Of touch downs and splash downs

Today Discovery, heading to her tomb in Washington, touched down safely at Dulles Airport on the back of the 747.

Today in 1970 the stricken Odyssey of the Apollo 13 Moon mission splashed down safely on the back of courage, ingenuity and millions of prayers.

Apollo 13 was followed by other missions and programs and a bolstered sense of accomplishment.

Discovery will be followed by… ?

Apollo 13 was a sign of how we can pull victory from disaster’s closing jaws.

Discovery, because nothing replaces her, is a sign of how this administration is snatching disaster from the jaws of victory.

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  1. RichR says:

    It is easy to put a dollar figure on the space program and list it simply as an expense to the country.

    However, the Space Program has been one of the few government entities that has actually inspired Americans and given us a sense of accomplishment. I don’t see Americans wearing Social Security t-shirts or watching old videos of the heady days of the Rural Electrification Act. the simple fact is that we are pioneers at heart, and we seek to reach out into the unknown. Space is the last unknown this side of eternity.

    NASA kept that pioneer spirit alive.

  2. LisaP. says:

    There’s a movie (and a book) called “The Privileged Planet” that talks about how we have been taught ever since pre-Sagan the idea that there is nothing particularly special about the Earth, that we’re just a speck in the universe and practically inconsequential on the grand scheme of things, that there must be millions or more other intelligent forms of life out there.

    I suspect this is true, and that this is chickens coming home to roost. After all, why spend effort and money going out there, when you can just train your antennae and wait for the aliens to contact us? They’re likely to be much better humans than we humans anyway, we’d probably just be a blot on the universe instead of on the planet if we got out there, etc.

    There are two good reasons to explore space: 1. Because we can gain from the knowledge (which progressives consider selfishly capitalistic) and 2. Because it is part of the joy of uncovering God’s amazing creation (certainly not worth a single Progressive dollar). This shutting down of NASA isn’t just a harsh political move or a neglect, it’s the foreseeable consequence of what we have allowed our culture to adopt as a perspective on creation.

    (Dawkins, as an aside, believes it is possible that aliens created life on earth, although he figures it as absurd to think God might have.)

  3. Stu says:

    Space,the forgotten frontier.

  4. pm125 says:

    There hasn’t been a budget for anything but entertainment and travel to luxury spots – where is all the money being printed going … ?

  5. ContraMundum says:


    Don’t forget the real reason we got into the space race. It wasn’t really because of 1. what we might gain from the knowledge or 2. the joy of uncovering God’s amazing creation, it was 1. to make sure the Soviets did not obtain a military advantage and 2. to make sure the Soviets did not obtain a P.R. advantage. And it’s no coincidence that the Saturn V is a direct descendant of ICBMs.

    Back in the late 1970’s, I had a lunchbox with a picture of the shuttle (which had not yet been launched) on it. As I remember it, the pictures showed the shuttle building a space station and an interplanetary space ship. The lunchbox had a bold vision for the shuttle. The shuttle never lived up to the lunchbox. It became a gimmick for putting the first black American astronaut in space, then the first female American astronaut into space, followed by a string of similar, ever-smaller “firsts” reflecting an ever-smaller vision. Along the way, 2 orbiters were lost together with their crews. It also diverted money away from the much more productive unmanned missions. True, it was able to fix the Hubble, but the Hubble had to be scaled down to fit in the cargo bay, and it was more expensive to keep the shuttle going than it would have been to build a new Hubble. I have strong but mixed feelings about the shuttle.

    We’ve done pretty much everything that’s worth doing in low earth orbit. We’ve done nearly everything that’s worth doing on the moon. The next step is Mars, but 1. we can’t afford it at this point, 2. we would have great difficulty in getting a man to Mars and back alive, and 3. we don’t know enough yet about Mars. I’m all for giant leaps, but I’m also for looking before we leap. Now a should be the time for one giant look in preparation for one giant leap.

