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I'd forgotten how often we saw Magritte

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Apollo was drilled into space with the giant Saturn V rocket, the most powerful launcher ever built by the United States. After the Apollo program ended, the equipment, tools and plans for building the rocket were lost. (from AP, and per CNN)
What the FUCK? I mean-- it's been ONLY 35 YEARS. WHERE did you LOSE them? Did nobody think that hanging onto such things would be WISE?
I'm frankly surprised that there's not a copy of the whole schmear in some engineer's home, which he sometimes pores over and says 'yeah... that worked right' when he wonders if he did anything useful with his life.
And we wonder why we can't design a successful re-usable transport device (my benchmark for 'successful' is a transport device that dies on return less than twice in anything under 10000 uses. Ergo, the Space Shuttle was not successful)?

The plans for the Saturn V were deliberately destroyed, I am told. Because if they hadn't, engineering teams felt, the Shuttle would NEVER get off the ground.
  • Probably bad reporting here. What usually happens for these things is that we still have very nice plans with lots of details--but we've run out of parts, and no one has the machines to make those specific parts anymore, and no one bothered to keep plans for the machines to make the parts, . . . etc.
    • That would make a bit more sense. :) 35 years of changes in the manufacturing industry could certainly obsolesce a plan (is there a verb for 'to make obselete'?) dependent on late 60s mechanical know-how.
  • Oh, yeah? I've got a bunch of archived email in old BBS-software formats on 5.25" DOS floppies. It's only ten years old, so accessing that should be no problem, right?

    Making old technology work, if it wasn't designed to be archival (and sometimes, even if it was) is really hard. Often, as hard as re-doing it from scratch.
    • You do realize that we're talking about dead-tree, not electronic storage, right?

      I dunno about that argument: dead-tree is awfully archival, and was pretty standard for engineering in the 1960s, given that computers were, well, not exactly up to the task of GUI-model draftsmanship. You probably know at least as much about how big a late-60s-model computer was as I do, how much power it required, how big data storage for them was, and so on and so on. You may even be one of the millions of people who know more. People tended to utilize such arcane technologies as print media for drafting.

      My 2nd edition copy of 'The Scarlet Letter' is considerably older than 35 years and still makes perfect sense, as an example of the remarkable archival properties of the printed medium.
      • Re: You do realize that we're talking about dead-tree, not electronic storage, right?

        That's assuming they wrote everything down - which, I can guarantee, they didn't - and they can still get the parts described in the plans - which they can't. I've got documentation right here for how to build an RF amplifier with a CA3005 integrated circuit (picking a random part number out of the book) - but you can't just walk out and buy one of those because they're years obsolete. So if you want to build the amplifier shown in the diagram in the book, you have to go find detailed specs and either get someone to make you some custom CA3005 chips, or find a modern chip that's equivalent, or figure out just what the amplifier is suppoed to do and design a replacement using modern technology, or find some old parts on eBay... You also run into silly things like "Oh, this engine was designed to run on leaded gasoline, and you're not allowed to use that anymore. Sorry, gotta re-design!"

        Resurrection of dead technology involves a lot more problems than just the paper going yellow, and I meant "archival" to mean "this documentation was designed to be really usable in the future" not just "this documentation was designed to be legible in the future". Legible ain't equal to really usable, and very little technical documentation is as archival as it should be, in the sense I meant.
        • Re: You do realize that we're talking about dead-tree, not electronic storage, right?

          Solid points, definitely. Add in that the plans apparently got trashed because doing so meant that we HAAAAAD to give $ to NASA so they could come up with the Shuttle and...

          reverse-engineering something big isn't desperately challenging, to my view. Maybe I'm mistaken- I'm not a nuts-and-bolts kind of geek, I'm a lit geek- but it doesn't seem too challenging to examine an extant document and itemize what needs to be changed for the sake of modern manufacturing offering different things. 'Okay, they used a 36" widgetizer here, and we don't make 36" widgetizers anymore because a 12" widgetizer exists now, so we have to figure out what to change' doesn't seem too terribly difficult.
          But if the plans are gone because NASA needed to goad the Shuttle program... then yeah, we're doing it from scratch again.
          Hopefully, they can grab some of the successful team from before and draw them out of retirement to give input on the challenges they saw, at least.

  • So, 112 missions in 22 years with only two accidents does not count as a successful system?

    Show me another system that handles that much stress and such a small margine for error that has a better track record. I seriously don't think you can really find one.
    • Point is:

      112:2 is considerably worse odds than, I dunno, driving to work?
    • Re: Point is:

      Granted, however, your car doesn't:

      Accelerate to over 17k mph in under 8 min.
      Have an engine that takes in fuel at -453 F and reach >6k F in the combustion chamber.
      Generate at liftoff the power of about 39 Boeing 747s.
      Withstand an almost 2000 degree difference in temperature between liftoff and landing (including dark side of earth and re-entry).

