Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Why we need a Space Shuttle or something very much like it.

By StrifeZ in Op-Ed
Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:47:56 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

I readily admit, up until about three weeks ago (when Columbia lifted off), I hated the Space Shuttle. I thought it was old, rusty, too expensive, stagnating scientific discovery in space and development of new launch vehicles. I was very angry to see NASA cancel the X-33, the prototype to the Venture Star, the second generation, single stage shuttle. I was upset that such stupid work involving microgravity was being done in flight after flight. I was waiting for NASA to do the right thing and come up with some goal for the Shuttle... waiting for years, but it always seemed like they wanted to do nothing but examine muscle loss in space and, every few years give the Hubble Space telescope an upgrade. In fact, the highlight of the Shuttle for the past few years for me had been the first ever three dimensional picture scan of 80% of the surface of the earth in 2000. That's right: the American space program had gone from putting men on the moon to taking 3D pictures. Sure it was an important mission, well suited to the shuttle, but it was hardly ambitious.

But then, when Columbia lifted off on about January 16th, I had a new appreciation of the Shuttle and its mission after something of an epiphany: the shuttle is actually taking off semi-regularly, doing what it was designed to do: build a space station. This article will not attempt to explore the case of manned space flight versus non manned space flight; that's just a stupid debate spurned by angry academics who wished they had NASA's budget. It will attempt to show what the shuttle has done, what it is doing right, what it is doing wrong and what it should do. From this, I hope you will see how important it is.

When the Shuttle was pitched in the mid 1970s, the plan was to use it to build, man and resupply a permanent, wheel shaped Space Station. Not having the money to fund both the Shuttle and the Space station at the same time, NASA instead decided to build the Shuttle over 10 years, and modify some upper stage Saturn V rockets to form the first American Space Station: Skylab. But in abandoning the original idea of a Station and a servicing Shuttle, NASA effectively took the Shuttle's primary mission away. Its new mission would be to risk American lives to put telecommunications satellites in orbit once a week. It wasn't until Reagan's Space Station Freedom became the International Space Station Alpha that the Shuttle's mission truly returned. It occurred to me that 22 years after the first shuttle was built, the first day of nearly every other month for 2003 would see a Shuttle launch to the ISS to bring a piece, and by the end of the year, complete the Space Station. While I wasn't enamored with the Shuttle, I realized that it was doing at last what it was designed to do. I felt a ground breaking year in human space development would commence, as soon as Columbia would get back from another one of NASA's silly "micro gravity mission"...

The Shuttle was original a product of late 1970s/early 1980s technology. Six were built: Enterprise, the prototype that proved the aerodynamic capabilities, but never made an orbital flight because it was deemed too expensive to upgrade to a full service shuttle; the Columbia, the first real shuttle of the fleet and its flag ship, designed heavier than the other shuttles to lift heavier cargo; the Atlantis and Discovery were to help on scientific missions; the Challenger, the workhorse of the fleet made 10 flights in three and a half years; and the Endeavor, which was built to replace Challenger, which made 19 flights in 10 years. This great fleet was very much the pinnacle of human engineering. They were designed to lift off every week, make 60 flights a year and offset the program's cost by ferrying satellites into orbit instead of traditional disposable rocket boosters. Moreover, the Shuttle would be the template to all future manned missions in space, the logic being the day of the completely disposable transportation system is over. The shuttle piggybacked by two completely disposable rocket boosters and a fuel tank today, just as it was in 1981 (although the materials the fuel tank is made of has changed since to be cheaper which is why it is rest-red and not white). Originally, NASA planned to fly it that way for the first five years or so, then replace it with rocket boosters that fly back to base and a disposable fuel tank. Eventually according to NASA's, the Shuttle would be replaced with a completely reusable successor shuttle that would make its first flight in about 1994 or 1995. While the time table vanished, and NASA still plans to this day the rocket boosters that return, the Shuttle has succeeded in its primary mission: to demonstrate that manned space flight via a reusable launch system is possible, and indeed has significant advantages over disposable, Apollo era launch systems. Space flight eventually will be purely in the completely reusable form: the Shuttle was just the first generation trailblazer.

The other thing the Shuttle was designed to do was to bring cargo into space via its large cargo bay. This cargo bay was very flexible. On some missions, it would carry a Satellite and a robotic arm. On other missions it's robotic arm would pull in a Satellite some crews could repair them. On purely scientific missions, a pressurized research lab could be placed inside, giving the shuttle expanded capabilities. The cargo bay was very much the core of the mission of the shuttle: so that living, thinking human beings can take large man made objects up into space with them and manipulate them. It would originally carry up segments of the to-be-made Space Station, according to the plan, and later when the Station was canceled, satellites. It remains to this day, an 18 wheeler with a rocket pack.

This is where NASA has been focusing the shuttle and what a lot of critics miss. The shuttle is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Since 1998, the Shuttle has been regularly lifting segments and parts to the International Space Station, creating what is currently the largest man-made object in space with the pressurized volume of a small house. By its completion in 2005, the ISS will be the second brightest and second largest object in the night sky, only after the moon. It will have the pressurized volume of a 747. Every night, a testament to human ingenuity and greatness will fly over head twice.

But the ISS also is the weakness of the NASA program. Even though I have had a change of heart about the shuttle and about the mission upon reflection, I feel today, as I have for the past few years that the shuttle and NASA as a whole need a direction. Many critics have said this, but I see a future, more ambitious NASA where a Space Shuttle, or at least something like it is integral to its plans.

A lot of people want to go to Mars. Could we go to Mars today if we wanted to? The answer is probably yes, we have the technical capability and scientific knowledge to send a rocket mission to Mars in a few years. Could we go to Mars and then make it from a technical standpoint so that, unlike the Moon, it merely not a two year infatuation? The answer is yes... depending on how you do it. The problem a lot of people have when thinking about going to Mars is how we get there. I will tell you right now, when we go to Mars it will not look like Apollo 11 blasting off the launch pad. Taking a rocket to Mars, while possible is the stupid way to do it, is a one time mission and is overly expensive for that one time mission. Also a rocket is very slow and too small for 5- 7 people for 6 months. Unless we will send only 3 people to Mars, there will be no manned Mars missions involving a rocket. Since we almost definitely will be sending 5-7 people, there is a very small chance of any rocket based Mars mission.

But then how do we get to Mars? The answer is via Nuclear power. Project Prometheus is a billion dollar NASA initiative to develop a nuclear energy reactor for use in space that will power an ion engine (a much more powerful version of the one used aboard the Deep Space 1 probe). These nuclear reactors, much like the ones used on Voyager 1 and 2 and Cassini, will use isotope decay to create energy: there will be no explosions of bombs in space. It will also produce something in the order of 120 kilowatts of energy per reactor, far more than any previous space borne nuclear reactor.

For a mission to Mars many experts who are serious about it see a reusable deep space exploration vehicle, designed and constructed in segments on Earth and assembled in Space. Powered by eight reactors and carrying one to use with the base on the planet, the craft could make the trip to Mars in about 4 months if Earth and Mars were closest at time of launch. This craft would enter Mars orbit and drop a house sized base into the planet that would slow down and land much like the Moon Lander. This base would then be powered by a Nuclear Reactor for a few months, before it blasting off, redocking with the orbiting space craft and heading on home. A craft like this is ideal because it could be used time and time again, just requiring matinence between missions and resupply. Having never the need to land on Earth, it could be built larger and more ambitiously than any Apollo 11 style rocket. It may cost more than a single Mars mission involving a rocket launch, but not more than two missions. For the cost of two Mars missions, a ship that could be used hundreds of times would be built.

Nuclear powered space ship

The key is building it. Let's say, hypothetically that around 2012, NASA, with their complete Space Station decide to go on their Mars mission in this manner. How do they build it? You cannot build a craft like this without the Space Shuttle (or something like it). Launching the pieces individually on disposable rockets may put them in orbit, but how would the segments even bee connected, or the wiring and life support systems between them? It takes Astronauts days to connect segments of the Space Station together. Doing it remotely or with robots would be far more difficult and risky than something that has already been done a few dozen times with a person. Having the shuttle take the segments into orbit and having people use the robotic arm to put the various segments in place and then connecting them and their wiring like we are on the ISS is the only way to do it.

How would you get people aboard the Mars space craft? You could go the capsule route, but it would just be a waste to drop it into the atmosphere after everyone boarded the Mars space craft and would be unnecessary to carry on the ways to Mars. The best way to do this is via a reusable space plane like the shuttle, but not the Shuttle. The shuttle is, again, a flying 18 wheeler. NASA needs something that is designed to carry just people, not cargo, to work WITH the Space Shuttle program, not replace it.

I may be making something of a drawn out case, but here is where I see NASA. After they complete the ISS, they should focus on going to Mars. To do that, they need a Nuclear powered Space Vessel that will be constructed in Space like the ISS and never land on any planet, ever. To build this vessel, they need the Shuttle to carry the pieces up and build it. Mars without the shuttle is impossible. Period.

This however requires significant restructuring of the Space Program's overarching missions. First of all, NASA needs to stop chasing its tail and start playing to each system's strengths.

1- They should build the crew segment to the ISS so some real science can be done on the $60 billion station with a crew of 7, instead of a crew of 3 fixing leaking pipes. This segment costs $1 billion dollars. Spending $1 billion to make $60 billion worth it is good money. The station would then be the primary means of space medical and physical exploration. All of NASA's experiments involving micro gravity, muscle loss and gravitational effects of time would be done on the ISS and NOT the shuttle.

2- They should build a "space Porsche". A vehicle designed to be put on top of an Atlas 4 launch vehicle to ferry people from Earth to the Space Station (or Mars Ship) and do nothing else than that. It would be highly maneuverable in space. It could also serve as an escape pod for the Space Station, much as the Soyuz does now. NASA built several prototypes, like the Crew Return Vehicle which made several drops from B-52s but was put on hold, and the X-40 Space Maneuver vehicle. Regardless, this system is imperative to NASA. It is crazy to use the Space Shuttle, a flying 18 wheeler, as a Taxi. This is projected to having a $5 billion price tag. The Orbital Space Plane program, which is what this essentially is, seeks to create 15 of these vehicles.


3- Keep the shuttles working with periodic upgrades but no major overhauls. The shuttle still has some 1970s computers on it. In fact, the most powerful computers on the entire ship were the off the shelf laptops that were bolted to a platform. Ripping out the guts of such a fundamentally dated machine wouldn't be worth it. NASA did the right thing by giving the fleet major upgrades over the last few years, but they shouldn't do more than periodic upgrades from this point on. Very fundamental pieces of the shuttle are simply based on old technology even though NASA has kept them in tip-top shape. $3 billion for safety upgrades is the right amount. They should not build a new Shuttle to replace Columbia unless they consider taking Enterprise out of the Smithsonian and giving it an upgrade to fly. The shuttle should stop doing micro gravity research missions and crew transfer and re supplying of the ISS and instead focus on what it is good at: carrying things into orbit, building things in Space, and unique science missions, such as the 3D mapping of earth which required a 90 foot boom with a camera be extended from the cargo bay (keep in mind the shuttle is only 120 feet long).

4- Start researching a Shuttle replacement or bring back the X-33 and Venture Star. This is a shame. NASA spent billions on the X-33. The Linear Aerospike engine was being tested and was a phenomenal technical success. The airframe was almost built. The only holdup was the two large internal fuel tanks made of an ultra light alloy that were having problems. Most of the X-33s delays were with these fuel tanks. After having so much done, to scrap it out of what seems like frustration is ludicrous. NASA dismissed it saying the project was "too ambitious" (direct quote). You know something is wrong when NASA uses those two words. It is time, after 10 years to stop procrastinating and come up with a Shuttle successor and see it to conclusion. I highly suggest they revive the X-33, but if they don't, they should go the completely reusable route, even if it is multistage. Do not build reusable thrusters for the Space Shuttle either. I also would suggest Congressional oversight of this project to make sure any NASA "protect the Shuttle" bureaucracy does not wreck this program. They should set concrete dates for this replacement and meet them. When it does debut, do not cease flying the Shuttle right away, but phase them out from oldest to youngest to maximize the capabilities of the fleet while new ones are being built. It should also be required of this ship to have an ISS docking port built into it's hull so that if there is any problems on lift off and it makes it to Space, the crew can fly to the ISS and ditch the ship. If I were NASA, I would seriously give thought to working with the Department of Defense on this. Working with the DOD will keep it from ravaging the budget.

X-33, VentureStar, Space Shuttle

Linear Aerospike engine

5- Build an Orbital Rescue Vehicle. While I consider this lower priority than the other proposals, I think it would be good of NASA to design a Space plane built for the express purposes of being able to dock with a Shuttle or Shuttle-like vehicle or the ISS, have its crew transfer aboard, detach and then return the earth. The vehicle should be very simple and light, essentially being a pressurized chamber on a glider with a docking port. It would be placed on top of an ATLAS 4 launch vehicle. During any mission to space involving rockets, it would be ready on another pad to lift off within a day, requiring little more than the need to be rolled out on the bad and the computer checked.

6- Build a Nuclear Propulsion System - NASA is doing this. Project Prometheus. 10 years, about $1 billion.

7- Tell the public when we are going to Mars, when and how. Hopefully it'll look a lot like what I've laid out here. They should describe why things are done before we go. They should explain why we need Nuclear powered ion engines instead of rockets to go. They should explain why we need to go back to the Moon first if we need to. Despite the fact we live in the age of sound bytes, whistleblower hunting (by the media) and five second attention spans, the American people arent as stupid or as gullible as the media loves to pretend. If NASA sits down and tells the people why it does things in a non-B.S. manner, they will listen to it.

NASA is undeniably, one of the most important agencies in the US Government. Manned space flight as a whole is the most important endeavor mankind can embark on. Think about it, it took roughly 3.9 Billion years of evolution for Homo sapiens to emerge. 120,000 years after evolving from Homo heidelbergensis, Homo sapiens created civilization. 6000 years later, we have put men on the moon, built a Space Station, and acknowledge it or not, made space travel, via the Space Shuttle, routine (although no less risky). People are impatient and afraid of the risks, but the road to every new frontier has been paved in sacrifice, be it in body or mind. We have only been exploring space for 45 years. Sure, stopping use of the Shuttles and going back to disposable space capsules may be cheaper, it may be safer, but it is not sustainable. In the coming centuries space travel will be done via completely reusable craft. The Shuttle is the trailblazer, the prototype, to that destiny, and just because it is hard, just because there has been catastrophic losses twice in 113 missions, does not mean we should delay developing this path just to make the short term easier. There will not be sustained space exploration and sustained manned missions to the moon, mars and beyond without the shuttle. The very future of Space exploration for the next one hundred years depends if we run away from a proven idea like the shuttle. The Space Station, Hubble, the 3D Mapping mission, construction of the mars craft, ferrying people to and from space quickly. Critics of the shuttle may like to focus on its failings - and there are some - but its successes are far more breathtaking, and what it is doing now and will be required to do in the next 15 years make the question of eliminating the shuttle a non-question. We can't, if we truly wish to be a Space faring nation.

It is time to NASA, after the Columbia investigation to tell America about their 20 year plan. It is time to set a "death date" for the shuttle and start working on a successor, but NASA can not, and I think will not, shy away from this latest challenge. The legacy of Columbia will be different from the legacy of Challenger. Challenger taught NASA what it was doing wrong on a technical and managerial level. Columbia's legacy I think will be pointing NASA in the direction to re-starting the spark it once had, making it realize it needs direction, and making the American people realize how wonderful a vehicle the Space Shuttle is again.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What should be done with the Space Shuttle?
o Retired now, with a return to disposable, Apollo like rockets. 12%
o Maintained, but phased out over the next 15 years, with a 75%-100% reusable sucessor (like the Venture Star). 54%
o Retired now, with development of a reusable sucessor. This may mean no manned space flight for 6 years and mothballing of the ISS. 8%
o Retired in 2025 after major upgrades (like reusable rocket boosters), and replaced with a next-next generation vehicle (like magnetically launched) 8%
o Stop all manned space flight, spend the money on social services and take a step closer to become a perpetual welfare state. 15%

Votes: 123
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Nuclear powered space ship
o X-40a
o X-33, VentureStar, Space Shuttle
o Linear Aerospike engine
o Also by StrifeZ

Display: Sort:
Why we need a Space Shuttle or something very much like it. | 235 comments (223 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Wrong solution. (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by bjlhct on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 09:58:16 PM EST

It's the bureaucracy.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
Why we need a space elevator (4.00 / 6) (#6)
by michaelp on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 10:46:38 PM EST

to really get the exploration of the solar system going:

By the time the vehicle reaches the end of the cable, it could be moving as fast as 6.79 miles per second (10.93 kps)! At these speeds, a vehicle could detach from the cable and fly off into space at speeds fast enough to reach Mars in days or weeks instead of months.
More information regarding NASA's study of a SE.

The downside of space planes is mainly the fuel cost and the limited payload, while the elevator could be powered by orbital solar power and give payloads riding up on it tremendous boost to toward the inner system. Space planes still have the terrible problem they share with the shuttle: they need most of their fuel just to get their small payloads to orbit. If one is going to launch a mission farther into the system one will bring the fuel for that mission up along with the fuel for the spaceplane, severely limited extra orbital exploration.

The main argument against SEs is that they may "fall down". Leaving aside that many who fear the SE will fall down catastrophically don't seem to get the fact that most of the elevator will be at or above orbital velocity (and what effect this will have on the amount that will fall down), this is something that should be relatively straightforward to engineer around:

A space elevator on Earth would probably be composed mainly of carbon fibers or carbon nanotubes, which while very strong aren't particularly heat resistent.

and b)

Engineer in 'break zones', areas of low lateral strength or where lateral strength is provided by heat intolerant materials. These areas would then break in the event of a severe lateral stress, causing the cable to break up rather than fall whole.

Surely space planes and other light orbital craft (like the shuttle) will have their place, but (short of some new way of powering a spaceplane being discovered) seems to me real exploration will never begin until a way of moving very large cargoes to and from orbit is found.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

Shuttlecraft now, elevator a bit later. (5.00 / 2) (#7)
by StrifeZ on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 10:50:33 PM EST

This is true, and while its completely probable a space elevator will be deployed within the next 100 years or so, the next 35 years likely are almost exclusivly rockets or magnetic launches in and out of our atmosphere. But regardless if there is a space elevator or not, something is needed to connect things in space. The Shuttle or something like it is that tool. The space elevator is very important and they are making some great strides with carbon nanotubes, but in the immediate future (the next 25 years), the rockets are the only way to orbit- the debate is in what form, and what they do up there.

[ Parent ]
Main Argument (4.00 / 1) (#145)
by Merk00 on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:51:14 AM EST

I always thought the main argument against a space elevator was that no one was exactly sure how to build one. There are some ideas but most of the techniques are still very experimental at this point. It's a good idea but still has quite a ways to go.

"At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
- FIRST Mission
[ Parent ]

Same argument (none / 0) (#181)
by michaelp on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:59:39 PM EST

against starting a shuttle program in '72.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

[ Parent ]
Not Really (5.00 / 1) (#186)
by Merk00 on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:55:33 PM EST

Yes, but in 1972 we had actually built both rockets and planes. Building the shuttle was a logical continuation of those designs. We haven't even used most of the technology for a space elevator yet (the tallest structure in the world's height is measured in feet and not miles; that should give you a good idea of what I'm talking about). It simply isn't practical in the next ten years.

"At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
- FIRST Mission
[ Parent ]

Sort of. (5.00 / 1) (#198)
by Lagged2Death on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:31:12 PM EST

Well, yeah, the shuttle doesn't seem like such a far-out project, but that might not actually be the case. Despite functional and appearance similarities, the shuttle isn't very much like a disposable rocket or a plane.
"People don't appreciate that the shuttle, as a technical goal, is much more ambitious than the moon program," says Eugene Covert, an MIT professor and rocket-propulsion expert.
Quote from a story on the shuttle project first printed in 1980.

