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The Wrong Stuff
The "historical" space program occurred primarily in the 1960s and early 1970s, ending when astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison (Jack) Schmitt stepped back into the Lunar Excursion Module and became the last men to depart the Moon, for decades, with no clear prospects for any return of humanity to that currently-barren orb.
Since then, in many ways we have regressed, at least as far as government space activities are concerned. In future columns, I'll explain why I believe this, and the causes, because I think that space is Important even if I don't necessarily believe that NASA is.
So, all through the nineties, we celebrated (if that's the right word) thirtieth anniversaries (and we have the thirtieth anniversary of that most ignominious event described above coming late this year, on Dec. 19.) Now, in the dawning of the twenty-first century, we will be commemorating fortieth space anniversaries.
Forty years ago yesterday, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. He wasn't the first man — that honor went to Yuri Gagarin, a Russian. But it was an achievement nonetheless, and one of great bravery. Space historian Andrew Chaikin has written a commemorative article in honor of the occasion. In it, he describes the hazards of that particular flight, on which all did not go well, and contrasts it with more modern spaceflight in the Shuttle.
Of course, the danger should be put into perspective. For Glenn, a former Korean combat fighter jockey and Marine test pilot — for whom funerals of comrades were a frequent occurrence — strapping himself into that capsule and riding the column of fire to orbit was probably one of the safest things that he'd done in his career up to that point...
Veteran space reporter Leonard David used the anniversary to write a good, balanced piece on where we've been in space, and where we may be going.
The paradigm is shifting slowly, from space as Government Enterprise for those with The Right Stuff, to an inclusive industry that welcomes the public, not merely as vicarious bystanders and humble providers of the purse, but as active participants.
From Leonard's article:
..."Instead of cheering encouragement from the sands of Cocoa Beach, Florida, as they did when Friendship 7 had its flight, the American public will soon get their chance to share the experience of spaceflight. Simultaneously, they'll create new business opportunities that will in themselves help to sustain the whole launch vehicle business for the foreseeable future..."
Our future is not the stale, Cold-War space program of our past, in which NASA goes, hat in hand, to Congress for its budget. It is a vibrant future that will be driven by the dynamics of free enterprise, in the best traditions of our nation.
This is great news. It will start to make space tourism something that more and more people in the entertainment world start to think about seriously. Not only will they help change the way people think about space — they have money, and may provide needed funding for companies like Mircorp and XCOR. We want to make this the next Hollywood fad.
As more investment is made in the system by entities with a true interest in reducing costs, access to space will finally start to become affordable. That will also enable the development of dedicated orbital hotels, so no one will have to any longer kowtow to NASA in order to take a space vacation.
Sadly, though, I should add that I heard an interview with Sen. Glenn on the Fox News Channel on Tuesday morning, in which he sagely informed us that space travel would not happen for a long time — continuing to promulgate the myth that our space program is about science and science alone, and that his Shuttle flight a few years ago was of scientific value, and not a political payoff for running interference for the Administration in Senate hearings on Chinagate and other matters.
And while it may sound churlish to mention it on such an anniversary, I think that his flight forty years ago was the high-water mark in his career, and his later corrupt Senatorial activities (including being part of the Clinton defense team, and one of the Keating Five) a low.
Certainly, I have never had any sense, throughout his entire career, that the Senator wants to see the rest of us getting into space any time soon. After all, he got his rides, and when just anyone can go, it takes the luster off of fellows with "The Right Stuff" like him.
Were They All Catholic?
Elaine Lafferty has a nice piece in the Irish Times about American attitudes toward terror vis a vis Europe's. But there's one statement that I find odd:
Thousands, not hundreds, of civilians were killed; the estimate in New York is that 30,000 to 40,000 children lost a parent in the attack on the World Trade Centre.
Am I missing something? Last I heard, the death estimates were about three thousand, give or take.
First of all, surely not all of the dead were parents. But even if they all were, and ignoring the cases where both parents were killed (hopefully rare), that would average out to over ten kids apiece. So who came up with this number and how was it derived?
Lord To Take Over U.S. Space Command
That's the headline over at Space.com, at least in my email notification. I guess the government's not messing around about this military space stuff any more — they're putting someone competent in charge.
Actually, as you might have guessed, it's a general with the last name of "Lord."
Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally-biting commentary about infinity, and beyond at his webblog, Transterrestrial Musings.