Could the Space Shuttle have succeeded?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by kernals12, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Jun 8, 2011
    The problem with Dyna-Soar is that while it was a brilliant vehicle, ahead of its time, it wasn't really usable for any plausible mission - for either DoD, or NASA. Which of course is why McNamara cancelled it.

    NASA could have taken it over, but then it would be faced with a one-man (sorry, person) vehicle with limited life support and power, and no docking hatch. What does it do with it? It's terribly inconvenient for use in an EOR lunar architecture but for anything else, too - like access to a LEO station. So NASA would have to upscale it to at least three crew, and stick a hatch on it, for starters.

    It could perhaps have evolved into the role that the Space Shuttle assumed, in time - at least in the crew transport role. But it would have required a lot of development to make it into something NASA could actually have used, and there's no way that could have been done in the context of a race with the Soviets to put men on the Moon. Lunar orbit rendezvous was chosen because it really was the only realistic way NASA could have beat the deadline.
     
  2. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Well, it would have been a decent test vehicle for just experimenting with lifting-body reentry vehicles and reusability, figuring out some of the operational niceties involved, testing different materials, and so on and so forth. Basically run it in an X-15-type mode where you have a launch every so often to test something or the other, and the vehicles themselves are always getting tweaked or modified or adjusted to check out this or that new idea. Probably would have saved some time and effort with Shuttle, anyway.

    But that doesn't require an Apollo-level commitment, nor would it benefit from such a level of funding.
     
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  3. ANTIcarrot Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2011
    Computers woudl have been a bit better, which woudl be some assistance in flight control and manufacturing, but not really.

    It would only have helped if NASA looked at the state of the art, concluded it wasn't good enough, and then spent ten years actively researching and developing and testing the tech they'd need for something like the space shuttle. Starting with a leftover S-IVB mod it into something like SpaceX's Grasshopper. Fly and land it and keep going. If/when you build it, order a new one with changes based on what you've learned. Keep going, and hopefully you'll nickle and dime your way either into orbit or into a concept you can actually build and which can work. It would also be perfectly possible for someoen to figure out that while the Expander cycle is limited to 10tons of trust, the Expander-Bleed cycle can go over 100tons, with only 10% loss in ISP.

    Overall I think the biggest things to sink the shuttle were the silly USAF requirements and NASA's obsession with wings. If they could have accepted a VTOL space-helicopter rather than a HOTL/VTOHL space-place, it would have been much easier to repurpose the apollo hardware they already had.
     
  4. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2014
    I agree RSU got it right, (pardon :) ) and the possibility of going "booster first" was highly debated bu the problem was part of that whole "taxi-driver" or "astronaut" question we discussed earlier. The 'Booster Pilots' were going to be seen as even "lower" on the totem pole than the 'Shuttle Drivers' because at least the latter would go into orbit while the former only barely 'touched' space. As it was OTL the Shuttle was already a huge come-down as we've seen. And as always the big fear was if you didn't get an Orbiter "now" then Congress would keep you from getting one later. Oh and the smaller orbiter would NOT be able to carry large space station modules into orbit which was what OTL's Shuttle bay was designed around.

    As for the F1 yes they'd be going in for refurbishment but likely less than you might think. They did study F1 re-usability (I'm thinking I have a paper on that subject :) ) and much like the earlier H1 engines the things were a lot tougher than people gave them credit for.

    Oddly enough I've seen some of the shuttle booster proposals showing a large expendable upper stage on the back with what is obviously a manned capsule complete with abort tower attached. Even odder, though a quick search of my HD didn't find them, I've seen an illustration of the Flyback F1 and another shuttle flyback booster *Spacemaster I think) which incorporated what looked like a Gemini capsule as the 'cockpit' area complete with what appear to be rear mounted abort rocket clusters. The obvious drawback of course for the shuttle booster in this case is the "payload" is mounted in the way of any escape attempt so it that's not cast off first...

    Not that straight forward I'm afraid. In a good many cases "smaller" also means more dense and therefore you heating is HIGHER not lower as you might assume. This was a big issue with many of the lifting body design shuttles and the main operational issue with using one of the various lifting bodies for an orbiter. Once you added the required systems of propulsion, propellant, RCS, life support, etc, the 'lift' was very much lower than the test vehicles which themselves weren't that good a glider. There's a good reason the X-38 needed a parachute.

    This wasn't as much of a problem as you might think because with the smaller size they could use something like a metallic TPS system and/or semi-active (like the transpiration we've discussed) to protect the vehicle as the mass scaled down better than up. In the end a smaller orbiter would have opened up some different options for TPS but might also be so dense that an even MORE expensive TPS might be required.

