Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Perhaps you shared my discomfort with Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach’s quoted remark to staff in the Launch Control Room moments after Discovery’s Tuesday lift-off when he “bellowed” this faint praise, "We have a shuttle that works!"
Various news reports mentioned how the normally over exuberant emotions of the Launch Control crew, after witnessing a cascade of debris falls and a, of all things, “bird strike” during launch, were “muted” with likely thoughts of an extremely high stakes Discovery re-entry.
It seems some NASA staffers are not as comfortable gambling human lives for some measure of perceived success with the President’s fantasy Moon/Mars agenda as other more highly ranked government employees.
The PR stakes, so valued by our short-term gain-minded rulers, were subtly and not so subtly evident in the quoted remarks of two debris-unscathed Congressional Republicans at the launch and a post-launch remark by the voice of Launch Control George Diller who said, “…space shuttle Discovery, beginning America's new journey to the moon, Mars and beyond.".
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Republican Tom Feeney tellingly said, "Space predominance for America is absolutely critical…most of this has to do with making sure we deny space predominance to any hostile power."
Representative Dave Wheldon said, “It's very important…to go back to the moon and Mars.”
Mr. Wheldon, perhaps, needs a staff reminder that humans have yet, all Rovers aside, to visit the planet Mars in person and consequently cannot “go back”.
While I am a life-long proponent of robotic and human space and home system exploration, the On to Mars crowd seems to have unrealistic expectations possibly spurred by cash-flush lobbying corporations like Halliburton who would greatly covet a Martian mining contract and the possibility of an interplanetary business model.
While contracts for studying a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) were recently given to Lockheed-Martin and Northrop-Grumman, interplanetary space, as this previous posting suggests and unlike a relatively tame return to the Moon, is supremely deadly and we have only scratched the surface of what is likely to be a long and highly expensive road to its circumvention for potential traveling Martian businessmen.
All PR aside, the Bushies have needlessly raised the political stakes for all US space exploration with this rushed return to orbit.
A, God forbid, catastrophic re-entry for Discovery will sadly prove as deadly to NASA as a blast of deep interplanetary space solar radiation.
Images: Daily Telegraph, NASA