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Do we really want that Moon base?
November 18, 2008 3:01 PM   Subscribe

An election of a new President brings forth new ideas on the Vision for Space Exploration. The Planetary Society is lobbying to remove the Moon from the equation, which prompted Apollo astronaut, ex-senator, and geologist Harrison Schmitt to resign from the board in protest. Meanwhile moon-free plans proliferate. What will Obama do? Interesting hints are given in a position paper written by people associated with his transition team.

The Planetary Society Responds. More analysis here.
posted by spaceviking (70 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
What will Obama do?

Hopefully focus on the economy.
posted by gman at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Going to the moon never made any sense. It's like driving from New York to CA for vacation with Sacramento as your destination and skipping LA and SF. The majority of the cost and danger is getting off Earth, once your in space, it's really not a huge difference in cost going to the Moon vs Mars. There are of course more complications, but the benefits of Mars far outweigh going to the Moon which has little going for it.
posted by stbalbach at 3:09 PM on November 18, 2008


Hopefully focus on the economy.

I agree with you in general, but I think that we can help the economy and fund NASA, especially since funding the space program would help generate employment. And, quite frankly, we can go a long way by spending smarter rather than more: we can save a lot by simply retaining the Shuttle and dropping Bush's short-sighted "By the year 2012, I declare that a living man shall walk... on the moon!" plan.
posted by vorfeed at 3:12 PM on November 18, 2008


I still don't see the point in sending humans into space anymore. It's ridiculous and not cost effective. It pains me to say this as someone who was, at age 11, certain that I'd be living on Mars right now, but it's just pointless to lug around a long-term life support system. We have made droids that can survive for years on Mars, and I haven't seen a shred of evidence that sending a human there would be justified.
posted by mullingitover at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Check out the excellent blog Space Politics for more on this and other space subjects.

Hopefully focus on the economy.

Rebuilding the space program would certainly have an economic effect.

What will Obama do?

See here for more hints.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:16 PM on November 18, 2008


I agree with you in general, but I think that we can help the economy and fund NASA, especially since funding the space program would help generate employment.

Planetary Bailouts have never made much sense to me.
posted by gman at 3:17 PM on November 18, 2008


Yes. Hopefully focus on the economy [by investing in space].

- Mine one asteroid and pay for the space program.
- Mine two and pay for national health care.
- Establish orbiting solar power stations and permanently free the United States and the world from energy and oil problems.
- Establish one permanent space habitat and make giant leaps forward in science research.
- Invest in the technology for a space elevator and enable humanity to be free forever
- Invest in space based factories and end pollution forever

But maybe you're right, we should keep rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic, I'm sure there's an optimal configuration that will stop that iceberg from hitting us.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:23 PM on November 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


Go to Mars.
Go Directly to Mars.
Do not stop at Moon.
Do not spend $500 billion dollars.
posted by smoothvirus at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are of course more complications, but the benefits of Mars far outweigh going to the Moon which has little going for it.

The Moon has one really big thing going for it. Travel time. Think of the Moon as a testbed. There's a 6 day round-trip time to get items to the Moon, versus a 14 month round-trip time to Mars. Did someone get hurt while out on an expedition? Break their leg? Send an emergency vehicle from high-earth orbit and bring them home within a week. Only have a week's worth of water remaining due to some problems with whatever machinery? Launch a resupply mission and have it be there with time to spare.

Basically, the distance to the Moon makes a lot of things about human exploration and habitat a whole lot easier. Don't get me wrong, I think a large portion of testing for Mars can be done on the ISS, which is infinitely cheaper than going to the Moon, but you're still talking about a metric ton of tests that probably shouldn't be done in the deserts of Arizona (like they were back in the sixties).

I still don't see the point in sending humans into space anymore.

There is still so much about space that we don't comprehend, and that robots will never be able to tell us because of their fundamental nature. Yes, we have gotten a ton of data back from the Mars Rovers. They have been an overwhelming success, and probably have contributed to this "why do people need to go?" attitude because of their runaway success. But the amount of information they can pick up is so limited even compared to the smallest human EVA on Mars. What I like to call "cryptogeology" is only possible with people actually on the scene, picking up and studying terrain. It's a world of difference.
posted by mark242 at 3:34 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


We have made droids that can survive for years on Mars, and I haven't seen a shred of evidence that sending a human there would be justified.

