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14 May 2010


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The space shuttles are getting old. They can only go to low earth orbit. Even the last Hubble servicing mission was a risk for the shuttle, as Hubble is in a higher orbit than the space station. (And Hubble is 20 years old!)
When we build a new heavy-lift rocket we can go further. Obama is cancelling the Bush plan to revisit the moon, in favor of asteroids and the Lagrange points, and eventually Mars.
There has been a lot of attention paid to the asteroid Apophis in the last couple years. Wikipedia has a good article. Besides diverting big killer asteroids, there is the possibility of using the resources. This is where private industry may show up. Instead of an East India Company, we may see Death Star Incorporated!

g. powell

Because the shuttle is the most expensive as well as most dangerous way to get into low-earth orbit ever devised. The fleet should have been retired at least a decade ago.

The Russian Soyuz is far cheaper and a far safer method. We should copy it. Orion was over-engineered for just getting into orbit. If we have to rely on the Russians for a couple of decades to get people into orbit, who cares? Manned spaceflight isn't that critical.


Why replace the shuttle fleet? Cui bono? Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc.

It doesn't take rocket science to figure this out!

Douglass Schumacher

Here is the standard answer. (I'm sure you've heard it, but you did ask):

We have to decide why we have a space program. Is putting men in space a primary goal in its own right? Or is science and industry more important?

If the latter, then the space station isn't competitive against specialized unmanned vehicles. The shuttle, confined to low earth orbit and expensive compared to other delivery systems, isn't a good approach either. Yes, it can make repairs, but the money you'd save leaving the shuttle out would more than make up for sending a 2nd Hubble up, now and again. Using the shuttle to move things around is a bad idea.

Few presidents have answered the above question clearly. Obama hasn't in words so far as I know, so maybe this is just more drift for NASA, but it looks like he's decided to place less emphasis on gov't manned spaceflight for now.


Well, for one thing they have shown a disconcerting tendency to blow up spectacularly. And, as the vehicles get older and older and older, I am confident their maintenance costs and inherent risk factors have increased exponentially. Just like military airframes (except for the B-52), there comes a point where it just doesn't make any sense to "keep em' flying," IMO.

As for our "presence in space," I don't think that's going to go away. With all the talk about a manned Mars mission, I think it'll be "Back to the Future" before too long.

R Whitman

The USA will not have a real manned space program again until the Chinese land on the moon.

We should remember military history--Missionary Ridge, Monte Cassino, Hamburger Hill, etc.

Take the High Ground.

John Minnerath

Whew! I knew there were a lot of individuals, and groups, opposed to the Space Shuttle.
And those opposed to manned exploration, the robots can do it better crowd; The turn it loose to private industry gang, and then those that don't think much of space exploration in the first place.
I never thought so many of them would show up here.
Sure, it's expensive and somewhat inefficient. But no one has yet developed a better replacement. Not NASA for sure which unfortunately has become a huge, bloated, and totally inefficient government bureaucracy.
It reminds me of what GM became.
And it has developed the same risk aversion mentality we see everywhere now.

There have been accidents, the shuttle for all it's faults does not have a habit of blowing up regularly.
Space exploration is a dangerous undertaking, so are a lot of other things mankind has endeavored in.
Now, long after the "we're better than you are" BS with the Soviet Union, the US is still a leading force.
And can continue to be, while we and the rest of the world have finally begun to cooperate in one of
Mankind’s last great explorations.

Bush's "Return to the Moon" was much misplaced bravado at the wrong time.
We have nothing to replace the Shuttle program with and axing it leaves us out of the game.
Probably for a long time to come.
The piggy bank is being shaken for the last few coins left in it and it's too easy to convince the
American public that we can spend our treasure elsewhere.
Such recent successes as the SDO simply don't catch the publics imagination as manned space flight does.
The Hubble Space Telescope was a huge success not only for its scientific discoveries, but also for the incredible photographs it provided to the lay public of the universe around us.
Sadly now those who make the decisions have decided to let it go adrift because keeping it functioning may be dangerous and will certainly be expensive.

