2010, You’re a Goddamned Embarrassment
August 11, 2010 in Space
Yesterday, I was listening to the news in the jeep that my mom thinks makes me look adventurous, and the announcer is reporting the various goings on in Space. More specifically, she was reporting on the one area of space where we (Earthlings) actually are: the International Space Station. So, because we have nothing else going on in the galaxy than here and on that space station, I am forced to follow a story about astronauts—or cosmonauts for you Commies—trying to fix a pump.
Naturally, because the repairs don’t involve thrusters or lasers or energy shields, I assumed that it’s going to be a boring news event. I mean, I’ve actually seen versions of pump repair here on Earth; it’s less than awe-inspiring. However, this is the only human space mission currently occurring in the Universe, so I decided to follow it with the same enthusiasm that I have when I watch other things that don’t really matter to me, like pre-season football. The main difference being that I don’t get so drunk for pre-season football.
My first impression was that the pump couldn’t be that important. I was thinking that maybe the space lodgers’ toilets wouldn’t flush, but then they could just jettison their human excrement out of a torpedo tube or something. However, apparently this is a cooling pump that deals with their air-conditioning. Not fixing it would cause one side of the Space Station to heat up to 250° F (110° C for you Commies and everyone else in the world other than the US) on the sunny side of the station, and cause the dark side to plunge to -250°F (-110° C). Obviously there’s a problem with this, because the astronauts can’t hop from one side to the other indefinitely. They’d grow tired, and once they stopped, they would either cook or freeze to death.
If you’re like me, you’re probably asking why scientists would develop a spaceship with such poor insulation? What if it was attacked by a heat ray or freeze ray? Is the pump that good? The answer to the last question is “no,” but while the pump is a piece of garbage, they still need it to work to avoid dying in an embarrassing fashion.
Now, because this pump is located outside the space station, they have to go outside to work on it. This shouldn’t be a big deal, because this is 2010 and our space suits should now be form-fitting and comfortable, with maybe a tube going into our mouth for air, but they aren’t like that at all. The thing about engineers is that when it comes to designing outfits, they ALWAYS opt for big and bulky:
Every piece of apparel designed by engineers and scientists wind up looking like some version of the Red Man suits used by police and the military to teach hand-to-hand combat. From personal experience, I can tell you that the only fine motor-skill activity that can be accomplished in outfits like these is the delicate work of being beaten with a club.
So the space travelers went out this morning in their bulky suits to fix the ammonia pump (Oh yeah. It’s being used to pump ammonia, which is also a bad idea.) to keep them from cooking and/or freezing to death. They worked on it for eight hours and failed. I’m assuming that this is because they’re in Space, and when they drop a screwdriver, which I frequently do when completing home repairs, it just floats off. Also, if they’re using one of those adjustable screwdrivers with the iron-gray magnetic bits, those things can be impossible to find against the black backdrop of Space. You almost have to hope that the missing piece passes in front of a star or something, so that you can see it.
I imagine that this is how the bulk of the repair time was eaten up, because even the worst plumbers can usually get a pump fixed during the course of a single workday, and their life doesn’t generally depend upon it. My problem is not with the repair prowess of the brave men and women who hang out in space doing experiments with mice and dry ice and whatnot. My issue is that they shouldn’t have to be doing any of that. This is not what space travel is supposed to be like. They’re supposed to have specialists and assistants for every job. One team fixes the ship; one team fights enemies; one team drives, et cetera. Instead they have a half a dozen multi-taskers sucking down Tang and half-assing repairs. Space travel is an embarrassment.
If you’re wondering where we should be in our progress, you could look no farther than the non-Stanley Kubrick directed 2010—the title of which happens to match the year that we are currently in—as a benchmark. Ignore all of the extra terrestrial nonsense for a moment; we have no control over whether or not there is life out there. The important part is that the US, Russia and China are all competing to get to JUPITER IN 2010. That is a destination that’s 365 million miles (588 million kilometers for civilized people) from Earth and there are three countries attempting to reach it. I don’t really know if Jupiter is really worth visiting (i.e. full of oil), but we’re never going to find out unless we get out there and start poking holes in it.
However, instead of progressing, we’re moving backward. In February, President Obama decided to discontinue funding the Constellation “Back to the Moon” program. Other than overlooking the opportunities in cornering the moon rock market, I agree with the spirit of this decision. We know what’s on the moon already: moon matter. The US conquered the moon over 40 years ago, looked around, and decided that it wasn’t of great interest to us, aside from our ownership rights. However, space is not limited to an ammonia gas-filled space station and a barren natural satellite. We desperately need to see what else is out there and we desperately need a bailout planet.
If anything should be learned from the BP Deep Water Horizon oil catastrophe, it’s that we are eventually going to ruin Earth. We can try to legislate and innovate our way out of it, but in the end some bad actor is going to unknowingly kill something that we all need to survive. When that happens, we can stay here and wallow in the toxic muck or we can bail in spaceships to Earth 2.0, or whatever hippie name people will give it like “Hope” or “Daffodil.” Come to think of it, if the hippies name it, I might just lie down here in the ooze and die.
The Administration has two choices: They can double down on Space and get us all out of here or they can keep working on pumps filled with deadly toxins without the aid of robot spiders or lasers, while his voters drown in a sea of Iranian nuclear goo, or we can look for start looking for a bailout planet, which may actually be nicer. Without political pressure, the conquest of our neighboring solar systems may never happen. Besides, wouldn’t you rather know that the yellow cake uranium or tungsten that your fork is made out of didn’t support the funding of terrorists?
I guess what I’m looking for from the commenters is an answer to this question:
“If you were trapped on the International Space Station and your pump failed, would you rather die from the cold or the heat, or would you invent a new Space-y way to kill yourself?”