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A manned fly-by of Mars in 2018?
February 21, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Space tourist Dennis Tito wants to send a 2-man crew to Mars in 5 years. The Inspiration Mars Foundation has sent out a media advisory for a press conference planned for next Wednesday, February 27.

At that time, Dennis Tito, who paid for his trip to the ISS, will announce a private venture to fund a fly-by or the planet Mars. It's to be a 501-day round trip. Tito has a lot of money, but he'll need more -- and he'll need to overcome problems like radiation and so on. There will be no landing, and no orbiting of the Red Planet, just a how-de-do in passing. But as space scientist Natalie Batalha says on Facebook, "Baby steps get us there."
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit (104 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Argh. TO the planet Mars, not OR. Sorry.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2013


Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


If this actually gets underway in that timeframe then those people are basically on a one-way trip.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


That seems like a hell of a long trip just to turn around and come back again.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know NASA has proposed a fly-by to Mars (and Venus, way back when Venus still seemed like a place we might want to go) but I really don't see the point in that. We know we can keep a human in space for over a year, we've even done it (and I think we're about to do it again on the ISS), so what's the point? "We can keep a human in space for a year AND send him really, really far away!"

Apollo 8 was different. We'd never left LEO before, it was only a couple days away, and we had to make sure we could get into Lunar orbit and out of it again. I think by now we're pretty sure we can do that with Mars.

I know it's about a million times easier than landing and getting back home, but it still seems like a stunt.

Also, if you're gonna pack me up in a can and send me away for 500 days, I'm sure as shit going to want to jump around on some red sand.
posted by bondcliff at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


I would volunteer for this.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Spending what seems like an eternity traveling to a barren, desert-like, sandy place? Done; Amtrak to Arizona in 2008.
posted by Wordshore at 1:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [26 favorites]


I would volunteer for this.
Yeah, but how much would you pay for a ticket? Only billionaires could afford the fare... hmmm, maybe we could get the Koch brothers interested?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:37 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


what a joke. will never happen!
posted by GrooveJedi at 1:37 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


As jealous as I am of the Baby Boomers getting to witness the first man on the moon, I'm actually a lot more enthusiastic about mining asteroids than I am of a Mars mission. We're running outta shit down here, and it ain't gonna get any better. Besides, mining asteroids will give us an incredible springboard for any future space exploration. So I say forget Mars, let's get crackin' on those bots!
posted by Afroblanco at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?

And this is how we'll process chicken in the future!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:39 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought the whole bone-mass-loss issue was why NASA scrapped the idea. Maybe the 5-year timeframe is what they think is required to perfect some kind of artificial gravity chamber?
posted by Nauip at 1:42 PM on February 21, 2013


That is to say, instead of sending people to Mars, they’re instead planning to send plants and/or animals on a mission there?

I've long daydreamed about seeding the subsurface oceans of Titan or Ganymede with extremophile algae. Got to start building up the biomass somewhere.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


It would be more fun to send 2 LIVE CREW to Mars
posted by spicynuts at 1:47 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


FACE DOWN ASS UP that's the way we LIKE TO LAUNCH.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


This seems silly and pointless and I'm a space nut.

Forget Mars. We've taken a few baby steps but we're not ready for such a huge leap and definitely not in five years.

Go back to the moon. Spend time learning how live in something akin to deep space, where a rescue is somewhat possible. Practice and learn techniques which can be later applied to Mars.

But in the meantime, quit farting around with crazy dreams and get serious.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's too bad we can't just send robots to Mars to take pictures and dig around for us instead.
posted by perhapses at 1:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


That seems like a hell of a long trip just to turn around and come back again.

501 days is probably less than the amount of time someone is spending Right Now trying to get some obscure record for longest-time-doing-XYZ into a record book. First human to another planet is like, at least two orders of magnitude of orders of magnitude beyond that.

You only need to make 51% of the trip to be a Historical Figure forever. Just ask Robert Scott.
posted by anonymisc at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?
And this is how we'll process chicken in the future!


Space Chicken! The space program is the gift that keeps on giving!
posted by anonymisc at 1:55 PM on February 21, 2013


501 days is probably less than the amount of time someone is spending Right Now trying to get some obscure record for longest-time-doing-XYZ into a record book.

