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Half a century after the flight of Yuri Gagarin awakened humanity to the high frontier, crewed spaceflight is still enormously expensive and dangerous.  We remain in the same basic era of capability as those early pioneers, only with greater technical competence at using more or less the same technology - and yet paradoxically with far less confidence or clarity of vision in applying what has been learned.  This, which we can call the First Space Age, has dragged on far longer than anyone had hoped or predicted, and kept both the cost and risk of human spaceflight at unacceptably high levels in pursuit of increasingly petty and unambitious objectives.  But there is hope on the horizon, and we may soon be crossing the threshold of a new era where spaceflight is not only cheaper and more frequent, but much safer and more ambitious than at any time since Apollo.  

I.  The First Space Age: Failure is Not an Option

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Only a decade removed from the megadeaths of WW2, the Cold War superpowers were predictably callous about the human cost of their technological programs: Members of the Armed Forces or even, sometimes, the general public were subjected to lethal medical experiments, atomic bomb tests, and other harmful studies - often without their consent.  Most relevant to this discussion, the death toll of experimental aviation technology was legendary, as illustrated by the famous Tom Wolfe book (and later film adaptation) The Right Stuff: Finding out whether something worked or not consisted of putting a human pilot in it and having them fly it beyond its design limits, then either recover and land or bail out.  

Test pilots would do this over, and over, and over, testing a multitude of different properties of the aircraft, with the engineers working on the technology changing things as they went along based on what the pilots reported.  This is still basically how things work with experimental aircraft, but today the approach is far more subtle: Countless computer simulations and unmanned tests precede putting a pilot in the cockpit, and even then they methodically tease the limits over test programs extending over years.  In the late 1950s and early '60s, however, it was considered easier and quicker to just put a man in the cockpit and tell him to push it as far as he could, and a smoldering pile of wreckage on the desert floor could be almost as informative as a living pilot's reports.  With the resources of the entire Cold War US economy behind these efforts, experimental aircraft were cheap and lives were cheaper.

But that all changed when this same corps of elite test pilots became astronauts: The task was essentially the same, although in a totally unprecedented domain - to operate the first generation of manned spacecraft so that American technology could evolve to meet the challenge of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon.  And because of the mythos surrounding their missions, and their status as national heroes and symbols, they were no longer expendable.  Not even the legendarily callous Soviet government could get around it - they too discovered that the people riding the rockets were politically indispensable.  Thus Failure Is Not An Option became the ideological credo of the First Space Age well before Gene Kranz first stated it, and has remained to this day.

When you think about it, it made little practical sense: The rockets the first astronauts and cosmonauts flew on were little more than improved ICBMs (which both countries were churning out like sausages), and the capsules they rode in were just airtight tanks with a few bells and whistles attached - very crude stuff.  And moreover, every last system other than the pilot was expendable, and would be used only once.  So there was no economic imperative to insist that no expense be spared to ensure success every time - quite the opposite.  Either or both superpower programs could have advanced much farther, much more quickly if they had taken the same approach to spaceflight as military aviation.  But they couldn't, because the eyes of the world were on them and every failure was a national failure - every loss of crew a national tragedy that cast doubt on the entire program and the competence of the government managing it.

Apollo 1  

But, ironically, Failure is Not an Option comes at a heavy price not just in money and time, but in lives and the mission for which those lives are sacrificed.  To be as certain as possible of success before building up experience and learning hard practical lessons, both the US and Soviet programs had to design their entire launch architectures around enormously expensive and inefficient systems that require standing armies to manage and operate and years of lead time to launch anything.  And what that means is you can't launch very often: Every single human space launch from 1961 to this very day has had to be managed like a mini-space program unto itself, involving an unimaginable level of complexity and potential failures.

Because Failure is Not an Option, there was simply no opportunity to build up experience in a timely fashion: Lessons that might have been learned in a year were instead only learned in ten years at orders of magnitude greater financial cost and the same if not higher ultimate number of deaths.  And this is where the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee provides an important example: All the billions of dollars and an entire decade of preparation that had gone into the program up to that point failed to account for a trivial matter of air mixture - something that could have destroyed a space mission while underway, which might easily have made it impossible to find out what happened or why.

The air mixture in the Apollo 1 capsule was not something new: All the Mercury and Gemini flights had used pure oxygen, and the full-up ground tests that preceded them had all used it at greater than ambient pressure, so the risk of fire had been there all along.  But because these tests and flights were so infrequent, the program transitioned from 1 astronaut per mission to 2, then from 2 to 3, and thus when the probabilities finally added up to a fire, it was three astronauts rather than 2, 1, or none at all that were killed in order to learn this lesson.  When you insist that Failure is Not an Option, the cost in lives of the failures that ultimately do happen is going to be higher, and the programs they die for will take longer, cost more, and have less to show for it.

Now, granted, this approach did get America to the Moon and bring every single one of its lunar explorers home alive, but the entire system had been developed on a totally unsustainable footing - every mission was tremendously expensive, time-consuming, and infrequent.  And so, having sacrificed not only the three Apollo 1 astronauts to reach the Moon, but a number of others in training accidents, as well as all the ground crew, technicians, and engineers both at NASA and its contractors who had died for the program over the years, America simply abandoned the Moon three years after first landing on it and has not returned since.  Because the failure of a single mission was not an option, the failure of the entire program was guaranteed, and the sacrifices made for it were simply discarded.

