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Shuttle Delenda Est

Gregg Easterbrook says that it's time to end the Shuttle program.

He actually says much with which I agree, but I utterly disagree with his prescription, which is to have NASA build a newer, safer system. He gets it wrong because he continues to fall into the trap of believing that the primary purpose of a space program is for science.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 02, 2003 06:45 AM
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Tracked: February 2, 2003 07:53 AM

Who will be the goat: NASA or United Space Alliance?

A lot of people are blaming the Columbia tragedy on NASA being government a bureaucracy. In particular, some Transterrestrials are Ayn Randians who tend to think that private enterprise can always do the job better.

But now that the finger pointing has started, some fingers are going to point at the putatively private United Space Alliance:

( "Putative" -- It's a good question to ask if Boeing and Lockheed are really private firms, or instead are profit-seeking Soviet-style bureaux. )

"... As the prime contractor for NASA's Space Shuttle Program, United Space Alliance is responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet ..."

United Space Alliance Overview

Headquartered in Houston, Texas, United Space Alliance (USA) is one of the world's leading space operations companies. Established in 1996 as a joint venture between The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT), the company employs people in Texas, Florida, Alabama, California and Washington, D.C.
USA is chartered to manage and conduct space operations work involving the operation and maintenance of multi-purpose space systems, including systems associated with NASA's human space flight program, Space Shuttle applications beyond those of NASA and other reusable launch and orbital systems beyond the Space Shuttle and Space Station.

As the prime contractor for NASA's Space Shuttle Program, United Space Alliance is responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet and brings a broad range of expertise to the job, including:

? Mission Design and Planning
? Flight Operations
? Software Development and Integration
? Payload Integration
? Integrated Logistics
? Astronaut and Flight Controller Training
? Vehicle Processing, Launch and Recovery

Company History

In August 1995, NASA expressed its desire to consolidate the large number of Space Shuttle program contracts under a single prime contractor. The space agency initiated an open competition for a single prime contract to conduct Space Shuttle operations, and received responses from more than 40 companies.

At the time, the majority of the operations, processing and training work was conducted by Rockwell, which held the Space Operations Contract for flight support, and Lockheed Martin, which held the Shuttle Processing Contract for ground operations. Realizing that the award of a single contract to one company would seriously disrupt the employees and operations in either Texas or Florida, the two companies agreed to create a joint venture and formed United Space Alliance.

On November 7, 1995, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin announced in his "Determination and Findings" report that the space agency would pursue a sole source agreement with United Space Alliance. In April 1996, USA assumed management responsibility for Rockwell's flight operations contract in Texas and Lockheed Martin's Shuttle processing contract in Florida, establishing the company as the prime contractor for NASA's Space Shuttle program.

In September 1996, United Space Alliance and NASA signed the Space Flight Operations Contract (SFOC) at the Johnson Space Center. The contract designated USA as the prime contractor for Space Shuttle operations and gave USA authority to proceed with full operation of the contract effective October 1, 1996. The SFOC also includes training and operations planning for the International Space Station.

Rockwell's share of USA became part of The Boeing Company following the final sale of Rockwell's aerospace and defense businesses in December 1996.

USA and the Space Shuttle Program

As NASA's major partner in the Space Shuttle program, USA manages approximately one-third of NASA's annual Space Shuttle budget. In an effort to further streamline and consolidate the program, NASA plans to assign the remaining government-managed contracts for major hardware elements of the Shuttle system (such as Shuttle Main Engines, Solid Rocket Boosters and Motors and the External Tank) to the USA contract. USA's assumption of day-to-day Shuttle operations management will help enable NASA to return to its roots as a research and development agency.

Since the start of the SFOC, USA has continued to maintain safety and reliability as top priorities while successfully reducing the overall costs of operating the Space Shuttle fleet. Mission objectives ? including preparation for flight, on-time launches and safe landings ? are consistently met under USA's management. All of this has been achieved while the overall cost of the Space Shuttle program has been reduced nearly $300 million from FY 1996 to FY 1998. The members of the USA team are uniquely qualified for this challenge, since many of them are the same veteran aerospace professionals who have successfully and safely performed Shuttle launch, mission and landing operations for many years as Boeing and Lockheed Martin employees. USA employees in Florida perform end-to-end ground operations in support of America's Space Shuttle fleet, including processing, logistics, launch, landing, recovery and turnaround operations, while Texas employees perform mission planning, astronaut and flight controller training, software development and verification, and mission operations from launch through landing.

