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August 23, 2014 6:35 AM   Subscribe


 
Kind of wished that they'd gotten plans in place before scrapping the shuttles but I guess that we went through a long dry period between Apollo and the shuttles too.
posted by octothorpe at 6:50 AM on August 23


This post is great, but the article is a little premature. In September NASA will pick two (or maybe only one) of the three commercial partners to continue funding. Part of the reason for the early down-select (especially if they go down to 1) is that NASA has been ordered by congress to direct funds towards the giant SLS, the rocket that has no missions.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:01 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


The Dream Chaser is the coolest by far -- serious PeeChee potential -- as is the name of the firm building it (astronauts may one day warmly refer to the craft as "Pale Ale"), and so for those reasons, it gets my vote.
posted by notyou at 7:08 AM on August 23


With Russia getting more antagonistic by the day, shelling out $70 million each way has to hurt. Investing that money in NASA makes far more sense.
posted by arcticseal at 7:24 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


What would really spark things up is if China and Russia get together. There's a thoroughly plausible scenario that a post-Putin economic collapse would get most of Russia's resources on the table where China wants them and basically hand the keys to the country to Beijing. The two working together on an aggressive high frontier policy would most certainly give NASA something to do.
posted by Devonian at 7:35 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser

If the ship is anything like their pale ale, this is the one.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:46 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


The Dream Chaser is the coolest by far

I would be surprised if NASA (willingly) went with another launcher where the can full of people was strapped to the side of a rocket.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:04 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Some have suggested that a modified Dragon could even be used for a mission to Mars.

Context, shmontext.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:07 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


This past June, a review of NASA’s human spaceflight program concluded that the agency has an "unsustainable and unsafe strategy that will prevent the United States from achieving a human landing on Mars in the foreseeable future."

There is little point to putting a human on Mars. Doing so is ridiculously expensive, has little benefit at this point and will accomplish nothing but chest thumping. Put one of those nice rovers near a point where water is suspected and see what it finds.

Far better to concentrate on building a more permanent way of allowing people to live in space (rotating station?) or perfecting colonizing techniques on the Moon. Apollo was great, but the lesson from that should be to have a plan to stay next time we go anywhere off world.

Also, send a goddamn orbiter and rover to Europa and Enceladus, and a seafaring probe to Titan. More than one on each actually. 'Cause water and other liquids sound promising for life.

As to what will replace the Shuttle, none of these will. The Shuttle was great for hauling large pieces of the ISS up and putting them together. That isn't the only method of building a space station, but it was lets not pretend these are anything but glorified taxis (which is fine). The real question is that with the ISS slated to be decommissioned in 2024 or maybe 2028, what's the long term goal here?

If you say going to Mars, I will throw you out the airlock.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM on August 23 [13 favorites]


I don't get it. What about Orion? I work for NASA (aeronautics, not spaceflight) and that's all we hear about. It's a Lockheed-Martin capsule, to be orbited by the SLS.
posted by Rash at 8:08 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Ha! For those that don't know the reference of the title to this post, it's a classic Honeymooners sketch (I still have it on a VHS tape :)
posted by symbioid at 8:11 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


I would be surprised if NASA (willingly) went with another launcher where the can full of people was strapped to the side of a rocket.

The Dreamchaster sits on top of the rocket. Everyone's learned that painful lesson.

I don't get it. What about Orion? I work for NASA (aeronautics, not spaceflight) and that's all we hear about.

Orion is being designed for deep space stuff. The spacecraft mentioned in this post are for low earth orbit, like the Shuttle was. Orion could function in LEO, sure but that's not what its mission will be supposedly be. I say supposedly, 'cause Obama's term is will be up soon, so new President means possibly new and drastically different direction for NASA
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:13 AM on August 23


In other space related news the Falcon 9 just experienced a "launch anomaly", with spectacular results.
posted by Poldo at 8:19 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I thought all of the deep-space Orion Constellation stuff got cancelled and all that was left was the LEO module?
posted by thecjm at 8:19 AM on August 23


What about Orion?

