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End of Space Shuttle Program

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Florida’s Space Shuttle program has been around since 1972. New policies will have the program ending in 2011. The last scheduled fight is June 2011. Discovery finished its last flight on February 24, 2011. Although NASA’s Space Shuttle program is coming to an end, space flight is not ending. NASA’s focus is simply focusing on the next generation of space transportation. However, until the next generation is built, Florida’s space coast will suffer from job loss and loss of revenue, affecting all of Florida. Two Space Shuttle tragedies prompted the closing of the program. These tragedies highlighted the risks involved in the design of the shuttles.

Introduction

Florida is known for a few great things: Disney, Universal, the Everglades, and the Space Shuttle program. All of which are great tourist attractions. By the end of 2011 that list will exclude the Space Shuttle program. After 30 years and over 180 flights, NASA’s Space Shuttle program will be ending. There are many controversies surrounding the ending of the Space Shuttle program. These include everything from a loss of jobs to the uncertainty of when the US will be able to send humans into space again. By examining the past, present, future, and the world view of the Space Shuttle program these controversies will become clear.

Past of Shuttle Program

The Space Shuttle program is the descendent of the Apollo program. NASA began thinking of a reusable space vehicle after Apollo. NASA began development of the Space Shuttle program on January 5, 1972. The first actual shuttle was the Enterprise. The Enterprise was developed in the 70's and completed in 1976. However, the Enterprise was only built for testing purposes. With the success of Enterprise's tests came the development of Columbia, the first Space Transportation System and the first to lift off and achieve orbit. The commander of the flight was Commander John Young, whose name many Floridians would recognize as the road leading from downtown Orlando to Kissimmee where it becomes 17 92.

Purpose

Two main purposes of the Space Shuttle program are: to conduct scientific experiments and to transport and repair orbiting birds – telescopes, satellites and the like.

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Spacelab was the module for conducting experiments in space (Watkins, 2011). Notable experiments include the affects of zero gravity on biological organisms. The last Spacelab mission was in 1998, Columbia's STS-90 mission, and included an experiment on the nervous system (Orlando Sentinel). A later goal established was to transport parts and astronauts into space for the construction and operation of the International Space Station (ISS) (Watkins, 2011). According to Sam Montana (2010), “inventions relating to the US Space Shuttle program include:

  • Light Emitting Diode (LED) as a cancer treatment allows destruction of cancer cells while leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed.
  • Pill sized monitors that can monitor what is going on inside our body.
  • Lightning and wind shear protection at airports.
  • Helmets that can protect us from concussions.
  • Hydroponics has been improved.
  • Instant reading ear thermometers.
  • The launching and repairing of GPS and communication satellites so everyone can use their cells phones” (Montana, 2010).

Shuttles (information provided by Orlando Sentinel)

Columbia
1st mission: April 1 – 14, 1981
Mission purpose: This mission and the second in November of the same year tested the re-usability of the shuttle.

Challenger
1st mission: April 4-9, 1983 (6th shuttle mission overall)
Mission purpose: Payload was the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-1. 1st space walk by Donald Peterson and F. Story Musgrave.

Discovery
1st mission: Aug. 30 – Sept. 5, 1984 (12th shuttle mission overall)
Mission purpose: deployed Satellite Business System SBS-D, SYNCOM IV-2 (LEASAT2), and TELSTAR.

Atlantis
1st mission: Oct 3 – 7, 1885 (21st shuttle mission overall)
Mission purpose: second mission for the Department of Defense

Endeavour
1st mission: May 7-16, 1992 (47th shuttle mission overall)
Mission purpose: 1st EVA (extravehicular activity) with 3 astronauts, 1st and second longest EVA, 1st to feature 4 EVAs, and more record breakers.

