Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Shuttle

When I was a child I went to visit my uncle at Bradford University. Whilst there - it would have been around 1983 - I was shown a high-end computer system that was displaying a basic rendering of the space shuttle.

I wasted many a pleasant hour at school making technical drawings of the craft. The Challenger disaster in 1986 hurt my faith in technology and gave me a lifelong interest in how things fail. It was truly shocking that such high engineering could fail so spectacularly.

Ever since then I have wanted to see a shuttle launch. The problems are many-fold: I live in the wrong country, and the launches are often delayed by days if not months. As an example the current launch, STS-133, was due to launch in late October last year. Problems, including some with the external fuel tank, have led to it being delayed until at least February.

There are three more missions before the scheduled end of the shuttle program in the middle of next year. I am really tempted to fly out to see one, but the Internet is full of stories about people spending a fortune only not to see a launch - some multiple times.

There is a chance that man will never build a rocket of the size and beauty of the shuttle - the cost of such heavy launchers are crippling, one of the reasons why there is such uncertainty about the American Ares V project. Such large rockets are really only needed for manned missions beyond Earth's orbit (almost all satellites can fit in rockets such as the Ariane 5, Atlas 5 or Delta IV).

Even if massive rockets are built in the future, they will certainly not have the flawed if beautiful configuration of the shuttle. So I will have to satisfy myself with watching some amazing videos of the launch on YouTube.

No comments: