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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17797/the-space-shuttle-is-dead-good-riddance/

The Space Shuttle is dead. Good riddance!

July 21, 2011 by

Space Shuttle Program PatchDid you know that two significant events in spaceflight took place in 1969? The first was the first manned landing on the moon, on July 20, 1969. The second is a little less known. Buoyed by the success of the space program, President Nixon made the fateful decision to launch the Space Shuttle program in that same year.

The cost for the project was estimated to be about five billion dollars to deliver stuff to orbit at $118 per pound. The “space shuttle” was intended to fly much like a plane – cheap and easily serviced, with flights every few weeks and massive cargo capacity.

When the Shuttle was finally completed in 1981, the reality was a bit different. First, the shuttle was 20% too heavy, so it couldn’t actually deliver the military payloads it was designed to fly. That left the civilian market. Unfortunately, the actual cost was $27,000 per pound delivered to orbit. Finally, the overhaul after each flight actually took many months and cost $1.5 billion, making regular “shuttle” service impractical. Compounding the cost was the fact that the shuttle tends to explode with cargo and crew every decade or so, and thus costs years of idleness and a dozen billion or so in redesign costs. In other words, the program was a total failure before the shuttle ever got off the ground.

If a car maker tried to sell a car that cost 228 times what was promised, could fit only half the advertised passengers, and had to be refurbished after every drive, they might not do so well in the market, especially when a much cheaper alternative was available. The Soviet Soyuz launcher designed in 1965 costs under a tenth of the Shuttle and has now in fact replaced it.

When the government was faced with the same problem, it decided to “invent” a market for the shuttle instead. Thus came about thousands of useless space experiments and a useless $160 billion space station, which is scheduled to be demolished in 2016. In other cases, satellites which used to be launched by cheap expendable rockets were redirected to the shuttle, actually delaying the launch and ballooning the costs.

Finally, after 30 years of flying a 1970′s era design, the shuttle has flown its last. Imagine if other technologies had been likewise monopolized by the State. We’d still be driving rusty gas guzzlers with giant fins and after-burner tail lights, computing on enormous mainframes with punch cards, calling from home on rotary phones, and listening to music on LP’s. And forget about microwaves and calculators! (Of course, even these things were created by the market.)

The best hope for the next 30 year of spaceflight is that a private company such as SpaceX takes over. But with the government as their biggest customer, I wouldn’t plan a vacation to the moon just yet.


Lee Shelton July 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

Who launched the thousands of commercial and communications satellites in orbit now? Were those all handled by private companies in the U.S., or were they launched from overseas? It seems we just don’t hear anything about private space programs in the news.

nate-m July 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

It seems we just don’t hear anything about private space programs in the news.

These is some, but it is illegal for anybody but the government to go into space. There are programs for certifying space planes now, but even then your only real customer is going to be the government.

The majority of what private industry have in space has been launched by ex-communists. Our space program, except maybe for some deep space research and whatnot, has been surpassed by Asia a long time ago in terms of actual productive activity.

mike July 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

There are plenty of great commercial space companies that own and operate satellites! It is not illegal for non-governemnet satellites to go into space. For example I’m an engineer at one of those commercial companies (GeoEye) and we provide earth imagery to Google for Google Earth/Maps, the oil industry, fishing industries etc… as well as the government. All kinds of stuff really :)

And there’s other great commercial companies that don’t rely soley on government money: Digital Globe, IntelSat, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX (maybe), United Launch Alliance, Inmarsat, etc…

But they dont get the publicity that NASA does sure. But your everyday life is far more affected by these companies (in a good way) I’d wager.

J. Murray July 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Khazakstan is the world’s top launch site. I think last year the US launched all of 4 satellites while Khazakstan launched 25.

El Tonno July 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

The FAA makes pretty good reports:


Commerical Launches 2010: Russia 13 for 17 payloads, US 4 for 3 payloads (1 launch was experimental), Europe 6 for 11 payloads

Amazingly, Europe’s 6 launches were all Ariane 5 heavy lifter (derided by The Economist as a White Elephant back at its first launch when it exploded).

