Join 3,523 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Is there life before Mars?
June 1, 2010 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Six would-be astronauts will this week begin a 520-day mock space voyage to simulate a mission to Mars. How will they cope with the huge psychological pressures? It's a project that may simulate a mission that's going nowhere.
posted by twoleftfeet (113 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
And there's no NASA TV reality show?
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:55 AM on June 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


This terrifies and fascinates me. Knowing you could just walk away... the claustrophobia... it gives me a bad taste in my mouth and a horrible anxiety. Sucks to be them!

Also, this could be just the project Stephen Baldwin needs to rejuvenate his career. He's got the experience.
posted by doublehappy at 4:06 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


But will Mission Control continue to keep Beta a secret from the crew?
posted by vhsiv at 4:31 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyone know how long it would take a manned craft to reach Mars? The article says the simulation is for "there and back" ... so it takes 260 days?
posted by RavinDave at 4:37 AM on June 1, 2010


Yeah, it's 260 days to Mars (Scroll down)
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:41 AM on June 1, 2010


I wouldn't last 5 minutes 20 seconds in that experiment.
posted by lampshade at 4:44 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand any of this. One of them only takes 85 days? Surely that's a better option!?
posted by doublehappy at 5:01 AM on June 1, 2010


One of them only takes 85 days?

Lower thrust rockets are mainly useful for delivering small packages. They're the UPS or Fedex of interplanetary travel.

They cost quite a bit more, though.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:14 AM on June 1, 2010


It seems that they are only testing one of the potential dangers of a manned flight to Mars.

Lack of a medical facility could turn a mundane injury into a life-threatening situation;
"Psychosocial" pressure will be high in a small group isolated for months or years;
Zero or reduced gravity causes bone and muscle loss;
Dangerous radiation particles are abundant beyond Earth orbit.

"Radiation is a potential show stopper," Charles told SPACE.com, quickly adding that researchers are "getting on top of that" while also learning how to clear the other hurdles.


Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.
posted by three blind mice at 5:17 AM on June 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


With no access to telephones, internet or natural light, breathing only recycled air and showering once every 10 days, the men are certain to have both their individual mental states and group dynamics tested to the limits in the 550-cubic-metre simulator.

HURFDURF INTERNET, but seriously. They have a voice channel, which is presumably at least as wide as a phone line. So they could have a modicum of internet (assuming there's an IP implementation out there that can figure out the 20 minute delay).
posted by DU at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010


Or we should just get some faster radio waves and do the whole thing remotely.
posted by doublehappy at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


the total wankery which is manned space flight.

Clearly you've never been to Mars. It's beautiful this time of (the Martian) year.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:21 AM on June 1, 2010


Overcoming the psychological pressures are one thing, but shielding the astronauts from galactic cosmic rays is another entirely.

Until NASA figures out how to prevent particles from shredding their DNA, among other things, no one is going to Mars.
posted by bwg at 5:23 AM on June 1, 2010


Sooner or later our planet will be destroyed or become uninhabitable, and this wankery is the only thing which can save us. In the long term, manned space flight is a problem of existential importance for mankind.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:25 AM on June 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


wankery is the only thing which can save us.

That is so beautiful.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:33 AM on June 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.

Do you consider looking at a Flickr to be equivalent to travelling to foreign countries, meeting new people and discovering new things?

No, me neither.
posted by mhoye at 5:34 AM on June 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


Have the robotic probes figure out the space exploration stuff while we work on superfast rockets or teleportation for us meatbags to catch up. Humanity saved. /thread

Besides, have you seen the Martian Pathfinders? They're so cute! They're like if Wall-E and a skateboard's kid.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:38 AM on June 1, 2010


Argh, that was a botched last sentence. They're like if Wall-E and a skateboard had kids.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:39 AM on June 1, 2010


"Psychosocial" pressure will be high in a small group isolated for months or years;
+
Zero or reduced gravity causes bone and muscle loss;
=
Ineffectual slap fights and actual poo flinging all the way there over who gets to ride shotgun, and Mission Control eventually swearing they'll "turn this fucking rocket around right now and never send up another fucking *fingerquotes* 'manned' mission again if you guys don't shape up right now!"
posted by pracowity at 5:48 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Until NASA figures out how to prevent particles from shredding their DNA, among other things, no one is going to Mars.

From your link:
NASA weighs radiation danger in units of cancer risk. A healthy 40-year-old non-smoking American male stands a (whopping) 20% chance of eventually dying from cancer. That's if he stays on Earth. If he travels to Mars, the risk goes up.

The question is, how much?

"We're not sure," says Cucinotta. According to a 2001 study of people exposed to large doses of radiation--e.g., Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors and, ironically, cancer patients who have undergone radiation therapy--the added risk of a 1000-day Mars mission lies somewhere between 1% and 19%. "The most likely answer is 3.4%," says Cucinotta, "but the error bars are wide.
Later in the article, it's clear this is an increase in percentage *points*. I think you'll find a LOT of people who are willing to go to Mars for what is "most likely" to be a 17% increase (3.4/20) in the likelihood of them getting cancer.
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sooner or later our planet will be destroyed or become uninhabitable, and this wankery is the only thing which can save us.

EMRJKC94, while I don't doubt our ability to wreck the Earth, and fast, wouldn't the outlay of several super-ultra-hojillion dollars necessary to get some astronauts to Mars be better spent on, say, ameloriating the effects of the environmental devastation we're visiting upon the only planet in the solar system that doesn't (yet) require terraforming?
posted by a small part of the world at 5:53 AM on June 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


I put that very confusingly. Let me try again: In a regular group of 20 astronauts, 4 will eventually get cancer. If you send those 20 to Mars, the most likely outcome is that one additional astronaut will get cancer.

