Culture: April 2012 Archives

Lighting a rocket is easy; tough part is controlling it, making parts work together, AP

"Anybody can make something go boom. Controlling it is hard," said former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace, director of space policy at George Washington University. ... "In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is `Star Trek'," Pace said. "Captain Picard says `engage' and the ship moves. And people think `How hard can this be?'"

Keith's note: This is an odd thing for Scott Pace to say given that he's a very smart guy. If anything, Star Trek is often NASA's best friend. For several generations it has been Star Trek and other popular TV shows and movies that have so totally embedded the value and need to explore space within the minds of the citizens whose taxes keep NASA going. When cuts are proposed for NASA, what memes do supporters and energized taxpayers cite? Of course they use lines and themes about exploration and inspiration that you hear Star Trek characters saying.

When everything goes right, NASA loves to bask in the glowing PR and does not deter people from lofty comparisons to Star Trek. But when something goes wrong (or might go wrong) they like to lower expectations and say "Rocket science is hard". And yet, NASA seems to do it right nearly all the time, leading one to logically ask 'so how hard can this be'? This is the problem with NASA. They want to have it both ways.



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