Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Joint NASA-ESA Shuttle Program

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NASA needs a boost to justify building a new shuttle design. The current fleet of three are overworked, long in the tooth, and a nightmare to maintain, especially since many of the companies involved with their construction have long since disappeared. Contractors demand huge sums of cash to build limited runs of replacement parts. And let's face it: because of the downtime involved with refurbishment and repair, three shuttles won't cut it.

I have four proposals:

a. Build a joint USA-ESA shuttle, based either on a larger version of the Hermes proposal or an updated Russian Buran, to be christened the 'Puissant Fromage.'
2. For funding, the new shuttle would feature ad logos for Microsoft, (where do you want to go today?) Tide, Crane Cams, Budweiser, Pepsico, Craftsman, Quaker State, Nike, etc. in prominent places, as would the space-suits.
iii. Film Noir ISS / shuttle show. (Might be difficult to simulate rain, though)
D. A flood of half-baked experiment proposals to keep interest in the space program going.

The behavior of cats, guppies, and buttered toast in weightless environments
The latest in bluetooth nanaotechnology in roadcone communication satellite networks
Burritos as human propellent in intra-vehicular activity

RayfordSteele, Feb 02 2003

Shuttle Small Payloads Project http://www.wff.nasa.../~sspp/gas/gas.html
Information on GAScans [madradish, Oct 05 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

The trouble is the shuttle is too damn fast. http://www.filecore.net/misc/cnn.jpg
[Loris, Oct 05 2004, last modified Oct 17 2004]

NASA success stories http://nctn.hq.nasa.gov/success/
[madradish, Oct 05 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/....station/index.html
Mentions resupplying the ISS [madradish, Oct 05 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

The Economist article to which goff refers http://www.economis...fm?story_id=1441752
[Gordon Comstock, Oct 05 2004, last modified Oct 17 2004]


       Hmm, a weird blend of humour and what looks like a serious suggestion.   

       The Hermes design always seemed too small and limited. It had very little cargo capacity. Also, it never got off the ground because ESA is having fun cashing in on their launch system and never got around to a manned space program. I don't see that changing anytime soon. Also the additional beaurocracy would be a nightmare.   

       The advertising logo thing has been done. I think the Russians or chinese used advertising on the outside of their rockets to help finance them.   

       The orbiter has the halfbaked experiment thing done already. Getaway special cannisters (GAScans) can be purchased for a few thousand US dollars and flown on the shuttle with (justifiable) experiments. Popular for schools apparently.
madradish, Feb 03 2003

       I've got 22 guppies (from an initial group of 6) - they're quite hardy, obviously reproductive & are in school right now.
thumbwax, Feb 03 2003

       I'm not sure I'm ready for humour on this topic quite yet. Perhaps I'll revisit this later.
waugsqueke, Feb 03 2003

       I understand the reasoning behind the humour, but Nasa needs to ask it some more fundemental questions. The reality is, we don't need another shuttle at all.
The reason we have a shuttle now is that back in the early seventies, NASA sold the idea to the US Government that they should send a manned mission to mars. This was to be done in three stages: 1. Build a space station as intermediate point to build interplanetary vehicle. 2. Build re-usable manned vehicle to "shuttle" astronauts and equipment from earth to the station. 3. Build the interplanetary vehicle and send men to mars.

       Clearly, you needed 2 before you could do 1, so the "shuttle" was born. Hoever the reality is that the manned flight mars has been canned. Therefore NAsa has been in the business in the last ten years of justifying the need for the first two, when their only requirement was in order to complete the third.
SPurious scientific justification has been put forward, such as expermineting on the effects of zero-g on plants animals and humans, but in fact, of course, you only need this if you plan to do long manned space missions. The Economist did a really good article on this last year. The fact is it costs twice as much to refurbish and launch the shuttle as it would to launch a disposable vehicle like the soyuz. The other advantage of a disposable vehicle is that it does not need to have a twenty year lifespan, so you can update with new technology etc through time much more easily, making it more efficient, more powerful etc.
For the price of the last ten years shuttle program and the space station, they could have built a Hubble 2 with twice the resolution, and twice the other astronomical capability, designed and built a new disposable (or semi disposable - where parts such as booster sections can be recovered and re-used) rocket to carry it, and launched it with dramatic increases in our understanding of the universe for the same amount of money. Understand I am not arguing against science for science sake - but the shuttle program is bad science and bad economics masqerading as good science and good economics and it is not only now far too dangerous due to the age of the fleet and the budgetary capacity of NASA to maneg it (as the latest tragedy only to vividly demonstrates), it is, and has been a waste of American tax payers money for the last fifteen years, as well as costing 14 lives.
goff, Feb 03 2003

       Boy, goff. I don't think it's possible for me to disagree with you more.
waugsqueke, Feb 03 2003

       With regard to goff's comments, manned space flight has never been about either value for money or scientific research. The reasons for manned missions are varied: fostering national pride; raising the profile of NASA; allowing for the funding of other small projects; creating and overcoming a severe technological challenge (doing something difficult just for the sake of doing it).   

       I guess people should consider which of these goals they want, and a financing mission to mars may be a better way to spend money than on constructing a new fleet of shuttles, both in terms of the technical challenge and the sense of pride and achievement. (The numerous flights of the space shuttles reduced an extremely dangerous undertaking to a level of mundanity with no real purpose.) Meanwhile, satellites and experimental apparatus could be launched by reusable or non-reusable unmanned rockets.
kropotkin, Feb 03 2003

       There are two points being debated here and both are heavily laden with the grief of the recent space shuttle tradgedy. One is whether or not we should send people into space and the other is whether we should use reusable or single use launch vehicles.   

       The latter question is one of economics and safety wheras the former is one that borders on philosphy, since it is almost impossible to justify manned spaceflight on economic grounds alone.   

       The danger is that these two questions get merged into one and the American public is presented with the question, "Should we continue with the shuttle as it is, or abandon the space program?" This question can yield only one of two answers, neither of which may be the best way forward.
st3f, Feb 03 2003

       I had a bunch of different thoughts about this and needed a way to tie them together, so yeah, it's a weird blend alright. Perhaps the humor is misplaced.   

       Let's not forget the vast amount of technological breakthrough that's been achieved over the years by the existence of the space program. It may or may not have outlasted its real usefulness in that regard, but it did contribute a heck of alot along the way.   

       Reading goff's argument, in some way I have to agree to a small extent. NASA used to be as much about new technology as space exploration. The advent of the shuttle program, by providing a reusable, somewhat reliable system, took some of the steam out of the new tech side as it aged, and NASA evolved into as much of a maintenance organization as an exploration center.
RayfordSteele, Feb 03 2003

       I think that governments should be thinking broader than America and Europe. You would probably also need Russia's established space programme and the eagerness of India and China to have manned space programmes. Maybe a space programme could be used to promote global cooperation in a world where people are worrying when, where and why the world's only superpower will attack next.
Aristotle, Feb 03 2003

       Oboy, definitely what waugs said.   

       There is so much more to space science than astronomy [goff]. Sure an updated hubble would be wonderful but there's no way I'd exchange it for the knowledge we have gained in biological, chemical, physical, materials science etc since the advent of the shuttle program. Maybe the science that occurs isn't always high profile or comprehensible to the layman, but that doesn't make it bad science.   

       For example, studies into the decalcification of bones in a zero-g environment is obviously important for long missions. However it also has huge relevance to osteoperosis. The orbiter fleet/ISS are so much more than a precursor to a mars mission. Don't get me wrong, I want to go to mars as much as the next intrepid young person but there are other things we can also do in a space environment.   

       It's true that the Soyuz vehicles are much cheaper to make and maintain, but that seems like such a short term solution. In the future, I see people travelling to space in HOTOL space planes. Single use space vehicles have their uses, but returning to them would be a step backwards for the US space program.   

