AUGH. Even though I’m still on hiatus, I did have a post yesterday. With links. Check below.

The last shuttle comes down today, and that’s the end of that.

All of that.

A few nights ago I had a yen for a Bond flick, and called up my have – “You Only Live Twice.” Had to stop watching it right away, because it had a Gemini capsule and Mission Control and guys in white short-sleeve shirts and black-rimmed glasses smoking at the consoles saying DO YOU READ ME (BEEP) and all that other stuff that formed the background for my pride in the present and hope for the future, and I thought: well, that’s over. I couldn’t watch the rest of the movie.

I’ll get over that. Mostly.

NASA is keen to tell you there’s a still a future for sending Americans into space, but there’s a general cultural anomie that seems content to watch movies about people in space, but indifferent to any plans to put them there. This makes me grind my teeth down to the roots, but I suppose that’s a standard reaction when the rest of your fellow citizenry doesn’t share the precise and exact parameters of your interests and concerns. That’s the problem when you grow up with magazines telling you where we’re going after the moon, with grade-school notebooks that had pictures of the space stations to come, when the push to Mars was regarded as an inevitable next step.

Just got hung up on the “why?” part, it seems. Also the “how” and the “how much” and other details. I can see the reason for taking our time – develop new engines, perfect technology, gather the money and the will. It’s not like anything’s going anywhere. But it’s not like we’re going anywhere if we’re not going anywhere, either – when nations, cultures stop exploring, it’s a bad sign. You’re ceding the future. If you have a long view that regards nation-states as quaint relics of a time in human history when maps had lines – really, you can’t see them from space! We’re all one, you know – then it doesn’t matter whether China or the US puts a flag on Mars. It’s possible a Chinese Mars expedition would commemorate the first boot on red soil with a statement that spoke for everyone on the planet, not a particular culture or nation. It’s possible. But history would remember that they chose to go, and we chose not to.

So what’s the attachment, really? Childhood attachment to Star Trek fantasies, geeky fascination with spaceships, adolescent marination in sci-fi visions of rockets and moon bases and PanAm shuttles engaged in a sun-bathed ballet with a space station revolving to the strains of Strauss, phasers and warp six and technobabble and the love of great serene machinery knifing through clouds of glowing dust? Probably. It’s not over, I know – but it’s like watching the last of Columbus’ ships return, and learning they’re cutting up the mast for firewood, and no one’s planning to go back any time soon. At first you look at the ocean and imagine what’s out there, because that’s what you’ve been doing all your life – and then you lean to stop wondering, because it reminds you of the day you saw the last ship leave.

On the other hand: we never anticipated robots and fly-bys and Hubble shots and all the other wonders of the era. The Shuttle is over. But Dawn has risen on Vesta.

Updates! The end of the unannotated 1958 Minnesota Vacation guide, HERE, and four more page of TV Guide 1968, HERE. I posted them last week but didn’t mention it here, so if you checked the site in the meantime you’ll have seen these. The Miscellaneous interface has also been overhauled, for no particular reason.

See you around.


84 Responses to Those were the voyages

  1. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – interesting article on the reason why the whole space colony idea didn’t take…

    “There was a problem with that vision: it was not inherently positive and uplifting. There were certainly many negative visions at the time: Malthusian predictions of doom, and the ever-present fear of nuclear annihilation. But the problem with the space colonization movement was that, absent the counterpoint of fear, it had little inherent appeal. Asimov’s portrayal of the L-5 future demonstrated the problem: what was so great about living and working in space compared to living and working on the ground? Asimov didn’t have an answer to that. He never described the view from the colony, nor did he claim that the work and living conditions were better than on Earth. His description of the food was not exactly mouth-watering. Other than that, what he described was a job and a bed to sleep in. If you were an ordinary American reading the National Geographic in 1976, what was so great about that?”

  2. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – the national geographic article the previous article was talking about…

  3. Bill McNutt says:

    I’ve written my congresscritters. It was brief.

    “Russia has a manned space program. The United States does not. China has a manned moon mission on the calendar. The United States does not. How did you let this happen?”

  4. Terry Fitz says:

    Grebmar – There is quite a large difference between “is” and “was”. Are you certain you want to build a single term “is/was” to advance the argument? If we expand the discussion to what every country “is/was”, will any country look good?

