Story Musgrave: straight talk on the current space program.

Story Musgrave is a good friend and colleague. He’s also, hands-down, the smartest, straightest-talker I’ve ever met. We first worked together back when I ran the Discover Magazine Awards at Disney and Story was a (favorite) presenter. Since then, we’ve worked together in various capacities.

Earlier this year, the White House made several (at times contradictory) reports about the future of NASA. I needed clarity so I turned to Story who granted me this interview in late April. He’s a farm boy who went on to fix the Hubble Telescope and I knew he’d cut straight through the BS and deliver the facts framed by his years of experience and knowledge.

Story has 7 graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. Story was an NASA astronaut for over 30 years, a portion of which he spent as a part-time trauma surgeon, and flew on six spaceflights. He performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, conducted two classified DOD missions, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble Telescope repair mission and on his last flight, he operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia.

He’s not shy about sharing his informed opinions when invited to do so. So I did so.
I asked him what he thought about President Obama’s space policies:

“We’re going nowhere, we’re going to launch nothing, we’re going to do nothing.
It takes us 15 years to do what we did in 5 years, 50 years ago.”

I pushed him to help explain why the public is no longer enthused about space. His response:

“Space holds a mirror up for what it means to be a human being. The public IS excited about space but we have to give them something. The Space Station was a massive strategic error. For the cost of that […] the entire solar system would have been covered. Instead, we’re giving the public nothing.”

Here’s the full interview, the release of which coincides nicely with Story’s birthday on August 19th. Story’s willing to do a follow-up so let me know if you have additional questions you’d like me to ask him. (Special thanks to Mike Lucek for his technical assistance.)

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  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    Story Musgrave: “We’re going nowhere, we’re going to launch nothing, we’re going to do nothing. It takes us 15 years to do what we did in 5 years, 50 years ago.”

    That is because 50 years ago we were in the midst of the Cold War; most of mankind's technological advancements have occurred as a result of the pressure of war and the need to throw bigger and heavier stones farther than our enemies: from the Roman catapult to the ultimate 'stone' thrower — the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, since it was a cold war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., instead of shooting at each other, the U.S. and the “bad guys” aimed their missiles at the Moon. Whereas now, since the Cold War has been over for almost twenty years, there is no longer the 'pressure' to do anything because the “bad guys” are not so bad after all, so the U.S. government (either Democrat or Republican) just sits around with their thumbs up their asses while bickering with their political opponents in Congress.

    Darlene: “I pushed [Story Musgrave] to help explain why the public is no longer enthused about space.”

    In the movie Capricorn One, Dr. James Kelloway explained it well:

    […] I remember when Glenn made his first orbit in Mercury, they put up television sets in Grand Central Station, and tens of thousands of people missed their trains to watch. You know, when Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, people were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of I Love Lucy were cancelled. Reruns, for Christ's sake! I could understand if it was the 'new' Lucy show. After all, what's a walk on the Moon? But reruns! Oh, geez! And then suddenly everybody started talking about how much everything cost. Was it really worth twenty billion to go to another planet? What about cancer? What about the slums? How much does it cost? How much does any dream cost, for Christ's sake? Since when is there an accountant for ideas? […]

    Bloody ingrates!

  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    Story Musgrave: “We’re going nowhere, we’re going to launch nothing, we’re going to do nothing. It takes us 15 years to do what we did in 5 years, 50 years ago.”

    That is because 50 years ago we were in the midst of the Cold War; most of mankind's technological advancements have occurred as a result of the pressure of war and the need to throw bigger and heavier stones farther than our enemies: from the Roman catapult to the ultimate 'stone thrower' — the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, since it was a cold war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., instead of shooting at each other, the U.S. and the “bad guys” aimed their 'missiles' at the Moon. Whereas now, since the Cold War has been over for almost twenty years, there is no longer that “pressure of war” to do anything because the “bad guys” are now not so 'bad' after all, so the U.S. government (either Democrat or Republican) just sits around with their thumbs up their asses while bickering with their political opponents in Congress.

    Darlene: “I pushed [Story Musgrave] to help explain why the public is no longer enthused about space.”

    In the movie Capricorn One, Dr. James Kelloway explained it well:

    “[…] I remember when Glenn made his first orbit in Mercury, they put up television sets in Grand Central Station, and tens of thousands of people missed their trains to watch. You know, when Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, people were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of 'I Love Lucy' were cancelled. Reruns, for Christ's sake! I could understand if it was the 'new' Lucy show. After all, what's a walk on the Moon? But reruns! Oh, geez! And then suddenly everybody started talking about how much everything cost. Was it really worth twenty billion to go to another planet? What about cancer? What about the slums? How much does it cost? How much does any dream cost, for Christ's sake? Since when is there an accountant for ideas? […]”

    Bloody ingrates!

  • Thank you for posting this really cool interview! If you get a chance to interview Dr. Musgrave again, I was wondering if you could ask him about the probability of whether intelligent extraterrestrial life exists.

  • Thank you for posting this really cool interview! If you get a chance to interview Dr. Musgrave again, I was wondering if you could ask him about the probability of whether intelligent extraterrestrial life exists.

  • Anonymous

    Er without the ISS the shuttle program would probably have been wound up a lot earlier and America would not have a space program at all. Alas Story does not get it, whilst the Russians DO. The ISS is a working laboratory to develop the first Deep Space Vessel. We are a long way from closed loop life support; let alone: Radiation Shielding; Nuclear Drive;… and the thousand and one devices we will need if we are to explore the Solar System. The big bucks and Big Buck Rogers of the 60’s are over. Welcome to the NewSpace Age.

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