back to article Space shuttle Endeavour: 'An incredible ship'

Space shuttle Endeavour flew into retirement yesterday when it touched down at Kennedy Space Center at the end of its 25th and final flight. Speaking from Mission Control in Houston, astronaut Barry Wilmore told commander Mark Kelly: "Your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered. …


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  1. Callum


    anyone worked out the miles per gallon of endeavour yet? 122 million miles is not a lot more than some of the old VW's on ebay.

  2. TeeCee Gold badge

    122 million miles on the clock?

    That's spaceship mileage........

  3. Andus McCoatover

    Found a use for my EEEpc701

    Thanks to Lester's heads-up, it was permanently connected to NASA-TV on the bookshelf.*

    Watched as Enterprise flew on the back of a Jumbo 20+ years ago over Warwickshire. Memories.

    The end? Nah. just the beginning. I wish I'd live long enough to see it.

    May I be the first to say....PLAYMOBIL; OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN!!!

    * Could never understand the precision.

    "Sleep time" Scheduled for 9:56. Crew Wake-up scheduled for 05:56.

    For fuc*k's sake, just say they're going to bed about ten, and we'll wake 'em six-ish....

  4. No, I will not fix your computer

    Re: mpg

    It used around 13 million gallons of hydrogen/oxygen for 25 missions, so approximately 10 million miles per gallon, although that doesn't include the solid rocket boosters (and of course it was coasting most of the time) .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Shouldn't that be ...

      10 mpg ? Which is rather poorer as it is coasting most of the distance

      1. MrT

        Still makes it better than...

        ... a 6000 SUX

        1. MrT


          ...the Robocop reference was lost on someone. Even in the movie it was an ironic reference to the US auto industry - and which city was Robocop set in?

          Okay, here's a very rough estimate of the mpg based on the time the engines run, rather than including the time coasting in orbit. Feel free to correct it - equally, there's nothing wrong in taking the total distance travelled including the orbit time, which gets the previously mentioned 10mpg or so. Orbit is matching forward speed to the rate of fall back down, which basically means the orbiter got to the top of a very long hill and freewheeled the rest of the way. We count uphill and downhill together when calculating a vehicle mpg (modern cars will shut off fuel going down hill - mine shows '999.9mpg' on the instant consumption when coasting with zero throttle), so it's not wrong to take the entire distance travelled and divide it by the fuel used.

          There wouldn't have been an average shuttle launch - Columbia's initial flight was lower and lighter, some classified missions were longer and higher, but to make it simple let's assume that MECO (main engine cut off) occurs at an average of 900 miles (statute, not nautical) downrange, at about 8'30". Use the average Shuttle-ISS rendezvous misson altitude of 250 miles. It's not a straight line, but an arc that starts steep and levels off - and the earth is curving away, so let's just add 100 miles to the downrange distance for the extra travelled by going up. This makes it a very rough 1000 miles burn distance.

          25 launches, 1000 miles to MECO, 13 million gallons total - LOx included.

          Approx 0.002mpg

  5. Dan Hall


    Sad to see the end of the program. While it never lived up to the hype (and what govt. program ever does?) of cost efficiency, extremely short turn-around times, and launches from both coasts, it was a real milestone. I remember going to see Enterprise when it was at Edwards AFB in California... Here's hoping that this isn't the end, just the end of the beginning :-)

  6. Chad H.


    They might have been failures (as they were neither safer nor cheaper than a rocket launch), but man, are they beautiful birds, and they'll be ling missed

  7. Jemma

    ...I slip the surly bonds...

    and say good bloody riddance.

    And I bet a fair few engineers were saying that under their breaths...

    For a start Concorde had a better safety record...

    not to mention the 'ooh look we're building what amounts to a bungalow on 5 rocket engines, should we fit a crew escape system?' 'nah, cost too much mate, and after all if that lot blows up all we'll get back'll be a matched set of kebabs...'

    You can almost hear the sound of breath hissing between the teeth of long dead engineers - 'it'll be at least 2 months before ah can get the parts' guv...' or "I 'avent seen one of these in years mate...."

    Not to mention the incompetence and ignorance relating to the two disasters involving these machines. little little NASA - they couldn't hit an opportunity with a shotgun at 10 paces.

    "Hmm, we could send up a rescue mission...?"

    "nah, too expensive"

    "Check the outside and see whether there is damage anywhere?..."

    "will ya stop with the worrying, God looks after his own..."

    And the rest is incorporated into a custom chevy...

    The things were a accident waiting to happen - they were overpriced, underperforming white mastodons from the get go. True they could go up and come back down again - but when they did come back down they had to be rebuilt practically from the ground up every time. Quelle saving..?

    The space shuttle fleet motto should be something like

    "going where no hunk of metal built by cost cutting half-assed jerks has gone before.."

    or maybe (to quote the great Terry Pratchett)

    "Moritori nolumnus mori"

    NASA try and do it properly next time. If I was Gene Roddenberry I have to say, I would have been offended that something so slapdash and ill conceived was named after the ship I named it after...

    1. Cucumber C Face


      Some of what you say strikes home but....

      >should we fit a crew escape system?<

      What 'escape system' did you have in mind which would have helped in the Columbia disaster (breaking up at Mach 19 and 200,000 feet)?

      Challenger was perhaps survivable - it has been said face masks and pressurised air might have kept them conscious. However they would still need to get out of the plunging shuttle - not a casual parachute jump.

      Ejection mechanisms, escape pods etc. might weaken the structure and/or add weight to the extent they were unviable - and the windows of utility too narrow.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      There were far better designs proposed

      Like liquid fueled flyback boosters, and total reusability, not just partial, but president Nixon squashed all of them because the space program reminded him of Kennedy, who he hated. He chose "cheap and crappy as possible"

      So he'd be the "cost cutting half-assed jerk" you refer to. NASA TRIED to "do it properly" and got shut down.

      I consider Nixon directly and personally responsible for the Challenger and Columbia deaths.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        More like...

        ...the DoD with their demands for cross-range capability (never used) was what really made it a white elephant.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Up

          @Uncle Slacky

          IIRC quite a lot of it has been used on a *few* missions. We're talkin <10 and c90% of the full x-range.

          But the big steal-a-red-sat-from-orbit-and-bring-it-back-to-the-takeoff-site-in-one-orbit never happened. Much like WW3 (which would be the only situation insane enough for it to be considered).

          But boy did it drive a *lot* of those wind tunnel hours (c40-50 000 IIRC).

          Their requirement to *triple* the payload (c 20000-66000lb) and up the payload bay size because spy sats are getting bigger) did not exactly help things either.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        @Gene Cash

        "I consider Nixon directly and personally responsible for the Challenger and Columbia deaths."

        That would be because between his dislike of the space programme and the OMB funding rules instituted at his orders (I seem to recall the name Caspar Weinberger mentioned in connection with this) he was.

    3. Andus McCoatover

      I'm downvoting you for the sentiments..

      ...but nice bit o' writing.

      Pity the new icon "Meh" doesn't quite cover it, tho' the expression's correct.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please don't fix my computer,....

    if your maths is that appalling. 122 million miles divided by 13 million gallons is approximately 10. Thats T-E-N, with a number One and only one! Zero. Yoof of today, back in my day,... etc etc etc.

  9. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    The current shuttle fleet has clocked up something like 525 million miles

    They had 2 uppsies (in Nasa speak) and killed 14crew.

    That's one death per 37M miles, or 0.026 deaths / million miles.

    About the same as driving a car in the USA and half the rate for cycling.

  10. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

    A title

    I recently found an old Reader's Digest magazine from 1981, that included an article about the "newest guest in space": The Columbia.

    It is saddening, in today's context, reading about all the hope these birds brought back in the day: frequent flights, cheap sending of goods to orbit... it *was* the future. And now, 30 years later we have taken several steps backwards.

