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Space Shuttle: Lesson Learned  
User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 5 days 7 hours ago) and read 9811 times:

I was a huge fan of the Shuttle: I remember the maiden launch of Columbia as a defining moment of my youth. I was deeply saddened by the end of the program, and immensely regretful of not having been able to attend to at least one launch.

As the first anniversary of the last mission draws near, I feel we would not pay due homage to the thousands of exceptional people dedicating their efforts (and, in too many cases, their lives) to this outstanding technical achievement if we didn’t learn all we can out of the program. In particular, one very basic lesson: space exploration does not go well along with scope creep.

The Space Transportation System was doomed to ultimate failure (to achieve economical space access) by agreeing up front to cater to too many conflicting requirements, especially military ones: KH retrieval limited the highest achievable orbit (too low for a lot of applications), Abort Once Around mode defined wing area (way too large for a re-entry vehicle, and ultimately leading to the Columbia disaster), just to name a couple.

The fact that both these capabilities were never - not even once - actually used in 3 decades of operations is both ironical and revealing: the reason to accept compromise was flawed to begin with, but the push to compromise was tremendously effective. Those “frivolous” requirements elbowed their way into the original design, crippling performance and inflating costs, while others, such as a crew escape system, with much sounder rationale but with less political clout backing them, didn’t. Unsurprisingly, adding the latter as a retrofit was then found to be “too expensive”.

So the lesson is: scope creep will kill anything, and you need to keep it at bay especially when you’re trying to push the envelope (that is, always, for NASA). The fact that the Shuttle program “failed” its economic target so gracefully, despite the compromises inflicted on it, is a tremendous testimony of the epic efforts, ingenuity and sacrifice of the people working on it. But we shouldn't expect things to turn out so well next time.

Now on to the future: COTS could be an effective guarantee that nonsense will be kept at arm’s length. Shareholders should not tolerate the undermining of future earnings and, more to the point, a CEO wishing to keep his post would have to ensure “nice to haves” won't get in the way of profits. Or not? Could a commercially oriented “Customer is King” attitude, exacerbated by the fact that we’re still talking about just one single customer, prove to be another open window for scope creep? After all, look at military procurement: it’s commercial, all right, but it’s (very) far from nonsense-free.

So, building upon the lessons of the Space Shuttle program, what’s the best (or not worst) approach for space exploration? I’d like to hear opinions from our knowledgeable forum members.

27 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlinechecksixx From United States of America, joined Mar 2005, 1140 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 13 hours ago) and read 9535 times:

Well, IMHO, retiring the STS was done WAY too early. Sure, we could have relied on only two and cut costs that way, but look where we are now. Right now, as far as station access, the U.S. is on its knee's. Not a good place to be. Effectively cancel our space program and say 'well soon we can rely on commercial companies', is/was the wrong choice.

User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 12 hours ago) and read 9511 times:

Quoting checksixx (Reply 1):
retiring the STS was done WAY too early

If I'm not mistaken several very knowledgeable insiders say the exact opposite: STS should have been retired much earlier. I won't venture an opinion. To be sure, the current US capability gap is a disgrace, but in my opinion the problem lies in not having a replacement ready (commercial or NASA's own), not in abstaining from stretching the Shuttle fleet's operations still further.

In either case, my question is: is COTS a better or worse approach for scope creep prevention?


User currently offlinesweair From Sweden, joined Nov 2011, 1831 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 12 hours ago) and read 9513 times:

If STS had been more like X37 it could have been more successful, it was too complicated. Separate cargo and crew, the orbiter can be made smaller and less complex.

User currently offlinemaxter From Australia, joined May 2009, 225 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 12 hours ago) and read 9493 times:

Quoting jollo (Reply 2):
In either case, my question is: is COTS a better or worse approach for scope creep prevention?

Providing the private entities are allowed to define their own path forward (mostly) and are not too hamstrung by government bureaucratic inefficiencies and liberal applications of the CYA principles, COTS will certainly constrain scope creep much more effectively.



maxter
User currently offlinechecksixx From United States of America, joined Mar 2005, 1140 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 11 hours ago) and read 9486 times:

Quoting jollo (Reply 2):
If I'm not mistaken several very knowledgeable insiders say the exact opposite: STS should have been retired much earlier.

Very knowledgeable people make poor choices every day. Bottom line is, without another domestic option in place already, they crippled NASA...they didn't make it better.

Quoting jollo (Reply 2):
I won't venture an opinion.

You just did.

Quoting jollo (Reply 2):
To be sure, the current US capability gap is a disgrace, but in my opinion the problem lies in not having a replacement ready (commercial or NASA's own)

Not sure why you quoted me then...confused by your post...but it seems you agree.....hmmm

Quoting jollo (Reply 2):
In either case, my question is: is COTS a better or worse approach for scope creep prevention?

Well if you actually know what scope creep is, wouldn't commercial off the shelf products clearly prevent that with supervision ensuring that the development team doesn't stray off course...? Scope Creep didn't kill the STS if that's what your asking. I would suggest you look up the definition and then re-phrase your questions.


User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 8 hours ago) and read 9423 times:

Quoting sweair (Reply 3):
Separate cargo and crew, the orbiter can be made smaller and less complex.

Agreed. Is this the path also pursued by current COTS entrants (say, by SpaceX)?

Quoting maxter (Reply 4):
Providing the private entities are allowed to define their own path forward

I'm not so sure: in military procurement, scope creep in the design phase is the norm. "Private entities" such as Lock-Mart wouldn't allow scope creep if it ate into their profits. So fixed price contracts, with no chance of a bail-out with the excuse of "extra requirements", is the only way?


User currently offlineAreopagus From United States of America, joined Sep 2001, 1373 posts, RR: 1
Reply 7, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 9260 times:

Back before Columbia's first flight, someone posted a hilarious satirical "interview" with a NASA spokesman, who defended the rotary-winged, passenger-carrying, crop-dusting space shuttle as being designed to fill the needs of its various customers. Unfortunately, with all the transitions from one archival storage medium to another through the years, I don't have a copy any more, and it doesn't appear to be where Google can find it.

User currently offlinefsnuffer From United States of America, joined Jun 2007, 252 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 9245 times:

Does anyone out there have any information on Boeing's ( I think it was them) Mark II shuttle proposal and how it would have addressed safety and cost concerns?

User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (2 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 9100 times:

Recommended read from the Rogers commission proceedings (Challenger disaster): http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt

(Richard P. Feynman is a Nobel laureate in Physics; google him up, it's worth your time)

Let me point out the very last sentence:

Quote:
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


The specific topic was reliability, safety and certification criteria, but I feel the same principle is very much (and even more) applicable when dealing with pressure to "inflate" design requirements and specifications. Let me rephrase the original question: in your opinion, does COTS stand a better chance in guaranteeing that reality gets precedence?


User currently offlineAesma From France, joined Nov 2009, 6921 posts, RR: 12
Reply 10, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 8633 times:

For me there is a broader problem that hasn't been discussed yet, it's what is the point of sending people in low earth orbit. Scientifically, I mean, so for NASA and ESA. Commercially, there is a great future no doubt.


New Technology is the name we give to stuff that doesn't work yet. Douglas Adams
User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3588 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 6 days 1 hour ago) and read 8619 times:
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Quoting Aesma (Reply 10):
For me there is a broader problem that hasn't been discussed yet

Almost too broad for this thread... however, wether publicly stated or not the NASA/ESA/RSA/CNSA objective is to send people and their supporting machines out of low earth orbit.



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User currently offlineGDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 13252 posts, RR: 77
Reply 12, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 6 days ago) and read 8593 times:

But STS had to accommodate those ultimately spurious military requirements, since that was the only way to get it approved.
Nixon would not fund NASA to the degree that they could, alone, fund their original concepts for a STS, so they went looking for partners. Which no doubt removed pressure from the DoD to spend less on NASA and more on themselves.

I recall a NASA Shuttle Astronaut last year, who while he regretted emotionally the retirement of the Shuttle, he made it clear that he thought it had to be done, implying the costs and risks were just too great to carry on.
It didn't sound like NASA PR either.


User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3588 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 5 days 22 hours ago) and read 8558 times:
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Quoting GDB (Reply 12):

But STS had to accommodate those ultimately spurious military requirements, since that was the only way to get it approved.

  

Without DoD involvement & funding shuttle would have stayed a case study in the files room at JSC.



