Astronaut Mike Mullane knew Shuttle was an experimental spaceship sitting atop highly volatile explosives. When NASA allowed civilians to ride they were implying it was safe when it was not. Unfortunately, he was right.
During the Apollo Program, NASA’s Phil Shaffer had subjected me to what I’d describe today as a version of “Shark Tank”. I wasn’t looking forward to presenting to him again on Shuttle.
The first version of the Shuttle flight software had two serious problems: it couldn’t fit in the computer, and it ran way too slow. IBM was two years into the contract and basically nothing worked. All hell broke loose.
Hearing about the near-legendary competence of NASA astronauts was one thing, seeing it in action was humbling. Bob Crippen and Dick Truly, the two I got to work with on Space Shuttle, were the most impressive professionals I’ve met.
By comparison to the Space Shuttle, Apollo was a Model-T Ford – no set of computer-controlled spaceship operations like this had ever been attempted. Nothing that got us to the Moon could be reused here, and so it was discarded.
During high speed atmospheric flight, the extreme forces buffeting the Space Shuttle produced abrupt, violent oscillations that, left unattended, would cause it to spiral out of control. No human was capable of flying the Shuttle unassisted.
The Space Shuttle’s onboard computer system alone weighed more than the entire Apollo Command Module.
An Air Force requirement demanded wings for the Space Shuttle, and that drove everything else about its design. Yet they were never used for that purpose.
In spite of having four separate sets of rocket engines, for the entire flight through the atmosphere and landing, the Shuttle Orbiter was simply an unpowered glider.
The Space Shuttle was immensely different and more complex, in both concept and design, from anything attempted on Apollo.
In 1959, U.S. astronauts piloted an airplane-shaped rocket ship into space, and then flew nearly 200 missions, twenty years before the first Space Shuttle ever left the ground.
Now that the era of Space Shuttle has passed, was it all worth it? While the Apollo Program was the great adventure of our age, what exactly did this stepchild do to earn its keep?