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September 25, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

How did space travel turned into an office park when it was sold as being a unique adventure?
posted by Brandon Blatcher (49 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Space travel has always been an office park. Except when it was dudes trying not to blow their hands off out in the woods, or slave labor building weapons of mass destruction.

Actual unique adventures often end in death. The office park isn't such a bad place to be.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:25 PM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


When did The Atlantic begin printing prose like "motherfucking outer space"?
posted by Egg Shen at 4:37 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love how the second paragraph of the article contradicts the first. The space program has been political from the beginning. It's not like politicians were all idealistic until the 1970's and then suddenly decided to meddle.
posted by Jahaza at 4:38 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh and it gets even more explicit....

From graph 1 of the "How" link:

"Unfortunately, this merely adds Romney to the end of a long line of politicians stretching back to the 1970s who want to use NASA as political capital rather than actually advance America's space program, confounding an agency which does its best work when it is given a task and is then left alone to finish it."

Further down:

"But starting with Richard Nixon's first term in 1969, even as Project Apollo was sprinting to a wildly successful manned lunar landing, the meddling began."

I can haz editor?
posted by Jahaza at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2012


Did it died?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a Space Shuttle child. I ogled big exploded view posters of the spaceship in classrooms.

Yikes. It took me three readings to parse those first two sentences. I'd assumed he was looking at pictures of the Challenger exploding. You can't say the word exploded when referring to shuttles in general.
posted by mochapickle at 5:05 PM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember the lunar landing. And I also remember the Challenger explosion. We were typists at Allstate Insurance, Commercial Division. 40 policies a week on a Xerox Memorywriter, 5 errors allowed. We could listen to our Walkmans to pass the time. All of a sudden, someone said, "the Space Shuttle just exploded."

No more Wham that day.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:10 PM on September 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Mmm, I like the painting of the Shuttle on the back of its transport aircraft in that last link, complete with the yet to be removed stripes from its (short) former life as part of the American Airlines fleet.
posted by wierdo at 5:36 PM on September 25, 2012


The Atlantic is like popcorn. It contains a kernel of truth surrounded by a lot of puff and you just can't stop eating them but never feel full.
posted by stbalbach at 6:04 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Space is dangerous as hell. You got to Antarctica in coldest winter, and you're stuck in an office/cabin for weeks and months. Space is like that all the time.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:15 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"In the 1960s we went to the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard. In the 1980s we went to low Earth orbit because, you know, somebody got a grant to study polymers in zero-gravity, or because a high-price pharmaceutical could be more readily synthesized, or because a communications satellite had to be deployed, or because a space telescope had to be repaired."

Author's CV - this guy knows from videogame design and culture, but not so much with the science or engineering or, apparently, fact-checking: overview of some Apollo 11 mission experiments. Big ole pdf reviewing all of the Apollo experiments. NASA site where you can search for any project by PI, spacecraft, or experiment name.
posted by gingerest at 6:16 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Warren Ellis had an essay (might have been linked from here) with this evocative line:
Now imagine a world where space travel to other worlds is an antique curiosity. Imagine reading the words “vintage space.” Can you even consider being part of a culture that could go to space and then stopped?
He wrote this in a what if? voice, but this is the world we live in.
posted by adamrice at 6:20 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


By which I meant to say - in the 1960s we went to the moon to do experiments that would seem just as dull and office-park-y. It was televised because it was novel and hard and dangerous - but it's just as hard and dangerous now, with the novelty rubbed off.
posted by gingerest at 6:25 PM on September 25, 2012


I'm sorry that our wheeled rover on Mars and our spacecraft going to Pluto and our spacecraft going to Jupiter and our spacecraft touring asteroids with ion drive and our telescope that detects planets around other stars and our 35-year old probe entering interstellar space isn't exciting enough for you, MR. MAN.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:37 PM on September 25, 2012 [30 favorites]


The Atlantic article misses the mark by a few thousand parsecs but it seems to be coming from the right place. The observation that all of today's dreams are dreams of wealth seems to strike close to the heart of whatever it is that is eviscerating our capability or at least our ambition, in space flight as in other areas, and it provokes powerful pangs of nostalgia for the future. Why is it that our office parks are so dull and drab and deadly? Millions upon millions of people work there and what they do is of great consequence. Why are they not exciting, slightly deranged places of wonder and opportunity? Perhaps that's what makes a series like Mad Men so alluring. Even our offices seemed more interesting in the future that's passed.
posted by deo rei at 6:37 PM on September 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


FYI , for those of you not in the video game studies scene, Bogost is a major video games scholar of the lefty philosopher kind
posted by Bwithh at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2012


He wrote this in a what if? voice, but this is the world we live in.

