Posted onJune 16, 2012|Comments Off on Houston, we have a shuttle!
June 1st marked quite a treat for Houston. After the disappointment of not being selected to receive one of the space shuttle orbiters we were given a mock shuttle from the KSC Visitor’s Center. I couldn’t help but participate in the festivities, appropriately called Shuttlebration. NASA and Space Center Houston put on a great party June 1st to celebrate the Shuttle’s arrival with MaxQ (the Astronaut Band, the Space Exploration Vehicle, an Orion Booth, and more).
I joke that this is our wooden shuttle, and it is a wooden shuttle. But, I really do think the potential for greatness comes with our wooden shuttle. Why? Because people get to go INSIDE this wooden shuttle. Unlike the real orbiters which are national treasures and are closed up. While this shuttle allows people to walk inside and see what the Payload Bay looks like and get the feel for the size (a school bus can fit inside) imagine if they took it one step further and held small classes inside the payload bay? Or offered a session in the flight deck where you can sit in the pilot or commander seat and work with an instructor to flip the switches to simulate a launch or a docking? Lots of potential to excite people of all ages. What would you suggest Houston do with their new wooden shuttle?
I’ve been searching for eloquent words about the end of the Shuttle Program, a program which inspired me to dream of becoming an astronaut, of leading me on the path to study Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at Purdue, and spending the past 13 years supporting the International Space Station, Constellation, and now Commercial Crew at NASA Johnson Space Center.
I simply don’t have the words. I have tears.
And I technically only worked on the shuttle program for 6 months. My heart goes out to the thousands who dedicated their lives to the program and the vehicle at NASA Johnson, Marshall, and Kennedy Space Centers and to the men and women who built them in California. And of course, to the astronauts who flew them.
Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis, and Endeavour will forever be a part of our generation.
A friend of mine, Scott (@poindexterbjj on Twitter ) shared these words with me:
“…While there are new things on the (seemingly distant) horizon, the shuttle remains NASA’s (and McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing’s) greatest achievement. It is the manifestation of genius and greatness. It is an icon of our generation.
We grew up with the shuttle. Perhaps as I did, you watched the launch of STS-1. If you were like me, you wondered why the fuel tank had changed from white to orange (pretty astute for a 5-year-old). We watched two of them leave but never return. And yet, through it all, the shuttle always came back greater than it was before. It was the shuttle that served as one of the first bridges between Russia and the US when Atlantis went to Mir. It was the shuttle that allowed us, along with many others around the world, to establish the greatest technical achievement in human history, the ISS. People would come from all around the world to watch the shuttle fly because it was the physical manifestation of hope for a brighter future for all humanity.
So, yes, a little emotion is understandable.”
Yes. What he said.
I had the great honor of being able to view the last shuttle launch from the KSC Press Site. I purposely stood behind the countdown clock so I could intensify the sound and the feeling of the launch. I felt my organs shake within my body and the sound was amazing. Here is the video I captured and it was edited with the help of my friend, Romeo (@romeoch on Twitter).
There was no “wow, oh wow” from me. I was too busy crying. I couldn’t stop thinking “This is it. This is the last time for perhaps 5-6 years that we launch humans into space from U.S. soil.” I understand why we can’t keep flying the shuttle. I’m okay with saying goodbye. I’m not okay with such a gap in human spaceflight launch capability due to political decisions. We could have avoided this. But, we didn’t. Why? Because no one pays attention until it’s too late.
After the launch I followed some friends to partake in the tradition of beans and corn bread. Along the way, we stopped to visit the Close Out Crew and found out one member’s last day after 33 years was launch day. What a way to go out. If you haven’t seen this video yet from the Close Out Crew, I hope you will take the 90 seconds to watch it. I cried my eyes out.
And I invite you to share your thoughts about the shuttle’s last flight and our future. Please keep in mind the rules of posting on this blog: I request that we keep this civil. We will not attack any individuals, companies, or administrations. We will look at facts, we will question plans, talk about the unknown, offer solutions, and dream about the future.
I am amazed. Simply amazed that the U.S. Government thinks politics can be played when retiring the space shuttles and determining where they should be displayed.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – the first time man left the planet. April 12th also represents the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, the first of 133 missions with only two remaining in all of history. And this is the day our government and the NASA Administer decided to shun the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.
Known as the epicenter of human spaceflight since the early days of NASA, JSC is where the astronauts are trained for their shuttle missions. It’s where each mission is planned years prior to flying, where the mission timeline is laid out to the last detail. This is where people sacrifice time with their families to work night shifts during missions, adjusting every time a launch has slipped a day, a month, or 6 months. Houston is what makes it all possible. It being the dream we all had at one point in our lives-to fly and do remarkable things in space.
For NASA to select NYC and for three of the locations to be on the east coast to receive shuttles was a slap in the face to the thousands of employees at JSC who had dedicated their lives to the space program. Or so it feels. I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for any of the four establishments to not have a shuttle, although I do have trouble understanding the historical significance NYC has played in the space shuttle program.
They say politics did not play a role. How can that be a true statement? Ever since this administration came to office, JSC has seen their scope and purpose significantly reduced. A message has been sent to Houston from Washington D.C. and we know hear it loud and clear. JSC has laid out the requirements for every manned vehicle since its inception and yet the commercial crew program office goes to KSC. A center that knows everything about launching vehicles safely but very little about designing a spacecraft + integrating that vehicle with the international space station.
(For a different perspective on the shuttle announcement see Wayne Hale’s Blog)
I fear for the future of human spaceflight in our country. I see bad choices continually being made and I have to come to terms that my dreams may not become a reality no matter how dedicated I am or how hard I work. Last night many friends sent me a link to a shuttle tribute video made by KSC employees entitled “We all do what we can do.” I cried through the whole thing. The shuttle program is ending and this country, supposedly the greatest country on Earth failed. We failed to fund Constellation, we failed to select the appropriate design solution, and we (the people) failed to stand up and demand more from our government. Yes, we failed. Apparently failure is an option on Earth.
