One of my fellow members of the Washington Science Fiction Association had this reply to a gripe about the shuttle program. He kindly permitted me to quote him.
I got all the yelling and throwing things out of my system when they cancelled the Apollo program and turned NASA over to the political appointees and the form-fillers.
The historical parallel that I see here is the Ming Dynasty. They had everything — the biggest empire, the best political system, the highest technology, the most powerful military … and they lost their nerve. They pulled back into their empire and sat there until it collapsed — and the Europeans moved in with ocean-going ships, cannons, and Government- backed capitalism.
We had a chance to get off this rock, bootstrap our technology to the sky (literally!) and break out of the current economic trap of living by cheating each other and preparing for war. We blew it. Our Government is interested in nothing but paying off their campaign contributors and winning the next election, Big Business is interested in nothing but the CEO’s paycheck and the stock price, and the public is hooked on Reality TV.
Look at the Delta Clipper program. The DC-X was a technology demonstrator, done on the cheap, that showed that they could take off and land vertically, turn the engine off and restart it in flight, and change the flight angle from nose-up to nose-down and back. The followon DC-Y could have carried a payload (possibly human) from any point on the planet to any other point on the planet in 90 minutes. The DC-X and DC-Y used current technology; the Delta Clipper itself (single-stage to orbit) would have needed a new engine.
Nobody’s interested. NASA played with the DC-X until they broke it, and that was that. NASA played around with the X-33 until they hit a technology glitch, and cancelled it. We’re back looking at stuff that is less powerful than the Saturn rockets that Apollo used. And we can’t rebuild the Saturns — we lost the plans.
Oh, well. We can buy launch services from the Chinese. After all, we buy everything else from them.
Steve Smith steve dot smith at zipbeep dot org
“Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” — Otto von Bismarck
I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Steve!