The infamous thermal tiles were probably the best-known piece of uber-tech that went into the shuttle - a lot of materials science went into those. Less well-appriciated were the engines, which were an astounding engineering feat themselves.

Columbia is to be powered by the first large, high-performance "cryogenic" rocket engine, burning liquid hydrogen for fuel instead of kerosene. Cryogenic engines can achieve the impossible dream - combustion efficiency of 99 percent...
...the shuttle's main engines will have internal pressures three times greater than those of any previous large [disposable!] engine, NASA says and the goal is to use them on 55 flights before an overhaul.
Meanwhile, the Highlift Systems space elevator project sounds like it has more in common with, say, a suspension bridge or a bullet-proof vest than it does with convential architecture, so comparisons with office buildings and the like may be misleading. The proposal is for a super-strong ribbon of fabric-like Unobtainium to be stretched down to the surface from space, rather than building a heavy, rigid tower up from the ground. The chief problem is that Unobtainium ribbon, and progress on the project all depends on what materials science invents or discovers. I'd be skeptical at a 10-year timeline, too, but a long-term project like this one needs an early start.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]
Highlift Systems (none / 0) (#147)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 01:34:13 AM EST

No thread on the space elevator can be complete wihtout a mention of Highlift Systems.

They are a company with plans to have an elevator working in fifteen years.

Soon you might be able to invest. If they let people invest small amounts (~$100) for a few shares, I might put a bit in - if they fold, I'm out that much, but if they succeed it will be worth quite a bit.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

privatize space (3.00 / 5) (#11)
by khallow on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:15:36 PM EST

I don't see a real reason why NASA needs its own manned vehicles. Instead, let's get private companies to do the job. NASA instead can provide large incentives by putting up billions of dollars in prize awards for various achievements and guaranteed business.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Eventually, but not now. (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by StrifeZ on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:20:32 PM EST

I think this'll work a good 50 or 75 years or so from now, but as many launch companies like Orbital Sciences and Boeing show, rocket launch is far too expensive per flight to offset via either commercial travel or in bulk.

I think before Space exploitation is opened to companies, NASA must "see whats out there first".

Federal development will has been and will develop the core technologies necessary so that these companies can take whats learn and build on them eventually.

[ Parent ]
pfft! (5.00 / 1) (#41)
by adiffer on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:03:26 AM EST

Fifty to seventy-five years?!

NASA has been out there in Cis-Lunar space for 40 years.  How much longer do they  need before us peasants get to go and make a living at it?

Rocket launches from the standard providers are expensive because they can make them expensive and the market won't flinch.  We are witness to a basic economic rule here.  There is nothing mystical going on when a bunch of people make an awful lot of money doing something for which they would rather not have competition.

Why in the world should I expect our federal government to do the technology research for a transportation infrastructure when historical precedent shows it is the private sector (Us folks!) that did the real legwork for previous systems?
--BE The Alien!
[ Parent ]

absolutely! (none / 0) (#58)
by khallow on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:35:56 AM EST

I think we've given NASA enough time.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

NASA has had it's fair crack of the whip. (none / 0) (#88)
by gordonjcp on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:10:04 PM EST

It's 2003, and I can go and spend £40,000 on a car. But IT STILL DOESN'T FUCKING FLY!
We've been in the 21st century for three years now. I want £500 second-hand flying cars that anyone can afford!

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

[ Parent ]
Simple. (5.00 / 2) (#133)
by SoupIsGoodFood on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:33:46 PM EST

I want £500 second-hand flying cars that anyone can afford!

1) Find old 2nd hand car. Something with a V8 that get up a bit of speed.
2) Find long stretch of road with large cliff at end.
3) Drive to cliff at high speed.
4) One airborn, open driver and front passanges doors to full extent.

You now have a flying car.

[ Parent ]

And (none / 0) (#173)
by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 04:31:09 PM EST


And private industry built the interstates, right?

There should be (and is!) a interrelation between private and public sector.  Both need to be part of it.  And you know what?

They both are.  Manned space flight is run by NASA, but the vehicles are designed and built by contractors.  Unmanned flight is actually priced as low as it can go; the market is over-built, the supply is too high.  Until there's some sort of breakthrough in launch costs, the supply of launch capability is more than adequate for the demand at current launch costs.  In order for the demand to rise much, the private industry launch corporations would have to launch every single rocket at a launch - and they're not going to do that.

If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]

absolutely not (none / 0) (#221)
by adiffer on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:44:37 PM EST

You are right about the interrelation that must exist between private and public sector for infrastructure projects.

It appears that you don't know what you are talking about when it comes to that relationship in the aerospace field within the US, though. NASA tends to dictate designs, they have way too much oversight power, and they spend their money buying a ridiculous level of reliability. The private sector goes along with this because they simply charge NASA the appropriate amount. That translates roughly like this.

If you want to buy a gold-plated widget and annoy us by requiring lots of unnecessary paperwork, we are going to charge you.
Oh...you'll pay?
Just fine.

As long as that relationship is allowed to exist, the investors asked to finance other companies in that industry will continue to believe that is how it should be done. You can't raise $100M dollars in the US right now for a space venture and that is the minimum they think you need because of past evidence. The big companies don't mind this for another reason too. This acts as a barrier to entry for those who would compete with them.

You are buying into an illusion. Look for yourself.
The Truth Is Out There.

--BE The Alien!
[ Parent ]

Somewhat. (none / 0) (#224)
by subversion on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 11:41:53 AM EST

I'm probably more aware of it than you, given that I worked for NASA for a while. NASA used to dictate designs down to the hardware level. Now they dictate policy; it must have X performance levels, capable of doing Y and Z, and you need to make R technology work for this particular system. The specs are obviously more detailed, but they work out to that. There were about 150 different shuttle designs considered. They settled on the Rockwell delta-wing mostly because DoD made them. Finally; how can you say they spend their money buying a ridiculous level of reliability? It *is* worth spending an extra $20 million on software verification, an extra $50 million for redundant life support, and so forth, in order to prevent them from losing a $2 billion dollar orbiter and 7 people who've been training for 2-8 years at a cost of $200,000+ per year. If you think you can do a space venture for less than $100M, then you are: a) fooling yourself, or b) wasting time because if you can get it built and launch it elsewhere then EVERYONE will use your design.

If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
hmm... (none / 0) (#227)
by adiffer on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 05:31:17 PM EST

Well...  I won't pick on you too much about the Shuttle decisions.  That is all water under the bridge now.  I point the finger of blame and claim fraud to the people high up the ladder among management at that time.

When it comes to ridiculous reliability purchases, though, I stick to my guns.  NASA faces a form of political risk and tries to buy a form of insurance by spending huge sums of money on reliability.  Most of that gets spent via oversight procedures that do not add much for the money spent.  Reliability is worth money, but not what they are paying.  I feel some in NASA are gullible and others are too willing to accept what the market demands for their needs.  A bit of pushing back is in order here even if NASA fails to spend some of its money accomplishing bigger aims.

Private industry tends to turn to insurance to safeguard against risks to important infrastructure.  When the Insurance industry cannot underwrite, it is a clear sign that something is amiss in the market and all need to consider other options.  I would not bother building a billion dollar orbiter if I cannot insure it.  Other options for getting people into space are available that can be underwritten.

I will politely disagree with you regarding space venture start up costs.  My friends and I intend to prove you and others who think that way wrong.  There are many more than your two options including the possibility that we may be right.  Of course, if we are right, NASA will benefit from an expanded market even if its role in that market changes.
--BE The Alien!
[ Parent ]

We'll see. (none / 0) (#230)
by subversion on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 10:20:58 AM EST

No, if you're right you get option B; a lot of money as everyone begins to use your design.

Knowing a fair number of people at NASA, and knowing them to be pretty smart people, I don't think you are right, but we'll see.

As to reliability - they spend the money because they're sending people, and they feel they have an obligation to make them as safe as possible.  Part of the reason is because people dying is bad politics, and part of the reason is because they are people, and no one wants to see people die because of something that could have been prevented.  Because of this, QA checks all the work that is done, systems are installed in triple-redundancy, and so on, and NASA considers it (as do I) money well spent.

As far as I know, there are no options for getting people into space that are insured at this time.  Soyuz cargo launches are insured, but I don't believe manned launches are, and if Soyuz isn't insured and Shuttle isn't insured, then there are no manned insured flights.

If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]

hmmm, you may have a point (none / 0) (#59)
by khallow on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:50:34 AM EST

I think this'll work a good 50 or 75 years or so from now, but as many launch companies like Orbital Sciences and Boeing show, rocket launch is far too expensive per flight to offset via either commercial travel or in bulk.

Certainly we should wait a little bit before dismantling NASA's deeply flawed manned program. I think a few weeks of reflection ought to do the trick. That's a little less time that you were thinking, but why take longer? We already know NASA isn't capable of doing the job. It's time to let go.

I think before Space exploitation is opened to companies, NASA must "see whats out there first".

I've looked through your prior articles and you don't seem to have a history of trolling - so I'll take you at face value. NASA has looked. Why do you think that there's anything else for NASA to "see" before the mortals are allowed in space?

Federal development will has been and will develop the core technologies necessary so that these companies can take whats learn and build on them eventually.

Like rockets? When will we get those? Space stations? Been around for thirty years. Satellite technology? Since the begining of the space age. The core technologies are there.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Uhm... (4.33 / 3) (#91)
by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:14:29 PM EST

NASA just organizes the launch vehicles and provides desired specifications.

Boeing, OSI, Lockheed are the ones that actually build NASA's launch vehicle.

Shuttle was a Rockwell International design (who have since, I believe, been swallowed by Boeing).

If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]

correct me if i'm wrong (none / 0) (#128)
by droobie on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:28:53 PM EST

but wasn't this what happened with the X-33? NASA gave lockheed-martin a bankload of money build the prototype, and they never got around to finishing it?

[ Parent ]
NASA needs a cooler goal (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by Lode Runner on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:20:44 PM EST

Putting a woman on Mars would be a much more interesting goal than floating around in low earth orbit.

The Vikings, Skylab, the Shuttle, the ISS... none of these really captured the public's imagination because the public wants adventure, not scientific probes, pointless circling, and milk-runs.

I agree, but Viking as big and ISS could have been (none / 0) (#16)
by StrifeZ on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:25:38 PM EST

Viking was huge in its day. I think we forget because we've all seen them now, what it was like to see pictures from Mars or Venus for the first time... seeing the surface of a planet other than ours for the very first time is a monumental event in human history.

My article is basically saying, what it takes to go there and see it in person.

I think the ISS would inspire the public if it was sold right, which it isnt. Ah, the power of public relations.

But you are right, we need to go to Mars.

I'm basically saying, this is how we're gonna do it and why we need the shuttle to do.

[ Parent ]
Viking (none / 0) (#32)
by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:06:39 AM EST

the Viking probe was very innovative scientifically and a major milestone in space exploration. Humans interacted with Mars for the first time, WOW!

But the program hardly lived up to NASA's expectations. The public just wasn't excited about it. Indeed, one reason Sagan put together Cosmos was to generate public enthusiasm for robotic space exploration after Viking didn't capture people's imaginations.

[ Parent ]

Sagan was a questionable scientists. (2.00 / 1) (#94)
by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:24:12 PM EST

Sagan didnt get tenure at Columbia University because his collegues realized how bogus his contributions to the field where. His job was writing books about other peoples work, making plaques, and thinking about life on other planets, but not real science that moved the field forward.

A bit of a tangent, but i dont think a lot of Carl Sagan.

[ Parent ]
Do teachers move science forward? (none / 0) (#105)
by ToastyKen on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:11:28 PM EST

I think you have to look at Sagan not as a researcher, but as a teacher who inspired others and thus contributed to science a bit more indirectly.  If some people saw Cosmos and were influenced to pursue scientific research or to be more supportive of research, then he's done his job, and I think he did a pretty job at that.

[ Parent ]
Damn Straight (none / 0) (#235)
by Akhasha on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 05:21:19 AM EST

Sagan was the MAN!

[ Parent ]
I disagree about the shuttle though. (none / 0) (#17)
by StrifeZ on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:31:44 PM EST

And, I read in an article a few days ago, there are a few things that are defining moments in America.

  • The signing of the constitution
  • Washington crossing the deleware.
  • The Invasion of Normandy
  • The assassination of Kennedy.
  • A Saturn V rocket launching.
  • Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon.
  • An American F-16 or F-15 doing a roll.
  • The Shuttle lifting off for the first time.

  • Countless "American" moments.

    I disagree what you say about the Shuttle. The Shuttle making us think space travel is routine is its greatest accomplishment. In its first few years, it was huge.

    And to many people, i think we all, at one point in our lives closed our eyes and dreamed of being inside the Shuttle at launch.

    [ Parent ]
    the one that stands out (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:10:35 AM EST

    is the moon landing. The only thing in its league would be setting foot on Mars.

    Certainly the Shuttle got my blood going, but I always understood it as the prelude to something much grander... and I'm not talking about ISS.

    [ Parent ]

    Where does the F15 & F16 come into this? [nt] (none / 0) (#97)
    by anonimouse on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:33:56 PM EST

    Relationships and friendships are complex beasts. There's nothing wrong with doing things a little differently.
    [ Parent ]
    Cool goals ARE the problem (4.00 / 1) (#30)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:49:00 AM EST

    Cool goals are about PR, not science or tech. Forget humans in space. That's a dumb idea. Robots are the cheap, economical way to go about it and there is nothing a human can do in space a well-designed robot couldn't.

    [ Parent ]
    forget humans in space (2.00 / 1) (#34)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:16:52 AM EST

    and forget getting the funding for your little flights of fancy. I'm a scientist, so I understand the worth of missions like Galileo and Cassini (and the much greater worth of the unsung CMB projects like COBE and MAP) but the thing that really excites me about space is pushing the envelope in terms of human experience.

    I want an adventure, and you don't have adventures with remote-controlled robots, even really cool ones.

    [ Parent ]

    Well (none / 0) (#37)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:33:01 AM EST

    I suppose that is where we fundamentally disagree. I think that space offers real scientific and economic  opportunities which are best exploited with robots. If I want a really cool adventure but I'll go see a film.

    As for the funding, why do you think funding would dry up? Funding is really only given to Nasa because it is helps fuel technology and the economy (in many ways it is the ultimate pork barrel), not to make adventures, or even for the PR. Using robots instead of people can only increase Nasa's appeal for funding, as robot tech has obvious technological and economic benefits.

    [ Parent ]

    where we disagree (3.50 / 2) (#40)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:51:36 AM EST

    Space offers scientific opportunities, but no feasible economic ones so far.

    As for adventure, no movie or novel will ever compare to the rush of the real thing. It's one thing to live vicariously through the protagonists of Red Mars or Moving Mars or Mars #whatever, but it's quite another to follow--or better yet, be involved in--an actual mission.

    Live a little!

    p.s. -- who was it who quipped that NASA was LBJ's Marshall Plan for the South?

    [ Parent ]

    well.... (none / 0) (#43)
    by adiffer on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:08:48 AM EST

    There probably is an economic opportunity.  Think about some of the crazy things people like to do with their vacation time.  Dennis Tito paid an awful lot of money to fulfill a dream of his.  We know for certain others are out there that would do it for a little less cash.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]
    that's small potatoes (none / 0) (#50)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:40:55 AM EST

    What we need is some kind of space gold rush.

    [ Parent ]
    seeding the field (none / 0) (#55)
    by adiffer on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:10:38 AM EST

    Eventually.  I know where the 'gold' is, but I'm not telling.  8)

    For now, small potatoes can be used to seed a large field.

    The biggest hurdle faced by people seeking investment money is the fact that the investors don't understand the businesses brought to them.  With the speculation bubble burst now, investors have recovered some of their sanity and stay with things they understand.  

    Small potatoes can be understood with a small effort.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]

    gold knows too (none / 0) (#57)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:17:57 AM EST

    check it out!

    [ Parent ]
    It's in the asteroids. (none / 0) (#148)
    by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 01:37:50 AM EST

    Well, I'm not sure about gold, but certainly other very valuable metals - enough to put Earth mines to shame.

    "We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
    [ Parent ]

    You want an adventure? I want a Porsche... (5.00 / 3) (#44)
    by Hizonner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:08:56 AM EST

    ... but I don't ask the government to provide me with one. You want an adventure? You pay for it.

    You can make an argument that it's appropriate to tax people to pay for real science. Even if you accept the idea of that sort of wealth transfer on an ethical level at all, I personally doubt that even most unmanned science missions give back enough knowledge for the buck to justify their costs. But there's a case to be made... science missions provide knowledge that may, if we get lucky, have real, direct, positive impacts on almost everybody's life for the indefinite future.

    There is no way it's appropriate to blow billions of dollars of other people's money to send a bunch of tourists to space to provide you, or people like you, with vicarious entertainment... and by "tourists" I mean the official astronauts even more than the few paid passengers. There is no way it's appropriate to do it as a PR stunt to get funding for the science missions, either.

    Manned space flight should be abandoned until it's cheap enough (or essential enough) that the market will pay for it, or (equivalently) until the people who want it manage to raise enough money among themselves. I suspect that'll happen within 50 years or so, but if never happens, tough. If the space science program dies too, tough.

    If you want manned space flight, get your pasty white ass down off the moon, and go out and start raising money. You might even get a donation from me. Don't try to force everybody else to provide you with bread and circuses.

    [ Parent ]

    you're going to pay for my fun (3.33 / 3) (#49)
    by Lode Runner on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:37:50 AM EST

    like it or not once the majority becomes convinced that a womyned mission to Mars is more important than some empty luxuries. You'll have to pay for it too, and if you don't, your Porsche will be impounded.

    "No," you'll tell your grandkids, "I opposed the Mars Mission because, you see, the 944 is a special car, very special..."

    [ Parent ]

    Cost (2.00 / 1) (#143)
    by Merk00 on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:47:06 AM EST

    How do you intend to decrease the cost of space travel if we don't try it? It won't happen. The more we put people into space, the more that the cost of space exploration will come down. It's as simple as that. Space exploration won't be cost effective until we spend enough to make it that way.

    "At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
    - FIRST Mission
    [ Parent ]

    Sending women to Mars? (4.33 / 3) (#77)
    by mjfgates on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:02:22 PM EST

    I suppose it makes sense. Mars *does* need women, after all.

    [ Parent ]
    Venus? (none / 0) (#179)
    by SoupIsGoodFood on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:36:08 PM EST

    How about sending one lucky man to Venus?

    [ Parent ]
    Not lucky - doomed. (none / 0) (#180)
    by Roman on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:51:36 PM EST

    Anyone setting his foot on Venus is doomed to a horrible and painfull death from overheating at 250C, CO2 poisonning, been beat up against the rocks due to 350km/h winds. All of it only if the poor guy can withstand pressure at 93 earth's atmospheres. It's called Venus for a reason, you know? :) http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/venera7_000817.html

    [ Parent ]
    Sounds like were I work... (none / 0) (#183)
    by SoupIsGoodFood on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 08:04:28 PM EST

    Well, if we're going to get all scientific, then sending a woman to Mars seems a bit crewl.

    [ Parent ]
    Why we need a Space Shuttle. (2.66 / 3) (#15)
    by brunes69 on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:22:48 PM EST

    What else are you going to go crusing for chicks in space in?

    ---There is no Spoon---
    Direction for NASA (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by arthurpsmith on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:41:46 PM EST

    I think this is excellent. Only two problems: (1) it's going to take more money (but I think with clear goals NASA should be able to get it), and (2) Mars isn't the only worthwhile goal.

