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A NASA shuttle program manager recently proposed a new plan which would allow NASA to cut costs on moon travel. The plan revolves around a "shuttleless shuttle" concept that has been around NASA for years, but adds in a few new components.

Since even before the recession, people have continuously searched for opportunities to save money. Hunting for grocery coupons and exercising haggling skills stand as best practices in the lives of many. Tuesday, another approach at cutting costs was announced through the Associated Press; this attempt targeted the price tag on moon travel. 

John Shannon, NASA's shuttle program manager, recently presented a plan for cost-saving moon travel, known as the Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, to an independent panel. The panel, which holds responsibility for reviewing NASA’s expensive space travel plans, reacted positively to Shannon’s proposal.  

According to the Associated Press, Shannon’s plan revolves around a concept that has been around NASA for decades: the shuttleless shuttle. Under NASA’s permission, Shannon has been informally toying with this concept with a group of others over the last three years.

The model Shannon proposes would be comprised of the old space shuttle system, equipped with its large orange fuel tank and twin solid-rocket boosters, only with no shuttle. Instead, the rocket would have two items sitting on the external fuel tank: a generic cargo container, which would be the only new component, and an Apollo-like capsule, which would be located inside the cargo carrier and allow for astronaut travel. The capsule in this model would be the same as the new Orion crew capsule being designed for Constellation, NASA’s new moon program.

The cost-cutting model calls for hardware that already exists, which would save both time and money.   For example, if NASA were to move forward with the plan, they would not have to reconfigure the Kennedy Space Center launch site and use shuttle flight control systems, according to Shannon.

“The new system could also launch a year earlier, and fewer space workers would have to be laid off because of that,” Shannon said.

Although the proposed design is not as powerful as current designs, the new shuttle would still enable two astronauts to travel at one time to either the moon or the international space station. (Current architecture can hold around three to four astronauts.)

NASA is currently on course with a 4-year-old plan which costs $35 billion and is aimed at both constructing new rockets and sending astronauts to the moon over years to come. Shannon’s proposal provides an alternative to this plan and would cost roughly $6.6 billion.

Shannon’s plan does not stand as the only one of its kind. One panel chairman and longtime aerospace executive, Norman Augustine, mentioned liking a similar proposal from approximately 20 years ago.

Additionally, Michael Curie, a NASA spokesman, said that Shannon was encouraged to present in the spirit of sharing the options NASA has studied in the past.

Curie assured that Shannon's presentation does not reflect a lack of backing toward current NASA plans: "NASA believes the best plan is to fully fund the current architecture... This does not indicate a lack of confidence in or support for the current program," he said.

According to space experts, however, the plan illustrates that top officials in NASA do have concern regarding their chosen moon travel plan. As the Associated Press reports, experts are convinced that the panel’s reaction, along with the upper-level management’s fingerprints on Shannon’s proposal, suggest that NASA management may be shifting gears, or at minimum, signaling doubts regarding the more expensive plan.

Keith Cowing, a former NASA engineer who heads the web site, explained, "It clearly reflects some doubts among senior agency folks in the overall veracity of their current approach."

While all of this is occurring, the whole program of human spaceflight has been undergoing evaluations from an outside board, due to President Barack Obama’s science policy.  

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WOW.. a whole 2 people
By kattanna on 7/2/2009 10:18:20 AM , Rating: 2
the new shuttle would still enable two astronauts to travel at one time to either the moon or the international space station

WOW so this super special rocket could carry a whole 2 people. even less then apollo. great strides forward...

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Rubinsson on 7/2/2009 10:46:43 AM , Rating: 2
"Super Special"? more like a cheap hack...

Why is it worth that much money when it doesn't bring forth new technology...
I don't see the point of going for just going(not even for "just" $6B).

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By MozeeToby on 7/2/2009 11:19:02 AM , Rating: 3
Apollow was a fluke. A freak combination of rapidly advancing technology, massive budgets, unquestioning nationalism, and cold war fears. Without that combination of events we would be decades behind where we are today and most of the world would be wonding if a manned moon shot was even possible.

