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Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight 
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Post Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
One writer in Salon says that we should embrace the end of the US manned spaceflight program:

Quote:
The worst enemies of human spaceflight are its proponents. Their arguments are so weak that you keep waiting for the real, knock-down argument, which never comes.


Quote:
What about the argument that part of the human race needs to dwell somewhere other than on Earth, if humanity is to avoid extinction? In 500 million years the gradually warming sun may boil the oceans, and a few billion years later the sun will evolve into a red giant, incinerating or engulfing the Earth. Our descendants, if there are any, might consider relocating.

In the half-billion years until then, the chances of war, plague or global warming producing the total extinction of a species as numerous, widespread and versatile as humanity are pretty low. A sufficiently large asteroid or comet impact like the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs could do the job. But if a massive bolide threatened the Earth, we would send unmanned spacecraft, not Robert Duvall or Bruce Willis, to steer it away or destroy it.

In the event some other natural catastrophe -- a supervolcano, a nearby supernova -- rendered the surface of the Earth temporarily or permanently uninhabitable, it would be cheaper and easier to build and maintain underground bunkers than to use the same technology to do the same thing at vastly greater cost on the moon or other planets or in space stations. By the same token, if humanity had the technology to "terraform" the surface of Mars, it would have the power to make the ruined surface of a dead Earth habitable again, making the colonization of Mars unnecessary.

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Tue Apr 12, 2011 10:14 am
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
I tend to dismiss what liberal-arts journals like Salon, New Yorker, etc. have to say about any technology - it's usually written by some ween who thinks he's a tech maven because he uses a Mac AirBook tethered to his iPhone for connectivity. (KEYWORDS monkeys-in-cages tech-level smugness idiocracy)

Sadly, though, I find myself agreeing with the principal contention. I was a total space cadet as a kid, I still keep a Gulf cardboard lunar lander sheet in my desk drawer for emergencies and have other space memorabilia throughout the house, and watching a big one launch will make tears run down my face.

But the arguments of the space advocacy crowd are, collectively, so self-serving, elitist, wishful, reality-denying, nonsensical and outright falsity that I am resigned to never seeing significant human presence in space again in my lifetime... and I was supposed to be able to get at least to microgravity before I was forty.

There are arguments for human exploration of the solar system, now. Good ones. But in a world that can't agree on how to fund its schools and medical care, trying to make the argument for something so removed from daily life is like yakking in Urdu from a streetcorner box in Cleveland. But the advocacy nutz won't stop with the fairy-tale arguments that, in the end, undermine the premise and the proposition. To begin with, we simply do not have the technology for extended space missions. Don't. At all. For all the shiny ships we can draw and model, they're exactly like the ones the youngsters in Menace from Earth were so painstakingly drawing... filled with blank spaces labeled HERE THERE BE DRAGONS... pardon me, INSERT PROPULSION SYSTEM HERE or LIFE SUPPORT MODULE HERE. Not to mention MAGICAL SPACE SHIELDING IN THIS LAYER.

It will take uncounted billions to resolve those thorny problems. It will also take a realization that real people will die horrible deaths getting there, staying there and living there. NASA's Disneyland approach won't work, ever, for anything except trivial accomplishments achieved at maximum overrun cost.

We're a decade away from being able to put a realistic (real, real expensive, no we can't give you a final number AND line up to die, guys) manned space proposal in front of the voting and/or paying population and having any chance of getting it approved. Too many hard economic and geopolitick problems right now - and maybe always.

But it would get easier, in time, if the starry-eyed and fluffy-bunny advocates would quit spewing fairy tales and let's-pretend.

I would be happy to die on Luna. I don't have that many years left for it to be possible.

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Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:35 am
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
JamesGifford wrote:
We're a decade away from being able to put a realistic (real, real expensive, no we can't give you a final number AND line up to die, guys) manned space proposal in front of the voting and/or paying population and having any chance of getting it approved.


