H U B B L E
In 1957 Russia launched the world’s first satellite into orbit around the Earth. In 1969, America landed the first humans on the Moon. In 1990 the Hubble space telescope was positioned into Earth’s orbit in the upper atmosphere after initial plans began as early as 1946 when an astronomer named Lyman Spitzer wrote a paper discussing the advantages of an extraterrestrial observatory. In 2004 America sent and successfully landed two robotic, remote-controlled rovers to Mars which are still functioning at the time of this writing, (2008).
From the moment America decided that we were going to put men on the Moon, it only took about 10yrs. Much of the technology had to be crafted from scratch, we barely had turned off ENIAC for the last time in 1955, transistors were just beginning to appear in computers, and the idea of a computer storing programs was still a spiffy goal to achieve. And yet, we did it. In that time we also created the internet, GPS, the floppy disk, and 35lbs two-way radios were still being lugged around in back-packs. Yet we still put a man on the Moon in less than 10yrs of deciding to do so.
So what went wrong?
Between 1969 and 1972, only six manned Moon landings occurred. It took about 20yrs after the first landing to get a telescope into orbit. Thankfully someone got the bright idea to attach a camera and transmitting package to some wheels or we might not have been able to confirm that Mars is indeed a red planet, but that endeavor took the entirety of America’s “space age” to implement. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we finally have something happening in space that’s worth paying some attention to. But really, so what if they find some microbes in some dark, wet place on Mars? What is that going to do for us? Is it going to fix the impending green house here on Earth? Is it going to put an end to the Evolution vs. Creation debate? How about the natural elements we’ve begun to run short on, is life on Mars going to replenish billions of year’s worth of elemental resources?
I love the images of the Hubble observatory, but eight years of pretty space pictures hasn’t positively answered any of the above questions either. But now that it’s there, the least we could do is make sure it’s working properly for as long as it takes for a suitable replacement to take its place. The upcoming observatory that only sees in the infrared is not a suitable replacement. Fortunately, NASA intends to give the Hubble one more service mission to replace the failing gyros and apply some upgrades before retiring the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010; which leads me to the crux of my issue.
What went wrong?
How did America’s only means to space flight become the deprecat death trap that it is? How did we go over 30yrs without constructing an orbital or moon-based manufacturing infrastructure? Sure, there would have been problems, but this is America, we overcome problems when we are confronted with them. A manufacturing infrastructure outside of the Earth’s gravity well has several benefits: launching of satellites and space craft at only a fraction of the fuel cost, construction of much larger satellites with far more capability, and a stepping stone to more resources. America was the number one nation on the Earth because of its heroic solutions to insurmountable tasks. We’ve let insurance companies and political nannies turn every life-threatening endeavor into a zero tolerance taboo.
Thank you for the Hubble space telescope and the Mars rovers, they at least remind us that there’s more to see out there. But it’s time to put some risk back into our lives, time shut up the entertainment heroes and open the door to more inspirational ones.