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The space policy attraction of Gravity

After three weeks atop the US box office charts, the movie Gravity was finally dethroned last weekend, beat out by the cinematic masterpiece Bad Grandpa. (Yeah.) Still, the success of the film made it an inevitable hook for essays using the film to make space policy points of one kind or another. But, just as the film itself contained a number of technical flaws, using the movie to make policy arguments can also run into problems.

In an essay for The Huffington Post, Lauren Lyons sees a “parable” in the existence of the separate Chinese space station and Shenzhou spacecraft that one character in the movie is forced to use: “isolated, yet still there, and pushing on, whether part of the team or not.” She uses that to criticize the lack of cooperation between the US and China because of policy issues (including the ban on bilateral cooperation between NASA and its Chinese counterparts imposed by Congress) and criticism of what she calls a rhetoric of “American exceptionalism” in space, despite NASA’s various problems.

“[I]f it weren’t for international partnerships,” she concludes, “the movie would have ended a lot less optimistically.” Ironically, the type of increased partnership she seeks—greater cooperation between the US and China—would have resulted in a far less optimistic outcome for the movie. If there were lower barriers to US-China cooperation, it’s likely China would be invited to participate in the International Space Station, likely in place of a standalone station such as the one depicted in the movie—thus depriving Sandra Bullock’s character of a means home.

Lyons at least assumes that, weeks after its premiere, readers of her essay have seen the movie: “By now, you have already seen the new space thriller, Gravity (spoilers ahead),” she writes. In an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun last week, though, Douglas MacKinnon makes no such assumption. “Without giving away any of the plot, I found it amusing and very telling that later in the film, China and elements of its manned space program play a significant and positive role,” he writes.

MacKinnon uses the film to criticize the Obama Administration, whose staff, he believes, “have basically shut down our entire human spaceflight program.” He continues: “As the movie came to a close, it was repeatedly reinforced to me that President Obama had made a serious error in judgment which may very well adversely affect our nation for decades to come.” He makes no mention, though, that the decision to retire the Space Shuttle dates back to the Bush Administration in 2004, or that NASA is both funding development of commercial crew vehicles as well as the Space Launch System and Orion.

Those commercial crew vehicles that MacKinnon overlooked also don’t appear in the movie, much to the consternation of Greg Autry, in another Huffington Post essay. Director Alfonso Cuarón, he writes, “might have maintained Gravity’s sense of realism and captured relevance by flying our heroine to orbit in one of America’s new commercial spacecraft.” (How such a vehicle could have been used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, the activity taking place as the movie began, isn’t clear, but perhaps such a vehicle could explain why the ISS was uninhabited when Bullock’s character arrived, even though a Soyuz was still docked.)

“We look forward to seeing Bullock relaxing on a safe, commercial flight to a commercial Bigelow space habitat in Gravity 2,” Autry concludes. Of course, given the debris-filled state of low Earth orbit by the movie’s end, she might have to wait a long time for such a flight.

44 comments to The space policy attraction of Gravity

  • guest

    MacKinnon uses the film to criticize the Obama Administration, whose staff, he believes, “have basically shut down our entire human spaceflight program.”

    Accurate or not, this is how much of the public currently perceives the state of the US space program. Space Station is essentially invisible; Gravity makes it appear real though doomed.

    I think most of us space cadets are hopeful that one or more of the commercial carriers will succeed and do so in the not too distant future. As far as Shuttle being terminated by Bush and not Obama, while this was true, Bush was told by NASA that the safe, simple, soon Orion would be flying by the time Shuttle shut down. Just what Orion’s or the SLS booster’s roles are is not well defined or understood. Asteroid retrieval? Orion appears to be redundant with Dragon and CST. Its questionable about whether either Orion or SLS will ever fly or if they do, whether a sustained “program” of flights can be supported. Many would contend that Obama still had the wherewithall to keep Shuttle flying rather than shut it down in 2010-2011. It did not necessarily require additional flights and hardware, but simply extending out the time between flights to every X number months. In fact at one Shuttle launch a year we would have been able to better understand issues associated with the planned low SLS flight rate.

    • Coastal Ron

      guest said:

      …Bush was told by NASA that the safe, simple, soon Orion would be flying by the time Shuttle shut down.

      I’ll add on to what DBN said on this, and add that there was no “Shuttle-worthy” mission for the Shuttle after the assembly of the ISS. Sure it could have flown once a year to resupply the ISS, but that would not have been worth $2.4B/year and the risk of losing a minimum of two lives on every flight.

      The Shuttle program was past due from being retired, regardless when a “replacement” came online.

      Orion appears to be redundant with Dragon and CST.

      No. The Dragon and CST (and Dream Chaser) are initial meant for ferrying humans to/from LEO. The Orion is supposed to be a multipurpose exploration vehicle, not a ferry vehicle – that would have been like using the Space Shuttle to fly passengers from Florida to Europe.

      Unfortunately the Orion/MPCV is based on 60′s era thinking, and ignores the lessons we’ve learned by building and operating the ISS for over 14 years, so it really doesn’t have any need except as an over-priced lifeboat on a true 21st century space exploration vehicle.

      In fact at one Shuttle launch a year we would have been able to better understand issues associated with the planned low SLS flight rate.

      We already know what the cost issues are today without even needing to build the SLS. Anyone with simple math skills can figure that out. But as you well know (or should know) the SLS was not created because it was the LEAST expensive space exploration option going forward, so no amount of math will change the minds of the SLS supporters.

      • Glenn

        “The Dragon and CST (and Dream Chaser) are initial meant for ferrying humans to/from LEO.”

        No, Dragon has a heathshield that can already withstand a Moon or a Mars reentry, Dragon will eventually do more than ferrying humans to LEO.

        “The Orion is supposed to be a multipurpose exploration vehicle.”

        Yes indeed, it is supposed to be.

        • Coastal Ron

          Glenn said:

          No, Dragon has a heathshield that can already withstand a Moon or a Mars reentry, Dragon will eventually do more than ferrying humans to LEO.

          Hence the word “initial” (typo – s/b “initially”).

          Nevertheless, no one is going to be traveling from Earth to Mars or Mars to Earth in the cramped confines of a 7-person capsule, so capsules are really just needed for landing on a planet.”

          Yes indeed, it is supposed to be.

          Yes indeed, that’s why I said it.

    • Vladislaw

      Guest wrote: “Bush was told by NASA that the safe, simple, soon Orion would be flying by the time Shuttle shut down.”

      Actually the best timeline that NASA produced was a shuttle replacement by 2012, that number was given by the new Administrator Griffin and was predicated on additional funding. That funding never materialized and the schedule was for a 2014 first flight … but for each year of the program that date moved to the right. As of the OIG report and what Garver said would could be looking at 2023 for the first crewed flight of orion.

    • pathfinder_01

      “It did not necessarily require additional flights and hardware, but simply extending out the time between flights to every X number months. In fact at one Shuttle launch a year we would have been able to better understand issues associated with the planned low SLS flight rate.”

      This does no good at all. It would have slowed down the completion of the ISS for no reason at all. It would have made for safety issues as workers may loose skills/proficiency with that kind of flight rate(i.e. How did we do that last time??). And,it would have wasted money that could have been spent towards a replacement. Ending the shuttle IMHO was the best thing to happen to human spaceflight. I loved the shuttle, but it was long time we moved on.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Foust: “After three weeks atop the US box office charts, the movie Gravity was finally dethroned last weekend, beat out by the cinematic masterpiece Bad Grandpa.”

    Compared to Gravity’s pointless plot and awful dialogue, the innovative combination of coarse humor, hidden camera stunts, and road story in Bad Grandpa is a film classic.

    Gravity blows up three manned space vehicles and two space stations and bends the laws of orbital mechanics and time in a special effects spectacular just so Sandra Bullock’s witless character could figure out the trite and obvious point that it is important to keep fighting and living after the death of a child. Wow, what an enlightening window on the human condition.

    Teaming George Clooney’s cocksure wiseass with an off-the-wall Johnny Knoxville character would have been ten times more pleasurable and just as insightful. And give me the kid from Bad Grandpa, any day.

    “Bush was told by NASA that the safe, simple, soon Orion would be flying by the time Shuttle shut down.”

    Don’t confuse the VSE with ESAS/Constellation. Bush was told that CEV could be flying by the time Shuttle shut down. Then Bush hired Griffin, Griffin replaced CEV with Orion/Ares I, ATK told a bunch of lies about “safe, simple, soon”, and the rest is history.

    “It did not necessarily require additional flights and hardware, but simply extending out the time between flights to every X number months.”

    Unworkable if the Bush II or Obama Administrations wanted to develop something else with the Shuttle budget, especially something as budget-busting as SLS and MPCV.

  • guest wrote:

    Bush was told by NASA that the safe, simple, soon Orion would be flying by the time Shuttle shut down.

    False.

    I posted the video of the Senate hearing on YouTube for this very reason, to debunk false claims such as this. Click here to watch for yourself. January 28, 2004. Two weeks after Bush’s VSE speech. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe presents VSE in detail; his documentation shows a minimum four-year gap after Shuttle’s end before a replacement vehicle is ready.

    Click here to view the Vision Sand Chart presented by O’Keefe. It shows the “Crew Exploration Vehicle” wouldn’t be ready until FY14, and as we all know NASA never meets its target dates.

    That’s one reason why the Obama administration pulled the plug on SLS in 2010. The Augustine Committee found Ares 1 wouldn’t be ready until at least 2017, and it would be funded by deorbiting ISS in 2015, hence it had no place to go.

    Many would contend that Obama still had the wherewithall to keep Shuttle flying rather than shut it down in 2010-2011. It did not necessarily require additional flights and hardware, but simply extending out the time between flights to every X number months.

    False again.

    Former Shuttle manager Wayne Hale explained in 2008 why it wasn’t possible. The supply chain had shut down long ago. It’s a myth to think that they could have kept the standing army sitting around for years at $3 billion a year just to launch a Shuttle with no spare parts.

    Furthermore, it ignores why Shuttle was cancelled in the first place. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that the Shuttle was “a complex and risky system.” The only reason they didn’t consider shutting it down in late 2003 was that NASA needed it to complete ISS construction.

    So in January 2004 the Bush administration decided they would do what could be done to make Shuttle as safe as possible given its design flaws, and fly it again. But using it for regular crew rotation moved over to Soyuz, because it was considered safer and cheaper.

    Extending Shuttle, which was impossible anyway, would have continued to fly “a complex and risky system” that already killed fourteen people. The same phenomenon that caused the Columbia accident continued through the end of the program. It was only a matter of time before it happened again.

    Today’s gap was baked into the pie by the Bush administration in 2004. The gap has been partially closed by the commercial cargo vehicles. We’d be much closer to closing the crew gap if Congress hadn’t cut the Obama administration’s commercial crew funding requests by about 40% over the last three years.

  • Coastal Ron

    I just saw Gravity yesterday, and in 3D. Nice work of fiction. I was impressed with a prior film by Alfonso Cuarón (The Children of Men) and how he was able to do long, seemingly flawless shots, so I enjoyed how he did the same on this movie.

    But it was fiction, and maybe some people have a hard time separating fiction from reality.

    The use of the Shuttle and of Hubble was (I imagine) so that the story could be “comfortable” immediately with a majority of viewers – they would understand the technology and maybe even remember watching some of the Hubble repairs when they were broadcast. But for those of us who are up to speed on this stuff, it was just yet something else that they took dramatic license with.

    Besides what Jeff points out about having a Chinese space station separate from the ISS, is the fact of how much they relied on excess transportation assets in the movie. In real life extra Soyuz and Shenzhou are not docked at space stations, as they are too expensive to leave lying around “just in case” in LEO.

    But this does play into a perception that I hear from Orion supporters, that any space exploration vehicle has to be able to make a dash back to, and land safely on, Earth. However, as we push out into space, we will need “safe harbors” that are far closer than Earth, such as at one of the EML points, or wherever we happen to push out to. So from that standpoint, the film does suggest why having excess transportation assets can do in an emergency… at least if you don’t have to worry about debris fields smacking into you.

    So I think this movie, if it influences the space debate in any way, would argue more for Commercial Crew than for the Orion/SLS. But I don’t think it will have much impact at all, not unless the movie company decides to use some of it’s profits for space lobbying… ;-)

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Jeff –

    Regarding your notice of the lie that “Obama shut down human spaceflight/NASA”.

    There seems to be some people trying to practice two old Nazi propagnada tricks:

    1) A lie repeated often enough becomes true, and

    2) If you combine enough lies together in one statement,
    your opponenet will never be able to counter all of them,
    and thus at leat one and possible more of them will become true.

    Now you can be polite and call the lies “mistakes”,
    but when the speakers are persistnet and deliberate,
    then they are “lies”.

    And the only thing to do is to call them on their lies.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hello Steven –

    You left out some very significant facts.

    Griffin completely redesigned the CEV after he was appointed Administrator to replace Okeefe. Griffin made it so it cold only be launched on the Ares 1.

    • common sense

      “Griffin completely redesigned the CEV after he was appointed Administrator to replace Okeefe.”

      No he did not “re-design” the CEV never was designed under O’Keefe. There were two different proposals: one from Lockheed Martin, the other from Northrop Grumman – Boeing. But again nothing was “designed”.

      “Griffin made it so it cold only be launched on the Ares 1.”

      No he did not otherwise we would not be in this mess. Griffin imposed two launchers based on ATK SRBs and Shuttle main tank and engines. Ares I was supposed to take astronauts to orbit. Ares I was originally expected to use the SRB without mods. Ares I could not loft the then version of the CEV. They went from 4 segs to 5 segs. Other problems started to surface not withstanding aborts. Anyway. 10 years and what 30 billions (?) later here we are with SLS, another crappy concept with no requirements except to employ people. Then we wonder why the HSF side of NASA is not all that liked by others…

      But all that to say that Griffin did not “re-design” nor did he “make it so” anything.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi CS –

        I am not at my home computer, so I can not provide you with a handy link, but Griffin did indeed re-size the CEV from the EELVs capacity to one that could only be handled by the Ares 1, which could not work from its inception, as it violated laws of physics.

        • common sense

          “I am not at my home computer, so I can not provide you with a handy link, but Griffin did indeed re-size the CEV from the EELVs capacity to one that could only be handled by the Ares 1, which could not work from its inception, as it violated laws of physics.”

          Nope. I was working on CEV then.

          EELVs were ONLY considered for the CEV Phase 1 proposals. There were no designs, only proposals. There is a significant difference between a proposal and a design. When Griffin came on board there was indeed a request to change the size of the CEV, a last minute proposal change. At that time Constellation architecture was being implemented as the ESAS study and NASA was looking at an Apollo like shape for the CEV. Contractors had no say on the CEV nor on the LVs. Still it had already been decided by then that EELVs were out of the picture. Basically you don’t have your facts in order. That is all.

          Here again:

          – O’Keefe CEV Phase 1 Proposal: EELVs were suggested part of the Spiral Approach by Steidle. There was no work on any rocket being asked for by NASA at that time. Only the CEV which included the SM, CM and LAS.
          – Griffin CEV Phase 2 Proposal: ESAS based study said we were going to develop an Apollo like capsule lofted by an SRB and have an HLV with 2 SRBs. During the proposal there was a request to change the size of the capsule, the CEV. However no RFP had been issued then to develop either Ares I or Ares V. Preliminary studies showed one 4 segment SRB could not loft any CEV. So NASA asked for a 5 segment SRB model to see if it worked. It didn’t and it had nothing to do with oscillation then…

          It does not remove Griffin’s responsibility into the fiasco that Constellation became but at least you should have your facts right.

          I hope this helps.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I see DBN has alredy mentioned some of those points.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Maybe we’ll see some government funded “commercial” spacecraft in the sequel.

    • Neil Shipley

      Hopefully there won’t be a sequel and when are you going to understand the reality of commercial business? If government is prepared to pay for something, companies will bid. You are simply applying the lie by omission approach in failing it distinguish between competitively tendered, milestone based payments and sole sourced cost plus contracts. You do know better. Stop, just stop with the bs.

  • Crash Davis

    That’s one reason why the Obama administration pulled the plug on SLS in 2010. The Augustine Committee found Ares 1 wouldn’t be ready until at least 2017, and it would be funded by deorbiting ISS in 2015, hence it had no place to go.

    Wrong. SLS did not exist as a program in 2010.

    • For the thousandth time: WE DON’T NEED THE ISS AS “a place to go”!! A far better human space program could be built out of bypassing the whole LEO-only imbroglio, & turning our attention to out beyond it! Cis-lunar space & the Moon itself await, the return of American spacemen. LEO should be merely a parking-orbit stage of the complete cis-lunar journey—–just like it was during the Apollo days. We should just abandon further plans to construct any more aluminum castles up there, in LEO.

      • Hiram

        I guess we should be constructing those aluminum castles on the Moon, no? We can make ourselves a lunar imbroglio as well! Hot stuff. You can twiddle your fingers in one castle or the other while looking at budget cuts.