Not really. There are people in space RIGHT NOW. Manned space travel hasn't stopped, nor has development of new forms of space travel.

All that has happened is one agency of one government has stopped its manned space program.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like how the space program works best when it is left the hell alone, but then when Carter left it the hell alone, he "ignored" it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


All the exciting parts of exploring the solar system have been leeched out
Already?!?!? That's impressive- we must have been investing in space colonization like gangbusters since the 1960s. Rich people and everyday plebs not allowed to be excited about it though.
posted by Bwithh at 6:45 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: I work for the US space program, but not for NASA.

President Obama has it right. Sending people to a near earth asteroid ("Flexible Path") is the most interesting mission we could be doing. I look forward to being a part of it. Until then, check out the ISS science website, we are always doing something cool up there.

wildcrdj: Which agency are you referring to in your last sentence?
posted by BeeDo at 6:49 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


During the 1950s and 1960s, space exploration was primarily a proxy for geopolitical combat. It was largely symbolic, even if set against a background of earnest frontiersmanship

wtf??? ICBMs? hello?
posted by Bwithh at 6:49 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


wildcrdj: Which agency are you referring to in your last sentence?

NASA, and upon further reflection my comment was obviously inaccurate, as NASA continues to do manned space missions, just not using NASA launch vehicles for now (what I was thinking was: "has stopped manned space launches" which is not what I said of course).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:57 PM on September 25, 2012


The Endeavor flew the Texas flag upside-down while in Houston en route to California. International sign of distress.
posted by Houstonian at 6:59 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah one of those Shuttles should have been ours. Fucking bullshit, excuse my Martian.

Anyone rated for flying a 747? I say we go to New York and steal the Enterprise.

The answer is no. I am therefore going anyway.
posted by BeeDo at 7:08 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic is like popcorn. It contains a kernel of truth surrounded by a lot of puff and you just can't stop eating them but never feel full.

And both so much more fun when slathered in hot butter.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:18 PM on September 25, 2012


FYI , for those of you not in the video game studies scene, Bogost is a major video games scholar of the lefty philosopher kind

I'm guessing Cow Clicker wasn't enough to fund his own trip to space/personal rocketry programme.
posted by acb at 7:22 PM on September 25, 2012




Space travel is hard -- check out this (2 meg PDF) insane flow chart for a Mars mission. (html version)
posted by Rumple at 7:25 PM on September 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


From homunculus link:
The eventual goal would be to have a human-tended station on the Martian moon Phobos, directing robots to build facilities for permanent residents on the Red Planet.
Never heard this before. Any more info on orbiting-human-tended stations directing robots building habitats on Moon/Mars?
posted by stbalbach at 7:36 PM on September 25, 2012


The eventual goal would be to have a human-tended station on the Martian moon Phobos, directing robots to build facilities for permanent residents on the Red Planet.

Wow, talk about a crappy job posting. You're on a teensy asteroid, working in 0g, WAY the heck away from Earth, no horizon, no cool planet or Moon or whatever to walk around on (Phobos is small), you don't get to be MAN ON MARS, no comforting view of the Earth, just the dusty brown of Mars out the window and you spend all your time in a cubicle directing robots on a computer screen.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:51 PM on September 25, 2012


Good point BungaDunga.

Besides, if you're going to be directing these robots remotely anyway, why not be on Earth? What benefit could possibly be worth the billions of dollars to shave off the 15 minute lag?
posted by dd42 at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2012


Metafilter works in mysterious ways…

BungaDunga, your comment made me think of an Asimov short story where an autistic man is used to control a robot on Mercury. I couldn't remember the name, so I googled 'asimov' 'autism', which lead me to the novella "Sucker Bait".

I've been trying to remember that one for literally years!

I read it once in high school, the thing about beryllium poisoning stayed with me, but I've never been able to find it again (probably because I thought it was an Arthur C. Clarke story). Turns out it was in Asimov's The Martian Way and Others, which I never borrowed again because I had the title story in another anthology…

By the way, the story I was thinking of originally was "Stranger in Paradise".

(Even odder - my gf now works at the same high school I attended, and occasionally saves old library books from disposal & brings them home. Guess which Asimov book she brought home last week, but I haven't had the chance to read yet?)
posted by Pinback at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2012


you don't get to be MAN ON MARS

Robot Overlord of Mars
posted by stbalbach at 8:58 PM on September 25, 2012


I'm sorry that our wheeled rover on Mars and our spacecraft going to Pluto and our spacecraft going to Jupiter and our spacecraft touring asteroids with ion drive and our telescope that detects planets around other stars and our 35-year old probe entering interstellar space isn't exciting enough for you, MR. MAN.

