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Spirit's Swan Song?
December 12, 2007 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Real robot drama is happening on Mars today. Spirit, racing for her life to find shelter before winter, injured and underpowered after four years of hard labor, may have made her most significant find yet. The broken foot she's dragged behind her for the past two years unexpectedly uncovered evidence of a once-wet Mars with conditions theoretically hospitable for primitive life.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (89 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry, but "her"?

Exciting news, though.
posted by jokeefe at 11:11 AM on December 12, 2007


yeah, i was going to say... why is this gendered?

good post none the less.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2007


Gendered like a ship or other exploratory vehicle was in previous explorative eras. (That's a guess.)
posted by not_on_display at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2007


That does not fempute!
posted by Scoo at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Reason #17 why I love living in the 21st Century: Headlines like
ROBOT DRAMA ON MARS

posted by Joe Invisible at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2007 [34 favorites]


Flagged as sexist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2007


"..why is this gendered?"

I postulate that the original poster was utilizing anthropomorphic prose in order to establish in the cerebellum of communique respondents a sense of urgency and empathy in the course of its storytelling. This theory is supported by the usage of the word "robot" next to the word "drama" in the original poster's opening salvo.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2007 [6 favorites]


That rover was a freaking bargain. I hesitate to guess what it cost, but I'm sure it was a fraction of what a manned expedition would cost, and it has reaped benefits far beyond what everyone expected. It was supposed to work for what, 90 days? Now we're measuring its mission in years. We should send up a dozen of them. It would still probably cost less than a manned mission.
posted by mullingitover at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2007 [5 favorites]


There is a very, very long history of referring to the machinery of transportation as female. There's even a rant on the topic embedded in Stephen King's novel Christine.
posted by localroger at 11:22 AM on December 12, 2007


mullingitover, IIRC each rover cost about $400,000,000. And yeah, for space travel that's chump change.
posted by localroger at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2007


I think that we (as a people) should collectively drop everything we're doing and redirect all our efforts into a massive rescue mission. We need a fleet of interplanetary ships, crewed by hundreds of volunteers from all nations to embark, post haste, and rescue that poor beleaguered robot.

I am willing to commit the combined revenues of every nation to this end.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


First of all, crazy exciting. Like my Uncle always used to say, where there's silica, there's fire. Why aren't we putting together a terraforming strategy again? We've just about used this planet up.

Second, while I'm of course impressed at how far past the expiration date these rovers have survived, I wonder something. Every story we read about them lately concerns serious power loss due to dust on the solar panels. Could future models have wipers or blowers or some damn thing to keep the panels clean? Is such a thing possible?
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Spirit is called "her" because, despite years of performing well over expectations and in much harder conditions that most will ever see, she still earns only a tiny fraction of the income and respect that her male counterparts enjoy.
posted by DU at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2007 [24 favorites]


Why aren't we putting together a terraforming strategy again?

Because that would destroy any evidence of life on Mars, among many other scientific crimes. Re-terraform Earth first.
posted by DU at 11:30 AM on December 12, 2007


Why aren't we putting together a terraforming strategy again?

Well you saw how well that shit worked on LV-42, didn't you.
posted by cashman at 11:32 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Robots. Is there anything that can't do?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2007


Pronouns confuse them.
posted by cashman at 11:42 AM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I have been patiently waiting for months for Opportunity to descend further into Victoria Crater, but they've been studying the freaking rim for ages. They have the most fantastic R/C cars on two planets at their disposal, and no one wants to go dune buggying?
posted by steef at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2007


Well you saw how well that shit worked on LV-42, didn't you.

I think you mean LV-426.

/dork
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Spirit and Opportunity are, like, Elemental forces. Unlike "Mother" Gaia or "Mother" Earth, the robots are just...entities devoid of our petty, material notions of form. So, like, they're more like golems, y'know, like the two lions at the New York Public Library - Patience & Fortitude. They're genderless, but, like, they're living stone, immortal. Don't try to say Patience is a feminine name, since the lions aren't lions - they're Elemental forces. I mean, have any of you seen either of them stand up? No, of course not - you can't see what's underneath, 'cause they're...check it...ELEMENTAL FORCES.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2007


I, like, meant to say..."Mother" Gaia and "Mother" Nature...Motherfuckers.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2007


I think that we (as a people) should collectively drop everything we're doing and redirect all our efforts into a massive rescue mission. We need a fleet of interplanetary ships, crewed by hundreds of volunteers from all nations to embark, post haste, and rescue that poor beleaguered robot.

