# Was the Space Shuttle Doomed From the Beginning?

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#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
A very nice history of the shuttle's development. One error I noticed is his claim that the damage to Columbia's wing was on its underside. It was a hole punched in the carbon-carbon leading edge.

#### dr wogz

##### Fly caster
The whole program? Or just one in particular? Or one in particular on one particular mission?

#### Mushtang

TRF Supporter
Such an inefficient way to get stuff to space, but what a COOL way to do it! I love the Space Shuttle even with all it's limitations and drawbacks.

#### NJRick

##### Saturn 1b nut
TRF Supporter
they should have kept flying the Saturn 1b!! seriously....Mushtang I agree..the Shuttle was a magnificent machine!

Such an inefficient way to get stuff to space, but what a COOL way to do it! I love the Space Shuttle even with all it's limitations and drawbacks.

#### TopRamen

##### SA-5
They did not have milled fibers and highest available tensile strength composite back then, so what they buit was civilian available "Cutting Edge" of the day.
Then poeple began to take space travel for granted, and there was no more "Cold War", so it became a victim of neglect and complacency.
What a terrible shame, but at least we can say we were there to witness it.
Human finally made it up into space, with a vehicle they could carry enough stuff to reach out a little on, but then they gave up, since they had discovered "Internet" and similar self satisfying fantasies.
As a Race of Beings, we are rapidly devolving into a state of just launching nothing. We may as well start working on "Tree Shuttles", so we can climb back into the forest safely.
We'll all be Monkeys come November anyhow. I'm going to be the Monkey that grabs the bone and uses it as a tool to smash things.

We've amused ourselves to death:

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#### Donaldsrockets

##### Well-Known Member
I think the biggest downfall of the space shuttle other than the SRB's and the O-ring issues at first as well as the ET foam problems was the cost. Originally it was intended to be a means of cheap access to space. Unfortunately it was ANYTHING but cheap.

I also read in a book that one of the very first missions of the space shuttle was to re-boost the Skylab to a higher orbit. Unfortunately that never happened as Skylab reentered Earth's atmosphere in 1979, 2 years before the space shuttle was first launched.

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#### Cabernut

##### Well-Known Member
Interesting video(the OP one)

I've read this conclusion somewhere before. The Shuttle program turned out to be much more expensive and deadlier than expected and I think NASA came to that conclusion as well which is why they went back to tall rockets and capsules. Shuttles are really cool, but not when they kill people.

Good move on their part to give private companies room to develop during this "vacuum" post-Shuttle era.

Not sure I'd want to ride on a Falcon 9 just yet though.

#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
I've read this on the Challanger investigation which was released in book format and carried by my local library at the time:

https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-CRPT-99hrpt1016/pdf/GPO-CRPT-99hrpt1016.pdf

Also, I read these volumes on the Columbia incident:

http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/home/CAIB_Vol1.html

and this one on the effects to the Columbia crew. The most gruesome stuff is censored:

https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/298870main_SP-2008-565.pdf

That video I linked to above goes into the basic design flaws that made the incident rate and mass to orbit costs FAR higher than NASA's grossly underestimated figures.

There's a PDF study somewhere on-line that I read that said that winged reusable vehicles are a really bad idea because of all of the non-payload mass that must be taken in and out of orbit. Musk said in one of his interviews I watched on YouTube that a winged vehicle is about the dumbest way to design a reusable launch vehicle because of that.

Because of its much smaller size, being unmanned, and perhaps being best for certain unknown interchangeable space hardware test missions swapped in and out of the payload bay, the USAF X-37B might be the best way to do whatever they're doing with it. The ability to precisely fly to a specific landing site is one big advantage I can think of for a vehicle carrying classified payloads.

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#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Interesting video(the OP one)

I've read this conclusion somewhere before. The Shuttle program turned out to be much more expensive and deadlier than expected and I think NASA came to that conclusion as well which is why they went back to tall rockets and capsules. Shuttles are really cool, but not when they kill people.

Good move on their part to give private companies room to develop during this "vacuum" post-Shuttle era.

Not sure I'd want to ride on a Falcon 9 just yet though.
Yes, although fundamentally flawed in flight safety and cost to orbit aspects, it was an absolutely amazing vehicle. If you read the timelines just before failure in both the Challenger and Columbia incidents, the highly robotic vehicle was doing everything it could do to stay alive just as it should have done and just when it should have done it, a beautiful example of computer control of an incredibly complex piece of electromechanical hardware flying itself through a sequence of insane flight envelopes on every flight.

#### Woody's Workshop

##### Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
One thing comes to mind to me. When Hubble was launched, it had a flaw. Quite the face/palm to NASA.
If not for the shuttle, it would have been a total waste.
But our flight crew got the fix part up there and installed.
It took part in many such fixes and assembly missions.
Though flawed, it did serve a vital part of what we use today.
God rest the souls of the men and women that lost their lives who dared into space.

#### rstaff3

##### Oddroc-eteer
Returned payloads are another thing that couldn't otherwise have been done.

#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
One thing comes to mind to me. When Hubble was launched, it had a flaw. Quite the face/palm to NASA.
If not for the shuttle, it would have been a total waste.
But our flight crew got the fix part up there and installed.
It took part in many such fixes and assembly missions.
Though flawed, it did serve a vital part of what we use today.
God rest the souls of the men and women that lost their lives who dared into space.
I'd like to see all extremely high cost earth orbit unmanned spacecraft designed for remote telepresence servicing such as repair and refueling. I'll bet this would add to their mass, but since launch costs will be going down...

Frankly, I suspect that might be one of the future functions for the X-37B or something like it. For certain, optical and maybe even radar reconnaissance satellites are Hubble level of expensive and in the process of changing their orbital characteristics to view specific targets of interest, they use up propellant. On-orbit servicing and refueling would probably be very useful.

2012 National Reconnaissance Office space telescope donation to NASA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_National_Reconnaissance_Office_space_telescope_donation_to_NASA

#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Returned payloads are another thing that couldn't otherwise have been done.
On a cost basis, that doesn't make economic sense for the vast majority of satellites. For such things like material exposure experiments that need to be returned to the ground for study, it would be cheaper just to provide the experimental craft with the ability to de-orbit and reenter. It does make sense for classified payloads like those in the X-37B that need to be certain of returning to a specific location.

#### SaturnV

##### Well-Known Member
Of course it is doomed . This stupid machine killed 14 people.More than any other in the all history of space flights.

#### georgegassaway

Apollo killed 3 people without even being launched. Apollo-13 was CLOSE to being fatal - If the explosion had happened shortly after TLI (3rd stage burn to go to the moon), or after they went into orbit around the moon, the crew would never have made it back.

And those were the first eight Manned Apollo missions. Had there been a total of 135 Apollo flights, there would likely have been more fatal missions.

Also, IIRC, there never were any Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo missions launched when ENGINEERS for the BOOSTERS said DO NOT FLY, there is a problem. For Challenger, somehow, NASA had totally flipped their launch safety requirements, PROVE IT IS SAFE TO FLY, to the exact opposite PROVE IT IS NOT SAFE TO FLY. And the Thiokol engineers could not provide enough solid proof that it was unsafe (Too cold, likely O-ring blow-by), to the NASA official pushing for launch at all costs, so they got overruled/ignored.

Pretty much both shuttle accidents were due in large part to bureaucratic complacency about safety. The crew of the Columbia might be alive today if the ENGINEERS who wanted to get ReCon satellite imagery to check for damage, had not been OVERRULED by a higher-up NASA official, under the false assumption that foam could NEVER damage an orbiter badly enough to be a SAFETY problem.

Again 17 years after Challenger. PROVE IT IS NOT SAFE had crept back in, with the extra knife twist of OVERRULING obtaining the VERY PROOF that the engineers had already ARRANGED TO GET. There was a VERY GOOD chance that there could have been a successful rescue mission, if the damage had been discovered (Columbia could have gone into a low power and long duration mode). For those who do not recall, that was a non-satellite science mission that had no need for the RMS "arm", so it was not flown. Otherwise the arm could have been used to aim its wrist camera to look for damage and would have found the gaping hole in the RCC leading edge, which was not visible from the cabin windows.