We are just getting the technology now to go safely and economically into space. Don't knock the progress that we've made just because it doesn't seem as impressive as a risky (risk estimates were an order of magnitude larger than what is acceptable today) and expensive (4% of the federal budget!) political stunt of 40 years ago.

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Rubinsson on 7/2/2009 12:28:14 PM , Rating: 1
Don't get me wrong... I'm a spacejunkie and I do like the exploration of space more anything else but I don't think we have the level of technology to safely and economically go farther then the orbit of our own planet. And looking down at it maybe we are spending too much money/efforts already in space instead of looking down and realizing that we have lot to overcome before we can spend time looking further away...

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By kattanna on 7/2/2009 3:02:29 PM , Rating: 3
what i meant is that currently the shuttle can send up 7 people at a time.

but now with costly modifications it will be able to send up a whole 2??

hardly progress.

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Ringold on 7/2/2009 3:07:27 PM , Rating: 4
All of our cell phones put the computers involved with Apollo to shame. Every field, from manufacturing costs to engineering costs (ie, CAD, and the systems used to design things like the 787) has seen an incredible improvement from the 1950s and 1960s.

And yet, we're kicking around ideas that are scarcely superior to those from half a century prior? Real household income is way, way up, meaning individuals and families can buy more for smaller portions of their budgets, and yet we have plans like this for NASA?

Something doesn't add up, and people sense this, and thus the disappointment.

I partly blame NASA over the last few decades; small, young commercial space companies aren't there yet, but they look capable of doing what NASA and its comfortable, massive corporate partners have been doing for far less money. Like any good government agency, NASA also shows occasional incompetency; DIRECT and other plans are clearly superior, and thus are ignored.

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Yawning Dog on 7/5/2009 3:15:10 AM , Rating: 2
For an account of what's wrong with NASA from an insiders view read "Challenger Revealed: An Insider's Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age". Can be found at 363.127 at your local library and will tell you everything you never wanted to know about our pathetic space program. You can also read the reviews at Amazon before investing the time in reading it.

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Lexda on 7/2/2009 5:06:32 PM , Rating: 4
The one thing that irks me about today's space "exploration" is the massive risk concern. Guess what guys, it's the final frontier: there is going to be unimaginable risk. How did we get to the moon so quickly? By going for it full throttle, and not waiting around for endless red tape. Every astronaut I've heard or read about has said that they didn't mind the risks, they just wanted to get out there. I don't think they told Columbus that he couldn't go off to an unknown land with only a few ships. I don't think they told Polo that it was too risky to go chat with the Mongols. I don't think Erik the Red was chided for trying to expand Viking settlement.

In short, all great explorations have happened, and will continue to happen, with great risk. One can only reduce risk by reducing the unknown. However, the entire point of exploration is to make the unknown known.

Final question: Why, exactly, is the same risk amount allowed fifty years ago so much higher than that allowed today? Personally, I'm pretty sure the '40s-'60s accomplished far more significant things than we have today (stopping Nazis, building the bomb, going to the moon, etc).

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Master Kenobi on 7/3/2009 9:36:18 PM , Rating: 2
Final question: Why, exactly, is the same risk amount allowed fifty years ago so much higher than that allowed today? Personally, I'm pretty sure the '40s-'60s accomplished far more significant things than we have today (stopping Nazis, building the bomb, going to the moon, etc).

Because these days we falsely believe that human lives are priceless. We also believe that progress at the expense of human lives is bad. Back in the 40's, 50's, 60's we wanted to be the best we didn't give a damn if the possibility of failure and certain death were 10%, we have a 90% chance of pulling it off and being the best. Now, we are a culture of wimps unwilling to take risks and unwilling to do all that is necessary to conquer the next milestone.

