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CONTRADICTION? I noticed just now that, in the article on the all-female Shuttle crew idea, I pooh-poohed the notion of NASA using Shuttle missions as PR stunts, while later I commend an article by John Carter McKnight in which he suggests NASA should pay more attention to showmanship.

Seems to be a contradiction there, doesn’t there? Not quite.

See, Barnum, through McKnight, also differentiates between “humbug” and scam. Humbug can be defined as a stunt carried out purely and unashamedly for entertainment purposes, while a scam, in contrast, is a stunt which turns out to be something less than what was promised.

In the case of STS-107, an all-female crew, on its own, would have been a unique event worthy of the term humbug — there was no operational neccessity for an all-female crew, but choosing to fly one, “just because”, would have focused a good bit positive attention on the space program. The scam in this lay in how NASA planned to sell the humbug — as a unique scientific opportunity to learn more about the physiological effects of microgravity on women. To even a casual observer of the space program, this is a rationalization so transparent as to trigger the BS meter from across the room — flying female astronauts one or three or six at a time on different flights will provide data just as good as will flying seven female astronauts on the same flight.

And the fact that it’s the same reason used to rationalize the John Glenn “payback in space” flight doesn’t make the argument any more believable.

As noted, if they want to fly an all-female crew, I say go for it. But don’t try to scam us with some lame explanation about how it’s all about science when it clearly isn’t.

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