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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6078/what-wont-nasa-invent-next/

What Won’t Nasa Invent Next?

January 2, 2007 by

In its 20+ year lifespan, the shuttle program has a failure rate of around 1 in 50 launches, writes Tim Swanson. Yet with this abysmally low success rate, its ever-increasing budget requests are approved annually. Could you imagine the economic impact on the domestic airline industry if there was a 1-in-50 chance of your plane crashing? In all reality, it would not exist beyond the research and hobbyist industries. Yet because Nasa is politically controlled and taxpayer funded, it can continue receiving funds indefinitely. Bankruptcy is out of the question. FULL ARTICLE


Roggers January 2, 2007 at 9:20 am

” One flawed justification for sending humans into space is the promise of scientific or technological ‘spin-offs’.

In my experience, there are three kinds of liars—ordinary liars, damned liars, and spin-off claimers.

Of course, when you spend Billions of dollars on a human spaceflight program, you’re going to get some spin-offs. And a great many of the spin-offs ‘supposedly developed by NASA’ were actually developed ‘quite independently by private industry’, which used NASA as good advertising.

NASA loved it, because they could tout these achievements in front of Congress and look like they were doing something useful. ”

{–Robert Park, Professor of Physics, University of Maryland }

John Coleman January 2, 2007 at 9:29 am

Tim: Silly is the only word I can think of after reading your piece. The items that you claimed that NASA claimed to have developed, I think, come from your imagination. True, in some instances NASA’s use of your carefully selected list of materials may have popularized the items but this, in effect, was the private sector taking full advantage of the free public advertising. The patent for cell phone technology dates to 1942 and an obscure technology for scrambling enemy torpedo signals, but who today would credit someone in 1942 with the development of the modern cell phone? Consider the transdermal drug delivery system, now used in over 25 important medications, from cold tablets to cardiovascular drugs. In the 1960s, when astronauts were returned to Earth at sea and often left in their capsules for hours before rescue ships could reach them, their biggest complaint in the debrief was not weightlessness or the crummy food in space, but the fact that they were desperately sea-sick from bouncing in the rough water of the South Pacific. Pills, liquids, and injectibles were out because of the difficulties and risks in using these routes while suited up and weightless. This led to Novartis, Alza, and NASA getting together and coming up with the transdermal patch for scopolamine, an effective seasickness medication used today by a lot of folks when they take sea cruises. I have not checked the patent dates but I am sure that if I did, I would probably find that the transdermal drug delivery system was patented long before its debut around 1971, as I recall, after NASA helped to develop the first drug patch for use in its astronaut program. This is the point I think you missed in your piece. The Chicago Museum of Industry and Science currently has an exhibit of Da Vinci that, among other things, shows pretty detailed sketches of what today we refer to as the helicopter. Would you deny Igor Sikorsky a place in history because five hundred years later he brought to fruition Da Vinci’s dream with the first operational version of the modern helicopter? In 1918, the Postal Service, using borrowed military pilots, began using airplanes to transport mail. Seven years later, Congress passed the Kelly Act, authorizing the Postal Service to contract out these services to the private sector. The rest, as they say, is history. Von Mises was not an anarchist, despite the ramblings of some of his followers at times. Vigilance is the key here, as well as some old-fashioned eclecticism when it comes to what is right and wrong about the state.

George January 2, 2007 at 10:24 am

RE-John: No offense, sir, but what does Ludwig von Mises being an anarchist or not, have to do with this article?

Half Sigma January 2, 2007 at 10:26 am

People have watched too much Star Trek.

Take any normally libertarian geek, and tell them that the space program is stupid and a waste of money, and they get all mad at you.

Brad January 2, 2007 at 10:37 am

That’s one mighty expensive patch….and last time I checked most people on land can still take a pill or a liquid, a patch is merely for the lazy…

I have argued the same for years about the Good done by the State in general, sure some Good is done, but at what cost? Passive supporters of the State look at the Good that is produced, care less about the cost, and look upon those who question it as anti-Good AND we’re the ones spouting theory since the only known is the Statist function, so we’re the ones grasping at straws.

