I love the Space Shuttles. I went to all the lectures about them when I was a kid; I knew so much about them that when they bad guys stole a Shuttle by launching it off of the 747 carry vehicle at the start of Moonraker, I turned to my Dad on and confidently (and probably too loudly for the theater) said “this is the dumbest movie of all time. There is no way that is possible!”
So when I saw this article, in USAToday, about the possibility of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin asking NASA to let them operate two commercial Shuttle flights a year starting in 2013 I was kind of shocked. No make the horrified.
There is a reason we are retiring the Shuttle program. It costs upwards of $60 million per launch for each Shuttle which is three times the projected operating costs per pound. Other issues include the very real danger of a catastrophic failure like the Challenger and Colombia accidents. Depending on who you talk to (engineers or management) there is a 1 in 100 or a 1 in 1,000 chance of lose of human life in each flight now. Personally I side with the engineers on this, these are aging space craft that were designed in the late ‘60’s and the last computer upgrade I am aware of was to a 386 processor. They are tiered old birds and it is becomes a riskier and riskier proposition to fly them.
The arguments for continuing with them at least in this limited capacity is that we will not have a launch vehicle for humans any time in the near future and we do still have the International Space Station missions to consider. This is rather spurious since there are commercial heavy lift vehicles in the pipeline and we have the launch capability of the Russians for the time being. After all we had no launches after the Columbia disaster, yet there were astronauts going up and down from the ISS that whole time.
Then I looked at the article a little more closely. What is really going on is this; Lockheed-Martian and Boeing want NASA to pay for a study of the feasibility of this plan. They are using the fact that there will be 6,900 jobs lost when we finally end the STS program to squeeze a little more money out of the government before the Shuttle case cow goes away.
Where would the money come from? Why the money already allocated to accelerate the replacement heavy lift vehicle and capsule. That’s right they are trying to have it both ways, they want to say we have to have the Shuttle to bridge the gap, but we want some of the money designed to shorten the gap to study the idea.
This is how you get a truly dangerous manned space flight program, when the greed of the aerospace companies outweighs the needs of the program. I hope NASA tells them to take a long walk off a short pier. Or to try to fly one off the back of a 747 if they think they are so competent.
What’s on your mind’s tonight, Firedog’s? The floor is yours.