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To Infinity and Beyond

Here's the story about NASA, the Vision, and the Space Age. I'll answer questions in a Live Online discussion Monday at 1 p.m.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 15, 2005; 7:06 AM ET
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Joel RULES in the Magazine this week!!

In addition to the fine feature on NASA, Rough Draft is a wonderful example of classical humor writing: you chuckle, you learn, you change the way you look at the world a little.

Posted by: dailyfan | May 15, 2005 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Mom!!

Posted by: Achenbach | May 15, 2005 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article Joel. 2 points to make is I would have liked to have heard from other very accessable Apollo era astronauts that they are getting behind the return to the moon program and lobby for it like a Chinese business agent does to Congress.

The other point is that there were only problems with the insulation of shuttle external fuel tank falling off, when the EPA forced NASA to change to a different formula to cut down on the CFC's. While CFC's are a problem, the minute amounts of it on the external fuel tank would have had no impact on the ecosystem, but it would have resulted in the saving of Columbia and the 7 astronauts. There's been 9 inflight impacts of separating insulation after the formula was changed, whereas there were 0 impacts previous to this change. So in my opinion, the EPA is the one responsible for the deaths of Columbia with close 2nd place to the engineers at Boeing for squashing all requests for the retasking of satellites to inspect the damage on the shuttle.

Hopefully we'll be able to focus on the goal of going back to the moon, mining H3, aluminum, titanium and other strategic metals to ween this country on importing oil or energy from unfriendly & unstable countries. H3 is very simple to mine from the moon, however it's an incredibly potent fuel that burns clean and it is extremely efficent. Then let's see the arabs sell their oil to the rest of the world. The price of sweet light crude will drop to $5 a barrel when we become energy self sufficent and no longer buy from our enemies.

Posted by: Ray Holt | May 15, 2005 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Would it be too much to ask for a demonstration of He3 fusion here -- just one, a teensy one -- before using it to justify a return to the moon?

As for aluminum and titanium... it makes sense to use lunar materials for construction there and in space, but they aren't going to transform terrestrial markets any time soon.

Posted by: Reader | May 16, 2005 6:10 AM | Report abuse

"a demonstration of He3 fusion here"

No thanks. We don't want the blog to melt.

Posted by: wiredog | May 16, 2005 7:30 AM | Report abuse

What, may I ask, led you to write that drivel about the founding fathers of this country? I normally find your humor refreshing, but I had no idea where you coming from with this week's rough draft.

Posted by: confused | May 16, 2005 8:53 AM | Report abuse

The way you use the word drivel it's as though you think that's bad. Drivel is what I'm shooting for. Drivel is my middle name.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 16, 2005 9:07 AM | Report abuse


There was a time during the 1950s, 1960s and even a bit into the 70s, where both fictional and news media promulgated the idea that space was "the final frontier", and that our Manifest Destiny (both as humans and as Americans) was to move into space and the Worlds Beyond, as early Americans pushed into the West. Of course, today we have a different view of that westward expansion, and it's effect on the native peoples of those lands.

Between Walter Cronkite, Bob McCall, Star Trek, Werner Von Braun, Walt Disney, Robert Heinlen, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke and a host of others, we really didn't stand a chance. As children of the 1950s and 1960s, we saw the conflict and strife of that era, and also saw the hope of a clean break from it that space (and the NASA flaks of the time) offered us dreamers. Those of us of a certian age can't help but be romantic about it.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Robert Heinlen's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" may be one of the most blatant attempts to link the Conquest of Space (remember that phrase?), with American History. And some of us bought it, hook, line, and sinker.


Posted by: bc | May 16, 2005 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Great article, Joel. It stands on its own, needing no further comment or questions on my part. But I do have this drivel-y question for you: Do you remember those Space Food Sticks they used to sell as kids' snacks in the 1960s and '70s? Those were awesome.

Posted by: Achenfan | May 16, 2005 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I remember Space Food Sticks.

Used have them with my Freeze Dried Astronaut Ice Cream.


