Shuttle Program Critique

By Deane Barker on August 6, 2005

A Rocket To Nowhere: This is a brutal but facinating essay on the shuttle program. The author makes a compelling case that the program is less than worthless and should be abandoned — along with the ISS — as soon as possible.

While half the NASA budget gets eaten by the manned space program, the other half is quietly spent on true aerospace work and a variety of robotic probes of immense scientific value. All of the actual exploration taking place at NASA is being done by unmanned vehicles. And when some of those unmanned craft fail, no one is killed, and the unmanned program is not halted for three years. […]

NASA is convinced that stopping the Shuttle program would mean an indefinite end to American manned space flight, and so it will go to almost any length to make sure there is a continuous manned presence in space. […] But this attitude is actually doing damage to the prospects of real manned space exploration. Sinking half the NASA budget into the Shuttle and ISS precludes the possibility of doing truly groundbreaking work on space flight.

It’s long, but worth reading. Via Kottke



  1. I don’t agree with everything you have said, but overall I think that you are absolutely right. What sense does it make to spend millions of dollars to send astronauts to orbit the earth a thousand times and then return home? Furthermore, why do we need a small, underequiped, limited capability no matter what you do to it space station? The answer is that we don’t. Programs like Hubble are more sensible. If they want a perminant presence in space, they should devote more energy to going to Mars or manning Hubble to provide constant maintenance, not orbiting the earth. For example: when you hear of great inventions coming out of the space program, you hear things like Velcro. The problem? Velcro was invented on earth, not in space. So the mission that may have benefited from it, didn’t have anything real to show for its progress while in space. Sure, they may run some small, usually pointless experiments, but often that defaults to things like the shuttle carrying names into orbit. That is common for shuttle missions because you simply cannot do that much from a cramped vehicle that is cut off from everything. So, the space station. Same problem! All it does is waste money and energy that could be placed into larger, more perminant, more realistic space missions. It makes more sense to have a base on the moon than it does orbiting the earth. A base on the moon could house perminant, atmosphere free telescopes for example. Also, I do think the shuttle should be around for say: emergency, the hubble needs a new lens, but overall, it should not be the main, money hogging vehicle of the fleet. As for the technology involved, the blunders revolving the shuttle are more numerous than could be imagined. This is where you see the idea that we have to have someone in space every second and that a crappy vehicle is better than no vehicle, which is unbelieveable and dangerous and a waste of money with the inherant limitations created thus. So I think the shuttle fleet and space station should be scrapped, and the money used on better purposes. I want people in space, but doing something constructive, not orbiting the earth for no reason other than to say “we are there.”

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