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The future of the shuttle program

I hope I'm wrong about my earlier pessimism on the future of the shuttle program. However, I think we're starting to hear some of the critics voice their opinions now that the initial hysteria is wearing off. There is so much politics behind these things that I don't think it's easy to predict if the outcome will ultimately be a favorable one. I personally don't mind if the shuttle program is scrapped as long as manned spaceflight is continued under more cost-effective programs, but that doesn't seem likely.

The shuttle is cool but I don't think anybody is under the delusion that it has fulfilled the vision of a cheaper, more reliable, reusable spacecraft. NASA should go back to multi-stage expendable rockets until a solid permanent presence is established in space. Put the money and effort into building more space infrastructure: the ISS, more efficient and cheaper earth-side manufacturing and launching facilities, better rocket engines, perhaps even a fleet of orbital tugs that can ferry people and cargo between various orbits, move satellites to accessible locations for repair, and help with garbage cleanup.

Yes, I know I'm not a rocket scientist. I know very little about orbital mechanics and little about what's needed or useful to have as a part of a space infrastructure. Still I think that for the cost of the shuttle program, NASA could be launching dozens of conventional heavy-lift rockets and putting all kinds of stuff in orbit. Start with machinery to put things together and move them around, then toss up your ISS bits or your Mars mission components or your Hubble replacement on big dumb rockets and have the permanent orbital tugs and assembly units move it and put it all together. Finally, launch your astronauts on simple conventional rockets. Each launch might carry less payload, but might cost $100-200 million instead of $500+ million. Plus, a disaster is much more acceptable when you are only send half the cargo and no people. When you do launch people they are riding rockets that have more of a proven track record than the costly and time-consuming shuttle launch system.

Just for interest: Approx cost of US rockets and internation al rockets. I wonder what made the Energia capable of such a heavy payload. Shame the Russians don't make them any more...

Oh well, enough rambling I suppose. I need to get groceries.

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