       As for wasting taxpayers money, spinoffs from the shuttle program have enjoyed great technological, medical and economic success.   

       I think going to space is a triumph of human ingenuity. Shuttle flights are followed by people around the world and help foster the imagination and dreams of millions. It would be sad to lose that.
madradish, Feb 03 2003

       Think you've missed the point madradish. Don't know about waugs cos he doesn't explain why he disgrees. The point is not that manned space flight is a bad idea - but that manned space flight on the Shuttle is a bad idea. A new Hubble is just an example, and all those zero-g experiments that have medical spin-off's don't need a space shuttle to be done - an orbiting module delivered by a disposable rocket will do the job every bit as well, and for much less money. Less money = more trips or more payloads for the same NASA budget, that's the point. The idea of a reusable craft was that it would be cheaper to run (read the the original NASA stuff from the seventies) - but does it make sense if it's cheaper to build a new one every time?
My second argumne ti son safety grounds - the cost of designeing and building a reusable craft requires it to complet many missions in ordert o "pay back" the investment. The fact that this means you have to support ageing technology is a big safety factor - even if we built a new "shuttle" we would be where we are today in twenty years time, with an ageing fleet that ios costly to maintain and risks astronaut safety.
A new disposable craft makes sense both economically, scientifically and on safety grounds. Now can someone tell my why we still need the shuttle?
goff, Feb 04 2003

       I still disagree [goff]. I think that the best solution would be a reusable craft that can fly either manned or unmanned. Much like the Buran was supposed to.   

       Ultimately when reusable space technology has progressed far enough it will be much more cost effective (and use much less material). It will also be easier to prep and more comfortable to travel in which may be a big concern in coming decades. I've read the stuff from the seventies, they anticipated much greater use of the orbiter and widening use of space travel. In some cases it is more cost effective, when resupplying the ISS for example. It can carry much more than the Progress freighter (linky).   

       Immediate cost should not be the only concern, paper plates may be cheaper than ceramic in the short term but they are more wasteful and become costly when you take the long view. One off spacecraft are ultimately non-sustainable.   

       As to safety, This is obviously more difficult with reusable vehicles but I don't think that it's the problem you're making it out to be. The shuttle design is older than I am and we've made a lot of progress since the seventies. A new generation orbiter would require a better, lighter, less vulnerable thermal shield but I think that this is quite within our current capabilities.   

       Making a new design modular would allow for swapping of components and upgrading (much like the hubble and ISS). You wouldn't buy a new car or 'plane every time you wanted one, similarly I think that the age of single use space vehicles won't last much longer.
madradish, Feb 04 2003

       Maybe they could retrofit an automatic guidance system to the space shuttle for unmanned flights. It seems that most of the control of the shuttle is automated in any case.
kropotkin, Feb 04 2003

       I didn't explain why I disagree because it's a flimsy argument. Call me nostalgic but the whole point of doing this is to send people up there... "human" space flight is what it's all about for me. The accomplishment, the adventure, the advances.   

       How I long for the days of the space race once again. No one can deny that the scientific advances that came as a result of that probably would not have come as fast as they did, if at all.
waugsqueke, Feb 04 2003

       Why don't the astronauts have ejector seats?
Sir Jekyll Shave, Feb 04 2003

       If we're ever going to get off this rock, then it seems to me that we're going to need both the incremental technologies of expendable-usage vehicles, or at least test-mockups of them, *and* a shuttle of some sort, designed to be modular enough to take advantage of the latest tech as it rolls out, but fixed enough to give a good long-term vehicle predictor. Let me explain that better: part of the data that we will need to conduct any mission of significant time length (ie. years, decades, whatever), is how well such a vehicle would age. In order to conduct a worthwhile test and know what you have, you often have to push the thing right to the edge. While they do schloads of 'life testing' before final assembly and even after, there's still little substitute for the real thing. I would argue that a single-use vehicle doesn't provide that type of opportunity. If we had never built the shuttle or at least studied it, we would never have known that the typical useful lifecycle, given the current trend in technological advancement, is about 20 years or so.
RayfordSteele, Feb 04 2003

