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06 August 2008

Moving Backwards

Less than 10 flights left for the Shuttle.  Billions spent on an international space station that we will be walking away from in the near future.  Constellation program - Apollo style capsules.  Does anyone else think that we're moving backwards?

We never achieved the dream of a fast turnaround reuseable Shuttle and threw away the program for the SSTO spaceplane before we even had a test flight.  Billions spent and nothing to show for it.  We're now going to be dependent on the Soyuz, a 42 year old launcher, to reach the station.

In the time it takes us to develop the Constellation program, we will have NO manned spaceflight capability.    Now in some circles, that isn't such a bad thing.  Man-rating a spacecraft adds mass and money to the cost of the program.  Robots can do almost all of what we do in space, especially with tele-operation.  With the retirement of the Shuttle, we lose little in a functional sense, butwe lose everything in the most important aspect of spaceflight: national prestige.  We bow out and leave the game to China and Russia.  If someone had told you in the 1960s and 70s that we wouldlose the lead in space exploration to Russia and China, you would have been laughed out of town.

What has happened to us?  Have we become a people that has come to terms with being just a member of the pack?  What happened to the drive and spirit allowed us to overcome a huge Soviet lead in rocketry and beat the to the Moon?

How long before American rockets say Made in China?


Tony M said...

I agree that it's sad to see the "reusable space plane" (both the shuttle and its original replacement) go. Then again, the shuttle fleet is quite elderly; designed in the 70s, built in the late 70s/early-mid 80s...

I'll have to go back and research the material, but the next-generation launch vehicle will hearken back to the Apollo days. Supposedly it will support lunar and Martian expeditions. Seems like an orbiting launch platform (such as from the space station) might be a better way to go, but then again I'm not a rocket scientist (but I know a few). You would have to have plenty of fuel, of course, and you would want to separate from the space station before your "soft launch" so as not to perturb its orbit too much. But it seems, if you're already in orbit at the orbital velocity of the space station, that escape velocity would be more easily obtainable. A Soyuz- or Ares- (the next generation US launch vehicle) or similar launch platform could send fuel to a space-station built craft that could load the fuel, separate from the station, and then burn for the "launch" from earth orbit.

But, like I said, I'm a layman in terms of this stuff (I did go to Space Camp in 7th or 8th grade).

Chris said...

I thought that the shuttle was being extended to 2014-15? I guess funds are being diverted to other things...

Eyes on the Stars said...

Nope. Shuttle is being retired within the next year.