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There (really :) goes the budget!
December 3, 2003 9:32 PM   Subscribe

We may have avoided a trade war, but it looks like a space race is on.
posted by kliuless (52 comments total)

 
Wow. It's too bad that Boeing, the No. 1 space contractor AFAIK, has had such bad luck recently
posted by costas at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2003


It's about time. But "Sinonauts"? I thought they were going to be called "Taikonauts". Did the author just make this up?
posted by Poagao at 10:41 PM on December 3, 2003


Hrm. I've so far despised the policies of the Bush administration uniformly. If he seriously supported a return to the moon, however, I would consider voting for the man. And the thing is, I realize that it wouldn't even be a very logical decision on my part; there's something about space exploration that just gets me in the stomach.

It would take a lot to convince me that he's serious, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:43 PM on December 3, 2003


Must he time this for the same day "Return of the King" comes out? I mean, really, the nerve.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:50 PM on December 3, 2003


Meanwhile, China appears to be making strides in the PR race.
posted by homunculus at 10:52 PM on December 3, 2003


Whoops, wrong link. I meant to link Fareed Zakaria's latest column: Bush's PR Problem.
posted by homunculus at 10:56 PM on December 3, 2003


Must he time this for the same day "Return of the King" comes out?

Why does Bush hate Gondor so much?
posted by homunculus at 10:58 PM on December 3, 2003


Whatever the cost of the program is boing to be - and I'm sure that it will be measured in the billions - there are many other notions that would constitute better uses of the money. Job training fr the unemployed and childcare assistance for working mothers are two that come to mind quickly.

However, common sense is not likely to prevail here. As one poster has already pointed out, space travel appeals to something in voters' emotions and imaginations. Unfortunately, manned space flight is not so much about science as it is about national chest-thumping. As The Economist has pointed out in more than one excellent article on the topic, manned space flight is overly expensive, overly unsafe, and provides negligible advantages over unmanned missions.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:29 PM on December 3, 2003


Space travel is not just about emotions and imagination.
One day the sun will burn out and, whatever shape or form life on earth has by then, it'll need to go somewhere else.

That's the only two long-term options: Space travel or extinction.
posted by spazzm at 11:40 PM on December 3, 2003


I would rather have the money used on starting new wars with middle eastern countries be used instead for a permanent base on the moon, so the super rich can own the land. That way they can control and abuse its rich mineral deposits.

But then again, is smoking pot and talking about peace going to put a colony on mars?
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:54 PM on December 3, 2003


Oh man, Karl Rove is going to try to paint Bush as JFK? This will be amusing.

Bush Sr pulled the same stunt:
On July 20, 1989, President George H. W. Bush marked the 20th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing with a speech at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington in which he called for a permanent American presence on the moon and, ultimately, a mission to Mars.
From the speech
First, for the coming decade, for the 1990's: Space Station Freedom, our critical next step in all our space endeavors. And next, for the new century: Back to the Moon; back to the future. And this time, back to stay. And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet: a manned mission to Mars.
Space station freedom! I love it!
posted by skallas at 12:25 AM on December 4, 2003


I remember hearing Stewart Brand give a talk about the Long Now foundation and why they set it up, and one of the reasons was the lack of a space program. That "hidden something" that appeals to many of us is futurism and optimism.

As kids we all wondered when and not if we could take a recreational flight to the moon. I don't know about you, but I probably said "Sure, someday after the year 2000, it will be no problem, thanks to the wonders of plastics!" at one point in the 1970s as a child.

After the shuttle disaster in the 80s and the scaling down of our goals in space and the budgets at NASA, the last frontier isn't being explored much anymore, and now that we're past the year 2000 what's there to look forward to in the coming decades besides conflict and strife around the world?

Bring back a space race, at least it would give us all seemingly unrealistic goals to attain as a nation.
posted by mathowie at 12:37 AM on December 4, 2003


back to the future

McFly! McFly! McFly!
posted by The God Complex at 12:41 AM on December 4, 2003


"Sure, someday after the year 2000, it will be no problem, thanks to the wonders of plastics!"

