The long-awaited launching of the space shuttle is tentatively scheduled for April 7. There's one main problem holding up the project, however. Scientists at NASA cannot get heat-resistent tiles to stick to the outside of the vehicle.
"Who would have thought that the American space program would be dependent on Krazy Glue," said Kerry Joels, curator of space futures at the National Air and Space Museum.
Joels' comment came during a panel discussion at a four-day Space/Futures Conference, sponsored last week at the University of Maryland by the Maryland Alliance for Space Colonization (MASC).
Yes, space colonization.
Don't let the title fool you. The conference, and the alliance, were no laughing matters. In fact, a mood of pessimism, directly attributable to the Reagan administration's proposed budget cuts in the U.S. space program, loomed over the assemblage of usually optimistic futurists.
The popularity of MASC since its founding four years ago suggests that many among its 850-plus membership hope to be flying about in space within the next 20 years. Five hundred of the alliance's members are University of Maryland students. The remainder are faculty and staff members or interested citizens.
What is the future of space colonization? Consider these comments:
"Did you know that our (U.S.) robots are far superior to Japanese-made robots? But then I've also heard that the robots the (West) Germans are building are 10 times superior to ours," Joels confided.
He also said recent robotic experiments have given birth to intense competition among many nations.
By the way, they may not be called robots in the future. The scientific community likes to call its wonderful "artificial intelligence." This could be a valuable piece of information in the future, when it's up to your artificial intelligence mechanism to let you into your house after midnight and when, at 1:30 some morning, you can't remember how to address it properly.
"The only question that comes to my mind with robot use is, do you put robots on a laser space war station? Well, I don't know; that gives robots the ability to push the big button," Joels concluded.
Ah, if it's 1981, can 2001 be far behind?
Most of those attending the conference agreed that financial backing is the only obstacle to space stations, asteroid mining, solor power satellites, moon colonies, wristwatch telephones and mini-maxi computers, microminimaxi computers and, of course, drugs that prevent aging.
Other drugs that we may see in the future, according to Joels, are pills to enhance the brain waves (smarters) and pills that bring one back to a normal stupid state (dumbers).
"Dumbers would be necessary to take after an exam was over, to come down from the smarters. This way you wouldn't drive your friends nuts by reciting quantum equations all afternoon," Joels explained.
And what about life on Mars?
"Don't forget that when the Viking mission landed on Mars, in one experiment there was a burst of oxygen and when the robot was asked 'is there life on Mars?' it initially said 'yes,' then it said, 'can you repeat the question?' because it wasn't sure of the answer.
"To this day we're still not sure if there is life on Mars," explained Leonard David, a research associate at George Washington University who spoke at the conference.
Other speakers at the conference included scientists from the Department of Energy, the National Space Institute, the American Nuclear Society and NASA.
To this day, it's also thought that many U.F.O. sightings were just common lenticular clouds, which often look like flying saucers (or Frisbees with glandular disorders, whichever you prefer).
David emphasized that virtually any scientific invention imaginable is possible, because "man's curious mind always advances forward, building new theories on top of old ones."
David also said NASA's most impressive workable programs have been scratched, leaving the layman unaware of the real possibilities of the space program.
"NASA has planned programs like Nova (scrapped in the early 1960s), which was so powerful had the booster taken off, experts say you wouldn't have known if Florida was going down or the rocket was going up," he joked.
He also said he believes a government-financed space station will be built during the 1980s.
"I think Reagan will be the one to decide to go ahead with it (space station) and it will probably be because of what the Russians are doing," David speculated.
Other speakers at the conference echoed David's predictions that a "space race" will again be brought about by military one-upmanship between the superpowers.
One who disagreed was Isadore Adler, who worked in the Apollo program for 10 years before becoming a professor at Maryland.
"I speak from my experience with Apollo, and I remember how it took 1,000 men on the ground to keep three men up in space for four days. As technology becomes more complex, it's only going to get worse. . . Just look at all the hours of work that's gone into trying to get those blasted tiles to stick (to the space shuttle)," he said.