One of the multitude of ironies surrounding this fact is that the purposes for which the Air Force spent so many lives in its test programs were not even in the same ballpark of importance as Apollo, but largely thanks to those sacrifices, aviation - both military and commercial - advanced by leaps and bounds in the decades following WW2.  We went from propeller-driven tin cans flying 300 mph at 5,000 feet with a dozen passengers to pressurized jumbo jets flying hundreds of people 500 mph at 35,000 feet in a single generation.  But because the lives of the astronauts were so politically precious, and the public perception of even unmanned technical failures so damaging, Apollo was doomed to be abandoned in its moment of triumph and NASA would be left to wander aimlessly in low Earth orbit up to this very day.

In fact, we can say that Failure Is Not An Option killed Apollo not only through cost and lack of cumulative experience, but as a matter of direct necessity: Exploring the Moon with the technology developed under that philosophy was never going to be safe enough to satisfy it, so it was decided to just quit while we were ahead and count ourselves lucky that no one had died on the Moon or in transit.  Got that?  Because safety was too important for space missions to happen frequently, the only architecture that could be developed within the decade time limit was too unsafe to keep using, and thus our ambitions had to be scaled back rather than changing the philosophy that had sabotaged them in the first place.  Such crazy thinking would be the hallmark of the next period in NASA history, the Shuttle program, and would play a central role in both of the Shuttle's catastrophic disasters.

"FINAO" in practice turns out to not so much be a statement of rational priorities, but more a state of denial that simply defers the inevitable human cost of exploration while sabotaging its progress.  We've all met people who are so obsessed with neurotic fears of death that they forget to actually live; people who spend so much time on their appearance that they have nothing else to offer beyond initial attraction; cars that are so cheap, they end up costing more because of all the damn maintenance, etc.  Well, that's kind of what happened to NASA, and why human spaceflight remains dangerous, expensive, and infrequent: By political necessity, they were (and remain) so focused on not failing that they ended up forgetting how to go anywhere or do anything, and yet catastrophes still happened - in fact, more of them, with a higher death toll, and on behalf of increasingly trivial missions.

I suppose we should be grateful that "FINAO" at least kept manned spaceflight on life support, since actually ending it altogether would be "failure" and thus not an option.  But instead of outright euthanasia, we got an induced coma - "space exploration" was redefined to mean nothing more than "doing random busywork where the sky is black."  No destination or long-term purpose needed.  No technological or economic improvements need apply.  And thus, the Space Shuttle was born: More expensive to fly than any other rocket, and statistically more dangerous to astronauts than any other system they had ever ridden to space, but it looked cool and carried lots of miscellaneous things to do so the public would forget nothing was actually being accomplished.  At this point, NASA started pushing the idea that the purpose of space exploration was science, when before then it had clearly been the other way around.  

Time

This made perfect political sense, of course: Science as the purpose of the program could be done in low Earth orbit, and there would be no opportunity to apply what was learned in ambitious ways that might result in failure.  The single boldest thing the Shuttle ever did was to fix the Hubble telescope in 1993 - i.e., correct a failure that had already occurred, because FINAO.  Except that, oops, once again it was a failure caused by FINAO itself: All the expensive, time-consuming ground-based preparation for the Hubble trying to create a perfect product had instead yielded blurry optics requiring another expensive, time-consuming mission to correct.  

In fact, they had no choice about doing it that way: NASA had to apply FINAO to Hubble and every other probe because FINAO had made launch so expensive that it would be uneconomical to just shotgun-blast the heavens with cheap probes and let statistics sort out what works and what doesn't.  So this self-perpetuating philosophy of stasis born in 1961 has been screwing both the manned and unmanned sectors of space exploration ever since.  And in the final decade of its run ending in 2011, what was NASA using the Shuttle for?  To construct a space station - not as a launching point to go anywhere else; not as a dry-dock to construct interplanetary spaceships; nope - just as another, bigger place to do science.  

Often the science being done on the station isn't even designed to enable space exploration!  Just any old thing where a weightless environment can be useful.  Gee, we could test out an artificial gravity centrifuge that could enable long-term manned missions to Mars, but instead we'll host a bunch of pharmaceutical experiments for Pfizer.  See, because exploration is dangerous, and danger risks failure, exploration is not an option.  Pure science, however, is relatively hard to fail - especially in little modular, self-contained experiments shipped up and down like cargo.

This is the "mission" that Shuttles Challenger and Columbia were serving when they were destroyed, that fourteen astronauts who had believed in the dream of exploration ended up giving their lives for - busywork invented to serve the FINAO philosophy.  All because of yet another horrible, ridiculous irony: The more banal and mundane the activity becomes, the less politically catastrophic it is to kill people in service to it.  Because of FINAO, if those brave people had died on Mars, that would have been the end of that entire program.  But because they died serving the status quo, doing miscellaneous science or maintenance chores in orbit for a bureaucracy that lacked the political clout to give them the exploration missions they all dreamed of, there was never any significant danger that the program would be canceled.  Ever since the end of Apollo, the message from Congress has been loud and clear: Kill as many people as you want, as long as no one can figure out what the sacrifice was for.

Thanks to this madness, the Space Shuttle program turned out to be statistically more dangerous than its predecessors, and in its final years needed so much time between launches to be made "safe" that the flight rate collapsed to 1 or 2 per year while costs ballooned to unprecedented levels.  So thanks to the politically-driven obsession with safety, decades have been squandered making space ever more dangerous, more expensive, and less frequent, and now the United States doesn't even have an independent manned spaceflight capability.  That's right - FINAO degenerated our capabilities so badly that it became safer to ride antiquated Russian rockets than our own technology, and they're not getting any safer either.  Thank God someone has decided to stop this crap and get serious...

II.  The Second Space Age: If at First You Don't Succeed, Fly, Fly Again!

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If an automaker in 1920 had been forced to make cars as safe as they are today, what they built would have looked like a tank, had a top speed of 5 mph, a range of 20 miles, and cost more than the owner's house.  I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea: It would have defeated the purpose of having a car, and might even have ended up being more dangerous due to how few of them would be made, and how rarely those few would be operated - unforeseen, catastrophic problems could crop up that had already been dealt with in more prolific, "unsafe" cars.  

