Friday, October 21, 2005

[geek] 30-second science blogging - an "X-Prize"-lite for the space elevator concept

While I don't think this represents any kind of radical change in NASA's approach to space, I do find it heartening that they're at least willing to entertain (and reward) something other than the strap-a-mofo-huge-rocket-to-your-ass-and-cross-your-fingers philosophy they've embraced since, oh, forever. Please note that no disrespect is intended towards those who actually strap those mofo-rockets to their collective asses - but since we've come to learn that rocket-powered space flight is so inefficient (certainly, rocket-powered flight from the bottom of a gravity well), you'd think we'd have given something else a whirl by now. It isn't like there's been a shortage of ideas or anything.

3 Comments:

Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

You can hardly blame NASA for being conservative. Engineers tend to be, and the 'strap a rocket to your back' approach has the virtue that, at the last, it works.

We might wish they'd spend a bit more time/attention on alterative means to launch, however.

10/21/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

I can't also help but wonder if the long-time military affiliation with NASA has hurt (probably not the right word... had an impact?) as well. Both the military and engineering produce pretty cautious mindsets, with good reason.

Then there's the Right Stuff era test-pilot/cowboy mentality - given the way institutions pass down traditions and mindsets, it's probably only been within the last 20 years or so that that culture has worked itself out of NASA. When did NASA drop the ex-military-only requirement for astronauts? That would have marked a tremendous turning point as well...

And yes, it does work. Spectacularly. And when it works, it also makes for great theatre (and I don't mean that in a negative way) - there're some photos of Canaveral night launches that still take my breath away.

10/21/2005 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Both the military and engineering produce pretty cautious mindsets, with good reason

Allowing that I was 'only' a junior enlisted Marine (I spent most of my time in service as an E3 and I'm perversly proud of that) it's not so much that the military has a cautious mindset as a conservative one. You go with what works. This is not the same as being cautious.

Cautious leaders in the military can have their place, but you have to roll the dice at times - they'd revoke your engineering degree if you tried that with a bridge.

McClellen for example could have won the Civil War in 1862 had he moved with alacrity in front of Richmond.

He did not - given his character he could not - and the defect was as much one of character as that the Lee simply out generalled the poor man.

When did NASA drop the ex-military-only requirement for astronauts? That would have marked a tremendous turning point as well...

A very long time ago. Armstrong was a civilian test pilot as were others in Apollo. But they were associated with the military - given the requirement for test pilot experience it couldn't be otherwise.

You're looking for the Shuttle era I suspect.

And yes, it does work. Spectacularly. And when it works, it also makes for great theatre

Amen. Space flight is the grace note to our culture - our gift to the future. A rocket boosting for the heavens is the clearest best expression of what we're capable of.

10/21/2005 07:29:00 PM  

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