Beam Me Up, Scotty

Today, the eyes of the world will be drawn to a momentous and history-making occasion…

Shortly before 4 p.m., all eyes will turn toward the Kennedy Space Center, 12 miles east across the wide expanse of the Indian River Lagoon. There, at Launch Pad 39A, if the weather allows, the shuttle Endeavour will thunder into the sky on a pedestal of flame, carrying six astronauts on a two-week mission to the International Space Station…
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Some of the interest in the Endeavour mission is no doubt because of the drama involving its commander, Capt. Mark E. Kelly, whose wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, was gravely wounded in a shooting in January. She is here to watch the launching. And some of it is no doubt because of an anticipated visit by President Obama.
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But the main draw is the fact that after this liftoff, and the launching of the Atlantis in two months, there will be no more space shuttle voyages. After three decades, the program has just about reached the end of the line.
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“You’re not going to see another one — this is going to be it,” said Truman Scarborough, who was Titusville’s mayor in the 1980s and served as a Brevard County commissioner for 20 years.
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Mr. Scarborough and others said that for the past three or four launchings, the crowds have been getting larger as the program nears its end. Officials were forecasting perhaps a million or more for the Atlantis launch, a crowd that would rival the glory days of the space program, when a mammoth Saturn V rocket propelled the Apollo 11 astronauts toward the moon.

(What, you thought I cared about the royal wedding?)

I’m not even a big fan of the space shuttle — as a publicity stunt, it’s mostly been a distraction and a waste of precious funds that could’ve gone into real space science — but this is a good article about the end of one more version of the American Dream. Back in the 1970s, “we” were young and naive enough to believe that boldly going where no man had gone before would open up new opportunities, not just ‘new frontiers’ to despoil once we’d crapped up the home planet beyond repair, but new chances for African-American women and (closeted) gay Asian men and half-breed aliens to move into brave new worlds that had formerly been the sole domain of crew-cut white guys.

Especially since, per the Washington Post, we’re shutting down SETI, too:

The SETI Institute has put its $50 million Allen Telescope Array (ATA) into hibernation, effectively shelving its search for extraterrestrial life.
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In an e-mail sent this past Friday to ATA private donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson said there was a shortage of $5 million needed to fund the operation of the giant radio dishes that search the universe for signals from deep space. Starting this week, operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory north of San Francisco, where the ATA is located, will be suspended, and the 42 dishes will be put into hibernation.
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Scientists and astronomers said the timing was disastrous, as the Kepler telescope had recently identified 1,235 possible new planets, many of which could be similar to Earth in size and habitability…
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SETI has set up a page where people can donate to try to save the ATA here.

More possibilities than ever before that we’re not alone, and we’re letting the utilities be shut off for non-payment. Maybe we’re just embarrassed to have anyone see what a dump we’ve made of this lovely little blue marble.

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31 replies
  1. 1
    WereBear says:

    I blame Republicans for shrinking our horizons to the point of invisibility.

  2. 2
    alwhite says:

    Great nations do great things. We Stopped being a great nation 30 years ago. Neither the shuttle nor the Space station were great things, they were small things done large. Thats a cheap imitation of great.

  3. 3
    bkny says:

    i don’t know … perhaps it’s better that the inhabitants of this orb don’t expand into the outer reaches of space lest we infect the entire solar system with our toxicity.

  4. 4
    DBrown says:

    Maybe we’re just embarrassed to have anyone see what a dump we’ve made of this lovely little blue marble.

    Maybe its best that we not tell anyone about this place – they may realize that we don’t deserve it and take it away.

    Amazing how so many seeds of our fall were planted during ray-guns tenure as the first figurehead president of corporate America … of course bush the most junior was the worst example of a puppet president but he was installed by the inferior court, not elected.

  5. 5
    Chris says:

    @bkny:

    i don’t know … perhaps it’s better that the inhabitants of this orb don’t expand into the outer reaches of space lest we infect the entire solar system with our toxicity.

    “I think the surest sign that there’s intelligent life in the universe is that it hasn’t tried to contact us yet.”
    – Calvin and Hobbes

  6. 6
    Superluminar says:

    Sadly it doesn’t appear to be online, but this week’s New Scientist has an interesting article on future propulsion systems for spacecraft, using either microwaves or lasers on the ground to ignite hydrogen in the engines, potentially delivering much more cost effective space travel.