The long and the short of it is that the State does SOME Good, but it also does a lot Bad, and the Good it does do is generally done inefficiently. Yet many see no other way, Progress is only found on the Statist path, and any other is sloughed off as, at best, wild westernism, or, at worst, midevalism. Who knows what form of personal transportation we would have but for the socialization of roads and allowable technology? Even as is, automobile and airtravel are semi-private and are much more efficient. The more socialized it is, the worse it is.

Sean Lynch January 2, 2007 at 11:01 am

Fortunately, nobody’s arguing (though I can’t speak for Tim) that the government can’t invent anything, just that private industry can do better. Such an argument is a lot less likely to collapse in the face of a counterexample.

Spin-offs in general are a farce, because if they’re so great, it should have been worth the money spent directly on researching them. If anything, they slightly reduce the cost of space exploration by having applications other than space exploration; they don’t by themselves make space exploration worthwhile.

Tim Bendel’s and Dave Masten’s argument for space exploration is best: we need a new frontier. But a new frontier is *not* some government employees poking around in low earth orbit a couple times a year.

My favorite much-maligned spinoff is the Fisher Space Pen. Various chain emails have claimed that it was developed for anything from 2 million to 2 billion dollars and that the Russians just use a pencil. In reality, the Fisher Space Pen was developed entirely at Fisher’s cost and NASA gets them pretty much at cost, while Fisher has made their money back manyfold by selling them to the general public. And pencils suck in space. Getting pencil shavings and pieces of graphite stuck in the air filters is no picnic.

Oh, and one more thing: the Space Shuttle is GREAT! … as an employment program for workers in every congressional district, particularly Orrin Hatch’s.

David White January 2, 2007 at 11:17 am

What we’re really talking about here is that the unseen is vastly larger than the seen, which is what Bastiat’s reply to the “Broken Window Theory” is all about:


But do not try to get the typical statist to see this, as his eyes are wide shut, lest reality intrude on his make-believe world. Thus will he tell you that the private sector “couldn’t afford” to put a man on the moon, never mind that that’s precisely where the money came from and could have been put to vastly greater use elsewhere.

And so it goes.

Sione Vatu January 2, 2007 at 11:33 am


Was it really NASA that developed that patch. Surely it was the private companies you listed. NASA may have gone to them looking for a solution to a particular problem but NASA didn’t produce that solution or product itself. It got those companies to do it.

In the end is NASA really necessary? Or is it another example of a govt boondoggle created on expropriated property? More welfare for the boys stuff.


Russ R January 2, 2007 at 11:58 am

The only truly useful thing to come from the space program (and which was unlikely to be developed profitably by the private sector) is GPS.

It’s somewhat like the classic public good, (the lighthouse) in being non-rivalrous, but GPS has been made excludable through encryption and selective availability (though this feature is no longer used and the system is freely available to all).

I contend that it wouldn’t be profitable for the private sector by comparing GPS to it’s closest extra-terrestrial relatives that are also non-rivalrous and excludable… satellite radio.

2005 Net income

Sirius: -US$862.997 Million
XM: -US$675.312 Million

Mark Brabson January 2, 2007 at 12:08 pm

I would agree with one of the other posters about NASA essentially being a jobs program for many Congressional Districts.

NASA should have been entirely concentrated at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Instead:

1. Ames Research Facility in California: General research needs to be done privately, these bureacratic scientists need to find private employment.

2. Dryden Flight Research Center in California: This is absolutely useless, private companies like Boeing and Gulfstream need to be doing their own damn research, not leaching off the government.