I think you've got a point about the droids on Mars and such. I'm personally of the mind that a short term compromise can be made. Humans should still go to other planets... it's just that any space exploration and colonization should be preceded by lots of robots. They can collect data much better, and probably set up structures for humans without less risk of lost life and lost money. Plus, it allows time to develop a program and technology to better facilitate human colonization of other worlds. Then the colonists can follow and be supported by robot labor. Unfortunately, I think that in time we here on Earth will make strict prohibitions against robots and end up living in what are virtually just caves of steel. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing because eventually one of the robots from the colonies will end up invisibly guiding all humanity along a path leading to galactic empires, the ability to statistically see the future via the aggregate actions of humanity, as well as other cool stuff. Admittedly, that last bit seems kind of like of a stretch if you read about it.
posted by Mister Cheese at 3:35 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Go Directly to Mars.

Why? What's the benefit of going to Mars and ignoring the moon?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:39 PM on November 18, 2008


They can collect data much better, and probably set up structures for humans without less risk of lost life and lost money.

Only if they know what data to collect and how to solve problems as they arise which they don't and can't. There is a benefit to intelligence on the scene rather than peering at it on the narrow window of a screen.
posted by dibblda at 3:45 PM on November 18, 2008


Planetary Bailouts have never made much sense to me.

What? Funding NASA is not "bailing out" anything -- it's an existing government program which gets exactly what Congress and the President say it gets, not a company which has gone under. Also, NASA uses barely more than one half of one percent of the national budget, and pays back dividends in science, employment, and public relations. Some have estimated that the return-on-investment of NASA's research and development work during the 60s and 70s was more than 30%, and possibly even more than 40%. That's not a failure... hell, it's one of the few things we've done that has actually paid off!

Frankly, I don't think ignoring NASA is a reasonable cost-saving move -- there are plenty of things which cost much more and return much less to the country. Besides, the idea that we can turn the economy around by not investing in science and technology has never made much sense to me...
posted by vorfeed at 3:45 PM on November 18, 2008


Well, there's a missing spider afloat in space right now, orbiting the planet and making 3D web tangles.

If India can send a rocket to the moon for $80million, why can't we be that economical too? We got to get those budget finessers from the Indian subcontinent over here to teach us a thing or two.
posted by nickyskye at 3:45 PM on November 18, 2008


I don't think that avoidance is enough. I suspect that if we spurn the moon in favor of Mars, it's going to get all Fatal Attraction on us. At first it will look like accidents; a defective O ring here, a missing tile there, but once we dig a bit, we will see the moon's hand in all our future spacefaring accidents.

I hate to say it, but if we really want to move out into space, we may have to kill the moon.

Before she kills us.
posted by quin at 3:47 PM on November 18, 2008


Only if they know what data to collect and how to solve problems as they arise which they don't and can't. There is a benefit to intelligence on the scene rather than peering at it on the narrow window of a screen.

Well, that's what we're paying Powell and Donovan for, isn't it? Someone get Dr. Calvin in here, I want an explanation!
posted by vorfeed at 3:48 PM on November 18, 2008


Someday there will arise an event that will eradicate life on Earth, or at least mammalian life. Maybe it'll be an event that we cause, or maybe it'll be one that just happens. It's not a matter of if, only of when. So it behooves us to get to work and spread out beyond this one planet before something like that happens, because if we wait until it's already happened, it's too late.

I'm a card-carrying member of the Planetary Society myself, and have been for many years, but on this issue, I respectfully disagree with them. I've got nothing against robotic exploration, but we need real people in space too, and the more the merrier.
posted by jamstigator at 3:59 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


God. Wake up, people. We are broke.

We won't have the money to fund Social Security or any meaningful Green initiatives let alone go to frigg'n Mars.

We should keep investing in unmanned exploration but maned space flight is gonna have to wait for a couple decades unless we can get a cooperative international effort going.

Or I suppose you can choose between health care, clean air and water and anti-poverty programs. Or you can get yourselves a nifty moon rocket. But you're dreaming if you think you're getting both.


I agree with you in general, but I think that we can help the economy and fund NASA, especially since funding the space program would help generate employment.


Oh please. It's not like the tiny percentage of people qualified to work for NASA have a hard time finding other employment.

Look I'm as pro-space exploration as the next guy but wake up. We are fucked right now. SOMETHING has gotta give. Even a drastic cut in defense expenditure is not gonna make up for how fucked up the economy is right now. And it's gonna be a decade or more before we can generate the kind of money to pay for real manned space exploration AND pay social security,medicare/medicaid, and invest in Climate Change initiatives etc. just forget it. Let the Chinese or the Indians do it. We had our shot.
posted by tkchrist at 4:01 PM on November 18, 2008


There really isn't any point in sending people anywhere. Robots can do all the work that needs to be done, and robotics is far more advanced then it was in the days of the early space missions.
posted by delmoi at 4:04 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look I'm as pro-space exploration as the next guy but wake up. We are fucked right now. SOMETHING has gotta give. Even a drastic cut in defense expenditure is not gonna make up for how fucked up the economy is right now.

