VERY close) when the piggyback duo descended at NASA Langley Research Center/ Langley AFB, Hampton, VA. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it was thrilling. Cannot remember the exact year but I think it was in the mid-90's.

Langley's main runway ends near N. Armistead Ave. Over the years, I've driven right by when one of these F Class planes was taking off and flew directly over me. Wow, can you imagine one of these dudes flying just feet above you?! I've loved the air shows at Langley when these planes seem to climb vertically, almost from takeoff. First time I saw that, I couldn't close my mouth. There were many pilots living in our neighborhood and we got to know them but wasn't fond of their early a.m. "wake-up" low fly overs.




Btw, DH has worked at NASA LaRC ~36 yrs. He traveled down for launches but sadly, I did not get to go, not even once. Oh, the stories....like in 1/28/86 before going into work, he told me that it was too cold for the Challenger to fly that morning. The uppity-ups had to have known that too, but yes, there was political pressure for the launch to go forward. He worked for awhile to solve the Shuttle tile bonding issues. There were always cuts to the programs, especially during the rethugs' regimes.


This Leland Melvin, one of our friends, who worked in my hub's branch for awhile, before being accepted into the astronaut program. He loved his doggies!



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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 07:04 PM

6. I wasn't obsessed, but I loved "Voyager"

 

And of course as a kid I did't make model cars. It was the late 60's! I glued together a Saturn 5 as tall as I was then, the the Lander and the Orbiter fit in. It all came apart the way it did in reality and the lander and orbiter could dock.

One problem is sending actual people into space is really more dangerous than it's worth. Instruments are smaller lighter and can detect things humans can't. Feeding them is easier.

Voyager just didn't grab most people like the Apollo moon flights.... for some insane reason. Probably the no astronauts factor.... and the time factor.

All these things made it easier for the GOP to make NASA seem (like art and music) an expensive luxury for a small elite group and not worthy of funding.

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Response to AlbertCat (Reply #6)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 07:14 PM

7. OH, I was in love with VOYAGER as well!

I would try to imagine that little craft all by itself so far away from home...

You might enjoy this post I did about the Pluto Horizon Mission!

https://insightanalytical.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/im-part-of-the-new-horizons-missions-final-approach-to-pluto-happenin-now/

I have some pictures in the post that are from an old childhood book about space...projecting space flight in the 70's...from the vantage point of the late 1950's!!

My name is on the disk on the craft....getting close now!!!!!

Also, I adored ECHO (and saw it) as well as TELSTAR (bought the 45 rpm record...still love that!)

Telstar by the Tornadoes....


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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Thu Jun 4, 2015, 09:49 PM

9. I remember being jolted out of bed before dawn with the sonic booms when

the shuttles were scheduled to land at Edwards AFB. That seems so long ago.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Fri Jun 5, 2015, 10:00 AM

10. I'm mostly embarrassed that we had nothing to replace it with

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Fri Jun 5, 2015, 10:31 AM

11. Still hasn't been surpassed

All the private companies and other countries still haven't surpassed it's capabilities. No private company has sent people into orbit. The Russians are using 1960's era tech. I am sure Space-X and the rest will go past this in the next few years, but people who love to denigrate the shuttle fail to understand just how difficult a thing it was to pull off.

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Response to n2doc (Reply #11)

Fri Jun 5, 2015, 11:10 AM

12. Really depends what you mean

Even the Saturn surpassed it in many ways. The shuttle never got beyond low Earth orbit and never would. Both Atlas V, Delta II and Delta IV have much better turn around times and launch schedules. They also do most of what needs to be done in space. Had the US waited to launch satellites on the shuttle our launch schedule would be forever in a day. People bash 60s technology but in space if it works people use it because working is really a good feature to have. It is sad that people focus so much on 10% of our space capability (the man stuff) and so little on the 90% of space and make silly claims. The shuttle was the most expensive way to launch something into space, no one will ever do that again for a reason.

Right now the industry is booming with ideas like never before now that the shuttle dollars are freed up: and the shuttle like all of space is a combination of private industry, FDRCs, the Air Force, and NASA. I hope space stays that way and doesn't become a monopoly of one company...

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Sun Jun 7, 2015, 11:00 AM

14. Launching astronauts on the same vehicle that carried cargo was nuts.

There were plenty of people who knew that from the start.

The KISS rule (Keep it simple, stupid) is the best way to launch humans into space.

Cargo can be replaced, an individual human is unique.

Go ahead, get crazy with the cargo vehicle, and launch and return it unmanned.

But launch humans with the safest, most reliable equipment you've got.

The shuttle was a magnificent failure.

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Response to hunter (Reply #14)

Thu Jun 11, 2015, 09:13 AM

17. Yeah, that was my feeling from way back.

Ships, trains, trucks, airplanes: don't book passengers on cargo runs. No reason for spaceships to be an exception.

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Response to LongTomH (Original post)

Sun Jun 7, 2015, 09:47 PM

15. The real story is never told...

 

The Air force and intelligence services were allowed to dictate many designs conditions so that they could make use of the shuttle. NASA wanted a two stage smaller system that was less expensive and still make use of Apollo type heavy lift engines to get the big stuff up. Doing both jobs with one vehicle was a big mistake.

Sad part... the money from the other agencies never came and they made little use of the force design.

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Response to SoLeftIAmRight (Reply #15)

Fri Jun 12, 2015, 06:47 AM

19. Right

The whole thing was about politics as much as engineering. Basically it came down to: you get one crewed space project; what will it be? You can't do a space station without a way to get there, and you can't let it just be military or just civilian.

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