SETI [Fwd: Replies to Kretsch and Smith]

Robert Owen (
Fri, 24 Sep 1999 17:19:50 -0400

Larry Klaes wrote:

> >From: "Bruce Moomaw" <>
> >To: "Icepick Europa Mailing List" <>
> >Subject: Replies to Kretsch and Smith
> >Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 13:48:45 -0700
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> > First of all, a question to the Group: Does anyone out there have
> >any information about just what programs were cut by the Senate's $120
> >million reduction in space science funding below Clinton's request? I can't
> >locate anything on it.
> > Second: I hope no one out there takes my irascible tone too
> >seriously. I tend not to send E-mails (and letters to the editor) unless I
> >feel strongly about something, which means that my philosophy frequently
> >turns out to be, "If you can't say something nasty, don't say anything at
> >all."
> > Now, then: I agree with Guy Smith about the safety of radioactively
> >fueled spacecraft after they reach escape velocity -- but not for the same
> >reason. As I noted once before, several years ago NASA sensibly decided
> >that Cassini would be the very last nuclear-fueled spacecraft to get a boost
> >into the outer solar system by making a gravity-assist flyby of Earth. From
> >now on, all such flybys will be of Venus or Mars (which isn't very hard to
> >arrange). So that problem has vanished -- all we have to worry about is the
> >launch safety, which is why I've been making such a whoop-de-doo about an
> >armored cask for the nuclear parts of the spacecraft that could be ejected
> >as soon as it hit escape velocity.
> > By the way, the reason for the startling Mars failure is pretty
> >clear in retrospect -- a few days ago, I read an article pointing out that
> >the Vikings had a ground operations crew of 500 people, but that Mars
> >Observer had only 200, and this year's two Mars spacecraft together had only
> >40! Somebody made a mistake in calculations, and this time there weren't
> >enough other people around to catch it. (It's interesting that, among the
> >failures of better-faster-cheaper spacecraft so far, the failure of the
> >Lewis satellite and the partial failure of Clementine were also due to
> >overly small ground control crews.) NASA is now learning what Japan and
> >Lockheed Martin have also recently learned -- you can't do too much with too
> >little money. I must admit, though, that when I read yesterday morning what
> >had caused the failure, my eyes bugged out. There were quite a few ways
> >that mission could have failed, but I never dreamed that JPL would end up
> >staging the first interplanetary fender-bender.
> > One consolatory note: At least this failure won't hold up the rest
> >of the Mars exploration program -- as a failure of MGS would have and the
> >failure of the upcoming 2001 Mars Orbiter would, since they're very
> >important to identify promising sample-return landing sites. The Mars
> >Surveyor 98 missions have an odd status -- they were selected in 1995, after
> >the Mars Surveyor program was started but before the hoohah over the Mars
> >meteorite's possible fossils led NASA to officially redefine it as primarily
> >exobiological. During 1994 and '95, the program regarded Mars' climate,
> >volatiles and potential for life as being equally important -- and so the
> >'98 missions were selected to study the first two. The Polar Lander and the
> >2001 Lander could also both fail without holding up the later missions. (I
> >note, though, that Daniel McCleese -- the head of the PMIRR instrument
> >team -- says he's very reluctant to drag himself through all this a third
> >time.)
> > Now, in response to Mike Kretsch: Of course a manned space program
> >will have some useful spinoffs. My point is: How much scientific and
> >technological bang for the buck would we get if we spent that huge amount of
> >money in other research fields -- including your own suggestions of ocean
> >and desert research, with their great environmental importance? How much
> >would we get if we spent that amount in medicine, or energy production and
> >conservation, or agricultural research? Any of those would also produce a
> >legion of useful spinoffs (many of them totally unanticipatable) in addition
> >to their direct returns. The "spinoff" argument so often used to justify
> >the space program simply doesn't work.
> > (As for fusion, while I'm as skeptical of the efficiency of
> >government programs as you, the impression I get is that the long delay in
> >producing controlled fusion is mostly due to the simple fact that it has
> >turned out to be a staggeringly difficult technological feat -- probably the
> >most difficult the human race has yet attempted. I'm not sure we would have
> >done much better with privately funded research.)
> > And, as for Jeff Teolis' long (and polite) response to my
> >ill-tempered letter, I'll respond to you a little later directly, since like
> >you I don't want to clutter up the Europa Website with our debate.
> >
> > Bruce Moomaw
> >
> >
> >==
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Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA

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