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Outta the way HAL, humans have work to do
April 4, 2012 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Why Space Exploration Is a Job for Humans.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (83 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Changed my mind. Good post.
posted by phrontist at 5:20 PM on April 4, 2012


What about the monkeys?
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on April 4, 2012


Moore's law says wait 50 years and this will be wrong.
posted by jaduncan at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Well, save the energy costs of return making that somewhat unlikely. But it's cheaper to return samples with a robot, too; they are lighter in and of themselves even if the robot itself comes back rather than just the samples, but more importantly either can be returned without oxygen, food, and heating.)
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robotic expeditions have always been one-way trips: the probes go, land, take readings, and don't come back.
This is simply false.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:36 PM on April 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why space exploration is a job for humans?

Because apparently robot technology is not only rudimentary, it will never improve.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:36 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


You'll need a significantly higher tax base. So all that's really needed is getting the Republicans to sign on to massive tax increases.

How's that going?
posted by Ironmouth at 5:38 PM on April 4, 2012


By the time the interplanetary crew vehicle is built, the robots will be significantly more advanced and have done a lot more science.
posted by humanfont at 5:41 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We haven't yet made enough real progress in artificial intelligence to make any serious predictions about how quickly they'll developer towards more human-like intelligence, perhaps quite slowly, even with Moore's law. It follows we should plan on human going for now, but not be terribly surprised if the game changes later.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:42 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's a job for robots because i straight up hate nerds

just robots, though, not robots with human minds in them, because i have some other weird bitter gripe with that
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:42 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Space exploration is a trade off. This article seems to ignore one of the huge disadvantages of human exploration: humans are fragile. The further you send them from home, the more likely they are never to return.
posted by absalom at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2012


Not only that, but the chart on costs is incredibly disingenuous. It only shows the rising costs of the robotic missions without taking into account the many multiples of that cost a manned mission to Mars would cost. More volume, safety redundancy and providing an environment for the astronauts means more weight. And this is a game all about weight. Imagine the size of the booster required to send a ship to Mars!
posted by Ironmouth at 5:44 PM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Can't we compromise and offshore it like everything else?
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:50 PM on April 4, 2012


Why space exploration is a job for humans?

Because it generates much higher profits for the aerospace sector. Keeping all those squishy-soft bodies alive and bringing them back safely is a real boon to the bottom line...
posted by jim in austin at 5:50 PM on April 4, 2012


You'll need a significantly higher tax base.

Or you'd need to gradually shift the military-industrial complex into becoming a space-exploration-industrial complex, and with it shift a lot of defense spending into space exploration spending.

Yeah I know, it'll never happen in a million years. But I can dream!
posted by mstokes650 at 5:52 PM on April 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Don't pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull, and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait till you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles. See if you're still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding! Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


"If a mission goes to Mars, lands in one place, bring back half a kilogram of Mars rocks, it will be immensely valuable, but compared to Apollo, which not only visited six sites (and many hundred of sites with the help of the lunar rover) but came back with 382 kilograms of lunar material, it sort of pales in comparison."
If the whole point of the mission was bringing back rocks, imagine how many rocks a robotic explorer could've returned. All that fuel that was used to haul meat and life support systems could've been used to return far more moon rocks instead. It could've taken pictures just as well, too.
posted by mullingitover at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's completely absurd. You can either

1) Send a 60 kilogram robot packed full of scientific instruments, and state of the art AI to make decisions or

2) Send a 60kg human, plus hundreds of tons of life support systems required to keep her alive in space.

Think about all the stuff a human needs to live: oxygen, so you need an oxygen scrubber. Water, so you need a water recycler. Food, so you need to send a shitload of food or figure out some way to reprocess their shit. Maybe an organic garden, with hydroponic lights to grow food? Maybe some kind of bacteria that turns poop in into chocolate? Either way, that stuff requires a ton of energy, so you need reactors or enormous solar arrays.

And the thing is, during the long journeys between planets, you just put the probe in sleep mode. Right now, we don't really have any way to do that with humans.

The big problem with getting stuff into space is that for every pound you send up, you need a shit ton of fuel, which increases mass, which increases poundage and so on. So sending a human to do a machines job doesn't just increase the mass by the weight of the stuff you need to keep a human alive, but rather the mass of all the fuel you need to blast all the crap you need to keep them alive.

