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A brilliant plan.
April 6, 2013 7:22 PM   Subscribe


 
The money will be used to plan the mission and identify a suitable asteroid to explore — ideally, one that is 25-feet wide and weighs about 500 tons.

8 meter diameter? That's a pretty tiny asteroid. Not gonna do much damage if it somehow got loose and fell to Earth, if that's what you are hinting at.
posted by DU at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


8 meter diameter? That's a pretty tiny asteroid. Not gonna do much damage if it somehow got loose and fell to Earth, if that's what you are hinting at.

Come back after it falls on your house.
posted by kbanas at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kidding, of course, but, still, you know - it's all relative.
posted by kbanas at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2013


Personally, I've always felt seven continents was one too many.
posted by item at 7:29 PM on April 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


We have to do something; we can't just keep waiting for the future to happen magically. I'm all for anything that actually advances humans' efforts to explore space and/or learn how to work with the natural resources available there.
posted by limeonaire at 7:30 PM on April 6, 2013 [31 favorites]


$100 million so somebody can walk on a rock in a special way?

<zero-sum goggles>
Oh, so this is why I'm not going to get that grad school fellowship.
</zero-sum goggles>
posted by gurple at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


$100 million so maybe someday, we won't all be stuck on this rock.
posted by limeonaire at 7:38 PM on April 6, 2013 [28 favorites]


this is one of those posts that's so bad it's good because it forces you to learn something on the way to utterly ridiculing it. here's a start.
posted by facetious at 7:39 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sam Seaborn: What's next.
posted by neuron at 7:46 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


maybe someday, we won't all be stuck on this rock.

Wouldn't that be swell? Planet by planet, sucking one dry, moving on to the next, just like a swarm of locusts or the aliens in Independence Day, only with a massive trail of cigarette butts and Slim Jim wrappers in our wake. [humming theme to The Right Stuff]
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:48 PM on April 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


Come back after it falls on your house.

I will stand at ground zero where its trajectory ends. 8 meters across will burn up before hitting the ground.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:48 PM on April 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


And if you're still worried, Death from the Skies! is probably the book to read.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:49 PM on April 6, 2013


Once, manned space exploration was the thing that made the most sense as a technology to inspire people. It was new, and there were obvious goals. People in orbit. People on the moon.

Those achievable, monumental goals are gone, used up. People on Mars? FFS, why, given the cost? What can humans possibly do there that robots can't?

Does anyone here really think that anything we do in this century is going to have any bearing on a significant human presence beyond our planet? I don't. Simple reason: the amounts of energy involved in making that possible are staggering. Getting lots of humans off the earth is possible in the same way Star Trek replicators and transporters are possible: in a future so remote that nothing we can imagine today is even relevant to it. Want to bring about a human presence outside the Earth-Moon system? OK, start researching energy and solve our climate problem. Then maybe there'll be people around in 1,000 years to even think of such a thing.

There are other technologies that properly oughta be taking the place of space exploration in the popular consciousness. Synthetic biology. Artificial intelligence. Personalized medicine. Those are some of the things that are going to radically change our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.
posted by gurple at 7:50 PM on April 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


He's just determined to prove Dave Chappelle right.
posted by BlueJae at 7:53 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not so much the energy that keeps us from going to Mars, it's that there is nothing there. If there was another Earth next door, we would have landed there in the seventies.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:55 PM on April 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are other technologies that properly oughta be taking the place of space exploration in the popular consciousness.

Yeah, and like space exploration, most everything you mentioned has it's own bloc of nay sayers / protesters. Funny that.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Friend of mine posted this on Facebook today... I stand by my reply.
posted by mindsound at 7:58 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has anyone checked with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to see if this will work?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently mindsound has.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's $100 million. Stop your bitching, bitches. That's less than 50 cents per American.

It's just over one hour of military spending.
posted by phaedon at 8:01 PM on April 6, 2013 [36 favorites]


Yeah, still a tough sell when we are turning away chemo patients.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:04 PM on April 6, 2013


$100 million in relation to other expenditures, is not all that much. And it is practically nothing in the world of space shots. Heck, the Curiosity Rover cost is reportedly in the billions and that was considered cheap. Even this is only planning money that is referenced for this asteroid thing, it still seems a bit thin.

This sounds less like a realistic idea and more of a way to get a $100 million line item in the budget they can it bargain away for something the administration really wants when people start screaming about numbers.
posted by lampshade at 8:09 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


THE AUDACITY OF ROPE
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:15 PM on April 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


We aren't turning away chemo patients because we're spending money on space exploration, but you know that already.
posted by incessant at 8:16 PM on April 6, 2013 [26 favorites]


Fuck cancer. The potentially civilization-ending asteroid hurling at our planet, not so much.
posted by phaedon at 8:17 PM on April 6, 2013


We aren't turning away chemo patients because we're spending money on space exploration, but you know that already.

Of course not, we do in fact spend on space exploration projects while we turn away the chemo patients, but one doesn't cause the other. We are just human beings who are good at rationalizing and compartmentalizing.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:24 PM on April 6, 2013


For the record, my alarmist title was tongue in cheek, if you couldn't tell.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:24 PM on April 6, 2013


This is one of those cases where being clear about ideology matters. By and large, the politicians who will be against spending $100 million on fetching an asteroid will not be the ones who want to magically redirect that money to chemo patients, or TANF, or anything else we might think of as more directly related to alleviating human suffering. There's a party that supports public expenditure, on all matter of things, and there's a party that supports public expenditure on the military and entitlements, but nothing else. Full stop.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:28 PM on April 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


(And they don't even really support public expenditure on entitlements, either.)
posted by incessant at 8:31 PM on April 6, 2013


Well, in the case of the sequester the military cuts come right along with the domestic cuts that are stranding the cancer patients, but in general sure.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:34 PM on April 6, 2013



I will stand at ground zero where its trajectory ends. 8 meters across will burn up before hitting the ground.



OH DUDE THAT WOULD BE SO BADASS
posted by louche mustachio at 8:51 PM on April 6, 2013


I will be casually sipping a mojito and idly leafing through a book on dinosaurs.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


To combat global warming, we should drop a few mineral-rich asteroids each year on unpopulated deserts, Antarctica, the Sahara, Austrailia, Baja...
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2013


If I'm doin' my calc-yerlations right, that's the same mass as the International Space Station. So something to be careful with, but probably less of a risk than all of the crap we have flying around up there already.

Since nobody has mentioned it: if we can effectively mine asteroids that will probably save lots of money and energy as the main idea would be to procure things up in space that we normally have to construct on Earth and shoot up there with rockets.

Though on preview, lampshade's analysis makes sense.
posted by XMLicious at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


People on Mars? FFS, why, given the cost? What can humans possibly do there that robots can't?

