14 October, 2010

Cell Phones Vs. The Space Shuttle

I had this thought a couple days ago, and recent events have cemented it firmly in my mind.

A few years ago, the Motorola RAZR was the “it” cell phone. Everyone had to have one, or have one of the many imitators. Then, just as rapidly, it vanished from the scene. Everyone had to have an iPhone (which is now on its 4th generation). Of course, both of these phones are “3G” phones which apply to a generation of standards adopted in the early 2000’s. Now, we have Android phones taking over the world, and some of these like my own HTC EVO are “4G” phones. And Microsoft just released their “Windows Phone 7” (WP7) series on Monday to much fanfare.

Of course, the iPhone, Android and WP7 phones are all “smartphones” that can be thought of as “pocket computers”. There’s also a seemingly endless variety of non-smartphones (sometimes called “feature phones”. No matter what you want in a cell phone, it’s probably available. And they are relatively cheap! New phones appear on the market nearly every day, and new generations of communication technologies appear every 7-10 years.

Even the service is cheap, compared to what people were paying for their phone service in the 60s and 70s. Think. When was the last time you paid for a long distance call? Or waited until “after 7 pm” to make one?

Take a look around you. I bet that just about everyone you know has a cell phone, and they’re almost all different.

This is free enterprise in action. We have near continuous improvement, lots of choices, and inexpensive products.

Now, let’s look at the Space Shuttle.

I remember visiting Cape Canaveral as a child. The year was 1976, and I remember that because of all of the red white and blue stars that were the logo of the Bicentennial. I first saw a model and a movie on the Space Shuttle during the tour. Work on it had begun in 1968. Operational flight began in 1982 and the Space Shuttle Program will be officially retired in 2011.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Space Shuttle is a technological marvel. But the reason it’s being retired is that it’s too expensive to run (average cost per flight around $1.5 billion) and is seriously showing it’s age. The onboard computers use tape drives. For several years, mission specialists and even the pilots have been bringing laptop computers on board because it’s easier and faster to do all of their computations that way and then just input the results into the Space Shuttle’s computers and navigation systems. Today they could probably accomplish the same things with their smartphones.

In the 30 years since the the first Space Shuttle launch in April, 1981, only small incremental improvements have been made to the overall design. The concept is essentially the same as what was originally drawn up on chalkboards in the 1960s.

This is government enterprise in action. We have nearly no improvement, no choices, and high costs.

Now ask yourself this.

Now that we have ObamaCare, is the future of health care in the United States more likely to be like cell phones? Or the Space Shuttle?

Decide quickly. In 19 days you can make your decision known.


  1. Look at the lifespan of cellphones and all of the associated problems such as the new iphones 'deathgrip' where it drops its signal - good thing space shuttles don't have problems like that nearly as much as consumer electronics do (high reliability things usually cost a lot of money FYI)...

    I could go on and on about to why you are so wrong, but I'll make it quick - the complexity between cellphones and space shuttles are many degrees of magnitude different which negates the trivial comparison in your article. Second, the new health care, or 'Obamacare' as Republicans love to call it, is mostly service oriented. So instead of comparing something that is mass produced like cellphones to it, you should be comparing the wireless communication providers such as ATT/Verizon with it whose costs have skyrocketed over the years, who have little to no customer service, and little to no actual improvement (see dropped calls, etc).

  2. Well, you could go on and on, but so could I.

    The point is that you're completely off base here.

    I could have compared cell phones with phone service of the 60s and 70s. Actually that was my original intent, but I wanted something from the government.

    I could have compared them to the BMV, or voter registration, or the Post Office, or heck, even on how bills are written. I have enough knowledge in all of those areas to make a scathing comparison.

    But I chose the Space Shuttle because it was workable and simple. Yes the space shuttle is bigger and more complex. You make my point for me.

    The problem is that despite it's complexity, it hasn't taken advantages of opportunities over the decades since its inception for improvement and advancement. When we're not using our billion dollar onboard computer systems to handle flight navigation and instead are using $1,000 laptops to do it, that's a problem. It's a problem of lack of incentive for improvement, which stems entirely from the monstrous government that is behind it.

    ObamaCare is mostly service oriented. Well, tell that to the millions of people who won't be able to get new prescription drugs because they're too expensive. Tell that to people who get their legs amputated because that service is cheaper and easier than the meds that might save the leg.

    Your final point and attempt to move the goalposts fails miserably. You're trying to make a case for ObamaCare and you criticize customer service of private enterprise? Really? You really want to go there? Should we now start talking about the Post Office and the IRS?

    As for no actual improvement, that's a non truth and doesn't even deserve rebuttal. If you're the only person on the planet whose service coverage hasn't improved over the last ten years it's time to find yourself a new carrier.