      My point is what the shuttle goes through is pretty damn impressive. That there have only been 2 screw ups is amazing.
      • Re: Point is:

        Yeah- produced more fatalities than the Apollo program, though.

        I'm looking forward to the X Prize's winner.
        • Re: Point is:

          Ah, of course.

          12 manned missions, one with loss of life (Apollo 1, 3 dead).

          Much better odds there.
    • Re: Point is:

      112:2 is considerably worse odds than, I dunno, driving to work?

      Oh, man, come on, this statement is twelve flavors of ridiculous. Shame on you.
      • Re: Point is:

        vague explanation: I think the point of the Shuttle program was to make space travel as safe as getting in your car. thus far? it ain't.
  • Tools and gear, I believe. After all, they were *supposed* to be replaced both by another big booster that would be BETTER, AND a reusable launcher. And the Saturn V is, like, mid-fifties technology, maybe early sixties.

    The Shuttles are waaay past their designed lifespan - not to say they had planned obsolescence or anything, but the suckers were also supposed to be replaced and augmented by upgraded models, a spaceplane, and gods know what all else, back in around 1990 or so. Also, some dumbass thought it would be a good idea to make NASA do all the launching of everything, which is why the military don't have a working booster to launch their own damn satellites, and why NASA's schedules keep getting fouled up whenever the military demand to launch something right now for this week's wannabe war. I can't entirely blame the shuttle failures on design - the Challenger didn't blow up because of a design flaw per se so much as "this thing wasn't designed to launch in freezing conditions". And I blame Columbia on being too damn old, honestly.

    Every once in a while when I want a good cry I dig up all the NASA paraphernalia my mom brought back from her visit to Canaveral when she was taking some dignitaries to visit and see the Hubble, which was due to launch in a few months. I remind anyone who forgot that the Hubble was due to go up on the flight scheduled right behind Challenger. According to NASA's plan of that time, we were going to have a space station by 1990 I think, and should have had men on Mars by now as well as a moon base.

    I have similar pamphlets and the like from the time of the moon landing, but they're like reading forties sci-fi about how we should all have personal rocket ships and be living in bubbles on Pluto with our wristwatch phones. And Mars needs women, which are on Venus, greenish and scantily clad.

    The Russians probably still know how to make boosters - they only ran out of the big ones they used (damn, forgot the names - Buranov? Butan?) a very few years ago, and were using those to launch stuff to Mir and ISS Alpha. The Russian school of engineering design is much less fancy than ours, with the result that all the parts are interchangeable and the things will run for fifty years and work when full of sand, like the AK-47. Of course, since the fall of the USSR, the Russian space program's been having serious problems, like the roof of one of its buildings caving in. It's a shame; the Cosmodrome was once beautiful as well as functional, and I suspect it's not now. Still, I bet if we gave some ex-USSR engineers lots of money and said "Get those factories going again, let us know if you need anything else, we've just commissioned you to build us twenty big boosters to the old Buranov design", they'd have us working boosters within ten percent of schedule and thirty of budget, which is more than NASA or contractors could do here with the Saturn V.
    • Buranov? Butan?


      Reverse engineering the Saturn would be insanely expensive and a bad idea. Materials sciences, fluid dynamics modelling, feedback control systems, and whole bunch of other things have advanced in massive leaps and bounds in the last 35 years.

      Saturn was far better than the Shuttle, granted, but that was because the Shuttle was a fucked-up boondoggle kludge that set space exploration back decades from the word go. Much like, oh, I don't know, ISS Alpha.

      I would vote for the extinction of NASA, personally. (Just the organization, not the people; I'm not that bitter.)
  • Hmm. Among my father's old papers there's a reasonably complete protocol for construction of a Saturn V nozzle, including a detailed description of the brazing process, which apparently took him months to work the bugs out of.

    Maybe I should Xerox it and mail it to NASA :)

    • (sarcastically)

      Perhaps they weren't 'lost' but 'souvenir hounded'!

      I'd laugh if NASA actually wound up holding a press conference asking anyone's who's got chunks of documentation re: Saturn V rockets to kindly return them, though.
      • Re: (sarcastically)

        Ha - that would be funny.

        He wasn't a souvenir hunter, though. He built that nozzle, brazed every one of them himself. Most of what I have are his original notes.
        • Re: (sarcastically)

          hence the use of quotes. I'd view it sort of as a souvenir, though: here's the documentation on what I did at this point in my life.
          That is a seriously cool thing to have around the house, too.
  • "The plans for the Saturn V were deliberately destroyed, I am told. Because if they hadn't, engineering teams felt, the Shuttle would NEVER get off the ground."

    Well, I understand that much of the conversation. If you always have your room at your mother's house to fall back on, are you really going to move out of the city? Frankly, we need something even cheeper and profitable at the same time to make space travel possible. Humans only evolve if they have to or money's involved.
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