Endeavour returning right now

Performed de-orbit burn at 11:25 ET. Scheduled to land at 12:32 ET.

All eyes will be on the tiles.

UPDATE: Thankfully, pics now show that the shuttle seems to be okay. Will be down in a couple of minutes.

UPDATE 2: Down and stopped. I still think that they should have tried the repair methods, though it’s tough to argue with success.

It will be interesting to see how the damaged section fared.

UPDATE 3: A commenter noted the expensive and never-used Shuttle launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was originally built for the MOL program in the 1960s, for which it was also never used. More info and a bunch of pics at 1985: Space Shutle at Vandenberg.


  1. While it is a good thing they’re all back safely, wouldn’t you think NASA would know how much damage is tolerable and how much needs to be fixed before they launched? They are ceramic so it is not unreasonable to think they might break, even if they didn’t get hit by debris from the external tank.

  2. Isn’t it reasonable to think tat the fact that they didn’t make the repair attempt means that they calculated that the RISK of making the repairs (either to craft or EVA crew) outweighed the BENEFIT of having a go at the new procedures? I mean, I’m one for second guessing gov’t as much as ANYONE, but with the kind of scrutiny on this issue, I’d think they decided carefully nad deliberately to decrease overall risk cross this and future missions. Just my $0.03.

  3. Having been one who does such calculations, I’d say they lean far less on them than they should. The thing is, they build fault tolerance into the avionics and into the structure of the vehicle itself. That’s the reason I’m surprised they had to go off and do tests to see if a hole that size was ok. I wonder now if they’d been better off to have lined the leading edges with those tiles than with that carbon-carbon composite. It seems to be more resilient.

  4. Thanks for the link, James. After reading it, though, I’m not entirely convinced that carbon-carbon composite is all that great. I used to think it was, but a few years ago I was doing some aerodynamics work for a race car team that used carbon-carbon brakes. They said that material was really finicky and would shatter like glass if dropped or even bumped just right. I was worried that tile would shatter, but it stayed in place just like it had never been scratched. Those plasma probes would require a ton of energy to shield a vehicle the size of the shuttle orbiter, especially at the speeds it rips through the atmosphere. Plus the plasma reduces the drag by quite a bit so it would take a much longer distance to scrub off speed. Actually there is another way you can do roughly the same thing as a plasma probe without using any electricity, but it would have the same problem. Personally I think the best thing to do is to launch cargo in a usable on orbit container. They should only use a heat shield large enough to protect a crew reentry capsule – when they have crew to deorbit. If you wanted to deorbit the final stage engines they could mount them on a heat shielded pallet with a crash energy absorbing honeycomb aluminum core and a parachute. You know, similar to those pallets they use to drop cargo out of a C-130 or C-17 but with an shield on the bottom. Whatever crack smoking comittee designed the shuttle orbiter was a pack of idiots. Why carry wings into space just so you can use them to slow the final seconds of your decent? That’s stupid. And why deorbit your cargo container? You paid $10,000/lb to get it into orbit, why the hell not leave it there? And don’t even get me started on the landing gear. Von Braun must have spun himself through the center of the Earth when those idiots started designing that shuttle piece of crap. Then the Skunk Works started on the X-33. I have no use for that place since that fiasco. It’s a good thing they moved to Palmdale, otherwise someone might have mistaken them for the real thing.

  5. Dfens – Yes a real plasma shield would be out of the question at this time. Maybe in a say 100 years or so. What I was thinking of is of a safety device. Where you could deflect part of plasma stream away from critical or damaged areas a few minutes or so. Basically it would akin to the electromagnetic armor concept. I 1000% agree with you on the cargo concept. I would take the cargo concept a tad bit further. Having different launch methods depending on the cargo being hoisted. One of the most cost effective ways of launch is the gas gun concept. http://www.phy6.org/stargaze/SSHARP.htm http://yarchive.net/space/exotic/light_gas_gun.html Gas guns could be used to launch bulk g insensitive cargo’s like water, fuel, and other such items. Only the delicate stuff should rocket launched. If we went to a gas gun concept that launches materials to the space station, then use the space station as an assembly site – we can cuts space cost by at least half. Yes the orbiter is a product of committee. Even worse, it was a product of budget driven stupidity. ASA basically ran out of money in the 70’s, so they turned to the Air Force for funding. The Air Force in turn mandated a certain high level of maneuverability both in air/space and the size of the cargo bay and its capacity was dictated by keyhole sats My understanding of the origin of delta wing concept – was that the lifting body concept got tossed (see six million dollar man intro) in favor of a delta wing rocket/jet hybrid. The jets were tossed due to cost and complexity. That said, the delta wing design was kept to meet the air force requirement that the shuttle be able to land at multiple sites.

  6. Yeah, what a disaster. Once it was built, it didn’t meet anyone’s needs. Did you ever get your check for that abandoned shuttle launch pad at Vandenburg they never used? Me neither. I guess we lost that money too. Funny how they can flush millions or even billions down the toilet and no one is accountable. No one even gets a bad mark on their employment record. It’s just, oops, another billion gone.

  7. Oh, and regarding the light gas gun, remember when Saddam was building one of those? We could sabotage their effort and destroy the life of the guy who was helping him build it, but not invest a dime in it as a lauch system for our use. I mean, hell, why sabotage their effort if it wasn’t viable? If it is viable, why aren’t we investing in one? Why aren’t we leading the way in that technology? Oh yeah, if launching stuff into orbit were cheap, we wouldn’t be able to milk the US taxpayer for billions. I almost forgot what I was here for.