Atlantis mission STS-132 at launch
It's time to slip the bonds of Earth and send a manned mission away from Earth Orbit. I think part of the reason for the declining interest in the Space program is that the Space Shuttle, cool as it is, has done little more than circle the Earth, run a few science experiments and fix stuff. It's time that we sent manned and robot missions back to the Moon to establish a permanent base there. Then from there to send out missions to Mars and beyond. Plans for doing so have been on the drawing board for decades. Time to act on them.
I thought I heard several times on the news that Atlantis will go up again later in the year i.e. that it's not her final voyage after all. I think the other voyage(s?) would be to the ISS. Anyone else hear this?
There was some discretionary funding set aside to possibly do one more supply mission. Of course this means that Endeavour will need to be ready as well for a possible rescue mission. Either way, it is ridiculous to retire this fleet when they are are still viable assets. Unfortunately, we have a President that has no vision and no clue. Private enterprise will not be able to deliver the kind of vehicles required to achieve our next objectives in human exploration for years if ever. The billions already spent on Orion, which was just getting ready to show her stuff, is gone now with nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, he continues to waste national treasure on useless wars that will have no meaningful end except wasted lives and equipment. This country has taken a huge step back, and it's sad. Thanks NASA, it was a great ride.
Assets? You are kidding, right? Are you aware of the costs involved with keeping two shuttles operational? NASA currently spends half of its budget on Shuttle missions, the bulk of which are to resupply the space station, itself another boondoggle. An independent commission which predates our "vision-less" (your words) president, found that NASA had committed more than twice as many projects as it could possibly do given its budget. If you want to keep the shuttles going, fine. But you will need to find $4B or so in NEW MONEY to do it. So are you ready to pay another $200 a year in income taxes to pay for it? Is everyone else? Let's run that by the tea party people and see what THEY think, OK? Or even the congress... Raise taxes and then you will all be whining about "that Obama, he raised taxes!!!". The bottom line here is that what people with your opinion really want is a free lunch. You want NASA to go to Mars, and Saturn, and Pluto, and find exo-planets, and service Hubble forever, and run Shuttles at the same time. But you are not willing to have YOUR taxes increased to do it. So I read unbelievably ignorant comments like "it's just government waste", or, "they just need to prioritize" or "cut the fat", or "those great Shuttle assets, we should keep them flying". Those great Shuttle assets are not assets at all. An asset generates value, or income, or wealth, or knowledge. The Shuttle does none of that. It's science value is nil. It costs a fortune. It kills people. It is so unreliable that not only do they need to keep a backup gassed up and ready to fly, the only place they will fly it is to the space station which can act as a "lifeboat". That is the reason they almost let Hubble go, it's orbit would not allow a crippled shuttle to get to the space station and the risk was deemed unacceptable. All the shuttle does is maintain our presence at the "International" space station that we primarily paid for, and that we primarily lifted into space at great cost. And that station also has little science value, and no exploratory value. Though it will make a pretty, $100 billion dollar light show when it falls out of orbit someday. Obama's predecessor (GW, remember him?) was the one who gave that whole bullshit speech about how we were going to go "back to the moon!" "and then to Mars!". Only, as usual, he left the paying for it to someone else. You can't go to the moon and run the shuttles, or even keep them in operational status, at the same time with the amount of money available. I think Obama should be praised for finally showing some political balls by getting rid of this huge government money sink. By doing so, NASA can finally get back to what it was created to do - SCIENCE, and EXPLORATION. Neither of which have anything at all to do with shuttling people and materials to low earth orbit.
