Last Endeavour Shuttle flight

May 16, 2011 • 10:06 am

by Matthew Cobb

Endeavour has just left on its last mission and this fantastic photo was taken by Stefanie Gordon (follow her on Twitter – @Stefmara) and posted on Twitpic. She was in a plane as the shuttle passed by and took this picture of the shuttle bursting through the cloud cover and charging upwards towards space. Gives you a real impression of the amount of energy involved to throw that metal box and its frail cargo (which includes a bobtail squid) into orbit. We covered the Discovery shuttle’s last launch here. Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, which was destroyed 25 years ago. You can watch a video of the bit before this – Endeavour taking off and going through the cloud – here.

12 thoughts on “Last Endeavour Shuttle flight

    1. Last voyage for Endeavour, next to last launch for the shuttle program, the last launch scheduled in July.

  1. Gives you a real impression of the amount of energy involved to throw that metal box and its frail cargo (which includes a bobtail squid) into orbit.

    Glad I’m not the only one to think of things like that.

    Imagine you’ve got one ton of gravel to move ten miles away. How long do you think it would take you to do the job by yourself? A gallon of gasoline is all you need to do it in fifteen minutes.

    The next time you drive your car somewhere, think of what it would take to get that hunk of steel moving at that speed without benefit of gasoline. Multiply that effort by the number of cars on the road, and you’ll begin to understand what really sets H. sapiens apart from other species on the planet.

    Petroleum is a force multiplier like none ever even vaguely encountered before.

    Now, understand that we’ve used up all the cheap, easy-to-get-to petroleum. Long gone are the says when a bit of carelessness with a pickaxe would set off a Texas gusher; instead, we’re now driven to drill wells several miles deep with wellheads located a mile below the surface of the ocean. Sure, there’s plenty of oil left underground…but boy oh boy oh boy is it gonna cost a pretty penny to get to it. Some of those reserves will even require more energy to extract than they’ll produce when burned.

    The oil age is coming to a close, whether we want it to or not. We have a perfect opportunity right now to use the last of our petroleum reserves to bootstrap our civilization into other energy sources. I just hope we choose to do so, rather than continue to pretend that the party will go on forever.

    Me? I’m picking contractors for a photovoltaic array to cover the roof. By late summer or fall, I’ll be a net producer of electricity. Sure, it’ll be a significant capital investment…but it’ll result in at least a 11% rate of return on that investment. It’d be even better if I capped the size of the array to the limit of the local utility rebates, but I’d rather lock in my electric rates today. If you’ve got a few grand sitting in a bank account earning 0.4% interest, you’d be so much better putting it into even a small PV system it’s not even funny.

    Even if you don’t have the cash, you’re almost guaranteed to do much better by using a home equity loan to finance the thing. Interest rates are well below 5%. Your savings on electricity can easily result in a 15% annual rate of return with PV — plus, your home value will be disproportionately increased.

    Really, I’m amazed that everybody isn’t jumping on this bandwagon right now. For individuals, it’s a real no-brainer.



    1. Buying a house in the coming year and first thing on the giant list o’ things to do once bought is to hunt down the best deal on a photovoltaic array.

      I’m also somewhat amazed this isn’t a more popular option — though, even with math done and savings expected, it’s still a (prohibitively) large outlay at the start. I’ve also heard that they’re somewhat finicky and surprisingly inefficient — hence, I suppose, having to plaster one’s roof with them — so that may play some role in it.

      In any case, wish more people who have the dough would take this route…

      1. First, if you’re in Arizona, I’ll be more than happy to pass on my research on contractors to you.

        And, yes, it’s a big capital expense…but the return on investment is such that you still come out way ahead of the market — let alone savings accounts — when you add in the overhead of loan maintenance to pay for the capital. That is, you can get a loan for (say, worst case) 5% to pay for the array, but the array will pay you back at well over 10%.

        A concrete example with pessimistic round numbers: take out a $10,000 loan at 5% to pay for a PV array that generates enough electricity to reduce your bill by $1,000 / year. The first year, you’ll pay $500 in interest, resulting in a net return on your investment of $500. And, in this market, you as a consumer simply can’t get anywhere near $500 annually on a $10,000 financial instrument.

        So, revise your closing sentiment to read, “wish more people who have the dough and / or the credit would take this route,” and I’ll agree with you wholeheartedly.

        As to “finicky,” that’s the polar opposite of everything I know about. They’re solid state electronic devices, mostly made of tempered glass, with no moving parts. Recommended maintenance is to hose off the dust every couple months or so.