    Here's hoping that Musk, Chang-Diaz, Allen, and the rest of private investors succeed. I don't want to think that the best days of space exploration and discovery are already in the past.

  11. Real Ale is Best

    You have got to wonder at the design process...

    1) Hey! We have this great design for a gliding space ship. Look! Its got rockets on the end, that can be reused!

    2) Oh bugger. We can't fit all the fuel it'll need on board.

    3) Ahh! Put the fuel in an external tank!

    4) Oh bugger. The shuttle can't lift the tank as well.

    5) Ahh! Let's strap rockets on the side of the tank to get it into orbit! Then the shuttle only needs to get itself there using the fuel from the tank....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Wouldn't be the first time!!

      There's always some trial and error in aerospace design. If you can get a copy of HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries from the 90s, watch the "Spider" episode about the creation of the Lunar Excursion Module.

      Going farther back, think of the P-51 Mustang. Originally built with a Pratt & Whitney engine in it, it was a kind of interesting but mediocre fighter. Once they put a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in it, it became probably the best overall prop-driven fighter of WW2.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The wrong trousers

    The shuttle was enlarged to carry cargo at the request of US Air Force, a joint project to save money. The USAF withdrew leaving NASA with a larger than needed craft, leading to all the power/fuel/weight issues related above.

    They made a cargo carrier with the cost and complication of human safety-critical systems. They really needed a crew shuttle and a separate large carrier launcher.

    In the end, the shuttle program was saved by the need to get to International Space Station. The ISS was saved to give the shuttle somewhere to get too.

    The highlight of shuttle missions was the Hubble telescope repair BUT it may have been cheaper to just relaunch a new Hubble on a normal rocket.

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @You have got to wonder at the design process

    Even better than that.

    The shuttle main engine is probably the most complex moving thingy ever built. It's amazing that it works at all - it's less amazing that it has to be rebuilt after each flight and on average the life of each part is something less than 1.5 flights.

    Of course you could just leave them off, add two more boosters and gain more payload - but then it wouldn't really be reusable and the whole thing would look silly.

    The entire design process for the Shuttle was the sort of bizarre, complex, multi-agency fuck-up that you would never believe it unless you had worked in IT.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The *very* best architecture that *could* be designed (and I *will* justify that)

    That would meet the Nixon's OMB funding profile (which was *nothing* like the funding profile seen in *real* large projects for either space or otherwise EG Bridges, World Trade Centre, Channel Tunnel etc.

    That would keep the various "stakeholders IE NASA centres (MSFC made it *impossible* to not use a high pressure staged combustion engine0, suppliers (*especially* the SRB mfgs in Utah who lost the design competition 1st time round), the USAF and the Senate and Congress more-or-less happy with the project.

    BTW stakeholders *never* included the US people *directly*. They were just meant to cough up the cash for it.

    NASA studied *dozens* of "Shuttle" vehicles in the Phase A & B design competition.

    I'd suggest *most* would have been better.

    But *very* few would have been *cheaper*.

    2 Last points.

    Ariane 5 also uses large SRB. You might wonder why they have no hassle with them. The *empty* SRB cases are made in Italy (were steel, not sure if they've already moved to carbon fiber) and shipped to Guyana where they are loaded in a special propellant mixing/loading/curing building *at* the launch site, which was how IIRC Lockheed proposed to do their SRB.s

    *Despite* what some might think NASA has *several* manuals on project management.

    *All* recommend getting the budget *realistic* first, and *explaining* why it's so big and what it gets in *detail* rather than get some cash (*any* cash) out of Congress first and then keep going back for cost overruns to get the *real* cost of the project out of them.

    Guess which approach NASA went with for STS?

    This post is to explain some of the background, *not* to excuse the behavior or the result. There was *no* reason for 7 people to die in the 80s and another 7 to die in the 90s.

    In some respects it's *amazing* it took off at all and lasted so long.

    In others (despite being V0.9 tech at best) it could have been *so* much better.

