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Exploring Space

Date: 10-21-03
Host: George Noory
Guests: Robert Zimmerman, Dr. Sky

Author Robert Zimmerman delved into the history and future of space exploration. Dissecting the American-Russian rivalry in the 1960s, he commented that the Soviets initially got the upper hand in the space race because the "whole energy of their society was behind it."

Later, after the US triumphed with the 1969 moon landing, Zimmerman said the "American public lost its will," after getting a look at the desolate and lifeless qualities inherent on the moon. Explorations of the moon were cut short and astronauts "saw less territory than a NYC cab driver sees in an afternoon of work," he jested.

More excited about the possibilities for life on Europa than Mars, Zimmerman noted that some of the ridges circling Jupiter's moon have curious red extrusions. Saturn is also a "weird place," he said, pointing out that its rings "almost have the property of water." Closer to home, Zimmerman compared the structure of International Space Station to the technology used in submarines, and said that experiments being conducted there on weightlessness and bone loss could yield promising research for the problem of osteoporosis here on Earth.

Just Say No to NASA

"Although it is essential that the United States continue manned space exploration, it is time someone in Congress finally said no to NASA…and give the job to someone else," writes tonight's guest Robert Zimmerman in an op-ed piece that ran in USA Today last month. To back up this assertion he cites how NASA, since the 1980's, has spent nearly $5 billion dollars in projects that have never got off the ground.

These scuttled ventures include the National Aerospace Plane ($1.7 billion/drawing pictured left), the X-33 spacecraft ($1.2 billion) and the Space Launch Initiative ($800 million in blueprints). Zimmerman advocates a return to a 1960's-style NASA when "the agency merely laid out general specifications for competing private companies," which were able to "quickly and cheaply produce new rockets, capsules and lunar landers."

Several American rocket companies were struggling to finance their launch systems during the years NASA "was wasting a fortune," Zimmerman pointed out. One such company Rotary (whose assets were subsequently acquired by XCOR Aerospace) actually conducted several manned test flights. "Their designs were lean and mean," said Zimmerman. Estimated construction costs were "about the same as what NASA had spent on blueprints."

Dr. Sky Update

Dr. Sky (Steve Kates) made an appearance in the first half-hour of Tuesday's show discussing the arrival of the Orionids, a meteor shower that hails from the direction of Orion, and is typically seen in the sky on the night of Oct 21-22. Interestingly, he pointed out that the Orionids are formed from debris left over from previous passages of Haley's Comet.

Bumper Music

Bumper music from Tuesday October 21, 2003

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