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Moonbase: Alpha
December 4, 2006 8:13 PM   Subscribe

NASA Plans Permanent Moonbase. The base, a potential stepping stone for further Mars exploration, will likely be situated near one of the poles. The advantages of a polar site (pdf) include a relatively moderate climate, possible hydrogen and oxygen resources, unexplored terrain and abundant solar power. They have apparently abandoned plans to use nuclear reactors, which is probably for the best.
posted by justkevin (137 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sure, and maybe one day they'll get six guys on the space station instead of three. I think the money would be better spent in Antarctica. Stephen Hawkings did a great disservice to the Earth when he recently suggested we'll need to abandon it for other planets...the Earth at an exponentially worse state is still better than Mars at it's exponentially greatest state.

"The structure of the base and the exact duties of the astronauts stationed there have not been decided. Nor is it clear when the base will begin functioning. "
posted by furtive at 8:31 PM on December 4, 2006


Better spent in Antarctica how, furtive? Just curious.
posted by hackly_fracture at 8:33 PM on December 4, 2006


I don't see what the big deal is. SHADO had the whole thing figured out by 1980.

At least they had the wig problem solved.
posted by Opposite George at 8:34 PM on December 4, 2006


This is asinine. How many billions? Meanwhile, Spirit and Opportunity continue trucking along quite nicely.

Robots, guys. It's all about the robots.
posted by frogan at 8:40 PM on December 4, 2006


This is probably a good thing. People don't always readily realize that the resources and money for frontier research are commensurate with the drive to research. That is, the possibilities are endless, so don't whine that because we're not doing X we shouldn't do Y. The world isn't so simple, thankfully.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:44 PM on December 4, 2006


I think the money would be better spent in Antarctica.

I have to agree. Because Antarctica is a closer environment to Mars than the Moon is.

The Moon is not a good stepping stone to get to Mars. There are more appropriate and cheaper environments right here on Earth. Also, it takes much more fuel to get to Mars from the Moon that it does to get straight from Earth to Mars.

We've already been to the Moon. We're going to get better science by using what space budget we have for Mars. I can't help but think the reasons for building a moon base are more political than scientific - beating the Chinese.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:45 PM on December 4, 2006


That is, the possibilities are endless, so don't whine that because we're not doing X we shouldn't do Y.

Scarcity was solved?

Huzzah! I hadn't heard.
posted by pompomtom at 8:54 PM on December 4, 2006


"Because Antarctica is a closer environment to Mars than the Moon is"

I didn't know there were millions of penguins on Mars!
posted by drstein at 8:55 PM on December 4, 2006


i, for one, am damn glad that they're trying this. you have to start somewhere. just getting to the moon and setting up there is going to be a tremendous learning experience.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:56 PM on December 4, 2006


I didn't know there were millions of penguins on Mars!

And all of them can sing... save one. *heart-touching musical cue*
posted by brundlefly at 8:59 PM on December 4, 2006


I didn't know there were millions of penguins on Mars!

Mars has an atmosphere - the Moon doesn't.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:59 PM on December 4, 2006


An observatory on the moon would give us a stereo view of space
really enhance our depth perception, motion detection. helpful for spotting asteroids coming straight at us.
posted by hortense at 9:00 PM on December 4, 2006


Scarcity went out with mercantilism in the 1800s.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:02 PM on December 4, 2006


Also, I agree with lester's sock puppet. The advantages of a base on the Moon are not limited to simply being a jumping-off point to Mars.

It's a dry-run for Mars that the poles just can't replicate. I'd rather try out new techniques and technologies (comparatively) close to human help. To trot out the old cliché, you have to crawl before you can walk.
posted by brundlefly at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2006


Just what we need- another waystation to nowhere- another ISS. The funds, the will, and the purpose aren't there for going on to Mars.

There's no way this is a good thing- all the eggs are in this basket. What was cut to make room:
1. Research into transformative technologies for dramatically lowering the cost and risk of getting into space.
2. A major investment in astronomy, in particular building a large observatory on the dark side of the moon.
3. Extend robotic exploration to look for life on ice covered planets throughout the solar system.

But no, instead our strategy for space exploration is to put pointlessly put people out there until something goes wrong so we can all get together and pray for them. What else to expect from a born-again president that doubts evolution...
posted by efbrazil at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2006


I also like the idea of using Antarctica for Mars base training. Building a simulated Mars base in Antarctica will be a hell of a lot cheaper than building a base on the moon, and if we screw up the base somehow (remember Biosphere II?), the researchers don't die.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:07 PM on December 4, 2006


Once we get our brains transfered into immortal robot bodies, atmosphere won't make any difference. Nor will the mewlings of the pathetic fleshlings we will come to dominate. Which fleshlings, you ask? All of them.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:09 PM on December 4, 2006


Talk to your congressman about NASA if you're unsatisfied...
posted by Burhanistan at 9:10 PM on December 4, 2006


The moon is an excellent testbed for long term human stays on another celestial body. Establishing a permanent settlement on the moon will require a lot of technological advances that will contribute to doing the same on mars. It will not contribute much to transporting people to mars, but that's really a totally different task, and arguably an easier one.

If we were all one big happy earth, working together for the common good of man, I'd boo and hiss and say we need to work concurrently on both problems. As it stands, I'm ecstatic we're tackling the harder one.

Why is NASA hating so popular these days?
posted by phrontist at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2006


But you can do a dry run for Mars at the poles, in fact, they're doing it already.

My biggest problem with this is that NASA wants to get to the Moon AND Mars, and I don't think Congress is going to give them the bucks for both, at least not for the next 50 years or so.

There's a high risk of getting bogged down with this moonbase, in just the same way that NASA got bogged down for thirty years going around in circles with Shuttle and ISS.

As for the funds, and the purpose for going to Mars, I think you'll find that we have both. It's the will that we need to work on.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:15 PM on December 4, 2006


hortense: An observatory on the moon would give us a stereo view of space really enhance our depth perception, motion detection. helpful for spotting asteroids coming straight at us.

It's also worth noting that an observatory on the Moon would have most of the advantages of space-based observatories (no air), with some of the advantages of land-based ones. You get to plant the whole thing down on solid ground, not worry about gyroscopes and thrusters. It's also easier to support large dishes and optics in the Moon's lower gravity.

I'm all for a Moon base if they build it with legitimate scientific goals in mind, for which it is the best and cheapest solution. Unfortunately, I don't think most of the proponents have science in mind.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:15 PM on December 4, 2006


Wait, wait, how is the antarctic a better approximation of mars than the moon?
posted by phrontist at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2006


efbrazil, you assert that those three things were cut (not will be, or probably will be, but were). Do you have sources to back that up? Not being antagonistic, mind you. Just curious. Have those things been cut? If so, that pretty much sucks.

smoothvirus: There's a high risk of getting bogged down with this moonbase, in just the same way that NASA got bogged down for thirty years going around in circles with Shuttle and ISS.

Isn't that true of a Mars shot as well? One could say that about any manned space venture. Or anything at all, really.
posted by brundlefly at 9:17 PM on December 4, 2006


Unfortunately, I don't think most of the proponents have science in mind.

They don't have to do it with good intentions. NASA turned a politically motivated space-race into scientific achievements last time, why can't they do it again?
posted by phrontist at 9:17 PM on December 4, 2006


Also, what phrontist said.
posted by brundlefly at 9:18 PM on December 4, 2006


Also, what phrontist said.

Referring to the Antarctic question.
posted by brundlefly at 9:20 PM on December 4, 2006


No nuclear explosion is going to have the power to throw the moon from the earth's orbit, much less into 'outer space'.

It's an interesting idea for a show, though.
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on December 4, 2006


Also, it takes much more fuel to get to Mars from the Moon that it does to get straight from Earth to Mars.

Are you sure? As far as I know, that's very untrue... if we can assemble the resources to build craft on the Moon (which would likely be a gigantic investment, one to make the ISS look like pocket change), the energy required to go from there to Mars should be on the order of a thirtieth as much.

Earth is at the bottom of a very steep gravity well, and we have this big problem of needing to use large amounts of fuel to lift the rest of the fuel into the right spot. That is, despite having a GIGANTIC rocket, we can lift only a tiny payload. Almost all the fuel is spent getting the rest of the fuel high enough to be useful.

By coming out of the Moon's gravity well instead of the Earth's, we can have tiny rockets with huge payloads, relatively speaking... because the gravity is so slight that it doesn't take that much push to get going. I don't know this for sure, but I think it's probably a square-law function... one sixth the gravity should be something like one thirty-sixth the fuel required to attain escape velocity. Add the extra to get out of the Earth-Luna system (not that much, since we can most likely do an Earth slingshot), and we'd probably get into the 1/30th range. If we're doing a lot of launching, that will pay for itself right quick.... it will make interplanetary exploration somewhat feasible. But getting a working manufacturing complex up on the Moon will be exceedingly difficult and unbelievably expensive.

I don't think the United States has the technical moxie left to do this, and it definitely, definitely doesn't have the money. China or India may be able to make this happen, but I don't think the United States will ever be able to build a working Luna complex.

(Pay attention to replies, this is very much off-the-cuff. :) )
posted by Malor at 9:24 PM on December 4, 2006


phrontist: They don't have to do it with good intentions. NASA turned a politically motivated space-race into scientific achievements last time, why can't they do it again?

