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Is NASA On Life Support?


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In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 2:40:09 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"Mr. Perminov has had no official reaction. But says that unofficial communications indicate that the extension of the shuttles' usage is possible."

And to repeat a section of my earlier post:

The removal of the shuttle is still being discussed by Congress. On September 8, 2009, the Human Space Flight Plans Committee released their recommendations which include: 'The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.'

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 3:23:16 PM PDT
To Marilyn Martin:
The Russians have got a lot of nerve! What kind of "inducements" (to use politico-speak) are they offering get get NASA to extend Shuttle operations? Why don't they just go ahead and use their Buran? The Buran orbiter, at least, looks like an exact copy of the Shuttle orbiter; it wouldn't surprise me at all if it comes out that the KGB stole the specs.

It STILL doesn't make sense - even if I try to look at it like a hidebound NASA bureaucrat - to throw away the Shuttle with nothing to replace it.

Regarding the links, you're most welcome; I'm glad that you found them useful. And, yeah, I know about the contests; there's at least one contest to design and build a working tether crawler.

Posted on Sep 27, 2009 3:35:42 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Why don't they just go ahead and use their Buran? The Buran orbiter, at least, looks like an exact copy of the Shuttle orbiter; it wouldn't surprise me at all if it comes out that the KGB stole the specs."

Buran only ever made one (unmanned) flight and in 2002 the hangar housing it collapsed killing eight workers, destroyed the orbiter and a mock-up of the Energia carrier rocket. Other than the outward appearance, there are numerous technical differences between Buran and the STS, suggesting that the Russians may have been influenced by easily available photos and plans but designed their own internal details.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 3:43:17 PM PDT
Hi Walter!

A couple of weeks ago, Reuters.com reported that Roscosmos was in talks with NASA about a joint, manned project to Mars. The idea was to combine resources and budgets, and make a joint mission to Mars "happen".

So, I don't know what they're up to. Maybe raising the ante to see if our lethargic NASA still has the will to get into space? Before they commit to a joint project to Mars?

Their reasoning that "the ISS is all on our backs" when NASA retires the shuttle is curious. Maybe NASA is already hassling them to increase their flights to the ISS when the shuttle is retired? Maybe Roscosmos is laying the groundwork to ask for more than $50 million/seat on their craft to the ISS?

Personally, I applaud any manuever to kick-start NASA into finding a reliable shuttle-replacement. And I'd definitely rather see NASA and Roscosmos in joint projects, than the Russians and Chinese ...

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 4:57:36 PM PDT
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "Other than the outward appearance, there are numerous technical differences..."

Ordinarily, I would be willing to concede that possibility. However, except for the paint job, there is more than just a resemblance, it seems to be an exact duplicate. I realize that the laws of physics work the same for everybody (modern cars are amazingly similar-looking), but this is much more than a case of "form follows function." Yes, the internal details might very well be different, but I maintain that the Russians, at the very least, copied their version off of many photographs of the Shuttle.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 5:40:34 PM PDT
To Marilyn MArtin:
RE: "Personally, I applaud any manuever to kick-start NASA into finding a reliable shuttle-replacement."

I agree with you there.

RE: "And I'd definitely rather see NASA and Roscosmos in joint projects, than the Russians and Chinese ..."

Right there, I'd have to disagree. The spectre of Russia and China getting together might be enough to scare NASA and the congresscritters into getting up off their behinds and doing something. It's a shame to depend on what is, in essence, "Anti-Communist Hysteria, Round 2," but hey, whatever works. (Yeah, I know that Russia is no longer communist and China is de facto capitalistic, but most people - especially congresscritters - look at Russia and China and still see a big fat Red Star.)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 12:16:53 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Yes, the internal details might very well be different, but I maintain that the Russians, at the very least, copied their version off of many photographs of the Shuttle."

Erm, that's what I said. However, Buran didn't have the sloppy external fuel tank of the shuttle or the solid rocket boosters: the Energia rocket used to launch it looks to be a better engineering solution.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 8:20:56 AM PDT
Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Walter!

Kinda sad, isn't it, to actually hope for "Anti-Communist Hysteria, Round 2" to revive our space program? And if the Russians did "lift" our shuttle plans to build something very similar, then at least some of our technological basics are compatible, in terms of (possible) future joint space projects.

I've toured NASA/Johnson Space Center in Houston on several occasions. One time we got to walk around a shuttle. The other time we were on a cat-walk looking down on an open one, if I remember correctly. Although taking pictures wasn't allowed, surreptitious photos could have told the Russians a lot. (I also once toured what was basically a large shed on the outskirts of NASA grounds, with an incomplete X-craft, or whatever they called the shuttle-replacement-that-wasn't.)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 12:05:27 PM PDT
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "Erm, that's what I said."

I guess it was simply a matter of differences in emphasis and/or perception. To me, "...been influenced by easily available photos..." seems more equivocal than does "...copied their version off of many photographs..."