When you say the words "space exploration" most people seem to go straight to the somewhat less than "WOW" state of manned space exploration.

Then they say the money would be better spent on schools or feeding the hungry. It seem to be obvious to everyone but me that the space program is the *very thing* preventing us from doing just those things.
posted by chimaera at 9:09 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ahem. First off, to paraphrase my 10th-grade art teacher, space is not boring, and people who say it is are boring people.

That's a good place to start. And here is why. Adults who say space has become boring are grumps. Kids get space being anything but boring. Adults are the ones who are upset with, well, being old and not being in space. Kids are full-on cra cra about space. I mean, CRA CRA.

As it happens, I was just talking about this. In Houston. At Johnson Space Center and the 100 Year Starship symposium as a presenting author. My topic? "Children: The Future of Space is Presently 8-12 Years Old." (Interested, it's on Soundcloud.)

For those who are unaware 100YSS is DARPA-funded to seed the creation of an interstellar transport within 100 years time. The idea being Jules Verne published From Earth to the Moon in 1865, and approximately 100 years later we went there. It's an interesting idea and while it may not be a good plan, at least it's a plan. You may have read some of the recent articles on warp drives that came from the symposium. Anyhow, I was part of that.

As my presentation was on day 3 of the 4 day presentation, I had plenty of time to hear other presenters. Consistently, across the board, in every track—from science celebrity track chair Dr Ian O'Neil's Becoming an Interstellar Civilization to esteemed NASA astrophysicist Dr Fola Soares' Interstellar Enhances Life on Earth track—I heard the same observation:

"We have to reach kids."

And, "We need education." Also, "The key is outreach to students."

It altered the presentation I was to give. In the can, I had a piece about combining branding, kids products and narrative with the excitement of the 100YSS mission to build awareness and encourage consideration of astronautics as a career path.

Instead, I explained a secret.

The secret was this: Kids get space. But a disconnect has happened because adults realize the odds of becoming an astronaut are about as likely as becoming a Barack Obama or a JFK. There are only a few. Far less than even rockstars or pro athletes.

That is just not exciting to kids. Parents and teachers, having once been kids who planned on being astronauts, now realize that the dream didn't come true and have been consciously/unconsciously quashing the dreams in kids.

So, I explained, what we need is a new model, a "next-generation astronaut". A career model of someone who works, lives and plays in space. And we need people who get this to explain it to kids and students instead of arguing it out with disappointed former-space kids who are now not-so-somewhat frustrated adult (still-)wannabe astronauts.

We need big kids—and trust me there are PLENTY to be found at Johnson Space Center and Cape Canaveral and Spaceport America—to share their unfulfilled but definitely untarnished vision of humans in space with real kids.

And gratefully, they got it. Everyone who heard, everyone who listened immediately connected with the message. WE are not going to space in our future. WE are encouraging kids to realize what we are doing is building the foundation for them to build the ships and space stations and what-all for THEIR kids to be living and working in space. It was the same message I give to kids (albeit from a different angle) regularly for the reason I was at 100YSS in the first place. What I do is go around and explain to young kids in classrooms libraries and space conferences that, here in the future, they can work live and play in space because: astronautics is a career path!

When we as youngsters were imparted with the love of space, something absolutely brilliant happened even though we didn't (yet!) get to go. We worked on making that dream of space come true. It inspired us to be who we are. We built all this! And I for one am pretty happy about that. But then again, I'm an astronaut teacher.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:35 PM on September 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


PS If this thread's overall pro-space consensus clicks with you, you may want to get in touch with your nearest SpaceUp chapter and if there's not one think about forming one. IMO*, SpaceUp rocks!

* I have no connection with SU except as an admirer and fellow space fan.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:44 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


All I can say to that Bogost piece is ... not even wrong. Manned space has always existed dancing on the border between the mundane and the fantastic. Sure, you have guys* who RIDE FIRE INTO THE SKY, but then what do you do with them when they're up there? So maybe ISS is a shirtsleeve environment, but what do you want -- guys in pressure suits fumbling for their drink mix with only their lips? The space station is arguably the most complex engineering project ever undertaken by humanity, and we've made it work for going on 15 years. If that doesn't inspire you into the STEM professions, I don't know what really will.

Sure, you can say we need to boldly go and all that, but remember that the bold stuff is expensive and involves a lot of things we haven't built yet. The idea that we could somehow recapture the excitement that someone Bogost's age felt when man first ventured into space is foolish. We did that. We got into space. It's still very cool, but it can never again be a first, with all the sense of excitement and danger.

