We can’t put a man on the moon

It occurred to me a number of years ago that we americans no longer possess the ability to put a man on the moon. And have them come back and still be alive.

Why? Because in the good old days mechanical designs and machinery were simpler. They operated on more basic scientific prinicipals and a LOT of resources were dumped into making it work.

Nowadays if anybody was tasked with getting a man on the moon, they’d use off the shelf parts, plug them into each other, skip over a lot of the basic rigorous end-to-end testing and while it should all work, it would not. Some part would fail, some badly written software would not handle an error condition correctly.

If we were to use the same design plans as we did in the 60’s we could make it work, but nobody in their sane mind would do that nowadays. We’ve come so far. We have computers and better alloys and greater understanding of space, certainly there would be shortcuts to take.

There’s no law of physics that says space travel has to be as easy as the movies make it out to be, and it’s not. You have to do a lot of over engineering if you don’t want something to fail. Given the money that would be available, and the culture of cutting corners to make it cheaper, I am pretty certain that a manned mission to the moon would fail.

I’m a software programmer by trade and I see how it is in my industry. Nobody dies when email is not delivered, nobody’s hand gets chopped off if an error message shows up on the screen. But in space travel, there’s not a lot of room for error, unless you overengineer a lot, and that wouldn’t happen.

There would be a lot of software on any spaceship made nowadays and it would have lots of buggy software on it.

Certainly you’ve heard the story about the ship that went sailing into mars (I think it was mars) because one group did specs in metric and another group used english units? And nobody talked to each other? That wasn’t even a software failure, all the software was correct. That was a project management failure.

Certainly plenty of those to be had in such a complex project as a manned moon mission.

Here’s another example I came across today. Remember the TRS-80 model 100? It was a little portable computer built in 1983, it ran on 4 AA batteries, and had a full qwerty keyboard. It had a little word processor built in (among other things) and you could do your typing for 6-8 hours on on set of 4 AA batteries.

Nowadays, we have laptops that require lots more battery and don’t last nearly as long because they’re ‘better’. ┬áBasically, we can no longer in 2009 do what we did in 1983.

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