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NASA Space

Remembering NASA Disasters With an Eye Toward the Future 273

Posted by timothy
from the those-categories-aren't-the-only-possibilities dept.
mattnyc99 writes "This next week marks the anniversary of three sad days in NASA's history: three astronauts died in a capsule fire testing for Apollo 1 exactly 42 years ago today, then the Challenger went down 23 years ago tomorrow, followed by the Columbia disaster six years ago this Super Bowl Sunday. Amidst all this sadness, though, too many average Americans take our space program for granted. Amidst reconsiderations of NASA priorities from the Obama camp as the Shuttle nears retirement, then, the brilliant writer Chris Jones offers a great first-hand account in the new issue of Esquire — an impassioned argument against the impending end of our manned space program. In which camp do you fall: mourner or rocketeer?"
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Remembering NASA Disasters With an Eye Toward the Future

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  • January ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kiaser Zohsay (20134) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:06PM (#26625737)

    ... is a bad month to be an astronaut.

  • Oversensitivity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtev (133871) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:08PM (#26625773) Journal
    Ok, so we've lost a few people in space exploration. You know what, that's what happens, that's what they signed up for, and... that's healthy. What's not healty is how oversensitive the Public seems to be to these losses. Yes, the shuttle is aging, yes we need a new syste, but we shouldn't abandon manned space flight. Without manned space flight, how will we ever escape the Earth? And sooner or later, the Earth is going to want to be rid of us. Or the sun will, and Earth won't have much choice in the matter.
    • by Jabbrwokk (1015725) <grant.j.warkentin@nosPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:29PM (#26626209) Homepage Journal

      The problem isn't that space exploration is dangerous - everyone knows that. The problem is that space exploration requires a lot of money for no return other than glory and prestige.

      The only good quote from that Esquire article:

      Space demands sack. In a country that couldn't figure out how to mortgage a suburban family home, Mars suddenly seemed a long way off.

      There's no cold war driving the shuttle program anymore, so it's over. And after the moon landing, and robotic probes sent to other planets, we all realized something - space is really fucking huge. It tales a long time to get anywhere, and costs a huge amount of money to send even a tiny amount of stuff out of this atmosphere. People hear about crazy plans to send people to Mars and ask "Why bother?" I tend to agree with them.

      On the other hand, the space station project [wikipedia.org] is something that makes sense. It's a baby step, it's something that (ideally) allows all interested countries with space agencies and some cash to participate and could someday evolve into a shipyard where exploration probes - and even manned craft - could be built and launched without having to burn a lot of rocket fuel escaping earth's gravity. Yeah, I've probably been watching too much Star Trek. But if the public could be made to understand the value of this program maybe interest would revive in space again.

      The age of Asimovian idealism is over. It's the Pragmatic Age. If people can see the value of investing in space, they'll do it. But no one is buying dreams anymore.

      • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:45PM (#26626495) Journal

        This should be the number one objective of ALL space programs on earth:

        http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070919_sps_airforce.html [space.com]

        If it's going to scale out, it should have solar energy collectors in a solar orbit. They should beam the energy to one of three geostationary satellite floating above the Earth. Those satellites should beam the energy to receiving stations in Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia, at which point they should be fed into the global power grid.

        This would allow us to increase production for hundreds of generations of mankind, simply by adding additional solar energy collectors.

        It won't be easy, but it only has to be done once.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Big Smirk (692056)

        How does a 70" Plasma TV fit into a 'Pragmatic Age'

        Whittle it down and we all should either be working on food production or health care. Anything else would be less than Pragmatic. I suppose you could argue that we should also work on entertainment for those in the health care and food production business.

        However, I believe there is a need to expand the knowledge of mankind. This keeps us away from subsistence living and gives us a purpose beyond mere existence.

        Besides, all that money spent on NASA is p

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        This quote from a piece by aerospace engineer Rand Simberg from a couple years ago lays out the issue well, I think:

        http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=15913 [transterrestrial.com]

        Which really gets to the point of the matter. Our national reaction to the loss of a shuttle crew, viewed by the proverbial anthropologistâ(TM)s Martian (or perhaps better yet, a Vulcan), would seem irrational. After all, we risk, and lose, people in all kinds of endeavors, every day. We send soldiers out to brave IEDs and RPGs in Iraq. We watch firefighters go into burning buildings. Even in more mundane, relatively safe activities, people die â" in mines, in construction, in commercial fishing. Why is it that we get so upset when we lose astronauts, who are ostensibly exploring the final frontier, arguably as dangerous a job as they come? One Internet wag has noted that, âoe...to judge by the fuss that gets made when a few of them die, astronauts clearly are priceless national assets â" exactly the sort of people you should not be risking in an experimental-class vehicle.â

        What upset people so much about the deaths in Columbia, I think, was not that they died, but that they died in such a seemingly trivial yet expensive pursuit. They werenâ(TM)t exploring the universeâ"they were boring a multi-hundred-thousand-mile-long hole in the vacuum a couple hundred miles above the planet, with childrenâ(TM)s science-fair experiments. We were upset because space isnâ(TM)t important, and we considered the astronautsâ(TM) lives more important than the mission. If they had been exploring another hostile, alien planet, and died, we would have been saddened, but not shocked â" it happens in the movies all the time. If they had been on a mission to divert an asteroid, preventing it from hitting the planet (a la the movie Armageddon, albeit with more correspondence to the reality of physics), we would have mourned, but also been inured to their loss as true national heroes in the service of their country (and planet). It would be recognized that what they were doing was of national importance, just as is the job of every soldier and Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan.

        What those who criticize Dr. Griffinâ(TM)s decision to move forward with the launch are implicitly saying is that the astronautsâ(TM) lives, and the vehicle, arenâ(TM)t worth the mission, and that they have, in fact, infinite value relative to it. Every month that we delay the return to flight costs hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, with an army of shuttle technicians sitting around, their skills getting rusty (which brings its own risks). Moreover, no matter how much more time and money is spent in trying to reduce the risk, âoesafeâ will always be a relative, not an absolute term. If completing the station, if finishing this particular mission, is worth anything, itâ(TM)s worth doing sooner, rather than later, so we can sooner free up the resources for more adventurous activities that are (or at least should be) perceived as being worth the risk of life. Paul Dietz, a frequent commenter to my blog, has noted that if we really wanted to indicate national seriousness about opening up the space frontier, we would, starting right now, with great fanfare, set up a dedicated national cemetery for those who would be expected to lose their lives in that long-term endeavor, and provide it with lots of acreage.

        Those who fear to risk the lives of willing, volunteer astronauts are really saying that there is nothing to be done in space that is worth the risk. This is, of course, a symptom of the fact that even with the announcement of the presidentâ(TM)s new policy two and a half years ago, we still have never really had a national debate, or decided what weâ(TM)re trying to accomplish on the high frontier. Until we do, decisions will continue to be driven by pork, politics, and emotion that have little to do with actually becoming a spacefaring nation, the âoemissionâ will continue to not be as important as those who are asked to carry it out, and we will continue to make little progress, at great cost, with our federal space program.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JWman (1289510)
        It is truly sad that the space program is not at the forefront anymore. Lets consider the cost...
        NASA 2008 Budget: $17.318 Billion
        The federal government throws this amount of money around all of the time. Heck, lately it's almost a rounding error with all of the spending going on. To put this in perspective, $8 billion dollars is currently earmarked for "state and tribal assistance grants" in the new stimulus package coming out. (see this spreadsheet [google.com]).

        What are the gains? When the Apollo program
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adamjgp (1229860)

        The problem isn't that space exploration is dangerous - everyone knows that. The problem is that space exploration requires a lot of money for no return other than glory and prestige.

        Please don't forget that there have been many advances in technology coming from the space exploration programs. Wireless communication, propulsion, etc. have been advanced by the field. If it weren't for space travel our world wouldn't be as technologically advanced as it is.

        You're only looking at the main benefit of space travel in your statement, completely ignoring the spillover benefits of advanced technology.

    • Ok, so we've lost a few people in space exploration. You know what, that's what happens, that's what they signed up for, and... that's healthy. What's not healty is how oversensitive the Public seems to be to these losses. Yes, the shuttle is aging, yes we need a new syste, but we shouldn't abandon manned space flight. Without manned space flight, how will we ever escape the Earth? And sooner or later, the Earth is going to want to be rid of us. Or the sun will, and Earth won't have much choice in the matter.

