NASA embarks on historic delay

By Phil Plait | April 20, 2009 2:30 pm

Man, I love the Onion: NASA Embarks on Epic Delay.

NASA embarks on historic delay

It’s funny because it’s true.

Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to BABloggee Jan.


Comments (35)

  1. Slowly But Surly

    Ah, where would we be with out The Onion? Remember the Onions coverage of “Intelligent Falling” back in 2005?


    NASA Simulator Prepares Astronauts For Rigors of an Interview With Larry King:

    NASA Simulator Prepares Astronauts For Rigors Of An Interview With Larry King

  3. I loved the line from the enbiggened side chart “A History of Setbacks”: 1986 – The space shuttle Challenger is launched right on schedule

  4. “It’s funny because it’s true.”

    Of course it’s true. It’s on the intertubes, isn’t it? Someone took the time to write it, so it must be true! 😛

  5. I would like to submit a bid to the government that I could delay longer and for less money…after all, all good Republicans know that the private sector can do anything better, right?

  6. Sure, you can delay for longer and for less money. But I claim I can delay for longer and for MORE money. :)

  7. Jack Mitcham

    “1986: The space shuttle Challenger is launched right on schedule. ”

    I feel bad for laughing at that, but it’s hilarious.

  8. Lol, now all we need is a top 10 chart of all the most expensive NASA budget overruns. We can’t do anything about it, so we may as well celebrate it :)

  9. Oded

    # Jack Mitcham Says:
    “1986: The space shuttle Challenger is launched right on schedule. ”
    I feel bad for laughing at that, but it’s hilarious.

    My thoughts exactly! That was awesom

  10. KC

    Phil: Saw this, thought of you. BBC is claiming that the moon effects the flavour of wine. I need some more wine to clear the stupidity from my head…

  11. James

    I got on here to make a comment about the Challenger line, but several beat me to it. Glad I’m not the only one who laughed at that. I felt bad, but I laughed!

  12. MadScientist

    I thought this delay isn’t due to problems with the launch but to give the ground folks some time to dust off and test spare parts for Hubble. Laughing at a catastrophic launch failure is just cruel.

  13. MadScientist

    @hale_bopp: It’s not so much a problem with Republicans but with “bestseller managers” – you know the sort with an MBA from Harvard and who have just bought and read the dust cover on Jack Welch’s latest book? Besides, the public sector is into space big time. While NASA does an awful lot in house, there’s an awful lot more that’s done by the private sector – for example Lockheed-Martin and Boeing Aerospace.

    The end result of this “we can do it better and cheaper” mantra is that idiots make decisions based on cost alone and without proper vetting of the work done. I have seen requests for tenders for bits and pieces and some friends have been interested and requested more details. In perhaps more than half of those cases my friends have found that there is too little money and management play stupid games and want substantial work done in no time, so they don’t waste their time putting in a bid – in the space business you really don’t want to be the guy everyone points to and says “it’s *his* fault the launch is delayed” or “it’s *his* fault the satellite isn’t working”. The little guy gets screwed out of existence. The big guys can take the hits though – a complete cock-up still results in them making some money in some cases and if not they just charge people more for the next job; depending on what your areas of expertise are and the required guarantees in a contract, the big guys really don’t have much competition.

  14. Elias Friedman

    Phil! Your lecture tonight at Hayden Planetarium was great. I put a photo of you signing books in my tweetstream (@elipongo). I am so looking forward to reading the book I bought tonight!

    You may have wondered about the strange bandage that was taped to my chin over my beard, well the cause actually had a tie in to one of the jokes you cracked during your talk. You joked about New York City cabs trying to occupy the same space as a person- I was actually an unwilling participant in just such an experiment when a livery cab cut me off while I was riding in the bike lane. I actually was able to create about an inch deep crater in the Crown Vic’s roof using only my chin. My conclusion is that Ford Crown Victorias strongly resist someone trying to occupy the same space as them and that this resistance is quite painful when I’m moving at around 25 mph.