To make real progress on safety you first have to build a thing to accomplish its purpose: In the case of a 1920s car, transport people more quickly and over longer distances than a horse.  Believe it or not, safety is a secondary consideration to accomplishing that mission - otherwise you wouldn't buy a car in the first place, because it's safer to just not travel.  However, once you are able to build something that does the job with some reasonable (not absolute maximum) safety margin, it may be affordable and practical enough for a significant number of people to use them.  Their experiences quickly add up to a massive amount of concurrent testing data that enables rapid, continuous advancement of every aspect of the technology, including safety.  As the quality, affordability, and efficiency of the product improves, so the number of people using it will increase, yielding an even larger set of data, and so on.  

After ninety years of that, and with regulators pushing manufacturers to adopt proven safety measures, you end up with cars as safe as they are today: Airbags, three-point seatbelts, crumple zones, ABS brakes, traction control, etc. etc.  None of which would or could have been developed by an automaker who had been forced from the beginning to make cars as safe as possible, rather than as safe as practical.  In a world where doing so had been the law, all the automotive technology of the last century would be concentrated in one or two manufacturers of very expensive products: It would all have gone into making these slow, massive, short-range tank cars work incrementally better and look incrementally better, all the roads would be designed for them, and anyone who came up with radical new ways to be just as safe while having far superior performance would have to single-handedly invent an entirely new industry because every automotive supply chain would be geared toward the lumbering hulks.

That's what happened with spaceflight: The entire space industrial edifice is designed around the hulking, hyper-expensive, uber-complex infrastructure built in the 1960s to meet the FINAO imperative, and there is simply no room in it for anything that doesn't also abide by that imperative.  And that's why, rather than improving, both safety and cost have been getting worse since then in the systems designed around it.  Enter one Elon Musk, founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX (and CEO of Tesla Motors).  Musk has not only done exactly as mentioned - single-handedly inventing his own supply chains to circumvent a sclerotic industry - but done it twice, in the case of both space rockets and automobiles.  His companies are no mere assemblers of other people's components: They are vertically integrated, meaning they not only make almost every component, but in a number of cases they make the tools that make those components.

spacex-factory-06-0112-lgn-87860333

As a result, if his teams want to change something in a design, they don't have to go through some ruinous process of trying to communicate and coordinate with disparate subcontractors and suppliers all over the world: They can just get up and walk to the relevant desks and have a conversation, or else plan to have a meeting an hour later - simple, quick, productive.  Innovation incarnate.  This is how SpaceX's current rocket, the Falcon 9, has already reduced launch costs from the rest of the industry by 2/3 while having a thus-far perfect success rate at 4 out of 4 (knock on wood).  And that's just the beginning - they will soon be transitioning to a vastly more powerful and more efficient engine and larger fuel tank, and are also pursuing stage-reusability that would decimate costs and radically increase safety if successful.  

And how is this possible?  Well, because Musk spent the first six years of SpaceX history failing to launch rockets!  He littered the equatorial Pacific with multimillion-dollar wreckage not once, not twice, but three times in a row, each time demoralizing the hell out of his employees, agonizing over what to change, and drifting ever closer to personal bankruptcy with each failure.  But every time, failure was most definitely an option.  And then...it worked.  And whoa-ho did it ever work - it worked so well they were able to put 9 of them together to create the Falcon 9, and that has worked every time they've launched it.  You may have heard they've also built what will become a manned spacecraft in a couple of years, the Dragon, and have flown it autonomously to the International Space Station twice, replicating key technical achievements of the Gemini program (e.g., docking in orbit) at a tiny fraction of the cost.

You may also have heard about a hiccup in the most recent Falcon 9 / Dragon cargo flight where the rocket lost an engine mid-flight: F9 was specifically designed to tolerate such a loss - because...you guessed it...failure is an option - and thus the mission still reached orbit and delivered the Dragon.  Failure of components is an option in order to make mission success more likely, and mission failure (like the three original failed launches) is an option in order to make the success of the overall program more likely - a program that has as its ultimate goal the large-scale human colonization of Mars within two decades.  Thanks to all this "failing," both at SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk is now a multi-billionaire (his net worth before had only been 9 figures), and is on track to rescue NASA manned spaceflight from its politically-induced death spiral.

Now, failures of unmanned rockets and satellites are one thing, but I don't want to sound like I'm saying that SpaceX would be lax in safety when it comes to human flights: Quite the opposite.  What they've done is initiate as a "virtuous cycle" beginning with the unmanned launches where the rockets and spacecraft that will ultimately launch people are made ever-safer, ever-more reliable, and increasingly affordable, precisely because they're willing to accept failure as a cost of doing business.  By the time people are using these rockets and spacecraft, they will have flown so many times, and ironed out so many issues, that it's likely the very first flight of the manned Dragon will be the safest human space launch in history.  And as a result of both that safety and low cost, a lot more of these flights will happen per year than has ever been possible before.

NASA itself may never fully escape from the FINAO trap, since it is by nature bound to politics, but SpaceX doesn't need them to in order to deliver these advances: As a private contractor, they will also be launching commercial manned Dragon flights for rich private customers, corporations, universities, and any number of small countries around the world.  And these flights won't necessarily be to the space station - so orbital flights can happen that don't need to be bounded by the ISS schedules and crew rotations, meaning they can fly at their convenience.  This is especially true if SpaceX proceeds with its plans to build its own spaceport, so they wouldn't even be limited by the schedules of public-sector launch ranges like Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg AFB.  In other words, they could launch as often as demand and their own ability to supply could handle.

