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NASA Readies Discovery Shuttle For Final Flight 153

Posted by samzenpus
from the fare-thee-well dept.
gabbo529 writes "After 38 trips, 352 days in orbit and more than 5,600 trips around the Earth, the space shuttle Discovery is preparing for its final launch. Since its creation, it has flown to orbit more than any other craft. It has set a number of precedents including first craft to feature a female shuttle pilot and female shuttle commander (Eileen Collins), the first African American spacewalker (Bernard Harris) and the first sitting member of congress to fly in space (Jake Garn). In its final foray into space, the Discovery will set another precedent when it flies the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2."
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NASA Readies Discovery Shuttle For Final Flight

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  • by ASDFnz (472824) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:51PM (#35295742)

    I would give it a good home!

    • by v1 (525388)

      Weren't they considering selling the shuttles to private companies as they push for privatization of space travel?

      When you think about it, not only is the reusability of the shuttle a plus, it can easily haul cargo both into and out of space, and is the majority component of the launch? (not that a tower, big tank, and two SRBs is chump change, but still)

      Come to think of it with the SRBs, the one company that made them said they were making their last one, I wonder if they've considered the possibility of f

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        white elephant.

        Only a government and the politicians who get their districts the business could love its cost structure.

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:38PM (#35296004)

        The shuttles are not reusable in any real cost saving sense. They have to have many tiles replaced, the main engines replaced, and numerous other little odds and ends. The SRBs are one of the shuttles main failings, SRBs are cheap but notice that no one else uses them for a man rated launcher.

        The Shuttle will not find a buyer, it is not cost effective and never was.

        • SRBs are cheap but notice that no one else uses them for a man rated launcher.

          No one else but the Russians fly a 'man-rated' launcher with any regularity. So its 50-50...SRB or not.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Look at planned man-rated launchers. Not an SRB in sight, unless a congressman was involved in the design.

            Good reason for that. Even if they where 100% safe, they mean you have to go out to the pad standing up, which adds huge amounts of cost to current launches. Not saying an SRB without this issue could not be designed, just the shuttle ones suck out loud.

            • I thought that a shuttle-like stack would require it being assembled and rolled out upright, otherwise there'd be too much weight on the fuel tank from the orbiter... but sure enough, the Soviet-era Buran was assembled horizontally [russianspaceweb.com].

            • by Mercano (826132)
              Well, you could just stack the shuttle on the launchpad like they were planing to do at Vandenberg [ktb.net], but then you have to be able to roll the assembly building away.
        • by v1 (525388)

          I'll give that comment a 50/50 agreement. More details here:

          http://www.astronautix.com/engines/ssme.htm [astronautix.com]

          Saying the engines have to be "replaced" is a bit deceptive. "rebuilt and inspected" is more accurate, though they don't say but I'm assuming they have one extra set on hand and simply swap them out while they get to work rebuilding the set they pulled.

          (that article above has at least one technical error, so take it with a grain of salt)

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            You are indeed correct. I mis-spoke they are rebuilt, and at great cost.

        • by Frangible (881728) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @01:05AM (#35296898)
          That's just not true.

          Orion: 1.5bn per flight, $50bn spent on development before cancellation.
          Shuttle: 450m per flight, 1.5bn per shuttle to build
          Soyuz seats: $45 million each
          SpaceX Dragon: $300-$400m (est.) per flight

          For the amount we wasted on the ostensibly "cheaper" Orion program, with disposable components similar to the Apollo program, we could've built *11* new shuttles. The Shuttle also is far more capable, able to transfer a tremendous amount of cargo (the Orion / Soyuz fit in the cargo bay...) and hold nearly twice the number of astronauts for rescue missions.

          The SpaceX Dragon isn't significantly cheaper than the shuttle, and is again, far less capable than the Shuttle, and is still an unproven design. (the SpaceShipOne/SpaceShipTwo are just X-15 / X-20 ripoffs and can only get 10% of the altitude needed to reach the ISS, they don't even count)

          The Soyuz seats are probably the most cost-effective and time-tested design, but the Soyuz holds three people max, and in the past, two of those have always been cosmonauts.

          The Russians developed a pretty nice shuttle of their own -- the Buran -- though the end of the Soviet Union doomed it.

          I'm sorry it doesn't have a warp drive, subspace communicator, artificial gravity, or "inertial dampening" (whatever that is)... but the space shuttle is the most advanced spacecraft ever developed, and a very economical one at that. And we let it die. The canceled Orion program was a failure that was uneconomical, and the amount of money we blew on that could've gotten a lot more shuttle flights, or a great many Soyuz seats.

