Discovery go for launch Tuesday 11:38 a.m.

By Phil Plait | October 22, 2007 1:15 pm

Weather may delay it, but the Space Shuttle Discovery is ready to launch tomorrow: Tuesday, October 23 at 11:38 Eastern (US) time. They’ll be lofting the Harmony module, which will provide attachment points for future Japanese and European laboratory modules.

Honesty time: every mission prior to the planned Hubble reservicing mission in 2008 makes me both nervous and a little sad. Nervous because any problems, even small, delay the eventual Hubble mission; and sad because except for the Hubble mission all of the future Shuttle missions are to finish building the space station, which will then orbit the Earth as a giant albatross; more than a hundred billion dollars worth of labs that have no real long-term goals.

This issue is complicated — NASA really just can’t drop the ISS due to foreign investments, worker issues, politics, and so on — so I am not trying to just wave it off as a complete waste of time, money, and resources. It’s useless to wish NASA hadn’t gone the way they did on the ISS… but it’s not useless at all to hope for and to work for getting NASA (and Congress and the President) to learn from past mistakes. The new Constellation rockets are a step in the right direction, I think, but we’ll see. I am not as fully versed in what NASA plans with them as I’d like to be. Once the book is done (sigh; I should patent that phrase) it’s on my list of things to stick my nose in.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics
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Comments (45)

  1. Max Fagin

    My fear is that once NASA finishes the station, they’ll insist on working it into the Mars program, thus adding another unnecessary stumbling block for us getting to Mars.

    And of course, now they have an excuse to carry out all that mitigating Zero-G effects research, which they will insist of finishing before we can get to Mars.

  2. Michelle

    …well, at least the ISS gives us something to look for periodically. It’s fun…

    But yea, sometimes I wonder what the heck they’re doing up there. I hope they’ll start doing more important missions in the ISS.

  3. My fear is that they will waste money trying to send humans to mars rather than continuing with a very successful and cost effective robotic exploration program.

    Sure, eventually human exploration is necessary but that’s a very long sort of eventually. For now I simply can’t see how it’s cost effective research.

  4. The ISS makes a nice satellite for amateur radio operators to work :)

  5. Chip

    I wonder if the ISS interior lab space and outer structures could at least be converted by astronaut/cosmonaut crews to accommodate future automated or ground controlled deep space observatory and research designs.

    In other words, accepting that its a gigantic orbiting platform without much of a goal, convert and adapt it much more into an automated research center. Then again, it may be more cost effective to just send up future orbiting projects in separate launches without bothering to attach or adapt them to the ISS.

  6. Darth Curt

    Did anyone realize that 11:38 is an homage to Star Wars… what with Luke’s Lightsaber on board, it can’t be coincidence.

  7. Rob

    I’m somewhat more nervous than normal, given that NASA have apparently given the go-ahead for launch over the heads of the safety guys. They’ve apparently found cracks in the thermal shield but decided to launch anyway.

    Report in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/22/spaceexploration.genderissues?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

    From the article: “I didn’t say it’s safe to go fly and I wouldn’t say that,” said Wayne Hale, the shuttle programme manager, who added that members of Nasa’s engineering and safety centre were overruled after 12 hours of debate. “The preponderance of evidence in my mind says that we have an acceptable risk.”

  8. Crux Australis

    In case no-one realized, two interesting events occured today in history: in 1977, the earliest known fossils were discovered (3.4 billion year old algae) and also October 23 4004 BC was when the Earth was supposed to have been created (according to one interpretation of the Bible by Church leaders in 1650). How ironic is that? http://www.todayinsci.com

  9. Too bad they haven’t updated the list of mission objectives over at the SM4 site, or you’d know about the attempt to fix ACS. Secondary objective, sure, but still…

  10. Cello Man

    Darth Curt,

    I think that the numbers 1138 (if intentional) would ultimately be an homage to Lucas’s earlier flick, THX 1138.

    Granted, Luke did try to BS an Imperial officer on the Death Star by saying that Chewbacca was a prisoner transfer from cell block 1138, but that was a reference to Lucas’s own earlier movie.

    Yeah, I’m a nerd.