I actually agree with much of what you are saying. The shuttle fleet is not the perfect solution by any means. But it's the best solution we have right now. And they are still viable. They can do more than any other space vehicle in existence at this point in time. Are they dangerous? Yes. Space travel is dangerous. There is risk. Come on man, get real. I guess what I (and I think you too) would like to see is a real commitment to true exploration. I think that the ISS has pretty much served it's purpose unless we re-task it to be a final assembly/jump-off point to other destinations. I agree that just staying in LEO is just not well-spent money. But like it or not, it's there, we are committed to it for the forseeable future and we need to have an american platform to get there. Constellation/Ares/Orion, though not quite in final form was a great step in that direction. And now it's gone, along with the billions it took to get it to the test flight phase. It was the wrong move to kill it when you have absolutely nothing in the pipeline to even consider as an option. I'm with you in the respect that we cannot keep these shuttles going for too much longer. But the gap that the current administration is proposing until the U.S. has a viable platform back to space is unexceptable and embarrassing. We can do better. And if we stop this foolish fighting we can pay for it too. We are in a precarious position right now and the answers are hard to come by. We have to keep our young minds inspired and excited about science and technology or we will truly become a second rate nation. I just think the Universe is still the best catalyst to inspire and dream to innovate.
The Constellation program was not perfect, nor is and real government or private space program. They all need fine tuned to work better, but look at who creates them. Imperfect emotional politically empowered humans. Overall the purpose of the Constellation program was to be a progressive next step on the ladder that JFK created on my first birthday back on May 25th, 1961. It was to return America's productive powers that has been farmed out to the rest of the world. And all through the process of government regulations so the harm and profits can be made by the people of third world nations (aka: Dictatorships). This idea started back in the 1960's and got empowered in the 1973 Oil Shortage problem. America has all this money that we as they say stole from the rightful true deserves of it. As a result to give this money directly to them was politically unpopular so we made it hard for the US to get America's own fuel so we would have to buy it from Arabs that one day would terrorize us because they had to work for this free wealth. And now the same people that did that (actually their children) have given the next source of the Worlds power, the Helium 3 on the Moon to China who will replace the middle east as we move from Oil to Fusion. As America becomes now a second rate power on this planet, the hope of the Constellation program keeping America and our innovative powers of bithing a Space program that will move us off this blue marble of the Sol Solar system into forever existence in the Milky Way galaxy. Whom ever creates our next step into space with out creating our dependence on those that govern the powers to do such, will become the one that saves us from joining the Dinosaur.
[i] Private enterprise will not be able to deliver the kind of vehicles required to achieve our next objectives in human exploration for years if ever.[/i] Do you mean the market [u]can't[/u] do it all?
If an idea works it moves ahead of those that does not, government removes the other controlling factor, and that is profitability and cost. If Free Enterprise is ever returned to the equation, that is the only way America's Industries will be able to remove the harm that Government inflicts on the developing Industry of Space Exploration. The only way this will become a long lasting productive industry is with Education in the building blocks of this industry. And to do this Science needs to be turned from a NERD concept into a job and profitable family earning industry. There will no longer be assembly line workers, robots can replace these mundane jobs but robots do not have brains yet and humans do. So we need human brains to pricess the unpredictable that happens randomly every day. I could go on about how humanity can develop children that can process thoughts better, but that moves into the biology and physiology areas not space as this thread is aimed at. That thought would be better for a book not a topic thread that this is.
I don't mean to say they CAN'T, but to reach the level of expertise and safety/reliability required it will take them years and years. We just don't have that kind of time. It's possible a firm could step up and shock all of us and I would be delighted if that were the case, but I am just not that confident. Neither are the guys in the industry who actually build these things. I am hopeful that a reasonable compromise can be reached so that development of new technologies and a realistic platform can move forward and be built, whether it's from NASA, Private industry or a collaborabtion of both. It is our nature to explore; robots just can't do it all. They may have to for now though!
6000 Nasa Engineers put out of work. No manned space program, only robots. The American Dream dies...the future now belongs to accountants and pencil pushers. What is really going to hurt is when China or India return to the moon. It will be our generation who remembers when America gave up, not the next generation that will inwardly tear itself up, finding the next distraction, or online amusement. I find it sad having to show my son footage of the space shuttle and have to tell him that its over. America reduced to begging for a ride into space with other countries. Somebody tell me what do I tell him?
