Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Space Shuttle’s Military Threat (youzicha.tumblr.com)
157 points by Hooke 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments



My understanding is Shuttle launch preparations had to begin ages in advance, have good weather conditions, etc. So it's a first strike weapon the Soviets would have ample advance warning about (i.e. they'd see the thing crawling out to the pad at 1 mile/hr). Even if the Americans somehow managed to meticulously disguise the mission as a science one, it would only be useful as a very premeditated first strike, not as a rapid response to an imminent geopolitical threat.

The laser satellite stuff is interesting. I was under the impression the massive payload capability (which necessitated the external tank and SRB's) was dictated in part by the military, which lends some credence to those concerns.


You miss the point completely. The real issue is how much heads up you get before you get destroyed. This heads up time is what regulated cold war and kept both sides in check.

Effectively, each shuttle launch gives Russians a little heart attack and the culmination is basically each orbit that goes over Russia because SST is supposed to have capability to alter the course, dip in the atmosphere, drop the bomb and go back into orbit and they only get about 2 minutes of warning at best.

This warning time is crucial because that's all you got to decide whether you are under attack or not. For ballistic missiles launched from enemy territory you get half an hour and it means a bunch of people can gather data and figure out if it's real or fluke and make informed decision. You can't make informed decision in 2 minutes and it is extremely dangerous because it does not give you any capability to verify anything or ask anybody.


» This warning time is crucial because that's all you got to decide whether you are under attack or not. For ballistic missiles launched from enemy territory you get half an hour and it means a bunch of people can gather data and figure out if it's real or fluke and make informed decision. You can't make informed decision in 2 minutes and it is extremely dangerous because it does not give you any capability to verify anything or ask anybody.

I apologise in advance for the naivety and the insensitivity but what kind of an idiot would give a go ahead for a strike like this knowing that an unprovoked strike on a major civilian population center in Russia will almost assuredly lead to a response from multiple Russian ICBM locations that we keep worrying about the North Koreans.

If there was a fleet of a dozen or more space shuttles either "permanently" in the air or ready to fly at a moment's notice, I can see how that would change the equation but one space shuttle can't just dip, deliver a payload, climb up to rinse and repeat on five or more cities, can it?


I appreciate your completely logical question.

The short answer is: for the same reason somebody would want to shoot ICBMs at enemy population centers.

The longer answer as I understand it: after WWII both USA and USSR invested incredible amount of resources in bid to achieve supremacy or at least maintain parity with the other. During that race anything that achieved results was on the table and both sides did funky stuff to surprise enemy, all the time.

Space race was viewed as a cover up story for advanced rocket and surveillence research.

Given the amount of resources and the current situation I think it was natural for russians to think there is something else going on with Space Shuttle. We know the dimensions of Shuttle bay and its capabilities were dictated by military requirements so it definitely isn't out of question. It would certainly be completely stupid for Russians not not assume the worst because in that kind of race the one that is not prepared looses.

Russians are same people as Americans. They have proven many times they are unwilling to attack USA, thanks to the balance of power and multitude of people who prevailed in difficult situations.

That doesn't mean they will not use any dirty trick to get advantage but using dirty tricks in this game is a legitimate way to maintain parity which is the objective of the game.


A modern ICBM is able to deliver payloads to multiple targets at the same time. The technology is called MIRV [1], and U.S. has had it since the early 70s.

Since a space shuttle has a much larger payload than an ICBM and is also much more maneuverable, the Soviets probably couldn't exclude the possibility that it can deliver enough payloads to wipe off several cities and/or military bases in a single pass. They were already having trouble developing effective countermeasures to MIRV; a shuttle would have been a nightmare.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_independently_targeta...


I can't recall the source during the moment, but I read that during the cold war it was decided that targeting major population centers was more ethical than targeting nuke-capable military installations. This is counter-intuitive until you consider that population centers are worthless targets if you're planning on launching a decapitating first strike, therefore targeting major population centers signals to the opponent that you are poised for a retaliation strike, not a first strike. This is more ethical because it makes a nuclear war less likely to occur.