    Going to get all these in one go :)

    The Apollo program COULD have been canceled and/or scaled by by only one person and that was Kennedy. He was considering it since it was obviously going to cost a massive amount but he'd known that going in. Given the time and effects of Sputnik and Gagarin the US population and politicians wanted SOMETHING and quite frankly going to the Moon WAS the only choice where the US and USSR would be starting out essentially 'even'. So the Moon it was. Now having Sheppard fly "on-time" (as scheduled) would greatly reduce this pressure as the US has a first it can use as a counter-point, though as soon as Gagarin goes up the Soviet's will rightly crow about it but its still a first.

    Now it's VERY unlikely that the US can do anything to make the Soviet's declare they are going to the Moon. Other than saying they would launch a satellite, (which no one believed at the time) for the IGY they were very cagey about what they were doing in space. And with good reason as "space flight" was always a secondary priority for them. Korolev didn't get permission to launch a satellite until he had the R7 ready to deploy as a missile and several test flights accomplished. Similarly it was only the world reaction to Sputnik that allowed planning for Cosmonauts to go forward. Khrushchev was not going to stick his neck out for a large space program as he and the rest were perfectly happy grabbing the 'low-hanging-fruit' they could easily reach with the R7 and upcoming Proton. Like everyone before them the dismissed the US claim of going to the Moon until it was too late and never fully committed to 'catching up' which was part and parcel of the US lunar commitment. Hence they fell behind. Now what you DO get from all this is a slower, more controlled and much less extensive manned space program from both sides which ends up being mostly dedicated to operations in LEO with "maybe" someone reaching the Moon in the mid-to-late 70 with a flyby or orbital mission and a landing in the early 80s or later.

    No Apollo wasn't really "popular" with the majority of US citizens and politicians but it had been a widely popular response to the appearance of Russian dominance in space flight. By the mid-60s the gains made by the Gemini program, (which keep in mind was a direct out-growth of the Lunar Apollo program, no Lunar program then it's likely there is no Gemini and we'd have gone directly to the Apollo Block 1 {orbital} spacecraft instead) had shown the Soviet lead was easily matched with US effort so the overall support of the Lunar program waned. Apollo 1 raised a lot of questions and made questioning the program acceptable but by that time getting to the Moon was no longer a question and the upsurge during Apollo 11 is understandable. But by Apollo 12 it was clear that we COULD go to the Moon over and over again but the question became why SHOULD we? Note that question is still relevant today which is the reason we have not gone back.

    The X20 Dynasoar was already failing by the 1962 mostly due to unexpected cost overruns and mass issues. Despite requiring NASA help to launch the Dynasoar, (only the Saturn 1 was deemed capable of launching the orbital version) the Air Force kept NASA mostly out of the design and production of the vehicle. Only getting their help with some facilities and prototype testing. It was clear that the planned Apollo space craft, (in 1958/59) was going to be more capable than an uprated X20, (which could in fact carry up to five astronauts into orbit in uncomfortable conditions, three was more likely, https://www.secretprojects.co.uk/threads/dynasoar.3052/) but it has little ability to dock with things like a space station or perform orbital maneuvers in the same manner as Apollo. (Note the massive trans-stage required and then ask yourself how the astronauts in the 'payload bay' get into any space station or another spacecraft. On a 'good' day the they'd crawl through a tunnel in the trans-stage but really they'd likely have to EVA) The X20 ended up being something the Air Force didn't want but it was also their only 'link' to manned space flight anymore so they only gave it up when offered Blue Gemini and MOL even though people like McNamara, who were in fact cleared to know about the NRO and how advanced spy satellites had gotten really were not under the same illusion. The Air Force didn't have a valid manned space flight mission and they still don't which is why the X-20 died. In a different timeline such as a slower space race it has more viability than OTL but it's still an issue that the Air Force would want to maintain control.

    Frankly NASA might have been better off NEVER having a 'blank-check' program as that has been a major factor in how it approaches projects and often the idea that they both need and desire another Apollo has been the downfall of many of those. Soviet space flight developed in a budgetary constrained environment with heavy military oversight and control and has never left LEO, conversely the US space program was very civilian in nature and operation, had for a while an immense budget and impossible goal which they achieved by landing men on the Moon and bringing them back to Earth but has been floundering and struggling ever since.

