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Remembering NASA Disasters With an Eye Toward the Future

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the those-categories-aren't-the-only-possibilities dept.

NASA 273

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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Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26625715)

Launch them in pairs. One is bound to get up there.

Re:Simple solution (3, Funny)

SilentBob0727 (974090) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626757)

Then, when both inevitably explode on some mission, we start sending four. One of THOSE is definitely bound to make it.

Re:Simple solution (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626865)

RAES - Redundant array of expensive spacecraft

January ... (4, Insightful)

Kiaser Zohsay (20134) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625737)

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

Re:January ... (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625903)

Wow. Those all happened, separated by years, within a few days of each other. Maybe NASA should just automatically scrub all attempts to launch or land anything the last week of January.

Re:January ... (3, Interesting)

fmfnavydoc (795254) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626403)

The Russians don't schedule manned launches during week in October for the same reasons...

Super Bowl Sunday is on February. (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626761)

Um, this year's SuperBowl Sunday is on 2/1/2009, not January.

Re:Super Bowl Sunday is on February. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26627141)

Dude, 2/1/2009 *was* January!

Oversensitivity (5, Insightful)

jtev (133871) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625773)

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.

Danger isn't the problem (5, Insightful)

Jabbrwokk (1015725) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626209)

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.

Re:Danger isn't the problem (1, Troll)

ThreeE (786934) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626457)

"But if the public could be made to understand the value of this program maybe interest would revive in space again. "

Please "make" me understand the value of this program.

Re:Danger isn't the problem (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626945)

The value is pride. Oddly enough it is very difficult to tie to a monetary figure.
It has been so long since we have done something so ambitious that the people of the world to have anything to feel proud of. All of our achievements have been replaced by Guilt (Global Warming, Cancer Causing everything). Even our previous achievements are being questioned and disbelieved (moon landing hoax). We are on the sliding slope away from progress. Much like the fall of the Roman Empire people abandoned everything Roman, including bathing. Now we are abandoning everything again slowly, A rise in evangelical/extremest religious beliefs who completely dismiss science as evil. Focus towards the practical and away from beauty, the quick fix vs. the long term goal.

Why was there a boom in American science education during the space race, because everyone wanted to go to the moon too. However they couldn't but they learned science and math and created a modern nation. But these people are retiring and not being replaced. The moon is once again to far and distant for us, Mars is a place where robots roam, and were we can make fun the remaining scientist when they fail.

We fight about freaking License restrictions of software vs. technical advantages and new approaches.

We need man space flights so we can put a human face on humanity, and give us a goal for the future.

Re:Danger isn't the problem (3, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626495)

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:Danger isn't the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626709)

Direction is the problem. Farm some asteroids and all of a sudden it makes economic sense. I wish I could credit an article I read last year that valued some asteroids at hundreds of trillions.


Re:Danger isn't the problem (2, Insightful)

Big Smirk (692056) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626847)

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 pretty much put into the US economy. Beats building yet another ditch (or for that matter roads).

Re:Danger isn't the problem (2, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626913)

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:Danger isn't the problem (3, Interesting)

JWman (1289510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26627071)

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 was running it caught the public's fascination. It made an entire generation of kids that wanted to be astronauts. It made "rocket scientist" become part of our nomenclature and synonymous with "really smart guy". And most importantly, it spurred an interest in engineering and the "hard" sciences (math, physics, chemistry). The knee-jerk response of today's youth is that these subjects are too hard and not fun enough. And so the US is losing engineers and knowledge workers and replacing them with massage therapists [worldnetdaily.com] . How many people in 1965 thought that the best job in the world would be to work at NASA? How many think that now? (or for that matter, how many think that ANY engineering job would be ideal for them?)

In addition to inspiring the public to idolize something besides the latest Hollywood tabloid, the space program made numerous technological and engineering breakthroughs that we are still benefiting from tremendously today. The difficulties of doing even simple things under the constraints of space exploration force tremendous ingenuity and resourcefulness that the nation then benefits from as a whole.

Re:Oversensitivity (0, Troll)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626267)

I have no problem with them giving their lives to advance the science and practice of space travel. What I object to is them giving their lives to enrich a few government contractors that sell overpriced equipment that's less reliable than it should be.

The people on the ground have bigger responsibilities than to secure their jobs. Most of them never forget it, but NASA must make sure nobody does.