      I'd take this risk any day over a mundane job.

    • by Big Smirk (692056)

      Consider that most of what NASA builds is done by US workers it is a great way to inject money into the economy. Buy a US car and you find 47% of it is made overseas. Buy a one of a kind satellite and 99% of the cost is for American products and workers.

      Consider also these engineers etc. typically work at slightly less than competitive salaries in other sectors you are getting a lot for the dollar.

      • False economy. (Score:3, Informative)

        by camperdave (969942)
        Buy a US car and you find 47% of it is made overseas. Buy a one of a kind satellite and 99% of the cost is for American products and workers.

        Nice try, but you're forgetting about volume. Even if only 53% of a US car may actually be made in the US, there are 7+million made each year. Compare that to the twenty satellites made every year. Each one would have to cost a million times as much as a car to inject the same amount of money into the economy. There are few 30 billion dollar satellites. A commun
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UnknowingFool (672806)
      Sure astronauts know that their missions are dangerous. They know that when they sign up for the program. What they didn't sign up for was the lax concern for their safety. In both the Challenger and the Columbia disasters, low level engineers warned management about the risk. Unfortunately their warnings were discounted and their concerns were not passed higher up than middle managers. I remember reading somewhere that a NASA manager argued against delaying Columbia's return for more time to study the
      • This story comes just as I finished reading Richard Feynman's account of the Rogers commission about the Challenger disaster in What Do You Care What Other People Think? [wikipedia.org] that gives a rare candid look not only at the type of management attitude that led to preventable disaster, but also how it can end up getting buried in the resulting commission investigation. Interesting book, that could only come from someone with Richard Feynman's personality. (The Challenger disaster investigation is in the second hal

      • This is debatable. There is the popular and comfortable idea about those stupid and insensible managers that ignored engineers. Sadly those projects are too complex, and I think that there is a lot of unpredictability and unconsidered scenarios that can't be totally simulated, analyzed and probed. Managers often (always) have to take decisions without complete information, eventually ignoring unclear technical advise (and over-informative technical advise.) In an extremely complex project like the shuttle,

    • I think the handwringing about the deaths of astronauts and soldiers in Iraq is mostly motivated not by real sensitivity but by the belief (or fear) that other people are sensitive to the issue. That's why newscasters act so mournful and why anti-war and pro-war political activists make such a big deal out of it. Except for the people who have actually lost someone, it's all crocodile tears. If anything, people are surprised and amazed at the low number of casualties.

      What people really take seriously is

    • Re:Oversensitivity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 2short (466733) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:59PM (#26626773)
      "Without manned space flight, how will we ever escape the Earth?"

      With or without manned space flight now, we probably won't escape Earth ever. Well, OK, maybe. If you allow a generous definition of "we", the answer might be "in robotic bodies". Space is very large, and there is almost nothing there. What little stuff there is out there is not what humans need to live. Long before any human lives a life not dependent on Earth, the humans will have changed beyond what we would recognize.

      Either way, it's a long way off, and what we do in the next decade probably won't make any difference. It might be good to learn as much as we can about the solar system, and I for one would like to do that anyway. How shall we go about it? Well, humans who explore space by sending probes that don't contain other humans have so far learned vastly more than the humans who explore space by sending probes that do contain other humans, and they've done it with a tiny fraction of the resources.
  • Rocketeer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aztektum (170569) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:09PM (#26625775)

    Coincidently I've been watchin' the "When We Left Earth" DVD's recently. One of the astronauts that discussed the Columbia accident said that they know the risk and do it anyway.

    How many more people have died in the Iraq conflict than the entire history of the space program? It's pretty twisted that the majority have done comparatively little to end that, but are ready to grab their pitch forks and torches when it comes to the space program.

