– By Owais Moinuddin, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The United States has made great strides in the field of space technology. After its space shuttle became a beacon light for other developed countries, it has now planned to weaponise the space by introducing space weapons.
As regards the US space shuttle programme, officially called Space Transportation System, the United States has successfully launched Space Shuttle orbiter. Carrying five to seven astronauts, the Space Shuttle is launched vertically with a pay load to up to 22,700 kilograms. After the Shuttle moves out of orbit, it uses its Maneuvering System to complete its mission and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.
Shuttle is a reusable spacecraft and it has made multiple flights into orbit. It has multidimensional functions right from carrying large payloads to various orbits, providing substitute crew for the International Space Station and performing repair of other spacecrafts and satellites.
According to the SPS vision, space shuttle is to complete assembly of the International Space Station by 2011, and then it will be retired. According to the US space agency, NASA, the space shuttle will be replaced with Orion spacecraft. However, the recent financial crunch has create hurdles in this regard.
The shuttle programme was launched on January 5, 1972 with the sole aim to develop a reusable space shuttle system. The space shuttle was basically aimed at providing less expensive means of access to the space so that the space could be used by the US defence department and other commercial and scientific users. That is why, the current space shuttle has been designed by using reusable winged orbiter, reusable solid rocket boosters and an expendable external tank.
The orbiters which have so far been developed under the space shuttle programme include Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantic. Columbia broke up on reentry on February 1, 2003, killing all the seven crew members on board. After the Challenger destroyed during ascent on January 28, 1986 due to O-Ring failure, Endeavour was built and delivered in May 1991.
Since December 1993, astronaut crews have performed four servicing missions to extend operative life. They replaced the aging hardware and enhanced scientific capability through the installation of advanced science instruments.
Any how, accidents and disasters cannot be ruled out in any space mission. That is why, a number of steps have been taken to ensure safety of the crew. The board investigating the Columbia accident reported that there will be less risk to the cew when a shuttle flies to the International Space Station because the station can also serve as a safe haven for the crew awaiting rescue in the event of a disaster. Therefore, it recommended that the shuttle always orbit with the station.
The space shuttle program was originally scheduled to reitre in 2011 but it saw the final launch with Altantis on July 8, 2011. However, the US space agency has decided to keep the shuttle in space until a successor is launched. However, it has been reported that former Bush administration had made no viable space programme beyond 2011. Therefore the United States has no capability to launch crews into orbit for the time being. Besides, due to financial recession, the US administration sees it difficult and expensive at this moment to extend the shuttle program.
The US space agency had originally calculated the total cost of shuttle programme to be just $90 billion, but the total cost of the programme had been $145 Billion in 2005 and $196 billion in 2011. Obviously, the United States which has wasted huge funds in its so-called war on terrorism in different regions in the world, cannot afford such a huge amount. However, plans are under consideration to bringer less expensive versions of space shuttle.