The difference then is we were afraid of the Soviets having a massive advantage where they could kill us all. With WW2 and the Japanese/Germans fresh in everyones mind still, and the terrible consequences of allowing another country to do that were well known. This motivated the USA to push forward with our space program and military programs at break neck pace to ensure we could match or beat any capability the Soviets had. After the cold war however, the national desire to do that soon wore off and we were back to the ultra pansy mindset of we're the best, let's kick back and enjoy it. With China now pushing ahead currently the way we were back in the 50's I'm somewhat surprised that we aren't as a nation getting motivated once again. It will eventually happen, but probably not until we end up in a conflict with China and they inflict considerable damage on us.

RE: WOW.. a whole 2 people
By Kyanzes on 7/8/2009 11:04:05 AM , Rating: 2
Should you happen to have a better idea please make sure that you share it with us.

Something about this aint right
By MrPoletski on 7/2/2009 8:35:06 AM , Rating: 5
I hear 'we want to go to the moon'

Then I hear 'but we don't want to spend a lot of money'

Then I get the image of Peter Griffin as 6 dollar man...

RE: Something about this aint right
By Springfield45 on 7/2/2009 9:54:56 AM , Rating: 2
Something else aint right.
The Ares and Constelation series are already derived from shuttle program components. The aries I uses a single shuttle SRB (five segment instead of four), and the aries V uses two SRBs and a liquid motor derived from the shuttle motor and tank.

RE: Something about this aint right
By TMV192 on 7/2/2009 10:07:42 AM , Rating: 2
It's derived from the same technology but they aren't quite the same. The new SRBs will have more segments, the liquid tank will be larger, and the engines will not be based on the RS-24 (SME) anymore, but instead the compatible but still in testing, RS-68B.

I didn't read the whole article yet, but if this is similar to the DIRECT alternative, it would use the exact same SRBs, same tank, and RS-24s. Alot faster to make, and 2 Jupiters would take up about the same load as a Ares 1+5.

By DustinD on 7/2/2009 10:45:14 AM , Rating: 2
The new 5 segment solid rocket boosters have composite casings vs steel, different fuel composition, and a different internal shape and structure to provide different amounts of lift at a given burn time. They also have a very harsh thrust oscillation.

That said, Mr. Shannon does not plan on using five segment rockets, and neither does Direct. A good video of the new rocket concept is available here:

Some of the proposed inline vehicles also do not use the solid rockets thrust vectoring nozzle, which can help with weight and safety.

Interesting but...?
By HostileEffect on 7/2/2009 8:35:12 AM , Rating: 1
A flying bathtub might work but how do you steer it or prevent it from flying into something else?

RE: Interesting but...?
By Regs on 7/2/2009 9:00:03 AM , Rating: 3
I guess it's better than a man in scuba gear attached to a large sling shot.

RE: Interesting but...?
By kattanna on 7/2/2009 10:07:16 AM , Rating: 2
i dont know.. that could be kinda fun!

RE: Interesting but...?
By albundy2 on 7/2/2009 7:47:37 PM , Rating: 2
re-entry's a bitch.

RE: Interesting but...?
By Rubinsson on 7/3/2009 5:40:51 AM , Rating: 2
hehe, sure but if the scubanout bring a tent and some rations he won't have to come back! =P

By ralith on 7/2/2009 8:44:15 AM , Rating: 2
So the tank is just a platform? Or do they intend to get the rockets off the shuttle and add them to the bottom of the tank too? If they aren't going to do that that is a lot of wasted energy per launch.

Oh and last I heard pretty much everything associated with the shuttles was so archaic they really didn't want to keep it around because it is hard to find parts for, hard to understand, and maintain. This included the launch systems that they are so happy about being able to reuse.

RE: Tank?
By dlapine on 7/2/2009 2:09:50 PM , Rating: 2
Rockets stay on the shuttle, at least from the drawing I saw.

The SSME's and SRB's are state of the art. Still being made in small quantities. The avionics and computers are vintage 80's. Those should be replaced. The biggest maintenance costs come from refurbing and inspecting the shuttle tiles.