I doubt many potential astronauts consider that a showstopper.
posted by DU at 5:53 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Manned spaceflight has played out its usefulness for now. It's just expensive and dangerous. All that money could be allocated to robots and telescopes, which would actually further knowledge. NASA should pursue science. We no longer have a Soviet Union to bankrupt.
posted by breezeway at 5:54 AM on June 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


a LOT of people who are willing to go to Mars for what is "most likely" to be a 17% increase (3.4/20) in the likelihood of them getting cancer.

Most of these flights to Mars are nonsmoking. Not sure if that matters.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:55 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.
posted by three blind mice at 8:17 AM on June 1 [+] [!]


One wonders why we leave our houses at all, given the number of webcams which do the job of seeing the world quite well. One day telepresence may be advanced enough for me to agree with you, but not yet, not by a long shot.

Sooner or later our planet will be destroyed or become uninhabitable, and this wankery is the only thing which can save us. In the long term, manned space flight is a problem of existential importance for mankind.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:25 AM on June 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

On the flip side, I have to disagree with this too. No matter how fucked up we make our home planet, we will NEVER find a place outside our atmosphere that is more hospitable. Mars is beautiful, but biologically speaking it's a hellhole. I think it's particularly important to remember that - we will NEVER find another home. This is all we have.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:56 AM on June 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


... wouldn't the outlay of several super-ultra-hojillion dollars necessary to get some astronauts to Mars be better spent on, say, ameloriating the effects of the environmental devastation we're visiting upon the only planet in the solar system that doesn't (yet) require terraforming?

Yeah, but we're talking about human beings here.
posted by Ritchie at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


But the danger is that because you know you're really in a hanger in Moscow, you start thinking: 'I can't be bothered'.

Well, quite. I'm not sure that the results of this experiment could be extrapolated to an actual mission so easily. It's like getting a bunch of military cadets to bayonet sandbags to simulate the trauma of killing humans in combat.

In this scenario, they know that, at any time, they could simply say 'I quit', step out and return to their loved ones, without perishing in the vacuum of space. They also know that their ultimate achievement will not be of the magnitude of being the first ever human being to set foot on a new planet. There's less reward, and far less of a disincentive to quit. Also, their lives aren't imperiled if communication breaks down. And there's no random external dangers encouraging group cohesion.

So I suspect this will be a wonderful sandbox for psychologists, but of very limited use when trying to mitigate against negative human factors in a Mars mission. This is my considered opinion as a fully-qualified armchair psychologist, and someone who successfully docks my ships on Moon Cresta at least 1/3 of the time.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


FINALLY people who'll appreciate the revival movie theater I set up on Olympus Mons.
posted by The Whelk at 6:06 AM on June 1, 2010


Sooner or later our planet will be destroyed or become uninhabitable, and this wankery is the only thing which can save us. In the long term, manned space flight is a problem of existential importance for mankind.

In the long term. Absolutely. In about 10 billion or so years our Sun will go all giant dwarf on us and swallow the Earth. No question we have to get out of Dodge before then.

Presently and in the coming decades, however, we have problems on our own planet that need the urgent attention of science and money. Mars isn't going anywhere. It will wait for us. Let's get our shit together on this planet before we go messing up another one.

We don't have the technology to plug a stupid hole on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Let NASA work on that little problem if they are in need of something to do.
posted by three blind mice at 6:09 AM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


"So they could have a modicum of internet (assuming there's an IP implementation out there that can figure out the 20 minute delay)."

Store and forward email and email-web gateways exist already. You wouldn't be able to stream Youtube but you could still get your Metafilter fix.
posted by Mitheral at 6:09 AM on June 1, 2010


but you could still get your Metafilter fix.

POST:

CHECK OUT THESE AWESOME PHOTOS OF OUR DESCENT TO MARS!
Posted By User SoHighAbove

THIS POST HAS BEEN DELETED "Self-link, sorry"

The ensuing MetaTalk thread goes on for a million billion comments.
posted by The Whelk at 6:14 AM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Presently and in the coming decades, however, we have problems on our own planet that need the urgent attention of science and money. Mars isn't going anywhere. It will wait for us. Let's get our shit together on this planet before we go messing up another one.

If you want to pay for science programs, why take the money from other already-underfunded science programs? Instead, take it from the bloated military-industrial complex. Take it from the rapacious robber barons that are looting the economy.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Store and forward email and email-web gateways exist already.

Over UDP? Or is there a working TCP implementation that actually does (rather than theoretically can) handle the massive delays?
posted by DU at 6:15 AM on June 1, 2010


Utility:
1. Trialblazing an escape route from earth to save our future civilisation.
2. Inspiring a new generation of reality TV (remember Biosphere 2?)
posted by rongorongo at 6:15 AM on June 1, 2010


Mars is beautiful, but biologically speaking it's a hellhole.

Well, I think we have our new Martian National Anthem, then.
posted by ob at 6:31 AM on June 1, 2010


DU: "I think you'll find a LOT of people who are willing to go to Mars for what is "most likely" to be a 17% increase (3.4/20) in the likelihood of them getting cancer."

You're probably right; being the first human being to stand on Mars has undeniable appeal. But then as Carl Sagan pointed out in Cosmos, we should also be concerned with the consequences:
"What shall we do with Mars?