          I hope we maintain good ties to Russia, because as of this June, the only way an American is getting into space -- or to the ISS -- is if they let us. Ironically, it will be on a rocket originally intended to deliver a nuclear warhead as an ICBM to us.
          • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:08AM (#35297634) Homepage

            SpaceX Dragon: $300-$400m (est.) per flight (...) The SpaceX Dragon isn't significantly cheaper than the shuttle, and is again, far less capable than the Shuttle, and is still an unproven design

            At least for the cargo operations, SpaceX will deliver 12 flights for 1.6 billion. That works out to about $133m per flight. And it is tested [physorg.com] so they have a working rocket and a working capsule. How reliable they are can be questioned, but the design works.

          • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@@@xmsnet...nl> on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:25AM (#35297692)

            I think the figures you have for the Shuttle are low. Endeavor cost $ 1.7B to build from spare components. That does not include the cost to acquire those components, and it assumes the design has been paid for already.

            From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: Roger Pielke has estimated that the Space Shuttle program has cost about US$170 billion (2008 dollars) through early 2008. This works out to an average cost per flight of about US$1.5 billion.

            • by Frangible (881728)
              My bad, you're right. It's indeed 1.7bn, and I can't find a solid source for the cost without the spare components. Even if it were double that, though... the R&D has already been done so it still seems cheap relative to the Orion program cost.

              Per-flight cost: the Wikipedia space shuttle article states the incremental per-flight costs are $60m.

              NASA, however, states the total launch costs are $450m: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html#10 [nasa.gov]

              I don't know what the
          • by necro81 (917438)

            The Russians developed a pretty nice shuttle of their own -- the Buran -- though the end of the Soviet Union doomed it.

            Bah! "Copied" is more like. And, in copying it, ran into the same problems that plagued the shuttle design.

            • The Russians developed a pretty nice shuttle of their own -- the Buran -- though the end of the Soviet Union doomed it.

              Bah! "Copied" is more like. And, in copying it, ran into the same problems that plagued the shuttle design.

              The Soviets did do something we've yet to do: their one and only test flight of the Buran was completely unmanned from launch to orbit to landing.

            • by Frangible (881728)
              Visually and conceptually, yeah, it looks pretty much identical. But the design and mechanics of it diverged, and it's not at all the case they just copied the whole thing verbatim.

              I think it would've been interesting to build a Space Shuttle 2.0, taking into account lessons learned with not only the Shuttle, but the Buran.

              The Russians are interested in re-launching its development, so it's even something that could have been a collaborative project, which would benefit both of our space programs.
              • The Buran was abandoned for the same reason the Americans are now abandoning the Shuttle... it is costly, complicated and not very good at anything

                It is far cheaper to launch people in a non-reusable craft, it is far cheaper to launch satellites in a non-reusable craft

                The shuttle cannot launch many satellites simply because they cannot fit into the payload bay ....

    • by AikonMGB (1013995)

      The SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines), the three things on the back of the orbiter itself, are free if you pay for shipping.

      Aikon-

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Yeah, but this is one of those eBay scams where they charge you nothing for the product and then nail you with a million dollar shipping charge.

  • by ModernGeek (601932)
    I don't think that GM has been in space since the moon rover! I was supposed to go see the launch, but it looks like I'll have to wait for the April one.
  • goddammitsomuch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:23PM (#35295942)
    Park one or more of these puppies in orbit, next to the ISS. No, it isn't useful *now*. But it may be in 10/15 yrs. No, the internal systems will not last. Batteries will die quickly, etc. Here are 3 large pressure capsules, all ready for future use.

    But once these are on the ground, that's it. They will never rise again. We needed to think of this a decade ago, it's far too late now.

    Goddammit....these vehicles would be perfect for future orbital ops.
    • Re:goddammitsomuch (Score:4, Interesting)

      by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:42PM (#35296026)

      Just how exactly do you think it would stay in orbit next to the ISS with no fuel for station keeping? Or did you think delivering that would be free?

      How are they perfect for orbital operations?

      They are old, they waste lots of space on stuff not needed on orbit and they are not safe re-entry craft.

      • Just how exactly do you think it would stay in orbit next to the ISS with no fuel for station keeping? Or did you think delivering that would be free?

        As said, this would have needed several years worth of thought/design to be a viable concept. Far too late to do it now. A couple of small, bolt on rockets and a fuel tank or two. But gee...how to current satellite do station keeping for several years?