It's entirely not cost effective.

Maybe some manned missions might be nice for our Ego and getting kids interested in space. But in terms of actual science, hell no.

How much science have we gotten out of the Hubble space telescope or the kepler mission compared to all the moon missions?

How much more have we learned through voyager and cassini and all the planetary probes, plus the various mars landers compared to the moon missions.

I mean the ISS is cool and all but how much SCIENCE have we gotten out of it compared to those probes? And most of those were built with lower tech stuff then what's available today.
posted by delmoi at 5:59 PM on April 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


We haven't yet made enough real progress in artificial intelligence to make any serious predictions about how quickly they'll developer towards more human-like intelligence, perhaps quite slowly, even with Moore's law. It follows we should plan on human going for now, but not be terribly surprised if the game changes later.
The robots don't need to be 'human smart', they just need to avoid falling into craters and stuff while executing their pre-planned missions. Current robots are more then smart enough, IMO.

Come on dude, you wouldn't trust this thing in space?
posted by delmoi at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fuck, do they actually not understand simple economics? "Estimated mission costs for robotic Mars Landers expressed in constant 2011 dollars."

Where to begin? Of course the per-mission costs go up -- we're trying to do more and more with each mission, and we're at a sample size of four. You think human missions wouldn't get similarly more aggressive with each iteration?

And then there's an economy of scale. Robots are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, and all you have to do is change the software. Humans don't get cheaper -- they only get more expensive when there's more of them.

Unless you're China. You don't want us to be China, do you? Foxconn on the moon?

If it takes a million dollars to program one robot, then programming the second robot costs zero. If training one human costs a million dollars then it costs ... well it costs one million dollars to train the next one. And you had to feed him, too.

Jesus, fuck. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:03 PM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull, and our blood boils in thirteen seconds.
Not true , your blood vessels have enough elastic pressure to prevent your blood from boiling.
posted by delmoi at 6:05 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So all that's really needed is getting the Republicans to sign on to massive tax increases..

Dear U.S. Republicans,

Our founding fathers left England and Europe for the harsh, hostile environment of the new world, this land we call America. They primarily because they felt their religious beliefs were no longer consistent with the Church of England. They believed those differences were irreconcilable.

I note that many of you feel that your religious beliefs are no longer compatible with those of the rest of the country.

I also want to point out, at this point, that you like to celebrate the Americans who weren't interested in paying taxes to their lawful central government in England, much like how you don't want to have to pay taxes to the U.S. government.

Might I suggest that the technology almost exists to travel to and colonize Mars? The only thing preventing it from happening is lack of funds.

On Mars (which is named after a Roman war god - you might want to change the name to Jesus), you can set up the sort of Christo-Randian utopia that you dream of without having to ever deal with liberals, Muslims, or any other group you find distasteful. Furthermore, you can set up a tax structure once you get there that allows everyone to only pay what they/you want.

Best of all, the way you can make this happen now is to tax everyone more. So, you get to abandon Earth for a Holy Libertarian Objectivist Paradise and make godless atheist liberals pay for it.

I see no reason why you shouldn't do this. In fact, I think its one of the best was to honor the values of our forefathers. Tax away and start buying your camping gear. Science might suggest that you can't breath the atmosphere on Mars, but science says a lot of things, doesn't it?

Sincerely yours, etc. etc.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Can we compromise and send cyborgs to make everyone happy?
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our fragile meatbags have a hard enough time staying alive here on earth. But eventually maybe we can upload our intelligences into the astrobots and send them, if we like. Which creates a Riker Conundrum of multiple copies of the self, but it would be worth it to experience flying through a gas giant's atmosphere, no?
posted by emjaybee at 6:09 PM on April 4, 2012


If it takes a million dollars to program one robot, then programming the second robot costs zero. If training one human costs a million dollars then it costs ... well it costs one million dollars to train the next one. And you had to feed him, too.
Plus, redundancy. You design them for a 50% failure rate, and send 10, five make it. For a human, you want probably what, 99.999% success rate? (the claimed estimate for the shuttle was 1 in 10k) Adding each 9 gets more and more expensive, and harder and harder to estimate accurately as well.

