Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, August 05, 2005

Scuttle the Shuttle?

Kent Budge has a good grasp of the economics and technology involved. He says:

It is time to retire the Shuttle.

One of the reasons for doing so would apply even if the original Shuttle concept and design were sound, and NASA was a tight, well-managed organization. The Shuttle is 30-year-old technology. It is time to design and build a new vehicle that incorporates thirty years' worth of lessons in spaceflight and advances in aerospace technology.

But the problems with the Shuttle go beyond its age. Some technology, such as the B-52 bomber, have aged so gracefully that they have remained in use for longer than I have been alive. This points to an excellent concept and fundamentally sound design. One cannot say the same about the Shuttle while keeping a straight face.

The Shuttle design was
a poor compromise among conflicting requirements. NASA wanted to build a starship, but it promised to deliver the spaceflight equivalent of the C-47 -- a reliable cargo craft for taking equipment and personnel into orbit. They ended up with a vastly complicated and overdesigned vehicle that was neither a cost-effective and safe transport nor a vehicle to the stars.

While we're at it, maybe it's time to retire NASA. --Oh, I know. It's impossible to retire a government bureaucracy. Even when you "replace" an old organization with a "new" one, the same faces quickly show up at the "new" agency.
He concludes with some questions:

NASA's own missions have shown that there is very little desirable real estate in the Solar System, which makes one wonder whether there are any real prospects of ever colonizing space. So what's the point? Are the arguments for manned space flight powerful enough to justify funding it with taxes drawn from ordinary working people?
In his opening remarks, Kent votes "no". But there is much more to his argument than the snippets I've presented here.
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