USA's first and foremost goal is the safe and reliable management of the Space Shuttle fleet. While continually ensuring that the primary goal is met, USA is taking on greater involvement in the operations of the International Space Station. As the only company in the world with extensive experience in the processing, maintenance and operation of a reusable launch vehicle, USA will be offering its expertise in related space operations markets in the future as well as pursuing opportunities in the operation of new NASA vehicles such as the Crew Return Vehicle.

( The Crew Return Vehicle = another name for the proposed Orbital Space Plane, a.k.a. the mini-Shuttle. NASA likes to change the names of projects and programs, perhaps to create the illusion that there are a lot of new projects underway at NASA.

My suggestion is to go ahead with the mini-Shuttle/Orbital Space Plane, but to develop an all-new launch vehicle for the OSP. Don't plop the OSP atop Boeing's Delta or Lockheed's Atlas missile. And get a new prim contractor for the Orbital Space Plane. Don't let Boeing or Lockheed be the prime contractor for the new space plane. America needs some fresh faces in the space business.

Nope, I certainly don't agree with Gregg Easterbrook or anyone else that the Space Station ought to be abandoned while the US space program stews in a funk of malaise and masochism for years. Anyone who wants the International Space Station project to be a failure is secretly if not overtly an unpatriotic America hater. Am I wrapping the Space station in the American flag? Yes, I sure am. Either you're with America and you support the ISS now, or you're against us.

-- DD )

Key Company Milestones

August 1995 NASA's Office of Space Flight communicates its desire to move to a single prime contractor for Space Shuttle operations.
August 1995 Rockwell and Lockheed Martin agree to form United Space Alliance.
November 1995 NASA announces that the agency will pursue an agreement with USA to make it the single prime contractor for Shuttle operations.
November 1995 Rockwell and Lockheed Martin sign the joint venture agreement to form USA.
April 1996 Management responsibility for Rockwell's Space Operations Contract (SOC) and Lockheed Martin's Shuttle Processing Contract (SPC) is transferred to USA, effectively establishing the joint venture as the single contractor for Shuttle operations.
June 1996 Two-thirds of Lockheed Martin's work force in Florida and all of Rockwell's employees in Houston become employees of USA.
July 1996 The remaining Lockheed Martin SPC employees in Florida join USA.
September 1996 USA and NASA sign the Space Flight Operations Contract. USA obtains authority to proceed with the contract from NASA.
October 1996 The Space Flight Operations Contract becomes effective. Rockwell's employees at the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot join USA.
November 1996 First Space Shuttle mission managed by USA.
December 1996 The Boeing Company purchases the aerospace and defense components of Rockwell Corporation, including its share in United Space Alliance.
November 1997 End of first year of SFOC managed by USA, with eight successful Shuttle missions during the period.
July 1998 More than $900 million in additional work is added to the SFOC as part of Phase II of the contract.


The Space Flight Operations Contract

Under the terms of the Space Flight Operations Contract (SFOC), NASA has taken a unique and significant step toward placing accountability for Space Shuttle operations under a single prime contractor ? United Space Alliance (USA).

In September 1996, NASA and USA signed the Space Flight Operations Contract: ? The contract has a base period of six years with two, two-year options.

? Phase I of the six-year contract is valued at $7 billion or $1.2 billion/year.
? The two, two-year options could increase the value to $12 billion over 10 years.
? The value will increase gradually as Phase II contracts are added.
? Eighty percent of the contract fee is tied to maintaining safety:
? 40 percent is an award fee for meeting specific safety and quality standards.
? 40 percent is a performance incentive for safely achieving mission and schedule objectives.

? SFOC will save taxpayers $400 million compared to prior cost. For every additional dollar saved, 65 cents will be returned to the U. S. Government.