One of the original goals of the shuttle was to repair spy satellites, now the military is has it's own drone shuttle to do that work. No humans needed.

In fact, if you want to see how unnecessary humans actually are, look at the original plans to put humans on space shuttles to do spy work. That's what the Russians had originally planned to do with their space shuttles. And the U.S. had plans to do the same thing. But we figured automated spy satellites, even using photochemical cameras and just dropping the flim from space, was cheaper.

The Russians stuck with building space station technology, and ultimately their designs form the core of the ISS now, btw. The original Mir-2 design was going to have a 1 megawatt laser, but they lost that module in a crash, then scaled it down and took off the laser. But it now actually forms the base of the ISS.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


With miniaturization, he explains, comes a depletion in the number of scientific instruments a probe can carry, the number of samples it can collect, and its ability to cover more ground. " [Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars
When we get to the point where we're launching such a massive thing jam packed with hundreds of tons of scientific instruments that the additional weight needed to send a human life support system would be marginal, then sure. Throw in some humans. But until we get to that point, what's the point?
posted by delmoi at 6:14 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's a job for robots because i straight up hate nerds
You realize that nerds love robots, right?
posted by delmoi at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2012


Dear Joey Michaels,
You have it all wrong. The Man from Mars comes here and forms a sex cult, not the other way around.
Sincerely,
Graxe
(A lover of science fiction)

I actually like this article though. It has several pretty good arguments. I strongly support human exploration of space, but I rarely get past the emotional angle in arguments.
posted by graxe at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, once there are copies of brains, I am synching all my brains to dropbox.

Just simplifies everything.

The brain is roughly 1.2 tb according to some BS I heard from Ray Kurzweil or on the back of the bus where most lads learn about the singularity. So please give me referral space.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


And yet Apollo has brought back more material from another planet than any robotic mission. Why? Because cost wasn't the only factor.

Saying humans are always better than robots or the opposite is short sighted, imo. There's no reason they can't work together, particularly with teleoperating. But in order to do that, you need a shift in thinking and working and with space programs cash strapped, they're just going to stick with what they know.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


You'll need a significantly higher tax base. So all that's really needed is getting the Republicans to sign on to massive tax increases.

How's that going?


Please do not look for opportunities to start fights about US politics in threads that are not explicitly about US politics. Thank you.
posted by cortex at 6:18 PM on April 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Please do not look for opportunities to start fights about US politics in threads that are not explicitly about US politics. Thank you.
Plus, the U.S. isn't the only country in the world. Russia still has a major space program, especially when you compare our GDPs. Other then the moon missions, the Russians lead the way as far as manned exploration of space. China is sending up Tàikōng Rén, and has a planned human expidition to the moon.

In fact, they actually plan to send a bot and come back with moonrocks in 2017, and perhaps send a person in 2025.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, they actually plan to send a bot and come back with moonrocks in 2017

Interesting, they only plan to come back with two kilograms. Why they aren't planning on being back more?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2012


the most cost-effective thing of all is to live in a 9x9 room in a huge arcology and do everything on an ipad
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:43 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


We should send Republicans into space. Ballistically.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 PM on April 4, 2012


It is too dangerous to risk lives when probes can make the journey and record things without needing to breathe, eat, sleep, and void waste products.
posted by Renoroc at 6:53 PM on April 4, 2012


>a Riker Conundrum of multiple copies

Hmmmmm, sounds strangely similar to the Picard Maneuver.

I mean I'm not gonna argue that we should be colonizing space right now but that's where we have to head for long term survival. The Stars are our destiny, but probably later rather than sooner. That's if we don't wipe ourselves out, or get hit by a comet, or an asteroid, or be vaporized by a supernoava, or....
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:03 PM on April 4, 2012


We should send Republicans into space. Ballistically.

Please do not look for opportunities to start fights about US politics in threads that are not explicitly about US politics. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interesting, they only plan to come back with two kilograms. Why they aren't planning on being back more?
You would have to ask them. Maybe that's all they want?

The other thing, a big part of crawfords argument is that you can get a lot of diverse rock samples to carry back. But probes can spend years on a planet, and gather lots of rocks from different places. Maybe with the lunar rover they were able to travel around and grab some rocks from a few meters away, but how far have the various mars rovers traveled in their lifetimes?

