Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Five Reasons It's Time to Retire the Space Shuttle

Mission managers have set Space Shuttle Atlantis’ last launch for July 8, 2011. Atlantis’ last flight will also bring to an end the 30 year shuttle program. President Bush decided in 2004 to cancel the program after the loss of Columbia and her crew. While many are questioning this decision now, it was the right thing to do. Here are 5 reasons why.

#1 Safety: The Shuttle is a dangerous vehicle to fly. Historically it has about 1 chance in 67 of a catastrophic failure on any given flight. It has no launch escape system for the crew. If the shuttle keeps flying it’s just a matter of time until there’s another serious accident.

#2 Expense: It’s very expensive to fly and maintain the shuttle fleet, around $4 billion a year. Within its current budget NASA can’t afford to keep the shuttle flying, operate the ISS and develop the next generation of manned spacecraft.

#3 Age: The shuttle fleet is getting old. The vehicle and the ground infrastructure were designed and built in the 1970’s. The newest orbiter is nearly a quarter of a century old. Sure, there have been a lot of upgrades, but the fleet is way past it’s prime.

#4 ISS is complete: The purpose of the shuttle was to construct the Space Station. That’s complete now and there’s nothing else on the horizon that requires the shuttle’s unique capability. Yes, it would be nice to have the shuttle make a couple of cargo runs to the ISS each year, but there are other ways to get cargo up there.

#5 LEO Only: The Shuttle is only capable of reaching low earth orbit. Within the next few years there will be numerous craft capable of ferrying cargo and crews to and from there. It’s time for NASA to lead the way into deep space. They can’t do this and operate a delivery service to low earth orbit at the same time.