A Question: How Do You Feel About Space Exploration?

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The Space Shuttle just passed over my home, with the signatory double-boom as it passed through the sound barrier on its way to landing at Kennedy Space Center. A quick click on my TV, and I was able to watch the landing live, as it happened.

I'm curious. How do members of this forum feel about our space program? Are you inspired by the accomplishments, or do you believe it to be a waste of money? There are of course many opinions between these two poles. For example, perhaps we should just focus on robot exploration only. Or, at the other extreme, perhaps we should go full bore to Mars, skipping the International Space Station.

Or perhaps we should not bother at all?

What do you think?

-- Spindoc' (spindoc_99_2000@yahoo.com), May 29, 2000



I'm all for it. With all the money the .gov wastes on (fill in), they might as well spend some on something that encourages technology, education, inspiration, and maybe even economic growth.

Yep, my vote is to INCREASE spending on NASA, but let's make sure they and their subcontractors are all using the metric system before completing any more projects.


-- Someone (ChimingIn@twocents.cam), May 29, 2000.

Contact is one of my favorite movies. Art Bell was my favorite radio talk show host. Do I have an interest in space exploration? You bet your bippy.

NASA was to have been privatized tears ago. Surprise! Hasn't happened. Budget has been slashed. That's a good thing because I don't believe in big gov.

It has been thirty years since the public has been caught up in the wide-eyed exploration of the final frontier. True lack of leadership on this issue. And there's no space race competition.

Why haven't TPTB given control to the private sector? Could it be they're hiding something? (Big cheesy grin)

-- Bingo1 (howe9@shentel.net), May 29, 2000.


I spent a week with my son at Space Camp in Huntsville. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We were all assigned TEAMS, and I think each team consisted of 5 kids and one parent for each. We made and tested rockets, made space stations out of small building materials, worked in a "clean" lab, rode on gyroscopes, anti-gravity simulators, etc. They kept us busy from day until night.

Our team had the "laziest" parents of all the teams. We pretty much sat back and let the kids do the thinking and the work on all the projects, only helping with the mundane tasks like untangling string, etc. In contrast, some other teams had parents who wanted things done the right way. [grin] Their rockets were always perfect, the oral presentations consisted of them doing much of the talking, and there was much conversation at their project tables, mostly consisting of "That won't work Johnny...do it THIS way." Each team had a representative from NASA observing the team throughout.

On the last day everyone gathered in an auditorium for awards. They had a BEST TEAM award in every category. One by one, the awards were given to the other teams. Just when our team was ready to confess that we sucked at EVERYTHING, someone got up and announced something about "Every once in a while we have a team that represents everything we've tried to put forth in the Space Camp experience. We can't give them the award for one category, because they should have won the award for ALL categories. This year we had such a team in Team #3, and we hereby award...blah blah." Well, five little faces [not to mention 5 adult faces] had tears streaming down their faces by this point], but we went up and accepted the award with great pride. My son talked about that all the way home.

We've got kids with VERY creative ideas on everything from solar panels to proper food-storage design. They're all itching for an opportunity to realize their potential. I support the space program 100%.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), May 29, 2000.

Yes to space exploration. We may someday need a new home-not a doomer statement, just a distinct possibility within the next 200 years-a very short time.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), May 29, 2000.

While I regard space exploration as mandatory, there are nonetheless superior and inferior ways of going about it. And our current space program is WAAAY down toward the inferior end. It's a remarkable exercise in how NOT to do space. The rules are:

1) Don't have any overall long range vision and build toward it incrementally. Instead, do one-shot projects without followups.

2) Start by putting people into space rather than instruments. That way, the projects accomplish less but cost orders of magnitude more.

3) Put primary emphasis on safety for those people, rather than on accumulation of skill and knowledge. If someone is killed anyway, halt the entire program for years.

4) Make publicity the top priority, so much so that actual learning, or the development of workable techniques, is an accidental afterthought. Stress perfection to the point where even an extraordinary success rate will, by being imperfect, create the public impression of bungling incompetence.

5) Apply the most critical technological advancements to secret military and espionage programs, and don't transfer what's learned to (nonexistent) long range civilian programs because the enemy will deduce the capabilities of the military program.

6) Be halfassed. Develop the ability to reach the moon, and then abandon that ability without doing anything on the moon. THEN build a fleet of shuttles to service the space station, but cancel the space station. THEN struggle with fragile, underpowered probes with complex multi-slingshot flight paths because adequate probes cannot be launched properly from the space station that was cancelled.

In essence, we've had politicians running an engineering project. A blueprint for failure, as we've seen. All very discouraging.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000.

I am all in favor of gathering knowledge about the universe beyond our atmosphere. But I am leery of space operations with human crews. This is not, as you might suppose, because I fear for the lives of the crew, but because when you put a crew on board a spacecraft the entire engineering task is skewed away from the optimum. Suddenly, you have to devote a considerable proportion of your weight allowance to life-support systems instead of to instruments. It makes no sense to me.

I am also quite leery of the idea of space colonization. I liken it to rebuilding the pyramids, but more grandiose and with less identifiable benefit. It is one thing to imagine space colonization in a science fiction story, quite another to finance it out of taxes.

However, when unmanned space probes send back pictures and data from the far reaches of the solar system, I find the prospect of expanding our knowledge in those areas thrilling. The Hubble has proved to be worthwhile, although it has also proved to be a royal pain in the butt to maintain.

I also agree with Flint that the management of NASA lacks all long-term vision and has handcuffed itself to glitz and hoopla, because of their perceived need to kowtow to politicians.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), May 29, 2000.

As an adjunct to Flints statement #5 above I offer the following:

The words below are from Richard Hoaglands web site. Opinions are Hoaglands, not mine (Bingo1)

Enterprise Mission

"... I'd also like to acknowledge Admiral Inman, head of the JPL Oversight Committee at Cal Tech. He couldn't be here today, but I talked to him by phone. His commitment to the team here is also unwavering. And I thank him for that ..."

[Note: Above quote from speech at JPL given by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin following the Mars Polar Lander Disaster. Text at: ]

Admiral Bobby Inman, former director of the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA), Deputy directory of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Vice Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and former Director of Naval Intelligence, was termed by Newsweek as "a superstar in the intelligence community." A Whitehouse press release, issued on the occasion of President Clinton's 1993 recommendation that Inman be confirmed as Secretary of Defense, noted: "As he rose through these posts, Inman won the Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy's highest non-combatant award, and the DIA's Defense Superior Service Medal for "achievements unparalleled in the history of intelligence."

[Hoagland] So, what is the Nation's most celebrated "spook" doing heading an "oversight committee" at one of the Nation's leading private Universities?! And specifically: a committee overseeing all civilian unmanned exploration of the planet Mars ..?!!

[End paste] Hoagland is a conspiracy theorist, no buts about it. Hes brilliant, has a solid background working with NASA as a consultant. Also worked with Walter Cronkite many moons ago as science advisor.

My opinion is most of what NASA has done over the past thirty years is black project oriented. The budget for civilian projects has been slashed. Thus many small budget civilian projects end in partial or complete failure due to insufficient funding/lack of skilled technicians. Interesting stuff.

-- Bingo1 (
howe9@shentel.net), May 29, 2000.

-- darn it (all@sloppy.ness), May 29, 2000.

I am very interested in astronomy as a hobby and I support space exploration, but I think we could learn a lot more if we approached it differently. The Hubble telescope is a good example. If we used the amount of money that we spend on shuttles to build better telescopes we could discover a lot more without sending men into space.

Also, I think we should take the same approach with deep space probes that we do with computers, make them as small, fast, and powerful as possible. We have the technology to build space probes not much larger than a bullet, fueled by antimatter to go nearly the speed of light, and capable of sending back valuable data and images as they approach other solar systems, etc. For the cost of the shuttle missions and failed Mars missions we could afford to send hundreds of these out into space. For the Mars missions we only need to send a probe similar to a radio-controlled model airplane, maybe 4' wingspan maximum. It could land and take off, analyzing the surface in different areas and sending back close-up aerial images from heights of less than 100 feet above the surface.

-- Hawk (flyin@hi.again), May 29, 2000.

Some of what Hawk proposes would be in full swing today, had NASA had a long range vision more sensible than chasing today's political whim. But I have my doubts about the antimatter. The latest I've seen is that CERN managed to create a single antiproton and keep it alive in a magnetic bottle for nearly 30 seconds. And it hasn't been NASA's lack of direction that has somehow stymied particle research. The cancelled supercollider, however, was also politics in action.

I agree that when it comes to space exploration, we'd have a hard time doing worse while still doing anything at all.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000.

While at Space Camp, we saw a life-sized simulation of Hubble repair. I wouldn't agree that NASA folks are "chasing" politics. The folks we met were eager to get on with things, but feared loss of funding. If the taxpayers don't want the Space Program, NASA folds. If politicians can persuade the taxpayers that the program is important, progress is made. Of course my experiences were in the education end. If NASA can't encourage more children to set their goals on participation of space exploration, the entire experience dies after the current generation. The kids with the creativity will grow up to create virtual reality games.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), May 29, 2000.


