"I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars." – Professor Stephen Hawking
The September 2008 issue of Discover magazine discusses the next planned flight of the space shuttle; their mission, to fix the Hubble space telescope for the last time. At the time the article was printed, this launch was scheduled to take place in October; however, due to additional electronic failures with the Hubble telescope, the mission has been postponed until sometime early next year (Dunn). The focus of the Discover article discusses NASA’s plans to replace the aging shuttle fleet with a new space vehicle, but it makes a semi-successful claim that NASA’s future is dependent upon the success of failure of this next mission due to potential budget cuts and the tragedies of the past.
The article’s columnist, Corey S. Powell, appears to support professor Hawking’s belief that humanity must venture into the stars if we want to survive as a species. Although he does not state this directly in the article, he does make a pathetic appeal when he addresses the warrant many people have that space travel is important.
The article efficiently covers the range of issues currently facing the space agency in the first half of the article, including the fact that this will be the last mission to fix the Hubble, and that the shuttle program is set to be retired in 2010. In the last half of the argument, he says the following:
NASA’s future depends heavily on this month’s Atlantis mission. If the shuttle flight goes awry, Hubble is doomed, and the already-precarious support for Ares and Orion [the new rocket and space module] might evaporate. (Last fall, Sen. Barack Obama suggested delaying NASA’s next human space adventure to focus funds on more practical problems). (Powell)
Powell’s argument is immediately backed with Obama’s statement, set aside from the text within parentheses, but he fails to elaborate on this position. He could have strengthened his argument by stating that Obama has already proposed delaying the new space vehicle by five years, which would leave the US without a space vehicle for a total of nine years (Dunn). The article does report that the current plans are to rely on Russia to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station once the shuttle is retired, but given the recently strained relations between our countries, there is a chance that this arrangement may end prematurely, which would be an undesirable situation.
Currently our relations with Russia are strained. While there is no indication that the United States will be entering into a war, or even renewing the Cold War, there is an uncertainty about our joint cooperation and diplomatic relations. In August of this year, Condoleezza Rice stated, “Moscow it is playing a dangerous game with the United States and its allies, who will stand by Georgia and ensure its recovery from a weeklong Russian invasion.” She also said, “The alliance would act to punish Russia for its actions and deny its strategic objectives by ensuring that Georgia’s insfrastructure and economy are rebuilt and that its government is fully supported by the West.” (Associated Press). This is the sort of terse rhetoric that makes clear the disapproval of the United States towards Russia’s actions, and it clearly puts in jeopardy any arrangements we have with them at this time.
Powell’s appeal to logos is flawed when he states that the Hubble is doomed if the mission fails because he does not take two issues into account: First,the Hubble is already doomed. Even though the mission will be to repair the space telescope, this will be the last time this happens. It is only a matter of time before it fails again and is abandoned. Second, he also doesn’t take into account the fact that the previous shuttle tragedies occurred at different stages during the mission. The Challenger was destroyed as it was launching into space, while the Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry. This means that it is entirely possible for the Atlantis to successfully launch into space, repair the Hubble, but be destroyed upon re-entry. If this happens then the Hubble will not be doomed’ at least not until it fails again, but the mission itself will still be a failure.
Powell also fails to make any sort of connection between a failed shuttle mission and a loss of funding for NASA. He does not present any evidence suggesting that either of the candidates or policy makers would withdraw their support of NASA if the next shuttle mission fails and leads to the deaths of more astronauts. He does point out the fact that the shuttle program has met with fatal accidents on 1.6 percent of its flights (Powell), which skirts a commonly held warrant that the space program is too dangerous and costly, both in terms of dollars and human lives. However, given the fact that the shuttle has already been deemed too dangerous and the current plan is to go back to a safer capsule design, it could be argued that the powers in control of the nation’s purse strings would simply write off a final mission disaster as a sad side-effect of a flawed design, and then move forward with a more tried and proven design. There is also a question of whether NASA could be in danger by raising the unstated question of whether the American public would be willing to continue a program that has met with the relatively high rate of failure under the shuttle program.
The article highlights the current state of NASA and discusses the very real possibility that the space agency might face serious funding cuts in the near future. Although it references a statement made by the Democratic Presidential candidate, it could have been more clear about what exactly was said. The article does successfully articulate that NASA is in a crucial transitional state, and with it the future or manned space exploration might be in jeopardy.
Powell, Corey. "Saving Hubble." Discover September 2008: 26 - 33.
Dunn, Marcia. "NASA delays Hubble mission until next year." MSNBC.com 29, Sep, 2008 25 Oct 2008
"Rice says Russia playing dangerous game." Associated Press 18, Aug, 2008 7 Nov 2008