Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Is a Webcam Really Too Much to Ask??

Image shamelessly stolen from APOD 3 March 2010
I brought this up once a very, very long time ago. Shot an email straight off to NASA Admin. Dan Goldin at the time (At least I think it got too him. The NASA email server didn't cough it back at me as unsent). He never replied (the bastard).

The idea is simple enough: put a user-directable, streaming webcam on the outside of the ISS so people can browse over and check out space on their own terms. Either put servo motors on the camera so users could move the camera around or put something like 5 separate cameras in one housing and stitch a spherical projection together on the ground, then the ground system could "virtualize" the moving camera for each user. Either way should work. The nice thing about it is that regular Joes could have their window on space running on their PCs. Kids in classes could check out what was going on aboard ISS right now. A window on space would have a chance to be ubiquitous on desktops everywhere. Ubiquity = interest. Interest = funding. Got no bites on this idea whatsoever. The fools!

Now NASA's on the chopping block due, in large part, to their own lack of imagination and/or lack of nerve. Their plan to keep ATK alive by building a bottle rocket out of used shuttle parts is headed towards inglorious death. I say headed, because although President Obama canned Constellation, nothing in the federal government truly dies until it has had a holly branch driven through it's heart and its lobbyists have been burnt at the stake, and I expect no less for the Ares I. There's too much money to be spent to simply let it die.

Hoping the SpaceX Dragon works out. Although manned commercial launches may seem a bit dodgy, the price savings is significant (an order of magnitude cheaper than the Shuttle), and it is the only credible way leading to regular citizens flying in space (regular citizens DO NOT fly in the shuttle or NASA vehicle, because it is politically untenable). One could argue that because of their economic woes, Soyuz is essentially a commercial flight, so a precedent does exist.

If NASA's manned space program is to survive (I have no doubt that NASA's Aeronautical programs and robotic missions will continue unchanged, or perhaps with even greater funding), the boys at NASA need to pull their collective heads out of the collective posteriors and come up with a different approach to space exploration. They have to admit to themselves that what they're SOP doesn't work.

Instead of accumulating votes in the House and Senate by distributing their development programs over as many states as possible, they really need to come up with programs so inspirational that Congressmen and Senators will be bashing down NASA HQ's doors to be part of the action. To that end, I am formulating a plan. More later.