A Sound of Thunder: The Rise of the Soviet Superbooster

This is a phenomenal post, really looking forward to the next update as always! Your writing and composition are really really compelling, and it's so exciting to see a piece of space hardware, in this case Skylab-B (that I've walked inside!!!!) get ready to fly. Great stuff!
 
BRB, stealing this for my own TL /j
honestly, I've been thinking about something like this for my own TL I've been working on, tho id replace the Block B & V with one large monolithic hydrolox stage, and a modified version of the N1-MOK as the first stage as to counterbalance the aerodynamics while being reusable, tho I'm still not entirely happy with such a design.
 
Also, since Skylab-B is going to be completely encapsulated within the Shuttle-C shroud during launch, there shouldn't be any issues with the micrometeoroid shield deploying early...
 
I am looking forward to what´s planned for the future, it seems like there comes a lot more actual use of the Space Transportation System from it´s start on. There will be a station from the get go, not only after half of the program-lifetime and the super-heavy-lifting capability doesn´t gets lost to history too. And at least the final Apollo-Capsules got preserved for a while longer..... and, if there comes something like Challenger into existance, this old tech could give exactly what´s needed when the STS is grounded: A fully technology-independent backup system to launch people and payloads towards the orbiting station.

And this would lead to three good things: 1st: The US wouldn´t have to leave the orbit unattented for long (as long as they keep at least one MLP ready for the Saturn IB) 2nd: There remains an active, data producing space station in orbit, with enough power and redundancy to keep some long-term-experiments in action while the Apollos get ready ( I know: The docking system isn´t compatible, yeah, but as shown for ASTP, building an adapter module shouldn´t be such a problem. That would be something worthy to do anyways, perhaps it could be reconstructed from the old Skylab B MDA (It would possibly be to heavy, but i don´t know, it´s just an idea i wanted to throw in) and finally 3rd: If the Hardware left by Apollo can be used to keep the station alive, there wouldn´t be such a extreme need to make a fast return-to-flight for the Shuttle-Fleet. Soo: The system could be reworked more deeply into a safer design, primarily in the form of swapping out the SRB´s for LRB´s... at least for crewed launches. And they could bring the Space Transportation Main Engine-Concept into full motion to replace the SSME in the expandable applications to bring down the costs of Shuttle C and to power the possible LRB´s.

Yeah i know: Apollo hardware isn´t infinite, but i think that they possibly could try to keep the station alive with only 1 visiting crew per year to give the systems their maintenance and to swap out, clean and maintain some experiments.
 
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Hot Damn, I can't wait to see a picture of Skylab B launching on Shuttle-C. That's going to be so freaking cool! Also, looking back at the Baikal Shuttle, I would be surprised if A) that thing flies before Buran did IOTL, and B) does not suffer from an incident involving failure of the folding wings and/or jet engines. If Baikal ever flies with humans aboard, I give it 50/50 odds that the escape pod is used.
 
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Baikal is not exactly a mass-produced rocket... and soviet rockets don't have that very bad of a failure rate. Baikal isn't expendable so it's likely greater scrutiny would be pursued during quality control
 
Looking into Shuttle-C of TL
I have proposal:

build Two size Payload bay, next the 7.6 meter Diameter,
use 4.27 meter payload faring of Titan IIIE with Centaur D-1T
Less aerodynamic pressure during launch give little more performance for Centaur D

Development of derivative's of RS-25 like Space Transportation Main Engine or RS-68 to drop cost on engines
 
Before someone say "hey let take the two Saturn V and Launch Skylab B ?"

It will not work, because the Shuttle program
in 1977 Launch pad 39A/B have undergone modifications for Shuttle launches and become incompatible to Saturn V launch.

This point was also covered in the post:

NASA administrator James Fletcher accepted this directive [to delay the handover of Apollo hardware to museums], but pointed out that the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center were planned to be remodelled over the coming years to support the Shuttle, meaning that equipment necessary to launch the preserved Saturn V’s would be gone by 1977.

It is, conceivably, possible to do a Shuttle-carried LH2 upper stage without significant modifications to the pad. Boeing studied the concept and built some prototype hardware right before STS-107 IOTL--the idea was to fill the tank only after SRB separation with residuals from the ET. IMO, that was quite an elegant solution to the problems that dogged Centaur-G IOTL--maybe they'll hit on the idea ITTL too.

That’s… bold!

Also, since Skylab-B is going to be completely encapsulated within the Shuttle-C shroud during launch, there shouldn't be any issues with the micrometeoroid shield deploying early...

That’s a big part of the reason for the size of the Shuttle-C payload envelope. There were aerodynamic studies of a shroud that size IOTL, and ITTL there were already engineers thinking ahead to launching Skylab-B (and I certainly had it in mind!).

I am looking forward to what´s planned for the future, it seems like there comes a lot more actual use of the Space Transportation System from it´s start on. There will be a station from the get go, not only after half of the program-lifetime and the super-heavy-lifting capability doesn´t gets lost to history too. And at least the final Apollo-Capsules got preserved for a while longer..... and, if there comes something like Challenger into existance, this old tech could give exactly what´s needed when the STS is grounded: A fully technology-independent backup system to launch people and payloads towards the orbiting station.

Well, CSM-119 will be in storage a little longer (though it will be handed over to a museum soon), but there will be no launcher or pad for it. I think SA-209 is the only complete Saturn 1B remaining, and the pads for it are either inactive or converted, so Apollo hardware can’t be relied upon into the ‘80s.

Hot Damn, I can't wait to see a picture of Skylab B launching on Shuttle-C. That's going to be so freaking cool!

I’m still waiting to hear back from the artist on the images for the last post, but they should be worth the wait.

Looking into Shuttle-C of TL
I have proposal:

build Two size Payload bay, next the 7.6 meter Diameter,
use 4.27 meter payload faring of Titan IIIE with Centaur D-1T
Less aerodynamic pressure during launch give little more performance for Centaur D

Development of derivative's of RS-25 like Space Transportation Main Engine or RS-68 to drop cost on engines

Nice ideas, but in the late 1970s the question is: “Who’s going to pay for them?” Congress has not allocated the bare minimum NASA needs, but actually slightly less (with implications that will be explored later). The large envelope will be needed for Skylab-B, and will cover all conceivable needs, so they’re not going to spend money developing or integrating another size.

Similarly, a disposable RS-25 will save long term per-flight operational costs, but will increase the development cost beyond what is available. With a low projected flight rate for Shuttle-C, it’s just not worthwhile for now (though NASA of course hope to come back to this once it’s up and flying, assuming Congress can be persuaded to loosen the purse strings).
 
Interlude: Letters to the Editor
2A9AKbfXlFR7247sVMWKu2X_8NskQG0MkQYMuvrHIZRoov5fL3cI0TUQ-0-9rz3ki72r7Jt7GZ91sqbD6YDMjiPg5CEANOSgmw0fg2NLvhA8NTRpd6mNuhmtvDBfiQ820z8oh849


Interlude: Letters to the Editor​


E2YG9vd2TGR5cdLG49kIS4-8AIbo2nc7GcvHxwNvjJqlG4lYzHp2IoWitCR0iwVAgb82HTJV2UqhiT7rk8OijEyxhlyvkweVESwLzufQPCtv3P13B55fTbEEAW6Goz0xtf-HEvt3LnqI_7hHqg

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th December 1977

Sir,

I once again opened my copy of your illustrious magazine to find the article behind your cover story on the supposed new Soviet heavy lifter [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”]. It was disappointing to see your publication once again falling for the Soviets’ laughable attempts to match what the Apollo program has already achieved, and the negative contrasts against the new Shuttle. This argument misses the sea change that the reusable Space Shuttle will offer in cost when it enters service, as we prepare to enter a new commercial flowering in spaceflight. Such consistent exaggeration of Soviet capabilities and undermining of Western and American ones such as the Space Shuttle and Shuttle-C system verges on communist propaganda. I hope to see better from your publication in the future.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 13th January 1978

Sir,

With regards to the recent letter from Mr. DeWitt [Flight International, 30th December 1977] regarding the “sea change” in launch costs that can be expected with the advent of the American Space Shuttle, I feel compelled to respond to counter the perpetuation of this myth. Any major reductions in cost could only be achieved through an unrealistically high flight rate, of the order of a hundred or more missions each year. With the planned fleet of four shuttle orbiters, this implies each orbiter flying on average one mission every two weeks. The refurbishment of an orbital space plane and its associated solid rocket boosters on this timeframe is simply not possible with the current state-of-the-art, whilst the manufacturing facilities at NASA’s subcontractors are nowhere near sufficient scale to produce the necessary external tanks.