3. Glenn Research Center in Ohio: Essentially research pork for the state of Ohio.

4. Goddard Flight Research Center in Maryland: Yet more research pork for Maryland and D.C.

5. Jet propulsion laboratory in California: Its functions as regards to monitoring unmanned space probes could be transferred to KSC in Florida. The rest of it is just more research pork.

6. Johnson Space Center in Texas: Of course, this is the biggest pork handout of all time, courtesy of its namesake. Obviously, all its functions belong at KSC.

7. Kennedy Space Center in Florida: Well, I guess if NASA must exist, they need a launch site, so I guess I can let this one pass. :)

8. Langley Research Center in Virginia: Virginia’s slice of the NASA pie.

9. Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama: It’s essential functions could be handled at KSC.

10. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi: It’s essential functions could be handled at KSC and or Canaveral Air Force Station.

11. Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia: This is just a f***ing joke, brought to you by Senator Robert “KKK” Byrd. Pork from beginning to end.

12. Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City: Educational pork for NYC.

13. Wallops flight facility in Virginia: Essential function could be performed at KSC.

14. White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico: Again, this function could be performed at KSC and or Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA should be abolished. Short of that, it needs to be consolidated to KSC and the manned space program needs to be eliminated, with NASA’s sole focus to be on unmanned deep space probes.

E January 2, 2007 at 1:18 pm


You are correct. I work at one of the above mentioned labs. It’s a NASA owned lab, though we often get non NASA contracts when there’s not enough space money in the budget. It’s a nice comfortable job, plenty of hi-tech toys to play with, and so I don’t work at a private job because, well, then I’d actually have to work! And what’s the fun of that.

About a year or so ago, our lab was told to layoff some 5% of our workforce. Why? Because there were other labs that were not growing so fast as us who were jealous. So, away go 5%. Now all I ever hear is how people can’t do their jobs because there’s nobody left to do the work. BTW, can you guess how many managers got the ax? Now, I see a new building is being errected, so I guess we’ll be staffing up soon. Need to hire some worker bees I guess.

When the last shuttle blew up, we were all given a very pricey, book on the shuttle failure report by Nasa. There was a pdf file on the net, that we all could just read online, but no, about $50 per copy I’d think. Then we were told to get to gether and discuss ways to avoid these sorts of problems. We were told that all ideas would be considered. I suggested that NASA be privatised. The looks I got were precious. Fortunately for me, I’ve been there 27 years and they can’t very well fire me. Anyway, some 5000 of us, all experts in the shuttle I guess, had to sit in meetings and make stupid suggestions for a few hours. Nobody even read the $50 tome that I could tell. The blue recycle trash bins were filled to brim with them.

A co-worker of mine was once asked what lessons he’d learned after his 15 years at our lab: “Spend, Spend, Spend!”. The more you spend the better you are thought of. I once worked on a project that spent $300 million over 2 years (not a space project, though, one for the military – why, because Pres. Reagan boosted the military budget and we had to be doing something – instead of space). It created what amounted to an airline scheduling system. The manager was written up in some glossy magazines and bragged how this system, which employed 80 people, was so wonderful. In reality it could have been developed by a couple people for under 1 million. Or probably bought off the shelf. But then there wouldn’t be $299 more for managers and other technical welfare. The last I heard the system had been totally canned and re-written by some computer company who had been given the maintenance contract. I remember asking the lead programmer why they chose to write it in the ADA programming language. His answer: “Do you know how much they’re paying ADA programmers out there?” I guess he was planning ahead for his next job from day one.

There’s a million more stories in the naked city of NASA. These are a just a few of the ones I’ve witnessed myself.

David White January 2, 2007 at 2:04 pm

E, you remind me of an engineer friend of mine who got a job with FEMA last year and is making a killing down in the Gulf filling out forms a couple hours a day for his crew to cut down trees for qualifying homeowners. He lives in a $750,000 condo on the beach, gets a tax-free per diem along with his hefty hourly wage, and daily shakes his head at what a tremendous waste it all is.

