back to article NASA chief: Europe should have own astronaut ship

NASA chief Michael Griffin has urged Europe to build its own manned space vessels, saying that he is "worried" about the period from 2010 to 2015. During those five years, no Western nation will have technology able to carry people into space. "We welcome the development of independent European capabilities in space to provide …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge


    "That's a great idea. The diplomatic stink if we blew up a load of European astronauts would be terrible and might lead to budget cuts. Far better for us if they blow themselves up."

  2. MaXimaN


    "During those five years, no Western nation will have technology able to carry people into space."

    What's the betting that the Shuttle fleet gets a reprieve for a couple of extra years, just to plug the gap a little? Otherwise, the Chinese will send up a craft, take over the ISS and turn into an orbital weapons platform. **

    ** Extremely unlikely, but not impossible.

  3. E

    The more the merrier

    The EU should certainly have an independent launch capability, as should the USA, the Russkis, Chinese, and anyone else who can swing the bill.

    I note in passing that on the way up the space shuttle cannot make it off the gound without rockets strapped to it's sides. This may or may not be an improvement on having the can bolted to the top of a rocket.

    Let's all email DARPA (or such) & it's counterparts in other countries encouraging the development of a space elevator. Such in the medium to long run is probably better than rockets. And think of the bungy jumping and base jumping opportunity!

  4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Translation (2)

    My paymasters have realised that manned spaceflight is a huge waste of money and I won't be able to keep the ISS manned on my new budget. Can you spare a few coppers?

  5. Vulch

    No Western nation

    Will have *government owned* technology. The SpaceX Dragon capsule is due to make two unmanned demonstration flights in 2009 and a cargo flight to the ISS in 2010. The Falcon 9 launcher for it has slipped a bit but will hopefully make its first flight by the end of the year.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    "Otherwise, the Chinese will send up a craft, take over the ISS and turn into an orbital weapons platform."

    But the ISS orbits at just over 200 miles high, well within range of the flying nuke-buster raygun (they wouldn't even have to take off).

  7. Why

    Translation (3)

    We just realised we will need to ask the russians/chienese to take our people up. We cant have that!

  8. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Prescient or PreCogniscent? Always an Enigmatic Conundrum is the Future.*

    I think you will find that have a cogent Proxy response to that unnecessary concern.

    Contained in AI Clarification to them re.... "Re: Your BBC Posting has been removed" ... Fri, June 6, 2008 4:18 am.

    * Do you build with IT on the Past or Imagine a Completely Different Digital Picture .... Binary RoadMap? ....... and Employ Media 42 Present IT as AI Virtualisation for NeuRealities.

    I can certainly understand the BBC circumspection although sharing their dilemma here renders it unnecessary.

  9. ImaGnuber

    Translation (x)

    We've screwed ourselves with pork barrel politics and bureaucratic infighting.... HELP!

  10. Anonymous Coward


    > the Shuttle fleet gets a reprieve

    No, Mike Griffin (head of NASA) talked about this in an ISS press meeting last week. Simply owning the Shuttle and keeping the standing army (not even flying it) for a year costs just a hair less than a billion dollars. The actual per-flight costs are almost insignificant, since the Shuttle people get paid whether it flies or not.

    "If we keep the Shuttle flying even a year longer, we can't afford to develop its successor. We won't have the money for both. It's one or the other."

    He also said they'd like to accelerate the development program, but they don't have the money for that either.

    They want ESA flying astronauts so the Russians don't have a monopoly on space flight and then suddenly decide it's very expensive.

  11. Roy Batty

    Soyuz actually pretty reliable

    "Once the Shuttle retires, on current plans the only means of getting to and from the ISS will be by Russian Soyuz ships, which have lately been plagued by technical mishaps."

    Oh yes, really plagued, remember the last time one blew up on launch or burned up on re-entry?!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    space travel's in my blood...

    "...NASA chief ... "worried" about the period from 2010 to 2015. During those five years, no Western nation will have technology able to carry people into space..."

    no worries. russia will have joined the EC by then anyway, so we can use their gear.

  13. Daniel B.

    ESA reuseable vehicle

    I'd rather have the ESA do an actual launch/return vehicle like the Space Shuttle instead of yet another "spam in a can" approach like the Orion or "manned Jules Verne" seems to be.

    Basically the Orion is a beefed-up Apollo, which would be like the IT world returning to 8-bit MSX's for servers, isn't it?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pass the buck...

    This is disingenuous of NASA and they know it. Manned spaceflight is a completely different kettle of fish to cargo lifting.