I'm still hoping, as a one born in the 80's, that they'll eventually eliminate aging and I will one day surf the rings of saturn, thanks to the wonders of mescaline and scotch.
posted by The God Complex at 12:46 AM on December 4, 2003


it's election year and i see even geeks aren't immune from the swoon. i'll beleive this shit when i see it.

thanks to the wonders of plastics

plastics harsh my buzz. but i do like rain-x.
posted by quonsar at 1:16 AM on December 4, 2003


>I don't know about you, but I probably said "Sure, someday after the year 2000, it will be no problem, thanks to the wonders of plastics!"

I was one of those kids, and frankly when 2000 rolled around and I was talking to friends about how we thought this magical year would turn out, the conversation quickly turned to the internet. The fact that a global network with a low barrier to entry is being expanded throughout the world is mind-bogglingly amazing. I remember my first overseas email from an old HP UNIX machine in school. "Is this going to cost me money," I thought. Holy crap, he got the email in 5 minutes?

Heh, how naive.

I see a low-entry global noosphere as a much larger and revolutionary accomplishment than any "floating hotel" or space tourism. Granted, working towards off-planet colonies to preserve mankind is quite a goal, but its a *big* project and without a stable worldwide economy and lots of money to go around its going to be almost a waste of effort to pretend we can do this in the next 10 years of so.
posted by skallas at 2:06 AM on December 4, 2003


Another waste of taxpayers money, naturally.

But, to play devils advocate:

Why not? It has to be done sometime.

Off-planet colonies are, in the extremely long term, the only way the human race is going to survive nuclear war, meteor collisions, catastrophic climate change, etc.

Of course I'm not suggesting that Bush's plan is "Fuck Kyoto! America has a better idea!" but if no money is ever plowed into space travel then the research will never get done and the technology will not progress. There has to be a starting point. Science is the obvious key to turning science-fiction into science-fact.

I don't imagine Bush thinks of it in the same way I do. But I'd rather he spent Americas money firing people into the heavens than bombing them to hell.
posted by cell at 2:30 AM on December 4, 2003


Bang, zoom Dubya - straight to the moon .... Have they discovered oil there? Or possibly terrorist training camps?
posted by ElvisJesus at 2:50 AM on December 4, 2003


>Why not? It has to be done sometime.

I don't think its plausible or even doable until genetic engineering of humans to an extreme extent allows them to live on hostile environments and low/high gravity planets/moons/asteroids. The idea of just putting someone in a tin can and expecting them not to have any major health problems at 1/10th the gravity of the Earth is a little naive.

If you want real, permanent colonization, you'll have to work on the human first and on the space ship second.
posted by skallas at 3:58 AM on December 4, 2003


Grrr.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:19 AM on December 4, 2003


You think genetic re-engineering and alteration of humans will be sanctioned until there's a tangible and practical need for it (i.e. we can get to planets but can't live there)?

Investing in space travel just isn't the ethical minefield that genetics is.
posted by cell at 4:50 AM on December 4, 2003


i'll beleive this shit when i see it.

well recall it's all part of the pnac plan, right there on page 12 :D
CONTROL THE NEW "INTERNATIONAL COMMONS" OF SPACE AND "CYBERSPACE," and pave the way for the creation of a new military service – U.S. Space Forces – with the mission of space control.
you have to be more cynical!
posted by kliuless at 4:53 AM on December 4, 2003


In real terms it is a waste of tax payers money, on the other hand at least he isn't adding some fresh company to the Axis of Lesser Evil so he can rattle his sabers at it. That's just as much of a waste of tax payers money.

I'm not against manned space flight, but I think there needs to be some clear objectives. Arguably to beat the Communist Menace was the reason for the initial push with a secondary emphasis on science. At the time this may have not been as nonsensical as it seems now. A space flight to commemorate the anniversary of heavier than air aircraft is a nonsensical reason and will still be just as nonsensical in our children's children's history books. To beat the Chinese would also be as nonsensical. We already did that more than 3 decades ago.

Yes, manned space flight is a risk of human life. So what? Joining the military is a risk of human life too. Hang gliding is a risk of human life, as is sky diving, scuba diving and many other things people do for pleasure. Humans are adventurous by nature.