As for the unavoidable comparison with the so called "war on terror", there are a lot of people sacrificing themselves for all the wrong reasons.

Re:Oversensitivity (1)

Hordeking (1237940) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626361)

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.

Re:Economic stimulous? (2, Interesting)

Big Smirk (692056) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626585)

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.

Re:Oversensitivity (2, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626593)

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 wing strike (and NASA engineers did spot it soon after launch) because it would be bad PR to delay the return. In Congressional reports the same bureaucratic and managerial failings that caused the Challenger disaster also caused the Columbia disaster almost 2 decades later.

Re:Oversensitivity (1)

try_anything (880404) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626751)

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 the cost. (And Iraqi civilian casualties are another matter, too, but that's beside the point.) Is there a better way we could be spending that money? For the space program, right now it seems like unmanned missions will accomplish a lot more for the same amount of money.

Re:Oversensitivity (3, Insightful)

2short (466733) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

aztektum (170569) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626105)

Or traffic accidents, let's unman traffic. From what I have seen astronauts are aware of the risks and still dedicate their whole lives to the cause. I'd go, if NASA would take me. I'd even go in January!

Re:Rocketeer (3, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Rocketeer (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626695)

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 that the program is a waste of money.

Re:Rocketeer (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626791)

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

Lesson 1 (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625781)

Those little Mars rovers seem to be going strong. Lets put our money where it seems to be providing the best ROI.

Re:Lesson 1 - Mod parent up :) (4, Insightful)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625865)

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:Lesson 1 - Mod parent up :) (2, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626547)

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:Lesson 1 - Mod parent up :) (2, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626555)

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. And it isn't even a matter of diverting funds to / from environmental issues. Who put most of the satellites that we're using to measure the planet up? NASA. How do you improve planet wide models of heat distribution (and hundreds of other issues) - you go somewhere else and explore other environments. Who does that? NASA.

Sure, they're bureaucratic, inefficient, wasteful and slow - but it is a complex human endeavor so what do you expect.

A better piece in Esquire and one linked to TFA is a short, humanistic blurb by Buzz Aldrin [esquire.com] . Says it better.

Re:Lesson 1 - Mod parent up :) (1)

aztektum (170569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626671)

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? (2, Informative)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626729)

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-site backups from global threats like large asteroids, virulent pandemics, biological warfare, etc., as well as providing room for expansion.

ROI is a red herring. (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625913)

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.

Re:ROI is a red herring. (1)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626309)

"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.

Re:ROI is a red herring. (4, Insightful)

2short (466733) | more than 5 years ago | (#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".

Re:Lesson 1 (1)

period3 (94751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626429)

I understand your point, and the left brain agrees.

The right brain wonders how ROI is even measured, and why numbers that can be traded for tasty snacks should set the course for the future of mankind.

I'm going to go buy a cookie.

He's right folks. (1)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626707)

Those little Mars rovers seem to be going strong. Lets put our money where it seems to be providing the bes

(Now the 'Buttface') However, manned space flight gives all of us hope that there's more to life than this pathetic little planet with all of its pathetic little battles. You want peace on Earth? Have an Alien ship blow up the Whitehouse.

Man needs something greater. Aside from finance, we, as citizens of the World, need to compete for something greater. Struggling on how to defeat this finance bogeyman seams so ...demeaning to all of us humans.

Re:He's right folks. (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626901)

I've long said that the only things which have a chance of truly spurring a push for space exploration among the general public are the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, or an impending "planet-killer" asteroid. And even then, you'll have those evolutionary aberrations* that would demand we lay down and let said aliens roll over us to punish us for some imagined wrong, or the religious nutcases that claim it to be "$diety's will" that we be smashed to bits for our sins.

*These are often the same ones that declare the use of any force (even in self-defense) to be wrong, but then scream bloody murder demanding protection from the police--aka asking someone else to use force on their behalf.

While that happened.... (5, Insightful)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

I was thinking about this the other day... (2, Insightful)

grocer (718489) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:I was thinking about this the other day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26625901)

What are you smoking that you think anything is better than a rocket for propulsion? Even advanced nuclear powered space travel ideas are based on the idea of nuclear thermal rockets. Magic antigravity devices I guess could be invented. Manned space flight will make sense when we decide to live in space and colonize other planets. Until then it should be treated as an experiment on the effects of space on humans.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (2, Informative)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625959)

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

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (2, Insightful)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626243)

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 certainly less costly, just don't fire up the imagination quite the same way. Even so, we pissed all that away by not continuing to push forward.