    • Re:Rocketeer (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:28PM (#26626177)

      Numbers don't lie, But they are quite vague.
      Unfortunately for a country who hates math so much we love to use numbers to prove our point any point.
      I have dubbed the term Mathify to explain this concept (The word Quantify is to formal)

      We have been seeing a lot of this.
      We look at the layoffs they are the greatest since the great depression... We look at the unemployment numbers they are the lowest in 20 years. Depending on how scared you want to make the public you use different numbers to prove your point, you tell the truth the numbers are correct however you are being very vague and not giving the full story. As we have more people in the US who can be considered unemployed vs then Great Depression As most women didn't work (Taxable jobs), so they weren't considered unemployed. So now we nearly doubled our workforce as well a rise in population has created a situation of Quantity of unemployed is greater then the great depression however Quantity of unemployed / Quantity of employed is much greater.

      The same thing with your argument, the number of people being killed in Iraq is higher the the number of Space accidents... However the percentage is much higher to die in a space accident vs. going to war. Just living in some cities is considered more dangerous then going to war in Iraq.

      However you cant just account for ratios either, as you may think it safer to survive being hit by a hurricane vs. being hit by a tornado so if you are an insurance adjuster then you charge so much more as a tornado adjuster.

      Numbers are helpful for comparing like things. However they are vague and don't give the complete story.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) *
        Oh that's an old story [wikipedia.org]...

        There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.
      • by ivan256 (17499)

        Total costs so far:

        Space shuttle program : Iraq war mk2
        $145 billion : $620 billion

        Total (US) deaths so far:


        Space shuttle program : Iraq war mk2
        14 : 4236

        Clearly the Iraq war is more efficient, with almost seven deaths per billion dollars to the shuttle's ten billion per death.

        All this is moot, by the way. Despite the relatively low cost of the space program compared to the other things we spend money on, the bulk of public opinion is tha

        • by ivan256 (17499)

          By the way, that $145 billion number is 1980-present. The entire length of the program so far.

  • Lesson 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:09PM (#26625781)
    Those little Mars rovers seem to be going strong. Lets put our money where it seems to be providing the best ROI.
    • by Shag (3737) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:14PM (#26625865) Homepage

      This. I work in space science, think manned spaceflight is a wonderful thing, and look forward to it becoming increasingly a commercially available thing... but it's an extremely expensive way to accomplish most tasks, especially when it comes to accomplishing anything in the way of science.

      I also work around environmental policy, and strongly feel we'd be better off working on surviving on this planet, instead of ruining it, then going off looking for others to ruin. Put a few of those "best and brightest" brains to work on finding ways to meet the Millennium Development Goals [wikipedia.org], wouldja?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by khallow (566160)

        I also work around environmental policy, and strongly feel we'd be better off working on surviving on this planet, instead of ruining it, then going off looking for others to ruin.

        We know how to survive on Earth, whether we chose to do so is a different story. For example, the Millennium Development Goals only exist because irresponsible countries have failed to implement those goals long before. Successful ways to run societies and countries have been known for centuries. Second, as someone who claims to work in space science, you surely must be aware that there's some locations in space that simply cannot be ruined, for example, the Moon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) *
        There really isn't any reason not to do both. Few would argue that it is and either / or situation, although the specifics about who gets what and when can lead to some heated debates. Unfortunately because money is the limiting resource.

        The US is a huge economy, even when it's tanking. There really isn't any reason not to fund NASA on a reasonable, sustained budget. That would go a long way to being able to make rational choices as to how to apportion money to the various aspects of space exploration
      • by aztektum (170569)

        I agree with you as a whole, but at SOME point, it's almost inevitable that humans will have to spread out from Earth. I'm sure the future humans would be thankful that a lot of the heavy lifting was already done when that time comes and not having to scramble when faced with potential disaster.

      • What? (Score:2, Informative)

        by icebrain (944107)

        I also work around environmental policy, and strongly feel we'd be better off working on surviving on this planet, instead of ruining it, then going off looking for others to ruin.

        Nobody said anything about "ruining" earth. Destruction of earth's biosphere is not a necessary condition for space colonization--in fact, environmental preservation and space expansion can complement each other. The technologies you use to achieve the first can feed back into the second, and vice-versa.

        Those of us who support pushing out into space in terms of survival aren't talking about "let's strip-mine the earth" or "oh, it's too ruined now, let's go trash something else". We're talking about off-s

    • I mean, it's great, but ultimately we will have to be sending people up there anyway. There is no way around it.