I like you pointed it out.

Cold War has its own, counter-intuitive logic. It is governed by game theory.

If war is bad then why US invests so much in war machine? Well, probably because investing nothing is historically bad way of maintaining peace. You are just inviting a bully to come and take your toys.

Looking from this point of view isn't it strange that so many people treat Russia as villanous because it invests so much in their military (or it has been investing)? I really wonder why people think it is ok for US to militarize itself but for USSR or Russia to do that it is somehow bad. I, of course, intentionally omit what the country is doing with its power, it is one thing to have military and the other thing what are you using it for.

Now, if US sends its troops abroad to subject some country, is it so difficult to think that USSR may feel threathened? If the way to keep peace is to keep parity and one party is trying to upset the parity the other has no other choice than to respond.

This game has many paradoxes and I feel people have not enough willingness to look at some geo-political events through the lens of a longer game.

We may say we want to bring democracy to Venezuela but what Russia is seeing is their power slipping. Right now they have precious little friendly land close to mainland US and they have no prospects of gainging more. At the same time, US is expanding NATO with more and more countries close to Russia border. Why is it so difficult to figure out this makes them very uneasy? Wouldn't some kind of response be expected? Why would US be surprised by it?

Up until now the game was to keep parity and now the parity is slowly eroding away. This absolutely must cause a response from Russia because the theory says they have to fill the void some way. Electronic warfare? Hacking? Meddling in elections?

Each side wants, understandabl, to mobilize its population in this struggle and there is no better way than to paint the enemy as a villain. I just wish we keep healthy amount of population on all sides capable of seing through cheap propaganda.


The calculus becomes a bit different if you are one of the countries Russia considers its buffer. You might have some aspirations of your own, but of course Russia has its own plan for you. The opposing superpower follows the same playbook, but you don't care since they aren't invading you, and so you'll happily join their defense pact.


> At the same time, US is expanding NATO with more and more countries close to Russia border. Why is it so difficult to figure out this makes them very uneasy? Wouldn't some kind of response be expected? Why would US be surprised by it?

One of the reasons could be that US and RF are very asymmetrical players in the game. The structure of control in RF is less reliable, to the point of having arguments (not in the Kremlin, of course) of passing nuclear arms to US (!) to avoid dangerous scenarios. The intents are also different, modern RF power is mostly interested in material gains rather than strategic development. Abilities are different - RF can't always adequately answer to some voids left.


I don't know if I am addressing your questions, but FWIW I am impatient when I encounter this blindness in other citizens of USA, that our military is only over there trying to stop violent people who do bad things.

I am far more intelligent than such people, and so I am obliged to show them the logical fallscy of their bias. ^^ yeah, literally as I was writing the first sentence, I realized how it reinforces the very self-serving bias that you seem to be confronting.

Despite gross miscalculation on the part of USA intelligence and military strategists, Soviet leaders did not issue a decapitation strike in late summer of 1983. I am sure they thought our President and military leaders to be crazy to wish for such a thing.

High-school and college students, we felt every bit as confused by all this. Madness. Every teenager must beleive at some point that their elders are completely insane...

A couple of years later, I had two classmates from the USSR, the only two such students in the United States at the time.

Anyway. The bias: "We are the Good Guys!" -- yeah that seems to have gotten worse, if anything. President W Bush asking Sec of State Colin Powell to systematically lie to the UN in order to drag them to war with Iraq, I was in Germany that week, and most people would ask me WTF your country so crazy and I would say actually yes i try to make noise to protest this myself, don't give up on us, it will get better...

And here we are. My kids think this is all normal.


Occupying parts of other countries (Georgia, Ukraine) with acts of ethnic genocides and making 200 000 refugees (Georgia), helping dictatorship regimes (Syria, Venezuela), interfering with other countries election processes, threatening other countries to make from them nuclear dust from government TV is not just cheap propaganda. It is a reality in which many people including me live (I am from Georgia). Russian government does not defends the interests of their people, it is a corrupted and aggressive government that only thinks about the well being of a bunch of its elite at the expense of its self population and other countries.


