Thanks Chuck. I grew up with Apollo. It became just another everyday thing for Americans. But manned flight (including Apollo: Grissom, White, Chaffee) wasn't without risk and loss. You are correct, that without a face to give it something we can connect to, sending robots into space just isn't inspiring in the same way. Perhaps a debate for another article (but apropos considering our American post-manned flight era).
I'm lucky enough to have seen Skylab launch on a Saturn V from probably 10+ miles away. I can still feel it in my chest. There were a huge number of people camped out to see it. If my luck holds out I'll see another launch this Tuesday. I'm curious to see if a launch is still a large public draw.
I agree, Al. I wonder how much overblown media coverage has made us all a bit jaded, and perhaps contributed to the lack of enthusiasm. For instance, the press managed to turn "finds conditions once suited for ancient life on Mars" into "finds evidence of ancient life on Mars" or even "finds life on Mars". Argh! That's not NASA PR--that's media distortion.
I was in first grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Somehow, I managed to get an 8x10 color photograph of the seven Challenger astronauts, which I kept on my bedroom wall long into my teenage years. In retrospect, it probably influenced my eventual decision to pursue failure analysis and prevention as a career.
Both before and after the Challenger accident, I followed the U.S. and Soviet space programs the way some kids followed sports teams. All kinds of exciting things were happening in space exploration. Just a week before the explosion, I had been at the VLA in New Mexico, where my dad worked, watching the first images of Uranus beamed back by the Voyager 2 probe. A couple months later, an armada of Soviet, European, and Japanese space probes observed Halley's comet at close range. Meanwhile, I closely followed the U.S. efforts to return the space shuttle to flight, which culminated in the successful launch of the space shuttle Discovery two years later.
Just as many, if not more, exciting things are happening today. The Curiosity rover is making incredible discoveries on the surface of Mars, the International Space Station will be getting a new crew later this month, the Cassini-Huygens probe is exploring the moons of Saturn, and the New Horizons probe is on its way to Pluto.
Why isn't there more public excitement about space exploration today? What can we do to foster this kind of excitement?
I think William's comment is right on. It makes me realize how little I've seen, anyway, about what really goes into the design. I've done some looking here and there, but what's available seems either very high-level (NASA), or more detailed, but only about the part one particular company played, like from Honeybee Robotics.
Ann, sometime go into one of the museums that has on display one of the actual space capsules, almost of any generation, and take a careful look at all of the individual pieces and parts. Then consider that not only did every one of those thousands of parts need to ferform perfectly by itself, but that also all of those parts and pieces had to work perfectly togather. And that they did work that way. Next, consider the effort in making the parts of an ordinary machine function "adequately" most of the time. That comparison certainly points out to an engineer how amazing the succes of our space program really is, and the level of effort that went into it. My feeling is that presently there are far fewer with that amount of dedication to complete such an undertaking again.
Yes, Ann, of course it is partly that there are not the sort of programs today, as well. And the involvement in that area is part of what gave us the term "Rocket Science", which now mostly folks claim that something is not "rocket science". What could we find currently that would be capable of inspiring such dedication? As I look at the various companies, I see very few that evenattempt to inspire serious loyalty. Most of them have two primary goals, which are maximize the return for the investors, and maximize income for the top level. Neither of those targets inspire me to do much better. In my case though, it was more selfish in that I am seeking the satisfaction of doing things very well. That does tend to drive a number of folks crazy sometimes.
@William K.: I agree with some of your points, but I couldn't disagree more with the idea that the best days of the space program are behind us. We have people living in orbit on the International Space Station. We have two robots exploring the surface of Mars (Curiosity and Opportunity, which was designed for a 90 day mission but has laster 7 years), not to mention several probes orbiting Mars and sending back high quality images. We're exploring the moons of Saturn, and there's a probe on the way to Pluto. Meanwhile, we're discovering planets orbiting other stars, using telescopes that are located in space. Oh yeah, and by the way, we can communicate nearly instantaneously with nearly anybody nearly anywhere on earth, thanks in part to orbital satellites. What's changed since the 1960s is the level of public excitement. But it's not due to any lack of exciting things taking place.
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