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NASA thinks about maybe extending the shuttle an additional five years

An e-mail obtained by The Orlando Sentinel reveals NASA is looking into the plausibility of postponing the retirement of its current fleet of three space shuttles until 2015, when the Orion is scheduled to be completed.

"We want to focus on helping bridge the gap of U.S. vehicles traveling to the ISS as efficiently as possible," Manager of manifest and schedules of Johnson Space Center John Coggeshall said in the e-mail.

In 2004, President Bush urged NASA to try and complete the ISS and retire the shuttle fleet by 2010, with the next aim to create a new shuttle and return to the moon by 2020.

NASA is preparing for Congress and the new President of the United States to discuss how viable it would be to extend the current generation of space shuttles rotation an additional five years.  Assuming NASA retires the shuttles in 2010 as planned, the U.S. space agency will be forced to rely on the Russian space agency to get astronauts and supplies to the ISS.

In addition to relying on Russia, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars will be lost in Florida's Space Coast, Houston and similar locations where shuttle development and rocket launches take place.

But NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and other high-ranking space officials are concerned that both the economic and political issues outweigh the necessity of the fleet's retirement.  Griffin expects the study to be finished by the end of September.

Both presidential candidates have discussed NASA funding and the problems it could face in the future if the shuttle is retired and Orion isn't done as planned.  Democratic nominee Barack Obama (D, IL) pledged monetary support for the Constellation program, along with $2 billion for additional launches past the 2010 deadline.  Republican candidate John McCain (R, AZ) was one of a handful of senators who officially asked for the shuttle retirement to be delayed at least one year, and he also offered more monetary support for the U.S. space agency.



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Thank god
By FITCamaro on 9/1/2008 7:56:51 AM , Rating: 4
The five year gap there would destroy the Titusville area. Not only that but to me it's a hell of a lot better than relying on the Russians.

As someone who's worked out there and who loves the space program, there's a lot of good people out there. I'd really hate to see the entire place shut down and all those people lose their jobs. And it's not just the NASA workers. Places like Shuttles bar would be out of business because their primary clientele is NASA folks coming in for lunch and drinks after work.

I'd rather spend more money to keep the shuttles running than pay the Russians. Especially with their attitude and actions of late.




RE: Thank god
By randomly on 9/1/2008 8:48:49 AM , Rating: 2
It may not be economically feasible to keep the shuttle running till 2015. The shuttle program started shutting down 4 years ago, contracts have been terminated, companies have moved on, expertise dispersed, scattered, and reassigned. It's an enormous program that takes years to turn around.

It's probably possible to stretch the remaining flights out some but it would be enormously expensive (many billions of dollars) to try to reconstitute the shuttle program to add more flights, and it might not be possible to do it rapidly enough to avoid years of gap.

As one of the top reputable NASA officials commented 'That horse has already left the barn'.

It may be more prudent to accelerate the ARES I although that looks like first flight is getting pushed out to 2016 with all the problems they are having.

The Direct 2.0 architecture could be flying a few years earlier than the ARES I, and for considerably less money.

Probably the fastest way to restore US human access to space would be to manrate an EELV that's currently flying.


RE: Thank god
By psychmike on 9/1/2008 10:11:28 AM , Rating: 2
Hear hear! The Direct 2.0 plan seems well thought-out with an emphasis on commonality not only with the shuttle but also between the cargo and crew variants.

I don't know if Ares I and V will ever get off the ground. As you likely know, for both programs, they had originally planned on using the shuttle's 4-segment booster but have since moved to a 5- and 5.5-segment design. This has necessitated a thicker casing and development and validation of a new fuel grain pattern. Even that hasn't entirely addressed projected performance deficits so now they're considering deleting the recovery hardware making the booster expendable. They also ditched the SSME (which admittedly is very costly) in favor or the RS-68 and J-2X engines. Exactly what part of the shuttle ARE they leveraging? All of that to essentially get to where the space program was 40 years ago.

