Friday, July 8, 2011

One last time

The space shuttle Atlantis is off on its last trip. It will carry 8000 pounds of supplies to the international space station, and will be back after two weeks. This will be the 135th, and the last, flight of the shuttle program, which was once both vibrant and useful, and managed to repair the Hubble space telescope. Budget cuts have forced NASA to cut down the shuttle program, to a point where NASA staff got demoralised and left in droves, making it difficult to find crews and support for the space shuttle.

Debates on the scientific utility of manned versus unmanned space programs, are heavily tilted towards unmanned programs, which are supposed to be more cost effective, and carry out better thought out science programs. Still, no one who has seen the speck on the TV screen expand out into a full fledged space craft will forget the shuttle, any more than they will forget that they once watched a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon.

Did anyone catch the classical allusion?

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.


Venkataraman said...

You mean Star Wars?

Neelima said...

No, not Star Wars, though that's a reasonable guess. Much older than that!

vbalki said...

If we're thinking about the same thing: it wasn't a speck but a short hunk of bone chucked up by one of our primate ancestors that dissolved, most astonishingly, into a spacecraft on an earth-luna run---one of Kubrick's best shots in the incomparable Odyssey...what an incredible way to summarize 50,000 years of history!

But maybe you're talking of something else.

BTW, it would have been cheaper to have sent up a new Hubble than repairing it using the space shuttle. The romance of manneed space exploration apart (and that is a very old argument, indeed), I think the day is not far off when the integration of human minds with those of its machines will be so good that robots exploring space will feel exactly like humans are doing so directly. So the argument will be settled in the best way possible.

Neelima said...

Actually my classical allusion was in the second half of the sentence. There is a song by Neil Diamond whose refrain is `saw a man named Armstrong, walk upon the moon'.

However, it is interesting how the speck becoming a spacecraft invoked resonances for everyone. For me, it was quite literal. I saw the Columbia come into the desert in 1981. It looked quite a bit like Luke Skywalker's ship coming in, in Star Wars, but that was before Columbia, not after, so life followed art (at least movies)!