How about fossils or other things that pop up when not expected? Remember that metal thing that showed up? Yeah, most likely just eroded like that, but they couldn't even tell the robot "hey, get a closer look at that now." because the lag is so insane that it's every few decades a very, very specialized expensive robot goes there to look at one thing. Humans can improvise, functional AI is at least a few hundred years out where it could act on its own on things it saw. Plus, it's inspiring in ways robots aren't. All dead planets are essentially the same to most people, "Oh look, a slightly different colored flat area with brown rocks." People in the same place? Living in the future.
posted by usagizero at 9:04 PM on April 6, 2013


US Senator and former astronaut Ben Nelson, in that second photo, is clearly a lizard person.
posted by alexei at 9:10 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Obviously humans can do a lot of things robots can't, so I hope you were kidding. But I believe the current thinking is that towing an asteroid is a more manageable next step, and likely to pay dividends should we find ourselves in one's crosshairs (and even if not). Armageddon jokes aside.
posted by axiom at 9:11 PM on April 6, 2013


I will take lizard people over the monkey-children the Republicans keep fielding.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm scratching my head here because usually Metafilter is pretty positive for hurray science news.

Current 2013 Defense Budget is 1.58 Trillion Dollars. This is $100 million. That is 0.00006329113 of the Defense Budget for this year alone. The technologies, and the ramifications of such awesome science-expanding efforts of NASA shown by this project? We're living in the fuckin' future, and I'm happy NASA is making new, ridiculous space projects. The space explorer in me can still dream.

Why aren't we as angry about the 1.58 Trillion dollars going towards ACTIVELY killing citizens and destabilizing the world, as opposed to a paltry $100 million going to advance the FUTURE of MANKIND?

I swear, if you guys were around back when the moon project was going on, you'd probably be bitching about the cost of that too. "One small step for man, one giant arguefest for Metafilter."
posted by kurosawa's pal at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2013 [41 favorites]


Let's hope to fucking God Neil deGrasse "The bank bailout was bigger than the entire 50 year budget of NASA" Tyson doesn't see this thread.
posted by phaedon at 9:22 PM on April 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


I understand the military budget is huge and the overwhelming bipartisan voter support for it means it won't be cut, what I was pointing out was a political reality. In an era where we falsely believe spending is out of control new programs need serious justification. A space lasso is going to be a hard sell in this climate in which "I need money because I'm dying of cancer," is shrugged off, that's all I'm saying. I personally see space spending as usually having a pretty good return on investment. Our political climate is one in which "sacrifice" is a key word, the common belief is we need to give up things that we view as necessary. New stuff is not on the agenda. The liberal President just proposed cutting medical support for our grandparents.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:27 PM on April 6, 2013


Daily News headline: 'ROID RAGE
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:31 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


A space lasso is going to be a hard sell in this climate

Your point is too broad. What you're actually saying is a space lasso is hard to sell in any climate, absent a Cold War space race. At what point in history has mankind ever been devoid enough of disease, hardship and death to warrant exploration? And yet somehow, we've discovered the earth is round and walked on the moon.

Therefore, you're not engaging in political or historical realities, you're simply stating truisms. So in order to concede to your point, I would have to admit that at no point in time has man solved the problem of suffering enough to justify doing anything other than solving the problem of suffering. And frankly, that just goes without saying.
posted by phaedon at 10:06 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


To combat global warming, we should drop a few mineral-rich asteroids each year on unpopulated deserts, Antarctica, the Sahara, Australia, Baja...

If all you have is a few mineral-rich asteroids, everything looks like an unpopulated desert.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:14 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nah, there are plenty of climates in which space exploration is an easier sell than it is right now. You would have a better chance of selling it under any previous post cold war President than you would right now when the cancer patients are being turned away and the President needs to make a show of ending White House tours and returning his pay.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I personally see space spending as usually having a pretty good return on investment.
actually, it has one of the best...imagine a world without the things on the list here...

as far as this mission goes...yeah...more important than cancer research. lots more. Remember, the earth gets hit by much larger cousins of this rock, large enough to wipe out 85% or more of the SPECIES living here, about every 65 million years, like clockwork. (the regularity of these impacts is most likely due to the solar system crossing the plane of the milky way as it orbits...it moves in a wave-like motion, like a horse on a carousel. The higher concentration of dust in this plane is believed to disturb the belts and clouds of asteroids and comets, sending them on random courses through the inner solar system...where we live.) The last impact, the one that wiped out the dinosaurs? About 65 million years ago. This presents an existential threat equaled, maybe, by global warming, and not much else. However, if we can detect these bodies heading our way, nudging them off course might be as simple as painting one side black. So, learning how to move asteroids to prevent these impacts from happening (and they WILL happen, eventually) is VITAL to our, and most species, continued existence on this planet.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:18 PM on April 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


The real accomplishment will be making $100 million do anything worthwhile at all, anywhere. That's a laughably small amount. There has to be something else going on here.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:20 PM on April 6, 2013


You would have a better chance of selling it under any previous post cold war President than you would right now when the cancer patients are being turned away and the President needs to make a show of ending White House tours and returning his pay.

To be fair, Congress is the organ that suggested and passed the $100 million hike in NASA spending. An amount above and beyond what the White House asked for.

And once you start asking yourself if that money goes to creating new jobs, you quickly find yourself arguing the merits of healing some people versus employing others. In other words, political reality.

So once again, it would appear you are falling into another truism. You can't make any type of political decision without hurting or disenfranchising at least someone in your constituency.
posted by phaedon at 10:23 PM on April 6, 2013


To be fair, Congress is the organ that suggested and passed the $100 million hike in NASA spending.

And the $900 million sequester cut they ate.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:26 PM on April 6, 2013


I don't begrudge the expenditure, provided that there's a reasonable case to be made that real, useful science can come of it.

What I do begrudge is the hijacking of the popular imagination by space travel for the last, what, hundred years or more (OK, probably lots more). Yes, humans keep expanding to new areas. Yes, space is the, oh what's the phrase, "final frontier". But serious movement into space of the sort that people like to salivate about is at least thousands of years away, presuming we don't wipe ourselves out first. There are plenty of (properly, at least) massively more exciting fields of study that will produce massively more radically important results on a far shorter time scale.

The way I think about our current fumbling about with space travel with respect to humanity's eventual, oh-so-hoped-for migration to the stars is like this: I'm sure there were people who spent their lives designing astounding, elegant, marvelous late-model versions of the arquebus. The relevance of their efforts to the eventual design of an ICBM is absolutely nil.
posted by gurple at 10:36 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The ability to obtain resources in space by means other than lifting it into orbit is a critical step on the pathway towards one day creating moon bases or space stations we might seriously think about colonizing. I agree that $100 million does not seem like a substantial investment in solving this huge and complex problem, but it seems like exactly the kind of thing NASA should be involved in. Maybe the next space station or some future ISS permutation will supply its own oxygen from a captured asteroid rather than demand regular supply runs on expensive rockets from the surface.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:51 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, the number and quality of contributions that NASA has made to the medical field - and society at large, for that matter - is staggering. Here's a list of NASA cancer research spin-offs. According to the link, NASA has teamed up with the NIH to conduct cancer studies on the ISS.
posted by phaedon at 11:03 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are other technologies that properly oughta be taking the place of space exploration in the popular consciousness. Synthetic biology. Artificial intelligence. Personalized medicine. Those are some of the things that are going to radically change our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Dozens of new and life-changing technologies were (and still are) being created and discovered with the help of NASA and various space programs. Lists like this, this and this are a pretty good indication that it's money well spent. So yeah, it may seem like from the outside that we are just throwing money into, well, empty space, but many many people behind the scenes are inventing and creating things to help solve problems in space that ultimately will solve problems here down on Earth.

I don't think anyone is thinking that current space programs are going to have us hopping from planet to planet any time soon, but we are creating the first building blocks for future generations to do so. We are either going to run out of space or resources (whichever comes first), and we WILL need to start finding other means to sustain ourselves one day.
posted by littlesq at 11:05 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, the framing on this was a real crime. This was a super-bad post. Lots of you are grabbing and running with the "danger, Will Robinson!" idea, and that's just ludicrous.

Space is highly predictable. There's almost nothing there. NASA is so accurate they could shoot a dime in New York with a gun in Los Angeles, at least if both were in space. On the first try. They will put that asteroid exactly where the heck they want it.

And then those of you whinging about chemotherapy, go deal with the Republicans. This is a tiny amount of money, and it's a great goddamn idea, because we don't really know what asteroids are made of! So, for a tiny amount of money by space-exploration standards, we can go get one. And we can find out if they're worth, you know, mining.

There is a phenomenally huge amount of potential wealth up there, just circling around in the cold dark between Mars and Jupiter. If we really got a good assembly line going, with the imminence of real private space launches, that means an orbital economy could suddenly become possible. Nice thing about mining in orbit is that it's weightless, and then you can just drop your cargo to Earth, fly it in for next to nothing. A lot of stuff that's very rare and expensive now might very well become much less expensive.

Yeah, this is going to take a huge investment, but it really could work. And $100 million to go get the first asteroid, just to prove it works and to find out what's in one, is practically change in the couch cushions.

There are times when Metafilter feels so goddamn old, and this thread qualifies.
posted by Malor at 11:18 PM on April 6, 2013 [34 favorites]


Drinky, your grasp of Congressional politics and the fight over the US government's budget is either willfully naive or trolling. As for gurple's desire for "real, useful science," if you don't see exploring the building blocks of the solar system as real and useful science, then I don't know what to tell you. Besides, we can do all the things you're talking about and then we can also do this, too. It isn't a zero-sum game.

I'm not entirely sure how this entire conversation became, "Why explore space at all?" or "Unpossible! We'll never be able to afford it!" when the headline is, "We can do this amazing thing and some of us are ready to spend a rather small amount of money to start the planning."
posted by incessant at 11:29 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't that be swell? Planet by planet, sucking one dry, moving on to the next, just like a swarm of locusts or the aliens in Independence Day, only with a massive trail of cigarette butts and Slim Jim wrappers in our wake. [humming theme to The Right Stuff]

It's the logical end to mankind's desire to explore, and it just might save us.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:40 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems surprising that it's more efficient to move the asteroid to the astronaut than vice versa. It must depend a bit on whether there's a really good asteroid candidate in a suitable orbit that won't require waiting for a very long time or using prohibitive quantities of fuel. Are the odds on that really so favourable?

I suppose by not sending the 'naut on the long journey you save on the considerable costs of life support. But moving the 'roid is probably going to be costly too because it is likely to be distant and moving very fast in the wrong direction. Maybe you gain because if you move the 'roid you get a chance of multiple missions? I'm still not convinced the sums will stack up - but I suppose the 100 million is for doing the sums.
posted by Segundus at 11:56 PM on April 6, 2013


What? They want astronauts to walk on an asteroid that is only 8 meters long? What the heck is this, The Little Prince?

Actually I think this is great. We have investors like Elon Musk talking about investing in mining on asteroids. (And it is not like he doesn't know what he's talking about).

And with the very real threat of an asteroid hitting the Earth, I'd be a lot more comfortable with a NASA that has a lot of experience with asteroids.
posted by eye of newt at 12:07 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Malor: "then you can just drop your cargo to Earth, fly it in for next to nothing."

How do you get around that pesky little problem of burn-up on entering the atmosphere?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:10 AM on April 7, 2013


So, learning how to move asteroids to prevent these impacts from happening (and they WILL happen, eventually) is VITAL to our, and most species, continued existence on this planet.

Yeah, if there's anything that Chelyabinsk has shown us, it's that there's a little more urgency than (some of us|we) thought to developing this capability. And unlike the profitability questions pertaining to mining and the habitability questions pertaining to Mars, this could actually turn out to be useful and save some lives the next time a bigger rock decides it wants to give us a love tap.

There's also a lot of ways this could bleed back into better capability for interplanetary exploration, or even a human Mars mission, not to mention the whole Keynesian/STEM investment aspects. Also, by the end of the decade, we'll have COTS vendors supplying not only the ISS cargo but crew trips up and down, and I'm sure there will be some synergy there.

How do you get around that pesky little problem of burn-up on entering the atmosphere?

The point wasn't the details of the vehicle, but the fact that dropping something from a great height is extremely inexpensive compared to getting something of similar mass up there in the first place. My personal feeling is that in the near-term horizon, space-based mining will be far more useful in terms of space-based industry, possibly with regard to bases on the Moon or Mars, as opposed to actually bringing stuff down to Earth -- but the basic idea of supplementing our existing mineral resources with those of the very much larger solar system mineral resources is something that's pretty much inevitable -- it's just a matter of timeline.

It must depend a bit on whether there's a really good asteroid candidate in a suitable orbit that won't require waiting for a very long time or using prohibitive quantities of fuel. Are the odds on that really so favourable?

Gosh, you tell me. Obviously what we want is an Apollo, Aten or Amor asteroid whose orbit closely matches Earth's and whose position is easily reached. My personal bet is that it will be easier to slow down an Amor or Apollo than speed up an Aten, but the real limitation will be whether this is a manned or robotic mission. Given time and patience we can do pretty much whatever we need with an asteroid of the posited size. So we pick a good candidate, ease it closer to our own orbit, and position it in the velocity window so that the Moon grabs it (or you can see this backwards-wise as dropping it at the Moon).

Let's assume we need to do this crewed. So we send a big-ass rocket (BAR) up to orbit, send another one up with a there-and-back capsule, attach the two (another technical win), and then blast the whole kit and kaboodle Hohmann-wise toward the candidate. Crew uses something like a souped-up Canadarm2 to position the BAR pointing at the right part of the asteroid and secure it for a long transfer burn with some station-keeping and maneuvering options, then they Hohmann themselves back to Earth and we all sit and wait and watch. The fuel-saving option, of course, takes much longer for the big thing we're moving than for the tiny crew vehicle. Maybe in the future we would choose the time-saving option and just kick it with a nuke or some neato fusion thing we haven't yet invented. But for now, I think, we will need to do this carefully, especially if there's any public worry like there was with the Very. Tiny. RTG electric generators on Cassini and Galileo (I do expect there to be some kind of outcry like this, if MetaFilter is any gauge).
posted by dhartung at 12:30 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good luck finding something that weighs 500 tons IN SPACE.
posted by ckape at 12:33 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Learning how to prevent asteroids from trashing your planet will save you literally quadrillions of dollars in the long run - a quadrillion dollars being the planet's GDP for 15 years or so...