More launches means more experience, more opportunities to deal with the technology in practice, and thus way more data to work with in designing improvements and subsequent generations of spacecraft - just like in the automotive example.  Moreover, while obviously they would want some reasonable assurances, private customers looking for a space adventure or a research flight might not be as nitpicky about exactly how the desired safety margins are achieved: As long as they aren't endangering third parties, they can make their own cost/benefit judgments and assume greater risk if they deem it a better proposition.  And the beauty of it is that NASA would benefit from all of it even if they themselves remain bound by law or bureaucracy to still insist on FINAO.  The safety offered by Falcon 9 / Dragon would just keep improving thanks to the frequency of flights made possible by private customers.

There is, however, a down side - although no more than anything we do here on Earth: Even though the statistical chance of a deadly accident would go down, the fact that flights are happening a lot more often and taking a radically increased number of people into space means that sooner or later the absolute number of spaceflight deaths in a given period of time would keep increasing for generations.  If Dragon is made many times safer than Shuttle, but flies many times more frequently, you end up with more casualties in terms of absolute number even though any given astronaut or passenger is a lot safer.  This was a conundrum also encountered in aviation history, when planes started flying dozens of passengers rather than just one or two stunt pilots, and it's something we'll have to get used to seeing.

However, even that will eventually pass, as the lessons learned from high-volume spaceflight catch up to the growth in number of flights.  At some point Earth orbit is bound to become as safe and routine as air travel is today, although that's generations away.  Once that happens, the "zone of danger" would retreat out to "destination flights" beyond Earth - the Moon, Mars, Near Earth Asteroids - where the greater duration, impossibility of getting back to Earth quickly in an emergency, and the radiation hazards become the new domains where hard lessons will have to be learned at some human cost.

The bottom line is this: Given all the people who die pointlessly around the world through accidents, murders, and diseases - and the fact that we all die eventually, most of us without having accomplished much - there is no number of deaths for something as profound as human expansion into space that I find morally problematic.  Astronauts are intelligent, courageous people risking their lives for a cause, and I can't imagine any level of informed, voluntary risk being too high if it substantively contributes to that cause.  What I cannot stand for, however, is the waste of that courage and sacrifice by a government that won't let astronauts expand humanity's reach, but instead keeps risking them on missions to do piddling science experiments with no direct relevance to enabling space exploration.  

No one should die for a laboratory, and certainly not for mere pork-barrel spending.  When astronauts were children dreaming of space, they did not dream of being lab technicians in a so-called "outpost" a mere 250 miles from the ground, two generations after humans were roving the surface of the Moon.  They dreamed of being explorers, and at the risk of being presumptuous, I can say with confidence that the opportunity to be explorers is what they signed up for when they joined NASA.  What NASA has done with the sacrifices of the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia crews is a disgrace and a desecration, as well as an insult to everyone who has ever been inspired by its past achievements and deceived by its rhetoric of bold exploration.

But I don't blame NASA itself - it's mostly Congress that's responsible for its many disgraces over the years - and I think the agency to some extent realized it was wasting away after Columbia.  That's why its official plans include the construction of the Orion space capsule designed for missions to lunar orbit and asteroid rendezvous and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to propel it to these far destinations beginning in 2021.  Even if these projects are canceled, more advanced versions of Dragon are planned that would be capable of taking up the reins, so it's unknown at this point how things will shake out.  Maybe NASA is finally getting its act together...

Orion

Still, I don't know how much if any faith to place in Orion/SLS plans, or in the eventual safety of these systems if they are completed and used as advertised, but at very least if deaths occur on real exploration missions, there will be no question that those who died were paving a road to a brighter and more expansive future for humanity - not being sent in circles by a cowardly bureaucracy and a corrupt, nihilistic Congress.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  My father worked for NASA, and I grew up... (5+ / 0-)

    ...knowing a few of the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. I'll say this: while none of them wanted to die, every one of them certainly knew it was a distinct possibility. In my youthful awestruck way, I would refer to them as heroes, but they'd say they were really no different than a firefighter or Army soldier or cab driver; anyone who leaves their house to accomplish anything puts their life on the line. That's all.

    And NASA? talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good.

    Thanks for the excellent post. And the very best of luck to Elon Musk...

    Cogito. Ergo sum ​​atheus.

    by Neapolitan on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:03:35 AM PST

  •  Near-failure of Apollo 12 (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Ree Zen, carver, rja, BachFan

    Not that it relates to the point of your post exactly, but I recently found the amazing story of the Apollo 12 launch (PDF), which was saved by just a couple of people's quick recall and comprehension.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:06:13 AM PST

    •  Good thing too. (0+ / 0-)

      If Pete Conrad hadn't had such brass balls and ended up aborting, Congress might have cancelled Apollo immediately afterward since it had already succeeded once.  Any whiff of danger got the bastards' FINAO hackles up, and it's always a lot easier to avoid failure by just not trying than to increase commitment to a difficult goal.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:25:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I worry that a risk-adverse and (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, carver, JeffW

    increasingly non-engineering oriented public will keep us (well, the United States) on the ground.

    just a little bit bored.

    by terrypinder on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:06:56 AM PST

  •  Much Of This Was About our Nuclear Deterrence. (4+ / 0-)

    Every mission before Apollo was launched on our nuclear deterrence missiles, and those missiles were crap and had a huge failure rates.

    My dad worked NASA manned space back then. My take is that an army of launch and mission teams so that failure was not an option, was because failure was actually the dominant mode when these machines were used as delivered and as intended, and this whole manned space thing was a bullshit kabuki dance around the millimeter-underlying military hardware unreliability issues. And at least some of the program was about debugging the weaponry.