A drastic cut in defense spending wouldn't do anything to help the economy, in fact it would make it far worse. I mean, how do you expect laying off who knows how many people would help the economy, unless they were put to work doing something else, like say, space exploration?
posted by delmoi at 4:06 PM on November 18, 2008


especially since funding the space program would help generate employment

Not all employment is good for the economy. If it were, we'd just pay people to blink. Employment only helps, long term, if it adds real value. It's debatable which programs actually do that. Simply pointing to the jobs a program creates is not alone a good argument for keeping it around.
posted by scottreynen at 4:12 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


A drastic cut in defense spending wouldn't do anything to help the economy, in fact it would make it far worse. I mean, how do you expect laying off who knows how many people would help the economy, unless they were put to work doing something else, like say, space exploration?

So are you seriously making the argument that:

A) We should continue the trillion dollar war in Iraq becuase of it's employment impact

B) "Space Exploration" has any meaningful impact on total employment/economy in the United States when we are already in a 3 trillion dollar hole AND GROWING. (My god we need to keep our three to five thousand aerospace engineers fully employed! The system will fall!)

If you are that is some seriously weak-ass shit right there.

You realize our current mess has not yet even begun to manifest itself? Sorry. It's idiotic to waste more taxpayer money on such frivolous shit when millions of lives are on the line.
posted by tkchrist at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2008


I love the sobriety of the position paper. NASA has been eating NOAA's lunch for far too long. Space exploration has been outstripping earth observations in the U.S. budget 100 to 1 for decades. We need a mission to Earth, not the Moon or Mars. Using space assets for earth observations is our biggest bang for the buck and where our attention is most needed now.

Obama is the smart.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:14 PM on November 18, 2008


What fuckin' planet are you people living on?
posted by gman at 4:19 PM on November 18, 2008


NOT MARS, DAMMIT.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:28 PM on November 18, 2008


EXACTLY.
posted by gman at 4:29 PM on November 18, 2008


Having just gotten hired to start working for NASA next year, I for one would very much appreciate continued funding for the space program. Student loans ain't gonna pay themselves.
posted by casarkos at 4:33 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having just gotten hired to start working for NASA next year, I for one would very much appreciate continued funding for the space program. Student loans ain't gonna pay themselves.

And our stomachs ain't gonna feed themselves.
posted by gman at 4:36 PM on November 18, 2008


Oh please. It's not like the tiny percentage of people qualified to work for NASA have a hard time finding other employment.

Actually, I did. Aerospace engineering is a terrible major to have on your resume, because to recruiters you're pigeonholed as good for nothing but planes and rockets. Never mind that your actual coursework shared about 80% of the mechanical engineering curriculum.
posted by casarkos at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2008


We should at least give the solar power satellite a try. We could use the space station as a construction site to build the prototype and see if it's feasible.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:45 PM on November 18, 2008


Oh please. It's not like the tiny percentage of people qualified to work for NASA have a hard time finding other employment.

Read the article I linked to above. "The tiny percentage of people qualified to work for NASA" aren't who I'm talking about -- "the great percentage of people qualified to work for companies who produce things which NASA needs, and the even greater percentage of people who can sell food and lattes and cars to all of those people" are. The money NASA provided to other companies during its golden years added up to more than $150 billion in GNP returns, and the industries it spawned supported our economy all the way up to the 1990s.

The US Government in general, and defense and NASA in particular, are among the largest and the last remaining customers for American manufacturing, industrial labor, and industrial design. So sure, go ahead and cut cut cut; I'm sure the resulting collapse of the last few American steel mills, factories, and research facilities won't have any effect on the economy, much less on "having the money to fund Social Security or any meaningful Green initiatives" ten or twenty years from now. Good luck finding someone to build all those Green initiatives, also, especially after our last few old-school engineers finally wise up and move to India or China.

As for the Iraq War thing -- it should be patently obvious that "defense spending" does not necessarily equal "the Iraq War", and it should be equally obvious that abruptly cutting the cash out from under America's largest employers will not help the economy. I agree that we need to get out of Iraq now, and that the military budget should eventually be cut, but the idea that we can make large cuts right now (other than the obvious one: "not being in Iraq anymore"), with nothing at all in place to take up the economic slack, is suicidal... the foolishness of telling the people with the guns that they're not getting paid anymore aside.

Employment only helps, long term, if it adds real value. It's debatable which programs actually do that.