  15. Daedalus

    It sure looks purdy....

    At 78 tonnes without fuel or payload, the shuttle is really just a highly photogenic way of bringing 7 people back to Earth. That 78 tonnes takes about 1000 tonnes of fuel alone to get it into orbit, before you start talking about payload.

    Sending people back in Soyuz capsules, or the US equivalent, is a lot better from the point of view of mass efficiency, and in orbit mass is everything. A capsule re-entry is rougher, unguided and a lot less glamorous, but every tonne not dedicated to glamour is a tonne that can be used up there.

    It's easy to get back, difficult to get up. On that basis alone we need a system that maximizes what can be left in orbit and minimizes what has to come back.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      If you run the numbers of payload versus takeoff weight of the whole stack it works out that somewhere between 1-1.5% of the GTOW is payload.

      That roughly what is expected of a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle.

      Multi stage expendable rockets normally do 3-4%, but of course you throw *everything* away.

      In short STS gives you SSTO payload (not good) *without* the benefits of 1 piece, no integration/replacement/refurbishment design.

  16. TheRealRoland
    Thumb Up

    Was woken up by the sonic boom

    Last night, at around 2.30am local time (i guess, too bleary-eyed ;-) loud double bang -- don't these hotel guests ever be quiet?! Only when back at work people asking me 'so you heard the shuttle, then?'.

    Guess this was the last night-landing then as well?

    Will be going to visit KSC this friday before flying out back home, to see the shuttle finally in real life...

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Flames after landing

    What are the flames coming out just in front of the fin after landing? And why does it sound like a jet if it's a glider?

    1. Maikol

      Exhaust ports for shuttle APU

      If by fin you mean the rudder, the "flames" you're mentioning (these show up in the IR image?) is probably the exhaust from the 3 shuttle APUs which have their exhaust ports right next to the root of the rudder fin (2 on the left, 1 on the right looking top down)

      Probably the source of the sound as well.

  18. Steven Roper

    And thus the American Empire finally falls

    since they now have no space program. As the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, and the Spanish Empire before us, so now does the West finally go gently into that good night.

    It's all up to China and India to carry the flag now. They are the future; we are the dead.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      And thus the American Empire finally falls

      Sounds like someone who got a pink slip in with their pay cheque.

      Firstly (despite efforts by the President to stop this waste of money) *substantial* work still continues on MPCV or son-of-Orion and the definition of the Shelby Launch System. The *one* bright spark is that Administrator Bolden has promised to be honest about the *full* development costs of them. This *might* finally force the kind of put-up-or-shut-up funding decisions that the Augustine Commission should have settled.

      If you equate American efforts in space with NASA they are certainly going to be doing less crewed work in space but the US still supplies the bulk of ISS funds.

      OTOH if you mean work on access to space that is *not* designed/owned/operated by (or on behalf of) NASA the future is currently looking pretty good.

  19. Mips


    ...for most of the 122m miles it was gliding.

    Oi! Who nicked my favourite icon?

  20. Jody

    Its heartwarming...

    ...the Americans should have named Endeavour after a Royal Navy ship that, after its famous exploratory voyage, would later ferry British troops across the Atlantic to suppress the American revolution.

    1. hayseed

      The Endeavour

      The Endeavour is now an American ship, inasmuch as it is lying on the bottom of the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island!!

  21. solaries

    The White Elephant is Dead

    Good riddance to that over price piece of junk it was suppose to bring down the cost of spaceflight instead it made it more costly and dangerous instead of making one for itself and one for the military NASA combined both then the military op did out and left NASA with this white elephant mean while made it own which is now testing and left NASA with the space shuttle on it's hands and about ruin NASA then the congress axed the X-38 it's possible replacement now their stuck with Apollo on steroids instead thanks to congress we are left with nothing except for their winning about having no man space transport if they hadn't nickel and dime NASA to death from the beginning they wouldn't be in this mess and with a reliable and safe surface to orbit spacecraft and we wouldn't have wasted the last forty years going nowhere.

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