Posted by: bc | May 16, 2005 10:44 AM | Report abuse


I don't retract my comment about the founding father's article, but i would like to compliment you on an impressive cover story. I just had the chance to read it in its entirety and thought it was brilliant...I still think the rough draft was drivel-y, but hey, if that's what you're going for than job well done! Plus, I'm sure it would be tough to hit two homers in one weekend...unless you're on the "cream."


Posted by: confused | May 16, 2005 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and I washed those sticks and ice cream with Tang.


Posted by: bc | May 16, 2005 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Better Tang than Pirate Food and wall candy.

Posted by: mL | May 16, 2005 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Yea, I was the guy in the chat from Atlanta. If you're not busy and in the Washington, D.C. area you should stop by the International Space Development Conference ( that this week. There's almost to much going on in the industry to keep track of it these days.

The other event worth being at is the Xprize Cup Expo in Las Cruces, New Mexico this fall:

Posted by: Michael Mealling | May 16, 2005 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I remember Space Food Sticks--my dad thought they would be good backpacking food. The problem with experimental backpacking food is that once you're out there in the wilderness and you discover the truth, there's nothing you can do about it. Between the SFS's and Dad's homemade granola, well, let's just say childhood obesity wasn't a problem in our family.

(Dad, if you're reading this, it's humor, okay?)

Posted by: Karen B | May 16, 2005 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The only reason the dollars were spent on completing the American manned space flight projects, and fulfilling Kennedy's stated lunar objective, was the overwhelming fear of losing the cold war to the Soviet Union. The "Space Race" was a tangible metaphor for the communism vs. capitalism battle that ruled the post-World War II era. The United States "won" the space race when Armstrong trod on the moon. If it were anything but a government project, NASA would have been shut down at that point. Everything after that has been an effort to justify the ongoing existence of an outdated and unneeded bureaucracy. (Spare us the "scientific and technological progress" argument, numerous kids with a spare computer and an idea have advanced science and technology much more than the Shuttle or pictures of Mars ever has.)

Let's take the metaphoric victory of the American space program literally and let entrepreneurs explore space with venture capital, if there is any viable reason for doing so.

Posted by: Joe G. | May 16, 2005 3:01 PM | Report abuse

bc wrote, "Of course, today we have a different view of that westward expansion, and it's effect on the native peoples of those lands."

The West had native peoples, but space has nothing alive (with the possible exception of microbes). Expansion into space will not harm anything except rocks.

Posted by: MH | May 17, 2005 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Fantastic article - it's always nice to read fresh views on the state of space exploration.

The description of the cozy relationship between government and powerful aerospace companies as "a self licking ice-cream cone" is my favorite quote from Pete Worden - it has all the correct connotations IMHO.

The Aldridge Commission had it right when they said that history teaches us that in the long term military pressures will be the ones that push us into space.

Is there a military reason to develop better launch technology? - you bet!

Is there a military reason to operate on and around the Moon? - you bet! (Pete Worden would have things to say on this).

As you point out the Pentagon space expenditure is indeed larger than NASA's. If the exploration initiative ever gets fully underway it will be on the backs of low cost launchers (probably not using conventional propulsion technology) developed by the military for military reasons.

Posted by: Kevin Parkin | May 17, 2005 5:06 AM | Report abuse

Hey, MH:

I'm curious - how do you know that there is no life beyond the microbal stages anywhere in the Solar System, or in the Milky Way for that matter?

With as much water ice and hydrocarbons as there seems to be within the heliosphere, I don't think that I'm ready to rule out some sort of life within the Solar System just yet. And definitely not within the Milky Way. Should we run into some sort of life somewhere, are we humans wise enough to not screw up again (through fear or ignorance or both), "Prime Directive" or not?

I don't think the movie industry would be remaking the "Andromeda Strain" and "War of the Worlds" if they didn't think they could scare us again with our fear of the unknown.


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2005 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I'm upset because my air conditioner is considerably less cold.

Posted by: Prechrysler | August 3, 2005 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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