Saturday, May 07, 2005

Do You Care? The Future Of American Space Flight Pt 1

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I still remember that morning and the phone call I got. I peeked at the clock with one eye and made sure that no, I definitely wasn't due to wake up for a while (at least a few hits worth of the snooze button anyway.) So, what the heck was it that couldn't wait til later?

Are you awake? she said hurriedly. Something has happened, one of the space shuttles blew up!

She knew that the news would be important to me, having been interested in NASA and space flight stuff since I was a kid.

You sure it blew up or did it just crash? I said. I knew that the shuttle was supposed to be landing today, that it carried the first Israeli astronaut or something...couldn't remember what else I'd seen about it on the news.

For some reason the image kept running through my mind of a shuttle trying to land, then rolling and being smashed to a million pieces. I rubbed my eyes, that couldn't be right.

Umm, it blew up. People watched it break up in the sky.

Which shuttle was it?

Columbia.

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So it's been some two years since that day. NASA has a 'return to flight' mission set to launch this July. What do most people think about that? Great, so what!

You know it's true. Yes, everybody deeply mourns the tragedy of Columbia. Yes, people are happy that NASA is able to launch shuttles again. I'm sure that in July some will crowd around the t.v. to watch Discovery take off into space.

But after that...well mostly the space program will be less interesting than which kind of sandwich to have for lunch. You mean a new part was added to the space station? Y-a-w-n.

This is a serious problem no matter what side of the fence you're on. NASA is either a) wasting money on something nobody cares about, or b) not getting properly funded due to lack of public interest. Or maybe even both.

So now what? Other than Bush's *ahem* somewhat unrealistic "Mission To Mars", nobody has stepped up with a clear vision for space flight in America. No, 'we promise to try not to blow up any more space shuttles' does not count as a vision...

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In Pt. 2 of this post I'm going to delve into questions like:

What (if any) kind of future does space flight have in the U.S.?

Is NASA worth it anymore?

What can we do to overcome the major obstacles facing space flight nowadays?

Do most people even care about this stuff?

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