Because no one's going to give them the money to actually do it. They're just going to tell them to go, and let them waste their budget making plans and running tests for a task they'll never accomplish.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:24 PM on December 4, 2006


Clavius Base. Waiting for the radio signal.
posted by oflinkey at 9:25 PM on December 4, 2006


An observatory on the moon would give us a stereo view of space really enhance our depth perception, motion detection. helpful for spotting asteroids coming straight at us.

We already have a stereo view of space, because each year we rotate around the sun. Also we don't have any trouble telling where asteroids actually are, because we can observe their orbits.

Anyway, I think it's a dumb idea.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 PM on December 4, 2006


Why Mars is better than the Moon:

Mars is the planet that is most like the Earth (that we know of)

Mars has the resources to support life.

Mars is the planet that can answer the question if we are alone in the universe or if life is prevalent on other worlds.

We've already been to the Moon. We need to set our sights higher.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:27 PM on December 4, 2006


Earth is at the bottom of a very steep gravity well, and we have this big problem of needing to use large amounts of fuel to lift the rest of the fuel into the right spot. That is, despite having a GIGANTIC rocket, we can lift only a tiny payload. Almost all the fuel is spent getting the rest of the fuel high enough to be useful.

By coming out of the Moon's gravity well instead of the Earth's, we can have tiny rockets with huge payloads, relatively speaking


Except you have to haul all that stuff up to the moon in the first place, so it's all sort of pointless. Unless there are resources you can use to build rockets already on the moon, which there are not.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 PM on December 4, 2006


I don't think the United States has the technical moxie left to do this, and it definitely, definitely doesn't have the money. China or India may be able to make this happen, but I don't think the United States will ever be able to build a working Luna complex.

By what measure have those countries surpassed the U.S. in technical moxie?
posted by phrontist at 9:28 PM on December 4, 2006


smoothvirus, I don't think anyone here disagrees with the idea that setting up a base on Mars is the ultimate goal, and should be. We just differ on the path we take there.
posted by brundlefly at 9:30 PM on December 4, 2006


delmoi: The moon does have tons of fuel though.
posted by phrontist at 9:30 PM on December 4, 2006


By coming out of the Moon's gravity well instead of the Earth's, we can have tiny rockets with huge payloads, relatively speaking... because the gravity is so slight that it doesn't take that much push to get going.

But you have to land on the Moon first! Since the Moon has no atmosphere, you can't use parachutes to slow down. It takes a lot of fuel to land on the Moon. Also, how many launches will it take to haul all the stuff from Earth to build a spacecraft production facility on the Moon?

The idea of launching from the Moon to Mars just doesn't make a lick of sense.

It's wayy past my bedtime but I'll throw this little idea out there, and also say that everything I learned about real space travel I learned in Orbiter.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:33 PM on December 4, 2006


Why is NASA hating so popular these days?

Because the mainstreaming of high technology these days has given us new perspectives, enough to see that us that while NASA of the 60s was bold, courageous and heroic, it also showed us how unbelieveably difficult this undertaking is, and that even newer ideas would be required for the 21st Century and beyond.

But NASA of the 21st Century has proven to be just another bureaucracy making bureaucratic decisions for bureaucratic reasons. There's two robots on Mars, still moving along quite nicely, for waaay cheaper than a single rocket to the moon. But no ... astronauts are romantic.

You know, we lost a few probes to Mars recently, some of them for as-yet completely unknown reasons. They didn't have people in them, thankfully. But hey, let's gamble our kids' college fund and several precious lives on the idea that we humans won't make big mistakes in the future.
posted by frogan at 9:34 PM on December 4, 2006


brundlefly: smoothvirus, I don't think anyone here disagrees with the idea that setting up a base on Mars is the ultimate goal, and should be. We just differ on the path we take there.

I don't know if I agree that setting up a base on Mars is necessarily a good idea. What's the point? To support people? It'd be a far more reasonable venture to plant a city in the center of Antarctica. For research? For the cost of supporting a couple of scientists on Mars, you could send enough robots to absolutely scour the planet.

And it's not like we couldn't do anything else more useful or interesting with the insane pile of cash it would take. We could probably send unmanned probes to every planet in the solar system. We could probably build particle colliders the likes of which the world has never seen. We could build truly immense telescopes that would tell us infinitely more about the universe we live in.

I'm certainly willing to consider the idea, but I'm just not sure if it's the time to go to Mars yet. Not until we have a good reason to do so.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:37 PM on December 4, 2006


...the United States ... definitely, definitely doesn't have the money. China or India may be able to make this happen...

Quick! Someone throw that guy an economics textbook!

The U.S. GDP is bigger than China and India's combined. California alone gives India a run for its money. The U.S. has more money lost in between its couch cushions than many nations have in their coffers. The U.S. operates more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world ... combined.

It ain't about the money. ;-)
posted by frogan at 9:43 PM on December 4, 2006


Mitrovarr: I think the argument is to figure out how to sustain life there, with the eventual goal of terraforming. Earth 2: Electric Boogaloo, if you will.
posted by phrontist at 9:43 PM on December 4, 2006


It takes a lot of fuel to land on the Moon. Also, how many launches will it take to haul all the stuff from Earth to build a spacecraft production facility on the Moon?

The idea of launching from the Moon to Mars just doesn't make a lick of sense.


It takes the same amount of energy to land as to take off. It's the same thing as a launch, just in reverse.

It doesn't make sense to build something on Earth, land it on the Moon, and then relaunch it to Mars. That is, indeed, dumb. If, however, we get enough industry going on the Moon to *build the spacecraft there*, we could have a real live working, self-supporting (even profitable!) space program.

However, as I tried to point out in my original message, the cost of all the required Earth launches to bootstrap a fairly complete factory -- and that's even assuming that all the raw materials can be FOUND on the Moon -- would be gargantuan. The United States can't possibly afford it. It would cost trillions.

I think the idea of a space elevator is probably a lot more workable. The cool thing about the elevator, assuming we can figure out the materials required, is that we don't have to lift fuel to lift fuel, and in fact can recover a lot of energy from braking inbound spaceships. That's definitely the right way to do it... if we can figure it out.
posted by Malor at 9:44 PM on December 4, 2006


I'm just not sure if it's the time to go to Mars yet. Not until we have a good reason to do so.

Mars needs women.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


frogan: Pay attention to the GAO, the one department in the government that actually understands accounting. Per them, to GAAP principles, the federal government is about forty-five trillion dollars in debt. In today's dollars.

It doesn't matter how big your economy is, you can spend your way into bankruptcy, and we most certainly have done so.
posted by Malor at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2006


phrontist: I think the argument is to figure out how to sustain life there, with the eventual goal of terraforming. Earth 2: Electric Boogaloo, if you will.

Building a Mars base to learn how to terraform Mars, with our current level of technology, is the equivilent of tribesmen living in huts attempting to melt sand so that they may someday learn how to manufacture the Core 2 Duo processor.

You are not putting the cart in front of the horse. You are putting the cart in front of the single-celled organism that will, in several hundred million years, evolve into a horse.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:48 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sigh. "... to GAAP standards". Principles isn't quite the right word.
preview is good.
posted by Malor at 9:48 PM on December 4, 2006


NASA is sitting on a goldmine. All it has to do is spread documents around hinting at possible evidence of alien probing of earth and it would get a blank check to build a research colony on the moon. But they must get pregnant first. The neocons learned already knew this about starting useless wars with hidden payoffs. The conservative American mind is prime real estate for paranoid spending. If NASA would have thought of it first we could have saved trillions to be wasted in Iraq and had something to build for it.
posted by Brian B. at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2006


I don't care where we go, as long as we go. I wish I could check off a box on my tax return to direct a bigger portion of my taxes to NASA and its ilk.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:09 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is why a manned mission to moon and then onwards to mars (because that's why we want a moon base) is at best ill prepared and at worst misguided (NPR interview).

If the manned missions are going to be so utterly (and unpredictably now) expensive we should ask again why we need them. If it is for the thrill of adventure (and I am totally for it) we have to wonder why the administration had to be so indirect (sic) about it. Why were/are major but covert funding cuts from the Earth Science Program which jeopardize the existence and continuation of climate observing satellite systems and research, for example. And it is not only global warming, extreme weather conditions (who's Katrina?), who's gonna pick up the tab for a tsunami satellite real-time warning system. Oh, yes, a noble cause but ... no thrill there.

Space is the place and the Earth can fend for itself.
posted by carmina at 10:12 PM on December 4, 2006


Terraforming Mars isn't so much a matter of science as materials and time. Lots and lots of time. Bombard it with enough water and CO2 ice1 to create a nice, deep atmosphere2 that can hold enough warmth to generally maintain a mean temperature between about -10 and 40° C, seed it with suitable microorganisms and then wait... a few hundred million years. No problem.

1. Gathered, perhaps from Saturn's rings.
2. Considerably deeper than Earth's if we want anything like one atm. at the surface.

posted by George_Spiggott at 10:28 PM on December 4, 2006


George_Spiggott: Bombard it with enough water and CO2 ice1 to create a nice, deep atmosphere2 that can hold enough warmth to generally maintain a mean temperature between about -10 and 40° C, seed it with suitable microorganisms and then wait... a few hundred million years.

