Of used cars and more used shuttles

Posted By Pamela on Aug 17, 2007 | 8 comments

img_0775.jpgI have a 1997 Jeep Wrangler. It is a good car that rarely gets driven because it guzzles gas. Sometimes though, when the weather is clear and I have no care for the status of my hair, my Jeep and I hit the road at high speeds. He (my jeep is a male named Sebastian) was my first major car purchase, and was my companion going to horse shows, to dog parks, on observing runs, on 4 different cross country moves, and through a lot of thick and thin.

Yesterday my jeep’s check engine light came on, and as it humped and bucked its way done the road, hesitating and then, um, not, I knew my jeeps time had come – it needed a its first major repair.

Today I took my jeep to the shop where it now awaits diagnosis.

I love my jeep, but I recognize it is reaching the point where I probably shouldn’t go on couple hundred mile road trips unless I’m prepared to get towed at some point. I recognize one day my clutch will go, and where ever I am, I will stay.

But, in general I’m mostly safe (it is a jeep – completely safe isn’t an option). And I’m willing to make repairs as needed because my jeep is right now the only thing I have to carry large objects (like plants and telescopes). I need it. I put up with the dangers and setbacks so I can get things done.

The United States as a space shuttle set. The youngest, Endeavour, is 5 years older than my Jeep and has a whole lot more miles under its belt. When it rides its external tank into space it is essentially a car being towed by the gravel truck. It can hope not to get hit, but, well, gravel and foam both like to dent vehicles. These spacecraft are old, they have issues, and sometimes they are going to need major repairs. But they are what we have, and they are mostly safe (they are after all space craft – they can’t be completely safe). The astronauts know, one of these days they might take it to orbit and need to find a different way to come back down. That’s what it means to have an old vehicle.

When we see the space shuttle stuggling it is easy to say, NASA NASA NASA in a Jan Brady voice. But, we are the ones who elect the senators who decide what NASA can and can’t do. We are the ones who elect the representatives who cut funding and mandate missions. We are the ones who elect presidents who, well, go read Bad Astronomy, he says I what I feel quite well…

I drive an old car by choice.

If you were driving the space shuttle, what type of a choice would you want to see made?


  1. We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing. – Mother Theresa

    The problem with the ‘do more with less’ philosophy of management is that it inevitably leads to asking your charges to ‘do the impossible with nothing’. Having big goals (like returning to the moon) is alright, but not when the big goal comes at the expense of sacrificing the funding for just about every other mission that NASA has ongoing.

    NASA would benefit from:

    * not having political hacks in the upper echelons, but rather having experienced managers who can plan in the long term.

    * a budget that is not revised every year based on the politics of the party in power at that moment.

    * a clear mandate on it’s mission.

  2. Oh, by the way, I see the problem. Your dogma is about to jump out of your karma.

  3. Don’t tell anyone,
    but any government especially the US could (CAN) spend money on whatever it sets its mind too, but there are too many fools that come up with silly political and economic arguments.
    Did anyone ever ask how much World War II was costing, and/or who would pick up the tab/cheque or bill.

    Aren’t Jeeps supposed to run for ever. If you think about it the US destroys more cars in one movie, than the whole annual budget of some smaller film studios. In fact in some movies I’ve seen them wreck better cars than yours. Here we tend to use a car like yours give it a paint job and pretend it is a new one. I guess the rules of general relativity & special relativity apply even to the shuttle. It is not the being stuck up there waiting for the next BUS that is so bad, it is the getting in and not knowing for sure it will not burn up pn tale off or reentry, that would worry me.

    Seems a shuttle ride really is becoming a hame of Russian Roulette. You’d think by now we would have built shuttles that could make it to the Moon and back – just because we can can.

  4. Pam:
    I feel your pain. Really I do. My “Astro-van” died a few months ago and I set out to find a replacement. Consumer Reports rated Toyotas & Hondas as the most reliable and (I hate to break it to you) Jeeps were rather low on the reliability list.

    I ended up getting a Honda Element because it had the most room for hauling my 10″ Orion Atlas 10. The Toyota built Scion xB had almost as much room and better mileage. As astronomy happens at the end of long rough roads with ruts & potholes, I’m glad for the extra ground clearance.

    As for our anti-science administration, I think we owe it to our country to increase our EPO efforts. Maybe a more enlightened electorate will vote more intelligently.
    Richard B. Drumm
    VP CAS

  5. Hopefully you are back on the road by now, but if not have them check the engine temperature sensor. Sebastian’s symptoms sound similar to what my 94 Wangler (a girl named Artemis) was going trough a few years years back. It took several trips to the mechanic and couple hundred in fixing red herring problems to finally find it.

  6. We’ve finally noticed how expensive the Shuttle is. It makes Saturn V’s look cheap. Amazing but unaffordable. That’s why it’s getting retired. We still fly 1950’s vintage B-52’s. The deal is that B-52’s are cheap to build, and cheap to fly. You can keep on flying them with constant inspections, and then actually fix them when you notice that they need it.

    My low mileage car has 197,000 miles. It’s a 2000. My ’88 Mazda has the record – 295,000. I didn’t see how i could replace it – it was getting 37 MPG. But my Saturn is getting 44.

    My Mazda could do over 120 MPH. Your Wrangler should be aweome off road. But i used my Mazda to put the boat in the water, and you…

  7. Just the type of inshigt we need to fire up the debate.

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