    I highly suspect that a more low-key "space competition" rather than race would have kept the two sides pushing each other in a more incremental and sustainable fashion than what happened OTL.

    Randy
     
  5. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2014
    Well not MY problem :)

    Yep because your biggest and most expensive step is that first doozy :)

    So does Zubrin but Musk can pay for it. In theory anyway. I fully understand his reasoning as I noted, but I can't agree with it. Because like Zubrin he's assuming that simply getting people and equipment to Mars equates to 'colonization' when in fact it's even worse a plan than say the British had for Australia through Botany Bay. (In an extremely general sense mind you but shipping people up to Mars without massive off-planet support on a regular basis is a bug not a feature) Again of course it's his money and so his plan but I won't stop pointing out it's not a GOOD plan despite getting death-threats from Mars First!-ers and Musk supporters. (And I'm only partially joking :) )

    Yep that was the point where California finally lost out in space matters to Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Utah. Note that Rep Dana Rohrabacher TRIED (once Musk started to contribute to his election funds and he finally dropped trying to get the FBI to investigate Musk's "South African" ties... again, and again, and...) to get NASA to study fuel depots and they actually wanted to do so, but the coalition for the SLS shut that down. To bad but in essence SpaceX IS going to have develop most of the applicable technology and operations themselves due to having to use tanker vehicles. And yes developing on-orbit propellant transfer of cryogenic fluids is going to be expensive but are you aware that NASA has already agreed to partially pay for this? Despite the coalition's efforts NASA has staunchly maintained that such technology and operations are key for future missions and set aside funding to support private efforts to develop that technology. Hence while ACES never got funded to prototype stage they continued to get NASA money for refining and testing 'small scale' technology development :)
    The only way Congress can 'stop' such efforts is by zeroing out ALL of NASA's out-reach and technology support budget which is a major funnel for 'port' money to various states. Kinda smart on someones part ;)

    Half right :) The main issue with NASA is they have to do what Congress lets them do because Congress controls the budget. Congress doesn't want NASA studying fuel depots because they are quite aware that if those were deployed they would have no grounds to continue to limit NASA's exploration programs other than some very direct line item veto's and obvious public obstruction. (There's a fine line between what they can get away with due to public apathy and getting the public's attention. Especially these days with pervasive media outlets they can't control) In short, Congress was grudgingly willing to allow NASA to go to the Moon due to Kennedy and the legacy thereof. They have been fanatic about ensuring that NASA can't go beyond LEO since then and while they painted themselves into a corner with the SLS they 'saved' things by not funding an upper stage or missions. And that's not changed significantly as they don't care if SLS flies or not anyway. In the past they have been able to control much of the development path of space flight by giving and taking money from NASA as contractors concepts came and went but this is not so possible with the current crop of aerospace companies. (And in fact the older companies have been moving in directions they are not happy with but as profit goes so do the companies)

    To say things are coming to a head may be over-dramatizing the future because it's not like this hasn't happened before but in this case it has been an issue since the late 90s where Congress may be able to control what NASA does and somewhat who it funds in reality they have set up a series of regulations and requirements that in essence can be used to move beyond the constraints they've put on NASA for over 50 years and into a direction they have historically been adverse to NASA pursuing. And since America and Russia are no longer the only players the control they CAN exercise has a very real possibility of ONLY hurting future US interests. The special interest coalition in Congress has essentially set itself up to be fully and totally tied to NASA and with so limited an influence over wider interests they may just find they maneuvered themselves out of the picture entirely!
    (Not likely being's they ARE politicians but I have to take comfort in the fact they've essentially tried this tactic before and gotten burned)

    True but keep in mind SpaceX HAS to have more share in order to support Starship an its payload capacity. While there can be more players supported the larger the segment the company requires the less they can tolerate competition. And since Musk's goal is Mars that's also a factor.

    Is true but there's the little fact that the Air Force and NASA, (granted in a "Shotgun-Wedding" type way but still) were at one point giving 'contracts' to the Shuttle and EELV's without checking even a third of the boxes which SpaceX actually argued as part of its lawsuits. Even if they have to keep Falcon 9 running for the government contracts they will make a disincentive for commercial use vis-vis Starship by default.

