In today's New York Times, Eugene F. Kranz advocates sticking with the space shuttle. His mindless remarks are worth comment, but only because they represent the way too many people in this country "think."
To read and listen to the coverage about the space shuttle, you would think NASA's mission team has taken careless risks with the lives of the seven astronauts who went into space on the Discovery last Tuesday. During the launching, foam fell off the external tank. For the risk-averse, the only acceptable thing to do now is retire the shuttle program immediately and wait for the divine arrival of the next generation of spacecraft. I am disgusted at the lack of courage and common sense this attitude shows.
Mr. Kranz is right about one thing: the real problem is not the shuttle. But what he doesn't mention is that the real problem is NASA.
Yes, Mr. Kranz, we should be willing to endure risk...for good reason. There was a good reason for the Apollo program; there is no reason for the space shuttle. It's called courage if you endure risk for a good purpose; it's called foolhardiness if you take chances for no good reason.
One poor Darwin Awards winner a while back strapped a rocket to his car and flattened himself into the side of a mountain. Sure he did something risky. But no one calls him brave.
(As General Patton wisely said, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." I call that common sense.)
Let there be no mistake: for all NASA's posturing, the shuttle is foolhardiness.
Eugene F. Kranz, "From Giant Leaps to Baby Steps," New York Times (August 3, 2005).
Personal Note: I'm away from home the rest of the week. Back next week, but busy with move preparations. Our culture is unreasonably fixated on the new, don't you think? Perenniel truths never go out of style: check out the Real Physics archives while I'm gone.