    In particular, the National Space Society's Roadmap lists a whole series of goals, or 'milestones', in our development of space. Not that NASA has to work towards all of them at once, but there probably should be a rational asessment of the sequence of milestones that best fit our national interests: in particular, there's an awful lot we can do and still learn from the Moon; either before or after we go to Mars. Given that the Moon is so much closer, putting it first as in some recent NASA plans (such as the L1 gateway proposed by the NExT group) has a lot going for it...

    Anyway, I believe almost everybody would agree that the NSS milestones are all worthwhile in the long run - now if we could just get Congress to seriously provide funds to accomplish one or two of them, we'd be getting somewhere!

    Energy - our most critical problem; the solution may be in space.

    Please spare us your fantasies. (3.10 / 20) (#19)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:44:13 PM EST

    This reminds me of some time in some website where the likes of you were singing the wonders of SETI, and I had to bring the debate back to Earth (literally) by pointing out how you geeks seem to care more about whether there's life in Mars than whether there's still life in Somalia. For all they professed about life being such an important thing that we need to engage in a wild goose chase to find it in the vast voids we shall never visit, they actually couldn't care less about human beings here and now on Earth.

    No, you're not talking about SETI here, but your ideas come from a very similar attitude, and deserve the same treatment. If you think space shuttles are a pressing "need" of any sorts, you're a pretty sick human being, and I pity you.

    Several people have been saying something in k5 over the last few days which bears saying again: mucking around in low Earth orbit has enormous military value. Going to Mars doesn't (or to the moon for that matter). This is the very simple reason why NASA will keep mucking around in low orbit for the indefinite future. Remember, the US went to the moon only because of its propaganda value.


    US went to the moon? Hardly! (none / 0) (#20)
    by MessiahWWKD on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:47:49 PM EST

    We all know that the real moon was destroyed by Master Roshi in the ninth century, and that moon-like sphere orbiting the Earth is actually Pluto's twin planetoid that was stolen from Neptune to replace the moon. Please, keep your facts straight.
    Sent from my iPad
    [ Parent ]
    Hardly. (none / 0) (#56)
    by Polverone on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:16:02 AM EST

    Reliable sources inform me that the moon is actually a gargantuan, millenia-old spaceship, the remnant of a vast empire. If we can just send the right people to the moon, we shall have FTL travel, human life extension, and a U.S. military officer as the Emperor of Humanity. Hurray!
    It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
    [ Parent ]
    But I'm interested (3.00 / 2) (#23)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:06:38 AM EST

    Is there life in somalia? Lets send out an expedition.

    [ Parent ]
    We went to Somalia (4.80 / 5) (#47)
    by michaelp on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:33:01 AM EST

    We spent alot of money. Some of us died.

    They don't want our help & thousands of Somalis died making that point.

    While it's easy to say NASA's 12 billion could be better spent solving some other country's problems, the fact is the entire US budget couldn't begin to solve the problem in Somalia alone: only the Somalis can do that.

    Best thing the US can do for Somalia and other nations mired in tribal conflicts and suicidal ideologies is leave them alone, muck around in LEO, the moons of Jupiter, or sit back and read the Martian Chronicles, but stay out of any country that doesn't want our help.

    Meanwhile, space industries such as space based solar power are the best chance we have of finding the permanent, low cost, non-polluting energy sources that will allow the entire human race to live at a decent standard of living.

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

    [ Parent ]
    Get with the times man. (none / 0) (#70)
    by Hide The Hamster on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:58:38 AM EST

    Third world countries are so passé.

    Free spirits are a liability.

    August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

    [ Parent ]
    Replace 'Several people' with 'Ed Slocomb' (5.00 / 1) (#95)
    by it certainly is on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:26:33 PM EST

    Please, can you two get a room or something. Spare us all from your geek-baiting antics.

    kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

    Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
    [ Parent ]

    Yes, we're all very sick people. (3.66 / 3) (#174)
    by NoMoreNicksLeft on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:18:04 PM EST

    We should spend every red cent we can spare, feeding the poor retches in Somalia, and every other third world country. At no point did talent, skill or ambition ever play a part in our relatively great wealth, only luck... and as the luckiest nation on earth we have a duty to live at just above the subsistence level, so that Somalians everywhere can continue murdering each other and tearing their country apart into tiny pockets of chaotic hell with full stomachs.

    Learning, exploration, and science, these are things to be deplored, ridiculed, even spat upon nowdays. Long gone is the admiration they would have inspired, years dead the respect they duly deserve. Hell, even grudging acknowledgement is difficult to find in this age... what more evidence of this is needed, when flaky crackpots everywhere dream up fake moonlanding conspiracies?

    If nothing else, we can certainly agree that one of us is sick.

    Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
    [ Parent ]

    Nuclear rocket? Never (2.55 / 9) (#22)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:05:29 AM EST

    Do you seriously expect that the public or congress or anyone will ever trust Nasa to launch a radioactive payload into space (as would be required to build a nuclear engine)? Considering that if a mishap occurred during launch, landing or even an accidental reentry (Nasa's track record makes these events not totally unlikely), the effect would be equivalent to a "dirty bomb", and possibly worse.

    I don't care what you americans do, in fact it would give me a chuckle to see america irradiated, but if you are going to send radioactive material over anyone else's airspace, think again.

    What if we just sent it over your house? (3.00 / 2) (#24)
    by AmberEyes on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:08:50 AM EST

    Plz include your address. Thx.


    "But you [AmberEyes] have never admitted defeat your entire life, so why should you start now. It seems the only perfect human being since Jesus Christ himself is in our presence." -my Uncle Dean
    [ Parent ]
    You don't scare me (3.00 / 2) (#27)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:32:33 AM EST

    Listen here, you americans think you can threaten us foreigners with your nuclear weapons and stuff. You wouldn't dare attack a sovereign nation for no good reason! Oh, wait.... <runs away and whimpers>

    [ Parent ]
    heh (none / 0) (#73)
    by theburtman on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 11:28:56 AM EST

    nice troll firestarter.
    Cant spell wont spell, Dsylexi and Lazy
    [ Parent ]
    We've already been using it. (4.66 / 3) (#25)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:12:09 AM EST

    News flash.

    They've been doing it for 30 years. Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Galileo, Cassini, Pioneer 10, Viking 1 and 2 and a few others all used nuclear power. Thats right. We launches Nuclear reactors off earth, sent them through space and then landed them on another planet... twice.

    Besides, a helmet survived falling 200,000 feet at Mach 18. I think a nuclear engine core would too if there was ever a disaster.

    Besides, once it is in space, it'll never come back to earth.

    We will never explore the solar system beyond the moon without Nuclear power. Rockets require too much fuel and Solar power is really weak when you start moving past earth to Mars and the other planets.

    Nuclear power is the only way to our destiny. And no unfinformed fear of the "N" word will stop it.

    [ Parent ]
    Huge difference (3.75 / 4) (#26)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:30:30 AM EST

    There's a huge difference between a tiny RTG desined to provide minimal power to circuitry and a big nuclear engine which is designed for propulsion.

    Anyway, they were taking a risk launching those probes. It was calculated that if Cassini landed in an urban area, 200,000 people could die. It is also calculated 250,000 americans died from domestic nuclear testing, incidentally.

    Besides, a helmet survived falling 200,000 feet at Mach 18. I think a nuclear engine core would too if there was ever a disaster.

    Why? A nuclear engine core will be extremely hot and unstable and a lot more bulky than a helmet. Anyway, my main concern is a launch explosion, which would explosively tear apart a nuclear engine and turn it into a dirty bomb even Osama would be proud of.

    [ Parent ]

    Generators have been designed to survive (4.50 / 2) (#28)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:37:40 AM EST

    Actually, one of the nuclear generators would be size of a small book case or a chest or something. It wouldnt be very big and it could easily be made to survive the heat of reentry. Thats not too big an engineering problem. Theres already been solutions.

    Cassini for example, was two stories tall. Its a big probe.

    There is really no debate in this. The nuclear generators have been designed to survive: these would simply be bigger versions of them. Really, no debate at all. Its been done. Its been proven safe.

    And those are numbers from far left wackos like Greepeace. Real scientists knew there was no real risk, and even if it did fall to orbit, the nuclear core was designed to survive.

    [ Parent ]
    Not reentry, launch explosion (3.00 / 3) (#29)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:47:02 AM EST

    How can you design anything to survive a catastrophic combustion of liquid oxygen and hydrogen of a booster rocket, which burns at a very high temperatures?

    And if reentry can destroy huge comets before they even reach the ground, how can a nuclear generator be designed to survive an explosive re-entry? Answer: it can't. Remember the same people telling you it's failsafe are the same people who said before Challenger that the Shuttle would fail only in one in ten thousand launches.

    And those are numbers from far left wackos like Greepeace.

    So nuclear physicist Michio Kaku is a far left wacko? Shows how much you know.

    [ Parent ]

    no debate... (4.00 / 1) (#31)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:52:30 AM EST

    Uh, i've already said, its been done. There isn't any debate about this. They established the no how. You don't have to like it, but its already been done and is gonna happen again.

    Now stop trolling.

    [ Parent ]
    You know that feeling that you are debating (1.25 / 4) (#38)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:34:02 AM EST

    a perl script? I'm getting it now.

    [ Parent ]
    Sigh (4.00 / 2) (#103)
    by VValdo on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:41:51 PM EST

       Uh, i've already said, its been done. There isn't any debate about this. They established the no how. You don't have to like it, but its already been done and is gonna happen again.

    It'll continue to be done until there's a big fuckup.  Then there will be many deaths and they won't try it again for a few centuries.

    This is my .sig. There are many like it but this one is mine.
    [ Parent ]

    heh (none / 0) (#36)
    by Work on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:31:36 AM EST

    a 'launch explosion', quite frankly, is peanuts to the energy of an extended re-entry period.

    [ Parent ]
    Huge comets (none / 0) (#115)
    by Verminator on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:06:45 PM EST

    And if reentry can destroy huge comets before they even reach the ground, how can a nuclear generator be designed to survive an explosive re-entry?

    Because huge comets consist mainly of ice, nuclear generators are generally made of tougher stuff.

    If the whole country is gonna play 'Behind The Iron Curtain,' there better be some fine fucking state s
    [ Parent ]

    Reactors (5.00 / 1) (#120)
    by sigwinch on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:37:40 PM EST

    A nuclear engine core will be extremely hot and unstable and a lot more bulky than a helmet.
    The reactors being considered for this program operate at criticality when producing power. When idle, they will be far below criticality, the nuclear reaction rate will be quite low, and therefore they will be fairly cool. With appropriate funding, they can be launched as multiple pieces or without moderators, and therefore cannot achieve criticality prior to assembly.

    Furthermore, the reactor is designed to operate as the pressurization chamber of a rocket engine. I.e., temperatures and forces similar to reentry. The casing will be a high-strength refractory metal. The core material will be an ultra-chemically-stable refractory ceramic.

    Anyway, my main concern is a launch explosion, which would explosively tear apart a nuclear engine and turn it into a dirty bomb even Osama would be proud of.
    The Challenger crew was sitting less than 50 feet from one of the largest rocketry explosions ever. It didn't kill them. (They died because the crew cabin had been deliberately designed to not keep them alive in those circumstances, as a cost-cutting measure.) LH2 and LO2 simply don't explode very violently: they cause a large vigorous fire. Other rocket fuels can explode very violently (the hydrazines, liquid ozone, liquid ethylene, solid fuel/oxidizer mixtures) but it's a simple matter to avoid those for the reactor launch.

    Please take your completely uninformed hysteria elsewhere.

    I don't want the world, I just want your half.
    [ Parent ]

    So fucking what? (5.00 / 2) (#194)
    by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 10:52:17 AM EST

    Half a million people? That's nothing. chump change. We've got 6 billion. Hell, you would kill half a billion people just skimming the numbers back down to be at 6 billion. Individual humans are an expendable resource when it comes to survival of the species. And survival of the species is enhanced by having human colonies on other planets.  Yeah it sucks for the individuals, but shit happens. No one gets out of this alive.


    [ Parent ]

    Actually, unused uranium... (none / 0) (#214)
    by jforan on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:27:06 PM EST

    is not very radioactive.  It would not make a very good dirty bomb whatsoever.  I am certain that one nuclear bomb test releases orders of magnitude more radioactive waste into the atmosphere than blowing up a reactor's worth of unused uranium.

    Once the uranium has gone critical in a nuclear reactor (used once), a portion of the uranium decays into harmful crap - it is this harmful crap that decays (some slowly, some quickly) and produces most of the heat which is used in the reactor.  This "used" uranium is (although not technically uranium anymore) is the stuff that is dangerous.

    If a nuclear reactor were engineered for space based use, the engineers probably wouldn't even worry (beyond doing some simple calculations) about the effects of a launch explosion in terms of the radioactive damage that would result from the destruction of the unspent fuel rods.  This of course assumes that the engineers would not launch enough material to go critical in any one launch.


    I hops to be barley workin'.
    [ Parent ]

    Ignorance. (5.00 / 4) (#35)
    by Work on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:29:05 AM EST

    It amazes me how people think they're technically adept, but once the word 'nuclear' comes up, its the big boogieman they're afraid of.

    And ignorantly so.

    The 'nuclear engine', would be built in space. It would not resemble the nuclear reactor designs that are in current power plants - those are much too big, and their designs date back to the 1940 and 50's.

    Nuclear fission designs have come a long way, particular in the small reactor. The likely 'rocket' would use several small pebble-bed reactors, which are quite safe.

    Further, any radioactive material (miniscule amounts, these are, once again, very small reactors) will be launched in re-entry safe containers. It's not terribly difficult to design this - titanium, for instance, easily survives re-entry.

    The small reactors would be assembled in orbit and launched from there. The nuclear engine is never fired on earth, indeed, the spacecraft itself is purely interplanetary.

    [ Parent ]

    Thanks for pointing out (4.00 / 2) (#46)
    by twistedfirestarter on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:28:21 AM EST

    the blindingly obvious.

    The small reactors would be assembled in orbit and launched from there. The nuclear engine is never fired on earth, indeed, the spacecraft itself is purely interplanetary.


    Further, any radioactive material (miniscule amounts, these are, once again, very small reactors) will be launched in re-entry safe containers.

    Re-entry safe containers? Extraordinary claims require extra-ordinary proof.

    [ Parent ]

    Re-entry safe containers? (3.00 / 3) (#63)
    by Tezcatlipoca on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:09:26 AM EST

    In view or recent incidents your help in NASA would be greatly appreciated.

    Explain this concept of "safe re-entry containers" and why it was not used in the Columbia.

    There are no fscking safe re-entry containers under re-entry conditions.

    Regarding nuclear material, you make an important point: people are ignorant. Now picture this: container with minuscule amount of radioactive stuff goes kaputt on re-entry on top of a populated area. Panic will spread like fire (people are stoopid, remember).

    For all practical puprposes, it is like a dirty nuclear bomb which would make little to no damage but that would disrupt greatly any place affected.

    "Stay a while, I'm distraught but juiced on your nearness."- johnny
    [ Parent ]

    Safe reentry containers (5.00 / 3) (#64)
    by Znork on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:29:25 AM EST

    Take a look at this, then think tennisball sized titanium sphere containing the nuclear fuel.

    The reason safe reentry containers was not used in Columbia, and the reason safe reentry containers are usually not used in space is that people tend to frown upon massive amounts of space debris falling at very high speed into their buildings, cars and bodies. In most cases you do not want space debris to survive reentry.

    Constructing large aerodynamic things that perform and survive a controlled reentry and impact is hard, but designing small containers that survive an uncontrolled reentry isnt that hard, it's just undesireable most of the time. In fact, the only reason you'd want one is to de-orbit material that you absolutely do not want spread in the atmosphere.

    And, of course, such a container would be absolutely useless for de-orbiting astronauts, since they'd turn into deepfried mush inside such a container anyway. Safe for small metal objects is not safe for people.

    [ Parent ]

    I'm skeptical (4.00 / 2) (#71)
    by electricmonk on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:50:40 AM EST

    You will notice that the melting point of titanium is about 3034 °F. This is roughly in parity with the temperatures the shuttle was reported to have experienced during reentry and subsequent breakup. What makes you think it would be safe?

    "There are only so many ways one can ask [Jon Katz] what it's like to be buried to the balls in a screaming seven-year-old" - Ian
    [ Parent ]

    Exactly (5.00 / 1) (#72)
    by Znork on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 11:15:33 AM EST

    The temperature of the shuttle reaches that high during reentry, so a titanium sphere would concievably survive that (it probably wouldnt get as hot as it's not trying to shed as much velocity as quickly for its mass). And coming up with that took about five seconds. I agree it's a bit too close to the limits to be sure tho, so someone should probably spend some more time thinking. Considering that someone who is not an aerodynamics or materials engineer can think of something which comes into the right range it isnt exactly a difficult problem. Use an alloy with a slightly higher melting point, coat in something that will reduce friction, etc. Titanium containers obviously and unfortunately do survive atmospheric reentry which makes that a good place to start.

    [ Parent ]
    Entry heat loads (5.00 / 2) (#114)
    by sigwinch on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:06:31 PM EST

    You will notice that the melting point of titanium is about 3034 °F. This is roughly in parity with the temperatures the shuttle was reported to have experienced during reentry and subsequent breakup.
    Large objects have more mass compared to their surface area, which makes their heating problems worse. Make the object 50 times larger, and atmospheric entry is 50 times worse (more or less).

    Furthermore, mechanical strength under acceleration is inversely proportional to size (more or less). A compact, dense object can withstand vastly more acceleration than the giant, gossamer Shuttle.

    I don't want the world, I just want your half.
    [ Parent ]

    Metals with higher melting points (5.00 / 1) (#190)
    by FlipFlop on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:12:16 AM EST

    If the sphere started melting, I presume it would just melt the leading edge. At any rate, titanium is not the only option. At least 15 other metals have a higher melting point. Tungsten (melting point: almost 6200F)* has the highest melting point of all metals. It is also nearly as dense as gold.

    1768C Platinum
    1854C Zirconium
    1856C Chromium
    1889C Vanadium
    1962C Rhodium
    2203C Technetium
    2230C Hafnium
    2336C Ruthenium
    2446C Iridium
    2468C Niobium
    2622C Molybdenum
    3019C Tantalum
    3026C Osmium
    3181C Rhenium
    3421C Tungsten

    3000F is 1649C.

    *Every place I looked had different numbers. I got mine from Kalzium

    AdTI - The think tank that didn't
    [ Parent ]

    OK (none / 0) (#195)
    by electricmonk on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 11:31:29 AM EST

    Well, now that we have that out of the way, what kind of energy would be released by such a dense, massy object impacting the earth at orbital velocities?

    "There are only so many ways one can ask [Jon Katz] what it's like to be buried to the balls in a screaming seven-year-old" - Ian
    [ Parent ]

    Payload (5.00 / 2) (#98)
    by DeadBaby on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:11:01 PM EST

    We're talking about getting back a couple nuclear fuel rods -- not 7 human beings who can't withstand being dropped from 200,000 feet. There's a huge difference.
    "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
    [ Parent ]
    Real problem with nuclear rocket (none / 0) (#102)
    by wumpus on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:38:04 PM EST

    If you are using a nuclear rocket (especially an Orion type), then any radioactive propulsion mass released in the Earth's magnetosphere will fall back to Earth.

    Don't expect to be able to crank up the engines until you are past the moon (which will take a big chunk of delta-v).

    PS. If you think that nuclear fuel rods dropped from even a Columbia type accident are anywhere comparable to a "dirty bomb", you are too ignorant to have you opinion bothered with.

    [ Parent ]

    Not really. (5.00 / 1) (#171)
    by hollo on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 11:55:01 AM EST

    The Orion rockets use a series of pulsed nuclear explosions, and are indeed a bad idea from the stray nuclear radiation point of view. I don't think anyone is seriously proposing building one at the moment though.