Thanks to the catastrophic incompetence of NASA's previous administrator, Orion is a disaster. It's too big and so heavy that it can barely fly, despite having all the safety margin stripped out of it. That's why it is taking two decades and a zillion dollars to get what should be a straightforward capsule developed.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:20 AM on August 23


I thought all of the deep-space Orion Constellation stuff got cancelled and all that was left was the LEO module?

No, current plans call for the initial launch of the SLS in 2017 to include an unmanned Orion on a trip around the Moon. Then a manned trip around the Moon and/or a trip to the Moon to investigate an asteroid. Then Mars (but we really shouldn't send people to Mars).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I'd make a case for corporate harvesting (reorbiting) of a mineable asteroid. Then build out an industrial infrastructure in orbit that can build what we need to get to Mars and further. If we didn't need to ship up reaction mass, the trip to Mars under 0.1g constant acceleration would be weeks not months. A viable vacation for the .01%.
posted by sammyo at 8:34 AM on August 23


Half of NASA messes around another ten years trying to figure out how to get human beings into low earth orbit with a plausible chance of returning them alive.

Meanwhile, the other half of NASA is doing amazing science with robotic spacecraft. Several orbiting telescopes, rovers tooling around Mars, an incredible mission to Saturn, the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. Our friends in Europe are doing amazing things too, more space telescopes, Jupiter missions, landing on a freakin' comet. Not to mention all the experimental development in nanosats, solar sails, crazy stuff.

It's just so phenomenally expensive to try to send people into orbit, not to mention actual space outside LEO. I wish we'd just put a moratorium on that for 50 years and spend all that money on missions that return 10x the science for 1/10th the cost.
posted by Nelson at 8:37 AM on August 23 [16 favorites]


I thought that the fuzzy dice in the Dream Chaser were a classy touch.
posted by scruss at 9:00 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


It's just so phenomenally expensive to try to send people into orbit, not to mention actual space outside LEO. I wish we'd just put a moratorium on that for 50 years and spend all that money on missions that return 10x the science for 1/10th the cost.

Step 1: Develop reusable heavy lift to GEO.

Step 2: Send union construction crews and raw materials to GEO

Step 3: Build solar power satellite and phase-locked beamed microwave transmitter.

Step 4: ( concurrent with step 3 ). Hang rectenna elements all over an old coal station, since it's already plugged into the high tension distribution network.

Step 5: Turn on the power. The sun never sets in GEO.

Step 6 - n: Repeat.

We could have literally *all the energy we need* without digging it out of the ground in 50 years instead. And all the technology is like 30 years old already.
posted by mikelieman at 9:02 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I'd make a case for corporate harvesting (reorbiting) of a mineable asteroid. Then build out an industrial infrastructure in orbit that can build what we need to get to Mars and further.

What are we going to get form an asteroid that we can't get from Earth? Why go to Mars and who's going to pay for it?

I wish we'd just put a moratorium on that for 50 years and spend all that money on missions that return 10x the science for 1/10th the cost.

Fuck that, I want people in space, figuring out how to live there safely and relatively cheaply. There's zero reason why manned and unmanned spaceflight can't and shouldn't both be done.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:14 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


And don't count out Scaled Composites. They seem to be slow but steady building a "rocket" that will be reusable like a commercial jet is reusable, land and take off on schedule.
posted by sammyo at 9:21 AM on August 23


People in space is a stupid dream. We do it because it's romantic. That's why we have spent billions of dollars on it. The scientific, strategic and economic rationales are generally laughable.

The space shuttle was designed for a mission that was abandoned (Mars). The shuttle's eventual mission of servicing stuff in orbit was basically a pretext they made up so they didn't have to cancel the program. The shit about zero-gravity cosmetics and science fair projects in space is basically propaganda for a boondoggle that serves no purpose other than appearing cool.

And now we're going to spend billions more dollars to send people into close orbit for no reason, except again that people think it's cool.