And guess what, we are still failing. Congress and the Administration are bickering like 5 year olds over the future of NASA and exploration of the cosmos. Congress believes that anything is possible even when given small amounts of money to do technological breakthroughs. NASA believes it can forge the future with the bureaucracy that comes with government. Changes must be made. Leaning out processes and procedures must occur.
Feel a vicious cycle? I do. Will we ever leave low earth orbit? Not at this pace. Why is an evolvable heavy lift a bad idea? Because if you start with 70MT you’ll never see 130MT. It simply won’t get funded down the road. Look at the track record.
Do it. Do it big. Do it now. Else don’t complain later if we don’t leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Imagine what we could do if only the capability existed. The sooner the better. Let NASA build the launch vehicle and the crew exploration vehicle. But, want to test vehicles and structures on the moon? Maybe Industry will build them using their own requirements and processes. And in a new partnership with NASA, they can be launched on the NASA heavy lift launch vehicle at no cost to industry. That is one way way how America can think outside the box. There are a gazillion other ways.
On February 1st, 2010 NASA unveiled President Obama’s new vision for NASA that ultimately did not go over well with Congress (primarily because it was not vetted with them before hand), with America (due to the media’s hold on the wording that manned spaceflight was ending), and with many incumbent NASA workers (do I need to explain why?) Who did the new vision go over well with? It was a huge success with those who call themselves New Space, those who say they aren’t waiting for the government to go explore Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the moon, and beyond. There are some really interesting companies in this arena including Masten Space Systems, SpaceX, Google Lunar XPrize, and many others. Why did they like the new budget? Because it invested in them and their ideas. The new budget invested in Commercial Space to LEO being that of the International Space Station (ISS) and Research and Development (R&D) for the future. I think a future and interesting blog post will surround the idea of these companies who are branching out to do it themselves yet go after the government contracts, with SpaceX being a prime example with public statements being made that over half of their funding has come from NASA for the COTS (cargo delivery to ISS) program.
Fast forward to July 15, 2010 when the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed their response to Obama on the FY2011-2014 NASA Budget. The 99 page draft of the Senate’s budget was posted earlier in the week, but was marked up with quite a few amendments of which many were approved. I personally have not seen the individual amendments and you have an online link to where they are stored, please share them. A summary of the Senate’s budget was posted, but the full version has not been made available yet as far as I know.
Even though the Senate Bill still needs to pass another Committee and the full Senate and we have yet to hear much from the House side of Congress, I thought I would take the opportunity to comment on the Senate Bill because there is still time to craft and mold the future.
Regarding extending ISS to 2020 and adding an additional Shuttle flight, in my opinion these are both no-brainers and don’t require discussion.
What I will address is Commercial Crew, Heavy Lift & the Multi-Purpose Spacecraft, and Technology Development. The major flaw in Obama’s proposal was that he sacrificed current exploration beyond LEO by delaying them until no earlier than 2025 for R&D and technology development. Any successful company can share with you that their success is not just based on a current product or R&D. They invest in both. They are always investing in their future while executing their current product line. NASA too needs to take a good solid look at how they can best perform R&D and technology development for the future and execute exploration missions in the here and now. The Senate Bill is a step in the right direction, however the funding levels remain unrealistic in the current environment. Perhaps a future blog post will transpire on how NASA can change internally to save money and meet the goals and objectives of the future.
Why do I like the wording of Sections 402 and 403 in the Senate Bill? Because it continues the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev) through 2011, providing funding for companies to continue to develop their concepts for Commercial Crew and allows time for NASA to figure out how to run a Commercial Crew program from human rating requirements to procurement. Consider it the year of transition, and it is a year that both NASA and the Commercial companies will need in order to be successful.
Heavy Lift & Multi-Purpose Spacecraft
I did not understand why under Obama’s proposal NASA would study Heavy Lift alternatives and perform additional studies delaying the decision for what architecture would be used until 2015 (and the next administration) therefore delaying a built vehicle until the early 2020’s. So it’s actually a good thing that the Senate Bill provides for a Heavy Lift capability and to start working on it right away which means we can begin exploring in years rather than decades. In Section 302 of the Senate Bill it calls out for an evolutionary design of the heavy lift vehicle. The spacecraft, built upon the years of work NASA has done on the Orion vehicle to go to ISS and the moon will be evolved to add Mars, Mars’ Moons, and Asteroids.
While not funded at the original levels under Obama’s proposal, there is still funding for technology development and it remains to be seen by the time the final Senate bill gets passed for how much will be funded. Technology, including Research & Development is a vital component for the future. However not at the expense of current exploration missions.
There has been no shortage of people sharing their thoughts on the FY2011 budget and the revamping of NASA and that is exactly how it should be. People should be heard. To date, the blog post in my opinion that sums things up the best is Changing Horses in Mid Stream. If you haven’t read this one yet, it’s worth the time.
However, have you noticed that there isn’t a consensus in what is being said? Which way should NASA go? There are different camps. Which one are you in? Are you in the commercial camp? The NASA only camp? The Constellation camp? The extend Shuttle camp? There are too many to list.
Answer the following questions and include the why…then come back and see how I answered them.
1) Should Constellation be saved?
2) Should Shuttle be extended to close the gap?
3) Should NASA perform exploration missions while developing new R&D technogologies that will get us to Mars?
4) Is a heavy-lift vehicle required to leave LEO?
5) Why is inspiration important to the future of NASA?