By which time the atmosphere will have escaped into space because Mars doesn't have the gravity to hold it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:33 PM on December 4, 2006


Mars' weak magnetosphere may have as much to do with its inability to hold an atmosphere as its gravity per se. Air molecules don't wander away from a gravity well on their own, but without a magnetosphere, the solar wind essentially abrades the atmosphere away. But if you start out with a lot more than you need, you may get a decently long window of suitable atmospheric density.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:41 PM on December 4, 2006


Well, if these guys like it.....count me in (sorry in advance for the timeslip back to 2001)
posted by HyperBlue at 10:52 PM on December 4, 2006


George_Spiggott: Air molecules don't wander away from a gravity well on their own...

Sure they do.

Random Brownian motion of atmospheric molecules gives them a Maxwellian distribution (rather like a bell-curve) of velocities, depending on the temperature. If a molecule in the upper atmosphere has escape velocity or better and is pointed in the right direction, it gets away.

I remember that my Astronomy textbook in college stated that the RMS molecular speed has to be less than 1/10th of the escape velocity for an atmosphere to be held over the long term (billions of years.)

Solar wind losses do exist as well, though. I'm not sure which would be more significant on Mars, over the long term.

Mars has other problems to long-term terraforming; the lack of volcanic activity means it can't maintain its own carbon cycles, the lack of a moon means it is subject to varying axis tilt and wild climate shifts, there's no magnetic field (as you said), we'd have to manufacture an ozone layer...

It's not totally impossible to imagine it made habitable, but the sheer difficulty, cost, and maintenance required makes it completely unrealistic with conceivable technology.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:56 PM on December 4, 2006


the lack of a moon

Demos and Phobos, two moons two be exact, second paragraph of the wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars
posted by dibblda at 11:11 PM on December 4, 2006


I can't believe I forgot about Deimos and Phobos! But seriously, they don't matter in terms of what I was saying. They're so small as to be meaningless in terms of gravity, and Phobos is only a short-termer anyway. It has an unstable orbit and is doomed to drift in until it breaks up from tidal forces and graces Mars with a ring.

They're just little captured asteroids.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:16 PM on December 4, 2006


Random Brownian motion of atmospheric molecules gives them a Maxwellian distribution [...] of velocities[...] If a molecule in the upper atmosphere has escape velocity or better and is pointed in the right direction, it gets away.

Sure, that tells us why Phobos, where a good fart would have escape velocity (a fact for which the Phobotian Tourist Board is grateful), doesn't have an atmosphere, but Mars' escape velocity at the surface is 5km/sec. Less in the upper atmosphere obviously, especially given the pressure gradient we're talking about, but still, how many air molecules are going to be achieving those kinds of speeds on their own, and what kind of time frame does it take before it matters? (Not rhetorical, I'm not so much arguing as genuinely curious.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:16 PM on December 4, 2006


I don't know if I agree that setting up a colony in the new world is necessarily a good idea. What's the point? To support people? It'd be a far more reasonable venture to plant a city in China. For land? For the cost of supporting a couple of colonists in the new world, you could send enough Galleons to absolutely scour China.

And it's not like we couldn't do anything else more useful or interesting with the insane pile of cash it would take. We could probably send Missionaries to every city in Asia.

I'm certainly willing to consider the idea, but I'm just not sure if it's the time to go to the new world yet yet. Not until we have a good reason to do so.

posted by dibblda at 11:18 PM on December 4, 2006


George_Spiggott: Sure, that tells us why Phobos, where a good fart would have escape velocity (a fact for which the Phobotian Tourist Board is grateful), doesn't have an atmosphere, but Mars' escape velocity at the surface is 5km/sec. Less in the upper atmosphere obviously, especially given the pressure gradient we're talking about, but still, how many air molecules are going to be achieving those kinds of speeds on their own, and what kind of time frame does it take before it matters? (Not rhetorical, I'm not so much arguing as genuinely curious.)

Oh, no, it's time for the equations and the numbers and the associated headaches and ADD.... *runs from thread*

If I could do math I might have majored in Astrophysics instead of Microbiology.

In all seriousness, if I can force my mind to focus for long enough, I'll try to get some figures back to you.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:27 PM on December 4, 2006


Check out this for equations:

http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/chem03/chem03448.htm

Plug and chug for your answer, I'm not in the mood....

Cheers
posted by dibblda at 11:30 PM on December 4, 2006


Interesting, dibbida. I'd no idea they achieved those kind of numbers. Get them all going in one direction they'd do rather more than knock your hat off. Mostly they just run into each other, but at the outer edge of the atmosphere it does indeed seem like there'd be a good bit of escaping going on.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:36 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


TANSTAAFL!
posted by samh23 at 11:42 PM on December 4, 2006


Space elevator takes stuff out of Earth's heavy gravity. Standard auto-factory-style robots assemble the ships on orbiting platforms & stations. Colonists and pilots and crew ride up the space elevator, board the ships. Robot-piloted cargo ships are waiting when the humans arrive. First crews build little settlements and global-warming factories. In a few hundred years, Mars isn't much worse than Canada in Winter. (Ha ha, I am kidding, Canada!) Mars, bitches.

Repeat all the time, go to other planets and star systems and asteroids, and maybe we will continue to exist as a species and a culture. Hawking isn't making any new, bold statement -- although his BBC radio interview was interesting to hear -- he's just stating the obvious: Humanitywill be killed off by something, eventually, unless we spread out. Independent colonies are our only hope, Obi Wan. First in this solar system, then beyond. I grew up in a NASA family and love that Moon stuff, but NASA can't run serious space missions today. Richard Branson and Bert Rutan will probably be running weekly flights to Mars when NASA is launching a new Kidz Website about the great new unfunded plan.
posted by kenlayne at 11:52 PM on December 4, 2006


George_Spiggott:

Well, after toying with a calculator for a while, I calculated that nitrogen and oxygen, at Martian temperatures, haul around at a RMS speed of roughly 500 m/s, while CO2, larger and pokier, only goes at 350 m/s. Hydrogen zips around at 1500+ m/s, which is why you don't find it in any of the atmospheres in the inner solar system. Of course, given my admittedly poor mathematical ability, all of my figures are suspect.

Interestingly, nitrogen and oxygen are right around the retention border, making you wonder what really drove the nitrogen out of the martian atmosphere. Maybe it was lost to the solar wind, or maybe it just never had much. Or maybe the 10x figure my astronomy book listed was conservative; atmospheric loss is a statistical thing, because the velocity of any individual gas molecule can vary substantially from the average. The further the Ve gets from the Vrms, the longer the atmosphere is kept.

Oh, and on a side note, the escape velocity of Mars in the upper atmosphere is almost the same as the escape velocity at the surface. The height of the atmosphere is trivial compared to the radius of the planet.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:12 AM on December 5, 2006


That TV intro was PHENOMENAL (it even warrants all caps!).
posted by spiderskull at 12:25 AM on December 5, 2006


If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...
posted by uncle harold at 12:58 AM on December 5, 2006


Shame we didn't stay in 1972 is all I can say.
posted by A189Nut at 12:58 AM on December 5, 2006


uncle harold: If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...

Look, the New World was just as inhabitable as the Old World. Mars is not as inhabitable as the Earth. If you have an Earthlike planet we can get to, where the land is as good as it is here, you might as well tell us about it. For us to colonize the Moon or Mars makes as much sense as those Spaniards colonizing Antarctica.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:06 AM on December 5, 2006


We must follow the Golden Path.
posted by PenDevil at 1:07 AM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


NASA's successes for the past two decades have come from unmanned missions, and its failures have come from the tragic deaths of talented people due to faulty pieces of rubber O-ring and a few pounds of falling ice.

They have their heads so far up their collective asses that they really think billions should be spent on the type of obsolete, manned exploration that gets real, actual people killed.

Get back to me when they solve the real problem of humans being exposed to cosmic radiation once past the moon. Until then, this is utter bullshit. Spend the money on improved robotics and propulsion systems, where it could do a lot of good. NASA has a fixed budget -- don't tell me that putting an assinine base on the moon won't take away from the worthwhile stuff (more unmanned missions to Mars, bigger and better satellite telescopes, etc.). Spare me the romanticized bullshit of manned flight. Robots do it better, at least for the next century.
posted by bardic at 1:19 AM on December 5, 2006


uncle harold writes: If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...

What a pathetically false analogy. We have been to the moon. And it was a magnificent and important event. And there's no need to go again. A manned mission to Mars? Hell yes, but this is precisely what NASA isn't proposing.

Unless we have a one-world government in the latter 21st century (God forbid), space exploration is always going to be a zero-sum game, with resources limited by a country's demands to build tanks and guns and give old people a check every month. So why squander those limited resources on something as demonstrably stupid as a return mission to the moon?

I can't help but think that some of NASA's currrent politically appointed leadership is cut from the same neo-con cloth that thinks fond wishes make up for a lack of critical insight.

Just face the obvious -- humans are going to explore the universe, but until some obvious problems are figured out, it'll be via robot proxy. And I still think that's exciting as hell.
posted by bardic at 1:25 AM on December 5, 2006


brundlefly: The cuts I mentioned were all from reliable sources (probably the NYT) over the last couple years since GWB laid out the vision for going to mars. Basically, a lot of the scientific and robotic exploration budget has been cut in favor of the manned program to mars, and that which remains is focused on laying a path to mars. It's too late and I'm too tired to go on a 30 minute journey to dig up the sources though. Googling robotic exploration vs manned exploration surface surfaces a few dozen interesting articles...
posted by efbrazil at 1:31 AM on December 5, 2006


If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...

