Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Houston, We Have a Sham

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"No way! They're in space? Like the Muppets?"

Once upon a time, space exploration was the thing in America. We wanted to beat the Russians into space, wanted to get there, collect some space rocks, sell freeze-dried ass-tasting ice cream to kids at science museums, build houses made of glass and fly around in floaty Jetson cars. My mother's generation assumed they'd have summer homes on Mars and little pet aliens. Every launch was a huge deal. Then, somewhere along the way, it became less cool to be into space. People carried cell phones in sassy shoulder bags, the Brat Pack owned Hollywood, and we had better things to do than care about space travel. Earth seemed to be working out fairly well, so why bother until we completely fuck it up?
Then the Challenger blew up. Then people cared about space travel again for a while. It was a sad thing, but it takes a tragedy to get people talking. Then things went well again, and tourists would occasionally go to Florida to watch a launch but we were too busy with the Internet. Then the Columbia blew up. I don't really remember the Challenger, but I remember walking around the Shaws on Comm Ave and watching the President speak about eagles and God and sacrifice after the Columbia crash-- the typical hollow Presidential tradgedy-speak-- and I had goosebumps. Dying in a shuttle crash must be a far more intense version of dying on a rollercoaster-- you know you're tempting fate, but you believe you're going to make it, and then you don't.
Now, two years later, the Discovery is back in space after several delays and problems. Today, the astronauts took a space walk to repair part of their ship that was broken. It's not a huge deal, and the crew "probably" would have made it back, but NASA is milking this for all it's worth. "Somebody might die! Pay attention! Buy your freeze-dried ice cream at the science museum once more, America!"
Does anyone else think we're being duped? First NASA delayed the launch because of "technical problems." Twice. The news ran with it (Yahoo!'s homepage had the little Big News box full of stuff about the shuttle, while that format is usually reserved for huge news like terrorist attacks) and people waited with baited breath to watch the carnage. Now there's a spacewalk to fix something that may or may not have been a problem. Can't we fix shit on Earth before we send a group of people into space in an unsafe vehicle?
I suspect King George's hand is in this somewhere. He wants to start colonizing the moon and get space travel going again. But at a cost of about $16 billion, most Americans are going to point out that old people need medicine, our schools are in disrepair and we'd maybe like to have a clean environment before we start picking out collars for our alien puppies, so all it takes is the threat of danger, the eagles and bravery talk, some romantic pictures of the dead astronauts and people are clamboring to show those terrorists-- er, whoever we can blame this tragedy on-- who's boss by trashing the moon as well as Earth. It's manipulative.
I wish nothing but the best for the astronauts. It must be amazing to be in space, to look down on Earth and contemplate how far humanity has come in the past few thousand years. I just don't want to be manipulated by the government. Grow some funny tomatoes and run some tests and bring them back home safely.

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