Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human Space Flight

Reading karthik's blog post highlighted some things that I've been thinking about recently. A not-particularly-close relative of mine (Tim Kopra), who I've never met (but have heard a lot about, particularly recently), just returned from the ISS on STS-128. I've been disillusioned with the entire ISS enterprise for a long time (really since working on part of the Arianne V project back in the mid 90's - not the part that failed catastrophically, I swear!). It seemed like Columbus has discovered America, but decided to spend the time doing scientific experiments in the Azores (politically problematic at the time, but...).

Having a vague relationship with the project rekindled the old excitement I remember feeling back around the time when I told the 'careers' teacher (roughly equivalent to a US High School guidance counsellor) at my secondary school that I wanted to be an astronaut....

One of the earliest news stories that I remember was the Apollo-Soyuz mission. (That and the Cambodian Killing Fields - two extremes of human endeavor). I remember visiting my grandparents to watch their black and white television to see the footage of the astronauts and cosmonauts meeting in space. Looking up and wondering if Skylab was going to fall on my head (I recall there being a slight chance of it landing in the UK, in Cornwall, where we were on vacation at the time, but my memory is probably flawed). Staring at the dishes at Morwenstowe (Since renamed GCHQ Bude) and Goonhilly, in awe. And thinking that Clarke was way off in his predictions in 2001 - surely we'd be on our way to Jupiter way before that far-off date, when I'd be an old man of 33...... And Karthik, with half a chance, I'd be with you on Mars, if they need a aging geek (I'm sure they'd have enough) :-)...

I remember, too, Challenger. Home for lunch during high school, watching the footage rerun, feeling my heart stop. To simplify it to the point of absurdity, it was bureacracy that allowed it to happen, and the response was: more bureacracy. And I'm reminded of the post-9/11 meme (largely ignored, sadly, but one I tried to promote), that to change our ways was to let the terrorists win. Are we letting the bureaucrats win?

I hope not. Carmack, Musk, Rutan, and others like them give me some hope.

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