You could grab rocks from km away, bring them back, etc.

And you could even send multiple return vehicles. You have one rover on the ground, then you send up a bunch of 'return pods' to near it's current location. Drop one every couple of months and you could get samples from all over the planet, and continue to do so so indefinitely.
posted by delmoi at 7:22 PM on April 4, 2012


Think about all the stuff a human needs to live: oxygen, so you need an oxygen scrubber. Water, so you need a water recycler. Food, so you need to send a shitload of food or figure out some way to reprocess their shit. Maybe an organic garden, with hydroponic lights to grow food? Maybe some kind of bacteria that turns poop in into chocolate? Either way, that stuff requires a ton of energy, so you need reactors or enormous solar arrays.

Not to mention redundant systems for all of the above.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:34 PM on April 4, 2012


Our founding fathers left England and Europe for the harsh, hostile environment of the new world, this land we call America. They primarily because they felt their religious beliefs were no longer consistent with the Church of England. They believed those differences were irreconcilable.

That was a tiny minority of the early colonists, even in New England. The important documents were written by Virginians who came from more traditional Anglican stock.
posted by humanfont at 7:39 PM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


getting kids interested in space.

I think this is a bigger part of it than most people think. If the next generation doesn't give a rats ass because they aren't emotionally involved with space flight at all (it could be me on that spaceship!), what are the chances that they are going to want to spend any of their tax dollars on a robot mission to study something that a minority of the population cares about.

In 30 years I could see NASA's robotic missions rapidly losing funding from disinterested congressmen.
posted by dibblda at 7:47 PM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


And yet Apollo has brought back more material from another planet than any robotic mission.

I don't think the moon is another planet.
posted by snofoam at 7:58 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about huge, federally sponsored projects to get people excited, how about we get the young people excited about renewable energy and fundamental physics? For space exploration to make sense, we have to (a) still exist as a civilization a hundred years from now, (b) break the speed of light. I'm cautiously optimistic about (a). So let's put that whole space thing on hold and invest in an Apollo-style project to get fusion working.
posted by Pyry at 8:04 PM on April 4, 2012


There was a very interesting article on CBC's Quirks & Quarks some years ago (link, for those who want to have a look - I couldn't find it, sorry) about the realities of human space travel. It was mostly an interview with a retired NASA scientist who said, basically, that there are lots of reasons to think humans won't survive extended space voyages using existing technology. He had two main points - first, that even (relatively) short trips to the ISS or other extended orbiting exercises led to unexpected degeneration of muscle and bone, and second, that even manned voyages within the solar system are going to mean multi-year trips for humans. What's the point of sending people all the way to Mars if they're unable to tolerate the stress of landing, let alone returning?
posted by sneebler at 8:07 PM on April 4, 2012


To give you some perspective, I'm reading about the Apollo mission right now. Not having two 100-pound couches in the Lunar Module saved 6500 pounds of fuel.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:11 PM on April 4, 2012


I don't think the moon is another planet.

It isn't, of course. I should have written "celestial body".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:12 PM on April 4, 2012


We need both robots and humans, as well as perhaps a cat or two (nice company but make up some experiment for an excuse).
posted by sammyo at 8:26 PM on April 4, 2012


Sammyo,

It's been done, sort of.
posted by dibblda at 8:35 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about huge, federally sponsored projects to get people excited...

... keep in mind that many Americans in the 60s weren't exactly thrilled with the idea of a space program, either.

Was there strong support for the Apollo program during the 1960s in the time between JFK's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon before the decade was out, and the eventual landing on the moon in 1969?

Not nearly as much as might be imagined. In most polls conducted by Gallup during the 1960s, less than a majority of Americans said that the investment in getting a man to the moon was worth the cost. For example, a 1965 poll found only 39% of Americans thought that the U.S. should do everything possible, regardless of cost, to be the first nation on the moon.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 PM on April 4, 2012


For space exploration to make sense, we have to (a) still exist as a civilization a hundred years from now, (b) break the speed of light.