I don't know what I would propose as a genuine reason for a mission to the moon. The bar would be pretty high, we've been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. A manned mission to mars would be interesting, mostly because of the engineering challenges that would need to be solved to get there. Most of the interesting engineering can be done without even leaving earth's orbit however. There's a lot of interesting and life saving engineering that could be done. How about cheap desalination plants? Ethiopia is indirectly bordered by salty water on three sides (Somalia is in it's path to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, Eritrea blocks direct access to the Red Sea). Over generations you could work on terraforming Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia to make human life more sustainable.
posted by substrate at 5:07 AM on December 4, 2003


One day the sun will burn out and, whatever shape or form life on earth has by then, it'll need to go somewhere else.

I'd bet the human race will extinguish itself long before the sun does. I expect we will take most of the "higher" life forms out with us. It's unlikely another species will evolve after us in time to try again.

In reality, the US space program has always been more about jobs and nationalism and less about exploration and hope.
posted by piskycritter at 5:29 AM on December 4, 2003


there are many other notions that would constitute better uses of the money.

Nonsense.
posted by rushmc at 5:33 AM on December 4, 2003


there are many other notions that would constitute better uses of the money.

Nonsense.


Good argument, rushmc, I know I for one would rather see a US flag on Mars than solutions for cancer, aids, cholera, typhoid, malaria, world hunger, providing potable water to the 2 billion people who don't have it, providing electricity to the 2 billion people who don't have it.
posted by biffa at 5:42 AM on December 4, 2003


bush is against a lot of things.

but one thing bush isn't against is spending a whole lot of money! *whip crack sound effect*
posted by mcsweetie at 5:46 AM on December 4, 2003


what biffa (and mcsweet) said...aren't there more pressing priorities here at home (on earth)? And we're running massive deficits--how would this be paid for?
posted by amberglow at 5:55 AM on December 4, 2003


And we're running massive deficits--how would this be paid for?

Tax cuts!
posted by RylandDotNet at 6:16 AM on December 4, 2003


it doesn't matter who jump-starts the space program...all i have to say is, it's about fucking time.
posted by snwod at 6:32 AM on December 4, 2003


I for one like the idea of putting the UN into orbit.
posted by norm111 at 6:36 AM on December 4, 2003


Its pork for Texas
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:41 AM on December 4, 2003


I'm all for ramping up human space exploration, but I've just gotta wait for the other shoe to drop before I pay any attention to this. I'm sure there are massive payouts to Bush cronies involved, or some other ulterior motive. Bush just doesn't strike me as the curious visionary type, ya know?
posted by spilon at 7:02 AM on December 4, 2003


The moon is a stupid place to go. Mars is better. The majority of the cost is getting out of earth orbit once your in space going to the moon or mars is not much diffrent. What would we do on the moon? It is a wasteland a fools folly.
posted by stbalbach at 7:06 AM on December 4, 2003


Absolutely, why should we spend money on space exploration and research when there are many other good causes for the money? After we get rid of space exploration, I propose we stop funding for arts programmes, get rid of opera houses, demolish art galleries, stop funding atheletic competitions and all the other ridiculous affectations we have (not to mention particle physics and astrophysics research, philosophy departments and suchlike).
posted by adrianhon at 7:14 AM on December 4, 2003


"I'd bet the human race will extinguish itself long before the sun does."

Well, with that kind of mentality there's no point in anything - e.g. there's no point in curing aids because they'll die of old age anyways.

I don't know about you, but I'm not giving up on the human race that easily.

stalbach:
I agree, Mars would be much cooler. But, as you say, the hardest part is leaving earth's gravity well - therefore, if we have a lunar base it becomes much easier to reach Mars.
Think of it as a gigantic stepping stone in the sky. :)
posted by spazzm at 7:15 AM on December 4, 2003


One day the sun will burn out and, whatever shape or form life on earth has by then, it'll need to go somewhere else.

Long before the sun burns out it's fuel, it will shift gears in it's life cycle and up its output - thus the Earth will become uninhabitable. infarct, in just a short 400 million years the seas will probably be dry and life will be pretty much extinct.

Further still there are several theories out there that suggest that there is only a tiny opportunity for our civilization to "get off the ground" so to speak. The earth only has a finite amount of resources and we're using them to make stuff like singing, wall-fish rather than devoting them to becoming an "immortal species."

Of course, notions such as the Fermi Paradox point to the possibility that civilizations never make it off the ground. Indeed, with simple innovations and enough elbow grease our own civilization could colonize the entire galaxy in probably less than a million years - so why haven't we started? The same reason that those jerks over in the crab nebula haven't got off the ground either: we are biologically predisposed to think about ourselves in the here and now, not some distant relative living thousands of years in the future. Also, we're forgetful and incredibly short lived.

