October 31, 2008

Rocket Girls -- abandoned

Toren writes:

What was your final assessment of Rocket Girls?  It's on sale cheap cheap and I'm considering getting it.

It's dumb. I didn't really finish it, and only have a slight urge to revisit it.

The CG is really poor, considering what's possible today. The characters are mostly pretty strange. The setup is dreadfully contrived. And in the end there really isn't any story there to tell, at least a story that I cared about.

And there isn't all that much fan service, either. And what fan service there is, isn't very good.

I don't recommend it. Nothing stands out for me as "well, at least this was pretty good" except for the Matsuri character, and she can't carry the show.

UPDATE: I think I understand what the point of the show was. Stick with me here:

For some people there's a romance about space, and in particular about the idea of humans in space. It's almost a religious thing. These are the people who think that of course we should be working to put men on Mars before 2020; of course we should be working to build a permanent moon colony. It's obvious that we should do these things.

Um, why? Because it's just so cool an idea. Because "you can't live in the cradle forever". Because we shouldn't put our entire species' eggs in one basket. Just because!

I don't like talking to those kinds of people about this subject because they can't accept anyone who doesn't share the romance, and tries to bring up pedestrian ideas like "it costs a fortune to put 1 kilo in LEO, and a lot more than that to hit escape velocity."

Oh, and these folks are also fans of solar collection satellites as the solution to all our energy needs. And space elevators as the solution to the bulk delivery problem. In other words, magic.

Getting back to Rocket Girls, I think this series is about a group of such freaks who corral a high school girl into being their sacrificial lamb astronaut. She's not afflicted with the romance, and what the story's about is how she eventually becomes part of the cult.

Like many pagan cults, they're willing, even eager, to sacrifice a pubescent virgin to their god. Or at least to try to. And if their god gives the girl back, so much the better.

For a viewer who is part of the cult, then, it's about someone coming around to the true faith. For those of us who are not part of the cult, it's about a bunch of damned fools who are willing to risk killing an unwilling high school girl in furtherance of their dream. Or even three girls that age.

The three girls are quite different. The first is the one from Japan, and she's initially cynical about it all. The second is a native girl, who is used to wearing a grass skirt and a halter top and hunting with a spear. She gets involved in the program because of the first girl. The third is the strangest one -- because she is the only one of the three who is infected with the dream. And she's willing to go through hell in order to get a chance to go to space. When she started going through the testing and training, I thought the series got really, really creepy.

Because it really is a cult thing, and I'm not part of the cult. As I've grown older, and as I've learned more about the problems, and in particular as computers and other associated technology has gotten better and smaller and lighter and cheaper and more powerful, it makes less and less sense to me to send humans into space. Humans are big and heavy and require a lot of operating resources and they're fragile. Also, I don't consider them expendable.

Computer technology is changing much faster than is our technology for boosting bulk cargo into orbit. And humans aren't changing at all. That means that as time goes on, the crossover-point where robots make more sense than astronauts keeps moving in favor of robots. At this point there's very little that humans can do in space that's not better handled with machines.

What is the ISS for? A metric swimming pool full of money has been spent to build it and to keep three humans in it continuously, and so far it's cost 14 lives. For what? Just what is it that those three continuous inhabitants are doing up there? As far as I can tell, they spend all their time building and maintaining the place. They're there because for a certain group of people it's psychologically (or religiously) necessary for there to be someone up there, even if they're not doing anything important.

But all the important science that's being done in LEO is being done by unmanned satellites. If there's any critical science being done on the ISS, I've never heard of it. In fact, the only thing they're doing which can't be done without humans is to measure the effects of long-term exposure to free fall and space radiation on humans. The crew are guinea pigs.

And we already have that data. It was collected by Skylab and Mir.

For people in the cult, of course, that doesn't matter. Having people in space is a priori worthwhile even if they don't accomplish anything. It's worth any price and any risk and any number of deaths. Human presence in space is an end in itself, not any kind of means to an end. Just the fact that they're there is itself important.

And as far as I can tell that's also the underlying message of Rocket Girls. It's about how Yukari eventually comes around to believing in the true faith. It's about a cult recruitment. It's about how she accepts her role as a virgin sacrifice on the altar of space travel. Which, for people who are in the cult, is something they all wish they could do as well.

Which is to say, this series is intended for the same audience that swoons over Planetes. I didn't like that one, either.

UPDATE: I expect this comment thread will be a train wreck. Criticizing the dream of manned space flight is one of those kryptonite zones for a blogger, like criticizing big-L libertarianism (or explaining why privatization doesn't prevent the tragedy of the commons), or explaining why "alternative energy" cannot replace petroleum for the forseeable future, or explaining why you don't agree with Objectivism.

Anytime you stomp on someone's religion it gets ugly. I know I'm going to regret this post.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 12:28 PM | Comments (16) | Add Comment
Post contains 1114 words, total size 7 kb.

1 Message received and understood, Cap'n.

Posted by: Toren at October 31, 2008 04:19 PM (UDqSH)

2 As someone slowly drifting away from the cult, I have to say:

As long as the government has to subsidize it, much less pay for it outright, this dream will never be realized. If it can't pay for itself, it will die, and it damn well should.

