Thirty Years On

This is the thirty first year my birthday has been marred by the event. Leroy Chiao thinks that we shouldn’t have retired the Shuttle, but he assumes we did it for safety reasons. As I note in the book, Shuttle was retired because it cost too much, and the fleet had gotten too small to sustain it properly.

[Update a while later]

My thoughts on the anniversary, and lessons not learned, over at USA Today.

[Update a few minutes later]

Clark Lindsey has a link roundup on the anniversaries.

[Update a while later\

Doug Messier has some thoughts, and a warning to the space upstarts.

15 thoughts on “Thirty Years On”

  1. Shuttle was retired because it cost too much,

    Shuttle was retired because George W. Bush wanted to do Apollo Again.

    It was not because Shuttle cost too much. Bush said from the beginning that Apollo Again would require “modest increases” in the NASA budget over and above the money saved by canceling Shuttle.

    The argument was that Apollo Again was a better goal for NASA, not that it would save money.

  2. I wish Rand would stop calling it “Apollo to Mars.” Apollo had funding, leadership, and a plan to get to the goal. The Journey to Mars has none of those things.

    1. Mark has a point.

      How about we just call it Bush’s Folly?

      As an aside, I was surprised to see that Mark recently wrote a piece in support of Newt Gingrich’s lunar settlement plan. This seems like quite a turnaround since Gingrich’s plan would really on prizes and private enterprise rather than NASA — the sort of thing Mark has generally ridiculed in the past. (Unless, of course, Mark was unfamiliar with Gingrich’s proposal and didn’t actually know what he was supporting.)

      1. Obama could have kept the shuttles around if he wanted. He dithered in deciding but we still don’t have American access so probably could have got everything back up and running if he wanted.

        But I guess as the Most Powerful Man in the World, he really couldn’t do anything.

        Things seem to be working out OK though. Commercial cargo and crew are going pretty good and the SLS supporters are getting what they want for now.

        If SLS didn’t exist, they would find something else to spend that money on but there are no guarantees that it would be any more worthwhile than SLS.

  3. My thoughts on the anniversary, and lessons not learned, over at USA Today.


    Happy birthday, Rand 🙂

  4. What we should’ve done was immediately started designing and building the second-generation Space Shuttle, using both the lessons learned from the Challenger disaster and the advancements in materials science in the decade since the first generation was designed to create a better system. But because it had been decided that the Space Shuttle was to be the Last Word in American crewed spaceflight, they put on some band-aid solutions to fundamental problems and, as Stephanie Roderick in Mirrored Lives puts it, “we ran the Space Shuttle orbiters until they wore out and never bothered planning for anything to replace them until it was too late.” And that’s why we’re stuck in the morass we are in now.

    1. What do you mean “we”? The government space design bureau and their $$$-seeking cost-plus contractors? Yeah, that would have worked out so well.

      Or perhaps you mean private upstarts exploring multiple paths to space? In that case, there would be no need for “us” to decide anything — the various competitors could make design decisions on their own.

      1. Today, in 2016, your position is absolutely correct. The only players in the US crewed-spaceflight game who have their act together are commercial, and the abortion that is SLS should be canceled so the government can’t hobble SpaceX, Blue Origin, etc. in hopes of protecting SLS.

        But in 1986 the commercial spaceflight industry was in its infancy, struggling with Catch-22 problems of being unable to get paying customers until it had a proven launcher, and unable to get the money to prove their launcher without paying customers [Slayton, 329]. And that was just for satellites, and small ones. NASA was the only game in town for crewed spaceflight in 1986, and while it would’ve been good to start the movement toward commercial spaceflight, it wasn’t going to happen overnight, for multiple reasons. Not to mention that the Space Shuttle was originally designed at least partly for the deployment and on-orbit servicing of military and national-security satellites, not something that the US government was going to be eager to hand over to commercial concerns.

        Which is why the band-aid solution that was implemented, locking us into two more decades of flying flawed and increasingly outdated technology until it became untenable, was so terrible.

        1. No, even then it would have made no sense to build a second generation shuttle. The first generation shuttle’s business case was fraudulent, and building another one wouldn’t have made the case any less fraudulent.

  5. Shuttle was going to end. Either wrapped up properly or when yet another one of them found a new and creative way to get destroyed. As far as Bush’s plan, had O’Keefe/Steidle stayed we would have at least built out capacity with invested dollars. Instead we got the Griffin and Ares and the continuing Orion/SLS disaster.

  6. No Leroy, the Shuttle program was not mothballed. That term suggests it could be pulled out of the closet and made to work again. That’s not going to happen.

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