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America's mighty space fleet is sent into retirement

As a self-described space nut, it's with great sadness that I look upon these images of the remaining members of the Space Shuttle fleet being picked apart and readied for their new homes in museums. The Atlantic has posted 35 breathtaking pictures of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour.
 
Discovery will find a new home in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum while Endeavour will make its way to the California Space Center. Atlantis will be sent to the Kennedy Space Center.
 
The first orbital mission of the Space Shuttle fleet kicked off with Columbia on April 12, 1981. Space Shuttle Atlantis made its final flight into space on July 8, 2011 and landed safely on July 21, 2011. In total, there were 135 missions and two tragic accidents (first with Challenger in 1986 resulting in the loss of its crew, and later with the Columbia and its crew in 2003).
 
For now, you can hop on over to The Atlantic to see the best that America had to offer in the modern era of space travel:
 
 
Shuttle Endeavour (L) and Shutte Discovery (R) [Source: The Atlantic]
 
For those that still wish to reach beyond Earth's orbit, we can still look forward to NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) which will eventually take astronauts to Mars.

Source: The Atlantic



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NASA & SpaceX
By rudolphna on 3/29/2012 3:36:37 PM , Rating: 2
Brandon as sad as it is, the Space Shuttle is a relic. Unreliable, and expensive. Our future lies with the former Constellation program, and with SpaceX. Honestly, with NASA being at the mercy of Congressional funding, and when you consider the number of partially completed programs cancelled after millions of dollars have already been expended on them, I put more faith in SpaceX when it comes to actually getting things done.

There are some ways in which NASA can never compete with a commercial company. And Musk seems like you and me, a true space nut with passion. I feel that musk will put us back on the moon, and on mars, long before NASA will.




RE: NASA & SpaceX
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/29/2012 4:12:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
There are some ways in which NASA can never compete with a commercial company. And Musk seems like you and me, a true space nut with passion. I feel that musk will put us back on the moon, and on mars, long before NASA will.

I agree, Tony Sta... err, I mean Elon Musk is America last remaining chance at space greatness. The man will go down in history if he accomplishes even half of what he wants to do...

SpaceX definitely gives me cause for cautious optimism, though it's sad to see NASA in the state it's in (for the record I'm less than thrilled/impressed by the SLS program... SpaceX is much more ambitious).


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By RufusM on 3/29/12, Rating: -1
RE: NASA & SpaceX
By FaaR on 3/29/2012 7:58:21 PM , Rating: 5
NASA stands for a very small fraction of the federal budget, and americans in general spend far more on unproductive things like beer, or cigarettes in a year than they do on the cutting-edge scientific endeavor of space exploration. So away with your misplaced whining, please. The advances in many schools of science brought through various NASA projects are countless, and have paid for themselves many times over already.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By JediJeb on 3/29/2012 11:13:00 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
and americans in general spend far more on unproductive things like beer, or cigarettes in a year than they do on the cutting-edge scientific endeavor of space exploration


Just imagine if people would put the money they spend on things like sporting events towards space exploration, we would probably already be on Mars. Think about it, $2 billion just spent to buy the LA Dodgers, how much would that do if put towards SpaceX's budget, and that is only a drop in the bucket of what is spent on such things. So few people today work because they want to have a feeling of accomplishment, but simply because they must work to fund their weekend pleasures.

If Musk can take space from a research project to a business that is highly profitable you will see a shift in corporations spending money on trivial things like sports teams and spending it on space because they will make more money from it. Of course inevitably it will be sports teams in space that will be the step that follows ;)


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By delphinus100 on 3/31/2012 9:40:56 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Just imagine if people would put the money they spend on things like sporting events towards space exploration, we would probably already be on Mars.


Imagine all you like, it's irrelevant. Those people are paying to be entertained, and they pretty much get what they want.

Real space flight/exploration (as opposed to movies and the like) isn't done for entertainment, and shouldn't be expected to entertain. Indeed, the ideal space mission is one with no drama, one that looks easy, where everything goes exactly as intended...and all fiction (science or otherwise) requires one or more individuals with one or more problems of some kind. Without its 'problem,' Apollo 13 would already have been just one more Lunar mission. (and I'm sure that all concerned, from the crew on down, would've preferred that, to a struggle for survival)

Sports, cigarettes, what have you, they make for interesting comparison, but don't ever think people would actually give up one for the other.

The sooner human space activity (not all of which will be exploration, or even more general research) gets to the point aviation did long ago (and maritime did centuries earlier) where it will exist completely apart from anything government does, the better. Even if the majority of it is 'boring' but profitable, self-supporting commercial activity that people will directly pay for.

And so, the rest of your post is essentially correct, except that there won't be any kind of 'shift.' People will still do and watch what they always do, space merely becomes one more arena of commerce of various kinds.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By JediJeb on 3/31/2012 10:55:52 PM , Rating: 2
I think we are both thinking along the same lines. When I said "Imagine" I was trying to point out that if people had more interest in forwarding science and exploration than simply being entertained for a few seconds we would be much further along than we are. I definitely do not believe it is something that is going to happen, because the masses have been flocking to entertainment and ignoring the advancement of civilization since ancient times, just look at what crowds the Coliseum attracted in ancient Rome. Unless space is "exciting" like it was in the Apollo days, it will never be popular with the masses.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By saganhill on 4/2/2012 10:07:08 AM , Rating: 2
Rufus, you have no clue do you? You should actually research NASA's budget before opening your mouth.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Reclaimer77 on 3/29/2012 4:52:46 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Brandon as sad as it is, the Space Shuttle is a relic. Unreliable, and expensive.


Too soon, okay? Too soon.