I hate this. I want to go out there. I loved Planetes.

I just...just don't think we can actually make it work cheaply enough for it to make a profit.


On the other hand...

[brightens up, annoyingly]

On the other hand, there's always the Singularity!

Yeah! That's the ticket!

Once we can all upload our consciousnesses into silicon, and not have to lug all this watery meat around, everything will be fine!


[goes off whistling]

Posted by: refugee at October 31, 2008 06:25 PM (9zhVZ)

3 "The Singularity" is another kryptonite subject. Sob...

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 31, 2008 06:45 PM (+rSRq)

4 I haven't watched RG since it finished up, so my memory may be a little shoddy, but I seem to remember there being a speech given by... the taxi driver?... about the glory of space exploration in general, and how important it was for the capsule to get off the ground in one piece for the spirits of the people working on the program and... well, pretty much exactly what you were talking about.

I'm sure you're right when you say that it was intended for those who are in "the cult."  Considering that it was (at least) partially funded by JAXA, in much the same way that Hikaru no Go was funded by the Go Society of Japan (or whatever it's called), it didn't surprise me at all that it gets all squishy when spaceflight is involved.  In fact, I enjoyed it!  It's fun to see people get excited about something they're passionate about, and RG pulled that off beautifully.

I still

Of course, it wasn't THAT type of show.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 31, 2008 07:11 PM (AW3EJ)

5 Steven, you aren't inspired by the romance of space...you don't like giant super robots...your appreciation for dark and gritty shows is lacking, you are unenthused about horror and you enjoyed Grenadier.

I...I...don't know what to say.....I must sit in a lotus position and pray for your soul.....

Actually upon reading Wonderducks post I suspect that this is all a terrible misunderstanding...the Ducks aren't with us. The fact is that as he as alluded, they want the nubile space virgins to be sacrificed to the power cosmic. 

As such they are blood cultists and  we expelled them during the third L5 catechism...(which also beatified St. Goddard).

To clarify, we don't want the nubile space virgins to be sacrificed, we want them to be exposed to cosmic radiation and grow cat ears and develop a deep appreciation for pasty overweight geeks and live with us in domed cities on Mars.

I hope this clears things up....

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at October 31, 2008 07:58 PM (V5zw/)

6 Why are you surprised that I like Grenadier? (ahem)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 31, 2008 09:47 PM (+rSRq)

"The Singularity" is another kryptonite subject. Sob...

Yeah, I managed to get banned from Bill Quick's site by pointing out how some of his comments didn't match his own views of how spiffy "The Singularity" was gonna be. (Pity; I agree with him on a lot of other things.) 

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at November 01, 2008 12:06 AM (7BVRi)


Where'd you get the number of 14 people who died building the ISS? I hadn't heard that before (The Columbia crew doesn’t count as they had a different mission) ISS is a waste of time and money, apart form a way of learning how not to do things in space!

I probably disagree with you on most of those subjects (Am not an Objectivist), but understand your objections and will be polite Also am not a physicist or engineer, merely a biologist; however I haven't been convinced that space flight is expensive because of the technical problems, is is due to economic ones (we don't do it enough, or smart enough to make it cheaper)

As refugee said, I want to go up there! I'm been following the new space crowd since my uni days and as with most things progress has been slow and lots of setbacks and delays, but am still optimistic that I'll at least be able to go on a sub orbital flight within 10 years or so (if the world economy doesn't collapse, etc).

As to why, you're right in that it is a kind of religion. I guess everyone needs something to believe in

Posted by: Andrew Janes at November 01, 2008 01:46 AM (nDj/z)

9 Now this is weird.  Last night, Dr. Heinous and I got off onto a very similar tangent, discussing the space program, and yes, the singularity.  Incoming wall of text...

I'm a little more cynical than he is; I believe in the power of humans to screw up anything, and the Powers That Be will do their damnedest to control the Singularity.  I'm trying to come up with a catchy phrase like "the Singularity will include free DRM" to summarize the problem. Heh. Maybe I just did.

As for the space program, Dr. H.'s  opinion of NASA's manned space work is barely higher than that of toilet water.  (Remember, he used to work there.)  That medical data from Skylab and Mir, and Apollo?

Most of it got file-13'd.  The raw Apollo data?  Lost.  Sure the studies are there, but the raw data is gone, meaning we can't go back with 40 more years of knowledge and pick up things that were missed.  But the real problem isn't sloppy record keeping, it's  the astronaut "club".  Because if you picked up anything that might possibly ground an astronaut (like a heart murmur) your entire research would be classified and dumped.  And it's still happening. 

NASA's manned space program is run by and for the astro-jock club. Nothing else (except big companies making huge profits) matters.  I wish the Navy had control of the space program; I think they'd have done a hell of a lot better job.

As for myself, I fall somewhere between you and the starry-eyed StarFleet types.  As long as we're dependent on chemical thrust to reach orbit, it's going to be too damn expensive, and not doable on the large-scale basis required to put significant assets in orbit.  Going from Kitty Hawk to Lindbergh was a matter of refining the internal combustion engine plus developing rudders and aerilons  (sp?)