I may not be a scientist but it was always one of my better subjects and I've read many books and magazine articles on different topics. The world has changed so much especially this country..a few year from now when my twins start school where do I begin teaching and sharing with them my experiences??? Today's history is Middle East wars, terrorism, political correct B/S..I learned about Athens, Rome, Egypt,midevil times, not middle eastern oil. I want my kids to learn about ALL HISTORY GOING BACK TO ATHENS, yes modern history is important but you have to have an understanding of past history to learn... I can go on forever about my person views..but this is not the place or time!
Remember after Apollo that had a it's lifespan ended before the finished with the Apollo 20 mission. And the big cry was why flush money down the drain or into space, when you could feed all the starving Africans instead. Then the Shuttle began development came. And again more flushing money into space cry's. And do you remember who made these cry's, did they not come from the same political party as the killer of Constellation and our manned space program. Wonder why the flushing and crying labels, it's because they get their power and existence and continued life by becoming the Father figure provider, thus leading to either the poor house and extinction, or the loss of dreams of improvements. And making humanity become like land sharks that eat anything including there own.
The indirect purpose of the Constellation program was to inspire a new branch for America's producing power to begin growing as it returns our lost(regulated to death) powers of production. And the privately owned and managed Aerospace players would have removed governments needs(really wants of power) to create programs for health and retirement. I could see new industries building products from minerals found free of earths gravity and letting the working people live where the industry's place homes around the solar system. The biggest flaw is the biggest expense of getting off Planet Earth, that is Gravity. Humanity needs Gravity and for the last 3.5 billion years of life on Earth has. Gravity may make things more expensive until we mater the gravity particle, but until the Sewer was invented that was a problem also. Things will move ahead in time it is just these speed bumps that slow things down, and in the process makes us look to see if things are developing correctly. The lead cause of them taking the wrong paths seems to be Politions turning the steering wheel in their own power garbing direction. More proof as to why Space needs to become a tax free industry.
about http://www.virgingalactic.com/ and how private enterprise was better suited to do space flight than the government. ;) BTW I am taking donations for my ticket :P
I completely agree, I remember as a kid how my father told me when the Apollo missions got canned, now I have to tell how the shuttle got canned, to my kids. Its not like its a 30 year old design the latest shuttle is almost completley redesigned compaired to Columbia IIRC it is also a lot lighter too.
Big F.. I totally agree..I am 38, my parents told me about Kennedy and the space programs,etc.. I've been to the Space Center in Florida. I've read many books and science magazine article in the past on space, science and military. Science was always one of my best subjects as a kid! My kids are 18 months, what are they going to have in a few years to ask me about, Middle East wars, GOV'T WASTE SPENDING and no space program like mom, dad,grandma and grandpa experienced in their lives????
A lot of us grew up with the US space program. It is sad to see this program being short-changed since a lot of innovation came from it. If government wants to save money, eliminate wasteful government bureacrats but fund science projects that are too big for private enterprise to handle. Seems odd that what should rightfully belong to government, they want to get rid of it and where they don't belong they want to be involved.
I think it should be sent back up and be left tethered to the space station as an emergency bolt hole and escape module.
And I will have it moved to Vandenberg spaceport. Then I'll hold a bake sale so that all of us can go for a ride in it and see space for ourselves... Yeah that could work... I mean it is still a perfectly good spacecraft...just 32 flights on it right? I am sure we can push that to 64... Yeah ok twice we lost shuttles...Once because they launched AGAINST the advice of most of the engineers because there was too much ice. The second because even though they knew they were loosing foam from the main tank they overlooked just how sizable the pieces could be and just how fast they were traveling. I mean who knew foam could do that much damage... My point to all of this is this: 32 flights, it is still an experimental aircraft and I think a dam fine one at that. With the Orion program we are going back to your basic rocket...Really? After the shuttle? Are they serious? How much backward can we go? Hey here an idea, lets go back to Saturn V !! Never mind, I for one thing that the shuttle should remain until such time as some type of jet is created that can take off and land as an aircraft and also reach orbit.
The Space Shuttle (STS) would be a great toy, and you could become a favorite buddy to the guy whom thinks he is President (Mr. O'buma). Would you be personally involved in hiring the 5,000 people that use to work at NASA and pay them the 100k to 300k a year they use to earn. As for the foam problem, you can thank President Clinton for that (not that it did not happen even with Reagan term) Slick Willie changed the foam content from a Eco harmfull form to a Eco Friendly bio-degradable form that does not use as much Freon. Here is an idea, use half the cargo bay for fuel tanks and sell tickets for loops around the Moon. Or start collecting all the dead space junk or mine the NEO asteroids for Raw Minerals. And start filling out paper work to use Space Command at NORAD (talk to the Stargate people on who to contact).
In my past life as a Network software support guy, NASA was one of my customers. I always enjoyed working with the Hubble Support group. NASA has done more than we could have imagined to make the world a better place for mankind.
We are based in Florida and packed the company up to watch it live. Not your ordinary run of the mill team-building event.. http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/last-launch-of-space-shuttle-atlantis Adam
I was there for Columbias first launch,saw Chalenger go down, saw many of the launches live on t.v. Even saw Columbia go down live on CNN a channel I normally never watch. I go and spoil it all by missing Atlatis's last jaunt. Can't help thinking we are taking a step back. All those who died trying to advance us in Space, and now we just want to send up probes and unmanned stuff. Come on private companies grab this opertunity and carry on were Nasa cant get the funding for.
...they just don't have the will. Their programs have become full of hand wringing over safety, entitlements, and bureaucracy. We need a branch of NASA involved in space exploration that is willing to do some new science, take a few chances, and live on the edge. I don't think they'd have any problem getting volunteers to participate, we just need the agency, the government as a whole and the American people to have the will to get it done.
The biggest hassle I see with the Space Program from any Nation is funding. So lets make a Space expences non taxable. The reasoning for this is how Federal funding ingrains wrongs in the design of things, and all to be used for personal political empowerment not to improve the workmanship or design. Sure the profit factor can create errors, but that can be processed by civil overview which can add penalties such a fines or taxation of profits to go to the betterment of the competitors. Can we make Space a non taxable expense, that taxable by Governments. This way desisions a made by those that have a life in the industry and not by the Monday Night QB (aka Position who's expertize comes from books and TV)
[i]It seems that NASA had it's gonads chopped off for the purpose of making the rest of Planet Earth gain talents in space.[/i] Sounds like typical conspiracy paranoia to me. NASA got clipped because our elected leaders have no real vision of what to do in space. Why? Outside NASA, the military, and space geeks, the space program has [u]always[/u] been driven by the "Gotta beat the Russians" attitude of the Cold War. Once the Soviet government collapsed, there was nobody to beat, so the "vision" disappeared. Now, all that "wasted" money can be better spent to help those without or used to reduce the size of government, depending on your political views.
It seems that NASA had it's gonads chopped off for the purpose of making the rest of Planet Earth gain talents in space. The old idea was since we had the money we could spend it to do things first. The governments worry is if we use the money to keep buying power for ourselves and keep our jobs pampering the voters we will always have jobs. And the World has to jump in and do what NASA use to do. The problem is rest of the world has to go through a dirtier mafia like structure to get hi-tech companies to do NASA's jobs. All that will do is employ 195 Al Capone's from Chigago all around the world.
It's the American people and politicians that don't have the will. The American space program was extremely lucky in the early days in that, unlike the Soviet program, there were no fatalities during actual missions. The American astronauts that died in that era all died in training incidents. The American people did not understand how dangerous space exploration is until the Challenger disaster. There is irony in this situation, though. Many of the people screaming because NASA is no longer in the people-in-space business are the same people who have been screaming about the size of government.
