The loss of both the Challenger and the Columbia were tragedies. But they were both just part of a much greater failure. It’s not a popular thing to say. And, to some people it seems unpatriotic. Especially space geeks and other technology enthusiasts who grew up during the Apollo program and caught the bug of excitement over the development of space flight don’t like anyone to say it. And they like to point to the many exciting space flights, the many landings of a reusable aerospace plane, and the many really great pieces of advanced technology that it launched into orbit, including the assembly of the International Space Station.
The Space Shuttle was totally and fundamentally a complete, unmitigated failure from the very beginning.
Because it wasn’t designed by NASA engineers who were trying to make the best space plane ever.
It was designed by the U.S. Congress.
THIS IS A STUB ARTICLE WHICH WILL EXPAND ON THE FOLLOWING TOPICS:
The Space Shuttle had one and only one function: It was a delivery truck to earth orbit.
As such, it had one and only one goal: To be a cheap and reusable vehicle.
It was not reusable. (Need to expand on this because people argue against it all the time.) It had to be basically rebuilt every time it was launched.
It was not and was never intended to be an exploratory vehicle. It could not go anywhere besides low earth orbit because it was too heavy and wings are impractical for going anywhere else. It was a marvelous engineering accomplishment. But it was not a leap in technology.
They had already done development on a better, more reusable system. (Describe the Dyna-Soar.)
It was stupid to have the primary taxi for people also be the primary booster for cargo.
It was terribly small and weak because it was so awfully big and heavy.
The military introduced requirements, part of which they never used.
It was dangerous. Stupid side boosters assembled in segments should never have been used on a vehicle to launch humans.
The tiles were a band aid solution. The foam was a band aid solution. And putting the crew vehicle behind the foam was unnecessary.
The International Space Station was started in 1998 and was assembled with the help of the Shuttle over a nearly fifteen year period at the expense of $150 billion. This included a total of $50 billion for 36 separate shuttle flights to carry up pieces and assemble it.
If just 5 more Saturn V moon rockets had been produced when it was in production after the Apollo program, the entire space station could have been hefted into orbit with just 5 launches. It would have been bigger. It wouldn’t have been in so many separate, small pieces. And each launch cost less than $1 billion.
The space station could have been a 100% United States venture completed in the mid-1970s instead of a 15 year international project started 20 years after it should have been complete.
Thanks, Congress. It’s thanks to the U.S. government’s inability to actually manage anything constructive that we’re still just going around in circles (116,178 orbits as of today) in low earth orbit instead of actually exploring anything like they said we would.