      We HAVE TO improve the technology for lifting people from this rock. Until such day as we can make a machine that is as individually intelligent, dexterous, decisive, and bold as a human being, we have no real alternative.

      And even if we do make such a machine, it would not necessarily be a good day.
      • by rbanffy (584143)

        "Until such day as we can make a machine that is as individually intelligent, dexterous, decisive, and bold as a human being, we have no real alternative."

        Let's only hope that, when we do, they will want us for pets. ;-)

        For when we do make a machine that is better than we are, we will not have made our servants, emissaries and explorers. We will have made our successors.

      • by 2short (466733) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:09PM (#26626953)

        "ultimately we will have to be sending people up there anyway. There is no way around it. "

        Except, you know, not doing it and learning more because we did it a smarter way.

        Here's an idea: what if we built a machine that was as dextrous as a human, and put the controls of that machine in the hands of an intelligent, decisive, and bold human... on Earth.

        And hey, while we're at it, we could design the machine to, just for example, move about the surface of mars for months on end with no need of air, food or a return journey.

        Human space exploration is wonderful. Some very smart people are doing a bang-up job exploring Mars right now. "Robotic" space exploration is a misnomer; it should be called "Smart and efficient human space exploration".
        • Four Words.

          Speed of Light Latency.

          • by 2short (466733)
            And? Are those words meant to somehow refute the fact that humans are exploring space by remotely controlling probes have been wildly more successful than humans exploring space by sending up other humans? If sending humans to explore space is such a great idea, why hasn't it worked so far?
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              My point was that the "robots with human dexterity, controlled by a human" won't work at distances past the Moon.

    • by Haoie (1277294)

      Manned space flight and unmanned are in completely different worlds altogether [no pun intended].

      In terms of cost, technology, time frame, outcome, a lot of things.

      You can't always send a robot to do a man's job.

  • by Samschnooks (1415697) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:09PM (#26625797)
    Joe 'the Programmer' Smith died from a heart attack. He lived a very boring life. He hated getting up in the Morning. He hated sitting behind a computer all day. He hated the fact that he had to work so much, leave his children and his wife was bored. He dreamed of doing something that made him feel alive. He dreamed of adventure. He dreamed of not being safe.

    Get my drift folks? Astronauts do not become Astronauts because they want a safe job. If I were capable, I'd risk my life to be in Space.

  • by grocer (718489) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:12PM (#26625827)
    Considering the greatest impact manned space travel has had on my life is probably freeze dried fruit in my morning cereal, that's a pretty lousy cost-to-benefit ratio. Until there's something better than a rocket for propulsion, I don't think manned space flight makes sense. However, the rovers and robots are definitely worth it. I think it makes a whole more sense than trying to shoot people into space.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by philspear (1142299)

      You are currently using one of the fruits of the space program: a computer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thesandtiger (819476)

        Except he said *manned* space-flight, not just space-flight. In fact, he specifically said robots and rovers were AOK in his mind. And computers were developed a bit before space-flight, manned or unmanned. So your comment is basically incorrect in both content and purpose.

        Personally, I think the bulk of the benefits of manned space-flight have been in the coin of inspiration. When Armstrong took those first steps on the moon, that said something about humanity as a species. Rovers, while cool as hell and c

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        [citation required]
        Judging from this History of computing [wikipedia.org] it looks like war contributed more to computers than the space program did.

        • You and your silly reliance on facts over emotional appeals. That's not gonna get you far at Slashdot.

        • Aargh! You know, I swear I had seen it written on that very page you cited, now it's not there! Someone changed it!

          (Or, much more likely, it's that I've made this mistake before, found that page, realized I was wrong, and subconsciously switched the memory around to ease the pain. Stupid subconscious...)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          What that page barely mentions is the massive change in computing that occurred during the 60's and early 70's. It gets all of two sentences: "Vacuum tube electronics were largely replaced in the 1960s by transistor-based electronics, which are smaller, faster, cheaper to produce, require less power, and are more reliable. In the 1970s, integrated circuit technology and the subsequent creation of microprocessors, such as the Intel 4004, further decreased size and cost and further increased speed and relia

    • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:20PM (#26626005)

      Without shooting people into space, we'd never have known about how fast bone mass decreases within just a few weeks.

