Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The People Demand Free Rocket Engines!

I'm wondering how much it costs to ship 4-odd tonnes of space shuttle engine to South Africa. The reason I say this is because NASA is giving away worn-out space shuttle engines for FREE!!!! plus of course shipping and handling costs. The SSMEs as they're refered to by jargon-loving NASA (and me) are good for several missions before they wear out and need replacement. Brand new, they cost something on the order of $50 million apiece, so that is some serious discounting going on. What I love about these things is the way they look so dirty and scruffy now, just like the space shuttles, having been reused over and over again. Sadly after 2010, we're looking at the end of the Space Shuttle Program. Sniff. A possible 3-flight extension is being looked at up to 2012, to continue servicing the ISS (after NASA seriously screwed up the shuttle replacement).

The New York Times Article

Oh, and the shuttles themselves are up for grabs, although they are a bit more pricey at $30-odd million each. Mark Shuttleworth, care to give me a loan? But, the good news is that the shuttle is not dead. The SSME, the trademark orange external fuel tank and the white solid rocket boosters on the side will live on. Latest rumblings are that NASA's new administrator, Charlie Bolden, will adopt a new launcher design, based closely on the space shuttle hardware. The current (old) design, Ares V and its smaller counterpart Ares I, suck in many ways which I won't bother going into here, but safety is one of them.

This new launcher is based on an old NASA study about making a big heavy lifter using shuttle components. A group of space enthusiasts and engineers inside NASA resurrected and refined the idea, risking getting fired in the process (can you believe that!?) Called Team DIRECT, they've been championing the launcher design for years now. I'm proud to have offered some (incredibly minor) support to their cause. So, instead of outright cancellation when Ares I and V became engineering and budget nightmares, we have the good old space shuttle once again. No wings, but you don't need those out there, in the black...

Visit the team's website...

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