Montezuma could have checked Google News and got advance warning.
posted by vbfg at 1:52 AM on December 5, 2006


We are in no way ready for a manned flight to Mars. It will require too much fuel (since nuclear can't be used), it will take too long (have to lift all that food, water and tasty, tasty O2) and will cost way too much.

What we should be doing is dumping shitloads of money into the energy problem (if I had a billion dollars, I'd give it all to this guy and his team [Google Video]).

The second billion (or so) would be to develop an interplanetary transportational system that didn't require traipsing through the atmosphere—a costly stunt that is better handled with smaller, purpose-built craft like a shuttle. Build the ship in LEO and you can get away with all sorts of design ugliness/efficiencies. Build it on the surface and it has to be aerodynamic and far too heavy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:57 AM on December 5, 2006


read Buzz Aldrin's Roadmap to Mars where he explains why a moon station in fact would be useful to get to mars.
and please don't speek for all of us when you say that mankind should be stuck in this gravity well forever, because we were born here and setting a foot outside would be just so risky.

"The Cycler itself is only the capstone of a long process of space development. NASA's proposal to revisit the moon using a CEV is a first step in the right direction. A second step would include exploratory flights to Mars's moon Phobos, which would serve as an early launchpad to the planet's surface. Creating a sustainable Mars transportation system, though, would require a huge support infrastructure.

A permanent base on the moon would use lunar ice to produce liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel for the taxi's sprint to catch the Cycler. NASA's Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions in the 1990s discovered tantalizing hints that ice might exist deep inside craters near the lunar poles

posted by kolophon at 4:52 AM on December 5, 2006


All of this manned space flight talk is whistling past the graveyard--in the absence of some revolutionary propulsion mechanism that could overcome the irreducible problem of traversing the vast expanses of space. With current technology, even the concept of a moon base is ridiculous: who's going to pay for it?

It is even more depressing to learn that the extraordinarily successful unmanned space programs--like Hubbell and the Mars explorers--are to be sacrificed for the fantasy of pointless manned exploration. I read as much science fiction in my youth as anyone, thrilled to suborbital astronaut launches, and joined millions in 1969 watching the Eagle land on the moon. But the passing years have shown that we need to send our ingenious machines to explore the universe, not frail human beings.

Bardic, you are spot on.
posted by rdone at 4:59 AM on December 5, 2006


Why would terraforming Mars make more sense than doing so to Venus? Isn't the Venusian atmosphere more readily subject to biomanipulation? Seems like we just need to seed the clouds there with the right bugs, then wait awhile.
posted by Goofyy at 5:15 AM on December 5, 2006


The problem with Earth-Moon-Mars is the delta-v

Delta-V budgets

Earth Surface to Low Earth Orbit: 10,000 m/s
LEO to Earth Escape Orbit: 3200 m/s
EEO to Low Lunar Orbit: 700 m/s
LLO to Lunar Surface: 1600 m/s
Lunar Surface to LLO: 1600 m/s
LLO to Mars Transfer Orbit: 600m/s
MTO to Mars Capture Orbit: 200m/s
MCO to Low Mars Orbit: 1400 m/s
LMO to Mars Surface: 4100 m/s

Total: 23,900 m/s
Total w/ return: 47.800 m/s

Earth Surface to LEO: 10,000 m/s
LEO to EEO: 3200m/s
EEO to MTO: 600m/s
MTO to Mars Capture Orbit: 200m/s
MCO to Low Mars Orbit: 1400 m/s
LMO to Mars Surface: 4100 m/s

Total: 19,500 m/s
Total w/ return: 39,000 m/s
Total Earth-Moon-Mars-Earth: 42,900 m/s

Note that these numbers are high -- they assume direct use of generate thrust. In bodies with atmosphere, most to all of the needed delta-v can be done by aerobraking. This changes the budgets even more, but you can't aerobrake on the moon, so the 200 m/s second penalty for the lunar orbit, and the 3200 m/s cost of landing and taking off, can't be written off. On the Mars and Earth approaches, almost the entire delta-v budget from initial orbital capture to landing can be done by aerobraking -- you can nearly drop *all* delta-v costs from MTO to Mars Surface and ETO to Earth's surface.

Earth-Moon-Mars is silly, because it is vastly harder to do than Earth-Mars direct.
posted by eriko at 5:59 AM on December 5, 2006


The stepping stone to Mars is a ruse. The true purpose of this is military.
posted by allelopath at 6:13 AM on December 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


Seconding bardic and efbrazil--NASA funding is a zero-sum game. I work on a space telescope (TPF-C) and the drive to go the moon and Mars has slashed funding everywhere else (including us). A lot of the big unmanned missions planned for the future have been scrapped or 'delayed indefinitely', which is sad--they have a lot better science return than a moon mission would.
posted by Upton O'Good at 7:10 AM on December 5, 2006


Helium-3
posted by popcassady at 7:12 AM on December 5, 2006


If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...

'Too expensive': Does the cost of three ships compare to a substantial MULTIPLE of GDP?
'Mimimal possible rewards': Eh? The possible rewards of finding a route to India were huge.
posted by atrazine at 7:15 AM on December 5, 2006


I say go to the moon and go to Mars, even if there's no valid scientific reason, it gives us a noble goal to shoot for, a new everest to climb solely because it was there.
posted by drezdn at 7:34 AM on December 5, 2006


The true purpose of this is military

The neo-cons want to stick a flag in the dirty polar ice before the Chinese do. This is all about paranoia, it's Space Race II.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:54 AM on December 5, 2006


If there had been a Mefi in 1485-1492, this thread would have looked exactly the same, just in Spanish. Too expensive, too dangerous, doubtful outcome, minimal possible rewards...

On the other hand, the people who were already living there might have appreciated some careful weighing of options and consequences.
posted by jokeefe at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2006


YOU WILL GO TO THE MOON
posted by gubo at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2006


Good think nobody here makes any high level decisions for NASA (or anything else for that matter).
posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 AM on December 5, 2006


Thinking of thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:15 AM on December 5, 2006


drezdn: I say go to the moon and go to Mars, even if there's no valid scientific reason, it gives us a noble goal to shoot for, a new everest to climb solely because it was there.

...and, certainly, by exerting the effort, we'll develop technologies that can terrestrially applied -- aka the "Space Dividend" -- so there's an indirect benefit there. Hurray for Tang and Food Sticks.

But the argument against is simply that it'd be great if all that effort were applied directly to a more practical, more pressing "noble goal" -- a problem that actually needs solving ASAP, such as curing cancer, developing alternate fuel, curing heart disease, providing global clean water, etc.
posted by LordSludge at 8:17 AM on December 5, 2006


LordSludge, I've heard that argument before. Something like "why should we go to outerspace when we can't even feed our babies?" Well, ideally speaking all resources and efforts at man's disposal are on some kind of linear sliding scale, but this is nowhere to be found in reality. Different people, different political forces, different sets of possibilities, etc mean that no unified effort will be taking place anywhere on the planet at one time. You can't just reallocate all the people and resources who would otherwise be working to make a Mars military base towards feeding the starving homeless in the inner city...it doesn't equate.

So, keep up the exploring and other things will develop in their own context, with some cross-referencing but not as much as some armchair idealist would wish for.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2006


Mars is not now nor never will be inhabitable for humans. IT has weak gravity and no magnetic field, which means even if you magically privde one, the planet won't hold one we can survive in unaided, and the lack of a mangetosphere will result in the solar wind stripping it away anyway. Never mind all the high energyu radiation that get's through.

The best bet is likely a moon of Jupiter or Saturn. There's a ready made magnetic field, plenty of mineral and gas resources on other moons a short distance away, and there may be water on Europa.

Would it be possible to strip away some of Venus's atmosphere, to make it less hostile?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2006


Would it be possible to strip away some of Venus's atmosphere, to make it less hostile?

The irony is that earth is hostile when it alters itself only a few degrees, which we can't fix.

You can't just reallocate all the people and resources who would otherwise be working to make a Mars military base towards feeding the starving homeless in the inner city...it doesn't equate.

Strawman aside, the Pharaohs understood the political utility of useless public projects. If we drain the life out of members of the economy, we can't offer it back without admitting guilt, so we spend it on a massive works project to justify the pointless sacrifice.
posted by Brian B. at 8:48 AM on December 5, 2006


We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
-- John F. Kennedy
I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon.
-- Lyndon B. Johnson
posted by kirkaracha at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2006


So... that $105B price tag (which, let's face it, will probably triple before it's all done) for a moon base couldn't possibly be put to better use? We have armies of unpaid moon-base builders just sitting idle, waiting for funding, hmm? It's either a.) build the moon base, or b.) incinerate the money. Come on, that's absurd on its face.

Look, space exploration is awesome and all, but tell that to the millions of Americans without health care. We have actual, real problems that will be neglected because of this sci fi adventure.

If I may paraphrase JFK:

We choose to [cure cancer]. We choose to [cure cancer] in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
posted by LordSludge at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


When the budget for this project gets above this number, then I'll start yelling about better uses for the money than space exploration.

Though I do agree that a manned lunar outpost built just to have a manned lunar outpost is a terrible idea. More robots, please.
posted by casarkos at 10:03 AM on December 5, 2006


that $105B price tag (which, let's face it, will probably triple before it's all done) for a moon base couldn't possibly be put to better use?

We do all kinds of stupid things that cost money that could be spent on better things. All money spent on entertainment and professional sports, for example, could be spent on curing diseases and ending poverty.

All that comments like this are really saying is "I'm not interested in space, so nobody should spend money on it."

Me, I'm not interested in baseball or football. I think we should make professional baseball and football illegal, put into place a tax structure to capture the money that had previously gone into them from all sides, and spend it on providing health care to uninsured Americans. What kind of moron would think that watching grown men play childrens' games was more important than health care?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:18 AM on December 5, 2006


We need a moonbase. I need a place to build my Ilonium P-38 Space Modulator. With which I can blow up the Earth.
posted by tkchrist at 10:29 AM on December 5, 2006


Tkchrist, I'll just block it with my interocitor.
posted by drezdn at 11:10 AM on December 5, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe: All money spent on entertainment and professional sports, for example, could be spent on curing diseases and ending poverty.

Is entertainment and professional sports funded (exclusively) by public money? Bad, bad example. (Indeed, tax revenue made as a byproduct of private spending on entertainment & professional sports is nothing to sneeze at.)

I *think* your point is: Wasteful govt spending exists already, therefore another $100B+ on moonbase won't make any difference. To which I say, $100B is a lot of money that should be put to better use -- and, hey, let's cut out the wasteful govt. spending.

Seems to me that the primary value of a moonbase to the general public would be, well, entertainment. Maybe it is worth it to spark the imaginations of future scientists, to encourage a new generation of geeks. Hard to say. I haven't heard any argument here other than "I really, really want it."

The problem with rallying the public to support curing cancer, providing clean water, universal health care, etc. just aren't sexy enough to catch people's interest. It comes down to marketing. Damn.

ROU_Xenophobe: All that comments like this are really saying is "I'm not interested in space, so nobody should spend money on it."

Ad hominem much? I am, personally, very interested in space (irrelevant!), BUT the less-selfish realist in me realizes that there are more pressing issues.

casarko: When the budget for this project gets above this number, then I'll start yelling about better uses for the money than space exploration.

Just because a moonbase is not as wasteful as teh War in Iraq, doesn't mean it should get a free pass. But, I'll grant, at least it doesn't threaten to kill people by the hundreds of thousands, so maybe I should be happy. Just keep tkchrist Earth-bound, okay??
posted by LordSludge at 11:15 AM on December 5, 2006


*punches chest*
I too agree with lester's sock puppet.

“Humanitywill be killed off by something, eventually, unless we spread out.”
Yep. Gotta start somewhere. And there is so much to discover in the process. Plus, who knows what kind of neat stuff we can manufacture in lunar orbit. Maybe lotsa robots at first, but eventually we gotta get out there.

“Get back to me when they solve the real problem of humans being exposed to cosmic radiation once past the moon.”

As I understand it a number of effects can occur, such as getting a rock like epidermis, allowing photons to pass through you, becoming extraordinarily flexible and stretchy and spontaneous human combustion.

“Montezuma could have checked Google News and got advance warning.”

And the Spaniards could have googled Imodium.

“The stepping stone to Mars is a ruse. The true purpose of this is military.”

Which is just one more motivating factor to move out of mom’s house: surviving a nuclear exchange.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:20 AM on December 5, 2006


Pastabagel: Would it be possible to strip away some of Venus's atmosphere, to make it less hostile?

Sort of, but there's a huge number of problems with it (aside from actually doing it.)

Venus has an incredibly slow rotation. A solar 'day' on Venus is something like 115 days long. This would obviously be an enormous problem for the ecology, particularly because Venus is so close to the sun. If anything, Venus needs to revolve faster than the Earth.

Venus doesn't have much of a magnetic field. If we built a habitable atmosphere, we'd have to constantly maintain the ozone layer, which would be degraded.

Venus doesn't have any large natural satellite, and is therefore subject to axis shift and wild climatic changes.

No one's really sure about the nature of Venusian volcanic activity and plate tectonics. One theory is that it experiences rare planet-wide outbreaks of volcanic activity, instead of constant low-level global activity like the Earth. This could completely destroy a terraformed Venus. Alternately, perhaps it has no tectonic activity of note anymore, in which case it can't maintain its own carbon cycle. Finally, cooling Venus off and adding water could easily completely disrupt whatever natural volcanic activity exists, possibly causing massive activity immediately.

Venus has no water, nor is it locked up chemically. It's just gone, having been dissociated in the atmosphere into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen which then escaped. If you want to make it habitable, you have to add water.

The ground on Venus has been cooked for countless eons. It's possible the soil would be poor in trace elements; volatile elements may have been vaporized and drifted into space, and dense elements may have slowly sunk into the mantle.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:34 AM on December 5, 2006


I *think* your point is: Wasteful govt spending exists already, therefore another $100B+ on moonbase won't make any difference.

You think incorrectly.

Ad hominem much? I am, personally, very interested in space (irrelevant!), BUT the less-selfish realist in me realizes that there are more pressing issues.


There are always more pressing issues than almost every activity engaged in by human beings, and there always will be. That's my point. Every dollar humans choose to spend buying dvds isn't aiding Africa. Every dollar humans choose to spend on hookers isn't educating the young. Every dollar humans choose to spend on Chuck E Cheez isn't being used to cure cancer.

If people were serious about this sort of argument, they'd be advocating a grim, utilitarian, depressing world in which nearly all human effort was spent in some sort of grandiose effort for health care, or whatever their thumbnail-sketch version of "more important" was. But of course nobody does, because nobody really believes it.

This is why it's a bullshit argument. There's always something more important to do with just about every dollar, public or private. So it doesn't really say anything to say that this money could be spent on health care or whatever. It won't; we've already decided how much we're spending on that. And there are lots of other dollars we could spend on health care that we're also not going to spend on it, and lots and lots of people will die in terrible pain because of that.

But for some reason it's normal and polite to say this about space programs, but rude if you call people immoral for going to a ball game or buying a Wii instead of donating that money to medical research.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:19 PM on December 5, 2006


Someone learned the classical "fallacy arguments" and is applying them with due dilligence at every possible opportunity (which one was that?).
posted by Burhanistan at 12:57 PM on December 5, 2006


Every dollar humans choose to spend on hookers isn't educating the young.

What? No way. A hooker is one helluva an education.

Ah. Kandy. You made me a man.
posted by tkchrist at 1:25 PM on December 5, 2006


God damn it, you feed poor people and they just give birth to more poor people. We should discourage poverty, not reward it.

Anyway, nature abhors a vacuum so we need to fill space up with, y'know, us. You are on the side of nature aren't you?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:42 PM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


ROU_Xenophobe: If people were serious about this sort of argument, they'd be advocating a grim, utilitarian, depressing world in which nearly all human effort was spent in some sort of grandiose effort for health care, or whatever their thumbnail-sketch version of "more important" was. But of course nobody does, because nobody really believes it.

That's absurd. Just because the extreme utilitarian case is undesirable doesn't mean that we shouldn't police frivolous public expenditures.

This is why it's a bullshit argument. There's always something more important to do with just about every dollar, public or private.

You seem to be expending a lot of energy to say that space exploration really isn't important. Certainly, humans have misplaced priorities, but to equate space exploration with a visit Chuck E Cheeze isn't really helping your case.

You might be more convincing to explain why space exploration IS important: why is space exploration more important than curing cancer?

But for some reason it's normal and polite to say this about space programs...

I'd say the same thing about spending $100B+ of tax money to, say, build a big pyramid or a bridge to nowhere. And yeah, I have a HUGE problem with all the tax money that's being wasted in Iraq. (worse than "wasted", IMO, but that's beside the point) It has nothing to do with a particular aversion to space programs, per se. That's the root of my contention: I don't yet see how a moonbase is a useful project that will serve the public good.

If you're going to argue (as Hawking does) that it's a long-term investment to ensure the survival of the human race, that's one thing. But if you're going to say, "well, people would just waste the money anyhow", well, that's no reason -- hell, that's a reason to not collect the taxes to begin with!

...but rude if you call people immoral for going to a ball game or buying a Wii instead of donating that money to medical research.

Consider that the money is being taken by force (taxes). The assumption is that public money should be used for the public good. That's what makes it "okay".

If congress was to take tax money and buy themselves Wiis, then yeah I got a problem with that. Conversely, I have no problem with a private company spending whatever money they like on space exploration, pyramids, or a bridge to nowhere -- might be a shame, but it's their money, after all.

Do you really not see the distinction between public and private money? Or do you see it as a distinction with no difference?

Burhanistan: Someone learned the classical "fallacy arguments" and is applying them with due dilligence at every possible opportunity (which one was that?).

Argumentum ad trollium.
posted by LordSludge at 3:41 PM on December 5, 2006


I used to have the figures handy, but even assuming 100% efficiency (which we cannot get anywhere near using rocket propulsion), each kilogram we want to lift off of the planet requires mejajoules of energy. The idea that some kind of Moon or Mars base is going to take the edge off of the population growth is ridiculous - the atmosphere would have to ring continuously with shuttle launches to even make a mark on it.

It's not worth lifting people off until we get a Beanstalk of some kind (if ever). And, frankly, the semi-autonomous robots should proceed human landings by decades. I can see going to the Moon to harvest Helium-3 and create giant arrays of solar panels to funnel energy back to earth (or create city-scorching masers, if you're so inclined), but just setting up camp is a huge waste of money with no gain but a token "Hurrah." Learning how to make semi-autonomous robots and a lot of free solar power would be worth it.

Other than an astronomy outpost and a place to hold a backup copy of humanity, I can't see the use for Mars. Maybe one half of it devoted to black hole research or wildly dangerous genetic engineering. Maybe getting getting to Mars will teach us a lot about cancer and radiation, and possibly some kind of hibernation drugs/devices, but I doubt Mars itself is going to give us useful information.

Don't even get me started on terraforming.
posted by adipocere at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2006


Space exploration good, mkay?

Obsolete missions to the moon that will kill more people bad, mkay?

Christ, it's like arguing religion with certain idiots. "NASA can do no wrong evar." Well, yes they can -- lots of good people have been vaporized on take off and re-entry in aging, if not obsolete space-trucks that should have been retired ten years ago.

"We must have a mission to better ourselves!" I agree. Getting people to Mars in 50 years might be do-able. In the meantime, let's spend our money on better robots, because all of our good info. on the universe is coming thay way these days. Strapping poor sons-of-bitches to candles that may or may not break up on launch or return is, simply put, fairly sadistic, no?

"You luddites are like the inquisitors who mocked Gallileo!" [cue horrible Indigo Girls song] No, we're more like the adults who come downstairs while you're playing with your space legos and inform you that while manned flight beyond the moon is a wonderful prospect, we're simply not ready for it (again, no one has addressed the cosmic radiation issue which is, as far as I understand, one of the greatest obstacle to a manned flight to Mars as of now).

So I'll stop making fun of you guys if you'll lay off the strawman -- thinking NASA is a generally incompetent administration is not to deny that space exploration is important. To know that a re-turn to the moon is incredily stupid is not to deny that it mattered a great deal during the Space Race of the 1960's. To be incrediby supportive of cheap, reliable, and boundary-pushing robotic tech as we take our baby-steps into the universe as opposed to deadly, unreliable, inefficient (O2 and food and H20 are damn heavy, relative to escape velocity), and expensive manned-flight isn't just the only sensible position as of now -- it's frankly the only moral one.
posted by bardic at 4:17 PM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


*strawmen, even
posted by bardic at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2006


apparently there will be a follow up: NASA Schedules Briefing to Announce Significant Find on Mars

LordSludge: don't you see that every doller spent on space exploration is a dollar not spent on the war in iraq?
posted by kolophon at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2006


(sorry for spelling mistakes)
posted by kolophon at 4:21 PM on December 5, 2006


"2. A major investment in astronomy, in particular building a large observatory on the dark side of the moon."

This is a common misconception, the far side of the moon gets the same amount of sunlight as the near side.
posted by peterbaer at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2006


Tell that to nerd-zealots who grew up on Star Trek and Pink Floyd.
posted by bardic at 4:28 PM on December 5, 2006


This is a common misconception, the far side of the moon gets the same amount of sunlight as the near side.

Bzzzt! The far side actually gets slightly more, because the near side is occasionally eclipsed by the earth but the far side never is.

I mean, if you're going to be pedantic and everything.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:38 PM on December 5, 2006


I don't care who does it. If we won't, the Chinese will, or if they don't then the fucking Sudanese will when they get their shit together. At some point, someone's gonna do it, so let's just get it over with. Space needs some dickin', and robots just aren't set up for that.
posted by saysthis at 4:53 PM on December 5, 2006


saysthis, where, oh where has anyone suggested we don't explore space? I agree that the Chinese are going to do it better than us, eventually. Wanna know why? Because they won't dick around with a useless moonbase.
posted by bardic at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2006


You might be more convincing to explain why space exploration IS important: why is space exploration more important than curing cancer?

Why is fixing the potholes in the road more important than curing cancer? Why are presidential inaugural balls more important than curing cancer? Why are military marching bands (a significant peacetime expenditure, by the way) more important than curing cancer?

But despite the fact that the question is rhetorical sleight of hand, I'll answer it anyway -- because it may mean the survival of the race. Death and disease will always be with us as individual, and of course we should make an effort to ameliorate them. But spending some small fraction of our substance exploring the universe beyond this world and learning how to live with it may mean that there is always something called a human being, no matter what happens to this planet. If you think humanity is worth keeping (and I've a suspicion that intelligent life is fairly rare), then it's worth going to a little trouble over.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:07 PM on December 5, 2006


Scarcity went out with mercantilism in the 1800s.

I just have to say, that statement is just so incredibly stupid.

Back to reality: I like the idea of a Moon base but I think it should wait. I don't think we're ready. I don't like the idea of manned missions to Mars, either. Not yet at least. Let the robots forge the way. There are still plenty of scientific advances we can focus on right here on Earth.

I think the argument that we can't avoid spending insanely large sums of money on frivolous projects so why bother fighting it is a defeatist argument. It obviously has logical merit but fuck it. Politicians are gonna be corrupt so why bother opposing GW and his policies? We're gonna lose money when rendering aid to disaster victims so why bother worrying about the one billion dollars FEMA lost in Katrina aid?
posted by effwerd at 6:48 PM on December 5, 2006


When I was younger, I used to be diehard enthusiastic for human space travel. Then, I became enthusiastic about improving the worldwide state of humanitarian affairs, such as AIDS and poverty. Something tells me that these expensive pursuits are mutually exclusive.
posted by tehloki at 10:47 PM on December 5, 2006


If they can convince the poorest voters to support a tax break for the wealthy during wartime, then a moonbase is the obvious next level of waste. They can get a celebrity or two to make a fashion statement with the space suit. It will be a great diversion from earth woes and soothe the panic as the ice caps melt.
posted by Brian B. at 11:17 PM on December 5, 2006


George_Spiggott: Why is fixing the potholes in the road more important than curing cancer? Why are presidential inaugural balls more important than curing cancer? Why are military marching bands (a significant peacetime expenditure, by the way) more important than curing cancer?

Dude, it's a HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. More than the 2007 US budget for public education. None of your examples even come close to that level of expenditure -- you're off by a factor of, like, a thousand.

I don't get it: "We spend money on lotsa stuff, so what's a few (billion) dollars, anyhow?" Do you really use that logic in real life? "Yeah, I often spend money on Starbucks and Chuck E Cheeze, so I might as well buy a Ferrari." Does not compute.

If we were arguing over a few thousand or even a few million dollars, then yeah that probably won't make a dent, but this is a shit-ton of money that could make a real difference for a lot of people -- and maybe even earn back some of the international good will we've pissed away over the last 5 years.

Can you imagine? "Yeah, sorry about that whole Iraq thing. Seriously, we fucked up. But here's a cure for friggin cancer...!!"

...because it may mean the survival of the race.

If we don't explore space, humanity as a species may cease to exist. Ok, that's a valid concern. Is there really a solid scientific consensus on the matter? On what evidence are we spending a hundred billion dollars?

Let's explore this idea. Realistically, I can't imagine anything that we could do to the planet that would make it less inhabitable than the moon or Mars. I mean, even if the whole planet is glowing nuclear orange, we still have oxygen, heat, water, & gravity -- all of which are hard to come by elsewhere. Sure, we'd need biodomes or such, which would seriously suck, but we'll be needing those on the Moon and Mars anyhow, right? (unless we're willing to wait a few hundred thousand years for that whole terra forming project to kick in...) Isn't that what the whole necessity-of-space-colonization thesis rests on -- that it may, at some point, be easier to live on Mars or the moon than Earth?

I'll admit, space exploration definitely has that coolness factor going for it. And if this moonbase ends up happening, I'll be excited about it. (So I win either way, neener, neener!) But it's kinda like buying a Porsche when your roof leaks. Yeah, you really should fix that leaky roof, but.. dude: Porsche!

Again, I think it all comes down to marketing. If only there were a way to wrap up some of these more mundane endeavors in glamor and nationalistic excitement, we might get some support. How about "The Great American Cancer Race"!! Wooooo!!!! U-S-A! U-S-A!!
posted by LordSludge at 7:18 AM on December 6, 2006


More than the 2007 US budget for public education.

Actually, the total US budget for public K-12 education is in excess of $500 billion, but most of that is state and local spending. Talking about federal spending for education is like talking about state and local spending for nuclear deterrence.

I don't get it: "We spend money on lotsa stuff, so what's a few (billion) dollars, anyhow?"

The point is that it's a bullshit comparison, implying that there's no point in doing any work on a less important thing until all of some more important thing has been completely satisfied. Human societies don't work that way.

Saying "This is too much money for a trip to the moon" or "This research can be done with robots" can be part of an honest discussion.

But saying or implying "OMG we could spend this on curing cancer," as you did, is dishonest, because that's equally true for every program that isn't curing cancer. It doesn't distinguish, in the slightest, the space program from Social Security or farm subsidies or mortgage-interest deductions or just fixing potholes. All of that money could be spent on curing cancer too. So why is it that space programs get singled out for this treatment?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:13 AM on December 6, 2006


If we don't explore space, humanity as a species may cease to exist. Ok, that's a valid concern.

Spending our discretionary resources on saving the few is not much different than spending it to enrich the few.
posted by Brian B. at 10:57 AM on December 6, 2006


Okay, fine: This is too much money for a trip to the moon.

Happy?

Can we proceed to the part where you say, "no it isn't" and I say "yes it is, and here's why" yet? Let me know.

The point is that it's a bullshit comparison, implying that there's no point in doing any work on a less important thing until all of some more important thing has been completely satisfied. Human societies don't work that way.

Just to be clear, ROU_Xenophobe:

Is your position really that building a moonbase is not as important as many other things, but it should get scads more money anyway? That simply doesn't make sense; what are you leaving out? (My guess is that you think it IS more important in the long term, like George_Spiggott, but I'd really like to hear it from you.)

I agree that a moonbase is worth something, just not a hundred billion dollars. That's insane. Maybe $50 million. Okay $100 million. Sorry, but use robots. What's that, you don't need a moonbase if you're using robots? Perfect.

But saying or implying "OMG we could spend this on curing cancer," as you did, is dishonest, because that's equally true for every program that isn't curing cancer. It doesn't distinguish, in the slightest, the space program from Social Security or farm subsidies or mortgage-interest deductions or just fixing potholes. All of that money could be spent on curing cancer too. So why is it that space programs get singled out for this treatment?

First, get it straight -- I'm not singling out "space programs" in general; I'm singling out this hundred billion dollar moonbase and, similarly, a manned mission to Mars. To answer your question of "why": Funding Social Security, farm subsidies, mortgage interest deductions, and, if you insist, fixing potholes (for another 200 years??) are arguably* necessary, useful things. They help provide retirement income, maintain a farming infrastructure, encourage & enable property investment, and maintain transportation infrastructure, respectively. I haven't heard a convincing argument from anyone why a moonbase is more important than these mundane (but necessary) things, much less the spectacular, but monumental goals such as ending inner-city hunger, providing global clean water, or yes curing cancer. (Indeed, you've been saying all along that a moonbase is NOT as important as these other things. WTF, man??)

You're a month behind on rent, water's been cut off, car needs a new transmission, and you're spending your paycheck on a Rolex.


My point is simply that if we're doing the moonbase thing simply to have a monumental challenge -- because it's there, as some suggest -- there are many other monumental challenges that are more pressing, more worthy.

* I think farm subsidies are a waste of tax money and encourage wasteful behavior, but whatever...
posted by LordSludge at 11:03 AM on December 6, 2006


LordSludge, but fixing potholes is also not as important as curing cancer. If we follow the logic you used to criticize a moonbase, we therefore ought not to fix potholes.

Of course you don't mean that. But that's what your statement says:

(Explicit statement) We should not build a moonbase.
(Why not?) It is less important than curing cancer.

But this applies to anything that is less important than curing cancer is. It says nothing about a moonbase. It's a crass emotional appeal using sick people to make people feel guilty about favoring something that's less important than curing cancer is, even though all of us demonstrate this every day by making decisions to do things other than cure cancer. How dare you support something that took resources away from these cancer patients and their big, sad eyes?

To answer your question, I don't have strong feelings one way or another about this moonbase program. I don't object to it, but I don't particularly favor it either given NASA's history. I just hate this particular debating tactic with the heat of a thousand suns. There are lots of perfectly good ways to criticize any particular space program, or any other public or private activity, without making bullshit comparisons to curing cancer with those resources instead.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:47 AM on December 6, 2006


LordSludge, but fixing potholes is also not as important as curing cancer. If we follow the logic you used to criticize a moonbase, we therefore ought not to fix potholes.

It's also way, way, way cheaper. And it's a good investment, as spending a little public money saves a lot of private money and annoyance in the way of pothole-related damage.

Surely, you chose "fixing potholes" it sounds stupid and trivial and because it costs money. But it's a matter of scale, not absolutes. How much does fixing potholes cost per year, nationally? I'm willing to bet that it's a pittance compared to the hundred billion dollars* the moonbase would cost. And I'm also willing to bet that diverting pothole funds wouldn't help much at all with cancer research, social security bail-out, port security, or [insert issue here]. So, ya know, it's not really a viable option in the potholes vs. [other huge project] debate.

Let me fix this for ya:

(Explicit statement) We should not build a moonbase [just for the sake of building a moonbase]. (please see my very first comment in this thread for a little context)
(Why not?) [Because $100B is a shit-ton of money to spend on a project with little to no public benefit. There may indeed be a small side-benefit in the form of a space dividend, but why not then spend that money DIRECTLY on pressing problems we have and achieve a much better return? That money could be spent better on any number things, such as universal health care, developing alternate fuel, curing heart disease, providing global clean water, or] curing cancer.

It's a crass emotional appeal using sick people to make people feel guilty about favoring something that's less important than curing cancer is, even though all of us demonstrate this every day by making decisions to do things other than cure cancer. How dare you support something that took resources away from these cancer patients and their big, sad eyes?

Perhaps the cancer research example was unfortunate, but it's just one of many possibile alternate monumental projects -- I thought I made that clear. FWIW, I'm certainly a "less heat, more light" kinda guy. I'm not at all trying to sway based on emotion -- sorry if it came across that way, or struck a nerve, or whatever. My point is that there are monumental challenges that would have way more public benefit than a freekin moonbase if the country is hell-bent on spending $100B on a monumental challenge. (again, please refer to my first post)

It's not about saving the children; it's about getting a decent bang-for-the-buck -- public benefit vs. public dollars spent. Simple.

Again, though, perhaps the best option is to not spend the tax money at all. I hear we've run up quite a tab lately.

* starting to feel like Dr. Evil here...
posted by LordSludge at 1:08 PM on December 6, 2006


"It doesn't make sense to build something on Earth, land it on the Moon, and then relaunch it to Mars. That is, indeed, dumb. If, however, we get enough industry going on the Moon to *build the spacecraft there*, we could have a real live working, self-supporting (even profitable!) space program."

Man. Why does everyone want to live on "land" in space?

How about we try to get good at just plain living in space first? As in, how about we learn how to build relatively large space habitats like all the L-5 or O'Neill Colony type things, big torii or cylinders that we spin for enough gravity to keep us healthy, and which can carry enough mass in their shells to shield us from radiation? Even a cylinder 30 meters across and 100 meters long could hold a fairly large number of people and possibly enough biomass and machinery to create a long-sustaining (if not self-sustaining) biosphere.

Once you can get something like that - a large, relatively safe place for a number of people to inhabit in space - working well, you can strap some thrusters on it and send it anywhere you want to. If that works, it doesn't matter that it might take a couple of years to get to Mars, or for that matter anywhere else in the system, because we've got a long-lasting "home base" to stay in for the trip. Once it's in orbit around the destination, it's a permanent base there. We already have proven technology for engines that could push one of these, tho we'd need to scale it up. Habitats like this could actually make excellent use of the kinds of small nuclear reactors (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) we used on the Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions. Those things work really well and last for decades.

On top of that, a few of these would make excellent bases for mining the mineral resources of the asteroid belt, where we know there's lots of metal as well as organic chemicals and water in the carbonitic chondrite asteroids. And of course, these would be great for going out to Saturn and getting ring ice to send back into the inner system to supply all the other space habitats. Water is about the most precious thing in the solar system for sustaining life, and it makes darn good propellant too.

However, that said, in order to try building really large habitats, a moonbase makes sense. The thought for at least 40 years is to mine the moon for raw materials, and to build an electrically-powered magnetic mass driver (railgun) to launch things off the surface of the moon without having to burn fuel. Still a very difficult exercise, of course, but being able to cheaply lift raw materials out of the moon's smaller gravity well would be a huge help in going everywhere else.

I'm reasonably cool with the moonbase idea, but I think before we go out into our system past the moon, we should learn how to sustain life in open space, away from planets. The ISS is a very small step.

Just like having habitats in the Antarctic to train for Mars, building even a 20-meter by 80-meter rotating cylinder habitat in LEO would be a relatively logical next step - it's close enough that we can rescue everyone on it if things go south. Also, the ISS makes a good barracks for the assembly team - something that big has to be launched in sections that aren't inherently habitable, since basically I'm talking about a big aluminum tube here. Kinda like a zeppelin shell, really!

Build that, then spin it a little, maybe 1/10 g, maybe even 1/6 g to equal the moon's gravity, dump in half a meter of sand around the entire "floor" for some rad shielding, and then, well, put in all the housing infrastructure and then spin it up to 1/4 g or even 1/2 g. How hard is it for us to build a 60-foot by 240-foot hollow aluminum tube? We build 50-foot by 500-foot submarines, fer cryin out loud, and they take exponentially more structural stress! Hell, we could start with one that's 60 feet by 20 feet, and tack on more just like it to extend it out over time.

We should figure out how to put a crew of 40 or so in one of those and live there for 5 years before we try going out to Mars, I think.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:28 PM on December 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


...potholes...

Besides damage to cars and tires (which costs the taxpayer directly through claims) potholes primarily make cars go out of alignment, which goes unfixed for long stretches and ends up costing extra miles per gallon (and uneven tire wear). This directly contributes to all of the other global problems that go with rising demand for energy.
posted by Brian B. at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2006


allelopath said: The stepping stone to Mars is a ruse. The true purpose of this is military.

We do seem to take war with us wherever we go. In Encyclopedia Astronautica's list of proposed Lunar Bases, the 1959 Horizon Lunar Outpost included the possibility of lunar warfare:
In designing the base, Wernher von Braun appointed Heinz Koelle to head the project team at Redstone Arsenal. Spacecraft components would be lofted in 147 Saturn C-I and C-II booster launches, and then assembled in low earth orbit at an austere spent-tank space station. A Lunar landing and return vehicle would shuttle up to sixteen astronauts at a time to the base and back.

Construction would begin in April 1965 and the base was to become operational by December 1966 at Sinus Aestuum or Mare Imbrium. The base would be defended against Russian overland attack by man-fired weapons - unguided Davy Crockett rockets with low-yield nuclear warheads, and conventional claymore mines modified to puncture pressure suits.
I wonder if the new plans have any such contingencies for the Chinese? Once you find a nice piece of real estate, everybody wants to move in.
posted by cenoxo at 2:54 PM on December 6, 2006


Will the proposed moonbase would be visible, using a telescope, from Earth? Or will it be located on the "dark side"?

Cuz if it is visible, I know what I want for xmas in 15 years. If it isn't, all the more reason to think it's a military base.
posted by LordSludge at 3:22 PM on December 6, 2006


Because $100B is a shit-ton of money to spend on a project with little to no public benefit.

Question-begger. It's your unqualified opinion that it would have no public benefit. Your opponents in this discussion are suggesting that the public benefit may be ultimately be stupendous; a thousand years from now we might look back and see it as the most important thing humanity ever did. Feel free to doubt this, but don't assume your conclusion in your argument.

but why not then spend that money DIRECTLY on pressing problems we have and achieve a much better return?

Why spend "that" money on these pressing problems? Why not spend some "other" money on these pressing problems? And what is your "better return" exactly? Kindly prove that throwing $100BN at "curing cancer" will actually cure cancer. Now prove that the same investment in space research will not lead to at least as many benefits long term -- perhaps even the ultimate benefit: long-term survival of life that originated on Earth.

Your argument is this: if we spend that money then it's money we don't spend on curing cancer. That's true of all money we don't spend on curing cancer, therefore we should not spend money on anything less important than curing cancer.

(Oh and by the way, people die. Throwing money at it is probably never going to change that. And if we don't find a way to live apart from Earth, we had damn well better not change that, because there'll won't be any place for those presumably still fertile immortals to live. Meanwhile, developing space is one way to ensure that while individual organisms will continue to die eventually, life as we understand it can continue.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:24 PM on December 6, 2006


Consider that the money is being taken by force (taxes). The assumption is that public money should be used for the public good. That's what makes it "okay"....Do you really not see the distinction between public and private money?

It's not taken by force; it's what we pool to cover the costs of collective concerns. The government is not an enemy - the government represents you. You get to choose how much of your money goes into the pool, and to what end it is used, by voting for representatives whose goals you agree with. To claim that it's okay for private individuals to waste money but it's not okay for us to collectively waste money should be your position only insofar as you do not waste money in that manner - ie, you do not support the use of your money toward something like that. But if you would support the use of your money privately for things other than curing cancer, there is no reason that the use of your money as part of a collective effort cannot be used for things other than curing cancer, as long as those efforts seem worthwhile. Space exploration may not be the first priority but there are certainly worse things to spend money on, and whether it's done individually or as a group is not that important a distinction.
posted by mdn at 3:31 PM on December 6, 2006


LordSludge: I know what I want for xmas in 15 years...

Me, too, and a lunar base might be the only place to do it. One book (perhaps by space author James Oberg?) proposed that humans — using light, strap-on wings — could fly inside large inflated domes on the Moon. Weighing 1/6th as much under lunar gravity, we could flap, take off, and do aerobatics under our own muscle power.

Finally.
posted by cenoxo at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2006


George_Spiggott: Question-begger. It's your unqualified opinion that it would have no public benefit. Your opponents in this discussion are suggesting that the public benefit may be ultimately be stupendous; a thousand years from now we might look back and see it as the most important thing humanity ever did.

It's your unqualified opinion that it will have a public benefit. Okay, let's have it. What is the public benefit of establishing a moonbase?

Just a suggestion: you might try answering my very direct response (starts with "If we don't explore space...") to your advocacy of space colonization, lest you be labeled, in turn, "question dodger".

Feel free to doubt this, but don't assume your conclusion in your argument.

On the contrary, I'm earnestly attempting ("begging", if you will) to engage you in debate on this matter!

Why spend "that" money on these pressing problems? Why not spend some "other" money on these pressing problems?

Because we're discussing the viability and benefit of the moonbase, not social security, not national defense, not transportation infrastructure. Sure, ideally we'd do a cost-benefit analysis of every possible funded program vs. every other possible funded program, but *I* don't have the time. This is Metafilter, we're discussing spending a hundred billion dollars on a moonbase. This is the topic at hand; stop changing the subject.

Start a new thread if you must discuss the merits of another costly program -- let's use $100B as a minimum cut-off point.

And what is your "better return" exactly?

How about something other than "Hurray, moonbase."

Kindly prove that throwing $100BN at "curing cancer" will actually cure cancer. Now prove that the same investment in space research will not lead to at least as many benefits long term -- perhaps even the ultimate benefit: long-term survival of life that originated on Earth.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Kindly first prove that the throwing $100B at a moonbase will provide as much benefit as spending it on cancer research. There are no guarantees, but there are a lot of organizations that would love to do good work in the field.

Your argument is this: if we spend that money then it's money we don't spend on curing cancer. That's true of all money we don't spend on curing cancer, therefore we should not spend money on anything less important than curing cancer.

Isn't that self-evident?? Why on Earth would you advocate spending money on Issue A vs. Issue B when you know that Issue A is less important than Issue B? Sweet Jesus.

Are you honestly asserting that establishing a moonbase is less important than curing cancer (or hundreds of other options), but we should do it anyhow?

(Oh and by the way, people die. Throwing money at it is probably never going to change that. And if we don't find a way to live apart from Earth, we had damn well better not change that, because there'll won't be any place for those presumably still fertile immortals to live.

What an incredible spin on your own apathy to disease, death, and global suffering. Genocide, after all, is a Good Thing because it frees up resources for the rest of us! You, sir, are Bush cabinet material!

Perhaps we could also work to improve the quality of life for those who aren't as willing as yourself to off themselves for the Good of Humanity.

Meanwhile, developing space is one way to ensure that while individual organisms will continue to die eventually, life as we understand it can continue.)

Prove it. Might not even be possible. BTW, flapping your arms and flying is one way to ensure that you won't plummet to your death if pushed off a skyscraper.

mdn: [Tax money is] not taken by force; it's what we pool to cover the costs of collective concerns.

Bullshit. It's both. Exercise for the reader: Try refusing to pay your taxes; see if you aren't forced to. By force, at gunpoint if necessary, to cover the costs of collective concerns.

The government is not an enemy - the government represents you.

Of course, that's the collective "you", not "me" individually. The government does not not represent my will if my candidates don't get elected. (...and I live in South Carolina, so they never do.) Generally speaking, elected officials represent their constituents. "Enemy" is too strong a word, but the past 6 years have made it clear that the GOVT DOES NOT REPRESENT ME.

You get to choose how much of your money goes into the pool, and to what end it is used, by voting for representatives whose goals you agree with.

See above.

To claim that it's okay for private individuals to waste money but it's not okay for us to collectively waste money should be your position only insofar as you do not waste money in that manner - ie, you do not support the use of your money toward something like that. But if you would support the use of your money privately for things other than curing cancer, there is no reason that the use of your money as part of a collective effort cannot be used for things other than curing cancer, as long as those efforts seem worthwhile.

Dude: I don't have $100 billion lying around. Once again, stop thinking in absolutes; it's a matter of scale. I don't think it's inconsistent at all to say that $1000, even $100,000 of my own post-tax money won't make an appreciable dent in cancer research (or moonbase contruction), but $100 billion probably will.

I'll try to capture your argument, just to be sure I've got it: You got your vote. Unless you pony up your own private funds for [insert cause here], ya need to STFU and let the govt do what it wants.

Bullshit.

Bullshit #1. How much have you donated to NASA? By your own logic you cannot advocate public spending for NASA (or for cancer research, or for intact roads, or for good schools, or for ANY cause unless you've ponied up your own post-tax cash. (Don't worry about it -- unless you're fabulously wealthy, it won't make any appreciable difference.)

Bullshit #2. Representative govt can certainly be influenced after the vote. It is ludicrous to assert that my voice begins and ends with the vote.

Space exploration may not be the first priority but there are certainly worse things to spend money on, and whether it's done individually or as a group is not that important a distinction.

If it's not the first priority (I AGREE!!), then what is? What should we be spending that $100B on? I've given a bunch of suggestions, but you may have your own ideas.

Is anything a valid expediture as long as there are "worse things to spend money on"? Of course not.

The distinction between individual spending and public spending is crucial: it's a matter of scale.

cenoxo: Sorry to be Cpt. Bringdown, cuz that really does sound awesome, but I seriously doubt there's gonna be enough room in the early moonbase(s) for that sort of thing. In case I'm wrong, start saving now for the cab fare and be sure to post a video of it on YouTube v28.

In the meantime, check out scuba diving, hanggliding, and, um, maybe this. (I know, it's not the same as this...)

(I just wanted a nice telescope. I mean, I haven't been all that good...)
posted by LordSludge at 7:06 PM on December 6, 2006


humans — using light, strap-on wings — could fly inside large inflated domes on the Moon. Weighing 1/6th as much under lunar gravity, we could flap, take off, and do aerobatics under our own muscle power.

Some people call this "swimming underwater with fins." And it's a whole helluva lot cheaper.
posted by frogan at 8:38 PM on December 6, 2006


True, but there aren't any sharks on the Moon, either.
posted by cenoxo at 10:59 PM on December 6, 2006


Great post, thank you.
posted by nomadicink at 8:26 PM on December 9, 2006


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