The future of the space program

General discussions of interest to readers and fans of Harlan Ellison.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Thu Sep 29, 2005 5:13 pm

robochrist wrote:In the river of posts I've laid out here, I've covered every one of these questions. From Ceronomus' issue with human nature to the practical benefits in the resources of space.


I'm sorry, but I'm not convinced you have. Tremendous new technologies HERE and boundless natural resources OUT THERE do not necessarily add up to human survival in transit or at the destination, wherever that may be.

robochrist wrote:David, you APPEAR to be saying that we need to resolve our problems here on Earth FIRST, before moving forward in space.


No, not necessarily. What I'm saying is closer to: Whatever method we develop for traveling out into space, and whatever wonderful raw resources there may be out there, won't count for diddly toward the survival of the species if the human population strangles and kills itself back here at home base. Ships in transit and bases on other heavenly bodies will require immense start-up investment, and I would imagine considerable ongoing management, further infusions of know-how and technology, and investment for a good long time before anyone will survive autonomously "out there." Meanwhile the species will run out of time back home.

And frankly, many of these problems -- poverty and malnutrition which contribute to unrest and outright violence, global warming which will create even more of the above, mounting toxic and nuclear waste, and to a lesser extent the new diseases -- have no percentage in them for private investors. Nobody's going to make any money solving them (other than creating ever more isolated individual strongholds), so nobody's likely to step up to the plate until forced to by government and/or catastrophic circumstances. And it may already be too late.


robochrist wrote:But what I've been describing here is a timeline in which ALL these questions COUNT. I haven't excluded any of YOUR issues. I'm merely arguing that, rather than suggesting we should "wait" and deal with problems here first, pushing forward in space technology, research, and manned exploration will be PART of the solution. Cost will obviously dictate the extent we go at that particular time.


And I'm arguing that from my perspective, all your wonderful solutions and the massive raw resources out there for the taking, are going to take a lot more investment and time to develop than I believe we have, for the species to survive.

Nowhere did I say we should "wait" in space travel. I simply said the odds look to me as if it will not provide any solution -- either to our problems on Earth or as an escape in itself; and the situation may be hopeless, from every angle -- political, technological, chronological, and in terms of human emotional capabilities.


robochrist wrote:I don't know why some of you are having a problem following that. Is there a case of tunnel vision going around?


Perhaps. Though it may ultimately be more productive to look at one's own than to complain about everyone else's.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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robochrist
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Postby robochrist » Thu Sep 29, 2005 11:41 pm

In all this mulling and milling, I actually forgot to mention that there are space interest groups who are doing the technological and sociological research - called "critical path" research - on the very questions we've been debating here. Citizen-support groups made up of engineers, professional and amateur astronomers, environmentalists, and so on.

They are committed to the emancipation of humans from the Earth, along with what we take out there with us sociologically, AND the restoration of our planet's environment (addressing the factors of the timeline I was talking about: urgencies of the near future, and those later generations will have to resolve).

So, all of these issues are being considered. It's not like we are heading out there on "auto-pilot" only to take our dirty history with us.

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Postby David Loftus » Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:50 am

robochrist wrote:So, all of these issues are being considered. It's not like we are heading out there on "auto-pilot" only to take our dirty history with us.


One would hope not, but here the question remains similar to those I've been raising: How much input, how much of an effect, do you think these estimable folks are going to have on the corporate and political interests that most likely will call the shots on space exploration, as in so many other large endeavors?

Not too many people listened to Giordano Bruno or Spinoza at the time, either; and look how comparatively few Americans, let alone citizens of the world at large, would countenance their centuries-old wisdom even today?

Even were the first explorers to keep these higher issues firmly in mind, that's no guarantee that circumstances and our own self-contradictory nature won't win out over our better intentions. I don't think Columbus and his like specifically intended to kill off millions of Native New Worlders with communicable diseases, either.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Ceronomus » Fri Sep 30, 2005 2:21 pm

Well, my issues with human nature are just that, issues with human nature. I don't think those issues will prevent us from exploring space, though they might cause some problems along the way. There are positive facets of human nature that certainly are applicable as a drive for exploration.

Still, I can't help but wonder if we should finish exploring our own planet first? There is so much under the sea that we know nothing about. The deepest parts of our oceans are still as unreachable as the most distant stars. We learn more about both places every day. The ocean is right outside my door, I can go and touch it. Perhaps that is why space is so fascinating. Such a small club of people have ever been there though, like Everest, that club slowly grows as the years pass.

I want to see us land on Mars, I want to see us land everywhere. I just don't see it happening for a LONG time. Our country has spent a lot of money on space exploration that could have been budgeted in a far better fashion. With all that we've wasted, it is hard to get John Q Public to see the advances that we've made as anything more than lucky accidents reached via hubris.