I think the time has come where we need to band together more when it comes to space. its the last place we have access to that no one nation can lay claim to. I know red tape and safety first are getting in the way, as they do for most in the modern world. all we need is more joint ventures, I mean proper ones other than the ISS where, instead of America will go to the moon, its the humans will go to the moon. Maybe its time for corporate sponsor ship. The new McDonalds science module for the ISS etc.
Great photo's but what about the one of The Atlantis crew exiting the crew transfer vehicle, the first guy's leg appears to be bending the wrong way below the knee or is it my eyes ??????
There is something wrong with his leg...I knew we had aliens among us but I did not think they were allowed in NASA... All kidding aside, that photo is very strange...Ok I bet NASA attributes it to swamp gas... See I just can not stop myself...
Many of the suits have a pocket on a lower leg to store gloves but this still makes his leg look too long. Hmmm, NASA must have layed-off their decent PhotoShop guy. :)
...you weren't supposed to see that. All the Astronauts are really aliens...humans can't stand the pressures involved in take off or living in space. Haven't you been listening to the conspiracy theories? :-)
An optical illusion, I'm sure. But you're right, it totally looks broken. Maybe that's what happens when you're weightless, lol.
My first birthday was the day JFK told America that we're going to the Moon. The shuttle was nearly a perfect replacement for Apollo. My brother was helping to design the Orion Command Capsule at the Lockheed Martin Denver Aerospace plant. America's Space innovations have been wonders. When will we take our next step greater than the Shuttle program, which was the most complex creation of the early 1970's. I'm still upset that the Constellation Program got axed in the first month of 2010 because it offered us hope Technological talents keeping America as the leaders of this blue marble in the Sol Solar System.
"The Shuttle a perfect replacement for Apollo?" I think not. From the beginning it was a big, flashy, POLITICAL, unnecessary program. More along the lines of "look what we can do" than anything else. The notion of a "Reusable Spaceship" was something out of science fiction and still is. The joke is, after each flight the engines and most of the rest of the shuttle is COMPLETELY disassembled and most anything that can possibly wear out is replaced. This is why it takes so long between missions and why, even with four craft, we never got more than a few missions a year off the ground. It was believed at the time they designed the Shuttle (I was there) that about 1 in 32 missions would end in total failure (ie, death for all aboard). It turned out to be more like 1 in 100 after many redesigns. The reason they almost let Hubble die was that it's orbit does not allow a crippled shuttle to get to the space station and await rescue, and the shuttle was believed SO unreliable that they did not want to put the crew's lives at risk by flying "without a safety net". Benefits? A few, but nothing compared to the cost. Most of the shuttle's missions were taxicabs / UPS deliveries to the space station, itself $100 billion exercise with no real science value, and no real reason to exist. The original station as designed was SO expensive that most of it was scrapped and what was left and eventually built was, well, what was left. It serves no purpose other than as a lifeboat for the unreliable shuttle (see: Hubble, below). That same $100B for the station, and another $100B at least for the shuttles that serviced it, could have gotten a manned mission to Mars by now. And you will notice the "new" Orion "spacecraft" looks JUST LIKE APOLLO except the little pointy part holds 4-5 astronauts instead of three. So much for the Shuttle perfectly replacing Apollo. Nasa is and always has been a political organization, funded at the whim of Congress and the American people. And while we were farting around with the shuttle and the space station, the Chinese figured out that the Moon holds maybe a thousand years worth of easily fusible (as in fusion power) Helium-3, which does not exist at all on the Earth. And they are planning to go there, and get it, and if they do, and they can make the reactor work, they will own the 21st century just as America owned the 20th. And who will get the blame? Probably some poor NASA administrator, who has the lucky job of trying to to $20B worth of work with a $7B budget. There