    Assuming they keep the CC contract which is looking doubtful because both NASA, (granted due to pressure from) and Congress would prefer Boeing to get and keep that contract. Note SpaceX has already made note that ONE Starship can service the ISS's need as a SIDE MISSION to an orbital delivery flight of commercial payload :)

    Actually the were adamant they'd fly Falcon 9s as long as they were required to do so, (government contracts) but that's really a special case since the government as a customer is always going to be. At least under the 'standard' (aka current) space launch paradigm. As that aside shot above points out the government has VERY different rules when the rules of the game are not as monopolistic as current space launch services are. The sticking point of course is DoD payloads as those have some very specific and restrictive requirements but, (and no way to really confirm this suspicion other than some back and forth seen in very wide spread sources and a suspicious mind by nature :) ) there is a rather obvious and straight-forward way around that issue if the government OWNS a Starship/BFR or two :) The DoD has no ties to the SLS so Congress might complain, (scream bloody murder more like it but hey) but in the end much like the EELV program the DoD is allowed and in fact encouraged to find its own solutions where such options are commercially available.(Evergreen Air anyone? :) )

    Note the context though, this assumes the Falcon 9/Merlin doesn't effectively change in any way to help that performance. (Really getting ultra-dense propellants is working in the margins already so I've no doubt there's not much more you can get out of a bog-standard Falcon 9/Merlin. And that's the point of NOT changing the design at all in both cost of the launch's and system but also in not 'wasting' money with Starship on the horizon. But it's been brought up on NSF that "simply" (arguable use of the word there but in context it makes sense) changing the Falcon 9 upper stage to methalox and a 'mini-Raptor' would increase performance significantly. Granted even with ultra-dense methalox the upper stage might have to grow in length, (hence my continued hammering on cryo-propane which gets about 80% of the performance of LH2 with a density comparable to standard kerosene and at LOX temperatures) but the calculated performance is pretty damn impressive. Again though with Starship on the horizon and no interest, (so far there may be a reason they need one later on so it's not totally out of the question) in another engine development program it's not likely to come about. But it DOES show that the stated performance maximum is dependent, (and that's calculated to be so) on the assumptions involved not what COULD be achieved with varying amounts of effort.

    And I'll point out that the attitude also precludes efforts to build supporting synergistic systems such as a space tug since we all know now that "something better" is coming soon so why waste the effort? (In fact that would also enhance Starship but that's not part of the narrative/plan so is not encouraged) And this is far from the first time this has happened in the industry so it's also ignoring some potent history in the hopes that 'this' time will be different. I hope he's right but I'd much rather have a broad and deep back up plan.

    It very much IS "my" problem no doubt and I will always grant Musk the use of his money to do what he wants :) I'm also not going to NOT take the opportunity to continue to point out his vision is limited and he's wasting opportunities in pursuit of that limited vision. He's got a message and mission and he stays on point and focused, I've no problem with that per-se. I do and will continue to have a problem with his, (and his fans) insistence that by going things this way he will "ensure the survival of mankind", "make humanity a space-faring culture" and "open up the Solar System" because even if wildly successful, this will not do that. Not without a huge amount of work in other areas and other systems which are not being used or promoted as part of the plan. And as I alluded to earlier the main issue is you have a VERY fragmented support culture, (space advocates) who will easily seize a concept and then defend it with all the passion and will they have to the utter detriment of the effort as a whole. One only need look to the example of "renewable" energy and it's conflict since the 70s to today to see how well that doesn't work for everyone's interests.

    Randy
     
  6. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2011
    Just a drive by on one point, for the moment:

    I'm puzzled by this point, for two reasons:

    1) How plausible is it that Congress will force a downselect to Boeing only for CC when they failed to do so (under more favorable circumstances) back in 2014? How politically feasible would it even be to throw out a perfectly operational crew vehicle (assuming its performance and safety record are nominal) for ISS access, especially after all the time and funding it took to develop both? If pressed, NASA is going to ferociously resist losing the redundancy it has with two contractors - it learned its lesson the hard way in 2015-16 when both SpaceX and Orbital each suffered failures in cargo launches. I've not heard even a whisper that SpaceX will get squeezed out on CC.

    Honestly, if there's any change to the CC program at all at all, it's more likely the possibility that Dream Chaser gets a contract as a third provider for the Commercial Crew extension for the late 2020's. (Not likely, but not impossible, in my view.) And this is all assuming that Starliner never develops any problems or mission failures.

    2) It's almost a moot point anyway since the CCtCap contracts include one crewed test flight, and as many as six operational crewed flights apiece. Since each contractor is on schedule to launch once per year, that takes us through at least 2025.

    P.S. Re: On-orbit refueling:

    It is?

    I thought it was only a agreement for information exchange.
     
