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Columbia began era of shuttle - tragedy, worries pursued program after that first 1981 flight
The Dallas Morning News ^ | February 2, 2003 | By KAREN PATTERSON / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on 02/02/2003 5:16:47 AM PST by MeekOneGOP

Columbia began era of shuttle

Tragedy, worries pursued program after that first 1981 flight


By KAREN PATTERSON / The Dallas Morning News

Columbia first roared into orbit April 12, 1981, and took an uncertain nation with it.

Ronald Reagan had just left a Washington, D.C., hospital the day before, after an assassin's bullet barely missed his heart. Recuperating, he awoke 10 minutes before the day's event, the first launch of a shuttle into orbit.

No lofty White House speeches were planned that Sunday morning. "It's a spectacular sight," the president said.

But even then, Columbia was tainted by tragedy. Two workers had died at Cape Canaveral, Fla., during a launch rehearsal three weeks earlier when they blundered into a nitrogen-filled engine compartment and suffocated.

And there were many other worries, big and small, surrounding that first flight.

The shuttle program was three years behind schedule. And NASA was under financial pressure: The agency had promised a program of reusable vehicles that would pay for themselves, through deliveries of commercial payloads to space, about 24 times a year.

Moreover, unlike other spacecraft, the shuttle required people to test it. This was the first time astronauts would head into space in an unproven ship. The two-man crew had ejection seats just in case.

The launch had been delayed since that Friday by a computer problem. But that was easily fixed: Shuttle workers turned the computer system off, then back on.

Bigger worries came when Columbia took flight. During the craft's ascent, some heat-protective tiles were shaken loose. Photos revealed, though, that the ship's underside remained protected, and two days later, Columbia sailed through re-entry at 25 times the speed of sound, landing in a dry lake bed in California.

In subsequent years, as Columbia's sister ships took to the air, it became apparent that the fleet was undergoing more wear than expected, with each craft requiring more down-time than anticipated. By the end of 1985, just before the Challenger exploded, shuttles had flown nine times that year - a record but still short of NASA's goal.

Over the years, Columbia was retrofitted three times, including overhauls beginning in 1994 and 1999. That most recent retrofitting took a year and a half.

"As its 20th birthday approaches, Columbia is fit to fly for many more years," NASA's space shuttle program manager declared in 2001. The more than 100 modifications included new wiring, engines and a gleaming interior.

Columbia was not the first shuttle. That title belongs to a craft named Enterprise, a prototype that never flew in space.

Still, when Columbia lifted off that April day almost 22 years ago - exactly two decades after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth in space - it was a singular occasion. The mission, monikered STS-1 (for Space Transportation System-1), was the maiden voyage of a craft built to endure perhaps 100. By the end of the century, it had flown more than 100 million miles.

Columbia was on its 28th mission when it disintegrated in the Texas sky.


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TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: nasa; restinpeace; shuttlecolumbia; shuttledisaster
Video link: Shuttle over D/FW, Texas

Very close-up, slo-mo of the Columbia launch debris

1 posted on 02/02/2003 5:16:47 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
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To: All
Columbia was on its 28th mission when it disintegrated in the Texas sky.


Space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it hurtled
across North Texas shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday.
The image was taken in Flower Mound.

2 posted on 02/02/2003 5:17:54 AM PST by MeekOneGOP (9 out of 10 Republicans agree: Bush IS a Genius !!)
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To: MeeknMing
It's probably not "sporting" to kick a program when it's down - but it is long past time to replace the shuttle and its management infrastructure.

The Shuttle was born of a Faustian bargain between Congress, the Air Force and NASA. Originally, the Air Force had a design for a 2-stage to orbit, completely re-usable system called DynaSoar. The problem was the upfront costs of development. Congress panned it. So Air Force got with NASA and hammered out the Shuttle design (Air Force had some specific requirements of Shuttle capabilities). In order to sell the design to Congress, a certain General Abrahamson arranged it to so that Air Force promised that they would get rid of all those "costly" expendable launchers and use Shuttle exclusively for military satellite launches. Shuttle represented reduced upfront development costs - but higher operational costs - due to the nonresuble nature of key elements of the system - as in the tank and boosters. Boosters ain't really all that re-usable - and the refurbishment costs of the Shuttle itself are astronomical. But... in a climate where nobody could stay in one job longer than 4 years - else be labeled a "Homesteader" and get transferred to Timbuktu by MPC (AF personnel office) - who cares what disastrous decisions are taken? As long as the consequences are at least 4 years out.

Cut to the early 80's - working with Shuttle. As a First Lieutenant - I was assigned to work in a technology demonstrator "SDI" program (SDI office had not been created yet). This experiment was a shuttle sortie - meaning it stayed in the bay and all activities involved shuttle crew. But we were having a devil of a time with NASA. The timelines for our experiment were such that we needed more than the 12 hours per day of crew activity NASA would give us . We'd have these big meetings at Johnson, Lockheed or JPL - where NASA would stonewall us with their trump card "NASA crew rules...NASA crew rules." "OK, we said - let's look at the CAP - the Crew Activity Plan." They posted it on the projector and I asked, "What's that labeled grooming?"

