Nov 1st, 2003

U.S. should continue manned space flight

Just caught your editorial "End of line for manned space travel?" (October p.1). Your viewpoint was borne out of what I refer to as the bean-counter syndrome. It happens when otherwise intelligent individuals succumb to playing the game of reducing everything to a ledger entry. You might learn the cost of everything, but ultimately you learn the intrinsic value of nothing.

I was born on Feb. 20, 1962. This was the first time John Glenn went into orbit, and the significance of this day was never lost with me. Even more impressive to me was what happened on July 20, 1969. You might be a little too young to remember that day, but I can tell you that it personally put me on a technological high for at least two years, and triggered an interest in technology that still motivates me to this day. I am still in awe of those accomplishments.

I may have been a little urchin at the time, but I have never seen an overall unity in this country since the Apollo missions. It was also a time when engineers were still respected as professionals (as opposed to the disposable commodity they are viewed as today), and kids were inspired enough to want to achieve something. What is the big inspiration for them today? I see two: 1) The sales/marketing/finance types (a contingent I refer to as the "style guys") who ran corporations like they were quarterly crap games and milked them for everything they could while cooking the books. And 2) Pop stars who wear their thong underwear so it shows out the top of their jeans. When was the last time you heard a youngster say his heroes were anyone even close to the likes of the original seven astronauts, Gene Krantz, or even Kelly Johnson? You are a lot more likely to hear the name of a sports figure with a bad temper and a felony drug conviction.

You cannot put a price on inspiration and motivation. To reduce the value of this to dollars and cents is criminal because it kills the very thing the next generation needs to excel.

Incidentally, the Soviets had far more fatalities associated with their space program than the United States did. Plenty of people were burned alive on the ground when their malfunctioning rockets exploded. We may have lost more mission personnel, but the Soviets ultimately won the numbers game for total dead. I won't even get into their nuclear energy–related programs.

NASA's goal used to be a concise one of higher, further, and faster. What is their goal now? Looks to me like they learned a little too much from the style guys.

I rest my case.

Ben Torre
Valvex Technology

Space robots are no substitutes for human astronauts

I disagree with your reasoning for not continuing manned space missions, as you outlined in your editorial "End of line for manned space travel?" If we had used your logic, we would not have gotten to the moon in the 1960s.

Yes, robotic missions can add valuable data about our local solar system, but there's no substitute for the best computer in the world — the human mind. There may come a day when we need to get off this rock, and in huge numbers. If we don't pursue human space flight, we will not know how to cope in space.

All this work to date has provided invaluable information about humans in space. So what happens when we want to pursue exploration beyond our solar system? Telescopes can only provide so much information. Robotic explorers may prove to be too inflexible, and at great distances the time to relay that information back to Earth too great.

All of our past explorers on Earth like Columbus, Magellan, and Cook knew the risks when they set out. I think human space flight has it merits and we should pursue it.

Stuart Murray
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, N.M.

Manned space exploration provides inspiration

I am writing concerning your column "End of line for manned space travel?" If there is no more manned exploration program, what will inspire children to get excited about math and science? I don't think robotic photos from Mars will do it for long.

As your article mentions, it is the "monumental" risks, which have allowed us to make the progress we have. Certainly NASA (and maybe more important, our elected officials) needs to do some things differently, but in answer to your query in the closing paragraph, I think it is not only worth the risks, but essential to our continued progress. I, for one, despite those risks, would be on the next shuttle flight in a heartbeat if ever given the opportunity.

Thom Ganey
Battelle Memorial Institute

Company incorrectly identified

The article, "Military displays get smaller, lighter, tougher" (October, p. 22) contained some incorrect references. First, the caption under the picture on page 22 incorrectly identified Kaiser Electro-Optics as a display vendor for the F-35. The correct vendor is Kaiser Electronics, a Rockwell Collins Company, in San Jose Calif. This same error is present in the text on page 25. In addition, Vision System International (VSI) LLC is a joint venture of Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Elbit Systems Fort Worth (EFW), Fort Worth, Texas. VSI is located in San Jose, Calif. and not Yardley Pa. VSI selected Kaiser Electronics for the HMD and Elbit Systems Ltd., Haifa, Israel, for the head tracking system.

Steve Conston,
senior technical lead
Helmet Mounted Display Systems
Vision Systems International LLC
San Jose, Calif.

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