I'm going to dispute one tiny point with you, the one about "real, real expensive." In 1976 when the National Air and Space Museum's current building on the National Mall opened, they decided to take a survey of visitors. You would think that people who self-select to come visit such a place would have enough of an interest in the space program to know a little about it. One of the questions on the survey was, "Who spends more: NASA or the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare?" (as it was called back then). If I recall correctly, well over 75% said NASA spent more.

The truth, or course, was that the highest annual budget NASA *ever* got was at the peak of the Apollo program, and HEW at that time spent the equivalent of NASA's entire budget every nine days. NASA has always been abysmal at PR.

As for getting final numbers for the cost in advance, how'd that work out for, say, the Iraq war? We didn't even put that one *in* the budget; we let China pay for it, to be repaid by our grandchildren. It was totally worth it, though. Good thing we took care of those nasty WMDs and left an idyllic Jeffersonian democracy as a shining example to the whole region.

We find ways of doing what we really want to do. Cost is just a smokescreen.

And "line up to die, guys"? Something tells me there would be no shortage of volunteers. I would say the majority of us line up to die every day, anyway, in our cars (40,000/year), puffing on cigarettes (400,000/year), and getting drunk (75,000/year).

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Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:52 pm
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
Dan, by any reasonable measure, successful and sustained manned spaceflight to useful ends is going to be real, real expensive. It's not a matter of comparing it to a department that manages, in essence, the lives of every single person in the US, or to the DoD, or to anything else. It's going to be a matter of hundreds of billions of dollars invested and spent, and even these days, that's pretty darned expensive.

I would consider it money well spent. But we are up against a majority of people who don't and never will approve, until some far future day when the benefits and necessity of manned spaceflight are obvious to any blithering idiot. ("I told you so!")

The single biggest obstacle to sustained and practical manned spaceflight is NASA - unrealistic policies, chaotic bureaucracy, invisible cojones and an unending string of funding disasters. I've called for the abolition of NASA many times - give 'em a titanium watch and send them on their way, then build a US spaceflight bureau that can face reality, make the case for realistic funding (instead of stripping the projects to uselessness, then pinky-swearing they can do it for chump change, and ending up with massive overruns for a third-rate result), and look their fellow USAians in the eye and say, yup, we're going to kill people doing this, just like the military kills people every day.

The second biggest obstacle to sustained and practical manned spaceflight are the advocates, who either champion NASA with all its blithering, blind faults and thus undercut their own integrity, or spend time spinning fairy tales about how easy it is/could be/should be (while dismissing the fine print: if we find a magic propulsion system, a sustainable life-support system, and a workable radiation shield... among a thousand other details presently machined from pure unobtainium).

The only hopeful sign I see is that the non-governmental space companies are finally working with their own, sustainable tech and not bits from NASA and Soviet boneyards. Which means we're finally to the Wright Flyer stage on the sustainable lift curve. Private enterprise isn't even to Langley on manned spaceflight support.


Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:30 pm
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
My first reaction, honest-to-God, was, "But the US manned space program ended years ago." Then I remembered, that, oh yes, we have had a token milk run going for the last few decades.

The argument about not facing any credible threat for half a billion years is flat wrong. Asteroid impacts in the Chixulub class happen every 22 million years on average. And as for the ease of diverting them: the asteroid 1999RQ36, which has a .1% chance of hitting the Earth 172 years from now, will in 70 years be too close for any technology we have today to be powerful enough to divert it. Yes, including nukes. So we need a space program to ensure that the technology then will be powerful enough. We can hardly take that for granted, given that the scope of human space exploration has advanced not a whit over the last 40 years.

JamesGifford wrote:
But the arguments of the space advocacy crowd are, collectively, so self-serving, elitist, wishful, reality-denying, nonsensical and outright falsity that I am resigned to never seeing significant human presence in space again in my lifetime...