NASA's not all that debatable. Along with the military, they directly drove American technological development in the 60s and 70s, the same development which gave us the tech boom of the 80s and 90s. The fact that we've got people on the ARPANET internet arguing for slashing military and space funding is astounding.

And our stomachs ain't gonna feed themselves.

If you really think that slightly more than one half of one percent of the Federal budget is going to halt American starvation, you're insane. If things really are bad to the point of starvation, then funding for NASA does not matter either way. And if things are NOT that bad, then we still need to be thinking long-term, not scrambling around wrecking things that give return-on-investment so that we can have other things which may or may not do so.

If you can't afford food, the last thing you should sell is something which makes money. I'm not convinced that we're at that ultimate point of desperation, yet, so I think we probably ought to hang on to the guitar and the pen.
posted by vorfeed at 4:53 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]



Having just gotten hired to start working for NASA next year, I for one would very much appreciate continued funding for the space program. Student loans ain't gonna pay themselves.


While I think working for NASA would be a childhood dream come true. However I'm afraid stark reality is about to wake us from our dreams for a while. You are obviously highly educated. I think you will be just fine.

I think people do not appreciate our current reality.

They hear about banks failing. See the DOW dropping 400-600 pts a day for weeks and weeks on end. They hear about a 700+ Billion dollar bailout, realizing in some vague way that it's bad. But they don't understand how deep the effect is going to go. It's going to be DEEP.

We already knew Social Security was not solvent after the Baby Boomers retired at the rate the economy was growing three years ago. And now the economy is in a tailspin. So much for SS.

And Health care? HAH!

Remember Obama's Green $250,000,000,000 Green Initiative? I'd say that takes 1000x the precedent and will spin off 1000x benefits that a mission to Mars EVER could. But we are not going to be able to afford going Green like he wanted.

What about his $300 billion dollar anti-poverty and Foreign Aid program. I'm sure people starving to death in Sub-Saharan Africa would be thrilled to hear we are sending some rich white engineers to Mars in nine years.

So. What makes people think we are going to be able to afford a 200 Billion Dollar Plus manned space program?

And we think all these government programs and entitlements will just go on after OVER a trillion dollars was just sucked out of the economy a month ago? I'm afraid it IS an either or thing at this point.

The US going to Mars. No fucking way. Wake up.

Forget it.
posted by tkchrist at 4:54 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


but the idea that we can make large cuts right now

Yeah. An idea I never proposed.

And the rest of that tech spin off stuff. Whatever. There is zero guarantee the same thing would repeat it self. ZERO.

In the 1960's we were in a tremendous UPWARD economic growth curve as well as having fuel costs trending down (despite the embargo of the 1970's). We also had post WWII military industrial system in full effect, the cold war, more energy independence, and total World trade hegemony.

NOW, 2008, it's different kettle of fish. Wake up.
posted by tkchrist at 5:00 PM on November 18, 2008


There are of course more complications, but the benefits of Mars far outweigh going to the Moon which has little going for it.

Harrison Schmitt is an enthusiast of He3 mining, so he'd probably tell you that the moon has limitless cheap energy going for it versus a bunch of rusty rocks for mars.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on November 18, 2008


If you really think that slightly more than one half of one percent of the Federal budget is going to halt American starvation, you're insane.

17 billion could feed all us deserving Canadians for a year. Reach for the North Star.
posted by gman at 5:01 PM on November 18, 2008


Anyway, here's good luck to China and India!
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on November 18, 2008


If you really think that slightly more than one half of one percent of the Federal budget is going to halt American starvation, you're insane.

17 billion dollars sure as shit COULD halt the starvation of at least 50 million Americans who would be most at risk.

And a mission to Mars would cost a fuck load more than 17 Billion.

Jeebus. What the hell is wrong with you people? I wanted to be a space man too, okay. I wanted rocket packs and Mars Bases. But grow up. We are in a dire situation. Spending money on sending people to Mars is a complete folly at this juncture. There are millions of lives at stake here. Here on earth.

You can cherry pick data from the 1960's and spin yarns about all these fantasy technologies you want. It's not as if other more earthy needs wont's have spin-off technologies and benefits. Why can't you get behind those? They are everybit as exciting.

This is all here nor there. No politician in their right mind is gonna go for telling the American people, who are freaking out about two wars and losing thier life savings, they should spend hundreds of billions on sending people to Mars. It won't happen. A post economic melt-down manned Mission to Mars not going to happen for a very, very, long time. Certainly not while we are engaged in two wars. Nor should it. There is simply no justification for it when we have serious pressing life or death needs.
posted by tkchrist at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2008


Chandrayaan-2
posted by Artw at 5:20 PM on November 18, 2008


I still don't see the point in sending humans into space anymore.