Anyone criticizing this for financial reasons should really do the math.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:39 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Simple reason: the amounts of energy involved in making that possible are staggering. Getting lots of humans off the earth is possible in the same way Star Trek replicators and transporters are possible

Space elevators are really quite close to possibility already (and every incremental improvement in materials science makes them exponentially cheaper). If it made political sense to do so, a reasonably wealthy industrial nation could start putting one up.

Want to bring about a human presence outside the Earth-Moon system? OK, start researching energy and solve our climate problem.

This is a very good point. But fundamentally these things aren't either/or. Heck, often they're both/neither: I don't think we'd be able to do climate science without a space program of some kind.
posted by hattifattener at 12:52 AM on April 7, 2013


"Regarding the film's premise, Ben Affleck asked director Michael Bay, 'Wouldn't it be easier for NASA to train astronauts how to drill rather than training drillers to be astronauts?' Bay told Affleck to shut up."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:04 AM on April 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Please drop the chemo / sequester, etc. derail.]
posted by taz at 1:08 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Synthetic biology. Artificial intelligence.

those both have a great deal of potential to degrade human existence

so does being hit by an asteroid
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:18 AM on April 7, 2013


What can humans possibly do there that robots can't?

Propagate the human race after The Big One hits?
posted by DU at 2:19 AM on April 7, 2013


If we get to tow Bruce Willis into space, let's look at the payment plan.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:43 AM on April 7, 2013


I think that instead of looking at mining these smaller objects, we should be using them to deflect/destroy the big ones that are going to ruin our planet, at least for us as a species.

Just launch some sort of space platform that resembles a jai alai player's xistera or something similar. Have it capture the asteroid at the top of the webbing so that it starts the whole rigamarole spinning. It should remain spinning for quite a long time, since there's no air friction in space. Then when something disastrously huge is detected, pivot the xistera using small boosters and work with the gyroscopic effect for minimal energy expended. Release whatever restraints holding your small asteroid in when the trajectory is correct and *poom*, killer asteroid destroyed/deflected.

This should work, at least in theory, right?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:17 AM on April 7, 2013


Whacking asteroids with other asteroids isn't a great plan. You have all the problems of moving an asteroid (the "bullet" one) that you would have had moving the target asteroid. On top of that, you've added the difficulty of aiming the bullet ballistically (rather than maneuvering a rocket-powered bullet), plus the problem of getting an unknown resulting trajectory after collision.

I just finished reading Near-Earth Objects and the best idea in there was gravity tractors. It's a little slow-acting, but you get very precise movement and the only thing it probably wouldn't work well for would be long-period comets that would suddenly be visible only about 9 months before they hit us.

Although come to think of it if you had some gravity tractors floating out there in Jupiter's trojan points, you could maybe do even that.
posted by DU at 4:33 AM on April 7, 2013


UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:15 AM on April 7, 2013


(I do expect there to be some kind of outcry like this, if MetaFilter is any gauge).

Depends on the framing. If the thread is presented as OH GOD NUKE EXPLOSION KILLS EVERYONE, then the thread will be about how that isn't a possibility and RTGs are proven, safe, reliable. If the thread is about RTGs as boring useful tech, then the thread will be full of RADIOACTIVITY KILLS.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:02 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are other technologies that properly oughta be taking the place of space exploration in the popular consciousness.

It isn't one or the other. Research in space exploration contributes to research in the other fields you mention in ways that aren't easily separable.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:53 AM on April 7, 2013


1. US spacecraft tows asteroid to Earth orbit.
2. The next day, China arrives at the asteroid and declares salvage rights.
posted by crapmatic at 6:56 AM on April 7, 2013


There are other technologies that properly oughta be taking the place of space exploration in the popular consciousness.

Damned human imagination! Why won't it behave?
posted by Countess Elena at 7:27 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


500 tons X 17,000 miles per hour. Keep off my lawn.

Robots can repopulate:

Fred Pohl wrote a story about a machine that raised a human...I forget the name....he was undersocialized, as I recall.

Also, Bruce Dern sent Huey Dewey and Louie off in a space habit with a bunch of raccoons...um, maybe it was just Dewey and Louie. Or Hewey and Dewey. Anyhow, one of them didn't make it. They were a trio of little C3PO looking things that squeeked when he talked to them. Very ingratiating. (silent running) Okay, they were going to repopulate with raccoons, but WTF.

I forgot what .... oh yeah, the asteroid. We need an asteroid, and we need it now.
posted by mule98J at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2013


There is a finite amount of useful minerals on this planet, while there is potentially a vast amount hanging there in the sky. $100 million could buy us some insight into what is available for future use, making any number of technologies cheaper and more widely available. Or it could buy us this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:11 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is so awesome. A great use of space exploration. Neil De Grasse Tyson talks about this often: look, we don't have enough resources on this planet, and people are people, so we're not going to find a cute, easy social solution to overpopulation and climate change. Instead of complaining about it and hoping for disaster, let's fucking try something! Mining space rocks is a great idea. Let's try it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:12 AM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is anybody doing conceptual work on terraforming Venus? It's close by and the right size. If we could actually figure out global warming, a mechanism for cooling off Venus might be the most reasonable solution to travelling to another planet. Far-fetched I know, but not as far-fetched as interstellar travel, perhaps?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2013


Mining asteroids will provide enough money and resources to cure cancer and every other conceivable disease. Set your sights higher.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:09 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Malor: "then you can just drop your cargo to Earth, fly it in for next to nothing."

InsertNiftyNameHere: How do you get around that pesky little problem of burn-up on entering the atmosphere?
This is where I get to point out that a) the alternative is to go through TSA and/or b) this will be organized by the same industry as the TSA.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2013




And when the Orbital Corporations begin the Rock War and put us mudboys and dirtgirls in our place, they will look back at that first asteroid towed into place as the birth of their new age, free from the surly bonds of Earth governments and their laws.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:30 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson
ZAKARIA: Do you think it's fair to say that the push to the Moon, the interest in NASA all in some way led to the computer and information revolution?

TYSON: There are people who would say that would have happened anyway, but there are certain facts that are undeniable. The urge to miniaturize electronics did not exist before the space program. I mean our grandparents had radios that was furniture in the living room. Nobody at the time was saying Gee, I want to carry that in my pocket. Which is a non-thought. But when you launch something into space, electronics of any kind, weight matters because it's very expensive to put every incremental ounce if you don't have to put it there to launch into orbit. And so, the miniaturization of electronics got a jolt of interest by the early space age. And then once you see that it's miniaturized, all of a sudden the whole new world of consumer electronics opens up that was unimagined and undreamt of before. So, yes, and by the way, the urge to find an economic justification, I think, is laudable, but that's not even the biggest reason to do this. The biggest reason is the culture that it implicates, the innovations require to explore space on the frontier, foster an innovation nation and everybody is thinking about it. The innovation becomes just what you do. And I don't know that you can put a price tag on that.

ZAKARIA: If you had your druthers and you could create one project that would excite the imagination of the American people, what would it be?

TYSON: You know what it would be? It wouldn't be one project. If you double or triple NASA's budget and you say, NASA, take me anywhere I want to go in the Solar system. And they create a whole suite of launch vehicles. So the scientists can go back to - go to Mars and then maybe there are some tourists who want to go to the Moon and some of the miners who want to go to the asteroid and all - the whole solar system becomes our backyard. And every one of these tracks will have a frontier associated with it and the engineers will have to innovate. You need the biologists looking for life and the chemists and the structural engineers and mechanical engineers, all the STEM field that everybody is whaling about trying to improve here back in the country, that would just be part of the activity. And you wouldn't need a program just to convince people that STEM fields would be good for the country. Because it would be manifest, daily. And all the advances that would be going on. Then, that's the truly (inaudible) future that we all dreamt we'd be in from the 1960s.
-How Far is it to Mars?
-The First Men on the Moon
-Back to the Moon? Not any time soon
-Blue Sky Thinking: Solar power in space
posted by kliuless at 12:24 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I personally am a little dismayed by the Now that we've consumed this planet and shat it out our infinite-growth-based-economy's tailpipe, we're gonna need a new one. line of arguing.

We've done a piss-poor job as a species of living w/in our biophere's means, and rather than learn how to live on a finite planet, we look for a new punch bowl, because saying "The party's over, hangover time" is unacceptable.

And yeah, Orbital Corporations that declare themselves independent of "Mud-bound Laws" are at the end of that space-lasso
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2013


Coming back into this, I see that people are really proposing sending people into space as a cure for overpopulation.

I used to think this as a child, but barring something like a Star Trek-style transporter, it is never going to happen.

Building space elevators requires technology somewhat beyond what's possible today but there's no reason to suppose it can't be done - and then the raw energy costs to get you in orbit are estimated to be between $200 and $800 per kilo.

So if you are a person moving off Earth, it'll only cost you, say, $20K to $80K to get to orbit.

But... where do you go from there? Big orbiting space stations? That's going to consume a lot of very technical manpower to build - a lot of resources to build - because, remember, we need to transport out 70 million people a year to keep up with population growth.

Do you go to the Moon - Mars? But that's also expensive to get you there... much more than getting you into orbit.

And you have to get rid of 70 million people a year, every year. That's like building 8 New York Cities off-Earth, every year, forever - except that the cost of building infrastructure to keep someone alive off-Earth has to be ten times what it costs terrestrially (as you have to deal with niceties as "oxygen" and "massive temperature variations").

And most people won't want to leave. And most people won't be qualified to leave. And the people who are qualified to leave will be even more valuable on the planet.

It ain't happening. Mankind might well spread to the solar system and the stars, but, unless some "magic" technology is discovered that lets us pop around for free, only a tiny fraction of people will ever use it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:53 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


We've done a piss-poor job as a species of living w/in our biophere's means, and rather than learn how to live on a finite planet, we look for a new punch bowl, because saying "The party's over, hangover time" is unacceptable.

But if we go outside the biosphere, we also push a lot of the pollution outside of the biosphere. Pollution is only even a concept with relation to a biosphere; if nothing is alive there, it doesn't matter if you're dumping pools of liquid mercury on the Moon, or pouring out vast quantities of radioactive waste. Pollution is bad because it damages the incredibly intricate ecology on Earth, so by moving it off Earth, we stop doing much of the damage. Who the fuck cares if the dark side of the moon is covered in garbage and factories? It's sterile vacuum. It cannot get any worse than it already is.

And having access to all the materials and energy in the Solar System will give us incredible tools we can use to fix the damage we've done to the Earth itself.

Like it or not, about the year 1900, we got married to technology. We cannot get a divorce, now. It would kill many billions of people to try. We need to go upward and outward ... and, for the most part, us going upward and outward into space won't matter to what's already there at all. It's almost all just rocks and horrible chemicals, stuff that already makes the worst places on Earth look like paradise.

People like to say, "but we need to fix X first!" But the only way we can fix X is with enormously more wealth and energy than we have now.

Refusing to go into space, because of the problems on earth, is like saying that you refuse to go on a diet, because you are fat.
posted by Malor at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


We've done a piss-poor job as a species of living w/in our biophere's means, and rather than learn how to live on a finite planet, we look for a new punch bowl, because saying "The party's over, hangover time" is unacceptable.

I certainly agree that damaging the Earth's biosphere is in general bad, but is it such a bad thing if some of the piles of rock tumbling through space are mined out and reduced to slightly-less-attractive tumbling piles of rock? Especially if, as opposed to terrestrial mining, all of that material is extracted and processed without any effect on the Earth's biosphere?

Also there's a lot more of it - my understanding is that some single nickel-iron asteroids are expected to contain more nickel and iron than has been produced by terrestrial mining in the entirety of Earth's history. I am somewhat more skeptical than the other people in this thread that mining in space to transport the products down to the Earth's surface for terrestrial use is going to be cost-effective any time soon, but wouldn't it be good for the environment (or maybe as leverage for environmental political movements) to at least have the option to cease most or all mining activity on Earth (especially, say, strip mining) and get all the minerals we need from off-planet?
posted by XMLicious at 2:01 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coming back into this, I see that people are really proposing sending people into space as a cure for overpopulation.

We already have a cure for overpopulation. It's called education, specifically of women.

All the First World countries are below population replacement rates. Only in the uneducated Third World is population growth still a problem. Educate those people, and the problem will go away.
posted by Malor at 2:01 PM on April 7, 2013


Granted, the pollution from mining all those rare-earths & heavy metals could be ameliorated by doing it in space.

Now we just need to find a way to handle all those newly-affordable thrown-away ipads and mobile devices clogging the garbage dumps and leaching toxins into the groundwater.

The solution to pollution is dilution. Except now we'd be importing more exotics than the Earth has experience processing in a way sustainable to life as we know it.

Yep. Nobody wants the punch bowl to be taken away, there is no possible way this could go tragically wrong, and you are a fool and a luddite for thinking there might be.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:54 PM on April 7, 2013


The solution to pollution is dilution.

No, the solution to pollution is keeping it out of the biosphere entirely. Then it's not pollution anymore, it's just stuff being rearranged where nothing lives.

Yes, there may be (probably will be, in fact) unpleasant side effects to continued growth. But we can't keep doing what we're doing. We have to either go big, or return to a pre-industrial, agricultural civilization. And if we try to do that, many billions of people will die.

Basically every other path on offer will go tragically and permanently wrong, cutting human population enormously, against that population's will, mind, and probably messing up the biosphere so bad that ALL of the human population could die. Expanding into the solar system might go tragically wrong.

If I thought there was an upside to just taking our lumps, with the idea that things would actually get better afterward, I could maybe back that. But I see no realistic chance of that happening. We get one chance at expanding into the solar system; if we don't do it now, civilization will eventually collapse as the resources run out. Future civilizations will not have access to the energy levels required to get into space, because we're burning what they would use. We will be trapping ourselves here, forever, no matter how shitty it gets.

Nothing is risk-free. Expansion at least gives us a solid chance of getting our shit together. The kinds of environmental protections we need will never happen during economic contraction. Just will not happen.
posted by Malor at 3:32 PM on April 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will take lizard people over the monkey-children the Republicans keep fielding.

There is some overlap there.
posted by Lizard People at 3:35 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Granted, the pollution from mining all those rare-earths & heavy metals could be ameliorated by doing it in space.

Not just that stuff - almost everything that is mined, in fact I think it's the lighter metals and minerals that will be more abundant. Except maybe for petroleum, but since we've got planets that are essentially covered in oceans of rocket fuel that might not be as much of a problem. Maybe we can even burn it in situ and beam the power back to Earth, or mostly carry out our energy usage in space, if we haven't developed even easier and cleaner sources of energy by then.

Now we just need to find a way to handle all those newly-affordable thrown-away ipads and mobile devices clogging the garbage dumps and leaching toxins into the groundwater.

In case you missed it, I said I think it's going to be more expensive to do mining in space for the forseeable future. Plus, even if we were to stop recycling things like metal (though I don't know why we would...) I think you may have an inadequate grasp of how stuff works if you think that consumer waste is a comparable pollution concern to mountaintop removal and the mine tailings and the occasional cyanide tsunami, plus the byproducts of the attendant power generation for mining.

I don't think anyone would be a fool and a luddite for trying to anticipate what could go wrong, you just need to come up with things that are at least halfway feasibly going to be a problem. I would be more concerned about increased space travel causing disruption of the atmosphere than I would about disposal of recyclable waste increasing so much that it's enough of an environmental concern to outweigh the benefits of completely ceasing terrestrial mining.
posted by XMLicious at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2013


...
A 25 foot, 500 ton asteroid would be captured by a specially designed robot and then placed closer to Earth, in lunar orbit or at the Earth/moon Lagrange Point 2 by 2019. Then a crew of astronauts riding in an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, launched by a heavy lift Space Launch System rocket, would visit and explore the asteroid at leisure.
...

- Mark Whittington, Houston Space News Examiner

posted by sebastienbailard at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2013


I would be more concerned about increased space travel causing disruption of the atmosphere than I would about disposal of recyclable waste increasing so much--XMLicious

You have a point, at least when it comes to solid rocket boosters, which, most people don't realize, are one of the worst things affecting the ozone layer.
posted by eye of newt at 9:42 PM on April 7, 2013


Guys! Dodgeball! With every country we don't like! WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE.
posted by saysthis at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2013


It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big.
posted by adipocere at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2013


From the just-deleted double thread:

Bringing a tiny asteroid close enough to the Moon to inspect it with a human crew without having to design a system to get astronauts any farther from Earth than they've already been is completely counter to the goal of having it be a stepping stone to Mars.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:07 PM on April 12 [+] [!]


Apollo 17 came back over forty years ago. If you look at the orbits of Skylab, Mir, and the ISS, lunar orbit is at the very least a thousand times further than anyone has gone in a generation. I think the invocation of this as a stepping stone is an apt metaphor.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2013


I swear, if you guys were around back when the moon project was going on, you'd probably be bitching about the cost of that too.

Yep. Is there something wrong with expressing an opinion?

Other than showing the world whose dick was biggest and keeping a lot of Nazis too busy to cause problems, what good was Apollo?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on April 12, 2013


Segundus: "It seems surprising that it's more efficient to move the asteroid to the astronaut than vice versa. It must depend a bit on whether there's a really good asteroid candidate in a suitable orbit that won't require waiting for a very long time or using prohibitive quantities of fuel. Are the odds on that really so favourable?"

The key thing is that rock is patient so you can use the very low thrust of something like an ion engine for a long time to move an asteroid. But it's a complete non-starter for a crewed mission.

InsertNiftyNameHere: "How do you get around that pesky little problem of burn-up on entering the atmosphere"

We've been successfully returning objects from orbit without burning them up for 60 years now so this is merely an engineering problem for a variant of a solved issue.
posted by Mitheral at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2013


Other than showing the world whose dick was biggest and keeping a lot of Nazis too busy to cause problems, what good was Apollo?

Spurred several technology developments and innovations, elevation of the human spirit, scientific knowledge and ultimately some cooperation between USSR and the US were part of the gift of Apollo.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:57 AM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other than showing the world whose dick was biggest and keeping a lot of Nazis too busy to cause problems, what good was Apollo?

We can debate whether or not it was worth the price, but this image sometimes makes my heart tremble for its beauty and fragility, and is like the Chartres Cathedral of our time.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thing is, though... that image could have just as easily been taken by a robot. You've gotta admit that we could even have accomplished alot more space exploration for the same price as putting a white guy on the moon.
posted by XMLicious at 1:53 PM on April 13, 2013


Not in the 60s we couldn't have. Well, we could have taken more pretty pictures, but actual sample return and the like, not so much.
posted by wierdo at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2013


Would it have been somehow worth it if Armstrong had being a female Chinese-Nigerian from Costa Rica? If not what difference does it make what race the guy was?
posted by Mitheral at 4:05 PM on April 13, 2013


Thing is, though... that image could have just as easily been taken by a robot.

1. Probably not, as the scene was noticed by humans, who grabbed manual cameras to shot the image.

2. The point is that it was taken by humans. They were the farthest away from home that any humans had been. When that photo was taken, there was no guarantee they would make it home.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:10 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


... if Armstrong had being a female Chinese-Nigerian from Costa Rica ....

When it comes to space exploration, not only do I not care about the race or gender of the explorer, I really don't care if they are meat or metal. Yes, there are pluses and minuses to both types of intelligence, but I still think of them as my brother/sister from the same planet. I have an amazingly large amount of fellow feeling for the Curiosity rover.

As to BB's point that it was noticed by a human, it's supported by the transcript of the taking of the picture from the Wikipedia page:
Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here's the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don't take that, it's not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you...
Lovell: Oh man, that's great!
posted by benito.strauss at 4:27 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


When that photo was taken, there was no guarantee they would make it home.

Needless endangerment of human life? Hooray!
posted by Sys Rq at 4:34 PM on April 13, 2013


Needless endangerment of human life? Hooray!m

Silly compliant. Never leave your room again if you're worried about human life so much.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2013


Sys Rq: "Needless endangerment of human life? Hooray!"

Unless they're putting people up there against their will, I'm not quite sure what this means?
posted by wierdo at 6:31 PM on April 13, 2013


Not in the 60s we couldn't have. Well, we could have taken more pretty pictures, but actual sample return and the like, not so much.

