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How the Space Shuttle saved the world…

How the Space Shuttle saved the world…

Jul 26, 2011

In between news flashes of Rupert Murdoch receiving the parliamentary equivalent of a rectal prolapse, and Obama attempting to do the same to Eric Cantor, one piece of news which seemed to get lost was the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet.

As the Shuttle glides into the sunset,  let me tell you a story you might have not heard before. We all know the U.S. Shuttle is just another $100 billion we now owe to the Chinese, but did you know that without it, we could all be standing in 3-day lineups for a pound of butter?

Our story begins in 1971…

When NASA previewed the design of the U.S. Space Shuttle it sent ripples of excitement throughout the world. However, in Moscow, deep within the Soviet Union’s Kremlin, fear and worry plagued the Soviet Politburo.

When the Soviets saw the U.S. spending billions of dollars developing the Space Shuttle, it just didn’t add up for them. Why would the U.S. pour those kind of resources into building an orbiter that clearly was neither cheaper nor more reliable than the existing generation of disposable boosters?

A just question, one that a lot of people in the U.S. government were also asking and one that NASA has yet to answer.

The Soviets, bless their paranoid little hearts,surmised that the Shuttle must be some sort of a secret defense department project to warrant such investment.  In fact,Politburo officials feared that the U.S. had built into the Shuttle the secret capability to dive into the Earth’s atmosphere, and open up a can of nuclear whoop ass on Moscow.

I don’t even know where to begin with this, but lets try physics for a start! The U.S. Shuttle is a glider, it’s not dive-bombing shit.  Unless of course it was to be piloted by leftover Japanese Kamikazes.

Even if the U.S. Shuttle had a 747 strapped to its back, the next questions I would ask Brezhnev (or whatever whack job was running the Soviet Union at the time):

“Dive bombing from space…really? is an ICBM too easy to launch?”

The Soviets believed so deeply that the Shuttle was meant to be a surprise nuclear bomber that they said ‘fuck it! lets build out own!’…

Meet “Buran” (yes that’s really what they named it). The Soviet Space Shuttle.

While the Chinese were (still) running people over with tanks, the Soviets had already mastered the art  of counterfeiting U.S. intellectual property. Meet the crowning achievement of the KGB’s 1st operational directorate: the Soviet Space shuttle: “Buran”:

Come on, just look at it. It’s exactly the same as the U.S Shuttle…right down to the C.C.C.P sticker written on the left wing where you’d normally find U.S.A. . Even the same damn font.

Good work Yuri, that’s some real original shit you designed there.

Buran actually did fly…once. In 1988, a full 8 years after the U.S. shuttle flew (more than enough time for Soviet engineers to watch enough of the NASA channel to reverse engineer the thing), Buran successfully completed its first flight. To give credit to the Soviets, it did complete its entire mission, including a landing, completely unmanned (something a U.S. shuttle never did)

However, much like the Romanovs, this Russian story also has a sad ending. Buran’s fate was sealed in 2002, when the only completed Buran orbiter was destroyed when the hangar it was parked in roof collapsed!

Kudos to the Russians though, the choice to invest in building a manned Shuttle that could land all by itself was clearly the more effective use of time and resources than building a hangar that wouldn’t collapse during a downpour.

However, Buran did manage to achieve one thing: it nailed the coffin of the Soviet economy completely shut. At its peak during the 1980s, the Soviets had 150,000 people devoted to building Buran to close the “space bomber” race with the US.

We really should thank “Buran”, we could all be eating borscht right now

While many people, including myself, believe that Ronald Reagan was a bit of a clown for pouring billions of dollars into a variety of looney-tuned projects (Space Station Freedom? Star Wars?). What we didn’t count on was the Soviet leadership reaching Sarah Palin-esque levels of ignorance.  So Ron, wherever you are, I am sorry for calling you an idiot.

So there you have it…

The U.S. Space Shuttle, at $2 billion per launch, and with a fatality rate that rivals Somali Airlines, is a white elephant in every sense of the word. Sure, servicing the Hubble telescope was a real knee-slapping good time, and who can forget John Glenn dragging his old ass all over the payload bay?

But in truth, the U.S. Space Shuttle is the buffalo of all lies.

But it wasn’t all for naught. The Cold War eventually ended, and the world was saved from nuclear holocaust, partly because the U.S. could afford to build more white elephants than the Russians could. So to the Enterprise, Columbia, Challenge, Endeavor, Atlantis, Discovery, and all those who designed, built, serviced and flew on them, I say thanks for helping to put those commie pricks in their place.

Mazel tov!

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