Shuttle Only Lift For Space Station

Continuing my thoughts on the Space Shuttle...

I understand there is a lot of concern and pressure to getting the shuttle flying again, and often. Because it needs to be involved in a large number of missions to assemble the international Space Station.

The reasoning is that the shuttle is the only launch platform that can take the pieces up to the station, and they want to get the station finished before the shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010.

which makes me ask 2 questions: is it just the size, or is it because you need astronauts with the robot arm to assemble the parts?

The space station already has an arm, and astronauts.

Based on size, I would think there must be other ways to get the pieces up there. Some had been previously sent on Russian rockets.
But even if the pieces are too big for Russian rockets, or any other rockets around, it seems to me that there is another choice...
create a simple rocket based on the shuttle. No crew area. No wings. Just a payload bay, launch engines and a few maneuvering thrusters. Use the same engines as on the shuttle now, but perhaps make them removable so that they can come back in the crewed shuttle bay. Let the rest of it burn up, just like they do with the liquid fuel tank. Or maybe even anchor them up there for external storage. And they might even provide some protection against micro-meteorites and space junk. They could use the same solid rocket boosters and launch system already in place.
You could send up a number of the modules in these cargo rockets - then send up a crewed missing to install 3 or 4 modules. They could bring back the rocket engines for another set of cargo rockets.

Just my $.02. I guess I'm up to at least four cents now on the space shuttle :)

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