RE: "Buran didn't have the sloppy external fuel tank of the shuttle or the solid rocket boosters: the Energia rocket used to launch it looks to be a better engineering solution."

I'll have to take your word on that. One of the few pictures that I've seen show what certainly looks like the ET and SRBs, although both you and the caption say that it's the Energia rocket. In fact, here's the link to that picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buran.jpg.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 12:26:20 PM PDT
To Marilyn Martin:
So-o-o-o, you were at JSC several times, huh? Lucky you! I'm envious!

Here's a link to an article with pictures about one X-craft that could have been the Shuttle's replacement: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Photo/X-43A/HTML/ED99-45243-01.html.

What is NASA's "official" choice is something called the Orion, which is just an upgraded (barely) Apollo.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 12:31:15 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"I guess it was simply a matter of differences in emphasis and/or perception. To me, "...been influenced by easily available photos..." seems more equivocal than does "...copied their version off of many photographs...""

I believe we are in agreement! 8-)

Some Russian sources claim that the apparent similarity between the two orbiters is down to the laws of physics, especially aerodynamics. However, the variety of spaceplane designs before and after STS would tend to contradict this.

Whilst the Energia rocket is no longer in use, its Zenit RP-1/LOX fueled boosters have been developed into the basis of a commercial launch vehicle and are still in use.

Buran never had a clear mission (the Russians thought the shuttle was really an orbital bomber designed to drop nukes on Moscow -- so they had to have one too) Energia could have been useful, designed to be used in various configurations, not just to carry Buran.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 3:11:33 PM PDT
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "Some Russian sources claim that the apparent similarity between the two orbiters is down to the laws of physics, especially aerodynamics. However, the variety of spaceplane designs before and after STS would tend to contradict this."

Well, we're in agreement on this, as well. 8-)

RE: "Whilst the Energia rocket is no longer in use, its Zenit RP-1/LOX fueled boosters have been developed into the basis of a commercial launch vehicle and are still in use."

Does the United States have any kind of heavy-lift capability, other than the Shuttle?

RE: "(the Russians thought the shuttle was really an orbital bomber designed to drop nukes on Moscow -- so they had to have one too)"

Didn't they realize that the U.S. didn't need an "orbital bomber," that an ICBM - especially a MIRVed ICBM - could do the job faster and cheaper?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 12:16:12 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Does the United States have any kind of heavy-lift capability, other than the Shuttle?"

There are a variety of old-style rockets still used to launch satellites and interplanetary probes, but their capability is limited. Various commercial systems are in development but not yet proven.

"Didn't they realize that the U.S. didn't need an "orbital bomber," that an ICBM - especially a MIRVed ICBM - could do the job faster and cheaper?"

From the little information available, it looks as though they thought the shuttle was a first strike platform; unlike any sort of ICBM which can be tracked or at least detected during much of its trajectory, a shuttle already in orbit could, without much warning (the thinking went) launch warheads without the lengthy flight time of an ICBM. This isn't completely paranoid, because USAAF studies for some of the X-series and related aerospace craft considered such a deployment. The shuttle, however, would be unsuitable for such a mission.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 5:29:19 AM PDT
Well, it turns out that the Soviets themselves had been working on what was called in the West the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS). Here are some links about it:
http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/F/FOBS.html
http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/r-36o.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractional_Orbital_Bombardment_System
http://orbitalvector.com/Space%20Weapons/Orbital%20Bombardment/ORBITAL%20BOMBARDMENT.htm

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 11:03:55 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Well, it turns out that the Soviets themselves had been working on what was called in the West the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS)."

Yes, heard of it. It's another (expensive) response to the limitations of ICBMs but suffers from the same problem that the launch can be detected. This is why there was the move to shorter range cruise missiles and similar delivery systems because they are less easy to detect and counter, and reliance on sub-based launch systems that could deploy their missiles closer to the target giving a shorter response time for the enemy to use counter-measures or launch their counter strike.

ICBMs do have the advantage that if you launch enough of them, complete with decoys, enough will get through to seriously damage your enemy, but with the problem that they will similarly launch. Checkmate: MAD.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 2:03:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 29, 2009 2:05:57 PM PDT
To M. Helsdon:
MAD, indeed! Actually, we've been pretty fortunate that "the balloon didn't go up," as the British would say, sometime between 1950 and 2000. If I had been a politically aware adult (or even a teenager) in 1950 (I was actually 3 years old), I would have bet that some kind of nuclear incident would have happened. This could have been all the way from a "fizzle war" (1 or 2 tactical nukes on military targets only) to, as Herman Kahn called it, "spasm war" (everybody fires off their entire arsenals within 24-48 hours). Yes, we've been VERY lucky.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 2:17:00 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"Yes, we've been VERY lucky."

This is going way off topic, but the communist bloc was a 'reliable' opponent - however fanatical or not their leadership was about their long term goals, they were rational pragmatists and could see that a nuclear exchange wasn't a viable strategy. A mass exchange seems far less likely now -- the larger powers know that even using one tactical nuke could trigger a massive response. It's the lesser powers with a few nukes and 'cheap' delivery systems (terrorist, transport container, short or medium range missiles etc.) that are liable to do something we will all regret.