What about nuclear pulse propulsion? Still very theoretical, but it's supposed to allow interstellar travel at sub-light speeds using more-or-less already-available technology. Maybe (b) should be "learn how to keep humans alive in space for long periods"? (Come to think of it, that might help with (a) too...)
posted by twirlip at 9:19 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


iTunes can't even load all my music on to an iPod Touch, from a MAC, without mistakes. So let's spend a fortune on robotic missions that can't get things quite right, even after repeated attempts. I mean, it's not like iTunes is version #1 or something.
posted by Goofyy at 10:09 PM on April 4, 2012


[Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars, but the fact that they've traveled as far in eight years as the Apollo astronauts traveled in three days speaks volumes.

Only if one excludes the distance traveled to get to Mars. Spending a few years on Mars is no mean feat either.

The last time anyone visited the moon's surface (not counting impactors) was 1976. It will be interesting to see how much can be accomplished by modern robotic landers if Chang'e 3 or one of the Google Lunar X Prize entries makes it there.
posted by Durhey at 10:25 PM on April 4, 2012


The robots we send out there don't seem to be totally autonomous, but seem to depend on directions by a team back on Earth interpreting what they see. An astronaut can be trained in geology and be able to make decisions in real time as to what to collect, and what to explore. We've traded safety and cost for speed of exploration.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Martin's prize winning algorithm for not wasting time on moronic contrarian articles:

1) is it published in the Atlantic?
2) Skip it.

Space exploration has never been as intense as in the past two decades and we don't need the puny fleshlings to leave Earth to do it. Much better to keep the brains safe.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:46 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can solve this problem by simply sending guns to mars.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:31 PM on April 4, 2012


Of course it is more expensive to send a person somewhere. But most of that expenditure will be developing tech that is human oriented. You want green energy? We got that. Medicine? Yeah that too. How about ecology? We are going to have to sustain life for an extended period with very finite resources. We haven't even figured out how to do that on the earth's surface yet. That is just scratching the surface.

Your worried about danger? Stay home, I don't need you to keep me safe. We already have volunteers for guaranteed one way trips; but we can bring them home too.-probably.

Another thing I see mentioned in the thread is adventure. Humans want to push the frontier and space is the final frontier. No amount of ocean dives, theoretical physics or green energy is going to compare.

Or we can choose the alternative and send some robots to do geology, while we spend those precious resources on more rampant consumerism and weapons so that we can fight it out for the rapidly diminishing resources.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:40 PM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


For space exploration to make sense, we have to (a) still exist as a civilization a hundred years from now, (b) break the speed of light.

If you mean manned space missions out of the solar system, probably But if you could have cryogenic freezing, or multi-generational ships it could work.

Keep in mind, there are planets within a few tens of lightyears away.
posted by delmoi at 12:38 AM on April 5, 2012


Cryogenic freezing is an intriguing possibility but I wonder how workable that would be in a higher radiation environment. When we are among the living we are actively repairing our DNA but if we are an ice cube, we aren't. Id imagine that the cumulative damage that is done is tolerable if we keep repairing it actively but as an ice cube we would turn into unrepairable mush during the same time span.
posted by dibblda at 1:32 AM on April 5, 2012


[Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars, but the fact that they've traveled as far in eight years as the Apollo astronauts traveled in three days speaks volumes.

The largest distance travelled by any one luner mission was 35km, and importantly never more than 7.8km from base in any one direction. Meanwhile Opportunity has travelled over 30km, and Spirit travelled most of 8km.
posted by Chuckles at 1:40 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The issue is not automation, it's gravity. With a space elevator, we can afford to move the hundreds of tons a mission needs simply and economically. Without one, we can do science but not settlement.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:16 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the future, we'll discover it's cheaper to grow humans than to build robots.
posted by mr vino at 5:33 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


If we're talking about huge, federally sponsored projects to get people excited...

----------------------------------

Was there strong support for the Apollo program during the 1960s... ?

Not nearly as much as might be imagined.



I wonder whether it wasn't relatively easy to get people excited about going to the moon since we can walk outside on almost any clear night and SEE the dang thing well enough to recognize surface features, to imagine being there. Mars is just a dot of reddish light that has to be pointed out to most people. It's far less accessible to the imagination.
posted by jon1270 at 6:03 AM on April 5, 2012


I wonder whether it wasn't relatively easy to get people excited about going to the moon since we can walk outside on almost any clear night and SEE the dang thing well enough to recognize surface features, to imagine being there.