        The real question is whether we need *any* place to go. If yes, then the rationale should be made crystal clear and accepted by consensus.

        “– just like it was during the Apollo days.” Ah yes, the days when footprints on the Moon really meant something in the context of national goals and needs. Sigh. Those were the days when internet was weaving equipment, a computer was a lady with a calculator, and a telephone was a clunker with a dial and a cord. Those were the days when explorers were defined by helmets instead of fur caps. Let’s get our priorities straight and recapture that noble vision.

    • Crash Davis wrote:

      Wrong. SLS did not exist as a program in 2010.

      It’s a typo. I think everyone here knows I meant Constellation. Except you, apparently.

  • amightywind

    He makes no mention, though, that the decision to retire the Space Shuttle dates back to the Bush Administration in 2004, or that NASA is both funding development of commercial crew vehicles as well as the Space Launch System and Orion.

    Yeah, Bush cancelled the shuttle and replaced it with the program we should have had in the 70′s. Constellation. Obama’s program is a pale echo of Constellation. Obama’s priority is clearly not space. In 5 years this country has spent 5x more on welfare than on transportation, education, and NASA combined.

    It is a huge mistake to collaborate with China or Russia in space unless they reform politically. The mafia that leads both countries must be replaced. What message does it send for the US to appease despots?

  • DCSCA

    =yawn= As a reminder, the 12 part HBO mini-series, From The Earth To the Moon, aired in 1998, won plenty of Emmys, but didn’t do much to ignite space policy reviews. In fact, it was panned by Time critics.

    This has little do do with space policy. This is Hollywood. And Hollywood is a business. Gravity is a sfx movie. No more, no less, that lucked out with a release date against minimal competition and mined some boxoffice gold in an autumn lull after a sour summer of underperforming films– most of which were fiscal flops.

    The BO curve on ‘Gravity’ will have it fall to earth by Thanksgiving and be out on DVD by Oscar time. It’ll garner Oscar noms for sfx, Clooney and Bullock. not wins. Just noms.

    You have to look hard for films that have actually induced thought on ‘space policy.’ Marooned did trigger thinking about US and USSR space rescue ops, as Slayton once noted– and eventually threaded out through ASTP. 2001 presented the potential, the poetry and the majesty of spaceflight to audiences before the first Apollo flight ever left the pad. Just as Frau Im Mond did decades earlirt in Germany. On the other hand, Capricorn One got some folks believing it was all a hoax.

    And its not lost on the space community that Hollywood made a success out of a failure- Apollo 13, which before the film, NASA tried very hard to forget. But then the odyssey of the Odyssey was a classical Homeric tale.

    Armageddon sold the public that NASA could save the world with Willis or die hard trying; Deep Impact sold a similar theme and Space Cowboys showed the public that space was for the young at heart, even if you’re an old fart. And now we have Gravity.

    1949′s Destination Moon has the more promising business plan for commeercialists ever pitched by Hollywood and though dated, still holds up in the basics. And Von Braun’s home movies for der Fuhrer sold the A-4.

    Otherwise, they’re all just movies. Fantasy. Entertainment. For in reality, falling from one gravity field to another through an empty vacuum; a void; for hours, days, weeks, months if not years on end can be endlessly dull. Seasoned with a little drama in the movies, it’s exciting. In reality, spaceflight is boring. It’s the destinations that pique curiosity and make it inevitable. And interesting. And adventurous. And fun. Like the movies. .

  • Hiram

    What is hilarious about the response to this movie, with deep essays expressing parables and visions, is that it really is, as noted, just fantasy entertainment. The movie provides no real rationale for why we’re floating, dying, and blathering in the void. The premise of “exploration” is hinted at, though never really made clear what it’s for, except perhaps to point out that the dreaded Chinese are on our tails in doing it. While Hollywood could play an important role in spurring public interest in space, “Gravity” is an intellectually bankrupt way of doing it without, ahem, much gravity in rationale. As such, it would be naive to read too much into it as symbolizing public interest in space, except as fantasy entertainment and an exercise in special effects. In fact, what’s unfortunate about that naivité is that the public rationale for space is seen precisely as providing fantastical entertainment. In which case, the lack of energetic federal fiscal support for it is hardly surprising.

    • Ferris Valyn

      that is actually my biggest complaint about the movie – At the end of the day, its really a movie that suggests/argues that humans shouldn’t be in space.

      I mean, when the 3rd line is “Life is impossible in Space” and the only surviving character says “I hate space”, the take away, at least for me, is clear

  • guest

    DCSCA-good review!

    The one movie I would add because of its importance was the George Melies 1902 Voyage de la Lune (actually highlighted in one of the HBO From the Earth to the Moon programs. Movies about spaceflight got people thinking about interplanetary travel a long time ago.

    And you wrote that 2001 presented the potential, the poetry and the majesty of spaceflight to audiences.

    …which in many ways is exactly what Gravity has now done more recently. Despite the inaccuracies the spacecraft and most spacesuits were very nicely and accurately rendered in Gravity-one of the many things the producer got right (the Chinese station looks just like Mir). In fact to me in IMAX 3D the one real downfall in Gravity appeared to be a lack of the 3D appearance to the earth in space it would stand out more as a globe and it appeared pretty flat on the screen.

    One thing that becomes apparent in all these films is how Hollywood makes spaceflight appear just as exciting as it really is. Compare the Hollywood version of the MMU zipping around with something like footage of Bruce McCandless flying the real MMU on 41B. In Gravity, Cloony zips. You can see the zips and the movement that results. In NASA footage, Bruce is out there but you’d never know he’s moving at all either relative to Shuttle or at 17000 mph. Don’t get me wrong, some of the still images in hi res of Bruce out at 400 feet are truly impressive, but no one would know the effort that mission took.

    NASA could learn something from Hollywood’s methods. The exact problem is depicted in The Aviator when Howard realizes that footage of airplanes and dogfighs look like the airplanes are standing still until you put something like clouds into the background. I think they said it in A13 that NASA makes going to the moon look about as exciting as watching grass grow. Pull out the action sequences from some of these Hollywood movies and you’ll see the difference and what it takes to excite the audience.

    • DCSCA

      “And you wrote that 2001 presented the potential, the poetry and the majesty of spaceflight to audiences.” notes guest.

      Actually, if you time it out– ‘the majesty, poetry and potential’ is about 20 minutes of the film. 1968 audiences were presented with big screen, full color vistas of Earth (culled from Gemini images), a space station/earth shuttle system– with commercial integration – their logos clearly displayed; a cislunar transport; a moon base or two– or three– a clever and underrated moonbus ferrying crews and materials between them– some nifty if not nimble spacesuits and an impressive array of video displays and graphic inagery which were literally non-existent in ’68 but routine technology today.

      That 20 minutes of film lays out the next phase of HSF. It’s only a matter of deciding to do it. In ’68, 2001 seemed far off. Today, 33 years of going in circles, no where fast is accepted policy– and makes the prophacies in Clarke and Kubrick’s masterpiece seem that much more science fiction today than it did in 1968, when it was still fresh in theatres as Apollo 8 circled the moon.

      “NASA could learn something from Hollywood’s methods.”

      It did. Frank Borman fought unsucessfully against carrying the b/w TV camera aboard Apollo 8– and trhe video transmissions turned out to be a huge success w/t public. Tom Stafford pushed hard to carry a color camera and wanted to share the imagery with the public. A10 won an Emmy for their earth/lunar TV– bringing much of Kubrick’s film imagery to reality. The lunar surface EVA imagery followed suit. And over the years, NASA Select televised some very impressive 2001-esque imagery for hours on end, particularly during the shuttle-Mir missions. But audiences have short attention spans today– even shorter than in ’68– and Kubrick kept that to a few minutes in his film and let the audience fill in the rest of that universe forb themselves.

      “I think they said it in A13 that NASA makes going to the moon look about as exciting as watching grass grow.” muses guest.

      Actually, the line is ‘ … a trip to Pittsburgh.” It’s an apt analogy. DCSCA is from Pgh., and travel to and from it is most decidely unexciting. ;-)

      • Hiram

        These are good points, but we’re not going to sell human space flight by making it “exciting” or showing “zips”. Not even the American public is dumb enough to buy that. That’s why the taxpayer isn’t funding monster trucks and extreme sports. Let’s not confuse enthusiasm-for with investment-in. The Apollo capsule video transmissions just served to humanify an otherwise largely technological enterprise, as did their lunar EVA imagery. That’s “entertainment”, and human space flight, whether done by NASA or someone else, simply can’t be done for entertainment. I’d say the same about majesty and poetry. Majesty and poetry are nice, but that’s not what taxpayers are buying from the aerospace industry. Those words are not in any contract specification I’ve ever seen.