For the USA, Delta rockets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_%28rocket_family%29) are used.

jl July 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Has the space station done anything of importance at all? So a bunch of people go up there and live for awhile, and we learn how to pee in space. Maybe do some science fair experiments like seeing which way grass grows in microgravity. Then in five more years we “decommission” it after sinking kajillions of dollars into it. Promotions and medals for all involved!

Hard Rain July 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm

In terms of “economic stimulus” it’s a nicer broken window than war.

El Tonno July 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Anyone remember the 1950′s space station designs in “Across The Space Frontier” by von Braun, as illustrated by Chesley Bonestell?

Like this: http://www.lns.cornell.edu/~seb/celestia/b-vb/index.html

Oklahoma Libertarian July 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

Why are people always justifying it as being a better spending item than war, as if the two are mutually exclusive? The aerospace industry is a huge stimulus to war-just look at how many aerospace companies pull in fat defense projects.

tfr July 22, 2011 at 11:19 am

Yah, I wondered the same thing – we built it for what… so we could say that we built it? What an incredible waste.

Shay July 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I’m regularly amazed by all the things I took for granted as good things shattered by postings here. Even though I read about liberty and the free market, many parts of my mind refuse to wake up to it unless specifically addressed by these “snooze alarms”. Thank you.

Lee Shelton July 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I know what you mean. What little boy didn’t want to grow up to be an astronaut at one point in his life?

Sione July 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Yup. Even Ayn Rand wrote approvingly of the achievement of the Apollo rocket…


Vanmind July 26, 2011 at 1:47 am

Once government gets out of the way, there will be a greater chance for tomorrow’s kids to fulfil such dreams.

Hack July 21, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Members of collective societies generally carry spears.

El Tonno July 22, 2011 at 3:20 am

Or they have flying, gold-plated space trucks

Bull Alarm July 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

You are all a bunch of short sighted idiots….lol


Old Mexican July 21, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Uh huh, and Al Gore invented the internet. Sure.

Bull Alarm July 21, 2011 at 11:08 pm
nate-m July 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm

You’re a idiot.

“”I took the initiative in creating the Internet”"

Like hell he did. Because people are not quoting his lie word for word does not mean he told the truth.

Al Gore is full of shit now, he was full of shit then, and he will continue to be a self-serving lying bastard till the day he dies. He is a fraud through in through. Corrupt, deceitful, scumbucket. He is a expert at defrauding the American public, extorting corporations for personal wealth.

His greatest achievement in life is his ability to gather a significant following of gullible mouth-breathing public school victims who can’t tell the difference between science and a fart in the wind.

And as far as that “spin off” technology list… did you actually read that tripe?

If I had billions of dollars to burn I can gaurantee you that I’d come up with something better then “blinking LED lights at certain frequencies might help some healing” or

Safety grooving, the cutting of grooves in concrete to increase traction and prevent injury, was first developed to reduce aircraft accidents on wet runways. Represented by the International Grooving and Grinding Association, the industry expanded into highway and pedestrian applications. Safety grooving originated at Langley Research Center, which assisted in testing the grooving at airports and on highways. Skidding was reduced, stopping distance decreased, and a vehicle’s cornering ability on curves was increased. The process has been extended to animal holding pens, steps, parking lots, and other potentially slippery surfaces

What ever advantage we gained in the 1960′s in the space race we flushed it down the toilet for the sake of the shuttle program. A white elephant of epic proportions and a failure in every single aspect.

But, yeah, we have grooves in highways and remotely controlled ovens.


Walt D. July 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

“Al Gore is full of shit now, he was full of shit then”.
Oh – that explains why he has a house with 16 toilets.
..wait a minute, that doesn’t help if he only has one anus (assuming you don’;t count his mouth).

J. Murray July 22, 2011 at 5:23 am

I’m not seeing a single NASA driven initiative on that spin-off page, all of them are developed by private companies. It’s an amazing stretch of the imagination to claim none of that would come to reality without NASA (really, no artifical limbs without NASA?).

Richie July 22, 2011 at 8:46 am

It sure is a stretch, although I’m not surprised. This must be the narrative to justify NASA’s existence.

J. Murray July 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

Here’s one that puts the whole NASA prosthetics thing into the solid BS category:


Prosthetics have been around for 3,500 years. This one is particularly interesting:

“In 1508, German mercenary Gotz von Berlichingen had a pair of technologically advanced iron hands made after he lost his right arm in the Battle of Landshut. The hands could be manipulated by setting them with the natural hand and moved by relaxing a series of releases and springs while being suspended with leather straps.”

