Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This morning I listened to news coverage of the shuttle Discovery's return to Earth with a sense of foreboding and dread. With all the problems that had plagued this mission I was thinking "For want of a piece of foam, all of space may be lost."
If these astronauts had died it could have jeopardized and possibly even ended humanity's quest for the cosmos. This is the best case for private space flights and exploration. NASA, being a government organization, is ultimately subject to the will and whims of the public at large. Every time an expensive piece of equipment fails, there is pressure to cut funding. Every time an astronaut dies, there is pressure to take unreasonable safety measures. A privately funded space flight only needs the approval of two people: the guy who paid for the rocketship and the guy who is supposed to fly the damn thing, assuming they aren't the same guy.

When heavier than air flight was being developed over a century, there were many would-be pilots who tried to fly and died as a result. Early in the history of railroads, some "experts" were convinced that it would be fatal for a human being to travel faster than 30 mph. Progress depends on brave men and women pushing the envelope, not 298 million spectators fretting over the safety of seven people.


  1. I used to be a large fan of the space program.

    That has changed. The entire space program needs to be changed, I tend to prefer a private space program.

    We are "Wasting" a huge sum of money; I am not sure what returns we are currently getting from the program.

    The space program has become "Pork Barrel" politics at its best. California, Texas, and Florida will never allow the space program to be cut; they get too much money from it!

  2. The government has no sense of proportion. I wish I could remember where I read it (on the other hand, why let the credibility of the source of the information or the ability to verify facts get in the way of a good story), but I read that there was not a problem with the main fuel tank shedding foam projectiles in the earlier Shuttle flights because NASA used a more durable foam. Why did they switch? Well, they didn't want to offend environmentalists who noted that the more durable foam used more toxic chemicals in its manufacture. Unfortunately, NASA apparently didn't weigh the relative probability to the loss of human life between having a small amount of toxic chemicals released into environment and having a large Space Shuttle disintegrate in the atmosphere. I also read that there was a similar problem earlier with the putty and the O rings used to prevent gas leaks in the earlier solid fuel boosters. Remember Challenger? Fortunately, it appears that the NASA bureacrats never entertained the idea of lauching without the solid fuel boosters. Can you imagine the chemicals that those big monsters release into the environment?

    I am afraid that even privatized missions are going to have to suffer from too much regulation and micromanagement from Big Brother.