    Nuclear electric propulsion uses a nuclear reactor to produce electricity. This electricity is then used to accelerate ionised hydrogen backwards out of the rocket (as in a particle accelerator). No nuclear waste from the reactor is mixed into the exhaust at all in this design.

    The other major design is the nuclear thermal rocket, where a nuclear core is used to heat hydrogen directly, causing it to expand and exhaust out the back of the rocket. Some radioactive waste from the reactor will find its way into the exhaust with this design, but the majority of the exhaust is unradioactive hydrogen.I suspect that the amount of this that is deflected and falls back to earth, spread out over a large area, is not going to cause significant radiation compared to that already present in the upper atmosphere from cosmic rays etc.

    So, there is certainly one design of nuclear rocket that can be used from low earth orbit. The other probably can, but would need someone to plug in the figures and work it out first.

    [ Parent ]

    nitpick. (5.00 / 2) (#39)
    by Work on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:37:14 AM EST

    Columbia isn't 'heavier to launch heavy loads' - that doesnt make sense. You can launch heavier loads if the spacecraft weighs less. Being the first orbiter, its structure was over-engineered and weighed more.

    The later orbiters were built from lighter weight test structures that passed all the vibration and load tests. Because they were lighter, the could carry more.

    This is why Columbia never visited the ISS - it was too heavy. Indeed, it was never outfitted with the necessary docking equipment. Columbia had become the last shuttle to be used only for science missions.

    Heavier loads compared to what? (none / 0) (#42)
    by valeko on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:08:14 AM EST

    It can still carry a good bit compared to, say, a Soyuz assembly. :-)

    "Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
    [ Parent ]

    compared to later shuttles. (5.00 / 1) (#48)
    by Work on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:33:17 AM EST

    columbia wasnt able to lift as much.

    Think of it this way... the SRB's and SSME's are the same across the whole shuttle fleet. They have a max launch weight. Obviously, if a shuttle itself weighs more, it won't be able to carry as much.

    [ Parent ]

    Excess thrust. (none / 0) (#52)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:50:30 AM EST

    The rocket boosters give more thrust than needed for all the boosters, the main engines too. That means there is a space inbetween the minimum thrust required to lift off and the maximum thrust capable of both the main engines and the rocket boosters.

    The minimm thrust required to lift off was simply greater for Columbia that it was for the other shuttles.

    My point is, the main engines and rocket boosters dont produce JUST enough thrust to put it into orbit, they produce more thrust than needed. The four shuttles may have looked superficially the same, but they each had their own unique traits that made them specially attuned towards specific missions.

    [ Parent ]
    well, yes. (none / 0) (#53)
    by Work on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:56:22 AM EST

    there is a safety margin so that an engine can shut down and the orbiter can still be put in orbit.

    However, as you decrease weight on the orbiter or the main fuel tank (as was recently done, the new superlight tank is 3000+ kg lighter), you can then lift up that much more cargo. Thus, when flying with the new superlight fuel tank, they are able to add in another 3 metric tons of cargo.

    [ Parent ]

    Exactly, but the fuel tank has changed a lot. (none / 0) (#54)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:05:02 AM EST

    True. :)

    but keep in mind when the shuttles flew for the first few years, they used the old silver fuel tank, made out of, I think, aluminum. NASA eventually replaced it with the rust/orange one that was lighter and cheaper, and replaced the original rust/orange one with an even lighter, more environmentally friendly one in 1999 (thats had some problems).

    Regardless, the original fuel tank was much heavier than it is now, so Columbia's strength isnt as much a factor today as it was.

    But you have to keep in mind, when something is put in the cargo bay, it is bolted into place, and when the Shuttle is moved to the vertical position, all that weight will be hanging on the tail end of it, pulling down on it in the opposite direction of the thrust. By Columbia being heavier and havign a reinforced frame, it could hold heavier stuff while still under the effects of earth gravity. Columbia's weight comes largley, from the heavier frame it has.

    [ Parent ]
    rust vs. silver (none / 0) (#60)
    by BadDoggie on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:52:34 AM EST

    The rust colour was the result of NASA not painting the damned thing anymore, saving a couple tons of unnecessary weight. After the initial PR was through and once people were fairly used to seeing the thing, they stopped painting the thing to look pretty. The result? Less money spent on paint and less weight to carry and later jettison.


    "The line between genius and stupidity is very fine indeed, but you're so far away from the line that it doesn't matter." -- Parent ]

    You seem to know a bit (none / 0) (#151)
    by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 01:54:18 AM EST

    ...and I'm too lazy to look this up - how much does that huge rusty fucking tank cost to build each time?

    "We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
    [ Parent ]

    Isn't public information. (none / 0) (#197)
    by subversion on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:51:24 PM EST

    Much like the actual cost of a space shuttle launch, that isn't public information.  I don't even know it, and I worked for payload planning at Kennedy (the people who deal with the stuff that sits in the cargo bay).

    But, best estimates I've hear put actual cost of launch at ~$300-500 million per launch.  ET costs are probably around $10-20 million, tops, for manufacture.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Columbia could go to ISS, just not dock. (none / 0) (#45)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:21:11 AM EST

    Columbia was built a bit sturdier than the other Space Shuttles to begin with, even though the overall structure of the Space Shuttle was simplified and changed in some minor and some substantial ways between orbiters (compare the leading edges of the wings for all 6 shutyles for example). Having reienforced frame allowed it to carry up heavier loads while it was still affected by gravity. Of course, in Space, it having a heavier frame makes no difference.

    It was a decision not to give Columbia an ISS docking port. Intalling that port reduces the volume of the cargo bay. NASA decided to vary their fleet by giving Discovery, Endevour and Atlantis the docking port, allowing them to go to the ISS and carry smaller pieces, while keeping Columbia with its original full sized cargo bay so it can carry bigger cargo (like larger sized parts of the ISS or Hubble or Chandra).

    Columbia could go to the ISS and establish a syncronous orbit with it. It could not dock with it without installing a docking port. Columbia, if I remember correctly, has brought some parts to the ISS in the beginning and was schedualed to do so again later in the year.

    When it cam to carrying stuff in its cargo bay, Columbia was the real hauler.

    [ Parent ]
    Wrong. (5.00 / 1) (#89)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:10:48 PM EST

    Columbia could not lift as much weight as the later shuttles.  It was sturdier.  Heavier launch weight, less payload, i.e. - can't carry as much.

    Columbia could not make station missions because it couldn't carry the required weight into station's high-inclination orbit.  

    Further, Columbia has never flown an ISS mission (reference here) and was never intended to.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Sorry, one correction. (3.00 / 1) (#96)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:28:49 PM EST

    Columbia could fly to ISS, but couldn't fly the mission profiles required for ISS missions (couldn't carry adequate weight to that launch inclination).

    So technically it could make it their, but it would carry less than its brethren would.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Check future 2002 mission 118 (5.00 / 1) (#110)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:32:12 PM EST

    You are wrong.

    check future shuttle missions on that very same flight. in Late 2002, you'll find this.

    118 118 Columbia 11-13-03 ISS-13A.1 ITS S5, SpaceHab SM, crew 7u/7d TBD

    ISS mision 13A, shuttle columbia.


    [ Parent ]
    Columbia still can't lift as much. (5.00 / 1) (#161)
    by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 08:59:16 AM EST

    Hmm.  That one wasn't in when I was working payload planning for NASA; we were working mostly on 111 and 114.  That said, my bosses (who were the NASA Payload Director team, not exactly a bunch of uninformed bozos) left me under the impression that Columbia was not ever intended to fly ISS missions.

    Anyway, more proof that Columbia carries less:


    Look under the "Kennedy Space Center Eastern Space and Missile Center" heading, where it states:

    "The basic cargo-lift capability for a due east (28.5 degrees) launch is 55,000 pounds to a 110-nautical-mile (126-statute-mile) orbit using OV-103 (Discovery) or OV-104 (Atlantis).  If OV-102 (Columbia) is used, the cargo-lift weight capability must be decreased by approximately 8,400 pounds. This weight difference is attributed to an approximately 7,150-pound difference in inert weight, 850 pounds of orbiter experiments, 300 pounds of additional thermal protection system and 100 pounds to accommodate a fifth cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tank set for the power reactant storage and distribution system."

    Thus, I can only conclude that the planned 13.A1 mission was a lighter payload than most ISS missions, and that's why Columbia was scheduled to fly it.

    As to your ISS docking ports reducing launch weight - the ISS docking port installed in shuttle is the Orbiter Docking System.  It's also used to connect the orbiter to SPACEHAB lab environments, like the one that was on STS-107.  They're added and removed as necessary, and by no means form a permanent portion of the shuttle - they're considered part of payload.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Glide-by shooting. (5.00 / 1) (#51)
    by yicky yacky on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:41:27 AM EST

    But then how do we get to Mars? The answer is via Nuclear power. Project Prometheus is a billion dollar NASA initiative to develop a nuclear energy reactor for use in space...

    I always had an affinity for the idea behind these babies instead. But then I'm just an old romantic...

    Yicky Yacky
    "You f*cking newbie. Shut up and sit in the corner!" - JCB

    Solar Sails (4.00 / 1) (#178)
    by Arkaein on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:23:58 PM EST

    Sails seem like massive overkill for reaching Mars. We have already reached Mars easily with probes, current tech or nuclear powered ion engines would be more suitable. Solar sails seem better suited for missions that want to leave the solar system at high speeds, or at least travel to the outer planets.

    Plus, with solar sails you have the problem of getting manned missions back.

    The ultimate plays for Madden 2003-2006
    [ Parent ]

    Getting back (none / 0) (#234)
    by Akhasha on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 05:12:55 AM EST

    I think solar sails are too slow to accelerate for human trips - you need an big-ass ion drive with a bigger-ass power supply for that. Unless that is we have a quantum leap in materials science, but lets not bank on that.

    For a reusable cargo ferry, solar sails might be OK. They can make sunward journeys for the return too - the sail is simply angled such that it reduces the orbitwise momentum of the craft. The maritime analogy is that you can sail into the wind, but there would be no 'tacking' in space.

    I don't know if sunward journeys are possible with a plasma bubble / magnetosphere sail.


    [ Parent ]
    Three articles I see (4.00 / 2) (#61)
    by by on on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:59:47 AM EST

    Nostalgia, History, Ideas.

    And some points of mine...

    Science isn't always an adventure. Most of it is "grunt work".

    Tell me again why we want to put people on Mars? Is there something wrong with the robots we're sending these days?

    Have patience, don't rush it. After a billion years, what's twenty more?

    Because we can, and thats good enough. (3.33 / 3) (#74)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:42:41 PM EST

    Thats the thing, all science is an adventure.

    The human genome project was an adventure.

    Developing hydrogen powered vehicles is an adventure.

    Going to Mars is an adventure. The reason? Because we can. For science, knowledge and for glory are good enough reasons.

    Not all science needs to be put in pill form if you catch my drift.

    But we wont be going to Mars until about 2020 anyway, thats basically what i've said in the article. I'm sayign the shuttle or something like it is important, because the ship to get there will need to be constructed in space.

    [ Parent ]
    laser rockets: fast cheap reusable (5.00 / 1) (#62)
    by auraslip on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:07:53 AM EST

    Simple stuff outlined in "the millennial project".
    Use a magnetic propulsion(like floating trains in japan) to get a Shuttle going decently fast, and run it up the side or inside of a mountain, so when it comes out it only goes through the lower and thicker part of the atmopshere thus reducing friction substanitally.
    When it comes out comes is where it gets intresting, a block of ice is strapped to the back of the shuttle. An array of lasers vaporize the ice and the super-heated steams rapid expansion provides thrust.
    The only fuel it takes is ice and electicity.


    WRONG! (2.00 / 2) (#82)
    by bjlhct on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:35:55 PM EST

    Sure, maglev and coilguns may seem cheap until you realize that the cost of the power switching stuff along for something goes up as (M)*(V^3) Laser would not be absorbed well by ice. Black plastic would have to be used. Lasers are expensive and use electricity. Lasers are blocked by clouds. Lasers are very expensive to build and enormously power hungry. An ice gun or even big dumb boosters would work better. or even a fsking launch loop. You are a fool.

    [kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
    [ Parent ]
    Linear rail launch (5.00 / 1) (#86)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:06:34 PM EST

    Railguns don't work too well for humans because we can't survive heavy acceleration.  The accel profile for human launch from Earth (assuming no propulsion assist) is pretty amusing.

    Earth escape velocity is 11100 m/s.

    Assuming a 3G constant acceleration (tolerable for humans, about what shuttle requires IIRC) you will reach escape velocity in around 380 seconds.

    1. seconds travel at 3G acceleration works out to:
    2. 4 m/s^2 acceleration
    3. 4t m/s velocity
    4. 7t^2 position function (in meters)
    Evaluated for the 380 second launch time, yielding 2122 km of rail.

    Yep.  2000 km long railgun.  

    Assuming we push them out at a constant 8Gs (about the most you can ask a human to sustain over time) we get a launch time of 142 seconds:

    1. 4 m/s^2 acceleration
    2. 4t m/s velocity
    3. 2t^2 position function (in meters)
    4. km.
    You're still talking about 800 kilometers of rail.

    These numbers are for escape velocity (i.e. for leaving Earth entirely) - to achieve a LEO orbit you need to achieve a velocity of around 3130 m/s, so our rail is shorter... but not all that much shorter.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    more magnetic launch problems (none / 0) (#87)
    by plonk on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:09:28 PM EST

    There are two other serious problems with rail launch that are ignored in your analysis. First, atmospheric heating and drag will be enormous vehicular design issues for any conceivable linear launcher.

    Second, if you are going to orbit, you will need to do a large circularization burn in space in order to actually orbit instead of crashing into the Earth several thousand km downrange.

    [ Parent ]
    Orbit (none / 0) (#108)
    by nusuth on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:24:54 PM EST

    Second, if you are going to orbit, you will need to do a large circularization burn in space in order to actually orbit instead of crashing into the Earth several thousand km downrange.

    Why? What is the difference between going up with acceleration from rockets and going up with acceleration from magnetic rails in this respect?

    [ Parent ]

    There isn't. (none / 0) (#162)
    by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:01:32 AM EST

    Shuttle performs a circularization burn as well once it hits orbit.

    So you'd still need engines, but much smaller ones with a lower fuel capacity.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Consider hybrids (none / 0) (#121)
    by nusuth on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:41:20 PM EST

    You need a 16km long rail to reach 5 Mach without ever exceeding 8 G. That is almost enough to use scramjet/rocket combo engines for remaining acceleration. Scramjet takes you to 15 Machs without oxidizer, and you need rockets for the remaining 15 Machs. This actually saves quite a lot of fuel but I couldn't work out the maths right now. Consider that although a body at 5 Machs carries only 1/36th of energy of the same body at 30 Machs, a conventional rocket has to carry its weight to 5 and 15 Mach marks while, with LOX/LH2 fuel, this vehicle has to carry nothing at all and only 1/9 of what a conventional rocket would carry for the same marks. The most important advantage over other scramjet hybrids would be that this vehicle has to be optimized for hypersonic speeds only. It changes flight modes only when landing. Abort options are numerous. Main engine has no moving parts, operation is simple etc. The only real disadvantage I can think of is that scramjets are still very experimental and unreliable technology. Rail->scramjet->rocket combination beats "carry on back of a plane until suitable height/speed" ->scramjet->rocket, rocket->scramjet->rocket, carry+ramjet+scramjet+rocket designs. If the target is LEO, it has even more advantages. If tether durability problem is solved, and a few slinging tethers are installed in LEO, one doesn't even need rockets for leaving Earth.

    [ Parent ]
    wt better formating (none / 0) (#122)
    by nusuth on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:42:09 PM EST

    You need a 16km long rail to reach 5 Mach without ever exceeding 8 G. That is almost enough to use scramjet/rocket combo engines for remaining acceleration. Scramjet takes you to 15 Machs without oxidizer, and you need rockets for the remaining 15 Machs.

    This actually saves quite a lot of fuel but I couldn't work out the maths right now.  Consider that although a body at 5 Machs carries only 1/36th of energy of the same body at 30 Machs, a conventional rocket has to carry its weight to 5 and 15 Mach marks while, with LOX/LH2 fuel, this vehicle has to carry nothing at all and only 1/9 of what a conventional rocket would carry for the same marks.

    The most important advantage over other scramjet hybrids would be that this vehicle has to be optimized for hypersonic speeds only. It changes flight modes only when landing. Abort options are numerous. Main engine has no moving parts, operation is simple etc.

    The only real disadvantage I can think of is that scramjets are still very experimental and unreliable technology. Rail->scramjet->rocket combination beats "carry on back of a plane until suitable height/speed" ->scramjet->rocket, rocket->scramjet->rocket, carry+ramjet+scramjet+rocket designs.

    If the target is LEO, it has even more advantages.   If tether durability problem is solved, and a few  slinging tethers are installed in LEO, one doesn't even need rockets for leaving Earth.

    [ Parent ]

    Why linear? (none / 0) (#129)
    by Hektor on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:46:02 PM EST

    Couldn't you use a circular track with a track cross over pointing towards the mountain or whatever?

    Use the circular track to gain enough speed to do whatever (LEO, HEO, escape velocity etc) and then switching you onto the launch track.

    Okay, not entirely sure how you make such a track switch without getting a bumpy ride, but still ...

    [ Parent ]

    I actually calculated that (none / 0) (#131)
    by nusuth on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 08:16:44 PM EST

    Total path length is smaller in a linear line. Let v be the speed you want to reach, and a be the maximum acceleration a human can sustain over a few minutes. For a track of 0__ shape, the maximum speed achivable in the circular region (vc) is limited to  vc<=sqrt(a.R) where R is the radius (neglecting gravity and assuming very small acceleration in forward direction.) Assuming we can supply whatever acceleration constantly we want to, total path length l is
    =R.(2.pi-1/2)+v.v/(2.a) which has dl/dR=2pi-0.5 which is always positive. ie. Total path length only increases with R for any given a, R=0, linear path, is the best choice.

    Only if forward acceleration is somehow very limited circular path makes sense.

    [ Parent ]

    And in English ... ? (none / 0) (#140)
    by Hektor on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 11:50:32 PM EST

    I'm sure there's a point to what you said (aparently that'd be the last line), but I have no idea what it might be. Maybe I should have paid attention in physics in high school, but that was back in '97, and I still doubt I'd be able to make heads or tails of your post ...

    Not saying that I'm not wrong or anything. I was just thinking "hey, if it works for subatomic particles ..."

    Also - some of the other calculations mentioned ~800 miles of track, if not more, which would be rather hard to set up (I think). Of course, if you bury it underground (except the exit - duh), then it'd be easier and safety would be eaiser to maintain.

    But still ...

    [ Parent ]

    My bad, I should have included bjlhct's two words (5.00 / 1) (#158)
    by nusuth on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:17:08 AM EST

    The wisdom is in the first line, not the last :) Because of centrifugal force, you can't hurl people or space vehicles as easy as subatomic particles. For a given maximum safe acceleration level A, the linear rail is limited by

    forward acceleration<A

    while the circular rail is limited by both

    forward acceleration+centrifugal accelertion<A.

    In order to keep centrifugal acceleration low, you either decrease exit velocity or increase radius of circular region.

    I initially thought that a minimum path length design would have both circular and linear regions. That doesn't turn out the be the case. <maths> If a function's derivative with respect to a variable is always positive, it means when that variable increases, the function's value also increases and vice versa. Since the dervative of length with respect to radius is ~5.682>0, the smaller the R, the shorter the path. As we can't chose a negative radius value, the smallest R we can chose is 0. </maths> Pure linear is shorter.

