My Word by Buzz Aldrin: Let shuttle do heavy lifting

My Word by Buzz Aldrin: Let shuttle do heavy lifting

There are numerous bits of information, disinformation and just plain wrong ideas now swirling about NASA and the Space Coast concerning whether or not it is possible to extend the operational life of the space-shuttle program.

So here are the facts: Currently, there are five to seven shuttle external fuel tanks in various stages of assembly, with another tank ready for a “launch on need” mission. Some of these tanks would require more parts than others, but they exist. There are four remaining shuttle missions on the manifest, with the next flight, Space Shuttle Discovery, planned for early April.

I have proposed stretching out these remaining flights to one every six months. With the four remaining flights, plus at least five sets of additional spare parts available for missions, that’s a potential shuttle extension of five years under the present capability.

I have proposed that the heavy-lift rocket, which nearly everyone involved in space policy agrees we will need, be based upon the existing space-shuttle architecture. That means the heavy lifter uses the four-segment solid-fuel boosters, external tank and shuttle main engines, existing shuttle facilities, and, equally as important, the existing shuttle work force. Only the winged orbiter is replaced with a payload canister with the three engines mounted at its base.

This first-generation, shuttle-derived booster could lift far more than any space capsule into low Earth orbit, doing in a single launch what would take many capsules to achieve. Compare that to the tiny amount of cargo that any space-capsule design, including the venerable Soyuz, can lift. The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia that Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I rode to the moon and back in 1969 was a 10-foot cone. A single shuttle launch today could lift the equivalent of many Apollo space capsules. The shuttle-derived heavy-lift booster could haul even more.

That first-generation booster could evolve into a Mars-capable heavy lifter, gradually replacing the two four-segment solids with winged fly-back boosters and new upper transfer stages. The funds to pay for this vehicle and tests of its designs are already contained in President Obama’s proposed fiscal-year 2011 budget. All I’m urging is that they be applied to a shuttle-based system. It’s a win-win for all. It allows full funding for a commercial crew capability, funds development of a new heavy-lift booster and uses the money now planned for termination of the shuttle to extend the program in incremental fashion.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The only potential obstacle is NASA’s current plan to start tearing down the shuttle pads to conform to the Ares rockets — the same rocket that Obama has ordered canceled. That’s right: NASA is planning to demolish shuttle infrastructure that we could use to keep the shuttle flying and develop a family of shuttle-based heavy-lift boosters for a rocket program that has been already terminated.

If we are truly concerned about American space leadership and ways to keep the shuttle workers employed until new space vehicles have proved themselves, the solution is obvious: Evolve the shuttle; don’t end it.

Read the original article at Orlando Sentinel

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.