Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Shuttle Program: I won't go too far into this, since I spent some time on it back when, but the shuttle program shows that NASA is stuck in neutral. Imagine if, in the early days of heavier-than-air flight, we were captivated by Charles Lindbergh's famous achievement, but then spent 25 years just repeating and perfecting his Atlantic flight. Instead we continued to go higher, faster, farther, with more people on board. Air travel went commercial, though at first it was only for the very wealthy; it quickly democratized, though. Thus, 100 years from Kitty Hawk, flight is an everyday thing. But it has been 42 years since the first manned space flight, and we seem to have decided that we're happy to orbit the earth indefinitely. A good friend who is a buff on all this says we'd go to Mars if we could, but that it's too dangerous. I've always thought that sounded like an excuse, though. We went to the moon in a tin-foil capsule running on a computer that couldn't keep up with your PDA today. Are we just more risk averse? Probably, since there is no "space race" to motivate the risk.

The shuttle program has done its bit, and I don't mean to be slagging it. It's simply that we must decide what we want from NASA (or a private space program, for that matter). Sending the shuttle up to the space station and back every few months is a nice way to keep a space program without having to think about it. If that's what we decide we want, so be it; but we'll end up as the Branniff Airlines of the space world while someone else (the Chinese, or this guy, probably) is building the Concorde.

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