Machine Design

Backtalk 1/22/2009

For sale: Space Shuttles

NASA is looking for a buyer (organizations, institutions, or museums) for the three Space Shuttles currently in service — the Atlantis, Endeavour, and Discovery. The Shuttles are expected to be retired by September 2010 and NASA wants them out of their hands no later than May 31, 2012.

The cost to detoxify the fuel systems, preparation for final display, and a ferry-flight delivery to any U.S. destination (must have an accessible 8,000 to 10,000-ft runway) will be passed on to the purchaser. Presently, that cost is $42 million, $6 million of which goes toward delivery. (NASA’s Web site lists the cost of the Space Shuttle Endeavour at $1.7 billion.)

The liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen main engines will be removed prior to delivery, but the purchaser may be able to attain them separately (they cost $400,000 to $800,000 each).

Presently, NASA wants to see whether potential recipient organizations can bear the full cost of making the vehicles safe for public placement.

NASA does have at least one preferred recipient, the National Air and Space Museum. The remaining two Shuttles would be placed in storage at the John F. Kennedy Space Center until final placement decisions are made.

Red-light cameras

The National Motorists Association (NMA) Foundation is trying to discourage communities who practice the use of shortened yellow caution lights at intersections with red-light ticket cameras as a way to generate revenue.

The Stop Short Yellow Lights Project ( will identify and publicize locations with short yellow-light timing. The driving force behind the effort will be everyday citizens. People near the cameras will time the length of the yellow light. If it appears to be dangerously short, the NMA will dispatch a trained, objective traffic engineer to confirm the traffic light timing.

Once confirmed, findings will be published and local officials encouraged to take appropriate corrective action. If necessary, legal action may be taken.

Another objective of the project is to promote state legislation that requires proper minimum standards for all yellow-light durations. Finally, the group hopes to eliminate shortened yellow lights for any purpose, including revenue generation for corporate or governmental interests.

Increasing yellow-light timing can have positive effects at troublesome intersections (a 1-sec increase can reduce violations by 50%). When lights are properly timed, they accommodate drivers’ normal perception and reaction times, as well as the time it takes to safely stop or proceed through an intersection. Deliberately shortening the light duration significantly increases the number of red-light violations and collisions, and thereby increases citations and revenue.

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