Former NASA scientist says Star Trek is agency's 'worst enemy'

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

Though science fiction can help inspire us to create and strive toward new technological breakthroughs, it can also have a decidedly negative effect, at least according to one former NASA scientist: It makes people forget that rocket science is, you know, rocket science.

In the wake of a recent rocket crash in North Korea—not to mention historic U.S. tragedies, such as the Space Shuttle Challenger—former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace, current director of space policy at George Washington University, noted that getting something that big and complicated to go where you want is still a true feat of science.

It takes as much juice as a ton of TNT just to get 60 pounds into Earth orbit at almost 18,000 miles per hour. But if a calculation is off by even a fraction of a fraction, things can go wrong. Fast.

"Anybody can make something go boom," Pace told the Star Tribune. "Controlling it is hard."

With smaller nations, and independent space agencies, trying to get new rockets and ships off the ground—literally—Pace said the general public can sometimes get impatient, wondering why we don't have flying cars and Trek-style shuttles yet. Though it looks easy on TV, Pace said the science still has a long way to go until it catches up with the fiction.

"In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is Star Trek," Pace said. "Captain Picard says 'engage' and the ship moves. And people think 'How hard can this be?'"

Apparently, a lot harder than it looks.

What do you think? Did sci-fi set your expectations too high for space exploration?

(Via Star Tribune)