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User currently offlinerwessel From United States of America, joined Jan 2007, 2411 posts, RR: 2
Reply 14, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 8490 times:
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Quoting Aesma (Reply 10):
For me there is a broader problem that hasn't been discussed yet, it's what is the point of sending people in low earth orbit. Scientifically, I mean, so for NASA and ESA. Commercially, there is a great future no doubt.

There's little real case for manned spaceflight for either scientific or commercial* reasons. It's always possible someone will come up with some, particularly if costs drop substantially, but for now, there's some hand waving, but little else.


*Perhaps the best commercial justification at the moment is tourism, but that's darn thin.


User currently offlineMadameConcorde From San Marino, joined Feb 2007, 10930 posts, RR: 37
Reply 15, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago) and read 8303 times:

This is Space Shuttle related. The news just came up on the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation page.

Quote:
We are saddened by the loss of space shuttle astronaut Alan G. Poindexter, who died in a jet ski accident in Florida on Sunday. He logged nearly 700 hours in space during STS-122 and STS-131. Our thoughts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy.

This is very sad news.

RIP Space Shuttle Astronaut Alan G. Poindexter

  



There was a better way to fly it was called Concorde
User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 11 hours ago) and read 8143 times:

Quoting Aesma (Reply 10):
there is a broader problem that hasn't been discussed yet, it's what is the point of sending people in low earth orbit

I'd prefer to stay on topic, but... in my very personal opinion, human spaceflight is still in the "blue sky research" phase: worth doing just to learn how to do it. Scientific and/or economic returns will come, eventually, in the medium to long term, but that's not the reason to invest: the real goal is, and will be for quite a while, to develop "how to" knowlege. As long as it doesn't starve much more "practical" robotic space exploratiation of financing, I'm all for it without asking for short term returns (attempts to "sell" ISS as a scientific research platform are quite pathetic anyway: if you discount self-referential and human spaceflight topics form the list, there's pretty little left that couldn't have been done at a fraction of the cost on the surface or aboard dedicated micro-sats).

Quoting GDB (Reply 12):
But STS had to accommodate those ultimately spurious military requirements, since that was the only way to get it approved.
Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 13):
Without DoD involvement & funding shuttle would have stayed a case study in the files room at JSC.

Now, that makes a lot of sense. A bit depressing, though: a clear-cut case of damned if you do, damned if you don't (cave in to pressure to inflate requirements, and doom yourself to "failure", or never leave the pad). Is there any way to avoid that in the future?


Quoting MadameConcorde (Reply 15):

RIP Space Shuttle Astronaut Alan G. Poindexter

Very sad news. See the dedicated thread.


User currently offlinesweair From Sweden, joined Nov 2011, 1831 posts, RR: 0
Reply 17, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 8127 times:

Space could be good if we had a way of collecting valuable minerals and other resources needed. Human spaceflight seems less important than robotic spaceflight. We have no way to mine an asteroid right now, some of those lumps would have valuable minerals though.

User currently offlinejollo From Italy, joined Aug 2011, 237 posts, RR: 0
Reply 18, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 8 hours ago) and read 8090 times:

Quoting sweair (Reply 17):
collecting valuable minerals and other resources needed

Yeah, Planetary Resources seems to think so, too. I still haven't seen a credible analysis about how these minerals are going to get through the delta-V gap to Earth orbit, though (and would appreciate being pointed to one, if available). The claim that "getting to some asteroids requires less energy than putting a telecom sat in geosyncrhonous orbit" is literally true but 1) this thins down your asteroid inventory quite a bit and 2) the mass of minerals you'll want to tranfer back is many orders of magnitude higher than a telecom sat.

Anyway, if anyone (PR or others) is going to make asteroid mining a profitable business, it'll probably be a strictly robotic operation: requiring local human presence would likely inflate costs to the point of screwing any business case.

So, that looks like an application of "lesson one" already proposed by Sweair in reply 3: keep apart cargo (and robots) from crew.

A candidate "lesson two" could be: select partners that have an agenda at least broadly aligned to yours. It sounds like STS's goal of achieving economical access to space was radically at odds with DoD's imperatives (rarely including cost-efficiency).


User currently offlineAesma From France, joined Nov 2009, 6921 posts, RR: 12
Reply 19, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 7565 times:

Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 11):
Almost too broad for this thread... however, wether publicly stated or not the NASA/ESA/RSA/CNSA objective is to send people and their supporting machines out of low earth orbit.