Ya, no one would be developing prosthetic limbs without NASA. I’m sure that NASA contract von Berlichingen had was the real cause of it.

Ezekiel July 22, 2011 at 12:04 am

“If you believe, they put a man on the moon…”

Gil July 22, 2011 at 12:18 am

If space flight was easy then Richard Branson would be selling tickets for Moon picnics by now.

J. Murray July 22, 2011 at 5:25 am

Richard Branson would be selling those tickets if private launches in the US weren’t effectively illegal. Even SpaceX was required by law to request permission and use a government launch facility.

jl July 22, 2011 at 7:31 am

It would be interesting to see how much interest there really is in going to space if all government programs were eliminated. Putting up satellites is useful, and some people might pay some big bucks for the thrill of going into orbit. But beyond that, space is incredibly desolate, harsh and empty. Even if the moon were knee deep in gold nuggets, it’s hard to imagine an economic case for going there.

J. Murray July 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

People said the same thing about sailing ships out to sea 500 years ago.

Yohan July 22, 2011 at 2:55 am

Because the Shuttle program was a blank check by the government all sorts of rorting took place by the component suppliers.

Richard Branson team who is developing a private space flight company found that one particular item, (an air filter of some sort), cost 110 million dollars from the company who supplied the US shuttle program. That exact same item cost only 1.5 million from a German manufacturer.

110 million vs 1.5 million. And no doubt the German engineered and built product would be better quality.

What a gravy train. No wonder the program ended up costing 100 times more than expected.

Franklin July 23, 2011 at 8:46 am

“What a gravy train. No wonder the program ended up costing 100 times more than expected.”

And it’s every program. Defense or social; warfare or welfare.
Every damned one.

And if there’s corruption, not to worry; it can be prevented. Simply through the cost of the watchers. And the watchers of the watchers….
And you’re gonna pay for them, whether you like it or not.

JFF July 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I know I’ll probably get hazed for this, but in the Star Trek mythology, warp drive wasn’t invented by NASA or any government; it was the creation of a sole individual, run out of mainstream academic science, backed by purely private money, who promptly gave away all the design information for free once it was up and running. Star Trek often gets (due) criticism due to its overtly socialistic and unrealistic utopian over tones, but man, did they get it right with this one.

My point, don’t look to government to build Enterprise. Hell, I wouldn’t even trust mainstream science to do it either.

Gil July 26, 2011 at 2:57 am

Yes it stupid comparing fiction to fact.

LMB July 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Couldn’t resist replying after review of comments, so, hate to say it… totally replete with stupidity and ignorance of the facts re: usefulness of the decades of space exploration… Quickly, friends, consider but a few benefits of space programs (US and others):
(a) miniaturization of components…for pcs, etc.; w/o…none maybe now or slower development of technology;
(b) medical experimentation resulted in many new life-saving and benefiting products and applications;
(c) job creation/now loss…that includes ancillary market product and service providers;
(d) discoveries of how we fit in the “world” around us, learning vast info for future discoveries/knowledge, and fulfilling man’s forever quest for adventure in the beyond (we’re still exploring of our own world…both are important…shortsighted not to appreciate…this article shows author’s (and those jumping on critical bandwagon) absolute prejudice and/or “dumbness”…sickening);
(e) many more major and lesser benefits…discoveries are almost countless in things so simple (and great) that are taken for GRANTED by lack of information; with more to come from unmanned exploration until manned space flight is resumed.
Yes, future privatization of space may significantly achieve much in advancing technologies, etc. . Idiots, the uninformed and super critical individuals should find other endeavors, such as educating oneself on a topic before mouthing off, spewing misinformation. G-E-E-Z, ladies and gents? And, have you ever heard of positive thinking rather than attacking with herd mentality?

Vanmind July 26, 2011 at 1:53 am

Such NASA “achievements” deserve ridicule compared with what otherwise would have been.

newson July 26, 2011 at 2:34 am

namely – bastiat’s brick-proof window.

Gil July 26, 2011 at 2:59 am

In otherwise if the private market would have done it then it wasn’t worth doing?

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