  6. LisaP. says:

    I think I’d probably question the chicken/egg of the Space Race. Maybe I’m just contrarian, but it seems to me that at least in retrospect it would have made more sense to put our resources directly into arms research if that’s what we wanted out of space research — I would be inclined to think the competition was more an excuse to explore, to play, to get out there — and maybe even a way to compete with the Soviets without getting our noses bloody?

    But I do have to agree with you about the shuttle program itself, when it began (golly, was it really the 70s?!) I remember being so disappointed that we were moving from sending men to the moon and probes to the outer planets to what was essentially a Greyhound making a commuter run every once in awhile. I’m good with scrapping the shuttle and moving on to other things. But are we moving on to other things? I would not be surprised if the move to the shuttle was already a move in the direction of shutting ourselves in, but this seems to be completing that move?

    I’d also be good if this was a move from the government going into (and sending rovers, etc. into) space to individuals and groups doing so, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen, either (except for communications satellites?).

  7. ContraMundum says:


    We did put money — lots of it — into weapons research. And we put lots of money into weapons, and into various proxy wars. The space race was very largely about P.R. The Soviets had bragging rights on us, and we didn’t like it.

    I don’t think there is a compelling case for manned space flight at this time. We need to explore the dried-up lake beds and hot springs of Mars and drill into its aquifer to see if we can find any microbial life. If we find any, we’ll want to preserve it, and the presence of astronauts would make contamination much too likely, so this will need to be robotic exploration. Also, robots are cheaper, more robust against radiation, and more expendable.

    The real thing to watch is the budget for planetary exploration. Maybe with no real manned space program, the public will lose interest, but I don’t think so. The interest in Spirit and Opportunity was much larger than that in the later shuttle missions. There have been some disturbing signs, like the “indefinite deferral” of the Terrestrial Planet Finder (under Bush, mind you), so funding for more distant astronomy may take a beating, but I think the exploration of the solar system will keep on. That’s certainly what I hope.

  8. thoscole says:

    I don’t think we have to worry. The Russians will be there to help us get where we need to go in space. If not, won’t the Chinese be soon able to help out?

    On a more serious note, it was exciting, and a bit sad, to see Discovery fly overhead today here in Virginia. I was glad that a few of my students were about to catch a glipse as it flew past!

  9. Mike says:

    I watched the Apollo 11 liftoff as it was on NBC this evening with my nearly three-year-old daughter who knows what a rocket is. What she is too young to know and understand is that we used to do great things as a nation and now we buy seats on Russian yestertech rockets to shuttle us to the International Space Station, which in large part we have funded. We could and should return to the Moon, but alas the current administration who has forced the HHS mandate down all of our throats is hobbling NASA at every turn. Neil Armstrong was right when he appeared before Congress and with Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell wrote to President Obama voicing their extreme reservations about his intended path by saying that it was not in our nation’s best interest to do what he is doing. I only hope that someday my daughter will see us do great things. It just seems so long since we have done the work of Apollo and felt what it was like to have achieved such greatness.

  10. jflare says:

    I”ll admit to having strongly mixed reactions to the space program as well, and all we accomplished with it.
    That’s a tad odd, really: Eight years ago, I was itching for a chance to BE an astronaut. I wasn’t concerned about the prestige or whatever, but I DID want to get up there.

    I remember reading about the space shuttle in a Weekly Reader when in Kindergarten and thought it pretty cool. I remember standing 20 feet or so from a BIIIIG Air Force jet a year later, thinking it incredible. In a way, it’s not THAT difficult to impress a 7 or 8 year old kid. ..Especially one who’s rapidly becoming an aviation buff….something I am still now.
    I thought during college that we’d been heading toward Star Trek for some time. At one time or another, I have dreamed of BEING Capt Picard, Geordi LaForge, Commander Data, or Han Solo. I’ve wanted to adjust the engines on the Enterprise JUST the right way, I’ve wanted to fly the Enterprise through the battlefield wreckage on nothing more than inertia, I’ve wanted to kick the Empire’s butt at just the right time.