  7. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2010
    Location:
    Reno, Nevada USA
    To play Devil's advocate, because this is most definitely not my judgement in the least, lots and lots of ATL space race second guessers say we were mistaken to splurge on loads of money for a narrowly focused launch system and spacecraft useful for just one mission only, which was landing some guys on the Moon and hauling back a few hundred pounds of moon rocks. That we "should" have spent less money on gradual, systematic, steady development of LEO launch capacity, systematically built a space station, then meticulously gone on to the Moon later using a bunch of tried and true general-utility systems to bootstrap to the specialized Moon mission. Slow and steady tortoise wins the race and all that.

    The fallacy here I think is, "no Buck Rogers, no bucks." The assumption is that the huge amounts of money spent on Apollo OTL caused budget fatigue and lots of Congress members turned against NASA wholesale for wanting to sustain this massive spending and forge on to Mars and God knows how much farther--Kubrick and Clarke pretty much sketched out the conventional wisdom extrapolations in 2001--vast spinning wheel space stations, a luxury massive moonbase at Clavius, presumably a fleet of moon buses (the one in the movie makes zero physical sense--in the book, it is a wheeled vehicle with is sensible but not so sexy apparently). Oh and a vast nuclear powered high Isp ship that can go all the freaking way to bloody Saturn! (Movie scales back, more for avoiding confusing the already bewildered audience than any astronautical consideration, to Jupiter instead--closer but still a godforsaken long way out there for a date now twenty years in our past).

    So clearly elements in US culture just assumed that in fact the Congressional largesse would be a fixed and eternal gravy train--in fact before the movie could come out, the cutbacks were already under way, but honestly this alleged culture of "no one loves Apollo" is not the world I personally recall as a kindergartener in 1970 and 1971! To be sure I was an outlier in an outlier location, an Air Force brat to whom multimillion dollar weapons systems were as common as Legos or Tinkertoys, a resident of outlier Fortress locations like Loring AFB Maine or Panama City, Florida, someone whose uncles allegedly worked in the machine shop in Los Angeles that made the "We Came In Peace" plaque. And I was bloody 5 years old!

    But it is definitely not my sense that the general zeitgeist said "we've spent far too much on space!"

    Does it follow then that had we done the whole thing with shrewd green eyeshades of scrupulous economy and efficiency, we would not have faced the debacle of the late 1960s and early '70s?

    I'm gonna say, no, we'd be quite optimistic to just assume that! No matter how frugal and cost-effective some ATL systematic, slow and steady plodding space program might be, it was definitely not the case that absolute amounts of money spent on it were anything close to crippling. The whole Apollo program was a rounding error in DoD's budget, even somehow leaving the extraordinary costs of Vietnam out of it somehow.

    Nor am I convinced that "it was money wasted because the technology developed was inappropriate to more reasonable near-Earth short term needs." The F-1 engine for instance--massively overscale? Well, a single one, stretched a wee bit into the F-1A, development actually done OTL, would serve as a dandy single engine for a Saturn 1B scale launcher, and that scale is exactly the level we'd need and want for such missions as a modest but expanding modular space station, or a robust and roomy LEO truck, or freaking Dynasoar, which I think is another fantasy Luftwaffe '46 bit of fashionable flashy vaporware that is so damn popular but not really very practical for anything. The J-2S engine is pretty nifty too, causing me to question the whole point of developing the SSME as anything but a money cow boondoggle--surely making that engine reusable would be far cheaper than developing SSME. Apollo as is was pretty darn inappropriate to LEO missions, but trimming down with a smaller lighter SM and adding on mission modules in some way seems entirely feasible and useful--the heat shield would then be overkill, but it is a simple matter to either lighten it, or simply take the standard CM capsule design as enjoying a safety margin. Who needs Saturn V if we are not going to double down at mid-60s crazy high Apollo budgets and press on manically to a Moonbase? Well, it was great for putting Skylab up, a big space station all in one go. It could put up modules of an interplanetary ship--technically, with its TLI capability being just a hair under Earth escape and not far below transfer orbits to Venus and Mars, Saturn V could launch (modest) interplanetary craft, in one launch! Much bigger than any robot probe we wanted to make, not large enough for a really nice interplanetary crewed ship, true.

    But it just seems fatuous to say "well, we blew too much money on the wrong space program and so have spent decades in LEO-bound penance!"

