A beautiful tragedy of the commons
April 17, 2012 1 Comment
So I got to see Discovery on her final flight today, and was able to watch from both from the Roosevelt bridge and from Herndon. This is the first time in my life I’ve seen a spacecraft in flight, and she was beautiful. I had previously written about seeing the Enterprise docked at Udvar-Hazy, and this had a similar effect on me.
In one way, this is beautiful: American engineering at its most triumphant – this is the culmination of vast quantities of time and treasure spent in an entirely peaceful pursuit. But in another, this is tragic: this marks the end of an aspirational era. Now our horizons are that much closer, and our world is that much smaller.
Now I know, there’s other countries out there doing stuff – the Chinese are aggressively working on developing their space program, the Europeans have a well-established commercial industry for LEO work, and of course the Russians are still keeping the ISS going via Soyuz. I have some hope that the various private American firms working on commercial manned space work will have some success – heck, I saw that the SpaceX Dragon has received permission to dock with the ISS on April 30, and that’s an excellent accomplishment. But honestly the Dragon looks a lot like a more slightly larger, more modern version of a Gemini (Titan II) capsule. I know it’s more cost effective, but it sure doesn’t seem like this is much of a step forward. Then again, the success of Ethernet and IP over the past 30 years was significantly aided by them being cheaper and easier than their competitors, so perhaps cost-effective really is the thing for which we should aim.
But it sure doesn’t feel like we’re swinging for the fence on this one.