    It isn't simply a case of taking the ATV and adding life support and re-entry systems. The vessel is designed for cargo carrying and will not have received the necessary safety testing for manned spaceflight. The same goes for the Ariane rockets - they are intended as cheap and cheerful cargo lifters. They are not safe enough put humans on top of.

    To revise the systems so that they _were_ suitable for manned spaceflight would entail reviewing and reevaluating every aspect of their design, to the extent it would probably be as easy to design a new ship from scratch.

    Finally, has anyone else notice the strange scheduling estimates? NASA have been developing Orion for several years now and it is not expected to be ready for another seven years. Somehow NASA expect the Europeans to do the same job in only two years, and without having had any experience of launching manned space vehicles.

  15. Shaun Bartoo

    Re: Roy

    So if it doesnt blow up, its 'pretty reliable'?

    You work in the government, don't you, Roy?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    @ The more the merrier

    Erm, the whole rockets-strapped-to-the-side thing was pretty spectacularly shown to be A Bad Idea when Challenger went foom: had the solid boosters been underneath the external tank rather than next to it, the worst-case scenario would have been an abort rather than the loss of seven astronauts.

    This, of course, is the thinking behind the layout of the Ares launch vehicle.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    re:Pass the buck...

    Do you have any idea what you're talking about? This isn't a new idea, but was considered in the original designs of both capsule and lifter.

    That they haven't been used in this mode doesn't mean they aren't rated for it

  18. Peyton
    Thumb Down


    Read the article and you will see that EADS has already put some thought into this, and even been so gracious as to provide a rough cost estimate.

    @the appropriately named Batty

    You're right. I'm sure NASA learned nothing from those tragedies that would provide insight into other potential space travel problems... Feel free to google "soyuz technical problems" if seeing is believing (didn't even have to think of that myself - those three search terms actually came *from* the article - wow!)

  19. Andy Bright


    You should be more worried about the US doing the same, especially given their track record on friendly fire..

  20. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Why Europe can move so fast...

    "NASA have been developing Orion for several years now and it is not expected to be ready for another seven years. Somehow NASA expect the Europeans to do the same job in only two years, and without having had any experience of launching manned space vehicles."

    Yes... But Europe has GERMAN rocket engineers. You know, like the ones that built the Apollo series. Or did you think that was Americans??

    Mine is the air-tight one with the goldfish-bowl helmet....

  21. Frank Bough

    Whatever happened to cute little Hermes?

    Once upon a time, ESA had a lovely little shuttle planned...

  22. Anonymous Coward

    re:Pass the buck...

    Yes, EADS provided a rough estimate of the cost of the upgrade - a 'couple' of billion euros. The ATV programme cost €1.35 billion. Not such a minor upgrade now is it?

    Then there is the launch vehicle. Ariane 5 was initially designed with crew carrying in mind for the Euro shuttle, but when that was scrapped that aspect of the design went out of the window rather than waste further money on something that wasn't going to be needed. So that needs an upgrade too.

    Looking at Ariane 5's reliability to date it isn't up to the standards of even the space shuttle. Even a 'partial' failure where the craft fails to gain the required height would be a major issue for manned spacecraft. Because of the often counterintuitive nature of orbital mechanics, if the vessel was at a lower than expected altitude the reentry angle would be shallower and as such the heat shield would have to survive a much longer reentry.

    The difficulties NASA have had with the shuttle heat shield are worth considering here because that has the same problem - because of the shuttle's large mass in that instance. The result is that the heat shield is more expensive and much more fragile than the heat shields of earlier spacecraft. One of the main ideas behind Orion is to go back to simpler heat shields.

    re: Dodgy Geezer. Yes, the German V2 engineers did provide some expertise in the early days of the American (and Russian) space programmes, but they certainly didn't run the show. That was 50 years ago. Do you think that the same people are still working? Or even alive?

  23. Mike Flugennock

    space elevator?

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm absolutely shit-scared of the prospect of being stuck between floors on the Space Elevator...especially if I'm stuck all that time having to listen to Space Elevator Music.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Soyuz reliability: outlook not so good

    It's true that a Soyuz capsule hasn't killed anyone for more than 35 years. However both the two most recent Soyuz capsules returning from the ISS have flown contingency ballistic trajectories (meaning it falls like a rock, rather than employing the heat shield as a lifting body, which enables a longer, more gradual and lower-G re-entry path.) In the last example the result was very nearly disaster. No doubt few people are awaiting the enquiry report at NASA as attentively as the two crew members currently floating around the ISS who are due to return in the third vehicle from the batch of three manufactured at the same time and to the same spec; it's bolted onto the side of the ISS, and they're going to be leaving in it, like it or not.