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Postby robochrist » Fri Sep 30, 2005 4:00 pm

"I can't help but wonder if we should finish exploring our own planet first? "

PART of exploring our own planet IS in space exploration (primarily unmanned). That's how we're learning so much more about HOW the Earth first formed, for instance, and its conditions in the first several million years. From such data, scientists can project more about the planets future.

The less we understand about what we learn in space the more we tend to shrug it off. It really is a crucial arena in learning about ourselves.

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Chuck Messer
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Postby Chuck Messer » Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:08 pm

Let's put all this in perspective: NASAs budget is less than one percent of total federal expenditures. Spending for probelms right here at home amounts to about a trillion dollars every three years - give or take a billion. NASA is not taking food from anybody's mouth. It's employing people, developing technology and perhaps helping us sheep to look up -- to borrow a title for a minute.

What NASA is proposing is not increasing expenditures for its programs, only to move in a different direction. During the 70's and 80's, the idea was to follow the Apollo race to the moon with a more measured, step-by-step approach to space exploration using a space shuttle and a space station, and built out from there. The old Von Braun plan, in essence.

Turns out that didn't work as planned.

In order to move in this new direction, NASA has three challenges to overcome. The first is to replace the shuttle so that the multi-billion-dollar station is not simply abandoned like an empty beer can. The second is to return to the moon. The third is to do all that without exceeding the current budget.

Keep in mind NASA was spending only slightly more that it is now when it sent men to the moon -- as well as sending a greater number of unmanned probes beyond Earth orbit than are being sent now. We can get to the moon cheaper today because there's no need to develop the technology from the ground up - it's already there.

The only real problem is the four-year gap between the 2010 retirement of the shuttle and the projected 2014 intro of the new spacecraft. That's a long time to wait for a new ride to the station, and Russia is getting tired of giving our astronauts a free ride in the Soyuz. Apparently, they've forgotten how they would never have finished Mir without a major infusion of cash and technology from the US during the 90's. Two of the four add-on modules on Mir were financed by the US and used American equipment.

Griffin proposes accelerating the introduction of the new spacecraft, but hasn't figured out how to scrape up the money to do that. However, there may be a solution. A small outfit called T-Space has a cheap capsule-type spacecraft in development that would not so much replace the shuttle as it would replace the Soyuz. That can be done much more cheaply and can fielded much earlier than the CEV. It would allow NASA to replace the shuttle with a cheaper, back-up vehicle while they find their new direction without exceeding the current budget.

That's all we're talking about right now. A change in direction for the manned aspect of the space program. Nothing taken from social programs.

And I'm kinda partial to the social programs. I lost my job on Wednesday and I'm going on unemployment for a while. I'll also use whatever resources are available from the state to find a job. I want to leave those resources alone.

Chuck
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Postby Chuck Messer » Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:29 pm

This article will give an overview of what t/Space is proposing:

http://www.space.com/spacenews/business ... 50509.html
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Postby Ceronomus » Fri Sep 30, 2005 9:55 pm

robochrist wrote:"I can't help but wonder if we should finish exploring our own planet first? "

PART of exploring our own planet IS in space exploration (primarily unmanned). That's how we're learning so much more about HOW the Earth first formed, for instance, and its conditions in the first several million years. From such data, scientists can project more about the planets future.

The less we understand about what we learn in space the more we tend to shrug it off. It really is a crucial arena in learning about ourselves.


Learning about how our planet formed is certainly important. However I'm speaking of exploring the planet NOW. We haven't really an inkling of what is at the bottom of the ocean and there is a lot for us to explore (the footage of the giant squid rather proves that point nicely) down here on earth.

This isn't to say that the advances in science brought about by space exploration aren't important, I'm just saying that in some cases finding out about the "now" instead of the past is more important. It is great to learn of a now extinct species, it is more important to find it before it has died out.

Our further understanding of the oceans and the "dead zones" that have been forming of late, are of vital importance to humanity if we are going to continue feeding ourselves. Of course, if we CAN'T keep feeding ourselves, space just became a whole lot more important.

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Postby robochrist » Sat Oct 01, 2005 4:12 am

"However I'm speaking of exploring the planet NOW."

Yeah, I know that. So am I. I only said space exploration is PART of that effort and process; we're studying past courses in order to undertand the PRESENT (AND the future). At the same time, I'm not brushing aside ANY of YOUR points.

But I think my reaction came from your delivery: "Still, I can't help but wonder if we should finish exploring our own planet first?"

"FIRST".

If taken literally, it means to put one thing off for another at this given time; "let's put space exploration off for now and study the earth". You PROBABLY didn't mean that so literally, but you DID say it, so a wet towel came your way.

It's all crucial simultaneously.