  11. SLC

    The following is from Bob Park, the man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    4. SPACE STATION: A MODEST PROPOSAL TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
    Remember the scary incident in June when the Russian computers that control ISS orientation crashed while Atlantis was docked? (WN 15 Jun 07) . They found a way around it, but not the cause. James Oberg in IEEE Spectrum explains what happened: a cable connector corroded. It’s a swamp up there. Meanwhile, an opportunity presents itself. Tom Pickens, a Texas investor who amassed his billions by shrewd inheritance from, believes Big Pharma should run ISS and reap big profits from � well, protein crystals grown in zero gravity – gasp! (WN 3 Mar 00) . In the past I’ve suggested giving the ISS to China, but they don’t seem to want it. Why not give it to Tom Pickens instead?

  12. Well, let’s say Bob and I have very fundamental disagreements about how to explore space. 😉

  13. A hundred billion dollars. It sounds a lot, the way Phil presented it.

    He’s guilty of misrepresentation. That 100BN is over the entire course of the programme, a good twenty year span and so becomes 5BN a year, spread across Europe, Canada, Japan, Russia, NASA and the other participants.

    Hell, the war in Iraq cost 2BN a DAY at its peak.

    Space programmes cost /nothing/.

  14. Hangar

    11:38 – they don’t get much choice on the launch time; the launch window’s only about 10 seconds each side of the time that the launch pad is placed correctly relative to the ISS orbital plane (as the Earth rotates).

  15. TruePath,

    You wrote Sure, eventually human exploration is necessary but that’s a very long sort of eventually. For now I simply can’t see how it’s cost effective research.

    Sure, the robotic program is cheap and quite successful — probably as successful as a robotic program can be. But, as an aspiring scientist (I’m a Ph.D. student in ecology), I must say that exploration does not need to justify itself as science. It is science that must justify itself as exploration.

  16. Troy

    I’m all for giving the WESS (White Elephant Space Station) to the Chinese. I’d just feel bad that it might interfere with what will be an exciting Chinese moon program in a few years. As far as the cracks, I think they are doing the right thing. They’ll inspect it in space, if it looks ominous they’ll probably land the shuttle unmanned and hope for the best. As for Hubble, I think at this point it has sentimental value and not much else. Sure it would be nice to keep it aloft for another 7 years or so, but if it can’t be fixed in the schedule provided no big deal. As was pointed out in a previous blog, adaptive optics already give 1-10x the quality of Hubble images, and they’ll only get better.

  17. Anthony Ramirez

    Phil, you said you wished that NASA hadn’t gone the way they did on the ISS, which way would have been better?

    I remember ‘Option D’ which was the Low-Cost Alternative for the ISS but required a LOT of EVAs and in-space manufacturing to convert the ETs into a useable Space Station. And you also had to collect the ETs which means moving them into another orbit.

    I also remember one which replaced the Orbiter with a ET based Space Station. Launch the whole completed thing into orbit in one shot. I can’t remember what it was called.

    I like what they are doing with Ares V but I can’t understand Ares I, at least the cost. They can modify an Atlas or a Delta to launch the CEV and I understand it would cost less than to build Ares I.

  18. Cello says: “Darth Curt, I think that the numbers 1138 (if intentional) would ultimately be an homage to Lucas’s earlier flick, THX 1138.”

    True, but Lucas tried working them into every film for a while. I believe that was the license on Suzanne Sommer’s T-Bird in “American Graffiti” and you can see it flash by in the bottom data display of Luke’s binoculars when he’s scanning for sand people in “Star Wars.”

    George may have been following the lead of one of his idols, Stanley Kubrick, who did the same thing in three of his movies. In “Dr. Strangelove”, the signal scrambling device on the radio is the “CRM-114 Discriminator.” Next, in “2001” we can see “CRM-114” on some of the spaceship console displays (can’t recall at the moment if it’s the Orion, moon bus or Discovery). Finally, in “A Clockwork Orange” he plays the punster as the brain washing drug they give Alex is “Serum 114.”

    – Jack (no life) Hagerty

  19. Gaijin51

    What’s the point of the space station? Indeed what would be the point of any human spaceflight? (unless the was a habitable planet to go to) What would sending humans to Mars accomplish that sending robots would not? Or the moon? Pretty soon robots are going to be as smart as people and they don’t require life-support.

    I think NASA should focus on space telescopes and robotic exploration. Human spaceflight is a boondoggle and a white elephant. For the price of sending humans to Mars, how many robotic missions and telescopes could we afford?