Scope of Work

The SFOC includes responsibility for the Orbiters, Flight & Ground Operations, and Logistics:

At the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas, USA performs: ? Flight Operations
? Astronaut & Flight Controller Training
? Space Shuttle Flight Simulator Operations
? Mission Control Center Management and Operations
? Mission Planning, Flight Design and Analysis
? Space Station Operations and Utilization
? Flight Software Development
? Flight Crew Equipment

At the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, USA is responsible for Ground Operations: ? Vehicle Modification, Testing, Checkout and Launch Operations

? Support U.S. and Trans-Atlantic Emergency Landing Sites
? Ocean Retrieval of Solid Rocket Boosters
? Space Shuttle Logistics Depot - manufacture, repair and procurement of Shuttle hardware and ground support equipment

As part of Phase II of the contract, work from up to 16 additional contracts is being brought under integrated USA management including contracts for the Space Shuttle main engines, external tank, solid rocket boosters, and the reusable solid rocket motors.

Return to the Top

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 07:28 AM

"Shuttle Delenda est"

It's just Godawful, terrible, lousy, poor tact to say that at this time, Mr. Simberg.

"He gets it wrong because he continues to fall into the trap of believing that the primary purpose of a space program is for science."

A space program is not for science? Oh, yes, that is excellent salesmanship. Do you think you're goign to pursuade Congress or the American public to put up money for an X-prize if the space program is not for science?

That's what you what, isn't it, Rand? You bleat on and on about how space launching outght to be left to private firms, but you want your despised government to offer some sort of bigger X-prize to prime the pump. Has it ever dawned on you that this proposed plan of action is somewhat self-contradictory?

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 07:36 AM


I've been to your site before, but I think its your commentary during this disaster that has motivated me to visit regularly. I appreciate your insight and your analysis and while I am not sure whether I agree, your blog will be part of my education. For too long have my opinions about space been driven by my emotions and fantasies. I need to be more analytical and I am looking partly to you to help me achieve this.

Aziz Poonawalla

Posted by Aziz Poonawalla at February 2, 2003 07:48 AM

Gregg Easterbrook is correct that the Space Shuttle is overdue for a replacement, correct that the International Space Station is a boondoggle, but wrong, wrong, wrong, to suggest that we should now abandon the Space Station.

It's a matter of psychology and of national spirit. If we abandon the Space Station, the general attitude about American space efforts will sink into a deep funk of malaise and fearfulness, a slough of despond. We simply must keep launching Shuttles to keep the Space Station going, even if Shuttle system operations are more dangerous than the public was led to believe.

I mean this sincerely.


The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped
It's costly, outmoded, impractical and, as we've learned again, deadly


Will the much more expensive effort to build a manned International Space Station end too? In cost and justification, it's as dubious as the shuttle. The two programs are each other's mirror images. The space station was conceived mainly to give the shuttle a destination, and the shuttle has been kept flying mainly to keep the space station serviced. Three crew members?Expedition Six, in NASA argot?remain aloft on the space station. Probably a Russian rocket will need to go up to bring them home. The wisdom of replacing them seems dubious at best. This second shuttle loss means NASA must be completely restructured?if not abolished and replaced with a new agency with a new mission.


Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 08:34 AM

Build OSP, Shuttle-C, and don't abandon ISS

I know I'm rpeating myself somewhat here, but here I go again:

[ It's likely that if the administration makes any changes, it will be to accelerate the OSP program, and that would be a poor decision for many reasons. The best chance for positive change is from outside the administration - both from space advocacy groups and others. Any thoughts on the chances of "real" change occurring, and ways to contribute to it? ]

My suggestion is threefold:

(1) Don't abandon the ISS. However, don't take any unnecesary people along for the ride. This sounds dangerous? Space flight *is* dangerous. ... Not that different from military service. NASA and the American public are going to have to adopt a tougher, more realistic attitude about Shuttle flights and space station operations.

It's a matter of keeping manned space travel alive. We can't let the International Space Station and the American manned space program grind to a halt.
If ISS is abandoned and the Shuttles are grounded permanently, it will be hard, hard, difficult to re-start manned space flight. ...

(2)Build a cargo-only Shuttle Orbiter, a Shuttle-C. This Shuttle will have no crew cabin. It will have an improved thermal protection system, as well as structural improvements.

(3) Go ahead with the new manned mini-Shuttle, a.k.a. the Orbital Space Plane. However, develop a reusable launch system for the OSP. Don't try to plop the OSP atop an expendable Boeing Delta or Lockheed Atlas missile.

Don't let Boeing or Lock Mart be the prime contractor for the new Orbital Space Plane, either. America needs some fresh faces in the space business.

Unfortunately, the OSP won't be ready for launch in less than, I dunno, several years. To keep from abandoning the International Space Station, we'll have to have either some Shuttle or some Soyuz launches in the meantime.

