33 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. @Ronald Brak
    Without dismissing the shuttle’s flaws, I was thinking of a couple of its good points, which haven’t been present in other spacecraft (to date) – namely, the capacity to deliver up to seven astronauts into low Earth orbit at a time (in only moderately extreme danger ;)), to retrieve large objects from orbit, and to have been reusable to a surprising degree.

    Although the shuttle program was undoubtedly a failure in terms of both its original objectives and its safety record, I’m not convinced it’s fair to say NASA was stupid to pursue the project, even if achieving the objectives proved beyond the technological capability at the time with the budget available.

    I suppose, if one takes the view that all human space travel is pretty stupid, compared with robotic exploration, then the program was stupid, but personally I vacillate between agreeing with that position and thinking it takes an excessively rationalist approach. Non-rational goals are important – without them, most human reasons for doing anything would disappear. 🙂

  2. Yes, reuseable to a surprising degree is exactly how I would describe the space shuttle.

    I definitely come down on the side that NASA was stupid to go ahead with the shuttle program in the final form that it came down to. One didn’t have to be rocket scientist to realise that after all the horse trading and compromises that were rolled into the program that it was not possible for the shuttle program to achieve its goals with the budget it was offered.

    Of course it does help to be a rocket scientist when it comes to reaching this conclusion, but NASA had plenty of them, so that’s no excuse. The only reason I can see for NASA agreeing to go ahead with the program was that without a major new program NASA was at definite risk of becoming a much smaller organisation.

    I am willing to admit that stupid may not be the best term to use to decribe NASA’s decision. But it seems so much more polite than evil.

    And if their goal was to irrationally put more people into space, then they would have been much closer to achieving that goal if they had rationally chosen a project that would move them closer to it, rather than set them back.

    And here we are in 2016 and someone has finally gotten a first stage booster to land in one piece after use 42 years after the start of the Space Shuttle program and 4 years after its end.

  3. I am willing to admit that stupid may not be the best term to use to decribe NASA’s decision. But it seems so much more polite than evil.


    @Ronald Brak
    The rest sounds like 20-20 hindsight to me. Just sayin’.

  4. @Tim Macknay
    The whole program was a compromise from the start and let’s face it – it was a jobs program 1st and foremost. NASA wanted a fully reusable vehicle back in the IIRC late 60s after the development of Apollo effectively started winding down – effectively an up-scale X-20 ie a 2 stage vehicle but 75 times larger than dyna-soar. After the Apollo bottomless money pit, there was no way the OMB was willing to fund the development cost of NASA’s proposal. So, it was either a compromise with a lower development cost project and ditch the fully reusability low launch cost proposal or possibly wind up with nothing at all. That was the pistol that was firmly pointed into NASA’s temple.
    IIRC the Air Force also required something of substantial payload capacity to launch their spy sats which was utilised in getting what finished up being the successful proposal over the line although I’m not sure it was ever used for such missions.
    It was all politics at the end of the day. No stupidity, but an awful waste of money and NASA knew it all along even before Nixon approved the final design. NASA never liked it.

  5. Tim, they were shooting people into space for no good reason. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that is going to get people killed at some point and it didn’t require hindsight to realise that. After all, people had already died as a result of being shot into space and there had been plenty of close calls. And I’m sure that performing actions that kill people for no good reason would be described as evil by some people. But as I pointed out, not me. I’ll stick with the word stupid for now because I’m a polite person.

  6. @Ronald Brak
    I think you’re over-egging it by saying they were doing it for no reason (Also, I could be wrong but I seem to recall that participation in the NASA astronaut program was voluntary). But anyway, I’m not being paid to defend NASA’s past decisions, so I’ll leave it there. 🙂

  7. Tim, I know all about that. In a very real and legal sense. It appears that people are allowed to volunteer to be put into dangerous situations as much as they like, but if I actually put them in a life threatening situation then I am committing a “crime”. It seems like a clear set of double standards to me. One standard for the military and another for would be genius game show producers.

  8. Exactly RB, or as my favourite scientist concluded: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

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