Undying Mythologies

Disney has a new ride at Epcot (search).

They claim, in an interview with Space.com (search), that it is the most technically advanced they've ever done--a simulated mission to Mars:

"...what makes Epcot's Mission: SPACE (search) centrifuge truly unique is that it's not like a carnival ride version of a centrifuge -- such as the Gravitron -- where you're "simply strapped in" and whirled around for a few moments in the open air.

Instead, you and three others ride inside what amounts to a full flight simulator -- Disney calls them capsules -- complete with individual monitors, control sticks to move and buttons to push.

"We've taken that centrifuge technology (search) and modified it, if you will, for an entertainment attraction. We've added layers of audio, video, lighting and special effects to create sort of an immersive experience that helps support and tell our story," said Mike Lentz, the Disney Imagineer who served as executive director for Mission: SPACE.

Sounds pretty cool. They've had a "Mission To Mars" ride in the past (that was an update on the original "Rocket To The Moon" that was part of the original Disneyland), but this sounds much more individualized, high fidelity, and upgradeable.

However, I have mixed feelings about it.

"We have worked for a long time about doing 'space' at Epcot because it's just such a natural fit with what we're about here," said Brad Rex, Disney's vice president in charge of Epcot. "This is a tribute to NASA and the space program."

"They've really done a very credible job at making this as strongly tied to reality as they can," said David Lavery, program executive for solar system exploration at NASA (search) Headquarters. "These are all realistic concepts that we're pursuing in some of our advanced research and development efforts right now."

But the big draw for NASA in working with Disney was the opportunity for educational outreach, as well as just simple inspiration.

"Part of our vision is to reach out and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, technologists and astronauts -- and this is really a nice overlap between that part of NASA's mission and what Disney is trying to do," Lavery said.

My problem is that this perpetuates the heroic historical NASA myth that only massive government bureaucracies will get us to Mars (search), that the only way to participate in space is to be a scientist, or engineer, or technologist, or "astronaut," that the only reason people would go to Mars is to "explore" and "do science," that this is what NASA would be doing, darn it, if we just had some politicians with vision!

Despite their proud proclamation of "tying it to reality," I get no sense of any realistic vision of the future at all. It's just using updated technology to promote the same socialistic utopias of the past that Disney has always promoted. We just don't realize it because we don't recognize it, partly due to similar propaganda put out unendingly by Disney and others for the past half century (the original Colliers pieces with von Braun were in 1952), that has persuaded us that there is no other way to run a space program. Which is pretty ironic, considering that this ride is being sponsored by a mostly private-enterprise company, Hewlett-Packard. Which just shows that they don't get it either.

While it's nice that Disney worked with NASA on some of the technical aspects, it would have been even nicer if HP and Disney had consulted with someone besides NASA on the even more important social, business and cultural ones. Of course, the fact that they didn't sums up in a nutshell why it's been over 30 years since the last time a human walked on another world.

As I pointed out in the link to my weblog, we need to stop talking about the grand plans that NASA has to send its elite cadre of astronauts to other planets, and start talking about how this nation is going to make space a place in which to create new wealth for those in space and on this planet, to play, and yes, for those who want to do so, to explore. But to accomplish those things, we must shed the utopian socialistic visions of state enterprise, and embrace the capitalistic, freedom-embracing values that created the vitality of this nation, a leader on this planet. That is, we must focus on how to make space a venue for everyone who wants to visit and utilize it, which means broadening the possibilities far beyond scientists, engineers and technologists

Which is to say, of course, that we must, finally, make space a real place, and not just a fantasy for people visiting expensive earthly theme parks.


I got a lot of response to last week's column on how Reuters (or at least, today's Reuters) might have reported the aftermath of World War II in Germany.

Most of it was extremely positive, but I got a few negative responses as well, and I posted them all at my weblog.

But my main point in responding is that those (few) who were upset by it utterly missed my point.

One doesn't even have to compare Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler (though I think that they are comparable in many ways) to think that the notion of the news media declaring "QUAGMIRE" only three months after an end to major hostilities is a little premature, considering that we were fighting guerillas (not just ex-Nazis, but enthusiastic Communists, funded and encouraged by Stalin) in Europe for not just months, but years after the surrender of Germany.

Those who demanded "proof" about the Werwolf (search) organization, or the fact that we really didn't know Hitler's disposition until several months after the war, were demonstrating nothing but historical ignorance. That piece was based entirely on historical fact as best we presently know it (some of which only came to light after the fall of the Soviet Union), other than the fictitious quotes from "unnamed sources" in Washington about President Truman's impeachment prospects. It would behoove them, and others, to in fact try to gain a little historical perspective before reading the papers and working themselves up into an impeachment froth about how "Bush lied."

Particularly when the disposition of the Weapons of Mass Destruction are as unsure as Hitler's fate was in August of 1945. Speaking from personal experience, crow is a bitter bird to the palate.

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 Web log, Transterrestrial Musings.

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