Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mars to keep its secrets for a bit longer

A lot of Earth-built robots are hard at work on and orbiting the Red Planet. They've revealed a lot. The next generation of robot explorers, however, is apparently seriously delayed -- and it's an international problem.

The article that triggered this post deals mostly with a delay in a Russian-orchestrated mission to Phobos, but the last paragraph reminds us of other multi-year delays, in a next-gen NASA rover and of a European Space Agency probe.

Given the current economic climate, it's easy to imagine delayed missions getting delayed even further, or canceled altogether.

Space scientists are among the few constituencies somehow unworthy of new funding while governments dispense trillions. Perhaps anything from which we might actually learn is ineligible.


Catreona said...

People are funny about Space Science. In my experience, it is not unusual for otherwise intelligent, curious and generally broadminded folks to consider Space Science as a waste of time and resources.

I'll probably never forget speaking, the day after the Columbia disaster, to a person whose intelligence, up till then, I had held in very high regard. I said, more or less, wasn't it terrible about the Space Shuttle; and she said, X thousand children died yesterday of starvation, and turned her back. I was so stunned as to be utterly speechless. And, that doesn't happen to me very often.

What I didn't understand, and never will understand in all likelihood, is why people make the connection this woman clearly made, a spurious(xp?) connection that any funding for NASA, say, is necessarily funding taken away from their pet project, international food aid, say. Also, of course, I couldn't grock such total callusness in the face of the death of heros. I'm old enough to regard *all* astronauts (and cosmonauts) as heros simply by virtue of their being astronauts. And, for this woman not to care sickened me. But, that's a seperate point.

Why don't people understand that funding or not funding one thing does not necessarily have any bearing whatsoever on whether another thing gets funded. If we shut down NASA tomorrow, God forbid! the pittence they get would not automatically get redistributed to feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless and making sure that our children have sound, safe school buildings and competent teachers. And yet, a lot of otherwise savvy people seem to think that's how it works. We shouldn't support Science, especially Space Science, because it wastes money that is needed elsewhere.

It makes just about as much sense IMO to say we shouldn't teach literature (My B.A. and M.A. are in English) because it wastes time that could more profitably be spent teaching, I donno, Economics or Entrapreneurial Studies, or whatnot. Why do people think Science is a stupid waste of time and money? Why can't they understand the vital importance of understanding ourselves, our planet and the wider cosmos? I don't notice anyone saying it's a bad idea to do research in order to produce more and better treatments for Errectile Disfunction. :P Nobody gives a sh!t whether old men can get it up, except I suppose old men. If half the time and effort and funding that goes into improving the three, count 'em THREE commercially availible impotency drugs was put instead into NASA, just think what we could achieve!

It might have the added benefit of reducing unwanted pregnancies and thus reducing the number of abortions and/or abandoned, abused children. There's a reason men stop being able to get it up after a certain age.

Not, I suppose, that that has anything to do with the price of tea in China. *ruful grin*

Edward M. Lerner said...

While the government runs trillion dollar deficits, it's hard to see how anyone can get upset about NASA spending twenty billion dollars. Unless, that is, the person is possessed of that curious delusion NASA funds are actually spent in space.

No matter how often I look, Spirit rover has yet to reveal a pile of US dollars. All that money must be spit out the back of the latest Pluto mission as reaction mass :-)

Catreona said...

Yeah, I know it. How bright does a person have to be to realize that NASA projects create jobs, sustain local economies, and foster the creation and improvement of medical devices, consumer products, all sorts of things. And, as you say, it's not as though NASA gets much money. For an agency that's chronicly underfunded, they do marvels.

Imagine if in some future budget the labels for NASA and the Defense Department got reversed? Imagine DOD trying to manage on NASA's chicken feed, and imagine what NASA could do with DOD's budget? The possibilities are dizzying. Actually, that might make a good SF story.