Odds and Ends for the Weekend

by Paul Gilster on October 21, 2006

Cory Doctorow offers a podcast with George Dyson that’s well worth your time, recalling among other things the remarkable days of Project Orion, in which Dyson’s father Freeman played so large a role. Note too that Dyson provided some documents from his own collection, now released for the first time and made available here. No surprises, but following the Orion story is a reminder of a day not so long ago when the outer planets were considered as viable an option for manned flight as the Moon. Let’s assume that one day they will be again.

Leonard David is out in Las Cruces for the Wirefly X Prize Cup, from which a live webcast has been in progress this morning. His weblog coverage is currently noting the apparent failure of Armadillo Aerospace in its attempt to win the NASA Lunar Lander Challenge. But whatever happens to the Armadillo venture, the Cup is a wonderful reawakening of the airshow spirit of the 1930s that inspired so much experimentation and drove aviation ever faster and farther. If you’re into space engineering, Las Cruces is the place to be. More on the Lunar Lander Challenge here.

Astronomer Phil Plait takes on Katie Couric in entertaining fashion, answering her recent assertions on what is supposed to be a news broadcast about the space program. Couric had opined that NASA’s budget request for $17 billion is way out of line, joining those who call for the money to be spent “…for medical research, social programs, and in finding solutions to poverty, hunger, and homelessness…”

Responds Plait:

“The irony is that the ability of Katie to appear to millions of people (well, fewer every day according to her ratings — oh, snap!) is due to the space program. Or does the term “satellite TV” mean something I’m missing? Maybe she could ask whoever the weatherman is on her show if (s)he thinks the space program is a waste of money.”

Centauri Dreams has many bones to pick with NASA’s budgetary problems — where is our commitment to science — but it’s good to see Couric challenged. It’s also sad to look at the trajectory CBS News has followed as it drives what was once a credible enterprise ever closer to tabloid territory.

Icelander October 22, 2006 at 18:30

My response to Katie Couric is the same as anyone who says space science money should be spent on other research: Can aircraft carriers cure cancer any better than space probes?

Of course not, but we spend far, far more on defense research than on space research. But for some reason researching better ways to kill our fellow humans is okay, but funding for pushing the limits of human knowledge and ability should be cut.

pfdietz October 22, 2006 at 22:44

But for some reason researching better ways to kill our fellow humans is okay

That’s because having enemies kill our people is very much not ok, and we are willing to spend trillions to impede their efforts. What similar strong justification exists for the very limited results of our manned space activities?

Eric James October 22, 2006 at 23:57

As defense spending preserves our nation against our enemies, manned space exploration peserves our species against natural disaster (and as many here would have it, against alien invaders).

Adam October 23, 2006 at 4:54

Hi Guys

Space gives us a peaceful way to stay high-tech and not keep making bigger, better bombers and bombs.

Adam

Icelander October 23, 2006 at 8:50

Seeing as how our bigger-than-the-rest-of-the-world-combined defense budget didn’t protect us from 19 guys with box cutters, I’d say we could find better things to spend most of that money on.

Paul Dietz October 23, 2006 at 11:18

manned space exploration peserves our species against natural disaster

Really? Please describe the natural disaster you have in mind, and how the manned space program we have is going to make any difference. Even a dinosaur-killing level asteroid impact will leave the Earth more habitable than anywhere else in the solar system.

Seeing as how our bigger-than-the-rest-of-the-world-combined defense budget didn’t protect us from 19 guys with box cutters, I’d say we could find better things to spend most of that money on.

Do you propose we apply the same ‘if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth doing’ logic to space activities?

ljk October 23, 2006 at 14:29

I wonder if Katie Couric would like to give up some
of her $16 million over five years salary to help all
those poor people she says the space program is
taking funding away from?

Though I know that reading blurbs off a teleprompter
for 22 minutes a day in a skirt is utterly vital to our
receiving news in this Internet Age.

For those of you in this forum saying that the space
program is giving only “limited” results and somehow
not making us safe from terrorists, please detailed
just exactly what you are talking about.

NASA gets $17 billion a year. The Pentagon alone gets
$600 billion each year. Please tell me how taking funds
away from the space program will make the military a
better place for democracy?

Paul F. October 23, 2006 at 14:39

Surely you’re being sarcastic.

A space program, manned or unmanned, is just part of an overall need for education and exploration or our environment. It’s debatable whether or not science has gotten as much; dollar-for-dollar; from manned space efforts; but in reality, we would be hard pressed to have a space program at all without the gains made by those willing to make the efforts and sacrifices necessary to extend a human presence into space.

OK, let’s say we decide to NOT spend the resources to do so ~ will suddenly the Chinese stop? The Russians stop? The ESA stop? I think not!

Anyone who frets over the paltry 1% or so of our budget spent on space should sit back and really consider all that we have attained from the efforts. No, not just a few bags full of dusty, gray lunar rocks, but the technological advances, the communications advances, the industrial innovations ~ all that have come about by space exploration.

I just hope that the “Katie Couric school of space economics” isn’t well attended. Her recent commentary does point out a huge lack in public understanding of the situation.

Eric James October 23, 2006 at 23:28

Really? Please describe the natural disaster you have in mind, and how the manned space program we have is going to make any difference. Even a dinosaur-killing level asteroid impact will leave the Earth more habitable than anywhere else in the solar system.

In the short run, this is true. In the long run, a thoroughly settled solar system is going to provide a significant buffer against natural disaster for our species. Granted, it won’t happen quickly, but in comparison it took over a hundred years for the Europeans to establish the first viable colonies in the Americas.

george scaglione October 25, 2006 at 8:40

in the long run there is nothing more important for our species than the exploration of space.to spending money elsewhere may also very certainly be important.we need security,we need a cure for cancer etc. but cutting money for space has always struck me as penny wise and pound foolish.respectfully, george

Adam October 26, 2006 at 9:24

I agree wholeheartedly. In the long-run it’s a new frontier we must build towards now before we immolate ourselves or worse. Civilisations rise… and fall.

george scaglione October 28, 2006 at 10:14

thank you very much adam and i should ad that we had better at this point in our history look very seriously at not destroying ourselves what with everyone and his brother either with or developing a nuclear weapon!! earth spends gazillion dollars a year on “defence”…would it not be better spent on space? better than killing everybody. no? respectfully to all – your friend george

Comments on this entry are closed.