"There are so many examples of human misuse the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars."
Sagan goes on to point out that should Mars prove lifeless the terraforming of Mars for human habitation would take hundreds or thousands of years, saying:
If the planet is ever terraformed, it will be done by human beings whose permanent residence and planetary affiliation is Mars. The Martians will be us."
Getting to Mars is important, so long as we have the wisdom not to exceed our grasp, and I'm not certain we're there yet.
posted by bwg at 6:36 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


But can they overthrow AELITA, QUEEN OF MARS?
posted by The Whelk at 6:39 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does the Habitable Module look like my parents' basement rec room in 1978?
posted by rocket88 at 6:48 AM on June 1, 2010


It's odd to me that the only way people seem to imagine the planet will be damaged to the point of making it uninhabitable is through pernicious human corruption. There's something telling in the depth of human self-hatred, alas, or at least in the repetition of tiresome tropes that feed our faith in our destructive ability without celebrating our successes.

The best reason to get out there and get a foothold on the rest of the universe, as complex, energy-inefficient, and "wankerish" as it may be, is that events like the Permian-Triassic extinction event could happen and we're nowhere near being able to being able to reengineer the world on the scale required to fix what's gone wrong.

We are, on the other hand, not far from being able to climb up a rung on the ladder, to build ourselves a few settlements, and to keep on doing what we've done best, which is to look up at the stars and see ourselves as worthy of them.
posted by sonascope at 6:48 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Getting to Mars is important, so long as we have the wisdom not to exceed our grasp, and I'm not certain we're there yet.

I'm sure glad prehistoric cavemen didn't wait for their wisdom to exceed their grasp before inventing fire.

The path to wisdom does not lie in sitting in an armchair pontificating. It lies in getting out there and building up experience (and THEN sitting in an armchair reflecting).
posted by DU at 6:52 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Humans, thus far, have proven incapable of taking care of just about any ecosystem with which they have any regular contact. We have to appoint whole groups of people just to prevent the rest of us from doing even more damage, while the rest of us are pretty sure that it'll either all work out anyway or that God will come back because the world is "over." Even when we try really really hard, Daddy, we still don't get it quite right.

Us? Go to another planet and build an ecosystem from scratch? That's like expecting your six year old who still manages to trash the iPad you ruggedized to drive to a military surplus outlet and build a functioning PC out of vacuum tubes and write his own version of Windows from spec.

Let me know when our colonies on Antarctica are self-sustaining. You want a good test? There you have it.
posted by adipocere at 6:53 AM on June 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


sonascope: Even a Permian-Triassic extinction event is going to be less hostile to human existence in regards to just about every biological need we have than anywhere else in the solar system. Barring a planetary-scale engineering project, Mars is likely to never support a long-term stable atmosphere.

My belief is that if any species conquerors the rest of the solar system, it's likely to be distinctly post-human, evolved for the task, and excessively difficult to recognize as one of us.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:54 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Theensuing MetaTalk thread goes on for a million billion comments.

There, fixed that for you.
posted by doublehappy at 6:56 AM on June 1, 2010


"Over UDP? Or is there a working TCP implementation that actually does (rather than theoretically can) handle the massive delays?"

I was thinking FidoNet. And I know there used to be people in remote locations sending and receiving email via tape. It wouldn't be the always on internet we're used to but essential functionality would be preserved.
posted by Mitheral at 6:58 AM on June 1, 2010


Let me know when our colonies on Antarctica are self-sustaining. You want a good test? There you have it.

This is more due to economy than impossibility, I would have thought. They don't need to be self-sustaining. Sending a ship with a big fuckoff cow-catcher is easier and cheaper.
posted by doublehappy at 6:59 AM on June 1, 2010


And on another note, if we do send human beings to Mars in the next century, that mission will be critically dependent on the robotic, communication, and propulsion technologies that NASA and ESA have been developing for the last two decades.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2010


Personally, I'd like to see someone test artificial gravity via rotation as well.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:07 AM on June 1, 2010


Sure, let's go to Mars, it's not like eldritch horrors have set up shop beneath the hideous "face" rock formation.
posted by Mister_A at 7:16 AM on June 1, 2010



Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.


On the other hand, they won't tell us much of anything about how to put people on Mars.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:19 AM on June 1, 2010


Besides, you really want the robots to have a head-start on Mars?
posted by The Whelk at 7:26 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The path to wisdom does not lie in sitting in an armchair pontificating. It lies in getting out there and building up experience (and THEN sitting in an armchair reflecting).

Wisdom can be used to figure out when to do something and when not to do something.
posted by biffa at 7:32 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


we will NEVER find another home. This is all we have.

What do you mean by "this", precisely?

My childhood home was in a state whose predominant prehistoric culture was destroyed and whose towns were emptied, in a process that appears to have begun with a simple long heat wave. The primary culture there today comes from a country whose first settlement on this continent was quickly abandoned and another country whose first all died out. All these cultures at least had a little technological ability, naturally, since even in the best conditions everywhere they live(d) becomes lethal to unprotected humans for long periods every year. It just took centuries before they had enough technological ability.

As best as the archaeologists can tell us, humans without technological protection only managed to call a small subset of one continent "home", and even there they were never very populous and were nearly wiped out at least once. In a sad irony, that "home" now describes some of the least liveable places on Earth; but fortunately most humans today are descended from people who were daring or fortunate enough to leave once they were able.

Making a new home will be incredibly hard, and currently uneconomical, if we start from such raw materials as Mars or the asteroids, but we already have enough physical and engineering knowledge to be sure that it's possible, and we're developing more. We don't yet have enough psychological or sociological knowledge to know under what conditions we end up ruining our existing homes, and that's an even harder problem. I think it's wise to spend a little effort on both lines of research.
posted by roystgnr at 7:33 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


We no longer have a Soviet Union to bankrupt.

No problem. We've already redirected our efforts inward.
posted by rokusan at 7:36 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.