Yeah, but the guy trying to watch the Lifetime Network for 500 days straight or whatever can just be like "fuck this noise, I'm done." They guy halfway to Mars alone in a can with a guy who started chewing with his mouth open at day 3 can't really do that.
posted by bondcliff at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You only need to make 51% of the trip

I don't think it makes much sense to send humans to the asteroids, moons or Mars without sending along enough of a habitat that they don't have to make the return trip. Tourism isn't worth the money but colonization might be.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


From actual link, emphasis mine:
Besides Tito, the press conference will feature Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, the CEO/CTO and president/chairwoman, respectively, of Paragon Space Development Corporation (the two also were part of the original Biosphere 2 crew). Also at the press conference will be Jonathan Clark, an expert in space medicine.

That lineup of speakers, and the language in the media advisory, have led some to speculate that Inspiration Mars is planning a human mission to Mars, although the advisory makes no explicit mention of that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


To my understanding, bone loss is less a problem than cosmic radiation, and that without a strong magnetic field, there's no way to send anything living on such a long trip without basically frying them with neutrons and other high-energy particles.
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on February 21, 2013


Try as I might, I just can never get too excited about the prospect of privatized space exploration.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sounds like whatever we send up there is going to come back delicious.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't think it makes much sense to send humans to the asteroids, moons or Mars without sending along enough of a habitat that they don't have to make the return trip.

I agree. I also think that the chances of developing a habitat that will sustain a person on mars for 30+ years, when you have 5 years total to design, build, and test it, and a 3-year shipping to send anything that you didn't anticipate the habitat needing... are what I shall charitably call "low".

I believe these issues can be solved and should be solved and it would be awesome, but yeah, no faith in this every few years someone trying to channel Kennedy's "achieving the goal, before this decade is out" speech, because, like... it worked once before... or something... so it's the only way.
posted by anonymisc at 2:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we're going to spend the Delta-V, send some mining and maker bots over there and interface them with Minecraft. By the time some next generation of humans gets ambitious enough to head over there, they will have all of Westeros, Middle Earth and probably a large chunk of Qo'noS to inhabit.

(I'm actually half serious, if you care to guess which half.)
posted by Skwirl at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spending what seems like an eternity traveling to a barren, desert-like, sandy place? Done; Amtrak to Arizona in 2008.

It would suck to get to Mars and be pulled over by police for "not looking Martian."
posted by brundlefly at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Moon base first, astroid mining as well.
We need to get off this rock.

Go to mars when we are sure it is dead.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


there's no way to send anything living on such a long trip without basically frying them with neutrons and other high-energy particles

For colonization of Earth's moon or nearby asteroids the solution is to dig. Astronauts can certainly survive the brief trip to the moon, and a nice thick layer of rock over their heads is all the shielding they would need for long-term survival once they're there.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Go to mars when we are sure it is dead.

You're failing the Turing test. Any good human being would go forth in confidence that if Mars isn't already dead we can soon make it so.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?

My only regret is that I have boneitis.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Obama and Bden. I can imagine there will be plenty of people ready to send them into space by the time they are finished.

Ha! Because POLITICS, right? I mean, there's no arguing that those POLITICS people are a bunch of buffoons. Bada-bang bada-ZING!
posted by item at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Skwirl: "If we're going to spend the Delta-V, send some mining and maker bots over there and interface them with Minecraft."

Minecraft might not be the right audience, unless you want comms like :
"Dick base, this is PENUS-1 explorer, lol"

"PENUS-1 this is dick base, go head, lol"

"Preparing a new shaft, dick base. Please advise other units in the area. lol"

"Copy that. Only xxxSephirothxxxHamWaterxxx currently operating in area, will advise. lol"

"thanks dick base. PENUS-1 over and out, lol"

"lol"
posted by boo_radley at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Man, boo_radley, your Minecraft multiplayer experience has been very different from mine.
posted by brundlefly at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Keep in mind that there are existing vehicles in the pipeline like the NASA SEV. Also if we want to send humans through deep space we will need to have some folks hang out there for a bit to gather data. They might as well get some snaps of Mars while they are up there.
posted by humanfont at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2013


"Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?"

According to NASA "Studies of cosmonauts and astronauts who spent many months on space station Mir revealed that space travelers can lose (on average) 1 to 2 percent of bone mass each month." 501 days is approximately 17 months, so expected osteopenia might be between 17-34%, mostly in the lower extremities. Definitely a problem, but there may be exercise programs and hormone or protein therapies that can mitigate this.

