To Shuttle never more

Is The Shuttle Grounded Forever?

shuttle.jpgJeffery F. Bell thinks maybe it is. He argues that post-CAIB shuttle flights might not be any safer, overall, than before. He throws out a 40% chance of another dead crew and destroyed shuttle before the end of the ISS flights in 2010. He thinks maybe the plan all along has been to ground the shuttle forever.

Is this the real Bush Space Plan? Was this intended right from the start?

In this model, the current Plan Bush is just a politically sellable intermediate plan to get the contractors and politicians all mentally accustomed to a Shuttle-free environment a few years down the road. Thus the shock of Shuttle termination will be lessened, when it is finally announced sometime after the November elections. Lockheed and Boeing will get big contracts for CEV and Super-EELV, about the same size as their current Shuttle and Station contracts. No NASA centers need close. Everybody is happy.

Could this particular “conspiracy” theory actually be true?

I don’t know if I’m buying it, but I’m not so sure I would oppose the shuttle program’s immediate demise. Think of the budget money freed up to reinvent the Apollo program, which is more or less what we need to do at this point.

And I wouldn’t, even for one moment, believe that the Bush people are above sneaking their plan in.

And as for the Bush Administration, this is exactly the kind of indirect approach they have adopted for most of their major initiatives. They are very clever at taking advantage of the blind Bushophobia of the Administration’s opponents. They always start out by doing something very different from (sometimes exactly the opposite of) what they really want to do. Then when the first plan is denounced by the news media and the Democrats, they reverse course and do what should have been done in the first place.

Then the President’s opponents congratulate themselves on having “forced” Bush to abandon another misguided plan. This ploy works best if the original plan is really stupid and obviously failing (e.g. letting looters run wild in Baghdad), but this isn’t really necessary anymore, since Bush-bashing has become so reflexive that any program he suggests is automatically attacked.

I think there’s a lot of good that could come from an early end to the Shuttle/ISS debacle. A lot of loss, too, of course, but in the long run we might be better off.

And NASA should put the Hubble Space Telescope on eBay right now. Someone could buy it, science organizations and universities could rent time on it, and interested parties could try to fund a Soyuz-based servicing mission or two. Unloading the Hubble operations would save NASA another ton of dough, and they could get back to the cutting-edge stuff that no one else can manage.


  1. Why do you want to see the Hubble die? I’d much rather see it’s funding continued. It would be a horrible waste otherwise. To me it appears that Republicans are all for building things so they have lots of fat contracts to hand out to friends but much less enthusiastic about continuing to fund the programs once the building is over. Just an observation…

  2. Why do you want to see the Hubble die?’? The current budget, Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations, and NASA’s plan have already killed the Hubble. No more servicing missions, which means no more gyroscopes (4 of 6 have already failed, two more means no more pointing accurately at anything) or other maintenance. I want NASA to let go so that someone else can take over management of the Hubble and keep it alive. NASA can’t and won’t. Someone else, with corporate sponsors and donations, might be able to. And to claim this is the Republicans’ fault is pretty silly.

  3. It’s hard not to blame them when they control the White House, House and Senate. To say if the minority really really wanted to save it, they could fight really really hard to do it…is silly in my book. Glad to know you don’t personally want the Hubble dead. I’ll shoot off an email to Sen. Carl Levin and see if he thinks it is possible to save it. Wouldn’t hurt to put a bug in his ear as he knows how to get things done. Perhaps if the Hubble didn’t interfer with ‘faith-based’ science then it would be included in the budget. I wonder about that…

  4. MG: It isn’t the budget that has killed the service missions to the Hubble. It’s the recommendations of the Columbia accident board. The shuttle cannot fly unless it can reach the International Space Station in an emergency. A shuttle in an orbit that can reach the Hubble cannot reach the ISS. They were already discussing scrapping service missions before the Columbia accident, and budget concerns WERE a part of that. But that’s just a result of this crazy Space Shuttle/ISS co-dependent NASA that we have, and the reasons we have it now go back into the 1970s. That’s what I meant by being silly to blame the current administration. Bush’s space plan doesn’t help, to be sure. In fact, it looks kind of silly itself. But, as the article I link to suggests, if the shuttle were ‘suddenly’ grounded permanently, it might make a great deal of sense. The Hubble is written off either way. I realize that it’s a million-to-one against anyone actually being able to ‘buy’ and run the Hubble besides NASA. But, barring a sudden 180 by just about everyone, NASA cannot and will not keep it alive.