    On the other hand..during high school and college, even my first years of active duty, I began considering what missions to the moon, Mars, or wherever might mean. I have lived through a few years at a time of separation from family due to living overseas, and realizing that a manned mission to anywhere might well mean I wouldn’t be about to watch my niece grow up. I wouldn’t be able to help her learn to be a morally virtuous young woman.
    I’m more than a little concerned about the impact the space concept will have on families.
    I remember watching Apollo 13 (the movie), seeing Jim Lovell casually dismiss his daughter’s Halloween costume until his wife intervened. I remember watching the HBO series, and watching the astronauts of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo virtually abandon their families for the “greater glory” of American. I know: men and women have done these things since time out of mind and noone thought twice. During the age of explorers, men and those who followed them might be away from families for years at a time, or might turn to other women, or might turn to each other, or find other pursuits.

    And, I readily acknowledge that I’m still enough a fan of Star Trek to watch the movies again and again, I’m awed by the possibilities of warp drive, by the idea of colonizing other planets, the idea of seeing if anyone else might be out there.

    Trouble is, I’m not aware of any workable science or technology that demonstrates that warp drive actually CAN happen. Zephram Cochran can’t make first contact with the Vulcans if he can’t use his modified ICBM to fly faster than light. Capt Picard can’t argue with the Romulans OR the Cardassians anywhere near the Neutral Zone if he can’t even leave the Solar System in less than five years.
    How would a person go about testing such a concept?
    And what makes anyone so sure that even if we expend the resources to make it so that we’ll find anything more than a whole bunch of BIIIG rocks?

    Do we REALLY want our nation to walk down that path?

    I think it’s a good thing to have satellites up there. They allow us to talk to each other halfway around the world, we can see severe weather from far, far away, we can do any number of things from near-earth orbit.

    But I’d like to see us place a higher priority on allowing people to pray in public. I’d like to see our nation realize that genocide by another name will only lead to our own nation’s demise, or at least contribute dramatically to the same end. I’d like to see a nation in which a man or a woman who has a same sex attraction can be bothered to live a life of holy virtue and celibacy, and a nation who’ll encourage this person in doing so. I’d like to see wealthy people being challenged to give to others because they understand from their spiritual leaders that doing so IS holy and virtuous. For that matter, I’d like to see Middle Class and dirt poor do the same thing, and for the exact same reason: To be willing to give of themselves to help someone else have a better lot in life. And to do it willingly, with neither penalty nor reward from the tax code.

    Obviously my hopes bear no resemblance to reality!

    And yes, we ARE curious and I still LOVE watching Star Trek and dreaming of BEING Spock or whomever.

    But I think before we worry about that, I’d rather see 2,000 Catholic bands doing things in rock, country, classical, and other musical genres to spread the Gospel. I’d rather see an armada of actors portraying holy saints or other characters who LIVE virue.

    Heck, I’d love to see a two-hour feature film–in theaters– of monks as they grow coffee, sing Chant several times each day, and live holy, single, celibate, communal lives.

    I suspect I’ll never be one, but I’d love to see something about those who DO.

    I’d like to see a film portraying nuns in habits, doing what nuns do best, whether that be praying in 3-part harmony in the convent, or teaching school in Cambodia.

    I would love to see the next spacecraft fly. I REALLY would.

    But before we worry about aiming for the stars in God’s universe, I’d LOVE to see us clean up the sewage down here.
    We have whole volumes to clear away.

  11. jflare says:

    As a side note:
    ContraMundum, I’m intrigued by your thought about exploration on Mars.
    Did you see the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon? You’d need to get it on DVD now, but it’s an interesting series.
    One of the later episodes discusses the thought you pose. One of the astronauts must convince his former professor to teach his colleagues in geology. His professor tells him in no uncertain terms that NASA should send space probes, precisely because the astronaut won’t have the foggiest notion what to pick up anyway. His old professor winds up teaching the primary and secondary crews–including his former student– about field geology so THEY can gather the right stuff. More expensive than the probes, but also more enlightening.

    If I may ask: What makes you think a robot WON’T contaminate the rock sample?
    I’m not trying to be sarcastic or mean; I intend to comment that either way, collecting samples of rock from below the surface requires disturbing the soil from it’s natural state. Depending on how dense or not the microbes might be, you can’t tell if the drill might be obliterating the microbes you wish to find. It ‘s a risk either way.