    TMA-11 near-disaster:

    Check the landing-site images.

  25. Joe Cooper

    To put it short...

    Europe can do the "same job" faster for the simple reason that it isn't the same job.

    The ESA proposal is for a "simple" ferry to get from the ground to LEO and back, based on a spacecraft ~already developed~ with future manned operations in mind.

    NASA's moved way past Gemini and right now they're replacing their seven-crew, space-station-building shuttle with something that lets them send a size seven crew to the Moon, Mars or a near Earth asteroid.

    Overkill for crew swapping, which is why they want someone else to provide this capacity. NASA isn't in the business of reinventing Gemini so we can brag we don't have to buy cheap flights off Russia. They might as well start building their own C-130s.

    But they don't build their own C-130s, and they don't waste their time making another Gemini or Apollo when the Soyuz is on the market, the Dragon is coming soon and the ESA can potentially do it for a tiny fraction of the cost of what we're trying to do.

  26. SilverWave
    Paris Hilton

    Big Rockets and lots of them :)

    Think of space craft as very expensive Jumbo jets with a very limited production run.

    Make 10 of anything technically complex and it will cost more per item than making 1000 and gaining economies of scale (think Concorde/747).

    The problem here is... where is the need for that number of rockets...

    I think the idea of reducing the complexity of the shuttle and going back to a simpler more easily assembled rocket idea is the right approach.

    Splitting things between a people and a cargo rocket means the extra safety requirements for the people side of NASA's business need not weigh down the overall project.

    The ATV is the best thing I have seen come out of Europe in years, it is a great achievement and the people carrying idea has to have been in the back of everyone's mind for a while. The EU could even get Bill to pay for this one, another fine of $2billion for any issues they come across in the latest investigations...

    Paris because obviously she loves big powerful rockets :)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    ATV vs Hermes


    ATV is the stripped down version of Hermes, which was develloped when the previous project was dropped. If i remember, it was the Germans that opposed to fund the latter.

    But if i think I read that adding life support for launch to ATV is not really possible, the most that can be done is use it as an emergency reentry vehicle.

    Having the return ticket is good, but you the the way up too.

  28. Richard Silver badge

    Surely the great bird should be lifted on top of the Great Swan, bringing glory to the nest.

    - With apologies to Leonardo da Vinci, by way of Arthur C Clarke.

    Stick a spaceplane on top of/underneath a big jet, take the jet up as high as it will go, then fire up the spaceplane's rockets.

    It's been proved this works - anybody for some Scaled Composites?

    All you need is a bigger plane with a really big lifting capacity, plus a nice lightweight spaceplane with big rockets.

    - Not that it's easy to do the latter, but we've already got an A380.

  29. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Formula One Enters the Fray.... MaXXXXed Out with Virtuous Benefits for Venal Weaknesses

    Whatever happened to cute little Hermes? ... Once upon a time, ESA had a lovely little shuttle planned...By Frank Bough Posted Friday 6th June 2008 22:57 GMT

    Methinks Frank, they've outsourced MasterPilot BetaTesting to ITs Earthly, Vorsprung durch AITechnik, Simulator...... HyperRadioProActive Satellite Test Communication Vehicle for Proxy OverRide with Stabilised OutRiders .....

    No Point in having a Space Program without Space men, is there, and they are hardly likely to be kitted out, as if Everything is Normal. Let's get Real.

    [Do you Realise that the Title was not a Question ... or did you not notice IT immediately?]

  30. Anonymous Coward

    @Andy Bright

    Good link. Space travel and friendly fire. Since you started the thread why not continue the hilarity!

    1) "Two members of a British tank crew were killed and two critically injured after their Challenger 2 tank was fired on by another Challenger tank in southern Iraq."

    2) "British soldiers have been shooting each other in my lifetime, too. In the 1982 Falklands War, HMS Cardiff shot down AAC Gazelle, while in the brief conflict the 3rd Battalion of the Paras exchanged gunfire and artillery fire with Army Companies A and C in one night-time episode, leading to eight casualties. Elsewhere, a UK Special Boat Service Commando was killed in firefight with UK Special Air Service Commandos."

    3) "British troops are believed to have killed two Danish soldiers in a "friendly fire" attack in Afghanistan, the Danish equivalent of the Ministry of Defence has said."

    4) "A British soldier killed in Iraq during an operation to capture a key terrorist leader was shot dead by one of his own men, defence sources said."

