The Last (Government Run) Space Bus Is Leaving the Station



Weather permitting, tomorrow will mark the final launch of NASA's 30-year-old space shuttle program. The mission of the Atlantis flight isn't terribly inspiring—the shuttle is tasked with delivering a year's worth of provisions for the International Space Station and toting "multiple sets of patches and pins representing all 135 shuttle missions, as well as thousands of shuttle bookmarks for children" into space and back again. And so the shuttle program will end with more of a whimper than a bang (inshallah).

NASA test director Jeff Spaulding offered this garbled explanation of the importance of the shuttle program:

"There's an old saying that says it's better to travel well than to arrive," Spaulding said. "And I'd have to say after the last 30 years, certainly our program and these shuttles, throughout all of their missions, have traveled very well. And after 135's landing, I think we can say at that point that we've arrived."

Come to think of it, a garbled explanation might be the most accurate one. What exactly NASA is supposed to be doing—other than winning the future and being inspirational and stuff—has been unclear for a long time now. The end of the shuttle program marks a chance for NASA to re-envision its mission and hand off some of the humdrum tasks of maintaining a human presence in space to private industry

NEXT: How a Single Nick Gillespie Sentence Indicates "the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview," or at Least Is a Good Enough Reason to Pre-emptively Discount a Piece of Journalism About Black People Getting Screwed Over in D.C.

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  1. There are a lot of old sayings that are stupid and make no sense. And what about the two that exploded? That is traveling well? If so, I’d much rather arrive in one piece.

    1. That is traveling well?

      Hey, can you think of a better way to go than while strapped to a 4 million pound rocket?

      1. Being shot by a jealous husband?

  2. I am a space junkie and have been since April 12, 1961.

    I confess I will miss the Shuttle.

    I am hoping that private space ventures can turn space travel into an everyday (profitable) occurrence.

    1. I’m more hopeful about manned spaceflight now than I’ve been since we were still sending people to the Moon. SpaceX and others like it are about to fling the door to space wide open. Once we have truly low-cost access to space, things are going to get very interesting.

      The shuttle program has been a disappointment in that it was a serious waste of money and kept us piddling around in LEO far too long, but it’s hard for a space junkie not to have some liking for the old piece of junk.

      1. Aresen and ProLibertate: I agree! Well said.

    2. Virgin Galactic starts flights late next year.

      1. if the damned feds don’t interfere

    3. I know that this crowd will be shocked – but there are massive government barriers to free enterprise in space.…..rise.shtml

  3. We have the Muslims to thank for coming up with the numbery-sciency stuff that led to, eventually, shitcanning the entire NASA space program.

  4. We’re going to miss these machines when the asteroids come knocking at the pantry and there’s nothing available to land Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck on them.

    1. They’ll use the Buran obviously.

        1. Ben Affleck can get anything working. He’s the best reverse engineer in the world!

        2. It’s just a flesh wound.

    2. We’ll just build a new ship out of Transformers sets and power it with Michael Bay’s ego. No worries.

      1. Does it pain you that your white whale makes so much money in merchandising? One day the Bays and Bruckheimers of the world will go Galt and leave empty the summer blockbuster matinee showing that is your soul.

        1. I am beyond pain. I have no objection to Bay making money; I have an objection to him making movies.

          And, if only he would please, please go Galt. Anything that gets him to stop making movies.

          1. Perhaps you should take up a collection to bribe him into not making any more movies.

            Like with television, music, and computer games, people can make a lot of money making crap. Doesn’t make it not crap.

            1. Did a family friend touch you during a midnight showing of Bad Boys II, Epi? Did your parents refuse to buy you any The Island action figures, ProLib?

              Welcome to the Rock, gentlemen. And that rock is your heart.

              1. I really disliked the one or two of his movies I’ve seen. Naturally, I’ve simply stopped watching them. In that respect, I thank Mr. Bay, as he’s provided a simple brand identifier for movies to avoid.

            2. “Perhaps you should take up a collection to bribe him into not making any more movies.”


  5. I don’t really understand support for the shuttle from NASA-promoters. To me it just seems like a gigantic waste of money; sucking funds away from non-lemon spacecraft that perhaps wouldn’t explode as often.

    1. The Shuttles were tools – they should have been used to build the next tool – a real space station and a space elevator. Now we are back to nothing.

  6. NASA does ok with robots and probes, but the shuttle was a mess of a program that consumed tax money and, tragically, lives.

    1. IIRC, Heinlein was thoroughly disgusted with NASA for shutting down the shuttle for 2 years after the Challenger disaster.

      The Untied States did not become what it is because its people were timid and would not take (sometimes fatal) chances. The nannies and wusses have taken over.

      1. ^^this^^. Flying in to outer space is unbelievably dangerous. The fact that we’ve only lost two shuttles out of 130 odd missions is a pretty damn good error rate. If not for incredibly skilled pilots and inventive engineers we would also have had two Apollo rockets lost as well.

        Both shuttle losses occurred due to human negligence and bureaucratic mismanagement. It’s not because the Shuttle was badly designed. I agree that the Shuttle is a money pit in its current application, but it is our destiny to get humans in to outer space beyond even the moon.

        I will miss the shuttle. It is one of the greatest engineering achievements of mankind, period.

