We're making a few assumptions here, but
February 7, 2020 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Maybe we could go to the moon using four USB chargers instead of the original Apollo 11 computers.
posted by cortex (94 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have to assume the contents of the "Function" row in that first table are meant as a bit of extremely deadpan humor, because they are hilarious:
  • Charges a phone
  • Charges a phone or maybe a laptop
  • Charges 2 phones or maybe laptops
  • Fly most-of-the-way to moon (CSM); Land on moon (LEM); Take off from moon (LEM); Fly back to Earth (CSM)
posted by invitapriore at 4:51 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


None of them will be able to get you to the moon because they're not rad hardened and you'll get bitflip errors all over the place which will send the astronauts to their doom.

The Apollo computers were all discrete RTL with things like hand wound core memory so they don't get this problem compared to our modern lithography and PCB style arrangements.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:08 PM on February 7 [35 favorites]


No one is going to the moon today. Isn't it hilarious? Fifty years ago, we had machines that would take us to the moon and back. Now, we do not. We could not go to the moon today if we wanted to, for all the money in the world. However, we can put a car on the road that will automatically follow traffic rules and kill pedestrians without the driver laying a hand on the steering wheel! We've come so far.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:26 PM on February 7 [33 favorites]


We could not go to the moon today if we wanted to, for all the money in the world.

Okay, but, hear me out: it would actually take about $219.96, free shipping if you've got Prime.
posted by cortex at 5:29 PM on February 7 [32 favorites]


We could not go to the moon today if we wanted to, for all the money in the world.

Of course we could, unless you mean "today" to be literally today. We could go to the moon faster now than the first time if we spent even half the money, inflation-adjusted. We, politically, have decided not to spend the kind of money it takes to get it done.
posted by tclark at 5:30 PM on February 7 [20 favorites]


We could not go to the moon today if we wanted to, for all the money in the world.

Yeah we can, we (and by "we" I mean "the human race") just went to the moon, like, last year.

I work for the company that built the Apollo Guidance Computer. We absolutely have the technology and expertise to send humans to the moon. In fact, NASA is giving us buckets of money to do it, and relatively soon.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:36 PM on February 7 [47 favorites]


"First woman and next man" scheduled to land 2024, assuming nominal funding levels
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:36 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


Anyway, back to the thought experiment at hand:

I did not examine the peripherals used by the Apollo 11 computers.

I can't speak to Apollo, but our modern guidance systems (currently being used mostly for Crew Resupply missions to the ISS) have a ton of inputs - triply redundant inertial sensors, laser rangefinders, stellar sensors... there's a lot of data being pumped in to the computer. The networking part of it is a non-trivial challenge, and your day can be seriously ruined if there's a message collision or messages come in late.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:41 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


it would actually take about $219.96, free shipping if you've got Prime.

It's over $25 so free shipping's possible even without Prime. It'll just take longer to get there.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:46 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I've been learning shit on the googles and the youtubes lately: Turns out the moon is a small light hovering above the flat plane we live on. This plane is surrounded by NASA and The Antarctic Impenetrable. So, no going to the moon. Sorry, but these are the facts.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:50 PM on February 7 [9 favorites]


It's over $25 so free shipping's possible even without Prime. It'll just take longer to get there.

would it be able to get there faster if we used an additional USB charger
posted by cortex at 5:51 PM on February 7 [24 favorites]


Fifty years ago, we had machines that would take us to the moon and back
Well, twelve of us did. The rest of us only had machines that would take other people to the moon and back.
posted by Hatashran at 5:52 PM on February 7 [32 favorites]


Fifty years ago, we had machines that would take us to the moon and back. Now, we do not.

fifty years ago we treated mental illness by shoving a knitting needle up behind someone's eyeball to scramble their brain like an egg. I'm not sure that everything we did 50 years ago is a great idea just because.

look, I get it, the moon is pretty cool but you know what's there?

