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Bad news: America enters the age of Sputnik 2

I knew Laika the space dog was never intended to return to earth. I always imagined her death something uniquely awful; agony fading into crusty dessicated orbiting dog mummification horror. Brrrrr.

Well, read and be comforted. She was one of several strays picked up on the streets of Moscow and trained for the mission. Though bringing her back alive was never on the cards, they didn’t intended to let her starve or suffocate or anything. After a week — which was as long as the radio transmitter had in it — her daily food ration was supposed to contain a euthanizing agent. So they say.

In fact, she died within hours of liftoff, of the heat — some thermal insulation came loose during launch, leaving the capsule too exposed. So, not nice, but essentially the same death that uncounted dogs face every year in the back seats of cars.

Five months later, Sputnik 2 re-entered the atmosphere and went to bits on the way. So the horrible thing I have drawn for you is not up there going round and round and round.

Rich Lowry has a terrific article in the New York Post today about Obama’s Sputnik myth — the grossly misguided idea that the appropriate response to scary events is a huge transfer of money and power to the government for a giant engineering project. He suggests we replace one of my least favorite phrases with this one: “If we can send a man to the moon . . . we can waste lots of money based on false analogies.”

Good weekend, all!


Comment from David Gillies
Time: January 28, 2011, 11:36 pm

The uselessness of Apollo is summed up in this one phrase: once we got there, we stopped going. It was as pointless as climbing Everest, but much, much more expensive. We did get some spin-off tech, but that’s about it.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: January 29, 2011, 12:37 am

One of the most maddening things about high speed rail in the U.S. is that unless the government pays for it, it’s never going to happen. This is a fundamental truth.

For me the obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is:
There’s no demand for the service and therefore no reason to create it.

The parallel to the moon mission is pretty good in that sense.

Note: Commercial has taken over the rocket launching business. Why? Because they can make a nice profit launching communications satellites. Going to the moon? Not so much chance to profit there.

As for poor Laika – well, you’d have never tricked a cat into getting into that capsule. ’nuff said.

Comment from TexMex
Time: January 29, 2011, 1:03 am

I thought Sarah Palin said it best when she said her reaction to Obama’s Sputnik analogy: “WTF?”

WTF, indeed, Gov. Palin.

Really, Team Obama? Dipsh*ts. We are lead by dipsh*ts and the scary thing is I don’t give a damn anymore.

Comment from Oldcat
Time: January 29, 2011, 1:32 am

Well most exploration is useless, so that’s not the reason the Space Program ended. It was that the post Watergate Congress wanted to spend money on crap, and the presidents were too weak to fight back, so any money spent on actual stuff was cut to the bone. Thus the end of NASA as anything but a joke, the end of the Military effectiveness until about halfway through Reagan, and the humiliating events in South East Asia – the collapse of South Vietnam, the Mayaguez, and the Iran Hostage crisis.

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: January 29, 2011, 2:36 am

Oldcat got that right.

And for David Gillies, just how do you think the rapid advances in medicine have occurred since the 1990s? Hint: It has something to do with electrophoresis. See what the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) was, and how many times it flew. Understand WHY Johnson and Johnson was interested in that experiment, and what its results led to.

Comment from XBradTC
Time: January 29, 2011, 3:05 am

Did I go to the spam bucket?


Comment from David Gillies
Time: January 29, 2011, 4:37 am

Mark Matis: so if not for Apollo, we wouldn’t have this? Nonsense. And if Johnson and Johnson are so damn excited by it then they can pay for it. I’m all for spin-offs out of government-funded research, but Apollo was intended as nothing more than a means to put a thumb in the Russkies’ eye. It wasn’t even basic science. It was extrapolating things we knew how to do already. The LHC, for example, is going to yield real, tangible science and the engineering necessary to make that come about is going to have beneficial side-effects (previously, CERN gave us the Web, which is probably the post-war invention that has increased human wealth the most, and we were all very excited when LEP fired up and confirmed electroweak theory. Abdus Salam’s office was on the same floor as the one where I interned doing FORTRAN simulations of LEP collisions) So there’s a case for public funding. But Apollo was a boondoggle. In the grand scheme it wasn’t even a lot of money, but holding it up as an example of good policy is crazy. If that money had to be spent, a moon-shot was probably a sub-optimal allocation of resources. It’s too specific. Public funding of R&D works best when it’s completely blue-sky. The academic team I worked with in the 90’s laid a lot of the groundwork in solving the basic implementation problems with wireless LANs, but it was private industry that took the fundamentals and turned them into a marketable product, to the extent that WiFi is now ubiquitous.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: January 29, 2011, 4:46 am

The thing about exploration is you find things you didn’t know to look for. Without the space program there would not have been research into vacuum measurement gauges and high-vacuum chambers, which are directly linked to the discovery of silicon’s true electronic properties (previously measured were silicon+crud) and subsequently the neat tricks to be performed by n and p doped silicon leading to semiconductors and all the wonders thereunto appertaining. If you like your laptop and cell phone, thank the space program.