On the other hand, they won't tell us much of anything about how to put people on Mars.


Of course they can. The manned moon missions were preceded by dozens of unmanned missions to perfect the various technologies involved and gather data necessary to plan more advanced missions. The rovers currently on Mars have done a lot of great work in analyzing the martian surface and learning about the history of that planet. Even if the plan is to terraform Mars and start a human colony there, robotic missions could be key in starting that process so that humans could eventually take over.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:37 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back in 1959 The Twilight Zone's "Where Is Everybody?", the story of a man training in isolation for space travel, was accepted as the pilot episode. A classic. Part 1.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


DU: The path to wisdom does not lie in sitting in an armchair pontificating. It lies in getting out there and building up experience

Which is what I am proposing with the robots. Manned spaceflight, because of the frail species that is man, is an impediment to exploration. Leave the sacks of flesh and blood behind and many more things become possible.

Manned space flight to distant reaches of our own solar system indulges a fantasy that does not square with the reality. If we had the money and power to do it, I'd still say "PLUG THE DAMN HOLE FIRST."
posted by three blind mice at 7:59 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


roystgnr: Well that's the problem. Colonization (of any kind) only becomes viable once it becomes economical. Many early attempts at colonizing the Americas failed because they were not self-sufficient without large quantities of material from the Old World. And even the harshest environment on Earth is much friendlier for human habitation than the best extra terrestrial environment, where you'll be dead a half-dozen different ways in under sixty-seconds, and likely quite sick by the end of a decade assuming you solve the easy problems of air, water, and nutrition.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:01 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like we might be better off developing a way to easily leave the Earth before we worry about getting to Mars. As it is, we have a handful of discontinued, 30 year old vehicles that are all in need of extensive repairs. So basically, we're going to start our trip to Mars in a 72 Ford Pinto.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:03 AM on June 1, 2010


TCP/IP as currently written can't work over long distances. TCP depends on regular acknowledgements of packet reception, and the window you'd need to handle the delay in ACKs makes it useless. UDP would fail badly unless you posit a very robust physical layer, which, in spaceflight, isn't happening.

You're right that store-and-forward is the better model, but you need to extend it to store-bundle-forward-unbundle. Let's say you want to FTP a file to Mars. What I need to do is to have the gateway bundle the transaction -- basically, I FTP it to the gateway, which bundles and sends as one data burst, using a reliable transmission scheme, something with a bunch of inbuilt redundancy to handle bit loss.

At Mars, the gateway would unbundle, and then FTP the file over the Martian Internet to the server I was actually dealing with.

Yes, this is frought with complication -- it's a complicated process. A good overview is this little "hah, hah, only serious" memo called Interplanetary Internet (IPN): Architectural Definition. It doesn't cover what protocol you'd use to actually send the bundles, but it does cover what that protocol needs to be able to handle -- asynchronous, tolerant of out-of-order data, and reliable at lower layers -- really, you need to be self-reliable -- using Forward Error Correction to make sure a few bits don't ruin the bundle, and so forth. If you're interested in such, talk to amateur radio operators, who actually use protocols that are built to work in the asynchronous RF environment, with GTOR (derived from the system used to send data from the Galileo and Cassini probes) and MFSK16 leaping to mind.
posted by eriko at 8:09 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically, we're going to start our trip to Mars in a 72 Ford Pinto.

Yah! What we really need is some awesome tricked out van with sweet airbrushing - blasting our mix tapes, taking on a few Space Hippies. We need to come to mars CORRECT, k?
posted by The Whelk at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2010


No matter how fucked up we make our home planet, we will NEVER find a place outside our atmosphere that is more hospitable. Mars is beautiful, but biologically speaking it's a hellhole.

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as hell.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


...and we all know how cold hell is.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2010


Also, wasn't this whole setup the premise for a J. G. Ballard story? Something about the testees being the real testers, or something.
posted by a small part of the world at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2010


The hacker wannabe in me finds NASA's ability to actually program systems under the condition eriko describes, even at the point of salvaging unresponsive systems, with latencies between 10-90 minutes to be an amazing achievement on its own, and likely a prerequisite to sending human beings on long-term missions.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:33 AM on June 1, 2010


and we all know how cold hell is.

I think there's a frozen lake in the middle, eh?
posted by maxwelton at 8:37 AM on June 1, 2010


DU: The path to wisdom does not lie in sitting in an armchair pontificating. It lies in getting out there and building up experience

Which is what I am proposing with the robots.


Sending a robot != getting out there.

Manned spaceflight, because of the frail species that is man, is an impediment to exploration.

You could prevent 100% of STDs by having sex via robot too, but you won't find that very popular.

If we had the money and power to do it, I'd still say "PLUG THE DAMN HOLE FIRST."

False dichotomy.
posted by DU at 9:12 AM on June 1, 2010


You could prevent 100% of STDs by having sex via robot too, but you won't find that very popular.

DU, you do realize you are typing that into the internet, right?
posted by The Whelk at 9:13 AM on June 1, 2010


Another false dichotomy.
posted by DU at 9:17 AM on June 1, 2010


Robots are immune to all of the above and do not require the enormous amount of food and water which must also be lofted into space to sustain the total wankery which is manned space flight.

I'd like to see a film where a ship of robots from the Earth starts to find that they cannot depend on the unstable human maintaining ship functions.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:17 AM on June 1, 2010


These guys should go on a few Vipassana retreats to prepare.
posted by homunculus at 9:19 AM on June 1, 2010


I don't get this obsession with Mars; cold, weak gravity, too long to get there... blech. Venus on the other hand, now there's a place we could hang a settlement (floating, naturally.)