Then there's politics. Kicking back with a six-pack and Star Trek the Next Generation might be a great way to spend your evening... but there are people up there in DC - the ones who sign the checks and make the decisions who think really differently about life, the universe and everything. Consider religion: What purpose does building massive colonies on the moon or mars or sending colony ships to a distant earth-like plant serve when Jesus is going to return any day now and take all the good Christians up into heaven? What happens to people on Mars when the rapture occurs on Earth? It's enough to keep Ralph Reed from looking up at night... No - for the billions of dollars it will cost to get off this planet, we can put a bible in the hand of every man, woman and child on the planet... and who cares about the future when you've got eternity to worry about?

Until we all get on the same page socially and intellectually I don't think we'll be a space faring species.

Personally I think the odds are against us - and any civilization getting off the ground... the most we can hope for at this point is that the machines take over - they at least will have a proper perspective.
posted by wfrgms at 7:21 AM on December 4, 2003


Absolutely, why should we spend money on space exploration and research when there are many other good causes for the money? After we get rid of space exploration, I propose we stop funding for arts programmes, get rid of opera houses, demolish art galleries, stop funding atheletic competitions and all the other ridiculous affectations we have (not to mention particle physics and astrophysics research, philosophy departments and suchlike).

There will never be a shortage of good causes, the problem is identifying the causes we can actually afford/the causes which can see us do some decent good. Paying for the world's most expensive roman candle to drop some grinning chimp to wave his flag on the next planet over does not seem to attach that much of a priority to me.
posted by biffa at 7:34 AM on December 4, 2003


From the article: "A new space initiative would face numerous hurdles, including congressional Democrats who in the present political climate would be likely to challenge a presidential declaration that the sky is blue."

Heh. Heh-heh. That's because it's not. The Democratic objections would be based on empirical evidence obtained by going to large cities and looking up. Nice EPA ya got there!

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
posted by nickmark at 7:34 AM on December 4, 2003


The moon is a stupid place to go. Mars is better. The majority of the cost is getting out of earth orbit once your in space going to the moon or mars is not much diffrent. What would we do on the moon? It is a wasteland a fools folly.

Yeah, but we're talking a 2 or 3 day trip to the Moon vs. something like a 500 day trip to Mars. That means a huge difference in the amount of supplies that you need, and has an enormous impact with respect to safety considerations and backups.

Want to really send a mission to Mars? Work on basic propulsion research so that lifting a pound to LEO doesn't cost $4000. Put a habitable base on the moon. Work outwards from there.
posted by bshort at 7:53 AM on December 4, 2003


But then again, is smoking pot and talking about peace going to put a colony on mars? Probably not, although the Neo-American Church recommended similar exertions to meet its goal of the bombardment and annihilation of the planet Saturn. Based on study of the Boo Hoo Bible, smoking pot, dropping acid, and watching TV are apparently indeed the best methods of accomplishing this mission.
posted by cairnish at 8:37 AM on December 4, 2003


In reality, the US space program ...

I would like to amend my comment above to read, In reality, the US manned space program ...

After we get rid of space exploration, I propose we stop funding for arts programmes, ...

Apples and oranges. We can better fund and explore space if we remove the expense of sending people.
posted by piskycritter at 9:59 AM on December 4, 2003


DWRolands:

Whatever the cost of the program is boing (sic) to be - and I'm sure that it will be measured in the billions - there are many other notions that would constitute better uses (sic) of the money. Job training fr (sic) the unemployed and childcare assistance for working mothers are two that come to mind quickly.

We already have programs in place for those two things in most states. In fact, I just got done with a job training program after I became a redundancy at my former job.

But still, your idea for spending our country's output has a small fallacy, although I'm shooting in the dim here because you didn't say WHY the money would be better spent on the plights of individuals rather than research and development.

The reason that spending money on R&D (For whatever reason that we will spend it -- space exploration, nanotechnology) is important is that it creates new things. Wealth is not created by helping an unemployed worker get a new job; it's simply redistributed. Wealth is created by extracting or adding value to items. Research is an activity that creates by adding value -- it discovers new techniques and applications for those techniques. In fact, everything that I'm using at the moment (including the computer and operating system that I'm using, the microwave I just cooked my lunch in, and the synthetic blanket that I'm laying under) was created as a result of the huge research and development push that began after the Great Depression and lasted until the "Communist Threat" ended in the seventies ... and my parents' generation became socially conscious.

Look, take the long, strategic view. Spend money now to research things that your kids will enjoy the fruits of. It sounds callous, but taking the short view and providing more assistance (assistance that can never be enough, since redistribution of wealth has been causing inflation and a high jobless rate in areas with a high minimum wage -- like Oregon) to raise an artificial poverty level will likely drag our country down in the next 100 years.
posted by SpecialK at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2003


we needn't worry about the sun burning out or using up the earth because surely jesus will come back before then.
posted by mcsweetie at 2:42 PM on December 4, 2003


a lunar base becomes much easier to reach Mars.
Think of it as a gigantic stepping stone in the sky.


Zubrin in "The Case for Mars" devotes a lot to Moon versus Mars. He has examined it closely and makes a good argument that the moon is a dead end. The cost of getting to the moon, landing, taking back off etc.. it's better to just go straight to Mars where there are raw materials to work with. Having to lift everything to the Moon first is a huge waste. What's on the Moon, why do we want to go there? No one has really outlined a long term plan. It is like the first explorers who set up living in swamps and barrier islands because it was close to the ocean, but it was a really bad place to start a colony (Lost Colony and Jamestown).
posted by stbalbach at 6:04 PM on December 4, 2003


fwiw, an upi update, via drudge :D

Any option must be achievable within a reasonable period of time, and it must not require any major new federal spending!
posted by kliuless at 6:25 PM on December 4, 2003


hey just saw this thing! and thought i'd post it :)

---
       There are key reasons why going back to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars is the right step in the right direction, said Paul Spudis, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
       For one, using the moon to test various technologies applicable to a humans-to-Mars project is a stroke of political genius, Spudis said. "It's a very diplomatic way of bringing along the Mars advocates. I think the Mars people would take the moon as a test bed initiative in lieu of doing nothing. That's not their preference, but they would accept that," he told Space.com.
       Going direct to Mars with humans, while doable, is a mission still fraught with unknowns, Spudis said. Whether toxic materials exist in the soil on Mars, harmful to humans, is still to be determined. Also, how best not to contaminate the Red Planet as astronauts troop around looking for life is a challenge, he said.
       A lunar dress rehearsal for future Mars expeditions not only will test hardware and surface operation procedures of astronauts, Spudis said.
posted by kliuless at 7:11 PM on December 4, 2003


thanx for your post, wfrgms
posted by VeGiTo at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2003


Good argument, rushmc

If I felt an argument was warranted, I would have provided one. Anyone who doesn't "get" this by now is being truculent and intellectually dishonest.
posted by rushmc at 9:35 AM on December 5, 2003


Prediction: NASA is out, Halliburton and Bechtel are in (with non-competitive contracts, naturally).
posted by rushmc at 9:40 AM on December 5, 2003


rushmc: I think not, the fact is that there are any number of useful projects that mankind could take on that would have a whole range of benefits, including blue-sky research benefits, many of which it is not possible to quantify ahead of time. So I say lets look at the bits we can quantify, with a Mars programme we are actually working in a lot of fields that are already old news scientifically. The applicable parts of astronomy, mechanics, etc - we would likely learn nothing new from much of the work, plus we have to pay for someone to actually take the trip which has a high dollar value but attachs no real benefit beyond perhaps some ephremal national pride. Other goals, for example, relating to bio-technology, curing aids, cancer, working out what the hell we're going to use to replace antibiotics, etc have blue-sky research components, development components, economic benefits and no big wasted portion at the end as the space exploration side has. But of course I wouldn't want to upset you by actually asking for a justification for your position.
posted by biffa at 10:26 AM on December 5, 2003


Buzz Aldrin: "A much more practical destination than the moon or the space station is a region of space called L 1, which is more than two-thirds of the way to the moon and is where the gravity fields between the Earth and Moon are in balance. Setting up a space port there would offer a highly stable platform from which spacecraft could head toward near-Earth asteroids, the lunar surface, the moons of Mars and wherever else mankind decides to travel."
posted by homunculus at 11:12 AM on December 5, 2003


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