Where's My Flying Car?
Pasadena - Oct 1, 2001
In 1981, when I was ten, my parents and I watched live on television as the very first shuttle blasted off from Cape Canaveral. I had such great hopes for the manned space program. I was excited because I thought the shuttle would take us to outer space. I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to go to the Moon, Mars and the other planets.
Now, in the year 2001, I feel betrayed. It's been nearly 20 years since the first launch and things are not as promised. They are not even on the road to �as promised�. My frustrations were expressed in a recent IBM commercial. It asked, �Where are the flying cars. I was promised flying cars?'
As an American, I feel gypped. I'm angry and I want something done about it. It's such a let down. I'm 30 and the future I pictured for America in space in 2001 just isn't happening.
NASA's latest endeavor, the International Space Station (ISS) is a waste of time and $30 Billion. What the heck is the United States doing spending that kind of money sending people into endless loops around the planet? If ISS has a purpose, I don't know what it is. The fact is that the ISS is not the best way to do either science or space-based manufacturing.
When it was originally pitched to Congress, NASA sold it as an orbiting manufacturing and research facility. NASA had a �If we build it, they will come' philosophy. NASA imagined dozens of companies lined up for a chance to make large crystals, exotic alloys, foam steel, and other space products.
Today, there are no companies lined up to take advantage of manufacturing in low Earth orbit. The launch costs are astronomical and it may be decades before it becomes cost effective to build in space. By that time, the ISS will be obsolete space junk.
There are no experiments planned on the ISS that can't be run on a shuttle mission or haven't already been done on the Russian spacestation Mir. Microgravity experiments? We wouldn't need them if NASA would simply spin the spacecraft or station to cause artificial gravity. NASA employs thousands to study the effects of weightlessness on the human body. Why bother? Longer manned missions to places like Mars need not be weightless. Spin the darn spacecraft!
The ISS will take about $30 Billion and 42 shuttle missions to complete. There have been about 100 shuttle launches to date. One, Challenger, ended in disaster when all seven astronauts onboard were killed. So the odds of disaster are about one percent each mission. When you have 42 missions, the odds start to look pretty bad.
Construction in space is hazardous. In Earth orbit there are a million paint chips moving at eight miles per second. Any one of them could kill an astronaut in a flash by piercing through their spacesuit at 50 times faster than a bullet. There's a good possibility that an astronaut will be injured or killed during the construction of the ISS.
Manned planetary exploration is far more rewarding than the ISS. I say we send a group of astronauts back to the moon for a while! The recent Clementine probe found water ice at the Moon's south pole. Astronauts could use this ice for rocket fuel and drinking water for a moonbase. The moon still has so much to teach us, it's high time we went back.
If the government is after international cooperation and good will, then a moon base fits the bill. It's planetary exploration that excites the world, and brings us together.
In 1997, I watched people all over this country, and all over the world, get excited about Pathfinder's mission to Mars. Millions watched the choppy black and white video of the cute little Sojourner rover exploring the Martian terrain.
But, where are the astronauts? Stuck on some flying death trap in low Earth orbit called the space station, that's where. Planetary missions excite people, scientists and laymen alike, in a way that boring space stations orbiting the Earth just can't.
Someone once said 'Earth is the cradle of life but, one cannot live in the cradle forever'. We've been in orbit too long. When will NASA realize this and start sending astronauts back out to do some real exploration again?
Laura Woodmansee is a Pasadena-based science journalist
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Crunch Time For Space Science
Cameron Park - August 27, 2001
NASA's space science program is under mounting pressure with division between many of the parties involved, not least of which is Congress itself which has the Senate and the House pitted against each other over which areas of NASA's science program has priority and what can be cut to pay for the Space Station, writes Bruce Moomaw in his latest special report for SpaceDaily readers.
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