Plus, we won't have to have that constant worry about having to eventually battle with the Martian natives. That is a situation we just aren't ready for.
posted by quin at 9:20 AM on June 1, 2010


Overcoming the psychological pressures are one thing, but shielding the astronauts from galactic cosmic rays is another entirely.

Shield them? Everyone knows that exposure to cosmic rays gives you super powers.
posted by homunculus at 9:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


DU: False dichotomy.

Likewise with the argument that we have to make a choice between either robotic or manned space exploration.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:23 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a film where a ship of robots from the Earth starts to find that they cannot depend on the unstable human maintaining ship functions.

Didn't Frank Herbert write this?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:24 AM on June 1, 2010


Been there, smashed that.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 9:52 AM on June 1, 2010


Here's the thing right? I completely sympathize with the "It-costs-too-much, send-robots, lets-save-Earth-first-before-we fuck-up-another-planet," etc. Those are very logical and reasonable responses. I, myself, held some of those views at different points of my life.

However, the underling staying power of humanity lies in a handful of things, including:

1. Our ability to adapt and fill as many ecological niches as possible. Fact is, isolated groups of organisms are much more susceptible to extinction. Weather the precipitating event is internal or external. If the whole of humanity lived in the region of New Orleans we'd likely be extinct by now... We have survived so far because we are so spread out. At some point in the future there will be a global-system catastrophe. It almost doesn't matter if we directly cause it or not. It will happen. Likely it will be extra terrestrial in origin, a large enough meteor strike, errant comet, some solar hiccup of massive proportions, x-ray burst from out of the system.... Something will happen to cause massive die-back and possible extinction of human life on Earth.

Now, if you hold the view that this is as it should be, then we really don't have much common ground.

The only way we stand a sliver of a chance against this is to continue to expand outwards. Yeah we have and will continue to make mistakes. But, imo, saying we need to get things right here before we continue on means we'll never leave. We will NEVER get things perfect. It is messy and frustrating and sometimes horrifying, but it is who we are, along with the sublime, inspiring and humbling aspects. We left Africa, we left Europe and Asia and we have filled almost every niche on Earth we can. From a purely Earth based stance we are a pretty successful species (though ants beat us by quite a lot).

Environmentalism is, at it's core, about preserving the Earth as it is now, which would be GREAT for us, and for the species we like. And you know, I have no beef with that, I think it is an ok idea and consider myself an environmentalist as well... but make no mistake, it is a selfish idea. So, along with that, even though it is expensive, and sometimes seems a waste, I think manned spaceflight plays an important role in species survival, and as much as I like to curse humanity roundly from time to time, I just can't get behind the idea of condemning it to extinction without a good faith effort to continue. Hells Bells, just the other week they announced the first ever artificial DNA, so in 50 to a hundred years if they can fortify our DNA to be resistant to radiation and cosmic breakdown the results of these isolation experiments may be but part of the puzzle to getting us out of the well.

What're we here for? We're all here to go. (WSB)

posted by edgeways at 10:08 AM on June 1, 2010


If humans made it to mars, we could wipe the dust off the rovers solar panels, pull them out of the dust they have gotten stuck in and reboot the mission.

Also the tech to live long-term in space will go a long way to helping us learn to live on earth sustainably.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:10 AM on June 1, 2010


All you penny pinchers and bottom line watchers in this thread: you realize that the smaller and less ambitious the space program gets, the easier it will be for "fiscally responsible" politicians (read: GOP) to cut the everloving shit out of its budget. Because, no matter how relatively miniscule the budget for unmanned missions might be and no matter how important the scientific implications, the average voter just isn't going to get all that excited about pumping millions and millions of dollars into what amounts to shooting glorified weather balloons into the far reaches of space.

But you start talking about sending actual human beings to Mars or the moons of Jupiter, and you'll capture the imagination of the public again. After all: who among us hasn't dreamed of taking a rocket ship to another planet? And no politician will want to shoulder the blame for killing a program like that with parsimonious budget cuts.

And, as has been stated by others, it's not an either/or proposition. With a real budget, there will always be room for "real" science. (It just won't make it onto the six-o-clock news.) We can have our space cake and eat it, too! Or we can keep pumping almost all of our money into defense, shrink NASA till it becomes small enough for Grover Norquist to drown it in a bathtub, and nobody gets any damn cake.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:10 AM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Our ability to adapt and fill as many ecological niches as possible.

There are no ecological niches for large omnivores that are dependent on a high intake of both oxygen and energy elsewhere in the solar system. At best, we might be able to have stable populations of genetically-engineered bacteria on certain other planets and moons.

The only way we stand a sliver of a chance against this is to continue to expand outwards.

There are plenty of other options. Bunkering down and taking advantage of the three-odd billion years of oxygenic ecology is likely more realistic than trying to build an artificial one elsewhere. I suppose we can get by for an indefinite time using nuclear power to crack oxygen from Martian water. I'm not convinced such a scheme is sustainable without an industrial economy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:29 AM on June 1, 2010


Sending a robot != getting out there. [...] You could prevent 100% of STDs by having sex via robot too, but you won't find that very popular.


See, people who support manned spaceflight need to stop using "going into space for real is just cooler than sending robots" as an argument if you want to convince those of us who don't support it.

It doesn't matter to me if going into space is supposed to be super-fun (which it doesn't seem like it is). This is why some of us call it wankery. I just don't care that it's unpopular to give up on a childhood dream of riding a rocket through space.

Astronauts still wouldn't be Getting Out There. Their fragile little bodies have to be sealed up completely. They can't touch anything -- it could kill them, or their germs could contaminate anything they touch and kill something else. Their limited eyesight can only see a few colors.