  7. 7
    thrashbluegrass says:

    As to the death of SETI: meh. All the time, effort, and money put into it over the years is better spent on other things. For instance, those running the SETI@Home software would’ve made better use of their software running medical simulations. At least that would matter, in the long run.

  8. 8

    in the interest of honest inquiry, i would think that the god-people, would want to prove their stories true by keeping the search for life on other planets going, i mean, what if there was a creator, would he stop at just one? this one?

    what if creator who needs no gender pronoun, only gave part of the story to any of the various creations, and when you put them all together, it would all make sense, even to me?

    i’m pretty cool with the idea that there is life out there in any number of places, since i am pretty sure we aren’t going to meet up. its not going to require me to change my opinions much. i think its up to the god-people to nail down their case, by finding other life forms that could have only been created not evolved from otherwise random interactions of sub-atomic particles that have always existed in one form or another.

  9. 9
    Chris says:

    @Fucen Pneumatic Fuck Wrench Tarmal:

    in the interest of honest inquiry, i would think that the god-people, would want to prove their stories true by keeping the search for life on other planets going, i mean, what if there was a creator, would he stop at just one? this one?

    I think you underestimate the Exceptionalist hubris. Of course he only created one, that’s why we’re so special. Mostest specialest planet in the universe, mostest specialest country on the planet, mostest specialest people in the country. All goes hand in hand.

    (And yes, I’ve actually read church opinions that discuss the theological implications of aliens and say they can’t exist because they’re not in the Bible).

  10. 10

    @Chris:

    i know, the whole idea makes the hard core, twitch. that is why i am mocking them.

  11. 11
    Nethead Jay says:

    @thrashbluegrass: I run SETI@home and Folding@home on several machines and the PS3 at home and World Community Grid on the topline server at home and several servers at work. I wouldn’t dream of telling you or anyone what to do with their spare cycles, so kindly shove your moralism and condescension where the billions of suns out there don’t shine.

  12. 12
    jo6pac says:

    Maybe we’re just embarrassed to have anyone see what a dump we’ve made of this lovely little blue marble.

    Yep

  13. 13
    Jinchi says:

    it’s mostly been a distraction and a waste of precious funds that could’ve gone into real space science

    If you believe in real space science, you should support the manned space program. Because those precious funds that went into the space shuttle aren’t going to be moved into planetary science or cosmology. They’re going to be sent to the Defense Department to support our trillion dollar wars or into tax cuts for Donald Trump.

    Real space science died for most of a decade after the manned space program ended in the early 1970’s. Politicians even threatened to shut down The Voyager spacecraft after they passed by Saturn, to save the relatively trivial operating costs required to keep them up and running past Uranus and Neptune. Real space science came back when the manned space program restarted with the shuttle. My guess is that American space science is about to go into another long hiatus.

  14. 14
    iLarynx says:

    It’s sad to see such ignorance of, and disdain for, the space program. Beyond the scientific and technical benefits (computer technology would be at lest 10, and maybe 20, years behind where it is today – you might be typing on a 50MHz 486 – and there would be no iPhones or iPads, just to name a few of the more obvious) is the benefit of achieving the impossible: in the span of one human lifetime going from man’s first flight at Kitty Hawk to landing a man on the Moon. It showed that Americans could do amazing things if we focused our minds and energies towards a well-defined goal. It gave rise to the phrase, “If we can put a man on the Moon, surely we can…” fill in the blank: Build super efficient cars; Construct a high-speed rail transportation system; Invent a sustainable energy power grid. And it’s true – we can do those things if we put the same energy and focus of the Apollo program into it. Unfortunately, the opportunity has been allowed to whither on the vine.

    John Kennedy said we should go to the Moon, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The Apollo and subsequent space programs have helped America excel in the areas of science and technology that have in turn, helped to keep us competitive in the marketplace. Like an athlete who pushes himself to the limit knowing that getting through the hard stuff will make him stronger, the space program has made America stronger. As the country winds down the space program and starts down the easier/cheaper path, we run the risk of significant scientific, technological, and intellectual atrophy.

    iLarynx

    ▪ We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.
    We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
    ▪ Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

    – John F. Kennedy, Rice University, September 12, 1962

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/J......281962.29

  15. 15
    Tlachtga says:

    @alwhite: Great nations do great things. We Stopped being a great nation 30 years ago.

    This is something I keep thinking about.