NASA have implicitly accepted this fact through their promotion of the non-reusable Shuttle-C. However, as mentioned in your recent article [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”], the limitations imposed by having to adapt the flawed Shuttle Transportation System to an unmanned configuration has left the NASA with a heavy lift vehicle that is both late and under-powered compared to its Soviet equivalent.

It is to be hoped that the United States does not come to regret its costly flirtation with re-usability.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 27th January 1978

Sir,

Your correspondent Albert Banks [Flight International, 13th January 1978] appears to share an unfortunately widespread habit of underestimating the skills of American engineers. He apparently doesn’t grasp the basic principle that a vehicle like the Space Shuttle, which can be re-used, is inherently cheaper to operate than one that is thrown away after each launch. By presenting exaggerated and unfounded assumptions of the need for hundreds of flights per year to earn back development costs, he presents a strawman argument that ignores this basic fact. The Groza rocket, so beloved of armchair engineers, has surely cost the Russians at least as much to develop as the Shuttle, but unlike Shuttle they will have to build a complete new vehicle for every mission. By ending this costly practice with the Space Shuttle, the United States will lower prices and stimulate demand, creating a vibrant free market commercial space industry for the next decade.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 3rd February 1978

Sir,

Once again, I see Mr. DeWitt promoting his over-simplified opinions in your magazine as if they were backed up by more than inflated rhetoric [Flight International, 27th January 1978]. Despite his disparaging of so-called “armchair engineers”, he himself displays no signs of familiarity with a rigorous engineering analysis, preferring instead to recycle tired old slogans about the power of free markets.

Perhaps, however, the opinions of Mr. DeWitt and his ilk can be excused as a psychological protective measure to compensate for what is rapidly becoming obvious: that the United States is falling behind in space. While NASA launches model spaceplanes from a 747, with the aim of an eventual manned return to Earth orbit, the Soviets continue to push forward with an ambitious programme for lunar exploration. The recent Zond 13 mission can leave little doubt - even in minds as obtuse as that of Mr. DeWitt - that the USSR is close to accomplishing a manned mission to the lunar surface that will exceed Apollo in scale and ambition. They have achieved this, not by chasing fantasies of aeroplanes in space, but through the application of solid engineering approach coupled with a vigorous industrial policy that achieves value through mass production.

Perhaps photographs of a cosmonaut placing the hammer-and-sickle on the Moon will be enough to wake NASA and others from their fever-dreams, but based on the evidence of certain correspondents to your magazine, I will not hold my breath.

Albert Banks (B.Eng, FBIS), Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th June 1978

Sir,

Thank-you for your excellent coverage of the Zond 14 lunar mission [Flight International, 23nd June 1978, “Zond 14 Points to Soviet Manned Lunar Ambitions”]. This development makes me wonder if it is not perhaps possible to re-activate the Saturn V production line in response to the Soviet challenge? NASA is already planning to make good use of Apollo hardware in their space station plans [Flight International, 17th February 1978, “NASA Proposes Skylab-B As Next U.S. Space Station”]. With the lessons being learnt with the Space Shuttle, perhaps it would even be possible to apply reusability to the Saturn first stage, bringing costs down further. Such a reusable first stage, lifting heavy payloads and even the existing planned Shuttle, would seem to be an excellent way to re-capture the innovative fires of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo which defeated the Soviets in what must now be regarded as the first space race and would set an electrifying groundwork for doing so in what must soon rapidly become the second.