The equivalent in the space age is not going from NASA to Burt Rutan, because he's working from primarily the same technology--chemical thrust.  It's just that his first stage is an airplane, not a rocket.  What we need is an advancement analogous to the move from internal combustion to jet engines, or possibly even more radical.

The thing is, I'm a bit more optimistic that there is one out there; we just haven't discovered it yet. Why?  Well, really, pull out your DVD or sub of Haruhi Suzamiya.  (See, an anime connection!) Kyon paraphrases it in his speech that accidentally set Haruhi on the course of forming the SOS.  Improvements and inventions came because people were dissatisfied, and wanted to change something.  Steven, you're dissatisfied, but believe nothing can be done.  I hate to say this, but you come across like a hot-air balloon guy who is also an expert with steam engines, standing on the beach at Kitty Hawk, saying "bah, it'll never fly!"

On the other hand, belief alone won't make it happen.  Wanting practical space travel doesn't make it practical; I agree.  If the laws of physics say no, they say no, and in the end, you'll be right.  But if that one dissatisfied person isn't out there trying to find that way, it will never happen.  So let the cultists play.  (Just don't give them any nubile virgin sacrifices.  I have much better uses for them).  I think we will find a different way to do it....not magic, not antigravity, not unobtanium; it may come from some perfectly obvious twist in today's technology.  (Obvious after the fact, that is).

The questions are, how long will it take and how much will it cost?

Posted by: ubu at November 01, 2008 05:58 AM (RwhY4)

10 More of the money allocated to manned stuff should really go into unmanned stuff as you can probably get 10x the value for the money. A permanant lunar base probably makes a lot more sense than a space station as one could potentially get all the raw material for construction and sustaining life there without the insane cost of lifting everything needed into orbit. A larger space telescope could be built on the moon without the size restrictions of lifting a mirror into orbit. No real need for people there as serious astronomy is all done remotely these days. A lunar base should be unmanned at first to see if all the construction and mining for resources can actually be done.

The space elevator is an interesting subject. I do think it is possible in the future to get the necessary material for the cables. There are some issues that may make it impossible even if we get the material such as the worldwide risk factor for a cable failure, terrorism, acceptable locations on Earth and even the fact that the ground itself moves due to the lunar tides making a land based elevator a tricky thing. People also don't seem to realize that just sticking it into orbit doesn't mean that you don't need fuel to keep it there as it will need to fight against drag, gravity, wind forces and who knows what else. So a portion of whatever it lifts will have to go to fuel to keep it there.

Posted by: ColoradoJim at November 01, 2008 07:23 AM (VBN/M)


 Further thought, back on to Rocket Girls.

Main reason I didn't like it was it followed the boring old paradigm of Manned space flight as a government programme building throwaway rockets with tiny capsule son top.

Now, if it had been based on this poster, it would have been great!

Ubu, my view is that it will be sooner and cheaper than you think. Can't find the source but Elon Musk of SpaceX (who recently succeed in putting a payload in orbit- on the forth attempt should add) that the fuel cost of their rocket is about $200K, while the launch sells for $6million (IIRC). So energy isn't the problem, reusability and low flight rates are the issue. There are enough rich guys developing spacecraft (As well as Muck, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, John Carmack of ID Software, Robert Biglow and of course Richard Branson) that I'm cautiously optimistic one of them will succeed. The reason its taken so long, in my view, is that there hasn't been anyone willing to invest serious cash in the start-ups. That has changed now. 

Posted by: Andy Janes at November 01, 2008 10:48 AM (nDj/z)


Andy, what are you doing that makes the font change?

Whatever it is, please don't.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 01, 2008 10:56 AM (+rSRq)

13 Sorry, hadn't noticed that was happening- could it be because I was writing in word then pasting into the comments box?

Posted by: Andrew Janes at November 01, 2008 11:29 AM (nDj/z)


Yeah, that would explain it. Word is a horrible tool for HTML composition; it loads the result down with amazing amounts of cruft.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 01, 2008 01:19 PM (+rSRq)


The big problem with doing it all with unmanned probes is you trip the main breaker and that's it. The probe is done. Kaput. You can't have a bunch of guys on the ground hack together a fix involving duct tape, sweat socks, and a spare filter that's the wrong shape if there's no one on board the probe to recreate the fix onboard.

Posted by: Cybrludite at November 05, 2008 09:21 AM (BREtI)

16 I used to be more into space exploration and colonization, but less so these days.  Not that it can't, or shouldn't, be done, but I think our dreams may have outpaced our technology, and it'll take perhaps a century to catch up.

That said, I would be willing to bet money that the whole 'Space Elevator' concept is, and will always be, a boondoggle.  Sure, if you presume a couple fundamental advances in engineering, you might be able to build it. . . problem is, most of those advances ( or the prerequisites to create them ) would probably render the the giant structure unnecessary.

Posted by: metaphysician at November 05, 2008 10:24 AM (h4nEy)

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