    My favorite mission was history's shortest rocket flight, Gemini 6 I that flew maybe a couple inches before shutting down and leaving its crew overfilling their diapers. That was on a "Titan-goes-boom" missile, video embedding disabled.

    The rest of the motivation was the decision to do this as realtime performance art in front of the world as Cold War propaganda. Whatever fraction of infinite pressure the unreliability of our hardware didn't impose, the performance art requirement was there to supply.

    By the time we got to Apollo to fly our first civilian gear, the technology was so bleeding edge that we needed the standing army because who knew what the hell it and its onboard so-called computers would do.

    We grudgingly allowed 1 scientist onto the moon and since the Rooskies had given up, we cut our losses and quit at that point so we could get on with our land war in Asia.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:09:14 AM PST

    •  That's a great theory - it fits very well. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      carver, JeffW, RiveroftheWest

      I had never considered that they were using the space program as a PR-friendly way of testing and improving their ballistic missiles.  I knew it was a PR-friendly way of using the same infrastructure, but hadn't considered that the actual flights were directly beneficial to the reliability of the weaponry.

      These days there are only two government drivers of rocket technology - pork politics and rapid reconnaissance satellite launches.  SpaceX is making tremendous progress on both fronts, so I think their access to NASA and military revenue streams will only increase with time.  As long as Elon Musk is in charge and the company isn't sold off, that means those resources will directly benefit SpaceX's reusability and Mars programs rather than distracting from them.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:20:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We had the technology even in the 1960's (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      To send a manned mission to Mars.  It was canceled to "save the budget." Which we promptly wasted on Vietnam.  Look up the NERVA rocket.  The whole sordid story revolves around it.

      I weep to think of where this country would be now if we were busy dominating not the planet but the ever-loving solar system with American achievements.

      •  Not to mention the trillion from the Iraq War. (0+ / 0-)

        It's the Satanic fiscal principle of corrupt governance: The more constructive, rational, and broadly beneficial the endeavor, the more frugality is called for; the more destructive, irrational, and narrowly-interested the endeavor, the more imperative it is to give it maximum funding.  If they'd thought to just literally set the money on fire and throw people into it, they would have done that instead of wasting destructive potential on organized warfare.

        Pour yourself into the future.

        by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:10:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great write up, I actually planned on being (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, JeffW, BachFan, BusyinCA

    an astronaut literally since I was the age 7, even after watching Challenger blow up live in my school room. If anything I was more determined despite witnessing that.

    I didn't have the total smarts so I planned on getting into the Air Force and going through the Test Pilot program. The minute I turned 18 I showed up at a recruiter office.

    Aced the testing, failed the physical. Bad eyes.

    The recruiter was funny though, he kept emphasizing that I could still fly and well because I tested so well. Told him thanks but no thanks, I had a mission and that was the only reason for being there.

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:37:26 AM PST

    •  Sounds familiar. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      idbecrazyif, carver, BusyinCA

      I had the smarts but not the body.  Even when I'm completely healthy and fit, and could hike forever and a day, I can never run for more than five minutes straight.  But I still held on to the notion that I could become an astronaut for a while.  Then when I rode a particularly intense roller coaster at age 17 and my face went numb from the g's, that's when I finally admitted there was no possible route from there to an astronaut career.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:04:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I even went so far as to go to the camps (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, JeffW, rja, Simplify, BusyinCA

        Got to ride in a jet before hand as well, experience what kind of g's they experience.

        Intense, but so exhilarating.

        That recruiter was so funny, he pleaded with me stating that unequivocally I would be an almost certain for flying in things like bombers, and co-piloting choppers, etc..

        IDK though, years later I found out the Air Force changed their standards so that corrective lenses and surgery would allow people to fly.

        Life has a funny way of putting you exactly where you are sometimes.

        --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

        by idbecrazyif on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:25:21 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Recruiters are bullshit artists. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          idbecrazyif

          The military isn't a path to a career in anything other than a few specialized technical fields.  I had looked into the Air Force myself as a teenager before my rollercoaster reality check, and pilots have to be officers, which means you'd have to go to the academy, which means being nominated by a Congressman.

          Then after graduating, you go to officer training school; then after that you compete to be a pilot; then once you're a pilot, you compete for the best aircraft; then you build up a record of performance and make political connections and apply to the astronaut corps; then once in the astronaut corps, you compete for the chance at a mission; then most likely you never get one, and end up working a desk job.  Pffft.  Joining the Air Force without going through all that crap, as an enlisted man, you'd just end up washing dishes, manning a radio, or waving glow sticks on the runway.

          But things will get a lot easier with manned Dragon - ordinary people in good health will be able to fly to orbit as employees of private corporations, flyers sponsored by nonprofit organizations, university faculty, etc.  For non-NASA flights, few of their Right Stuff rules need apply.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:51:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I totally agree with you (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Troubadour

            My cousin who went into the Air Force around the same time, he landed as an Apache pilot and we tested relatively the same, so who knows.....So I guess it was a good thing about my eyes, but then again try explaining that to a starry eyed and wishful 18 year old.

            I was always leery of the privatization of the space program, but I think my initial thoughts are being challenged and faster than I realized. Stuff I read about in books years ago actually might be occurring in my lifetime is exciting and scary.

            --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

            by idbecrazyif on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:58:17 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Elon Musk is the only reason privatization (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              idbecrazyif, BachFan, Simplify

              can work in this case.  Only with a mission-oriented entrepreneur can it work.  If they were just doling out contracts to the likes of Boeing and Lockheed - which was apparently the original intent of the commercial program, given how pissed Congress has been at SpaceX for interfering -  the money would all just be pissed away with nothing to show for it, and meanwhile the public side of the infrastructure would be dismantled.  It would be a pitiful and disgraceful way to finally euthanize America's space program.  But because we have SpaceX, the damn thing looks like it's going to work!  

