Rocket Science

“It’s not rocket science,” we say facetiously when the task at hand is a simple one, not requiring the exacting skill and knowledge needed by those at NASA who’s job it is to send rockets into space. No doubt the job is still among the most difficult. However, in recent years, some evidence is amassing that indicates that those employed by NASA may not be as sharp as they once were. My favorite mistake is the confusion of “newtons” with “pounds” that led to the loss of one of the Mars probes a few years ago. Fortunately, no loss of human life occurred. However, that’s not the case with the Space Shuttle program. The most recent problem is the insulating foam that again “hit” the shuttle during launch, apparently without significantly damaging the heat shield. It’s embarrassing that, after 2.5 years and a billion dollars expended, the same problem that caused the Columbia tragedy occurred again. Prior to that was the O-ring problem that caused the Challenger disaster in 1985. Then there was the Hubble telescope problem in 1990. We’re prepared for the types of problems that seem unavoidable because they stem from a fundamental lack of knowledge about the unknown. Most of the problems with the space program in the past two decades, however, seem to stem from human error and possibly political pressures.

I’ll be happy to see the Space Shuttle retired in 2010. When it was first introduced, and the ceramic tiles that protect it upon re-entry were described, I remember thinking that this seemed highly inelegant and incredibly tedious and expensive. It seemed like the old “throwaway” rockets were a better way to go (and maybe they were). However, once the shuttle gained political momentum (about which physicists know less than they do about the physical kind), there was no stopping it. I hope the next generation CEV will better serve both the taxpayers and the space program.

DadObservations07/30/05 1 comments


Dad • 08/03/05 11:21 PM:

The saga of the latest Discovery mission continues. Now every little thing? they used to ignore gets considered for repair on the next space walk. God, I hope they return safely.

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