SPACE SHUTTLES IN SCIENCE FICTION

The "New Wave Comics" Space Shuttle

Click here to see a large picture of a comic book space shuttle."

The above sketch is a scene of a space shuttle orbiter hangered in an orbiting space station. The hangered shuttle picture has questionable characteristics: Though no means of artificial gravity is indicated (such as a spinning centrifugal force configuration), the shuttle does not float nor is it tethered to the hanger floor and the servicing staff walks upright under the influence of a gravity-like force. Additionally, the volume of atmosphere (air containing oxygen) is quite large because the crew members wear no spacesuits. They simply breathe the ambient atmosphere. The following sketch shows the space station hangar door open. This would release the atmosphere so quickly that the shuttle, service hardware, and space mechanics would experience a hurricane-like wind which would push them into the vacuum of space. This could be avoided by slowly venting the atmosphere into space, but no vent ports are shown in the drawing. The shuttle cargo bay is vented during ascent to avoid the sudden release of the cargo bay's atmosphere when the shuttle cargo bay doors are opened to the vacuum of space. Note the four vent ports accurately drawn on the sides of the hangered shuttle. A better design of the space station hanger would include spacesuited servicemen and women. Only the crew quarters should be pressurized with an oxygen atmosphere. Additionally, the shuttle should be tethered to the floor of the hanger.


Shuttle Maneuvers as Depicted in "New Wave" Comics

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The above sketch is inaccurate in showing the space shuttle's main engines (SSMEs) operating without an external tank (ET). Such a maneuver would use the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines or even the reaction control system (RCS) jets rather than the SSMEs. Firing SSMEs in such a "hair-pin" turn over the short distance shown (90 degrees yaw at 100% SSME thrust) would destroy the shuttle. Additionally, the hanger would probably be destroyed by hot gases from the engines' flaming exhausts. NASA would never permit engines to fire in such a fashion inside or near a crew carrying space station. The comic book panel has the words, "THE END," printed at its lower right corner. Yes, this would certainly be the end for the shuttle, its crew, the space station, and all those on board.


Space Shuttle Relic

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Science fiction illustrators and authors know of their reader's fascination with both the past and the future. The present bores sci-fi fans. For this reason, the concept of the future looking to the past make movies like MAD MAX very popular. An oft shown scene of sci-fi covers and movies is a futuristic vehicle flying above a decaying and damaged likeness of the Statue of Liberty ravaged by time and atomic warfare.

An illustrator can depict technology and space mechanisms even though he has little knowledge of physics or space technology. By adding extremely fine detail to a structure, the artist creates an illusionary spacecraft which connotes technical reality. The above artwork is an example of this ability. The rocket exhaust would never burn in such a sooty manner, but the oily appearing exhaust certainly suggests a shuttle relic whose engines need an overhaul, i.e., valves, rings, etc. Such an exhaust color in the vacuum of space would be highly unlikely, however, most readers know little more about rocket engines than they understand about the internal combustion engines of today's automobiles. They do know that a cloudy grayish blue exhaust means many miles and many missions for a used car or space shuttle. The above drawing succeeds very well in conveying the aura of a spacecraft relic.

Continuing with the junkyard auto theme, the artist depicts the space shuttle as something of a automotive "dragster", an automotive-like vehicle specially designed to accelerate quickly to the end of a quarter mile racetrack. Unfortunately, the ancient space dragster has no guidance mechanism. Reaction control thrusters are omitted in the painting. Additionally, a communication antenna is not found in the sketch, and aero-engineers would be puzzled at the inclusion of an aerofin without a moldline skin of aluminum to cover the protruding engines and tanks. How could the shuttle vehicle enter a planetary atmosphere as indicated by the fin without streamlining the remainder of the vehicle's surfaces? At the expense of technical plausibility, the artist created an aura of spacecraft antiquity.

Another error is the omission of a crew hatch, required on all manned shuttle vehicles. Can you find one? I was not able to in my examination. The crew is latched into the vehicle without the possibility of performing a space shuttle type EVA spacewalk.

A final oversight is the design of the spacecraft's viewing window. Backing into a parking space for this craft would be a ticklish task with no rearview mirror and window. The sizing of the plumbing for the rocket engines is too robust. The pipes are sized for an J-2 Saturn booster engine with several hundred thousand pounds of thrust rather than the tug-boat sized shuttle used for sorties from the space station base. Such a modest vehicle would only require thrusts in the order of tens of thousands of pounds. The shuttle relic appears to be returning to the hanger, perhaps, after noticing the ground crew left off its skin by mistake. The artist shows the craft to have areas of rust covering its outer surfaces. Since the shuttle does not exhibit the ability to enter a planet's atmosphere (no aeroshield, ablative covering, or streamlining), it is a purely a spaceship, always operating in the void between planets having atmospheres. In this case, how can rust have formed without oxygen? Perhaps, it formed in the hangered volume of the space station. To show such corrosion and decay on a pure spaceship seems inaccurate. Furthermore, the craft certainly would not have a superstructure of iron. Spacecraft utilize light materials such as aluminum. Aluminum does not rust. Yet, space is a detrimental environment as NASA demonstrated by placing the LDEF (Long Duration Exposure Facility) many months in space then retrieving it with the space shuttle. The Sun blisters spaceship paint, and the presence of fine particles orbiting the Earth certainly pits spacecraft skin as gravely as any road rubble or flying insect bruises an automobile's painted finish.


Click here to continue with: Using SCIENCE FICTION SPACE TECHNOLOGY : A TOOL FOR LEARNING in the classroom.


INDEX

Click here to continue with: Using Science Fiction to Teach Space Technology.

Click here to continue with: Early Sci-fi Spacecraft.

Click here to continue with: Spacecraft in Sci-Fi.

Click here to continue with: Space Stations in Sci-Fi.

Click here to continue with: Space Shuttle Type Craft in Science Fiction.

Click here to continue with: Using Science Fiction Space Technology in the classroom.

Click here to continue with: Science Fiction Spacecraft Art.


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