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August 09, 2005

The Space Shuttle Is a "Hoopty"

Which is this blogger's slang for a broken-down old junker.

The Space Shuttle never did all that much. I think it was originally sold not according to its usefulness -- it can't do much that a conventional rocket can't -- but on the basis of its putative gee-whiz factor, a real live spaceship, launching into the heavens and landing again. It was sold, I imagine, on the intangible benefits of exiciting a whole new generation about the wonders of exploration and science.

But even as a kid I was a little underwhelmed by the Shuttle. Partly that was out of childhood ignorance and unreasonable expectations; a real space ship, I thought, ought to be able to manage more than an orbital mission. Or a scientific mission (many of these scientific missions concocted by fourth-graders in unending public-relations maneuvers to justify continuing the program) to determine how spiders build their webs in zero-g.

Is this really a concern for anybody? I can't even imagine arachnologists being particularly excited about spiders in zero-g. See, they don't actually live in zero-g. So what the hell does that tell us? That creatures will behave slightly differently, and be a little disoriented, in an enviornment entirely alien to them? For this we need $500 million shuttle missions?

It's like designing an experiment to find out how a pack of pumas behave when addicted to smack and forced to live 24/7 in one of the seedy back-booths at the Viper Room.

Sorta fun, yes, and it would be just terrific to see Steven Dorff mauled by junkie hipster pumas, but is that really the sort of science that we're interested in funding?

Depends on the price, I guess. If it could be done for a ten thousand or so, it seems well worth it to me. More than that, and I'd demand a bigger name celebrity than Steven Dorff. Someone like, say, Stacey Q, or Rip Taylor. Or, preferably, both.

The newest or best two shuttles should be maintained for those few missions actually requiring the shuttles' capabilities. Ferrying people to the boondoggle-but-too-much-money-sunk-into-it-to-abandon-it-now international space station; fixing or recapturing malfunctioning satellites; maybe even the rare space rescue mission. But it doesn't seem worth the price or risk to continue sending the shuttles up on routine, make-work missions that do little but serve as PR for NASA funding (and not very well at that).

NASA should stick by and large to unmanned probes, launched by conventional rockets. If they want a real gee-whiz, inspire-a-generation-of-kids-(and adults) mission, they ought to go back to the Moon again. Yes, it's been done, but not in my lifetime (or at least not in the working-memory part of my lifetime), and I'm sure they can think of some new twist on the mission to make it seem new.

Like-- how would monkeys in space-suits react to the Moon's reduced gravity? Something fun like that. Toss a bushel of bananas into the low-gravity non-air and watch those monkeys go literally ape-shit berserk trying to catch them, jumping around and doing f'n' back-flips like acrobatic retards on Red Bull.

Not really science so much as the world's most expensive reality TV show.

And of course I'd watch.

Shuttles to be Retired by 2010: Which is a good idea, but until then, let's ixne on the frequent and frequently useless shuttle flights. Only launch them when actually, genuinely needed, and stop with all this idiocy about these ungainly, awkward flyin' minivans "exciting a generation of children about the wonders of science."

Thanks to My perpetual tormentor Dave From It's Old.

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posted by Ace at 12:17 PM

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