    And, for the record, space probes aren’t cheap either. While watching an episode of The West Wing, I saw an event when JPL loses contact with the probe. Someone bothers to ask how much both the probe AND the recovery effort cost.

    No matter how we approach it, we’ll spend TONS of money on going to Mars, to an asteroid, going to anything else.

  12. ckdexterhaven says:

    If NASA doesn’t “do” space anymore, then why are we giving them millions (billions?) in a budget every year? It seems that the director of NASA, James Hansen is more interested in haranguing us with global warming talking points. Where’s the money going?

    This is a sad time for America. I’m sure there were naysayers after President Kennedy’s speech saying we couldn’t afford it then either. We probably couldn’t afford it! We’re Americans darn it. NASA has given us so many technological innovations, cordless tools, shoe insoles, memory foam, portable water filters, ear thermometer, Tyvek.

    I’m not giving up praying for America, she needs our prayers now more than ever.

  13. MuchLikeMartha says:

    My father worked for Southern Bell back when the space center was being built and did a lot of work there. My mom still talks about how people would line the beaches and roadways when early space shots were still “secret” and what a sight it was to see. That entire area was pretty much swamp land until it was built up by the space boom. We go to Cape Canaveral every summer for vacation because we have family in the area, and it’s been heartbreaking to see the economic loss. Huge buildings that once wore banners proudly welcoming home one shuttle or another or praising a job well-done now stand empty with sale signs out front. How I loved seeing those banners!! I definitely got teary eyed watching Discovery being cruised down the coast and around the monuments in DC and like ckdexterhaven said, I’m not giving up either.

  14. ContraMundum says:

    If NASA doesn’t “do” space anymore, then why are we giving them millions (billions?) in a budget every year?

    See, this is the attitude I am afraid of. NASA is doing space. The Messenger probe is mapping Mercury for the first time. Cassini is still observing Saturn and its moons; Juno is on its way to Jupiter; the New Horizons probe is on its way to Pluto. Mars continues to be mapped and explored by various satellites and the one remaining rover, while another rover is being prepared for launch. The Dawn spacecraft is currently mapping the large asteroid Vesta, after which it will map the dwarf planet Ceres. This is the golden age of planetary exploration. Every astronomy book in print is already out of date, and it’s been that way for more than a decade.

    Remember the mission in which Columbia broke up? What was it doing? Working on the ISS and putting “the first Israeli in space”. Really? That’s trivia, not a highlight. It cannot touch the coolness of exploring the asteroids or getting close photos of Pluto and its moons. And the last decade of the shuttles’ existence was dedicated to building a bigger version of Mir. The time had long since passed when TV stations would interrupt whatever they were doing to show a shuttle being launched or landing. The program had stagnated.

    Don’t let the fact that we are no longer doing missions that produced little or no scientific value, cost a mint, and had stopped interesting the public get in the way of supporting the great work that NASA continues to do. When the time comes to go to other planets, we’ll need the data we’re collecting now.

  15. Killing space exploration is not about saving money, in an age when our national debt has mushroomed to $5 trillion. It’s about destroying our spirit.

  16. MarylandBill says:

    First a minor nitpick. James Hansen is not the Director of NASA, he is a climate scientist that works at NASA. Charles Bolden is the director. Now on to the substance…

    As cool as the Shuttle was, as cool as it was to watch the shuttle launch and land (and know that no other nation in the world was doing anything like it), the shuttle needed to be retired. The basic configuration of the shuttle, with the orbiter riding piggyback on the fuel tank as opposed to on top of the stack, made disasters like Columbia and Challenger far more likely. The Russians have not lost a crew member in flight for over 40 years, while NASA has lost two orbiters and 14 crew during the 30 years of the shuttle program.

    We should return to space; if the United States will not, then others will. Robots are great for laying the ground work, but the basic problem with robots is that they are designed to do very specific experiments. If interesting results are found, they often cannot be followed up except by another mission. Astronauts, with even basic scientific training, can attempt to follow up on experiments. The Moon, Mars, the Asteroids and the outer Solar System are filled with scientific discoveries to be made and resources that can be used to make life better on Earth.

  17. John Weidner says:

    I must respectfully disagree with this post and all the comments.

    You are all trapped in the State Socialist model for all things “space.” You just assume, as you have been brainwashed to do, that it is the job of government to make all the decisions, to do everything, and to “inspire” us passive slugs who are stuck on Earth.

    And when government stops, we scratch our heads in bewilderment. We are helpless. (I’m sure we will feel SO much better when the government takes over the Catholic Church, so we can have “missions and programs,” and be inspired.)

    Wake up! There are wonders happening all around us, but we refuse to see them. Private sector spaceflight is becoming real. SpaceX is about to launch a re-supply mission to the space station. At a cost per pound far less than the Space Shuttle.

    I was there when SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE. My brother-in-law helped to build SpaceShipOne. In a small place with ordinary (but very smart) people.

    We are entering an era where people like you and me will have the power to go to space, to live there, to mount our own experiments and missions. Catholics should be thrilled. Does anyone remember “Subsidiarity?” WE should be dreaming the big dreams and making big plans, not outsourcing them to bureaucracies.

    (And just FYI, getting stuff to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) is a big deal! The biggest problem in all our space efforts is just getting stuff out of Earth’s gravity well. If we can slash the cost of that, everything else will be far easier.

  18. ContraMundum says:

    @Miss Anita

    Yes, but low earth orbit is not space exploration.


    I largely agree. But robots today are not what they were 20 years ago, and they are improving quickly as computer technology improves. Also, they can spend much more time on, say, Mars, so that even if they require more guidance, they can get more done over the course of their missions. And since they’re much cheaper and more expendable and don’t risk bringing as many bacteria to Mars, they’re a better choice for the foreseeable future.

    Mars is going to be a super-dangerous mission. I don’t think we can even think about putting men on Mars until we have something in Mars orbit they could dock with to get more supplies (and maybe even another ride home) and have a fully stocked Mars base already set up on the surface for them before they even set out. The only reason Apollo 13 was able to survive was the fact that they were not far from Earth and could limp back. Mars astronauts will be beyond the reach of help once the leave Earth orbit, so we’ll need to preposition help where we can.

  19. Banjo pickin girl says:

    What Contra’ says about the space race is correct. I was one of the children in the NYC area wondering what good it would do as I was taught to hide under my desk from Russian missiles launched from Cuba. I remember going out at night to watch Telstar go overhead. I remember being told about the fear people felt when Sputnik was launched successfully. It was about PR but there was also a recognition that the knowledge gained from such projects could give an advantage is another world war which was going to be more about missiles than about infantry marching through Europe.

  20. MarylandBill says:

    @John Weidner,
    Who payed for Columbus’s exploration of the New World? Or Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Globe. In fact, many if not most of the explorations of the 16th through 19th centuries were paid for in large part by funds provided by governments.

    SpaceX is cool, but lets not mistake it for a new paradigm. It may be reducing the cost to get things to space, but it is still doing it with government funds, and probably using government astronauts (at least in the near term). Yes Virgin Galactic is actually doing it all on its own, but comparing its suborbital capabilities with orbital craft like the the Dragon or Soyuz frankly glorifies SpaceShip One far too much.

  21. ContraMundum says:

    I completely agree! SpaceX and the like will be a new way for billionaires to have a good time, but they won’t be space exploration.

    By the way, check out the story at New Scientist about NASA’s request for public input on their Mars missions.

  22. PostCatholic says:

    The space shuttles were something akin to a long-haul truck: a small cab with a huge cargo area. They are being replaced with something more fitting to current needs, a transport vehicle to ferry astronauts between the International Space Station and the earth. It’s a private/public effort.

    NASA is doing amazing things right now for space exploration and fundamental astrophysical science. A new rover, Curiosity, arrives on Mars in August. The GRAIL project is underway making intensive and interesting observations about the moon. Artemis is doing a study of solar/lunar interaction. ACE is in an extremely cool orbit (seriously, read about that) and is studying particle physics. DAWN is off to study asteroids. The Webb Telescope is exploring the origins of time itself. There’s a dual US/Japan project studying deep space X-rays whose complicated name escapes me. GALEX is studying stellar formation. JUNO is off to Jupiter…

    What we don’t have right now is government-operated manned space flight to nearby extraterrestrial locations. Not sure why this is a huge problem when we’re in a golden age of planetary exploration and of physics and cosmology.

  23. ckdexterhaven says:

    John Weidner, I totally agree with you! As a matter of fact, I went to high school w/ the pilot of the Virgin Atlantic private rocket system. I think the private sector will make this very interesting. And probably cheaper! than what the government does. I just wonder if Obama’s goal in this was to demoralize the U.S.

  24. John Weidner says:


    All true, but you miss my point. The Spanish government didn’t design and build ships, hire crews and captains, and assume that world exploration had to be planned and executed by government.

    Let me give you an example of government doing what it should do. In the 1920’s attempts to create airlines were all failures. The available planes were too small and unsafe and uncomfortable to make a profitable airline. But without profits there was no market for bigger and better planes, so none were being built. The government established a generous payment for carrying airmail. This made airlines profitable, and immediately led to the creation of bigger and better planes, such as the DC-3. And from there to our modern commercial air industry. A HUGE success.

    This was a government subsidy, but look at what government did NOT do. It did not build or design planes, fly planes, run airports, or concoct any “missions and programs” to inspire us. Or actually, there were some. Things like flights to the South Pole. But that was government using the tools and skills private industry had pioneered.

    Which is why SpaceX IS a new paradigm.

  25. John Weidner says:

    My airline example above is also an instance of the Catholic principle called Subsidiarity. The decision-making was pushed down to the lowest possible level, and also de-centralized and dispersed.

    This is the sort of things we Catholics should be striving for. More than that, we should be leading! The statists and socialists should be hard-pressed to counter the intellectual and political leadership of the Catholic laity, showing the world better ways to organize polities and public life.

    Alas, we Catholics are now such wimps that the above paragraph will seem like absurd dreaming to anyone who reads it.

  26. ContraMundum says:

    Private industry alone would have gotten us to the moon sometime around 2500 A.D. There’s no good business case for going or even for taking the necessary first steps.

    Subsidiarity != libertarianism.

    Frankly, the Space Race was a much more civilized way for the US and Soviet Union to compete than the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the various proxy wars that were always in progress throughout the Cold War.

  27. jflare says:

    I must admit to being slightly amused by Mr. Weidner’s comment. I had debated mentioning the various private efforts at reaching for space; I recall about three separate efforts to reach space without the Shuttle several years ago. Trouble is, I’d need to look it up to confirm, but I don’t think private efforts have yet reached space, have they?
    I’m not entirely convinced that private interest will be capable of exploring space per se. Those efforts I recall hearing about didn’t aim at scientific study so much as they aimed to provide a pricey joy ride.
    Where space flight will effectively rely on human curiousity, scientific research, and the whole “hey, look what I DID” factor to drive it’s existence, I’m not so sure it’ll be capable of offering long-term value.
    ..And I think we could suggest that much of the impetus for space flight, especially manned space flight, originates with a remnant of a Cold War worry. We DID originally worry go up because we worried that the Soviets might rain doom and destruction upon us if we didn’t. Now, we could become concerned that the Chinese, the North Koreans, or what remains of Russia might do so now.
    Do we have such a need for national pride that we’ll do the same thing again? I might point out that if we’re worried about keeping our prestige, we’re already half beat: NASA doesn’t have another space vehicle ready to go. We’re *coughs loudly* paying the old Soviets a whole bunch of money to move us around.
    In that sense, we ALREADY look bad!

