Thursday, August 9, 2007

A to Nowhere? Why?

Well. After yesterday’s successful launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour into space yesterday evening, this is the latest news from NASA,

Endeavour Undergoes Heat Shield Inspection.’

The article goes on:

‘Pilot Charles Hobaugh, and mission specialists Tracy Caldwell and Rick Mastracchio are using the shuttle’s robotic arm to unberth the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) to take an extensive and detailed look at the orbiter’s thermal protection system. Mission specialists Dave Williams and Barbara Morgan join Mastracchio for the latter part of the survey.’

No doubt they will find a missing tile or three, or a rip in the foam, and there will be much hand-wringing as to whether the Space Shuttle is safe to return. Amidst the parade of Astronaut Wannabes spokesmen and experts opining about the dangers of the lucky 7 returning to terra firma, and though the astronauts may fix the broken gyroscope and install the truss on the outdated space station, and replace a few tiles, few will ask that most jejune of questions: ‘With such risks and costs, why go in the first place?’ Trips are supposed to be from A to B, not A to nowhere (for is that not what space is, nothing).

It’s true that there are certain trips that do not have a set destination and are for the pleasure of enjoying the journey but not the joys of the destination. A Sunday Drive or hoot through the back roads on a Motorcycle, for example, that Starts at A and ends at A are both fine examples of journeys that take do not have destinations, but I don’t think we can scale these examples to that of the folly sending 7 astronauts in an asymmetrical vehicle to nowhere where they will primarily engage in preparing to return to somewhere at enormous cost and risk to human lives broadcast on the NASA channel like a reality show, but this is a reality show with a body count.

(Werner Von Braun, incidentally, warned years ago that the only safe vehicle for going to space was a rocket symmetrical all the way down. With wings, external tanks, and all manners of eccentricities, at speeds more than Mach 7, something is bound to come loose.)

Kennedy may or may not have had his reasons for starting the space race, but surely they must be over by now.


The launch went well, but a problem developed when the craft reached orbit. The Block A central core booster did not separate properly, and it tore away thermal insulation. The cylinder containing Laika became subjected to vast extremes of temperature as it orbited Earth, passing from light to shadow and back to daylight. Laika soon died of heat related ailments. The capsule eventually reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on April 14, 1958, 162 days later.