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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Here am I floating in my tin can

I get a lot of grief for this, but I'm tired of human space flight. What could they possibly be doing up there that we couldn't do just as efficiently, more cheaply, and with way less risk to human life, if we just sent computers and robots?

Now when we send astronauts up there, we spend half the time worrying about whether they're going to get back down in one piece. When it comes to the price of arrogance, it seems that we rarely learn our lessons.

Comments (8)

I lost a lot of respect for them when I found out they could fly the thing while drunk. I remember in the post-Challenger days how NASA thought they'd lost track and would rededicate themselves to their mission. Or whatever. Then they just kept on keeping on.

I'm with you. The space program in its current form has long outlived its usefulness. Fortunately the Shuttle is due to be retired in the not too distant future. Maybe then they can get to work on this.

We ought to go back to chimps in space. We already have one in the White House.

Keeping a human alive in space is very expensive and risky, and the benefits derived from it do not outweigh the costs. Our resources should go towards fighting poverty, not helping drunks pretend to be Captain Kirk and Han Solo.

A real stalwart guy who has been way ahead on this issue for years is Bob Park, former head of Am. Physicists Society. He puts out a very witty one-pager every Friday called "What's New" where he lambastes and exposes creationism, cretinism, perpetual motion frauds and, regularly, spaceflight as mass entertainment (complete with gory spectacles!). It's written for laypeople, so you don't need to be a big-brain to read it, although only small brains don't find it funny.

It's truly sad to think about how much real knowledge we could get if we could just stop sending the monkeys up into space--just about all space spending is on keeping the monkeys alive.

You can find the archive (well worth perusing) of Bob's stuff here:


If, and only if, it would act as a substitute for war, that other exceedingly high risk undertaking, then I'd have no problem with it. But if you don't keep the high-risk types busy with something, they'll get into things they shouldn't. Manned space flight is fine with me...staffed space flight, even.

C'mon, let's be honest out there...Aren't there some people for whom the best thing they could accomplish in their lives would be to shoot them into space? I'd recommend the current president. I think he should be drafted for the trip to Mars. Now.

Who said anything about "come back"?

I dunno.... an awfully lot of science comes out manned spaceflight and NASA in general. Science that touches every aspect of our life. Science that wouldn't (and couldn't) be done by universities.

Check out http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/ to see some examples...

These astronauts are doing experiments that can only happen in a weightless environment, and some couldn't possibly be done by "robot".

What's next? No government grants for underseas research as well?

Someone here mentioned the costs vs. the benefits, but have you REALLY done a cost/benefits analysis? I'd love to see your spreadsheet that lists all the new advances and breakthroughs that have come out of NASA research vs. their cost to us taxpayers.

I bet just the innovations in medicine alone are worth the cost.

Don't mischaracterize what I said. I'm not against NASA or space exploration generally. I'm questioning whether playing spaceman with actual humans in space capsules is worth it. Stack up the benefits derived from having humans on board against the massive incremental costs that aspect of the program incurs. I'm confident that it doesn't pencil out as a good deal.

And don't forget to include as a cost the values of the many dead people.

Sorry, Jack, wasn't trying to mischaracterize you (or anyone for that matter). I'm sayin' that I think we get a ton of medical and materials benefits and research out of the space program, and for much of it, I think you need a living, thinking, adaptive being to handle the experiments. I can't imagine how complex the systems would need to be conduct the varied experiments and observations that humans do?

As far as the "dead people" argument goes, I know I'm going to come off sounding like an ass here, but I believe it probably pencils out the other direction. I believe that advances in medicine that have come as a direct result of space research have saved exponentially more lives than it has cost. Obviously I'm not intending to brush off the value of a life lost, but we gotta remember that all those folks understand the risk going in (although you can make the argument that they may not understand the additional risks imposed by the NASA bureaucracy and leadership failings...).

Do I have hard data to back all this up? Nahhhh, just my impressions. I'm not a NASA expert but I play one on TV.

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