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NASA Engineers Suggest Keeping Shuttle, Scrapping Fuel Tank
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HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - NASA engineers, having been encouraged by administrator Michael Griffin to 'think outside the box', have come up with a solution to the aging Space Shuttle fleet's foam and ice build-up issues that have led to their grounding. "It's the classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees," stated Emil von Braun, chief engineer of the project to get the shuttles flying again, "We knew the tank weighed so much, so we needed this much fuel to get it off the ground, and so much more for the fuel itself, and then the orbiter, and so on. No one ever asked if the whole process was a net gain of lift. Until now."

"It's the classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees."
-- Emil von Braun, chief engineer
Fully fueled, the silo-shaped external fuel tank weighs a staggering 800 tons, nearly a third the entire weight of the Apollo 11 mission at launch. In contrast, the shuttle itself weighs only 85 tons. "Computer simulations show that once we strip the tank and the fuel out of the equation, the solid rocket boosters alone give us enough thrust to achieve orbit," explained von Braun, "Though of course we will still need the orbiter's engines for maneuvering, and de-orbit. And according to our compliance engineers, safety considerations will require the addition of a third booster, to ensure the vehicle reaches abort altitude despite a booster failure. Even at that though, we have a much lower at-launch weight, and a far less hazardous launch environment."

Despite simulations and the confidence of the engineers, the plan is not being met on all sides with acceptance. Albert Davis was one of the original shuttle designers. His team was responsible for the 2-boosters and shuttle-engines launch design. "We weren't blind to the weight of the tank and the fuel," he declared angrily, "But you're trying to make the Statue of Liberty fly. You don't do that with a plastic propeller and a big rubber band, you do it with rocket fuel and lots of it. If they think they can pull it off without it, I'd love to see them try. Unmanned, if possible," he added coolly.

The entire point may be moot, since the shuttle fleet is slated to be retired in 5 years. Estimates show that the shuttle redesign will take no less than 2 years, with an additional year of retooling and manufacturing. By then, NASA hopes to have a replacement for the shuttle. "Of course, we've been hoping for a replacement for some time now," admitted Griffin, "And nothing so far has been adequate. If we can breathe some more life into these birds, I would be all for doing that."
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