        • DCSCA

          These are good points, but we’re not going to sell human space flight by making it “exciting” or showing “zips”.

          Except we did. Or rather those advocates before us did. Wells and Verne made it an adventure. The Saturday serials with Gordon and Rogers made it thrilling. And Von Braun through Collier’s and Disney, made it exciting. All targeted the young.

          • Hiram

            “Except we did.”

            I disagree. They made it “thrilling”, and an “adventure”, and “exciting”. But they didn’t sell it. As in, getting people to pay lots of money for it. They certainly didn’t sell it to the young, who didn’t have money to pay for it. Well, the young did have money to pay for the books and the movies. They bought entertainment. What sold Apollo was the Soviet missle threat. By the same token, what Evel Knievel did was thrilling exciting adventures, but the federal government didn’t pay him to do them.

    • pathfinder_01

      “ The one movie I would add because of its importance was the George Melies 1902 Voyage de la Lune (actually highlighted in one of the HBO From the Earth to the Moon programs. Movies about spaceflight got people thinking about interplanetary travel a long time ago.”

      People have been thinking about interplanetary travel since the time of the greeks if not before.

      “NASA could learn something from Hollywood’s methods. The exact problem is depicted in The Aviator when Howard realizes that footage of airplanes and dogfighs look like the airplanes are standing still until you put something like clouds into the background. I think they said it in A13 that NASA makes going to the moon look about as exciting as watching grass grow. Pull out the action sequences from some of these Hollywood movies and you’ll see the difference and what it takes to excite the audience.”

      Fiction is often more exciting than reality esp. when actually doing something practical in space is going to be boring.

  • DCSCA

    “Movies about spaceflight got people thinking about interplanetary travel a long time ago.” says guest.

    A postscript- you’d get an augument on that from the book crowd- from authors like Verne and Wells. Clarke, Asimov, et l., as well. ;-)

  • guest

    I don’t totally disagree with you Hiram, however, it is better to be aware and semi knowledgeable than to have no knowledge at all. Education, communications and marketing are important or else most taxpayers have any idea what they are getting for their hard earned dollars.

    • Hiram

      Excuse me. “Gravity” is telling the taxpayers what they’re getting for their hard earned dollars? It’s “education”? That’s a hoot. “Gravity” is fun entertainment. It’s fiction pretending to be fact.

  • common sense

    People!

    It’s a movie. It is not science. It is not policy. It only is A MOVIE.

    No wonder why Space Cadets/Advocates/Engineers appear so boring to everyone else. Right? Yeah let’s destroy everyone’s fun since orbital mechanics is not quite there and Shuttle is no longer in use and…

    Y’know. How about we use “Despicable Me” to define Arms Control? Or Cars for traffic laws? Closer to our hearts we should look into Planes for the FAA…

  • guest

    common sense is right. Folks like Hiram are exactly the reason the space program is in the situation it is in. Failure to communicate. Failure to identify that different people, different elements of the population, different factions have different goals. Failure to relate.

    The engineers can usually design and develop the tools -if someone specifies what is needed – but that is basically the limit of the engineer’s brain it seems-people who cannot dream and who frequently cannot think for themselves, let alone relate to what others need to hear or ought to hear (or see).

    • Hiram

      “Failure to identify that different people, different elements of the population, different factions have different goals.”

      Heh. Nope. All elements of the population are looking for value to their pocket or their way of life. There is just one goal that has to be satisfied. Is there something good here for me?

      I’m having trouble understanding the text you wrote, but you seem to be saying that engineers are people who cannot dream and frequently cannot think for themselves. Is that really what you said? That’s pretty insulting to engineers. I take it you are not one, and you don’t have a clue about how engineers brains work. Engineers have the responsibility to design and develop tools, but they’re people too. That responsibility isn’t installed in place of their humanity. Do I take it from you that engineers can’t appreciate the arts, and can’t love their families? Preaching about failure to relate, are we?

