Worst of all, Mueller said, was that the plan to make every part of the shuttle fully reusable was dropped. Budget cuts ordered by the Nixon White House meant that the fuel tank would be jettisoned with each flight and the boosters would fall into the ocean after launch and have to be retrieved and refurbished extensively.
Those changes made to save upfront money, while they sound small, meant adding incredible expense to every flight, Mueller said in an interview.
The shuttle will likely go down in history as an anomaly of America’s space program. The spacecraft before it were disposable capsules, like Apollo. And the designs for machines of the near future are also for the most part disposable capsules. That suggests that the 30 years of reusable shuttles that landed like airplanes were a diversion from the natural evolution of rocketry, said McCurdy.
It may be an anomaly, but astronauts call it an engineering marvel in both versatility and complexity. John Glenn, who flew in a Mercury capsule as well as the shuttle, called it “the perfect vehicle for its time.”
He said like any pilot he’d prefer to fly the shuttle and called it a much smoother ride. But he said he understands why the future looks more like his Mercury capsules.
“As far as expense, simplification and cutting costs, the capsule is by far cheaper,” the 89-year-old former senator said in a telephone interview from his Columbus, Ohio, office on Friday.
“The shuttle is an amazing piece of machinery,” astronaut Stan Love said. “It blows away anything that can fly now or in the next 30 years.”
However, when it comes to fulfilling the promise made four decades ago, Love retells a joke heard often around NASA: The space shuttle was supposed to be cheap, safe and turn spaceflight into something so routine it would be boring. One out of three ain’t bad.
By John Solomon
How the government's punishing of the exposure of official wrongdoing can linger for years
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Television commentary, reviews, news and nonstop DVR catch-up.
Are there profound differences between the Left and the Right? You betcha.
Covering the world of soccer, including the World Cup, Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the English Premier League and other interesting sporting events.
A carefully guided tour through the confusing world of modern bookselling and publishing.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention