Buckethead (who is a regular commenter here on MO – thanks!) notes my earlier post about the theory that they Space Shuttle might be done for as of now. Like me, he’s more than a little skeptical, but probably wouldn’t shed any tears if it turned out to be the case.
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.
He also observes, that with all the abandoned projects in the files and all the advances in computer design and materials manufacturing, we really should be able to whip out a new manned spacecraft design pretty quickly. (He says they could do it in a weekend, but I’ll give them until the end of the year.)
I mentioned in a comment in the earlier post
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.
Call me nostalgic, but isn’t the Apollo program what we need right now? You want a space station? We had one, but it fell down and went boom because of Shuttle delays. You want a heavy lift booster? We had the biggest and baddest heavy lift booster of them all, but we canceled it. You want to go to the moon? To Mars? Beyond? Apollo had, or was capable of, all of that and more.
Am I suggesting that we really go back to 1975 and pick up right where we left off?
Well, now that you mention it, I think that I am.
And go read Buckethead’s whole post on The Ministry of Minor Perfidy.