I’m following with amusement the rising career of Alex Roland, official spaceflight curmudgeon. I first heard about him from Dwayne A. Day’s commentary last December in The Space Review. Day calls Roland the “?doom and gloom guy,”? the one reporters go to when they want a negative counterpoint to a positive opinion on spaceflight. He’s all negative all the time, says Day, because it’s simply his nature. Says Day, “?He’?s the kind of guy who, when people say “?Nice day,”? will respond that it is going to rain tomorrow.”? I’ve never met Roland, so I don’?t know about that, but now that Day has pointed him out, I see him everywhere; he’?s been getting a lot of work lately.
Here he is in Tuesday’?s New York Times saying NASA’s post-shuttle plans have “?the aroma of a quick and dirty solution to a big problem.”
Here he is last week on PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer on the shuttle and the International Space Station: “?Both have been disastrous failures. It’s time to move on.”
And here he is in Popular Mechanics’? June cover story saying we shouldn’?t even bother sending people into space at all: “?In the 1960s, the concept that humans were needed for this exploration may have been true, but it’s now both unrealistic and impractical.”?
What’?s even more amusing to me is watching reporters all over the world in every medium doing exactly what Day describes in his commentary: reaching for Roland’s phone number whenever they need a negative opinion on NASA or spaceflight in general. Roland’s no more qualified than any number of other so-called experts on the subject; it’s just that he’s one of the most consistently consistent. I know how it happens: you’?re on a hard deadline and your editor wants an expert opinion on the pros and cons of some aspect of your story. It’?s easy to find the pros: just talk to someone at NASA. Con, now, that’?s harder. Most people involved in spaceflight are there because they love the whole idea. Not so Roland, and therein he’?s found himself a nice little niche. In fact, he may just have the space curmudgeon market cornered.