Tony Newbold, Solihull, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 14th July 1978

Sir,

Although reasonable people may debate the extent to which the Space Shuttle will reduce launch costs, the notion recently proposed by Mr. Newbold [Flight International, 30th June 1978] of building new Saturn V’s, or even - to compound the absurdity - giving it a reusable first stage stretches credulity beyond breaking point. This is an idea that belongs in pulp science-fiction, not a serious aviation magazine.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 21st July 1978

Sir,

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing wholeheartedly with a letter from your esteemed correspondent Mr. DeWitt of Pittsburgh [Flight International, 14th July 1978]. Let us not waste ink in giving column inches to crackpot ideas like re-usable Saturn stages, when the West is facing the very real challenge of the USSR’s space ambitions.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK

++++++++++++++++++++​

With thanks to @e of pi for his contributions to this post, and for all the "Space Twitter/Spitter" posters who inspired it!
 
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fires of Mercury

Fires of Mercury eh @e of pi.

crackpot ideas like re-usable Saturn stages

Truly mad idea. Can't believe anyone suggested it.

recent Zond 13 mission

Zond 14 Points to Soviet Manned Lunar Ambitions

Last we heard about the Zond program was the launch of Zond 10 in 1974. The fact that we're now up to Zond 14 in 1978 suggests the Soviets are launching one a year but they clearly aren't landing. So what are they doing?
 
It's amusing that these correspondents are lambasting reusable Saturn stages when, the Shuttle design process having apparently been unchanged from OTL, there are surely a number of engineering studies of just those sitting in NASA's archives and they were explicitly mooted as options for Shuttle launch--oh, and of course we can't forget von Braun's pre-PoD interest in making the Saturn I/IB first stage reusable through parachutes and water recovery...
 
I suppose even then, there'd be some major divisions regarding opinion with respects to the US Space Effort, made more apparent with the Soviet Union having a working SHLV in Groza.

If they only knew...

Only £0.30 in 1977? Prices have really climbed in the years since - £5.25 today last I checked

One detail I spotted in the magazine, "Europe's JET versus Boeing 757". That has to be in reference to the Airbus A300 (as known IOTL).
 
2A9AKbfXlFR7247sVMWKu2X_8NskQG0MkQYMuvrHIZRoov5fL3cI0TUQ-0-9rz3ki72r7Jt7GZ91sqbD6YDMjiPg5CEANOSgmw0fg2NLvhA8NTRpd6mNuhmtvDBfiQ820z8oh849


Interlude: Letters to the Editor​


E2YG9vd2TGR5cdLG49kIS4-8AIbo2nc7GcvHxwNvjJqlG4lYzHp2IoWitCR0iwVAgb82HTJV2UqhiT7rk8OijEyxhlyvkweVESwLzufQPCtv3P13B55fTbEEAW6Goz0xtf-HEvt3LnqI_7hHqg

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th December 1977

Sir,

I once again opened my copy of your illustrious magazine to find the article behind your cover story on the supposed new Soviet heavy lifter [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”]. It was disappointing to see your publication once again falling for the Soviets’ laughable attempts to match what the Apollo program has already achieved, and the negative contrasts against the new Shuttle. This argument misses the sea change that the reusable Space Shuttle will offer in cost when it enters service, as we prepare to enter a new commercial flowering in spaceflight. Such consistent exaggeration of Soviet capabilities and undermining of Western and American ones such as the Space Shuttle and Shuttle-C system verges on communist propaganda. I hope to see better from your publication in the future.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 13th January 1978

Sir,

With regards to the recent letter from Mr. DeWitt [Flight International, 30th December 1977] regarding the “sea change” in launch costs that can be expected with the advent of the American Space Shuttle, I feel compelled to respond to counter the perpetuation of this myth. Any major reductions in cost could only be achieved through an unrealistically high flight rate, of the order of a hundred or more missions each year. With the planned fleet of four shuttle orbiters, this implies each orbiter flying on average one mission every two weeks. The refurbishment of an orbital space plane and its associated solid rocket boosters on this timeframe is simply not possible with the current state-of-the-art, whilst the manufacturing facilities at NASA’s subcontractors are nowhere near sufficient scale to produce the necessary external tanks.

NASA have implicitly accepted this fact through their promotion of the non-reusable Shuttle-C. However, as mentioned in your recent article [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”], the limitations imposed by having to adapt the flawed Shuttle Transportation System to an unmanned configuration has left the NASA with a heavy lift vehicle that is both late and under-powered compared to its Soviet equivalent.

