View Full Version : When did you get disillusioned with the Space Shuttle?

2005-Jul-29, 04:04 PM
It seems an opportune time to set a little survey of what people think about the Shuttle, and when it our opinion it began to be a burden rather than an asset to the US space programme.

Me? When O'Keefe began making plans to carry the programme right through to 2020, (prior to Columbia), it became obvious to me it was getting in the way of any replacement vehicles. I want the CEV to be built and to succeed. I'll actually believe we are going to return to the Moon the day the contract is let to build the lander... not till then!

Launch window
2005-Jul-29, 04:15 PM
Back then in 1986 the writing was on the wall -as I said before the Shuttle safety panels could always see where NASA was going, and there was Armstrong and Roger's report on Challenger's tank
plus talk on how the Russians were already becoming dominant in manned Space light with MIR and how ESA's Space robotics had improved and NASA customers had already defected to French Guiana and Chinese were building their own programs.

2005-Jul-29, 04:17 PM
I'm kind of saddened by the media feeding frenzy that has started over the Discovery near miss...

As Dr. McCoy would say..."it's dead Jim..."


2005-Jul-29, 04:21 PM
I don't remember ever being terribly enthusiastic about it - it's supposed to be a "space truck", after all, not anything glamorous.

I realized early on that the first Americans to die on a space mission would die on a shuttle, though I didn't expect it to come as soon as Challenger did.

I don't remember just when I read it, but Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham said in his memoirs that he didn't know of any astronauts who were terribly enthusiastic about the shuttle - they were only participating because that was the only option of getting into space.

Launch window
2005-Jul-29, 04:39 PM
It's still a great machine, perhaps one of the best ever built but its far too complex and it now has been used as an expensive and dangerous swiss-army knife rather than a dedicated craft.

Large launches to the Stations are perhaps better without Shuttle
huge loads, Modules...are better be done by Protons, Saturn-V, Energia's
The Mir program had the concept of the right tool for the right job. Manned Flights should be done like Apollo, Chinese capsule, Soyuz...
Satellite launches and Spacecraft lifts can be done by other means than Shuttle - dedicated launchers Ariane, Deltas, Atlas
Supply ships Robotic missions can be done with Progress, a craft with Canada-Arm, ESA's ATV

Shuttle was there to keep the top NASA brass employed, making Congress happy, make the public smile with the image of a big spaceship, keep the military content with satellite launches....it got far too complicated and in 1986 people could see the writing on the wall. You've got to make things cost-effective and safe, get the right tool or the right job

2005-Jul-29, 05:05 PM
Disillusioned does not describe in any way my feelings about the shuttle. It is a very neat machine, but I'm not really qualified on the particulars of the cost/benefit and technical aspects of it to make an informed decision about its design, etc. I think it absurb to hold it to a zero percent failure rate (there is no device on the planet that can meet that requirement), but I'm not sure what an acceptable risk is. I also think it a little unfair to judge the present people at NASA responsible for decisions made 20 or 30 years ago.

I am sad that sooner (after this mission) or latter (in 10 or so missions) the shuttle will be gone and there is nothing currently or even soon to replace it (nothing beyond the drawing board, near as I can tell). The US will just go out of the manned space flight business, at least for some number of years.

Disillusioned perfectly describes my feelings about the manned space flight program overall. It seems to have been kind of goal-less for at least the last 10 years, and maybe more like 20 to 30 years. And I am completely underwhelmed by Bush's Moon/Mars vision. It comes across as advertising, without a real product. Almost guaranteed to be gone after the next election or even the next budge cycle. Just my humble opinion.

2005-Jul-29, 05:10 PM
In my oppinion the space shuttle is sort of a first step ,although very expensive, it has been a major learning experience in reuseable spacecraft. It has taugh us what does work, such as the SDV's to be used on future missions, and that a spacecraft can be used for several different missions . It also has taught us that thermal tiles and Foam insulation do not mix.Much in the same way Mercury and Gemini pioneered the techniques to be used on Apollo.

2005-Jul-29, 05:26 PM
After Apollo, it was "And now for soemthing completely different". Maybe it would have been better to follow another learning curve by collecting experience with somthing like the Dyna Soar and then do the next bigger step.