      Of course there are other technologies and issues that have cropped up that have impacted your life that were either a direct or indirect result of the various space programs. For a list go here! [spacetechhalloffame.org] Some include scratch resistant lenses and cochlear implants.

      • by kabocox (199019)

        One or two things a year? Screw that. I want them working to solve these problems:

        http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/FASTATS/lcod.htm [cdc.gov]

        Number of deaths for leading causes of death

        Heart disease: 652,091
        Cancer: 559,312
        Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579
        Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
        Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809
        Diabetes: 75,119
        Alzheimer's disease: 71,599
        Influenza/Pneumonia: 63,001
        Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901
        Septicemia: 34,136

        I say screw Iraq and military R&D toy

        • The trouble is we already have solutions to most of those problems. Unfortunately they involve eating a healthy diet and getting some exercise. That's just too much work though, so we need to develop a "cure" instead. Also, when you're just talking numbers like that you have to realize that 80 year old people finally dying from stroke or heart disease kind of skew the results.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by the_humeister (922869)

          Stroke and heart disease: Usually the same issue with atherosclerosis. The problem has already been solved! ie change of diet and more exercise. That alone reduces heart disease and stroke deaths due to prevention. The thing is, you can't force people to do healthy things.

          Cancer: The top 3 cancer killers are, in order: 1) lung, 2) colon, 3) breast (for women)/prostate (for men). Again, the solution is 1) stop smoking, 2) get your colonoscopy after age 50, 3) go see your doctor regularly. And again, we can't

        • BTW, the link lists technologies for the hall of fame. There are certainly more innovations that don't necessarily make it to the hall of fame.

    • Freeze-dried fruit? Hah. How about titanium tools and magnesium suitcases? Do you use any drill bits or blades with titanium or nitride cutters?

      Materials science is just one area that has been improved dramatically by the space program.

      Do you use anything with teflon in it? Wait... let me rephrase that: do you use much of anything that does NOT have teflon in it? As a coating or a slider or a bearing...

      This is barely the tip of the iceberg. If you think all the space program has brought you is free
  • Robots in Space (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Horar (521864)

    NASA should stick to what it's so good at doing: sending robots into space.

    We meat bags should stay on Earth where we belong.

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      NASA should stick to what it's so good at doing: sending robots into space.

      We meat bags should stay on Earth where we belong.

      But.. but.. shouldn't we make it our duty to live up to the expectations that grown people had as children to see people all over space in the 21st century? I can't be the only one who felt a great disturbance in my psyche, as if my inner child cried out "No men on the moon, no jetpacks and no flying cars in the future? What a rip-off!" and suddenly threw up a tantrum?

    • You go ahead and stay right there in front of your TV where you belong, and have a nice day.

      I'm going on a trip.

      See you later. Maybe.
      • by Horar (521864)

        Yes, you do that.

        Who knows, you could accomplish the space age equivalent of introducing syphilis to polynesia, or bring tobacco to civilisation.

        But I expect that all you're really capable of doing is tearing up the sand dunes in your SUV, shooting stuff with guns, and leaving your empty beer cans behind.

        So if you do go on a trip, don't come back.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dedazo (737510)

      I don't know if you said that sarcastically, but if you think about it, focusing on robotic spacecraft that can do more than just take readings might very well contribute to the advancement of robotic sciences. History shows us that progress in scientific fields comes about faster when there is a specific purpose, time pressure and money involved.

      I don't have a problem with manned spaceflight, on the contrary. But this might be a good side effect of trying to go all-automata. Not to mention cheaper/easier,

    • by djp928 (516044)

      Larry Niven said it best. "The dinosaurs went extinct because they didn't have a space program."

