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Posted: 5/14/2002 7:17:58 AM EDT
[url]http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/12/technology/ebusiness/12NASA.html[/url] For Old Parts, NASA Boldly Goes . . . on eBay May 12, 2002 For Old Parts, NASA Boldly Goes . . . on eBay By WILLIAM J. BROAD NASA needs parts no one makes anymore. So to keep the shuttles flying, the space agency has begun trolling the Internet - including Yahoo and eBay - to find replacement parts for electronic gear that would strike a home computer user as primitive. Officials say the agency recently bought a load of outdated medical equipment so it could scavenge Intel 8086 chips - a variant of those chips powered I.B.M.'s first personal computer, in 1981. When the first shuttle roared into space that year, the 8086 played a critical role, at the heart of diagnostic equipment that made sure the shuttle's twin booster rockets were safe for blastoff. Today, more than two decades later, booster testing still uses 8086 chips, which are increasingly scarce. NASA plans to create a $20 million automated checking system, with all new hardware and software. In the meantime, it is hoarding 8086's so that a failed one does not ground the nation's fleet of aging spaceships. The same is true of other obsolescent parts, dozens of them. "It's like a scavenger hunt," said Jeff Carr, a spokesman for the United Space Alliance, the Houston company that runs the shuttle fleet. "It takes some degree of heroics." Troves of old parts that NASA uncovers and buys, officials said, are used not in the shuttles themselves but in flotillas of servicing and support gear. Such equipment is found, and often repaired, at major shuttle contractors around the nation, as well as at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the shuttles blast into orbit. That old computer in your basement? NASA is not interested. The agency and its contractors want stockpiles of old parts to buy in bulk for repairing old machinery and building inventories of spare parts. Recent acquisitions include outdated computer chips, circuit boards and eight-inch floppy-disk drives. "One missing piece of hardware can ruin our day," said Mike Renfroe, director of shuttle logistics planning for the United Space Alliance at the Kennedy Space Center. Recently, Mr. Renfroe said, his team swept the Internet to find an obsolete circuit board used in testing the shuttle's master timing unit, which keeps the spaceships' computers in sync. None could be found. A promising lead turned false. Finally, a board was found. It cost $500. "That's very inexpensive," Mr. Renfroe said. "To hire a design engineer for even one week would cost more than that." NASA's growing reliance on antiquated parts is in some ways a measure of how far its star has fallen. In the early 1960's, the agency played a leading role in founding the chip industry. Its mass purchase of the world's first integrated circuits set the fledgling business on the road to profitability. -- continued --
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 7:19:29 AM EDT
In turn, the expensive chips let NASA achieve feats of miniaturization that put advanced satellites into orbit and men on the moon. Thousands went into the lunar lander, making its guidance computer "smaller, lighter, faster, more power-efficient and more reliable than any other computer in existence," as T. R. Reid wrote in "The Chip" (Simon & Schuster, 1984). Today, NASA is increasingly a victim of its own success. Civilian electronic markets now move so fast, and the shuttles are so old, that NASA and its contractors must scramble to find substitutes. In the past, NASA procurement experts would go through old catalogs and call suppliers to try to find parts. Today, the hunt has become easier with Internet search engines and sites like eBay, which auctions nearly everything. Mr. Carr of the United Space Alliance said that when the government bought complex systems like jet fighters, the contracts often had provisions that called for routine upgrades and improvements as a way to limit obsolescence. But the shuttles, with a design lifetime of a decade, never had that kind of built-in refurbishment plan. The winged spaceships are to fly until 2012. But NASA is researching whether their retirement date can be pushed back to 2020. For parts hunters, it could be a long haul. The shuttles, Mr. Renfroe of the United Space Alliance noted in an awed tone, "could go for 40 or 50 years." Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 8:42:56 AM EDT
If they want to keep 'em flying, they're going to have to do the same thing the Air Force has done with B-52's - upgrade. The problem will be gettin money for upgrades. Just like the military, it's easier to get money for flashy new "systems" than it is for dull "maintenance." "Maintenance" doesn't bring pork-barrel jobs like "systems" do.
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 9:37:41 AM EDT
The problem with the space shuttle is that they are try to keep it flying far longer then it's design life. NASA is stuck, they have to have the space shuttle to go to the Space Station, and the Space Station has eaten up all the money to build a next generation RLV. It's a viscous cycle that in the bends the program over and does it dry, it's simply not a good situation. Off course if the space station would have been built like NASA designed it, launched in three pieces by a shuttle derived HLV, the space station would have been more capable and cost half. Thank Al Gore for the redesign to it's current over budget, delayed, international form, he ordered the redesign in 1995-1996. Again, it's NASA's messed up thinking, they have to have the station to justify the shuttle, they have to have the shuttle to justify the station. If they were smart and wanted to score a public relations coup, they should invest a measly $50 billion, and go to Mars, for $100 billion spread over 20 years we could establish a permanent and expanding presence on the red planet. Or alternatively in the next decade for an investment roughly the same we could develop and build a space elevator and make the cost of access to space cheaper then a plane ticket. Of course either of those goals requires logic, and thus will not be done. NASA is in trouble and needs new leadership badly, not a bean counter with no vision like Keeife, or whatever his name is.
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 9:54:10 AM EDT
Hmmmm..I wonder if the Space Shuttles on board computers uses the DOS Operating System... if so..at least it is more stable (doesn't crash as much) than Windows..
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 10:08:58 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Bostonterrier97: DOS Operating System...
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DOSOS? Never heard of that one. [;D]
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 10:17:59 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Bostonterrier97: Hmmmm..I wonder if the Space Shuttles on board computers uses the DOS Operating System... if so..at least it is more stable (doesn't crash as much) than Windows..
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Microsoft still supports DOS. I think they are up to something like version 8.
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 11:19:42 AM EDT
Originally Posted By warlord:
Originally Posted By Bostonterrier97: Hmmmm..I wonder if the Space Shuttles on board computers uses the DOS Operating System... if so..at least it is more stable (doesn't crash as much) than Windows..
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Microsoft still supports DOS. I think they are up to something like version 8.
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Only if you count 95, 98. But true old fashion DOS ended at 6.22 [:(] Triva: Orginal DOS 6.22 disk used a non-stardard format to stop piracy. You couldn't use the built in DISKCOPY for archival purposes.
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 12:11:25 PM EDT
Wait a sec! Maybe there really isnt an Area 51, NASA just started that rumor to cover up the fact that everyone there is an ebay addict. Kharn
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 12:53:26 PM EDT
Link Posted: 5/14/2002 1:09:13 PM EDT
The space shuttle is an enormus waste of money. They could launch stuff into orbit much cheaper with rockets. The whole idea of the space shuttle was that you could use it over and over again. Well when maintainence on a vehicle you can reuse costs more then a disposable vehicle, which makes more sense ?
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