RE: [MV] Another Columbia thread...

From: Rikk Rogers (
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 17:02:51 PST

Yo folks...
How about a "I'd like to donate X $ to the space program in the old 1040.
Any suggestions on how to get it done?

I'm in for $100 a year if we can do it!


-----Original Message-----
From: Military Vehicles Mailing List []On
Behalf Of Nathan Wilkens
Sent: Sunday, February 02, 2003 12:30 AM
To: Military Vehicles Mailing List
Subject: [MV] Another Columbia thread...

I am both saddened and angered by today's great loss - I am also likely the
only person on the Mil-Veh list who is 100% NASA funded (the work I do is
funded by NASA's Astrobiology program, and as such, they 'keep me in
mocassins' so to speak, as well as CUCV parts) - so I'd like to give you a
moment of my opinion on the subject.

NASA has been horribly underfunded since Vietnam stripped NASA of the
originally planned 100 Apollo missions per year (yup, 100 Apollos every
year). The plan was to create a maintain a lunar colony immediately after
the moon landings (and that does seem a bit crazy). Things only went down
hill from there... The Shuttle program was devised in the early 70's (based
on 60's technology). By the 90's we were supposed to have a space plane,
able to take off from a conventional runway, go single-stage to orbit, and
land on a regular runway. This was to be a warplane as well as a space
plane, so the Air Force helped fund the initial research. It never
happened. As the shuttle program came online, it was only to be a first
generation technology that was to be replaced by newer, more efficient (and
cheaper to operate) fleet of shuttles. This also never happened. The solid
rocket boosters (which caused the Challenger disaster) were supposed to be
replaced with a new technology that would have increased payload capacity by
5000 kg and increased safety. It was cut. Recent cuts include the X-33
shuttle replacement (a horribly underfunded project from the start), the
X-38 ISS emergency return vehicle, ALL big solar system probes (including
the last chance to see Pluto for the next 250 years).

Although I'm greatly saddened by the loss of the Columbia crew, I'm angered
to think it didn't have to happen. NASA's current budget sees less than $5
for $1000 I pay in taxes. I'd gladly spot them a $20 bill to dream again.
Although I understand the need for the United States to be the policeman for
world peace, I often think how much better much of that money could be used
(and there are lots of horrible people in this world that quite frankly,
don't deserve peace! Have you seen Black Hawk Down lately?). Did you know
we could go to Mars for only $30 billion? And we could go to Mars to stay,
with permanent human habitation as the goal. Other minor issues, like the
origin of life, how to protect Earth's vital resources, and how to
economically mine space materials, could be answered along the way. Don't
forget, the Apollo missions brought us trivial things like medical imaging
and personal computers, as well as the moon! Finally, did you realize that
our space competition is from the Chinese? They have embarked on a massive
manned space flight program, with their first launch likely this year, and
missions to land on the moon within 5 years?

The Columbia crew has sadly 'slipped the surly bonds' and died doing what
they enjoy the best. My thoughts go out to their families this evening -
nothing saddens me more than to think how they must feel. 'Hero' is a nice
word, but it does little to soothe the pain of children whose mommy or daddy
will not ever come home again. At least their spouses knew the risks
involved. If truly anything good is to come out of this pain, may it bring
a renewed emphasis (that includes funding) for our nation's (and our
world's) funding in her space future.

Nathan Wilkens

PS: All the mention of safety systems is correct - there is simply no way to
design a realistic safety mechanism that would have saved either the
Challenger crew (at take off) or the Columbia crew (at maximum re-entry
stress). Had today's problem occurred with a next generation space plane,
it would likely have been able to do an emergency fire back into orbit and
await repairs at the ISS (the current Shuttle fleet carries virtually no
fuel - it's kept in the main central booster (the orange tank) at launch).
No emergency pod would have withstood re-entry after being separated from an
out-of-control shuttle, and the telescoping hatch ejection works at such low
altitudes (10k feet or less) that it is nearly useless. Ejection seats are
out of the question as the astronauts sit on two levels, underneath each
other. Basically, the current space shuttle fleet is too old and too
expensive to keep running, and the US needs a new fleet of space shuttles.
As far as the space shuttle Enterprise - it's a rusting hulk sitting next to
an SR71 and two really rusty Saturn V rockets at the Huntsville Space and
Rocket Center.... sadly, rusting hulks that represent NASA and America's
future, unless some drastic changes occur.

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