    Perhaps that’s my real issue with all this:
    I have been awed and inspired by the idea of space flight. But I have ALSO been awed and inspired by having 4,000 kids gathered in an Armory for Mass. I have been awed and inspired by seeing a giant crowd of people waiting outside St. Peter’s to see the Pope. I’ve been awed and inspired by a particularly moving bit of music.
    I’d like to see us focus more resources on efforts that’ll actually net something of serious value to the average human being.
    I know, that thought won’t go over well in politics; I’d come across more like the average socialist or progressive. Trouble is, they aren’t entirely wrong.

    I’d love to see more money being poured into Fine Arts education, not discerning whether we might find a microbe on Mars.
    Don’t forget, much of the mystique of space flight has relied upon the frame of mind that comes from a sound track. Your average space shuttle mission doesn’t play The Planets in the background.

  28. jflare says:

    “All true, but you miss my point. The Spanish government didn’t design and build ships, hire crews and captains, and assume that world exploration had to be planned and executed by government.”

    Well, except that these highlight precisely what the government of Spain DID do. They intended to colonize the New World, so they used government resources to pay captains, men, and shipyards to do the job. Same thing with the postal service. Even if the pilots and companies didn’t have a US flag pinned to their uniform, they still had a job based on government spending resources. Taxpayer dollars.

    In other words, even if they made better use of subsidiarity than has NASA, they still relied on government interest to have something happen in the first place. It wasn’t a private effort.

    SpaceX is, indeed, a new paradigm because it’s based on private funds and a contest for a large cash prize. I’m not yet convinced that it’ll necessarily lead to anything long term.
    If the money isn’t there, it won’t last long.

  29. jflare says:

    ‘Twould appear that SpaceX already won the private race for space. ..Eight years ago.

    Man, that’s even before I got out of the Air Force…. It DOES highlight a key problem though: If SpaceX stood that strong a chance of enabling private enterprise to assume command of space, likely every person here would’ve heard about it. We haven’t.

    Not exactly my idea of a serious game-changer.

  30. John Weidner says:


    “Private industry alone would have gotten us to the moon sometime around 2500 A.D. There’s no good business case for going or even for taking the necessary first steps.”

    You have been imprinted with certain ideas about what space is all about, and you can’t see past them. Who says that space equals the space race? Or equals exploration of the Moon? Why do you assume those? We’ve been bombarded with those ideas all my life, and they are very worldly ideas. Government and its allies in the press and the academy hammer them into our heads non-stop. Why? Because they always lead to bigger government.

    I challenge you to really be “contra mundum,” and think some new thoughts about space. I’d say what we really need to be thinking of is enlarging the human spirit. And that won’t happen within the cotton-candy cocoon of bureaucratic control.

    I suspect we don’t even know what space “is,” and won’t until large numbers of free people are able to live there and do the thousand-and-one kooky things that people dream up to make money or have fun.

    Also, I could make perfectly good cases for private industry going to the moon. For one thing, the Moon is rich in iron, aluminum and silicon (i.e. glass). It would cost 1/10th as much to bring those to Earth orbit from the the Moon than from Earth. Possibly less.

  31. John Weidner says:

    jflare ,

    ” It DOES highlight a key problem though: If SpaceX stood that strong a chance of enabling private enterprise to assume command of space, likely every person here would’ve heard about it. We haven’t..”

    You are stuck in the Industrial Age pattern of waiting to be told what to think. In the Information Age that’s absurd. The information is readily available, you just have to look for it. The numbers are out there, and you can run them yourself. (You might try following Rand Simberg’s blog, if you are interested in the subject.)

    You no longer have to believe what your masters on TV tell you. (And Catholics should never have fallen for that, since it’s mostly thinly disguised materialism and atheism.)

  32. ContraMundum says:

    If you repudiate the moon landings, I don’t think we have enough common interest in this topic to even have an argument.

  33. John Weidner says:

    I’m not “repudiating” the Moon landings. I’m challenging you (and probably a lot of other people) to not accept the stereotypical picture of space you have been indoctrinated with.

    People see the word “space” and immediately think NASA/Moon/Mars/astronauts/shuttle. There are LOTS of other possibilities, but people are blind to them.

    I’ve often suspected that our spirits quail before the unimaginable immensity of space, and we prefer that the subject be kept “tame” by confining it to a few government programs for a handful of astronauts.

