Passing the Torch

Endeavour over SpaceX Headquarters
credit SpaceX

Past, present and future combine in one brief frame as the Space Shuttle Endeavour passes over SpaceX headquarters in the iconic spacecraft’s final moments with air under its wings.

Whether it is a ship permanently moored to its quay as a floating museum, or a spacecraft or airplane forever captured in static display, there is something profoundly moving, and perhaps a more than a little sad about a vessel frozen in time, no longer fulfilling the function for which it was so clearly intended.  With many flights left in their airframes, some would argue that the Shuttle’s were grounded before their time. As this photograph  reminds us however; time  moves on, and in the quest to move beyond low earth orbit,  out into the solar system to actually explore space, we need new tools and new strategies.

On the final flight of the Shuttle program, the crew of  Atlantis left an American flag pinned to a bulkhead of the International Space Station. The flag is to remain there until it is returned to Earth by the first crew launched on a new rocket from American soil. As one of two primary winners in the most recent round of the Commercial Crew development program, and with a test flight scheduled more than a year earlier than its closest rival, it seems quite possible that the crew which returns the flag will launch on a system built in this very building.

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  1. the commercial space is virtually dead says:

    the “commercial space” program has ALREADY failed/missed nearly ALL its goals

    it has FAILED to “create many new companies” because, the ONLY and TRUE, company is SpaceX (that’s born BEFORE the NASA commercial space program) while all others are dwarf companies (like the “lunar landers toys” builders, Blue Origin, Excalibur Almaz, etc.) or companies/NASA contractors (ATK, SNC, Boeing, LM, etc.)

    it has FAILED to “create many new space jobs” because the total number of jobs is around 3,000 units, while, only the Shuttle program had 30,000+ employees (of which over 23,000 fired after the program’s end) that NEVER will be hired in a company, since, all companies, can do low prices and make profits mainly because they do the same things of with a fraction of the employees

    it has FAILED on the goal to don’t rely in Russia and other foreign countries, because, of the last 8 years of ISS, over than half will still need the Soyuz to carry ALL the american astronauts there and, if the commercial crew program will face delays and design issues, the number of years may grow to 5, 6, 7 or … 8 … also, part of the “american hardware” is made in Russia (the Atlas V and Antares engines) or in Italy (the Cygnus pressurized module)

    but, where it has much more FAILED is/will be on the claimed goal of “save money” vs. the Shuttle program and the Soyuz “seats” prices, since, ONLY the costs of the eight Cygnus missions (alone!!!!!!!!!) for a total of $2,400M ($1,9Bn for the CRS program and about $500M for the Cygnus COTS program, half paid by NASA and half by private investors, as required by NASA) were enough to add FOUR further Shuttle missions (at $600M each for 5 missions per year) to carry to the ISS up to 28 astronauts (a thing that Cygnus can’t do) AND up to 50,000 mt of PRESSURIZED CARGO (with Leonardo) that is the FULL CARGO that will be carried with the ENTIRE ($4.5Bn) CRS+COTS twenty cargo missions!!!!! … not forgetting the Shuttle ability to carry the SAME amount of cargo down to Earth, if necessary, a thing that Cygnus can’t do and that the 12 Dragon missions can do only up to (3*12) 36 mt

    as an alternative, the Cygnus COTS+CRS missions’ costs (alone!!!!!!!) would be enough to buy ($2,400 / $62M) up to 39 Soyuz seats, that are 2.5 TIMES the “seats” needed by NASA in 2017-2020 to carry the american astronauts for crew rotation (4*4 years=16 astronauts)

    much worse is the comparison of the CCP costs with the Soyuz “seats” costs, since, NASA has ALREADY burned about $1.5 billion (including the last CCP round) for the commercial crew program and the total costs in this decade have been evaluated (by an US government agency) at over $4.25Bn, that is enough to buy ($4,250M / $62M) over 68 “seats” aboard the Soyuz, a number of seats that’ would be enough to carry ALL the american astronauts to the ISS in the last 4 years of THIS decade AND in the ENTIRE NEXT DECADE !!!!! (if the ISS will survive after 2020)

    only the $1.5 billion just burned for the CCP program, would be enough to buy 24 further Soyuz seats in 2017-2020, that’s 1.5 TIMES the “seats” NASA needs in the same timeline !!! … in other words, NASA has ALREADY PAID RIGHT NOW for (1.5 times) ALL the Soyuz seats it needs in 2017-2020 but WITHOUT ACTUALLY HAVE THEM NOR HAVE THEM IN FUTURE, so, if the commercial crew program will fail its goals, NASA must pay again and again and again, to buy the SAME Soyuz seats!!!

    and now, Boeing wants also to be assured that NASA will buy (at least) two missions per year, in the 2017-2020 timeframe [ ] to continue and finish the development of the CST-100 also after this CCP round (that is a reasonable request from its point of view) and this may have two (different and opposite) consequences on the entire CCP program

    if NASA will ACCEPT this request (but this is almost IMPOSSIBLE due to the very high price of the CST-100/AtlasV duo and due to the budget cuts) the “ticket” price of the CCP program (alone) may DOUBLE, since the CST-100/AtlasV missions may costin the range of $500M each, for an (extra) total cost for NASA of over $4 billion in 2017-2020 given to Boeing

    while, if NASA will NOT ACCEPT the Boeing request (that’s what will happen at 99.99% also since the final price of each CST-100 mission, surely very high, is still unknown exactly) the CST-100 will never born nor fly in space, so, the ONLY company that will remain in this race (and already the clear winner) will be SpaceX

    after this news, I’ve read that some suggest to give less money to Boeing and more money to SNC, but this would be hundreds times worse, because the DREAMchaser has lots of design issues (IMO) and is already doomed, with or without more funds

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