  20. bumhaskins

    Humans have the ability to think cognitivley. Astronauts are our eyes and ears out in space. They cna put together the big picture. When visiting different bodies on space knowing what to look at and what not can make the difference in billions spent.

  21. Ed Davies

    “Indeed what would be the point of any human spaceflight?”

    Indeed, what’s the point of human anything?

    More seriously, this sort of question reminds me of the explorer who mapped, I think it was, the west coast of Australia (not James Cook, but around that time) and said something like “I’ve mapped it so thoroughly that nobody need ever go there again”, perhaps rather missing the point of mapping.

    Robotic exploration is excellent and should be done partly for its pure scientific value and partly as a reconnaissance for human exploration and habitation. The question, it seems to me, is when to do the human exploration – either as soon as possible or when we’ve spent the time developing the background technology to do it as easily, cheaply and safely as possible? Many want to do it quickly but I think it’s better to take the time to do it properly otherwise there’s the likelihood of finishing up with a “hit-and-run program” like Apollo when it would be better to develop a general space-faring capability.

    The frustrating thing about the ISS is that it could have been a prototype interplanetary spacecraft just sitting in Earth orbit but it isn’t. It’s designed to be resupplied regularly and it’s designed to provide microgravity – which doesn’t seem to have been all that useful for research after all. One thing that was learnt from Mir was the amount of time it takes to live in zero-G (day-to-day jobs taking longer and also the need to spend a lot of time staying fit). It’s a great shame, in my humble opinion, that the ISS doesn’t help test artificial gravity provided by rotation.

  22. StevoR

    The space station launched all at once would be Skylab launched in the 1970’s I think.

    I support human and robotic space exploration – after all why not invade bold new worlds where no one has gone before instead of South Western Asian nations where no one has WMDs … 😉
    … Well okay not quite ‘no one’ seeing as Israel’s got ’em and you invading Norte~Americanos have ’em but no one else does .. 😉

    Seriously, space travel – preferably both by humans and robots – is a far far better use of American time, effort and money than the military efforts to have “full spectrum dominance”; it does more good, takes us to better places and, unlike in America’s wars , people might actually learn something from it.*

    The ISS has its uses – and one idea may be to fit it with some sort of propulsion system and turn it from space station~ary to space vehicle …

    ————————
    * Bay of Pigs, Veitnam, Iraq .. when are the Neo-Conners & Relig. Wrongers going to realise invading and occupying nations makes things worse? Given that they still haven’t accepted Evolution after two centuries I fear the wait for those expletive-worthy wilful ignorami towake uptoreality willbe avery lo-ong one indeed. Siugh.

  23. StevoR

    Antony Ramirez said the other day :

    “I also remember one which replaced the Orbiter with a ET based Space Station. Launch the whole completed thing into orbit in one shot. I can’t remember what it was called.”

    Hmmn .. I thought ‘Skylab’ before but now looking over your comments again, I’m just confused.

    ET based? External Tank I presume? I’ve read stories + where the External tanks are used (Wonder why they don’t – too much weight? Toxic fumes? Surely such issues could be overcome with sufficent ingeniuty.) as stations, farms and more ..

    But I’ve never seen a space station made from an external tank or serious (as opposed to fictional / hypothetical) plans for one.

    ‘Skylab’ was launched in 1973 via Saturn V rocket – and suffered damage incl. most strikingly a ripped off solar panel and meteroid shield. It was then repaired and lived in for a bit – three stints by groups of astronauts -before unexpected atmospheric drag forced it to re-enter the Earth’s lower atmosphere, burning up and falling to ground over Western Australia in 1979. It was America’s first space station & it pre-dated the shuttle by many years.

    Think ‘Skylab’ was essentially the third stage of a Saturn V launcher NOT an ET andNotan orbuetrreplacement so maybe I’m missing something or maybe you are but .. yeah not sure what you’re referring to here.

    Skylab? One of the modules of the ISS? Something else entirely?

    Anyhow, forget to say Pamela Melroy’s going up today (23rd already here in Oz) who I saw (& heard) speak in Adelaide, South Australia (my home state) a couple of years ago. Very impressed with her too -agood speaker, good sense of humour & nice person. I’d like to wish her & the rest of the Shuttle crew well.

    ———
    + E.g. David Brin’s short story ‘Tank Farm Dynamo’ P.185-206 in his anthology ‘The River of Time’. (Orbit SF, year of publication unknown)

  24. DennyMo

    Please pardon StevoR’s gross ignorance of both history and modern weaponry. Israel and “the North Americans” are the only ones with WMDs? Sheesh. I hate war as much as the next guy, but please, at least get your basic facts straight.

    Back to the ISS, admittedly it’s not everything it “could” be, but does that mean it’s completely useless? I wonder if the Skylab spiders passed their zero-g web-weaving skills: if we took a batch of their offspring up to the ISS, would they adapt faster?

    While we’re swapping useless Lucas trivia, I was amused to see that one of the bars that Indiana Jones visited (I think in the second movie) was the “Obiwan”.

  25. StevoR

    When DennyMio just said :

    “Please pardon StevoR’s gross ignorance of both history and modern weaponry. Israel and “the North Americans” are the only ones with WMDs? Sheesh. I hate war as much as the next guy, but please, at least get your basic facts straight.”

    Well it goes to show how people don’t pay attention doesn’t it? I did.

    I said :

    “I support human and robotic space exploration – after all why not invade bold new worlds where no one has gone before instead of

    *South Western Asian nations * where no one has WMDs …

    … Well okay not quite ‘no one’ seeing as Israel’s got ‘em and you invading Norte~Americanos have ‘em but no one else does ..

    SW ASia covering the region also commonly known as the “Middle East” ie the heartland of the Muslim world (Arabia, Palestine, Iranm, Syria, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, etc ..) plus the Israeli state.

    In that SW Asian region then who has WMDs – I mean actually has then NOT has them in the deluded minds of the Neo-Conners?

    Iraq – No. It certainly doesn’t as we’ve discovered after invading on that spurious, poorly-informed excuse – & yes, okay, Saddam gassed the Kurds and started constructing a nuclear reactor before the Isreali’s attacked it but that’s not the same thing in either case.

    Syria? Nope.
    Iran? Nope -despite tehlies we’ll no doubt soon be fed.
    Arabia? Nope.
    Jordan. Nope.
    The Palestineans intheri Occupied, Bantstan-ised municipalities – not a chance.
    The United Arab Emirates? Nope.
    Kuwait. Not unless you count the US run and owned bases there.
    etc ..

    then Israel – yes. Its a pretty open secret that they’ve got maybe 500 nukes & a nuclear weapons plant at Dimona in the Negev desert. (Do a websearch on poor old Mordechai Vannunu if you don’t beleive me.)

    Do other nations have WMDs -yes. Russia, China, France & the UK all have nukes plus some others – although the USA is the only nation to have ever used A-bombs in anger – & against civilian cities at that.

    I can assure y’all having studied International Relations esp. the SWAsian region at University level incl. an honours theis ontehPlaestinea issue that, yes, I do know what I’m talking about here – unlike many who don’t perhaps having listened to too much Murdoch or Israeli lobby propaganda.

    Now having disposed of this off-topic diversion, perhaps we can return to discussing the Shuttle mission and the ISS – tehgood side of Amercia as opposed to its bad?

    Of course, if you want to keep arguing I can always continue correcting you … ;-p

  26. Gary Ansorge

    Gaijin51:
    Planets are gravity sink holes. Hard to escape. Easy to live on but a big waste of mass.In the space colonies proposed by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neille, we build our habitats from space resources,ie, asteroids, comets and low mass moons. With 6.5 billion humans currently inhabiting this eco-system,we’re already ingesting our eco-capital, rather than just the earnings. We need to colonize space, migrating life off earth to available resources greater than 3000 planet earths and accessible energy of a star. THEN we become a type two civilization(Freeman Dyson) and the
    pie that can be divided amongst the tribes of old earth gets REALLY BIG!

    Perhaps the depradations of the neo-cons are essential to making humans miserable enough to relocate to a much larger theater of action. It’s a fact of Life that successful species will breed to the limits of their environment and either crash(Malthus) or move into a new environment and we’re the first species with the ability to leave the planatary gravity well,,,or are you of the camp that believes that humans are inherently evil and should be sequestered?

    Gary 7

  27. StevoR

    When DennyMio just said :

    “Please pardon StevoR’s gross ignorance of both history and modern weaponry. Israel and “the North Americans” are the only ones with WMDs? Sheesh. I hate war as much as the next guy, but please, at least get your basic facts straight.”