  34. jflare says:

    “You no longer have to believe what your masters on TV tell you. (And Catholics should never have fallen for that, since it’s mostly thinly disguised materialism and atheism.)”

    ..Which might go a long way toward explaining why I haven’t watched network TV news–or most anything else–in most of 10 years. In fact, I don’t even have cable anymore; there’s literally much better ways of remaining informed. And entertained.

    I might point out that if SpaceX or other endeavers WERE the big deal, the big business, that their creators hoped, likely we each would’ve heard mention of it by means of a marketing campaign. Or, at worst, I would’ve heard about it as a human interest item on Hugh Hewitt or another commentator. I have not.
    I’m forced to suggest that perhaps those endeavors haven’t been as lucrative as intended.

    I readily agree that we COULD do something in space if we wished. My question remains: What would we do?
    What do we wish to do outside earth’s atmosphere that warrants spending millions, billions, or trillions of dollars? As suggested by others, if we simply want to know if Mars has microbes living on it, we can “fairly easily” arrange for a probe to land, drill into the ground, grab a little, then send a smaller craft back. ..And don’t look now, but I think we’ve already done that….. more than once.

    If we want to be awed by the sight of a supernova, it’s not THAT difficult to send a probe to take a picture, perhaps even a video. Granted, it won’t “do it justice” in the manner that having a human being physically there will, but it’ll also cost hundreds of millions less.
    And I won’t need to give up watching my niece grow to catch the shot.

    I don’t know that most of us quail before the thought of the immensity of space.
    I think we DO cringe at whether or not we can look at space, but still pay the rent or the mortgage at month’s end.

  35. John Weidner says:

    jflare ,

    “I’m forced to suggest that perhaps those endeavors haven’t been as lucrative as intended..”

    They are just getting started. Of course they are not profitable yet. Nor do they toot their horns much now, since they’ve yet to prove themselves. The upcoming SpaceX flight to the space station is a first. And satellites are already a huge private sector success, with profits in the hundreds of millions a year. Space is already paying for itself in a substantial way.

    But I’m wasting my time. You have a fixed idea of space, and what it costs, and nothing I write is going to dislodge it.

  36. jflare says:

    Mr. Weidner,
    I’m pretty perplexed by your post.
    I don’t remember stating that SpaceX or anything else must be an already-decided abject failure. Nor do I recall stating that space efforts could only involve collecting rocks or taking pictures. I DID say–or imply–that these are the only LIKELY activities we’d see.
    I also commented that business has not been as lucrative as they might’ve hoped. Years ago, I’d understood them to be aiming for the wealthy, excitement-seeking crowd to provide “joy rides”. Looking at the manifest they provide though, they’ll be flying mostly for NASA or for someone else’s government. Not for commercial interests or for fun per se. Maybe NASA intends to contract with them for regular, manned, space flights until Congress provides other means. I don’t know.

    I don’t know that I have any particular fixed idea of space, so much as I have the idea that..we’re rapidly reaching the point of diminishing returns regarding what we can expect to “get” from space, especially from manned space travel.

    If I recall, NASA had aimed to place a colony on Mars by now. We didn’t do so because we found the prospect pretty daunting to pay for. ..And, really, what would a colony DO on Mars? I’ve never heard any suggestions regarding probable resources we might acquire, no trade with another people that we wish to establish, no means even of sustaining a colony in the Martian atmosphere, but rather a need to live in some kind of dome. We wouldn’t be establishing colonies there for the purpose of commerce or national competition, the way European nations did in centuries past.

    Maybe we merely wish to colonize the place simply so we can say we did it. Or to alleviate urban crowding. I DO remember reading a proposal like that somewhere. ..And then various Sci-Fi efforts demonstrated that might not work out so well.
    For us OR for whatever–or whomever–we might find there already.

    Gene Kranz even commented about NASA’s lack of a distinctive goal that needed to be accomplished.

    I guess we could go to Mars or someplace to prove that we COULD do it. But I’m not sure it’d be worth the cost.

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