Thursday, August 09, 2007

Endeavour Lifts Off - And It's A Waste Of Money?

Endeavour had a smooth lift-off yesterday on a journey towards the International Space Station. This news article has a brief report on the event and its mission. But what is more fascinating is the accompanying side article on the cost and scientific advances (or lack of it) of manned space flight. Could manned space flight really be a waste of money? They of course interviewed Bob Park, who has been a constant and vocal opponent who questioned the need for such a thing.

Park asks: "What is it that we are sending the humans to find? What is it that we're sending them to do that we can’t design a machine to do better?"

"If it's just for the thrill, send them bungee jumping. This is not a thrill the taxpayers ought to be paying for."

I had a chuckle when I read the response to Bob Park's criticism:

But sending people to the stars is seen as central to the frontier spirit that America still embraces and Nasa depends on the enchantment of the public to support its $17bn a year budget.

Roger Launius, Nasa's former chief historian says "this is where science meets psychology".

"The American space programme is, to many Americans, a critical chapter of US history which began with first settlers on ships then pioneers in wagons."

There are two aspects to this:

1. It re-enforces what I wrote earlier that the general public can be easily duped by superficial demonstrations. Thus, manned space flight is one such superficial demonstrations that has almost no scientific advancement value that commensurates with the cost. Yet, it is what the public wants to see and what is being used to get support for NASA and the space program.

2. It is a rather sad reflection on how we have to do things to get support. Do the public realize that we have to dumb things down, make it full of bells and whistles before they would support such a thing?


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