The best solution would be to have a crew section on the spacecraft that rotates, so some kind of gravity can be simulated. But that's probably beyond any technology that can be built in the next five years.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:33 PM on February 21, 2013


"But as space scientist Natalie Batalha says on Facebook, 'Baby steps get us there.'"

There were domed cities and self-driving cars in tubes in the entry for "The Future" in the childrens' encyclopedia I had when I was a kid. I don't remember where it stood on the Mars question, but I think we were pretty optimistic about that because Viking was so close to happening they had to know about it, and everyone had to be thinking just flying over there was this. close.

So I want to make a wry joke about the future I was expecting, and the future we've got, and Facebook, but then I sort of roll "But as space scientist Natalie Batalha says on Facebook" around on my tongue and think of all the stuff that has to be to let a space scientist say something on a thing called Facebook and I'm less bitter about the domed cities not being a thing.
posted by mph at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


brundlefly: "Man, boo_radley, your Minecraft multiplayer experience has been very different from mine."

I play with a bunch of my nephew's friends.
posted by boo_radley at 2:36 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forgive my ignorance but won't anyone spending 501 days in space come back de-boned?

The record for longest continuous time in space seems to be held by cosmonaut Valery Polyakov on board Mir in 1994-1995:
The longest a human has spent in space is 438 days, a record set by Valery V. Polyakov when he returned from the Russian space station, Mir, in 1995. His safe and healthy return, he said in an interview, showed that “it is possible to preserve your physical and psychological health throughout a mission similar in length to a flight to Mars and back.”
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Utter nonsense. Manned missions persist only to pad defense contractor bottom lines. We have long since figured out that the only part of a human that belongs in space is the mind (and no, snarky retorters, I don't mean the physical brain). If the money pissed down the manned mission rat hole the past several decades had been spent on robotics and AI we would now know exponentially more about the solar system and space. The age of sending bathyspheres into space so the occupants can peer out the porthole should be at an end...
posted by jim in austin at 2:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


As jealous as I am of the Baby Boomers getting to witness the first man on the moon

I'm just old enough to have a vague memory of watching the moon landing, if I had seen it. But, no, we had to spend that summer in the wilds of Canada!

As for this mission, color me skeptical.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:52 PM on February 21, 2013


There doesn't seem to be a lot of information out there about Valery Polyakov's health after returning to Earth. But he's still an active scientist and they made a movie about him, so I guess he recovered all right.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2013


I have more hope for this mission that I do for that reality show based Mars colonization thing.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2013


The moon would be best. It's closer, easier, and just as safe from a planetary event. We could call the base Appendix, because it would be a safe harbour for our genepool. Meteors and plagues don't care about contractor bottom lines. They just fuck up your species.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:02 PM on February 21, 2013


If we've learned anything from the space program, it's that we send animals first. It just needs an apt branding slogan, maybe 'Get Your Ass To Mars'.
posted by panboi at 3:03 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Drop a 3D printer down there and let it build a ready-to-occupy base.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:07 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


If the money pissed down the manned mission rat hole the past several decades had been spent on robotics and AI we would now know exponentially more about the solar system and space.

That assumes that the same amount of money used for manned exploration would be used for unmanned exploration. Not gonna happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:09 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Manned missions persist only to pad defense contractor bottom lines.

What manned missions? Which contractors?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Drop a 3D printer down there and let it build a ready-to-occupy base."

Funny you should say that. Or maybe you already knew about it.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That assumes that the same amount of money used for manned exploration would be used for unmanned exploration. Not gonna happen.

Needn't happen. Every experiment performed on the space station could be have been performed robotically at a fraction of the cost, with the possible exception of measuring the deleterious effects of weightlessness on the human body. Robotic missions would be blasting off every week to every planet, moon, asteroid and comet in the system if they had access to the manned mission monies. Overkill.

What manned missions? Which contractors?

Which manned missions? All of them. Which defense contractors? How about these:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NASA_contractors
posted by jim in austin at 3:35 PM on February 21, 2013


It would suck to get to Mars and be pulled over by police for "not looking Martian."

Sounds like a Ray Bradbury story.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Which manned missions? All of them. Which defense contractors? How about these.