2005-Jul-29, 05:37 PM
Lets see, I think I really started becoming disillusioned with it during the construction of the ISS. My initial though was "He cool, an international space station" then I started really looking at the politics that were involved and the costs. To be fair, it's not the Shuttle per se as it is the shuttle program. The benefit of the shuttle (and ISS) simply does not justify the costs involved. There are better, cheaper ideas out there.

As far as challenger and columbia goes, that never really altered my opinion at all. Honestly, we have lost what 17 astronauts total and 3 of them weren't even in flight. I am not discounting how the accidents affected the nation, but in all honesty, we probably lose that many cops/firemen each week due to accidents. Thats a VERY low rate of loss compared to how many times we have sent folks up.

2005-Jul-29, 05:45 PM
Before STS 107, I was disappointed that Apollo technology was abandoned in favour of the Space Shuttle (even if you don't want to do lunar missions, you at least have technology for some very effective LEO operations). But, the consolation was that at least the Space Shuttle was a reliable workhorse, even if it cost a lot for limited capability. After STS 107, that consolation stopped and now it seems the thing is screwy.

2005-Jul-29, 06:45 PM
I think disillusioned is the right word for me. I was too young to remember the Apollo missions. They are a dim memory. However, the Shuttles first took off when I was in gradeschool and Challenger happened with I was in middleschool. I was young enough to believe the promises and am now old enough to understand why it failed. Yes, it has failed. Like Big Bertha, it often did what it was supposed to do when it worked, but Big Bertha did not win the war.

Van Rijn
2005-Jul-29, 07:18 PM
I said "After Challenger." I already had serious reservations about the Shuttle and NASA, but that was when it really hit home. For awhile, I hoped that Challenger would get the U.S. moving in a different direction, finally getting beyond the government-only one-size-fits-all manned space program. At the very least, that was the time for a second generation "Shuttle" - not minor upgrades, but a new design. If nothing else, it was ridiculous to build a space station without one. Safety or not, Shuttle reliability just isn't good enough and it is too costly to run.

2005-Jul-29, 07:23 PM
The Space Shuttle's problem is that it's metal. That is so 20th century!

2005-Jul-29, 07:37 PM
The Space Shuttle's problem is that it's metal. That is so 20th century!

Carbon Chauvinism? :D

2005-Jul-29, 08:46 PM
I said "other" because it was when they forced the Galileo mission to use the shuttle, and that meant it took longer to get to Jupiter (plus, post- Challenger, there was a long delay which resulted in the stuck antenna which means we lost a lot of the cool movies that Galileo could have made with the high gain antenna working).

2005-Jul-29, 11:52 PM
I was born in 1977 thus the shuttle is all I know, I remember the Challenger accident and asking my father whether if not for the explosion, they would have gotten to the moon - that was probably when I started to get "disappointed" with the shuttle. I mean, for a kid, the shuttle just seemed to be going nowhere - it's amazing how kids are perceptive. Then my space life was a long row of abandoned shuttle replacement projects and eternally postponed space stations, by the late nineties I had totally given up on paying attention to the space programs and couldnt care less for the ISS. My interest in space was reborn with SpaceShipOne, the reason why I joined this board actually, a year ago. The future lies with profitable space ventures, even if it takes 50 years. NASA style programs are not sustainable. And does anyone believe that the CEV will ever be built? C'mon!

2005-Jul-29, 11:57 PM
I agree that we do need to replace the shuttle. It's been flying for more than 20 years, most people don't even keep their cars that long, except my dad who still has his pickup he got in '75 (first car, a sentimental sort of thing), but thats a different story.

Grand Vizier
2005-Jul-30, 01:04 AM
Progressive disillusionment from just after Challenger onwards to total at the time of Columbia.

Apart from the safety aspect, and the dreadful economics (the shuttle was supposed to be a significant step towards Cheap Access to Space, remember?), there is also the fact that a lot of people in the 70s/80s assumed that the configuration that is still flying (launch-vertical side-by-side orbiter, external tank, 2SRBs) was only an interim step towards more efficient and targeted designs.

So by 1990 we might have had the existing orbiter riding on a reusable flyback booster. We might have had some sort of unmanned Shuttle-C configuration using the ET and SSMEs for heavy lifting (just the sort of development that O'Keefe has revived, but throwing away SSMEs doesn't seem too cost-effective to me, I think it would be more likely to be the RS68.)