Compare that with the Direct plan which uses unmodified boosters, and modified External Tanks for both crew and cargo variants. Elegant, simple, safe, and efficient.

Mike


RE: Thank god
By Ringold on 9/1/2008 6:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Compare that with the Direct plan which uses unmodified boosters, and modified External Tanks for both crew and cargo variants. Elegant, simple, safe, and efficient.


Elegant, simple, safe, and efficient. Exactly why it'll never happen. At least, I doubt it. NASA's chief goal appears to be to prove, like some sort of massive economics experiment, that government is incapable of all of the above.

That belief won't stop me from sending more spam to my Senator's, though. If I don't write them, then I lose the right to complain. :P


RE: Thank god
By Solandri on 9/1/2008 4:53:50 PM , Rating: 2
Not only that but several of the Shuttle's structural components are 5-10 years beyond their expected operational lifetime. They've been inspected, tested, and re-certified for additional use, in some cases with lower limits on max stress. But it just may not be possible to extend them for another 5 years.


RE: Thank god
By Samus on 9/1/2008 2:50:54 PM , Rating: 2
Its funny this news comes just days after the Russian's test their new ICBM Nuclear Warhead. It's kind of a nail-in-the-coffin scenario for the nuclear arms peace treaty, that's for sure.

Now everyone's ganna start making warheads just out of fear of Russia and in time we'll have a cuban missile crisis all over again, this time in Jordan or Georgia.


The reality of trying to resurrect the shuttle
By randomly on 9/1/2008 2:34:39 PM , Rating: 3
Read this Blog by Wayne Hale, the former manager of the Shuttle Program about the reality of trying to extend the life of the shuttle.
http://wiki.nasa.gov/cm/blog/waynehalesblog/posts/...




By dl429 on 9/1/2008 3:45:11 PM , Rating: 2
As a former employee of a non-destructive testing company I can personally vouch for the necessary expertise in crafting aerospace grade materials. I really had no idea replacing shuttle parts would be that difficult though. It really does make sense however when one considers the extremely low tolerances of manufacturing space travel quality metals. Electron beam welding, heat treating, acid etching, and metal forging are just some ways specialty metals are damaged or crafted out of tolerance. Most of these parts are inspected through x-ray and other means many times in the creation cycle.


By US56 on 9/4/2008 12:20:50 PM , Rating: 2
In all due respect to Mr. Hale as I know he is highly regarded by most in the Shuttle contractor community, he is only addressing the issue at his level. The Big Picture decisions are way above his GS level. Unfortunately, those decisions are being made by people who have, to put it mildly, failed to see The Big Picture or take the long view. NASA gave up on the Shuttle too easily since funding for a Great Leap Backward looked better four years ago than little or no funding for manned space flight. The Great Leap Backward was simply a tactical ploy to get through the 2004 presidential election cycle and no more. We don't have to be stuck with it. What Mr. Hale doesn't say is that there are many warehoused components for the orbiters since it was originally planned to maintain a fleet of at least five and at a much higher launch rate. The problem of finding vendors to restart production of expendable components such as the external tank has more to do with the overall decline of the aerospace industrial base in general than the Shuttle program in particular. Unfortunately, the first President Bush used the so-called collapse of the "former Soviet Union" to embark on unilateral disarmament, e.g., to implement provisions of the START II Treaty despite not being ratified by either party, and his successors have maintained that policy in order to pursue their own agendas. Again, we don't have to live with it. In a way, Mr. Putin did us a big favor by showing his hand earlier than he might have if he really wanted to put us in a bind. Now, we can't afford to not continue flying the Shuttle until 2015 or even 2020 and that will buy the time to do something more optimal than the Great Leap Backward such as a new SSTO or "Two Stage To Orbit" crew launch vehicle and a new unmanned heavy lifter for the big stuff with as little expendable hardware as 21st Century technology is capable. Go Air Force.


Hmmm...
By Kyanzes on 9/1/2008 1:07:04 PM , Rating: 2
This extension surely has something to do with the Georgian incident.




