[FPSPACE] What should NASA be?[Scanned by MAIL]
DSFPortree at aol.com
DSFPortree at aol.com
Sun Apr 1 22:12:22 EDT 2007
We've got a number of different ideas here about NASA's past and its present.
A few are interesting, most seem to be based on - well, I really can't tell.
Ideology, I suppose. A couple are pretty much nuts, in my opinion, for what
it's worth. Some are puerile. You decide which is which - no doubt our
candidates for each category would differ.
Let me share a few observations. Pardon me if they seem cynical.
All things considered, NASA is not a big deal for policymakers and the
public. The vast majority of U.S. citizens don't care what direction it heads, so
long as it stays mildly interesting (and doesn't appear to be getting too
Big spaceflight dreams, technology development, science - they don't really
enter into it, except in the minds of a small minority of wacky characters like
me (and others on this list), and people with turf to defend. At best, they
excite interest for a short time, then it's on to something else. Bread and
NASA technology is not that highly advanced. It adapts technologies that
other folks develop. The CEV is not based on the latest and greatest technologies
- there's not enough budget for technology development. I'm not sure why this
obvious fact is not clear - I realized it even before NASA folks started
telling me about it. And, guess what, no one cares, really. No one is losing sleep
over the limited number of U.S. flights these past four years, or the delay in
ISS completion, or slips in the return-to-the-moon schedule.
NASA is not focusing on technology development right now - it's focusing on
doing what the Executive Branch has told it to do. Earth sciences are not going
by the boards because NASA is focusing on technology development, it's
because NASA Earth science has annoyed this White House.
We've all read about the political obstacles Korolev faced (and created).
Something similar happens here.
Based on my interactions with the public vis-a-vis space these past 30 years,
I can tell you that scientific discoveries excite people. They don't change
their lives, but people think they're cool. Just about any first is exciting,
too. Landing on things is neat - planetary orbiters are hard to understand.
Astronauts are neat - the wacko astronaut who drove to Florida in a diaper is a
big hit right now. Probably the top two major events of the past two decades in
space have been the John Glenn flight on the human side and the Pathfinder
landing on the robotic side, at least in the view of most members of the public.
Almost no one is losing sleep over killer asteroids, and most people have no
idea who is on ISS (or even if anyone is on ISS). I doubt that a majority of
Americans know when a Shuttle is in space, and I know that most wouldn't be
able to say anything about any given Shuttle mission. Even fewer know when a
Chinese astronaut is in orbit. People are not afraid of Chinese space dominance.
The level of ignorance is appalling. But it's understandable. There are many,
many more important things for people to worry about - at least as judged by
the vast majority of the public.
I mention all this because it's important to keep a sense of proportion.
David S. F. Portree
author & educator
dsfportree at aol.com
Flagstaff Arizona USA
"It's like when you're a kid, the first time they tell you that the world's
turning and you just can't quite believe it because everything looks like it's
standing still. I can feel it - the turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our
feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, the entire planet is hurtling
around the Sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour, and I can feel it. We're
falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little
world, and if we let go..." - The Ninth Doctor
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