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A generational gap in space?

In a detailed review of a conference on the societal impact of space, Dwayne Day discusses a presentation made by Wendell Mendell of NASA/JSC that brought up an interesting point:

However, Mendell also warned of a potential generational gap in visions of space. Younger people no longer have the shared vision of those raised during the Apollo era. Space is no longer a frontier to be explored and conquered, but instead is a place from which to try and solve Earth’s problems.

A couple of recent essays support this argument. Bill Maxwell, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, talks up what he sees as the benefits of space exploration. Maxwell, who saw John Glenn’s historic 1962 flight as a high school junior, notes that “space flight has held a special place in American life since the program’s inception.” Also, “A dreamer, I have been a supporter of space exploration since I was kid, and if I could start life over, I would try to become an astronaut.”

Compare that to an editorial Thursday in The Daily Targum, the student newspaper of Rutgers University. The author is skeptical about both the overall mission of the space agency and its competency to carry out that mission: “While many fondly remember the NASA missions to the moon, the current state of NASA is no longer the image of an organization that is prepared to go to the stars. When the public does not know or care about the missions and the missions themselves are uninteresting, it seems that NASA should re-examine its priorities before it loses the imaginations of a new generation.” This is all just anecdotal evidence, but it does suggest that those who want to give NASA a more exploratory mission, like the Vision for Space Exploration, may face a more difficult battle with the youth of America than with older generations.

24 comments to A generational gap in space?

  • vze3gz45

    I am not surprised at young people’s opinions. The US goes to the moon for 5 years and then spends over 30 years in low earth orbit. I am in my late 30′s and barely remember Apollo. Why would anyone expect young people to be supported of real space exploration and not question whether NASA can really do go beyond low earth orbit and explore?

    vze3gz45

  • D3x

    Well I think there are few problems.
    1. LEO is common enough not to grab attention/imagination of people in general but still rare enough to where it does not directly effect me.
    2. Going to the moon to many seems pointless – been there done that sorta of thing.
    3. Those of us who are familiar with the program see it as either a good path for NASA to take or disagree with it for sustainment reasons (2nd one being myself).

    Just some of my thoughts being part of the younger generation.

  • vze3gz45

    2. Going to the moon to many seems pointless – been there done that sorta of thing.

    If the above is the case, then going to low earth orbit is even more pointless because we have been to low earth orbit many, many, many more times than the moon.

    vze3gz45

  • Chance

    If I read this right, it comes down to the older generation being willing to give NASA the benifit of the doubt, while people my age and below want NASA to show us the money so to speak.

  • GuessWho

    Off topic item.

    The beginning of the end of COTS has started. Go see;

    http://www.space.com/news/060925_kistler.html

  • Paul Dietz

    If I read this right, it comes down to the older generation being willing to give NASA the benifit of the doubt, while people my age and below want NASA to show us the money so to speak.

    Not all the older generation is willing to give NASA the benefit of the doubt. Scales do fall from some of our eyes.

  • Chris Mann

    After watching just over 90 missions at over $1.5B a pop to study the zero gravity effects on nematodes and other irrelevancies that could be performed on a cubesat, it’s hard for most of my generation to not conclude that the NASA manned program is a boondoggle with no interest in performing serious science or lowering the cost of access to space.

    We are however still quite excited about the Russian, Chinese and Musk space programs. And Rutan’s new suborbital glider is pretty cool too.

  • Gist for your mills:

    Sept. 25 /PRNewswire/ — A new Gallup Poll shows more than two- thirds of respondents support the nation’s stepping-stone approach to space exploration, which includes flying the space shuttle to complete the International Space Station, building a replacement vehicle for the space shuttle, returning humans to the moon, and exploring Mars and points beyond.

  • Chris, I find it odd that you find the Russian and Chinese space programs more interesting than the American space program, since until recently all three have had essentially the same goals: launching or building facilities to conduct scientific experiments in LEO. Please explain.

    Also, I think you are extremely unfair to Space Station science. Since it doesn’t make the news, and people are too lazy to look it up, planetary scientists (especially) assume without apparent thought that nothing of any interest or value is going on. While I make no claim that the science done on the Space Station so far justifies its cost, there is a lot of science being done even on the present truncated station. There is also a lot of research on how to build better long-term space facilities.

    Read the day-by-day accounts of what the astronauts are doing, published in Spaceflight, before you claim it is all “irrelevant.” Just because “everyone knows there is no science on the Space Station” does not make it true.