Such an incremental development could mean that, if and when the current orbiter proved a disappointment, we'd still have the flyback booster, we'd still have Shuttle-C and so on. And if we look at the costs that the current stack have accrued (not just because of the downtime from two disasters, there's loss of commercial revenues post-Challenger and more...) I'm not sure whether such advanced concepts would have cost significantly more when averaged to date.

I'm looking right now at the line drawings of all these concepts in G Harry Stine's The Third Industrial Revolution - copyright 1975. All those ideas and more are there, and even the most advanced is flagged for the mid-1990s.

Apart from reliability, the great success of the traditional launchers, Atlas, Thor, Soyuz was that they could be upgradeable, admittedly in small steady increments (not counting Atlas 5 and Delta 4, which are really new vehicles.)

But building launch architecture that you cannot and will not upgrade is plain foolish. Even the tiny improvement of building Advanced SRBs was scrapped a few years back.

So it saddens me to look back on what might have been.

Eric McLoughlin
2005-Jul-30, 08:58 AM
Up to Challenger I kind of went along with the official propganda issuing from NASA on the "routineness" of Shuttle operations. However, seeds of doubt were already in my mind. Back in 1980, I remember reading an article (in The Irish Times, of all places) about the nonsense of describing the Shuttle as an "airliner type spaceplane". The writer emphasised that rocket propelled vehicles would always be inherently dangerous. He said that the Shuttle Programme would have far more in common with rocket research programmes (like the X-15) than airliner operations - which was the slant put on the Shuttle by NASA. In fact, they used to keep reminding us that it was similar in size to a DC-9 airliner, thereby emphasising the airliner-like characteristics of the spacecraft. I even have a book which shows side drawings of Shuttles painted up in 1980s airline liveries and fitted out with passenger seats in a pressurised module in the cargo bay!

I also read a book in about 1984 called The Cosmic Chase which looked at the politics of spaceflight. That book highlighted the operational fragility of Shuttle missions and the inability of NASA to adhere to their own over-optimistic launch schedules. The book was actually written in 1980, before the Shuttle had even flown - so those in the know were already aware that NASA would NEVER be able to live up to their own hype.

When looked back on from the perspective of history, I think the Shuttle programme will be compared to the great airships of the 1920s and 30s. A form of transport which was promoted with great enthusaisism by its proponents, with grandiose claims for its potential but totally unobtainable given the flawed nature of the technology.

Launch window
2005-Aug-02, 10:28 PM
I think disillusioned is the right word for me. I was too young to remember the Apollo missions. They are a dim memory. However, the Shuttles first took off when I was in gradeschool and Challenger happened with I was in middleschool. I was young enough to believe the promises and am now old enough to understand why it failed. Yes, it has failed. Like Big Bertha, it often did what it was supposed to do when it worked, but Big Bertha did not win the war.

Anyway they have plans for the repair now

Astronauts have never ventured beneath an orbiting shuttle before, and have never attempted repairs to the fragile thermal skin in space.
"No doubt about it, this is going to be a very delicate task, but as I say, a simple one," Robinson said Tuesday.

2005-Aug-03, 07:41 PM
The biggest problem with STS is that--while making it reusable--it was not very servicable--there is a difference. Energiya Buran was modular at least.

2005-Aug-03, 09:04 PM
I could be wrong, but I seem to recall hearing promise of a vehicle that was "truly" reusable - turnaround in two or three weeks, a variety of payloads and missions.

But turnaround for an individual machine seems quite long, and now the unwillingness to send a mission to Hubble as too risky?

(Edited to add: turnaround was too long, even before this latest launch.)

2005-Aug-04, 08:50 AM
I was disappointed early in the program because the system never lived up to the promise of quick, relatively cheap turnaround.

I had a premonition that this system might not be what it was when I heard that the 1970's era B1 Bomber, a supposedly super-sonic craft' could not go super-sonic; and that the prototype cost it's weight in gold. Just seemed to me that if you can not make a air breather do what you want, what were the chances that a much more complex system like the shuttle could.

2005-Aug-04, 10:08 AM
My disillusionment came more recently, when it seemed that NASA had lost its nerve entirely.