It is to be hoped that the United States does not come to regret its costly flirtation with re-usability.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 27th January 1978

Sir,

Your correspondent Albert Banks [Flight International, 13th January 1978] appears to share an unfortunately widespread habit of underestimating the skills of American engineers. He apparently doesn’t grasp the basic principle that a vehicle like the Space Shuttle, which can be re-used, is inherently cheaper to operate than one that is thrown away after each launch. By presenting exaggerated and unfounded assumptions of the need for hundreds of flights per year to earn back development costs, he presents a strawman argument that ignores this basic fact. The Groza rocket, so beloved of armchair engineers, has surely cost the Russians at least as much to develop as the Shuttle, but unlike Shuttle they will have to build a complete new vehicle for every mission. By ending this costly practice with the Space Shuttle, the United States will lower prices and stimulate demand, creating a vibrant free market commercial space industry for the next decade.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 3rd February 1978

Sir,

Once again, I see Mr. DeWitt promoting his over-simplified opinions in your magazine as if they were backed up by more than inflated rhetoric [Flight International, 27th January 1978]. Despite his disparaging of so-called “armchair engineers”, he himself displays no signs of familiarity with a rigorous engineering analysis, preferring instead to recycle tired old slogans about the power of free markets.

Perhaps, however, the opinions of Mr. DeWitt and his ilk can be excused as a psychological protective measure to compensate for what is rapidly becoming obvious: that the United States is falling behind in space. While NASA launches model spaceplanes from a 747, with the aim of an eventual manned return to Earth orbit, the Soviets continue to push forward with an ambitious programme for lunar exploration. The recent Zond 13 mission can leave little doubt - even in minds as obtuse as that of Mr. DeWitt - that the USSR is close to accomplishing a manned mission to the lunar surface that will exceed Apollo in scale and ambition. They have achieved this, not by chasing fantasies of aeroplanes in space, but through the application of solid engineering approach coupled with a vigorous industrial policy that achieves value through mass production.

Perhaps photographs of a cosmonaut placing the hammer-and-sickle on the Moon will be enough to wake NASA and others from their fever-dreams, but based on the evidence of certain correspondents to your magazine, I will not hold my breath.

Albert Banks (B.Eng, FBIS), Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th June 1978

Sir,

Thank-you for your excellent coverage of the Zond 14 lunar mission [Flight International, 23nd June 1978, “Zond 14 Points to Soviet Manned Lunar Ambitions”]. This development makes me wonder if it is not perhaps possible to re-activate the Saturn V production line in response to the Soviet challenge? NASA is already planning to make good use of Apollo hardware in their space station plans [Flight International, 17th February 1978, “NASA Proposes Skylab-B As Next U.S. Space Station”]. With the lessons being learnt with the Space Shuttle, perhaps it would even be possible to apply reusability to the Saturn first stage, bringing costs down further. Such a reusable first stage, lifting heavy payloads and even the existing planned Shuttle, would seem to be an excellent way to re-capture the innovative fires of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo which defeated the Soviets in what must now be regarded as the first space race and would set an electrifying groundwork for doing so in what must soon rapidly become the second.

Tony Newbold, Solihull, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 14th July 1978

Sir,

Although reasonable people may debate the extent to which the Space Shuttle will reduce launch costs, the notion recently proposed by Mr. Newbold [Flight International, 30th June 1978] of building new Saturn V’s, or even - to compound the absurdity - giving it a reusable first stage stretches credulity beyond breaking point. This is an idea that belongs in pulp science-fiction, not a serious aviation magazine.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 21st July 1978

Sir,

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing wholeheartedly with a letter from your esteemed correspondent Mr. DeWitt of Pittsburgh [Flight International, 14th July 1978]. Let us not waste ink in giving column inches to crackpot ideas like re-usable Saturn stages, when the West is facing the very real challenge of the USSR’s space ambitions.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK

++++++++++++++++++++​

With thanks to @e of pi for his contributions to this post, and for all the "Space Twitter/Spitter" posters who inspired it!
Ah yes the pre-internet iteration of "flame wars" and "vigorous discussions" that took months to play out. On the other hand it gave you plenty of time to properly word your responses :)

And how those arguing deeply held positions will not hesitate to join to pound anyone outside their box :)

Randy
 
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It's amusing that these correspondents are lambasting reusable Saturn stages when, the Shuttle design process having apparently been unchanged from OTL, there are surely a number of engineering studies of just those sitting in NASA's archives and they were explicitly mooted as options for Shuttle launch--oh, and of course we can't forget von Braun's pre-PoD interest in making the Saturn I/IB first stage reusable through parachutes and water recovery...

