Triple B Flashback: Paging Mr. Willis

Editor’s Note:  For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 8 on our countdown is a column from April 22, 2013.

A few weeks back the Presidential budget was released.

This is a mostly symbolic gesture as the initial budget release is rarely the same as the budget that is agreed to and approved by Congress.

The Space Shuttle Launch Pad being torn down to make room for future vehicles that may land on an asteroid. Photo R. Anderson

The Space Shuttle Launch Pad being torn down to make room for future vehicles that may land on an asteroid.
Photo R. Anderson

While I did not have the time to read the budget in its entirety, one particular item caught my attention, and not in a good way.

Under the budget portion for NASA a plan to “lasso” an asteroid and bring it closer to earth was presented as a goal to be completed by 2025.

The justification for the asteroid lassoing mission being that it will provide a good opportunity to study asteroids up close and help guide future manned missions beyond low earth orbit.

Now, let me stop for a minute and point out that I am a huge fan of the space program and believe that exploration of space is good. I have also had many family members who have worked on various space programs, so the issue of space exploration is near and dear to my heart.

Mission Control in Houston could some day talk to astronauts walking on an asteroid under the current budget. Photo R. Anderson

Mission Control in Houston could some day talk to astronauts walking on an asteroid under the current budget.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, with all that said, I really cannot get behind the goal to bring an asteroid closer to Earth for study.

After all, if movies with Bruce Willis as a oil-drilling roughneck, and Morgan Freeman as the President have taught me anything it is that asteroids being close to earth is almost always a bad thing.

In both Deep Impact and Armageddon the Earth was threatened by an asteroid and actions had to be taken as a result. In some way I am sure that the mission to the asteroid would be made to show options to divert the Earth killing rocks from attacking but still why would you bring a potentially earth damaging rock closer?

While some want asteroids to be the future the past included talking to men on the moon from this room. Photo R. Anderson

While some want asteroids to be the future the past included talking to men on the moon from this room.
Photo R. Anderson

Ok, so the “baby asteroid” that they want to study would not be big enough to destroy the earth but it could certainly cause havoc in other ways that would need to be fully understood before such a mission could occur.

Also, in the words of the late George Hamilton, “it’s going to take a whole lot of spending money to do it right.”

Of course if history of funding the space program is any indication, the asteroid mission and related vision could very well be changed or scrapped altogether by the next President’s administration.

At the height of the Apollo Program, and with three rockets left to launch, President Nixon decided funds would be better spent on the Space Shuttle Program. So we had Skylab circling waiting for a boost from the Space Shuttle that never came and the three Saturn V moon rockets left on Earth became museum pieces.

A head on view of the Saturn V engines that helped the Apollo astronauts reach the moon. Photo R. Anderson

A head on view of the Saturn V engines that helped the Apollo astronauts reach the moon.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, having the full size rockets on the ground for people to see is not entirely bad. If you have never had the chance to stand next to the Saturn V rocket I highly recommend it as something like it will likely never be built again.

When one considers that the amount of computing strength to complete the moon missions was less than the equivalent of what is in most dollar store calculators today it makes the feat even more impressive.

And to you conspiracy theorists who still believe that we never went to the moon and it was all just an elaborate hoax on a Hollywood sound stage I say that it is time to remove the foil hat and face reality.

The Moon Landing locations. Photo R. Anderson

The Moon Landing locations.
Photo R. Anderson

So, the moon program beget the Space Shuttle Program which did many things while circling the earth. Satellites were launched, experiments were conducted and the International Space Station was built.

While the Space Shuttle accomplished many wonderful achievements, there was also a dark side to the Program with the loss of 14 astronauts. Seven died during launch on Challenger and seven more were killed upon reentry of Columbia.

It was after the loss of Columbia that President George W. Bush decided to cancel the Shuttle Program in favor of the Orion Project which would return to a Apollo like capsule design and return man to the moon by 2017.

In an odd coincidence, much like with the retirement of Apollo there were three remaining launch vehicles that became museum pieces. While technically there would be four if one counts Enterprise I am merely counting the flown vehicles for the purpose of the analogy.

Space Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad.
Photo R. Anderson

I have had the opportunity to stand under the Space Shuttle and will also suggest that anyone who has the chance do the same in order to fully grasp the scale of the vehicles that flew so many missions over their 30 years in service.

Unfortunately a funny thing happened on the way to the moon and the Shuttle’s trip to museum life. President Obama decided to cancel the lunar program and set sites on commercial delivery of crew and cargo to the space station and the recently unveiled asteroid mission.

In the meantime with the Shuttle retired, the once great United States Space Program has to depend on rides that it purchase from Russia to get their crew up to the International Space Station.

I get that some people think we have already gone to the moon so why go back when there is more to discover else where in space but for me I don’t think we even scratched the surface of what the moon can teach us.

Space Shuttle Endeavour en route to retirement in California. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Endeavour en route to retirement in California.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course I am also of the generation that thought we would have flying cars, moon bases and kelp farms under the oceans by now. And where is my personnel jet pack?

So maybe the asteroid mission is supposed to inspire another generation of scientists to explore new worlds and new areas in space. I just think there are better ways to do that.

And if the asteroids do come and someone that looks like Bruce Willis is having to stay behind to save us all, I will definitely not watch as he says goodbye to his daughter. I still cannot watch that scene in Armageddon without getting a little watery eyed. It is amazing how the dust bunnies know to attack my eyes at just that moment.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call and see if the place that I got my robot attack insurance carries asteroid insurance as well.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson