Shuttle Without Me

NASA Prepares To Launch ... Again ... and Again

NASA Prepares To Launch ... Again ... and Again

Schedule updates here:

Well, in theory at least, this afternoon in Florida the shuttle will launch. I’d thought this was the last one, but the schedule now shows a June launch as well:

Date: June 28 +
Mission: STS-135
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Launch Time: 3:40 p.m. EDT
Description: Space shuttle Atlantis will carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. Atlantis also will fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and return a failed ammonia pump module.

While I’d intended to “give it another try”, the family medical issue has me spending the day in the hospital lobby instead. Oh Well… (OTOH, I’m learning about some neat kidney stone busting laser tech…)

I’d been a bit bummed about missing the “last launch”, now I’m not so sure just which IS the last launch. But, just as a sidebar about killing off our manned launch vehicle programs:

Nixon was the last president to kill a major space program ( he scuttled the last Apollo shots. The ones with the most science content). He has also been called (by “liberals” no less) the “Last progressive President”.

– in some ways the continuity of many of Nixon’s policies with those of the Kennedy-Johnson years is more remarkable than the differences. Pointing at this continuity, Noam Chomsky has called Nixon, “in many respects the last liberal president.”

Now Obama joins him in history as someone who believes in burning the fleet and concentrating on “domestic issues”.

Never has been a bright idea. Never will be a bright idea. Didn’t work out well for China hundreds of years ago. Nixon didn’t turn out so good either. Obama now joins the club… (he scratched funding for the next launch vehicle program after the shuttles).

At any rate, it looks like I may have one more shot to try for…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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35 Responses to Shuttle Without Me

  1. Tregonsee says:

    Recall that during the primary debates, then candidate Obama said that all NASA money, except for applied programs such as weather and climate, should be redirected to the education budget. He never repeated that statement, no doubt after having been told how popular NASA is, but he is working to do it none the less.

    That having been said, the shift to genuine private enterprise has been sorely needed. With all respect to those within NASA who have kept the dream, it has become in many ways just anther government bureaucracy. It is risk averse, and far more adept at doing studies than creating flyable hardware. As Paul Gigot said, “Arthritic bureaucracies don’t tame new frontiers.”

  2. View from the Solent says:

    Don’t give up. SpaceX

  3. Level_Head says:

    Well, Chiefio, I think there are a couple of subtleties here.

    First, as much as I disagree with Obama’s policies in most areas, foreign and domestic, he will not go down in history as a president who killed the Shuttle program. That was done under President Bush, and it was in many respects inevitable.

    All that happened on Obama’s watch was that the program was extended slightly. And that was done most recently in February (after more Republicans took office), adding one more flight.

    The big issue here is that we do not have the capability in the US to build Space Shuttle Orbiters. It’s a great pity, but it is true. The orbiter has giant, horseshoe-shaped titanium thrust ring (at the aft end of the payload pay), and the last place in the country that knew how to cast such a piece successfully is gone — the people have died or retired and the factory razed to the ground.

    The same is true of so many components. Each shuttle mission now flies with pressure vessels way past their useful life. These tend to explode when they get tired, and we cannot make any more of these.

    The US government could have done differently — but missed the chance years ago.

    There IS an American space program, collected under the general category of “NewSpace.” It is US private industry. Obama had, apparently against his own proclivities, the right idea in forcing NASA to stop its wasteful (and fairly corrupt) heavy launch work and buy missions from commercial businesses.

    NASA should be exploring at the outer edge of known space. But the ISS is a glorified office building, being served by the world’s most expensive trucking service. We can do better here by commercializing these ventures, and let NASA push beyond low Earth orbit.

    The Shuttle system has been sadly dead for years. After Challenger, we added one to the fleet only by cannibalizing spare parts. We cannot do that again.

    NASA’s Ares 1-X was a sad attampt to keep funding. While it was horrifically behind schedule, they needed to launch something — so much of that stack was mock-ups of actual components — and even the parts that were there did not work as intended. The launch damaged the pad, and the spashdown damaged the vehicle.

    They put a good face on it, but it was disappointing to see how badly we had done launching a stripped-down, low-expectations attempt to do a tiny portion of what we could do decades ago.

    In the meantime, private companies from Blue Origin to XCOR continue to make progress, and many have had successful test flights. And SpaceX has successfully reached orbit, and now plans to build the largest operational launch vehicle in the next couple of years.

    Here’s an organization (I’m part of it) that champions the private enterprise vision of opening the space frontier, and I invite you to read this article:

    So the US is not out of the “space-faring nation” business — it’s just that since the US government has not been able to lead here, it is, finally, moving a little bit out of the way. The net result will be better.