And it is cool. I'm a lifelong SF reader and spacehead. But the dreams, of space emigration and commercial exploration, are basically physically impossible.
posted by grobstein at 9:22 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


What are we going to get form an asteroid that we can't get from Earth?

Raw materials.

Building a spaceship at the bottom of the gravity well is an irrational cost. Moving anything other than supercargo (and perhaps highly specialized electronics) up from the atmosphere is a waste of resources.
posted by sammyo at 9:25 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


The Dreamchaster sits on top of the rocket

Like the Dyna-Soar would have. I remember seeing its mock-up in the Hall of Science at the 1965 New York World's Fair. In Marooned (1969) they showed a launch.
posted by Rash at 9:43 AM on August 23


I'd make a case for corporate harvesting (reorbiting) of a mineable asteroid. Then build out an industrial infrastructure in orbit that can build what we need to get to Mars and further.

I just went to a really interesting talk on this, and there are a lot of people who are very interested in asteroids! Often for making sure they don't hit us, but, you know. Turns out figuring out how to land on an asteroid is amazingly complicated (note that Rosetta is still preparing to do so) and asteroids themselves are formed in complicated ways. But yeah, raw materials would be very useful-- anything to lighten the payload for lift off.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:08 AM on August 23


The space shuttle was designed for a mission that was abandoned (Mars)

Wait, really? How were they planning to land it- it needs a runway.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:09 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


My money is on the Dragon V2, because as someone said in some comment thread when it was unveiled, the rocket + parachute combo it has is designed for a Mars landing. The LEO stuff is a subset of that.

SpaceX is very methodically moving forward with their technology -- even if they break a few eggs in the process. I don't think its unreasonable to project that in a few years, you take a few Falcon Heavy payloads + some Bigelow inflatable modules + Dragon V2 and you have a commercial space station, or the foundations of a spacecraft to go to the Moon or Mars.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:12 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Wait, really? How were they planning to land it- it needs a runway.

He's mistaken. The Space Shuttle was an LEO taxi from the get-go, whose design problems can mostly be chalked up to meddling from the Air Force and our various surveillance agencies. A device with such a huge payload capacity but such a low operating ceiling has essentially one designed mission: putting large spy satellites in orbit and, potentially, stealing them. (A mission that was contemplated in the waning years of the Cold War, but never actually tried.)
posted by fifthrider at 10:14 AM on August 23 [10 favorites]


The space shuttle was designed for a mission that was abandoned

I think part of the original mission of the space shuttle was to support the ISS, but not the way that it turned out. The original plan was to boost all the station components in just a few Saturn rocket flights, and have the shuttle just ferry cargo/passengers.

But then, of course, politics. Saturn program gets cancelled, and the shuttle ends up doing in dozens of flights what 3-4 Saturn rockets could have delivered.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:17 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


There's zero reason why manned and unmanned spaceflight can't and shouldn't both be done.

There's about 18 billion reasons. Every year NASA has to apportion their budget between manned and unmanned missions. If I read these slides right, roughly half that money is spent on manned programs. Why, pretty soon we'll be able to send three people up to 205 miles again. Maybe we'll launch another geriatric senator to do "valuable experiments" on the effect of zero gravity on elderly people.

The main argument for manned missions is that it might help increase overall space funding because voters are willing to support them in a way they won't support nerdy robotic science. And thank you Chris Hadfield for bringing some humanity to being a human in space. I also think the current shift to private programs is shrewd, and to the extent they're chasing manned launches it gives people something to aspire to.

But we get a lot more value out of robotic science missions. And crazy development projects like unmanned asteroid mining. We are a huge, huge way from living in space "safely and relatively cheaply" and these LEO rockets do not further that goal. Robotic missions, developing capabilities and materiel in space; that's the way forward to the sci-fi future we all dream of.
posted by Nelson at 10:22 AM on August 23 [5 favorites]


People in space is a stupid dream. We do it because it's romantic. That's why we have spent billions of dollars on it. The scientific, strategic and economic rationales are generally laughable.

