To Boldly Go ….

A Texan neighborhood gathers around Columbia's debris in 2002.

Editorial: You can just look at the photo above and skip this post if you want.

I have been receiving many messages — mostly negative, obviously, because only people who are seriously pissed about something bother to write complaints, although i appreciate the polite tone of most, if not all, of emails — regarding my criticism of “NASA”.

Unless you have been living under a rock, or doing something more productive than reading a blog (which is more likely), you would have noticed that I have been posting space photos lately. My commentaries accompanying most of them tend to point out shortcomings of the space shuttle program.

May be I wasn’t really clear; may be people just skim, but the readers miss the point. My criticism was solely targeted towards the space shuttle (and yesterday, the ISS), not against NASA and other spacefaring programs in general. I think Hubble was great (btw, it could have been delivered without space shuttles). I think Mars Rovers performed admirably. I don’t think NASA’s budget is bloated, but time, effort and money it devoted to space shuttle was unnecessary and unwise.

Unlike Apollo, Saturn or Gemini, the shuttles failed to deliver. Everywhere else, projects of such scale would be accompanied by failure standards; but the shuttle didn’t appear to have any, for if it had, it would have broken many of them (see the first post). As much as I hate to type this, I must admit the failure of space shuttle is the failure of capitalism and politics. Aerospace contractors loved that the shuttle launches cost so much. Boeing and Lockheed Martin which control the shuttle business through an Orwellian sounding consortium called the United Space Alliance, consistently lobbied against unmanned rockets as cheaper shuttle replacements. They were also helped by congressional delegations from Texas, Ohio, Florida and Alabama, where shuttle-flight-centers are based.

There are two additional issues I would like to discuss here; many point out that military budget far outpaces NASA’s. That’s true and I am no fan of huge defense budgets either (it’s another area where Orwellian consortia thrive) but this is a straw man argument. Secondly, many point out sidebenefits of space programs. Assuming that the same amount of budget that went to NASA had gone to other science projects, we can delve into hypotheticals. But I am not going to. This article which discusses myths and realities surrounding those sidebenefits will do a better job than I would.


11 thoughts on “To Boldly Go ….

  1. I haven’t been reading your editorials this week – I’ll catch up later. However, I agree with the essential point. The Shuttle program isn’t worth mourning. What did we gain from it? I mourn the lackluster approach of present (and 1980s+) NASA. Why have we effectively abandoned lunar options? Why are we pumping our cash in the search for life when we could be focusing on extending the reach of *our* life in space? I’m saddened by the close of the Shuttle program only because I fear that American space programs will flounder further.

    However: we must clarify that it is a failure of capitalism AND politics, adding emphasis on the combination of the two. Capitalism isn’t at fault; capitalism tied to government is. Federal bureaucracy does a poor job of shopping for competitive prices. Exclusive contracts get signed. Little serious oversight is upheld on cost management and resource usage. Things get bloated and unsustainable.

    I want to see the overwhelming majority of NASA privatized. Keep the military-core. Remove any regulatory hindrances on private space operations. It’s time to free our engineers and creatives for a new wave of competitive, innovative space programs not tied to our bloaty federal bureaucracy.

    Thank you for taking the time to publish your thoughts re: the Shuttle/etc. Not many are really discussing it.


    But unlike you, I go even further, yes, into saying that space exploration is a waste at this time (and all times prior), as we have MANY more issues and problems going on DOWN HERE that we SHOULD BE allocating funds towards. I say this for all nations.

    It’s simply not necessary.

    • WOW! YOU. REALLY. KNOW. HOW. TO. USE. CAPS LOCK. I’d point out the benefits of space exploration, but you’re obviously such a moron that you wouldn’t understand. Perhaps we can chat once you’ve left the comfy confines of your mother’s basement.

      • Hmmm…. Moron. Never gotten that one ever in life, even in my straight A master’s degree program at Hopkins (nor as a Sister School undergrad (and if you don’t know what a Sister School is, that FURTHER (<— hey! caps lock! for emphasis!) proves my point).

        Eric, you 'Sir', need to obtain one of those things most people call a 'life'…

        (Maybe you could rocket off into that space you so love to find other forms of life who may be able to tolerate your boorishly sophomoric and lame commentary.)

        Flamers suck ass.

  3. I agree that the Shuttle program, while spectacular, has clearly not lived up to its original expectations. I would also say the same about the International Space Station. I am a huge space fan and NASA supporter, but massive expenditures of money vs. modest benefit cannot be overlooked.

    By the way, on your picture caption, Space Shuttle Columbia went down in February, 2003.

  4. I agree that it is unfortunate that people will write first out of being pissed and much more rarely out of positive motives. Myself included. But lack of feedback is often a sign of you doing something right.

    Having a healthy debate, and differing of opinions is never a bad thing. As long as both sides are willing to adjust viewpoints when valid points are presented. And you do bring very valid points against the success and the justification of the Space Shuttle program.

    It is hard to say that the space shuttle program was not affected by NASA’s budget.You bring out a good point, if capitalism hadn’t gotten in the way of the shuttle program/flights to space it only stands to reason that the same budget restraints played a factor in the frequency of shuttle flights and usage.

    I don’t believe comparing the NASA budget against the Defense budget is a straw man argument though. It is just the largest difference in budget. Both are funded by the government, thus both are funded by the public. I think it is fair that the public would like to see a better proportion of spending on peaceful/exploratory ventures. Especially since the defense budget is overblown by commercial pursuits and misspending. I would much rather have my money blown on trying to get to mars than try to forcibly “install democracy” in multiple places around the world.

    The intentions and accomplishments of the shuttle dont match up but what venture or exploration ever does? Its a rare when it does. That the shuttle did fall short of its promises can’t be denied. Its the discoveries along the way that can still maintain value in the venture, though.

  5. “Unlike Apollo, Saturn or Gemini, the shuttles failed to deliver.”

    Deliver what exactly?

    Apollo/Saturn and the Gemini programs were all about being the first – first in orbit, first space walk, first on moon etc. They achieved these at phenomenal expense but after that, what?

    The technology used during those flights was completely unsuitable for going any further. They could not support long-term needs of space flight to Mars or living on the Moon and NASA lacked the knowledge about to develop such craft.

    The Shuttle were designed to be reusable vehicles that deliver humans and cargo into low earth orbit. They achieved that goal. At its peak, shuttles landed and re-launched within eight weeks. The size of the shuttle allowed for much longer flights that Apollo did (17 days in orbit) and allowed for much great flexibility in missions. You may of been able to launch the Hubble with disposal rockets but you would not of been able to fix it. Without the Shuttle, the Hubble would of produced not a single valid image.

    The Shuttle did not fail in its mission. NASA, perhaps, over-used it for missions best suited for disposable craft and the Government should replaced it after the Columbia disaster but this was not the fault of the Shuttle.

    Whilst the Shuttle has not set the headlines like ‘first to the moon’ it has taught us a vast amount about the challengers of making space flight routine and is a vital stepping stone to Mars and beyond.

  6. Dear Delusional Coward,
    I’m tired of rolling over in my grave. Please stop using my name to support your abominable inaccuracies.
    Eric Blair aka George Orwell

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