       You know, as ridiculous as this statement sounds until you read the rest of it, there's nothing wrong with the shuttle except that it blew up. Sure it's heavy and it's not as re-usable as we thought it was going to be, but it can hold a LOT of people for a spacecraft and it's very versatile. Hermes doesn't exist, and Buran is an unknown. It flew once, and it didn't even work right. As for being able to fly itself, the shuttle does that already. As for blowing up, that happens. It happens a lot less if they are new and well maintained too. Why not build another shuttle with international funding?
Madcat, Apr 08 2003

       I agree with goff's eloquent argument. If we are to send people into space it should be in a new capsule, a larger apollo style one. These cost almost nothing to develop compared to the shuttle's development costs. If you want to obsess about re-use, the the avionics could be removed, but junk the structure and heat shield. I well remember in the 70's, BEFORE shuttle was built, studies indicated that it would never be economic. Clearly they were right. I think we should consider the shuttle a valuable experiment, and the result is clear: Re-useables aren't economic.   

       That's just the way it is with some products. We don't return Coke cans because the transport and other costs and others are greater than manuafacturing a new one.Plus a re-useable Coke can would have to be heavier.   

       So it is with Shuttle: a lot of the launched mass is just there to bring it back (IF it works).   

       Now is a good time to sit back and make an honest engineering judgement on what is the most economical way into space with real,possible technology.   

       We have to rid ourselves of the prejudice (and that's all it is) that reuseables are the only possible way forward to cheap access to space.   

       In fact there are two other possibilities: a) Scale. as rockets get bigger, the ratio of payload to total launch mass gets better, for say a trip to the space station. The best rocket ever on this criterion is still the Saturn 5- because it's still the biggest. We would have to marshall severall payloads for the space station at once to fill the capacity.   

       b) Cheaper series production. If we freeze a good expendable launcher design, we can then just produce them by the hundred, and get it cheaper that way. There are economies all down the line, including operations etc. As launches are so light, the loss of materials lost each shot is small. Oh I just remembered this has been done. It's called Soyuz. 1670 launches to date.
RusNash, Jun 23 2003

       Aside- usa privatized shuttle management a few years ago, and now boom... hmm. Read cato.org for privatized - but issue is no midmission abort capability /need safety margin manned. hmm. To point - i like the standard component/but unmanned - no shuttle - tack engine on spare ET. Whole lot lighter. Use standard/tried/economy of scale. Gonna be 10 years for new spaceshuttle. And leave those 3 in space! Tack on spent ET tank for mars mission.
dinosnider, Oct 02 2003

       Complete sentences disappearing. hmm... Day of reckoning for complete thoughts - Film at 11:00.
RayfordSteele, Oct 02 2003

       The NASA Space Shuttle IS a NASA/ESA project. Every technical aspect of the Shuttle's operation had to be reviewed and 'approved' by the ESA before they committed to the Spacelab project which preceded the Space Station. Numerous ESA engineers and technicians have been working on Shuttle long enough to collect pensions. I'm pretty sure if the American public knew just how involved Europe - and to a lesser extent Japan and Russia - were in the 'American' space program, they would re-think the whole thing.
Moonguy, Jun 01 2008

       Aw... we do love Europeans, we just don't show it all the time.   

       Not with sexy little Canada at our back door... you should see her robotic arms...!
mylodon, Jun 02 2008

       That didn't sound quite right. :\
mylodon, Jun 02 2008

       Having re-read my last input, it occured to me it might be regarded as a tad anti-European. This was unintended. My point only is most Americans think the U.S. space program is ONLY done by American citizens. Such is not, and never has been, the case.   

       It would be difficult to say just how much of what has been 'american progress' in space is actually European or Japanese in origin. Currently, NASA's 40,000+ employees include some 1600 non-citizens. Most of these are research people who have great, if silent, contributions to make to the overall effort.
Moonguy, Jun 03 2008


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