What I'd like to see happen is to continue the exploratory bits we do now with robots - map the terrain, as it were - and limit human exploration to orbit in the form of building *real* space-stations, *real* manufacturing capability, maybe bring a few metal asteroids around to use as raw materials. Launching from orbit rather than from the surface of the Earth would certainly cut the cost of a Mars mission dramatically, and developing the orbital manufacture technologies and capabilities would have very tangible benefits.

Seems a much better approach than pissing away billions of dollars to send a 1-shot there and back "look what we can do" mission that won't yield much in the way of actual benefit beyond "wow, people got to Mars" which will, unfortunately, almost certainly yield the same results as "wow, people got to the moon."

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626525)

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

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626569)

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

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626777)

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:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625971)

Manned space flight has directly or indirectly resulted in technologies you're likely using right now.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (4, Interesting)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626511)

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 toys. Yes I love Darpa toys too, but playing by the numbers I'm much more likely to get heart disease, cancer, or a stroke than have any foreigner try to kill me. Those numbers are generally yearly numbers! We loose more to heart disease, cancer, and a stroke per year than in any military conflict. If they want a forever war, I don't want a war on mythical enemies. I'd be happy if the government declared forever war on known proven mass killers US citizens. We need a War on Disease and ill/poor health. The top ten statistical killers will always change over time, but it gives us a real solid enemy to aim at.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626825)

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:I was thinking about this the other day... (2, Informative)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626973)

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 force people to do healthy things if they don't want to.

Diabetes: Most are due to type 2 and most of these people are overweight/obese. See solution for heart disease/stroke above.

In other words, most of the deaths that you've listed can be attributed to lifestyle choices. And you can't force people to change if they don't want to.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626997)

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.

Re:I was thinking about this the other day... (1)

Nebulious (1241096) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626101)

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.

This has to be one of the most ignorant statements I've ever seen on Slashdot. Between microgravity experiments and the need to engineer new technology for space missions, I doubt a single American goes a single day without technology directly or indirectly resulting from the space program. We have gained tons from going into space, especially in materials science and biotechnology. Lots of good science goes on in space that can't be done on Earth. If anything, we should be doing more, not less.

You don't understand much about it. (2, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626113)

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 freeze-dried fruit, then I respectfully suggest you pick up a book now and then and look into it a bit more deeply.

Robots in Space (1, Interesting)

Horar (521864) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625835)

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.

Re:Robots in Space (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626129)

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?

Re:Robots in Space (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626183)

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.

Re:Robots in Space (2, Insightful)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626277)

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, since moving carbon-based sentient chimpanzees (also known as humans) through the voids of space requires ungodly amounts of resources.

Re:Robots in Space (1)

djp928 (516044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626431)

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

A Vote with my wallet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26625891)

With Obama's plans to have the Federal Budget fully searchable a la Google, can't I just specify where I would like my tax dollars to be apportioned to?

All of it should go to NASA please...

The lesson learned is (2, Insightful)

Quila (201335) | more than 5 years ago | (#26625967)

Don't fly around January-February.

Re:The lesson learned is (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626179)

On the contrary, do fly in January! What are the odds that FOUR such incidents would take place in that month? /sarcastic logical fallacy

what's wrong with regular Sunday? (3, Insightful)

metamechanical (545566) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626021)

Pardon my cynicism, but what the hell does the super bowl have to do with anything?

Re:what's wrong with regular Sunday? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626103)

Ground control is hung over and bloated from too much beer and junk food?

kill NASA (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626043)

Space science should be handed over to the NSA with all the other scientists. The space station should be killed. Ever since the Falcon 1 had a successful launch, it is time to kill the space station and let low earth orbit become a playground for the wealthy elite.

Oh! I've seen this show (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626065)

4 8 15 16 23 42

Necessary losses (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626155)

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 casualties are about the same. These people knew the risks they were taken; being the first to try out a new technology is always a risky proposition. Compared to human costs of building bridges, testing aircraft, even driving race cars, 101 deaths is a really small number. Heck, I'm willing to bet more people have died playing football than working for NASA -- yet nobody accuses football coaches of not being cautious enough. (That is, a higher number of total deaths, not a higher percentage.)