...and I liked CHUCK'S post. I wanted to bring up the budgetary matter myself earlier. He took care of that.

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Postby Ceronomus » Sat Oct 01, 2005 8:36 am

Thing is, the budget really isn't there to do both at once in anything more than a bit of a haphazard fashion. Think for a moment what we might know now about the oceans if all of NASA's budget had been put into deep sea exploration. Think of what more we might know if man had focussed solely on the stars.

Neither will ever happen though. The general public seems fairly uninterested in the ocean's depths...but most are interested in space. I can understand the desire to set foot on another planet but I have to admit that the idea of learning about the formation of the cosmos seems rather unimportant when there are families in India whose home is a square block of sidewalk, while children starve in africa, while veterans can't even get medical care in the US.

I guess it boils down to what I think is more important. Yes, some advances discovered in space might lead to solutions to some problems I just think it is a shame that there are so many people in need down here while the chosen few go to the stars.

The meek might inherit the earth, but they'll be too poor and hungry to do anything with it.

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Postby Chuck Messer » Sun Oct 02, 2005 1:59 am

I don't think exploring space and the oceans are mutually exclusive. The exploration of the oceans is being done, but not with a single agency or entity like NASA. It would also be nice if the Navy could declassify some of the work done under the polar ice cap and with the nuclear-powered NR-1 submarine - the only vessel of it's kind ever built. That's part of the problem. The U.S. and USSR did a lot of research and mapping of the oceans, but so of it much is still classified.

The problems of reaching and surviving on the moon and on the bottom of the ocean are unique. The Moon is hard to reach, at least for the first one hundred miles while you're clawing your way up the steepest part of Earth's graviational well. Once you get there, surviving is relatively easy as long as you've made the proper precautions.

On the other hand, reaching the bottom of the ocean is easy, since you're not fighting gravity at any time. However, survival down there is much harder, given the tremendous pressures involved. There's still no way to survive outside the hull of a submersible when you're that far down. It may require re-engineering homo sapiens altogether to survive down there. Even a submersible of some kind has some very tough engineering challenges just to make one that can withstand the forces encountered down there. And it's dark.

I'd love to see a kind of super NR-1 built that would have remotely piloted vehicles it could send to greater depths. That would be a tremendous research and exploration tool.

But getting the Navy to declassify some of the research done to date may teach us a great deal before something like NR-1 is used for open exploration.

Chuck
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Postby Ceronomus » Sun Oct 02, 2005 9:19 am

It is important to remember that it IS possible to get men down to all but the deepest depths. Challenger Deep within the Mariana Trench is 10,923 meters any men have descended as deep as 10,915 meters. Of course, man first reached the bottom of the Marina trench in 1953 (which leaves me wondering why, throughout my childhood, I was told it was an impossible place to access) and we still know very little about it.

One would think that, with technological advances, we'd be a lot further along in undersea exploration.

Of course, the fact that the navies of the world still hold classified much of what they have charted certainly doesn't help.

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Postby Chuck Messer » Sun Oct 02, 2005 4:45 pm

Acutally, I guess my fantasy deep sea submarine would be more like Nemo's Nautilus, one that combined incredible mobility and the ability to reach the greatest depths.

The Trieste, which reached the challenger deep, was barely mobile. More like a hot air balloon with propellers than a submarine. It could only explore a small area of the trench.

I chose NR-1 because Rickover's baby is mobile, though not like the Nautilus. The best thing about a true submarine is that they are weather-proof. Many times during the search for the Titanic, for example, the expedition was under a lot of pressure due to the crankiness of the North Atlanic's weather. I would bet that if the Navy, some private interests and other Navies were to pool their resources that something more like NR-1 could be built without breaking anyone's bank.

The same approach could send people to the Moon and Mars.

Chuck
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Postby robochrist » Wed Oct 05, 2005 12:27 am

No, no. The SEAVIEW's where it's AT. I HAVE to have a sub with a viewport. And complete with a flying sub.

This baby could do the Mariana Trench sitting on its dorsal.

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Oct 05, 2005 10:38 am

Wow, that brings back memories.

My parents wouldn't allow a TV in the house when I was growing up, so I barely saw any of these shows myself, except for a glimpse now and then at the home of a friend, but my atavistic yearnings to belong and taste of pop culture with the rest of the herd were expressed in the purchase and construction of die-cast plastic models of the following items between the ages of 7 and 10:

-- USS Seaview
-- a Flying Sub
-- USS Enterprise
-- the Monkeemobile
-- an "Invaders" flying saucer

and probably a couple others I've forgotten.

I also had a "Matchbox" style Batmobile made by some other toy manufacturer. My buddy Ron used to choose it as his token when we played Monopoly. In one game, it managed to land on "Luxury Tax" every time around the board. Ron keened, "ROB-BINNN!!!"
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus


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