The space shuttle was designed for a mission that was abandoned (Mars). The shuttle's eventual mission of servicing stuff in orbit was basically a pretext they made up so they didn't have to cancel the program. The shit about zero-gravity cosmetics and science fair projects in space is basically propaganda for a boondoggle that serves no purpose other than appearing cool.


I agree with this. I would much rather focus our limited science funding on projects with more immediate practical benefits. Our solution to issues like global warming isn't getting off the planet, it's finding ways to sustainably live here. Before we figure out how to build a self sufficient colony on Mars we should work on living sustainably and self sufficiently on uninhabited places on Earth.

I don't see why the replacement for the shuttle needs to be manned at all.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:32 AM on August 23


Yeah, SpaceX seems like its in the lead for this.

The Shuttle was a fine idea when it was lighter, smaller and part of system including a space station and space tug. Then the station and tug were killed, the Air Force forced the Shuttle to grow in size, forcing complexity and cost of the Shuttle.

I like the look of the DreamChaser though, as it fulfills the idea of the Shuttle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:33 AM on August 23


There is little point to putting a human on Mars. Doing so is ridiculously expensive, has little benefit at this point and will accomplish nothing but chest thumping.

SpaceX has emerged as a credible dark horse candidate for having the most realistic near-term plan to get to Mars, and if Elon Musk pulls it off he's going to have a well-earned place in history books. Honestly, Mars is ridiculously expensive because we don't know how to do it right. To just throw in the towel on even trying to build a plan for doing it right is just defeatist and sad.

If SpaceX lands people on Mars in 10-12 years the way they're talking, your statement is going to be one of countless of these "world only needs 5 computers" sort of things about the pointlessness of Mars.
posted by crayz at 10:56 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


SpaceX is clearly in the lead for this -- as far as I can tell, Boeing has been soft-pedaling their marketing and not really pushing the PR. Unless they have a super solid design and a compelling business case (i.e. USAF Atlas V launches start looking fewer and further between, which I don't think is happening), I think the CT-100 was a hedge and Boeing will let it slide.

The Dream Chaser looks like a nice prospect, but it's underdeveloped at this time. Without many successful tests under its belt already, I'm guessing they'll be dropped.

Which leaves Dragon 2. SpaceX has proven they can build a reasonably reliable rocket cheaper than ULA, and the Dragon cargo module has worked multiple times in orbit.

NASA's going to continue building the Orion and SLS. If congress would keep US heavy lift capability from disappearing again, LEO and GEO can become Space Station Central with just a handful of flights per station.

Heavy lift doesn't seem to have any missions because -- for the last 40 years -- there hasn't been anything capable of lifting heavy. Of course we haven't been designing huge telescopes and satellites. But where there's a mass margin, there's a whole bunch of scientists and engineers who will be happy to fill it up. I'm as worried about the value of manned spaceflight as many around here, but with a super heavy lifter, I do believe that if you build it, the payloads will come.
posted by chimaera at 11:01 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


To add to that, consider a case in point. With an SLS-capable lifter, the James Webb Space telescope could have designed to be MUCH less complicated. And therefore cheaper.
posted by chimaera at 11:04 AM on August 23


What are we going to get form an asteroid that we can't get from Earth?

Ore processing and manufacturing outside of Earth's biosphere in an environment where a mine collapse could be held off with a car's airbag. Autonomy of robots might get sophisticated enough in time that mining could happen both with no pollution at all and with no human lives being risked.
posted by XMLicious at 11:10 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


The Dreamchaster sits on top of the rocket.

Yay! The topline post from vox told me a lie. Hard to believe on the intarwebs, I know.

Our solution to issues like global warming isn't getting off the planet, it's finding ways to sustainably live here.

Our solution to problems like global warming also isn't cancer research, or poverty amelioration, or women's rights. And our solution to poverty isn't getting off the planet or cancer research or retarding global warming, though women's rights help if you believe Sen (which you should). And our solution to cancer isn't retarding global warming or poverty amelioration or women's rights or spaceflight. And none of these problems will be solved by art or poetry or non-totalitarian government or sports or novels or motion pictures or travel for recreation or food more or better than minimal nutrition.