    Well it goes to show how people don’t pay attention doesn’t it?
    I said :

    “I support human and robotic space exploration – after all why not invade bold new worlds where no one has gone before instead of

    * _South Western Asian nations_ * where no one has WMDs …

    … Well okay not quite ‘no one’ seeing as Israel’s got ‘em and you invading Norte~Americanos have ‘em but no one else does.”

    SW Asia covers the region also commonly known as the “Middle East” ie the heartland of the Muslim world (Arabia, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, etc ..) plus the Israeli state. Its abetetr more accurate term than the ME one because it is geographically based (the region in the SW of the Asian landmass rather than depending on your perspective … eg. to Aussies & Kiwis the “Middle East” lies to the North West! To Antarticans, well everything is North north, north! 😉 )

    In that SW Asian region then who has WMDs – I mean actually has then NOT merely has them in the deluded fever-dreams of the Neo-Conners?

    Iraq – No. It certainly doesn’t have WMDs as we’ve discovered after invading on that spurious, poorly-informed excuse – & yes, okay, Saddam gassed the Kurds and started constructing a nuclear reactor before the Isreali’s attacked it but that’s not the same thing in either case.

    Iran? Nope – despite the lies we’ll no doubt soon be fed.
    Syria? Nope.
    Arabia? Nope.
    Jordan. Nope.

    The Palestineans in their Occupied, Bantstan-ised municipalities? Not a chance. (Unless the Isrealis have hidden a few of their H-bombs there for a blackmail-apocalypse threat al la ‘Drak’ against Centauri Prime in the ‘Babylon 5’ TV series! 😉 )

    The United Arab Emirates? Nope.
    Kuwait. Not unless you count the US run and owned bases there.

    & so on ..

    But then Israel – yes. Its a pretty open secret that they’ve got maybe 500 odd nukes & a nuclear weapons plant at Dimona in the Negev desert. (Do a websearch on poor old Mordechai Vannunu if you don’t beleive me.)

    Do other nations have WMDs -yes. Russia, China, France & the UK all have nukes plus some others – although the USA is the only nation to have ever used A-bombs in anger – & against civilian cities at that.

    I can assure y’all having studied International Relations esp. the SW Asian region at University level incl. an honours thesis on the Palestinean issue that, yes, I do know what I’m talking about here – unlike many who don’t perhaps from having listened to too much Murdoch or Israeli lobby propaganda. What Israel wants – and has largely forced – the West esp. Americans to accept as the situation in the SW Asian region is , when you take a reasonable examination from more than one side pure bunk & rubbish.

    The Israelis & their US backers are NOT the “good guys” in this case – and never really were. The creation of Israel was a huge mistake with grave consequences – not just for the Palestineans and Arabs generally either but for the whole world and particularly the Jews themslves. The better answer by far would have been re-settlling the Holocaust (or Shoah) survivors in Europe where they’d lived previously. Israel, in ultimate distillate, has succeeded not only in again threatening the survival of millions of Jews directly by concentrating them in an small area where they are -quite understandably – detested by their neighbours and those they’ve robbed but worse still by transforming a basically decent, intelligent, thought-valuing and honourable bunch of people into a bunch of fanatical, brute-force-valuing, Nazi-like thugs themsleves.

    Do a bit more research – I’d suggest reading Noam Chomsky, Raja Shehadeh, T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) & Edward Said for starters among others & try thinking seriously about the many different sides and the many things we’re often NOT told.

    (For instance, both Jews and Muslims are a 5% minority of the American population yet the Jewish lobby virtually runs your countries foreign policy – to the USA’s detriment, and ultimately the entire planets, incl.their own. Meanwhile the Muslim population are the new Semitic scapegoats – demonised and rendered powerless with very little if any attention paid to their quite legitimate greivances.)

    Now having disposed of this off-topic diversion, perhaps we can return to discussing the Shuttle mission and the ISS – the good side of America as opposed to its bad?

    Of course, if you want to keep arguing I can always continue correcting you … ;-p

  28. StevoR

    Sorry about the double post- thought I’d stopped thefirst versionbefroe it went. &there’s still typos … Sigh x a zillion.

    I’ve said it before & will agin – please Mr BA let us edit these posts here, please!

    Gary :

    “Perhaps the depradations of the neo-cons are essential to making humans miserable enough to relocate to a much larger theater of action. It’s a fact of Life that successful species will breed to the limits of their environment and either crash(Malthus) or move into a new environment and we’re the first species with the ability to leave the planatary gravity well,,,or are you of the camp that believes that humans are inherently evil and should be sequestered?”