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#### DaveHein

##### Well-Known Member
After the Challenger disaster the odds of another catastrophic failure were estimated to be from 1 in 36 to 1 in 168. So it was known at that that time that there would most likely be more failures. The tile damage problem was always a major concern. Hanging the shuttle on the side of the external tank was just an accident waiting to happen. Chunks of ice always fall from rockets that contain cryogenic fuel. Just look at footage from the Apollo launches and you see ice showering down as the Saturn V takes off.

The tile material has very little strength. I did contract work at NASA-Ames for a few years, and the lab where the tiles were developed was located in the same building I was in. Every once in a while there a was a strong chemical smell in our lab. We finally tracked down the source of the smell as coming from the tile lab. Occasionally, they would burn off epoxy, and their exhaust vent was located upwind from a fresh air vent that fed our area of the building. After talking to the guys in the tile lab they corrected the problem with the vents. They gave us some samples of the tile material, and our work-study students did a few "experiments" with them.

The tile material is very lightweight and soft. You could easily stick a thumbnail into it. The tiles that were put on the shuttle had a thin coating of borosilicate to protect them. However, it doesn't take much of an impact to chip that thin coating. Many of the shuttle missions came back with damage to some of the shuttle tiles. In STS-27, the Space Shuttle Atlantis came back with 700 damaged tiles. One of the tiles was completely missing, and the aluminum plate beneath it was almost melted through. Fortunately, there was a steel mounting plate for an antenna behind it that probably saved the aluminum from melting through.

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#### rstaff3

##### Oddroc-eteer
On a cost basis, that doesn't make economic sense for the vast majority of satellites. For such things like material exposure experiments that need to be returned to the ground for study, it would be cheaper just to provide the experimental craft with the ability to de-orbit and reenter. It does make sense for classified payloads like those in the X-37B that need to be certain of returning to a specific location.
I don't know how to define 'economic sense' in this sense since I don't know the value of the things returned, such as whole satellites. Since most Shuttle missions included a lot of tasks, it's not at all clear to me that the fractional mission cost for, say, two returned satellites was more that it would have been for a comm satellite company to design, launch, and retrieve a returnable satellite. If you want to make some comprehensive cost estimates, maybe you'd convince me. I think you'd also find it enabled a lot of things that wouldn't ever have been accomplished on individual launches. Whether doing these made 'economic sense' would depend on the value gleaned from each item.

Whether any of this is worth the lives lost is another issue that I'll leave to the philosophers and the astronauts themselves.

#### Nathan

##### ☢
TRF Supporter
135 shuttle missions and 2 lost in accidents. So statistically you had a 1 in 67 chance of dying if you flew on a shuttle mission. Not very good odds.

#### Marc_G

##### Well-Known Member
135 shuttle missions and 2 lost in accidents. So statistically you had a 1 in 67 chance of dying if you flew on a shuttle mission. Not very good odds.
What were the odds for the first folks to try sailing across oceans?

#### georgegassaway

Apollo had 15 missions, including Apollo-1. One fatal accident, one CLOSE to fatal accident.

Odds of death for Apollo = 1 in 15
Odds of close to fatal accident = 1 in 7.5

Also a VERY close to fatal accident during Gemini program (Gemini-8, stuck thruster caused such rapid roll that the crew almost blacked out before thy could stop it). Odds of close to fatal accident = 1 in 10

#### dhbarr

##### Amateur Professional
Turns out sending squishy things into space without turning them into gooey things is hard.

I still wanna' go.

#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
I don't know how to define 'economic sense' in this sense since I don't know the value of the things returned, such as whole satellites. Since most Shuttle missions included a lot of tasks, it's not at all clear to me that the fractional mission cost for, say, two returned satellites was more that it would have been for a comm satellite company to design, launch, and retrieve a returnable satellite. If you want to make some comprehensive cost estimates, maybe you'd convince me. I think you'd also find it enabled a lot of things that wouldn't ever have been accomplished on individual launches. Whether doing these made 'economic sense' would depend on the value gleaned from each item.

