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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What a shame...

So, NASA grounds the space shuttle fleet until they can figure out how to keep the insulating foam from falling off and potentially striking the shuttle on liftoff and reaching escape velocity. The real problem is the design of the shuttle - it is old, bulky, dangerous, and well past its life expectancy. As I mentioned below, the shuttle has never delivered as promised - it is expensive, has to be rebuilt every time it lands, and if there is a 1% chance of disaster every time it is launched it is probably well beyond the expected marginal cost = marginal benefit condition.

The program is helplessly over budget for what it likely could cost for low-earth orbit. The Space Ship One project cost approximately $20 million to send a vehicle into space twice in two weeks. The shuttle couldn't fly twice in two months if it had to. The cost of the project was likely less than the cost of recovering the three boosters from the shuttle launch.

Hopefully STS-114 can make it back safely, but NASA is in serious trouble - as is the international space station - if it can't figure out a solution. The problem is trying to constantly patch together a thirty year old vehicle, even if it is overhauled every time it lands. A new model is clearly required.

From this story:
"We won't be able to fly again" until the hazard is removed, Bill Parsons, shuttle program manager, told reporters in a briefing Wednesday evening. "Obviously we have some more work to do."

NASA has said all along that Discovery's mission was a test flight designed to check the safety of future shuttle missions. Parsons refused to give up on the spacecraft that was designed in the 1970s.

"We think we can make this vehicle safe for the next flight," he said, declining to assess the long-term impact on the manned space program. "We will determine if it's safe to fly."


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