Columbia Anniversary

It’s been fifteen years. Challenger was the beginning of the end of the Shuttle program, less than five years after the first flight. Columbia doomed it, though it continued to fly for eight more years. But the decision to end it led to the much more hopeful future we have now, with new commercial vehicles finally demonstrating real reusability, and competing with each other to drive down costs.

Here are my immediate thoughts at the time. Click on follow-up posts for a lot more.

[Update a few minutes later]

Glenn Reynolds: We just entered a golden age of space exploration. Why all the pessimism?

More importantly, we’re finally entering an age of not merely exploration, but development and ultimately settlement.

[Afternoon update]

In rereading what I wrote then, I’m surprised at how prescient it was and how well it held up. Including the foretelling of the book that was to come a decade later.

[Update a few minutes later]

Note my comment there at the time:

Who has an operational solution that’s any better than NASA’s?

Who’s been funded to provide one?

The fact that NASA hasn’t done better does not imply that it cannot be done better. NASA operates under significant political constraints.

Note that fifteen years later (and the two people doing this had started two years earlier), that problem seems to have been solved.

11 thoughts on “Columbia Anniversary”

    1. It doesn’t seem very genuine because he based the op-ed on another op-ed from 3-4 years ago and didn’t bother to do any relevant research. A routine googling would show the commercial crew competitors have higher safety requirements than NASA vehicles.

      It was funny the author dinged SpaceX for learning how to land a rocket. He must not know what happens to all other first stages.

      Aside from the Musk Derangement Syndrome, do RedState readers fall for this stuff?

  1. “Here are my immediate thoughts at the time.”

    The link points to a page lacking in any statements from you.

  2. “Over the last 200 years or so, the world has experienced previously unimaginable improvements in standards of living. The process of rapid economic growth started in Europe and America, but today some of the world’s fastest growing countries can be found in Asia and Africa — lifting billions of people from absolute poverty. Historical evidence, therefore, makes a potent case for optimism. Yet, pessimism is everywhere.”
    (Liberals, in extremely whiny voice) Because *government* isn’t doing it, and *we’re* not in charge!

    “SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule is scheduled to fly this year, and old-line aerospace giant Boeing’s new capsule, the CST-100 Starliner, is scheduled to fly this year as well.
    So we’re moving back into space in a big way,”
    Not really. I would point out that these two *capsules* will only, “go up and down,” just like the Space Shuttle, and they won’t have even a fraction of the Shuttle’s capability. They are no big deal. The most important thing about them is that they will finally once again give the United States an independent manned spaceflight capability. The idea of us hitching rides on Russian rockets for years and years was ridiculous and humiliating. But they are no big deal. They are not truly spaceships like the Shuttles were. Now, BFR, and Skylon, those are big deals. Those are true spaceships, and significant advances over the Space Shuttle. And, it should be noted, the BFR will be able to do more than just go up and down. Some time in the middle of the next decade, we will finally start going back to space in a “big way”.

    Yes, I’ve been arguing for years now that we are at the dawn of a golden age and, despite the best efforts of Islamists to drag us back to the 7th century, and of Leftists to stand athwart history calling “Halt!”, I still believe it.

    1. I would point out that these two *capsules* will only, “go up and down,” just like the Space Shuttle, and they won’t have even a fraction of the Shuttle’s capability. They are no big deal.

      They both are advancements in capsule technology but the thing that makes them a big deal is that SpaceX and Boeing control their use. They can market them to customers other than NASA. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what the space shuttle could do because the only people able to use it were government employees.

    2. The Dragon, at least, has a capability the Shuttle never had: it can (with suitable propulsion from its launcher) go far beyond LEO, and reenter at speeds much greater than from LEO.

  3. If the NASA weenies got out of the way Dragon 2 would land on land on rocket power just like a Falcon 9 first stage, ready to be re-used with parachute backup and abort capability all the way to orbit. The heat shield also is good for re-entries from the Moon at least which means essentially everywhere, according to Elon.
    I’d call that a substantial advance over shuttle and there would be less thrown away and/or to re-furbish. Dragon 2 is a big deal.

  4. I was down sick with the flu that day. I found out when I got a call from my mother that same day asking me for my thoughts. I said, “What?”

    Challenger was the inflection point where we went from thinking of the space shuttle in “space truck” mode back to “space exploration” mode. It became a NASA-only project from then on, liquid fueled upper stages were banned from the payload bay, no more comsat/milsat deployments and/or rescues to be launched and some dubious “space theater” was devised for emergency crew egress.

    Columbia was the inflection point where the space shuttle was deemed inherently un-safe, since there was no known good solution to the ET foam shedding issue. So much so that the program was ended before there was a crewed replacement available. So much for space exploration as a priority.

    1. The purpose of the shuttle wasn’t exploration; it was exploration theater. This is why astronaut deaths are so unacceptable. In actual exploration they’d be a price that would be tolerated, but if the actual product is just image and vapor then they just spoil the production.

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