        1. I think the shuttle is badly designed in the sense that it’s amazingly over-engineered for what it does. NASA has bragged in the past that it’s the most complex thing humans have ever constructed. Don’t think that’s a good thing.

          The loss rate is another issue. Whether we could provide totally safe manned spaceflight right now is something I’m not prepared to answer. Maybe we could, but I think we’re early enough in the process to expect some losses.

          1. I tend to agree on the over-engineered part.

            I don’t have any stats, but I would not be surprised if BDR’s have a lower failure rate due to fewer therbligs.

        2. Homer Hickam wrote a book called Back to the Moon where this guy hijacks the shuttle and outfits it with a new motor to go into lunar orbit. Based on a legitimate engineering concept. Worth reading, I enjoyed it.

      2. By the way, it’s Heinlein’s 104th birthday.

    2. “the (fill-in-the-blank) was a mess of a program that consumed tax money…”

  7. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo — cool shit when I was growing up.

    The shuttle was a waste of time and money. Maybe it just needed a better name.

    1. Right? Instead of trying to reach the Gods on Olympus, it sounded like they were trying to make it to the Van Allen belt before it closed for the night.

  8. She packed my bags last night…..

  9. Woohoo! I will raise a toast celebrating the end of this program tomorrow night.

  10. The shuttle existed to supply the ISS.

    The ISS existed to give the space shuttle someplace to go to.

    1. Government bootstrapping at its finest.

  11. Pro lib, as we’ve discussed I have a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering, and even had a (brief) phone interview with SpaceX. I have no liking for the shuttle. It’s held us back for far too long and had a ridiculously high failure rate. It is even responsible for the Hubble being built smaller than originally called for.

    Although your point is in general a good one. All my peers knew that I was much more into space exploration than them, and could not understand why I don’t care about the last shuttle launch.

    1. My mom was surprised when I slighted the shuttle the other day. She’s so used to me being all ga-ga over spaceflight (my dad worked on Apollo the first few years of my life) that she just assumes I’m okay with NASA. Which, of course, I’m not.

      NASA did something impressive with Apollo, but manned spaceflight has been mostly an expensive joke ever since. Even Apollo turned out to be a dead end, but it could’ve been built upon, even as a government program.

      We’ll see how well alt-space does, but I’m very hopeful.

      1. Personally, I always thought things like Voyager got a hell of a lot of science for the money compared to sending 7 people up to see the effects of weightlessness on screws.

        They’re still getting info from the damn thing.

        1. Yes, the unmanned probes did some good work for a lot less. That said, the “debate” over whether we should be sending men into space never made sense to me. Maybe when we have better AI the answer will be different, but for the foreseeable future, robots are not going to be able to do what men can do.

        2. Except that in a few hundred years it’ll come back as V’GER and will possibly destroy us all, depending on whether Kirk can get Persis Khambatta to sleep with him.

          1. Good point, but you realize you finished with a rhetorical question, so we’re totally and perfectly safe.

            1. Also, since she was an exotic alien babe, there never really was a question if Kirk could get her to sleep with him.

              1. I mean, come on! Episiarch has polluted his mind watching that Star WarsStar Trek mashup that was recently released under the Trek brand.

                In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk merely chose not to mate and merge with robot bald lady and V’Ger. After all, he’s had sex with robot women before–been there, done her–and he has no need to become a godlike alien, having casually defeated such many times in the past.

        3. The Voyager photo dad brought home one day had a prominent spot on the wall, right next to the inside cover of Eat A Peach.

          1. And your sister never had to ask why she was named Melissa…

  12. Who needs a manned space truck when your air force has an unmanned one?

    1. How are we going to take it out when its AI goes rogue?

        1. Launched by Jessica Biel.

          1. more, please.

    2. Who needs a manned space truck when your air force has an unmanned one?

      I was reading that page when this caught my eye. I immediately thought Andromeda Strain, but it’s probably just because of the hydrazine propellant.

      Mach 25. Toxic fuel. Those flyboys don’t mess around.

  13. Bring the troops home from Iraq a month early, and fund the manned mission to Mars.

  14. I’m OK with allowing private companies to operate spaceships, so long as they purchase one of the limited number of medallions issued by the Space Transport Commission.

  15. “What exactly NASA is supposed to be doing?other than winning the future and being inspirational and stuff?has been unclear for a long time now.”

    My understanding is that it was to “find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.”

  16. The space shuttle has, in it’s 30-whatever years taken us from the Moon to low-earth orbit.
    If someone had told John Glenn after he got back from said orbit, that he’d turn his astronaut career into a political career and thereby be able to, as a well-past-middle-age senator, get to ride as far into space as NASA could take anyone, and had they then asked him where that trip would take him, his answer would not have been low-earth orbit.
    The only differences between Glenn’s first ride and his second was that the second time he stayed up a bit longer, could move around and he got to take a couple friends.
    The Space Shuttle – the lost opportunity costs in wealth and talent just boggle the mind.

  17. ” And after 135’s landing, I think we can say at that point that we’ve arrived.”

    Uhm.. shouldn’t that be 133 landings, Jeff?

    1. Doh! Too late I realize the “s” is after 135 not landing in the original.

      At least it’s Friday.

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