We can ALL watch and experience through a robot's abilities, while an astronaut can only flounder around a bit and then try to tell people what it was like.

This idea that astronauts are cowboys braving the unknown so that we can all look to them for inspiration to the human spirit is just ridiculous, frankly. I get that it means a lot to some people. And I will still always think that it's wasteful and frivolous.
posted by Toothless Willy at 10:30 AM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


(I understand there are other reasons for manned spaceflight. That particular one, though, is brought up so often by so many people)
posted by Toothless Willy at 10:33 AM on June 1, 2010


I'd love to see manned space flight. However getting to Mars is going to require development of technologies that are now being prototyped and implemented for unmanned missions: robotics and propulsion come immediately to mind. It will also require a better understanding of what we expect to find on the ground, as well as the conditions it will take to get there. Meanwhile, it's advocates really should focus on goals that are realistic in the next century, as opposed to ones that probably won't be realistic even with an entire geologic epoch.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:45 AM on June 1, 2010


Also, I don't get why sending humans to Mars is impractical sentimentality while telemetry is hard-nosed realism. It's not like we have a bunch of forms to fill out and we need to do it the cheapest way possible. 90% of science (and a higher percentage of astronomy) is only done because someone is curious. This is an absolute good.

It's like when my wife hesitates to bring a kid to the doctor because of the expense. Or when I buy the better kind of hot dog or a higher quality widget. But this is why we have money. We aren't earning money to rack up a high score. We are earning money so we can pay for and buy things.

We aren't doing science to rack up a high score. We are curious about the world. Some of that curiosity can be satiated by sending a robot, but a lot of it can't.

Don't put the bottom line in charge of your life, either personally or as a species.

Now, you might argue that the money just isn't there to send people to Mars. Bullshit. How much does the US spend on useless military project/adventures? How much more could we collect with a fair tax system?
posted by DU at 10:46 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also the tech to live long-term in space will go a long way to helping us learn to live on earth sustainably.

The most important lessons we have to learn have little to do with technology.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:47 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


If we had the money and power to do it, I'd still say "PLUG THE DAMN HOLE FIRST."

You know, that's not a bad public policy for funding projects. First, you cover the fundamentals, then you put the rest into a giant piggy bank. Money gets pulled from it at intervals towards scientist-friendly and engineer-friendly pure research projects like going to Mars, but every time there's a disaster or a war, funding for those things gets diverted to deal with the disaster (as do the efforts of the scientists and engineers.)

After a couple of pure research projects get derailed in this way, the scientists and engineers will get together and figure out how to do everything from control the weather to eliminating the need for oil drilling to proving there is no God -- so that they can stop being distracted and get the "really neat" things done, fully funded.

You can thank me later. Let's get this puppy on the ballot.
posted by davejay at 10:51 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


get the scientists working on the tube technology!
posted by davejay at 10:51 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is an absolute good.

So are caution and good engineering. We can probably rig something to send humans to Mars in one of our surplus space shuttles. They won't exactly be alive and kicking when they get there though.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2010


Still advocating a split of the two distinct missions that need to be done; 'getting there', and 'sustaining there'.


Learn our species to live in a closed system (like underwater; in the process, it would then mean that it would be NASA who has all the tools when junk like the GOM disaster go down, if these missions were split, there would be a us agency with mass experience operating deep sea, and in closed environments. and a TINY mess up, and error (like the GOM leak disaster should have been) would have been solvable. More and more in the modern world, if our society wants to stay sort of the same, we will have to move to more and more remote places to find resources, to find open space, and to experiment with new political ideas (in the underwater living space habitat there is no discrimination; theres no room for discrimination on that bridge.)

Meanwhile, keep shooting robotic tech at various places in the solar system, keep shooting probes, and messages, and shoot encyclopedias and all information about us into space...

but separate these two; because we simply are not close to ready to ACTUALLY get ourselves anywhere in space, it is, as of now, not feasible (now really, this is because the large powers all spend money on armies and weapons, and junk... and if we spent as much on science as on violence... well you know.)

So to be clear; two branching forked projects, One, sustainable living with minimal resource input and massive re/up-cycling, and the other project, shooting things into orbit/space, developing outerspace radios, shooting space internet 'routers' out there, building up networks of electronic and radio relays in space, and sending robots and probes out there. Two forked projects, any questions?

Before we can safely extract resources from the inhospitable bottom of the ocean reliably... and convert them to fuel in situ, how can we think we are ready to do the same thing on mars? (some kind of 'fuel creation' or refining will need to be done on mars to get home). Before we can operate oxygen gardens, and o2 recycling tools. Before we can live for five years in a ocean habitat...

As others point out, we aren't going to be "sending out colonists" in this generation, so why even feign that we are "sending people out there"... learn, and develop, and experiment with the sustainable living needs HERE, on earth, where there isn't a huge cost/risk barrier to practicing living with a near zero resource input budget.
Patience, don't blow all of our wealth and over-production, and built up capital on things like "practicing being in space" (not this project, I mean the 'manned missions to LEO' thing).

um, or keep playing space man... and spacesuit dress-up... whatever NASA dudes.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:03 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suggestion: work on suspended animation on Earth and let the robots diddle around in space. Meatbags weren't made to float around at zero g with other hairless chimps for years without biting off the other guy's fingers. I mean heck, we have enough trouble with that on Earth, where we can talk to anyone of 6.7 billion people we want.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2010


Awesome tricked out van with sweet airbrushing - blasting our mix tapes, taking on a few Space Hippies. We need to come to mars CORRECT, k?

