Why the heck did we ever build the space shuttle?

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by Nasor, Jan 5, 2004.

  1. Nasor Valued Senior Member

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    After looking into it a bit, I've begun to wonder why we ever bothered building the space shuttle. The Saturn V rocket system seems to have been much, much better. Consider:

    The space shuttle can launch a max of 65,000 lbs. into low earth orbit. The Saturn V could launch 280,000 lbs. into low earth orbit, or launch 100,000 lbs. to the moon.

    Ah, but the space shuttle is reusable while the Saturn V was destroyed upon each launch. The shuttle must be cheaper, right? Wrong. The shuttle has a payload launch cost of $10,000/lb. The Saturn V had a launch cost, adjusted for inflation, of just $4,000/lb. And that was at a time when each Saturn V was individually made; if they had actually been mass-produced the cost would have been much lower.

    I'm really curious; why on earth did NASA decide to scrap the Saturn V in favor of a system that has less than 1/4th the launch capacity, can't leave low earth orbit, and costs over twice as much?
     
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  3. Persol I am the great and mighty Zo. Registered Senior Member

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    Originally the shuttle was supposed to be cheaper.

    Now it really only seems to serve as a mobile space station and a cargo hauler. These are both things that previous craft couldn't do as well, but is it worth the cost?
     
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  5. shadowpuppet Registered Senior Member

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    they look way cooler
     
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  7. Persol I am the great and mighty Zo. Registered Senior Member

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    Lol. That is true. I guess people buy really expensive cars on the same basis.

    Does that mean our country has penis envy?
     
  8. phlogistician Banned Banned

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    Ah, re-usable space vehicles, SSTO, Space Stations, Lunar Colonies, all laudable aspirations.

    But let's face it, the people that made the stuff did it for science, for mankind, to further the human race, for higher ideals, than the politicians who funded it, who just wanted get into a piss fight with the USSR.

    And of course, being beaten at every turn of the space race, the USA gave up after their first first, putting man on the moon, and concentrated on paranoia instead.

    But some of the aspirations came to fruition eventually, the shuttle, and the ISS, albeit far later than envisioned. (ie, the 'Dynasoar' got cancelled in 1963, what that could have led to is anyone's guess)

    One thig the Shuttle can do, that do other launch vehicle can do, is retrieve satellites. Let's face it, if we'd launched Hubble on a Saturn V, we'd never have been able to fix it. The Shuttle, with it's cargo bay and actuator arm were perfect for this purpose.

    Is that worth the money? Probably not, we could have built and launched another Hubble for less cash. Was it worth it for the experience of fixing things in orbit? Certainly.
     
  9. Nasor Valued Senior Member

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    I don't think that the shuttle has ever been used to 'retrieve' a satellite. The Hubble was never brought back to earth. They just pulled it into the shuttle's cargo bay for convenience while working on it. You certainly don't need the shuttle to fix things in orbit. The Russians have been fixing things in orbit for years using capsules and disposable rockets.

    I'm really curious about how the decision to go with the shuttle as reached. I mean, what group of guys at NASA looked at the numbers and said 'It costs twice as much and does a lot less! Let's go with it!'
     
  10. Gifted World Wanderer Registered Senior Member

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    Like they said, it was supposed to cost about $90 mil per launch(then budget cuts came in, and...). The Delta does that. We don't need the Saturn V, we need the saturn VI.
     
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    The lead time on NASA technology is about 10 years, as I understand it. That means all the computers on the shuttle, to take one example, are 10+ year old technology. So, presumably, is all the technology on the current Martian rovers.

    Personally, I'm looking forward to NASA's next generation of shuttles, although they probably won't fly for another 10 years.
     
  12. phlogistician Banned Banned

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    The Shuttle has retrieved and brought back to earth at least two failed communications satellites, as well as retrieving a solar observation satellite twice, which I presume was returned to earth between missions.

    Wrt Hubble though, by 'retrieved', I meant attaching to an orbiting satellite. As far as I know, that had never been done before, and was some feat. It's a very different action to docking with a space station which is in an orbit specifically designed to be easily accessible. As far as I know, such a refit of a satellite had never been performed in orbit before, and has never been achieved by any space vehicle other than the shuttle since. That is the Shuttles value. We might be able to do stuff cheaper, but there are some thing that we just can't do any other way, and it's all good practice.
     