It wasn't excitement about going to the moon, it was fear that the godless Soviets were beating America and bumping the US to second place. Nikita Khrushchev, who lead the USSR from '53-'64, had no problem pointing out, on the world stage, all the firsts that his country was accomplishing, while mocking the US's many failures and heralding the decline of the country.

There was a lot of talk about how newly independent countries would go, would they choose communism or democracy? The USSR's seemingly technological prowess turned a lot of heads and had the West fearing that countries might decide to become communist. The West, in general, freaked out about the backwater Soviets becoming a technology powerhouse.

Apollo was a convenient way for the US to say "well sure, they're winning now, but in the end, we'll kick their commie asses." Essentially, the US moved the goalposts to a place where they had a decent shot of winning.

It's important to keep in mind that the Apollo program (including the Gemini program, which tested a lot the tools and equipment needed for a moon landing) occurred during the early '60s and '70s. America was going through profound domestic changes with the counter culture movement, a Presidential assassination, black unrest, Vietnam and later protests about it, feminism, Johnson's War on Poverty etc. There were a lot of people and politicians wanting to know why we were spending all this money going to the moon when there were so many pressing problems on Earth.

It's 50 years later and there is more equality for minorities and woman and the poverty rate was lowered, particularly among kids and the elderly. Meanwhile, we spent over half a trillion in 2008 dollars on Vietnam, which got us 58,000 Americans killed (and over a million Vietnamese), social upheaval and a profound knock upside our head about military might and warfare.

The Apollo program was canceled (along with many other problems), the final three missions scrubbed due to lack of funding. Money isn't the real issue, American has no problem spending more on defense in one year that NASA has spent in its entire existence.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:26 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wake me when it's Star Trek outside.

preferably TNG
posted by Gonestarfishing at 8:59 AM on April 5, 2012


This article also misses two huge points: just how long, exactly have those Mars Rovers been on Mars? They were supposed to last for 90 days, but Spirit lasted more than 6 years and Opportunity is still going! If one of the astronauts gets stuck on the ISS for an extra week or two, we get to hear all about how terrible it is and how they miss their family, etc. etc. Spirit and Opportunity have been working for nearly 25x their intended time, and not a peep yet about how much they miss their families!

The other huge point is that the main purpose to actually study Mars (or pretty much any other rock in the solar system) is to look for extraterrestrial life. Robots can be baked, nuked, and then frozen to the point that we are certain they aren't carrying any earthly hitchhikers, whereas humans are walking bacteria factories. Just landing people on Mars could irrevocably prevent us from knowing for certain if there is life in the universe that is not related to life on earth. Seeing as how this is, give or take, one of the most important outstanding questions in all of science, it seems like somewhat of a waste to forever lose this knowledge just so that we can take some pretty pictures of heroic astronauts that will inspire little kids.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think JFK expressed it best: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are fucking awesome. I mean seriously. Men. On the fucking moon. Just suck on that for a minute or two."
posted by malocchio at 9:03 AM on April 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars, but the fact that they've traveled as far in eight years as the Apollo astronauts traveled in three days speaks volumes.

The largest distance travelled by any one luner mission was 35km, and importantly never more than 7.8km from base in any one direction. Meanwhile Opportunity has travelled over 30km, and Spirit travelled most of 8km.


Both traveled for months to get to Mars. A lot farther than to the moon.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:24 AM on April 5, 2012


iTunes can't even load all my music on to an iPod Touch, from a MAC, without mistakes. So let's spend a fortune on robotic missions that can't get things quite right, even after repeated attempts. I mean, it's not like iTunes is version #1 or something.

Now, imagine that with people inside the ship. You see why robots are better. We lose them, we buy another. We lose astronauts--you can't buy another.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, there are lots of astronauts. This doesn't mean human life isn't valuable, but there will always be people willing to go into space, so yes we can "buy" another astronaut.

Otherwise, the most interesting nugget from the article was that sending people allowed for more material to be brought back from the moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "Actually, there are lots of astronauts. This doesn't mean human life isn't valuable, but there will always be people willing to go into space, so yes we can "buy" another astronaut."

True, but losing people is politically costly to the space program. Losing robots, not so much.