Guitars. Do not forget them.
posted by rokusan at 12:41 PM on June 1, 2010


what mhoye said.
Robots.
Sending humans at this point is pure hubris.
Although a brave endeavor, humans are not meant for radiation-filled space.
Oh and the scientists who are working on this radiation issue - I don't know why they are so confident, unless they are on the way to inventing star-trek type impervious shields. The appollo astronauts saw streamers with their eyes closed - this is radiation, and it can and will cause brain damage.
posted by uni verse at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2010


Research is not about what you can do today, or tomorrow, or next year. It's about what you might be able to do 20 years down the road. Frankly, 20 billion more dollars is going to do little more than fuck all to address our current problems with climate change and the like. That will require first and foremost human willpower, and nearly as importantly several trillion dollars to reshape modern society to minimize our impact on the ecology of Earth that supports us.

It will, however, buy us the chance to reach further and better understand the universe. Learning how to keep people healthy and alive on a trip to Mars is probably going to do more to advance our understanding of how to keep ourselves alive back here on Earth than sending out a bunch of robots to take photographs. Also, it may well do a lot more to support public appreciation of scientific endeavor; the lack thereof is one of the biggest obstacles to keeping this world livable.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:22 PM on June 1, 2010


Deep in outer space, millions of miles from civilisation, they say no-one can hear you scream.
No. They do not, as a matter of fact, say that deep in outer space. That's because it's millions of miles from civilisation.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:24 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


No. They do not, as a matter of fact, say that deep in outer space. That's because it's millions of miles from civilisation.

How do you know?
posted by doublehappy at 3:16 PM on June 1, 2010


DU: You could prevent 100% of STDs by having sex via robot too, but you won't find that very popular.

Zappa says otherwise.

Get the picture?
posted by three blind mice at 3:26 PM on June 1, 2010


Metafilter: One wonders why we leave our houses at all.
posted by msittig at 4:59 PM on June 1, 2010


DU: "Getting to Mars is important, so long as we have the wisdom not to exceed our grasp, and I'm not certain we're there yet.

I'm sure glad prehistoric cavemen didn't wait for their wisdom to exceed their grasp before inventing fire.

The path to wisdom does not lie in sitting in an armchair pontificating. It lies in getting out there and building up experience (and THEN sitting in an armchair reflecting).
"

Clearly you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what I wrote. I didn't claim that humans shouldn't go to Mars. I think we should.

Mentioning concern for what humans will do when they get there is not the same as saying we should not venture to Mars. It's also not pontificating (was Carl Sagan pontificating? Not a chance).

Any trip to Mars must come with the wisdom to state that just because we can go there, we do not have the right to arbitrarily do with it as we please.
posted by bwg at 6:18 PM on June 1, 2010


See, people who support manned spaceflight need to stop using "going into space for real is just cooler than sending robots" as an argument if you want to convince those of us who don't support it.

Here's my previous pro manned spaceflight statement on the issue, which can summed up with this line: NASA does a lot of good work that is very useful to everyone on Earth. It sounds like a win win.

My latest thoughts on this, as I watch oil gushing from a pipe and potentially wrecking an entire region for generation, is that we have to aim for space, because we need a win. We need something good and generally productive to spend our money on, something that allows, no demands, that people think and dream larger than the everyday crap. I'm speaking as an American, for America and I think we need some sort of national goal/program/focus that is rooted in doing good, aiming higher. Currently our claim to fame is having the worlds largest military. That's nice and has its uses, but frankly I think we and the world need a frontier, some sort of tangible place we go to start over, start anew, whatever. 'Cause sitting around on hands, watching all the shit that governments can get into isn't doing a lot for inspiration.

This doesn't mean we should stop using robots. Frankly, I'd like to see satellites around every planet and moon in the solar system, preferably with the best cameras, so people can see that there's a ton of interesting things out there, that there is more than us, that there is some place us to dream of and strive for.

And Mars? Forget about Mars for now. We need to build and sustain a space station and lunar base or two before we even think of heading to Mars. We need to the equivalent of the Gemini program before going to Mars, some sort of research and live testing of all the things we'll need to do before getting to Mars. We don't have the infrastructure to do that you say? Let's build? How? Guess we'll need more engineers and technicians and other jobs that require more education and offer more money. Awesome, it'll give people something concrete they can go to college for, something besides the lure of making more money or building a better machine gun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


My relationship to the planet ship is basically this

So I'm all for getting off the rock and spreading ourselves off, if only for what we'll learn and the mistakes we'll make.
posted by The Whelk at 9:09 PM on June 1, 2010


To echo what Brandon said, developing life support systems on a moon only four days away is a logical step towards building them on a planet that's months away.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:38 PM on June 1, 2010


We Could Get to Neptune and Back in 5 Years for a Mere $4 Trillion
posted by homunculus at 9:56 PM on June 1, 2010


Do you consider looking at a Flickr to be equivalent to travelling to foreign countries, meeting new people and discovering new things?

Of course, Flickr isn't a fair comparison.

Do you consider robotic bomb defusion to be actual bomb defusion?

Do you consider laproscopic surgery to be actual surgery?

Are you actually reading this message I'm writing?

We don't have to be there to do things and learn things. Considering that space is 99.999999something percent nothing but space with just a few little rocks and fires floating around in between, the smart and fast way to explore space is to do it with lots of relatively small machines that don't mind being turned off for years in between rocks and fires. If we ever see something that demands a face-to-something visit, we can load up the wagons and move out.
posted by pracowity at 12:06 AM on June 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


We Could Get to Neptune and Back in 5 Years for a Mere $4 Trillion

Hell no, we shouldn't visit any planet that goes and gets another planet demoted, just so it can the furthest planet from the sun. Fuck the Neptunians, they're like interstellar hillbillies.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:21 AM on June 2, 2010


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: "Sooner or later our planet will be destroyed or become uninhabitable, and this wankery is the only thing which can save us. In the long term, manned space flight is a problem of existential importance for mankind."