Yes Ma'am, a Shuttle-C and a fully reusable OSP/mini-Shuttle manned launch will cost big money. Where will the money come from? I suggest taxing the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans to pay for the new spacecraft.

Maybe the money won't have to be extracted by means of an actual tax. Instead, someone could start a voluntary fund-raising campaign to obtain the necessary capital from fat cats such as Bill Gates and the Hollywood glitterati.

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 09:04 AM

[ He actually says much with which I agree, but I utterly disagree with his prescription, which is to have NASA build a newer, safer system. ]

But NASA will contract the construction of a new manned launch system to a putatively private firm.
Mr. Simberg, since you and your friends have such excellent design concepts for new Earth to LEO manned launch systems, why don't you and your friends approach NASA with your design proposals?

For that matter, why don't you or your friends outline your Earth-to-LEO and-back launch system ideas right here, in Transterrestrial Musings?

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 09:24 AM

David, I have limited server space. If you'd get your own blog, I'd be happy to link to it occasionally. I've never banned anyone, but if you don't stop filling up my comments sections with long articles (particularly on posts that have nothing even to do with space) I'll have to do it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 2, 2003 10:46 AM

The primary point of NASA is and ought to be science.
The primary purpose of space should not be.
NASA should not be in the business of buying ships. It should lease on a limited time basis from outside providers, and not giving the entire contract to one corporation. The current system has NASA eking out as much as it can from the expensive piles of junks it uses.
Where the hell is Space Tourism? Mining? Hell, anything that involves sending people into space for something other than science of national pride. Neither of these can mantain a space fleet. Private enterprise, by its very nature, is designed so it can. NASA should be only one of many buyers of quality space craft from a wide variety of vendors.

Posted by David Brown at February 2, 2003 10:54 AM

(1) Following Mr. Easterbrooks reasoning if I own a car and someone is driving it and is hurt or at worst killed, I then have a moral imperative to conceive of a totally new kind of safer, cheaper, transportation. Not as easy as it sounds, given the speeds involved in space flight, you simply cannot bail out at 12,000 MPH 37 miles high, regardless of the vehicle.

(2) We always hear how many miles commercial airliners fly without a loss of life, compared to automobiles. How many more miles does the Shuttle Fleet have "under its wings" without a mishap. The astronauts and everyone involved in the space community knows the risks, just as much as the Pheonicians, the Vikings, and every seafaring culture knew the dangers of going to sea in wooden ships. The dangers of space flight, now, are no different or greater, than the dangers to any culture pushing the limits of their technology for exploration.

(3) I am truly sorry for the families suffering because of the Shuttle failure, but the deaths of these explorers is no more felt by their families than the deaths of anyone elses loved ones would be in any other setting. The death of some one you love or know is tough whenever or however it happens. Contrary to some of the utterly moronic things I've heard the talking heads say, this is only tragic in that we all NOW know these people.

(4) We should continue to fly the shuttle, UNTIL we find a better system. NASA SHOULD be overhauled because they have a terribe dollars to works ratio. Pitiful even for a government run program. The problem arises when you try to change a tire on a moving vehicle. Lets look into the administration of NASA at the same time we try to find the fault that caused this flight to fail. Kill two birds with one stone, fix the problems both mechanical and administrative. I don't think another 3 year delay will ever find the problem, not enough physical evidence will be found in tact to discover the actual fault. Maybe its in the telemtry, I can only hope so.

(5) And finaly, to get this all out at once, I'm middle aged, disabled, and fat, but I'd leave tomorrow on the Shuttle to help study the effects of weightlessness on middle aged, disabled, fat guys if I got the chance. I'd drive my car to the airport, to fly on a commercial jet to Florida, and drive to KSC to do it. I may get killed on any leg of the journey, or I might slip in the tub and drown, life is uncertain. But I'll take the chances life deals me, I believe it's what we are here to do, push the envelope.

Posted by Steve at February 2, 2003 11:40 AM

[ David, I have limited server space. If you'd get your own blog, I'd be happy to link to it occasionally. I've never banned anyone, but if you don't stop filling up my comments sections with long articles (particularly on posts that have nothing even to do with space) I'll have to do it.]

If you can't debate 'em with logic or facts, threaten to throw them out. I'm very impressed with you, Rand.

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 12:00 PM

I think I will start my own blog. Look for the "Patriotic Populist," coming real soon now.