    In truth I think a more modest program of the plodding kind many assume von Braun, Nixon and others would have preferred would get the plodding plug pulled on it in the late '60s with a hell of a lot less to show for in terms of potentially useful technology that would no more be used in practice than our OTL nifty stuff we put on the shelf to gather dust because big contractors wanted more money to develop something newer and therefore more sexy. There is no reason to anticipate some green eyeshades person is going to go before Congress and say "you know, we could have blown ten times the money and have gotten a Moon landing or six out of it, but look how frugal we were, so please keep funding us." No Buck Rogers, no bucks. No thousands of contractor paychecks spread across the nation, no constitutency to sustain the frugal shoestring effort. No kids with "We Came In Peace" lunchboxes and the simple, mindless assumption that of course space is the new next frontier, behold, Americans are bouncing around on the Moon!

    We might not have seen a human crewed landing on the Moon to this very day.

    No one can prove the grass is really greener on the other side of that fence. We can second guess more cost-effective things as in Right Side Up or Eyes Turned Skyward--both of which build in fact in their plausibility on Lunar Apollo developed technology. But every TL I see that asserts "oh, we were fools to go to the Moon! Should have stuck with Dynasoar instead!" either peter out in a rather anti-climatic plausibility, or indulge the most over the top Mary Sueism.

    I think the fiasco versions are the plausible ones, and we should not be sorry about Lunar Apollo at all.
     
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  8. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Yes, I would indeed say this.

    Which is itself a fallacy. Congress has proven itself willing to spend money on all sorts of things that are expensive and have few or no practical applications--and which don't require any kind of Buck Rogers. Given my experiences, I point to the Department of Energy's particle physics program, which has spent considerable amounts of money on a series of particle accelerators, detectors, and experiments that are more comparable to space probes than space capsules. Yes, you can point out that part of the reason for this is because (especially in the 1940s) particle physics has been viewed as intimately linked to nuclear physics, and a potential source of new war-making capabilities--but the same is true of space exploration, which has obvious applications to such fields as rocket design, metallurgy, autonomous navigation, and so on.

    If there had never been a human flight in space at all, Congress would very probably still be paying for some level of space program, and it likely would have involved a lot of the stuff that the actual space program has done.

    But that is what the actual historical record, and especially the Congressional record, says. We see Representatives and Senators alike beating on NASA for spending a fortune on sending people to the Moon, and actual polls of people show weak levels of support for NASA in general and Apollo specifically.

    it does indeed, because the reason the debacle even existed was because NASA assumed there would be an Apollo 2, which was never in the cards, and because the budget had been inflated tremendously to pay for Apollo. No Apollo, no budget inflation and no assumption that the budget would continue to be high. NASA is just another agency like NOAA or the DoE that does some mission that's been deemed nationally important. It will face ups and downs, of course, but those are just the usual issues of being a government agency. Not some existential crisis.

    It was more than a "rounding error". In 1964, for instance--which wasn't even one of the peak budget years for Apollo--NASA's budget was 8% of the entire DoD's budget. That might not sound like a lot, but for instance today that would mean NASA would have a $50 billion/year budget. That's still a lot of money.

    In any case, it's not whether in some absolute sense the amount of money being spent on Apollo was crippling, it's whether in relative terms it made NASA a target. Which it did, because regardless of how much you say "ah, but all that money is being spent on Earth" what people saw was that NASA was spending a large enough amount of money to be worth going after to put a few men on the moon when there were more urgent priorities on Earth. No program can survive that kind of pressure.

    You're assuming that none of those would have been developed without Apollo-as-it-was, which is very probably wrong (except for perhaps the F-1, which might have ended up withering the way the M-1 did). All of those programs started before the call to go to the Moon and were simply reappropriated for that mission when it became fixed. The earliest Apollo designs, for instance, were specifically intended to support Earth-orbit test missions (basically the Gemini missions), space station missions, and eventually some lunar flyby and lunar-orbital missions with upgrades. Had JFK not called for the Moon landing mission, development probably would have proceeded along basically these lines and you would end up with exactly the spacecraft you describe (or something reasonably close), only without the whole detour of spending a large amount of money on vehicles with no application to low orbit.