nothing

literally nothing

there's a reason we stopped going to the moon
posted by GuyZero at 6:07 PM on February 7 [25 favorites]


also let me posit that we used more that a handful of transistors to get to the moon regardless of how big or small they were
posted by GuyZero at 6:08 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


looking it up, my bad, lobotomies were made illegal in 1967 and the last Apollo mission was 1972.
posted by GuyZero at 6:13 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


I'm sure you could go to the Moon with four USB chargers, but why would you want to when there are much more comfortable ways to get there?
posted by wierdo at 6:15 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


In any event, I'm fairly certain any attempt to do so would end in a hospital visit.
posted by wierdo at 6:16 PM on February 7


(psssst: maybe, just maybe, the real lesson here is that software and computation capacity is not the most important part of going to the moon)
posted by mhoye at 6:30 PM on February 7 [18 favorites]


The real lesson is what we learned along the way. To the moon.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:37 PM on February 7 [24 favorites]


no we can do it I’m pretty sure the article said cortex could do it with his arms and his friend mo
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:48 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


if you believe / they put a mod on the moon / mod on the moon
posted by mhoye at 6:51 PM on February 7 [24 favorites]


(and by "we" I mean "the human race"

And by “human race”, we mean “robots built by humans, not actual members of the human race”
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:06 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


That's what "they" want "us" to "believe".
posted by Dumsnill at 7:15 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


What? Computation capacity? I thought we were talking about rocketry here!

Seriously, though, modern microcontrollers are quite frankly almost magic compared to what was state of the art in the mid-2000s in a way desktop and server compute very much is not.

Back when, there was a veritable mountain of support chips and logic necessary to make them do much at all. Now damn near everything you need is on the chip, requiring very little extra circuitry to make a functional device. Even the larger SoCs found in streaming boxes and throwback consoles are crazy cheap and require so little support circuitry that it's almost comical how simple the PCB designs are. They look somehow fake, like it's not possible they could work.
posted by wierdo at 7:23 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


00 01 47 16 LMP
"Er, Houston... we have a problem. We can't get the USB stick into the socket."

00 01 47 19 CC
"Hmmm... ok, Buzz, turn the stick upside down and try again."

00 01 47 27 LMP
"No joy. Any other ideas?"

00 01 47 47 CC
"Ok... we're looking into it. Stand by... ok, Buzz, turn the stick over the way you had it originally and see if it fits this time."

00 01 48 00 LMP
"Son of a bitch!"
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 PM on February 7 [93 favorites]


Now wiggle it a bit and maybe support it with some damp socks. Yes?
posted by Dumsnill at 7:35 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


How much mechanical computing power was there in total in the whole world in the Apollo days? How would that amount compare to modern availability, I wonder?
posted by Western Infidels at 7:38 PM on February 7


It would take under 4 years to return to the moon with the Apollo craft.

Seems we broke the molds.
posted by clavdivs at 8:00 PM on February 7


The stars and stripes planted by the astronauts on the moon have all been bleached white by the sun.

Fifty years ago, after long struggle, humanity went to all the way to the moon, planted six flags of surrender, and never returned.
posted by straight at 8:10 PM on February 7 [13 favorites]


In held one of those computational bricks, no really it has the same heft and feel of a brick. But to the computer rant, a lot of the calculations were done ahead of time by the most advanced computers available. To make any sense at all the next trips need to be more frequent and less pre-planned, see an interesting crater over there, change plans on the fly and explore.

Oh and chemistry, going to pitch my current favorite rocket book, Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants (what was the most important tool of a rocket fuel researcher? take a beat, really good running shoes, for when you realize what an exothermic reaction actually means, hilarious fun book about real chemistry.
posted by sammyo at 8:17 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


im on the moon right now
posted by poffin boffin at 8:21 PM on February 7 [10 favorites]


you can't prove im not
posted by poffin boffin at 8:21 PM on February 7 [11 favorites]


How extraordinary!
posted by Dumsnill at 8:27 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


you can't prove im not

Well, I'm here, and I don't see you anywhere around.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:35 PM on February 7 [10 favorites]


Besides, if you were really here, you'd be helping me kill this damned homicidal alie---

Oh - hi. Sorry for attacking you. Silly me....
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:44 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Please accept this spare charger by way of apology. It's okay, I've got 3 more.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:46 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I’m in the LEM I’m at the landing site, I’m in the rover now, I’m at the combination lunar landing site
posted by mwhybark at 8:50 PM on February 7 [9 favorites]


Wow, you people get around. I'm still trying to figure out how this space gel works.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:53 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


You massage it in to soothe painful meteoroids.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:57 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


look, I get it, the moon is pretty cool but you know what's there? nothing literally nothing

There's a bunch of poop, and we could bring it back.
posted by zachlipton at 9:03 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Soothing the painful meteoroid poops! Gotcha!
posted by Dumsnill at 9:06 PM on February 7


look, I get it, the moon is pretty cool but you know what's there? nothing literally nothing

Wouldn't that make for the best telescope location ever?
posted by sammyo at 9:08 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


planted six flags of surrender, and never returned

Not very fair to the Russians.
How many Apollo flights had master alarms go off, Apollo 1 had all sorts of things happening. But ultimately a human landed that thing as a human knew what the alarm was for and 'goed' because, landing a billion dollars in 45 seconds.
posted by clavdivs at 9:31 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


look, I get it, the moon is pretty cool but you know what's there?

*loading a pistol*
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:24 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


No one is going to the moon today.

No-one needs to test ICBMs any more. They can already kill us all. Thanks, Apollo.
posted by pompomtom at 11:27 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Sure you could take your 4 USB chargers to the moon, but where would you plug them in?
posted by mbo at 11:42 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Wait! Are these European approved USB-C moon chargers?
posted by fairmettle at 12:33 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


ARE WE THERE YET?
posted by chavenet at 1:00 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Buzz Aldrin, after being told a musical greeting card has more computing power than the Appolo CSM:

"YES, BUT CAN THIS (expletive) THING FLY TO THE MOON?!?"

(real, at least I heard it from someone who was there...) And he did have a point - I understand current greeting cards are only minimally radiation hardened.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 2:26 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


I’m in the LEM I’m at the landing site, I’m in the rover now, I’m at the combination lunar landing site

A Das Racist reference! In 2020! Here, have a favorite.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:34 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Not very fair to the Russians.

There were Russians on the moon? When?
posted by straight at 3:01 AM on February 8


Buzz Aldrin, after being told a musical greeting card has more computing power than the Appolo CSM:

"YES, BUT CAN THIS (expletive) THING FLY TO THE MOON?!?"

(real, at least I heard it from someone who was there...) And he did have a point - I understand current greeting cards are only minimally radiation hardened.


Look, I've been to the Smithsonian. I've seen those crazy cardboard boxes covered in tinfoil that they went all the way to the moon in that look like they'd be a suicidal choice for floating 5 miles down the river.

I'm pretty sure I've seen sturdier greeting cards.
posted by straight at 3:04 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


The AGC was hackable on the fly, which is why Apollo 14 managed to land on the Moon. Try that with your USB charger.
posted by tommasz at 4:31 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Don't forget that the AGC includes a resilient multitasking software system that will continue flying the spacecraft even on errors, and will resume correctly flying the spacecraft on a full reboot. Can your phone charger do that?
posted by thefool at 4:48 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


Another way to look at this is that if just one of those astronauts had taken along an iPhone that needed charging the whole mission would have been doomed as soon as he plugged it in. [buffering] [buffering] [buffering]
posted by Lanark at 6:02 AM on February 8


No one is going to the moon today. Isn't it hilarious? Fifty years ago, we had machines that would take us to the moon and back. Now, we do not. We could not go to the moon today if we wanted to, for all the money in the world. However, we can put a car on the road that will automatically follow traffic rules and kill pedestrians without the driver laying a hand on the steering wheel! We've come so far.

This is unusually pissy even by Metafilter standards. Notably so because it's both wrong and dismissive.

It sounds a lot like a youtube comment I saw about the 50th Apollo anniversary, where someone said "fifty years ago, we went to the moon. Now all we have is iphones. (kids these days, so on...)" As if that alone isn't a truly remarkable development. I'm reminded of this:

Consider the implications even from 1980, the Apple II era. A single iPhone at 1980 energy-efficiency would require as much power as a Manhattan office building. Similarly, a single data center at circa 1980 efficiency would require as much power as the entire U.S. grid. But because of efficiency gains, the world today has billions of smartphones and thousands of datacenters.

That's absolutely mind blowing. And it doesn't even address the actual computing power that the iphone puts in one's pocket.

I'm reminded of the recent Dracula series, where a suddenly revived Count Dracula in today's world finds himself in a modern modest, dumpy single family home and, thinking he's in the home of some incredibly wealthy nobility, and finding otherwise, declares in fascination to the occupant, "I knew the future would bring wonders. I didn't know it would make them ordinary."

One of the things I've been delightfully surprised with is how steampunk the Apollo program seems in comparison to modern technology. If you're searching for national greatness in technology, just be careful what you wish for.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:41 AM on February 8 [18 favorites]


I'm sure you could go to the Moon with four USB chargers, but why would you want to when there are much more comfortable ways to get there?

This is at least 50% of Kerbal Space Program designs: "because what if you can?!"

The AGC was hackable on the fly, which is why Apollo 14 managed to land on the Moon. Try that with your USB charger.

I started to write a joke-y comment BUT THEN: I know USB chargers are hackable, but is it something that can happen in the field with off-the-shelf chargers or is that done at the factory?
posted by curious nu at 6:45 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I mean I'm pretty certain the whole thing was made tongue-in-cheek about how ubiquitous and powerful computing tech is now that would have then been considered mind-blowing back then is, not to denigrate the incredible work of those engineers. Maybe everyone else knew that a phone charger had a cpu in it at all and this is as dull and boring as the ti-84 calculator thing, but I found it an interesting glimpse into how different needs have driven tech, I'd be curious to see a comparison between the space shuttle computers and modern computers as well. Weirdly hostile tone in here so far.
posted by neonrev at 6:52 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Yeah, once he showed the chart and I learned that USB chargers had processors in them I was surprised there were chargers that couldn’t take you to the moon.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:58 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Nowadays the main menu for the guidance computer would run in a Chrome instance. Need more RAM to get back to the moon.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:24 AM on February 8


six flags of surrender

Wait, we built an amusement park on the moon and just left it there?
posted by nickmark at 7:50 AM on February 8 [14 favorites]


I'm hoping if we go back that "they" will find those golf balls.
posted by MtDewd at 8:16 AM on February 8


Wait, we built an amusement park on the moon and just left it there?

The monolith was looking terribly bored, so that was the solution.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:33 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


way back when, I used to imagine that by the time I was old enough to retire (about five years from now), there would at least be some kind of hotel on the moon -- enormously expensive but nevertheless there. You could spend a few days taking in the views, drinking Tang Screwdrivers, maybe going for a ride on a lunar rover.

That was before I found out about adverse health effects from lunar dust exposure. It seems it's even more of a hostile environment than originally imagined. So now, I guess I'm just hoping for some kind of orbiting space station. You'd still have the view and the Tang, but you'd have to trade spacewalks and zero gravity mucking around for the rover.
posted by philip-random at 8:36 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


The easy way to get back to human exploration of space is to pretend the robots are our children and then call it a day.

Humans are really good at pretending things are our children. I have five of the furry little fuckers in my house, one of them curled up on my chest as I speak. We should leverage that.
posted by notoriety public at 8:57 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


We, politically, have decided not to spend the kind of money it takes to get it done.

So, I guess that someone hasn't heard of Artemis, or just doesn't want to let go of a favorite narrative.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:10 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Wait, we built an amusement park on the moon and just left it there?