Imagine how long it wouldn't have taken the shuttle program to recover after Challenger if there hadn't been people on board.
posted by mullingitover at 10:49 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, it simply comes down to this - robot cannot relate this stunning emotion to me:

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
Neil Armstrong

I’m among the kind of person who looks at a picture like this one from Mars and admires the ingenuity that got the rover there. But I also want desperately to BE THERE myself and see what’s over the horizon, or at least have another human tell me.

I don’t understand the people who don’t share that impulse/ compulsion.

I’m a big supporter of both unmanned and manned (personned?) exploration. But all these years after watching Apollo as a kid it’s frustrating that I’m still waiting for “us” to go back, and for the first woman to stand on another celestial body.
posted by NorthernLite at 11:03 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


How much more have we learned through voyager and cassini and all the planetary probes, plus the various mars landers compared to the moon missions.

...

Maybe with the lunar rover they were able to travel around and grab some rocks from a few meters away, but how far have the various mars rovers traveled in their lifetimes?

" [Mars rovers] Spirit and Opportunity are fantastic things on Mars, but the fact that they've traveled as far in eight years as the Apollo astronauts traveled in three days speaks volumes."

"If a mission goes to Mars, lands in one place, bring back half a kilogram of Mars rocks, it will be immensely valuable, but compared to Apollo, which not only visited six sites (and many hundred of sites with the help of the lunar rover) but came back with 382 kilograms of lunar material, it sort of pales in comparison."
posted by Reverend John at 11:03 AM on April 5, 2012


Actually, there are lots of astronauts. This doesn't mean human life isn't valuable, but there will always be people willing to go into space, so yes we can "buy" another astronaut.

Otherwise, the most interesting nugget from the article was that sending people allowed for more material to be brought back from the moon.


Losing astronauts creates incentive to dump the program from tax payers.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:28 AM on April 5, 2012


Losing astronauts creates incentive to dump the program from tax payers.

Yes, which has always struck me as strange, because the same doesn't apply for soldiers or sailors. Hell, that thinking applied even when astronauts were all military pilots! If they die during a space mission, then it's "MY GOD, WHAT ARE WE DOING, HUMAN LIFE IS SO TERRIBLE?!". Yet if they die during a military mission, it might not even make the papers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:49 AM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yet if they die during a military mission, it might not even make the papers.

If the next generation doesn't give a rats ass because they aren't emotionally involved with space flight at all (it could be me on that spaceship!), what are the chances that they are going to want to spend any of their tax dollars on a robot mission to study something that a minority of the population cares about.

These are related. If we turn space launches into events, spectacle, it seems odd to wonder why people are emotionally involved. If you self identify with a person, you'd rather not have them blown up. Soldiers die with no eyes on them, and the one image that did the most to kill the Vietnam War, and was desparately hidden during our more recent adventures, was caskets being offloaded from planes. Which has been one of the major aspects of continuing usage of UAVs.
posted by zabuni at 12:27 PM on April 5, 2012


I read the PDF -- haven't read the article yet. Something about the way this guy is trying to make his point irks me. He likes to use numbers to make comparisons:

Greatly increased efficiency in sample collection and sample return capacity (compare the 382 kg of samples returned by Apollo with the 0.32 kg returned by the Russian robotic sample return missions Lunas 16, 20 and 24, and the zero kg returned to-date by any robotic mission to Mars)

...

Even if robotic sample return missions are implemented, neither the quantity nor the diversity of these samples will be as high as would be achievable in the context of a human mission -- again compare the 382 kg of samples (collected from over 2000 discrete locations) returned by Apollo, with the 0.32 kg (collected from three locations) brought back by the Luna sample return missions.



But what exactly does that mean? Is it having 1000x the sample mass the important thing here? Aren't the differences mainly a result of a design or mission decision rather than a limitation of technology at the time? None of that is explained.

The whole PDF is choc full of baseless assumptions, pulling bits from here and there then comparing some numbers who's relevance are not explained.


The lesson seems clear: if at some future date a series of Apollo-like human missions return to the Moon and/or are sent on to Mars, and if these are funded (as they will be) for a complex range of socio-political reasons, scientists will get more for our money piggy-backing science on them than we will get by relying on dedicated autonomous robotic vehicles which will, in any case, become increasingly unaffordable.