    The trouble is that the "frugal shoestrings" effort is basically exactly what NASA has been doing since Apollo got shutdown...just badly...and yet Congress hasn't decided "Oh, we'd better dissolve NASA". Even in the absence of an all-out effort to land people on the Moon, Congress still has a number of reasons to keep funding the civilian space program:
    • There would still be a large number of contractor paychecks going to employees of Chrysler, Douglas, whoever ends up getting the Apollo contract, and so on and so forth;
    • There would still be reasons of prestige to continue flying humans into space--basically, "The Russkies are doing it, so we'd darn well better be doing it too!";
    • There would still be reasons of scientific discovery to continue launching both robotic and human (especially space station) missions;
    • There would still be practical applications to Earthly concerns like surface observations (e.g. Landsat) or communications (which NASA was doing quite a bit of R&D in);
    • And there would still be reasons centered around maintaining a workforce trained in spaceflight and operations, as I described above.
    All of that is more than enough to justify spending a few billion dollars (in '60s money) a year on the space program, i.e. basically the budget range that the space program has received ever since Apollo. Of course the green eyeshades person isn't going to go to Congress and say, "Well, in an alternate universe we spent ten times as much and landed people on the Moon, so keep funding us," but they are going to say, "We're exploring the cosmos. See, we developed this telescope to observe the stars in wavelengths invisible from the ground, we built this communications satellite to prove that we can transmit television signals across oceans without expensive cables, we built this probe that went to Mars, we landed this other probe on the Moon, our astronauts are hard at work proving the feasibility of men working in space, we're employing thousands of people in California and Texas and Florida and so on, so give us money to keep doing all this," or in other words all the things administrators have said since the Apollo program to persuade Congress to keep funding them. It worked for them, and similar appeals have worked just as well for keeping NSF, NIH, the Department of Energy, and other civilian scientific agencies funded and operating.

    Yes, and? This isn't Kerbal Space Program, people don't actually have an insatiable urge to go to space just for the sake of going there. The point is to go to space because we can do useful things and make interesting discoveries there. It's quite possible that there would be more of that in a timeline where no one had landed on the Moon than in ours.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
  9. Ravinoff Member

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    Mar 7, 2019
    The Soviets were already planning for their own lunar landing and beyond as early as 1959, Korolev was talking about manned flyby missions to Venus and Mars when he made the initial proposal for the N1. A hundred tons to LEO per N1 launch, depending on the exact design the Mars/Venus orbiter would be either sent up in one piece or assembled in orbit, then head out with either RP1/LOX or nuclear electric (ion) engines on a two to four year mission spending a month in Mars orbit. Soviets had their own version of NERVA (the RD-0410) under testing at Semipalatinsk, too, which could have made either of those mission profiles considerably more reasonable.
     
  10. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    There's a large, large gap between "planning for" and "committing to". Korolev could talk talk talk, but that wouldn't mean that he would get the money for it. Quite probably not, in fact, since aside from the moon missions there weren't many practical applications for such large rockets, and the Soviet military had more mundane concerns. If the space race was deflated early, they'd probably just shrug their shoulders--it's not like they had expected it in the first place--and tell Korolev to get back to working on the practical applications they were always more interested in. The RD-0410 program might have continued for a while, but just like NERVA in the United States it probably would have ended up being shut down as lacking any practical use.
     
  11. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    Mars is 200 times further away than the Moon. It's an entirely different level of difficulty. You now need to provide a crew with enough food, water, and entertainment for months in space. Moscow would never go for something that expensive and risky.
     
  12. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    Turning the Dyna-Soar into a practical orbital spaceplane can't cost more than the Apollo missions. It would also provide necessary research that could allow the costly mistakes made on the shuttle to be avoided.
     
  13. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Jun 8, 2011
    I will interject here to latch on to your first and fifth reasons here to note the concern I increasingly have when we discuss alt-histories wherein the U.S. doesn't engage in a Space Race but instead develops its HSF program in a "non-distorted" way.

    Yes, we avoid the Apollo Cargo Cult model. But on the downside, critical pathologies that have long plagued NASA - contractor driven programs, parochial congressional procurement - would become problems in such non-Space Race alt-history, too. To that we could add what Charles Murray described in talking about the "bureaucratization" of NASA, and how that manifests itself once Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy comes into action (as it inevitably does). Perhaps the upside is that even while NASA struggled with these pathologies it would at least be operating, we presume, a more sane, sustainable architecture - and taking fewer risks than Apollo did OTL when it finally *did* go to the Moon. (Though I do wonder if we actually would have gone by now. I hate to simply assume it.)

    The real breakthrough needed is the one we're only seeing now: the emergency of a genuine commercial space sector with its own indigenous capabilities which it operates for commercial clients, and not just as cost-plus appendages to big dollar government aerospace programs. How much more quickly could that have emerged, in a non-Space Race alt-history? I'm not sure of the answer. I tend to doubt that it could have happened in the 60's and 70's. But perhaps sooner than the 2010's?
     