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          The shuttle has a much higher mass than most satellites. It also leaks air, so you can't use it for humans else you want to be wasting tons of that too. Overall the shuttle was designed for a purpose and it was not this.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      You can't 'park' a shuttle in orbit; the orbit will decay and they'll need a reboost.

      And from what I've read they leak air like crazy, so they're useless for long-term space habitation. They only need to survive a couple of weeks in space with a reasonable supply of replacement oxygen, so they're not designed to do any better than that.

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        You're right.. you'd have to put them at their highest orbit, robotically. It would be about 600km altitude and last centuries.. or until it collided with something else :)

        • by Kjella (173770)

          You're right.. you'd have to put them at their highest orbit, robotically. It would be about 600km altitude and last centuries.. or until it collided with something else :)

          NASA disagrees [nasa.gov]:

          12). How long will orbital debris remain in Earth orbit?
          The higher the altitude, the longer the orbital debris will typically remain in Earth orbit. Debris left in orbits below 600 km normally fall back to Earth within several years. At altitudes of 800 km, the time for orbital decay is often measured in decades. Above 1,000 km, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for a century or more.

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            The rate of orbital decay is highly dependent on the surface area to mass ratio of the object. Typical debris has little mass and a lot of surface area, so it decays very rapidly when compared to a satellite or other massive object. This PDF [ips.gov.au] explains it well, and you can look at TLE [wikipedia.org] files [celestrak.com] to get a feel for actual decay terms.

            The EGRS-3 Sat launched in 1965 is still orbiting in an 894 x 927 km orbit. TIROS-1 [heavens-above.com] was launched into a 693 km x 750 km orbit in 1960 [nasa.gov], and is still merrily orbiting away 51 years later

    • As many others have pointed out... you can't "park" it in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Station keeping would cost too much. You could park in a Lagrangian Point [wikipedia.org] but the question is why? At this point there's nothing sexy or special about the shuttle. It's a 20+ y/o technology that served it's purpose but is now outdated and expensive. We need to free the funds up for other programs.

      And doing so will not "kill" space exploration. There are several commercial companies actively involved in putting objects
      • At this point there's nothing sexy or special about the shuttle. It's a 20+ y/o technology that served it's purpose but is now outdated and expensive.

        The Challenger exploded in 1986 - the shuttles are more than 30 years old (and the actual tech behind them closer to 40).

      • by Markvs (17298)
        20? Try 40! The shuttle was designed during the NIXON Presidency and was approved of on 5 January 1972!
        http://history.nasa.gov/stsnixon.htm [nasa.gov]
  • >>> when it flies the first humanoid robot to fly in space

    This is the moment they've been quietly planning and waiting for. I for one welcome our new robot overlords.

  • by thesandbender (911391) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:12PM (#35296196)
    First "first shuttle pilot" and "first female shuttle commander"? How is that any more different or special then "first female pilot" or "first female commander" both achieved by the Soviets in 1963? First African American is historic for America but not for other countries that came to their senses long before us. Putting a politician in space? People have been dreaming of that _long_ before rockets were even invented.

    NASA is making the unpopular but correct call of killing this "ancient" (compare 20+ years of flights to Apollo) program and moving on. NASA's job isn't making social statements... it's to broaden our technical and scientific understanding. They've exhausted the shuttle platform and they're moving on.
    • by glwtta (532858)
      NASA is making the unpopular but correct call of killing this "ancient" (compare 20+ years of flights to Apollo) program and moving on.

      Seems pretty arbitrary to call it "ancient"; both the Soyuz and Proton programs, for example, have been going on since the mid-60s, and are doing quite well.
      • by stiggle (649614)

        And the Russians have been constantly developing & refining those systems since the 60's.
        NASA has a working system, then bins it for something else, then bins that and goes off elsewhere - probably because the contractors can make more money that way aswell as using it as a testbed for new technologies.

        • "..constantly developing & refining those systems since the 60" ,... and so now have a very good well designed system that is very reliable

          The US have the Shuttle, the same as first designed, and now binned with no replacement ready ....

    • First "first shuttle pilot" and "first female shuttle commander"? How is that any more different or special then "first female pilot" or "first female commander" both achieved by the Soviets in 1963? First African American is historic for America but not for other countries that came to their senses long before us. Putting a politician in space? People have been dreaming of that _long_ before rockets were even invented.

      Had you posted this yesterday, i would have had a big shiny "+1 insightfull" for you

      These kind of achievements are the same as ford making a hybrid, and claiming to have achieved the first ford hybrid ever!!!!!!!! never mind the prius/insight who have been around for years or anything...

    • by pacinpm (631330)

      Why is even "first African American in space" a category of achievements? Is it harder to get black people into space or what?

  • I know it's more a Tomcat tagline, but still.

  • Robonaut1 was cut from the program after an embarrassing incident involving a long drive to Florida and an astronaut diaper.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @11:52PM (#35296648) Homepage

    That is a sad list of firsts. First congressman to fly in a space shuttle? Sheesh. People are too concerned with celebrity. There are probably plenty of scientific engineering firsts that should be applauded rather than "First [color|race|profession] to do X."

  • by RoverDaddy (869116) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @01:26AM (#35297032) Homepage
    NASA technicians investigate fuel leak after rare nighttime landing

    First female commander earns praise for "safe, if overly cautious" flying

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) 7/28/99 - 419SPP

    Even before NASA's first female mission commander touched down on the tarmac at Kennedy Space Center late Tuesday evening, investigators were speculating on the possible cause of the fuel leak observed at the launch of shuttle Columbia at the start of its historic 5 day mission.

    "At first we thought maybe she left the gas cap off," reported Chief Inspector Gerald Schmitt during a post-mission press conference yesterday. Schmitt was referring to mission commander U.S. Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, who led STS-93 to a complete success despite the glitches that plagued the start of the mission.

    However, the inspectors ruled out that scenario after an exhaustive examination of the video launch records. They are now considering alternative theories, as well examining the shuttle engines for possible damage, such as a burned-out clutch. "We'll get in there and take a look," explained Schmitt, "but the real test will come on the next flight for Columbia, when the next mission commander can let us know if the shuttle still handles the way it did before."

    Schmitt went on to explain that the launch is usually performed in an "Automatic" mode, but the shutdown of 2 flight computers just seconds into Friday's launch required Col. Collins to switch to "Manual" mode, which she may have had less experience with in the past.

    Shuttle failed to reach "nominal" altitude

    By the time main engine cutoff, or MECO, took place at the end of Columbia's vault into space, the shuttle was about 7 miles beneath its intended orbit. At the time, NASA had not yet confirmed the fuel leak, so ground control was at a loss to explain this result.

    Launch controller Peter "Pete" Castle recalls, "For a few minutes I was beside myself. Did [Collins] fail to advance the engine throttles to 104 percent as called for in the launch sequence? Everyone knows you can drive those engines a little bit over the limit. There aren't any cops in space. Why are we here staying under the limit? We'll never get where we need to go like that."

    Fortunately, Columbia had sufficient fuel onboard to boost itself to its full intended orbit, and the mission objectives and the crew were never in danger.

    "She really took us by surprise"

    Mission controllers at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas, were very complimentary of Col. Collins. Third shift controller Michael Childs recalls one incident in particular:

    "During orbit 15 of the mission, Col. Collins called down for directions on the next scheduled maneuver. At this point in the schedule we had not expected any communications from Columbia. Past shuttle commanders always ran through this sequence without asking for directions, even if they had lost track of where they were. It is a little known fact that on STS-96 [when shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station (ISS)], Mission Commander Kent Rominger reached the station three orbits late, basically because he insisted on 'just flying around in circles until we found it', to quote Mission Specialist Patty Jernigan."

    Most call the landing 'flawless'

    The touchdown of shuttle Columbia in the final minutes of Tuesday evening was called "flawless" by ground controllers at the KSC. However, U.S. Air Force Col. Jack "Cracker Jack" Jackson, the last mission commander for a Columbia mission, was more critical.

    "That's not where I left it," Jackson said of Columbia, noting that Columbia rolled to a stop on the runway over 500 yards earlier than it did when he landed the same vehicle back in February, 1998. "When you take that baby out for a spin, I expect you to put it back where it belongs when you're done." After a moment, Jackson added one final thought, "God, I don't want to think what happened to those brakes."

    419SPP - The Associated Press and Reuters did not contribute to this report.
  • I swear this is the fourth time I've seen a 'final shuttle flight' story online.
  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @05:48AM (#35297944) Journal
    How many final flights did it have ?
    Who wants to bet there will be at least another one ?
  • It would be a significant link IMHO.

  • by Godji (957148) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @11:57AM (#35300656) Homepage
    Discovery will set another precedent when it flies the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2

    Uhm... what exactly happened to Robonaut1?!
  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:04PM (#35302442)
    ... become third world countries.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen

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