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NASA Claims Readiness for July 13 Launch
July 1, 2005 12:03 PM   Subscribe

NASA says shuttle is ready for July 13 launch, but doubts remain. With two catastrophic failures marring the Space Shuttle's safety record, many people fear that the coming launch of the shuttle Discovery could turn in to a billion-dollar fireworks display. While NASA is optimistic about the coming mission, an independent panel of aerospace executives, academics and former astronauts are not. They concluded that NASA has failed to fully implement three of the fifteen return-to-flight recommendations made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) in August 2003. While we wish the astronauts a safe and uneventful journey, serious doubts remain as to NASA's competency to continue carrying mankind to the stars. Perhaps our best hopes now lie with private ventures such as Scaled Composites?
posted by nlindstrom (20 comments total)

 
Perhaps our best hopes now lie with private ventures such as Scaled Composites?

Very possible, but maybe our problem is also with politicians who lack vision (note: I'm not necessarily advocating the Bush Mars program, but I am pro-NASA in general for manned space exploration).
posted by Drylnn at 12:22 PM on July 1, 2005


Perhaps our best hopes now lie with private ventures such as Scaled Composites?

You mean Scaled Composites can actually acheive orbit and deliver payloads on the scale of the Shuttle?
posted by c13 at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2005


Perhaps our best hopes now lie with private ventures such as Scaled Composites?

Wait... you're not sure about NASA performing to 100% of actual regulations and requirements, so let's instead consider a private company?

You mean Scaled Composites can actually acheive orbit and deliver payloads on the scale of the Shuttle?

Well, you know, it's not exactly rocket science.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:46 PM on July 1, 2005


To clarify, Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne has achieved only sub-orbital space flight, at an altitude comparable to NASA's old X-15 program. Given how far beyond economical it is to send people into orbit, I doubt private enterprise will tackle the problem with any seriousness in the near future.

Of course, it is obvious that the Shuttle program has lost its way, and indeed was seriously flawed from the get-go. See this prescient article by Gregg Easterbrook -- written in 1980, it's amazing how well he foresaw the specific problems the shuttle program would experience.

I'd personally argue that, as an older but well-maintained system, the shuttle is safer now than it ever has been, since hordes of bugs have been ironed out over the past 20+ years.

Space flight is hazardous. Astronauts who sign up to strap themselves to the space shuttle's liquid-fuelled torches are participating, with full knowledge of the risks, in an inherently dangerous exercise. If we want to keep going to space we need to aknowledge that the risk is there, and that, on a long enough timeline, we're going to lose some crews despite good management and good technology.

I think it's worth the risk. Hopefully enough Americans feel likewise that a shuttle replacement becomes politically tenable.
posted by killdevil at 1:02 PM on July 1, 2005


I'm all for a shuttle replacement. But if one doesn't materialize (and I'm pro-spending-lots-of-money-in-space) the shuttle should stop flying anyway. The shuttle is reusable in name only; it actually costs more to run (it has to be completely taken apart and put back together after each flight) than non-reusable rockets did. But because it's so heavily subsidized, it undercuts private space flight. Just a shitty program in general.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:13 PM on July 1, 2005


How about just giving the space program over to Omni Consumer Products, then? Or maybe the geniuses Dell hired who can't get a simple box (for a repairs shipment) to my apartment in two tries? How about giving it to Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers? Or any number of America's fine air carriers?
posted by raysmj at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2005


There's no real scientific basis for persuing manned spaceflight so the government should stop funding it and stick to exploration than can provide an actual scientific research value.

If there are other, non scientific reasons for putting people in space, then let private industry pay for it.

While they're trying to figure out how put men 100 miles into space NASA can keep putting robots on other planets.
posted by obfusciatrist at 1:48 PM on July 1, 2005


obfusciatrist: One could argue that there never were any scientific reasons for manned space flight. The reason it stuck around was its popularity with the public, wasn't it? It was a fundraising tool of sorts.
posted by raysmj at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2005


Here's Mike Griffin (New NASA admin) on the 3 recommendations that weren't carried out:

Mike Griffin: The CAIB recommendations in their full scope are recommendations and they are not all implementable. I said this - literally - on my first day in office - you can beat me all you want - but you can't make me smarter than I am. Many have tried. [laughter] We do not know how to effect a tile repair within the sphere of the CAIB recommendation. Now, the recommendation itself is fine. It's a great recommendation, you know: see if you can figure out how you can fix tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon on orbit. Great idea. We haven't been able to do it. So, unless someone walks in with the magic recipe some time in the next few days, we're going to have to sign up to launch Discovery and Eileen Collins and her crew without having complied with that recommendation because we can't. And that is one example - there are some others.

Again I'll say what I said before: I've been in this business 35 years. I've served on a lot of failure boards - unfortunately because they don't call them "failure boards" because it was a great day. I've headed failure boards. Failure boards parachute in, they study the situation, they study the organization, they make recommendations, and then they pull the ripcord and jump out. And that's what they should do. And no one has recognized this more publicly and firmly than Admiral Gehman. Admiral Gehman has been very clear - these were our recommendations at that point in time. Use them as you think best. And we are absolutely doing that.


As with anything, I think it is all about reality. If we waited until everything was perfect, then we would never actually do anything. So you go with what you think is reasonable, and thats what I think they are doing. Read more here.
posted by spaceviking at 4:41 PM on July 1, 2005


As a space scientist I definitely think science is an important reason for space exploration. But I also think to ball up all of our justifications for space exploration into a scientific rationale is a mistake.

There is a reason we do space exploration not space science. Science is definitely a significant part -- and should be so. But it's the exploration part that is important-- and exploration without actual humans involved is extremely limited. Until we can design robots that can see, feel, hear, taste, think and react like humans, robotic exploration is pretty pathetic.

Just look at the Mars Rovers, these things have been outright successes in the view of any pro-robot advocate, but they've been on Mars for more than 1 Earth year and still haven't accomplished what a geologist could do in a day. I think they've each driven about 3 km in one year. A human could do it in two hours. It takes days to analyze and drill into rocks, a human could do that in minutes....etc.

Its more than just efficiency though, exploration (of any kind) is a spiritual journey as well-- it transcends the actual experience and links into our subconcious minds, it expands our imaginations and challenges us to become more than we are. Without it, we are just another decaying society being slowly destroyed by fear, greed and corruption.
posted by spaceviking at 4:55 PM on July 1, 2005


I don't think replacing bureaucrats with pointy-haired bosses is going to do much good. In fact, the communist-designed (Although some might argue that it is a joint US-Soviet design, due to possible Russian espionage of a General Electric Apollo design.) Soyuz spacecraft is safe and relatively economical to use, just not as fancy as the shuttle.

For a glimpse of what private space-travel might look like: Big Dead Place has interesting and humorous stories about US Antarctic bases, operated by Raytheon Polar Services. Many of these involve ridiculous micro-management from the main office, people unwilling to report injuries due to losing bonuses or employment and managers in general acting like middle managers everywhere do.

Oh, and what spaceviking said about the necessity of manned space travel.
posted by lazy-ville at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2005


Its more than just efficiency though, exploration (of any kind) is a spiritual journey as well-- it transcends the actual experience and links into our subconcious minds, it expands our imaginations and challenges us to become more than we are. Without it, we are just another decaying society being slowly destroyed by fear, greed and corruption.

Exactly. But if its not obvious to begin with, its not really worth discussing.
posted by c13 at 6:57 PM on July 1, 2005


There's no real scientific basis for persuing manned spaceflight so the government should stop funding it and stick to exploration than can provide an actual scientific research value.
Oh yeah, look who the fuck is talking.
posted by c13 at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2005


I'm all for manned spaceflight when the technology allows us to get to mars, but for now it's a complete waste of money and lives.
posted by bardic at 7:19 PM on July 1, 2005


OK, maybe that was a little harsh, but really, obfusciatrist , do you know what you're talking about? Do you really think you know better than people who dedicated their whole careers to science? Or, even more to the point, do you know what "actual scientific research value" is?

