Endings

By Daniel Holz | July 8, 2011 8:23 am

While the astronomy community reels from the potential loss of the James Webb Space Telescope (see Julianne and Risa’s posts), it is appropriate that we also mark the passing of the Space Shuttle program. All being well, in about 15 minutes the last space shuttle will rocket into space (live video).

The space shuttle program was essential to the launch, and perhaps even more importantly, the multiple repairs of the Hubble Space Telescope. And it is the inevitable loss of the Hubble, and the absence of a worthy successor in space, that is leaving the astronomy community despondent.

These are difficult financial times. Brutal decisions need to be made. It is certainly conceivable that the United States (and the world) simply can no longer afford to finish off the James Webb Space Telescope. However, it is worth noting that this telescope in many ways symbolizes the best aspects of humanity: our thirst for knowledge, our desire for exploration, and our quest to find our place in the Universe. There is a reason that the Hubble space telescope captures the imagination of both practicing scientists and the general public. We cannot help but be moved and fascinated by images of the cosmos. Have we truly come to a point where we abandon this most noble and inspirational of pursuits?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
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  • GeekGirl

    This is the first time in my lifetime that Americans don’t have the ability to send people into space again. I didn’t realize until the launch how much that would hurt.

  • Paul

    The space shuttle program was essential to the launch […] of the [HST]

    The Titan IV had more than enough payload capacity to put something the size of HST into low earth orbit.

  • Scott B

    I can’t stand seeing my country fail at more and more things over time.

    Difficult financial times? Maybe if we cut some of our $700 billion in military spending(6 times more than any other country and almost as much as the rest of the world combined) we could do a few other good things with it. But nooooooo, we have to keep blowing up brown people half a world away. Let’s go after NASA who’s budget is a whole $19 billion. We haven’t spent even close to as much on NASA in its entire history as we do for one year of worthless military spending. Our bureaucrats and the people who support them are idiots.

  • Paul

    Scott: with the baby boom now starting to hit retirement, the nation’s fiscal situation will be getting increasingly desperate even without wars. Do you think astronomy has much chance to avoid cuts if they’re having to scale back middle class entitlements?

  • Rob

    That’s a false choice though, they don’t …have.. to scale back entitlements, they choose to. Passing no legislation for the foreseeable future balances the budget.

    But it’s not the end of the space age, we will just have to depend on China’s space program to pick up the slack. Their government is controlled by scientists and engineers.

  • abc

    These aren’t difficult financial times. There’s just been a conscious decision to reduce taxes for ideological reasons while funding pointless wars. The republican majority in the house of representatives also wants to default on the US debt to force cuts to social programs for ideological reasons. Fun times.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Mark Erickson

    Since never has “the best aspects of humanity” been relevant to public decision making. You know that Con-gress is the opposite of Pro-gress, right? (h/t Gallagher)

  • http://yourpalebluedot.blogspot.com/ YourPaleBlueDot

    Yes, we have come to that point. However, it will be a very brief moment a longer timeline. I always remind myself that the situation can’t always be controlled but optimism can. This astronaut is optimistic – http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2011/07/uab_astronaut_larry_delucas_op.html

  • http://seanthemystic.blogspot.com Sean the Mystic

    Well I maintain that the way forward is to become like Carl Sagan of the Mirror Universe; i.e., grow your goatee, study the Dark Side of the Force and start building the Galactic Empire. If the bad guys are beating you, become more evil than them. When have do-gooder ideals ever gotten humanity anywhere? Strife, struggle and the Will to Power are the source of all progress. It seems that too many scientists are blind to this fundamental fact of life in our little corner of the cosmos.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Should have happened years ago. You’re looking at several JWST’s just to keep the STS and ISS boondoggle afloat. So much good money thrown after so much bad, and look where we are now. Pathetic.

  • Mr. G

    Although I wasn’t professional press (whatever TF that now anymore means) , I was in 1981 present at both the launch and landing sites of the first shuttle flight as paid, ahem, ‘credentialed press’.

    I’ve always been a Shuttle fan, and have always closely followed the program’s every event.

    Time for it to end.

    Too expensive, and no longer needed.

    And good that Constellation died stillbirth.

    Space development by Government is thankfully over.

    Too expensive, too retarded.

    Take the Apollo program: A big rocket, full of fuel, to get a small capsule form the Earth to the moon, and back.

    Now, think of traveling from one coast of the U.S. to the other exactly the same way. Anyone wanting to make the journey would have to do so in a fuel tanker truck.

    Unless, all along the way, smaller (more affordable) vehicles with limited fuel capacity could find predictably located gas stations and motels between origin and destination.

    You know, the Interstate Highway System model.