Are you sure? Didn't we have returning film from satellites worked out already? I have difficulty believing that we couldn't get film back from the Moon for a fraction of what it cost to send humans there. The first (unsuccessful) Lunokhod mission happened the same year as the moon landing, successful ones following a handful of years later.

And I'm not saying that the Apollo missions weren't poignant, just that we quite possibly could have had many more poignant moments in space—possibly even more poignant moments involving humans in space—if we'd spent the same budget on things other than planting an American flag there or making a re-usable space vehicle that looks like a futuristic airplane.
posted by XMLicious at 6:42 PM on April 13, 2013


(And we probably could have had hundreds of lunar rovers up there for the price of all of the Apollo missions; not only would Earthrise have been noticed with all the data they could send back but likely lots more than that.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:46 PM on April 13, 2013


Are you sure? Didn't we have returning film from satellites worked out already?

Yes, but you're missing the context of the Earthrise photo. The astronauts were sent to the moon and were scheduled to photograph the hell out of the moon. No one thought about photographing the Earth, because the point was land on the Moon.

When Apollo 8 got to the Moon, the astronauts noticed the extraordinary view of the Earth and started taking pictures of that, which was wasn't scheduled. Had they just sent probes, they would have simply been looking at the moon. It took human conscience to consider "Oh my god, we're so far from home, look at it!"

A reoccurring theme of the Apollo missions was that in going to the Moon, we rediscovered or gained a different perspective on Earth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


(And we probably could have had hundreds of lunar rovers up there for the price of all of the Apollo missions; not only would Earthrise have been noticed with all the data they could send back but likely lots more than that.)

No one was going to pay for hundreds of unmanned lunar rovers. Sending people is sexy, probes not so much.

A lot of the interesting discoveries were made by two astronauts working together, on the spot. Hell, the astronauts with lunar rovers covered more miles in 3 days (35) than the Mars Opportunity has in 10 years (12mi). Probes and rovers are great, no question, but they are no substitute for having a thinking brain or two on the spot.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 PM on April 13, 2013


No one thought about photographing the Earth, because the point was land on the Moon.

If that's true, then the thing you're citing as the main justification of Apollo didn't have anything to do with the original intent behind the project.

So, any actual justifications, then?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:48 PM on April 13, 2013


I don't understand your point. You're saying because we discovered something we weren't expecting, so it doesn't count?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:52 PM on April 13, 2013


Sys Rq that's only true if you think the people performing the science aren't anticipating the human doing something off the schedule. That's the whole reason pure undirected experimentation is so important: the "Hmm that's funny" moment that has proceed so much amazing discovery.

The fact there aren't lunar rovers combing the hills of the moon right now lends credence to the idea that the publicity factor of manned missions helps to make big science and engineering like this happen. A robot rover is easily within reach of any of the world's apce agencies and would return valuable science and yet their aren't any.
posted by Mitheral at 7:54 PM on April 13, 2013


Yes, but you're missing the context of the Earthrise photo.

I don't think I'm missing it at all. It's just not that great compared to having a much more established and permanent presence in space that would also have resulted in rediscovering or gaining perspective on the Earth, including quite possibly the same sorts of photographs made by humans visiting the moon, just further in the future.

The symbolism and value you're ascribing to the photo I agree with, it just doesn't make the kind of Moon program we had any more of a wise investment or any better than alternatives. War can create all kinds of meaningful moments and navel-gazing and technological advances too but that doesn't make starting a war a really great way to expend resources or a better way to achieve those things either.

No one was going to pay for hundreds of unmanned lunar rovers. Sending people is sexy, probes not so much.

Yes, I'm entirely aware that it would be stupid to pay that much money to send hundreds of lunar rovers up there. What I'm saying is that it's even more stupid to spend the same money to send humans and acheive less. I just need a bit more of a reason than "it's sexy" to trade away all of the things that could have been funded instead.
posted by XMLicious at 8:12 PM on April 13, 2013


The fact there aren't lunar rovers combing the hills of the moon right now lends credence to the idea that the publicity factor of manned missions helps to make big science and engineering like this happen. A robot rover is easily within reach of any of the world's apce agencies and would return valuable science and yet their aren't any.

They're just on Mars, and by all appearances we would have done well to start with those sorts of projects much earlier because they have so greatly exceeded what they were expected to achieve.

Besides - there aren't any humans on the Moon any more either; the remnants of that are nearly as old as the remnants of the Lunokhod missions. By your logic shouldn't that prove putting humans on the Moon to be equal folly?
posted by XMLicious at 8:18 PM on April 13, 2013


Another thing - going for something sexy enough to outshine the PR value of anything the Soviets did was not necessarily that great for space exploration in general, either. If we had remained neck-and-neck and it was an American rover versus Lunokhod, and a series of American long-term space stations versus the Salyuts and Mir instead of a half-assed one-time thing like Skylab, and more competition on extraplanetary probes, that might have produced even more sustained interest and investment from the public.

Once the U.S. "won the space race" and the apex of human space flight was in the rear-view mirror our space program could no longer garner the same amount of benefit from the Cold War "Can't let the Commies beat us!" propaganda, and it was on to the missile gap and other propaganda campaigns.

But hey, at least we've got the footage of planting the flag.
posted by XMLicious at 8:42 PM on April 13, 2013


I don't think I'm missing it at all. It's just not that great compared to having a much more established and permanent presence in space that would also have resulted in rediscovering or gaining perspective on the Earth, including quite possibly the same sorts of photographs made by humans visiting the moon, just further in the future.

The chance for a more established and permanent presence in space was repeatedly nixed by Congress. It's a minor miracle that NASA managed to get continued funding to do six manned missions. In short, more would have been better, but more wasn't coming, so we got what we got and that wasn't all bad.

What I'm saying is that it's even more stupid to spend the same money to send humans and acheive less. I just need a bit more of a reason than "it's sexy" to trade away all of the things that could have been funded instead.

I'm not sure we achieved less at all, particularly with the state of robotics in the '60s. Perhaps a focus on rovers and probes would have spurred accelerated developments in that era, who can say. But having people on the surface, looking for and collecting samples was priceless.

Another thing - going for something sexy enough to outshine the PR value of anything the Soviets did was not necessarily that great for space exploration in general, either.

It was definitely a mixed bag. On one hand, sending, landing and returning men from the Moon, not once or twice, but six times! 800 pounds of samples returned, plus several experiments left on the surface or orbit of the Moon. On the other hand, the later three missions were canceled and NASA has shown little interest since. But that was more a function of politicians, not NASA.

Ideally, there would be mixture of manned and unmanned space exploration, with each complimenting the other, but it's always a question of money.

If we had remained neck-and-neck and it was an American rover versus Lunokhod, and a series of American long-term space stations versus the Salyuts and Mir instead of a half-assed one-time thing like Skylab, and more competition on extraplanetary probes, that might have produced even more sustained interest and investment from the public.

If. Might.

But hey, at least we've got the footage of planting the flag.

