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Our Robot/Meatbag Space Future
November 13, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Almost Being There: Why the Future of Space Exploration Is Not What You Think
posted by Artw (33 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
And what the seventies thought space exploration would look like.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:09 PM on November 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm a firm believer in hyper-dense micro-projectiles containing the quantum neural structures of thousands of engrammed human consciousnesses, along with enough nanotech to construct a complete replication facility upon arrival at any suitable material-rich destination, dispersed by the billions at near-light velocities in every direction.

I call it the Dandelion Gambit.

Don't tell me what I think.
posted by Aquaman at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2012 [20 favorites]


Just to be clear, when people say that NASA can't afford a lunar lander what they mean is that NASA can't afford a gigantic whale of a lander as envisioned by the Constellation program. NASA could afford a minimalist, Apollo-style two person lander for surface stays of a few days at a time but has shown zero institutional interest in such a thing. It has become an agency that says it can't possibly drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco because it doesn't have enough money for a Ferrari.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


What would the purpose of an Apollo two-person lander be?
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pick up some rocks, hit some golf balls. You know, the usual.
posted by happyroach at 2:49 PM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


NASA can't afford a gigantic whale of a lander

NASA's budget 1964-1972 or so was approximately 4 cents on every tax dollar. It is currently less than 1 cent on every tax dollar. You can't expect them to do something comparable with yearly funding that is less than 20% of what they spent to build a "minimalist, Apollo style" two person lander.
posted by thewalrus at 2:51 PM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd say it's become an agency that says driving to LA from SF without a Ferrari has no purpose. (And I'd agree, if it were SF to LA).
posted by nat at 2:52 PM on November 13, 2012


Pick up some rocks, hit some golf balls. You know, the usual.

Even accepting the argument that NASA is only interested in overly expensive lander designs, which is questionable, or that the Apollo lander was cheap, which is likewise, I think they probably want more out of any landing than that.
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I say out the money into space telerobots as they plan. We get to put stuff into space and we get robots and we get telepresence.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pick up some rocks, hit some golf balls. You know, the usual.

"Picking up some rocks"=geology and the crews also set up numerous experiments. The golf ball were all of a few minutes on one of the six lunar landing missions.

Otherwise, using robots remotely to explore other worlds and deep space is a no brainer. When permanent bases are setup, tele-operated robots should be the ways they're built.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:46 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]



NASA's budget 1964-1972 or so was approximately 4 cents on every tax dollar. It is currently less than 1 cent on every tax dollar. You can't expect them to do something comparable with yearly funding that is less than 20% of what they spent to build a "minimalist, Apollo style" two person lander.


Not being cute, honestly curious...

Aren't there more tax dollars to take a penny out of now than there were in 1964-72?
posted by ian1977 at 3:49 PM on November 13, 2012


it can't possibly drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco because it doesn't have enough money for a Ferrari. truck big enough to hold the equipment it needs to do its work in San Francisco. FTFY.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:58 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aren't there more tax dollars to take a penny out of now than there were in 1964-72?

Yes, but they buy less. Inflation. This is why people are noting percentage of GDP or percentage of taxation, rather than actual dollar amounts.
posted by eriko at 4:01 PM on November 13, 2012


NASA's budget of that era funded a ton of stuff, including building large NASA facilities and the research on how to do a lunar mission. Building a simple lander is a now solved problem, we just have to do it. Take a look at the J-missions (15, 16, 17) to see what's possible with that level of technology, it wasn't just hitting golf balls and picking up random rocks.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:03 PM on November 13, 2012


If you solve a hard problem and then don't do anything with it for a few decades, you no longer quite remember how to do it. All the people in charge of successfully building a moon lander are likely retired by now, or have moved on to other things.

Technology isn't something that just sits around once you've done it once, you need to keep on using it or people lose the hands-on knowledge required to make it work.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:13 PM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


One thing Ghost in the Shell never got into was the applications of cybernetics to space travel. Which would seem to be quite extensive.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:15 PM on November 13, 2012


Ah, see, now you've got me kicking myself for not working a Shaper/Mechanist reference into the title.
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Building a simple lander is a now solved problem, we just have to do it.

Building a Saturn V class rocket is now a solved problem, that doesn't mean it's going to happen any quicker or cheaper than Apollo.

You're also forgetting that the infrastructure used to
the Lunar Module is gone. Nor would it apply to a modern lander, because it would make no sense to just duplicate the LM of the '60s. It would have more computational power and possibly betterly rockets and guidance. All of that would have to be designed, built and then tested. Then you still need a Saturn V class rocket to put all that gear on the moon.

NASA's budget of that era funded a ton of stuff, including building large NASA facilities...

The LM and the associate building/testing facilities were built by Grumman Ironworks, in Long Island. Those facilities didn't belong to NASA.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:36 PM on November 13, 2012


Aren't there more tax dollars to take a penny out of now than there were in 1964-72?

Yes, but they buy less. Inflation. This is why people are noting percentage of GDP or percentage of taxation, rather than actual dollar amounts.


Eriko is right. After adjusting for inflation, NASA's budget today is about half what it was during the Apollo Program era. Poorly-formatted data here.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 4:49 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't worry, private companies will soon be putting school buses full of children on the moon for a couple of buttons and a length of yarn. Just don't expect them to bring the kids back.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:53 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well any plan that puts a bunch of kids on the moon forever and keeps then from getting their red hot Cheeto fingerprints all over the iPads in my store has got my vote.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:14 PM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


For Obama’s Second Term, NASA Revives a Plan from Clinton’s Second Term
posted by homunculus at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neat 2009 retrospective:
Lunar module builders remember 1969 landing

posted by Artw at 6:50 PM on November 13, 2012


SpaceX test rocket is huge. You gotta hand it to Elon Musk.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:27 PM on November 13, 2012


Building a simple lander is a now solved problem, we just have to do it.

No.

Technology isn't something that just sits around once you've done it once, you need to keep on using it or people lose the hands-on knowledge required to make it work.

Yes.

One good example is the sorry saga of the British AWACS plane, the Nimrod. This was a 1960ties design based on a 1950ties jetliner (the Comet, first in the world to fly, first in the world to fall down from the sky too) which served as a maritime patrol plane until it was going to be made over into a proper AWACS plane in the 1980ties. Anyway, several iterations later these were going to be remade/upgraded into the MRA4, which included refurbishing the wings and all that.

What they found was that while all the original specs and design drawings were present and understood, none of the wings on any of the planes as actually build matched the specs and drawings, as they all had been build by hand by skilled craftsmen and each aircraft therefore was unique as these solved various small problems with alignments etc as they came across them.

The same would be the case for any attempt to resurrect the Apollo programme, where even if all the original designs and documentation was available, you could bet your life that there are points in the production process that were solved by the skilled labourers and engineers working on them on the spot and never documentated.

And why would you want to?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 PM on November 13, 2012


Mars Curiosity Rover took thousands of people about a decade to build. It is so complex with so many systems it will take them months just to learn how to use it. If it breaks is broken forever because there is no one there to service it. So this idea of packs of rovers running around doesn't ring accurate. There would need to be a revolution in rover technology. Cheaper, quicker to build, more reliable, standardized systems, etc .. I mean just the wheels are a major point of failure, it's what killed Spirit when it's back wheel locked up and became stuck in soft sand. There are many ways for a rover to die. To me the problem isn't the time lag for sending commands, but the sheer terror of making a mistake and killing the rover, there are no do-overs, they plan out everything in intricate detail and go very very slowly. How would that be much different if the commands were sent from an orbiting station, other than fewer people watching over it.
posted by stbalbach at 11:26 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The same would be the case for any attempt to resurrect the Apollo programme, where even if all the original designs and documentation was available, you could bet your life that there are points in the production process that were solved by the skilled labourers and engineers working on them on the spot and never documentated.

That's doubtful. The Apollo 1 fire exposed just how sloppy things had been getting on the undocumented workarounds, so its hard to believe that designers and builders would continue to wing it.

There were a lot of problems building the LM and a lot crosschecking as it was built, then flown to from Long Island to Florida. Its builder, Grumman, would do a final closeout check and once an LM arrived in Florida, NASA, aka different engineers, would check Grumman's work to ensure that everything was supposed to work at designed.

However, we're in agreement that replicating an Apollo LM with today's technology would not be as simple as others in this thread are implying.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:55 AM on November 14, 2012


What they found was that while all the original specs and design drawings were present and understood, none of the wings on any of the planes as actually build matched the specs and drawings, as they all had been build by hand by skilled craftsmen and each aircraft therefore was unique as these solved various small problems with alignments etc as they came across them.

See? Software Engineering IS like real engineering!
posted by Artw at 6:09 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I develop aerospace vehicles for a living and am quite familiar with this particular domain. I am not advocating building duplicates of Apollo vehicles or equipment; I am advocating building new vehicles with similar capabilities. The requirements for such a vehicle are now well understood and the technology required is far from the leading edge. We now know how to build things like guidance systems, propulsion systems, reaction control systems, communications systems, and so on. I can, in large part, just order most of this stuff out of a catalog. I don't have to spend several years developing reliable bi-propellant reaction control system jets, or figuring out how to do cis-lunar trajectory optimization. My point is that NASA has a very difficult time saying "No" to cool new things like automated landing hazard avoidance, autonomous rendezvous, closed-loop life support, and so on. All of those things are on the edge of technology, and hence require a lot of R&D money, but, as Apollo proved, they are not required for these sorts of missions. Just like with automotive engineering, technology development is important but sometimes the goal is just affordable transportation.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2012


All of those things are on the edge of technology, and hence require a lot of R&D money, but, as Apollo proved, they are not required for these sorts of missions.

At the end of the book, Man on the Moon, I remember Apollo 16 astronuat Ken Mattingly saying (paraphrasing) "We could not do Apollo today". He wasn't talking so much about the technology, but the will to do the incredibly risky missions that were the lunar landings of Apollo.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2012


SpaceX test rocket is huge. You gotta hand it to Elon Musk.

The Will of Elon Musk: The Inside Story

Triumph of His Will: For his entire life, Elon Musk has bent people to his insatiable will. Most recently, he's co-opted NASA. And now we'll see whether he's a) the visionary who forces americans to become explorers again, or b) a man so distracted by vision that his life's work is a series of brilliant disappointments.
posted by homunculus at 11:56 AM on November 15, 2012


Google Lunar X Prize teams now in a race with China as well as each other
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2012


Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder Elon Musk
posted by homunculus at 7:28 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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