This was just as true at any point in history as it is today. It would have been silly for the Vikings or the Victorians to try to solve it, and it's not obvious that we're ready to solve it today.

Consider how much time and effort it must have taken to construct Stonehenge -- to produce, transport and set up those stones -- thousands of years ago. Now think about how much easier it would be to produce the same thing today with modern technology. None of the technologies we'd use today were developed specifically for a massive "Henge program", but rather arose from the development of other individual projects, each of which filled a specific need at the time.

Right now, space travel is at the rock-dragging stage. We've demonstrated that we can get a slab of limestone down the road, that we can heave it (with a lot of effort) to the top of the nearest hill, and it seems clear that if we massively multiplied that effort we could drag a bunch of stones to the top of the hill on the horizon. But what's the hurry? Doesn't it make more sense to wait until we have the space travel equivalent of trucks and cranes?

Of course, that doesn't mean that every problem should be put off until tomorrow. For one thing, some problems (like climate change, for example) get harder to solve as they're left longer, at a rate that outpaces technological development. But Mars isn't getting harder to reach, nor more urgent. So, again, what's the hurry? After all, "sooner or later" isn't a very pressing deadline.
posted by logopetria at 7:11 AM on June 2, 2010


Doesn't it make more sense to wait until we have the space travel equivalent of trucks and cranes?

You don't get this trucks and cranes just sitting on your butt, waiting for them to happen. You gotta build stuff, go places and then the infrastructure will build up to support those journeys.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:28 AM on June 2, 2010


Considering that space is 99.999999something percent nothing but space with just a few little rocks and fires floating around in between

I like the way Pratchett phrased it: Space contains everything and nothing, but there is very little everything and more nothing than you could possibly imagine.
posted by quin at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2010


You gotta build stuff, go places and then the infrastructure will build up to support those journeys.

I fail to see how we're not "going places" by developing increasingly advanced propulsion, landing, and sensory systems designed to handle years of space travel, or by testing and maintaining life-support systems in LEO.

I don't see future manned space exploration as a reboot of Apollo and the Shuttle program. Future manned space programs are going to be built using the kinds of technologies that kept the Martian rovers going years past their primary mission.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:43 AM on June 2, 2010


Just sign me up for Brandon Blatcher's e-newsletter on this one.

We need to grow beyond the Earth to survive as a species. You can demonstrate this need with various ecological models, a quick look at the probability of various man-made and natural disasters, or simple population growth and a little math.

The moon is near-useless as a long-term home, sure. And it's expensive to get there. But it's a very, very convenient training ground, and should we ever get a sustainable colony in place, subsequent launches/expansion from there will be a lot simpler and less expensive than starting every mission with the very expensive 'escape from Earth's gravity' as step one.

A few small colonies, expensive and "impractical" though they might be, would provide some excellent insurance from a survival of the species perspective.
posted by rokusan at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2010


I actually don't buy the "we need a new home" argument so much, it seems impossible for us to screw up the Earth that much. I'll concede we have excellent potential in achieving that goal though.

Mostly though, as a species, we need something to do and something relatively peaceful to spend our wealth on instead of a large military which we are too tempted to regularly use, 'cause hey, we're paying for it, might as well use it, AMIRITE.

We need the ISS or something similar to figure out how live in space for long periods and hopefully figure out how to create some artificial gravity. We need the moon as a much cheaper and easier launch base. and we need lots of technicians engineers to design, build, and maintain that crap. WOO HOO, middle class!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:03 AM on June 2, 2010


That said, I can't believe the Obama administration is trying to get commercial launchers to ferry live people back and forth from space. That sounds...insane. "Hey NASA, we know you've been doing this for decades and all, but we're gonna go with Haliburton for ferrying astronauts to the ISS, ok?"

I can almost smell the committee hearings when some people wind up dead, God help us.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 AM on June 2, 2010


rokusan: We need to grow beyond the Earth to survive as a species.

This is a peseudoscientific and religious belief. Nothing wrong with that, but I do with people would be honest about their particular flavors of pseudoscience and religion in this discussion rather than claiming some authority that doesn't exist.

You can demonstrate this need with various ecological models, a quick look at the probability of various man-made and natural disasters, or simple population growth and a little math.

Well, no, you can't. While ecological models often show mass deaths following a population boom, they usually don't show extinction as a part of population boom. Boom/bust cycles are, in fact, an evolved reproductive strategy of many species.

The moon is near-useless as a long-term home, sure.

The rest of the universe is useless as a long-term home. Without a global oxygenic ecosystem that produces large volumes of digestible biomass, human beings are hopelessly bottlenecked. On the other hand, the same evolutionary features that has led to unchecked population growth would suggest that some descendant should survive most ecological disasters short of our sun's red-giant phase.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's something reassuring and devastating and beautiful in the fact that no matter what, the sun will engulf and destroy us. I think knowing that should change the way we live and do business. Anyway, whatever happens, at least there's Voyager, out there, 17 billion kilometres away, with a couple of golden 45s and three dying radioisotope thermoelectric generators, legacy of a time where we weren't afraid to dream.
posted by doublehappy at 3:56 PM on June 2, 2010


Seventh Graders Find a Cave on Mars
posted by homunculus at 3:29 PM on June 18, 2010


« Older Between the art nudes and fashion shots, Doug Kim'...  |  As undeniably great as the gol... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments