Category Archives: Popular Culture

Hollywood And Mars

An interesting history.

[Monday-afternoon update]

Even the film-makers had doubts:

“If you had told me two years ago when we were walking into Fox to pitch the approach and what this movie would be, if you told me I’d be on the phone talking about how this is a big spectacle movie, I would have been delighted,” he tells Esquire. “At the time, we knew it was going to be expensive, but we thought it would be more niche than Ridley made it.” Nope.

What made The Martian unique also made it a difficult sell. It was not an action movie. The film’s star would spend his time farming potatoes harvested from his co-astronaut’s feces. The Rock would not show up to blow away aliens halfway through the second act. Mind would prevail over muscle. And that’s not easy to write for the masses.

I hope it will break some of the stereotypes, and make it easier to make these kinds of films.


NASA’s Bureaucracy

This comment over at NASA Watch is a pretty good description of the problem, on the 57th anniversary of the agency transforming from the NACA (which it needs to return to) to NASA:

In another current post on NW, Wayne Hale laments that the lengthy list of specifications is going to kill the commercial crew effort. Why this lengthy list of specs? Maybe because the NASA people who wrote the program requirements had no actual experience in developing any space hardware, and they did not know which specs to select, so they just included them all?

I should also note that it is not because more experienced and more qualified people were not available in these instances of program management, vehicle design, or spec writing. There were people with experience in Shuttle, Spacehab (commercial), Mir systems development, and with DOD programs, but the NASA management went with people they “knew” despite their lack of experience. You can look all the way to the top of the program, the AA for manned spaceflight, and he has little more experience, and so how can he provide the guidance for others to “learn the trade”. In fact he appears to have been responsible for naming a large number of his contemporaries, all from his old organization, payload operations, to leading positions. I don’t think they’ve worked out too well.

The mission ops directorate has the right idea-they require people to be certified and as they get certified their careers progress and they move from document writer to flight controller to flight director. The other technical/engineering disciplines do not have this and so we wound up in a situation where virtually anyone with a degree can be selected for almost any position.

Now, especially after 3 decades of ISS, you have the big bureaucracy in which the main experience base is in meeting attendance. And the people without the experience in the top positions are fearful of the people who actually have any education and experience. This is a corrupt bureaucracy.

That Wayne Hale post, from five years ago, is sadly prophetic.

Martian Brine

I haven’t had much to say about Monday’s “big” announcement, but Joel Achenbach has the straight scoop. In light of renewed concerns about planetary protection, from Emily Lakdawalla and others, I’m thinking about writing an op-ed on why we’re going to Mars, or sending humans into space at all.

[Update a couple minutes later]

I don’t know if I have the time or energy to properly fisk this right now, but Alana Massey says that sending humans to Mars is a terrible idea.

Filthy Meatbag Bodies On Mars

As Keith Cowing points out, the Planetary Society is in no hurry to put anyone on the surface of the Red Planet. They want to do Apollo to Mars, but take almost three and a half decades before the first boots on Mars, and almost four decades before long-term habitation. Though Firouz Naderi claims that keeping it under the cost limit makes it more likely, I’d say that it is doomed to failure. Something that takes that long, accomplishes so little, for so much money, is unsustainable in a democratic Republic. This is why Apollo to Mars is doomed in general. I’m discussing this in the Kickstarter project. We need to have a different approach, starting with an end to the phrase “space exploration” as the reason we send humans into space.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Here’s the link to the report. I’m reading it now, hoping it will have some useful cost data from Aerospace.

JPL Mars Mission Schedule

[Update a while later]

Even Chris Carberry recognizes that we won’t ever get another “Kennedy moment.” I’m not sure, though, how one “stays the course” to Mars, when there is no course.

[Late-morning update]

Over at Sarah Hoyt’s place NASA employee Les Johnson proposes (wait for it) Apollo to Mars.

It is not going to happen, and it should not happen.


Here’s the first review I’ve seen of Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett’s production of Mary Mapes’s fairy tale:

The problem I have with TRUTH is one of focus. While, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t say anything wrong, or leave important details out, it does emphasize a certain point of view strongly. There is a reasonable case to be made that this is because it is the side we haven’t heard. But there is more to it than that — it is trying to build a Hollywood narrative out of a decidedly messy situation by amplifying certain details and minimizing others. Plus, I think the real story here is one of journalistic failure. A focus on what causes us make mistakes and why we often can’t admit when we are wrong would have been much more interesting. That stuff is kind of in the atmosphere here, but isn’t emphasized.

I’ll illustrate my feelings with one of my favorite stories from science. In 1991, Andrew Lyne announced the discovery of the first planet around another star. He was scheduled to give a keynote address about it at the January 1992 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in front of thousands of astronomers. Yet when he got up, he instead explained that he was wrong. He had done some calculations incorrectly, and there was no planet. Rather than disdain, he got a standing ovation from the crowd. That’s exactly how science is supposed to work, and journalism too. But when Mary Mapes was confronted with fairly compelling evidence that she didn’t get things right, she didn’t seem to take a fresh look at the the facts in this new light, she doubled down on her original position. I think it was entirely justified that she was fired, even if the manner in which it was done was problematic.

A democracy depends on a well-informed public, and journalists have an extraordinary responsibility to be above reproach. In our two-party system, too often things degenerate into “sides” and scoring points on the other team. Yes it isn’t fair when one side can lie and change public opinion, and the other can make an honest mistake, face enormous penalties, and have other correct points ignored. But whining about what’s fair is a children’s game. Responsible adults who want to be taken seriously should do the upstanding thing and lead by example.

I’d note (as I always have to do) that “forgeries” is the wrong word, because it implies that there was something real to forge. They were fakes.