is an old joke that will be recognized by pretty much anyone who was ever a manager at NASA. When you get assigned the job of NASA Administrator by the president, your predecessor hands you three sealed envelopes and tells you to open them one at a time, in order, at each NASA crisis. The first letter reads: "blame your predecessor". The second letter reads: "reorganize NASA". The third letter reads: "prepare three envelopes". A joke, yes, but I have seen that cycle repeat at least 7 or 8 times in my lifetime. We are now just past the "reorganize" part since NASA just figured out (in fact, had it figured out for them) that they had literally TWICE as many committed projects as they have money. And still we have no planet finder, a project that could have been operational in 1990. And still no plan to make use of the incredible natural resources believed to be on the moon (which does not necessarily require a human presence there). Still no plan to determine, once and for all, if life exists on Mars or on the Moons of the gas giants. NASA is a perfect example of something the government does not do well. The projects span decades but the funding and management does not. As a result, NASA spends a large part of its funding just spinning its wheels as projects get prioritized and then de-prioritized, often after many millions have been spent. A real circus. Getting back to the shuttle: the Russians have shown for years (like, 40 years) that non-reusable spacecraft are CHEAPER, SAFER, and more capable than the Shuttle ever was. That is why the world's heaviest lift craft is a disposable Russian rocket. Add to that the proven fact that the Shuttle is a death trap due to its complexity (1 in 100, remember?) and all I can say is, "HAPPY RETIREMENT!!"
Some have hinted at the China could be aiming for it. And the physical proof is as solid as in 1961&2 of the Apollo Saturn Five rocket. So proof of such is as good as Senator Joesph Mc McCarthyism Red scare claims about Hollywood Stars. You do the math to get the answer, this place is no where near the area to bring that topic up. The only way there will be proof found is after it has happened. The only true way to make sure it does not happen is for America to bet them in doing it. This warning is like telling a newly married couple affairs are possible, but but until they happen they are only warnings.
My brother who is a Electrical Engineer at the Denver Aerospace plant told me the fuel tank was a problem, and in time with more money it would have been resolved. But the real reason it got axed was that it was a revolutionary idea but parts of it was like new technology version 2.5 and not the easy small step of version 1.5 or the big step of version 2.0, so they tried to take to big of a lesp and the safety nets(money) were never there if they feel off the tight rope the Venture Star project had to traverse over. Then came the bases, almost any big airport could have worked, but they liked Kennedy, Vandanberg (both used by the shuttle) but Colorado Springs (NORAD & Air Force Academy) and future Africa and Australia bases were not Politically correct and would cost most likely a billion each to make. Europe and Asia were left out and not letting the ex commies get their paws on the technology. This info is rumor only and if asked the big guys will say it's rumor only to protect their PC & Big Brother rears. But the Vectored Thrust of those engines mostly removes the need for wings to fly through the atmosphere. I forget the name of the rocket engine but that in it's self was a totally new and rarely played with idea. The electronics and software was no more complex than a hobbiest with a big bank book building a Super Computer that would match IBM's Deep Blue computer but using late 80's hardware that the military said would be EMI proof. But it's ideas are still building parts in the Lego kits NASA designs things with.
Yessir, I remember Venture Star. I used to watch the webcams all the time while the program was going on. As I recall they couldn't get the composite fuel tank right. That and a few other things eventually sunk the program. It was a shame to because if I remember correctly they had the launch pad built and everything...
O.K: I agree with most of your opinion/review of the Shuttle program. Bottom line: we have only a few things to show for the investment. HOWEVER: The China research is still speculation. Yes, they are headed there, but the He-3 statement is forward looking at best. Do you have any more information (articles) that might support your claim?