  5. Grebmar says:

    Yes, there is a big difference between “is” and “was.” I don’t actually know if the US is in decline right now (it’s far too soon to tell), so I left it open. Discuss.

    And, yes, all countries/empires/kingdoms/whatever, on reflection, have a mix of good and bad characteristics. On the whole, the Soviet Union had far more bad than good. And on the whole, the US has far more good than bad.

  6. swschrad says:

    @Grebmar: all the great nation/states of history declined when “I” became greater than “we.” examples include Rome, Greece, biblical Jerusalem, England… Springfield under Mr. Burns… and the US. but that’s OK, because I have a shinier iPhone than old Jenny Phillips. pffftttppp! see you at the mall.

  7. The Other Jeff says:

    Every nail has a head, and you hit this one square on.

  8. Dave Bender says:

    So well put and echoes my thoughts about the end of the shuttle program.

    Not too long ago I wrote an “Elegy for Columbia,” that might interest you and readers on this issue:

    Thanks so much for all you do – I’ve been following The Bleat (and other side pages on your blog that you curate) for years now, and greatly appreciate your books.

  9. Dan says:

    Who wants to go to space anyway? Nerds. Cool people want to post every thought they have on Facebook like it was the Sermon on the Mount. Our society is more interested in celebrating the trivia of daily life than actually accomplishing things. I actually read this statement on the comments page of a Toronto newspaper:”Knowledge is for losers.” We don’t want to do smart things like go to the moon, we want to accrue social status and be extremely excited about the fact that we exist. That’s we as individuals, not as a society. We have no magnificence in our souls now. All we have is Facebook and Google Plus on our iPads and iPhones. I plan to wear my Omega Speedmaster Professional for awhile to remind myself that there was once more to life than tweets and status updates.

  10. fizzbin says:

    Geezer that I am, I will not write off America and its people. We may very well be at an ebb, but the flow will resume soon enough. Navel gazing (social media) quickly bores. Better days lie ahead, or, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

  11. MJBirch says:

    Wow — so many thoughtful, provocative posts and space travel, the fiscal crisis, American imperialism and all I can think is…

    Richard Dreyfuss was in a “Bewitched” episode? As a warlock?

    I am hopelessly frivolous.

  12. MJBirch says:

    that is, ABOUT space travel, fiscal icks, American awfulness, etc.

  13. Fred Murre says:

    How is this any different than the lull between Apollo and the Shuttle? The ISS won’t fall onto Australia like SkyLab did. How was that for embarassing?

    Just because we’re retiring a big winged spaceplane that suffers a catastrophic failure every 50 flights and can never go beyond Earth Orbit, just around and around and around.

    What impresses me more, is that we’re at the cusp of having private industry taking us to orbit. SpaceX has already successfully flown their Dragon Capsule unmanned, and Boeing and Lockheed’s Capsule based ships don’t seem to be particularly likely to flop. Virgin Galactic is set to offer routine pleasure flights beyond the atmosphere shortly, operating in the same territory that the cutting edge X-15 rocketplane did while the Apollo program was on.

  14. David R. says:

    I’ve lived through five other pauses in US manned space flight, from the year and a half between Mercury and Gemini to the six years between Apollo-Soyuz and shuttle. This is going to be another pause, probably 3-5 years, but will be up there again.

  15. swschrad says:

    @David R: the difference this time is not just that the lowest bidder is going to build those firebuckets.. they’re going to own, maintain, and sell tickets on them, too. we’ll have a bunch of Woo! factor lined up to take the availiable seats, and not much experimental value or discovery.

    in the past, we have had hardy adventurers walk the fine line on the border of the shadow of death because it was the right thing to do, we had a war on, this is necessary to develop microcomputer chips and packages that can operate at 600 degrees Celsius for 0.15 seconds… and I think you can stretch far enough to figure out what application that might be. it ain’t plowshares.

    now it’s going to be for pictures on getFaced book, and weird bachelor parties.

    and occasionally a NASA scientist will ride coach.

  16. crossdotcurve says:


    Talk about straw men. That’s quite a nit to pick. Easterbrook is correct. Take him on w.r.t. his cost/mission constraint claims.

