A wonderfully cynical – but in fact rather cogent – piece on the evident pointlessness of manned space flight, at least as currently practiced by NASA. Yes, it’s hugely exciting and all, but… why do we bother? (via Kottke).
Only touched on is the common notion that the manned programme is there mainly to secure funding for NASA, and hence that the (relatively straightforward to justify) unmanned programme couldn’t exist without it. While that may have been the case back in the eighties and early nineties, NASA have had some notable successes of late. Smashing things into comets, driving robots around Mars, visiting Titan – not only are these remarkable achievements, they’re actually exciting too.
As a geeky child of the seventies I was as excited as the next kid about Columbia, and the idea of actually going to space was hugely thrilling. Heck, I came within about two weeks of starting a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, though come to think of it that may have had more to do with a certain Lightning at Paull airshow one year (and maybe Airfix) than the Shuttle.
But today – do kids get the same kick out of manned spaceflight as we did back then? One could form a plausible hypothesis thus: in a post-Robot Wars, pervasive internet world, children are now so accustomed to indirect experience that it really is the mission content that’s significant. Sending people up to spin a few pencils, grow some crystals, and regrout their own spaceship is just… dull. Besides, if you really want to travel into space, NASA isn’t your ticket – Branson and Rutan are. What they’re doing is far more thrilling than the Shuttle, no?
Would a really bold space agency have decided that ‘Return to Flight’ was a pointless exercise and declared that they had more important stuff to do?
And here’s a really big idea: if it’s the mission content that’s important, does that mean that ‘the medium is the message’… is obsolete?
Time for breakfast. It’s too early on a Sunday to be writing things like that.