20:08 26 Apr 2003
Bruce Moomaw at SpaceDaily.com has another piece on the future of the space shuttle and International Space Station. NASA has floated the possibility of flying the shuttle unmanned after the Orbital Space Plane begins flying around 2012, but Moonmaw suggest flying the shuttle as an unmanned ISS support vehicle right now. There are basically two missions still on the board for the shuttle: ISS construction and support, and the Hubble Space Telescope. Never mind that the ISS is pretty much a joke, but those missions could be flown without a crew onboard if NASA developed an automated docking system for the shuttle to use.
As for the Hubble, he has this to say
According to the Rand Corporation, every Shuttle launch costs fully $760 million. For the cost of any two Shuttle servicing missions (and perhaps less), an entirely new Hubble Telescope could be built — with its cost greatly reduced by making it a near-copy of the earlier one except for new instruments and minor engineering improvements, thus eliminating that huge share of the original Hubble’s cost that came from having to design it in the first place — and launched on a Titan 4 when the previous Hubble wore out completely.
There are currently two missions on the board to the Hubble: a servicing mission originally scheduled for 2004, and a final mission in 2010 to bring it home. Why not scratch those missions, leave the Hubble up there for as long as it works, and shoot another one up when we need to?
Or we could reproduce the Saturn V and launch 5 Hubbles at a time. Or we could launch four Skylab-type modules, hook them together, and have a real space station. Heck, we could even go back to the moon. Or we could send a Skylab to Mars. We could pretty much do anything we damn well wanted if we had some Saturn Vs. Just a thought.