    If you have a problem with him, then you also have a problem with Nobel physics Laureate Steven Weinberg:

    Money quote:

    “At bottom, manned space flight is a spectator sport, having about the same relation to science that intercollegiate football has to education.”

    Read the whole article.

  17. HunkybobTx says:

    I’ve been associated with the manned space program since 1989. I have devoted my adult life to it. I want to thank you, for allowing it to continue for as long as it has gone. I will not argue the merits of the Shuttle program. All I want to say is that I came out of college in 1989 a naive kid. But I learned some discipline, the meaning of teamwork, and what it means to be part of a mission. I served as a back room support engineer in the Payloads discipline. I had the opportunity to be a part of many amazing missions. I helped deploy two TDRS satellites, two DOD satellites, I was involved in three SPACEHAB missions. I helped to deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory, I was part of the team that put together the first parts of the Space Station. I have been a member of the team that monitored the shuttle’s wing leading edges for impacts.
    It was a great honor to be allowed to do this. I thank you, the taxpayers, who have allowed me and my colleagues to be part of this adventure.

    You should know that real space flight is nothing like the fiction that Hollywood has portrayed. In Hollywood there are Phasers and Transporters. In real spaceflight we inhibit the alarm limits on faulty sensors and concern ourselves with ratty communication links. But it’s all good. Thanks for everything. I hope the commercial guys will get their act together and make things happen sooner rTher than later.
    Ad Astra!

  18. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – ironic that the basic plot of Arthur C. Clark’s ’2010′ was that a couple American astronauts had to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft to get to the Discovery…

  19. Terry says:

    All the great nation/states of history declined when “we” became greater than “I”. Examples include Soviet Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, Kim Il Sung’s Korea, Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China, and of course Kahless’s Klingon . . .
    Those people who want to keep the fruits of their labor instead of letting me use it to achieve my goals are so selfish!

  20. HunkybobTX – Thank you.

  21. Patrick says:

    late to the game, as ever, but I should note: I watched the first shuttle blast off while watching a black and white television. I saw the last shuttle blast off (with my children) streaming on the internet. Don’t really know what to make of it, but time marches on.

  22. Tantor says:

    Ending the space shuttle is like the first fish who crawled up on land deciding to flop back in the ocean and stay there: There’s no water to sustain life out there! What’s the point?

    The Earth is humankind’s egg. We can’t stay here forever. Sooner or later, we have to leave and make a home in space, deep space. That means we must stay a spacefaring people.

    However convenient and cheap it is in the near term as a person or nation to stay on Earth, it is suicide for humans as a species to refuse to boldly go where no man has gone before.

  23. John says:


    I grew up marinading, as you say, in all of those cultural icons. We even had one of those oversized Moon maps, like you see hanging behind Lou Grant’s desk on the Mary Tyler Moore show.

    To boot, my father worked at Grumman on the LEM. Accountant for the project. White shirts, a fedora and horned-rim glasses. Got to take home as many schematics as he could carry for us to use as drawing paper. A Russian spy would have had a field day with the back of my 5-year old rainbow pictures hanging on the fridge.

    But’cha know what? The heck with that. By ending the government program, we just freed up all that intellectual capital to go work in the private space sector. Instead of empty promises, we will have orbiting hotels in 15 years. That will mark the *real* jumping off point for man’s colonization of the solar system and beyond.

  24. Aleta says:

    Please understand that manned space ain’t over: it’s just starting. Now it’s the commercial guys’ turn. If we’re not regulated out of existence (always a possibility, alas) then you should be able to buy a ticket for a suborbital flight in three or four years – and yes prices will come down because of competition and repetition, and keep an eye on SpaceX because they are getting to orbit right smartly.

  25. LoboSolo says:

    @crossdotcurve … Here is the real “money” quote … memorize it:

    No Buck Rogers … No bucks!

  26. Randy Brown says:

    @ HunkybobTx: How cool is that to find a fellow member of the JSC Payload Ops class of 1989 reading Lileks?! I agree 100% with what you so eloquently wrote. I, too, am proud and honored to have contributed to our manned space program, having, like James, followed the Apollo moon flights with awe as a child and hoping I might somehow have the opportunity to play a roll in our greatest adventure. I don’t regret one minute of it and would do it all over again if given the chance. The shuttle was a vehicle like no other, and I became attached to each one of them and their unique personalities (I’m sure you know what I mean). It is unfortunate that their time has ended before a replacement exists, but the commercial companies are now the future. I think we are only at the beginning.

  27. HC68 says:

    A little reality check might be in order, from a life-long space enthusiast. Manned space flight as such isn’t over, but the particular approach to it we’ve been using is, and not without some good reasons.

    It’s easy to wax nostalgic about Apollo…but the real reason America went to the Moon in 1969 was politics, not science, not the spirit of exploration, just plain old politics. Partly geopolitical agitprop for the Cold War, even more JFK’s need for something ‘big’ after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. JFK was never a big space enthusiast as such, and if the Bay of Pigs had gone well, or hadn’t happened at all, it’s probably better than even odds nobody would yet have walked on the Moon.

    The Apollo Project was a magnificent _tour de force_, a wonder of the age. It was also an anachronism, the technology was and is simply not yet equal to the challenge of economically practical space flight. It worked, but requried rube goldbergesque approaches, was incredibly dangerous, and totally impractical for _doing_ anything other than visiting and brief scientific activities.

    All the elaborate subsequent dreams foundered partly for the lack of the necessary technological underpinnings, and just as much because they didn’t recognize the real-world _political_ basis of Apollo. LBJ was trying to get out of JFK’s shadow, it wasn’t in his interest to push big missions beyond Apollo. Nixon, likewise, had no particular reason to extend JFK’s projects. Carter was hostile to space flight in general, Reagan favored it but faced hostile Congresses and ever-increasing demands for money for the Cold War and sustaing the entitlements.

    So visions like manned Mars mission and L-5 habitats were never more than daydreams, even in the 70s. The necessary technology and political basis just were not there. They were _never_ there, we didn’t lose the will because we never really had it in the first place.

    Right now, with essentially every Western nation facing a double-whammy of debt and demographic problems, conditions just aren’t right for a big wave of expansion even if the tech was in place. When your fertility rate is blow 2.1, you have all you can do to sustain yourself, you can’t colonize or expand.

    But that’s today. The future will eventually bring changes.

  28. barkingmad59 says:

    HunkybobTX- thank you for your service. I hope our days of exploration are not over.

    Dan- I wish I could sig your entire post, on every board and blog I visit, just to watch the ‘OMG I’m Facebooking in the shower!!!’ crowd implode. We are in touch more than ever, but communicate so much less….

  29. ern says:

    I don’t know. So what if China has a moon shot on their calendar? We did that forty years ago. The era of state-run space exploration is over. China can go ahead and waste tons of money to get a man on the moon if it wants to. By the time they pull it off, private US companies will already be filling out low-Earth orbit with their own manned spacecraft, and they’ll be doing it more cheaply than anyone else. And cheap is key.

    The problem with government-run space exploration is that the incentive is to make things big and expensive. There’s no drive toward affordability and efficiency. State-run enterprises can be useful, of course, but they’re never going to be mass-produced. Government doesn’t do that. It can’t do that. It’s incapable. So China goes off and does its thing. Big deal.

    It actually reminds me of Peter Hamilton’s “Pandora’s Star” (I think that’s the right book, it’s been awhile) where the government spends all this money on a manned mission to Mars. Years later (and untold billions of dollars later) it arrives. The astronaut steps out onto the surface of Mars, only to find that some dude in a homebuilt space-suit has arrived there first, having invented a whole new technology for producing wormholes.

    Let China have it’s 20th-century project. There’s a host of good reasons we don’t want that anymore.

  30. FxConde says:

    Space is the next area for economic expansion and yet we Americans seem to be lost. I recommend highly
    “A step farther out” By Jerry Pournelle and if you can still get it “The Third Industrial Revolution” by G. Harry Stine. Read them and pass them on to as many people as you can find who are willing to read them. America is still capable of doing great things, it just needs to be reminded.

  31. [...] Those were the voyages Just got hung up on the “why?” part, it seems. Also the “how” and the “how much” and other details. I can see the reason for taking our time – develop new engines, perfect technology, gather the money and the will. It’s not like anything’s going anywhere. But it’s not like we’re going anywhere if we’re not going anywhere, either – when nations, cultures stop exploring, it’s a bad sign. You’re ceding the future. If you have a long view that regards nation-states as quaint relics of a time in human history when maps had lines – really, you can’t see them from space! We’re all one, you know – then it doesn’t matter whether China or the US puts a flag on Mars. It’s possible a Chinese Mars expedition would commemorate the first boot on red soil with a statement that spoke for everyone on the planet, not a particular culture or nation. It’s possible. But history would remember that they chose to go, and we chose not to. [...]

  32. Zoe Brain says:

    There are so many problems the US faces in having a manned space program.

    1. Lack of Leadership. President Obama’s attitude towards establishing a lunar base is

    “We’ve been there before”

    .He sees the manned space program as a series of bigger and better publicity stunts. His speeches are statements of intent for a plan to be made by someone, sometime, in the nebulous future, details to be worked out by future administrations.

    “We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history…By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”

    But nothing concrete during his administration.

    2. Congressional Pork. The attitude of the POTUS is actually an advabce on the attitude of Congress, The whole space program is seen as a way of buying votes for individual congresscritters, funneling money to their congressional districts. If nothing actually gets accomplished, so much the better, as it means the largesse will continue. The last thing they want is the gravy train to be derailed by premature success.

    3. The “Can Do” attitude of NASA administration – along with blatant dishonesty trying to sell their projects by minimising the likely costs, and over-promising performance. Then when they only get 70% of the money actually needed, not having the guts to say “no, we can’t do this, either give us what’s needed or don’t waste money on a project that’s doomed from the start.”

    4. Misinformation amongst the general public about the situation. Many people think the US is routinely flying not just Interplanetary manned missions, but Interstellar ones. That we have FTL. They don’t realise that our current capabilities are about the same as they were in 1960.

    5. Misinformation amongst the general public about the budget allocated to NASA. Many think it must be 10% or higher. Some think it must be 30%, or more, rivalling HEW or the Dept of Defence. In fact, it’s 0.5c in the dollar. The total amount spent under the Obama administration on space development is far less than was spent to bail out GM.

    I expect a Chinese permanent presence on the Moon by 2050. Probably not self-sustaining by then, but lunar exploration being about as routine as Antarctic exploration today (ie not very). And just as with Antarctica, the discovery of lots of resources too, to be developed in the century after that. The Moon is an excellent place to make the “baby steps” needed before tackling Mars and the Belt.

    I don’t see the USA participating in this, though US companies may dominate LEO by then.

  33. Jessica Mink says:

    I think that the US has not had the will to spend what it takes to be present in space since the end of the last Cold War. It also seems that we haven’t realized that the next Cold War has started and that we are losing it to the Chinese. It is hard to believe that when I was in grad school a few decades ago, I was part of a group of people who spent their spare time thinking up details of space colonies in the O’Neill mold which we thought would be built over the next few decades.

    Things are still happening at the forefront of exploration, though. I am surrounded by people finding and developing models for planets around other stars, something which we envisioned as being further in the future than space colonies. It is a lot cheaper to send our thoughts into space than our bodies, and there is still a lot of exploration we can do, that we will *have to do* for the little that we will get out of a generally science-apathetic Congress.

  34. Mike J says:

    I’ve been working in the “government” manned space program for twenty years now, and am sorry to see the Shuttle go, even as much as I agree with the critics that a government program is probably not as efficient or competitive as the free market could possibly produce. If there is a buck to be made, in low earth orbit or outside earth orbit, sooner or later we’ll get there, and I fully expect American companies will wind up somewhere out there at the leading edge of the wagon-trains-to-space that I think a lot of us, even inside the government programs, wish to see succeed.

    I always recognize that the work I get paid to do is funded on the backs of the taxpayer, and comes at the expense of some other activity that either could be done by the government or by the private citizen if that money wasn’t taken out of their pocket at the point of a gun. While there are fair criticisms of our programs and how we manage them, I do hope that in hindsight, we’ve at least managed to make most of you proud with how we’ve spent your money, and hopefully we have pioneered the knowledge, techniques and engineering that will permit our nation and our culture to become the dominant one which populates more of our own solar system in the years ahead.

    Hearteflt respect and appreciation to our Shuttles, and my own thanks to all those who’ve sacrificed their efforts, time and in sad cases lives, towards trying to keep us moving outward into a new frontier. Now we need to all do our best to help the commercial world pick up where we are leaving off.

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