There are always problems more immediate and pressing than every problem that is not literally the worst problem on the face of the earth, and once we solve that there is still always a problem more immediate and pressing than what used to be the second most pressing problem in the world. It's just not a meaningful argument, and it's always offered disingenuously because nobody (sane) actually believes the sort of society that would be required to deal with global/social problems in any kind of rational order would be even close to acceptable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:23 AM on August 23 [6 favorites]


The cynic in me says that Boeing will get continued funding, because of their established size and lobbying presence in DC.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:29 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


If SpaceX lands people on Mars in 10-12 years the way they're talking, your statement is going to be one of countless of these "world only needs 5 computers" sort of things about the pointlessness of Mars.

Space X won't land and return people from Mars in 10-12 years without a major influx of money and effort. We've kinda forgotten how to send people beyond LEO and will need to relearn on a massive scale for Mars.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:45 AM on August 23


What would really spark things up is if China and Russia get together.

They have been, for decades. The Soviets were helping the Chinese with missile technology in the 1950s, which resulted in the first Chinese ballistic missiles and lead to the "Long March" series of ICBMs/launch vehicles. China and Russia fell out over ideology in 1960, but got back together on joint space cooperation in the 1990s, and signed a pack of formal development agreements in 1995 (I think). The Chinese "Shenzhou" manned spacecraft, for example, is an evolved Soyuz copy (the Russians sold them the tech) on a Long March launcher.

The Chinese and Russians signed another series of major space cooperation agreements earlier this year, along with announcing another suite of grandiose plans and goals. Who knows if this will "spice up" the "race" between East and West in space, but historically I don't think it's been much more than the Russians selling Soviet era tech which the Chinese (skillfully, to be sure) turn into limited scope national vanity projects and basic, blocking and tackling space projects (weather, communications & spy satellites, scientific projects and fundamental logistics/learning missions). Seems the real "joint ventures" (like their Mars probe) have been abject failures. Most telling, I think, is even the most jingoistic Cold War nostalgists in the US Congress and press aren't really beating the "OMFG Space Race is ON" drum, so even the nutcases don't see a threat.

The Russians have also signed similar joint development agreements with India, which could be at least as interesting (or not).
posted by kjs3 at 11:53 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I have one hundred dollar bet with a very accomplished professor of chemistry about humans landing on Mars by 2050. He says yes, I say no, and we agreed that a one way trip counts as yes as long as the people land alive.

The difficulty will be collecting--I will be nearly 90, and he will be over 110. (We did agree to go double or nothing on the same bet for 2100.)
posted by haiku warrior at 11:58 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


A space elevator could reduce launch costs per kg by as much as 40x. And as I understand it, the only engineering breakthrough required is a strong enough cable material (plus, land near the equator). Building one should have been our top space priority for a long time now.
posted by gsteff at 11:59 AM on August 23


He's mistaken. The Space Shuttle was an LEO taxi from the get-go, whose design problems can mostly be chalked up to meddling from the Air Force and our various surveillance agencies. A device with such a huge payload capacity but such a low operating ceiling has essentially one designed mission: putting large spy satellites in orbit and, potentially, stealing them. (A mission that was contemplated in the waning years of the Cold War, but never actually tried.)

Shuttle program was initially pitched as part of a package, to ultimately culminate in Mars mission. Shuttle was supposed to ferry stuff and crew into orbit, where Mars mission would be assembled. When political leadership didn't have the stomach for this whole crazy package, the shuttle was retconned into a new mission of servicing satellites and doing science fair projects.

Over the whole shuttle era, unmanned rockets remained the better and preferred choice for launching satellites. Servicing satellites with manned missions is ridiculously uneconomical in almost every case. The shuttle was just a fancy toy and the missions were ad hoc inventions to justify its construction and operation.
posted by grobstein at 12:10 PM on August 23


Shuttle was supposed to ferry stuff and crew into orbit

On a monthly basis per stack, therefore weekly flights.

Fuck you Nixon. Fuck you.
posted by mikelieman at 12:17 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Our solution to issues like global warming isn't getting off the planet, it's finding ways to sustainably live here.

Our solution to problems like global warming also isn't cancer research, or poverty amelioration, or women's rights.


Yes, but solving those things is good because they are actual immediate problems, they don't have to justify themselves otherwise. "Elon Musk isn't on Mars" is not actually a problem.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:46 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


What would really spark things up is if China and Russia get together.

No, what'll freak out the US Congress (who hold and cut NASA's purse strings) is when China lands people on the Moon in the 2020s, while NASA is puttering around with asteroids and such. That doesn't mean they'll give the agency more money or direction, but they'll definitely be on tv making speeches about NASA needs to do to protect 50 year old American sites on a dead rock.

As an interested layman, here's what I see: NASA is very keen on sending people to Mars, Congress has vague ideas about sending people back to the Moon, but no plan do this (meaning no money) and the general public thinks NASA is sucking down about 20% of the entire American budget for no good reason, while science fiction will continue to fill heads with grand ideas ("why does my self phone take better photos than NASA?") that aren't cheaper, easy or realistic. Yeah I'm calling you out, space elevator.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:14 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


People in space is a stupid dream. We do it because it's romantic.

Wow, I totally disagree with this. Aside from the initial "space race" push, I think that even the knowledge that human beings have seen our planet from space is a very powerful piece of knowledge.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:28 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Making the Case for Space
Those of us who find ourselves in front of audiences trying to justify space exploration would do well to review McCullough’s arguments with care. Here’s another, which speaks to the objection that the money we spend on space could better be applied to solving problems here on Earth. Weigh NASA and its expenses against what goes on on Wall Street. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer had a 2005 annual revenue of $51 billion, spending some $7 billion on research and development.

By contrast, NASA’s 2005 budget as allocated by Congress was $16 billion. In other words, the NASA budget that year was less than one-third the annual revenue of a single company of the thirty that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Nobody is saying that Pfizer isn’t huge, or that $16 billion is a small amount of money. But the idea that diverting NASA’s budget will solve global warming or shelter the world’s homeless is a fantasy. Whereas exploration properly conducted may provide benefits far outreaching what might be accomplished by keeping those dollars here on Earth.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:53 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Romantic? Yeah, there's something in that.

You believe the world looks like power lines and tarred roads and bike trails and crosswalks, and freeways and big old jet airliners, and your wet dream is a Maserati, but you settle for the little combo car on account of how it's, you know, the correct thing to want. Or you ride the bike, but still, rubber tires and iron spokes and processed food and top-down economies where houses are assets and renters are a commodity. You get used to it.

One the other hand, if you hike up to Seldon Pass, where you can see the Marie Lakes basins on one side and Sally Keys on the other, with a hint of the Silver divide to the north, the first thing you realize is, yeah the view, and you earned it. Then, you think, Hell Yeah! The View! All well and good, but it begins to sink in that maybe all those goddam rocks and trees have something going besides being camera fodder for those who don't, or can't, make the effort to go there and see for themselves: all they get is a nice picture. And they get used to the apex being the picture, never get to sleep on clean dirt or feel the red rays move across a rock face the size of many small towns. You make a connection. Maybe you get all proprietary and decide to clean up your campsite, or maybe you squat by the fire and the rivet on the fly of your levi's gets hot and burns your dick when you stand up, so you go back home and tell your shop steward to change that pattern a little. Maybe you invent a rainfly and a dome tent. Or some neat socks. None of that shit gets done by guys who don't get that little aha! moment.

One of the best reasons to go somewhere is because it's there. If you think staying home is going to clean up congress or inject ethics into those Wall Street vampires or the boys that invented Phizer as a loot vacuum, then, by all means, stay home and spend your money on another burrito. Your X-box awaits.

I want to see a can colony and a bunch of bunkers on the moon, extracting the energy to run the rail guns that punch cargo out to the La Grange points, where the habitats assemble craft to slingshoot folks and their equipage to the Mars colonies that are figuring out how to use stuff in the asteroid belt instead of having to rely only on shit that gets pushed up from the gravity well of the inner solar system. I want to see scientific modules poking the moons of the gas giants to see if anything on them squeaks. I want to see hamsters breeding in free fall...them little fucking rodents ought to be entertaining as well as informative. Maybe low-gee tomatoes.

Who knows what propulsions may be devised if they don't have to struggle to get their payload (cargo, humans) off our home planet. What would people be like if they could figure out how to adapt to low-gravity environments?--build a factory out there where there's no air, and make their own can openers, or what have you.

Hell, the possibilities can only barely be imagined by nimrods like us, who, right now, only get to see the pictures. That's why.
posted by mule98J at 2:55 PM on August 23 [14 favorites]


I want to sustainably farm a corn or soy bean field in Antarctica and add a few huge lakes to the Sahara. If we do that first it will only help the space dreams along in the long term since those environments offer much less difficult challenges to prepare us for the challenges in space.

Also, I think a monorail would be neat.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:38 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


> On a monthly basis per stack, therefore weekly flights. Fuck you Nixon. Fuck you.

They'd sure have hit their fatigue life quicker, even if mid-80s NASA shuttle program admins didn't believe in it.
posted by scruss at 4:30 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


by all means, stay home and spend your money on another burrito. Your X-box awaits.

Okay well, in my years on this planet I've not been entirely immune to the human urge to curiosity and exploration. I've climbed more than one mountain just because it was there, sailed the ocean, broken into abandoned factories, hiked out in the woods just to get lost for a few days, taken psychedelic drugs, tested the limits of my physical endurance, tried to do the impossible and the impractical, et cetera. Didn't accomplish a whole lot, but I can sympathize with Elon Musk's desire to go to Mars and wish him the best of luck.

Given the choice between hearing a few news reports about some other human I'll never meet having made a trip to the moon (breeding hamsters and lizards on the way there), and being given an XBox and a burrito... well, it's not an easy choice. Are we talking cheap national fast food chain burrito, or is it a really good burrito with sour cream and stuff?
posted by sfenders at 5:01 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


A viable vacation for the .01%.

Yes. Yes, that's it sammyo, a vacation.

All we have to do is come up with some viable flim-flam and some flashing lights and a way to make Twitter feeds bounce, and then we can get the likes of Donald Trump and Gene Simmons and some OC Housewives, a Murdoc or two, firmly ensconced when the tragic guidance malfunction sends them hurtling towards the sun.

Sure, sure, their loss will be sadly felt by so many people, by the reality TV feed from the spacecraft will be ratings gold.
posted by Relay at 5:26 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Your X-box awaits.

Funny you should say that; it was on my Xbox that I watched the Curiosity rover land, the one with the audacious skycrane? Awesome stuff, more Rube Goldberg than the airbags the previous Mars rovers used. Two innovative, relatively inexpensive means of landing significant robotic cargo on Mars. Things you couldn't possibly use if you were fretting over some fragile meatbags inside.

I'm absolutely thrilled by our current robotic exploration of space. Turns out having a bunch of remote sensors recording everything from radio to X-Rays works better than a couple of eyeballs. Not to mention the value of having a rover rolling for 5+ years on Mars without having to worry about hurting its feelings or the lethal dose of radiation a human would be taking.
posted by Nelson at 6:18 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


or the lethal dose of radiation a human would be taking.

Yeah, I'm not completely against putting humans on Mars, but little things like the lethal dose or radiation, no oxygen and what not definitely put a dent in that dream. We really don't know what the hell we're doing when it comes to putting humans into deep space or on other worlds. We'll learn at some point, but it'll be a process, probably a painful one.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 PM on August 23


Are we talking cheap national fast food chain burrito, or is it a really good burrito with sour cream and stuff?

I see that you understand my problem. These are the types of hard questions that need to be answered. I think I had a better experience on the 15th day of a 12-day ration, staring into the fading coals of my campfire, sucking on an old tea bag and dreaming about a cheeseburger, than I did a day or so later, when I trotted into the little restaurant at the Mono Hot Springs resort, and ate one. I felt dirty. But a soak in the hot pools that night recovered me my senses.

Good burritos, though. You got me there.
posted by mule98J at 8:14 PM on August 23


I thought that the fuzzy dice in the Dream Chaser were a classy touch.

I suppose they even have a practical benefit of being a basic, low-tech backup attitude indicator when all else fails.
posted by chambers at 9:04 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


A space elevator could reduce launch costs per kg by as much as 40x. And as I understand it, the only engineering breakthrough required is a strong enough cable material (plus, land near the equator). Building one should have been our top space priority for a long time now.

Building a cable strong enough for a space elevator, practical net-positive fusion energy, perpetual motion machines, flying cars. Damn, our "simple engineering breakthrough" priorities are sure fucked up.
posted by kjs3 at 1:21 PM on August 24


Hell, the possibilities can only barely be imagined by nimrods like us, who, right now, only get to see the pictures. That's why.

Good gawd I hope those possibilities involve less self indulgent wankery & hand waving & and bullshit imagery and more actual engineering & doing. Because putting a person on Mars is somewhat more than biking up to the pass for the bitchin' view and being dumb enough to burn your cock on your jeans, even in the metaphorical sense.
posted by kjs3 at 1:28 PM on August 24


I do not support using American tax dollars to send a cock to Mars to burn it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:43 PM on August 24 [4 favorites]


We cannot stand by while China develops Martian cock-burning technology first.
posted by Nelson at 1:46 PM on August 24 [3 favorites]


Why is Russia over there just watching?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Mr. President, we must not allow a burnt cock gap!
posted by kjs3 at 1:54 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Canada was there first.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:15 PM on August 24


Building a cable strong enough for a space elevator, practical net-positive fusion energy, perpetual motion machines, flying cars.

Trying to decide which of these is the odd one out, I have the following thoughts.

Space Elevator: Probably not going to happen for a while.

Fusion Power: It'll get there, a hundred years late and three orders of magnitude over-budget.

Perpetual Motion Machine: A popular party game for mad scientists.

Flying Cars: It's been done. For example there was that one where the wings fell off the car during flight and its inventor fell to his death in a no-longer-flying Ford Pinto.

Orbital Solar Power: A fine idea, but if your goal is to get power on the ground, it's a lot easier to just build more solar panels and leave them down there.

LEO Tourism: Disappointed that they haven't yet built a revolving restaurant on top of Mount Everest? Antarctica not exclusive enough for you? Fly to the space hotel and enjoy the view in comfort and style. If you're a billionaire, all these new commercial space flight ventures are counting on the fact that you want to go there.

Moon Base: They could build a golf course, that might bring in some business.

Mars Colony Ruled by Elon Musk: The months-long travel time and consequent radiation exposure might limit its tourist appeal, but it does have that cool, refreshing carbon dioxide atmosphere. If it were to happen, seeing it evolve into an effective "insurance policy" for humanity seems a bit less likely than McMurdo Station transforming itself into a self-sufficient hippie commune.
posted by sfenders at 4:29 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


So in order to move the space program forward, someone needs to figure out how to integrate porn with it.

Basically the Bunny Ranch needs to open a branch in LEO.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:19 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]



Basically the Bunny Ranch needs to open a branch in LEO.

The Union construction crews I have in GEO building those solar power satellites? They go to the moon for R&R.

The gravity makes the chinese food stay in the wok, the dice stay on the table, and the whores stay on the mattress.
posted by mikelieman at 6:07 PM on August 24


The Union construction crews I have in GEO building those solar power satellites? They go to the moon for R&R.

LEO is cheaper because you don't have to escape a gravity well.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:24 PM on August 24




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