              It's almost like The Producers - Congress never expected commercial contracts to work, they didn't want it to work, and they certainly didn't want some privately-held upstart company muscling in on what was supposed to be a quiet liquidation of NASA manned spaceflight.  But Musk got in on it, and the charade has been turned into a reality while Congress looks on in bitter, impotent resentment.  There's nothing they can do about it: SpaceX could walk away from every government contract and still be profitable, and their balance of business will only become more dominated by the private sector over time.  If every businessman were like Elon Musk, capitalism would actually work.  But since virtually no one in business is like Elon Musk, we just have to be grateful he is where he is.

              Pour yourself into the future.

              by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:20:05 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Not exactly (4+ / 0-)

            Pilots do have to be officers, but you don't have to attend the Academy. In fact, the majority don't.

            Most officers of my day were commissioned through ROTC and some even through OTS (90 day wonders).

            I even had my college tuition paid for by ROTC scholarship.

            If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

            by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:09:34 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  My friend was there (9+ / 0-)

    My best friend grew up on NASA sites; her father was one of the engineers. She went to church with Glen and his kids; her dad shared an office with "Uncle Neil." And her dad was one of the people who finally got the door to Apollo 1 open. He never spoke about it, and she didn't learn of her dad's role until shortly before he died.

    Thanks for reminding us of this important history.

    Zen is "infinite respect for all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility for all things future."--Huston Smith's Zen Master

    by Ree Zen on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:48:36 AM PST

  •  As for engine failure tolerance, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, JeffW, BachFan

    I seem to remember that a couple of NASA products also had the feature- the Saturn V and the Space Shuttle, or do I remember incorrectly? Of course, with fewer engines they could tolerate fewer failures and still accomplish their missions I suppose. With 9 you should be able to tolerate two or three stopping, I would think. Depending on when the failure occurred, of course.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:19:33 AM PST

    •  F9 is multiple-loss-tolerant, IIRC. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, billmosby, BachFan, Simplify, BusyinCA

      But I should point something out: The engine that failed didn't just stop working - the entire structure of it broke apart in flight, and the rocket still made it to orbit.  I'm not an engineer, but that seems like an unusual achievement.  Just try to imagine that happening with anything else - a wheel falling off your car halfway between LA and Vegas and you still get there; an engine not just going out, but falling off the wing of your plane, and the plane completes the flight rather than bothering with an emergency landing, etc.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:33:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is impressive, yes (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, Simplify

        But the nice thing about liquid fuel rocket engines is that they are on the ass end of a vehicle accelerating forward at a high rate, so the debris will get left behind rather rapidly. If the breakup process didn't generate any high-speed fragments directed towards other engines (think turbo pump explosion...), and if piping didn't get disrupted, there is a good chance of a clean break.

        Engines on planes are designed to be able to part company with it somewhat cleanly, but there's a lot of stuff the debris can hit behind the engine, systems that can get ripped off during the departure, etc. A DC-10 was lost that way a few decades ago. Right at takeoff, a back fitting on an engine pylon failed, allowing the whole pylon, cowl, and engine to pivot around the front fittings before it departed completely. Unfortunately along with it went the hydraulic tubing connected to the front flaps on that wing, letting the flaps retract and causing a loss of lift on that side. A rolling moment resulted that the flight controls couldn't compensate for and it rolled over and crashed. I guess it was designed for an engine to come off the pylon cleanly, but not for a pylon failure.

        Ghastly, but interesting, business.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:13:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  SpaceX uses this same kind of approach (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          billmosby, Simplify, BusyinCA

          on every level, not just the Falcon 9 engines.  For instance, their approach to rad-hardening the Dragon isn't to load it down with shielding until it experiences minimal faults - it's to design it to survive massive simultaneous faults so that the normal radiation environment of LEO doesn't bother it.  

          That's the epitome of failure-IS-an-option design.  They've had some issues with it, but that's what such an approach is for - having issues is useful, because you can tweak it until it works as desired.  But when you have massively integrated, "perfected" systems designed by committees to meet FINAO, they're very rigid and changing things can be problematic and costly in terms of both money and delay.  

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:46:47 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  No one should die for a laboratory (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, BusyinCA

    But at some point, someone will probably die so that Elon Musk or one of his competitors can have an 11-figure net worth instead of a 9-figure net worth.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:13:23 AM PST

    •  No, we should all stay on Earth and die miserable (0+ / 0-)

      because you can't stand the idea of rewarding even someone who serves the freedom, survival, and boundless future of humanity.  Take your lame, misanthropic penis-envy to a discussion where it isn't totally inappropriate and idiotic.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:33:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You seem to have (0+ / 0-)

        a near religious fixation on this. Which is why my comment was somewhat sharply worded.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:49:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And you seem to have a spastic compulsion (0+ / 0-)

          to belittle people's passion for a thoroughly rational and moral endeavor.  You insinuate Elon Musk is some kind greedy corporate rat who will sacrifice human life for profit, despite every fact of his entire life and career, and then divine from my being offended by this insane comment that I'm some kind of zealot.  Whatever the hell your reasons are for these absurd remarks, they make you sound like a troll.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 12:02:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Because I'm not sufficiently enthusiastic in your (0+ / 0-)

            "only Elon Musk can save the human race!" hero worship?