And does the ISS help in that matter, or just sucks billions upon billions ?

Quoting rwessel (Reply 14):
There's little real case for manned spaceflight for either scientific or commercial* reasons. It's always possible someone will come up with some, particularly if costs drop substantially, but for now, there's some hand waving, but little else.

*Perhaps the best commercial justification at the moment is tourism, but that's darn thin.

Well, there are a lot of rich people already lined up for a tour in space.

Personally if I was Bill Gates I would put most of my money into going to Mars !



New Technology is the name we give to stuff that doesn't work yet. Douglas Adams
User currently offlineMax Q From United States of America, joined May 2001, 4778 posts, RR: 19
Reply 20, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 14 hours ago) and read 7557 times:

IMHO, it was the finest spacecraft and airborne vehicle ever made.


The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.
User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3588 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 7463 times:
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Quoting Aesma (Reply 19):
And does the ISS help in that matter, or just sucks billions upon billions ?

Yes to both.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 20):
IMHO, it was the finest spacecraft and airborne vehicle ever made.

Most complicated & expensive surely, but finest? I'd like to see your rational for finest...



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User currently offlineMax Q From United States of America, joined May 2001, 4778 posts, RR: 19
Reply 22, posted (2 years 5 months 2 weeks ago) and read 7373 times:

Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 21):

Most complicated & expensive surely, but finest? I'd like to see your rational for finest...

Name another machine that can carry almost 60,000 pounds of cargo into space. Provide a shirt sleeve environment for a large crew. Launch satellites and change it's orbit to rendezvous with other satellites and repair them.


Rendezvous with the space station and supply this station with massive amounts of supplies and outsize parts.


Spend over two weeks in Space , returning with faulty satellites if necessary or other cargo in its payload bay then reenter the earths atmosphere at hypersonic speed and make a landing
on a normal runway returning it's crew in the best possible shape.



Shutting this program down was completely irresponsible. We have lost a vital capability.



The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.
User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3588 posts, RR: 0
Reply 23, posted (2 years 5 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 7341 times:
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Quoting Max Q (Reply 22):
Name another machine that can carry almost 60,000 pounds of cargo into space. Provide a shirt sleeve environment for a large crew. Launch satellites and change it's orbit to rendezvous with other satellites and repair them.

Aside from shirt sleeve environment, Shuttle couldn't do those things....

Quoting Max Q (Reply 22):
Spend over two weeks in Space , returning with faulty satellites if necessary or other cargo in its payload bay then reenter the earths atmosphere at hypersonic speed and make a landing
on a normal runway returning it's crew in the best possible shape.

Or these....

In fact these capabilities were traded away, if they existed at all, in an effort to improve shuttle safety.

When shuttle was cancelled it could no longer:
- Launch satellites
- Haul it's designed payload mass to orbit
- Retrieve and return faulty satellites (Even when it did do this, once, it was heavily subsidised by NASA & not repeated)
- Perform long duration missions - capability died with Columbia

It never landed on a "normal" runway. KSC had special grooving. All shuttle runways had shuttle unique lighting and instrument landing systems not to mention support equipment.



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User currently offlineMadameConcorde From San Marino, joined Feb 2007, 10930 posts, RR: 37
Reply 24, posted (2 years 5 months 1 week 6 days 3 hours ago) and read 7217 times:

STS-135 One year already... I was there to see the last Space Shuttle launch from the causeway at KSC.

Atlantis... the beautiful Ship lifted off from the ground for the very last time.

I had witnessed other launches from KSC but this last launch was really special.
How time flies...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVJDYI1BQA4

    

Maybe I will see a Concorde taking to the skies again but never again will I be able to witness a Space Shuttle liftoff.

     



There was a better way to fly it was called Concorde
25 eksath : The grooves were filled down at KSC..They found that it was detrimental to the tires and it ran the risk of a tire blowout on landing. There were ref
26 ZANL188 : Makes me wonder how shuttle would do a commercial runway with rain drain grooving. Either way the KSC runway was primped just for shuttle
27 eksath : The grooves on the KSC runway was a lot deeper than standard commercial runways and ran horizontally across. This was ground down after the results o
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