> I apologise in advance for the naivety and the insensitivity but what kind of an idiot would give a go ahead for a strike like this knowing that an unprovoked strike on a major civilian population center in Russia will almost assuredly lead to a response from multiple Russian ICBM locations that we keep worrying about the North Koreans.

One of the early applications of game theory was to develop your point into a strategic doctrine[1]: If there are two adversaries with the capacity to annihilate each other and with mutual knowledge of each other's capacities, then not initiating conflict is a stable equilibrium.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction


> If there was a fleet of a dozen or more space shuttles either "permanently" in the air or ready to fly at a moment's notice

While this was never achieved in practise, not even close, regular and possibly short notice flights were part of the reusable shuttle's design intentions.

> but one space shuttle can't just dip, deliver a payload, climb up to rinse and repeat on five or more cities, can it?

I doubt it, but all that is needed for the enemy to be intimidated is that they think it might be possible.

The shuttle couldn't dip in and out of atmosphere even once, there wasn't the fuel on-board to allow aborting re-entry and landing. It could have dropped once though and hit (or at least aimed for) at least one target. Finding a safe landing zone ("safe" both in in terms of the ability of the craft to survive and the ability to receive the craft and its crew) would be difficult after that) could be quite a challenge, but that doesn't rule out s desperation attack or even a suicide attack.


# what kind of an idiot would give a go ahead for a strike like this

In theory there is the possibility of a decapitation strike - destroy the he command and control centers so that they can't retaliate. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decapitation_strike


The Soviets knew that theory. They had mobile launchers all across the USSR and submarines on standby.

And the idea that only the president can launch nukes is false. There were contingency plans.


As I understand it, the Soviets had mobile contingency plans, but they were also afraid of delegating launch capability to the field -- for the very pragmatic reason that a rival power center (e.g., a portion of the military) could rebel and exploit it. This put a lot of pressure on central leadership to respond to possible missile warnings rapidly, since a decapitation strike could actually succeed. Allegedly the answer was Perimeter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Hand), which allowed delegation with a bunch of technical safeguards added.


Just wait until you hear about Wing Attack Plan R and the strategic mine shaft gap.


> You miss the point completely. The real issue is how much heads up you get before you get destroyed.

rkagerer addressed exactly this point, so I think you've misunderstood him. He acknowledges that the heads-up time from launch is formally much shorter than other delivery methods, but argues that the effective heads up time is large in scenarios of interest ("imminent geopolitical threat") because you have to slowly roll out a shuttle launch. The only case where you can actually exploit the very quick launch speed is when you have premeditated a first strike months in advance, which is not the typical scenario that Cold Warriors worried about.


Space Shuttle is able to spend prolonged time in space and back when it was being developed and build russians had no idea how it is going to be used. So they had to prepare their response because in the worst case they could be left with a flying nuclear strike capable of delivering the payload at almost any time.

Remember, when you are dealing with foreign power that you fight tooth and nail the worst case is the only thing that matters and you have to be prepared for it. You don't say "let's see what those pesky Americans will do with their new shiny toy", you say "Sasha, we need to be prepared or we are screwed".

Also, do you remember there was couple of those built from the start and there was supposed to be many, many more. That's a serious threat if your enemy has history of using that kind of projects for DoD purposes, you know DoD is engaged and you have no idea what is the real intended purpose.


I wasn't making any general claims about Russian and American strategic plans, or the overall quality of rkagerer's comment. I was only rebutting your suggestion that rkagerer had ignored the issue of heads up-time. You can certainly argue whether he addressed it well, but you have to actually engage with his argument (which I encourage you do to as a reply to his comment, not mine), not just repeat the facts all three of us are familiar with.


I wonder if this threat was part of the impetus behind the creation of the Dead Hand system[1], which would put a retaliatory strike in motion automatically after a decapitation?

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Hand


And, welcome to the UK! We only had about three or four minutes warning time available, so when the sirens went off, that was all the time the population had to prepare/shelter, and obviously the authorities also only had that amount of time to decide on a response... This includes getting all your bomber aeroplanes started up, launched and in the air sufficiently far from the airfield to escape the blast radius of the weapons (probably Megaton range) used to destroy it!