Because it's there.
posted by nax at 5:24 PM on November 18, 2008


A post economic melt-down manned Mission to Mars is not going to happen for a very, very, long time.
posted by gman at 5:27 PM on November 18, 2008


Okay, I have a re-occurring daydream about this.

So it's Inauguration Day and the Mall, from the Capitol Steps down to the Lincoln Monument is packed with cheering, screaming people. The mood is intoxicating and irresistible, people sit in trees and hang off shoulders. The rooftops almost bristle with groups and parties. The only mark on this almost perfect celebration of Civic Triumph is the cloudy sky and wind-chill. Everyone hopes it doesn't rain, but they'd suffer a little downpour for this.

Anyway, Obama makes his first speech as President (sadly behind a pope-mobile glass cube, but whatcanyoudo?) and it's just stirring and amazing and just like you'd Hope. The entire world is watching as he finishes up a rousing section about The Future and what it means for humanity. The sky above is lit up, the heavy clouds reflecting back like a heavenly Bounce Flash.

President Obama then holds up his finger, smiles, and says

"And don't worry, I will bring you the mothership connection."

Huge laugh. Waves of it hit the crowd. But Obama isn't moving. His finger still up, smile still on his face. A sudden BANG and the clouds open up to reveal an entire fleet of Super Immense Federation Cruisers, Diplomat Class, along with a glittering array of Welcome Ships from as far away as Tau Seti and Betleguise.

And then, then my friends, THEN the Ewoks rock out.
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah. An idea I never proposed.

You're also not the only one in the room, even though you may be the loudest and nastiest... and you do seem to be advocating immediate cuts in spending, between alternate bouts of frothing and doomsaying. Also, you'll note that I haven't said a damn thing about missions to Mars, planetary bases, rocket packs, or anything else other than not cutting NASA's budget, so maybe you should pay a bit more attention before you fly off the handle. As others have said, there are plenty of Earth-centric things that NASA could do, many of which might help with the crises you're worried about. We do NOT necessarily have to spend this money on missions to Mars.

17 billion dollars sure as shit COULD halt the starvation of at least 50 million Americans who would be most at risk.

Yes, and it could also add another 50 million to the at-risk list, if we take it from growing industry and creating jobs and start using it to feed people. How do you think people get to be "most at risk" in the first place, other than not being able to find good work?

You can cherry pick data from the 1960's and spin yarns about all these fantasy technologies you want. It's not as if other more earthy needs wont's have spin-off technologies and benefits. Why can't you get behind those? They are everybit as exciting.

I can get behind those -- personally, I suspect that Green initiatives and local sustainable agriculture & manufacturing might become be the next engines of the economy -- but the problem with them is that they don't make up the bottom step of our economic pyramid, at least not yet. That's industry, and American industry is largely driven by government contracts, including those of NASA. Any plan has to take into account the transition between our current economic base and whatever new plan we adopt, and cutting proven and affordable programs which help keep our current engine going is not going to help us survive until we can start up the next one. I'm not even talking about possible benefits in the far-flung future, here, I'm just talking about not wrecking the benefits NASA already gives us. "Oh, we can't give them 18 billion dollars each year" -- but they've been spending that 18 billion dollars here. In an economy where nobody is buying much, that's the difference between collapse and business-as-usual for thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of people, plus all the people and companies who sell things to those people.

You can scream "fuck fuck fuck" and call me a lot of rude names if you want to, but it won't make your own "fantasy" any more likely: sorry, but you cannot have a functioning America in which the government does nothing but pay out food and health aid to supplement the jobs people don't have anymore, from the taxes they don't pay anymore. You are describing the total breakdown of our society, and in that case, what the government does with its billions of no-longer-solvent dollars will be pretty much moot.
posted by vorfeed at 6:35 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pshaw - you people still believe there's a Moon?

What a bunch of noobs.
posted by kcds at 6:46 PM on November 18, 2008


Fuck Mars and the Moon, go to a near earth asteroid and slap a couple rockets and a computer on it to adjust it's orbit so that it will be convenient to mine. Bootstrap the space exploitation industry to get to the Kuiper belt asteroids, and never mine for metals on the Earth again.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2008


I like the whole Robert Zubrin argument, that going to Mars is necessary because America has always had a frontier, that frontiers always have been a source of opportunities and inspiration for us. Mars is the new world, literally, for ours and future generations. Just as Columbus could not foresee the vast growth and new industries precipitated by his journey of discovery, we probably cannot anticipate all the good things that would come out of making a sustained effort to establish a colony on Mars.

Sometimes you gotta spend a little money to make some money -
posted by newdaddy at 8:00 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


These arguments against manned space exploration have all been spoken before, in a different time: Columbus had a great many detractors. Why search for a new route to India when we have problems HERE IN SPAIN, yada yada. The fact is, if humankind waited until everything was hunky-dory and running perfectly to explore the next frontier, then we'd all still be shivering in caves, too scared to explore the next valley because we have problems right NOW, in THIS valley.

We're always going to have problems. Money and resources will never be free. The question is whether moving the human race outward into space is worth the cost. Robots crwaling around on Mars won't keep our species alive if a big rock hits Earth, but a thriving human colony on Mars or the asteroid belt might. The future of the species, if we're smart, is in space, not on Earth. Security, limitless energy, more resources than we could use in a million years, it's all in space. And that's worth some investment.
posted by jamstigator at 8:15 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Think of the Fermi paradox. It's no coincidence that the level of technology needed by a civilization to begin serious space faring is also approximately the same level at which that civilization is given the capability to completely destroy itself in one fell swoop.

Threads like this always end up with users bringing up the same old false dichotomies and false equivalences.

But if not even a very tiny fraction of our discretionary budget is worthwhile for taking the really, really long term view -- that there is a whole galaxy out there and why the hell can't we try to get out there and SEE it? -- then as a civilization our doom is certain, and we could end up like whatever poor fuckers there might have been out there who killed themelves off before they took their chance at the Universe.
posted by chimaera at 8:48 PM on November 18, 2008


I would be willing to ruin/give my life/livelihood, and that of others, if it meant that we could finally get ourselves off this rock in any meaningful way.

I know this is not a popular position here, but I really do want to make humanity a spacefaring race. Economics, wars, famine, pandemics, etc, to me are small fry in the larger scheme of things.
posted by agress at 9:38 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


But, to get back to the original topic of the moon vs directly to mars, I think that we really do need to have a permanent moon base (and a return mission to the moon is an important step in that direction, if done right.) Building spacecraft would be far more efficient in a low gravity environment like the moon, and there appears to be a pretty good amount of mineral resources on the moon to facilitate that.

Space elevators are another potential option, but there seems to be even less desire to develop one than to just go to the moon the old fashioned way. So whatever works.
posted by agress at 9:52 PM on November 18, 2008


jamstigator: Actually, one of the reasons Columbus got crown funding for his endeavors was that Spain had just solved some large domestic problems, namely the reconquest of the Moorish parts of Spain.

Or at least that's my understanding of it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:56 PM on November 18, 2008


To me, all the people saying we shouldn't spend money on, and encourage space exploration is like people telling Columbus "sorry, we won't fund your voyage, as there are hungry people here, and we should spend the money at home".

I don't want to spend money on space because it's "cool". I want to vastly expand the investment on space technology (both private and public) because it promises REAL ECONOMIC BENEFIT for the long-term.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:58 PM on November 18, 2008


I don't really see how "focusing on Mars as the driving goal of human spaceflight" necessarily takes going back to the moon out of the equation. We either need to go back as a precursor to a Mars mission (which it sounds like we do), or we don't and shouldn't.

I'm pretty excited to see what technology would come out of a Mars mission, considering some of the things that came out of Apollo. Combine that with the possibility for international cooperation on a program that, at least in spirit, is for the benefit of all humanity, and going to Mars would turn out to be a pretty good investment.

Where else would $200 billion make the same impact? There's definitely great possibilities in the Green Initiative, and I'm sure there are some humanitarian situations that could use the money, but is $200 billion really going to a) bankrupt the United States government or b) end poverty when trillions of dollars of government spending hasn't?
posted by matteesee at 10:19 PM on November 18, 2008


"I know this is not a popular position here, but I really do want to make humanity a spacefaring race. Economics, wars, famine, pandemics, etc, to me are small fry in the larger scheme of things."
-agress

