Thursday, September 29, 2005


NASA administrator says space shuttle was a mistake

The space shuttle and International Space Station — nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades — were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday.

In a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board, Griffin said NASA lost its way in the 1970s, when the agency ended the Apollo moon missions in favor of developing the shuttle and space station... [
USA Today]

Of course there have been people saying this since the 1970s.

The Apollo project had no scientific purpose -- it had a political purpose: to beat the Soviets to the moon. The lack of scientific purpose was clearly seen by the way that once the political purpose was achieved, remaining scheduled Apollo mission were cancelled. There was simply nothing of any scientific value for human beings to do on the moon that was worth anything like the cost and risk involved in getting them there.

And from that day to this, there's been precious little to do in space that can't be done via automation at a fraction of the cost and with none of the risk attendant on sending humans up there.

NASA's experience over these past 35 years clearly demonstrates two behavioral traits of government-run organizations:

1) No government program ever ends simply because its purpose has been accomplished.

2) The quality of performance of government-run organizations declines over time.

There are systemic reasons for these ... but more thoughts on that later. For now, let's just note these behaviors carry a price.
"The shuttle has cost the lives of 14 astronauts since the first flight in 1982. Roger Pielke Jr., a space policy expert at the University of Colorado, estimates that NASA has spent about $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1971. The total cost of the space station by the time it's finished — in 2010 or later — may exceed $100 billion..."
That's 14 too many lives, plus one whole lot of money that could have been spent on real productive science. Some mistake.