I actually wonder why these missiles were not left in orbit. Surely a missile launch directly from space would require much smaller missiles and even less lead time.


I mean, the US had programs for that too. See the X-20 Dyna-Soar.

The genius of using the shuttle as a bomber is stealth. Not regular steath, but hiding in plain sight.

The USSR were worried the airforce could launch a shuttle with a nuclear bomb into an orbit near Moscow (or other targets), but claim it was just a regular launch with a regular payload with totally legitimate reasons for that orbit. Actually, with the shuttle's cross range ablities the orbit could be several hundred kilometers off the target.

And it would look like a regular flight as it climed into orbit and spend 20-30min floating towards Russia. Soviet command wouldn't be able to identify it as a threat until 3.5min before impact.


Ironically, now that the shuttle is gone, the X-37B is closer to this vision. It hangs up there for over a year at a time doing who knows what. And it has a ridiculous amount of delta-v to change its orbit.


There are plenty of things out there with lots of delta-v floating around doing who knows what. The X-37B is just the big public one.


AIUI, orbital mechanics makes leaving weapons in orbit not very useful. One missile on the ground can launch a strike at any location within its range at any instant the operator chooses, and deliver it within ~30m or so. One weapon in orbit can only strike locations along its current orbit, and at very constrained times. To deorbit something, you generally need a retrograde burn while it's on the opposite side of the planet as the place you want it to deorbit at. So even if you happen to be in exactly the right place to strike a particular target at the time you make the decision to, you still have to wait half an orbit, or ~45min for LEO. The time just gets longer for the location not being perfect or for higher orbits.


Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space. It's pretty hard to hide the fact that a satellite is full of nuclear material given that they stick around, but the shuttle would just be up for a little bit so it would be easier to hide things in it.

The Soviets did like to put anthrax warheads on their ICBMs targeted at cities and I suppose those won't have any distinctive emissions signature. But then again keeping anthrax spores alive in space with the thermal cycling and radiation can't be easy.

EDIT: But then again anthrax is a strictly counter-value rather can counter-force weapons. You would hypothetically put warheads in space for a quick counter-force strike so that plan wouldn't make sense.


Missiles left in orbit are only effective as first-strike weapons, because you just wait until they are over the enemy then launch your strike. As response or retaliation weapons they are useless. If the enemy launches an attack while your missile is in orbit over the Indian Ocean, or it's current cycle wont put it over the enemy for another 10 orbits, then you might as well not have it. This is why space based nukes were completely banned very early on.


If you launch a first strike, I don’t see why it would matter whether retaliation comes in half an hour or a day.

What would matter is whether that first strike or a later follow-up could take out the shuttle(s) before it could retaliate.

Did the USSR have capability to take out a space shuttle in orbit? I wouldn’t know. It wasn’t that high up (a V-2 could almost reach it), but accuracy of ICBMs wasn’t even good on stationary targets, and, I guess, you would need more of it in space, where ‘only’ radiation and heat would cause damage.


In case of retaliation you want it to be delivered soon, ideally before you and the retaliation infrastructure is destroyed. If the retaliatory strike is already in flight before the first strike can even reach the enemy territory (or sattellites, etc.) then it is much more difficult to prevent.

That's why the response time is so crucial. To ensure retaliatory strike strikes fear in your enemy (pun intended) you need to convince the enemy you are capable and willing to put your ICBMs before their ICBMs can even reach you. If you have only 2 minutes you need to convince the enemy you are willing and capable to do it within 2 minutes of detecting the strike.

You also want retaliatory strike to be delivered all at the same time as the best strategy seems to be in numbers. It is relatively easy to stop a single ICBM. It is completely different problem to stop hundreds of them each possibly containing multiple warheads. In this case the strategy is to deluge the enemy with warheads or, more precisely, hope they will not try to destroy you because they can never be sure to stop all out retaliatory strike.