    Now, suppose you can't supply a constant high acceleration on rails. Say, you can only accelerate payload with 1 G (af) while the payload can withstand 15 G (ap). Then the formulas become (neglecting gravity)

    vc<=sqrt(15 G.R)
    length=circular region circumference+average speed in linear path*time spent in linear path

    Which has a dl/dr of 2pi-7.5 [or more generally dl/dr=2.pi-(ap/(2.af))] always negative in this case. That means a purely circular path is shorter than any hybrid. In fact, only when ap/af ratio is 4pi (~12), a hybrid is feasable. In all other cases a pure circular or a pure linear one is shorter.

    [ Parent ]

    Pardon me for being dense ... (none / 0) (#164)
    by Hektor on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:15:42 AM EST

    I'm sure I'm missing something here, but it seems to me like everyone is forgetting that you can just send people around the track as many times as you need to reach the speed you want.

    Like I said - pardon me for being dense - but :-)

    Would you mind doing a "real life" example instead of just running the theories game?

    For instance:

    We want to put something into a geosynchronous orbit, and we have two different rail-options:

    1. A circular track, 100 km diameter
    2. A linear track, unknown km length
    Of course this gives us two very different tasks; figuring out the amount of force excerted to whatever is on the circular track given a fixed forward acceleration (say 8 g), and the length of the linear track needed to launch something into geo-synch (again 8 g acceleration).


    The next (silly) question is - since you don't need a specific acceleration to escape earths gravity well, but only a specific speed, why not decrease the acceleration on the circular track and just increase the number of rounds traveled? Okay, my physics suck, but if you need a speed of 11 km/s to escape earth, and you use a 1 G accelleration, you "only" need to accelerate for roughly 1,120 seconds.

    But then again, I'm probably missing something (like the centripetal or centrifugal force) rather essential.

    As you can see, I'm trying my best to be as obtuse and dense as possible ... :-)

    [ Parent ]

    Ok, concrete values (none / 0) (#167)
    by nusuth on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:41:09 AM EST

    Going around in a circular track, 100km in diameter... Just before you exit the circular track, the centrifugal acceleration is (11100)^2/50000/9.81 =251 g. If you are 80kg, you now weigh equivalent of 20 metric tonnes or about a fully loaded truck, stationary on earth's surface. You are human paste. In fact, you have been dead for the last ~900 seconds of your 1120 seconds ride.

    [ Parent ]
    Sounds like the perfect execution ... (none / 0) (#170)
    by Hektor on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 11:27:48 AM EST

    Roller Coaster Style.

    Budwiser and Fox would jump at that shit in half a second!

    [ Parent ]

    And here is an URL for you (none / 0) (#168)
    by nusuth on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 10:01:13 AM EST


    [ Parent ]
    Harumph. (none / 0) (#175)
    by bjlhct on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 06:47:43 PM EST

    And you get the 5.


    [kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
    [ Parent ]

    Two words. (none / 0) (#138)
    by bjlhct on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:35:23 PM EST

    Centrifugal force.

    It's as great as the accel of a linear thing with length = the diameter.


    [kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
    [ Parent ]

    Centrpetal Acceleration (1.00 / 1) (#188)
    by MrYotsuya on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:36:08 AM EST

    There's no such thing as "centrifugal force"

    [ Parent ]
    Sure there is (5.00 / 1) (#211)
    by a humble lich on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 09:00:09 PM EST

    If you go to the (non-inertial) co-moving coordinate frame you will see both a centrifugal force and a Coriolis force. Now both those forces are due to the fact that the coordiinate system is non-inertial, but they are perfectly valid.

    Why is it that somebody always nitpicks on the non-existance of the centrifugal force but never seems to care about the Coriolis force, which comes from the same place? In my expericence, in physics past the freshman level people talk exclusivly about centrifugal forces and potentials and amost never about centripital acceleration. My mechanics book's index has seven entries on centrifugal forces and nothing for centripital.

    [ Parent ]

    A 16km 8g railgun (none / 0) (#163)
    by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:02:28 AM EST

    Is a helluva lot more experimental than scramjets.

    And the "drop it from a plane" plan is a lot less experimental than either.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    It is "just" a metter of scaling (none / 0) (#169)
    by nusuth on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 10:35:50 AM EST

    Is a helluva lot more experimental than scramjets.

    Indeed! I'm a bit carried away sometimes, even though I know, as an engineer, scaling is a lot more than just multiplication.

    And the "drop it from a plane" plan is a lot less experimental than either.

    Without scramjets, what would be the purpose of dropping the vehicle? Conventional planes can't go high enough nor fast enough to make a difference for rocket engines. And if they can't make much difference, they have to take off with and fly heavy vehicles, which they can't.

    "Drop from plane"+scramjets is very nice, until you realize that the vehicle has to reach hypersonic speeds in some way after dropping. Just dropping is out of question; the plane needs to be dropped from at least ~150 km! A modified plane cannot possibly take it to that speeds either. That leaves two options:

    1. Use rockets
    2. Drop first, ramjet after suitable speed, scramjet after that.
    First option doesn't save much fuel. It is a lot more complex than using rockets from takeoff and doesn't offer much benefit. Aerodynamics of two bodies are a mess (but recent super computers should be able to crack it.)

    Second option is also very complex. The initial speed and height must be quite high, the thermal load is high (long time in atmosphere), and I'm not aware of any engine, experimental or not, that can go from 3 Machs to 10 Machs, let alone 15 Machs, using the same setup.

    [ Parent ]

    Lasers (4.00 / 1) (#126)
    by sigwinch on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:13:06 PM EST

    Laser would not be absorbed well by ice.
    There's more than just visible light. Water absorbs strongly in the infrared, and the most efficient and scalable lasers are in the infrared. CO2 lasers can be made arbitrarily large, and IIRC are 40% efficient. (I don't know how much IR ice absorbs, but it doesn't matter because the bulk of the heating occurs in the vapor near the surface.)
    Lasers are blocked by clouds.
    BFD. Rocket launches are routinely stopped by bad weather. You'd want to launch from a desert anyway, because of less water vapor in the air.
    Lasers are expensive and use electricity.
    Gas dynamic lasers use combustion to directly power the laser. You can make them as big and powerful as you can afford. U.S. military contractors are currently designing megawatt hydrogen-fluoride and oxygen-iodine lasers. Acetylene can be lased (don't know how efficiently), but enough acetylene to launch a rocket scares me (it's inherently explosive, no oxygen needed).

    Even electric lasers aren't out of the question. Ultra-high-speed flywheels can store insane amounts of energy, and release it very quickly. IIRC the Israelis had a mobile battle laser that used a big-ass flywheel.

    The attraction of laser propulsion is that it puts most of the propulsion system on the ground, where it can be big, heavy, have lots of redundancy, and be easy to maintain. Even if lasers are impractical for big payloads, a lot of projects lend themselves to numerous small payloads.

    I don't want the world, I just want your half.
    [ Parent ]

    by alizard on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 04:03:48 AM EST

    Try plugging in current cost of electricity numbers into your equation, base them on a passive payload container reasonably proportioned to the payload to get a per kilogram number and compare them against the price of launch per kg in a shuttle before you reject the idea out of hand.

    I see no impossible obstacles in building a 73 mile railgun at relatively high altitude, there are plenty of plateaus that are at over 10,000 feet. That's 20G for 30 seconds. Yes, it would cost billions of dollars, but would last indefinitely with maintenance.

    The great majority of the freight that's required for building a space infrastructure will do fine under that G loading, even including PCBs and machine tools broken down to components. No, you shouldn't ship your shiny new Dell to space in assembled form.

    A much shorter railgun could replace the booster stage of a multistage rocket, drastically improving the mass-ratio.
    "The horse is dead. Fuck it or walk away, but stop beating it." Juan Rico
    [ Parent ]

    He's referring to capital costs. (none / 0) (#172)
    by hollo on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:17:44 PM EST

    <p>The orriginal poster seemed to be referring to this <a href="http://www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/SPBI1SI.HTM"> cost analysis</a> of the capital costs to build such a device.</p>

    <p>Essentially the problem is that the cost of the electronics to switch the coils on and off scales with the cube of the final exit velocity. If you double the speed you need to double the length with the same acceleration. You also need to double the average energy used per unit length (as kinetic energy scales with square of velocity), and you need to halve the time in which you deliver the energy given to the projectile (as it is going past faster).<p>

    [ Parent ]

    if you want to play with railgun numbers (none / 0) (#154)
    by alizard on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 04:06:39 AM EST

    Throw everything into a spreadsheet. That way you can independently vary things without working on it unduly. I did this for a railgun project proposal I wanted to write a magazine article about back in 1988, and to my surprise, it converted fine into Excel 97 with very minor text formatting changes.
    "The horse is dead. Fuck it or walk away, but stop beating it." Juan Rico
    [ Parent ]
    No mention of Orion? (4.50 / 2) (#66)
    by squigly on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 08:19:06 AM EST

    Somehow, I feel that no discussion of getting to Mars is quite complete unless someone mentions the idea of propelling a space ship with atom bombs dropped behind it.  

    Of course, Prometheus is a lot more elegant.  Essentially this is a kettle, and the rocket is propelled by expanding gas.  Is this the best solution though?  Why does it have to be nuclear?  Why can't a solar powered heater work just as well?    What about an ion drive?  These don't give great acceleration, but can accelerate for a very long time before running out of propellant.  

    Obviously, NASA and JPL have spent a lot of money working out which is the best, but how much better?  A nuclear rocket will have serious political problems when people talk about the N-word.  People think "Chernobyl", "Hiroshima", and "Waste" when you mention the word Nuclear, not  "Clean", "Efficient" or "Safe".

    Newer ion engine and Solar sails can tear. (none / 0) (#76)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:56:33 PM EST

    The Ion drive on deep space 1 took a long time to accelerate because it was a first generation engine and it only had one of them, and because they just went "out there" and didnt use any sort of slingshot effect.

    Any mission going to mars using an ion engine will mean newer engine using the concepts tested in deep space 1. Will it be faster acceleration wise? Of course I cant say yes, but my guess would be probably. Also we'd likely use some sort of gravitational slingshot effect around the earth and or moon to gain acceleration, something Deep Space 1 didnt do.

    Also the ship would probably have more than one ion engine. The article elsewhere i read said likely eight engines, one for each of the eight reactors.

    As for why not solar sails, this is a good question, and solar sails should be tested. One issue that has to be answered with solar sails, is lets say that a solar sail ship had 3 sails, each the size of a foot ball field. The ideal speed to travel in space at this time is in excess of 35,000 miles per hour (Apollo 11 was 25,000 mph). Space is not empty and there are a lot of small dust particles. What happens when these dust particles collide with a paper thin solar sail at such a high speed?

    I think a lot of engineers like nuclear power because it'll require less moving parts and probably less replacing. the solar sails would require many many sensors over foot ball field sized areas to make sure it isnt ripped or torn. The nuclear reactors would just require the same kind of sensors used in commercial nuclear reactors now.

    We can't let mass mis-understanding about the "N" word stifle science, and I don't think NASA will either. If people don't take the time so see that there are more ways to get energy from nuclear power than detonating it, they really dont have a right to comment on how good it is for use as a power source.

    [ Parent ]
    Sails, Slingshot.s, Safety (none / 0) (#118)
    by squigly on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:25:30 PM EST

    Sadly, I don't think Solar Sails will ever be used.  The problem is that it's difficult to test in laboratory conditions.  Nobody really wants to test a probe using them, so any experiments have to be entirely for the purpose of testing a solar sail.  A reaction drive can be tested on the ground, and tried on dozens of useful probes before a large scale version is produced.  

    I expect the most useful body for a slingshot would be Venus.  This was in used Stephen Baxter's Voyage, about a manned Mars mission, but that was using chemical rockets.  

    As for people having no right to comment on how good nuclear power is as a power source, I totally agree with you.  The trouble is, they will.  Personally, I'd be happy if they can subject a nuclear fuel container to the temperature of an exploding spacecraft for 30 seconds, then drop it from a great height.  Actually, that's possibly too paranoid as well.  Still, it would be nice for them to prove it wil withstand this.  

    [ Parent ]

    point (none / 0) (#219)
    by adiffer on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:26:25 PM EST

    You have a point about sails.  They can't be tested on the ground, so the political risk for publically financed projects will probably stay too high for the foreseeable future.

    However, they do begin to make sense once you can build them up there.  The construction shack must be in orbit.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]

    Shuttle concepts (5.00 / 3) (#67)
    by squigly on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 08:20:14 AM EST

    A bit of MLP for you all about the shuttle development.


    Um, no. (4.12 / 8) (#68)
    by Greyjack on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:19:53 AM EST

    Let's do some math here.  Your Space Porsche will cost approximately $5 billion.

    Now, for the sake of argument, lets say the typical PhD needs $250,000 to complete his graduate studies.  (And that's on the high side -- Harvard Medical school, sure, will set you back a quarter mil over the course of your studies, but your Stanford astrophysics PHd will be a good chunk less, since you'll finish sooner).

    So... are you honestly suggesting that the Space Porsche would do more to advance the human race than 20,000 more PhD's and MD's?

    Fuck the space shuttle, put the money into improving basic materials science, engineering advances, nanotech, and so forth -- it's not going to dent humanity any to hold off for thirty or fifty years, at which point we'll be able to do all this Mars shit for a hundredth the cost.

    What?  Think it won't be that cheap by then?  The US spent around $40 billion (adjusting for inflation) on a handful of Saturn V's back in the 60's.  What would it cost to build one of those bad boys today?  Couldn't be any more than what, twenty or thirty million, if even that.  And they'd be less likely to blow up, probably.

    Now, I know, you're in a hurry to get out there and find the giant space baby that's hiding behind Jupiter.  He can wait, though.  Hell, the solar system's got more than a few years left in it, so what's the huge rush?

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    A new space vehicle vs. 20,000 PhDs (5.00 / 1) (#85)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:57:16 PM EST

    Of course, you're ignoring all the basic research that goes into engineering this vehicle.  NASA spins a lot of technology out from the research they do in the course of launching things into space.

    And a number of PhDs are useless human beings who do nothing worth while.  

    I'd say its a dead even race as to which one will actually advance humanity more.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Well, let's re-frame it then. (none / 0) (#99)
    by Menard on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:15:24 PM EST

    Instead of asking about 20,000 PhDs, let's put it this way : What if we spent these many billions of dollars on food aid to Africa? Would that be worth less to humanity than going to Mars? And, anyway, your PhDs are worthless argument doesn't hold up, IMHO. Let's say that fully half of all holders of doctorate degrees are really worhtless slobs, who do nothing and rely on tenure to get by. That's still a full 10,000 highly educated people who ARE going to contribute to society.

    [ Parent ]
    Don't! (none / 0) (#125)
    by burbilog on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:03:13 PM EST

    What if we spent these many billions of dollars on food aid to Africa?

    Keep your fucking aid away. When you dump free food into alredy ravaged economy you prepare bigger disasters. Local food sources can't compete with free food and go out of business, so essetially sending food aid lets you feel good and your government achieve its goals in controlling local rulers, but leads to more starvation and suffering. Road to hell is paved with good intentions after all, you know...
    -- If the life is just a game of D&D then the DM really sucks.
    [ Parent ]

    An ungreateful international community. (1.00 / 1) (#134)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:39:38 PM EST

    Well, on something a tangent, my feeling is, we help the world so much, by giving it stability, an economy (we keep it afloat, lets face it, even when we are in a recession) and most of its technology. Hundreds of millions more people would have died around the world if it wasnt for US intervention, technology, or aid.

    We saved france in two world wars after they dropped by the ball. After that, we thought they learned their lession, yet they stood still in Bosnia in the early 1990s until the massacres started getting really bad and we were thinking of forgoing NATO. The French, maybe the EU as a whole learned absolutley NOTHING in fifty years and they let another horror happen in their back yard because of their inability to move.

    and in return we get the finger at every turn because we have the common sense to take care of a tumor before it gets close to being terminal, so to speak.

    To hell with the lazy international community. We move, every one else stays still. They rest of the world can take care of itself. Mars is our glory and Space is our domain.

    besides, there are 18,000 new MD's a year and 30,000 new PH.D.s a year in the US.

    Thats a lot of scientists and doctors already. This this posters point is sort of moot. We get more than what he requests in one year already.

    [ Parent ]
    Breaking down the budget. (5.00 / 1) (#165)
    by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:15:50 AM EST

    And NASA employs exactly how many Ph.D.s in research?

    Roughly $1 billion of NASA's budget is marked for biological and physical science research.

    Rougly $1.5 billion of NASA's budget is marked for earth science research.

    Roughly $4 billion of NASA's budget is marked for space science research; $2 billion of that is solar system research, the rest is in more general astronomy/cosmology research.

    Roughly $1 billion of NASA's budget goes to aircraft research.

    They already put approximately $200 million dollars into education initiatives, including scholarships (a portion of my undergrad engineering education was NASA-funded).

    The other $7.5 billion goes to the human spaceflight portion of NASA's operations.  That's the only portion you can legitimately say is not going to fund general research that could better humanity.  So let's look at that $7 billion.

    $1.5 billion of that is marked for research into spaceflight, including communications research, control system research, and (yes) new launch vehicle research.  

    $6 billion ends up in space flight operations, including the portion for ISS and shuttle.

    $6 billion worth of new Ph.Ds and MS students, or a bunch of funding for general research?  I'd rather have the funding for general research.  People who want to get MS/PhDs can generally find funding for them - they may have to work for it, whether as a TA/RA or for a company that will fund their education in return - but finding funding for graduate education is a lot easier than for undergrad.  Even if there were 20,000 more people who genuinely wanted to and could receive a PhD but can't find funding (which I somehow doubt there are), I still feel that funding NASA would have more effect.

    How many Ph.Ds do you think NASA provides research funding for?

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Hmm (none / 0) (#101)
    by VValdo on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:32:20 PM EST

     NASA spins a lot of technology out from the research they do in the course of launching things into space.

    It's nice that we get a lot of technology as a byproduct of space research (I mean, who doesn't like freeze dried ice cream?) but if that $5 billion were directly applied rather than spinning off from another purpose, imagine what $5 billion could do.  IE, we may get a lot of side benefit from weapons research too, but that's not a great argument for pouring money into weapons.

    I also haven't seen anyone comment about the obvious dangers of launching nuclear materials into space, as was done with Cassini and as proposed w/Prometheus, considering the last high-profile fuckups NASA has been involved with (crashing probes into mars, crashing shuttles into earth, etc.).  And given NASA's shall we say "shitty" reputation for risk assessment, can we trust them to launch uranium into space again?

    This is my .sig. There are many like it but this one is mine.
    [ Parent ]

    Um... (none / 0) (#113)
    by miah on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:01:20 PM EST

    Yes. If they can launch a human being, they can launch a brick or two of a heavy metal just fine.

    Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the biker grade crystal meth of the masses.
    [ Parent ]
    I see (none / 0) (#119)
    by VValdo on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:35:40 PM EST

    Yes. If they can launch a human being, they can launch a brick or two of a heavy metal just fine.

    Human beings like Christa McAuliff and Dave Brown?

    This is my .sig. There are many like it but this one is mine.
    [ Parent ]

    N'Suck (none / 0) (#135)
    by miah on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:00:01 PM EST

    I was thinking more like Lance Bass.

    Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the biker grade crystal meth of the masses.
    [ Parent ]
    Plutonium (none / 0) (#142)
    by Merk00 on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:37:09 AM EST

    Actually, it's plutonium and not uranium. And, contraty to what environmentalists would have you believe, it's quite safe. Not only do the rockets require extra-validation for launch with a nuclear payload, the nuclear fuel is encased in a vessel that is designed to survive reentry entact. So, in case of an accident, the nuclear fuel will stay in its containment vessel. The chance of an accident are very slim. Even considering that, it's fairly unlikely that all that much damage would be caused by the loss of a small amount (in the several kilogram range) of radioactive material as it would likely disperse.