  • Mr. G

    daniel,

    “These are difficult financial times. Brutal decisions need to be made. It is certainly conceivable that the United States (and the world) simply can no longer afford to finish off the James Webb Space Telescope. However, it is worth noting that this telescope in many ways symbolizes the best aspects of humanity: our thirst for knowledge, our desire for exploration, and our quest to find our place in the Universe. There is a reason that the Hubble space telescope captures the imagination of both practicing scientists and the general public. We cannot help but be moved and fascinated by images of the cosmos. Have we truly come to a point where we abandon this most noble and inspirational of pursuits?”

    If you really want JWST to happen, make out a personal check to the program. Convince all of your family and friends to send their own checks. I’ll send a check, too.

    Make it happen, or stop whining because Government can’t force uninterested parties to afford supporting your personal preference any better than can you.

    It’s not rocket surgery.

  • Charon

    “make out a personal check to the program…”

    Hey, I’ve got a brilliant idea. Let’s fund all government programs via voluntary donations earmarked for specific programs!

    There is actually a reason we don’t do that, you know. And asking the government to do or not do something is typically called “lobbying”, not “whining”.

  • http://slackwire.blogspot.com/ JW Mason

    Wait a minute, tho.

    The JWST is essential to the next generation of space science. Sending people into space has about as much to do with science as flagpole-sitting. Seems to me that the addition of this post weakens the previous two considerably — it reinforces the unfortunate impression that “funding for science” just means funding for stuff scientists think is cool.

  • Anonymous_Snowboarder

    @abc: and you seem to believe all entitlements and similar program should be kept intact (or expanded)…for ideological reasons. It cuts both ways.

    @daniel: the way to get JWST into orbit is to privatize and revert back to the model which supported astronomy for many centuries – philanthropy. With a large share of the cost already absorbed (sunk) by the government, the remainder is doable. It won’t be easy but it is possible. And perhaps had there been better controls from the start the budget wouldn’t have spiraled so badly out of control. Those controls are far more likely when the government is not cutting the check. However, astronomy must also begin to consider that they too have reached the point of HEP, ie the SCSC. When one project takes the lion’s share of all the research monies avaiable there are problems.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Can someone tell me, exactly, how one makes out a personal check to the JWST program? Seriously, does no one here understand how govt.-funded programs work? It’s bad enough libertarians prefer their utopian fantasy to the real world, but they compound the frustration of those who are forced to deal with them by insisting the real world could conform to their fantasy now but for the inaction of communistic leeches. Is it OK to tell these people to piss off here? I’m all for spirited debate, but one cannot argue with those who refuse to acknowledge the world as it is, vs. as they insist it must be.

  • Nullius in Verba

    You can make out a personal check to NASA – although you can’t specify what they spend it on. Just send it to NASA Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO), Director for Financial Management Division.

    Libertarians would tell you that the way government programmes work is the reason you can’t (directly) save the telescope with your own money if you want to. Blame the way government programmes work.

  • realta fuar

    Gotta agree with LMMI here on all counts. Every INDIVIDUAL flight of a shuttle would fund one Kepler sized mission. STS was a huge, unsafe boondongle and the main justification for the ISS was to give the shuttles something to do. Brilliant. With NASA in charge of the USA space science program, it’s no wonder it’s in such sad shape.
    As for the libertarian, “I’ve got mine and I’ll try to keep you from getting yours” idiots, just feck off.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’ve got mine and I’ll try to keep you from getting yours”

    My/your what? What are you talking about?

  • Mr. G

    13. Charon Says:
    July 8th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    “make out a personal check to the program…”

    Hey, I’ve got a brilliant idea. Let’s fund all government programs via voluntary donations earmarked for specific programs!

    There is actually a reason we don’t do that, you know.

    Yeah, I know.

    No one, not even you, would do it voluntarily.

    “We” must strong-arm everyone else to get the $$$ to fund our brilliant ideas (that we just can’t seem to come up with the necessary funds all by our Rocket Scientist-selves all on our own. Too many stupid people standing in ‘our’ way. Clueless, inept bastards! They must do for us what we, their superiors, cannot do for ourselves ).

    Twit
    Twit.

  • Gammaburst

    A modest proposal: sell the existing JWST hardware and software to China. Budget hawks would have to agree. If not, perhaps the shame of the mere suggestion will wake our government.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Re. #20. Even in the libertarian utopia of rational self-interest, there’s another major problem: Making even modestly competent decisions about what and what not to fund typically requires an extremely high level of expertise. Nothing at all against dentists, but would you want a dentist making the decision whether or not to fund the JWST or maybe resurrect Project Orion instead? Would you want to live in a world where different science teams had to go directly to the public to pitch their proposals? This would be superior to the grants process how, exactly? This would maximize what, other than a massive arms race of advertising dollars spent on making the JWST as sexy as a sports car to Joe Sixpack?