The primary job of a first strike is to take out as much of the target's retaliation capability as possible. Objects in stable orbits are much easier to track, target and destroy that just-launched missiles (or shuttles) because you can take your time to identify them and line up your anti-satellite systems.


You can setup an orbit to always cross over any single point on earth. Molniya orbit‘s are often used by communication satellite’s over Russia, but the US would not care about dwell time so would pick the opposite aiming to be close to the atmosphere over the old USSR.

Likely going for something closer to: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/GLONASS


Of course, I didn't say all such weapons would have to wait multiple orbits. The point still stand though that if you had a string of weapons in such an orbit, only a very small minority of them would be over the target area and ready to strike at any given time and they have terrible cross-range characteristics. Also Molniya orbits have quite long orbital periods, exacerbating the problem. The vast majority would have much longer strike times than surface based missiles. It only really makes sense to use orbital missiles if you deploy them as a swarm for a first strike.


You can synchronize each device’s orbit so every weapon is over every target at the same time. Worst case you need to wait for a full orbit to hit anything, best case you can hit everything within ~2-3 minutes.

Molniya orbits‘s are just an example. GLONASS uses a related orbit, but never comes that close to the atmosphere.

PS: You could do the same thing over the US including Hawaii and Alaska. You end up with different tradeoffs to keep things synchronized, but it’s not that hard of a problem.


I cannot say for sure but here are four things that cones to mind:

- Considering how much of a problem normal space debris is I'm happy we don't have a number of old nukes in orbit.

- I also guess nuclear weapons need some maintenance.

- Leaving nuclear weapons in orbit would make it possible for another country to try to intercept/study/disarm them.

- Regulations/treaties about weapons in space


This heads up time is what gets destroyed by hypersonic missiles today.


Yeah space shuttle was a delivery vehicle for spy satellites and space based weapon systems. Pentagon/CIA was on the design committee.


> Let’s build a copy now, and find out what it is good for later!

It's pretty smart in its own way. At a very superficial level the mimicry has a prospective effect, a potentially advantage-tipping energy. And military-style decisiveness almost always has to draw on things with such a superficial character by necessity. Seen as a start toward refinement of inner character (of a shuttle-like craft) from the outside-in, Buran makes much more sense.


Absolutely. USSR, at that stage in the cold war was living everyday with an existential crisis. It would not be uncommon for them to be so paranoid. And, it's a smart move. The amount of scientific and technological know-how generated from such a project would be tremendous. And the USSR military leaders would have surely known that.

Also, having honed in onto a very serious threat, spreading the information of that threat among it's scientists and pushing them towards a goal is an incredible motivation building tool. You can't make a scientist work effectively under threat of punishment. But tell him that his work will save his motherland, and you are on.


"You can't make a scientist work effectively under threat of punishment" https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/soviet-s...


Not to defend the Soviets, but their paranoia was kind of justified - from the earliest days of the Soviet regime they faced foreign interventions, through to the Nazi invasion then Cold War era threats from the US and its allies.

Of course this all nearly backfired on everyone with Operation RYAN and Able Archer 83 when the paranoia of the Soviet leadership was at such a crazed level that they thought the West was planning a first strike so they thought their only option was to strike first.


Well, in the late 40s, the US was not so subtly threatening to nuke the Soviets. Some even argue that they nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki primarily as a threat to the Soviets.[0]

0) https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7706-hiroshima-bomb-m...


Curtis LeMay wanted to attack the Soviets - from this perspective there was a grim logic to this - he (correctly) realised that at some point the Soviets would reach parity in strategic weapons with the US and he (incorrectly) thought that a conflict was inevitable - so he wanted to destroy the Soviet Union while the US could do it without any direct impact on the US.

Thankfully, he didn't get his way.


Also, after the war the soviets had a vast amount of tanks that posed a threat to Western Europe. Nuclear weapons were seen as a way of countering that threat without needing to station a vast number of American troops and equipment.


But he may have been right under Stalin. I think what saved us is that Stalin died before Russia had built a large enough capability. And its successors were less indifferent to the loss of life of tens of millions of their citizens.


Yes, that's what I was thinking of. But I'd forgotten LeMay's name :( And I also vaguely remember something about an attack plan by George C. Marshall.


Le May was ruthless, but his successor at SAC General Thomas Power sounded like a character from Dr Strangelove:

"Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_S._Power


If memory serves, Patton was a huge advocate for continuing past Berlin to Moscow.


Not sure that would have been a good idea - the Soviet Red Army was immensely strong and had just done most of the work in defeating the Nazis and the US didn't have man (any?) atom bombs left at the end of the war.


They didn't have any to start with in May '45, the Trinity test was in July


That was hardly a paranoia, more like justified fear.

See this article about operation Giant Lance simulating nuclear attack on the USSR during Vietnam war.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Giant_Lance


> USSR, at that stage in the cold war was living everyday with an existential crisis. It would not be uncommon for them to be so paranoid. And, it's a smart move. The amount of scientific and technological know-how generated from such a project would be tremendous. And the USSR military leaders would have surely known that.

Shuttle was under development in 1976, and Energia-Buran as well. 70's are relatively successful years for USSR, that's why a project of such magnitude was undertaken.


While I agree, it's logical in its own way, in retrospect it's pretty humorous:

> Very early our calculations showed that the cost figures being used by NASA were unrealistic. [...] Because of our suspicion and distrust we decided to replicate the Shuttle without a full understanding of its mission.

I can imagine someone in NASA, looking at the massive budget overruns, reacting like that "Ha! Got 'em!" meme


Couldn’t help but think of the Buran covered in bird feces while reading this article about how the Soviets thought the US-Americans were smarter than they were.

https://www.boredpanda.com/abandoned-soviet-space-shuttle-pr...


Haha yes we sure trolled them with our overly-politicized space exploration! Totally on purpose. Deep state.


> "The studies … showed that the Space Shuttle could carry out a return maneuver from a half or single orbit … , approach Moscow and Leningrad from the south, and then, performing … a "dive", drop in this region a nuclear charge, and in combination with other means paralyze the military command system of the Soviet Union."

Well, now we have ICBMs with hypersonic warheads. Doing the atmospheric skip thing.


It seems like the Russians believed the shuttle would certainly be used for weapons delivery while the US intended it for espionage purposes.

I wonder why the Russians wouldn't consider such a possibility.


Manned orbital reconnaissance was an outdated concept then, abandoned with Project MOL/Gemini B and Almaz. I guess, it would have been rather counterintuitive to suspect such a role for the shuttle, with the systems dedicatedly developed for this lying around unused. And then there was still this huge payload capacity, which wouldn't fit the purpose…

(PS: While Gemini B did an empty shell test flight only, Almaz actually flew a few missions. So the Soviets actually won – widely unbeknownst – this military space race. However, at the time the US had already switched to their recon satellite program. We may assume that the two parallel projects had shaped pretty much the idea of the profile of such a mission and that the shuttle would have been an odd fit.)


I assume what iaw means by "espionage purposes" is that the Space Shuttle had a bunch of size/performance requirements set by the National Reconnaissance Office [1].

There's a certain amount of conjecture here, as spy stuff is classified. It's pretty well established that NRO needs impacted the payload size and 'cross range capability' (i.e. ability to land from polar orbit) [2] which may well have driven the delta-wing design and the piggyback-booster design [3]. And of course without the piggyback design, the Columbia disaster might not have happened.

[1] http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1960/1 [2] http://www.jamesoberg.com/sts-3A_B-DRM.PDF [3] https://history.nasa.gov/sts1/pages/scota.html


The Shuttle could grab on to random satellites with the Canadian arm -- it was a potential ASAT weapon.

Astronauts could then get out to inspect or tamper with satellites. Or they could put the satellite in the cargo bay and take it home.


The price tag and max payload? Perhaps they thought unrealistic to spend that much and to be able to carry that much just to take pictures...


That's one of my favorite things about this whole debacle.

The Space Shuttle program was so incomprehensibly inefficient that the USSR thought that surely the USA was hiding something. In reality, it was just... a really inefficient program.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Space_Shuttle...


I think the Soviets figuring out it was a weapon before it being deployed was key in preventing it from being deployed as a weapon.

It then became a civilian program with military requirements and military operating costs - very inefficient.


    > I wonder why the Russians wouldn't consider such a possibility
The USA already been doing aerial and satellite recon on the USSR for ages.

We don't see much discussion of the Shuttle's ability to launch surveillance satellites because that was an absolute given. Nobody questioned that.


The espionage capability he's referring to wasn't the ability to launch satellites, it was the ability to recover them. Including Russian ones!


Recovering satellites sounds odd in our age of ubiquitous high-speed digital communication. But back then, pictures taken by a reconnaissance satellite were recovered by having rolls of used film thrown at the Earth for airplanes to catch in mid-air [1]. Using a shuttle would have looked awfully simple compared to that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corona_(satellite)


If you have a chance, a few of these satellites are on display at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, OH. Last time I was there I took a few pictures of the KH-7, KH-8, and KH-9.

https://imgur.com/gallery/P89GME7


The X-37B drone (a space shuttle replacement for the Air Force) is suspected to be doing exactly that.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/why-russia-china-...


The article doesn't mention it but surely the fears disappeared post-Challenger with the abandonmnent of thoughts to use Vandenberg as a high inclination launch site and the refusal to ever again fly with the Centaur upper stage in the cargo bay.

As an aside my first boss in the computer industry retired USAF detested Shuttle because it wasn't fulfilling a military mission that he thought it ought to fulfill. Strange times. Was great living in Indialantic and viewing the launches.


The Shuttle really taught some lessons to the space industry. We progressed in how to keep people alive in space but we also learned that making a multipurpose vehicle just isn't the best idea. All it takes is for one of the roles to be deprecated because of reasons and suddenly your expensive multi-tool starts to not be so attractive in terms of cost. Any time someone comes up with some complex plan to save money, it probably isn't going to save any money and will most likely end up costing you more than if you just continued on doing what you did before. Expendable vehicles aren't exactly cheap but they get the job done pretty reliably and without the risk of people dying.


>that making a multipurpose vehicle just isn't the best idea

Could you possibly CC the Pentagon on this?


This is interesting, but I don't understand why the Soviet's conclusion would be that they also needed a shuttle. Wouldn't they invest in an alternate means to defeat the "dive-bombing" shuttle attacking Moscow such as developing high performance anti-aircraft (spacecraft?) missiles?


A missile that's re-entering at orbital velocities is incredibly difficult to defend against. You can't really shoot it down.

The threat profile of a Shuttle carrying nuclear bombs is that it combines the unstoppable nature of an ICBM with the potential for a surprise attack.

A surprise ICBM launch gives you 10-15 minutes between detection and mushroom clouds over your cities. An overflying Shuttle gives you 2-3 minutes.


The problem is that you don't know whether the Shuttle is just floating there on a peaceful mission or going in on an attack run until maybe 3 minutes before the nukes are dropped. Plus the big Soviet radars were pointed towards where US ICBMs would be coming from, not south where the shuttle would come from. Getting the capability to take out the shuttle would be really hard.


Does anyone know of a book that has information like this (about technical aspects of the Cold War)?


Blind Man’s Bluff is pretty awesome, but focuses on submarines and naval espionage


So basically, the Shuttle was simply a mistake as we now know, but the Soviets never accepted the very idea that such a massive mistake by a nation they deemed so advanced was possible, which resulted in an even bigger mistake on their own by reproducing it.

Much like in 1941, Soviets never accepted the possibility of Nazis invading just because every rational estimate resulted in suicidal nature of such an invasion by Hitler, which turned out correct, so they never prepared properly believing that Hitler is a military genius and will never commit such a stupid mistake.


It looks like Tumblr is trying get away with a more elaborate cookie confirmation popup instead of proper GDPR implementation and I am not willing to play this game.

Is there a transcript somewhere?



Turn off Javascript?




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: