Death of the Shuttle

Sigh. So there are photos of Discovery being ferried over Washington, DC. The photos are being labelled “Shuttle’s last flight.”

Nah. Not true. Because before the Shuttle (and its brethren) are delivered to the museums, they’ve been cut up and rendered unserviceable. You can’t take a shuttle now, turn around and make it a flightworthy article.

We did the same thing with the jigs used to make the Saturn rocket when Congress approved the shuttle.

Why? So that we couldn’t make more Saturn rockets.

Cortez burnt his boats, we simply castrated our space program.


With Congressional approval, practically with Congressional mandate.

Werner von Braun proposed the original shuttle. It was proposed as a strictly manned vehicle, an adjunct to the Saturn I and V rocket fleet. The Saturns would the heavy-lifters while the shuttle would get people into orbit in a low-stress launch.

The space shuttle was always supposed to be the first experimental version of a permanent re-usable vehicle.

Instead, in order to get funding and Department of Defense backing, the shuttle was perverted into a crewed heavy-lift “truck.” Naturally, being designed by committee with two different goals, it failed at both.

And because it was touted as this “cheap, safe” access to orbit, no one was ever willing to discuss the follow-on — the vehicle built from the lessons learned in the design, development, and deployment of the shuttle.

So what have we got now? Nothing. We buy our “heavy lift” from either Europe or Russia. We buy our “manned lift” from Russia.

Every American should be ashamed.

We have squandered an invaluable lead in space exploration and research.

The argument that private enterprise will fill the void is wishful thinking. I recall Burt Rutan saying that there was an order of magnitude difference in difficulty between suborbital flight (like SpaceShip One) and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).

We can hope that the people at SpaceX or some other private enterprise will bridge that gap successfully.

But right now we’ve got nada, zip, zilch — a national disgrace.


  1. Robert

    Your nationalism is showing! It doesn’t matter who does these things first or who is in the lead, the biggest sadness is the setback in space exploration in general. It’s sad that the whole world, including the US, doesn’t take it more seriously on this increasingly doomed planet.

  2. I saw the article today and the picture of the shuttle being “piggybacked.” Sad. I think as a culture we’ve really lost our sense of exploration and wonder – and I also think this translates into fiction as well.

    I’ve been reading a lot of 1940s-1950s sci-fi paperbacks (whatever I can find) recently and though they varied in quality, it was all about coming up with strange worlds, humanity seeking to expand out and make the stars our new frontier. There were dangerous aliens, dangerous environments, human adaptability.

    I don’t see those kind of stories anymore, and likewise we don’t really have a space program anymore. I don’t mean to make you sound old, but I don’t see anyone my age (20s) talking about space or astronomy. If we do, it’s in the context of some video game. I think part if it is our entertainment has become so good and so pervasive, there’s just no demand for it. And when there’s no demand, our leaders (and i use the word loosely, because they’re obviously not lead-ING) ignore it, because there’s nothing political to gain by it.

    An inability to push forward means the end of our dominance of a society as well. But that’s a bigger problem for another thread.

    Sorry for the rant, but I’m as saddened by this as you are.

  3. I completely agree, and am heartbroken to see it dismantled. My only consolation is that we will probably be able to see it in the air and space museum.

    I believe that at somepoint we WILL revive the space program. Maybe with the shuttles retired we will be able to start with a cleaner design based on our lessons learned from this project.

    Humans have too much yearning to leap into space for it to be abandoned for long.

  4. I remember crying tears of pride and joy the day the first shuttle launched. It felt like the next step into a future filled with promise and the realization of the dream of exploring the next frontier . . . space.

    I was only a child when the words were spoken, “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

    Today, we bury not only our space program, but a piece of the American spirit . . . the part that accepts the challenge of doing things “because they are hard.” Therein lays the greatest tragedy of all.

  5. Alan

    Certainly I’ve seen two shuttles, the first doing the euro tour back in the eighties on top of the 747, Atlantis final flight we got a good fly over southern UK with the ISS. There may have been other joined passes but unknowing if that was so.

    It was a sad day of the last landing. It was a sad day for the final flights of Concorde but they lasted far longer than expected, the shuttles were killed off early.

    I watched as a child the first steps on the moon, I’ve watched poor scifi space films, I grew up with Kirk and Spock in awe of the possibilities. The Shuttle seemed to be the first real link to a future, now it is cut.

    Politics is money never sense, our TSR2 program, the destruction of the jigs, airframe and data for politics not for the costs. Yes there was problems with the airframe/landing gear to name one, the big problem was too many managements not working together!

    We the human race need a future! where is it?

  6. Todd


    Not so much nationalism as appealing to the smallest group that could (possibly) make a difference. Fandom in the States has caused such things as the naming of the first non-flying shuttle and could, if sufficiently aroused, perhaps cause new and important things to occur again.

    I also rather doubt that the Chinese will be allowing anyone to ride on their spacecraft.

    Elon Musk — a South African — seems to be leading the currently most successful space exploration outfit (SpaceX) but he’s based not far south from me here in Los Angeles, while Scaled Composite’s Spaceship One flew not far north from me here in Los Angeles (I drove out to the desert along with everyone else when they made the first flight).

    The current holders of the torch of innovation, particularly in space exploration are still the Americans. That may change, just as the torch of innovation moved from the UK to the US. China has a greater migrant population than the United States has total population, they invented the very first rockets and it’s quite possible that it will be a Chinese person who cracks FTL drives.

    But the odds of me influencing a change of policy or direction in China are much smaller than making a similar change in the US, so I choose accordingly.

    — Todd

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