On preview: bardic, how, in your opinion, do we get to have technology that allows us to get to Mars? Other than spending money or lives?
posted by c13 at 7:24 PM on July 1, 2005


Money I can handle, but the cost in lives, at this point, is ridiculous.

How, in your opinion, is sending up an aging (perhaps obsolete?) shuttle prone to disaster going to help us get to mars? The science is going to happen on the ground, hopefully sooner rather than later.
posted by bardic at 11:45 PM on July 1, 2005


The ISS provides us manned spaceflight experience that could never be replaced by research on the ground. The ISS can't run fully using only russian launches, so the shuttle is needed if we are to continue research into manned spaceflight right now. Exploring is dangerous and it can't really be made very safe. I for one think that exploring space is worth the risk and I'm pretty sure everybody whose job it is to go to space agrees.
posted by lazy-ville at 12:35 AM on July 2, 2005


I'm all for space exploration, but what's the hurry? Send robots to do the easy stuff. In fact, why not improve robot technology to do ever more complex tasks? And that might even benefit terrestrial science for deep sea or volcanic exploration. I just don't see the necessity of sending people first when robots can potentially do some fraction (25%, 50% 90%?) of the job with less risk of human life. Basically, I think the "human touch" is over-rated in space exploration -- especially when the humans we send up there really only get to feel the inside of their own space suits.

IMO, there are higher priorities in science. I believe serious attempts at "BioSphere" projects are more important. And such experiments would actually be the stepping stones towards 'real' space exploration, so that we can create self-sustaining capsules for space travel! Why are we messing about with ISS programs that need constant maintainance and supplies? Shouldn't we try making a mini-ecosystem that we can send up -- "Set it and forget it" style -- and only worry about detrimental effects of low gravity on humans?

My two cents. I just haven't seen any really persuasive arguments for manned space missions that address the *urgency* of doing them before robot missions are exhausted in their scientific space utility.
posted by mhh5 at 2:14 AM on July 2, 2005


c13 had it right, if you don't see the non-scientific reasons for manned exploration of space then it isn't worth discussing. But please remember that manned space exploration has very little to do with science.

The ISS and shuttle are big wastes of time and money mostly because they are ends in themselves and don't lead us anywhere. Hopefully the new "Vision" will change all of that.

Bardic, science and technology just don't "happen". It isn't something that we can wait for. Necessity breeds invention, so the only way we will develop the appropriate technology is by funding it and going there, trying things out, and fixing what we screwed up. Your attitude is exactly what will lead us into paralyzation and inaction. Risk is something you take on when you do challenging things-- it is something we should cherish not be averse to.
posted by spaceviking at 10:15 AM on July 2, 2005


I know I'm late to responding but I actually had a weekend for once.

Of course there are non-scientific reasons for space exploration and I didn't say that it shouldn't happen. Hell, if I had the money I'd be doing my damnedest to be up there myself. Just that they shouldn't be funded by the government.

Yes, I think I know what actual scientific research value is, but even if I didn't there are plenty of "people who dedicated their whole careers to science" who think manned spaceflight has no scientific value and government funding of such could be better directed. Bob Park being one of the more prominent, and a personal friend at NASA Ames being another.

Let's put all of us in space, let's build stations in the LaGrange points, let's get a colony on Mars. Let's not waste taxpayer money doing it.

That said, if we're going to do it anyway, then the fact that people will die isn't a particularly good reason not to do it as long as everybody involved is doing their best to reduce risk and take risk willingly.
posted by obfusciatrist at 12:44 AM on July 4, 2005


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