Brit Liggett

Space Shuttle Program Officially Retired, Millions of Gallons of Fuel to Be Saved

by , 07/21/11
filed under: Renewable Energy

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Space Shuttle Atlantis made its final landing today at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida officially marking the end of NASA’s 30 year-long space shuttle program that included 5 vessels, 135 missions and millions of gallons of fuel. We are sad to see the space shuttle go — it is endlessly amusing to watch people float in zero-gravity — but we are a little relieved to know that the blast of emissions from each shuttle launch will no longer be spewing into the atmosphere adding to the effects of global warming. NASA’s future mission is deep space flight and because of the massive amounts of thrust and probability of light-weight future vessels, fossil fuel will most likely be pushed aside for a lighter, more environmentally friendly propellant.

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Each of the Space Shuttles carried two million pounds of solid rocket fuel propellant with them at launch, split between the two solid rocket boosters, and burned approximately 660,000 pounds of solid fuel and 45,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen per minute during takeoff. In addition to the amount of fuel used, each launch cost NASA — and United States taxpayers — $450 million per mission (and don’t forget that the shuttles themselves came in at a price tag of $1.7 billion each at the time the Endeavor was built). During the program there were also two great tragedies that killed a total of 14 courageous astronauts. The Shuttle Program was meant to help build the International Space Station, a joint venture between a number of countries which has now been completed.

As NASA looks into the future, they are hoping to reach beyond the Space Station’s orbit — which extends to about 330 miles above the Earth’s surface — deeper into space where astronauts could explore the moon, asteroids and possibly other planets. In order to reach such distances,NASA would have to throw their current rocket fuel out the window, since it is so heavy it would impede future rockets’ abilities to reach speeds necessary for deep space travel. Fortunately, there are quite a few teams already studying alternatives like solar wind sails, nuclear powered rockets, hydrogen powered space planes and vessels that would harvest gas from Uranus to travel.

So, we say congratulations on the boundary pushing NASA Space Shuttle Program for a mission accomplished, but as with all first successful ventures, there are things to be improved upon. We’ll miss the constant photos of crazy-haired astronauts eating floating sandwiches and wearing really fun looking clothes but we look forward to a space program that treads lighter on the planet it blasts off from in order to safely explore the new frontier.

Via Reuters

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6 Comments

  1. Zeppflyer July 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Wow. Small minded article indeed.

    1. Different story for the solid boosters, but the LOX/Liquid Hydrogen main engines of the shuttle produce no harmful emissions.

    2. Space exploration is so much more than videos of people floating weightless. It’s a proving ground for new technologies, many of them vital to the green movement here on earth. Chiefly; solar panels, insulations such as aerogel, and a whole host of light, strong materials such as carbon fiber were financed and nurtured for the space program. Fair bet that the program and its spinoffs come pretty close to breaking even, environmentally speaking, and the dividends can only grow from here.

    3. The ultimate way to go green is to go black. If we can move industry and power production to space, we don’t have to fight to keep them under control on earth. Mining of the moon and asteroids means fewer incidences of mine runoff and the use of hydrocarbons needed to support it here on earth. Electricity in space is limitless. Solar panels miles across can cheaply and cleanly provide power to earth without producing CO2 or harming ecosystems.

    4. Sorry to break it to you, but all of the alternate propulsion techs that you mentioned (with the possible exception of some nuclear applications) are only good once you’re already in orbit. For the foreseeable future, the only way out of the gravity well is by chemical rocket. And we’re going to need far bigger ones than the shuttle if we’re going to deploy any of those other technologies in a meaningful way. Going forward, there are other, better solutions such as the space elevator, but that’s a good ways down the road.

    Rather than simply gasping in horror at the shuttle’s exhaust plume, dismissing the achievements of the space program, and rejoicing that it’s ending, please consider taking the long view and look at this as an investment towards a greener future where we do not need to worry about mining waste, industrial waste, or power plant emissions on earth because our materials and energy come from beyond the fragile atmosphere. Instead, celebrate the shuttle’s achievements and fight instead for greater exploration of space going forward.

  2. lazyreader July 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    The Space Shuttle uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen for fuel, when it burns it generates water? OOOHHH those nasty emissions. The Solid Rocket Booster uses Aluminum and the otherwise toxic Ammonium Perchlorate as the propellant.

  3. jdub July 21, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    “Millions of Gallons of Fuel to Be Saved”

    That is the silliest thing I have read all day. Things still need to go to space (satellites, servicing the ISS, etc). The energy needed to lift a pound doesn’t change because the shuttle program ended. That cost will be deferred to countries like Russia and China or into the future when we have a replacement rocket program, but by no means is anything being “saved” as a result of the retirement of the Shuttle program…

  4. ahinalu July 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    While I understand that on the surface the space program uses lots of fuel and resources, the reality is they use less than 0.8% of the US national budget and we wouldn’t even know about our environment without it, maybe take the time to know what your talking about before you spread your ignorance on this matter:
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/…saspinoff.html (keep in mind there are
    way more when looking at the worlds…or just the USA’s…space program spinoffs).

    A graphic view (pdf):
    http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2…imeline_08.pdf

    A simpler view.
    http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstud…ature_k_4.html

    And finally the “spinoff” website from NASA, that gives spinoffs by year and updates regularly.
    http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/

    All of their claims are verifiable and backed up. Some estimates show a return of 14:1 on our money put into the US space program. What is needed is more money spent on that and less killing each other in muslim countries.

  5. Brandon Kuhl July 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    The shuttle used hydrogen and oxygen for the main engine. The solid rocket booster used Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant. Neither of these is a fossil fuel, but I imagine the binder for the solid rocket fuel was fossil fuel derived. It is likely, I suppose, that the hydrogen also came from fossil fuels.

    The largest negative environmental impact I can see from the launches was the release of large amounts of chlorine, which depletes the ozone.

  6. fluffyfreak July 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

    It might be worth pointing out that during takeoff the only greenhouse gas produced was water vapour. It did also produce some Hydrochloric acid which would fall in the rain over the surrounding area though.

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