Policy: August 2015 Archives

The Martian message, Eric Sterner, Space Review

"Surely, several interests want to capitalize on the melding of film and speculative reality. Damon recently visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he talked about his role, and NASA's website proudly uses the opportunity to explain the real NASA-developed technologies portrayed in the movie. It can only do a space advocate's heart good when Hollywood seems to discover the same sense of excitement in space that we see and experience every day. Sadly, if the space community seeks to turn The Martian into a commercial for sending people to Mars, we will fail miserably. The 2000 movie Castaway was nominated for multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Tom Hanks. It did not increase public support for sending people to deserted islands. Neither will The Martian bring them closer to Mars."

Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure, earlier post

"... when several space-themed movie blockbusters really get the public's attention the same space advocates whine when America doesn't rush to embrace their own peculiar space exploration notions and blame the movie's scripts for not being in precise tune with the niche views of the true space believers. ... If all anyone in the space advocacy community can think of doing involves adoring lame PR Mars mission stunts and grabbing the coat tails of sci fi flicks in hope of sniffing the fumes of the film's success, then I fear there is very little of true substance for space advocates to actually be advocating."

Keith's note: Its great that NASA is involved with "The Martian" - as it has been with other movies. To say that there are no potential synergies would be totally incorrect. But for space advocates to expect some detectible shift in space policy as the result of a space movie is naive. I heard all of this expectant hoopla from the space world back when the twin (bad) films "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars" were set to be released. Nothing happened. For all its prescient majesty, "2001: A Space Odyssey" did not result in a plus-up for the FY 1969 NASA budget. As always, Eric Sterner makes excellent points that echo my earlier rants on this topic. Yet what Eric writes (as with what I rant) will only be read by space advocates. And space advocates are notoriously adept at inbred choir practice inside their own special echo chamber.

Trust me, I would so very, very much like to be proven wrong.

Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

"NASA employed ECAST to engage in a "participatory technology assessment," an engagement model that seeks to improve the outcomes of science and technology decision-making through dialog with informed citizens. Participatory technology assessment involves engaging a group of non-experts who are representative of the general population but who unlike political, academic, and industry stakeholders who are often under represented in technology-related policymaking. ... During meetings in Phoenix and Boston in November, 2014, participants voiced their thoughts and preferences about asteroids, planetary defense and space exploration."

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative - A Citizen's Forum - Full report

Keith's note: According to the report "We at ECAST designed the forums to explore what a diverse group of lay citizens thought about complex issues when provided with unbiased information and offered the opportunity to have a respectful and open conversation about these matters with their peers. Quite different from a poll or survey, forums like the one developed for this project explore the views and values that citizens use in assessing sociotechnical issues. ... ECAST undertook the recruitment of the lay citizen participants, achieving a distribution that aligned with the demographic characteristics of their respective states by taking into account gender, age, education, ethnicity, income, and employment status."

So ... how did these people from nowhere in particular get up to speed on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)? According to the report "Rather than survey people who may have little understanding of the subject, these forums provided the opportunity for participants to learn a great deal about NASA's Asteroid Initiative. In fact, participants were provided with much the same technical information that NASA's administrators and program managers use, but presented in short thematic background papers provided prior to the workshop and four informational videos at the start of each session."

Ah, so they only showed the participants NASA stuff. Did the participants receive materials that were in any way critical of ARM? Seriously. The participants were being asked to weigh all aspects of ARM, asteroid defense etc. Given that Congress, the NASA Advisory Council and a significant portion of the planetary science community doubt the value of ARM and/or are totally against it one would hope that this was factored in. If the participants were not given the full spectrum of viewpoints on this topic then the entire effort was null and void at its very inception.

Lost in space? Nasa under pressure, BBC

"The most recent rover mission to Mars, Curiosity, landed successfully three years ago and has performed admirably. But the mission was around a billion over budget and three years late. These events were monitored by former Nasa scientist Keith Cowing in his blog Nasa Watch. "As upset as Nasa proclaims to be when these overruns happen, they just go off and do another one. It is an ongoing chronic issue with Nasa," he told BBC News. "Nasa's financial management system is still a mess. After doing Nasa Watch for 20 years it is almost like I have a key on my keyboard that I press and it says: 'Nasa doesn't understand what things cost'."

So could it be time for Nasa to rethink the "faster, better, cheaper" plan? "Dan Goldin was prophetic," says Mr Cowing. "But the way his idea was put into practice was flawed and inconsistent and insincere," he says. "It's like having the archetypical pictures of the little mammals running around as the dinosaurs are dying. There is always the seed of the next wave of doing things that emerges from the current way of doing things."


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