RE: Hmmm...
By Rob94hawk on 9/1/2008 1:19:55 PM , Rating: 2
Know any other rocket that can delploy our new chemical lasers into orbit?


RE: Hmmm...
By tallcool1 on 9/2/2008 9:12:56 AM , Rating: 2
That's what I was thinking. If tensions continue to build betweeen the USA and Russia, it may be necessary to continue the shuttle program.


What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/08, Rating: -1
RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By FITCamaro on 9/1/2008 10:36:09 AM , Rating: 4
Considering that the shuttles combined have flown over 100 missions since their completion and that in that time period manned Russian space flights have been far less, we are ahead of the curve.

Strapping into a giant rocket and landing in a pod in the sea is a step back for our space program. Not one forward. We had a perfectly good replacement for the shuttles in the late 90s. Clinton scrapped them because the tanks were proving more a challenge to make than anticipated. That's part of science. Things don't always go as planned.

It also means accidents happen. As knowing someone who's family member is an astronaut, they know the risks. And they gladly accept them. It takes years to get into the space program. It is an achievement. And no amount of liberals who cry foul because of a few tragic accidents will take that away from them.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 10:51:39 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder how much more could have been achieved if money that were over paid for the shuttle launches were used to finance more space experiments.

Remember, Russians had Buran and they didn't see future in it.


By Jedi2155 on 9/1/2008 1:04:39 PM , Rating: 2
Or they just couldn't afford it...


By randomly on 9/1/2008 1:41:28 PM , Rating: 5
Buran was cancelled because the Soviet economy collapsed and the country fell apart. There was no money to keep it alive even though they'd already made one successful orbital flight. The big loss though was the Energia Heavy lift launch vehicle which had a capacity of 200 mT to LEO. With the demise of the Shuttle there are no more heavy lift launchers left.

The Space shuttle was a mistake because it was vastly more expensive to operate than it was originally thought. It was too complicated and too fragile and never attained the flight rates originally envisioned. Shuttle flights average out at about $1 Billion a flight. Way too expensive to compete with expendable rockets. It's chances of Loss of Crew (LOC) is also down around 1 in 200 which is quite poor, much worse than the Russians Soyuz.

A large part of the early justification was to support a spaced based missile defense system that never materialized.
The ISS, or a version of it, could have been built without the shuttle.
Although the shuttle is neat technology, it's very inefficient way to spend the limited amount of money available. The sooner it's decommissioned and we can move on the better.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Mclendo06 on 9/1/2008 10:40:35 AM , Rating: 2
First off - there is nothing safe about strapping yourself to a million pounds of explosives and rocketing into space, then reentering the atmosphere experiencing multiple thousands-of-degrees heat. While I agree that the shuttle needs to be safer, I wouldn't call it a failure. It has accomplished many incredible objectives, least of which is being the only space vehicle that could allow the construction of the ISS.

Secondly, the Russians only lost 4 cosmonauts that we know of. Remember that at the dawn of the space age, the US was an open society while Russia was a very closed one. There is little doubt in my mind that they took many more risks than we did in order to be the "first" to get into space. It seems reasonable to expect that such risks could lead to casualties that the west never heard about. So I would say that the two numbers you are comparing aren't necessarily comparable.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 10:57:17 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
First off - there is nothing safe about strapping yourself to a million pounds of explosives and rocketing into space,

The same goes for the shuttle. What are you talking about.

Russians didn't have any death accident since 1971.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Mclendo06 on 9/1/2008 11:57:02 AM , Rating: 2
I was talking about the shuttle and space travel in general. It is inherently unsafe to travel into space. Also the Soyuz is far from a perfect vehicle itself. Do some research into the 3 botched landings that have occurred recently. I'd say that landing 200 something miles off-target presents some significant risks, as well as the spacecraft not being properly configured for reentry when reentry happens (i.e. parts that are supposed to be separated not being separated). They are fixing these problems, yes, but it just goes to show that the Space Shuttle isn't the only space system that has potential safety problems.

about a bad landing in April 2008:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/science/space/23...

another in October 2007:
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/071021-expedi...

back in 2003:
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/exp6_soyuz_03...