    – Donald

  • Chris Mann

    >”Chris, I find it odd that you find the Russian and Chinese space programs more interesting than the American space program, since until recently all three have had essentially the same goals: launching or building facilities to conduct scientific experiments in LEO. Please explain.”

    It’s really quite simple. I can buy a ride and lease station time off the Russians. No amount of money will get you inside a NASA vehicle. Since NASA has made it quite clear that they have no intention of either getting me into orbit or bringing down the cost of space access, I couldn’t care less about their program.

    >”Also, I think you are extremely unfair to Space Station science.”

    Provided that it actually gets built and manned with a full crew complement, NASA leases station time to commercial customers, and provided that NASA doesn’t continue to rape the operating budget to pay for cost overruns on the constellation boondoggle, it might prove a useful platform for research.

    Right now appart from growing a few protein crystals, the only thing that is being researched is how long it takes for the Elektron to break. During this expedition they are measuring the amount of mold in the air aboard the station before and after Soyuz visits. Whoopdee doo, another $1.5B well spent.

  • Chris: It’s really quite simple. I can buy a ride and lease station time off the Russians. No amount of money will get you inside a NASA vehicle.

    I accept, and fully agree with, this distinction.

    the only thing that is being researched is how long it takes for the Elektron to break

    As I have argued elsewhere, this is probably the most important thing the Space Station can research. Experience, far more than new technology, is what we need to explore the Solar System, and that is what the Space Station is giving us: right now in construction and habitation, and later on in keeping it going in spite of Elektron and all the rest.

    The Space Station took far too long and cost far too much, but it is there, and using it is infinitely better than conducting more paper studies of dream spacecraft. Also, it is the only near term market that has a dream of supporting a commercial tranport industry to orbit.

    – Donald

  • Jeff,
    Being firmly in the “younger generation” category myself, I think that “not having a shared vision of those raised during the Apollo era” is a feature, not a bug. I’d love to go to the Moon myself. I think that it is far from ho-hum, and is a place that would be awesome to explore. I just think that doing another Apollo, even a RoidMonkey Redux of such is just rather pointless.

    I think that space exploration, commercialization, and eventual settlement are things that us youngsters will get excited about. Especially when the whole “you mean *I* could actually go?” meme kicks in. What won’t get them interested is seeing a bunch of overglorified postal workers riding really big rockets taking rock samples.

    ~Jon

  • The ISS is not “the only near term market that has a dream of supporting a commercial tranport industry to orbit.”

    At least if we can take Bob Bigelow seriously. I certainly do.

  • Rand, I wish Mr. Biglow every success. (Though I am not yet certain how seriously to take him. I took Mr. Beal seriously and it turned out to be a mistake.)

    The Space Station is there as a market today. However indirectly and reluctantly, it is financing a new generation of launch vehicles, while helping to keep the current generation in business. Mr. Biglow will not be a market at all for several years, at best, and he will be a comparitively small market for several years beyond that.

    Entreprenurial launch companies need all the markets they can get, whether they are government space station or private ones.

    – Donald

  • Mr. Biglow will not be a market at all for several years, at best, and he will be a comparitively small market for several years beyond that.

    He plans to have a three-person hotel up by the end of the decade (not all that far away) and one triple that size two years later. That sounds like a lot bigger market than ISS, particularly considering that the stays will be much shorter, and the number of visitors greater.

  • We’ll see. Once again, the Space Station is actually there. Mr. Biglow could easily go the way of Mr. Beal, or, for that matter and probably more likely, that of SpaceX (years late).

    Do you really want to ignore a market that exists for a market that may exist some undefined years in the future? That strikes me as an extremely poor marketing plan.

    Moreover, in the end, Mr. Biglow is likely to end up using the vehicles developed for Space Station support.

    What are we arguing about? Supply the Space Station market now, when there is another market supply both.

    – Donald

  • Do you really want to ignore a market that exists for a market that may exist some undefined years in the future? That strikes me as an extremely poor marketing plan.

    Not when the “market that exists” is an extremely fickle customer. I’d put my money on the market where the customers are paying their own money, rather than taxpayers’. Your mileage may vary…

  • I should also add that this is a strawman. I’m not the one ignoring markets. You claimed that there will be nothing except ISS for a long time. I was just pointing out that you’re probably deeply mistaken.

  • Rand, we’ll see if I’m “deeply mistaken.” So far, I’m not, and you are.