But his wife tells him, “Somebody was gonna get the job, so why not you?”

E January 2, 2007 at 3:45 pm


Well, I’m not doing that well, but I cut my hours to 24/week since too much was being taken out for taxes. I actually sometimes feel a bit guilty too, like your friend, but then I am sorry to say that Lew Rockwell’s “Case for Libertarian Hope” doesn’t encourage me (in his LewRockwell.com post today). So, my philosophy is, “Can’t beat em, join em”.

I used to email Harry Browne a lot when he had his talk show. I asked him if I should quit and he said he had hope that someday I would. Well, Harry was an eternal optimist. I’m not. Besides, I’ve got 2 years before I can retire at 62; then I can go on the social security dole (before there’s nothing left there either). With 300 million Americans who could care less about libertarian ideas, even if Mises.org and LewRockwell.com are widely read, it’s never gonna change things. We need a miracle. Harry Browne thought maybe a libertarian billionaire could become president, but sans that, forgetaboutit! Anyway, gotta go in to work for an hour or so today, lest they totally forget I work there.

Oh yeah, one last thing. I once was working on some project that was like a small new version of the shuttle (I forget x-45 or some such). We were instructed to use some AI (Artificial intelligence) software on one of our computers that was to fly on the craft. Why, just so we could say there was AI on board. I wrote some c++ code that implmented a trivial, but somewhat novel approach to runtime code assertions. But it was the idea of someone in the AI sections, so it was classified as AI code. The rest of us joked about “flying if statements”. The spacecraft was never flown, and my if statements were grounded. No matter though, I was out sick for 6 weeks getting an operation and nobody even knew I was gone. When I told my sponsor, he was actually happy as it gave him 6 weeks of my salary to waste somewhere else.

David White January 2, 2007 at 4:07 pm

E, I admire your candor, if not your moral fiber, and would add that that however clueless the American people may be about libertarianism doesn’t mean that it won’t have its say. For as Ayn Rand said, “We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.”

So while you may be only too happy to soak the system further upon your retirement, you might want to think about a post-retirement career.

Methinks you’re gonna need it:


David K. Meller January 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm

The remarkable successes of the aircraft and early aerospace industry cited in the above article was accomplished by private means, DESPITE the extensive government infestation of the aviation market almost from the beginning.

One of the first attempts to intrude government and its war profiteering and regulatory pollution on the infant aviation industry was the demand for aircraft for “fighters” and bombers during the first World War. This drained away a great many innovative and enterprising researchers and entrepreneurs both in Europe and the USA, which no doubt delayed the progress in both design and services in the Aviation industry by at least a decade.

Once viable markets began to develop in the mid-1930′s, the Civil Aeronautics Board proceeded to cartelize the airlines, regulating rates, restricting routes, issuing rules for the permissable flying time, so-called “qualifications” for pilots, navigators and other airline personnel. The Government, not the market, then also proceeded to build and “maintain” airports, using the inevitable political and bureaucratic criteria, along with antiquated and unresponsive technology, and also regulate and underwrite air carrier and freight insurance rates leading inevitably to the mess we have today.

After the conclusion of Roosevelt’s war, the US government had the chance to sell off (or even give away)the captured Germent patents and V2 rockets to private owners, subject, of course to safety and tort consideration, with the understanding that all newly developed technology (e.g. turbine and turbojet, ramjet, radar, and soon-to-be-developed laser, computer, and robotics technology) would be PRIVATELY owned and operated, but of course that it NOT what happened.

The Armed Forces were given control of the new techology, with their favored corporate crooks and lobbyists, with NASA chartered in 1958 to get “civilians” in on the deals.

