Dec 082006

Your Bannerman eagerly awaited the night-time launch of the shuttle Discovery this morning on yet another of the pre-retirement, lets-hurry-and-finish-the-job International Space Station construction flights. If the Bannerman appears cynical, it’s with good reason.

Consider, if you will, what purpose Zarya is meant to serve in the service of humanity and the hundreds of billions of dollars and roubles thrown at it over the last 8 years. Crews, equipment and provisions are cycled through the station at regular intervals, but just what are they doing there? Practising tee shots and studying smoke in a weightless environment don’t sound as if humanity is being advanced scientifically. Although the Bannerman is sure the most expensive 15,000 cubic feet of real estate not on this Earth is in orbit 300kms up for a good reason. It’s just a shame NASA can’t reveal it.

Anyway, a morning spent observing NASA TV appears to have been wasted. Discovery couldn’t launch because of inclement weather at Cape Canaveral. Apparently on its way up, the spacecraft might trigger a lightning strike if there’s too much cloud about. The emergency landing sites in France and Spain were also subject to dubious weather conditions, which could also have scrubbed the launch due to a lack of places to land the aged space bus in case of an aborted launch, after the button is pushed. The weather cleared enough to satisfy the ever-nervous launch director & helpers, but at home, the clouds lowered.

The remaining shuttle fleet – Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis – are all between 14 and 22 years old. Discovery is about to undertake its 33rd flight in 22 years. Rebuilt and refurbished many times, each spacecraft has cost millions of US dollars, and yet, they cannot fly if rain threatens? The Bannerman is aghast!

The Bannerman asks this question. Just how advanced are we, as a species, if we can harness spaceflight, yet cannot overcome weather conditions in the harnessing? Is the effort, time and expense really worth the ultimate outcomes? Zero-G golf shots and weightless smoke studies? Perhaps we’re better off not risking human life in any way, shape or form in the adventure of space exploration. Maybe the robot explorers surrounding Mars & orbiting Saturn are signposts of the better road. Your Bannerman is firmly of the opinion that while manned spaceflight is a proud and worthy aim, it’s not appropriate unless we can indulge without fear of loss.

By the way, Discovery won’t be going anywhere until Sunday morning, 10:42am Queensland time, earliest. Weather in Florida is crappy. Even by the next window, a likelihood of launch will still only be as good as today. Imagine the cost of fuelling, unfuelling, refuelling, re-provisioning fresh foodstuffs older than 36 hours, powering down the auxiliary power units, replenishing them all AND paying the wages of the hundreds of workers needed to get the rocket powered dinosaur off the ground. The Bannerman is aghast.

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