    You talking to me? Not sure if you are but I’ll answer with this. Nice optimism – if they don’t kill us maybe the will make us stronger or at least with any luck select ’emselves outta our gene pool.

    As for human nature it ain’t either good nor evil – both are simplistic views ignoring the fact that we all have the potential for each in varyingdegrees of intensity. Which potential – good or evil – is realised or develops more depends on a host of factors incl. genetics, upbringing, surrounding culture, environmental factors, etc .. Context generally. Humanity can produce Shakespeare’s & Mother Teresa’s, Hitler’s and Dalai Lama’s, George Bush’es, King George’s, Osma bin Ladens, Paris Hilton’s, Madonna’s, Bono’s, Isaac Asimov’s, Carl Sagan’s, Phil Plait’s and you’s and me’s and everybody else’s.

    Sometimes we’re evil, sometimes we’re good and the good side or potential for good – for love, for learning, for helping each other & making the world(s!) does NOT deserve to be punished or prevented from having a chance just because of our equal potential or aspect for the opposites – our “bad side” or potential for hatred, for wilful blind fantaicism, for harming each other and making the world(s) worse. What we need todo, ethically, in myview anyhow, is our best to maximise the former and minimise the latter. Exploration, especially driven by curiousity to know and to share that knowledge with others – that’s part of our best side & what we, ethically, should be concentrating on.

    ————————

    * & the Neo-Wrongs AQ-Taliban mirror images – both groups being dumb arrogant, willfuly ignorant, religiously-driven fascists who are both utterly counter-productive to their avowed causes and so-called “civilisations” – only their faiths and names really differ.

  29. StevoR

    Correction – probably obvious from context but needs making :

    “Sometimes we’re evil, sometimes we’re good and the good side or potential for good – for love, for learning, for helping each other & making the world(s!) does NOT deserve to be punished or prevented from having a chance just because of our equal potential or aspect for the opposites – our “bad side” or potential for hatred, for wilful blind fantaicism, for harming each other and making the world(s) worse.”

    Should read :

    “Sometimes we’re evil, sometimes we’re good and the good side or potential for good – for love, for learning, for helping each other & making the world(s!) _better_ ..

    .. does NOT deserve to be punished or prevented from having a chance just because of our equal potential or aspect for their opposites – our “bad side” or potential for hatred, for wilful blind fantaicism, for harming each other and making the world(s) worse.

    What we need to do, ethically, (in my view anyhow), is our best to maximise the former and minimise the latter. Exploration, especially driven by curiousity to know and to share that knowledge with others – that’s part of our best side & what we, ethically, should be concentrating on.”

  30. She’s on her way!!

  31. Rob

    In a vain attempt to get this back on topic: the launch may be delayed after ice was found on the shuttle’s fuel tank. The weather is also looking a bit dodgy.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/space/article/0,,2197612,00.html

  32. Can we keep it at least marginally on topic please?

  33. Sergeant Zim

    What a beautiful launch!!

  34. Lurchgs

    Still off topic- Sorta

    THX-1138 was the license plate on Lucas’ first car – to which he was quite attached. I don’t know if he worked it into the last (first) two Star Wars movies (I’ve not seen them, nor do I intend to), but as far as I can determine, it’s been in all of the others – beginning with Dennis Weaver in “Duel” (clips of which were later used in the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno “Incredible Hulk” series – just one episode, but still…)

    To indicate how much Lucas liked the name, when he founded his cinematic sound company, he named it THX (Though the THX there supposedly stands for Tomlinson Holman’s eXperiment).

    That having been dealt with, I do tend to agree with BA… the ISS is pretty, it’s impressive, and so far as I know, has had nothing serious done aboard. Kinda like a multi-billion dollar statue in space.

  35. Say what you will, but from a standpoint of “showing off” the wonders of the space program (and astronomy), there’s nothing like pointing out ISS (and the shuttle at times) going overhead to the public, especially at star parties. They are just amazed that you can see things like that.

    And truthfully, no matter now many times I’ve seen ISS and the shuttles pass overhead in the night sky, I go out and look every time (unless it’s cloudy).

    Some might think it’s “fluff,” but it’s also a teaching experience for the public. And any way that we can educate the public as to the wonders of science (instead of that other crap) — well, it’s a benefit.