Oh well, I’m sure at the end of the NEXT five year plan, we will be ready to colonize Mars…

David K. Meller

Jack Maturin January 2, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Larry Wall worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, when he invented Perl, my favorite programming language, so I suppose those trillions of dollars did have a tiny bit of usage, at least for a hacker hobbyist like myself. This does beg the question as to why Larry Wall had so much free time on his hands, and so much rare processing power, that he was able to create a comprehensive scripting language and then make an independent living from it in the last 20 years? But perhaps I’m being churlish. Strangely, as a continuing post-NASA evolutionary quirk most of my fellow Perl hobbyists, at least all the ones I meet, are quasi-communist Stallmanite Marxists, ‘working for the Perl collective’. However, since the ‘individual’ Larry Wall handed Perl5 across to this ‘community’ of self-styled Perl monks, it has taken what seems like about two hundred thousand years (and counting) for Perl6 to emerge from this ‘hive’. Some say Perl6 may never emerge, as the brothers head off in strange Parrot-like directions, completely forgetting the point of improving the language in the first place and letting its commercially-produced rivals, such as Java and C#, kick it way off into the charming though pointless irrelevance of left-field. It seems the spirit of NASA is alive and well and living in the Perl programming community. Ok, so it’s a bit tangential, but it’s the best I could think of for what NASA has done for all the tax dollars coercively stolen to fund it. Come on Larry. Take Perl back and make it happen!

R January 2, 2007 at 7:40 pm

Somehow I get lost in the details when the author implies the following:

1. Space travel is as simple as air travel.

2. The Space Shuttle is no more complex than an aircraft.

3. The primary cause for automobile fatalities is the roadways. That in itself is hypocritical, because it would then imply that one could sue the owner of the private road for related deaths. Clearly this would ruin the privateer road business plan.

I could go on and on, but would repeat much of what has already been posted. This article is silly and has no foundation. The author clearly has a bias for privitization of the space industry, unfortunately his artlicle does not credible support his cause. If space exploration were profitable, don’t you think that private industry would have invented it. The fact is, now that the hard work is done, privateers would like to capitalize on it. Which may be okay. Similar to the GPS system that many of us take for granted.

A closing thought… some people think that NASA’s efforts are closely tied to our national security. If so, maybe NASA’s efforts are more than justified. An individual that has worked for 20 years, who never excelled above worker bee level, and is coasting until retirement has a very limited view of the big picture.

billwald January 2, 2007 at 7:50 pm

The JPL preeceded NASA by many years.

Except for the various telescopes in space and the unmanned missions I can’t think of any important discovery made by NASA unless it is the demonstration of the unfitness of humans for the space environment.

Gavin January 2, 2007 at 8:01 pm

It is possibile that a private sector group ( i would say assured) have developed manned space flight, R. But, again, the problem, is, that we won’t ever know, will we?

Manned spaceflight, like the kind NASA likes to conduct, is dangerous, and very expensive. How many hundreds or thousands of unmanned space probes could they have put into orbit? Better yet, how many private business, and foundations, would have done such? Assuming the argument for justice isn’t used, which states, that even if it would have taken 50 more years before teh private manned space travel would have become cost effective over unmanned, why would that matter?

Spaceflight is hard, and expensive. Manned forms even more so, and really unneccesary. Perhaps in a few hundred years, if NASA goes away, we will one day have some simple colonies in our solar system. Who knows? Why send a man to do the job, however, when a few probes can do the same?

darjen January 2, 2007 at 8:09 pm

E’s story about grounded if statements strikes a chord with me as well. My last company, a small software firm, spent about 2 years developing a web based research collaboration application for the Ohio Aerospace Institute that was recently shelved. The project is still online, but of course nobody really uses it

Mark Brabson January 2, 2007 at 8:14 pm


That is the one thing that irks me most of all about NASA. Unmanned probes are by far the most economical and efficient way to gather hard science. On the other hand, NASA has sunk billions into the Space Station and for all their money…they have not gathered ONE not even ONE ounce of science of any kind. The Space Shuttle itself has accomplished very little of value in the last few years. Think of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of unmanned probes that could have been launched and the magnitude of science that could have been gained, but instead was frittered away on useless manned missions.