  • by Quila (201335) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:19PM (#26625967)
    Don't fly around January-February.
    • by 4D6963 (933028)
      On the contrary, do fly in January! What are the odds that FOUR such incidents would take place in that month? /sarcastic logical fallacy
  • by metamechanical (545566) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:21PM (#26626021)
    Pardon my cynicism, but what the hell does the super bowl have to do with anything?
  • Personally, I think they've been far too cautious. "As of 2007, in-flight accidents have killed 19 astronauts, training accidents have claimed 11 astronauts, and launchpad accidents have killed at least 71 ground personnel. About two percent of the manned launch/reentry attempts have killed their crew, with Soyuz and the Shuttle having almost the same death percentage rates... About five percent of the people that have been launched have died doing so..." Surprisingly enough, Soviet and American casualti
  • The Dream. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:29PM (#26626203) Homepage

    Shed not a single tear for one who has lived the Dream.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:30PM (#26626213) Homepage

    This planet, any planet, has finite resources. No matter what we do, no matter how many alternatives we go through or how well we conserve, sooner or later we'll exhaust them. It's merely a question of how long it'll take to do so. Which means in the long term there are exactly two paths: get off this single planet, or perish. Personally I don't like option #2, and I'd like to get option #1 underway while we have the luxuries of time and resources, not wait until it's a crash program under a short deadline with limited resources.

    From a practical standpoint, two things. First, opening new frontiers has never been unprofitable. It's expensive opening them up, but every one we've opened up has yielded an ROI any businessman would give up several major organs for. It's rarely immediately obvious what the rewards will be, looking back at history no major exploration ever turned up what they were looking for, but consistently the rewards are more than high enough to justify the cost. I doubt space will be different, and the spoils will go to he who's there first with the most. Second, high ground. Any military man will tell you that he who controls the high ground controls the battlefield. In ancient days the high ground was a hill so your archers could shoot down at the enemy. Today it's the airspace over the battlefield, so your aircraft can bomb the enemy without being distracted by enemy fighters. Orbit's a pretty serious high ground. Want an example? Take a look at Meteor Crater in Arizona. That was a chunk of rock coming in ballistic. Now, imagine that crater overlaid on Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Washington DC. Or all of them. Rocks are plentiful, getting them onto the right path is fairly straightforward and cheap. And shooting back up the gravity well is hideously expensive.

    • Check out the law of conservation of matter [wikipedia.org] before spewing "sooner or later we'll exaust them (our resources)".

      Other than that I'm fully in agreement with you as to that we NEED to get off this rock, since just one planet makes for lousy redundancy. Oh, and I'd have this left to private enterprise instead of government agencies.

      • So what you're saying is we can never run out of oil, because after it's burned all the carbon and hydrogen atoms still exist in the exhaust gases?
        • I'm saying is, we'll never run out of _energy_, because as oil becomes scarce it will be so expensive to burn it, that alternatives will become profitable by comparison. Supply and demand. Always works.

          Actually I dare say that were it not for governmental restrictions on nuclear generation and privileges afforded to US companies, oil would ALREADY be displaced by cleaner and more efficient technologies.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics [wikipedia.org]
        I guess they won't exhaust them, they just will be in a form that can't be used.
    • What resources do you think we need? Resources are made of two things: energy and matter. Energy is currently the most pressing problem, but solutions to long term energy supplies don't generally involve space.

      At the end of the day, there are fewer than 100 chemical elements in the universe. Most of those we heavily use are available in huge quantities right here on earth. (In various bulk minerals if not in their traditional ores.) Before anybody makes any big plans, they need to enumerate exactly *which*

    • by Chabo (880571)

      This planet, any planet, has finite resources. No matter what we do, no matter how many alternatives we go through or how well we conserve, sooner or later we'll exhaust them.

      Earth that was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many. We found a new solar system, dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed, a process taking decades, to support human life, to be new Earths. The Central Planets formed the Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets were not so enlightened and refused Alliance control. The war was devastating, but the Alliance's victory over the Independents ensured

  • 23 years ago? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @02:38PM (#26626335)

    Wow. I remember it like it was yesterday since I was in high school in NH at the time. I was at a boarding school and was in my dorm room waiting for the cafeteria to open for lunch when a friend came in and told me he'd heard about it on the radio. We turned on my radio and listened for a while before heading down to lunch. I guess I looked really shocked because one of the women in the serving line asked me if I was ok. I said that the shuttle had just blown up and she just laughed and said something like "oh, very funny". I snapped back at her to turn on a radio if they had one in the kitchen then went out to find a place to eat. I came back about 15 minutes later for seconds and the same woman was extremely apologetic. My friend and I then went to the student center where there was a projection tv and it seemed like 90% of the students were standing around silently watching the news coverage.