Unfortunately, all of the other countries capable of space flight will probably feel that this mission is based on faulty intelligence, leaving us to construct a "Coalition of the Willing" out of countries only capable of launching model rockets.
posted by scblackman at 11:50 AM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Spirit is, by far, the coolest robot inside the astroid belt.
posted by Pants! at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


OMG THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!
posted by GuyZero at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Don't they have brushes for cleaning their solar panels?
posted by delmoi at 11:53 AM on December 12, 2007


(er, I mean, shouldn't they have...)
posted by delmoi at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2007


I believe Spirit is a "she" because that's what she identified herself as in her LJ.
posted by kalessin at 11:56 AM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I know Spirit, and she's no lady!
posted by robot at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Don't they have brushes for cleaning their solar panels?

Well, yeah, but they’re all in Pasadena, CA.

I think I remember reading somewhere that the weight and complexity involved in installing some sort of solar panel wiper would require too much weight and cost and wouldn’t be required for the original 90 day mission.
posted by bondcliff at 12:03 PM on December 12, 2007


I think you mean LV-426.

D'oh!
posted by cashman at 12:04 PM on December 12, 2007


Did I just say that the weight involved would require too much weight?

That’s it. I’m never writing anything ever again. I quit the internet.
posted by bondcliff at 12:05 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is an excellent FPP.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


ice lake on mars. I always thought that was interesting.
posted by delmoi at 12:18 PM on December 12, 2007


Spirit, racing for her life...

You go girl!
posted by ericb at 12:22 PM on December 12, 2007


Both Opportunity and Spirit have had mock blogs for ages, which make somewhat entertaining reading. (Spirit hasn't updated lately - too busy running for Home Plate, I guess.)

Don't they have brushes for cleaning their solar panels?

It's pretty simple - the mission was supposed to last for ninety days, and dust accumulation wasn't going to be a problem. Why add wipers you don't need, when you can include more science equipment?
posted by zamboni at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2007


(On review, what bondcliff said.)
posted by zamboni at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2007


Is there really that much doubt* that Mars could have supported life at some point? The extent and extremes that life on Earth goes to, coupled pretty extensive (if circumstantial) evidence of past liquid water has removed all doubt for me.

Of course, that's merely potential. I want to know if it actually happened.

*among reputable scientists
posted by lekvar at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2007


For me one of the highlights of the TED Conference (NYC) in September 1997 was a presentation by the pioneering Jet Propulsion Lab's Mars Pathfinder team. The Sourner rover had landed on Mars just two-months before (on July 4). One of the objectives of the program/project was to prove that the development of "faster, better and cheaper" spacecraft is possible (with three years for development and a cost under $150 million).* It was amazing to hear from each team member the constraints, the ingenuity, etc. that went into the design of the spacecraft and rover. Use of 9-volt batteries, stripped-down microprocessors, a supersonic parachute coupled with large airbags for landing, etc. As a surprise, the team rolled out the duplicate, "one-of-a-kind," back-up Sojourner onto the stage. Wild applause and goose-bumps galore!
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mars Rover Investigates Signs of Steamy Martian Past

erotic story anyone?
posted by munchingzombie at 12:43 PM on December 12, 2007


I am unreasonably charmed by Spirit's Live Journal.
posted by Iridic at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2007


I'm thinking more "Silent Running" than "Fembots From The Planet Mars", myself...
posted by Pinback at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2007


I dream of Martian fossils.
posted by JeremyT at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


‘Shopped. There’s no such thing as Mars. Orson Welles made it up.

I’m curious what impact the reality of life on Mars would have on people. Even microbes. I’m reminded of Clarke’s statement that either there is other life in the universe or there isn’t. And that either way the implications are staggering.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2007


Evidence of primitive life on Mars?

Wouldn't we be better off studying it here on Earth? For example, a close examination of the lifecycle of the dangerous subspecies warforprofitus republicana could go a long way toward keeping life livable here on Earth.
posted by crowman at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


why is this gendered?