Posted by David Davenport at February 2, 2003 12:02 PM

I think Easterbrook plays fast and loose with his facts, too. The suggest that there were *NO* safety features added to the SRBs after Challenger is simply wrong. His point about the shuttle as a whole is a good one, but the idea that a crew-eject system would be easy or even possible on the existing shuttle is just wrongheaded.

Posted by Andrew Lloyd at February 2, 2003 12:05 PM

It's not a matter of ability to debate, but time or willingness to, and willingness to let you use my weblog as your personal bulletin board. I hope that you do set one up, and as I said, if you post interesting things, I will link to them, and even agree or argue with them.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 2, 2003 12:06 PM

"He gets it wrong because he continues to fall into the trap of believing that the primary purpose of a space program is for science."

I must be an idiot...seriously. Rand, clue me in as to WTF a space program is for if not for science? Our future is amongst the stars, wether we continue going to space or not, or great-grandchildren *WILL*. Science will be the driving force to getting us there.

Posted by DocZen at February 2, 2003 02:41 PM

"He gets it wrong because he continues to fall into the trap of believing that the primary purpose of a space program is for science."

I must be an idiot...seriously. Rand, clue me in as to WTF a space program is for if not for science? Our future is amongst the stars, wether we continue going to space or not, or great-grandchildren *WILL*. Science will be the driving force to getting us there.

Posted by DocZen at February 2, 2003 02:42 PM

Easterbrook' claim that the shuttle is over-represented in space disasters is not very well thought out. What other manned access to orbit system has the major portion of itself refurbished and sent up again? To my recollection none. To date, the shuttle fleet represent a major portion of all human activity in space. To say it is over-represented in mishaps without noting that fact is manipulative and dishonest.

I'd greatly prefer to see a real alternative to the shuttle but that simply cannot happen so long as NASA is in the launch business. It doesn't matter who the civilian contractor is so long as NASA is calling the shots. government agencies are inherently incapable of fostering the sort of competition that provides a compelling motive to improve.

Rand is correct when he says the major point of the space program is not science. Certainly not as we do it. In virtually any other field of research it is left to private enterprise to provide solutions. Unique vehicles are custom built solely when there is no alternative commercial value to their capabilites. THe satellite business shows this is not the case for anything in orbit.

Mr. Davenport, as someone who often goes on at length in comment sections I have to say you've really pushed it. You do the right thing by offering a hyperlink but then blow it by reproducing the bulk of the content behind the link. One of the reasons for linking is to avoid just this sort of wasted space via duplication of content.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at February 2, 2003 02:58 PM

First, my condolences to the families and friends.

Second, kudos to Rand for his acute and insightful observations concerning the nature and direction of space efforts.

Third, it appears that some of you don't get it. Please attempt to separate in your mind these two concepts:

"space exploration" from "NASA"/"space program"

It will help to make the following more clear.

The range of human activities is larger than 'science.' It includes activities we can classify as 'economic,' and entities of that set can be classified in a hierarchy.

Foundational economic activity consists of such things as mining, and agriculture.

The next level up from this foundation are basic industries, converting the wealth obtained from the first level into other products. Manunfacturing, for instance.

Up from this are the various service industries: health care, insurance, etc.

The final level consists of those activities done entirely for their own sake: tourism and scientific inquiry.

When my forebears came to this continent aboard a creaky wooden vessel from England centuries ago, they did not come here to perform scientific experiments and go home. They came to stay, and they supported themselves with the primary economic actions of agriculture, hunting, fishing, and logging.

US space policy is in perennial trouble because it insists that we can make a go of it through the very top of the economic pyramid.

Rand is right when he suggests, multiple times in mulitple articles, that a private-sector aproach will yield better, faster results. Why?

Evolution in parallel.

Examine the development of the automobile: at the turn of the prior century, there were thousands of firms innovating, trying new designs. The successful innovations replicated themselves into successor designs. You are riding around in them now.

Contrast the space program: finance only one design and run it until time runs out. You will never be a passenger.

We don't need another monopoly: we need to 'let a thousand flowers bloom.' You pay for that through activities at the base of the economic pyramid, which drive the requirements.

We ought to leverage this event into the above approach.

Cheerio Rand -- and keep swinging for the fences.

Posted by Robin Miller at February 2, 2003 06:45 PM

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