Actually, based on reading this thread, I think that position isn't terribly unpopular, it just seems that it's more fashionable to shriek "THE END IS NIGH!" which tends to stand out. I, for one, agree completely with you.
I think that the greatest accomplishments of a nation balance, in some degree, its greatest atrocities. So far, I like to believe that the US has a positive balance, which (also imo) has been being eroded for a while now.
As far as national expenditure goes, the REAL issues which have put us in this economic crisis are far from being simple addition and subtraction, much as that may be a comfortable level of mathematics for everybody. I think it should be reiterated that, in fact, NASA is one of the few government programs which has historically been remarkably free of waste and, in fact, has contributed a great deal to the economy at large, including entire sectors of private industry which employ a great number of Americans (think aircraft manufacturers, specialty parts manufacturers, electronics, the petrochemical industry, etc....) For such a relatively small expenditure, NASA has been a great success.
We don't live in an economic system which encourages hoarding as a solution to economic problems. Conspicuous consumption is not just a theory, it is a fact of our lives. On an individual level, it doesn't matter as much, but when you get into industry it has a huge impact. If manufacturers stopped spending every time an economic crisis came about, it would exacerbate the problem (in fact, this is in large part precisely what has exacerbated this particular crisis.) The same principle applies to government spending, to some degree. If we pull the funding out of the military, where do we put it? And this is the crux: Hence, we need to continue spending, but we need to re-examine what we're investing in.
If you set up all government programs next to each other with a strict ROI analysis, you could decide where to cut funding and where to raise funding fairly easily. And NASA would get a huge bump.
In any case, this thread has brought up a great deal of positive aspects to space exploration, including natural resources, energy sources, and real estate. Those are the obvious ones, but there are a great many side benefits to any serious scientific endeavor. Simply developing technologies to help astronauts survive in such harsh conditions brings about medical advances and who knows what else. The horizon is endless. Really.
posted by eparchos at 10:42 PM on November 18, 2008


Let me get this straight: we're talking about starvation in America while India is sending spacecraft to the Moon?

Up is down. Black is white.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:26 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Helium three is the key to outer space which is the sea upstairs.

If we don't go forwards we will go backwards.

Things do not cost money, they cost work.

Read about mining HE3

There is a big difference between human beings and other animals, other animals in the main are adapted to the environment we adapt the environment to us.

This is a skill we have evolved and it enables us to live in many different environments.

Nature produces an enormous diversity, using our evolved skill we reverse that diversity and spread mono-cultures, a good example for this is what our species is doing in Indonesia - chopping down jungle and replacing it with oil palm plantations, this is destroying the habitat for Orangutans.

All the raw materials for life exist in space - there is oxygen and hydrogen on the moon, put them together and you have water+energy.

We are at the present expanding into less and less space.

The earth is the womb and the earth wants to give birth.

Heaven and space are the same place to a pantheist.
posted by dollyknot at 5:24 AM on November 19, 2008


All of the great technologies spun off from the Moon endeavor solved one or more sets of logistical issues, namely: 1) shoving large masses out of a gravity well rapidly and accurately, 2) dealing with near-zero gravity, 3) landing somewhat smaller masses down a gravity well accurately and gently. So, what new problems do we solve by going to Mars? Keeping people confined for a long period of time sane and functional? Well, we've got Antarctica for that. Dealing with exposure to various levels of natural radiation? International Space Station is a good place to test that.

Dollar for dollar, we could get greater results and more relevant discoveries by spending a buck on Earth versus moving a large tin of vertebrates from Earth to a place they could not possibly survive without managing a very long and fragile supply chain. That's the only difference we have — the amount of time it takes to get people to Mars is very long. Everything else is virtually identical, which means problems we have already solved, which means that new technologies will not appear at the same rate as they did for Apollo.

That Helium-3 all over the Moon won't be terribly useful if we do not have a fusion reactor to stick it in. How about spending those dollars back on Earth on maybe having that fusion reactor?

Mining asteroids? The cost per kilogram of fetching various metals versus, say, a similar cost for recycling said metals sitting in our landfills would be interesting to observe.

Now, near-Earth projects, perhaps even solar power collection (leaving aside the small matter of the screams of the United Nations as we essentially build a Very Large Maser Which We Could Point Anywhere We Liked) might bear fruit that is worth the effort to tend the tree. Mars? No way. No mineral we could bring back would be worth it. We will not learn about any new laws of physics, nor chemistry. The geological (Marsological?) data we obtain will not keep the lights on.

Right now, we don't have the cash for it. It's not even the equivalent of "investing" in a fistful of lottery tickets versus buying that second gallon of milk this week. Mars is not going away.

The benefits to humanity would be much larger were we to invest the same amount of money in sustainability and bioengineering. Mars can wait.
posted by adipocere at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2008


Mars is not the same as Antarctica. If we seriously set about putting an actual colony on a different planet I'm pretty sure we'd run across all sorts of different problems to solve than if we were to put a colony in Antarctica.... which we have already done.
I'm sorry, adipocere, but I'm not claiming to be a prophet who knows in advance the benefits of any given scientific endeavor, all I'm saying is that we know from the history of science that most major endeavors yield great rewards in the end. Also, what's to stop us from spending money on Earth-based research AND space research? Honestly, I'm not about to naysay ANY serious scientific endeavor, and I think it's rather myopic for anybody to do so.
Oh, and btw, it's "Areological" (like Ares).
posted by eparchos at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2008


Nobody is discussing a colony on Mars. It's a trip to Mars.

I am not suggesting that Mars is Antarctica (though, if you notice, many scientific tests for Mars are done in that location). If you re-read what I wrote, I said that Antarctica is like Mars for the purposes of examining how to keep people confined for a long period of time sane and functional.

What's to stop us from spending money on Earth-based research and space research? Well, if I spend a dollar at the gas station, I cannot spend that same dollar at the farmers' market. And if you read this thread, most people are concerned with money, that is, the allocation of finite resources. Opportunity costs: face them or starve.

If you modify your statement to "most major new endeavors for new things yield great rewards," I would have no problem with it. The majority of my post is pointing out that the only new thing about this endeavor is that it will take a greater amount of travel time as compared to the Moon shot. The destination is different, that's it.

You have to develop a great deal of technology to build your first highway. The second, not so much.
posted by adipocere at 2:25 PM on November 19, 2008


You have to develop a great deal of technology to build your first highway. The second, not so much.

Assuming this is true, once you HAVE developed that technology, your solution is to mothball it?
Let's say I build a cobblestone or hard-packed dirt or a two-track highway from Sacramento to San Francisco (most highways before the 1950s were not asphalt) you're saying I should then continue to use just this highway, as there could be nothing useful in, say, Alaska? Because clearly there's nothing in Alaska worth going for when measured against the -insert pressing Sacramento issue here-.
And, as far as your "spend a dollar at the gas station" comment, I direct you to my above post where I mentioned that the economy is not as simple as addition. We're not talking about a dollar here, and there is no reason for us to presume N as our "total research budget" when N is such a tiny fraction of M, where M is our total budget.
Sorry, but just because we've developed space travel does not mean that we stopped researching better highways and gaining rewards from that field. Either you're being intentionally naive here or insultingly disingenuous.
posted by eparchos at 3:43 PM on November 19, 2008


*remove the "intentionally" from "intentionally naive", my mistake.
posted by eparchos at 3:44 PM on November 19, 2008


NASA should just tell everybody that their building a very high altitude fighter plane, then people wouldn’t be giving them this shit.
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


coughs enironmentally
posted by dollyknot at 4:58 PM on November 19, 2008


pus oozes from my keyboard
posted by dollyknot at 5:00 PM on November 19, 2008


yodels with alacrity
posted by dollyknot at 5:02 PM on November 19, 2008


my gerbils are better than your gerbils
posted by dollyknot at 5:04 PM on November 19, 2008


she taught me to yodel - yo hal ae i dee
posted by dollyknot at 5:07 PM on November 19, 2008


night all:)
posted by dollyknot at 5:12 PM on November 19, 2008


I am not being intentionally naive or insultingly disingenuous.

Tell me what we're bringing back from Mars which makes the trip worth it. Please describe the physical item or the knowledge we will obtain on the surface of Mars which will be worth billions of dollars (if not a trillion). Gold would not be worth it. Diamonds would not be worth it. Perhaps plutonium might, but I doubt we would find it there.

If you're telling me, "Because it's there," well, we might as well just build a giant statue to Mammon and climb it.

Now, if you're telling me that it's the technology we'll develop to go there that makes the journey worthwhile, then refer to my previous argument, that is: we have already done something quite similar, and we are not likely to develop as many new technologies as the Apollo project did because we already have solutions to the old problems. It's possible we could develop better solutions ... but then you can look at the history of the American car, how many updates we've had to the design of the Shuttle, etc., and realize that aside from some frilly bits and better computers, it's still pretty much the same old game.

To go back to the road analogy, the issue here is that we won't be going to Alaska, that is, somewhere new. We'll be driving to just another McDonald's, only thing time we'll have gone several AU to do it.

And when it comes to budgets, the dollars do add up. Budgets really are addition. Those billions of dollars do come from somewhere. And what we money we spend on one thing, we do not have available to spend on another.
posted by adipocere at 6:34 PM on November 19, 2008


NASA should just tell everybody that their building a very high altitude fighter plane, then people wouldn’t be giving them this shit.

I know that's probably a joke, but it seems like all of the Air Force technology road maps and blue sky research revolve around space weaponization.

Meanwhile the rest of the US military establishment seems obsessed with unmanned drones and nano-whatever.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:56 AM on November 20, 2008


They could be figuring out a way for generals to piss molten gold into the ocean and still no one would give them the hassle they give science funding.
posted by Artw at 12:21 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


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