By Janooo on 9/1/2008 12:43:19 PM , Rating: 2
You are right. All the technology has its risk. There is nothing simple in flying into the space.
It seems the capsule is inherently safer than the shuttle and on top of that it's cheaper.
Maybe if NASA worked on their capsule it would have been safer than Soyuz. They are pushing more dangerous and more expensive solution instead. Does it make sense?


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By cochy on 9/1/2008 12:22:44 PM , Rating: 2
The Shuttle is a reusable mobile laboratory that carries large payloads and crews into space. Plus it has the Canada Arm as well.

Can you explain what type of vehicle could would be comparable to the capabilities of the Shuttle while being strapped to the top of a rocket as you describe?


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 2:07:31 PM , Rating: 2
I am not sure what you mean by large payloads.
Please, see how ISS was built. The heavy lifting was done by Russian Proton. The modules Zarya and Zvezda would not fit into the shuttle.
Russian's Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir paved the way for the ISS.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By cochy on 9/1/2008 2:57:00 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm ok here's one small example. The Hubble Space telescope at 24,250 lb was carried into space aboard the Shuttle. I'm sure you can find other such examples.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 3:00:23 PM , Rating: 2
Zarya was about 44,000lb. It would not fit into the shuttle.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By cochy on 9/1/2008 11:22:14 PM , Rating: 2
What's your point? Are you considering 22,000 lbs not a "large payload"? The Shuttle also couldn't lift the Hoover Dam into orbit.

The point is, it was designed to be a much more versatile vehicle than the space capsules there were used to lift humans into space atop "space rockets" as you mentioned earlier. So that is the answer to your question. They wanted a more versatile reusable vehicle.

It can hardly be considered a failure. It's just past due for retirement.


By grath on 9/3/2008 12:31:08 AM , Rating: 2
In designing for versatility the trade off was that the system is not particularly good at any of its capabilities, but adequate at all of them. Perhaps the most notable feature of its versatility is its unique 'down mass' capability, envisioned at one point as being able to pluck a Soviet spy satellite out of orbit and bringing it home, but in reality just imposing tighter limits on size and weight of the space station modules we were committed to launching with our 'cheap, reusable' launch system.

If instead of funneling all the money into a single craft that does everything poorly and imposes future design restrictions, we had stuck to the evolutionary path that flowed from Mercury to Skylab, we would have 3000 humans living in space today, instead of 3.

Is that not a failure?


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Mathos on 9/1/2008 1:12:42 PM , Rating: 2
I gotta think about this for a bit. So in 40 years and hundreds more space flights than Russia. We've lost a crew of 2 or 3 astronauts on the Apollo 1 accident. That was prior to the creation of the space shuttle. We came very close to losing another crew on Apollo 13. In the 27 years that the original fleet of 5 shuttles has been in service, we've lost two shuttles. The Challenger in 1986, after 6 consecutive launches in less than 18 months, and the Columbia in 2003. Granted if you look at the launch records it would also appear that Columbia was the least used of the shuttle fleet.

Now also consider that the US space shuttle carries between 5-7 crew members per flight, where as the Russion Soyuz rockets only take 2-3 crew per flight. Plus a lot of early Russian manned space flight was done with single man crew pods, while we'd already moved to 3 man command modules.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 1:49:51 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
So in 40 years and hundreds more space flights than Russia.

Hundreds? Do you have a list?

quote:
In the 27 years that the original fleet of 5 shuttles has been in service, we've lost two shuttles.

2 of 5????? Zero would be much more desirable.
The shuttle has about 120 flights. That's 1 in 60 failure ratio.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Samus on 9/1/2008 2:59:07 PM , Rating: 2
Janooo, I understand your arguement, but the problems we've had with the shuttle are related to its entry/reentry, specifically the ceramic tiles. If they extend the shuttle program with billions in aid, these tiles will all be completely replaced and possibly redesigned to fix the shuttles Achilles heel.

