Monday, January 17, 2011

Where's my Flying Wing?
Time to Repurpose NASA

Given the current status of NASA's space program, NASA could possibly be renamed "National Administration for Staying Awake". It seems like with all the pressing technological problems this country has, busy-work dead-end stuff seems to have the upper hand on NASA's things-to-do list. The latest thing is that NASA has released a bunch of conceptual pictures of new flying-wing aircraft designs both commercial and military. Here's one image.

These are beautiful designs. The problem is: there's nothing new here. Check out this Popular Science cover from 2003. I think it's great that NASA rethinks the future of aviation, as long as they aren't rehashing the same old thing. You can write a great term paper, but if you turn it in over an over again, you're still a slacker - at best. The basic flying wing design has been kicked around in aviation circles since at least 1928. Here is a link to a custom Google search of the mention of "flying wing" in Popular Science magazine. The first mention of "flying wing" that I found was in 1928, with the first cover story coming in 1933. Flying wings are useful for bombers and some heavy lifting purposes, but they have some seemingly insurmountable problems as airliner designs. They are efficient, but they are expensive to build. Not only do passengers not like having windows nearby, the lack of windows is said to contribute to airsickness. Nobody has yet found a way to load and unload a flying wing quickly, and this creates logistical problems at airport and serious safety concerns.

I think our government should seriously reprioritize how it is spending its scientific research dollars. I think we should repupose NASA and change it from from the "aeronautics and space" administration to "science" administration. In short, our smartest minds have better things to do than plan space missions that will never get funded or repackage old flying wing designs. Our best minds need to work on things like our power grid and large scale energy cogeneration. If we are going to polish old ideas, we should be throwing more money at fuel cells, ultracapacitors, thin-film solar cells. We need to double the efficiency of our cars and our houses. If you need to dangle the carrot of space research in front of an A-level scientist in order to hire the best minds, fine, cut a deal: work half the year on space projects and half the year on energy projects. It's all well and good to want to restart our manned space program, but the fact is, we have to take care of what we NEED before we spend our money on what we WANT. I think most NASA researchers would be happy to meaningfully contribute to the most pressing scientific needs of the country even of those projects aren't related to aerospace. What do you think?

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