    5) "A pathologist told the inquest yesterday that Private Cutts had been hit from behind by at least two bullets from a machinegun, which could have been fired by British soldiers."

    6) "A young Royal Marine died under "friendly fire" in Iraq because of serious failings by his commanding officers, which the Army initially denied, an inquest has found."

    7) Cpl Budd’s widow, who is due to collect his medal from the Queen next month, has reportedly received an official warning that he was probably killed by shots from his own comrades.

  31. Robert Sneddon

    Two cars in every garage

    In retrospect the Shuttle was a bad idea. The Jules Verne ATV is the right concept for cargo carrying for manned space operations such as the ISS or future Moon/Mars missions.

    The US should have developed two parallel launcher systems; a people-carrying Space Minivan and a Space Truck for cargo. Both vehicles could be (mostly) reusable like the Shuttle but a lot simpler and more robust since they don't have to do both jobs. It would have cost more though (although keeping the Saturn1B lines open would have worked initially for the Truck tasks) and required the ability to launch two or more vehicles predictably within a couple of days of each other so they could rendevous in orbit to carry out whatever tasks needed done. Instead they went with the old war-rocket concept of throwing people and payload up on a single stack, which of course had to be man-rated in toto.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Frank Bough

    'Whatever happened to cute little Hermes? '

    It was abandoned in the wake of the Challenger disaster. Upgrading its abort facilities meant adding so much weight that it could no longer be orbited by the proposed version of Ariane V.

  33. RRRoamer
    Paris Hilton

    Not quite...

    "Basically the Orion is a beefed-up Apollo, which would be like the IT world returning to 8-bit MSX's for servers, isn't it?"

    Except the Apollo designers did a HELL of a better job with it than the Shuttle designers did 20 years later.

    A better analogy would be "which would be like the IT world switching from Cray-3's to PDP-11".

    The shuttle is a beautiful ship. It was very technically advanced, but it absolutely FAILED in it's primary goal: low cost to orbit. The cost to rebuild the main engines and the booster rockets after every single flight far exceeds the cost to just build new, simpler engines such as the Apollo F1. It's also amusing that a single F1 produces more thrust than all three of the Shuttles main engines.

    This is one area where the Russians had it right.

    PH because everyone else does!

  34. Seán

    @Pass the buck

    Go back to editing wikipedia you're absolutely and totally wrong.

    For a start the ATV is attached to the ISS for months, it's rated for human occupancy. The Ariane was developed to launch the Hermes and so is completely rated for human safety. That'd be the opposite of what you said.

    Also the design is European rather than the laughable dross the septics slap together. Looks like they're fucked without NAZI's and Russian engine developments.

    What the fat mouthed Griffen is doing is pissing off the Russians. Which is bright of him because the Chinese will piss themselves laughing when he has to go cap in hand begging for a lift. This stupid Mars folly is ridiculous, the Moon is the target.


  35. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    No likely to escape from the dependence on Russia

    The proposed European man-rated ship is largely going to be outsourced to Russia anyway - the capsule will be designed by the Russians while the service module will be a modified ATV.

    Having said so, even this will be better than nothing.


  36. The elephant in the room

    The British already have a manned (& dogged) rocket.

    It is orange, of a highly advanced single-stage-to-orbit configuration, may be operated in residential areas, and has been sucessfully used to collect cheese from the moon. You can see the documentary about it on TV every Christmas.

    (The penguin as he was in The Wrong Trousers).

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Pass the buck

    Sorry Seán, but it is not me who is engaging in Wikipedia-style simplifications and overlooking of details.

    Yes, the ATV is human-rated _when_docked_. It has no life support systems of its own and as such is completely dependent on the ISS to provide these when the module is in place. contains several quotes from Frank Pohlemann of EADS Astrium where he goes through what would be needed for genuinely human-rating the ATV.

    First facilities for cargo return - i.e. a heat shield, parachute etc. Cost €1 billion. Next, human rating the system for an additional €2 billion. That trebles the cost of the ATV programme. In what sense is that a minor upgrade?

    He also specifically covers the Ariane 5 launch vehicle with a view to manned spaceflight. As I said earlier in comments you completely ignored, the Ariane 5 programme was in mid-development when Hermes was cancelled and at that point human-rating was abandoned. Pohlemann states:

    "We believe you could take the existing Ariane-5 lower-composite and outfit it with a series of sensors to tell the vehicle riding on top that something might be going wrong or everything is fine. We don't have these sensors at the moment, but for the rest we think we can take the existing Ariane 5."

    In other words, no Ariane is not ready. Factor in some extra money for that and the project is ballooning in proportions.

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