No, it's very far from clear. Lots of comparison of various numbers but little about space exploration and its evolving technology. At least that's the impression I'm left with.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 4:07 PM on April 5, 2012


The largest distance travelled by any one luner mission was 35km, and importantly never more than 7.8km from base in any one direction. Meanwhile Opportunity has travelled over 30km, and Spirit travelled most of 8km.

One major difference is that they're not in a hurry. They're solar powered, and gravity is higher, so they can't move as far as quickly (plus, lets not forget that mars gets less sunlight as well).

The lunar vehicle was powered by batteries, which were non-rechargeable. So once they ran out, that was it.

The argument seems to be "you can grab and return more rocks if you send humans". The thing is if you send humans you need an enormous mission capable of carrying them and all the fuel and all the life support systems. That means you can add a couple hundred pounds of "margin" extra. So if you are going to send humans, you might as well grab a lot of rocks.

But for the same cost you could probably grab tons and tons of rocks with a robot.

Think about it: Two might weigh, I dunno, lets say 150kg. Then you need another 100kg for two space suits. So that's 250 kg you need to launch from mars, which, remember, has more gravity then the moon.

So you need the fuel to launch 250kg from mars, which ads to the weight. And here's the thing you need to launch all of that from earth which massively increases the amount of launch mass, fuel, etc. And you need some kind of container for them to ride in back to the main ship.

Increasing the payload of the return vehicle by 20, 30, 40kg isn't going to add that much to the total cost, which is already enormous.

On the other hand, if you just want 10kg of rocks, you only need to send enough fuel to lift 10kg from mars. Much lower cost. You could probably afford to do that hundreds of times for the cost of one manned mission to mars.
In the future, we'll discover it's cheaper to grow humans than to build robots.
Uh, it's already pretty cheap to grow humans. Even the poorest people in the world do it.
Spirit and Opportunity have been working for nearly 25x their intended time, and not a peep yet about how much they miss their families!
a few peeps*
Actually, there are lots of astronauts. This doesn't mean human life isn't valuable, but there will always be people willing to go into space, so yes we can "buy" another astronaut.
Well, that was Werner von braun's attitude towards the people building his V-2 rockets! What was it again… 20,000 who died?

Obviously there are going to be plenty of people who might volunteer despite the risk (unlike the V-2 program, which is why von Braun personally selected slaves from buchenwald)

But, yeah, losing astronaughts would not be politically helpful. One of the major arguments for manned space flight is that it would inspire people, exactly the opposite happens if people just get killed.

Look what happened to the shuttle program after the last crash. The whole program is over. (and good riddance, it was stupid). I'm sure people would still volunteer knowing the risks, but the cost per unit of science isn't worth it.

If it were was a huge scientific value to be gleaned from doing it personally, and people volunteered, it might be worthwhile. But given you can do everything with robots, and more of it, sending people on risky missions is just stupid. And, of course, sending people on safe missions is super-expensive as the costs go exponentially as you decrease risk logarithmically (from 99% success to 99.9% to 99.999% etc)

(*although there was a good response to that comic, showing the rover excited about doing a good job and getting to stay active)
posted by delmoi at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2012


For the record, I pulled out the numbers because I thought his statement about the distances read like a bit of BS. Turns out it is only marginally BS in the absolute sense (the Rover's went a little further). But, you have to consider that the Rover's travel was of higher quality in many ways.
posted by Chuckles at 10:23 PM on April 5, 2012


But, you have to consider that the Rover's travel was of higher quality in many ways.

What do you mean?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:45 AM on April 6, 2012


[Seriously Brandon/delmoi, take your arguing finer points of everything to MeMail, it's inhibitive to community discussion. Thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 AM on April 6, 2012


Oh, just send out the RNA encased in ice, drop it somewhere reasonable, see what happens when they come back for a visit...Space exploration is about greed, rather than greet. The best and the brightest are puppets for the darkest intentions of our species. Kids, you have to clean house before you can go visiting...
posted by Oyéah at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2012


Look what happened to the shuttle program after the last crash. The whole program is over. (and good riddance, it was stupid). I'm sure people would still volunteer knowing the risks, but the cost per unit of science isn't worth it.


Cost per science? If you want to quantify things, I am pretty sure our manned program has far more scientific data than our unmanned. They get all the science that robots do and in addition they have to keep us meat bags alive.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:40 PM on April 7, 2012


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