  13. phlogistician Banned Banned

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    Have a google for cockpit pictures from inside the shuttle. You'll see some really old looking switchgear and dials in there, with some laptops strapped to the consoles, in a rather ugly, functional manner.

    So it has got fairly recent computers onboard, although I'm not exactly sure what systems they control. But then, if the Shuttle could be launched safely in the 80's with computers designed in the 70's, why chnage flight proven technology? Hell, Mir had some mechanical clocks on board.
     
  14. kazakhan Registered Abuser Registered Senior Member

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    As no-one else has mentioned it yet. The shuttle was originally meant to be much smaller, more like the X-43(33? not sure but like the 1's they've been testing lately) apparently. The military among others had a lot of requirements which is supposedly why NASA has the ugly & useless expensive beast

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  15. phlogistician Banned Banned

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    Well, such proto-shuttle designs such as the Dynasoar were one man space planes, which were desgined to be nuclear bombers, amongst other things. Launched from the top of a rocket, it could orbit, and descend for a bombing run, although why this needed to be manned is anyone's guess. If research into this, and other associated hypersonic craft had continued, instead of being cancelled for no good reason, we'd be on perhaps the third design of Space Shuttle, and have a more reliable, lower cost vehicle by now.

    Sad how many of the X-series space planes looked more advanced than the Shuttle, which to be honest, looks like a dirty old bus with wings on it.
     
  16. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    The space shuttle original design proposals were to make it much better then what it is now, but NASA already feeling the burn of cut-backs after winning the moon made cut-backs on the design, giving us the crappie piece of junk that we call the space shuttle, many new reusable launch vehicle plans have come up over the years but all lack funding and never took off.
     
  17. Persol I am the great and mighty Zo. Registered Senior Member

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    That is damn scary though. I always fear when people present patchwork systems because there are just too many variables.
     
  18. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

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    They made it to employ people and to get kick backs from the prime contractors!
     
  19. Silverback Registered Senior Member

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    Originally, it was supposed to save money on a price-per-pound launch. And it did, on paper, before it construction was started. Then reality struck. Cost overruns, re-designs, cost overruns, new ideas to add, cost overruns, hey I see a pattern.

    There are a couple things the shuttle can do that cannot be done with a capsule, and that is good. But we never needed a fleet. Maybe two. And then rely on the tried and true for the workhorse.

    Ahhh, hindsight is 20/20. I am more concerned about how they are going to screw up the next gen of launch vehicles.
     
  20. dagr8n8 Registered Senior Member

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    i have herd that they only haev about a 18 mhz prosser, on the shuttel and that is all they need.
     
  21. EI_Sparks Registered Senior Member

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    That's not what actually happened though, is it? The design for the shuttle was comprimised from the start, not by technical problems, but by political ones. Budgets were cut, deals with the military were signed by the government over NASA's head, and the resulting design was not the one NASA initially pushed. Wouldn't have happened in Webb's day, but there you go.
    So if you're going to lay blame, at least lay it at the right doorstep...

    The same way they screwed up the last generation - underfunding a design that is then mangled by committees trying to get the damn thing to do ten different things it was never designed to do, just as was done in the case of the Bradley, which managed to burn $6 billion before ever producing a single working prototype...
    So how about we learn from history and give the design job to NASA (who did damn well the last time they ran the show - which was Apollo), and keep the military out and not slash their budget?
     
  22. Mr. Chips Banned Banned

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    A large majority of the funded experiments on every Shuttle mission have been military in nature. The shuttle is not a way to get humanity into space but to keep it to those who would play "king of the hill."
     
  23. Silverback Registered Senior Member

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    Hello EI_Sparks, Nice to meet you. I have read a lot of your posts lately.

    You said That's not what actually happened though, is it? and you are quite correct. I certainly over-simplified matters to address the question of "why did we build it". Frankly, it started with the seed of a good idea. However, like any story, especially one that gets entangled with politics, there are a lot more than one side to it.

    I don't think I misstated anything, but I may have led to the impression that it was a NASA screw-up that caused it. The "redesigns and cost overruns" are undeniable, but they were forced down a number of unwilling throats. The original teams with the original ideas probably reacted in horror as they saw their work bastardized by DoD officials and politicians and bean counters.

    And yes, I fear for the next generation of launch vehicles. Will history repeat itself? So much could be accomplished with this task if left in the right hands, but will it? As we speak, I am certain the Wrong Hands are hard at work...
     

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