Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Americans in space

I'm not in agreement with the Right about Obama being responsible for ending the U.S. manned space program. This is propaganda, because it was Bush who cancelled the Shuttle program, and the way I read it, there were very good reasons for the cancellation.

After the Columbia disaster, NASA (and Congress) decided that the Shuttle would either have to be changed to make it more survivable in the event of a major problem, or scrap the program and build something new. The costs of redesign were considered prohibitive, especially considering the basic technologies of the Shuttle are 40+ years old, so we're going with something new. This new direction is going to take time, and that's why we're without a system right now. Blaming Obama for this is absurd. Truth, I feel, is still more important than attacking political opponents.

The shuttle was a "do everything" system, and the argument can be made that dual- or multi-use vehicles are not good at any specific task. A dual-purpose motorcycle is a good example. It can go on-road or off-road, but a cycle specifically made for the highway is better on the highway, and a cycle specifically made for off-roading is better off-road. Heavy-lift rockets are simpler for getting in space, and they're safer and less expensive. Once in space, specialized craft for the moon or Mars are better for getting around.

Contrary to popular opinion, the American space program is not dead, including manned missions. Reuters story here:
    The spending plan, which was posted on a Congressional website on Tuesday, authorizes $3.8 billion for human space exploration programs, including $1.9 billion for a proposed heavy-lift rocket and $1.2 billion for a deep space capsule to fly astronauts to the moon, asteroids and other destinations in the inner solar system as a follow-on program to the International Space Station.
We're going back to the thinking, for the most part, that was prevalent before the Space Shuttle -- heavy-lift rockets to get into space, then other vehicles for other missions, like going to the ISS and the Moon. Some of the criticism about the new-old thinking is that it's not as exciting as a reusable spacecraft. So be it.

Because The Gubment runs the space program, it will always be marked by waste, fraud, and stupidity. Still, it is one area where government gets results. Our closest competitor in space is Russia, and they have had 15 consecutive failures on missions to Mars. Most of ours (all?) have worked well, especially the rovers. We're launching this week a new rover that NASA says is slightly bigger than a Mini Cooper. It will arrive on Mars in eight months.

So, our space program is alive and well, because it's still being funded and NASA is still doing good work.

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