* Non-sexist usage of "guy"
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Space Politics is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence."
posted by blue_beetle at 5:15 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, you have guys* who RIDE FIRE INTO THE SKY, but then what do you do with them when they're up there?

For some reason I'm reminded of Gemini 7. NASA sent up two guys for two weeks with the living space of the front seat of a car. Why? To see if humans really could survive 14 days in space, because that's the outside range of a round trip voyage from the Earth to the Moon.

NASA's idea was to keep one of the astronauts in a spacesuit at all times. Probably so that if something happen, at least one astronaut might survive and be able to land the spacecraft. Anyway, the "one astronaut must be suited at all times" idea didn't last long, 'cause hey it's the front seat of a car, you're already cooped up, so who wants to be wearing a form fitting spacesuit? Eventually NASA administrators relented after the astronauts complained and let both of them be out of their space suits at the same time.

So then there were two guys orbiting the earth in their underwear, for two weeks and sharing a single toothbrush (the other had been lost). Not very sexy, especially when you consider the bathroom situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I say we go to New York and steal the Enterprise.

Make sure you disable the Alcubierre drive on the Excelsior first.
posted by thecaddy at 6:43 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know who else tried stealing a shuttle....

Not very sexy, especially when you consider the bathroom situation.

*hastily rips out pages from sex fantasy notebook*

Yeah, as I once said about speculation regarding "sex in space", the orbiters aren't very roomy and privacy is non-existent. Think about two people who want to get it on except they're trapped in a minivan with half a dozen work colleagues for ten days.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on September 26, 2012


Bogost = Bogosity ?
posted by crazy_yeti at 9:13 AM on September 26, 2012


I find it hard to understand how any forward thinking person could not see the social, poltical, and economic benefits of a robust space program. It unites the country by our vicarious presence on exciting missions. Enthusiasm for space exploratopn cuts accross all party lines. Space exploration funds good paying STEM jobs. Every penny spent on space is spent here on the planet (mostly in the United States). The goodwill generated from other nations by a successful US project. The world instictivly likes a winner and the US has benefitted greatfully by the success of NASA.

I'll stop my ran't here. If American Exceptionalism is to have any meaning at all we need to be exceptional in something besides our military might. NASA will make do with whatever budget it recieves but it should be our mission to give man access to the stars.
posted by pdxpogo at 9:34 AM on September 26, 2012


Think about two people who want to get it on except they're trapped in a minivan with half a dozen work colleagues for ten days.

Actually, those work colleagues could be useful to help keep the bodies of the fornicating couple steady. Which would make for some pretty awkward training procedures, checklist writing and communications.

"Ted's angle and rate of descent is subpar, we're going to switch anchors and will have Denise control the docking procedure, over"

"Copy that Discovery, initiating thrust maneuver. How's it look through your reticle, over?"

"Fucking Nominal! Ted has clearly been working out, over."

"Copy that. 30 seconds."

"Contact! Houston, the Eagle has landed!"

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2012


I mean, hell, flight — like, ordinary airplane flight way down here in earth's lower atmosphere — is "boring" in a lot of the same ways.

Pilots are some of the most cautious, organized, detail-oriented, even sometimes tedious people I know. Because, you know, if you forget to check one gauge once, you end up DEAD. But then on the other hand you're FLYING THROUGH THE MOTHERFUCKING AIR LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING BIRD, which is by all accounts pretty damn exhilarating.

Same with serious mountain climbers. Same with skydivers, or deep-water scuba divers, or those lunatics with wingsuits, or hardcore whitewater rafters, or wilderness firefighters, or etcetera etcetera. You get to do thrilling things, but the price is that you have to cultivate an unbelievably cautious and bureaucratic mindset, so that even when you're in the full blissed-out state of all-consuming excitement there's still a piece of your brain keeping an eye out and making sure you don't fuck up and die.

So duh space is like that. What else would it be like? If that feels like a contradiction, it's because you've gotten your ideas about risk and excitement from watching mouthwash ads and not from knowing actual human beings who do risky exciting shit.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:17 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Think about two people who want to get it on except they're trapped in a minivan with half a dozen work colleagues for ten days.


Of all the good points made in this thread, my takeaway after reading it all ended up being "if we want to do experiements on sex in space, we should send teenagers. At 15, I would have had sex anywhere."

(I may be shaving numbers off of that number to save at least a little face.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:40 AM on September 26, 2012


Well, I'm sure we can round up a half-dozen people of any age with an exhibitionist streak and a thing for tight spaces and unwashed smells. We can do it if we really put our minds to it. This is America, goddammit!
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:01 AM on September 26, 2012




All the ISS videos are starting to run together, like a beautiful and floating dream.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:07 AM on October 3, 2012


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