The problem is similar to OTL where most of those proposals, studies and other work were a LOT harder to get to than today. Plus while both correspondents on the the Shuttle vs Groza have some correct point they also have a lot of bad ones and inherent misconceptions which makes it easy to join forces over OTHER ideas :) It's kind of inevitable I think since we are STILL arguing the point today OTL :)

Randy
 
I think SA-209 is the only complete Saturn 1B remaining, and the pads for it are either inactive or converted, so Apollo hardware can’t be relied upon into the ‘80s.
39B wasn't converted over to Shuttle till late, so may still be available, given the changes in this TL
 
39B wasn't converted over to Shuttle till late, so may still be available, given the changes in this TL
It's not just the pad, but things like the work platforms in the VAB, the Mobile service structure, and the ML/MLPs. By about 1977 the ability to launch a Saturn from LC-39 was gone.
 

Garrison

Donor
2A9AKbfXlFR7247sVMWKu2X_8NskQG0MkQYMuvrHIZRoov5fL3cI0TUQ-0-9rz3ki72r7Jt7GZ91sqbD6YDMjiPg5CEANOSgmw0fg2NLvhA8NTRpd6mNuhmtvDBfiQ820z8oh849


Interlude: Letters to the Editor​


E2YG9vd2TGR5cdLG49kIS4-8AIbo2nc7GcvHxwNvjJqlG4lYzHp2IoWitCR0iwVAgb82HTJV2UqhiT7rk8OijEyxhlyvkweVESwLzufQPCtv3P13B55fTbEEAW6Goz0xtf-HEvt3LnqI_7hHqg

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th December 1977

Sir,

I once again opened my copy of your illustrious magazine to find the article behind your cover story on the supposed new Soviet heavy lifter [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”]. It was disappointing to see your publication once again falling for the Soviets’ laughable attempts to match what the Apollo program has already achieved, and the negative contrasts against the new Shuttle. This argument misses the sea change that the reusable Space Shuttle will offer in cost when it enters service, as we prepare to enter a new commercial flowering in spaceflight. Such consistent exaggeration of Soviet capabilities and undermining of Western and American ones such as the Space Shuttle and Shuttle-C system verges on communist propaganda. I hope to see better from your publication in the future.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​

- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 13th January 1978

Sir,

With regards to the recent letter from Mr. DeWitt [Flight International, 30th December 1977] regarding the “sea change” in launch costs that can be expected with the advent of the American Space Shuttle, I feel compelled to respond to counter the perpetuation of this myth. Any major reductions in cost could only be achieved through an unrealistically high flight rate, of the order of a hundred or more missions each year. With the planned fleet of four shuttle orbiters, this implies each orbiter flying on average one mission every two weeks. The refurbishment of an orbital space plane and its associated solid rocket boosters on this timeframe is simply not possible with the current state-of-the-art, whilst the manufacturing facilities at NASA’s subcontractors are nowhere near sufficient scale to produce the necessary external tanks.

NASA have implicitly accepted this fact through their promotion of the non-reusable Shuttle-C. However, as mentioned in your recent article [Flight International, 16th December 1977, “Groza Matures Soviet Heavy Lift Capability”], the limitations imposed by having to adapt the flawed Shuttle Transportation System to an unmanned configuration has left the NASA with a heavy lift vehicle that is both late and under-powered compared to its Soviet equivalent.

