Next, they’ll be dropping bombs on us like rocks from a highway overpass

No, this is not a reference to the report that terrorists are now planning to board planes with surgically-implanted bombs — although we can talk about that if you’d like.

I was just facetiously invoking Tom Wolfe’s characterization of the hysteria in this country when Sputnik went up. I don’t think any politician actually said “the Soviets would send up space platforms from which they could drop nuclear bombs at will, like rocks from a highway overpass,” but I enjoyed Wolfe’s hyperbolic description of the concerns of House Speaker John McCormack.

Anyway, I thought of that when I realized that the Russians are about to have the monopoly on space travel:

The last U.S. space shuttle is scheduled to blast off Friday. After that, the U.S. and other nations will rely on vintage Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to the $100 billion station. Russia will hold a monopoly over manned spaceflight, and tensions already are rising. The Russians are in the process of nearly tripling the cost of using their Soyuz crew capsules for transport to the orbiting base, and other countries have little choice but to pay up.

“We are not in a very comfortable situation, and when I say uncomfortable, that is a euphemism,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, one of five international agencies that jointly manage the orbiting laboratory. “We made a collective mistake.”

While there is less chance today of our going to sleep “by the light of a communist moon” (as LBJ warned), I still find this development disturbing.

I miss the halcyon days when this country did exciting stuff in space (and the Shuttle, essentially a space bus driving around the block, never quite qualified). I’m ready for Mars.

15 thoughts on “Next, they’ll be dropping bombs on us like rocks from a highway overpass

  1. Steve Gordy

    NASA spending falls under the heading of “non-defense discretionary spending”, which is the only category that ever seems to be up for cuts. Until the American public comes to some firm conclusions about wasteful spending vs. non-wasteful spending, programs like space will lose every time.

  2. Nick Nielsen

    Ya gotta have an economy to have money to spend, and we’ve been shipping ours overseas for the past 40 years…

  3. Ralph Hightower

    I get so mad when I hear people blame Obama for killing the Constellation project. Friday, on the bus back from the NASA Causeway after watching the launch, I heard one person say that the space program will resume when we get a Republican president.

    Yes, Obama did cancel Constellation, but the root cause of Constellation being behind schedule was because Bush never fully funded the program, nor did he lobby Congress to fully fund it.

    NASA’s budget is less than 1% of the federal budget.

    It’s frustrating to me because we don’t have a “next launch system”.

    There is the SLS, derisively called the Senate Launch System, because Senators are telling NASA how to design a rocket using companies located in their states.
    Part 1:
    Part 2:

  4. Brad

    What?!?!? Obama killed the Constellation program! I’ll never forgive him…

    Seriously, I didn’t know about that. I couldn’t have even named the Constellation program, because while I’m fairly knowledgeable about the race to the moon, and particularly the Mercury program (thanks in large part to Tom Wolfe), my attention has been gradually turning away from NASA since the last moon flight. Possibly a bit before that.

    Oh, I get excited every few years when a president throws in “Let’s go to Mars!” into a State of the Union, but I really haven’t kept up.

    But I think it’s scandalous that after we mothball this shuttle, the United States, 42 years after landing on the moon, will not have a single operating spacecraft.

    Good thing Robert Heinlein didn’t live to see this. Or Werner von Braun, either…

  5. Brad

    When’s the last time this nation –public or private sector — took on something difficult, something that seemed impossible, and went ahead and did it?

    OK, so we have cool cellphones. Whoopte-frickin-do…

  6. Doug Ross

    “When’s the last time this nation –public or private sector — took on something difficult, something that seemed impossible, and went ahead and did it?”

    The private sector does it every day.

    As for the government, the space program was a party trick. Not sure it helped society in general. I’m sure the poor people in Appalachia love watching them purty pictures of rocketships. Helps them forget the gnawing hunger.

    But I’m a reality guy. Never did get Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. Don’t care what is beyond the top of the highest mountain or beneath the deepest ocean. There’s plenty enough on this earth to keep me occupied.

  7. `Kathryn Fenner

    “OK, so we have cool cellphones. Whoopte-frickin-do…”

    This from some one whose smartphone seems grafted to his hand?

  8. Mark Stewart

    The final frontier is death. We need to explore, as people and as Americans.

    Going out into space seems a whole lot easier than journeying to the center of the earth – so that’s where we ought to go, to the next easiest place, farther into space. That’s what Christopher Columbus was trying to do. And the Siberians who walked across the Alutian ice bridge, and everyone else before or since.

    Who’s content with being just what we are now as a society?

  9. Brad

    I feel like we’ve been… stagnant… since we quit going to the moon. As a country, as a species.

    I mean, we’ve been busy and all, but just going in circles. Literally.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    I am slightly older than NASA is, so I grew up watching NASA launches on TV, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. I continued to follow the Space Shuttle. A few years ago, hell froze over when Time Warner Cable added NASA TV to their cable lineup. Prior to that, I had to use the Internet to watch NASA TV.

    Yea, LEO (Low Earth Orbit) is going around in circles; but that’s the limit of the Space Shuttle’s reach.

    I doubt that we’ll see anything capable like the Space Shuttle that is able to haul cargo up and bring cargo back down. All the supply ships from Russia, Europe, and Japan are designed to burn up in the atmosphere.

  11. `Kathryn Fenner

    I guess I figure when we adequately fund the core functions of government: infrastructure, care for the young, sick and elderly, education…then we can talk “space”–we need to step up on funding basic research right here on Earth, which is a heck of a lot cheaper, as well as safer….


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