Nuclear weapons in space as weapons are a bad idea, but if a large rock comes this way the treaties will have to be rapidly rewritten. And we need to allow for the peaceful use of nukes in space a la Orion.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2009 3:09:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2009 2:37:09 PM PST
To M. Helsdon:
RE: "This is going way off topic..."

Yeah, but it's fun, though...8-)

RE: "...but the communist bloc was a 'reliable' opponent - however fanatical or not their leadership was about their long term goals, they were rational pragmatists and could see that a nuclear exchange wasn't a viable strategy."

Very true, but we came awfully close during October of 1962. Actually, I think that Khrushchev should be given credit for preventing a nuclear war; if he hadn't backed down, then Kennedy would've pushed the button. Remember, many in the military (and the political right) were mad at him for not fully supporting the Bay of Pigs invasion, so he likely felt that he had something to prove. I will, however, give him credit for devising a face-saving way for Khrushchev to back down.
(Jeez, we ARE going off topic!)

RE: "Nuclear weapons in space as weapons are a bad idea, but if a large rock comes this way the treaties will have to be rapidly rewritten. And we need to allow for the peaceful use of nukes in space a la Orion."

I agree with you in all particulars. When you say Orion, you're referring to "Ol' Boom-Boom", right? (According to Jerry Pournelle, that's what the engineers used to call it.) As far as nuclear propulsion goes, I'd prefer something a little more elegant, but Orion would work, and very well, indeed.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2009 7:40:26 AM PDT
Hi Walter!

Yes, indeed, we've been extraordinarily fortunate to have avoided a nuclear incident this long. I remember reading how a plane "accidently" dropped a 500 pound nuc on New Mexico -- that didn't detonate.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2009 10:20:05 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Walter,

"When you say Orion, you're referring to "Ol' Boom-Boom", right? (According to Jerry Pournelle, that's what the engineers used to call it.) As far as nuclear propulsion goes, I'd prefer something a little more elegant, but Orion would work, and very well, indeed."

That would be the one.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2009 11:58:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 1, 2009 12:08:00 PM PDT
Hello, Marilyn!
Are you sure that it was only a 500 pound nuke? Well, it would depend on many factors such as when did it happen (bombs got smaller & lighter over time), was it a tactical or strategic weapon, was it a bomber or a fighter-bomber that was carrying it.

One thing that's not surprising, though, is that it did NOT detonate. You would not believe the safety precautions that are built into nuclear weapons. Here's one obvious example. For a fission weapon to explode, there must be what is known as a "critical mass" of fissile material (uranium or plutonium). This material is kept separate (each piece is "sub-critical") until the moment of detonation, whereupon they are brough together very fast. Anyway, the safety precaution is simply a very strong physical barrier that prevents the two masses from coming together. The barrier is so strong that any force that might destroy it would also at least fragment the fissile material, thus precluding a nuclear detonation.

By the way, that New Mexico incident that you read about wasn't the only one, by any means. In fact, during the 50s and 60s, it seems that the Air Force was accidentally dropping nukes (usually from B-36s and B-47s and, later, B-52s) all over the place. They had a coded designation for accidentally dropped (or crashed) nuclear weapons: Broken Arrow. You might remember the movie of the same name.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2009 12:20:51 PM PDT
Hi Walter!

Holy Fallout, Batman! I had no idea the Air Force has been dropping so many non-detonating nuc's. I thought the New Mexico incident was an isolated accident.

Also, you may want to check out today's (10/1/09) nextbigfuture.com. It has an article titled "WINTERBERG 100 MILLION ATMOSPHERE PRESSURE SUPER-EXPLOSIVES FOR NO FALLOUT NUCLEAR FUSION BOMBS."

Posted on Oct 8, 2009 12:23:30 PM PDT
For anyone still following this discussion, nextbigfuture.com today (10/08/09) has an article titled: "Orbital Gun Launch Systems, Light Gas Guns, Ram Accelerators and My Nuclear Cannon".

At the very end of the article it states "If the nuclear cannon jump started a real space program? ... Eros has a lot of gold and platinum ... (and) there's $100 billion in resources for every person on Earth in asteroids ..."

Posted on Nov 4, 2009 7:38:23 AM PST
To anyone still following this discussion, I'm posting a link below to the most current overview of NASA (from a foreign news source, 'natch).

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE58G6LS20090918

(MORE SPACE BUSINESS BECKONS FOR PRIVATE TRANSPORTERS)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009 5:28:49 PM PST
To Marilyn Martin:
Thanks for the link(s). It seems that NASA, as usual, is goin' out the world backwards. And it doesn't seem to matter who the administrator is, or who the president is, NASA has a built-in culture that discourages bold thinking and innovation.
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Initial post:  Sep 19, 2009
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