Wednesday, March 23, 2005

As a matter of fact, it is rocket science.

OK, kids. Here’s a fun fact that slipped through the history books.

This is one of those blindingly obvious points that makes you go “Yeah, of course,” when it’s mentioned. Except, it’s very rarely mentioned.

The American space program, from the Mercury missions through the Apollo missions, was a vast detour from the original concept.

Ah, the glorious 60s. The Cold War. How fun was that? America had a space race with the Russians to get to the moon. Everybody knows that. What everybody forgets: the original concept was to develop a – for want of a better term – "space shuttle" that could take off from the earth, go into space, return to the earth, and land. Otherwise known as a rocket plane.

We shelved that concept in favor of space capsules on top of disposable rockets that splash-landed from freaking parachutes. Which is sort of like Columbus sailing to America and burning his boats.

It was a quick-and-dirty, short term solution aimed at beating the Reds to the moon. A flag-waving publicity stunt. An ego-boost. Far as that went, it worked great. In terms of creating the infrastructure of a space-faring civilization, it was a trip to nowhere.

The shuttle program that finally emerged was a half-assed concept – not a true space plane. It’s no wonder that two of them exploded.

Now, George W. Bush has pushed NASA back in the direction of disposable rockets and space capsules that have to be fished out of the ocean like giant tub toys. It’s so idiotic I could cry.

Ah well. To prove I'm not simply raving, the above vid clip has Werner Von Braun (“I aim for the stars – I hit London”) explaining his original space plane concept. A made-for-kiddies film short from the friendly folks at the Walt Disney Corporation.


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