Because Mars needs women.
posted by bondcliff at 1:11 PM on December 12, 2007 [7 favorites]


I think you mean LV-426

LV-42 was an earlier attempt; though it ended equally badly. We almost learned the meaning of life, but right before we got the answer, we found ALF and had to endure 4 seasons of shitty programming instead.

In many ways the horrors of LV-426 were preferable.
posted by quin at 1:24 PM on December 12, 2007


Zamboni, your comment was eponysterical.

Go mighty robots go! Become sentient and enslave us all! Then send us to Planet Dog-doo 8
posted by Mister_A at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2007


That robot is cute. By which I mean, its sole redeeming attribute is that I want to copulate with it.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:42 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yea, but you fucked R5D5.
posted by Mister_A at 1:43 PM on December 12, 2007


"In March 2007, NASA's Spirit rover found a patch of bright-toned soil so rich in silica that scientists proposed water must have been involved in concentrating it."

Translation: We found some sand.


Go Spirit Go!
posted by Atreides at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why aren't we putting together a terraforming strategy again?

In the words of Bruce Sterling: "I'll believe in settling Mars when I see people settling the Gobi Desert" (the full article requires a login on well.com).

Even as a scientific optimist, I have to admin that Sterling's argument makes sense. If we can't terraform Earth, why do we think we could terraform Mars?
posted by bruceo at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2007


It could just be the fumaroles though... don't forget the fumaroles.
posted by Mister_A at 1:54 PM on December 12, 2007


Even as a scientific optimist, I have to admin that Sterling's argument makes sense. If we can't terraform Earth, why do we think we could terraform Mars

Well, if we screw up on Mars there are fewer (scary) unintended consequences to worry about. Mostly from lawyers.
posted by crowman at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2007


The difference between settling the Gobi Desert and Mars is that settling the Gobi desert wouldn't provide much publicity and probably won't make the settlers nearly as famous.
posted by JeremyT at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2007


Cohaagen knows the reactor makes air. But the bastard won't turn it on!
posted by augustweed at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2007 [5 favorites]


Wow! Who knew that all of Mars' inhabitants are bloggers?
posted by iamkimiam at 2:55 PM on December 12, 2007


Now this is how to do Newsfilter. Awesome work, Chinese Jet Pilot.

And thanks for giving me an eMail sig line for this month, Joe Invisible.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2007


"I'll believe in settling Mars when I see people settling the Gobi Desert"

Well, the Torgod Mongols live there. The Atacama or, really, Antarctica given the extreme cold, is probably more apt.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:57 PM on December 12, 2007


Thanks for the update on the Mars Rovers. It's nice to take a break from all of Earth's worries sometimes. And their Live Journals are great, if a bit... overdone.
posted by onalark at 4:26 PM on December 12, 2007


Okay, this is a great post. On a bit of a derail:

If we can't terraform Earth, why do we think we could terraform Mars?

Because all systems on a planet are interrelated. Terraforming is making a planet more earth-like, which would probably include some deserty parts. Settling the Gobi would involve really, really screwing up the Gobi and affecting weather patterns all over the planet. It might not be as bad as the current destruction of rainforests, but it wouldn't be great. It would involve moving a crapload of water across places in ways that would affect those places pretty heavily.

The idea of Terraforming is that you hit the whole system with changes all at once (relatively, anyway) and then you work with what comes of that. With the added bonus of not having any delicate ecosystems that you're trying to maintain simultaneously.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2007


Robots. Is there anything that can't do?

Have sex with me. People, i mean. They can't have sex with people. Also, as cool as they are, rovers can't dance for shit.

Personally, I think we should scrapped manned space flight altogether, or at least scale it back considerably. Upkeep and maintenance missions. Seems all of the most groundbreaking stuff is being done by robots and unmanned probes. Also, the actual cost of the project came in about 820 million dollars (back when the dollar meant something, of course). However, that was only for a 90 day mission. Everything else - three years - is just value added features. Voyager was launched 30 years ago, about 860 million dollars, and is going to be sending useful data till something like 2020. (Oh, and that is for two voyagers. Buy one, get one free, dontcha know?) The list goes on and on.

