NASA’s Mistake

Um, I can’t let this go without comment. Yesterday NASA’s administrator, Michael Griffin, was interviewed by USAToday. In that interview, he admits that the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station are mistakes. I completely agree.

This is the best move NASA has made in 30 years. The Space Shuttle program is a failure. The program has launched just over 100 times, and they’ve lost two craft. Would you get in a car that blew up once every fifty times you drove it? By contrast, Russia has continued to use the same technology since their space program’s inception over 40 years ago, and they’ve never lost a single ship!

Last weekend I was visiting with some folks and someone quipped in a disapproving voice that we’re going back to the moon using 40 year old technology. I kept my mouth shut, but it was tough for me. I wanted to yell, “have you even paid attention over the past 20 years!?!?”

Merging the best of shuttle and Apollo technology is absolutely the right direction for NASA. I’ll say more about going back to the moon in another post, but I couldn’t let this go.

See, while NASA has been putting time, money & energy into the shuttle and space station programs, other countries have started their own space agencies. There’s more than 30 of them around the globe. Oh, sure, you’ve heard of the Chinese and Japanese space agencies, but how about Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden. Even Finland has one! Finland!

Now, there’s a lot of people at NASA that would like for you to believe that we’re working cooperatively with all of these agencies, and that’s true, partially. We’ve been working together with them on the space station. But what about planetary exploration? Um, no. We’re competing with them.

See, someone is eventually going to fully explore the Moon. And Mars. And beyond. And the first one that does gets to claim the resources that they find for their very own. Remember the exploration of the Americas? Like that, only planetary.

The good news is that NASA has experience, and a lot of the other players are still learning. This is why it makes such great sense for us to apply what we’ve learned through the shuttle to the Apollo technology from years ago.

Its all very exciting, really. If you, like me, want to keep up with what’s going on, NASA Watch is a great website which tracks what they’re up to.

5 replies on “NASA’s Mistake”

  1. Len – check out

    My bro-in-law’s company developed this site and I think they still have some function with it. It’s devoted to space, science and technology but really don’t know much about it. Let me know what you think about it.

  2. I don’t get it. Why would it be better to use old technology? I realize it’s tried and true, but we’ve made so many advances since then, especially in computer technology, upgrading plastics and manufacturing processes, on and on. Why then would we not proceed with newer technology? Expense? It’s like an old car; when does it become more economical, in terms of efficiency and finances, to junk it and buy a new one. I say move on.

  3. I think I’m confused by your write-up. In one paragraph you say you agree that the space station and shuttle are mistakes, yet in another you had to bite your tongue when someone disapprovingly spoke of visiting the moon in old technology. I know Apollo is not the shuttle, but still… So you would say “Apollo good, Shuttle bad”?

  4. Good questions. You’re right, my article isn’t clear. That’s what I get for blogging when I’m really tired.

    My relative was implying that it was bad for us to go back to rocket technology, like we’d be giving something up by going backwards in technology. But apart from the shuttle’s safety record, it isn’t designed to leave Earth’s gravity, and its so large that it isn’t really feasible to make that happen. Plus, you wouldn’t really want to carry all that weight around with you while you’re travelling between planets anyway.

    The best solution is for us to combine old & new technology. Its much more efficient to employ the advances that you mention (specifically with engines/propulsion) in a rocket. It’d be more stable, more efficient and take us further.

    This is all, of course, the humble opinion of an engineering student.

  5. As far as the moon goes, I think there are international treaties in place that prevent any individual country from laying claim to any part of it. So when we put our flag up there 36 years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s ours. 🙂

    That brings up the interesting question of just how people might go about mining or colonizing on it. I guess it would just have to be not under the aegis of any particular nation.

    On that topic, here’s an interesting fact related to that that I just learned from a little feature blurb that’s in the middle school physical science textbook I’m working on. (Just a moment while I put on my Mr. Science hat.) It said that someday it might actually be profitable to mine on the moon; and you know what for? Helium. Helium has lots of industrial uses because of its unique properties, and its quantity on Earth is limited. We get it mainly from natural gas deposits, where it is found as about a 1% impurity. But it’s so light that once it enters the atmosphere, it escapes right out into space. So once our geologic sources run out, that’s it. But apparently it’s fairly abundant on the moon, so we might get it there one day.

    I’ve learned a lot from our textbooks—my science education was just a joke all up through high school, and I often feel like I’m only now catching up!

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