    • I was pretty young back during the Challenger disaster; I was just passed the age of where we start actually storing memories into adult-hood.

      I recall our school making a big deal about it: they quickly rushed radios and what few TVs we had into the classrooms so we could follow the news. A few days/weeks later we planted a tree near the playground in memory of the crew.

      From what I remember it didn't really affect me. I remember I was shocked (I think I said "Wow" or something), as back then I thought NAS

  • Archduke of Krakton has given me license to prey on this sector's shipping.
     
      * subliminal message - you should continue your manned space program * * its good for you *

  • How about (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Mycroft_514 (701676)

    We look at the facts. For every $ we pumped into the space program $100 came back. Not to mention all the EMPLOYMENT we got for high tech jobs. You don't think all that computer technology came from the internet do you?

    It is about time we take on another LARGE task to help get this country somepride again, and to kick of a technological boom again.

    As for Obama? Let's send him on a one way mission.....

  • When the Challenger exploded, I and an unknown number of other lost their jobs, or suffered pay loss from down time.

    The money spent on manned spacecraft doesn't go into a black hole. It gets spent on silly things like salaries, rent, bar tabs.

    I don't know if money trickles down, but LACK of it does.
  • by ElboRuum (946542)

    This is pseudo-philosophical nonsense. The only thing that steps out at me from this article is that we could avoid a lot of mourning if NASA took January off.

    The problem with having a "space program", just like any other endeavor, requires an assessment of its value, both long-term and short-term. If these assessments of value indicate worth, we will continue to do it. If they do not, they will be shelved until we can find some previously hidden value.

    Rocketeer, schmocketeer. We'd do ourselves well to

  • by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:17PM (#26627081)

    Jones makes an impassioned emotional argument for the space program, but fails to present any bald raw logical reasons why we can't stop and let it die. It's simple: the human race has NEVER before lacked a new frontier in which to expand its growing population.

    Without a space program, we have no new frontiers to exploit (without further ecological backlash). The human race is not so disciplined and comfortable with itself that it can survive that absence of a frontier. We will grind civilization, if not the species entirely, into the dust if we stick our heads in the sand and try to stop expanding.

    That's the simple logic of it that Jones fails to spell out.

  • A little over a decade ago I was working on a program that used LIDAR to measure the shuttle exhaust plume constituents during liftoff. The trailer housing the lasers and telescope was positioned next to the block house for the Apollo 1 launch pad (launch complex 34). The block house has been completely emptied and sits as just a thick dome of concrete about a hundred feet in diameter. The bathrooms still work - I know, I used them - though you frequently find frogs in the toilets. Past the block house,
  • These guys and gals know what they are signing up for. Though courting disaster and risking their lives etc make it very glamorous, they put up with lot more than risk of dying. From wearing extended wear diapers to drinking water recycled from their own waste...

    How come the anything on earth is ok between consenting adults, but signing up for high risk out of the earth career is not ok?

  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:09PM (#26627883)
    ...unmanned missions of exploration. Space probes and planetary probes.

    They cost way less than manned missions, and return way more scientific information.
  • Space is safe... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @04:40PM (#26628327)
    What I think is interesting about the deaths in NASA is none of them actually happened in space. Apollo 13 might have ended badly, but it didn't. No one died on the moon because the ascent stage rocket on the LEM failed to fire. No one has had a space suit spring a leak or spiraled away during an EVA.

    Seems if you're an astronaut, the safest place for you is in space.
  • What? (Score:3, Informative)

    by multi io (640409) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @06:29PM (#26630021)
    What "impending end of the manned space program"? Is anyone intending to end it? Have I missed something? They just want to switch to a different vehicle, with a few years of no manned flights in between. There were no manned US flights between the last Apollo mission (1975) and the first STS mission (1981) either, so it's not as if this would be something entirely new. So what exactly is the author arguing for/against here? Continuing the Shuttle program indefinitely? Or until Ares is available?

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