  • Guest

    Gravity was nothing more than a dream. In fact it was one of the oldest dreams, about flying and falling, set to IMAX 3D video and music. The engineers in all of us say s `but it was inaccurate, unrealistic’,. But it was only a dream. Peole pay good money to experiemce some semblance of their dreams. They spend money in movie theaters and on drugs. The experience sdoesn’t have to be real or even realistic. For many people spaceflight is another way to experience their dreams, an alternate reality. Presented in the right way, lots of people will give lots of money-billions of dollars. Unfortunatly if NASA spends billions and the people get nothing to see, nothing to feel or that permits the audience to experience space, then pretty soon the taxpayer starts questioning what they are paying for. It doesn’t all have to be ROI. It doesn’t all have to be to a specification.

  • Hiram

    “Presented in the right way, lots of people will give lots of money-billions of dollars.”

    If that were a successful marketing strategy, it would be used by the leaders of every federal endeavor. Let’s dream that everyone in this nation was well fed. OK, how about a movie showing everyone stuffing their faces with cheap food? That should bump the food stamp budget back up, no?

    “Unfortunatly if NASA spends billions and the people get nothing to see, nothing to feel or that permits the audience to experience space, then pretty soon the taxpayer starts questioning what they are paying for.”

    Wait. So you’re saying that the purpose of NASA is entertainment? An amusement park? Wow. First you’re demeaning engineers, by denying their dreams, and now you’re saying that what NASA is about is letting the taxpayer “experience space”. NASA is right up there with movie theaters and drugs in providing the public what it needs to dream, I guess.

    Let me help you out. People pay good money to do good things. Those good things may be driven by their dreams about good things. In the same way that NIH doesn’t spend $30B/yr to permit people to experience laboratories, NASA has no obligation to “permit the audience to experience space”. NASA’s obligation is to make the case to taxpayers that it is doing a good thing.

    “Gravity” is more than a “dream”. It’s a representation, with some degree of special effects accuracy, about what it’s like to be in space. That’s pretty cool. But it’s not an argument to spend billions of dollars. That’s my complaint about the movie. “Gravity” is about representation, but doesn’t touch rationale with a ten-foot pole. It tries to tell half the story.

  • guest

    Communications, media, education, entertainment, edutainment….are they different? Are they in themselves “good things”. Or are they just the mechanism for communicating good things?

    What is the “mission” of the federal government and of NASA ? Education, invention, transportation, new experiences, new knowledge?

    “If that were a successful marketing strategy, it would be used…”
    Entertainment and media, led now by gaming and with Hollywood in second place, is one of the US’ leading exports and does make a lot of money. Its estimated that US entertainment and media brings in a hundred billion dollars a year and that world-wide its a multi-trillion dollar industry. All that money spent on marketing and advertising-its for a reason, it buys attention, good will, support, and it sells product.

    You might ask if a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, did it really happen? You might also ask that if NASA is spending billions on space flight, but no one knows about it, is it of any value ?

  • Hiram

    “Communications, media, education, entertainment, edutainment….are they different?”

    Yep. Not sure how you can consider them not to be.

    “Are they in themselves “good things”. Or are they just the mechanism for communicating good things?”

    The only “good thing” is quality of life. These things pertain to quality of life in very different ways.

    “Entertainment and media, led now by gaming and with Hollywood in second place, is one of the US’ leading exports and does make a lot of money.”

    Absolutely. But what we were talking about was federal investments and making the taxpayer want to pay for something.

    “You might also ask that if NASA is spending billions on space flight, but no one knows about it, is it of any value ?”

    Yes, I suppose we might ask that, but it’s a pointless question. I would be shocked to learn that the American public didn’t know about space flight, and the billions that are being spent on it. In fact, surveys show that the American public think we are spending a lot more on it than we really are. The American public thinks it has value, but in kind of a wishy-washy way. Like “exploration”, one of the wishy-washiest words in modern space vernacular. As to whether the taxpayers are being entertained by space flight, as “Gravity” does for them, perhaps not. You seem to be presuming that NASA should be entertaining them.

    But yes, if NASA can’t think of a compelling rationale for human space flight, then it comes down to doing it to entertain people.

  • guest

    I think your responses are naive but typical of many engineers I meet. BTW I am a working NASA engineer-have been for 35 years.

    • Hiram

      “BTW I am a working NASA engineer-have been for 35 years.”

      Ah, so you were talking about yourself! Well, dreams can die, especially for elderly NASA engineers. That’s what you meant about the “limits of the engineer’s brain”. Thanks for the clarification.

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