    "At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
    - FIRST Mission
    [ Parent ]

    Or why not .... (5.00 / 1) (#104)
    by TheMgt on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:57:56 PM EST

    If you want to use this argument then why not spend half of the ludicrous military budget on it instead. That's WAY more money than you'd get by scrapping NASA's manned spaceflight program.

    [ Parent ]
    Now that you mention it... (none / 0) (#155)
    by Greyjack on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:02:40 AM EST

    ... I'm all for that, too.

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    Slight modification (none / 0) (#166)
    by subversion on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:30:17 AM EST

    Instead of just halving the military's budget and paying for educations...

    Let's halve the budget.  Dedicate 1/2 of that to education (a not inconsiderable $100 billion should allow us to greatly improve ALL education in this country, not just Ph.D/MS education).  The other $100 billion is used to provide things for all of these new educated people to do - basic research into physics, chemistry, biology, and applied research EVERYWHERE.

    That would be a worthwhile budget change.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    The numbers MDs (5.00 / 1) (#106)
    by gmol on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:22:59 PM EST

    I think you're supposition that taking away money from MDs and PhDs to a "Space Porsche" is rather non-sennseical...

    My father, who is an MD, explained to me that despite all the cries for shortages of MDs in needed places (Northern Ontario, Canada for example)...it's is not all cost prohibitive to train more MDs (people are sick and dying, they don't mind paying for it)...but if you do, all the sudden MDs won't be making the money they do now and they don't want that.  I think it is a similar situation in the United States.

    Afterall, why spend any money on science at all when there are 25 million in the US without healthcare?

    [ Parent ]

    Was just one example (none / 0) (#159)
    by Greyjack on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:19:44 AM EST

    I was trying to point out that $5billion is a SHITLOAD of money -- I took the tack of equating it to doctors, teachers, and researchers 'cause you often hear people point out the research benefits of the space program (which I don't dispute; I'll dispute that dumping money into NASA is the most efficient path to get to those results, though).

    I'll agree quite happily that $5billion could be used for an enormous number of other worthwhile things -- increasing access to drinkable water to the world's population, health care, etc etc etc [insert bleeding heart liberal / socialist list here].  Not that I'm ardently advocating that we should raise taxes to pay for any of that other stuff; rather, I just don't see the value in pouring huge quantities of taxpayer $$$ into NASA anymore.  Let the commercial sector take care of space research for the time being.

    Ultimately, it all boils down to the essence of your question:  Why spend any money on X at all when there is Y?  It's all a question of priorities.

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    Holy shit! (none / 0) (#139)
    by Dyolf Knip on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:47:41 PM EST

    the Space Porsche would do more to advance the human race than 20,000 more PhD's and MD's?

    Cheaper, more plentiful and widespread access to space gives the human race the entire friggin _universe_, to say nothing of ensuring its continued survival, something that cannot be achieved by sitting on this rock. And you sit there and claim that a few thousand pieces of parchment are more important?

    If you can't learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly.

    Dyolf Knip
    [ Parent ]

    not the degree . . . (none / 0) (#157)
    by Greyjack on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:09:45 AM EST

    I'm certainly not claiming that the degree itself is the value.  And I'm not disputing that, ultimately, heading into space is a must.  It's a question of finding the optimal path -- rather than blowing $100 billion on a space station now, could you use that money towards other purposes for the time being, and tackle the expansion into space when it's not so goddamned expensive?

    As humans, we managed our first couple hundred thousand years without going into space; what's the harm in holding off on dropping the huge bucks on it for, oh, fifty more?

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    Hmmm.... (none / 0) (#213)
    by MentholMoose on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 07:05:39 AM EST

    rather than blowing $100 billion on a space station now, could you use that money towards other purposes for the time being, and tackle the expansion into space when it's not so goddamned expensive?

    What about the three-hundred eighty billion dollars Bush wants to spend in 2004 on Military Defense? Maybe some of that should go toward boosting the 61 billion proposed for education. You should look at the breakdown of the 2004 budget... somehow the 15 billion that NASA gets seems like small potatoes.

    [ Parent ]

    Sure (none / 0) (#216)
    by Greyjack on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 04:05:27 PM EST

    Didn't mention that, since I was replying to a NASA article.  I agree completely.

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    Saturn V (none / 0) (#141)
    by Merk00 on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:33:54 AM EST

    Actually, it would probably cost more to produce a Saturn V today than it would be to design a completely new rocket. First of all, all the original plans to the Saturn V were lost/destroyed (whether intentionally or not is up to date). Second of all, the Saturn V is vintage 1960's technology. Many of the necessary parts just aren't being made any more. There is no Saturn V assembly line. To recreate these things is just too expensive and you gain little by it. It'd be much better to design a completely new rocket.

    "At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
    - FIRST Mission
    [ Parent ]

    Literalist! (none / 0) (#156)
    by Greyjack on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:03:48 AM EST

    OK, so I should've said "Saturn V equivalent".  You get the general gist, though.

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    You've put your foot in it this time (none / 0) (#152)
    by alizard on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 03:55:24 AM EST

    So... are you honestly suggesting that the Space Porsche would do more to advance the human race than 20,000 more PhD's and MD's?

    Who is going to hire 20K more PhDs and MDs?

    Noticed what shape the economy is right now? Do you see it improving drastically in the next few years?

    A better question is where are the energy resources going to come from that will make it possible for Third World countries on the rise to achieve lifestyles comparable to that of the US and Europe.

    Space power satellites might do it in combination with conservation based on new technologies under development and several other possibilities, your 20K MDs and PhDs will wind up just another bunch of overeducated people on the unemployment line or welfare unless the economy improves drastically. Ever heard of outsourcing? Now, core business functions like R&D and accounting are going to the Third World. If you think that the US economy can be kept afloat solely by marketdroids and delivery companies, your thinking in general is of the same quality as shown in your post.

    A USA in a position to sell cheap power to the world might have room for another 20K MDs and PhDs, but we can pay for that the usual way and it'll be a lot easier in an economy that's in decent shape.

    Yes, the Shuttle should be scrapped. 30 year old airframes have no business being run in the most severe flight environment known to humanity. Otherwise, we'll continue to get our astronauts back as carbonized chunks. All this means is that space transportation alternatives need to be seriously discussed and the best ones funded.

    You're just another K5er who hasn't a clue.
    "The horse is dead. Fuck it or walk away, but stop beating it." Juan Rico
    [ Parent ]

    Gosh, you're right. Me stupid. (none / 0) (#160)
    by Greyjack on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 05:27:56 AM EST

    You're just another K5er who hasn't a clue.
    If you insist on taking everything you read literally, then yeah, I must be.

    Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

    [ Parent ]
    Priorities! (none / 0) (#189)
    by mta1121 on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:05:09 AM EST

    Signed up just to reply to this ;-) Who is going to hire 20K more PhDs and MDs? This shows you missed the entire point of his argument! It's about priorities - ok, to make his argument a bit more palatable instead of 20k PhD's you could make it 10k more PhD's, and research positions in which to employ them - all paid for by the current space program funding level! You don't need to pay them ridiculous salaries. The argument, whether we agree or not, is strong: there are a few immediate benefits from space travel, teflon is a poor example but all I can think of now, but mostly it is an investment (gamble?) for the future - when we find the planet Utopia or meet Q in the delta quadrant. Instead, all that money could be used to train and employ people to provide the real benefits to humanity now or in the next few years. The further point about delaying this for 50 or 100 years at which time it will be dirt cheap is extremely good - I once bought a commodore 64 for the same price as I can get a dual p-4 box with 1 gig of ram and a 3d card now! This must be in some way analogous to the space program.. (disclaimer i love the idea of space exploration and always have - but this post really made me think........)

    [ Parent ]
    The problem with the Shuttle is this... (3.50 / 2) (#69)
    by gordonjcp on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:27:52 AM EST

    If you had a W-reg Ford Transit van, fitted with an experimental race-tuned engine, and attempted to drive it flat out all day every day, up and down the motorways, how long would it last? Not very long, I'd guess. But that's exactly what the Space Shuttle is like.
    What we need is a reliable, production-grade reusable spacecraft. Either that, or cheap, mass-produced disposable rockets to use as launch vehicles. The shuttle was great 20 years ago (I stayed home from school to watch the launch on TV) but surely technology has reached a point where we can build a far better system?

    Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

    Space shuttle or something like it. (none / 0) (#78)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:23:12 PM EST

    This is true, which i why I said "or something like it"

    But we need a reusable space vehicle because disposable space vehicles have no way of bringing somethign so large into orbit and then manipulating it in space.

    The ISS would have been impossible without the space shuttle. Besides the very first piece, all other pieces are being brought up on the Space Shuttle. The robotic arms (both the shuttle's and the ISS) are needed to manipulate the section.

    There is simply no way to do this we disposable rockets unless you want to construct a new robotic arm every single mission.

    Its far more safer with a reusable space craft like the shuttle, but the shuttle is old and does need to be replaced by a similar cargo-carrying space vehicle within the next 12 years I think.

    Disposable rockets really have no future out side low earth orbit or earth-moon exploration. They are too small and too mission limited. They may be cheaper, they may be safer, but you do far less with them, and some things, like large piece section carrying are down right impossible.

    [ Parent ]
    I hate the title. (4.33 / 3) (#79)
    by sonovel on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 01:33:08 PM EST

    The thing we need is very much unlike the shuttle. The shuttle really makes little sense except as a NASA jobs program.

    If we can't put a half dozen people in orbit with cargo safely with 1 billion dollars a shot, then manned space exploration is a failure.

    I think it can be done safer and for less, but not with the Shuttle.

    I'm a contrarian. I think NASA should spend a lot of money on development of a cargo launching program that drops the costs of launch by a factor of 10-100. Forget expensive science missions and even manned space flight until then. But do this first and as quickly as can be reasonably done.

    If this takes 10 years, we are still ahead of the game. Launch costs are such a huge expense that if it becomes much cheaper the much more can be done in a shorter period of time.

    Space work is constrained mostly by cost. Drop the cost and much more can be done and faster. Think 10x the weight into orbit given the same time and money. That will fix "the incredible shrinking space station" right up. Think how a Mars mission could be done right if price to orbit drops by a factor of 25x.

    Job one for NASA should be to make space access much cheaper. Once this is done, use the savings to accomplish more of everything.

    [ Parent ]

    But the shuttle isn't a universal fix. (none / 0) (#81)
    by gordonjcp on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:26:41 PM EST

    While I agree we need something to lift payloads to orbit, the shuttle isn't the best way of dropping a standard comms satellite off. What we need is "disposable" launch vehicles, a "Space Truck" for taking bits of space station out, and something to take astronauts out, too. Not a "Space Porsche" (manouverable? have you ever *driven* a Porsche? They're horrible) but a "Space Volvo Estate" - ie. safe, reliable, simple, and cheaply replaceable from stock.

    Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

    [ Parent ]
    Materials advances (none / 0) (#205)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:35:21 PM EST

    Yes, it is quite possible and reasonable to expect that technical advances can result in a much cheaper "space plane" than the current Shuttle. For example, high temperature/high strength composites were not even dreamed about in the early 70's when the current Shuttle was designed, and the current Shuttle's engines are far more complex and difficult to maintain than more modern designs.

    In addition, we've learned a lot from the Shuttle program itself. For example, we've learned that our "space plane of the future" needs to ride on *TOP* of any secondary boosters needed to get it into orbit (so that falling debris doesn't whack it and destroy something expensive), and that solid rocket boosters are not a good idea for a number of reasons. We've also learned that asbestos tile is a good insulating material for reentry, but not as durable as we really need. We've learned a lot about operational issues too, and how to design a craft to reduce the cost of those operational issues, by which I'm talking about costs of assembling a vehicle "stack" (needing a Vehicle Assembly Building to assemble it in an upright position is completely incompatible with fast turnaround and low costs, we need something that can be maintained and fueled in a big hanger and then just taxi off for liftoff), we've learned that a hydrogen-oxygen combination has a high specific impulse but also a high cost of operations due to the expense of transporting and holding that liquid hydrogen, we've learned lots of stuff that could result in a cheaper space plane in the future.

    The question is when it's going to happen, not if it could happen. Unfortunately, "when" could be "never". In which case Mankind in the future will live and die on planet Earth in as miserable a fashion as on Easter Island after all its resources had been exhausted.
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    Okay, here's a question (none / 0) (#208)
    by squigly on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:29:02 PM EST

    Why not upgrade in pieces?  Those solid rocket boosters are held to be a bad idea, but designing a replacement would not be all that expensive.   If they added flip out wings, and a cruise missile style control system, they could come in to land on any US airstrip.  This would eliminate the expensive recovery operations.

    This would surely give lots of advantages.  They could probably be made lighter and more powerful than the existing solid boosters.  They would be a decent test platform for new rocket designs.  

    And what about the parts of the shuttle?  It has to be at least vaguely modular.   It was designed by a team army of engineers.  Each part has to have been designed independently.  This means we could probably take pieces out and swap in newer better pieces.  

    Sure, this will never allow them to change the overall configuration, but that's not going to happen any time soon anyway.  (Why isn't the shuttle launched at an angle incidentally?  I thought that escape velocity was largely independent of orientation).  

    The shuttle was largely experimental.  It's time to take a look, see what worked, and try something else with the bits that didn't.

    [ Parent ]

    Piecemeal enhancements not cost-effective (none / 0) (#210)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:46:09 PM EST

    The basic infrastructure for the Shuttle assumes certain things. For example, it assumes that the SRB's are going to be in a certain place, be a certain size and weight, and have a certain amount of thrust, and that they are not going to require external support. The support infrastructure for any spacecraft is highly tailored to that specific spacecraft at this point in time, and is very expensive to upgrade and update.

    Not to mention that you can't rip out aluminum wings and stuff on ceramic-composite laminate wings. The Shuttle is a lifting-body design. The wings are an inherent part of the structure.

    It would be possible to simply the engines in a piecemeal fashion, certainly. And in fact that has happened over the years to a certain extent. But any large improvements would cost a lot of money, and have little effect upon overall costs of operation. The Shuttle is just plain expensive to operate and maintain, something that's always going to be true as long as it has its current basic architecture.
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    Goals (3.66 / 3) (#80)
    by daishan on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:02:06 PM EST

    The Shuttle was never designed to be anything more than a technological showcase combing the dangers of both solid and liquid rockets along with the dangers of "controlled" re-entry suddenly becoming uncontrolled.

    The Russian Soyuz is cheaper and more reliable than the Shuttle. It is appropriate goal-oriented engineering with much less to go wrong.

    America should scrap the Shuttle and develop a true spaceplane. Soyuz can support the space station while the world waits.

    Support, but not build. (5.00 / 1) (#84)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:55:26 PM EST

    Soyuz can support it, if the Russians could/would launch enough Soyuz, but Soyuz can't complete Station.  Unfortunately or fortunately, the only thing that can be used to launch all of the (already built!) parts of the ISS is shuttle.  They're generally too bulky and heavy to be launched on expendables.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]
    Soyuz not more reliable (5.00 / 1) (#90)
    by plonk on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:11:30 PM EST

    The Soyuz series vehicles have had two fatal re-entry accidents in 87 flights. One was a fouled parachute and the other was a life support failure. Therefore, it is significantly *less* safe then the shuttle.

    [ Parent ]
    And, technically... (3.00 / 1) (#92)
    by subversion on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:17:55 PM EST

    The orbiter has only had 1 failure.  The other failure was in the launch system, and the part which failed is no longer used (somewhat different design for the SRBs now).

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]
    Depends on what you call a Soyuz (4.00 / 1) (#127)
    by daishan on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:26:05 PM EST

    I guess if you count all the Soyuz launched since 1966 then yes the Shuttle is more reliable. You must admit the latest TM / TMA series seem to be working OK.

    Judging the soyuz by it's early failures is like saying all chevy's are crap 'cos the corvair was crap.

    [ Parent ]

    No failure since 1971 (5.00 / 1) (#209)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:37:25 PM EST

    Frankly, I would prefer to ride a currently-used vehicle whose last failure was in 1971 than a vehicle whose last failure was in 2003, no matter how unreliable the first vehicle was prior to 1971.
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]
    Soyuz not cheaper (none / 0) (#203)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:13:21 PM EST

    Elsewhere I addressed the issue of Soyuz being cheaper. Each Soyuz launch costs the Russians approximately $25,000,000 in incremental costs (costs of the booster and capsule) to carry 3 people or 5,000 pounds of cargo into space. The Shuttle can carry 9 people into space at the same time that it's carrying 45,000 pounds of cargo into space. To get the same capacity from the Russian space program you'd need 3 Soyuz launches and 1 Proton launch -- or about $100,000,000. Which is the incremental cost of a Shuttle launch, according to James Oberg, a former aerospace engineer who now makes his living as a talking head for the news shows (you've probably seen him as a "talking head" regarding the Columbia disaster on one channel or another).

    In other words, to get the same amount of people and cargo into space, the Russian space program can't do it cheaper than the Shuttle -- even though their engineers work for potatoes and chickens, and their launch facilities are held together by baling wire and hope.

    The Shuttle program is expensive because of the large fixed costs -- the costs of running the ground stations and maintenance facilities, the costs of the engineers who spend their days trying to update the thing enough to keep it flying (parts for 1970's era computers being in short supply) -- not because it costs a lot to launch the thing. If we were making hundreds of flights per year with a fleet of a dozen shuttles, those large fixed costs would disappear into the vapor. But with only four (now three) hand-built prototypes, those large fixed costs suddenly look more impressive. But those fixed costs are the same whether we fly three Shuttles, or three *dozen* Shuttles. Remember, we spend $37.5 billion dollars on airliner maintenance every year in this country, as vs. around $4 billion on Shuttle maintenace. But the dollars spent building and operating airliner maintenance facilities were spread across hundreds of airliners, while the dollars spent operating Shuttle maintenance facilities were spread across four (now three) experimental prototypes of a "space plane of the future".
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    Real Incentives for Space Development (3.00 / 4) (#83)
    by nomoreh1b on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:44:37 PM EST

    Nasa is dead.

    Jerry Pournelle wrote about how to really make space happen in his recent column:

    Be it enacted by the Congress of the United States: The Treasurer of the United States is directed to pay to the first American owned company (if corporate at least 60% of the shares must be held by American citizens) the following sums for the following accomplishments. No monies shall be paid until the goals specified are accomplished and certified by suitable experts from the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Science: 1. The sum of $2 billion to be paid for construction of 3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks. 2. The sum of $5 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a space station which has been continuously in orbit with at least 5 Americans aboard for a period of not less than three years and one day. The crew need not be the same persons for the entire time, but at no time shall the station be unoccupied. 3. The sum of $12 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a Lunar base in which no fewer than 31 Americans have continuously resided for a period of not less than four years and one day. 4. The sum of $10 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a solar power satellite system which delivers at least 800 megaWatts of electric power to a receiving station or stations in the United States for a period of at least two years and one day. 5. The payments made shall be exempt from all US taxes. That would do it. Not one cent to be paid until the goals are accomplished. Not a bit of risk, and if it can't be done for those sums, well, no harm done to the treasury. I had Newt Gingrich persuaded to do this before he found he couldn't keep the office of Speaker. I haven't had any audiences with his successors.

    I personally think that a lot of "bang for the buck" can be generated using relatively small scale privately funded prizes. Some of us here on K5 have more track record than others.

    Teeny problem (5.00 / 2) (#93)
    by anonimouse on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 03:20:39 PM EST

    Ever read Longitude by Daya Sobel?

    (Getting your money out of a government after achieving your objective can be damn difficult)
    Relationships and friendships are complex beasts. There's nothing wrong with doing things a little differently.
    [ Parent ]

    Put the money in a trust up front (nt) (none / 0) (#117)
    by michaelp on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:18:52 PM EST

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

    [ Parent ]
    point (none / 0) (#146)
    by adiffer on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 12:59:44 AM EST

    You have a good point.

    My team went after the CATS prize.  We knew the people holding the money bag and trusted they would pay if we won.  A government prize would receive a different level of scrutiny before we agreed to try it.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]

    Put the prize money in escrow, perhaps? (nt) (none / 0) (#150)
    by amike on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 01:49:38 AM EST

    In a mad world, only the mad are sane. -Akira Kurosawa
    [ Parent ]
    Good point-right judges are crucial (none / 0) (#220)
    by nomoreh1b on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:29:15 PM EST

    The Longitude prize had a giant problem in that the folks doing the judging had some clear bias against mechanical solutions to the problem. Baldrson handled this problem in his space prize proposal by radically decentralizing the judging process.

    [ Parent ]
    Why only pay for American companies? (5.00 / 1) (#124)
    by squigly on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:55:39 PM EST

    There are many multinationals who would be delighted to do this.  Restricting it to American companies seems mean.  This is similar to the Longitude prize offered for a device to allow seafarers to determine their longitude, except that was offered to people of any nation.   (I have no idea whether any foreigners received any financial rewards, but the intent was there.)

    [ Parent ]
    Restricting to American Companies (4.00 / 1) (#218)
    by nomoreh1b on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:25:51 PM EST

    Keep in mind that Pournelle is basically an old "cold warrior". The nature of the prize is such that it would be perfectly okay for a company to retain much of the technology developed as trade secrets or protect that technology using patents and copyrights.

    Now, there are a some questions about offering prizes that are open to all countries:
    Is this a good idea from a standpoint of national security?
    what is the political feasibility of getting a prize under conditions that it is open to all comers vs. open only to American companies?
    What are the real costs of funding a prize that is open to all comers vs. a prize open only to American companies. By this: a prize that is given to American companies will largely be paid back in taxes over the next few years. Even though the prize itself if tax free, an American company is rather likely to reinvest in America-which mean those funds largely stay in the US economy and will generate tax revenue downstream.

    I'm personally most concerned about getting substantial prizes for space development on whatever terms possible. I'm most personally interested in Open Source type space development-that is the only way I think we'll get real competition into that market. Right now, there are just too few players in space-and the organizations/companies active are too fat/dumb/happy due to their de facto monopoly status.

    [ Parent ]

    Open Source space? (none / 0) (#225)
    by subversion on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 11:44:08 AM EST

    Great... so when it blows up I'll have to sort through 1,000,000 basically undocumented design drawings and figure out who I get to throw in jail for negligence? I'd like to see a working open-source car before I ever let anyone near an open-source space vehicle.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]
    Why Open Source Space Development (none / 0) (#228)
    by nomoreh1b on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 06:22:01 PM EST

    Just FYI, I think a open source design for a car is a good idea-one I suspect is pretty dang close to reality(I'd expect the VW Bug schematics to be available that way pretty dang soon).

    The first open source space designs I expect to be in the area of model rocketry-and I expect the same improvements in reliability of open source rocketry designs over proprietary designs that we've seen in Linux and FreeBSD over windows. Get the suits out of the way, things do get better.

    [ Parent ]

    Idealist (none / 0) (#229)
    by subversion on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 10:15:06 AM EST

    Linux and FreeBSD are better than Windows in some areas, and gasp worse in some areas.

    Now, yes, a lot of the areas where Windows is better have to do with Microsoft being able to command allegiance from the market, but not all of them.

    But you know what?  I wouldn't trust an open source spacecraft.  It would have poor documentation (especially compared to the documentation NASA uses - puts every other documentation I've seen to shame in its depth and detail), probably not suit any one purpose well for trying too hard to suit many, and require countless iterations to get right.  Not to mention the complete lack of accountability and QA, both of which the space program has in spades right now.

    That is not acceptable.  Thinking that open-source will save space is idealistic, and wrong.

    You know what's gonna happen if an open source car comes out?  Nothing.  3 or 4 will get built, but almost everyone will remain driving Accords, S-10s, and Explorers.

    Do you want to know why?  Development of hardware is expensive.  Development of software is only time-expensive; somebody can create a whole new operating system in their spare time with a PC costing $500.  The amount of support equipment, as well as materiel costs, to research and fabricate a new engine is orders of magnitude higher.

    The costs for a space vehicle are orders of magnitude beyond that.

    It isn't going to happen.

    If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.
    [ Parent ]

    Open source and accountability (4.00 / 1) (#231)
    by squigly on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 11:38:31 AM EST

    I've never understood why there's the perceived lack of accountability with open source.  

    The end supplier is accountable.  With my car, most parts were made by companies other than the manufacturer.  If as part goes wrong, who do I sue?  The car manufacturer!  It's their responsibility to ensure that all the parts work.  The person making money can do the QA testing.  They need only use the parts that have documentation.  

    Sure, an open source methodology isn't going to work for a lot of reasons, primarily for the cost reasons you mentioned, but parts of it could.  With cars, it does happen!  All manufacturers copy from their competitors.  The patent system - when it works correctly - allows this to happen, and still allows the manufacturers to make a profit.  The basic principles are the same.  A problem is solved, and the best solution propogates to the next generation.  

    [ Parent ]

    not (5.00 / 2) (#232)
    by adiffer on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 04:48:22 PM EST

    I will avoid going into zealot state on you regarding open source and free development processes.  However, there is one group out there right now developing a vehicle for taking humans on suborbital trips (X-prize type) that is pretty close to open source.  The leader of that group has a web site where he openly discusses what they buy and how they make it work and how things are going on a weekly basis.  Anyone with the cash can repeat his steps and do it for considerably less money since he gives options for some of the parts.

    Anyone curious to look in on the project is advised that what they are doing is dangerous.  Precautions must be taken to protect yourselves and the innocent folks nearby.  If people get hurt and get mad, the civil suit alone will bankrupt the idiot who does not take such precautions as it should.

    The leader of this group is John Carmack.  His site can be found at Armadillo Aerospace.

    My team at JP Aerospace isn't as open to complete strangers as Carmack is.  We are fairly open with people who volunteer and/or work for us, though we retain an interest in owning the intellectual property we generate.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]

    What's with those numbers? (none / 0) (#191)
    by axxeman on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 07:07:43 AM EST

    ...three years and one day...

    ...no fewer than 31 Americans...

    ...four years and one day...

    Being or not being married isn't going to stop bestiality or incest. --- FlightTest
    [ Parent ]

    suggestion for the long run (3.33 / 3) (#100)
    by xah on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 04:24:05 PM EST

    This is a superb article. The only thing I didn't like was the small number of typos. The article stands as a good vision of what should be done.

    May I suggest the following in addition to it? After we successfully complete the mission to Mars, the next steps, feasible over the long run, should be as follows.

    1. Develop a permanent base on Mars as soon as possible. In addition to the other things necessary for a base, a couple of the things we'll eventually need there are a launchpad and a landing strip.
    2. Develop a space plane that can blast off from Mars, orbit Mars, and land back on Mars in a single stage. Deliver it from Earth to Mars by strapping some nuclear powered ion drive boosters you're talking about.
    3. Develop a space plane that can blast off from Earth, orbit Earth, hitch a ride with a couple of ion drives to Mars, orbit Mars, land on Mars as a space plane, blast off from Mars, hitch a ride back to Earth, orbit Earth again, and then land on Earth as a space plane.
    4. Develop a space plane equipped with, among other engines, ion drives, so that it can take off from Earth, land on Mars, and return all in a single stage.
    5. Mass produce it.

    A question! (4.00 / 1) (#107)
    by schwong on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:24:34 PM EST

    I enjoyed reading your article, but I was wondering if we could do without the shuttle.

    You pointed out that the main purpose of the shuttle is to ferry cargo, and since most satellites are launched by rocket, that cargo is almost exclusively ISS parts. Might that be overkill? When they started building the ISS, the Russian segments were lifted by rockets, and IIRC docked together automatically. By now, the station has airlocks so the inhabitants can fix stuff themselves. And it's supplied by Progress craft, so the Shuttle is only used for the really big bits.

    Maybe you see my question already: is it really necessary to have a crew return vehicle with built-in cargo capacity? The Russians managed to build Mir, and they didn't have a space shuttle.*

    *Well not really.

    Survive without, but not expand. (5.00 / 1) (#111)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:40:00 PM EST

    Oh, the Space station can survive without the shuttle.

    But no disposable rocket can send up ISS segments as they are too large and, once arriving at the space station need to be specially placed using the robotic arm and astronaughts litterally crawling on the outside, connecting various wires and ports.

    Simply put, you really cant build anything substantial in space without something that brings up segments and allows astronauts to manipulate it.

    I'm sort of torn on the subject of the Shuttle bringing Sattilites up. I think for things like Hubble or Chandra or Deep Space Probes, those are okay, but the shuttle should never be used to send up a telecommunications or spy sat... those can be done cheaper and safer with disposable rockets.

    But disposable rockets have their problems too. ArrianneSpace's newest rock has had 5 failures in 14 launches.

    My argument towards keeping the shuttle or some sort of second generation shuttle is that its perfect for building things in space, complex things that require human touch, and has fulfilled its mission this very day.

    Mir was built over the years with Soyuz rockets, and those are disposable, but Mir was smaller than the space station is now, and will be FAR smaller than it will be at completion. I'm not sure the exact numbers right now, but a pure guess is that the finished ISS will be 3 to 4 times the size of Mir. I know for a fact however, it already has much more pressurized volume than Mir.

    [ Parent ]
    Proton launches (none / 0) (#202)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:01:13 PM EST

    Note that ISS segments can be sent up via Russia's Proton rocket, which will supposedly hoist the same amount as the U.S. space shuttle. Granted, our disposable Titan V rocket is too wimpy (and expensive) to do it, but the United States isn't the only nation on Earth with rockets, y'know! The Proton is a time-tested design based upon one of the old Soviet Union's ICBM's, and is certainly adequate for the task of building a space station (after all, the first two segments of the ISS were sent up via Proton).

    The reasons for using the Shuttle for the majority of the ISS construction are political, not technical -- U.S. aerospace companies have lobbied Congress heavily to keep NASA from using Russian launch facilities, and in fact managed to get a law passed saying that NASA could buy launches from Russia only if NASA declares a state of emergency stating that the ISS was in danger of coming down.

    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    Why a Space Shuttle Replacement is Less Likely Now (3.50 / 2) (#109)
    by ixian on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:28:42 PM EST

    After the Columbia crash, NASA can't afford any more similar incidents. It's bad for PR, it's bad for funding, it's bad for morale, it's just bad all around.

    Now, NASA has a choice between using the old Shuttle, or using something new. The Space Shuttle is a proven piece of machinery. NASA has been using it for decades. The engineers know all the details, and all the bugs and quirks. The astraunauts are trained to operate it. The technicians know how to service it. The manufacturers know how to build it. Basically, NASA is so familiar with it that it knows what the Shuttle can and cannot do, what could go wrong, and what to watch out for.

    A Shuttle replacement, whatever it may be, will be a new craft. It will use more modern technology. Perhaps it will be more efficient and cheaper to use. But no matter how much testing NASA does with it, it will not be possible to replicate the decades of experience with the Shuttle. The new craft will be inherently more risky, simply because it is new.

    Now, at another time, perhaps NASA would be willing to take the risk. But after the Columbia crash, the negative effects of another disaster will far overweigh any benefits of a Shuttle replacement. This is why I think that in the immediate future, perhaps for the next couple of years, until the Columbia mess "blows over," so to speak, NASA will sit tight, use the old and proven technology like the Shuttle, and take as few risks as possble.

    OSP now, new shuttle later, probably (4.50 / 2) (#112)
    by StrifeZ on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 05:44:49 PM EST

    NASA has already funded the initiatives for the Orbital Space Plane and Project Prometheus, two things i've discussed.

    NASA will probably replace the Shuttle in about 2015 or 2017 or so. My argument is that NASA has done a tremendous amount of work on the X-33, much of it, including the Linear Aerospike engine, still in storage at Skunk Works. The X-33/Venture Star is the appropriate leap forward from the Shuttle and I think NASA should really consider doing it.

    But realistically, the Orbital Space Plane will fly in the next 10 years and so will Project Prometheus's space probe, but a new shuttle is still 15 years away.

    [ Parent ]
    unmanned testing (none / 0) (#123)
    by droobie on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:48:45 PM EST

    when the space shuttle had its maiden flight, in 1981, it was crewed by two test pilots. no one knew whether they would make it into space, no one knew if it would come back. luckily there were no major problems with the test flight and orbiter and crew returned to earth safely. if and when a new space plane is built to augment/replace the shuttle, i'd imagine that NASA or whoever builds it will test it on auto-pilot or remote-control, like the russians did when they tested their version of the shuttle. though the loss of a test vehicle would be damaging in terms of cost, it would never necessarily endanger human lives.

    [ Parent ]
    Case For Mars. (4.50 / 2) (#116)
    by WhiteBandit on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 06:16:31 PM EST

    Check out Dr. Robert Zubrin's book The Case For Mars. He presents an elaborate strategy that uses current technology and even regular old rockets from Earth to launch a manned mission to the red planet.

    It may sound preposterous, but it is the cheapest, simplest and probably one of the most efficient ways to launch a mission to Mars. You can probably even consider it one of the safest ways since it uses "proven" technology (I know, proven technology can be proven not to work as well...). I really recommend this book regardless of how you think we should get there.

    What we need (4.66 / 3) (#130)
    by epepke on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 08:03:50 PM EST

    • A much smaller, reusable spacecraft for passengers only.
    • Big, dumb, disposable boosters for large payloads.
    • An airplane with a rail/coil gun for small payloads and materials such as solder.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    How do we *return* cargos from space? (none / 0) (#201)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:55:15 PM EST

    If zero-G manufacturing is ever to become feasible, we need some way to *return* cargo from space. Reusable rockets don't provide such a mechanism. Right now, the Shuttle is the only way we have of getting stuff *back* from space (other than a few personal items in the laps of cosmonauts returning in the tin-can Soyuz descent capsule).

    While I agree that dumb boosters can typically get stuff into orbit more cheaply than a Shuttle-type vehicle, we do need some sort of "space truck" to get stuff *back* from orbit if we're ever going to use our space station for something that might make it economically viable. A Proton launch probably costs the Russians around $25,000,000 to get the same amount of payload into orbit as what we pay $100,000,000 to get into orbit with the Shuttle. But that's only half the equation -- getting stuff into orbit. Getting stuff *back* from orbit is going to be the big issue if space manufacturing ever gets underway.
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    That's easy (5.00 / 1) (#206)
    by epepke on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:12:19 PM EST

    Construct return pods in orbit with materials sent up by big, dumb boosters. The first thing that is going to be more economical to construct in freefall will be the foam for ablative heat shields.

    But there's no sense in wasting all that fuel and danger on an oversized "space truck" that has to be optimized for both getting into space and coming back until we get to that point. It's been two decades of the truck, and there's been no significant space manufacturing yet.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    [ Parent ]
    "We" need a space shuttle? (3.00 / 5) (#132)
    by tomtefar on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 09:33:40 PM EST

    What we is that? I don't need one, I take the train to work. I don't even own a car.
    Always apply Occams razor and remember things are not that simple. http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?OccamsRazor
    Mars: And Then What? (4.25 / 4) (#136)
    by another lame modstorming troll on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:01:28 PM EST

    Gosh, I love revisionist history.

    Those of you who do know your history know that the space shuttle as it stands now was a product of both political and budgetary constraints placed on the entire agenda of NASA.

    Even before man stood on the moon, NASA was having contractors (like Lockheed, Boeing, Martin, et al) do feasability studies for the next generation of lift vehicles. The plan was "shuttle, station, mars: by the 1980's".

    What happened to the plan was that Congress got a good look at the projections of costs, and freaked out. They made NASA justify each step on its own, ie you could not justify a shuttle because it was needed for a space station; similarly, the need for a spacestation in any Mars project was no justification for a space station. So any Shuttle program had to justify itself.

    Meanwhile, the contractors were playing with all kinds of plans, from the fully disposable (for example, a 6-person Apollo type vehicle) to the fully reusable (like the Trinoo, a three piece spacecraft that had three practically identical parts, two of which were boosters and a third which lifted people and/or cargo into orbit).

    The distinction is important, because it dictates where your costs are. Fully disposable craft are cheap to design and expensive to operate (because you throw away the whole thing each time you use it and have to build a new one), while fully reusable craft are expensive to design (because reusability isn't easy) but cheap to operate -- because you can ideally just fuel the sucker up and go.

    Now, if you are a Congress critter who has to get re-elected in the short term, which are you going to want to have? That's right -- smaller up-front costs. Let future Congress critters deal with the higher operational costs.

    If you look through the history, the current incarnation of the Space Shuttle appeared very late in the process, and was designed to be a swiss army knife -- all things to all people. It was partly reusable (to keep operational costs down); it was partly disposable (to keep design costs down); it had a whopping big carrying capacity so it could carry all kinds of orbital payloads, including large military and large scientific payloads; and it kept much of the military contractors usefully solvent without having to hold an actual war.

    The bottom line when it comes to any kind of technology project is: technology you have in your hand and can use today beats any kind of technology which is on paper. The second best kind of technology is that which the bean counters will actually let you buy and then hold in your hand. NASA needed another project, and the Space Shuttle got approved.

    And let's not forget that the Space Shuttle has produced some of the most impressive engineering technology available today. Not only is a Space Shuttle Main Engine one of the more powerful rocket motors available, it is the only one which is reusable. Even if the russian Energia lifter is a more powerful rocket, it is a throwaway rocket.

    While the Delta Star project had some interesting possibilities, it reflects the fact that Rocket Science is heady stuff. The aerospike engine design is exciting, and I'm sure it will show up somewhere in some form. And let's not knock the designers of these fuel tanks. Consider that the Delta Star would be the first craft to bring primary fuel tanks back through the atmosphere and expect them to be reusable again. Not a simple problem to solve.

    When it comes to the future, I think that Mars should not be a priority. There's not much in the way of additional science to be done by sending people there than can be done by sending cheaper robots.

    Is the techology present to send a man to Mars and bring him home safely? Sure. But the mission would end up being just as disposable as the Moon missions were. If we are going, we should plan to stay, and we have a whole lot more to learn technically before we can do that. Most importantly, before we've done some long term studies on the feasability of closed biospheres in orbit, it is a foolish idea to send off a Mars mission.

    The big question for a sending a Mars is the 'And Then What?' This was the question that NASA really failed to answer, and sell an answer to, to the American public during the Moon missions. 'Because we can' is a stupid answer. 'Future population relief' just shows that the answerer can't deal with basic math or economics.

    With all that in mind, I think the Space Shuttle is doing a remarkable job, and that the ISS is a good next step into orbit. Beyond that, there has to be more study on orbital construction, long term operation of a closed biosphere and living in such a space for a long period of time, and development of better engines for jetting around the solar system (sails, nuclear, ion, magnetic, whatever). Just about all of this will forward the need for a next-generation reusable lift device. And we should keep sending out robotic explorers everywhere we think we can get good data back from -- and a few places which are iffy.

    Couple of minor picks... (4.00 / 1) (#193)
    by DDS3 on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 10:27:46 AM EST

    If you look through the history, the current incarnation of the Space Shuttle appeared very late in the process, and was designed to be a swiss army knife -- all things to all people. It was partly reusable (to keep operational costs down); it was partly disposable (to keep design costs down)

    Except that the shuttle's costs exceeded original targeted costs to design and make. It exceeds planned costs to maintain and operate. In fact, the shuttle is so expensive to operate, it costs more to service and launch the shuttle than it would to create a disposable craft and launch it. The shuttle is horrible at chewing up tax dollars. Especially since better, cheaper, faster, and more reliable means are available and have been for years. The poor shuttle is an anachronism.

