View Full Version : How long would it take to scramble a shuttle flight?

01-25-2011, 09:34 AM
In my WIP, some characters convince the U.S. government that they have some advanced technology stashed on the moon, and give them the location. Assuming there's no emergency, how long would it take to get a shuttle launch ready for a mission to go check it out and bring it back?

01-25-2011, 09:42 AM
There's a bit of a problem with getting to the moon in the space shuttle no matter how quickly you launch it: http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/spacecraft/q0083.shtml

01-25-2011, 10:05 AM
Yep, the Shuttle can't get to the moon. And considering how much of the technical know-how has been lost, 5 years is a pretty optimistic estimate.

01-25-2011, 04:51 PM
I had a friend who worked for NASA in the early to mid 80's and back then I asked him this same question because of a really bad sci fi movie I had rented. I don't remember the title. In the plot they scramble the shuttle to rescue stranded astronauts on a space station. He started snorting loudly to control his laughter but finally could not contain it anymore and burst out in a hearty guffaw eliciting glares from others across the library. When he had finally calmed down he said, "My job there, really didn't have a title other than assistant to department of X (he didn't say X. He used a name, but the name didn't mean anything to me and so was quickly forgotten). What I did was rove around the place every day to make sure my boss's projects hadn't been ignored because some other VP's assistant had told the engineers to switch to someone else's pet project. That place was so bound up by red tape and no clear distinction of the chain of command that they got too many people never concentrating on one task long enough to finish it....(his tirade went on for about ten minutes until the point that is salient if I remember it correctly)...5 years unless they could get everyones head out of the next guy's ass to actually concentrate on a given task, and then you're talking 2 years probably at best. Even if you already had one of those damn busses prepped already for a different mission that was similar it would take a minimum of six months to calculate all the variables just to get to the new destination yet alone perform any sort of mission at all. Those movies are just wrong. Essentially, they're all one way missions."

This was a theoretical mission to a space station that had broken out of orbit, but at least was still in space. Adding getting to the moon and then taking off again is a whole separate mission.

01-25-2011, 05:33 PM
The shuttle's replacement, the Ares rocket, is supposed to enter service around 2015, with the capability to go to the moon by 2020 (assuming this isn't old information and with the usual caveat about schedule slides).

However, if there's a real need to get to the moon, you might research some other countries' capabilities. Or you can change the US's Ares development timeline to make it fit your needs. Or you can make up a fictional space program (either commercial or government) that works for your story.


Drachen Jager
01-25-2011, 07:44 PM
Maybe you can set your novel a few years in the future when the moon program has been resurrected. Otherwise it would take at least a few years, or if they threw everything at it possibly a year.

01-25-2011, 07:45 PM
Yep, the Shuttle can't get to the moon.

Of course I was speaking figuratively. The Shuttle was a metaphor for... uh... stuff. :Shrug:

I guess I'll have to scrap that part of the plan. My Nazi super-scientists simply won't wait that long to start their scheme of world domination.

Michael Davis
01-29-2011, 12:21 PM
Depends on several factors and assumptions like:

- How many shuttles are functional (e.g. when the program was active, I think we had three)
- Is one already in space supporting the International space station.
- Is it on the pad or undergoing maintenance? Seems I recall it takes 4 to 6 months to reprep each ship after a flight.
- Have we recovered from the gutting of the program? Remember that the current admin considers space flight irrelevant and has killed the manned flight program.

All those things influence response time.

02-02-2011, 10:42 PM
I seem to remember that the fastest shuttle turnaround from landing to launch was about a month: didn't one fly twice with the same payload in rapid succession in the late 90s or early 2000s?

Otherwise if a shuttle is on the pad you could launch in a few days, but you wouldn't be making any major changes to whatever payload was on board and you'd have to make do with whatever software was written for that flight; if you needed any special software support then you'd probably be waiting a few months for development and testing.

As for the moon, it all depends on how urgent the job is. With an urgent need to go there a cut-down lander built from scratch with no creature comforts could probably fly in 2-3 years, though you'd probably have to launch it and the TLI stage and whatever you were coming back to Earth in on expendable rockets so you didn't have to qualify them for the shuttle... and you'd have to accept a fairly high risk of the crew not getting back alive.

02-04-2011, 09:24 AM
Potentially useless information: Charles Kingsford-Smith airport in Sydney, Australia, apparently has the capability to land the space shuttle if necessary.

02-04-2011, 09:37 AM
Potentially useless information: Charles Kingsford-Smith airport in Sydney, Australia, apparently has the capability to land the space shuttle if necessary.

There are quite a few airports which are flagged as potential shuttle landing sites: I believe that includes Gander, St John's and Halifax here in Canada, for example. Orlando is another, if the crew happen to get confused while flying over Florida :).

This is the downside of having wings, you need a runway to land on!

Noah Body
02-04-2011, 05:30 PM
Found out while reading up on the Columbia incident that the shuttle Atlantis was sufficiently along the way to being prepped for launch that, had NASA bothered to actually react to engineering's requests and verified the vehicle was sufficiently damaged and that it was unlikely to survive re-entry, it could have been launched in time to conduct an impromptu rescue.

A rather serendipitous sequence of events of course, but it's all in the report (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Shuttle_accident#Possible_emergency_proce dures) referenced at Wiki.