Friday, September 25, 2009

Shuttle Reconsidered

The Vision for Space Exploration called for the Space Shuttles to be retired by 2010. Normal delays will stretch the last flight until at least 2011. With 6 flights left, many people are reconsidering that end. The Augustine Commission believes that Ares-Orion will not be ready to replace Shuttle until 2017. Today the head of Russia's Roskosmos expressed hope that Shuttles will fly longer.

Last Friday former Shuttle Program Manager Bob Thompson spoke at University of Houston. Thompson was in charge of Shuttle development through the 1970's. He described the many decisions made on the way:

The first designs called for a manned flyback first stage (left), but that was thought too expensiveand risky. Eventually NASA settled on the design (right) we all know.

Contrary to what we have heard before, Air Force requirements did not drive Shuttle design. The large payload bay proved handy for the Hubble Telescope and Space Station modules. The delta wings gave crossrange capability in abort situations. Overall Thompson claimed that USAF had minimal impact on the design.

Without naming names, Thompson warned against junking Shuttle in favour of a 'safer' vehicle that has yet to fly. Concluding, Thompson
broadly hinted that he would like to see Shuttles flying longer. As for the Moon, he showed this timeline for Antarctica. From the first landing to settlement was 136 years, and the South Pole is closer and less hostile than the Moon. Settling the Moon will take a lot of patience.



Anonymous Frank Glover said...

"Today the head of Russia's Roskosmos expressed hope that Shuttles will fly longer."

Hmm. It's a long way from the days when the Soviet Union argued that the Shuttle should be regarded as a space weapon or at least a weapon delivery system...

However it's long been my understanding that the orbiter's delta wings, if nothing else, were driven by a requirement that it have the re-entry cross-range to return to Vandenburg after one orbit, when launched from there. A requirement that smaller, straight wings couldn't meet.

Of course, in the end, no such launches ever took place...

6:16 PM  
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