The structure of a space shuttle

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The major components of a space shuttle are the orbiter, the Solid-Fuel Rocket Booster, and a tank of fuel. The orbiter spacecraft holds the passengers, the astronauts. There are two Solid-Fuel Rocket Boosters attached to the shuttle. The boosters are only temporary, which burn for two minutes after takeoff. After the first two minutes they detach from the shuttle and fall into the Atlantic Ocean. Like the shuttle, the boosters are reusable. After they fall safely to the ocean they are retrieved. The external tanks form the main engine and contain liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. They detach eight minutes after the boosters detach but are not retrieved. They fall into the Indian Ocean (Watkins, 2011).

Tragedy

Two major tragedies have occurred during the life of the Space Shuttle program. The first was the Challenger on January 28, 1986. The mission was 51-L, the 25th overall mission, and included seven astronauts, one of which was the first school teacher to go into outer space (Orlando Sentinel, 2008). The Challenger tragedy occurred because the cold weather made the O-Ring stiff. An O-Ring is also known as a toric joint. It is a doughnut shaped mechanical gasket that acts as a seal between two parts. The explosion occurred only seconds after launch (Watkins, 2011).

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Columbia had fuel cell problems during STS-83 and STS-94. Both ended early (Orlando Sentinel, 2008). However, Columbia's tragedy happened because of damaged heat shield tiles on the wings. The tiles protect the wings from the high temperatures of reentry (Watkins, 2011). Columbia's STS-107 mission started January 16, 2003. In 16 days the crew successfully completed near 80 experiments. The disaster happened February 1st, 2003 on reentry (Orlando Sentinel, 2008).

The fuel cell problems, though isolated incidents, are important for the understanding of the risks involved in space flight. According to an article in Florida Today by Halvorson (2011), “there was only a 7 percent chance disaster would be averted” between the “88 shuttle missions flown between the Challenger and Columbia.” In other words, there was 93 percent chance of a mission ending in failure for two shuttles. The shuttle fleet was four strong in its prime. The Space Shuttle program was much more risky than anyone at NASA proposed or realized until recently (Halvorson 2011).

Present

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2011 is going to be an eventful year for the NASA space shuttle program. Earlier in the year, on February 24, 2011, space shuttle Discovery made a flight to space carrying a Pressurized Multipurpose Module, PMM, and other supplies to the International Space Station. It is also its last. Besides Discovery, space shuttle Endeavour has a scheduled April 19 flight and space shuttle Atlantis has a scheduled June lift off – it will also be their last flights. Matter of fact, 2011 signifies the ending of NASA’s historic space shuttle program after 30 years in existence. After this year, the space shuttle program will close and NASA’s efforts will focus on the next generation system of space transportation. “NASA has yet to formally unveil plans for its next space transportation system, but the agency has said it intends to build a Crew Exploration Vehicle for transporting astronauts to and from orbit and a second unmanned system for launching cargo” (Berger, 2005). But until the next space transportation system arrives, which won’t come any time soon, the only space exploration system in operation is the space shuttle program and by shutting it down it affects everything – jobs, tourism, and future space exploration.

The Reason It Was Shut Down

The decision to stop the space shuttle program wasn’t a swift, immediate move due to the recent economic recession that has plagued the country for the last few years but actually a calculated decision made by former president Bush back in 2004. Bush’s decision was made after the tragedy of the Columbia space shuttle after it exploded trying to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The disaster was caused by damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation broke off from the external tank and struck the edge of the left wing, damaging Columbia’s shuttle thermal protection system which protects it from heat generated with the atmosphere during re-entry. Bush stopped the shuttle program because its design is unsafe. “The fundamental problem is that the orbiter is mounted on the side, where it's exposed to nearby flame and falling debris. Earlier manned launch vehicles had the crew compartment atop the rocket, which could be jettisoned using an abort mechanism. Shuttle has no abort capability during the first two minutes of launch, until the solid rocket boosters detach, at which point the orbiter can theoretically glide to a landing at an abort site — a theory that's never been tested” (Smith, 2010).

During his speech about the plan to shut down the shuttle program, former president George Bush described the timeline and what he hoped would be accomplished in the next few years regarding the future of space exploration:

  • Complete the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010, then retire the Shuttle from service.
  • "… Develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014." The CEV would be used to ferry astronauts first to the ISS, and later to "beyond our orbit to other worlds."
  • "… Return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond."
  • "With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond" (Smith, 2010).

Job Cuts

Even though the plan to shut down the shuttle program was postponed from 2010 to 2011, nothing changes the fact that thousands of jobs could be eliminated. “More than 8,000 NASA contractor jobs in the nation’s manned space program could be eliminated after the space shuttle program is shut down” (Sedensky, 2008). Dramatic job cuts are most likely the possible scenario with private contractors, but the number of civil servants is expected to remain the same.

Tourism affected

Another factor affected is tourism. The space coast attracts thousands of tourists every year from the attractions surrounding the coast area and even more tourists come when there is a shuttle launch. “The shuttle program demise will certainly take with it bursts of high hotel occupancy and the related spending that brings at area restaurants and retailers” (Best, 2011). The loss of jobs and tourism really hinders Florida’s economy especially at a time when the economy is still going through a recession.

The future of space exploration is also in question after the space shuttle program is officially over, but it does look promising. Initially after the announcement was made that the shuttle program was going to be shutting down, NASA planned to focus their efforts on the Constellation space program which “sought to return humans to the Moon with a new spaceship called Orion and two new rockets called Ares 1 and Ares 5” (Amos, 2010), but that was canceled after current president Barrack Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. This Authorization Act shifted the focus of NASA to a new direction, one that will seek to put astronauts in orbit using privately-run launch service and instructs NASA to start work on a rocket for deep-space exploration.

Future

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The original replacement to the Shuttle was a program called the Constellation Program. This program entailed developing a new type of spaceship to take humans to the International Space Station, to the moon and then into the solar system. The program was to keep the main assets of the space shuttle, the large payload capacity, while fixing one of its major limitations, the lack of ability to travel very far into space. While this limitation did not hinder the space shuttle and its goal of constructing the space station, the space station is planned to be deorbited in the year 2016 (Achenbach, 2009) which is quickly approaching. The next logical step after the space station would be a return to the moon to pave way to explore further into the solar system. This was the plan put forth by President George W. Bush in 2006 and the Constellation Program with its two ships, the Aries I and Aries V, the way to get there (Connolly, 2006). This plan was effectively killed by the budget created by President Barack Obama in 2010, leaving no direct successor to the Space Shuttle Program and an unknown future of US manned space flight (Achenbach, 2010).

Plans for manned space flights

What this leaves is the backup plans for human space flight. One of which doesn't involve US manned space flight and the other which is heavily unknown. The first plan was to have the Russian Federal Space Agency ferry people to and from the space station. They currently ferry people from time to time now as the shuttle is designed to be more of a cargo carrier and has been utilized more in that way. The US pays The Russian Federal Space Agency to carry the astronauts to and from space. While it is true that a flight from them is less expensive than flying the Space Shuttle, once the shuttle is decommissioned it will give them a monopoly on space flight. Once this happens, they will raise their price to fly to the space station to 62.7 million per seat in 2015 (Malik, 2011), which the US will have no choice but to pay to get people into space. The second plan is commercial space flight. There are a number of companies trying to establish themselves in space. The two main ones are SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences companies. The problem with these companies is that they have only a handful of flights under their belt altogether and many are still working on their "coming soon" ships. So the problem with these commercial companies is that even though there is money budgeted and contracts in place to have these companies carry people and other things into orbit for the space station, none are currently ready to do so (Achenbach, 2010). That leaves only two ships operating with human space travel, the Russian Federal Space Agency's Soyuz space capsule and the US Space Shuttle. Once the shuttle program ends, so does US human space travel.