Not saying the government should fund every wonderful exploratory idea, just that we did, in fact, get big huge wonderful benefits and if we hadn’t wanted to do the silly thing of getting a man on the moon, why would anyone want to mess around with vacuum?

Comment from Mono The Elder
Time: January 29, 2011, 5:05 am

or, get sucked out of our ship into said vacuum through a hole the size of a straw. I’m against that.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: January 29, 2011, 6:01 am

Nah, you wouldn’t have to worry about that with a 1 BAR differential, Mono.

It would be a race between suffocation, and pulmonary edema, with suffocation being the early favorite as long as you don’t try to hold your breath. BAD idea…

(Being a scuba diver does have it’s interesting moments….)

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: January 29, 2011, 6:18 am

I should have said EMBOLISM, not EDEMA

Comment from David Gillies
Time: January 29, 2011, 7:38 am

BCR: classic logical fallacy there, sorry. Without the space programme that money would have been allocated somewhere else (we don’t know where, guess as we might.) It presumably would have led to some other technological or societal advantage. Would it have been of greater worth? Who knows? We can always point to some salient outcome of a particular course of action and clap our hands and say how clever we are. We can’t point to the things that would have existed had we made a different choice: pace Robert Frost, there is no road less traveled by. There is the road taken, and the road not taken. And that makes all the difference.

This isn’t science. This is economics. It is OPPORTUNITY COST. If there were one, single idea from economics the apprehension of which I would make a qualifying criterion for taking public office it would be the idea of opportunity cost. You cannot spend a dollar twice. This is the pons asinorum of political science. The Western world is headed down the tubes, and all for the failure to realise the undying truth in the phrase, “you can’t have your cake, and eat it.”

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 29, 2011, 12:37 pm

Yes, you got sucked into the spam filter, XBrad. Sorry. And thanks — I meant to mention “Muttnik” somewhere in the text.

It’s what the media dubbed Sputnik 2.

Comment from Mono The Elder
Time: January 29, 2011, 4:52 pm

@scubafreak well, being popped like a balloon isn’t high on my list either…. along with, you know, not breathing and all…. “DAMN space, You SCARY! That little Human just got ATE! DAMN space, you scary! ( just for reference : http://tinyurl.com/45j4rz3 )

Comment from Buffoon
Time: January 29, 2011, 5:18 pm

@ Some Vegetable

Silly high speed rail. Funny how all of these leftist “must have” programs focus on the urban herd mentality animal. For the vast part of the (fly over) country, we could give two burps of beer about a stupid train.

Your point about a cat never getting into the thing in the first place was spot on.

I wonder if a weasel would have went along willingly?

Comment from steve
Time: January 29, 2011, 10:58 pm

Once people thought the moon was made of green cheese.

once we got there, we stopped going.

Behold the power of cheese

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: January 29, 2011, 11:19 pm

Isn’t it more the power of the absence of cheese? An enticing philosophical construct. . .

Comment from David Gillies
Time: January 30, 2011, 5:31 am

We recently – and briefly – had a moon made of cheese. The Dragon capsule had a wheel of Le Brouère cheese as part of its payload.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: January 30, 2011, 11:19 pm

It took me the LONGEST time to figure out your point. Duh! Good one!

Comment from jwpaine
Time: January 31, 2011, 1:48 pm

Of all the government $inkholes, NASA was the least offensive. Last year, The Feds pissed away nearly as many of our tax dollars on “protection of biodiversity and landscape” as it did on NASA. Should government be in the space exploration business? Nope. Should government be in the biodiversity business? Ah, no.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: February 1, 2011, 4:26 am

@ Some Vegetable: well, you’d have never tricked a cat into getting into that capsule. ’nuff said.

But what about a rabbit?

Comment from skinbad
Time: February 3, 2011, 11:48 pm

I love that picture. You are quite twisted.

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