Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog
entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at http://spacewhatnow.com/SWN
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Some Pictures of a Shuttle in Flight
While these shots of Endeavour and the ISS are getting some well-deserved press, I just came across this picture of Endeavour with Earth in the background and the Dextre Robotic Arm in the foreground. I haven't found any press release about it yet. Seeing the stars is cool, and the cargo bay lit with
its own light is pretty neat. The blurred city lights below give the perception of motion, while other minor effects like
seeing the stars through the atmosphere are awesome. The camera was held pretty steady for this shot.
NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center will fly a satellite refueling demonstration along with Atlantis. The experiment is meant to test refueling satellites that weren't designed to be refueled. Granted,
that's the market today, but the more important steps will take place when satellites are designed for refueling. Cryogenic
propellant transfer will also be important.
Kinda gives an idea of things that could be done with a couple more shuttle flights, but it's not enough to make me think
that the program should continue.
On this anniversary of Kennedy's speech, a friend emailed me a link to an article written by three people whose names frequent readers here should recognize. Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan
think that Obama's space plan grounds Kennedy's space legacy. My friend got a little more of a response than he expected,
Obama definitely grounded the centrally-controlled, unsustainably-expensive space program that took the
three authors to the moon. That program gave us amazing successes, but essentially transported a decade from the future into
the 1960s. Once it achieved its political goals of beating the Soviets to the moon, it became a rudderless shadow of what
it was, subject to the whims of Congresspeople in a couple key districts.
Astonishingly, Obama has also opened the possibility of a sustainable, multi-faceted, exciting program that COULD have thousands
of people in orbit by 2020, leading people to go beyond soon after. He's done so by saying (for the first time in his administration)
that less government is the answer to this problem. I credit a lack of interest on his part more than any great insight.
All that the government has to do to let this scenario happen is split less than 10% of what it would spend on its own pet
projects between a few potential providers and get out of the way.
Big shock! NASA stated that they're going to continue what they were doing before, modified by law as set by Congress. They will build the Orion
Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle, and the Senate Space Launch System to fly it in. The SLS will be hugely overpowered to
launch a capsule, and it will only be able to fly a couple times with the existing space shuttle main engines, but that's
what Congress asked for. Note the graphics in the article include an Orion MPCV switching between two inflatable modules,
one of which appears to have a truss between it and some other structure, perhaps for artificial gravity. Of course, I'm
looking at the field of dots and seeing what I want to see.
My best hope for this is that NASA's action will calm Congress down, so that they'll stop decrease fiddling with the
budget and get on with stuff they're good at, like renaming things and assigning blame. Meanwhile, the new space people,
feeding on some of the scraps and monetary round-off errors from the 'big projects' might actually accomplish something.
I'm of two minds. If space efforts were important in the political arena, we'd be seeing much more 'interest' on the part
of politicians, and possibly some sort of unsustainable Apollo program. At today's current low level of importance/interest,
the amount of money involved is small, but the amount of power wielded by a few members of Congress is great.
Rocket science is hard, but you can learn about it, learn from your mistakes, and accomplish something. Politics not so much.
While others who actually work on the shuttle program have a much better claim to Endeavour, it's the shuttle I've
come closest to many times. During its construction, I toured the Rockwell plant and saw one of its engines in final assembly. When it left the Palmdale assembly facility, I got a picture very similar to the one linked. While in preparations for its first launch, I flew around the launch pad as part of an Air Force tour of Cape Canaveral, and in 1993, my parents and I saw it fly on a TDRS deployment mission.
So, I've followed Endeavour's final mission with a bittersweet interest. It is truly time for the shuttles to stop
flying, but I hope that the future of space, in whatever form it takes, is allowed to develop.
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