Space Shuttle Program: Was it Worth It?

The last shuttle has launched.  NASA’s shuttle program is officially over.  Now, after 4 decades, a lot of us left wondering if it was truly successful and whether or not it was worth the tremendous cost of $200 billion.  Let us review the facts first. What is a space shuttle? The Space Shuttle is a reusable […]
The last shuttle has launched.  NASA’s shuttle program is officially over.  Now, after 4 decades, a lot of us left wondering if it was truly successful and whether or not it was worth the tremendous cost of $200 billion.  Let us review the facts first. What is a space shuttle? The Space Shuttle is a reusable launch system and orbital spacecraft operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for human spaceflight missions. The system combines rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons. How was the shuttle program started? Watch the video of shuttle through the ages. In 1968, NASA officially began work on what was then known as the Integrated Launch and Re-entry Vehicle (ILRV). At the same time, NASA held a separate Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) competition. NASA offices in Houston and Huntsville jointly issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for ILRV studies to design a spacecraft that could deliver a payload to orbit but also re-enter theatmosphere and fly back to Earth. One of the responses was for a two-stage design, featuring a large booster and a small orbiter, called the DC-3. In 1969, President Richard Nixon decided to proceed with Space Shuttle development. In August 1973, the X-24B proved that an unpowered spaceplane could re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for a horizontal landing. It was planned that the flight rate will be around 48 shuttle flights per year, at a marginal cost per launch of something like $15 million.   How many shuttles were built? Six Enterprise (OV-101) was not built for orbital space flight, and was used only for testing gliding and landing. Columbia (OV-102) broke apart during re-entry in 2003 Challenger (OV-099) disintegrated 73 seconds after launch in 1986 Discovery(OV-103) Atlantis (OV-104) Endeavour (OV-105) was built as a replacement for Challenger from structural spare components.   What were the costs involved? One Space Shuttle launch costs around $450 million. Average cost per flight of about US$1.5 billion Average cost per person launched into space $200-$250 million Total program cost $200 billion What are the results? The shuttles have flown about four times a year (originally planned 48 times per year). The shuttles were also grounded for years after seven years after Challenger and Columbia accidents that took the lives of 14 people. U.S. to forged international partnerships to build a huge, orbiting space station where astronauts can live in comfort  for multiple months. U.S. remains the world leader in spaceflight. The shuttle gave the country a very capable work vehicle to go into low Earth orbit and do everything from carrying experiments there to launching satellites from there, to building space stations, to building telescopes like Hubble. It was a multipurpose work vehicle. From now on the work of the shuttle will be done by private companies who are developing new rockets and capsules for quick trips up close to Earth, like to the orbiting station — and promising to usher in a new era that will make space more accessible than ever before. The main remaining questions Will the commercial companies be able to provide reliable space transportation services to the Space Station ? If yes, which company has the best chance of succeeding? What do YOU think? Please comment below…    


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One thought on “Space Shuttle Program: Was it Worth It?

  1. Now that the last Space Shuttle has landed safely, it is time to judge the whole program. The original purpose of the Space Shuttle was to achieve low cost and routine space transportation. NASA originally promised that all development costs would be amortized and expected costs to be about $100 per payload pound. Production of expendable rockets was stopped. Unfortunately, the real cost of Shuttle missions has been about $1.5-billion per flight and payload capacity never reached within seven tons of the design point. In short, the Shuttle cost far more than the expendable launch vehicles by about an order of magnitude. What would the resources wasted on the Space Shuttle have bought if a more cost effective system had been used over the past three decades?

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