Other options

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There are a couple of other options for the Future of US manned space flight. One of these options is to continue flying the space shuttle. NASA is ending the shuttle program but one of the contractors, United Space Alliance, is proposing to continue shuttle flights outside of government hands (Dean, 2011). Their proposal includes flying the shuttle twice a year until a replacement vehicle becomes available. This is done for many reasons including the fact they would be out of a massive contract once the shuttle ends. The other option being floated around is instead of creating a whole new launch vehicle as in the Constellation program, instead reusing the launch vehicle in the space program and creating a new module to go on it (Borenstein, 2009). They would actually create two modules, one would be for large payloads without human cargo and another much smaller vehicle would be for human space flight. The benefit of reusing the current space shuttle launch vehicle, which includes the main booster and two side solid rocket boosters, is that it is a tried method and saves the cost of having to create something from the ground up. Of course both these methods also has the benefit of the 1000s employed with the shuttle program not losing their job, as well as quickly returning the US to having the capability to send men into space.

The future of the US manned flight is unknown once the Space Shuttle stops flying. The original shuttle replace program was cancelled due to budget cuts and with it a return to the moon. The current plan revolves around using Russia space flights and US commercial companies to ferry humans and supplies to and from the Space Station. There are also comments of continuation of the space shuttle in commercial hands or reusing the shuttle launch vehicle as a platform to launch a new type of space ship. Although both of these ideas are still in the planning stage, all the unknowns surrounding the future of manned space flight, as well as the time required to get any of them off the ground, adds greatly to the controversy surrounding the ending of the Space Shuttle Program.

World View of Shuttle Program

Benefits of the Space Program

Space technology has brought many benefits not only to our everyday lives, but to the world as well. One of the most important benefits is the satellites that orbit the Earth. “This is important, as all of the telecommunication network backbone of the world is dependent on the satellites that are circling our world” (Guven, 2008). Without the use of satellites, the internet, our cellular phones, faxes, or satellites would be useless. We are also able to watch thousands of TV station and see live events occurring anywhere in the world. Weather satellites help us by “providing enhanced prediction capability for hurricanes, flooding, and other life-threatening weather events. They also help us predict future weather trends on a long term basis helping us to grow our understanding of long term climate trends and our own effects upon them. GPS satellites help us pinpoint our exact location anywhere around the world” (Sylvester, 2010).

However, there are also different benefits that are derived from space technology that have indirectly impacted our everyday lives. For example, the microwave we use today was provided by NASA to allow the astronauts to heat their pre-cooked meals. Also the thermos that we use to keep chocolate or coffee warm was derived from “the insulation techniques of space technology of the 1960’s” (Guven, 2008). The transition lenses, glasses that change color when exposed to sunlight, are a result from the visors used by the astronauts to protect themselves from UV radiation. Frozen dinners are a result from the Apollo and Space Shuttle Program, in which this frozen dried food technology, they were “able to keep food fresh for longer periods of time and consume it when necessary. Even the flat panel Television that we use in our homes is a direct derivative of the Liquid Crystal Display Panels that were used in the Space Shuttle Program. They were chosen for their lower energy and heat threshold. Now many homes in the world have Big Flat Plasma TV in their home that was derived directly from Space Technology” (Guven, 2008). “The fields of medicine, manufacturing, air transportation, sewage treatment, food safety and preservation, public safety, sports equipment, and automobiles have all used NASA-derived technologies for our benefit. Not only do we enjoy the added functionality or safety provided by these technologies, but their inclusion into everyday products helps drive our country's economic engine as these technologies lower costs or increase markets for American companies” (Sylvester, 2010).