It is to be hoped that the United States does not come to regret its costly flirtation with re-usability.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 27th January 1978

Sir,

Your correspondent Albert Banks [Flight International, 13th January 1978] appears to share an unfortunately widespread habit of underestimating the skills of American engineers. He apparently doesn’t grasp the basic principle that a vehicle like the Space Shuttle, which can be re-used, is inherently cheaper to operate than one that is thrown away after each launch. By presenting exaggerated and unfounded assumptions of the need for hundreds of flights per year to earn back development costs, he presents a strawman argument that ignores this basic fact. The Groza rocket, so beloved of armchair engineers, has surely cost the Russians at least as much to develop as the Shuttle, but unlike Shuttle they will have to build a complete new vehicle for every mission. By ending this costly practice with the Space Shuttle, the United States will lower prices and stimulate demand, creating a vibrant free market commercial space industry for the next decade.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 3rd February 1978

Sir,

Once again, I see Mr. DeWitt promoting his over-simplified opinions in your magazine as if they were backed up by more than inflated rhetoric [Flight International, 27th January 1978]. Despite his disparaging of so-called “armchair engineers”, he himself displays no signs of familiarity with a rigorous engineering analysis, preferring instead to recycle tired old slogans about the power of free markets.

Perhaps, however, the opinions of Mr. DeWitt and his ilk can be excused as a psychological protective measure to compensate for what is rapidly becoming obvious: that the United States is falling behind in space. While NASA launches model spaceplanes from a 747, with the aim of an eventual manned return to Earth orbit, the Soviets continue to push forward with an ambitious programme for lunar exploration. The recent Zond 13 mission can leave little doubt - even in minds as obtuse as that of Mr. DeWitt - that the USSR is close to accomplishing a manned mission to the lunar surface that will exceed Apollo in scale and ambition. They have achieved this, not by chasing fantasies of aeroplanes in space, but through the application of solid engineering approach coupled with a vigorous industrial policy that achieves value through mass production.

Perhaps photographs of a cosmonaut placing the hammer-and-sickle on the Moon will be enough to wake NASA and others from their fever-dreams, but based on the evidence of certain correspondents to your magazine, I will not hold my breath.

Albert Banks (B.Eng, FBIS), Portsmouth, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 30th June 1978

Sir,

Thank-you for your excellent coverage of the Zond 14 lunar mission [Flight International, 23nd June 1978, “Zond 14 Points to Soviet Manned Lunar Ambitions”]. This development makes me wonder if it is not perhaps possible to re-activate the Saturn V production line in response to the Soviet challenge? NASA is already planning to make good use of Apollo hardware in their space station plans [Flight International, 17th February 1978, “NASA Proposes Skylab-B As Next U.S. Space Station”]. With the lessons being learnt with the Space Shuttle, perhaps it would even be possible to apply reusability to the Saturn first stage, bringing costs down further. Such a reusable first stage, lifting heavy payloads and even the existing planned Shuttle, would seem to be an excellent way to re-capture the innovative fires of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo which defeated the Soviets in what must now be regarded as the first space race and would set an electrifying groundwork for doing so in what must soon rapidly become the second.

Tony Newbold, Solihull, UK


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 14th July 1978

Sir,

Although reasonable people may debate the extent to which the Space Shuttle will reduce launch costs, the notion recently proposed by Mr. Newbold [Flight International, 30th June 1978] of building new Saturn V’s, or even - to compound the absurdity - giving it a reusable first stage stretches credulity beyond breaking point. This is an idea that belongs in pulp science-fiction, not a serious aviation magazine.

Reginald DeWitt, Pittsburgh, USA


++++++++++++++++++++​


- Letters to the editor, Flight International, 21st July 1978

Sir,

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing wholeheartedly with a letter from your esteemed correspondent Mr. DeWitt of Pittsburgh [Flight International, 14th July 1978]. Let us not waste ink in giving column inches to crackpot ideas like re-usable Saturn stages, when the West is facing the very real challenge of the USSR’s space ambitions.

Albert Banks, Portsmouth, UK

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With thanks to @e of pi for his contributions to this post, and for all the "Space Twitter/Spitter" posters who inspired it!
The issue is they are thinking in terms of a the wrong reusable booster, something more Titan or Atlas sized would be good, there's just no way 1970s NASA is going to think in those terms and I can't see true commercial spaceflight arriving any sooner than OTL, unless Russia has a fire sale after the fall of the USSR...
 
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