    But you know, it was all worth it because otherwise I would have completed my commute to work and would have still been there when you gave your lecture tonight! It was well worth the contusions, abrasions, lacerations & stitches to be able to have the opportunity to hear you talk!

    I just wanted to say thanks for that Phil, you made a day that could have been, to use your technical term, “sucky” for me into one that I really enjoyed instead.


  15. PJE

    That photo made me laugh..thanks


  16. IBY

    Actually… people have already done such delays. There is this game called Duke Nukem Forever, which is basically taking forever to be developed. It has already been in development for around 10 years. Not even NASA can beat that.

  17. You obviously heard about NASA merging with NASCAR then!

  18. Julianne

    Oh Phil, I howled. Thanks.

  19. QUASAR

    Sassafrassakassum dealy!

  20. QUASAR

    Ooops, correction!


  21. Jojo

    I would laugh at this, but considering I make my living off of this kind of thing it seems a little tacky.

  22. Charles Boyer

    The only thing worse than Bestseller Managers and Magazine Certified Engineers (and one can be both.)

    MCE’s are the “superstars” that scan the trades and of course Slashdot in order to get in front of the latest trends and then they advance them in their own companies as if they are experts and trailblazers.

    And while you laugh at STS51L’s on-time launch keep in mind the families of the seven good people that died in that short flight: New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, pilot Michael J. Smith, (a decorated Vietnam War veteran), flight commander Francis R. Scobee; laser physicist Ronald E. McNair, (the second African American in space), aerospace engineer Ellison S. Onizuka ( the first Japanese American in space) Gregory B. Jarvis, and Judith Resnick (the second American woman in space.)

    As it stands now, with two birds on the nest (see: jokes about exploding shuttles seems a bit…tasteless.

  23. jh

    Jokes about exploding shuttles ARE tasteless. But, by the same count, the people involve knew the risks of going into space.

    I just wish we had people willing to take the risks we took when we went to the moon. Mankind functions at its most brilliant when it steps outside the bounds of sensibility. When we are forced to adapt, we become exquisite creatures.

    When we just do what we’ve been doing for years, we are mediocre.

  24. Winter Solstice Man

    Yeah, those seven Challenger astronauts were killed over two decades ago,
    when most of the punks living now weren’t even born yet, so now it’s okay to laugh at their little problem.

    Columbia, which ripped apart in 2003 and killed yet another seven astronauts (I thought the number 7 was supposed to be lucky?), isn’t quite as funny yet ’cause 2003 is only 6 years ago, so we’ll have to wait to really get a belly laugh out of that one. I know the families of the astronauts will appreciate it.

    And that Titanic, even more distant in the past, is a real knee slapper. I just fell on the floor cracking up about all those people who slowly froze to death in the icy Atlantic waiting to be rescued. James Cameron’s version was to die for!

    And do NOT get me started on Pompeii – wooh!

  25. Charles Boyer

    “@jh: were there a manned Mars program that were to liftoff tomorrow, I doubt very seriously that NASA would be short of volunteers from their current corps of astronauts.

    Those folks do know the risks, but so do the people who fly commercial airlines. Chances are slim you’ll not walk away, but they are there. For that matter, it’s more dangerous statistically to drive to the airport.

    Or you could always be hit by a meteor from the sky — right, Phil? 😉

  26. jh

    With regards to the Space Shuttle, chances have proven NOT to be slim. After the Columbia disaster, we had 2 lost craft in 100 missions. That’s 1 in 50. When Challenger occurred, we had only 25 missions.

    There were six craft built over the lifetime of the shuttle program. We’ve lost 2 of them, and one of the six wasn’t even meant to reach orbit. So believe me, it’s far more dangerous to fly a space shuttle than it is to drive to the airport. That’s 2 craft lost in ~100 missions. The question lately isn’t IF we’ll lose another craft, it’s if we’ll lose the craft before the end of the STS missions.

    But even THAT doesn’t compare to the risk we took when we went to the moon. And that won’t hold a candle to the risk we took when we go to mars.

    We have to take risks to get somewhere. And while we have people who are willing to go to Mars, we don’t have people willing to take the risk of allowing it.

  27. Charles Boyer

    Fair enough point, but you could point out passenger miles/fatalities w/ the Shuttle or Apollo and make a claim that they were the safest vehicles man has ever devised.

    Both Shuttle accidents were the result of mismanagement, that was the determination the Accident Review Boards. That in mind it difficult to blame the vehicles totally for either failure.

    Challenger should never have happened, period. Roger Boisjoly’s warnings should have been heeded. That Boisjoly was ignored, even after the same problem had happened on a previous flight of Discovery, was management incompetence nonpareil.

    Columbia, we’ve read of the warnings linked on this very blog by Phil, a previous impact that nearly doomed another mission.

    (Note to Phil: you are so prolific, your Overmind needs a search just for your blog!)

    In toto, NASA should have known better. There is being willing to take risks, and then there is a willingness to carefully take calculated risks as opposed to willfully ignoring clear and present warnings.

    In the case of

  28. jh

    I agree, Charles.. but the fact remains that we had these risks then. There are just dangers that are going to be faced. Only then, because it was a matter of national prestige wrapped up with national security and beating the Russians, we didn’t let all the dangers be seen.

    Now, we have nobody willing to be the President who tells us that our explorers have died. We have nobody willing to be in charge of Nasa when something bad happens.

    So.. to avoid that, they delay. They push it off. They take incredibly small steps that seemingly point in the right direction, but really don’t lead anywhere.

    We’ve turn into a country of afraid people. We’re afraid of terrorists. We’re afraid of vaccinations. We’re afraid of a depression, we’re afraid of all these things.

    I tell what will get us moving. When China puts a man on the moon , and looks towards Mars.. maybe we’ll start moving again. Maybe we’ll stop being afraid and will accept the risks.

    What happened to the shuttles was risky, but like you said, it was risk caused by ignoring the facts. What happens on a trip to Mars is a completely separate type of risk, and I don’t think NASA or the government currently have it in them. I suspect it’ll come from private entities.

  29. whb03

    Anyone see the headline “Some Guy Who’s Not Stephen Colbert To Deliver College’s Commencement Speech”?

    Even more appropriate…

  30. Cairnos

    I recall there was an older Onion article along th elines of ‘Nit picking NASA administrator demand that every detail be correct’

  31. Paul M.

    I think that in context the line about Challenger is entirely appropriate when you consider the decision processes that preceeded the launch. Best to make sure those lessons aren’t forgotten.

  32. Charles Boyer


    The lessons of Apollo 1 were forgotten and led to Challenger, whose lessons were forgotten and led to Columbia. All were the same: technical issues aside, top management didn’t listen to their subordinates and made the wrong call.

  33. Robert Carnegie

    I was gonna mention the commencement story. “students were devastated Monday to learn that their commencement speaker will be ‘some dork scientist’ …”

    Google News doesn’t confirm a factual basis for the piece, which I like to see. The man does have a fan here,

    On Challenger: it’s a small part of the joke structure. In our universe it was a terrible avoidable tragedy. In the Bizarro NASA described in the article, an opportunity to do nothing at tremendous cost was abruptly lost when presumably a mission ran with no problems whatsoever. (Or maybe not.) I wonder how many of the general population are able to name either one of two Space Shuttles, and it IS a damn long time ago now. They make jokes about Pearl Harbor, they make jokes about New Orleans, and more people died there.

    Do people have to die in the conquest of space? Do you know, I think we could make do with planet earth. We’d only pollute the rest of the galaxy, anyway. And if you had to choose between the Hubble telescope falling out of the sky and demolishing Mount Palomar, and losing one life in the course of saving the ‘scopes – well, that’s a silly example. But I’ve seen sillier ones.

  34. Laura Beasman

    I named my puppy after “some dork scientist”


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar