Southern Man

Thursday, July 21, 2011

End Of An Era

Earlier today the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, finally ending the longest-running failed program in the history of the U.S. space program.

Atlantis' final re-entry as photographed from the ISS. Photo credit: PhotoBlog.

Amos Zeeberg's article at Discover Magazine's web site says it best. Southern Man found that article through this link, also at Discover Magazine and worth reading as the very first comment is from the inimitable Uncle Al. And the failure is not so much the shuttle itself, flawed as it was, as in NASA's unrealistic promises: nearly a hundred launches a year (they actually averaged five) at a cost of $50 million per (actual cost was about half a billion per) with unparalleled safety (two catastrophic failures in 135 missions). And what was lost through what NASA didn't do because the Space Shuttle consumed their budget for a quarter of a century?

During the heady days of Apollo Southern Man was promised that the dawn of the Twenty-First Century would bring spaceship factories in orbit and cities on the moon and colonies on Mars and scientific outposts on Ganymede and crystal mining on Titan. OK, that last was romantic science fiction but still... Instead he teaches students who've never lived in a time when man ventured beyond low Earth orbit. Hell, he teaches students whose parents have never lived in a time when we ventured beyond LEO. The Space Shuttle is one of the principle reasons for that failure. Southern Man has the highest regard for the scientists and engineers who designed and built it and the brave men and women who flew it, but none at all in the bureaucrats who administered it (many of whom should be doing hard time in Federal prison for misappropriation of public resources) and the politicians who funded it (same comment). He's glad it's over. Can we get on with exploring the Solar System now?


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