Whether any of this is worth the lives lost is another issue that I'll leave to the philosophers and the astronauts themselves.
Well, like I said, it would be best to make satellites telepresence on-orbit serviceable. Also, advancing technology will result in greater inherent reliability and the ability to include more redundancy.

There's not a lot to be easily found on the cost issue since most of what I found always talks of total cost to orbit, but I found this from 2009:

http://www.space.com/6839-space-forecast-predicts-satellite-production-boom.html

"The average satellite price over the next decade will be $99 million, compared to$97 million in the past 10 years. The per-satellite launch price is predicted to remain flat, at $51 million, according to Euroconsult." Note that that$51 million figure is for expendable vehicles which don't have the need to put a lot of non-payload mass (like wings) into orbit and return it to Earth, factors which make winging vehicles inherently more expensive.

Now, a vehicle that simply used a cheap ride to space on a Falcon 9 or FH and ballistic reentry which delivered payload to space in its payload bay and then robotically or via telepresence loaded a satellite to be returned into its payload bay might be economically viable, but then the satellites will need to have some standardized handling and attachment system amenable to robotic handling.

#### rstaff3

##### Oddroc-eteer
Well, like I said, it would be best to make satellites telepresence on-orbit serviceable. Also, advancing technology will result in greater inherent reliability and the ability to include more redundancy.

There's not a lot to be easily found on the cost issue since most of what I found always talks of total cost to orbit, but I found this from 2009:

http://www.space.com/6839-space-forecast-predicts-satellite-production-boom.html

"The average satellite price over the next decade will be $99 million, compared to$97 million in the past 10 years. The per-satellite launch price is predicted to remain flat, at $51 million, according to Euroconsult." Note that that$51 million figure is for expendable vehicles which don't have the need to put a lot of non-payload mass (like wings) into orbit and return it to Earth, factors which make winging vehicles inherently more expensive.

Now, a vehicle that simply used a cheap ride to space on a Falcon 9 or FH and ballistic reentry which delivered payload to space in its payload bay and then robotically or via telepresence loaded a satellite to be returned into its payload bay might be economically viable, but then the satellites will need to have some standardized handling and attachment system amenable to robotic handling.
How to make satellites cheaper, more robust, serviceable, etc has been a huge issue for at least 25 years. The trouble is that when the cost blossoms, science projects, for example, can't afford the bells and whistles. If you give them more money, fewer missions get done. The trend seems to be more for smaller satellites and to accept more risk.

#### tab28682

##### Well-Known Member
Of course it is doomed . This stupid machine killed 14 people.More than any other in the all history of space flights.
Shuttle: 2 fatal accidents in 117 flights (1 in 58.5), 14 fatalities in 698 person-trips (1 in 49.9)
Soyuz: 2 fatal accidents in 129 flights (1 in 64.5), 4 fatalities.

Same number of fatal accidents for Soyuz and for the Shuttle. Similar risks overall. Yes, the Soyuz fatalities were early in the program.

One more Soyuz accident and it might take the lead in risk per person-trip.

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#### Winston

##### Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Shuttle: 2 fatal accidents in 117 flights (1 in 58.5), 14 fatalities in 698 person-trips (1 in 49.9)
Soyuz: 2 fatal accidents in 129 flights (1 in 64.5), 4 fatalities.

Same number of fatal accidents for Soyuz and for the Shuttle. Similar risks overall. Yes, the Soyuz fatalities were early in the program.

One more Soyuz accident and it might take the lead in risk per person-trip.
Yes, and I don't know about those Soyuz accidents, but the loss of one vehicle and crew (Challenger) was entirely a failure of management to listen to its engineers, not fixing a known and fixable problem and not listening to SRB engineers on that too-cold day that exacerbated the flaw. The other vehicle (Columbia) could not have been saved once the major damage was done to the carbon-carbon leading edge caused by an inherent flaw (foam insulation on the external tank), but the crew might have been saved if, once again, management had given the vehicle a look-over using optical recon satellite images.

What really doomed the Shuttle was its insane cost of operation due to the fundamental issue of needing to take too much non-payload mass to and from orbit and technology related issues like the expense of maintaining the impact-fragile thermal protection system.