Of course this is what makes it hard. Space exploration is expensive however you go about it, and the return on investment, however defined, won't be immediate and will always remain speculative. Any big gains will only seem obvious *after* we make them, while further exploration will *still* look like pie in the sky.

Private sector organizations need to see the clear likelihood of some identifiable source of profit to put out that kind of money, and right now it's not there. Which in turn makes the space program subject to a fickle political will, which must be fanned by publicity stunts that consume all the money. So doing it right assumes a national public *commitment*. The space camp, and Space and Rocket Center, here in Huntsville are kewl but effectively trivial. Imagine what we could accomplish if we replaced self-esteem-building programs in public education with space camps? Hell, we'd probably end up with more self esteem that way as well!

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000.

Great thread!

I am all for space exploration. Agree with many of Flints observations regarding the current state of NASA. Suggest the following excellent sites for an inside and unbiased look at NASA and space exploration: NASA Watch


Of course theres also www.nasa.gov and www.jpl.nasa.gov

Hawk, the recent failed Mars missions were supposed to have been an example of what you speak, better, faster, cheaper. It didn't work too well. The two Deep Space 2 probes that failed were a demonstration project for the minature probes you are talking about. The failure reports indicate that they weren't adequately tested and flat out weren't ready to fly. I have read several of the failure reports (some over a hundred pages long, pdf format) on the Mars Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, and the Deep Space 2 probes. Some of these reports can be found at the following link:

http://marsland er.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news71.html

Also they should be linked somewhere at the NASA siite.

"Faster, better, cheaper, pick two" - an inside joke at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (as reported in an independent failure report).

-- FactFinder (FactFinder@bzn.com), May 29, 2000.

If you are referring to the space between Pamela Anderson's *ahem* I am all for it. I'll do it in the name of science, for my country, and for humanity!

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), May 29, 2000.


Everywhere I've worked, it's been "better, faster, cheaper -- pick two and get the *inverse* of the third!"

In real life, the above is *optimal*, unfortunately. It's entirely possible to get the inverse of all three at once.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000.

I fear it is all a waste of time and money, best leave cash in the hands of the tax payer rather than government they know best how to spend it if people want to fund their own private rockets all well and good, why waste tax-payers money there is no likelihood whatsoever that space exploration will benefit mankind one iota, we will NEVER be able to travel further than Mars

-- richard (richard.dale@onion.com), May 29, 2000.


If this is true, it's because of attitudes like yours, and NOT because of anything resembling technological limitations.

Besides, space exploration does NOT mean people exploring space. Instruments can do it much better. We have many options.

Finally, call me a glazed-eyed right-winger, but the space program (lousy as it is) is about the last thing I'd cut. We could have whole *human colonies* on Mars for the money we've spent paying people not to work, and not to save for their old age, and to have unwanted children. Do you really find this a preferable way to spend money you aren't allowed to keep?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000.

If this is true, it's because of attitudes like yours, and NOT because of anything resembling technological limitations.

so much money has been wasted in space exploration its unbelievable, this represent capital and investment that could have been made more productively in other fields either by the stae of individuals, its is all money down the toilet, its fanciful to expect that space exploration will ever proceed any reasonable distance into space, the technical diffiulties are unimaginable i can envisage that the huge cost of space exploration could be a massive money pit lets pull the plug now and concentrate on realistic scientific achievement here on earth

yes mr flint its all my fault

its about time you grew out of asimov and co

-- richard (richard.dale@onion.com), May 30, 2000.


Who was that CEO who commented that it was fanciful to think the world could ever find a use for more than 5 computers? How many thought the horseless carriage was a silly fad? The list of howling idiocies by those totally lacking in imagination is endless, and endlessly entertaining.

OK, you may now return to your natural cave. It's fanciful to imagine anyone would ever find either a method or a purpose for moving rocks to build an artificial cave, isn't it?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), May 30, 2000.

Are there any Astrophysicists/Mathematicians out there?

-- Hawk (flyin@hi.again), May 30, 2000.

I enjoy reading about space explaoration and things like that, but i'm starting to wonder if it really is worth the money. If you think about the third world countries where people are dying because they CAN'T AFFORD food and madical supplies, and then you look at the u.s.a or somewhere like that where they can just blow money on big space shuttles, some of which dont even get very far before blowing up, you'd think that we'd want to help the earth become a better place before venturing forth, wouldn't you?

-- Lois Morris (zero.morris@lineone.net), June 26, 2001.

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