1:60 failure ratio for the most unique and most capable space vehicle in history still isn't bad. Ideally zero-failures is desirable, and its tragic it has failed twice, but it is fixable. The Progress resupply ship and Soyuz modules still don't carry the payload of the shuttle. Even with fewer launches than the Russians, we still have more than other nations, and without the shuttle, the ISS wouldn't be in its present form. Only the Shuttle was able to deploy the Columbus laboratory module that no other ship could carry.


By Janooo on 9/1/2008 3:15:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If they extend the shuttle program with billions in aid, these tiles will all be completely replaced and possibly redesigned to fix the shuttles Achilles heel.

This is the issue. The tiles are not that easily fixable. That's what's killing the shuttle financially.

The Progress load is not a question of what it is capable of but about the money. If Russians had bigger budget they could carry more and heavier loads.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Janooo on 9/1/2008 4:52:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Only the Shuttle was able to deploy the Columbus laboratory module that no other ship could carry.

As I mentioned in the other post Russian Proton took care of about 44,000 lb Zarya. Columbus is 22,708 lb, just a half of the load.

The facts and numbers speak for itself. The Shuttle is less reliable and more expensive. It does not make sense to support it.


RE: What happened to the US space rockets?
By Ringold on 9/1/2008 6:51:40 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
The facts and numbers speak for itself. The Shuttle is less reliable and more expensive. It does not make sense to support it.


You're right. Even Bush, I think, knows it.

Unfortunately, it's what we've got, and until we've got something else, we're rather short on options.

The Economist (magazine) did speak to the possibility of using a Falcon 9, but.. their launch record does not give me great confidence. I would absolutely love it if it were possible, though. That'd be the first time a small private enterprise really came in and stole some bread crumbs off the old guards table.


By RossD on 9/1/2008 10:05:51 PM , Rating: 2
It seems odd to me that most of these articles on shuttle retirement leave out the fact that SpaceX and Orbital have NASA contracts to provide an ISS resupply vessel. True, SpaceX has yet to fully demonstrate that Falcon can get a payload into (the right) orbit, and hardly anything has been reported about Orbital, but there are still two years left before the shuttle's planned demise. Even if it isn't going perfectly, the $500 million COTS program, which is specifically intended to address this problematic 2011-2015+ interval, seems worth at least mentioning here.

To be fair to SpaceX, the stage separation problem that led to the latest Falcon failure won't come up again; it was the first flight using the radically redesigned Merlin 1c engine and the thrust lasted longer than ground tests revealed, but they know the right timings now that they have real data on the engine's thrust profile in vacuum. Of course, Falcon 9 may well introduce more problems, and I wouldn't be surprised nor hold it against them if the first one or two fail, though I'm sure their potential customers won't be happy.

Accidents aside, COTS could well yield a viable alternative to the Shuttle and Soyuz. SpaceX hasn't missed any NASA deadlines so far, just renegotiated a couple, and they're contractually obligated and on track to perform the three Falcon 9/Dragon COTS cargo service demos (including a docking test, I think) before 2011. Politically, crew service (aka "COTS Capability D") is a completely different can of worms and, while they claim they'll be ready for it, SpaceX will probably have to pull off thier next several launches flawlessly to get Congress to approve funding for COTS-D missions. If NASA won't help pay, it's still possible SpaceX will have sufficient incentives to fly a crewed vehicle on their own dime (or Robert Bigelow's). (see http://www.spacex.com/launch_manifest.php ; http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid... ; http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/210019main_NASA_FY09_Budge... p359+; http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1179/1 ).

As for Orbital, from their website, "The [Taurus II/Cygnus] COTS demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010. Subject to NASA’s needs, operational COTS missions would follow beginning in the first half of 2011. Orbital will be capable of conducting two to eight operational missions a year by 2012, together with other non-COTS Taurus II launches." (http://www.orbital.com/AdvancedSpace/COTS/ )


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