    Best wishes!

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    As soon as it’s down to “weather and climate” it can just be merged with NOAA and eliminated…

    Think of all the money we can avoid printing…

  5. E.M.Smith says:


    It was the killing of Orion that is on Obama, not the shuttle. It was going to end anyway. The “killing” is of the future replacement.

    While I hope that the private enterprise folks can pick up the slack (and have great hopes for Rutan…) “Hope is not a strategy. -E.M.Smith”…

    FWIW, the SeaLauch folks are one of my favorites.

    Out of Long Beach. Just drive your launch platform to whereever the orbital mechanics and weather are best ;-)

    They have put a lot of stuff up, too:

    But what the commercial stuff does NOT do is put people on the moon, or Mars, or even on orbit (yet).

    I just hope that Branson and Rutan make it happen ’cause I think they are the best shot we’ve got at at staying a space faring nation.

    Unfortunately, it looks to me like we are at a minimum going to pass through a stage where we need to “thumb a ride” from Russia or China if we want to put people on orbit; and the future lunar colony is going to be speaking Mandarin…

    And while I hope that the US Private Enterprise will “pick up the slack” I reserve the right to grouse about what NASA is / has thrown away in terms of capability.

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Fox news just reported a “scrub” for today. Monday at the earliest for the reschedule.

    The NASA page doesn’t show the update at the moment, though.

  7. Level_Head says:

    Rutan and Branson are a long way from aiming for orbit. They are in a different business — joyrides straight up and down, which requires only about 10% of the energy.

    Not that is isn’t important, and a significant step toward space! But others, particularly Musk’s SpaceX, are pursuing that goal more directly — and SpaceX is already there. They’ve already lofted a crew vehicle to orbit, recovered it, and will be carrying supplies to the ISS this year. Their Falcon Heavy is slated to lift 53 tons to orbit (about twice the Shuttle’s capacity) in the next three years.

    NASA will be “hitching rides” to the ISS before this year is out, I’ll bet. NASA is already advancing some cash to this end — $75 million last week.

    I’ve long held great admiration for Burt Rutan, and have a “Beech Starship Crew” jacket in my closet. To commemorate their first successful attempt at the X Prize, I sent this:


    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing funding and a future view
    If you can trust your team when TV doubts you
    But make allowance for the PR crew

    If you can wait and plan and run the numbers
    And you can keep the funding coming in
    And keep the fire while the media slumbers
    And run the tests, and tests, and tests again

    And you can gather brave and stalwart people
    And lead them, and inspire them to heights
    If you can give a meaning to the effort
    That lights them and keeps them awake for nights

    If you can overcome the normal glitches
    As when a microswitch gets stuck and fries
    And even when those grab you by the britches
    As from that switch, a pilot almost dies

    And you can keep the business side together
    Rememb’ring that the cash flow must go on
    And you can wait for days for sunny weather
    Remaining calm and still as winter dawn

    If you can dream, beyond what most are trying
    If you can think, and put the thought to use
    If you can overcome equipment dying
    And you can rise above the world’s abuse

    The X-Prize beckons you to come and win it
    If your resolve’s as strong as when begun
    Then yours is space and everything that’s in it
    And you can claim that prize … with SpaceShipOne

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  8. Level_Head says:

    NASA will be hitching rides from SpaceX this year, I’d meant above. They’ve already contracted for supplies, and I think that crewed missions will happen soon.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    Just spent a while at the SpaceX site. Didn’t realize that they were so far along.

    Nice design… great specs.

    Wonder if they need any “computer / networking guys” ;-)

  10. Level_Head says:

    That fuel-transfer trick is brilliant! It allows the 27 main engines to run, then abandons all the extra hardware, leaving a fully fueled nine-engine main booster “launched” from miles up and thousands of miles an hour as a starting point.

    That cleanly addresses the hardware weight penalty of multi-staging, and is a bit of genius.

    A completely different concept, but delicious if it works, is from JPAerospace: Rising to orbit in a very slow climb indeed.

    Take a look at Blue Origin as well. Their spacecraft has successfully performed takeoffs and powered landings in Texas.

    Hah! Those videos have all been removed! They were never big on self-promotion.

