Many folks would like to see us back on the Moon and developing its resources.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

"5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Goodbye, Columbia" by Gregg Easterbrook
This April 1980 Washington Monthly cover story on the problems and progress of NASA's space shuttle program was written one year before Columbia's first launch in 1981.

The most expensive flying machine ever constructed sputtered and smacked through the low waves, kicking up spray, straining mightily to take flight. It had been bobbing by the dock in Long Beach harbor for two days that November of 1947. Now the Spruce Goose was trying to fly. People couldn't take their eyes off it. Who could comprehend its size! Three hundred-foot wingspan, seven-story tail, 200 tons of plane with room for 700 soldiers. It upstaged even the ocean liners lounging nearby. There it was, $25 million worth of prototype seaplane, skating along toward take-off, engines cackling and fuming. Howard Hughes, America's most publicized aviator, designed it, swore by it, and was at the controls. "If it doesn't fly, I'll leave the country forever," he had promised. Now his Spruce Goose was churning through the water, trying to lurch skyward, better get up soon or we'll run out of harbor ....


The Spruce Goose remains today in the hangar where it came to rest 33 years ago. The record for most expensive flying machine has long since been surpassed. There's something heavier, too. Down at Cape Kennedy the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is tinkering with the champion, the $1 billion, 2,300 ton space shuttle Columbia. Columbia is the first of at least four space shuttles. It will blast into space like a rocket, and sail back like an airplane. It isn't a "capsule," as they called the Mercury orbiters, or a "module," as they called the Apollo moon machine. It's a spaceship, designed to be used over and over again, instead of thrown away like a rocket. Much cheaper than rockets, much more versatile, it is the key to the next phase of space exploration. The space shuttle is to the Apollo module what the DC-3 was to Wright's flyer. With a fleet of these ....



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