            If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

            by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:08:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  I apologize for my last comment. (0+ / 0-)

      Let me try to respond constructively: Eventually, as in all other areas of life, predators and parasites will be involved in space-based business, and some day any number of spaceflyers may die because of the recklessness, greed, or callousness of such people.  But it would be insane to attribute such behavior to Elon Musk, or to act as though such a danger is central to what is going on here.  In fact, I don't know what point you were trying to make by saying this.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:40:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't either (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, BachFan, BusyinCA

        SpaceX has been a marvel, and Musk's approach has been all along to make it less expensive AND safer.  He wants it to succeed.  In fact I am not sure of anyone else working toward this goal as assiduously as he is.  

        This guy was the founder of Paypal.  He could be sickeningly wealthy but instead he's chosen to be a pioneer in a way that is truly pioneering.  My hat is off to Mr. Musk.  I wish I could re-start my career and go work for him.  I think they're doing the hands-down most exciting work in the world right now.

        •  Musk is singularly heroic as far as businessmen go (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BachFan, BusyinCA

          After the third launch failure, he put every last dime of his fortune into the fourth launch and even had to borrow money from friends in order to keep it going.  He basically plunked the last of his Paypal fortune down on the table and bet on Red, and it was Red.  If it hadn't been, he would have gone from being super-rich to being someone's six-figure employee and a DeLorean-level cautionary tale of entrepreneurial hubris.  And when Tesla ran out of money, he did it again.  The man's on a mission, and any implication that he is even the same species as Wall Street scumbags and greedy corporate vermin is repugnant and insane.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:17:32 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Pardon me (0+ / 0-)

          for not expressing sufficient billionaire-worship. I'll try to show more corporate-correctness next time.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 11:13:28 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I think it's only a matter of time (0+ / 0-)

        before we have a Valu-Space or a Colgan Spaceways.

        Corporations exist to make a profit.

        Nothing wrong with that inherently, but it's easy to cut corners on safety because "Hey, we haven't crashed one yet".

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:54:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, slippytoad, BachFan

    Glued to the screen of my 14” black & white TV, I couldn't believe that we (human beings) had actually set foot on the moon.  Beyond that, I was sure that we would have colonies on the Moon within the decade.  I was a science teacher and a terminal SF nerd so I was sure that NASA would vigorously pursue human expansion into the cosmos.  However, before the last man set foot on the Moon, NASA had turned the entire enterprise into a boring, humdrum affair and the congressclowns with the money saw a diminishing political appeal to the space program.
    It's true that some amazing technology was fast tracked by the space program such as: integrated circuits and computer technology, GPS, Advanced weather monitoring, accurate mapping of the globe...etc.,  but in space exploration and explotation all we have are some Moon rocks,  a tin can habitat in LEO and the smug knowledge that we beat the  godless Soviets.
    What a revolting development.  

    Tipped & rec'ed

    "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them. Isaac Asimov (8.25 / -5.64}

    by carver on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:35:14 AM PST

    •  I believe the entire personal computer revolution (4+ / 0-)

      Grew out of the need to put a tiny computer on the Apollo capsule.

      Well, not believe.  I know.  I have worked in IT for 18 years.  I am very familiar with the history of computing.

      If we had even a tenth of the common sense of a grasshopper, we would have driven full speed ahead.  Every advance in technology in the space program has had major economic benefits down the road.

      •  Space is a "pinnacle industry." (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        carver

        Every dollar invested in it cascades and multiplies into every other area of the economy because manned space operations integrate every single area of logistics, science, medicine, and technology.  

        Pour yourself into the future.

        by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:28:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  A few points (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Simplify, RiveroftheWest

    The fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew on the ground would not have happened in space. Not saying a fire couldn't happen in space - they knew that was not only a risk, but a likelihood. That particular mix of air would not have caused a fire in space - it was only at sea level that it was dangerous for a full up test.

    Every one that worked on the program knew that one day astronauts would die, they just thought it would be in space. I disagree with the Failure is not an option idea - failure was at some point going to happen, and they knew it. They just didn't imagine it would happen like it did.  

    I also disagree that NASA was sending astronauts in circles simply because they were afraid they might die. As you said, Congress (and I would add the White House) made it impossible for NASA to go farther, but it wasn't because they were afraid to lose astronauts. That's certainly the reason they didn't let John Glenn fly again until he convinced them to let him go up on a Shuttle mission. But not astronauts in general.

    Yes, the shuttle wasn't built to fail. But the first US rockets were (just like SpaceX). And SpaceX could afford to fail - the US believed they couldn't because the original space program wasn't about space (or exploration or science); it was about national pride and military might and power. Shuttle was about the next step. We can debate whether Shuttle was a good idea, or a good idea twisted by bureaucracy. We can argue over whether the International Space Station was worth it, or if exploration without science is just tourism.

    Do you think if people thought that "a so-called outpost" wasn't important we would have thousands and thousands of people begging to become astronauts? Do you have any idea of how much we've learned by building Station, and by living there for ten solid years? It's not shiny, but it's important. And not just for "science" although that is part of it.

    But I take offense at the "cowardly bureaucrats". Not at NASA. Even the paperpushers give their hearts and souls to the program, and every single one of them would give their right arm to have prevented the three tragedies. They're not astronauts to us - they're family. We send them out there knowing the danger, knowing they might not come back. Do we work our hardest to avoid that kind of failure? You bet - and Elon will too, when he starts flying people. It's a whole different ballgame. Do we make mistakes? Hell, yeah. But we learn from them, and we vow to watch over our people and do our best to keep it from happening again. Does that make us risk-averse? Yes, if  working to not kill your friends is being risk-averse.

    And if we didn't believe that what we do is important, none of us would be at our jobs.

    •  I'm just wondering (0+ / 0-)

      I don't think there wasn't really anything stopping somebody like, oh let's say Howard Hughes, from attempting space flight in the early 1960s.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any entrepreneur wanting to do commercial space flight back then and the government telling them "No sorry, you can't".

