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An Amazing Discovery!

Posted by: Dissol

Tagged in: Space Shuttle , Science , Hubble , exploration , Discovery

Dissol

 

Following on from The Pianist's excellent post about the upcoming (although delayed) final mission for the Space Shuttle Discovery, I thought it was worth just taking a moment to celebrate this amazing vehicle's life.  It really is a special vehicle, even compared to its sister ships in the Space Shuttle fleet.

 

Apollo RocketThe whole space shuttle programme is amazing.  I have followed space travel from being a youngster, allowed to stay up late to watch the Apollo Missions at school, on a tiny black & white TV set.  Those rockets were huge...massive affairs, and yet they were basically disposable.  This huge rocket went up, and all that came back was a tiny capsule, just big enough to squeeze 3 people inside…

 

The Space shuttles changed all that.  As a qualified glider pilot myself, I find it thrilling that the fastest "aircraft" is a glider, as it returns to earth, it does so as a glider (although it isn't going to catch any thermals on the way down!!!).  But the vehicle is reusable, even the solid booster rockets are reused.

 

But aside from being a glider, basically the shuttle is a truck.  It has a huge cargo bay, which can take stuff into space.  That stuff can be people, provisions, and new parts for the Space Station (Discovery also visited the old Russian space station - Mir), or satellites.  One of the most important missions that Discovery did was to launch the Hubble telescope, which has given scientists vast amounts of new data about the Universe, and how it came to be.  It also was the shuttle used after both the Shuttle disasters (Challenger & Columbia) for the "return to flight" missions.  It has travelled almost 143,000,000 miles, 38 missions, orbited the earth 5,628 times spending, in total almost a year of its life in space.  Its first launch was in August 1984, which probably makes it older than quite a few MyDLers!!

 

Hubble Telescope being deployed by DiscoveryOf course, space exploration has its critics.  Many people will moan and suggest that for the same money, we could have built hospitals, schools, etc.  Yes, that myopic view is valid, but at the same time, those people have to ignore all the huge benefits that we enjoy directly as a result of space exploration.  Just thinking about one mission that Discovery made - launching the Hubble telescope comes to mind.  The scientists involved in designing the Hubble telescope had to come up with a new method of recording images - film would not be viable (although earlier satellites have used film, which would be 'dropped' back down to earth!).  They had to design a component that would be cheap and light to manufacture to record digital images.  They basically invented the chip which almost all of us use when we take digital photos, either with a camera, or using our phones.  That cheap chip came about directly from the research into building the Hubble telescope.  Now just imagine how big the total market is for digital cameras…  Almost every single photo you see nowadays is a digital photo.  They, rapidly, have become just part of our lives.  An essential part for many people.  All because of space exploration...and that was a side-line!!!

 

So thank you Discovery!  Named after a variety of famous ships that carried out historical exploration.  Scott & Shackelton, (not that long ago, really in human history) went on the RMS Discovery to explore Antarctica.  The Space Shuttle has continued that human exploration of the unknown.  I am looking forward to the replacements with excitement.  I am looking forward to what the next phases of human exploration will bring us.
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Comments (7)Add Comment
The Pianist
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written by The Pianist, November 08, 2010
NICE Post yourself Mr. Dissolsmilies/cheesy.gif I didn't know that naming factsmilies/smiley.gif
barrmar
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written by barrmar, November 09, 2010
Interesting stuff!
The myopic "spend-the-money-on-something-else" school of thought is actually fallacious. It assumes that there is a fixed cake that can be distributed in a number of ways - if you spend the money on A it won't be available for B.
What is forgotten is that by spending money on A you are making the cake bigger - we create jobs etc, and therefore grow GDP. Projects such as these contribute towards economic growth, so it is possible to spend money on space exploration and build hospitals.
Dissol
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written by Dissol, November 09, 2010
Barrmar,quite so... But if we can understand that, why can't the decison makers?? Thankfully the science research budgets in many Eurpoean countries (such as the UK & Germany) were ring-fenced in the present cuts in public spending... But we are still heavily reliant on the research undertaken by the only super-power in the world, with incredible institutions like NASA. But the republicans (& tea party morons) would cut their budgets), as they remain bizarrely anti-science.

Thank you Pianist!
barrmar
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written by barrmar, November 09, 2010
I guess there is also a question of how this type of spending is to be funding. The tea people don't want to pay taxes, government spending leads to more taxes ... Scientific research, health spending, welfare benefits, education all add to the tax burden. Somehow military spending escapes the gaze of the ultra-conservatives. All of these things should be privately funded.
Dissol
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written by Dissol, November 09, 2010
I am all for less government intervention. Minimizing any government's controls seems like a good idea to me. But I am staggered that a rich country like the US does not have a basic health care system, where the weakest in society are forgotten about and pushed aside. To hear them bleat about the communism of a health care system is appalling.

But "blue sky" research has to be funded by states. It is too expensive for private companies to undertake, and the benefits are often indirect, and unpatentable. The UK government was looking to cut its funding of CERN & the LHC. The previous incarnation of which led directly to the World Wide Web as we know it (with the invention of html). How much is that worth to society now?? As I put in my post, what is the total value of digital photography to our combined budgets? Then there is all the different health benefits, and procedures that have fallen out of this sort of research.

It is the same here in SA. Of course, the earners are saddled with a huge tax burden, to provide for the less fortunate, and that is as it should be. If I am earning, then I am happy to pay my taxes. I would rather that, than not be earning...
barrmar
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written by barrmar, November 09, 2010
Dissol, I agree. But there is a common attitude amongst the rich that they shouldn't have to foot the bill.
On the other hand, government spending on projects such as these does help to grow the economy so there should be more all round.
Dissol
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written by Dissol, November 10, 2010
Barrmar, I do realise that, and it frankly makes me sick; I end up working with a lot of people, who for reasons beyond their control are at the bottom of society. It is quite right that our taxes go to assisting their basic needs. What I find amazing is the number of people that I bump into who have benefitted from BEE, but now are against increasing our health care...is that not just the height of selfishness??

And as you point out, investing in research is just a great way of injecting cash into society, and making the money go around.

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