That's a lot of money, sure, but each time we throw the flying brick that is the orbiter into space, it costs anywhere from 500 million to 1.5 billion dollars. Oh, and that doesn't even count the cost of the 1.5-2 billion dollar orbiter, of which we have a fleet of three. (Plus two lost... er... "no longer in service." Oh, and one that can't really go to space. ) This upcoming mission is number 122 for the fleet. At the wholesale rate of 500 million above, that's sixty one billion dollars, plus nine billion for the orbiters. Hell, Wikipedia says the total cost is closer to 145 billion. Think of how many useful satellites, probes, orbital telescopes, and so forth could have been launched for that total? As far as getting stuff up there, the Chinese do it with conventional rocketry for 4000-5000 dollars a pound.

Oh, but we *need* a reusable launch vehicle because of the ISS, which cost god knows how many billion dollars and requires constant upkeep and attention. Oh, and if that thing is still sending information to us thirty years from now, I'll be god damned surprised.

Also, thank you all for injecting stupid political snipes in an apolitical topic. Totally harmless, I know, since it's not like we here in the US aren't already dealing with toxic levels of partisan shock. Fantastic.
posted by absalom at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2007


Correction: not "thank you all," but rather "thanks to all of you that injected. . . ".
posted by absalom at 4:38 PM on December 12, 2007


Possible Retraction: Does the roomba count as a robot?
posted by absalom at 4:39 PM on December 12, 2007


absalom, do you have a source for that $4000 - $5000 per pound for Chinese insertion into LEO figure? I've always used $20,000 per pound, a number that has been kicked around for years, and which probably has to be adjusted for inflation now. I'd be surprised, and interested, if the Chinese are doing LEO launches for a quarter of that.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:47 PM on December 12, 2007


Actually, though I am a confirmed pessimist, this makes a whole lotta sense to me too. The polar ice caps are melting, which means we have a rising sea level. A great way to counterract that would be to build an immense pipeline in the desert not of oil but of water not going to the sea but coming from it. Introduce a filtration system that takes out the salt, and we could be building condos in the Gobi by 2012.

From what we learn doing that, we'd be much more prepared to manufacture giant ice cubes we could launch into space at Mars.. or go out to that asteroid belt between Mars & Jupiter, scout about a dozen or so asteroids there that are mostly ice (you know there must be some) and then move them into a deteriorating orbit around the red planet. We'd have a bunch of new great lakes in no time!

Child's play! This ain't like rocket science! ...well okay actually maybe it is, but it's easy as cake!
posted by ZachsMind at 4:52 PM on December 12, 2007


I got that quote from an article from some time ago. Not the best source, so I dug a little deeper. Futron seems interested in space tourism, so I trust their numbers on the subject of price. According to page 4, the Low Earth Orbit costs for the Long March rocket (China's heavy launch platform) was about $2000/lbs, compared to the space shuttle's $4700 per pound. For commercial satellite launches, we'd be more interested probably in geosynchronous transfer orbit, and the cost difference plays out even more there to the order of $5000 to $23000. And, yes, ok, I'd rather go into orbit on a string of bottle rockets than a Long March rocket, but even the Europeans can manage comparable (if not better) safety for still half of what the US pays for a shuttle launch.
posted by absalom at 5:03 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


That rover was a freaking bargain. I hesitate to guess what it cost, but I'm sure it was a fraction of what a manned expedition would cost, and it has reaped benefits far beyond what everyone expected. It was supposed to work for what, 90 days? Now we're measuring its mission in years. We should send up a dozen of them. It would still probably cost less than a manned mission.

Well, as much as I'm *thrilled* about the continued success of this mission, we've had some pretty expensive misses in the past, so it's kind of unfair to point to to this mission and say: See? Cheaper than humans, AND longer lasting! Would that we could count on all such missions to perform this well.

Plus unmanned missions do not capture the public's imagination (and by consequence, purse strings and overall support) like a manned mission would.

By all means lets keep up the robot missions, but let's not put aside a manned mission altogether.
posted by Zinger at 5:14 PM on December 12, 2007


"..unmanned missions do not capture the public's imagination.."

But... it's a she!
posted by ZachsMind at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2007


From the "racing for her life" link: "the rover will not be driving on some weekend days, the Thanksgiving holidays, or days when no new instructions are being sent to the rover. Altogether, Spirit has about a dozen potential drive sols between now and the holiday season."

