NASA has grounded future space shuttle flights indefinitely because a chunk of insulation fell off the external fuel tank during launch… again. This is most likely a problem that has plagued the shuttle since its first launch in 1981, but now the thing has more cameras on it than a topless Paris Hilton in front of a group of Japanese tourists, so no amount of debris will escape scrutiny.

You have to wonder about the timing of NASA’s announcement, since the shuttle is still in orbit. The astronauts on board must feel like a passenger traveling down the highway in a 1965 Chevy Corvair while reading “Unsafe at Any Speed.” At least now scientists can study the effects of zero-gravity on spastic colon.

As much as I’m pro-exploration, it’s becoming increasingly clear that NASA and their government-imposed limitations aren’t the answer to the stated goal of colonizing Mars and the moon.

Starting with the Mercury program in the 50′s, through the Apollo program, which ended in the 70′s, there was the feeling of progress with the space program, not to mention the fact that there were zero, zip, nada in-flight deaths.
Men have gone to the moon several times, and now, 36 years later, we can hardly get ships off the ground without incident. Why? The technology hasn’t gotten worse, but it’s a by-product of a snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug demanding, trial attorney infested, safety guaranteed government. NASA is a government agency, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they are probably only weeks away from demanding airbags on all space shuttles.

Space travel is an incredibly dangerous business, and in today’s Nerfed-up, sharp edges removed world, there is little tolerance for danger from the government. Another problem is that the government is traditionally 20 years behind the times, which is why so often you’ll walk into a government office, and straight into 1982.

The same people who bring us the Department of Motor Vehicles and punch card voting systems are in charge of funding the space program, so it comes as no surprise that a government run space program occasionally performs the celestial equivalent of accidentally voting for Buchanan.

Government slowness is usually a good thing. The attractive feature of monstrous bureaucracy has always been that it corners like an aircraft carrier in dry-dock, making it fairly easy for the fleet-afoot masses to out maneuver, but in a business such as space travel, there is little room for red tape and PC, and we’re seeing proof of that now.

The space shuttle was designed in the 1970′s and is still in use in its original design. This holds true to government tradition. It’s time for modernization and new ideas.

The time has come to take some of the billions of dollars spent on NASA and offer it in the form of tax incentives to private firms and entrepeneurs, with the idea of pushing the government’s goal of colonizing the moon and Mars along without the drag of bureaucracy and intergalactic Ralph Naders impeding the advance.

Take the portion of the space program budget that’s thrown toward the shuttle program, and missions that have become “blast off, take pictures to make sure nothing fell off, come back,” and put the private sector in charge. Should the government ever wise up and do this, there would be Starbucks franchises on the moon and Mars by the time NASA super-glued all the shuttle tiles back into place for the next orbital mission.

It’s something to consider.

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A shuttle astronaut reacts to NASA’s announcement that something may be screwed up again

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