Euro support for Shuttle continuation

by Chris Bergin

German Professor Berndt Feuerbacher from the German Aerospace Center in Cologne backed NASA and Shuttle Discovery – and noted his hope that flights will resume again soon.

Feuerbacher believes the media have over-played the issues with foam and thermal protection system tiles – while noting he’s been happy to see the diligence in ensuring everything is done to reduce the risks that are part and parcel of space flight.

“In the past, when the shuttle was up there, there were always about 50 tiles missing when it was back and they were refurbished and put back on for the next flight,” Feuerbacher said.

“Now we are much more careful and even if a single tile is missing we are trying to repair it because this tragic accident has happened. And I think that’s the right way of looking we shouldn’t take any risk when we send up people up to space.”

Germany has a lot riding on the success of the Discovery mission with their astronaut, Thomas Reiter. He is one of many astronauts waiting for the continuation of return to flight for his turn to ride on Atlantis on STS-121


“Yes, we were expecting Thomas to fly on Sept. 9. This has now been delayed. We don’t know how long but we still count on him being up there in the near future,” Feuerbacher added.


The problems now will probably delay further space projects, including the German one involving Reiter and the implementation of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS). The laboratory should be brought into space in late 2005, a date which is now in question.

The science module Columbus is ESA’s biggest single contribution to the ISS. The 4.5-meter cylindrical module should give a boost to the station’s research capabilities.


In future, earth-based researchers, with help from the ISS-crew, should be able to conduct thousands of experiments in life sciences, materials science, fluid physics and a whole host of other disciplines, all in the weightlessness of orbit. For ESA, bringing the laboratory into space is essential.


“We would like to make the best use of what we have without endangering the crew. I think this is the policy that we are following,” said Feuerbacher. “In Europe we have built the Columbus laboratory, we want to have the Columbus laboratory attached to the space station and we want to make use of it in terms of scientific and commercial activities on board.”


For years, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russians planned on creating their own spaceship, developing such probes as the EU’s Hermes and the Russian Buran. But they never threatened the top place of the US Space Shuttle fleet.


The Soviets came close, with Buran (Russian for “Snowstorm”) as she flew on an unmanned mission in 1988.

 Shuttle Buran (c) RKK Energia


Now, ESA and its Russian counterpart have come up with a plan for a new manned shuttle, the Clipper, which should make its maiden voyage by 2012. And officials hope it will have fewer technical issues than the NASA shuttles: the Columbia crashed due to a breach in her left wing two years ago, while the Challenger ‘exploded’ during launch in 1986.
 Russian Kliper (c) RKK Energia

“The Clipper will lead the way for this new cooperation,” Manuel Valls, a leading ESA official who helps plan the agency’s manned space exploration strategy, said. “Both agencies will work over the next few years to construct a detailed work schedule and figure out the various ways we can collaborate.”


The probe, the creation of the Russian space corporation RKK Energia, would be a reusable plane that would glide back to Earth, holding up to six people. Officials say it would be used for ferry services to the International Space Station or for space tourism.


The shuttle, which will weigh less and have less cargo capacity than the NASA shuttles, is expected to cost about 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion). The ESA plans to make a request of an initial 50 million euros at a meeting with European leaders in December.


Europe has long been on the sidelines when it comes to space exploration. While sending up rockets such as the Ariane 5, it has had to collaborate with the US or Russia in order to send astronauts into space because it needs a transport component to its shuttles.


Developing the Clipper would free the Europeans from dependency on the US rockets and its space program, which slowed due to the Columbia crash and budget cuts, and give them a spacecraft to send humans into space at will. And even though the Europeans have developed a cargo spaceship for the space station, officials say that redesigning this shuttle would cost more than developing a new one.


As for unmanned probes, the Europeans will send one towards Mercury and another on a mapping expedition in 2011.

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