It's mostly just a bouncy castle. But it's a really good bouncy castle with a stunning view.
posted by straight at 9:24 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Nowadays the main menu for the guidance computer would run in a Chrome instance. Need more RAM to get back to the moon.

"Odyssey, this is Houston. I'm going to need you to close some tabs."
posted by straight at 9:33 AM on February 8 [14 favorites]


However, we can put a car on the road that will automatically follow traffic rules and kill pedestrians without the driver laying a hand on the steering wheel! We've come so far.

My friend John and I first met in grade school in the late seventies. We bonded over a love of the glorious age of science fiction we lived in. (Star Trek reruns at 4:00 every day! Battlestar Galactica on TV every Sunday! A new Star War coming out in a year or two!)

We were imaginative kids and we might well have conceived that we would still be pals forty years later. Stretching our imagination, I suppose we just might have envisioned that we would both be carrying around computing and communications devices considerably more advanced than a lot of what we saw onscreen. I suspect neither of us could imagine that we might someday pull this pocket-sized device out, press a couple of buttons, and have an empty car start up a block away and pull up to the front door where were were waiting, but John is now a Tesla owner and has pulled this magical trick before my eyes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:41 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


Well, I'm here, and I don't see you anywhere around

So, I guess that someone hasn't heard of Artemis, or just doesn't want to let go of a favorite narrative.

Someone here clearly has.
posted by wierdo at 10:00 AM on February 8


So, I guess that someone hasn't heard of Artemis, or just doesn't want to let go of a favorite narrative.

Which is really only the latest iteration of the Constellation program, which was originally supposed to have a crew vehicle in low-earth orbit by... *checks watch* six years ago, a mere four years after it was canceled. No reason to think the same thing won't happen to Artemis, given that, as others have pointed out, sending people to the Moon isn't a particularly good use of time or money.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:05 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


If Elon and his benefactor have their way, there are going to be people orbiting the moon in the next several years regardless of what happens with Artemis and its ever-delayed launcher.
posted by wierdo at 10:40 AM on February 8


Wait, we built an amusement park on the moon and just left it there?

The concession stand ran out of corn dogs, and it was too difficult to resupply so they all just went home.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:53 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


If Elon and his benefactor have their way, there are going to be people orbiting the moon in the next several years regardless of what happens with Artemis and its ever-delayed launcher.

Elon is a giant cockwit but damn if he isn't good at just getting shit done quick by spending large amounts of money and energy.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:12 AM on February 8


I thought the fucking Tesla they shot into space might have made a nice moon wreck to keep all the poop company, but what do I know.
posted by MiraK at 11:54 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Tesla Poop v. 3.0. We'll drive you to your grave.
posted by valkane at 12:42 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Some academics are saying that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get a roadster into orbit is not the best way to spend money. But ivory tower, amirite?
posted by Dumsnill at 12:45 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Which is really only the latest iteration of the Constellation program, which was originally supposed to have a crew vehicle in low-earth orbit by... *checks watch* six years ago, a mere four years after it was canceled. No reason to think the same thing won't happen to Artemis, given that, as others have pointed out, sending people to the Moon isn't a particularly good use of time or money.

Well, who knows. I mean, yeah, Constellation got cancelled, although that may have had more to do with it being created at the height of the real estate bubble and asking for more money at the time that a change of administration coincided with the Great Recession. On the other hand, it's arguable that sending people to the Moon was never a particularly good use of time or money, depending on your priorities, and yet it actually happened, several times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:54 PM on February 8


it's arguable that sending people to the Moon was never a particularly good use of time or money, depending on your priorities

The Apollo 11 ‘Spinoff’ Technologies We Still Use Today

These innovations from the Moon landing changed life on Earth

Going to the Moon Was Hard — But the Benefits Were Huge, for All of Us

&c
posted by chavenet at 2:27 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I said that you could argue that it wasn't a particularly good use of time or money, not that I was arguing that. (Although I've seen the spinoff tech argument before, and find it a little dubious, since it assumes that we'd never have had cell phone cameras or memory foam or whatever if NASA hadn't come up with it.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:36 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I wanted to go to the moon for a long time.
I mean,
For a long time I wanted to go to the moon.
Not now.
Now I want to go to Mars.
posted by mule98J at 4:24 PM on February 8