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:57:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  They weren't afraid to lose astronauts (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan

      so long as the "mission" was kept unambitious, but the moment they would have started to actually explore again, astronauts would once again take on the mythos of Glenn, Armstrong, et al and losing them would be just as catastrophic.  The more public attention is paid to the mission, the more extreme the repercussions of a deadly failure would be.  And since FINAO, the only solution is just to do as little as possible while still being able to justify a pork-barrel budget.

      Shuttle was about the next step.
      In no way could Shuttle, even as originally envisioned, be called "the next step."  It was a fundamental retreat in capabilities from the Saturn V / Apollo, and an almost total departure in technology that simply pretended the lunar mission architecture had never existed.  I can't imagine that anyone in the program was fooled by it unless out of self-deception to feel better about the pointless scrapping of Apollo.
      We can argue over whether the International Space Station was worth it, or if exploration without science is just tourism.
      ISS would be worth it if it had been designed to enable exploration by, for instance, being in the right orbit for constructing and launching Mars missions, or being designed to house centrifuge modules.  But instead it was designed to be an end in itself with no direct utility to anything greater, and its indirect benefits to exploration were merely sold as an afterthought.

      As for "exploration without science," the purpose of science in manned spaceflight is to enable the general expansion of humanity into space, and once that begins to happen, a lot more pure science becomes possible than ever could be through some pitiful laboratory station with six people on it.  So there's really no excuse for the priorities being as they've been - they have not served human expansion into space, nor have they served science remotely as well as would otherwise occur.

      Do you think if people thought that "a so-called outpost" wasn't important we would have thousands and thousands of people begging to become astronauts?
      Because it's the best we have left thanks to FINAO and the abandonment of ambition, not because it's good enough.  If they tanked the station into the atmosphere and just had a dirigible station hovering at 90,000 feet, people would want to go there too.  People want to see and experience the High Ground, and connect with the cosmos more directly.  Give them a choice, and they would rather see Earth from the Moon than be limited to LEO, I'll guarantee you that.  But they're not given a choice, because the priorities that canceled Apollo and instead gave us Shuttle and station are degenerate.
      But I take offense at the "cowardly bureaucrats". Not at NASA. Even the paperpushers give their hearts and souls to the program, and every single one of them would give their right arm to have prevented the three tragedies.
      That's the problem.  Avoiding tragedy is not the purpose of a manned space program, and self-defeating when it becomes the primary focus.  The primary mission is exploration - protecting the crew is just one factor in that mission, subject to any number of potential risk/benefit judgments.  From everything I've read by them, astronauts know this - it's just bureaucrats who don't seem to get it, subjecting them to large, pointless risks later (e.g., o-rings and foam debris) in order to avoid taking manageable, goal-directed risks on a regular basis before (i.e., exploring instead of wasting time on a bloated, LEO-bound Frankenstein contraption like the Shuttle).  

      Not one astronaut would refuse to volunteer for a lunar, Mars, or asteroid mission, so NASA needs to stop wasting their time and stop wasting their lives on tasks that are beneath them and missions that do nothing to advance the frontier.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 11:40:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm always surprised by how much (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Major Kong

        people seem to forget that NASA is a government organization. NASA no more sets priorities than EPA, DoJ or HUD. We advise and try to steer the gov't one way or another - especially when it comes to human space flight - but NASA is dependent on the White House and Congress. No money, no direction. Who is telling NASA to build the SLS?

        We did lose astronauts, and astronauts in general did not become unflyable. We don't do so little because we're afraid of losing people. My point was that we do everything we can to prevent that - and still get the job done. I understand you don't like the job. Doesn't mean there aren't people out there who think it's critical to our future in space.

        You're thinking like we live in Star Trek and everyone is on board with space exploration for the sole reason of boldly going. That's not how it works, not for government-funded space. And yes, for that reason, commercial space is the future. But my point still stands - commercial space will get a lot more risk averse when they start flying people.

        •  You took exception to the term (0+ / 0-)

          "cowardly bureaucracy," but now plead powerlessness in forming policies that NASA personnel play a central role in proposing and shaping.  This is not a consistent position.  I can buy that there are dedicated, idea-based people within the Agency whom management doesn't want to listen to - that was my layman's impression following the loss of Columbia in the DIRECT v. Ares debates - but then you have to admit the validity of my statement about the bureaucracy.  

          The idea that NASA consists entirely of an army of forthright scientists, engineers, and space geeks dedicated to the ideals of human space exploration, but who don't utter a peep against stupid ideas foisted on them by corrupt interests...and are not cowardly...that doesn't compute.

          Or hell, let's not even consider the things that involve money - I rarely if ever hear NASA people make a clear, visionary statement of the agency's core long-term mission.  It's always some mealy-mouthed drivel about supporting science, technology, and education, inspiring the youth, blah blah blah.  No "We're here to expand humankind into the cosmos."  What do the pork-grubbers in Congress care about such a statement as long as they get paid?  And yet it's still not said.  The reason is that it's just not true that NASA people are overwhelmingly committed to that mission.  Its pragmatic culture has only limited contact with the philosophies and science fiction passions that drive interest in its missions - their culture is as much military/Right Stuff as science/2001, and neither is necessarily all that crazy about Star Trek.

          Yes, commercial space will help, though only because its backbone capabilities are being built by a guy personally committed to human expansion.  And that is having some virtuous influence on NASA by their contact and interactions with SpaceX.  I'm optimistic, but I'm not going to let NASA off the hook for being so lame and pusillanimous.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 12:47:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  How far we have come . . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    I remember learning about the first shuttle launch, when I with my Dad in his office.

    I read about the launch from a news update sent to the office's TELEX machine.

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