    Seriously, do these people think funding agencies and their associated infrastructure sprang fully formed from the foreheads of a pack of Marxist infiltrators in the NSF or something? That it’s all just some giant conspiracy to shield elites from the inconvenience of market forces? Jesus Christ, the reason market forces are kept out is because they do an ATTROCIOUS job of deciding what is the best basic science research to conduct in terms of cost:benefit. Look at industry now. Shareholder pressure is crushing basic research in the private sector, and in some places has eliminated it completely. The example of Bell Labs is excellent. You figure it’s a shadow of its former self because of govt. anticompetitiveness? What actual evidence does anyone have to support that?

    It’s maddening, these people. Maddening! I can comprehend Christian fundamentalists far better than the libertarian mind, so completely divorced from reality does it seem to me. What part of actual, real-world evidence of human behavior and economics is so offensive to these self-proclaimed defenders of true liberty? I’ll never understand it.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Nothing at all against dentists…”

    Or against bloggers/commenters on a magazine website…?

    “Would you want to live in a world where different science teams had to go directly to the public to pitch their proposals?”

    Libertarians wouldn’t even think of suggesting it.

    You would go to the people who wanted it and who will benefit from it – i.e. scientists and universities. Universities in turn would raise money by offering their teaching and consultancy services, and the profits earned from selling or exploiting their past inventions. As the best at deciding what gives the best cost/benefit, they ought to be able to out-compete industry easily.

    What libertarians are saying is that if the general public wanted a particular project to go ahead, they ought to be able to set up a fund and purchase it, like any other business entity. Nobody is saying that’s the only way it can or should happen.

    “Seriously, do these people think funding agencies and their associated infrastructure sprang fully formed from the foreheads of a pack of Marxist infiltrators in the NSF or something?”

    Seriously, no.

  • Gary M

    13. Charon

    My apology for calling you a ‘twit’. It was a cruder form of disrespect than I usually engage in.

  • Gary M

    RE: #22.

    Low Math: “I can comprehend Christian fundamentalists far better than the libertarian mind, so completely divorced from reality does it seem to me.”

    Not my problem. You seem to be more comfortable with a previously decided, well-defined social structure for the attractive predictability you hope if would offer you.

    I’m comfortable with unpredictability and serendipitous innovation.

    You prefer committees.

    I prefer teams.

    You prefer the voice of top heavy authoritarianism.

    I prefer everyone having a voice, or no voice if they prefer.

    You comprehen0d authoritarian Fundamentalism.

    I comprehend being personally fundamental.

    You think that you know better than me what my money should be spent on.

    I think you should spend your own money on whatever you think is best for you, like everyone else.

    You think that the weight of Government should relieve me of my own money because you can’t be bothered with the effort to intellectually persuade me that your own personal priorities should also be mine.

    I think that you think I’m just going to bend over for you just because your goon squad has brought flowers.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Authoritarian fundamentalism. Goon squad. Yes. Outstanding.

    It’s not easy to ignore deluded paranoiacs sometimes, but, to paraphrase another wise individual, always worth the effort.

  • Mr. G

    Indeed. Ignorance has built-in rewards.

  • Mr. G

    Run, hide, cower, avoid.

    True elements of ‘strength’, no doubt.

    Here I am.

    Right here.

    Where are you?

    Adopting a strategy of avoidance.

    “Must. Not. Prove. I’m. A. Total. Intellectual. Wimp. In Public. By. Accepting.
    Your. Challenge.

    I. By. My. Natural. Talents. By. Definition. Am. Less. Then. That.”

    What a surprise.

  • Mr. G

    16. Low Math, Meekly Interacting Says:
    July 10th, 2011 at 6:54 am

    “Can someone tell me, exactly, how one makes out a personal check to the JWST program? Seriously, does no one here understand how govt.-funded programs work?”

    Apparently, one cannot.

    http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?t=NPD&c=1210&s=1G

    “Seriously, does no one here understand how govt.-funded programs work?”

    Apparently not. Even you didn’t offer up why.

    “It’s bad enough libertarians prefer their utopian fantasy to the real world,…”

    Um, I’m Independent. Colorful stereotyping you’ve got going on in there.

    “…but they compound the frustration of those who are forced to deal with them by insisting the real world could conform to their fantasy now but for the inaction of communistic leeches.”

    Ah, the “commie leech” stereotype offends your sensibilities? Why… you can dish stereotypes but can’t take em?

    “Is it OK to tell these people to piss off here?”

    Why? No echo?

    ” I’m all for spirited debate,…”

    Not.

    “…but one cannot argue with those who refuse to acknowledge the world as it is, vs. as they insist it must be.”

    You think you’ll do better arguing with a mirror? It’s safer, no doubt.

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