What you provided is a list of contractors. This is not proof that one or more manned missions persist solely to make money for contractors.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a human geologist with could significantly outperform Curiousity and will be able to for the foreseeable future. Don't get to cocky about those robots just yet.
posted by humanfont at 3:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


What you provided is a list of contractors. This is not proof that one or more manned missions persist solely to make money for contractors.

Apparently you are very naive about the political process. The contractors do not go to NASA and beg, "Oh pretty please, will you launch a manned mission so we can make a profit?" Rather, they go to Congress and have it budgeted, mandated and written into law. The manned missions exist for exactly the same reason that the US military spends 41% of every dollar on the planet that is earmarked for defense. This is about profits, not Star Trek...
posted by jim in austin at 3:55 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only we had spent all that space program money developing fellatobots and cunnilingroids, maybe we'd all be content to stay on earth.
posted by brain_drain at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


As if any American would be foolhardy enough to be the first person on another surface in over forty years. Uh ... wait! There is the self-chosen one!

(from a previous MetaFilter)
posted by Wordshore at 3:57 PM on February 21, 2013


I am happy I live in a time when the term "Space Tourist" isn't science fiction.
posted by tommasz at 3:58 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is about profits, not Star Trek...

Your condescending tone aside, what I asked for is evidence for your claim; i.e., proof that the one and only reason every single manned mission has, is and ever will happen is because contractors want to get paid. I think this rules out many, many other types of folks who also want to see manned missions happen for their own reasons. Calling me naive doesn't prove your point and kinda makes you look like an ass.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


What is the Earth orbit escape booster? There isn't one right now.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:20 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rather, they go to Congress and have it budgeted, mandated and written into law.

Also, when was the last time manned space missions were "budgeted, mandated and written into law" (as opposed to starved out)? I wish.
posted by eugenen at 4:24 PM on February 21, 2013


2 person libertarian suicide squad: mars, attack!
posted by ennui.bz at 4:31 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first technology hurdle to overcome is how to get Netflix at Mars orbit because wow, 501 days of sitting there is going to really suck.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on February 21, 2013


Provided they promise to free the Spirit rover and repower it so it can get back to work, I am all in favor of this.

Opportunity just started its 10th year. I love that little bot.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


how to get Netflix at Mars orbit

What does Netflix charge for their 501 disks out at a time plan?
posted by localroger at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In all seriousness, while the gravity well and landing, much less taking off, is a big problem (the atmosphere is thick enough to burn you up but not thick enough to decelerate you fully before impact) the extra effort to make orbit and stay awhile could really pay off if the main mission was to land on and explore Phobos. It would have all the impact and less gravity well ease of an asteroid mission with the chance to do lots of Mars science and maybe start laying, over multiple missions, the infrastructure for the more difficult surface exploration.
posted by localroger at 5:02 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is about profits, not Star Trek...

Take that bullshit and put in your garden, it will really help your vegetables grow. Mix that sour attitude with some sugar and you'll have a glass of lemonade. My anscestors may have gone west on the false promises of speculators and bankers and their dealings with the natives may not always have been pure, but that don't mean my granddaddies wern't real cowboys. Yuri Gagarrin, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin and every other astronaut, cosmonaut and taikonaut are real heroes if science.
posted by humanfont at 5:09 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Your condescending tone aside, what I asked for is evidence for your claim; i.e., proof that the one and only reason every single manned mission has, is and ever will happen is because contractors want to get paid.

We're talking about corporations. Their fiduciary raison d'être is to maximize profits for their investors. The possible motivations of their employees are irrelevant.

Calling me naive doesn't prove your point and kinda makes you look like an ass.

It won't be the first time... =)
posted by jim in austin at 5:16 PM on February 21, 2013


Robotic missions would be blasting off every week to every planet, moon, asteroid and comet in the system if they had access to the manned mission monies.

But they won't get amount of money, ever. Robots are cool, but they aren't that impressive to Congresscritters or the general public.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:23 PM on February 21, 2013


My anscestors may have gone west on the false promises of speculators and bankers and their dealings with the natives may not always have been pure, but that don't mean my granddaddies wern't real cowboys.

Your sainted ancestors didn't migrate in a sealed tin can with billions of federal dollars invested to make sure they succeeded so as to avoid any unpleasantries.

Yuri Gagarrin, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin and every other astronaut, cosmonaut and taikonaut are real heroes if science.

Heroes indeed, but it doesn't change the fact that the human body doesn't belong in space...
posted by jim in austin at 5:31 PM on February 21, 2013


Their fiduciary raison d'être is to maximize profits for their investors. The possible motivations of their employees

Not true. Maximizing profits or value for investors is actually recognized as part of the fiduciary duties of corporate officers or others in a corporation. Profit maximization is also not the reason to create a corporation. Since your entire line of thinking has been based on ignorance; perhaps you should reconsider.
posted by humanfont at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2013


Heroes indeed, but it doesn't change the fact that the human body doesn't belong in space...

You are 100% right. That's where the spaceship becomes a real handy thing to have when you are in space.
posted by chambers at 5:43 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


The contractors do not go to NASA and beg, "Oh pretty please, will you launch a manned mission so we can make a profit?" Rather, they go to Congress and have it budgeted, mandated and written into law. The manned missions exist for exactly the same reason that the US military spends 41% of every dollar on the planet that is earmarked for defense. This is about profits, not Star Trek...

So...um...why don't the contractors for robotic, unmanned missions go to Congress and get those budgeted , mandated and written into law? I mean, they'd make money out of it either way, no?
posted by yoink at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


it doesn't change the fact that the human body doesn't belong in space...

I am cheered that this isn't your decision. People will be in space, because there is no where else that we can go. We need a frontier for science and exploration and we will have it.

I also hope that jim and others who agree with him hold no illusions that ending human space exploration would garner any benefits on earth. We squander the majority of our resources on things of no import.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


We squander the majority of our resources on things of no import.

Things like that always remind me about the fact that the Apollo program cost Americans about as much as Americans spent on makeup during the same time period.

Or how the budget for air conditioning in Iraq Afghanistan for the US military was larger than the entire budget for NASA.

So if somebody, anybody, finds the means to build a craft capable of going to Mars, and picks the best people out of the thousands who would gladly undertake the risk, more power to 'em.

Sure, this isn't a 'safe' thing - people will die making this happen. Frankly, I'm OK with that. Many people over the ages have died in pursuits far less meaningful than this one.
posted by chambers at 6:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


So many detractors, so little time:

- If a for-profit corporation isn't about profits it isn't about anything.
- JPL lives on scraps yet produces much of the science.
- Humans will indeed explore the cosmos just not welded inside tin cans.
posted by jim in austin at 6:03 PM on February 21, 2013


I agree. I also think that the chances of developing a habitat that will sustain a person on mars for 30+ years, when you have 5 years total to design, build, and test it, and a 3-year shipping to send anything that you didn't anticipate the habitat needing... are what I shall charitably call "low".

Well, what we could do is just start focusing on the habitat problem more seriously now, and in 5 years send the astronouts out with whatever we got that will keep them alive the longest. Then, while they're out there on Mars doing what they can to survive day to day, we'll still be down here on earth working on better and better technology. Once we develop something new we can send it out to them then, thereby increasing the longevity of the colony just a little bit at a time. They might start out with just the ability to live for a few years, but by the time those few years are up we might have developed tech that could keep them alive for a decade. And by the time the decade is up, we might then know how to keep them alive indefinitely.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 6:08 PM on February 21, 2013


I'm with Atom Eyes. It would be both amazing and... very disheartening if the first human steps on another planet were taken by some ambitious investment billionaire on his corporate pet project.

Apollo 11 was meaningful not just because of the physical achievement, but because it represented the power of a democratic society banding together to undertake this towering achievement for the glory and advancement of the public good. Armstrong and the rest were there as employees and representatives of the people of the United States, and future missions like Skylab and the ISS representative of nations throughout the world. How would we look back on it now if the moon landing had been the culmination of some absurdly wealthy Boeing CEO's personal pipe dream?

Stuff like this should be feats of public, national, global unity, not the province of private corporations and billionaires. To paraphrase Charlie Pierce, space is something that belongs to all of us (literally), and the space program a monument we built to ourselves because we deserved it. And it's not just a matter of principle -- if we're going to expand off Earth and harvest spaceborne resources in decades to come, I'd rather it be under the democratically funded auspices of the United Asteroids or the Martian Union than SpaceExxon. Weyland-Yutani was not supposed to be a positive role model.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Heroes indeed, but it doesn't change the fact that the human body doesn't belong in space...

You are 100% right. That's where the spaceship becomes a real handy thing to have when you are in space.

Holy shit guys, I just realized that like 99.9% of our bodies *don't belong in air*, and that's why we have skin.
posted by crayz at 11:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Rhaomi: Stuff like this should be feats of public, national, global unity, not the province of private corporations and billionaires.
Very much agree. A lot of people are excited about Space-X and other private ventures into space, but I don't really get the enthusiasm. Certainly I understand that some people just love anything 'space' (I'm very nearly there, myself, but not quite that far). I can also appreciate that private space flight is another step forward, so I'm not knocking it. But I don't find it particularly inspiring.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, you could wave the American flag. What are you supposed to wave when Space-X achieves something, stock certificates?

Also, the real excitement is usually found among the explorers pioneers, not their suppliers.
posted by Davenhill at 12:45 AM on February 22, 2013


Many corporations exist to gobble up taxpayers' money, and their puppets in Washington, Brussels, Westminster etc exist to funnel public money to said corporations. We know all this, and I for one am powerless to change it.

However wasteful it is to send humans rather than robots into space, I'm still happier for my money to be spent on that than on subsidising banksters' gambling habits or blowing up Pakistani wedding parties. It would be great if the industrial complex that sucks up our money were benevolent (in the UK the 50-year experiment in using the public purse to run hospitals rather than funding wars is sadly drawing to a close) but given the alternatives, if public money must be wasted on something built by the military industrial complex, I'd rather it were spaceships than murder drones.

I just hope that somebody can also find money to continue to fund bigger and better telescopes on the side, because that's where the actual science gets done.
posted by nowonmai at 3:08 AM on February 22, 2013


- If a for-profit corporation isn't about profits it isn't about anything.

Yeah that's also bullshit. P/L is just one measure of business performance and often not the most significant one. Underlying appreciation of capital, free cash flow, cash on hand, growth of sales, COGS & SG&A to comps and many other measurements are equally important to continued corporate existence.
posted by humanfont at 3:15 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


P/L is just one measure of business performance and often not the most significant one. Underlying appreciation of capital, free cash flow, cash on hand, growth of sales, COGS & SG&A to comps and many other measurements are equally important to continued corporate existence.

True. I was using "profit" in a loose. popular sense. It would have been more accurate to state that for-profits exist to maximize value and returns for investors while providing the protection of limited liability.
posted by jim in austin at 3:44 AM on February 22, 2013


I can learn everything I need to know about Machu Picchu by looking at photos and reading books.

It isn't the same as going there.
posted by Ghost Mode at 6:56 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


People are going to go up anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:12 AM on February 22, 2013


I am cheered that this isn't your decision. People will be in space, because there is no where else that we can go. We need a frontier for science and exploration and we will have it.
Underwater. Bonus of food, often tasty, and at least some oxygen in the surroundings.
posted by edd at 10:48 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just hope that somebody can also find money to continue to fund bigger and better telescopes on the side, because that's where the actual science gets done.
I am a research telescope user to some extent or another, and so I naturally support investing in that area, and you clearly also (rightly in my opinion) support robotic over human space missions, but that isn't to say that science is funded purely for science - especially in these areas. There are additional reasons why funding those things are good, and some of those also apply to manned space flight and often apply to it even more strongly.
This idea of Mars in 5 years is nutty. I've known scientists who've been involved in Mars rovers thinking Mars in 20 years is insane. But thinking all space science comes out of just telescopes or that the main science product is the only product is a bit short sighted.
Relative funding of different areas of science research and exploration is complicated scientifically, economically, and politically, and there isn't a single right answer. (There are flat wrong answers though, like thinking you can flyby Mars in 5 years)
posted by edd at 10:57 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I vote Moon base. 12 year old me would have given anything to strap on a set of wings and fly around the Bat's Cave in Luna City.
posted by ElGuapo at 12:52 PM on February 22, 2013


Moonbase makes a lot more sense, as humans will need to figure out how to live and work on a surface for weeks, if not months at a time. The crews and mission control will need to know how to work without Mission Control looking over the shoulder every moment.

Also, artificial gravity would make a lot of sense for a Mars trip. We've learned that humans can survive for months in weightless environment, but it would be a lot better if there was some gravity.

There were 3 unmanned and 4 manned flights (2 of them to the Moon) of the Apollo program before a landing was attempted, not including the various unmanned programs (Surveyor and Ranger). Nearly 400,00 people worked their asses off for eight years before Apollo 11 was attempted. Are we going to do the same for a Mars landing? If so, why? If not, then why not?

No people have traveled beyond Earth Orbit for over 40 years. We've forgotten how to do it. We are currently not willing to do it anytime soon. The firmest idea that we have of doing it is sending 4 astronauts around the Moon in 2021-2022. That's almost 10 years to repeat what NASA did back in 1968. Space X was over 4 years late in getting an unmanned craft to the International Space Station and are projecting another 3-5 years to send a manned craft to the ISS.

We're not ready to land on Mars and won't be until we allocate a large sum of money and resources to that effort. In the meantime, people are smoking rope about sending a manned mission there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:23 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


12 year old me would have given anything to strap on a set of wings and fly around the Bat's Cave in Luna City.

Heh -- The Menace From Earth.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:51 PM on February 22, 2013


History is what happens while people are arguing about what to do. Again, I don't care who gets off the planet -- Weyland-Yutani or the Man who Sold the Moon -- just so long as someone does. In 200 years, it won't matter so much.

Gee, two Heinlein references in the same thread. Zat a record?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:54 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Frank Borman put it pretty well in, IIRC, "To The Moon" by PBS, but I'll have to paraphrase. It was something like, "The idea that the Apollo program was any great program of exploration is just plain wrong. People just don't get that excited about exploration. They were sure excited about beating the Russians, though."

It still is just too damn expensive to send people to the moon. I'd love it to happen, and I personally believe going back to the moon is the thing to do. IMHO, it would do more to inspire young kids than a terribly risky Mars mission. It's obviously much easier to see the Moon than to see Mars. Kids could simply look up at the moon and be AWED that humans were currently there.

I just don't see it happening any time soon, unfortunately.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:13 AM on February 23, 2013


"The idea that the Apollo program was any great program of exploration is just plain wrong. People just don't get that excited about exploration. They were sure excited about beating the Russians, though."

I remember the first Moon landing and this is just plain wrong. Most of the people who heard Neil Armstrong make the quip about small step giant leap weren't even American. Sure there was a US flag there to brand the operation, but there was a palpable sense that this was a new thing for the human race.

Of course, one reason the following Apollo missions didn't get so much attention from the public was that it wasn't any more a new thing for the human race.

Need I explain why people are so het up about getting to Mars, even if it's just to wave on a flyby?
posted by localroger at 5:39 AM on February 23, 2013


Of course, one reason the following Apollo missions didn't get so much attention from the public was that it wasn't any more a new thing for the human race.

I've often wondered what would have happened if Apollo had occurred in the '50s, when America was a bit more unified, instead of the turbulent '60s. Would the program been able to finish those initial steps (the last three missions of Apollo were canceled) and been able to establish a small lunar base? Would a Skylab like project been able to keep the station in orbit longer? Would the Shuttle have been so screwed up from the start?

Ah, the possibilities...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2013


It wasn't the 60's that killed Apollo and crippled NASA; it was the 70's.

If we had gone to space in the 50's, it would have probably been on von Braun's plan because that would have been the only way to do it; that would have meant starting with a space station and mounting an entire multi-ship expedition from Earth orbit. This would have been much more expensive than what we ended up doing but it would have left a lot of useful infrastructure in place for future missions. If we'd built a space station in the 1950's it would probably still be up there today.

The critical decision which may have made Apollo possible but also doomed von Braun's plan to leave infrastructure was the LOR Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mission plan, which allowed a single rocket to make the entire journey by essentially throwing every bit of itself away shortly after use. This made a very cheap entry possible, but each mission stood alone leaving nothing for the next to build on.

Every single American spacecraft ever launched has been a more or less one-off handicraft; this is even true of return Shuttle missions because the craft had to be pretty much rebuilt between missions. The Russians by contrast created assembly lines. Their rockets may not have matched ours for performance but they could build a lot more of them more cheaply and eventually with surprising confidence in their performance, considering their other disadvantages.

In the 1970's space got hit by a political double whammy. There was a growing sense that we had outright won the space war and didn't need to keep throwing money at it on the Right, and on the Left there was a growing sense that money thrown at space might be better used addressing social problems like poverty.

