Space, The Final Frontier

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Mike Bull
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Space, The Final Frontier

Post by Mike Bull » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:06 pm

Well, this afternoon marked the final launch of a Space Shuttle when Atlantis sprang off the pad on time after a week of dodgy looking weather forecasts and a last minute hold at T-31 seconds. Of course we need to see her safely back on Earth in 12 days time yet, but never again will we see the full Shuttle stack swaying about at T-6 seconds as the main engines start, then leaping off the pad at 0 when the SRBs ignite.

I'm a big space enthusiast, though for me the Shuttle was all about the vehicle itself at launch and landing; what they got up to in low Earth orbit rarely interested me anything like as much. To think, such a big deal was made when the Hubble Space telescope was launched from a Shuttle that was at the very limit of it's abilities...at about 300 miles up, double the Shuttle's normal stomping altitude. But whatever happened to the glory days of Apollo when men actually LEFT the Earth and WENT somewhere? For me it's about the journey, the achievement of getting somewhere new, and I believe they should have done what they wanted to do in the first place which was carry straight on from the Moon and get out to Mars; now I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't happen even in my lifetime.

Astronauts will be sent to and from the International Space Station via Russian capsules and ultimately, commercial space vehicles being developed in the US, from whom NASA will eventually buy a ride. In the meantime, a Shuttle replacement in the form of bigger Apollo-style capsules and rockets will be developed, though frankly I fear that will just see it's budget slashed until the whole thing never leaves the drawing board. NASA is already laying off thousands of employees now the Shuttle is retiring, and like the closing of a shipyard here, once that workforce, that ability has gone, it's gone, and you can't get it back.

There's no doubting that the Shuttle was massively expensive, never really lived up to what it was hoped it would be, and ultimately remained a flawed and dangerous system. But what a machine to lose...as with the passing of Concorde, I fear that it's another example of mankind going backwards, not forwards.
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rob565uk
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by rob565uk » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:58 pm

Mike

Well observed and commented and I am sorry to say I agree about the doubtful future of space exploration.

I recall once seeing a programme about the Solar System and in it the phrase "Spaceship Earth" was used (maybe coined) as the programme demonstrated the rate at which irreplaceable global resources were being used up and likening the Earth to a spaceship carrying vast but finite resources on a long journey. I was quite young at the time and had never given such matters much thought (being far too pre-occupied in those days with far more urgent matters like girls, beer and motorcycles). But it really brought home to me the fact that the long-term future of the human race is entirely dependent upon reaching out to the stars to ensure continuity of resources and, ultimately to find a new home before the Sun expires. The trouble as I see it is that such exploration requires massive resources (in the intellectual sense as well as evey other) and is probably beyond the capability of any single nation on Earth - even the almighty USA. It needs a truly global pooling of resources and I find it hard to envisage that level of global co-operation, given the ongoing and in many cases worsening levels of political, religious and idealogical conflict around the world. And even if world peace suddenly broke out,would there be sufficient global vision to muster the resources and make the effort? I would like to think so, but .........

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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by quicksilver-wsr » Fri Jul 08, 2011 9:27 pm

Yes, Mike - sad indeed. Let's hope Atlantis comes back in one piece and the final chapter can be closed without further heartbreak.

In my capacity as a writer, I was fortunate enough to witness the very first Shuttle launch - involving the Orbiter Columbia, on 12 April 1981 - from the press site at Kennedy Space Center. That was only 3.5 miles away, which is pretty much as close as you can get. Later, I interviewed Bob Crippen, one of the two-man crew who flew that inaugural mission. It was a brave move for NASA to launch a new space vehicle with a crew on board. It's the first and only time they have done that, all previous launchers being tested unmanned first.

I always thought that one day, in doddery old age, I'd visit a museum Stateside to see Columbia on proud display and reflect upon that maiden flight decades earlier. Of course, now that can never happen, as Columbia was lost in action.

The Orbiter Challenger was also lost, alas - and in a way that was far more visible to the public. After every Shuttle mission, apart from the secret military missions, I used to interview two of the astronauts who had just flown and I'd get the story first-hand of how the mission went. I often wonder who I would have interviewed from the seven who sadly perished that day.

The Shuttle astronaut I got to know the best, Bob Overmyer, came very close to being the one whose name was on the bullet. He commanded the mission which came closest to tragedy, whilst flying Challenger, in an event which foreshadowed the accident to come in chilling detail. The evidence of how close the Shuttle had been to disaster was withheld, and when Bob found out, at the official investigation into Challenger's eventual demise, that his mission came so near to ending the way his close friend Dick Scobee's had, he was livid with rage.

Having cheated death that day, Bob resigned from NASA, only to lose his life in a test-flying accident some years later. As I write this in my office at home, I can still "see" him sitting at the other end of this room, bending my ear about all the good things and all the bad things about NASA.

Losses of one type or another cloud my memories of the Shuttle programme, but it really was a gigantic leap forward for space exploration - and, as you imply, it is a pity that the Shuttle cannot be replaced by something equally, or even more, sexy.

Technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds, no question. But, viewed overall, mankind's spirit of adventure has sadly shrunk by inverse proportion. Space needs new visionaries, and I personally hope that the current push toward commercialisation of the space sector creates a new breed of inspirational forward-thinkers.
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Mike Bull
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by Mike Bull » Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:00 pm

The biggest tragedy about both Shuttle disasters of course is that neither needed to happen and both were 100% preventable. :cry:

I'll have to agree to disagree with our Checkie Rob there re. reaching out to the stars- I don't think mankind will ever leave the solar system. But let's at least keep that pioneering spirit going- let's do what we can. Let's go to Mars and have a poke about, if for no other reason than it's a frontier that's yet to be explored, because where does mankind go otherwise- online more often to check his Facebook? We'll end up just like the humans in Wall-E!!!
WALL-E-humans_320.jpg
Nigel and I shared some comms today over the Shuttle, in which I said that I still had my first ever Shuttle book- 'Shuttle', by one Nigel Macknight. Small world! Though, just to make Nigel feel old I did buy it with some pocket money at the age of 12... :lol:
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quicksilver-wsr
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by quicksilver-wsr » Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:06 pm

Mike Bull wrote:Nigel and I shared some comms today over the Shuttle, in which I said that I still had my first ever Shuttle book- 'Shuttle', by one Nigel Macknight. Small world! Though, just to make Nigel feel old I did buy it with some pocket money at the age of 12... :lol:
Yes, mate - I know it.

Age is just a number. In my case, a very big number! ;)

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Mike Bull
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by Mike Bull » Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:12 pm

LOL, what you should have done there is claimed to have written the book when you were 16 or so! :lol: The innards are loose from the cover and the poster is also loose and full of drawing pin holes...but that's enough about Nigel! :lol: ;)

A modern-day Shuttle book that I absolutely couldn't recommend more highly is 'Riding Rockets' by Astronaut Mike Mullane; not only my favourite space book by some margin, but probably also my favourite book about anything now. I don't normally chase autographs- I'm more a meet the person, shake their hand and act normal with them kind of a guy- but in Astronaut Mullane's case, I indulged and got a signed copy from him, swapping a few emails in the process. A brilliant read! 8-)

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Renegadenemo
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by Renegadenemo » Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:02 am

I too was lucky enough to see the first launch. My folks took me to Florida to watch John Young and Bob Crippen blast off like a firework rocket. What you can't see from film footage is the ridiculous speed of the thing. it literally looks like a firework, it goes so fast.
I don't buy this space exploration thing though. Fair enough, fleece a few tourists as they try weightlessness and gaze at the curvature of the Earth, or grow perfect crystals for the pharmaceutical industry in zero-gravity, but buggering about on the moon? What was that all about? And what's on Mars? an even greater expanse of sod-all so far as I can tell and it's even further away! I think we ought to learn to live down here and manage our little planet before we start messing about up there.
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Mike Bull
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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by Mike Bull » Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:51 am

Renegadenemo wrote:buggering about on the moon? What was that all about?
I'd say it was about daring to try, and then achieving that goal; just like climbing the highest mountain, diving the deepest ocean, running the fastest marathon, driving the fastest car (or the fastest boat!), any of which you could dismiss as ultimately pointless. Still, there'll probably be an app soon so kids don't have to look up from their little screens and they can explore their Marsbook that way... :(

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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by Renegadenemo » Sat Jul 09, 2011 10:26 am


I'd say it was about daring to try, and then achieving that goal; just like climbing the highest mountain, diving the deepest ocean, running the fastest marathon, driving the fastest car (or the fastest boat!), any of which you could dismiss as ultimately pointless.
That's just a few cranks and mad scientists on a jolly - it's sort of quaint and interesting. But an entire nation on a fool's errand to upset the Russkies? It's embarrassing...
I'm only a plumber from Cannock...

"As to reward, my profession is its own reward;" Sherlock Holmes

Voltaire's apology when he wrote a long letter: "I didn't have time to make it shorter."

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Re: The End Of An Era

Post by f1steveuk » Sat Jul 09, 2011 10:49 am

Staggering how it seemed so new, and has now retired. How time flies!

The first TV doco's I worked on were "Red Star In Space" about the Russian space programme, and it's companion, about the programme in the USA. I met some huge names in the field, and was taken aback by the honesty. Al Shepperd was fantastic to work with, but could be very critical of NASA. His response to , "how did it feel to be the first American in space" was always greeted with, "great, sitting on top of something built by the lowest bidder", but you could tell he meant it, and as for "the fire" as it was always refered to, it was obvious there was an underlying problem within NASA, mirrored I have to say in Russia (Lenov was our liason there, and similarly entertaining!!). Having seen Boran close up (complete with the odd fitting made of wood!!), the American Shuttle programme was as much a success as NASA allowed it to be, they certainly coud do some odd things within NASA. I'm still in touch with Scott Grissom, and although I feel he's more than a little blinkered, he does tell some very very grim stories. Lets hope there is more to come, better thought out, properly researched and who knows, a collaboration of nations?
Steve Holter, UK and France, and sometimes reality....................

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