I had thought to accomplish actual work today
instead of dicking around on the Internetz. But then I made the mistake of ‘accidentally’ opening a browser window instead of a text editor 1 and the next thing I knew I was flying across the rings of Saturn. Which pissed me off. 2
Because — multivitamins, exercise, diet, resverstol supplements, much younger mistresses and HGH&placenta&deerantlerfuzz injections aside — I still continue to age. And each year that passes also seems to strip away more cherished ‘core’ notions, fables or outright-but-comforting lies. Which also pisses me off.
One of those notions was human space exploration.
I cut my literary teeth on Alfred Bester, E. E. “Doc” Smith , Arthur C. Clark, Issac Asimov, Philip Jose’ Farmer, Stanislaw Lem, Ray Bradbury, PKD, Heinlein, and…you get the idea. Hell I read Bester’s ‘The Stars My Destination’ at age seven, a year after it was published. Space exploration is in my blood; where some cranky old guys want to know where their jetpacks are, I want to know where my friggin’ space elevator is.
So, yeah, I was sad and a little upset last week when I saw a photo of the Discovery being piggy-backed to its new home. And that feeling was aggravated by watching the remarkable video over at Gilligan’s Island.
You know of course we have nothing ready to replace the shuttles?
In fact, we have no plans to replace the shuttles.
What we have are some Titans for boosting satellites. For anything else we have to call a taxi. 3 Seriously.
As a child I grew up in an era when space was the final frontier, long before Space: The Final Frontier had sunk into public consciousness. It was important to go into space, and not just to beat the damned Ruskies. 4 And we were good at it; at one point we alit on the moon 6 times within 5 years.
Hell, people, we were supposed to already have large, permanent space stations in orbit, and colonies on the moon. All that mining and asteriod scavenging that lately seems to be so hip, so now, so Charlie!? Dreams and youthful aspirations from engineers of the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Instead we’ve got…what? Nothing, really. Not even a toehold into space.
One could argue for hours over the root cause of NASA’s diminishment; poor management, lack of vision, Christa McAuliffe, the Obama administrations’ slashing funding for the Constellation program. Hell, at times even certain members of Congress –fearful of The Theologian’s Nightmare –have been all too willing to shutter NASA.
But the root of the issue has always been the natural tension that exists between rocket scientists and pols in general; one knows what the hell they’re doing, the other, shamefully, gets to set priorities, to include funding.
In an ideal scientific community priorities would reflect the relative importance and potential impact of competing theories/strategies, coupled with an honest assessment of the odds of success. Sorta like CERN’s LHC project.
But this is America, where Congress knows little about success and less about the relative importance of actual science. Yet they are the gatekeepers.
Which is why, one supposes, serious space exploration has been given over to the black bag community. DARPA’s 100 Years Starship initiative is undoubtedly funded by such a vast underground stream of money Congress could never hope to unearth all of it, sheilding it from the normal machinations of grasping Senators and Representatives.
So space exploration will go on.
It’s just that now most of it will be cloaked, hidden away from the public while the bright light of public scrutiny is shone instead on the oh so public competitors to be the first to get paying customers to ride
their new roller coaster the rim of the stratosphere, or receive the first ‘contract’ to mine the asteroid belts.
But the shared dream is gone.
Stephen Hawking once noted that we are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star; our only hope of survival is to colonize space.
It looks as though if we’re ever to achieve that goal, it will be a la the Three Stooges: one step forward, two steps backwards.
Right now we’re back slidin’.
- What are the odds, amiright? ↩
- I sincerely doubt this was Thurston Howell III‘s intent, but none the less… ↩
- The Russians, who –for a nominal service charge — are ready, willing and able to let us tag along in their Soyuz capsules. ↩
- Though, to be frank, there was a lot of that involved, if only to pry the necessary funding from Congress. ↩
- Other than Social Security, NASA is probably the only government agency that actually pays back tax dollars invested in it. ↩