    I was born in 1979; since then, this country has seen the rise of religious fundamentalists as a real political power, the slow death of the middle class, and war after war after pointless war. And I’m angry, because I never knew anything different, while hearing about how great we were in the post-war period. It’s not just boomer naval-gazing to say that, I’ve come to realize–America really was, in some ways, a better place because we actually did things: big infrastructure projects to connect the nation in new ways (highways, and the nascent internet); the various Rights movements; strong unions creating a viable working and middle class; and we went to the moon.

    We went to the fucking moon. We stood on a foreign body, and looked down on our planet.

    And we didn’t go further.

    And now I’m afraid we won’t.

    So here I am–I’m 32, and I can’t find a full-time job. I was in a program, back in 2008, to get my teaching certificate; and I tried to get a job as a teacher, and there aren’t any jobs. So I’ve a bunch of student loans debt, and no career to show for it. And even if I had found a teaching job (not likely, though–I live outside Philly, and almost no one is hiring, and those that are only hire experienced teachers (naturally), and since there’ve been and will be lots of layoffs, I have a lot of competition), the environment towards teachers in this country is so toxic, there’s a part of me that is kind of glad I’m giving up on it. (Giving up, because the certificate I got was only good for three years, and can’t be renewed, and will expire at the end of this year–it’s a long story.)

    And now I apply for low-paying jobs that don’t require a college education, because it’s the only jobs that seem to be around, and even then I can’t get hired, because I’m up against so many other people who aren’t overqualified.

    And the future just looks more and more dim, with workers’ rights, reproductive rights, even just general civil rights like voting being constantly chipped away at, sometimes with a sledgehammer. Libraries closing, schools turned over to corporations, and no damn jobs anywhere.

    My husband and I have talked about having kids, but I wonder if that’s an unnecessarily cruel thing to do to another person, that if we have kids, we’re just bringing them into a world of shit.

    So I’m angry. Cancelling the shuttle program is just emblematic of a nation without any hope.

  16. 16
    Paul W. says:

    Way to make me feel sad in the morning, NASA is one of the shining lights of our nation… and it has been stomped into the ground more than any other part of our government save NPR.

    I hate Republicans and their hollow bullshit.

  17. 17
    Jack says:

    @thrashbluegrass: It’s been my understanding SETI has always been financed through donations, and regarding the SETI@Home software, they were among the first to show the power of distributed computing, so they DID make a contribution that affects medical simulations. I’ve been running SETI@Home since it first came out around 20 years ago, and I’ve added other projects as they have come available. I’ve run anti-malaria simulations, anti-cancer research, and climate simulations. The pathfinding of SETI@Home made it desirable for IBM and Intel to sponsor the other projects, so please don’t just dismiss it out of hand.

  18. 18
    merrinc says:

    @iLarynx:

    Eloquently and persuasively stated; thank you.

    My husband, daughter and I spent last year’s spring break in FL. Spent the day exploring KSC and watched STS 131 Discovery launch the following morning. After a few days on the gulf side, we crossed back over and did a guided tour of KSC before heading home. I wish I could describe how it felt to stand in front of the humble equipment that real heroes used to journey off this planet – to see the actual control room real rocket scientists sweated in to bring Apollo 13 safely home. It was an incredible, humbling experience, all of it.

    And it does make one weep for our squandered potential. But hey, we do have 24/7 news coverage. Let’s go see what Lindsay Lohan is up to these days.

  19. 19
    Jinchi says:

    For instance, those running the SETI@Home software would’ve made better use of their software running medical simulations.

    And again the fantasy that space science is somehow stealing money from “better” programs. Take a look at what we spend our money on in America, as a government and as individuals. Stack it up next to the amount of money that has been spent on SETI. Now explain to me how SETI has somehow held back medical science.

    I suggest you start by looking here, just remember the amount of money spent on SETI (mostly donor supported) wouldn’t even be visible on the chart:

    http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/trbas09p.pdf

  20. 20
    Judas Escargot says:

    @alwhite:

    We Stopped being a great nation 30 years ago. Neither the shuttle nor the Space station were great things, they were small things done large.

    It’s been fashionable to disparage the Shuttle and ISS for some time now, but sorry, I’m not having it.

    Number of fully-reusable man-rated spaceship designs that have orbited the earth, ever: One. Exactly one. I wish nothing but success to Mssrs. Musk and Branson, but I expect that record to stand for a few more years, at least.

    As for ISS, we now know how to construct large structures on orbit, how to coordinate this activity across multiple nations, and are beginning to seriously understand the effects of zero-g on the human body (to the point where the consensus view seems to be swinging back towards rotating structures for long-term space missions). All useful (and “great”) stuff that only ISS could have taught us… just not as “sexy” as some would like, I guess.

