Saturday, September 22, 2012

California Tour

As like many other Silicon Valley folks, we were all waiting breathlessly for the most important meeting of the day in our office. It was all about sighting this:

(Courtesy of friends who graciously permitted to share these marvelous photos.)

Needless to say, the wait was all worth as NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour treated Californians on this bright Fall Day. One could easily detect the nostalgia, inherent pride for world class Engineering and our primordial urge to go beyond earthly bounds into the Infinity of Space; in all of these Californians flocking to bid farewell to the space shuttle. 

However, as I think over the history of this remarkable NASA program and decades worth efforts by countless engineers, scientists, workers and others; in the end I feel like it is a program where everything worked out all well except the core 'business case'. Of course, the military pay-offs in itself may justify the whole shebang. But if you consider the history about how the program was sold originally to American people as a 'space truck' which will lower the cost of putting stuff in space by reusing the vehicle; it did not turn out to be the case.  With 134 missions, and the total cost of US$192 billion (in 2010 dollars), this gives approximately $1.5 billion per launch over the life of the program; now that is not cheap (reference item #38).

Strategically, not only do USA does not have a follow up space vehicle to pursue 'on hand space exploration projects'; at the least this 'gold plated expensive Space Shuttle' project kind of starved so many other worthy NASA programs. Just imagine if Curiosity was all happening in late 1990s rather than 15 to 20 years later.

But those are all issues for politicians and 'bean counters'. In California today was the day to enjoy and marvel at what good engineering can do. It is hard to undermine the grit and sheer organizational willingness to overcome all these colossal challenges, to prove not once but twice how collective human ingenuity can still overcome hurdles. That is what this passing 'shuttle' meant to me and possibly to thousands of Californians and admirers world around.

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