Re:Necessary losses (1)

fmfnavydoc (795254) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626595)

I would trade anything to fly on one mission...to the ISS, back to the Moon or to Mars. It's a natural progression of what Man does best...face new challenges, explore and broaden his/her knowledge of the world around them. The men and women that suit up and fly into space know the risks, but how many of them have backed out at the last minute? Exploring our solar system may be the key to our survival on Earth...and unlock the wonders of the universe in the process.

The Dream. (5, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626203)

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

Re:The Dream. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626923)

Do you think Christa McAuliffe might have done things differently had she known?

Space isn't an option, it's a requirement (3, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626213)

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.

Re:Space isn't an option, it's a requirement (1)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626705)

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.

Re:Space isn't an option, it's a requirement (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#26627053)

Most of the matter might still be there, but if it's not in a usable form, it won't do you much good.

Private enterprise will never spark the initial push to interplanetary/interstellar colonization, at least not for a very long time. The required fiscal and temporal commitment is staggering, and it will take many, many years to break even, much less turn a regular profit. No venture capitalist or stockholder will invest in a company that might not even give returns to his great-grandchildren.

I would love it if such things could be privately done. But I think if we're going to have any hope of seeing such a program even begin within our lifetimes, it will have to be funded by governments, as only they have enough resources to do so. Call it a jobs program, if you must--it'll boost the economy and math/science education :)

PS: An interesting novel on the subject is Firestar, I believe by Michael Flynn.

Re:Space isn't an option, it's a requirement (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626897)

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* elements are going to run out here, why they can't be replaced with some other material (including new developments like nanotechnologies), where they can be found elsewhere in the solar system in suitable quantities, and how they will be retrieved.

Re:Space isn't an option, it's a requirement (1)

Chabo (880571) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626999)

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 a safer universe. And now everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of our civilization.

Space is a waste! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626235)

Outsource it and forget it, we have problems to solve here on the real world. Let the other idiots waste their time exploring the big black nothing.

23 years ago? (2, Interesting)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Good ol Nasa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626393)

Good ol Nasa

Im a Privateer (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626409)

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 *

Exploration is a defining characteristic... (1)

rdejean (150504) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626557)

of mankind. It's what we do. We explore, and we learn. It's what we've always done. How many people died exploring the new world 500 years ago? 500 years from now, catching a flight to Mars will be just as routine as catching a flight to London is today. I only wish I could live long enough to see it...

How about (1, Flamebait)

Mycroft_514 (701676) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626637)

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.....

Money obeys gravity! (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626681)

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.

I thank you fo8 your time (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26626849)

is EFNet, and you lead deve7opers

Rocketeer vs. Mourner (2, Insightful)

ElboRuum (946542) | more than 5 years ago | (#26626941)

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 put that "go where no one's gone before" mentality behind us with its promise of larger-than-life frontier exploration. The only reason an American footprint exists on the moon was because we didn't want our Cold War rivals to leave us behind in technology which might be needed in military applications against them. I love how that's been romanticized into some kind of philosophical manifest destiny.

Only when we stop looking at space travel as something heroic we do once in a while with the pomp and circumstance accorded to the victors in fierce battle will we actually find the reasons for continuing in this endeavor.

The future value of space exploration will come only from a statement of permanence and an eye toward practical concerns.

Space travel must produce scientific and engineering knowledge which increases its own capability, repetition, and safety such that space flight IS something we do every day, and not just every once in a while. Moreover, it comes from having a "next step" always on the must do list, which means that just circling the Earth, something we've known how to do for the entirety of the space program, must soon give way to actual destinations. Permanence. Furthermore, both with science/engineering benefit and possible commercial concerns (profit!), space travel must find a way to pay for itself without relying completely upon a tithe from governments. It will probably ALWAYS need to be funded by governments, big science always does, but it needs to find a way to chip in.

The big gestures like going to the moon help in the marketing of space travel and NASA as a whole, but ultimately there has to be some foundational principle of pragmatism, even in the face of the utopianism of pure science, which ironically allows the utopia its existence. It would be a shame to lose what is a necessary part of our future as a species to a set of well-meaning, yet hopelessly impractical, purist ideals.

What's the role of Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26627059)

I was just reading about the role of space in an Aviation Week blog and then find this post. I really think we need to update our Space agenda. The question is not are we mourners or rocketeers...we want to do what's best for us!

I found this blogpost that explained the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) mission

Not even the right kind of argument (2, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

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