Friday, December 11, 2009

The Range Is Not All About Shuttle

It has taken a nose dive into the expendable launch vehicle world for me to see that the world of rocketry does not revolve around the space shuttle. Shuttle is the most visible, but Atlas and Delta are the work horses of the US space program.

When the range was booked with an Atlas V launch, Shuttle, and then a Delta IV launch all within four days. Delta held its own until it slipped even though it had been asked to move previously. When Atlas scrubbed the sense I got from the news, and social media was that Atlas should have yielded to the range to shuttle, stood down, allowed shuttle to launch, and then made their attempt. It shouldn't have even made that first attempt.

Excuse me?

Atlas had the range before shuttle, they were ready to fly. Delta also should not have been asked to move. They had the range before shuttle. Yet there was an outcry that both should have moved.

This leaves me confused. Yes, manned programs may be the most visible programs from the public but the other programs are just as valuable. Look at the history of the manned space flight program and there is Atlas right at the start. The rovers wouldn't be on Mars without the Delta program. Unmanned flight has allowed us to explore further than the Moon and LEO. An Atlas V sent a probe to Pluto where we cannot dream of sending humans at the moment; Delta launched Kepler which is searching for more Earth-like planets.

I have nothing against the manned space flight program (it got me into science in the first place, and I will be eternally thankful for that); I just challenge everyone who holds it as the pinnacle of the industry to look further. Do not hold the manned program above the unmanned programs. Both have made their contributions and created inspiration. Shuttle cannot keep up with the launch rate of the unmanned programs, but the unmanned programs do not have the human exploration element.

I will now jump off my soap box.

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