Tim Swanson January 2, 2007 at 8:52 pm

R said:

Somehow I get lost in the details when the author implies the following:
1. Space travel is as simple as air travel.

I did not imply that. In fact, I said just the opposite, if air travel operated and was managed the same way that the politicized/nationalized shuttle system is, airplanes would have just as many crashes and problems.

2. The Space Shuttle is no more complex than an aircraft.

Again, because it is a politically crafted machine that is financed through taxpayer monies and not some profit-driven firm (which could go bankrupt), the shuttle does not have to be effecient or even effective. In fact, every incentive exists for politicians to try and capitalize off of creating more work than necessary, so they can brag to their constituents that they brought jobs to their districts.

I and many others are surprised each and every time the shuttle actually lands in one piece, because of the lack of incentives for a successful flight (again, if Delta had as many problems as NASA did, it would go bankrupt).

3. The primary cause for automobile fatalities is the roadways. That in itself is hypocritical, because it would then imply that one could sue the owner of the private road for related deaths. Clearly this would ruin the privateer road business plan.

Actually you are correct in that a user of a road could sue the owner of a private road.

Currently there is no accountablity or personal responsibility the way public roads are managed.

If the State got out of the business of building roads, companies and enterprising individuals would build them hoping to make money off of them. Thus they would want as many people as they could to ride on them. And they would have to be safe roads because no one wants to get into an accident or they would switch roads/no longer use certain roads. It’s the same market principles found in all other private industries.

Again, the primary problem with roads is the lack of accountability for accidents and driver conduct (e.g. if insurance companies owned certain roads or insured more discrimantly, they could preclude certain high-risk drivers from ever driving on the roads).

I could go on and on, but would repeat much of what has already been posted. This article is silly and has no foundation. The author clearly has a bias for privitization of the space industry, unfortunately his artlicle does not credible support his cause. If space exploration were profitable, don’t you think that private industry would have invented it. The fact is, now that the hard work is done, privateers would like to capitalize on it. Which may be okay. Similar to the GPS system that many of us take for granted.

This is my point precisely. If there was a Department for Building Homes On Active Volcanos and its construction work was destroyed every few years, it would still receive funding for the same reasons NASA does. Without government intervention, no private firm would build on an active volcano because it is dangerous and filled with little profit — just as dangerous as going into space.

Besides, not all companies involved in the rocket industry receive subsidies of any kind. Most of the firms involved in the Ansari X Prize were funded privately, building their own rockets.

A closing thought… some people think that NASA’s efforts are closely tied to our national security. If so, maybe NASA’s efforts are more than justified. An individual that has worked for 20 years, who never excelled above worker bee level, and is coasting until retirement has a very limited view of the big picture.

Some people think creating a tariff against the Sun is a good idea too.

Surrounding yourself in a catch-all blanket “for national security” is a cop-out. Humanity is no measurably safer since NASA was created, after all, what objective measurement could you use? Humanity is no better off because the billions of confiscated dollars were spent on the Apollo missions (which managed to get to the moon). This is pyramid building, plain and simple.

E January 2, 2007 at 10:36 pm


My philosophy on a financial meltdown is that even if I had all my assets in gold and didn’t need the government for anything, once the system collapsed, I’d probably never survive, or might not want to – if we go back to the stone ages. If the dollar goes the way of the 1920′s German currency and wheelbarrows are needed, then we’re all in deep trouble. No amount of preparation will help. If we only have a little depression, well over the years I’ve been a saver, own my home, and have a 403(b) account. I’m not depending solely on SS.

But if the end times are near, at least I won’t have died young. I’d have had enough of this world. It’s up to the next generation to make a difference. This old hippy may have given in to the dark side, but that’s all I can see. I sort of gave up when Harry Browne passed away.

As to the quote of Any Rand, I think you might be on the wrong website. Are you aware of just how much Rothbard disliked her? I believe he even wrote a 1 act play to insult her. As to the quote itself, I’m not sure that being the one who knows reality when 300 million are ignorant is going to be much comfort.

David White January 3, 2007 at 7:49 am

E, you may be right that no amount of preparation will help, but while I expect the collapse of the global financial system to be horrific, I remain hopeful that with proper precautions one will be able to survive it intact — if not here, then elsewhere:


In fact, I expect the exodus to become nothing less than a stampede, as 78 million boomers begin retiring next year and the government, increasingly desperate to hang onto power, tightens its grip on society.

If so, then expect expatriate communities to spring up in Central America and elsewhere — i.e., not hippy communes but retirement villages with all the trimmings.

David White January 3, 2007 at 7:57 am

And as for the Rand quote, what does it matter if Rothbard disliked her, as it has no bearing on whether what she said is true. I dislike Alan Greenspan (a Rand protege), but this doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what he wrote before he sold out to the system:


For that matter, the monstrous Vladimir Lenin surely hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “While the State exists there can be no freedom; when there is freedom there will be no State.”

George January 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Good article.

As a former NASA prime contractor I can assure you that the folly and waste is unimaginable. The lies ae immense as is the incredible facade that must continually be refreshed in order to avoid the truth sinking in.

The Space Shuttle lifts a lower payload into a lower earth orbit than the Saturn V at a dramatically higher cost. In all aspects of it’s design requirements it is a massive failure.

When the Challenger exploded in 1986, Congress went to NASA with a mandate to resurrect the old Saturn V launch vehicle, but they could not. The plans and tooling discarded, the Program Manager (Arthur Rudloph) was deported to Canada for Nazi affiliation. The hypocrisy of this is that NASA was a complete failure at launch vehicle design until Werner Von Braun was Chief Engineer, his entire successful team had Nazi affiliations. Mr. Rudolph was a victim of a PC witchhunt.

When John F. Kennedy announced the race to the moon he was putting a facade on the real intent: it was never about going to the moon, it was all about putting large payloads precisely on target in the USSR. The technology is interchangeable. That would never have been a viable sales pitch to the American public. That program succeeded!

Nixon cancelled the moon launches when he became President because he understood the politics and the science. The moon is a dead rock and going there is a waste.

Sam January 3, 2007 at 11:18 pm

Could a problem be a psychological one akin to a problem gambler who thinks the ‘great win’ is just around the corner?

As I related in another blog entry there’s a humurous flip-flop in the early days of science fiction. People decades ago made the consistent presumption that computers would stay large, clunky and presumably very expensive whereas space travel would be extremely straightforward, easy and cost-effective.

Nowadays we know that computers have become small, powerful and affordable. Yet space travel has stalled back in the 60′s. Currently it interestingly hear how soon Intel and AMD are going to introduce quad-core CPUs.

On the other hand space travel still uses simple hydrogen combustion for lift, whereas ion engines have turned out to be a dead-end technology.

Perhaps NASA are trying to somehow think that space travel technology is just around the corner. When in fact any technology that could allow even for cost-effective intra-stellar flight calls for a totally new way of thinking for propulsion.

Gavin January 5, 2007 at 2:56 am

I quite agree, Mark. I don’t like state-run space agencies, but, they could would be to stopped the whole manned space program. How many research satellites, and interplanetary space probes could be launched for the cost of one space shuttle mission?
If the International Space Station does produce some valueable scientific data, well, wouldn’t the cost of the station outweight the results? Again, how many probes could they have sent to Mars, Jupiter, etc.. for the cost of this?

I find the whole notion of appealing to the human spirit of discovery quite wonderful. After all, it must be quite an experience to be in space and such. But, trying to think calmly, how does that affect and objectively help us, if a unmanned probe or three can do the same, but, for substantially less? After all, the natural sciences advance mostly through tens of thousands of researchers and technicians, in laboratories, making small contributions over decades.

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