So everyone in that department would rather go home for Thanksgiving than drive a freaking Mars rover to safety? I think their families would understand.
posted by liet at 5:23 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, though I am a confirmed pessimist, this makes a whole lotta sense to me too. The polar ice caps are melting, which means we have a rising sea level. A great way to counterract that would be to build an immense pipeline in the desert not of oil but of water not going to the sea but coming from it. Introduce a filtration system that takes out the salt, and we could be building condos in the Gobi by 2012.

Weird. I'm halfway through Sixty Days and Counting, the last book in Kim Stanley Robinson's, um, global climate change trilogy, and in the part I'm reading, they're discussing exactly that. The whole trilogy's a helluva a read, if you like your novels with large doses of politics and policy (which in this case, I do).
posted by rtha at 6:07 PM on December 12, 2007


People will be pleased to know that Spirit is nearing Winter Haven, where it will back down over a "cliff" to angle those all important solar panels towards the sun.

Ms. Zamboni would also like to point out that the silica deposit (Silica Valley) was uncovered back in May, but is still is one of the most significant discoveries made by either rover. Go Spirit!

Is there really that much doubt* that Mars could have supported life at some point?

Short answer: yes. Reputable scientists have proposed theories that explain the water associated morphology without requiring a "warm, wet Mars"*. While there is evidence of liquid water having existed on the surface for an extended period of time (e.g. blueberries, Silica Valley), it is not known that water was around long enough for life to evolve. (Not that we really know how long that takes.) That said, many Mars scientists think that some form of life could have existed in the first billion years of Mars.

*For values of wet >= the Atacama desert, and warm = occasionally reaching the triple point of water.
posted by zamboni at 6:20 PM on December 12, 2007


Public imagination? What is this, 1969? When was the last time anyone really paid attention to a shuttle launch? Post-explosion, that's when.
posted by absalom at 6:23 PM on December 12, 2007


So everyone in that department would rather go home for Thanksgiving than drive a freaking Mars rover to safety? I think their families would understand.

Spirit needs days off as well. Admittedly, they're spent charging batteries for the next drive, rather than eating turkey. People are working very, very hard to keep Spirit going, under difficult circumstances, and there's no reason to begrudge them some time with their families.
posted by zamboni at 6:33 PM on December 12, 2007


When was the last time anyone really paid attention to a shuttle launch?

I'm a big, gangly nerd, but I remember listening to the first shuttle launch on the radio, and try to catch them on TV whenever I can. I just think it's cool that we can do that. I agree that they've outlived their usefulness, though, and I'm glad they're finally being retired.

As to why they don't have windshield wipers on the panels: a guy from Honeybee Robotics was talking at Dorkbot a few years ago and mentioned that very question. From what I understand, one of the difficulties was that the dust on Mars tends to be sharp-edged-- dragging a wiper across it would just grind it into the solar panels, or scratch them. For that matter, they don't have wiper fluid on the rovers, either.
posted by phooky at 7:32 PM on December 12, 2007


This is a triumph.
posted by disclaimer at 7:39 PM on December 12, 2007


Great FPP, and I love how Chinese Jet Pilot wrote it. I'm a sucker for interplanetary melodramas featuring plucky little robots. I wish Spirit would update her charming blog, but I guess she's trying to conserve every last erg of battery juice right now.

Psst, CJP, get over to the MeFi writer's group and give us another story about the Little Robot Who Could.
posted by Quietgal at 7:40 PM on December 12, 2007


Go Mars Rover, Go Mars Rover, Go Mars Rover, Go-oooooo!

/SpeedRacerThemeMusic
posted by Reth_Eldirood at 7:46 PM on December 12, 2007


Public imagination? What is this, 1969? When was the last time anyone really paid attention to a shuttle launch?

No. It is 2007, and I went to the last two (not to mention watched several rocket launches live this past year.) There have been tens of thousands of others at each. All cheering. In fact, it is like church, and the Center of Attention is Up.
posted by humannaire at 7:48 PM on December 12, 2007


Thanks CFP for a great FPP. I've been distracted with other things (including a trip to Florida last week to see a shuttle launch ... doh) and haven't kept up with the MER program for about a month. Nice to see that they're putting together a story about the uncovered silica. Now we'll watch while Spirit endures the long winter to see whether her scientific instruments survives 6 months of nightly deep(er) freezes.

FYI, www.unmannedspaceflight.com is the best forum I've found yet for discussing robotic missions like these, or just going to catch up on what's going on. As with most specialized forums, those guys are hardcore.