RE: Tank?
By dlapine on 7/2/2009 2:40:15 PM , Rating: 1
DailyTech should do a story about "Direct".
By DustinD on 7/2/2009 10:02:34 AM , Rating: 2 is a far better option than "not shuttle C". It can eliminate the gap in human space flight between shuttle and its successor, bring back the full featured wet/dry landing Orion with all of its seats, lift over 60mT with an engine out, and costs a fraction of Ares I and V to develop. It also does not have the safety issues of having Orion to the side of its fuel tanks like on Mr. Shannon's rocket, which is arguably a deal breaker due to safety concerns.

If anyone wants to see the video of the presentation it is available at various places including which also has discussions about all of the various options and about the boondoggle that is the current Ares plan.

By DustinD on 7/2/2009 11:05:44 AM , Rating: 2 for videos of various presentations. is another good source of presentation videos. Shows the concept in detail, and has links to many other relevant videos.

How do they get back...
By sbtech on 7/2/2009 11:07:00 AM , Rating: 2
Once they reach the moon?

RE: How do they get back...
By diego10arg on 7/2/2009 11:24:52 AM , Rating: 2
They stay there and they begin Moon's colonization.


Where is Mars in the picture here?
By Tester9 on 7/2/2009 12:48:08 PM , Rating: 2
What kind of vision is this?... We choose to go to the moon and do the other things again, not because they are hard, but because they are cheap.

By dlapine on 7/2/2009 1:52:19 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the Constellation program NASA is currently using is anything but cheap. At about $35 billion to develop 2 separate rockets (ARes I and Ares V), the first of which won't be usable (man-rated) until 2016, the program is very expensive. So expensive that Congress stopped providing full funding, and the the President ordered an outside review of the plan, the Augustine commission.

Shannon spoke before the Augustine commission, as did other groups and presented options and alternatives to the current plan.

Not-shuttle-C (Shannon's presentation)is one option, Direct is another, and upgrades to current light lift vehicles is a third.

This isn't just about Mars, or even a trip to the moon- when the shuttle retires in 2010, The US no longer has ANY manned US spacecraft available. We'd have to rely on the Russians, or hope that the European or Chinese programs take a step forward.

The biggest problem with the current program is that even if all goes as planned (and so far it hasn't), we don't get a US vehicle capable of manned flight until 2016. Ouch.

Not really the right stuff.

The other plans all try to reduce that time frame before we have a US manned spacecraft.

There's a really useful forum for more information about the alternatives here-

I like Direct, but check out the proposals yourself.

See above
By HCantu99 on 7/3/2009 8:38:29 AM , Rating: 2
Is there any way to make return of space vessels to Earth cheaper? In all the world, it seems there are no other vessel(s) larger than or even as large as, the space shuttle that can actually return relatively safely back to Earth. If the cost of refurbishing/replacing the shuttle tiles is such a gi-normous expense, wouldn't a cheaper return method make our reusable shuttle...well, more reusable? Can a vessel even be made at all that is actually cheaply reusable? Maybe expensive to make at first, but then cheaply reusable? Especially of the scale/size we're apparently needing/wanting? Why is return to Earth so expensive?

RE: See above
By Rubinsson on 7/4/2009 4:13:25 AM , Rating: 2
Biggest problem for any re-entry vehicle is the punishment it has to stand in entering the atmosphere... There the materials technology keeps it expensive. We are not at that level of technology were we can really have a shuttle that is worthy of the term reusable. Materials for withstanding not only heat but also temperature shifts from extreme heat to extreme cold is today expensive, fragile and therefore often not that reusable...

this verses DIRECT
By JRC903 on 7/3/2009 12:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
I think this proposal by NASA may be closer to what is actually required. And, it does address some issues facing the DIRECT approach. With the major of these,due to the change from side mount to inline, which would require major modifications to the way stress is handled by the ET in that configuration. However, it still does not provide much advantage over the two vehicle Ares approach. With five/four years to go before it's first flight, Ares 1 is already at at a mass/performance point that requires major deletions from the payload mass. I just read the recent paper issued by the DIRECT folks, and it seems that with a modest amount of work, we could have a much more flexible launch system then either this, or the Ares approach. I doubt if this is NASA's fault, but here we go again.. trying so hard to compromise and ending up with something only marginally better than something else.

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