    – Donald

  • Rand: “market that exists” is an extremely fickle customer.

    Perhaps so, but you are thinking as an engineer, not as a money manager. When I’m investing grandma’s money, I buy a government-backed CD. When I’m investing my retirement money (as opposed to what I call my “gambling money”), I’m likely to invest in a mix of government-backed CDs and bonds and large company bonds and stocks. When I’m young (and, for most people, young = poor) is when I invest in the kinds of high-risk opportunities we are talking about.

    Maybe its not fair, and maybe it isn’t even wise, but the reality is that most of the money out there will go to a government-backed project, rather than some fly-by-night rocket builder dreaming of orbital tourism.

    Space advocates need to forget their dreams for a moment and ask themselves where the people who actually manage other people’s money — and have a fiduciary responsibility to limit how much they lose — are going to invest that money. (If you are not familiar with the concept of fiduciary responsibility, look it up, because it is a key concept, and probably the key concept, in money investment.) Then, they need to ask themselves how to develop a business plan to get them to invest, if not grandma’s money, at least a middle-aged business person’s money, into their project.

    In any real world, the government will be a major part of that plan (COTS), and / or you will have achieved regular proven operations before you ask for anyone else’s savings (SpaceX). Putting it where the customers are paying their own money simply isn’t going to work until the customers are making more money than you could make just putting your money in a CD or into a house.

    So far, I can’t think of even one entrepreneurial launch company can meet that basic requirement for attracting money.

    – Donald

  • Rand, we’ll see if I’m “deeply mistaken.” So far, I’m not, and you are.

    If makes no sense to talk about who’s mistaken or not when discussion future events.

    Perhaps so, but you are thinking as an engineer, not as a money manager.

    No, I’m thinking as a businessman, and astute observer of government space programs.

    Maybe its not fair, and maybe it isn’t even wise, but the reality is that most of the money out there will go to a government-backed project, rather than some fly-by-night rocket builder dreaming of orbital tourism.

    Yes, and the other reality is that most of that money will be wasted, and not accomplish its intended goals. Fortunately, even if most of the money goes to the government programs (for now), enough is going to the private ones to do what will need to be done.

    Space advocates need to forget their dreams for a moment and ask themselves where the people who actually manage other people’s money — and have a fiduciary responsibility to limit how much they lose — are going to invest that money. (If you are not familiar with the concept of fiduciary responsibility, look it up, because it is a key concept, and probably the key concept, in money investment.) Then, they need to ask themselves how to develop a business plan to get them to invest, if not grandma’s money, at least a middle-aged business person’s money, into their project.

    Errrr…no. They don’t. That’s what Elon Musks, and Richard Bransons, and Bob Bigelows, and Jeff Bezoses are for. Elon and Bob have no fiduciary responsibility right now except to themselves. They continue to spend their own money and build hardware (and in Bob’s case, launch it).

  • I agree, if you confine yourself to the amount of money an individual can supply. Elon can fund SpaceX (though I get the impression he’s getting himself pretty tapped out, and he’s been trying to get government money — and keep potential competitors from getting it — more-or-less from the beginning). I’m glad he’s spending his money this way. Establishing a lunar settlement will not be done with one individual’s, or even a small group’s, money. It will take a good sized pot of grandma’s collective money, delivered one way or the other.

    Grandma’s money has already been spent on the Space Station, why not get something for it by treating it as a market.

    Again, this whole argument is silly. Mr. Biglow’s plans are just that. The Space Station is there. Everyone else — as a market, as opposed to flying their first experiments — is several years out, and probably the better part of a decade or more. Why wait? Service the market we have now, while preparing for the future markets.

    These are not mutually exclusive options!

    – Donald

  • Grandma’s money has already been spent on the Space Station, why not get something for it by treating it as a market.

    Donald, you’re the one ignoring markets, not I.

  • Chris Mann

    Everyone else — as a market, as opposed to flying their first experiments — is several years out, and probably the better part of a decade or more. Why wait? Service the market we have now, while preparing for the future markets.

    Given the hostile action that NASA has taken to end previous commercial ventures, no one in their right mind would risk a NASA controlled ISS being a viable market. As soon as someone gets close to deploying an alternate vehicle I expect NASA to revise the proxops procedures (even for berthing) to tarbaby them out of the market.

    And don’t think for a second that the Russians will let you dock on their end, they’ve got a lucrative Soyuz monopoly to hold on to.