Why are we so in love with NASA?

TJIC writes:

I continue to be in favor of getting NASA out of the business of human space flight. With NASA we get the worst of both worlds: (a) a budget that results from an FDA-like absolute-fear-of-failure and low-productivity-per-dollar unionized bureaucratic workforce clocking their grueling 7 hour days and accumulating their pensions, and (b) a pretty high mortality rate for astronauts.…all of it in the service of grand exploration visiting a half-assembled RV in the sky.

Okay, sure, it’s awesome that we’re sending people into space to figure out how stuff works in microgravity.  But why is a stunningly stultified agency that occasionally incinerates a few astronauts so beloved a public figure?

I’m guessing that NASA mostly serves as a security blanket for Boomers, who remember the Good Old Days of bold federal mandates, JFK looking good while giving speeches, and government skunk-works (oops, that’s LockMart) programmes at the forefront of capital-pee Progress.  And since “rocket science” has somehow survived as the public euphemism for “really really hard stuff”, the idea that NASA can occasionally send up an orbital schoolbus from the 1980s serves to support the notion that gummint really can solve the tough problems and Make It All Better.  “Socialist calculation?  Hey, we put people on the moon! With slide rules! Of course we can figure out how to run a whole sector of the economy from downtown D.C.  We’ll have a few committee meetings and figure it all out; it can’t be rocket science.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t any hard problems left in aeronautical engineering.  A few months ago, for example, I had occasion to look at some CFD code for simulating a hydrogen scramjet — turns out the thing occasionally “unstarts” (GlaDOS must’ve come up with that term) and we don’t know why.  But that’s being addressed by clever people at Stanford, not NASA.


3 Responses to “Why are we so in love with NASA?”

  1. 1 Madrocketscientist
    April 22, 2010 at 13:02

    Was the code predicting the ‘unstarts’, or was that happening in the model?

    • April 22, 2010 at 13:43

      The test engine itself was ‘unstarting’ unexpectedly; the code was trying to figure out what was happening. I didn’t dig into it all that much — my experience with compressible fluid flow mostly comes from motorsports fandom, and the code itself was being used as an example of a Scala library for geometric computing on graphics hardware.

  2. 3 Madrocketscientist
    April 22, 2010 at 13:02

    As if the name didn’t give it away, I am a Rocket Scientist (and I like CFD code).

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