Options to continue the Space Program

As the NASA Space Shuttle Program comes to an end, there are two questions that come to everybody’s mind, what will be the future for the space shuttle and what will happen to the International Space Station? As the Discovery and the Endeavor shuttles retire this spring, there are six possible options that could occur. Option 1 is called Dragon, which is “designed by American company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). SpaceX is developing a Dragon shuttle that will carry a crew to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket, also developed by SpaceX, will carry all the Dragon vehicles into space” (Corbin, 2010). Option 2 is Shenzou, built in China and is the only shuttle vehicle like the Russian Soyuz that is capable of carrying astronauts to the Space Station once Discovery and Endeavour are retired. On the other hand, China, which is only the third nation, behind Russia and the United States, to have a successful manned space program, has an extensive active lunar mission program with unmanned missions planned in the coming years, since the US currently has no human lunar landing program. The program begins with two lunar orbiters. Their lunar ambitions have interested them in “mining the moon for raw materials including Helium-3, a possible fuel for nuclear fusion energy production” (Railsback, 2011). If China’s space program goes as planned, this will certainly take out the US as a leading space power. Option 3 “Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle, a single use shuttle, is presently used to take cargo only to the Space Station no versions that can carry crew are in development” (Corbin, 2010). Option 4 Cygnus which is another American company, Orbital Sciences Corp. that received a contract from NASA for 8 space station cargo hauls and its shuttle to carry crew are already in development. Option 5 is the ATV, “automated transfer vehicles”, from Europe, “which has three times the cargo capacity of the Progress, Russia's freight carrier. By 2020, the European Space Agency will develop a four-person vehicle called the CTV (Crew Transport Vehicle). The ATV is launched on Europe's Ariane booster” (Corbin, 2010). “NASA will pay the Russians $63M an astronaut (up from the $51M per astronaut during the space shuttle era) for rides to the ISS” (Railsback). This new deal represents a price hike of almost twenty five percent and is the fourth price increase in just five years, making experts think the US is making a big mistake. Option 6 is “Orion from NASA, which will be ready to take crews to the International Space Station in 2015. The Orion program does not include cargo-only vehicles” (Corbin, 2010).

The International Space Station

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“The International Space Station (ISS) Program’s greatest accomplishment is as much a human achievement as it is a technological one—how best to plan, coordinate, and monitor the varied activities of the Program’s many organizations” (Kauderer, 2011). An international partnership of space agencies have come together to provide and operate elements of the ISS. Principal agencies are the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. This program “brings together international flight crews, multiple launch vehicles, globally distributed launch, operations, training, engineering, and development facilities; communications networks, and the international scientific research community” (Kauderer, 2011). Operating the space station is more complicated than any other space program because it’s an international program. Each country has a primary responsibility to manage and run in the space station.

“NASA exercises management over the NASA field Centers, establishes management policies, and analyzes all phases of the space station program. Roscosmos oversees all Russian human space flight activities. Moscow Mission Control is the primary Russian facility for the control of human space flight. The MSS Operations Complex in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, provides the resources, equipment, and expertise needed for the engineering and monitoring of the Mobile Servicing System as well as for crew training. The European Space Research and Technology Centre, the largest site and the technical heart of the ESA, is in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. Most ESA projects are developed here by more than 2,000 specialists. In addition to the JAXA headquarters in Tokyo and other field centers throughout the country, Tsukuba Space Center and Tanegashima launch Facility are JAXA’s primary ISS facilities” (Kauderer, 2011).

Even though the NASA’s Space Shuttle Program will come to an end this Spring, the International Space Shuttle Program will continue moving forward due to the International Cooperation already established.

Conclusion

The space shuttle program has been flying for over 30 years. It has completed its mission and brought knowledge and technology to the US people. There have been tragedies along the way that have shown major flaws with the craft. The shutting down of the Space Shuttle program was not a quick decision but one that was planned for. This plan was known to the thousands who will lose their jobs. The future of manned space flight has also been planned for. Although those plans have undergone some changes and some still are unknown. It is in how the ending of the Shuttle Program affects the world view of the United States that many find troubling. The shuttle has given the world population many technologies and the building of the International Space station it has impacted everyone. It is the end of an era in human space flight. Although, one cannot help but to stare at the sky and wonder what miraculous thing comes next.

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