Former NASA Admin Blames Picard For Making Rockets Look Easy

When a NASA employee has had a hard day at the office, it's not Khan's name they scream from the top of their office building, or a Wesley Crusher piñata they smash. It's the captain of the Enterprise D that's the target of their phaser fire.

On the back of North Korea's failed attempt to get a rocket doing what rockets are known for, the Star Tribune had a chat to former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace about the difficulties of using explosions to propel objects skyward. According to the article, getting a payload weighing just shy of 30kg requires a tonne of TNT — enough to send it hurtling into the clouds at 29,000km/h.

It then emphasises that getting all the calculations and adjustments right to make this happen is no easy task. Getting just one thing wrong can transform a miracle of man-made engineering into an extremely expensive (and potentially deadly) pyrotechnics display.

This is all fascinating, but it was Pace's final comment that raised a few eyebrows:

"In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is 'Star Trek'," Pace said. "Captain Picard says 'engage' and the ship moves. And people think 'How hard can this be?'"

I don't know about you, but I have no delusions regarding how hard it is to get a big piece of metal flying through the sky, let alone space. If anything, Star Trek (along with paper backs from the golden age of sci-fi) compelled me to learn more about the universe. I'm just hoping this is an off-hand comment from the former associate admin, rather than a sign of common thinking among those at NASA.

Image: Know Your Meme / Paramount Pictures

[Star Tribune]


Comments

    I can kinda see where he is coking from, when i was young(er) i thought that way.

    Of course the enterprise had technology a lot more advanced than we do now, and in a few hundred years, 10 year olds (a few that is, not all 10yos of course) will be capable of building a basic space ship from parts they buy down at the local hardware shop, running an open source spaceship os that takes care of the calculations from a laser scan of the hull and accurate weight reading.

      Not quite sure how many degrees of awesome your post covers...

    This person was in NASA? Sure, he is an Administrator :)
    Star Trek has inspired many talented people go to a space industry. I mean talented engineers, not administrators ;)

      "Administrator" is the highest rank in NASA. Associate Administrator, I would assume, is one or two steps down from the top.

    Pffft pitiful excuse, throw him into the brig. Make it so!

    Picard ruins everything. We would be actually be walking on the moon today, rather than TV studios if it wasn't for Picard and his Star Treks.

    Ok Picard doesn't just say engage, he also has an Andriod at the helm calculating course.
    "Set course 317 mark 214" etc

    Star Trek was always right about one thing though. The future of space travel is not using chemical rockets. I have always been interested in 2 ways to get to orbit 1) the space elevator using some sort of carbon fibre cable currently being worked on around the world. And 2) the microwave lifter -using a space based microwave laser or reflector fired at the top of a vessel with a shielded ceiling. The high temperatures on top - pull the vessel into orbit. A combination of both may also be feasible. Perhaps use the space elevator to haul fuel up only and use the microwave lifter to take people up. Just a thought.

    So no-one got that the serious part of this is 'when something goes wrong, the people who give us money go off their nut because sci-fi movies have it all so damnably convinient!'

    That's what I took from this.

    Maybe he should wear a red shirt and told to investigate that noise

    It is easy to get in space.. look at ancient indian history, or torture a few Nazi scientists about what they found in the ruins they built their Antarctic Submarine and research base over. The US and Britain wouldnt have both invaded the place if all it had was penguins. So there is a non-rocket way to do it, and the ancient indians knew how. Or look at the last sucessfull deep space probe we sent out, it uses an Ion propulsion system. The only expensive part about space is getting into orbit, once your there it is dirt cheap to move crap around. NASA's biggest handicap is their heads are so far up... er, lets just say they are not particualy amenable to out of the box, or left field research. Even school kids can scrape together enough pocket money to send lego men into the outter atmosphere with balloons, go google it.

    As for the space elevator.. If they strung hydrogen or helium balloons every 1000 metres or so to spread out the load they could probably make the damn thing out of fishing line and you could get supplies (or that 30kg box of chocolate) into space with nothing more than a Duracell battery, an electric motor and a solar panel (*and maybe a paperclip for you MacGyver Fans). The real challenge is counteracting the centrifical and high atmosphere jetstream stresses. Or calculating the high orbit centrifical forces needed to work like a "skyhook" to hold the weight of the last section that balloons wont be able to go high enough for. Just Nasa and the US science community have been too busy playing rockets with their carbon nano tubes, to do up their fly and think about it seriously.

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