The moon would make a great oligarchs retirement home. Imagine how much longer the Koch brothers could live in 1/6th gee at the 4 Seasons Tranquility Base. And they could certainly afford the cost of a one way ticket!
posted by monotreme at 5:12 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


The moon would make a great oligarchs retirement home. Imagine how much longer the Koch brothers could live in 1/6th gee at the 4 Seasons Tranquility Base. And they could certainly afford the cost of a one way ticket!

I've long signed on to Jerry Pounelle's vision of using governmental funds to incentivize development cheap heavy lift to GEO. He envisioned tax free prizes for the first US company to provide a vehicle/system that could actually meet the Space Shuttle's initial pitch of monthly flights. IIRC, he was more aggressive and wanted quicker turn arounds but you get the idea.

Anyway, we use these to send up union crews and materials to build GEO solar power satellites, and then... Well, they're already out of the gravity well, so I guess MOON-VEGAS is the logical place for R&R. Bars, Restaurants, 1/6G brothels.... The whole megillah. At that point, we've pretty much conquered the universe.
posted by mikelieman at 6:01 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


A $1.70 to make a call from clavius base!
posted by clavdivs at 8:28 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


If you want to pin any hopes on the Artemis program I have a 2012 manned mission to Mars to sell you. (TBC I don't blame NASA, they're on the receiving end of being jerked around by politics.) Personally I'd have a lot more to say if NASA were the ones that (directly) put a Tesla Roadster into space, but since my tax dollars haven't gone back to the Moon, I don't much grounds to complain about what a private company chooses to waste its money on.

Prize money incentivization seems like a decent idea to me, and there's some history of it. The original DARPA Grand Challenge was in 2004 for a self-driving car. There was the Ansari X Prize where the winner got $10mm for putting humans into space twice in two weeks, and was won in 2004. The Google Lunar X Prize was for $30mm (by 2018) to return to the Moon, and although no one won, they did award $1mm to a team that managed to (crash) land a probe on the Moon.

The important thing to note is that Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism can't happen on Earth.
posted by fragmede at 10:46 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


There are two opiniony-type things I always want to bring up when the human spaceflight conversation rolls around again, but I never get around to typing up. So, I'm going to put my rocket scientist hat on and do some inaccurate hand waving:

- Human activity in space is kind of an inevitability: We're cost effective.

Robots require extra mass for each function you put on them, a new system for each new capability, and mass is the expensive part of getting to space. The Martian rover Curiosity weighs as much as a small car, for example. Once you hit the point where you're launching robots that weigh as much as an astronaut and her life support system, you probably should have launched the astronaut. She can do everything the robot does, but can also work on her own without waiting laboriously after each step for instructions from Earth, as well as improvise, fix things, and be generally flexible. Space is increasing commercial, so the cost-effectiveness of missions is going to matter more in an economic sense as time goes on.

- Space radiation is a lot more nuanced than you think.

Space radiation is an evolving science that is making a lot of progress at the moment, but here's some simple things to think about: Space is not dangerously radioactive most of the time, as the Apollo astronauts fortunately discovered. Most of the dose you get in space comes from specific temporary solar events like solar flares, with usually relatively little from 'background' radiation. You also get a little bit of warning of an event beforehand (though don't quote me on that, the science of the predictions is still being worked on) as you can see the light of a large solar flare a few minutes before the dangerous particles show up. Lastly, radiation in the solar system is (mostly) directional, it spirals out from the Sun like water from a spinning sprinkler, so you can avoid most of it by putting something in front of you. I'm hedging everything I say about this subject because it's complex and poorly studied (ask me about radioactive activation of spacecraft, or better yet, don't) but human survival in space may be a solvable problem, part of which could include simply hiding behind a conveniently large mass at the right moments.