There are many bright young people who need to be allowed to continue designing new and better vehicles
for manned space flight here in the US, but we still need the shuttle, there isn't anything else yet that can do what it can.
Man in space keeps the fire of exploration alive and we and the rest of the world need it.
It's a sad fact that most of the people of the world can no longer walk outside at night and see a wondrous
sky filled with stars, the interest in what's out there wanes because they no longer see anything to wonder at.
We all need to somehow keep that interest alive.
Putting astronauts in space, even if it's still close to our planet, helps.
Exploration and discovery has always been dangerous and expensive.


Shuttle operations dominate NASA budget. It now costs close to a billiona dollars per launch.

Keeping the shuttle flying means keeping NASA stuck in its current rut. There simply isn't enough money to fly the shuttle and build another launcher.

Allen Thomson

Retirement of the Shuttle by the end of 2010 has been national policy since President Bush announced it on January 14, 2004 as part of his Vision for Space Exploration. A replacement vehicle (an Apollo-like capsule and associated new rocket) was envisaged for ca. 2014, but due to technical problems and inadequate funding had slipped to 2016 at the earliest by the time Obama's new program was announced.


I have a lot of questions about how Obamaspace is going to be implemented, but Shuttle retirement (kind of like withdrawal from Iraq) is something he inherited and decided not to alter.

Allen Thomson

BTW, GAO has been keeping up on the Shuttle and related issues. Just got to www.gao.gov and search their reports database for "shuttle"

Random examples:

Space Shuttle:
Actions Needed to Better Position NASA to Sustain Its Workforce through Retirement
March 2005

Issues Surrounding the Transition from the Space Shuttle to the Next Generation of Human Space Flight Systems
March 28, 2007

Key Management and Program Challenges
Wednesday, February 3, 2010


John M. said: "...The piggy bank is being shaken for the last few coins left in it..."

When did planet Earth run out of money? We sure couldn't tax this Mr. Tepper:

At $2,500,000,000 in personal profit in 2009 we just KNOW that he is over burdened by the potential that the Bush tax cuts will get re-instated.

As to why the shuttle got retired, I think its a combination of John H's post above and the 'privatize it' approach to government that has been so prevalent the last couple of decades. Sure in the short term the US can off-load some needed spaceflights to third parties. If anyone thinks there will never be a need for military vehicles in space; even for only placing and retrieving satellites, you are mistaken. If one thinks the US could buy Russian, Indian or Chinese platforms just ask the Confederate navy how well buying English ships worked out.

Allen Thomson

> If anyone thinks there will never be a need for military vehicles in space; even for only placing and retrieving satellites, you are mistaken.

Nobody is suggesting the US give up the vehicles needed to place DoD and NRO satellites in space. That task is now and will continue to be handled by the Delta-IV and Atlas-V vehicles, supplemented by a few smaller ones. Those have nothing to do with Shuttle retirement. Retrieval of satellites has been contemplated and done on a few occasions, but doesn't appear to be a current interest, unless you count things like X-37B.


it's the shuttle that's the dinosaur.

sometime in May, inshallah, the Falcon/Dragon will blast off.

Spacex company site


Hello, Sir:

The shuttle is, quite simply, the most complicated machine ever built by man. As mentioned above, the service cycle of these beasties was limited from the beginning with an eye to their eventual replacement with newer vehicles leveraging new technologies that were envisioned and which now exist.

As far as I can tell, the primary motive these days for retiring them sooner rather than later is the large number of points of failure present in the design, which for a manned craft are becoming prohibitively expensive to keep an eye on and manage. Most of these are tied to the original design principles that stressed re-use of components such as the solid-fuel boosters (originally intended to *reduce* overall cost).

Unlike one-shot craft such as the Apollo or Soyuz vehicles, it is an altogether different process to design a spacecraft for multiple re-use. The latter must be built with far more robustness because of the stresses involved with launch and re-entry. It is cheaper and easier to build the one-off type (and BTW, *every* manned spacecraft is capable of maneuvering; we're not just throwing rocks into the sky _grin_), and the true challenge will lie in a design that minimizes the "junk" left in orbit behind it.

A last comment and I will yield to the next commenter: I don't share your qualms about relying on the Russians for assistance in getting people up there, and I frankly don't understand them. If there were strategic value in being able to place Americans in space solely with American spacecraft, I would think that, in the fifty-odd years of the space age that this particular base would have been covered.