    NASA needed another project, and the Space Shuttle got approved.

    I completely agree with you on this. The monster that is the shuttle program, we can completely thank the idiots of Congress-past. Hopefully people will take a lesson from this and realize that things need to be done right and funded accordingly. Indirectly, you could say that Congress has the death of 14-people on their hands (7-man Challenger crew without a doubt).

    Is the techology present to send a man to Mars and bring him home safely? Sure.

    NASA and every other space agency in the agrees the technology isn't there. In fact, with a big question mark, they would only want to send very old people because of the high exposure to radiation. A trip to Mars is only something we can dream of because it is within reach of the near future. That being said, it would still be one of the most risky missions EVER put together to date.

    [ Parent ]
    Cost of Space Shuttle launches equivalent to Soyuz (5.00 / 1) (#200)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:48:30 PM EST

    It costs the Russians approximately $25 million to fire off a Soyuz. A Soyuz can carry 3 people (Soyuz capsule) or 5,000 pounds of cargo (in the form of a Progress module) to orbit.

    The most commonly quoted figure for Shuttle launches is $500 million apiece. However, the *incremental costs* (i.e., not the costs of running the space centers etc.) is around $100 million apiece. I.e., if you want to launch 7 missions rather than 6 missions, it will cost around $100,000,000 extra to run that 7th mission. This just emphasizes how extensive and expensive the fixed costs (infrastructure) are for the Shuttle program, from the operational costs for the space centers to the salaries of the engineers who work on refining the Shuttle's design to get rid of safety issues and deal with technological upgrades necessary because parts for 1970's-era computers are no longer available. If we were making hundreds of flights per year with a fleet of dozens of Shuttles, though, as was originally planned, that $100,000,000 figure is a reasonable estimate of how cheaply we could do it using the current Shuttle design.

    The Shuttle can carry 7 to 9 people and 45,000 pounds of cargo to orbit -- or 9 times more cargo and 3 times more people than the Soyuz. To get the same amount of cargo into space, you'd need to go to the Proton rocket (Russia's heavy lifter), which will lift 42,000 pounds. So let's see, three Soyuz (to get 9 people into orbit) + 1 Proton launch, that's about $100 million.

    The point: While the Shuttle is not as efficient as was hoped, the fact that we can send people and cargo to space for the same price as the impoverished Russian space program (whose engineers work for bread and a few rubles a month) is rather remarkable. The most common estimates of the Shuttle's costs include fixed infrastructure costs (such as the costs of the launch pad preparation etc.) and engineering costs that would be the same whether we were using disposable or reusable rockets. In fact, the Atlas 4 disposable rocket costs over $200,000,000 per rocket, yet carries only 39,000 pounds into orbit -- i.e., is roughly twice as expensive per launch as the Shuttle if not considering the infrastructure expenses.

    That is not to say that the Shuttle is ideal or a good design by any means. It is an interesting experimental prototype of the "space truck" of the future, but that's all it is -- an experimental prototype. The combined shuttle fleet has flown less flights than the X-15 experimental aircraft, and each Shuttle flight is as dangerous as a flight of any other experimental aircraft. NASA represents it as otherwise to Congress and the American people, but the pilots and mission specialists know better -- they know that each flight has a good chance of failure -- and still fly. The lessons learned undoubtedly will make a future production "space truck" more affordable to operate, safer, and easier to design, but until there is some economically viable reason to build a fleet of productional quality "space trucks", we're stuck with basically flying a few hand-built experimental prototypes into space, whether those prototypes be the current Shuttle or some future "space plane" that more fully embraces reusability.

    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    Function of the Space Shuttle (1.50 / 8) (#137)
    by Baldrson on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 10:02:36 PM EST

    The function of the space shuttle was to show up at the end of films like "Octber Sky" proclaiming to male boomer techies that they weren't just getting it up the ass from Uncle Sam but that there was something the government and powers-that-be did for them.

    Now since the boomer techies are too old to mount a violent revolution and the dot-con bubble-bust has combined with H-1Bs to put the aging boomer techies into the welfare lines to get a dog-bone or two from their dear, sweet Federal Government, there really isn't any purpose for the shuttle -- or any of the rest of the so-called "space program".

    -------- Empty the Cities --------

    N.A.S.A (1.66 / 15) (#149)
    by pin on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 01:42:11 AM EST

    Need Another Seven Astronauts

    A PUZZLE! (1.00 / 2) (#176)
    by bjlhct on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 06:52:50 PM EST

    OK, can't anybody explain how people can survive 50G in the right situation? Anybody?

    It involves a dangerous chemical called hydrogen oxide.


    [kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism

    Unless you have something really extraordinary (none / 0) (#177)
    by nusuth on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:07:33 PM EST

    You can't explain either. Pıtting people into water only makes things worse. The pressure differential between the upper body and lower body is enough to kill a person, even when lying on back.

    Earlier today, I was thinking about acceleration compensation by diamagnetic levitation but couldn't find any reference to heavier object lifting. It seems if you are a frog, you have a very good chance of cheap space travel but that doesn't work for human sizde objects.

    [ Parent ]

    Nope. (none / 0) (#184)
    by bjlhct on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 08:12:48 PM EST

    It's water. And no it's not.

    And that won't work at all. That struggles to overcome gravity.

    [kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
    [ Parent ]

    Elevator stages (1.00 / 2) (#182)
    by Roman on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 07:59:53 PM EST

    What we need is to set up stages that will allow gradual lift into space. First stage should be on top of some mountain, say Everest. Second stage should be around 60Km above Earth based on gigantic dirigibles (the height excludes the possibility of a ground-air terrorist attack.) The third stage should be based on the idea of a space elevator, going from 60km to maybe 150km with nanotube based elevator. From there we go further - maybe 1000km away into space with space ferries docking to space stations at that altitude. From 1000km, the next jump to 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 and the Moon.

    Are you for real? (n/t) (none / 0) (#185)
    by Lord Snott on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 09:30:48 PM EST

    This sig in violation of U.S. trademark
    registration number 2,347,676.
    Bummer :-(

    [ Parent ]
    Need? Ha, ha, ha! (4.66 / 3) (#187)
    by pavlos on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:04:39 AM EST

    The function of the space shuttle is to subsidize US hi-tech and defense/aerospace companies, and to channel research into engines, materials, etc. that are relevant to military use around the earth, not some sci-fi outer planet environment. If fulfils that important function pretty well, so I imagine it will continue for a while.

    Orbital manned space flight is a nice research activity, but hardly something the US "needs". You only "need" manned space flight in a male fantasy "I am an interpid explorer" kind of sense. You don't need it in the sense that you need universities, advanced medicine, the internet, or high-speed ground transport systems.

    The US does need the ability to put large objects in orbit, for which the shuttle is a relatively inefficient vehicle. Lifting the shuttle as well as the payload is silly, and the maintenance and preparation cost is very high. Also, the maximum payload is modest. A program consisting partly reusable, big unmanned lifters and small reusable space planes (passenger only) would do the job better. But such a program would be less good at striking poses as a big sticky-up object on the launchpad or a big black swooping bird of prey, in general it would be less good at symbolizing Americal pride, and so would be harder to justify as a tax expense.

    As for the advancement of science, the shuttle is probably a huge impediment to it. The one time it proved famously useful was the repair of the Hubble, hardly a good justification for the whole program. If the US didn't have the shuttle program, with its huge, conservative sunk investment and maintenance cost, it could by now have developed ion or other deep-space boosters, probably sent a manned mission to another planet, and deployed functioning robot probes on the moons of the gas giants.


    apparantly... (2.00 / 2) (#192)
    by ragabr on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 08:44:38 AM EST

    you are unfamiliar with the already large issue of overpopulation. unless breeding controls and other such programs are implemented, we're going to need space migration and the need is probably going to become pressing within the next 30 years.

    And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
    [ Parent ]
    Utopian solution (5.00 / 2) (#212)
    by pavlos on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 05:40:38 AM EST

    I am familiar with the problem of overpopulation. I just think that space migration, today, is both a fantastical and a short-sighted, politically misguided way of addressing it. Sure, in a few hundred years sellment on Mars or elswhere in our system might be economical, and that might help with overpopulation a little bit. But currently, large scale space migration is schoolboy fantasy.

    Firstly, overpopulation is largely an economic issue. People multiply due to personal economic circumstances or decisions (sometimes it pays to do so, especially in poor countries). These people are the least likely to afford space travel. So what are we going to do? Pay to clear them out of Africa, the way Scottish Landlords cleared the highlands and islands sending people to North America, so we industrialized people can keep the hospitable Earth?

    Secondly, overpopulation is not inevitable. Europe's population is not rising significantly (I don't know about the US). The population of the Third World is rising dramatically, mostly due to poor economic and political conditions. So instead of migrating to space, we can let nations develop so their population stops rising out of control. Sure, we can settle space because it's exciting to do so, but not as an alternative to population management.


    [ Parent ]

    Coming back from Mars... (3.00 / 2) (#196)
    by Ilkka Kokkarinen on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 11:39:21 AM EST

    Going to Mars is not going to be a problem. After all, it is already done for unmanned flights. Coming back is the problem. Unlike moon, which is so small that a small lander module can get out, Mars is almost as big as Earth, and a giant rocket is needed for getting out. How did anyone plan to get that rocket and its fuel to Mars for the explorers to use to get back home?

    Second, it has long been my opinion that the only worthwhile thing is space is in Earth's orbit for satellites and stuff. There is nothing in space out there beyond that: just a huge void filled with a couple of empty rocks or gasballs. Simply nothing worth going for. Any benefit that a manned mission to Mars could possibly provide can be achieved by landing to the middle of Sahara desert, which even at its worst is infinitely more friendly to life than any planet out there.

    Mars gravity (5.00 / 1) (#199)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:26:05 PM EST

    Actually, Mars gravity is less than 35% of Earth's. But you're right, there isn't much at Mars to make it worthwhile going there for commercial or colonization reasons. It's a desert at the wrong end of a gravity well (even 1/3rd G is pretty expensive to get out of). As is the Moon, but at least the Moon is close enough to Earth that a trip there doesn't take months.

    That does not, however, mean that Mars isn't worth exploring for scientific reasons. For one thing, knowing more about Mars's past could tell us more about the Earth's future. Why did Mars go from being a watery planet to a barren desert? Could Earth go the same way? Interesting questions, that can't be answered from here on Earth.

    Meanwhile, for exploitation and colonization look at the asteroid belt, or, perhaps, the moons or rings of Jupiter. There's more chance of volatiles out there, which are going to be the main problem with space exploration (e.g., the Moon has pretty much no volatiles worthy of the name).
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
    [ Parent ]

    No reason to go into space? (5.00 / 1) (#204)
    by pq on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:27:41 PM EST

    There is nothing in space out there beyond that [...] Simply nothing worth going for. Any benefit that a manned mission to Mars could possibly provide can be achieved by landing to the middle of Sahara desert

    The main benefit to leaving Earth is simply that, leaving Earth. Not having all your eggs in one basket, taking the first baby steps to spread beyond the Solar system, manifest destiny and all that jazz. Our planet, our solar system, is absolutely a dead end with no long term future - if an asteroid or comet doesn't wipe us out, eventually, changes in the Sun's temperature will move our Goldilocks spot (not too hot, not too cold, just right) in the habitable zone to somewhere we can't reach. And when (not if, but when) that happens, say good bye to everything, including the Sahara desert.

    Yes, this is many many MANY years in the future. But its like all those journeys of a million steps: you've got to start small.

    [ Parent ]

    The real reason we need cheap access to space (2.00 / 3) (#207)
    by Eric Green on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:26:22 PM EST

    Easter Island.

    Without cheap access to space, the future of mankind is environmental degredation, shorter lifespans, poor standard of living, and much misery.

    Even today we can see the results of environmental degredation if we dare look. Compare, for example, the typical American home of 2003 compared to the typical American home of 1903. The typical American home of 1903 was built using large long timbers and thick boards and studs (1903's 2x4's were really 2" by 4" in size, unlike today's 2x4's, which are smaller). The attic was framed with 2x8 or 2x10 joists and 2x6 or 2x8 rafters of 20' or longer in length. The sheathing was diagonal planks 1" in thickness, topped by wooden siding 1" in thickness. The interior walls were plaster applied to 1x2 wooden lathe.

    The typical home of today is built almost solely with short sticks of wood, wood chips, and glue. The attic is built of pieces of 2x4 held together with pressed-on metal plates to form trusses, and 'truss uplift' is normal and expected in the home of 2003 ('truss uplift' is where the ceiling moves due to the differing environment between top and bottom of the trusses, causing the joint between ceiling and wall to crack). Floor joists for a second floor are built out of 2x4's using truss techniques too. The few large beams are built out of strips of wood glued together ("glulams"), rather than being large solid pieces of wood. The decking, rather than being 1" flooring over 1" diagonal deck, is 5/8" of wood chips held together by glue ("oriented strand board"), with the carpet applied directly on top of it. The sheathing is 1/2" of wood chips held together by glue, and is applied only where absolutely necessary to provide the minimal racking strength required by law, on most of the house the siding is applied directly to 15# asphalt-impregnated felt stapled to the studs. The biggest piece of lumber in the whole house is 8' long 2x4's, which are used to piece together everything else.

    What happened in that hundred years? Resource depletion, that's what. Big timber became expensive. Thus new American houses are built out of sticks and sawdust and glue.

    What will the typical new American home look like in a hundred years? Well, if we extrapolate the trend from 1903 to 2003 all the way to 2103, they will be made of cardboard stiffened with spit.

    Without access to the resources of the Solar System, the future of humanity is to slowly wind down until we lack the capability to leave our little island, much less sail elsewhere and create new outposts where hopefully some sort of civilization will survive after ours collapses.
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...

    What a American home looks like in a hundred years (none / 0) (#215)
    by Amesha Spentas on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 03:32:34 PM EST

    What will the typical new American home look like in a hundred years? Well, if we extrapolate the trend from 1903 to 2003 all the way to 2103, they will be made of cardboard stiffened with spit.

    If we were to extrapolate the trend, what we would have is a cardboard home stiffened with spit that is 5 times stronger then a house 100 years older, 10 times larger, with more amenities costing less (in terms of energy required & materials required) from the environment. (Just think about that, today's homes use less of any one material, thereby reducing the demand of that material.) The downside? Some people claim today's houses lack the charm and "Proper" building materials of a century old house.

    Registered to die for the government at 18, and had to pay postage on the registration form - AnalogBoy
    [ Parent ]

    huh? (none / 0) (#217)
    by Phantros on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 07:28:54 PM EST

    Space flight has very little to do with environmental degradation, and even less to do with housing materials. It won't be any time soon, if ever, that materials are sent back and forth between the earth and other heavenly bodies - the fuel costs would be ridiculously prohibitive.

    As for comparing the building materials of a century ago to those of today to make a statement about the environment...you are completely ignoring the effects of technology. It's not so much that wood is expensive as that artificial materials have gotten progressively cheaper, and really very little is needed to make a house sturdy enough to stand for a generation or longer. A home's lifetime only needs to measure in the decades not centuries because in 2103 our technology will be sufficiently advanced that the homes of the past will be undesirable.

    Those who look for a coming collapse because of some short-sighted environmental policies are ignoring the exponential growth in science and technology. Or am I just imagining that I'm connected to a globe-spanning internet with access to humanity's collective knowledge?

    4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with
    [ Parent ]

    You have your head in the sand. (none / 0) (#223)
    by Alhazred on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 10:42:29 AM EST

    The guy you're replying to wasn't suggesting that resources would ever be sent from space to earth. That would be ridiculous, what would Earth give back in return? What he is talking about is EASTER ISLAND. Read the link! When the Polynesians reached Easter Island it was a rich forested land. 200 years later it was a treeless ruined landscape inhabited by a dying race of people who could no longer build a boat and get off.

    Lest you really be so foolish as to believe that science and technology will "Solve Our Problems", let me remind you, science and technology are the means by which all of our INCREASING problems were created in the first place. Your logic is roughly like "well, I took some poison, I better take some more, maybe it will cure me!"

    The basic argument goes like this:

    The Earth's environment has been fairly stable over the last several billion years. I mean by this the climate, the biosphere etc. Not unchanging, but always remaining within a fairly narrow range of conditions. Man evolved to live in this environment, and with all life on earth has been exquisitly adapted to it by around 3.9 billion years worth of constant evolution. Thus it is pretty hard to believe that some other environmental conditions would overall be "better" than the ones we have now (or had up until say 500 years ago).

    Anything humans do is likely to change that environment. Now obviously the environment can tolerate a certain degree of that, thus "sustainability". Beyond that point changes happen, and those changes are almost certain to be negative (since they result in conditions unnatural to us, ie. not the ones we evolved to tolerate).

    So, the basic problem breaks down to "how much change can humans make on their environment?" Well, change is in the lexicon of physics, work. Work requires energy to produce forces which act on things. Work per unit time is power, and the amount of work done per unit time is the product of power and efficiency. Now work can be increased by having more generating capacity available, or it can be increased by better efficiency. Technology produces both results, more capacity and more efficiency, thus more work, more change, and more degradation of the environment, PERIOD.

    There is also, NO such thing as 'good work' because in the end at best you end up with waste thermal energy. There is also the issue that the energy has to come FROM somewhere. By some estimates humanity is already coopting over 47% of the total net energy input of the sun into the biosphere of the earth. Just exactly how much more can we take? Technology is NOT our friend, not our solution, not the answer. It is the PROBLEM, pure and simple.

    Yes we can solve individual problems with technology, and I do not think we should throw it  away, but to consider the poison to be the cure and more poison to be a better cure is simply totally foolish.

    Given that there is no process by which we can decide to go back to the way things were 1000 years ago or more, and that more progress and more rapid progress is most certainly in the offing, we MUST get off this planet. The only issue of the 21st century that matters is "Can humanity get off the earth before we strip it bare of every resource required to do so or not?" All the rest of what is going on today on this planet is (in the big picture) totally irrelevant and will hardly even warrant a footnote in history books.
    That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
    [ Parent ]

    Working together (none / 0) (#222)
    by gav on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 04:37:39 AM EST

    I think we are all forgetting that their are numerous space agencies around the world (NASA, ESA ,RKA ,China etc) Unfortunately, they all seem to have their own way of launching stuff into space and are trying to build better ways of launching and expanding their own Egos It would probably be better if they all stopped working on their own rockets and started to work together to provide reusable space transport vehicles.

    why (none / 0) (#233)
    by adiffer on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 04:51:51 PM EST

    I've heard many people say this.  I'm not sure I understand why they do, though.  I ask you in all honesty to elaborate on why you think this is a good idea.
    --BE The Alien!
    [ Parent ]
    Is this backwards? (none / 0) (#226)
    by wnight on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 03:06:50 PM EST

    I'd think that the cheapest/safest thing to do would be use Atlas V (or similar) rockets to launch cargo into space. Then send up a small space-plane with the personel.

    This means you can't bring cargo down but for a long time (until space factories are practical) we'll be shipping up bulk supplies and bringing back only people and information. So you leave the Canada Arm in space, attached to the ISS, instead of paying to lift it every time. Hell, even making a new one for each flight shouldn't be that pricey now that the research has been done, if you wanted to throw the old ones away.

    This way people take-off/land in a steerable craft which seems like a better idea than a capsule, and the heavy lifting is done by rocket, for just the cargo, not an 18-wheeler with life-support systems plus cargo.

    This way you could also pick and choose. If you want sixty people in orbit you do it with cheaper trips of the space plane, if you want six people and six loads of cargo you only risk people once and send up the cargo on unmanned flights.

    Why we need a Space Shuttle or something very much like it. | 235 comments (223 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
    Display: Sort:


    All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest © 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
    See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
    Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
    Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
    My heart's the long stairs.

    Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!