    It’s pretty clear what the next step in deep space exploration should be. What’s not clear is how to pay for it in the current environment.

  21. 21
    daveNYC says:

    @bkny: Eh, outside of Europa and maybe Mars, the rest of the solar system is pretty toxic already.

  22. 22
    DBrown says:

    Sorry but both the shuttle and ISS are a total waste of space funds – a Saturn class type booster (and yes, NASA is going for that Moon shot – the Ares program for a heavy lift rocket) is front and center and what we should have been doing after Saturn rather than that joke called the shuttle. That is a fact and there is no getting around hard numbers – the damn thing is far, far to expensive to operate.

    The Saturn V was the best rocket we ever had and had the lowest cost per kilogram into space of any significant rocket and yet we abandoned it for the shuttle – the most costly rocket (around a 1 to 1.5 billion dollars per launch!) and terrible unreliable (read killer of astronauts) rocket.

    The failure was to let astronauts, the military Corporate establishment and military dominate the program instead of using the great resource we already had on hand. That was the fatal mistake.

    The Ares V program could get the US back into real space effort but the thugs and cutting are dooming that program.

  23. 23
    Judas Escargot says:

    @DBrown:

    The failure was to let astronauts, the military Corporate establishment and military dominate the program instead of using the great resource we already had on hand.

    ..and we all know that astronauts and the MIC had nothing at all to do with the Apollo/Saturn program, amirite?

  24. 24
    Shoemaker-Levy 9 says:

    Actually, SETI has always struck me as a waste of money, though if Donald Trump wants to keep it going as a vanity project that would be fine with me. It’s somewhat akin to looking for the aether, except that it’s expensive to keep going decade after decade and there is no possibility of a null result. But if they get it funded, go for it.

  25. 25
  26. 26
    AAA Bonds says:

    :(

  27. 27
    AAA Bonds says:

    @Paul W.:

    I hate Republicans and their hollow bullshit.

    What was really sad was when George W. Bush pushed for a new manned program and Ted Kennedy screamed bloody murder about the starving children.

  28. 28
    Model Citizen says:

    The Air Force gets more money for space-related activity than NASA. Something not many people know – that the “National Aeronautics and SPACE Administration” is our second-best funded space agency.

  29. 29
    Jinchi says:

    @27 AAA Bonds

    What was really sad was when George W. Bush pushed for a new manned program and Ted Kennedy screamed bloody murder about the starving children.

    Right. And George Bush never did anything without Ted Kennedy’s approval.

    George Bush is the man who killed the Space Shuttle program. He did it without attempting to make sure there was a replacement vehicle ready to go when the Shuttle retired. He then proposed a manned return to the Moon which he called a Mission to Mars. That was enough to suck the life out of NASA science missions, even though he didn’t provide the money to actually get the program off the ground.

  30. 30
    alwhite says:

    @Tlachtga:

    I can’t imagine how that must feel. I’m at the other end of life’s spectrum. I ran home from school to watch in living black and white the early Mercury launches. My parents had conquered the depression and the endless boom cycle with The New Deal. They had joined the nation, not just with highways and airports but with common goals for education and social growth. MY Senator, HHH, had led the fight that culminated in the voting rights act and the civil rights act. We landed on the moon and the future looked limitless.

    I ended up working in a job that didn’t even exist when I started working, computer networking and on to IT security. But the companies I worked for have all been bought and sold, outsourced & right-sized. Drained of their value and discarded. For the last 8 years I have pieced together a string of contract jobs with few or no benefits & watched as the company I worked for for 20 years gutted my pension, leaving me with $18k I can’t touch until I turn 65. And the 401k stock investment has basically stood still. IF I ever retire it will be to whatever they leave of SS & cat food.

    A smart nation would want me the hell out of the work force so you guys could build the future. A future that had big plans & big goals. But we are a small – in every sense of that word – nation now. Small, mean and getting colder.

  31. 31
    alwhite says:

    @DBrown:

    I worked at KSC in the early ’90s. I went there as a huge believer in the space program & left there saddened by what I saw. ISS and the STS were just jobs programs for well connected congress districts.

    They could have delivered goods to the ISS cheaper, faster and safer with regular rockets. The Hubble rescue mission took place while I was there – it is considered one of the big wins for the shuttle. What they didn’t say was the trade off. The could have built 3 Hubble space telescopes, launched 2 of them to higher orbits where they would be more effective and had one in reserve for the cost of launching just the rescue flight.

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