NASA's new Space
Transportation Initiative involves duct tape and the Ariane 5
NASA Drops Spaceplane Project
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
"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
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
"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
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