We got a lot more than that and you know it, I don't understand why you insist on being dismissive about it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:10 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't understand why you are flailing around between arguments about sentimentality and actual achievments and inevitability trying to avert any criticism of the program whatsoever. There is no need to pretend that every decision related to Moon missions was perfect and optimally efficient and that it couldn't possibly have gone better, to the point where you're grabbing at things like particular individual photographs to justify its entirety.

It's possible to appreciate the significance and majesty of the Pyramids of Egypt while also admitting that building an enormous pile of rocks to make a tomb for one guy which no one else will ever get practical use out of is not actually a great expenditure of the life's work of however many thousands of workers and craftsmen.
posted by XMLicious at 11:19 AM on April 14, 2013


"Well, I don't understand why you are flailing around between arguments about sentimentality and actual achievments and inevitability trying to avert any criticism of the program whatsoever. "

It's impossible to have a decent discussion if you insist on making shit up.

If you want to honestly talk about good and bad points of the Apollo program and whether it as worth, go for it, I 'd love to.

If you want to be a snide piece of shit and reduce the work of thousands to flag planting, well here we are.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:30 AM on April 14, 2013


Dude, you're the one who's doing stuff like trying to take a response I made to someone else about whether it was technically possible to return film samples from the Moon in that era and dragging it over into a dispute about the context and meaning of a photograph. Don't be patting yourself on the back for being such a straight shooter and honorable debater.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on April 14, 2013


I'm sorry, didn't realize no one else should answer your question or offer other insight.

Otherwise, getting moon photos back to Earth in 1968 wasn't very advanced. Earlier systems literally developed the photos on the satellite, then scanned them. The Earthrise was great because it used a SLR camera, which was later developed back on Earth.

There are earlier photos of the Moon, but not known as well. Putting a human on the scene adds tangible and intangible aspects.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:32 PM on April 14, 2013


I don't mean to say that having humans present during space exploration is worthless, I'm just saying that I think there would have been some advantages to postponing it (or just postponing humans on the Moon and for example establishing human occupation of long-term space stations first) so as to be able to achieve other things sooner, and to scoop up more low-hanging fruit (low-orbiting fruit?) first.
posted by XMLicious at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2013


Also, this is a minor point, but I'm pretty sure we had many systems that involved physically returning undeveloped film from orbit - search for "film bucket" in the Wikipedia article on the Corona reconaissance satellites, for example. (Cited source with illustrations, photograph of an aircraft catching a return capsule.) That's the sort of thing I'm saying could have been adapted for space exploration with further investment.
posted by XMLicious at 2:05 PM on April 14, 2013


Oh yeah, Apollo is amazing on one hand, but there's always the question of different paths. In eight years we learned a helluva lot, but it also feels rushed. Had the US built up an infrastructure first, would we have had a more sustained program instead of lurching from goal to goal? What would that have looked like, what would lunar landings in the '80s have been like? The mind boggles.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Apollo would have happened at all if Kennedy had set 1980 as the cut off rather than 1970. The extended time line would have allowed everyone to get their pork put into the program (eg: demands for parts for the Atlas to come from every state or assembly in Seattle despite launch in Florida; that kind of crap) and for the mission to creep all over the place like with the shuttle.

On the upside maybe Russia would have spent more on space; their designs often were fairly divergent from American designs.
posted by Mitheral at 5:26 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


XMLicious: "Didn't we have returning film from satellites worked out already?"

I don't believe that the success rate on Corona missions was ever particularly high. Lots of film was lost. More likely they would have sent back video rather than physically returning film. And at that time, video cameras weren't terribly good. We could have sat around and waited for the technology to improve while fiddling about in low earth orbit, I suppose.
posted by wierdo at 6:22 PM on April 17, 2013


The return rate of the Corona satellite program cannot have been that bad if as this book on the CIA web site says, on just the very first launch of Corona as our first successful satellite photographic reconaissance system, nearly a decade before the Moon landing, it provided more photographic coverage of the Soviet Union than all previous U-2 missions.

Honestly, this assertion seems like grasping at straws to try to claim that the Apollo program was the only possible way to do things. Even if the Corona systems only successfully returned what we wanted half of the time or a third of the time, or less, and some fundamental constraint meant that the success rate couldn't be improved on—even with an Apollo-sized investment—(which seems quite unlikely to me) we could just send two or three times as many samples, easily fit within the Apollo budget. If we had a long-term presence in orbit too, perhaps we wouldn't have even needed to worry about the things having to survive atmospheric reentry.
posted by XMLicious at 8:04 PM on April 17, 2013


Honestly, this assertion seems like grasping at straws to try to claim that the Apollo program was the only possible way to do things.

He isn't the one claiming that an Earth orbiting camera system could have been used or adapted to take a photo of the Earth from lunar orbit.

The Soviets and US had been sending probes to the Moon since 1959, improving them all the time. Not many were used to shoot high resolution photos of Earth. It was only when men were circling the Moon, that human eyes got to see and realize what a spectacular view it was and take many photos.

I'm not sure what you're point here is. Sure, we could have sent dozens of probes to the Moon for price of the manned of Apollo project. But that's not why the huge expense of Apollo was approved. It was specifically about sending and returning men from the Moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2013


He isn't the one claiming that an Earth orbiting camera system could have been used or adapted to take a photo of the Earth from lunar orbit.

You're right - he would be the one repeatedly claiming that was technologically impossible or presented some insurmountable obstacle, for no apparent reason other than to declare lunar photography as an exclusive benefit that could only be delivered by the Apollo program. It's fortunate that you guys weren't around in the 1960s since you probably would have called most of the things the Apollo missions were trying to do impossible or an "If. Might." not worth consideration.

If all the things I've said do not apparently have a point to you I'm not going to reiterate them. We can leave it that Apollo was the best, most efficient, and only way to achieve sexy space exploration, and the merits of no other possibilities or ways to spend money need be considered if that's the goal we're taking into account.
posted by XMLicious at 4:36 PM on April 21, 2013


Technologically impossible? No. You were trying to make it sound as if automated probes returning samples from the moon was an easy problem that had already been solved. We didn't even have the guidance systems until years after it had been decided that we would send people to the Moon, and most of those advances were happening in parallel with the Apollo program, driven both by it and ICBM development.

Even the imaging systems themselves were rudimentary at the time. Corona satellites regularly had their film reels jam and other breakdowns. Now let's take that system that typically launches and goes right into action and cold soak it for a few days before it spins back up and starts taking pictures. There's a reason why the intelligence types were dumping so much money into electronic imaging.
posted by wierdo at 10:40 PM on April 24, 2013


You're right - he would be the one repeatedly claiming that was technologically impossible or presented some insurmountable obstacle, for no apparent reason other than to declare lunar photography as an exclusive benefit that could only be delivered by the Apollo program.

We were talking about the photo of Earth, taken from lunar orbit, not photos of the moon. You completely ignore the significance of sending people to Moon and how that factored into the photo of Earth, but you want to claim that people think the Apollo program should be above criticism. Alrighty then.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 AM on April 26, 2013


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