  5. Perhaps if the Hubble didn’t interfer with ‘faith-based’ science then it would be included in the budget. I wonder about that…’ Really. You actually spend time wondering about that? You’re postulating that the Hubble would continue to receive funding and maintenance if it didn’t ‘interfer with faith-based science’? There are a number of possible reasons that the Hubble isn’t getting the funding and repair missions that it needs, a number of which Murdoc has laid out. And the reason you’re wondering about is that it ‘interferes with faith-based science’? Occam’s Razor at its finest…

  6. Murdoc wrote: ‘It isn’t the budget that has killed the service missions to the Hubble. It’s the recommendations of the Columbia accident board. The shuttle cannot fly unless it can reach the International Space Station in an emergency. A shuttle in an orbit that can reach the Hubble cannot reach the ISS.’ I realize this however the shuttle program would have been continued if NASA didn’t have to now rob Peter to pay Paul to work on Bush’s new dream. I have much less confidence in the recommendations of ANY boards since 2000. I’d much rather see current projects continued and improved like Hubble, the Space Station and the Shuttle Program than to go back to the moon again.

  7. Cancel the Shuttle today, in 2010, or never. It doesn’t matter. NASA’s dependence on the Shuttle is what killed the Hubble. Triple NASA’s budget and it doesn’t matter. The Shuttle will not go back to the Hubble. Moon mission, Mars mission, no mission. NASA has no choice because it painted itself into a corner with the Shuttle/ISS program. NASA killed a project that, while expensive, had returned far more in science and experience when it canceled the Apollo-based programs in favor of an untested, fragile, far more expensive Shuttle program. Huge budget cuts (neither of the Bushes were in the White House in 1970 when NASA’s budget started getting sliced and diced) canceled three moon missions and a lot of other manned and unmanned projects. So what does NASA do? Discard an Apollo system that was running like clockwork for a questionable, experimental program that cost way, way, way more (canceling many projects to do so) and then putting all the eggs into that one basket. And make no mistake, the Space Shuttle IS experimental. MG, I’ve got to say that trying to blame something like this on the Bush administration is ignoring the facts. The Shuttle program has been dead since 1986 when the Challenger blew up. The Air Force and most of the commercial customers pulled out at that point, quashing any hopes of the regular service to orbit and the money-making claims that Shuttle proponents had been making for years. Claiming that any boards since 2000 don’t have credibility is petty political mud slinging with no bearing on this discussion. That being said, I disagree with the CAIB’s recommendation that the Shuttle only fly if it can reach the ISS. My recommendation is never fly that bitch again. That sucks, because we won’t be back into space for ten years if we don’t. Unless we keep hitching rides with the Rooskies. The Bush space plan, which I’m very skeptical of, makes more sense than throwing good money after bad like we are today. At least the Bush plan calls for spending a little on projects with big returns. The current plan calls for spending a lot on virtually no returns. The Shuttle/ISS NASA needs to be replaced. There is virtually no return from the ISS as it is. Let the EU have it, except that even they don’t want it. No one is complaining very loudly about the possibility of the ISS’ early demise. If the only thing that killing the Shuttle does is get the space program back to 1975, it’s probably worth it. Cut our losses. We’ve been holding this hand for two decades too long. Time to fold.

  8. It’s a sad fact that China and Russia – using forty year old technology – have a more robust and capable manned space flight capability than we do with our thirty year old technology. There have been no significant advances in space transportation since the shuttle flew back in ’81, and that wasn’t much of an advance, as Murdoc has pointed out. There are three things we need for a decent space transportation infrastructure, and we have only one of them. We have disposable launchers that can reliably put satellites and other moderate sized, unmanned payloads into orbit, for a fairly reasonable price. The other two things are a safe and reasonably priced manned vehicle, and a heavy lift vehicle. We have known almost from the beginning of the shuttle era that despite the smoke NASA’s been blowing, the shuttle is none of these things. I simply can’t believe that with all we (and the Russkies) have learned since 1961, Lockheed or Boeing could not design a simple manned capsule, even one that could do a glider reentry – in a weekend. The design studies have been done. We have better computers, materials, and everything you need to design and build space vehicles than when we did it the first time over forty years ago. A minishuttle/X24 lookalike should not take half a decade to build. And once built, there is no reason that we couldn’t launch it on one of our disposable rockets. Similarly, for a heavy lift vehicle, we already have everything we need. If you consider that the entire mass of the shuttle orbiter is in fact payload reaching orbit, why not just get rid of the orbiter and replace it with a cargo shell with shuttle main engines at the bottom? All the components have been tested, and again the design studies already completed. If we really wanted to, we could have a full-fledged, reliable, flexible and robust space transportation system in little more than a year. And we could easily save Hubble, as we could easily have saved Skylab back in ’79 had we not foolishly thrown all our eggs into the shuttle basket. And despite much thinking about it, I really have no idea why it isn’t being done – aside from a few more or less paranoid conspiracy theories I’m not confortable with. It seems impossible to me that NASA could be so completely lacking even the dimmest vision of how we can get into space, especially as all the pieces are right out in full view.