    I can tell you, in all the times we (in our astronomy club) talk about the shuttle and the station, not one individual is bored. They hang on our every word. The public is fascinated, no matter what the media says.

    And personally, I feel just like a little kid again every time I see a launch, landing, docking, or even the shuttle and/or ISS going over my head. And if, after all these years, I don’t lose the excitement and wonderment, why should be be anything if not proactive in sharing it with the public?

    Last week I saw the film In the Shadow of the Moon, and saw images of kids lying on the floor in front of the television watching Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. It brought to my mind that I was doing the exact same thing at the same time as those kids on the screen – I was lying on the floor of my uncle’s house with my cousins watching the drama unfold from 240,000 miles away.

    And even though it’s been nearly forty years, I haven’t lost the interest, wonderment, and amazement of space and astronomy.

    So remember, no matter what you think about a certain part of the space program personally, don’t forget the underlying love you have for it in general.

  36. Darth Curt

    Watched the launch. Can anyone answer why the lady that was giving out stats was speaking in Imperial and not Metric? I thought NASA had converted over to Metric.

  37. Jim

    Launch was beautiful, through some low clouds, with the high sun angle bringing out the yellow tones of the acid laced SRB plumes. Although NASA is Metric, as far as the station goes, the STS was made before the change and is still in English units. The press site still reports in English units, as most Americans still can’t comprehend a Metric measurement. Sorry ’bout that. We in the Education office try, and encourage, but, hey, what ‘cha gonna do. We’ll keep it up, though!

  38. Grand Lunar

    I saw the first few seconds of the launch. Then the shuttle went behind the clouds, and I couldn’t see it afterwards.

    Still, it was cool to see it when I did. It also attracted the attention of fellow students, who along with an instructor, also came out for the same reason as I.

    I hope for less clouds come December 6.

  39. Gaijin51

    Gary: If colonizing other planets is the goal, great (hence my parenthetical). But if it’s just going and coming back it’s an achievement like climbing Mt. Everest: great for the ego of a couple individuals, but of marginal benefit to humanity.

    Is a self-sustainable colony possible on Mars? If it depends on supplies from earth, then it is worthless. It won’t help save the species at all if it depends on supplies from earth, it will just drain resources faster. I didn’t mean to rule out human spaceflight for all time, just for the forseeable future since there is no place worth sending people to. First get more powerful space telescopes so we can find the earth-like planets around other stars, then think about how to get there.

  40. George

    Mr. Plait

    I read your blog regularly and enjoy it greatly, I also enjoy your podcasts with Pamela Gay. I am an amatuer astronomer living in New Jersey. I worked on the shuttle/station program in Florida as a payload engineer for 13 years. Before that, I attended many of the AIAA Space Industrialization meetings in Princeton. I was one of the second stage “Apollo Generation”, greatly disappointed that we abandoned “Post Apollo” plan, Which would have had us on Mars by now. I have to admit I really get tired of the space science community complaining that the shuttle and station “just go around in circles”. Come on, ALL ORBITS GO AROUND IN CIRCLES !!!(or rather ellipices), including some of the best space astronomy satellites. Granted much of the really good science can be done by much cheaper unmanned satellites. I worked the 1991 STS-35 Astro-1 mission, which was manned and returned some really good science. I think that the science community is really losing track of what the shuttle and station programs have taught us what to do. They have taught us the skills and techniques to build really large space structures, both pressurized and unpressurized. This is not just about space/earth science, this is about moving humanity into space as a trully space faring society. Granted shuttle tried to do too much too soon with imature technologies, station is teaching us about long term in space repair and logistics, things that will be really important when we finally do move on to a manned mars mission. As far as the Orion program being a step “forward” I dont see it as such, but economically I guess that it will be the closest thing that NASA will get to a replacement transport system. I feel that we should have stuck with the X33 program which would have reduced the cost of getting to orbit. It looks like that will be done by the SpaceDevs and SpaceXs of the world. As far a longing for the “Apollo Days” be carefull what you wish for. It was Congress through the “will of the people” that canceled the post-apollo program, Nixon just helped it along. There were some anti-war protesters that hung a sign infront of NASA HQ in the early 70s that told them exactly what they thought of the successful space program at the time, it said “*@#@$ Mars”.

