Tomorrow’s News Today

The post title refers to the fact that the Washington Post story I am linking to on Friday, May 22, 2009 states it was first published Saturday, May 23, 2009. But that’s an aside really from the real intention of the post, or the story in the Post, to play on words a bit. Regular readers know I am a bit of a space buff, so the WaPo story hits home.

It is about things were have done – and may not be able to do again for quite a while.

NASA’s triumphant mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope this week has cracked open a policy rift within the space agency, with a top NASA scientist saying that the United States is on the way to losing the capability to do what it has just done so dramatically.

David Leckrone, the senior project scientist for the Hubble, said NASA’s new strategy for the post-space-shuttle era does not include servicing scientific instruments in space, and he fears that vast amounts of accumulated knowledge and technical expertise will quickly vanish.

“It just makes me want to cry to think that this is the end of it,” Leckrone said at a news conference earlier this week. “There is no person out there, there is no leadership out there, there is no vision out there to pick up the baton that we’re about to hand off and carry it forward.”

His words, streamed around the planet via the NASA Web site, ruffled the agency and incited rebuttals from headquarters. But Leckrone, who plans to retire in October, is not backing down, and yesterday he reiterated his case.

“I feel like NASA’s doing what it’s done before — it comes up with a great capability and, for political or budgetary reasons or whatever, it abandons it,” Leckrone told The Post. He added: “I’ve been besieged by NASA people thanking me for saying what they think needed to be said.”

We went to the moon in my lifetime. Then we went back into low earth orbit. But we sent men to the moon in a capsule. The shuttle is a spacecraft. The real deal.

We are going back to the capsule approach. No more robotic arms. No more dragging a satellite into the cargo bay to be repaired. No more spacewalks for part of the crew while the rest sit (or float) comfortably inside.

I suspect that Leckrone is afraid of the same thing I am right now. Every, single American sent into space by our government has done so within my lifetime. I’m more than a little worried that the last one may also happen in my lifetime.

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4 Responses to Tomorrow’s News Today

  1. John says:

    Unfortunately, what NASA promised us all with the shuttle and what NASA turned the shuttle into are two completely different things. We were promised a system that could be turned around like a specialized mission aircraft and got instead a temperamental vehicle that was designed by committee to be all things to everyone.

    If they had stuck to the original concept, accepted smaller payloads and less flexibility, had resisted the idea of designing it to take into account literally every use, we’d have 20 of them flying into Vandenberg and Canaveral, designed to be turned around in 48 hours.

    Instead we have the small fleet of fatally flawed all-purpose behemoths that have already killed more astronauts than all other systems added together.

    We will lose the ability because there is a lack of vision, a lack of will, a lack of leadership, a lack of taking risks to get usable spacecraft up and running. It is one of the great disappointments of the last 30 years.

    The problem lies in NASA: it became not the place where genius dwelled, but rather the place where the bureaucrats called the shots. The failure lies in the way we approached landing on the moon: as a single great project, rather than building a comprehensive industry that would have taken a lot private. But the Great Society had to be funded, the Cold War distracted us (and led to military modifications to the shuttle that didn’t help the concept), and of course the chattering classes were convinced that if man was to meant to go to space, God would have given him oxyhydrogen motors in his butt. That’s were the lack of vision and the voracity of Congress for pork did us in.

    Someone will build the follow-on to the shuttle, the proper spacecraft to conquer the low-earth realm, reducing costs to the way the shuttle was meant to, enabling high-earth orbits to take us to the planets forever.

    It will happen. It just won’t necessarily be American. We could do it: prize money to develop the ability and then freedom to exploit it is simple and effective. But too many want to control it, too many want to bathe themselves in a false glory, too many want to prevent it in order to have the monies to spend on political products that do nothing but waste and subjugate.

    Sad state of affairs.

  2. DirtyJobsGuy says:

    You are sadly correct. It’s not just space, but anything involving expansion of human frontiers. Extreme sports are not the same as having the right stuff. This is a consequence of the Great Society/Environmentalism. Once you adopt a zero-sum attitude then anything you do is measured against some social program or imagined environmental harm.

    Kids still need that sense of adventure but instead of “Tom Swift and his Motor Airship” that said this can be possible, they do the fantasy route.

  3. Fred Z says:

    “I’m more than a little worried that the last one may also happen in my lifetime.”

    I have been reading SF since I was a kiddie 45 years ago and have always loved the idea of space travel.

    I now also understand that almost anything done by the state is done wrong. I hold no brief for NASA and suspect they are a gang of incompetent idiots.

    Two things from Leckrones comments jumped at me.

    He says “vast amounts of accumulated knowledge and technical expertise will quickly vanish”. Oh really? You mean you can’t just write the knowledge and techniques down? Take a video or two? What else the hell have you been paid for the last 50 years?

    He also says that great capabilities get abandoned by NASA “for political or budgetary reasons or whatever,…”. The stupendously arrogant civil servant indifference to ‘budgetary reasons’ is appalling.

    I would much prefer to go to the moon when I can buy a ticket from Delos D. Harriman.

  4. feeblemind says:

    I think Fred Z touches on the future of space travel. Private enterprise. Whether private enterprise can marshal the funds necessary for the task remains a question mark, but I fear NASA’s long term future is bleak. I am thinking that as the entitlement crisis worsens, all categories of gov’t spending will shrink as money is funneled into SS/medicare. I don’t even believe defense will be exempt. I would not be at all surprised if in 20 years, our 12 carrier battle groups will have shrunk to perhaps three, as money is diverted to support the elderly. No politician can risk the SS checks bouncing. Everything will take a back seat to care for the aged.

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