Our science correspondents are second to all
Home sweet home Latest site info Poetic stuff Serious stuff Funny stuff Topical stuff Alternative stuff Shakespearian stuff Musical stuff
Your mouse is wandering aimlessly!

NASA's new Space Transportation Initiative involves duct tape and the Ariane 5 launcher.

NASA Drops Spaceplane Project

Monday 1st September, 2003

REUTERS - Following the demise of Columbia and crippling budget cuts, NASA has announced that its Orbital Space Plane project is to be axed in favour of a cheaper alternative.

The Orbital Space Plane, a $2.4 billion design project, was heralded as a "next generation Space Shuttle". They had hoped to have the project ready by 2008, but NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe decided that the OSP should be discontinued immediately now that engineers have discovered a more efficient alternative.

"It just clicked," O'Keefe told reporters at a NASA press conference last Friday, "We realised that what we were doing was designing a craft to take people and light cargo up to the International Space Station, which was to be carried by a booster in exactly the same way as the original Space Shuttle. It didn't seem to make sense, we weren't doing anything new, in fact we were taking a step back."

Critics agree. As many have pointed out, the new OSP will not be able to function as a vessel to transport satellites or any payload larger than a watermelon into orbit.

"It's like the difference between a family car and a porsche." Explains Dennis Smith, Orbital Space Plane program manager, "The Space Shuttle was an all-round good family car. It could accommodate a sizeable amount of luggage for going on trips to the seaside, and was and is still quite reliable. On the other hand, the OSP turned out to be a porsche, very pretty curves, but not practical for anything other than showing off in. We were also worried that the crew might be struck with Deep Vein Thrombosis on long missions in such a confined space, if you'll pardon my very funny oxymoron. We figured that the healthiest and most cost effective way to get to the seaside is to walk, which is why we did away with the car altogether."

So what of this alternative? NASA has been very forthcoming with details on the new project, which weighs in at an estimated design and production cost of $7.25, and is apparently "Infinitely more fuel-economic and safer than both the Shuttle and Space Plane". Sean O'Keefe explains.

"We've decided to move away from the astronaut-in-transport-on-launcher idea and cut out the middle man, if you will. We realised that we were packaging up our astronauts in expensive spacesuits, and then putting them into the Shuttle. We found that this was quite counter-intuitive. Our new plan is to use duct tape to affix astronauts to the capable Ariane 5 launcher. This eliminates the need for any form of Shuttle, and the durability and strength of duct tape assures safety and shock-absorbency throughout the mission."

Once the astronaut reaches their destination (space), they will manually sever the duct tape allowing them to drift effortlessly towards the ISS. "Our suits allow for some maneuverability in space," O'Keefe points out, "so it will be a simple task for an astronaut to navigate toward the ISS. Each astronaut will be equipped with a skysurfing board and an asbestos umbrella for re-entry."

Further benefits of this system include significant cuts in training costs: An astronaut need not be trained in expensive Virtual Reality environments that simulate the controls of the Space Shuttle anymore. "We're hoping to sell our VR training facility to Midway, if they're still around." Says Smith, "We're sure that it'd work great as an arcade game. We estimate the cost of adding a slot so it can take quarters to be in the region of $5.6 billion".

"We don't actually need to train astronauts at all anymore", O'Keefe bubbled, "we can send any jackass up there. In fact we were thinking of sending packs of about 30 or 40 astronauts per launch, to increase the odds that one will make it to the ISS alive."

The Ariane 5 is an interesting choice of launcher for NASA, which ordinarily wouldn't be seen dead using European hardware developed by independent companies. "The mentality is simple," Smith explains, " if we use European launchers we can't be blamed when they blow up or if someone dies or whatever. In fact, we can proactively accuse Europe of killing American citizens, even if we do plan to get most of our recruits from Brazil."

The first launch of the new system should take place in November.

© Winamop and Weevil 2003

Read other old page 94s here.



© Winamop 2004