DISCOVERY to launch tomorrow

Tonight on


Tonight on


It’s not that I despise the Space Shuttle or hope that NASA fails. Not at all, though sometimes it might sound that way. What I’m mostly disappointed in is the fact that my son has basically the same space exploration scenarios to look forward to during his lifetime that I did when I was his age. And the odds of those scenarios coming to pass probably aren’t a lot better than those of my youth.

That isn’t all NASA’s fault. Not by a light year. But the decision to pretty much forsake all else in the name of the Space Shuttle has cost us dearly, and it will do so for decades to come.

Since our eggs are all in one cargo bay, I’m pulling for the flight tomorrow. Not only for the safety of the crew, but for our space program in general and US manned space flight in particular.

Someone told me that if they were ever going fly on the Shuttle, they’d choose the next flight. Their reasoning was that is was going to be the safest Shuttle flight ever. Sadly, I don’t know that that’s the case.

UPDATE: Right after posting this I checked the MSNBC page again and happened to notice that they shifted the bottom link. No big deal. Just sort of weird.


That’s the sort of thing I do after I post mine and see that the look isn’t quite right…


  1. The shuttles have been through many successful launches. What makes you think the next one is so risky? How many successful flights have there been? I imagine hundreds. How many failures? Two? Obviously, it’s not as safe as driving a car or flying a plane but that doesn’t seem particularly bad for launching into orbit for me. Having said that, I think the next space vehicle should probably be a rocket for the short-term, until a better space-plane type vehicle can be developed. Maybe US-manufactured Russian-designed rockets? After all, they worked out how to make a reliable and cheap rocket. It would only be more reliable if made in the USA.

  2. The Shuttle program has been a success in as much as it demonstrated that regular man space flight is possible and it helped create a space infrastructure built around multiple missions and component development. The future points to not an end of the shuttle program, but a change. Ironically the shuttle launch assembly is the most powerfull lift system. Remove the human element, and you have a massive lift capability. [The Shuttle C option] That said, the long term, think 20-30 years down the road, the future is not rockets, but rather the space elevator concept. Rockets are inheritly dangerous, and as long as they are in use, space will be an exception buisness as oppossed to an active sphere of development.

  3. Far too much of NASA’s budget is devoted to study of origins – how did we get here, how was the solar system formed, etc. In other words, trying to prove one theory of creatin over another. For example, ramming a comet to look for potential ‘building blocks of life’, since we can’t come up with a reasonable explanation in an Earth environment. NASA should stay out of religion and focus on engineering. Getting us a decent space station, developing interplanetary craft, Luner colonization, etc.

  4. The Space Elevator – Yes. All the shuttle is good for at this point is building the elevator. Once the elevator(s) is built, we can build real spacecraft in space for exploration, mining, etc–

  5. Yes, I agree with Steve about concentrating on actual exploration and space infrastructure, not weirdo science that doesn’t get us anything useful. I don’t think we have the technology to make a space elevator, or will any time soon. There will be many decades where we will have to work out the best way to blast stuff into space. I think, probably, the best solution will be a combination of rockets and space-planes. Rockets for putting stuff like satellites up – anything that a rocket can lift without great difficulty and which requires no human interaction. Everything else will probably require something like the shuttle. A lot of the scientific missions that used to take place on the shuttle can now take place on the space station at less risk, due to longer stays in space. I saw a report on the shuttle on TV today about the precautions that have been put in place for the shuttle. I think it’s actually kind of cool that we’re learning all the various things that space flight will probably require in future, like better ship self-monitoring. It’s a pity that the lesson learned had to be so hard, but hard lessons are unavoidable in frontiers we are still exploring.

  6. The slogan for space elevator advocates is, ‘Rockets are wrong.’ Rocket Jones ( will hate that, but its true. We’re getting close to having materials strong enough to construct a space elevator. Maybe another ten years. What we are no where near having is any kind of space infrastructure that would support the construction of an elevator. Like Murdoc, I hope the mission goes well, for the sake of the astronauts and for billions of taxpayer money. But the shuttle program was ill-conceived from the beginning, and has only gotten worse over time. NASA is moribund, and I think incapable of actually creating what we need for a future in space. The latest plans for the shuttle follow-on are not ‘T-minus 1981 and holding,’ they’re jumping back to the sixties, with a couple options for capsules on top of disposable candles. This is a giant leap backwards, no matter how you look at it. If the the best NASA can come up with is to recycle half century old technology, we need to kill it and build a new NASA. Or else give 10% of NASA’s budget to Burt Rutan and tell him to build us a space program. I’m sure he could knock something together with a couple billion dollars. I’ve been writing a post on this for a couple weeks. No matter how I try, I can’t get the outrage out of it. Most of my whole life has been watching this country squander resources when we could have already been on fucking Mars. Excuse my French.

  7. When the program first began in the 1970’s, we were promised 60 launches a year from each shuttle. Since then has any of the ships totaled 60 launches in the last 20 years?

  8. To be faire, NASA was basically forced by the Nixon administration to lie about the space shuttle. Nixon had to pay for the great society, vietnam, and a giant space program and only had money for 2 of ’em. Lots of design decisions were made to force down the visible costs that have had dramatically increased operating costs today. The shuttle remains the most complicated thing ever built by man.

  9. I thought the federal tax code was the most complicated man-made thing in the universe. We are getting close on the cable technology for the elevator – look on the web and you will see news. After that it is just a lot of complicated engineering.

  10. Instead of that complicated ‘Space Elevator’ why don’t they just build a REALLY high set of stairs. No moving parts to fail, no expensive fuel. Of course it would require a very long banister.

  11. From what I have seen, the space elevator could be constructed in the next 20 to 30 years (if a government was motivated to do so) or in about 10-15 years if private companies were allowed to build it. As I understand it, building the space elevator is possible, but there are still some serious engineering problems to be addressed. That said, elevator technology has been exploding over the last five years. I believe, that very soon, the bulk fabrication of large scale nanotubes will be possible. Once that event happens, you are going to have venture capitol out the yin yang supporting the concept. With respect to Nasa origin projects. I would say that religion has to stay out of way of NASA. The acquisition of knowlege is neutral and I for one, believe that NASA should move out of the space business and get back to its space research roots. In an absolute evaluation of contributions to society, NASA has provided the greatest governmental benefit to american society, culture and wealth.