"Brushing their teeth" they answered.
"A half-hour for that?"
"Yep. Can't be changed."
"Alright. At this point we have to look at double crews, to get 24 hour ops."
"No way. 24-hour ops would disturb the sleeping crews."
"What do you mean? How so? It's not like they're setting off bombs back there."
"Oh yeah, Lieutenant? Every time they maneuver - those vernier thrusters go off like cannon shot."
"Fine. Give'em some acoustic headphones...look, the shuttle is not supposed to be a Holiday Inn in the sky, it's supposed to actually support missions."

At this point, the meeting broke down very acrimoniously - and everybody scurried home to elevate the issue to where some sanity might prevail. It eventually did. We got 24 hour ops - at least we WERE going to get that. But General Abrahamson did us in, albeit indirectly.

Abrahamson, busy being shifted from each 4-year-or-less assignment, was eventually appointed head of SDI. He complained to Reagan that if he didn't have budgetary control of all SDI programs - he had no control at all. He got his way - which was a dumb move. Congress HATED the SDI program - but they didn't have an easy way to kill it. Our SDI activities were funded through generic AF space activities - some in launch operations, some in software development, R&D, etc. There was no budgetary item called "SDI". Abrahamson consolidated all our budgets and gave them one fat juicy target. And they nuked it. He asked for $1.7 billion in FY 85 - and they gave him $1.2 billion.

So what did Mr. Air-Force-will-use-only-Shuttle do? To save money by avoiding shuttle launch costs, he gave himself Special Dispensation and bought 10 expendable launchers for his other SDI programs - but left the rest of us lined up around the block to use Shuttle, which had a hopeless backlog of operational military satellites that trumped our technology-demonstrator priority. But at least he had the further thickheadedness to inadvertently put us out of our misery.

I got a call one morning from the head of the Lockheed program director - who was looking for program redirection. Seems SDI had cut Lockheed's FY 85 $125 million budgetary allocation down to a laughable $20 million - but gave them no authorization to descope program goals. So she (actually "it", "He" had had a sex change - but that's another ridiculously unbelievable story) was calling me to ask for program descoping. I told 'her' - "You know I can't do that - We're not the Program Office. We're just the space operations office being wagged by the same stupid dog."

So what did Lockheed do? It spent $20 million at the rate of $125 million a year - driving toward the now-impossible goals requiring $125 million a year - until it went flat broke and stopped dead in its tracks. End of program. It legally had no choice to do anything other. Your tax dollars at work.

So, I concentrated on the four other technology demonstrator satellite/sortie program in my in-basket - each one doomed to fly on Shuttle - supposedly. Every time NASA came out with a new launch schedule, we got farther back in the list - and delayed a year or more each time. This has a very real dollar impact - because you have to keep the development team employed working on that program until it launches. At one point, to save costs and bump ourselves up in the schedule we proposed to consolidate two of these programs, one deployment and one sortie - into a single Orbiter mission. But NASA said the wings would have to be strengthened to carry both - and that would happen...sometime in the future, and that Vandenberg would not be ready for polar launches for sometime anyway...

The Challenger explosion finished off all these four programs, along with many others. There is a billion dollar paper-weight down in Rockwell's Seal Beach facility - which was another SDI satellite. I used to go visit and see it being finalized through the big glass windows into the clean room. It was inspiring to watch. As for the other three sortie/satellites, I imagine they might be lobby sculptures, or maybe in a playground next to an old Sherman tank.

To summarize a long story, it has been my direct experience that Shuttle, and the stultified NASA management structure necessary to operate it, has been a disaster for the launch manifest. The Air Force has now completely backed out of the Shuttle-only posture that killed many satellites - cost us billions, and which delayed untold progress in space R&D.

Not only that, even during the heady days of senior year at MIT's Aero & Astro department, when everybody wore their Aero & Astro (Course 16) T-shirts right after Enterprise successfully landed, our professors were telling us that Shuttle was only an interim vehicle at best, and that there was no way that it was going to provide the $300/lb cost to Low Earth Orbit that would be necessary for serious space exploitation.

Now is the time to take most of our eggs out of the Shuttle basket. It is time to develop the Scramjet single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. This vehicle would be designed to take off and land from any major airport - accelerate to Mach 4 using standard turbojets with rocket-assist - then kick in the scramjets - which are essentially hollow tubes with fuel injectors - but hollow tubes which can achieve Mach 18 or better. It will cost a LOT of money. But it will open up Low Earth Orbit to reliable economic access (as well as commercial air travel to undreamed of swiftness), and routine, flexible and economical access to space will bring its own possibilities. To paraphrase the Midas ad, we have seen that the choice is "You can pay for a real option now, or pay through the nose to operate a white elephant later."

3 posted on 02/02/2003 6:15:29 AM PST by guitfiddlist
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