You say that about every advocacy crowd, so I discounted that paragraph. :-)

There's a lot of money and then there's a LOT of money. Sure, 19 billion for NASA for FY2010 is a lot compared to your pin money budget; but it's half what the world spends on shampoo. Less than half the annual revenue of Pepsi-Cola. And it is 1% of the FY11 deficit, let alone the actual budget. So it's not a lot of money relative to its source. We can afford to do space in addition to other things of more immediate importance.

We've not been doing space right because NASA has turned into a timid superannuated nerd with zero imagination, and the private companies are still in the mice-by-comparison stage. Put that money into a skunkworks program instead of NASA's Powerpoint fetish and dozens of layers of budget-sucking middle management, make the target something meaningful instead of the 37th study of the growth patterns of alfalfa sprouts in zero G, and we'd have something.


Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:48 pm
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
JamesGifford wrote:
The single biggest obstacle to sustained and practical manned spaceflight is NASA - unrealistic policies, chaotic bureaucracy, invisible cojones and an unending string of funding disasters. I've called for the abolition of NASA many times - give 'em a titanium watch and send them on their way, then build a US spaceflight bureau that can face reality, make the case for realistic funding (instead of stripping the projects to uselessness, then pinky-swearing they can do it for chump change, and ending up with massive overruns for a third-rate result), and look their fellow USAians in the eye and say, yup, we're going to kill people doing this, just like the military kills people every day.

The second biggest obstacle to sustained and practical manned spaceflight are the advocates, who either champion NASA with all its blithering, blind faults and thus undercut their own integrity, or spend time spinning fairy tales about how easy it is/could be/should be (while dismissing the fine print: if we find a magic propulsion system, a sustainable life-support system, and a workable radiation shield... among a thousand other details presently machined from pure unobtainium).

The only hopeful sign I see is that the non-governmental space companies are finally working with their own, sustainable tech and not bits from NASA and Soviet boneyards. Which means we're finally to the Wright Flyer stage on the sustainable lift curve. Private enterprise isn't even to Langley on manned spaceflight support.


Hey, as a NASA contractor, I resemble those remarks! :lol:

My company has put together a joint venture with Surrey UK to propose a low-cost orbiter to replace the Landsat satellites, which are past their useful lives, at a cost that comes in about 1/7 of what NASA usually spends for such missions. Our biggest problem in getting NASA to buy them is that they are dumbfounded that we can do for $150 million (for one launch) what usually costs them $1 billion.

The truth is that we never would have had a manned space program if it hadn't been for the competition with the Soviet Union. Heinlein vastly overestimated the hunger and curiosity of Americans and mankind in general to find out what lies beyond that far hill.

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Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:21 am
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
I did enjoy reading the article - particularly the part about the "Robert Heinlein wing of science-fiction fandom," which has "always combined Tea Party-style anti-statism with a love of big rockets."

I don't think you could confuse most of us here with teabaggers, but it's a good line. The part about a "love of big rockets," though, is spot on. :D

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Wed Apr 13, 2011 9:28 am
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
JackKelly wrote:
Heinlein vastly overestimated the hunger and curiosity of Americans and mankind in general to find out what lies beyond that far hill.

So do the advocates. They're wrong. They need to stop trying to sell space futures using 1952 picture magazine booshwah. It's always going to be (for our foreseeable future) a topic of limited interest to the general population. It's like trying to get people to care, really care, about exciting new advances in sewer processing. While people might care that their toilets continue to flush, getting them interested or even openly supportive is futile.

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Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:13 pm
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Post Re: Salon says embrace the end of US manned spaceflight
PeterScott wrote:
You say that about every advocacy crowd...

Possibly.

Possibly because most advocacy groups are full of fantasy, baloney, sh*t, themselves or some combination of the four. Their universal message is that NOTHING is as important as their orphan disease, product, endeavor, nationality or philosophy, and that everyone in the world is a selfish a~~hole for not supporting the throwing of all available money at them/it. Gets tiresome.

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Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:27 pm
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