I love when people call something a "relic" when we still have no working replacement that even comes close to matching it's capabilities. Unreliable? 135 missions spanning from the 1980's to the 2010's on something designed in the 1970's. Exactly what orbiter has been more reliable than that? What is your basis for comparison?

The Space Shuttle was such a proven design and workhorse the Soviets, who know a thing or two about rocket design and space flight, directly copied the Space Shuttle in building their Buran orbiter.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By borismkv on 3/29/2012 5:06:47 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
the Soviets, who know a thing or two about rocket design and space flight


Actually, the Soviets relied more on dumb luck and a willingness to just strap whatever the hell they had handy (dog, cat, bird, human) to a rocket and shoot it up into the sky. When you look at the records they kept for their own programs, you get a picture that they were just throwing crap at a wall and seeing what stuck.

Not that the space shuttle wasn't a phenomenal piece of engineering. If they were to try to design it today it wouldn't get done (which is why we don't have a replacement).


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Reclaimer77 on 3/29/2012 7:35:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Actually, the Soviets relied more on dumb luck and a willingness to just strap whatever the hell they had handy


I find this an ironic statement since we've placed our ability to get into orbit in the Soviets "dumb luck" hands because we've retired our "obsolete and unreliable" shuttle lol.

quote:
Not that the space shuttle wasn't a phenomenal piece of engineering. If they were to try to design it today it wouldn't get done (which is why we don't have a replacement).


Totally agree.

To clarify I agree with the OP about SpaceX and other capitalistic ventures. I fully believe that privatization and the same entrepreneurial spirit that spurned mankind's development here on Earth is crucial to our future in space. I just have tremendous respect and admiration for what the Shuttle was, what it represented, and what it did.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By FaaR on 3/29/2012 8:02:22 PM , Rating: 2
Your comments about dumb luck and whatnot nonwithstanding, the most powerful rocket engine from a thrust/weight ratio standpoint is a Russian soviet-era design, unmatched by anything since. :P


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By paulpod on 3/29/2012 5:25:18 PM , Rating: 2
Just to add a bit more history people forget. The shuttle program cancelled itself when they let foam keep hitting the orbiter and destroyed Columbia. And when it was clear fixing just that one flaw that made the system no safer.

Remember that most wanted the program cancelled outright but a compromise was made to carefully launch only the most necessary missions. All other payloads and missions were cancelled by Bush (yes, Bush).

There is NO WAY the shuttle can be used just to send astronauts to the space station. Two accidents made it orders of magnitude more expensive than initial goals.

But now you have people insanely underestimating Nasa's contribution to the commercial programs. Is Musk purchasing land for his lauch pads? Is Musk designing and constructing his launch pads? Is Musk purchasing recovery ships and paying for them and their crews to be on hand 365 days a year? Is Musk paying for a range safety system, telemetry systems, launch photography systems, etc. to be built from scratch? Is Musk designing engines, guidance systems, etc. from scratch? Is Musk inventing and designing all the QA procedures from scratch? No!!

The commercial launch systems are all built on Nasa technology and assets except for the final flight hardware. SpaceX is the most heavily subsidized company in history. That combined with the highly derivative Nasa plan means almost nothing Nasa has spent in the past is being wasted.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By RufusM on 3/29/12, Rating: -1
RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Reclaimer77 on 3/29/12, Rating: 0
RE: NASA & SpaceX
By FaaR on 3/29/2012 8:25:01 PM , Rating: 2
Reclaimer, you really are a super loony.

Calling Clinton "radical left" is ludicrous enough in of itself (he's anything but, really - no mainstream US politicians are), but criticizing "the war" (lol wut?) on freon, which is a known and well documented environmental hazard of huge proportions... Jebus what have you been smoking, man?


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Reclaimer77 on 3/30/2012 12:09:15 PM , Rating: 2
Huge proportions?

Let's have some common sense here please. You're talking about a rocket craft which puts millions of metric tons of pollutants directly into the atmosphere, and you're concerned about the aerosols used in the foam that seals the fuel tank for that rocket? Also weigh that against the human lives lost DIRECTLY from making that decision. And you ask what I'm smoking?


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Calin on 3/30/12, Rating: 0
RE: NASA & SpaceX
By Manch on 3/30/2012 7:36:23 AM , Rating: 2
You got them swapped

Challenger = bad seal on the booster rocket

Columbia(recent)= foam striking the wing, cracking the thermal tiles.


RE: NASA & SpaceX
By stromgald30 on 3/30/2012 2:02:20 AM , Rating: 2
SpaceX is cheaper yes, but more reliable remains to be seen. SpaceX is still in the learning stages and has had only 3 real successful launches out of 7 attempts (they claim 4, but in reality if it doesn't reach a stable orbit, it's not a success). The shuttles had a 98% reliability.

Eventually, they should be able to pave the way to higher reliability, but it won't be an easy path considering the many tragedies with early air travel, which was a much easier challenge.

NASA was never meant to compete like a commercial company. And that's the sad thing about how NASA is seen today. Most don't realize that NASA isn't about putting people in space, it's charter is to push the boundaries of mankind's reach and knowledge, not operate a space taxi like the shuttle.

Musk and other wealthy space nuts will never be able to put people on Mars. It's just too great of a challenge for a company that has to worry (at least somewhat) about the bottom line. For the challenges that necessitate very long-term R&D investment, commercial enterprises have never competed with universities and government research organizations.

The Shuttle should've been turned over to the private sector in the 80s after NASA had paved the way. Much like how communication satellites were turned over to the private sector in the '69. This was called for by many NASA leaders (http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations/Mar... but Congress botched the job since they wanted to keep all the space centers in their various districts/states running.


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