  41. Stu

    I know all the anti-ISS arguments – too expensive, not doing the science it was meant to, taking funds away from other projects and programmes – but I think it’s become one of those things that’s just cool and fashionable to knock, like Britney Spears or whichever England football manager is in the job at the time. People who whine about the ISS should remember that it’s a magnificent technological and logistics achievement, proof that we can co-ordinate spacecraft and technology from different nations, construct large objects in space, run large space projects from the ground, and train groups of multi-national astronauts and engineers together. It has given, and continues to give us, invaluable information about the effects of spaceflight on the human body. It’s providing astronauts with invaluable EVA experience. It’s testing cutting-edge technologies…

    And ok, while it’s not doing the job it was designed for, it has the potential to do valuable scientific research and contribute to the manned exploration of the solar system in the future IF it’s supported politically, scientifically, and publicly. It’s up to space enthusiasts and advocates – like you Phil – to let people know how valuable and essential a space station (any space station, not just this one, if you really hate it so much) is for the future of us all as a “beach-head” to establish on the new shore of space and eventually break out from. I give many, many Outreach talks in schools here in the UK and when kids tell me they want to go into space I tell them that if they do it’s much more likely they’ll get to live and work on a space station than go to the Moon or Mars because those seats will be very hard to come by. But a properly-supported space station would allow astronaut engineers, chemists, biologists and others to go into and live and work in space.

    Maybe instead of dismissing ISS as an orbital white elephant, and complaining that every launch to it jeapordises other projects, we should try to embrace it and use it to inspire and enthuse others about the exploration of space. Tell them how we’ve built a huge, gorgeous, working space station for pity’s sake! That’s an amazing thing! Show them it in the sky, tell them “there are people on that star” as it drifts over your town; tell your work colleagues and kids about how amazing the view would be from one of its portals; show them images of that view, and of the ISS taken by arriving or departing shuttle crews and tell them how many countries and people worked together to build it. Rejoice in the fact that WE MADE THAT, because if we can’t make something like that then we sure ain’t going to Mars.

    And as for the shuttle orbiter, again I know it is a budgetary failure and not exactly cutting edge tech, but once those functional-but-pug-ugly CEVs start flying many of the people who criticise shuttle are going to look back on the “shuttle era” and the years of watching sleek winged shuttles soaring above Earth, with the blue light of our planet reflecting off their undersides and smiling human faces visible in their windows, with great fondness and nostalgia. After years of seeing shuttles coming in for a beautiful landing, noses high, wings outstretched, wheels kissing the tarmac with a welcoming puff of dust, we’re going back to a capsule splashing or smashing down, and even if that’s safer, more practical and more economical, it’s a step backwards I think.

    I know it’s an unfashionable view, seen thru rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t care: space is a beautiful place. It deserves to be explored in beautiful ships.

  42. Anthony Ramirez

    StevoRon said :

    “Hmmn .. I thought ‘Skylab’ before but now looking over your comments again, I’m just confused.”

    Stevo I am sorry for the confusion, I was asking Phil, instead of the ISS which way would have been better? So I was just mentioning other Space Station alternatives to ISS. I wasn’t talking about Skylab I was talking about designs that were talked about but never built.

    “ET based? External Tank I presume? I’ve read stories + where the External tanks are used (Wonder why they don’t – too much weight? Toxic fumes? Surely such issues could be overcome with sufficent ingeniuty.) as stations, farms and more .. ”

    I can only guess that ETs have not been used because it would require a lot of work and fuel to keep that ET in orbit. If you want to join 2 ETs together well now you have to move the 2nd ET from whatever orbit it is in to the orbit of the first ET, or vise versa. You would also have to keep boosting the orbit higher just like the ISS. So you are going to need a Transfer Vehicle to do all these things plus a lot of fuel.

  43. “I’m somewhat more nervous than normal, given that NASA have apparently given the go-ahead for launch over the heads of the safety guys. They’ve apparently found cracks in the thermal shield but decided to launch anyway.”

    Lucas now follows in the steps of Kubrick and others. Can you say ‘green screen’ and ‘moon walk’ in the same sentence? How about ‘mars walk’?

    Art imitates?? no…. manipulates life.

    There’s something very wrong when NASA endangered the mission in order to meet the 11:38 launch. THX 1138? Meet the light saber from Return of the Jedi.

    The lies continue in NASA’s Hollywood.

    The Moon Landing Hoax Website

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