Letting Skylab fall was just a stupid waste, but it suffered from a lack of support hardware. Skylab was basically one of the unused Saturn V's from the cancelled missions refitted with the space station in the third can instead of an actual third propulsion stage. It was basically a hack. Unfortunately, when it started showing problems we had a shortage of hardware capable of making the trip up to service and boost it. I think the plan at the time was to use the Shuttle, which of course ran far too late to serve that purpose, and until the Shuttle was ready we had little else.

The Shuttle was messed up because it had to justify itself to two diametrically opposed groups; the military wanted a heavy lifting platform and the government wanted this machine to look less like such an extraordinary waste. The most egregious thing about Apollo was the spectacle of throwing the rocket away after each mission, so it was a big PR thing to not be throwing the rocket away. Unfortunately, while the tech might have existed to build an astronaut shuttling reusable space plane, the cargo capacity demanded by the military made that effectively impossible.

The transition to the Shuttle was indicative of another problem the American space program had which the Russians sensibly avoided; we started every new design with a blank piece of paper instead of building on what we had. Sure the new blank page designs were better in many ways because they took advantage of newer tech, but each came with its own new set of bugs and quirks which we had to troubleshoot. The Russians don't just keep making Soyuz capsules because they don't have the money for a new design, they keep making them because they fucking know how to make a Soyuz capsule that will work, having gone through the killing cosmonauts phase of troubleshooting in the 60's.

The end result for us was a vehicle that was theoretically very capable but also very finicky and really only barely capable of doing any of the things it was supposed to do, and flatly incapable by design of climbing out of Earth orbit. And that's why we're where we are today.
posted by localroger at 3:15 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It wasn't the 60's that killed Apollo and crippled NASA; it was the 70's.

The lack of money and political will began in the '60s. NASA's budget was at its peak in 1965 and has dwindled ever since . NASA's greatest champion (not for humanitarian reasons), President Johnson, got bogged down in Vietnam and the War on Poverty. Nixon was considerably less impressed with the program and had no interest in championing a program begun under previous Presidents.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:21 PM on February 24, 2013


More information.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2013


From the article: "“It’s incredibly feasible. It’s not crazy talk," Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp., told CNN."

He's right, it's "holychrist, that's batshitinsane" talk. No one has been beyond low Earth Orbit for over 40 years. Hell, sending a married couple to Mars in a space not much bigger than a bathroom for a 500 day mission is practically asking for problems.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on February 27, 2013


It'll be one hell of a couple's retreat.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 12:59 PM on February 27, 2013


First birth in space!
posted by Burhanistan at 1:07 PM on February 27, 2013


I hate crap like this.

"Yeah, we're gonna launch in five years. Not sure what kind of rocket we'll use. Of course we'll need to develop a life support system. Probably better get started finding a suitable couple. I guess maybe we should figure out how to get them back to Earth without burning up. Gotta raise a billion dollars. But yeah, we're going in 2018."

I want to see humans on Mars in the worst way. Not because of some idea that we need to explore, or to save humanity from extinction or to inspire humans or to beat the Chinese or to mine the rocks or whatever. Nope. I mean, all that stuff is great and I support it, but that's not why I want people to go there. I just want to see some really fucking cool pictures of spaceships traveling to Mars and landers sitting on red soil and astronauts jumping around on Mars and driving little pressurized rovers on Mars and Tweeting from Mars for no other reason than it would be really fucking cool to see see that shit. And maybe they'd find some fossils or something. Probably not, but that would also be cool.

But nobody is going to Mars. Not yet, anyway. Not in 2018, not for at least 20 or 30 years. If that. Move along. Nothing to see here.
posted by bondcliff at 1:09 PM on February 27, 2013


Inspiration Mars ship has a plan for shielding from radiation.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 5:32 PM on March 3, 2013


I realize why the idea of shit as radiation shield is so twitter-worthy, but it's really a no-brainer. They have to go out with enough food for a year and a half. Over the course of the journey they eat the food and create shit. They put the shit where the food was, both being dual-purposed for radiation shielding. What's the problem?
posted by localroger at 7:35 PM on March 3, 2013


Traveling around with your shit just isn't sexy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:59 AM on March 4, 2013


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