Sunday, July 10, 2011

The right stuff

With the last NASA Space Shuttle launch, just fifty years after Alan Shepard's flight, all of the old debates over manned vs unmanned space flight come up all over again.  Some of that is captured in Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff (the book and the movie).  One of the things that stand out in my memory of the book was the astronauts having to fight the engineers for the inclusion of a window in the cockpit.  These guys were pilots and they wanted windows.  The pilots won and they got windows, but deep space exploration, even if it does include humans on board will be ever less than traditional piloting.  Differences of degree eventually grow into differences in kind.

Discussions like this will surface as soon as driverless cars are perfected.  Will Americans want driverless cars?  I don't think so. Autos are one part conveyance and many parts piloting. 

The early astronauts were right.  Take the piloting out of spacecraft and you may as well stay home.  I realize that many air force pilots are becoming drone operators, but I expect they see this as a step down. 

Most Americans (and others) spend a lot of time in their cars not stuck in traffic.  Just look at how much they spend on their cars and all of the fru-fru they pack into them.  It's as close as most will ever get to being pilots and fantasizing about the right stuff.