I really liked how you pointed out, like I have since the Death of the Constellation Program, that China will replace the Middle East as the source for the Worlds fuel and Energy. Still think this is the real purpose for O'buma's trip to China in 2009. And as we give the Moon to China, China funds our overspending to pamper the public to give them the power that FDR had after the Great Depression in 1929. And the un-offical joke running around Lockheed Martian Aerospace in Denver is the Orion Space capsule is not meant to save Astronauts/Cosmonauts, it is meant to stop all the little frozen pieces of Crap that humans produce from floating around the Earth as they flush the toilet. And they will bury all the waste in the mines in Utah were they were going to put all the used fuel from the US's fission reactors. I still liked the mid 1990's Venture Star (a all in one spaceship) or my replacement idea for the shuttle after January 29th 1986. I spend 4 months researching alternatives and came up with the idea of CABLE CAR to the STARS, few weeks later OMNI Magazine had the same idea, and I learned this idea first came from Sci-Fi author Arthur C. Clark in 1946. So my idea had already been presented some 40 years before.
Spy satellites can still get launched, now we can use all that saved tax money from ending a civilian space program to increase welfare payments. ;-)
I do use humor at times, but none was intended in my statement. I myself am welfare for life. No thanks to a Drunk driver back in 1989, my skull was cracked open and all but 17 of my bones broken or cracked. In 1990 my medical bills excided the then limit of $1.33 million so the Insurance company was able to terminate my care and hand it to the Government. I use to be a self educated and employed Computer Programmer/System installer for small businesses. As of 1990 if I get employment I am ejected from welfare and become liable for the $1.86 million they have spent saving my life. This is nothing compared to the $3000 toilet seats they've wasted, but in reality of that money $25 bought a seat and the rest went to a black project. Some thing like what Stealth use to be. My brother who is an Electrical Engineer for Lockheed Martian has worked on some, or as he states 'may have' and helped design the Orion Capsule that will be used as the rescue escape craft for the ISS. But that is not the name the people that designed it uses, more like the "Chitboat", it really starts with S but I used local accent spelling to clean it up. The best solution to the Shuttles retirement is to remove the politics and the best way to do that is make all spending on space exploration and education become a non-taxable expendature. Thus the Aerospace companys can spend what they want freely and all profits are free also. As a result the Government has no say on Humanities evolution into space and off this blue rock that orbits the sun Sol. Who out there wants a Tax and Profit free Space Program. This way the poweres of politics will not embed design flaws to give a Polition a vote. It's a nice idea but I'll give the Flat Tax idea a better chance of happening. But we all can dream.
Joke, ... it was meant as a joke. Didn't Mark Twain teach us ... loss of humor can lead to extinction?
From your desire for bigger welfare payments how would you have survived before the 20th Century. Humanity (and all mammals) need freedom to explore and new territorial space to have domain over and concur or rule. If mammals do not then rabies begins to form in the metal attitude of the persona of a indiviguals contentiousness. This mental problem can today best be described as the state of Terrorism. If you had a hard time comprehending that here is a simple reason we need to physically explore space. What would happen if humanity was limited to just living on the Planet Earth, and one day a massive cunck of a ultra dense neutron star were to collide with Earth. The reaction to the planet would resemble a pellet gun shooting a light bulb. And if you can not figure that out, it means death or extinction. I know the odds are slim to none but do you wish to take a chance. And just because we did not nuke ourselfs to death in the cold war, it does not change the odds any either way. You need to leaern to support your self and not depend on others to do it for you. Just think 13 Trillion in debt this year and next 14.5 pretty soon we'll hit the bottom. Space may cost money but at least were heading up not down the evolution ladder.
The shuttle has provided mankind with benefits that can't be calculated, begin with Hubble and end with the GPS system. It's also filled us with horror, twice. It's been a great ride, NASA!
Per Wikipedia, Hubble went up on STS-31 in 1990. I don't believe any GPS satelites were delivered or serviced by any shuttle missions, and the concept predates the shuttle program. One of the first things I recall coming out of the shuttle program, was zero inertia surgical tools, adapted from the tools developed for inflight use. This was in a book I got in 1982 about the shuttle program. Check out http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/shuttle.htm for many innovations from the space programs.