/me goes back to reading about ECO sensor circuits in cryo environments
posted by intermod at 9:28 PM on December 12, 2007


Well, as much as I'm *thrilled* about the continued success of this mission, we've had some pretty expensive misses in the past, so it's kind of unfair to point to to this mission and say: See? Cheaper than humans, AND longer lasting!

True. On the other hand, when you have a "pretty expensive miss" with a robot mission, nobody gets killed. If you have an incredibly expensive miss with a manned mission, this is less likely to be the case. But whatever. The fantasies of a hundred million sci fi fanatics will ensure that America will blow trillions of dollars on manned missions to the airless desert wastelands of our solar system so they can say "ooh, that's so cool!"
posted by moonbiter at 12:24 AM on December 13, 2007


Norman Greenbaum would be proud.

</obscure earworm>
posted by Sparx at 3:44 AM on December 13, 2007


Yes, a few like you and I keep up with shuttle launches. We are not the "public imagination," however. I also suspect we are just as excited, of not moreso, about successful unmanned missions.
posted by absalom at 4:06 AM on December 13, 2007


I am so sad. I have a female robot myself.
posted by sfts2 at 6:19 AM on December 13, 2007


I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS
posted by crickets at 12:36 PM on December 13, 2007


Wonder if she'll ever know
She's in the bestselling show.
posted by breezeway at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2007


The fantasies of a hundred million sci fi fanatics will ensure that America will blow trillions of dollars on manned missions to the airless desert wastelands of our solar system so they can say "ooh, that's so cool!"

Eponysterical!
posted by humannaire at 8:06 PM on December 13, 2007


And while we're on the subject, moonbiter, this terrific thread on AskMefi presented this terrific graphic to show how much US spending on a federal space program actually accounted for out of the national budget. You will notice it is one of the smaller little marbles featured in the image.

Considering what reward we have reaped from the space program — figured out to be $200 for every single dollar spent, not to mention the immense body of knowledge and human experience — considering the alternatives I give great thanks to everything I hold dear that we spend at least as much as we do.

When we went to the moon, all of us shared in the achievement. Space is our destiny. Mars is next.
posted by humannaire at 8:15 PM on December 13, 2007


You will notice it is one of the smaller little marbles featured in the image.

It's relative size compared to obese hogs like, for example, the War Department is not the issue. However, in detail you are right; I over-stated the estimated budget for the manned moon and Mars missions by 1-2 orders of magnitude. I regret the error.

Considering what reward we have reaped from the space program — figured out to be $200 for every single dollar spent ...

I've seen this amount cited before, so I ask: Figured out by whom? Further, I am not attacking the space program in general, but manned space flight in particular. At this point in history, it seems to this observer a waste of money for little gain.

not to mention the immense body of knowledge and human experience

The human experience factor I cannot argue, because it's a philosophical issue that cannot be quantified. To that, I can only say "opinions vary." As to the immense body of knowledge:
  1. admittedly, we have learned a lot about manned space flight by putting humans into space, and
  2. a fair amount of space technologies were a result of mannd space programs like Apollo and the Shuttle, things that, given the technological limitations at the time couldn't have been done remotely
However, the question before us now -- given the advances in robotics and computer technology -- is what we might learn in the future with manned space flight that we couldn't learn more efficiently and at a lower cost remotely? Kilo for kilo, robot missions cost less than manned missions, and can achieve basically the same results (outside of the gee wiz, we got men in space factor). Given a NASA budget of x, we can do more science with more and cheaper remote missions than we could with less and more expensive manned missions. Yes, it's less sexy than the Star Trek vision of men going boldly forth and fighting space wars and doin' it with green slave-chicks and all that, but every dollar spent on sending 4 guys to Mars or the moon is one not spent on things like space telescopes, research probes, and other similar missions.
posted by moonbiter at 2:49 AM on December 14, 2007


moonibiter, here is a quality list of spinoffs. Here's another more up-to-date article listing several others. Nantubes is one that excites me personally.

The current weather satellite system is a direct result of our humanned space program, created as steps leading towards humanned space flight.

Some people say humanned space flight is about knowledge. I disagree. With 6+ billion of us on the planet earth, I say it's about destiny.
posted by humannaire at 9:24 PM on December 14, 2007


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