        They’re also more efficient at converting insolation to electricity than plants are — much more efficient. I’ll be putting a ~6 KW array on my roof, covering a space of about 450 square feet. I can’t imagine any sort of crop which could produce anywhere near that kind of energy in such a small space. Yeah, it’ll cover the south half of my roof — but so what? They’ll also shade the south half of my roof far more effectively than an awning or trees possibly could.

        The only real concern — and it’s well published and even factored into the graphs the contractors include on the proposals — is that they become less efficient with time. After 20-30 years, they’ll only perform at about 80% of their original efficiency. However, in 20-30 years, you’ll need a whole new roof (if your is asphalt shingle) and, by then, you might not be able to buy anything other than combination shingle / solar cells. And you’ll also have tripled (or more, depending on rising electricity costs) your initial investment.

        One final point. Yes, I’m in Arizona, and there’s nowhere better in the country for solar — and not many places in the world can top it. But there isn’t anywhere in the continental US that’s bad for solar. It’s still a good financial investment even in the Pacific Northwest — it’s just not as good as in Arizona, is all.



        1. Thank you for the kind offer, but I’m much further north. House-to-be is somewhere in the region of Ottawa. Lucky you, in Arizona — generally and for PV array purposes!

          Thanks, too, for correcting what’s clearly a misconception re: the efficiency, etc. of these things. I think perhaps the folks I’ve heard this from didn’t quite understand the information they’d been given or [insert something more/less charitable].

          I’d happily amend that last sentence — it will most likely, after all, be a loan for me. It absolutely does make sense, even with conservative estimates, to invest in a PV array, be it cash on hand or a loan. In colder places where this can mean “free” heat, too, it pays even more.

          Here in Ontario it’s especially baffling that more folks haven’t invested in PV arrays. They have a number of incentives (tax and other) for this and I believe will even pay you for any surplus power you generate.

          To be fair, I suppose I have seen an increase in the number of PV arrays in rural areas here in the last year or so, though not what you’d expect given the incentives actually on offer. This is one bandwagon I can’t wait to hop on.

          Good luck with the project!

          1. Arizona is a real mixed bag.

            There’re some gorgeous forests in the state, but the trees have sharp spines instead of leaves. It never really gets cold, but we’ll go months at a time with daily highs in the triple digits — and even weeks at a time with the overnight lows in the 90s. (The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff up north are at a much higher elevation and probably have a drier version of Ontario’s climate.) Tempe (where I live) is a reasonably liberal (for America) college town, but the state as a whole is as red as they come (as in, McCain is our senior senator, and Jon Kyl — the junior — is one of the most conservative senators in congress). The guy who just did a fantastic job on the drywall in the laundry room remodel is an immigrant…and he probably has stories about being harassed by cops asking for his “papers, please.” And you really, really, really don’t want to be without medical insurance in this state.

            I imagine surplus power in Ontario is probably treated much the same way it is in Arizona. We have two options: either net metering, in which each KWh you produce in excess is credited back to you for a free KWh when you need more than your array can supply (such as at night or on cloudy days), or a simple buyback. You really want to go with net metering, because the utility will sell you electricity at retail rates (about $0.12 / KWh right now) but only buy it back at wholesale rates (about $0.04 / KWh). With SRP’s (the local utility) net metering, surpluses are carried over from one month to the next until the April billing cycle, where they cut you a check for the excess (again at the wholesale rate).

            If you’re looking to maximize your rate of return, you want to get the biggest array possible up to (but not beyond) whatever incentive limits or 100% offset of your consumption, whichever is smaller. However, it can still make a lot of sense to accept a lower absolute rate of return in exchange for a bigger system that provides room for future expansion and the degradation of the system over time — that’s what I’m doing.

            So, also to you — may you soon know the joys of running your electricity meter backwards!



  2. My brother-in-law, a fellow skeptic, said this, “I’m calling a little bit of shenanigans on this. You trying to tell me they let a civilian plane in that air space during a shuttle launch? That close? Maybe I guess, but that would surprise me. Now, if that was taken from a military jet, securing the airspace around a shuttle launch, that seems more plausible. But a civilian plane that close to a launch? What’s the range on that picture? 100 miles? 500 miles? Hard to tell up above the clouds like that, but I’m sure the perspective is skewed.”
    They have to secure airspace during a launch, right? So how would you address this skepticism??

Leave a Reply