NASA's proposed budget for FY 2010 was less than 20 billion dollars, and its proportion of the entire FY 2010 budget speaks rather pointedly to the perception of need for a shuttle replacement right now. Besides, given the relative ease with which destructive mischief could be accomplished in space, forcing ourselves into treating it as a cooperative venture with other nations is probably a good thing since all of the eggs will be in one basket.

My $0.02,



"Retirement of the Shuttle by the end of 2010 has been national policy since President Bush announced it on January 14, 2004 as part of his Vision for Space Exploration."


I heard a talk by the Associate Dean of Georgia Tech's business school. One of the statistics was that in 2000, China was projected to overtake the US GDP in 2050. In 2010, China is projected to overtake the US GDP in 2040. I may have the exact years incorrect, but the lost decade is correct (actually it was more like 13 years). Point is that the US lost ground 2000-2009.

But the finger is pointed at the current administration. All the forces/ideologies backing the losers of 2000-2009 are still thriving - poised to take Congress in the midterm elections.

I do not think most people still appreciate the magnitude of disaster we brought upon ourselves in 2000-2009.

Allen Thomson

The Boston Globe has a good set of pictures showing the run-up to the Shuttle launch of a couple of days ago:


Launching the Shuttle is not like launching the next Southwest flight from El Paso to Los Angeles.

With respect to Arun's comment just above: It's a rare day that you'll hear me say anything good about the Bush years, but I agree with those who say that the VSE of 2004 was pretty much on the money. Unfortunately, it got derailed by the NASA Administrator the next year and the Bush WH, somewhat typically, wasn't following up to see that what the VSE directed was what was being done. So here we are.


Save for the Hubble satellite servicing missions, all others could have been done much cheaper and more safely using regular rockets.

The next generation Space Telescope (The James Webb) will be placed in an orbit far beyond the ability of the Shuttle to reach it.

John Minnerath

True, there is the JWST being built. Its proposed launch date has been changed again, maybe Oct 2014 now and there are budget problems for the project, current projections are $2.4B to launch.
It's also using new technology which is unproven. On going tests continue to find problems.
So what if it gets into orbit and doesn't work? Remember the Hubble mirror?
In the meantime we have no comparable replacement for the shuttle anywhere in the near future.

Allen Thomson

Slightly ironically and probably not all that relevantly, the L2 libration point where JWST is going to be parked is one of the possible Obamaspace destinations.



Absolutely right! We need an invigorated space program, not some crazy scale back by an austerity freak at the Office of Management and Budget who hates science. NASA was not even consulted in advance on the decision to shut down the Constellation program which would replace the shuttle. But even with Constellation, there was an intolerable gap in our ability to launch into space. We need to go back to the Kennedy vision, which inspired Americans with the Apollo Moon shot! Space program generates an average of $15 in government revenue for every dollar spent. How? Through scientific and technological advances that revolutionize our economy and boost productivity. The Obama White House and Treasury Department are populated with austerity fanatics, who think that the Federal government is the same thing as a family kitchen table. Under the Constitution, we can issue Federal government credit for worthwhile projects--like the Moon-Mars program. Furthermore, to actually do deep space exploration, we need to complete the work on fusion power. Then, the Moon becomes a great mining area, where the isotopes for fuel can be mined (not available on Earth). So, the shuttle issue is the least of the blunders, even though a good starting point for correcting what has gone wrong in our policymaking in Washington.

Clifford Kiracofe

We can think back to the days of Ike and "Sputnik." With Ike's leadership, major science/engineering/space related initiatives began followed up on and expanded by Kennedy, etal.

To keep at the forefront of science and technology we need an active and dynamic space program. This benefits both the civilian and military sector. It is a fundamental requirement for our economic advancement and thus our strategic position.

I agree with Arun's comment that "I do not think most people still appreciate the magnitude of disaster we brought upon ourselves in 2000-2009."

We have wasted trillions on useless and unnecessary imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not invested in infrastructure, education, scientific and technological research, the space program, and so on and on.

And now California and New York are hat in hand to China to build mass transit systems here in the US. Once we were a world leader in railroads...

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