  14. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Well, you're discounting satellite construction, which did indeed basically privatize entirely in the 1970s and 1980s. But focusing on launch, like everyone does, I would suppose that the critical locus is the late 1970s through the 1980s. IOTL, this was when space industry (in the form of communications satellites) really got going, while at the same time there was some effort to "privatize" some aspects of spaceflight, including (later in the decade) launch. It is also, of course, when the Space Shuttle and NASA's insistence on launching everything on it essentially knocked all existing aerospace firms out of any attempts at turning their government-funded rockets into commercial vehicles long enough that when they tried again after Challenger they basically couldn't do it (look up Commercial Titan...) and Ariane and even cheaper Russian vehicles took over.

    My expectation, therefore, is that if NASA isn't developing a Space Shuttle, or "fails" (in the sense that Shuttle had obviously "failed" to be suitable as sole launch vehicle after the Challenger disaster) early enough, that the 1980s will see the development of entirely commercial launches akin to modern SpaceX launches except probably more expensive. Essentially, without NASA putting its fist on the scale to drive business to Shuttle, you'll see Big Aerospace looking to get into the launch market without NASA approving everything they did (which was what happened in the '70s). And given the lack of competition at the time, you'll probably see one or two of them become sustainable businesses that don't need government contracts to survive. They're still Big Aerospace, so it's not like they're going to go all SpaceX rapid development; they might not even pursue reusability (in fact likely don't). But I feel there's a good chance that you'd see a reasonably robust private space launch sector develop in the 1980s in the absence of Shuttle, which is a reasonably likely consequence of no Apollo-as-we-know-it.
     
  15. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    You might be right.
     
  16. Riain Well-Known Member

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    I can't get past the fact that left-over apollo hardware was used for non-Moon stuff quite successfully and when it worked the Shuttle was the most capable spacecraft ever built.

    Between these two technical facts lies the potential for human decisions to make the OTL Shuttle a success.
     
  17. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    I'm kind of curious what your definition of "capable" is, because while I can think of some definitions where Shuttle was the most "capable" spacecraft ever built, they're all trivial or of somewhat questionable value in of themselves (Shuttle had a larger passenger capacity than any other spacecraft, for instance...which was pointless, because thus far there's never really been a good reason to launch seven people at once).

    The larger problem with this thinking is that it was precisely what was behind the Shuttle program IOTL, and almost exactly the attitude that led to the actual failures of the Shuttle. "It's going to be really capable," they thought. "We can totally do this, we did Apollo," they thought. And that enticed them into making bad decisions because they thought they could make it work...and they could, but only at an uneconomic cost.
     
  18. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Yes: big crew, big payload etc. In a technology sense its great and it worked in a way that other stuff at the time like NERVA didn't . And it was those features that got it through the development saga in a way a less flashy vehicle might not have.

    The same arbitrary decisions were why it failed, it wasn't that it was too expensive rather that with no space station there was no need for 7 people so the cost wasn't worth bearing.
     
  19. DougM Well-Known Member

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    Feb 18, 2015
    It has been said that the photo of the Flag raising on Iwo Jima ensured the Marine Corps existence for the next 100 years.
    “One small step” did the same thing for NASA. I can see a timeline in which NASA fails to get the moon first or otherwise never partakes in the moon race and it is either killed off. Merged with the FAA to become just an oversight agency for commercial (satellite) launches or is su scaled back as to be non existent. It is that past glory of landing on the moon that is both the curse and the blessing.
    It is a curse because it instill an attitude that does not help in the day of small budgets and it is a blessing in that without it the budgets would be smaller.

    Where NASA screwed up was in
    A) not consider what comes post Applo. That hardware could have been designed or modified to allow for better non moon missions
    B) not continuing its slower advance in none Gemini/Applo hardware. The budget NASA had could have sustained both but they went all in on one direction and forget to keep advancing the rest of them.
    C). Attempting The Applo scale (budget and grand concept wise) next step. They went for the grand shuttle not one that was cheaper and more in line with future budgets.
    This last point has been a sticking point with NASA. As they basically have done this at least twice more with the replacement for shuttle. The Shuttle was to big a project that pushed to far and cost to much for the NASA budget. And it’s replacements have all pretty much done the same thing. So NASA does not learn from its past mistakes.
     
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  20. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    Feb 2, 2013
    It was supposed to have been a cheap to operate space truck to LEO, with a fast turn around time between missions, that's what got it sold to Nixon on Congress-- far cheaper than any lofter in use.

    It's NASAs fault for promising that, and then letting in the USAF wishlist ontop of it that screwed things up even more
     
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