Shuttle Chicken

Space Shuttles Discovery and Endeavour face off outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center in this NASA handout photo dated August 11, 2011. The two orbiters, following the agency's final shuttle mission, are being readied for a ceremonial "epic smash joust" to provide a dignified send-off to the 30-year Space Transportation System program. Photo: NASA / Reuters

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  1. Shouldn’t they just retrofit them so we can keep using the shuttles for important tasks, like clearing debris out of the path of working satellites?

    1. What do you mean “retrofit” them?  Even if you meant “automate” them to work without a crew, they would still need 15,000+ people to maintain and launch them (actual #s, not an exaggeration or overestimation).

      It is MUCH cheaper just to build and launch a new satellite–or give every satellite a bit more propellant to move away from incoming debris.

      NASA is also funding the development of new spacecraft to take astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station and beyond.  These new vehicles will be cheaper to operate and could do any of the tasks you’re described!

  2. I hate seeing the Orbiters without their OMS. They look… naked, somehow. Very, very, sadly stripped.

    @jsepeta:twitter, it’s not a question of a refit or update (I believe the most recent refits occured in 2005) – it’s to do with the economics of spaceflight through the use of the Shuttle. What with wars and debts to pay for, at US$1bn a launch it was something easily cuttable.

    Having said that, while superbly brilliant machines, they were tragically and inherently flawed due to compromises in the design period, and it is right to retire them. They didn’t lift enough, and didn’t reduce the cost enough, to be worthwhile.

    What’s crazy though, is closing down the programme with no clear successor in progress. When Saturn/Apollo stopped flying, work was well underway on the STS. Now there’s just… some vague idea that we want a (cheap) super-heavy-lift, but nothing too concrete.

    1. “we want a (cheap) super-heavy-lift, but nothing too concrete”

      I agree. Concrete, whilst cheap, would make a terrible choice of material for building space going vehicles.
      Some sort of strong lightweight material would probably be better… Maybe titanium or aluminium or even good old steel…

      ;-)  (sorry)

    2. This because one group of politicians wants to continue the pork that the solid rocket boosters have been for their area, and another is going crazy over ROI. End result, a deadlock.

  3. Hrm.  So you’re telling me that they’re going to hang each of them on cranes, then smash them into each other until the more sturdy shuttle remains?   Shuttle Conkers, fantastic!

    At OPF-3, two shuttles enter, one shuttle leaves!

  4. Argh! Why does the paragraph keep changing? The first version says something about “epic smash joust”, but when I go to copy & paste it changes to something more staid.

    1. I managed to snag it for ya: “Space Shuttles Discovery and Endeavour face off outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center in this NASA handout photo dated August 11, 2011. The two orbiters, following the agency’s final shuttle mission, are being readied for a ceremonial “epic smash joust” to provide a dignified send-off to the 30-year Space Transportation System program. Photo: NASA / Reuters”

    2. That’s a bit of humor from that wacky joker Rob. Turn off JavaScript to disable the on-hover behavior. Make your copy/screen-grab/whatever, then turn JS back on again to access comments.

  5. OK so who has right of way here? Is it the one to the right, or the first to arrive? I think a traffic light would help at this intersection.

  6. Am I missing the dignity part? Does this stem back to some maritime tradition of which I am humorlessly unaware?

  7. While I can understand not wanting or being able to actually use the shuttles again, why smash them up? You’d think there are a couple museums somewhere who’d be happy to take them.

  8. Smashing them into each other will help understand the limits of the structural integrity, and uncover to uncover any weaknesses.  Since they should be built to identical specifications, the first shuttle to fracture will obviously have suffered some unknown damage during a previous spaceflight.  Rebuilding the shuttles afterwards will help us determine what caused the fatigue, and prevent it from occurring in the future space program.

    It’s all about common sense, really.

  9. If it included Wil Wheaton standing on one, and Neil Patrick Harris on the other, both wailing on guitars (and equipped with safety harnesses and ziplines, of course, because I like them), I’d buy a ticket.

    1. There is a certain claim that the shuttle design got compromised because US military wanted it capable of refitting a spy sat in orbit.

  10. There is something incredibly poignant about seeing these magnificent machines that have orbited the planet so many times, visited space stations, sailed through the aurora’s ( both austrailus and borealis )  being towed through a parking lot. Know what I mean?

  11. From the newly released book, “When NASA Lost its Funding, the Engineers Quickly Became Bored,” from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.

  12. I think NASA should set them both on fire and say “Fuck the tea baggers, give us a real budget.”

  13.  “What’s crazy though, is closing down the programme with no clear successor in progress.”

    That no clear successor is in progress might be a sign of how unimportant a man-in-space capability really is.  Most of the great science has been done by unmanned devices, going farther and longer than any human could be sent.

    1. “Most of the great science has been done by unmanned devices, going farther and longer than any human could be sent”

      Science or photos?  I mean, we have rovers and satellites above Mars, what’s the deal with water there?  We’re going to just have to send someone in the end just for autonomy, the time lag is just too long to get the job done by robots.  I maintain that the principal benefit from human spaceflight is allowing humans to continue to define humanity and it’s achievements.

      “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not
      because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal
      will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” – JFK

      1. Sadly the national technological oneupmanship have been passed to China and India. Thanks to the hardliner revolt and Yeltsin, Russia is as much, or more, anarchocapitalist as USA.

        The stock market runs USA now, and they do not care about blue sky research. If it can not show a upwards trend on the stock price within the net reporting quarter it is a dead duck and dumped.

  14. @Rob – GREAT use of JavaScript hover. Couldn’t wait until next April 1, could ya?

    @robcat2075 – While it’s true that unmanned missions give us the most “science per dollar”, manned missions easily give us the most “engineering per dollar”. We need both.

  15. What!?! You mean they’re not going to fire up the boosters and blast them into each other? Bummer. That would be a much more dignified way to go. You could fill the cargo bays with creationists and Texas School Board members and have a Viking funeral for the space program. Now they’ll just end up in some dorky museum somewhere, gathering dust while being gawked at by resentful teenagers.

    Odin! Accept this sacrifice of two mighty space shuttles and grant us the power of SCIENCE!!!

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