I'm carefully agnostic when it comes to the subject of to going back to the Moon. It might be important if it drives useful development, but there's lots of other science that's important. A lunar base might be useful if it led to the retrieval of rare-earth metals from space, for example. They're critical for modern electronic technology, but as the name suggests they're not exactly common on Earth, and mining them is environmentally problematic. That said, this kind of development is so speculative that we may as well just dream about making deep-space stations too.
posted by Eleven at 5:10 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


I have a Google Nexus 7 by Asus and the micros usb plug is upside down and has been fucking me up for 7 goddam frustrating years now. So if you use it to get to the moon just be sure and fly upside down.
posted by srboisvert at 6:17 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


The Apollo 11 ‘Spinoff’ Technologies We Still Use Today

Well, any major technological push is going to advance the state of the art, but why not make a big technological push to do something worth doing in and of itself? The obvious thing to do these days would be to spend Apollo-program levels of money on carbon-reduction technologies: more efficient clean energy, carbon sequestration, lower energy-use manufacturing and computing, and suchlike. Presumably that too would spin off developments which would become, some day, excitingly universal technology that peoople find useful for reasons unrelated to the original project, but in the process of getting there we would also be doing something important to do, which the Apollo missions, in the final analysis, were not.

It's admittedly easier to sell a program with a specific highly visual goal ("put an American on the moon") than one where the progress is diffuse and the benchmarks all numerical, but the latter sort of program has the virtue of being easily extensible; you can go for the same goal only more so with efficiency improvements, whereas, after you've put someone on the moon, there's not much of anywhere else to go within the same project which is why all the post-11 Apollo programs were underwhelming to the public ("put more Americans on the moon" doesn't exactly spark the imagination).
posted by jackbishop at 8:22 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Who thinks putting people on the moon isn't worth doing in and of itself?!

It's one thing to argue there's other goals more urgently in need of reaching (a very old and imo rather foolish argument - you might as well wring your hands about tax dollars being wasted on arts patronage when there are hungry kids to be fed), but I can't imagine why someone would think the endeavor of exploration is not its own justification. The whole history of the human race will tell you it's integral to our psyche.
posted by MiraK at 9:10 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Who thinks putting people on the moon isn't worth doing in and of itself?!

Uh, me? There's nothing on the moon. It was worth doing back when we didn't know much about the lunar surface besides what we could divine with telescopes. But the Apollo program stopped when it ceased to produce any interesting jumping-off points to do anything useful, and some people are treating that as if it was some great tragedy.

This is all in response to discussion above ranging from the glowing to the dismissive about the cost/benefit analysis on Apollo. I incline towards the dismissive side: yes, useful technologies came out of it, as some cited, but there was nothing specific to the Apollo program that made it the only way to rapidly develop useful technologies. We could do that push again with a goal that has verified utility.
posted by jackbishop at 10:57 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


I say the trip to the moon will reaffirm our first landing and quell the "Capricorn One" enthusiasts that it was all staged for TV.
posted by GilaMonster at 1:13 PM on February 9


Who thinks putting people on the moon isn't worth doing in and of itself?!

Me ...mostly.

I mean, I have a list of specific people, but I don't think that's quite what you're getting at.
posted by pompomtom at 7:03 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


The most interesting thing to me is the fact that the AGC weighed 70 pounds. Even when you account for the fact that RAD-hardened chips rated for space travel are probably 20 years off the bleeding edge of microchip design, you still could design a new guidance computer with full redundancy for probably 10% of the weight and still have enough spare computing power to control all other critical systems on the craft, a graphical user interface, and a game of Minesweeper to boot.

That weight savings could then go to increased capacity or more robust safety systems, or adding other capabilities to the craft. It would be interesting to see how the new Orion or SpaceX capsules compare to an Apollo capsule in terms of overall capacity and weight allocation.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:56 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


and a game of Minesweeper to boot.

Lunar Lander or GTFO.
posted by mikelieman at 8:46 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


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