    I was struck by the BlueOrigin craft’s nearly smokeless takeoff and landing of the rockets on their vehicle. It was almost as if powered by pressurized gas, even though it was (I understand) a kerosene-and-oxygen variant fueled. Other than the dust kicked up from the desert at launch, the flight was surprisingly “clean” and without smoke/steam trailsl. Same with the landing — it was more reminiscent of the moon vehicle touchdowns in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  11. R. de Haan says:

    Not so fast E. M.
    Despite the budget cuts it looks like NASA is going to the moon after all.

    Congress doesn’t agree with Obama and they simply don’t accept the Chinese or the Russians for that matter to overshadow the USA. I cant agree more.

    A for me I have been fascinated by everything that flies from my first memories. The first thing I remember as a little kid was a North American Harvard’s writing ‘ROXY’ in the blue sky over the beach where I lived.
    Since that moment on I have always been looking at the sky.

    I am a great Rutan fan as well and fly my own experimental Canard although it’s not a Rutan design.

    I really love the rocket racers a combination of rocket power acceleration and altitude gain followed by dead engine gliding. Very nice.

    For this purpose they modified a kit production aircraft called the Velocity

    I love speed and performance but I get my kicks from flying a plane that doesn’t carry an engine at all.

    However, I am really hooked on the current developments that started with Rutan on a level of excitement that equals the Apollo Program with the televised moon landing that I watched in the middle of the night, even if they are still in the stadium of offering sub space flights, nothing more but a little jump.

    But the fact they are blasting upwards with a vertical speed of Mach 3 is really amazing progress for a few experimental aircraft builders who simply thought that we could have better and safer planes from different materials and simply build them.

    Now, after creating a great community of private plane builders, flying non stop around the world and numerous great aircraft designs they are challenging NASA. With their track record I know this is only the beginning.

    Very nice to find more people at this blog who have same the same enthusiasm for flying and space exploration.

  12. Doug Jones says:

    Level Head, thanks for the XCOR shout-out there. I agree that Constellation was nothing more than a ghastly jobs program, spending billions on painfully wasteful projects. Simply modifying a launch pad for Ares soaked up half a billion dollars, about what SpaceX spent on developing the Falcon vehicle family from scratch. American manned spaceflight is dead, long live American manned space flight! -that is, killing the old porkbarrel programs will encourage doing the job RIGHT this time.

  13. Doug Jones says:

    R. de Hann- the first racer was built by XCOR, and I flew as flight test engineer on the first four flights, as well as two later envelope expansion flights. All in all, we’ve done 66 manned rocket flights since 2001, with more than 20 different people on board (we trained everyone from janitor to CEO in the basic duties of the FTE, keeping a eye on the engine instruments, and took ’em all around the pattern, with seven flights in one day).

    Within a few more years, we may be flying to orbit daily, after we get the full benefit of the Lynx experience.

  14. Level_Head says:

    @Doug Jones

    Oho! I attended a party at the Playboy Mansion in November of 2001 — a gala for Arthur C. Clarke, who appeared via the first ever live, full-size hologram. The XCOR rocketplane was parked in the yard, and was quite a hit.

    That evening was MC’d by Patrick Stewart, had tributes from many astronauts as well as Morgan Freeman and James Cameron, and there were a great many NewSpace companies on display — but none so bold and prominent as XCOR.

    The Clarke Gala is a fond memory indeed, and I wish you — and XCOR — great success.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  15. Larry Geiger says:

    If STS134 doesn’t get off pretty soon it will have to wait a while to go. It’s up in the air right now. STS135 has a bunch of biological stuff for the station that the people that I support are going to launch on it.

    I don’t disagree about Ares being a problem funding wise, but no private company has put a person in orbit yet. I think we should have thought this out a little bit better.

    Bush and Obama did not kill the Shuttle. It killed itself. Sometimes it’s just time to retire something and move on to the next phase. Sort of like moving all of your data onto that new Dell :-)

  16. R. de Haan says:

    @Doug Jones
    Great Job Doug, of course I know about your flights.
    I follow every development like a hawk.
    You’ve really created a great engine technology and more…
    I would love to pay you and your operation a visit next time I am in the States.

  17. Jason Calley says:

    @ Level_Head “That fuel-transfer trick is brilliant!”

    Yes! Do you realize that the idea of doing so was one of Konstintine Tsiolkovsky’s creations over 100 years ago? He was the person who invented the idea of using stages in rocket design. The fuel transfer technique was one among several approaches to staging that he devised. Brilliant man…

  18. H.R says:

    @Larry Geiger

    “Bush and Obama did not kill the Shuttle. It killed itself. Sometimes it’s just time to retire something and move on to the next phase. Sort of like moving all of your data onto that new Dell :-)”

    Good point, Larry, but in NASA’s case, with the space shuttle, it’s more like moving your data off of 5-1/4 floppies and storing it on punch cards. ;o)

  19. @E.M.Smith
    I’m learning about some neat kidney stone busting laser tech…
    That´s for the brand new FOURTH WORLD, the Progressive USA. We, from the old and conservative Under-developed world (hopefully to be maintained as such) use for dissolving all those nasty kidney´s stones (in about 5 days) a weed called “Chancapiedra”(BREAK-STONE, Chanca Piedra -Phyllanthus niruri-)

  20. Privatize NASA! (according and following the “Washington Consensus”)

  21. In the future, our grandchildren, will consider nowadays´ astronauts, flying on those explosive artifacts, real heroes and even suicidal pilots, like the Kamikaze.
    By then, the new astronauts will be flying on P.G.Sharrow´s well known space ships.

  22. @R. de Haan
    Not so fast E. M.
    Despite the budget cuts it looks like NASA is going to the moon after all…

    Do you mean the CRESCENT MOON?

  23. R. de Haan says:

    @ Adolfo Giurfa
    “Do you mean the CRESCENT MOON?”

    I really don’t know but I saw several articles last week which stated NASA was going to get the funding for another moon program short term.
    Here is another:

    The Bill, HR 1641 is available here:

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    I liked the fuel transfer “trick”, but frankly, the “design expecting an engine to blow up and keep on trucking” was what caught my eye.

    So any of these little modular engines can “have a bad day” and you just shunt the fuel to the remaining engines. For most flights of most payloads you could lose an engine or two and not really care.

    I’ll look at the other sites now that I’m no longer sitting in hospital waiting rooms or playing nurse…. (all went well).

    @R. de Haan:

    A budget proposal is interesting (though most often just government handouts to some congress critters district…). So I’ll believe it when I see it flying.

    Frankly, if I could get a job as janitor at a company “going to space” I’d be happy to be part of it. Yeah, I’ve “got the bug” bad…

    IMHO, the most likely “next design” will be a smaller variation on a shuttle. Not so “compromised” in the need to carry “big bird” to orbit (and back?) and with some small engines on it for the “oh oh” of needing to change where you land.

    I’ve piloted gliders (and love it… there is something much more pure about flight without an engine…) and yes it is true that altitude is “fuel in the tank”; but having the ability to shift that by 1000 miles when 1/2 way through a de-orbit would come in handy… as would landing at any international airport… Then just call a Rutan Lifter to cart you back to the refit hanger…

    At any rate, I think a hypersonic air breather that gets you to mach 14 or so ( at the end flying inverted so as to hold itself DOWN in enough air to still breath and accellerate) then pops up to orbit; with the ability to do a “managed glide” with 10 minutes or so of fuel as emergency reserve while landing on any 10,000 foot Intl Airport would be just the thing… Have a lifter that takes it back to re-fit OR can get it to just sub Mach and about 40,000 ft up for “lift off” and you can operate from anywhere, any time…

    I’ll leave the question of loading LOX for on 0rbit use vs making it during the hypersonic phase as a question for the enginering dept. ;-)

    At any rate, that’s my “Dream Craft”. Fuel it with JP-whatever and maybe LOX (or make your own on the way up). T.O. and Landing anywhere of importance. Two stages, both with wings… (though my complete fantasy craft would have the “lifter” be an SR-71 class craft and lift to 100,000+ ft at Mach 3+ … but that would be “phase two” ;-)

    May congress have more vision that Obama and the Pro-regressives…

    @Doug Jones:

    If you need any janitors, let me know! ;-)

    (Heck, driving a vacuum cleaner truck around a launch pad could be fun! ;-)

    @Larry Geiger:

    I think your point is closer to my actual gripe. I’m pretty sure SOMETHING will work out. But I’d have rather seen it done with a bit more “orderlyness”. Maybe, oh, I don’t know, issue an RFP for a “3 staff to orbit and return” vehicle? And have the first test manned flight done before you burn the fleet…


    I’ll be looking up that weed… I’m all for “old tech” too.

    The Doctor (post op) TWICE said “That stone was soft. VERY soft”. I take that to mean that what we’d started doing was working, but they worked a bit faster.

    On the presumption it was calcium oxalate (80% odds), we’d crashed the oxalate level in the diet and boosted both magnesium and citrate. (Lemon juice, lemonade, “Picot” brand “Sal de uvas” from the Hispanic grocer that is sodium bicarbonate and citric acid). We’d started getting a little bit of “sand” in the filter, then they moved her schedule up 4 days.

    At any rate, I can now do a decent “diet design” to keep oxalate low, citrate high, and magnesium / calcium high in the gut so remaining oxalate is bound and not absorbed. More on that later when all is done…

    So adding a plant extract with similar benefits would be a ‘nice to know’…

  25. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “Two stages, both with wings… (though my complete fantasy craft would have the “lifter” be an SR-71 class craft and lift to 100,000+ ft at Mach 3+ … but that would be “phase two” ;-)”

    I am reminded of the rumoured “Brilliant Buzzard,” a sort of XB70 on steroids, used as a first stage of a two stage to orbit pair. One interesting point. Some of the rare sightings report canards — others say no canards. Maybe the craft has retracting canards for use depending on where its center of mass is at. CM might vary widely for a craft with a “second stage” on it’s back.

  26. Level_Head says:

    @Jason Calley:

    The aircraft-to-orbit vehicle you’re thinking of was fairly anticipated by the Soviet Union many decades ago, in their “Project 52”:

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  27. R. de Haan says:

    I was familiar with the Russian project and when I saw First Knight the first time I thought that’s great.
    This will be he first time we copy a Russian aeronautical concept. Because all other concepts were copied (stolen) from US designs.

    However, despite the much smaller scale of First Knight there are so much innovations that the Rutan concept is a huge step forward.

    Russian copy cats always under performed the US originals and most of them came with the habit to crash at air shows.

    The wing aspect ratio of the Russian carrier is great to lift high loads at low altitude but it’s design is not suited for high altitude flying.

    For high altitude flying you need ‘glider wings’, in short a big wing span and a laminar profile, the more wingspan the better.

    Just like the U2 high altitude spy plane that penetrated USSR airspace successfully for years before the the Russians managed to shoot one down (Garry Powers).

    We currently see a trend for high altitude business jets
    like the Grob SPn and the Spectrum 33. The idea is to further reduce fuel consumption and make navigation of more direct routes possible. This is achieved by flying at higher altitudes compared to conventional air liners.

    Unfortunately one of the SPn prototypes crashed due to structural failure of the tail section (flutter).

    SPn competitor Spectrum, an aircraft based on a recently developed technology of ‘carbon filament winding’ creating a stronger but lighter construction, suffered a crash as well.

  28. R. de Haan says:

    SHUTTLE LAUNCH DELAYED AGAIN: Space shuttle Endeavour will not launch on Monday, May 2nd. Ongoing work to repair the problem with heaters on a fuel line for the shuttle’s auxiliary power unit will not be finished in time. NASA will announce a new target launch date soon. Stay tuned.

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    Every time I’ve tried that “area51” buzzard link it has locked up my browser… I’m going to try the other “area51” link, then try a different browser…

    Per design convergence:

    There is a tendency for similar problems to reach similar conclusions without it being a copy.

    For a “tandem lift” you need to drop a large external load, so will want it centerline. That puts wings above. Now you need to droop them to get landing gear on the ground, so likely will also need a fusilage on each side…

    Pretty soon it’s looking the same no matter who designs it. (but you get to play with number and placement of wings, fins and engines ;-)

    So, back to “watchful waiting” on the shuttle…

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, the Buzzard link works, now that I’ve closed a few dozen windows in the browser… I think it was a memory overflow condition and that was just “a link too far”…

  31. R. de Haan says:

    Yeah, some designs are… inevitable

  32. Jerry says:

    A sad cartoon.

    Mouse over the cartoon and a comment pops up briefly.

  33. E.M.Smith says:


    Yes, nice one… Though I found this one oddly compelling as well:

  34. Doug Jones says:

    R. de Haan, be sure to schedule your visit to Mojave on the 3rd Saturday of any month- that’s when they hold “Plane Crazy Saturday” and we at XCOR often (but not always) do an open house. Email me at djones [preposition] before you head across the pond, and I’ll make sure we open up that day.


    “Every 3rd Saturday of the Month is Plane Crazy Saturday, 10am – 2pm in front of the Voyager Restaurant”

  35. Level_Head says:

    @Doug Jones

    That sounds excellent!

    We have another small connection: The rollout of the Roton ATV in March 1999 was Internet-livestreamed from my office. (For a while, my office was the West Coast headquarters of the Space Frontier Foundation.) I think I might still have a box of Rotary Rocket hats.

    You know what happened later — but those test flights certainly looked hopeful, even if a bit wild from the the inside.

    It’s been a struggle, but you are still pushing forward and the future holds much promise.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

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