Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Last gasp of the shuttle

Today the U.S. Space Shuttle blasted off into a new era for the U.S. space program -- an era where the Shuttle will be used only for flights to the Space Station, and only as necessary to complete the Space Station and keep it in orbit.

This is a far cry from the Shuttle's original promise -- as a cheap and reusable way to get people and cargo into orbit. The technology did not exist to do this when the Shuttle was being designed in the mid to late 1970's, and it is unclear whether it exists today. Instead, what the Shuttle ended up being was an awkward and complex compromise, sort of like the Bradley combat vehicle -- large, clumsy, expensive, prone to breakdowns, and overly fragile due to all the conflicting demands that it was required to fulfill.

The U.S. is supposed to have a replacement for the Shuttle within the next 5 years, basically a combination of a heavy lifter for cargo and an aerospace plane for people. It is doubtful whether this will happen. The era of America as a "can-do" nation is coming to a close. As with the Roman Empire in its latter days, the will and means to maintain the Imperial infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly, and her ability to perform massive and prodigous engineering feats has already disappeared.

While the late Roman Empire was capable of the occasional engineering feat, the Rome that built the highways to the four corners of the known world and the massive aquaducts that allowed millions to live in Rome and Byzantium had already passed. And similarly, the America that could go from no man in space to a man on the moon in eight years, that could build something of the vast scale and complexity as the Space Shuttle, is passed on, dead, gone, lost in hate, lost in fear, lost in ignorance and incompetence as her leaders became increasingly corrupt, incompetent, and (in the case of Mad King George) deranged and out of touch with reality.

As with the late Roman Empire, the American Empire has been literally drained of its wealth via warfare and single-sided commerce where the Empire exports its wealth to import luxuries, but does not itself manufacture anything worth exporting, while petty tyrants squabble for the Imperial sceptre while the Empire crumbles around them. With the destruction of the American educational system, the crumbling of the infrastructure, and the lack of Imperial competence on the part of her rulers, the days of America the Great are swiftly slipping into the past. And with it, alas, the opportunity for the conquest of the Solar System are similarly slipping into the past...

It appears, now, that the human race will strangle itself in its cradle, as the world slowly deteriorates into constant warfare and pain as the survivors squabble over the few remaining resources and the environment is slowly poisoned until major parts of the planet become unlivable. It didn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. But without a dream, without a lie that is a dream that can come true, this is how it shall be. We are monkeys squabbling over turf, hooting and howling and throwing feces at each other. And right now, it appears that this is all we ever be, until we as a race go the way of the dinosaurs and the wooly mammoth.

- Badtux the Historian Penguin


  1. I think your rant ended up in a different place than where it started, but I enjoyed the trip.

    Don't worry, the Chinese will take up the slack in space.

  2. I couldn't bring myself to watch the lift-off. Now that the parts fell off , I don't think I'll be able to bring myself to watch as it returns to earth.


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