James Fallows speaks with Space Adventures co-founder Eric Anderson on the coming age of space colonization. “One key to making all this happen is that we need to use the resources of space to help us colonize space…The near-Earth asteroids, which are very, very close to the Earth, are filled with resources that would be useful for people wanting to go to Mars, or anywhere else in the solar system. They contain precious resources like water, rocket fuel, strategic metals.”
Along the same lines, and from last June, a Dutch company called Mars One has a very specific timetable in place for Mars colonization. “Lansdorp plans to send another couple of adventurous astronauts to join the colony every two years, but the idea is that no one gets a return journey. This is a permanent base, a Plymouth Rock in an entirely new world that will begin the long, slow and painstaking process of terraforming it.” The first four colonists, set to leave Earth in 2023, will be chosen this year.
Update: So far, it seems, the Mars One project has received 40,000 applications.
Commander Neil Armstrong, the pioneer who took the first step on extra-terrestrial soil and towards our ultimate destiny, 1930-2012. “The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet…our opportunities are unlimited.“
“‘These things are not consistent with the amount of water that we find,’ he said. ‘I think in its very basic form, the [impact theory] idea is probably still correct, but there’s something fundamental about the physics of the process that we don’t understand.’“
A new study of lunar magma returned from Apollo 17 finds even more evidence of water on the moon, calling into question our understanding of how the moon was even formed. “The analysis, reported in Science, has looked at pockets of volcanic material locked within tiny glass beads. It found 100 times more water in the beads than has been measured before, and suggests that the Moon once held a Caribbean Sea-sized volume of water.”
“We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.“
In a fascinating remnant of alternate history, Letters of Note unearths Nixon’s Safire-penned speech on the (possible) failure of Apollo 11. “Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”
“‘It’s really wet,’ said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.“
In keeping with recent studies, NASA is set to announce that there appears to be quite a lot of water on the moon, which would greatly facilitate setting up shop there. Alas, “the U.S. likely won’t be involved in manned voyages to the moon anytime soon…But other countries are gearing up. China has pledged to land astronauts on the moon by 2025, and India has plans to do the same by 2020. Japan wants to establish an unmanned moon base in a decade.” And, hey, why go to the moon when you can spend a decade in Afghanistan?
“Within 40 small craters, one to nine miles wide, they estimated 600 million metric tons of water. Perhaps most notably, ‘It has to be relatively pure,’ said Paul Spudis, the principal investigator for the instrument that made the discovery.“
By way of a friend, scientists find more evidence of lots of water on the moon. “That is significant, because the ice in these craters could be easily tapped by future lunar explorers — not just for drinking water, but also broken apart into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.” Hmm. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of ways to get up there…
Ok, first off, the administration official who uttered the last sentence should be filed away next to Mr. Left of the Left and Ms. Pajamas as people who should no longer speak for the White House in any capacity whatsoever. Full stop, end of story. Putting my speechwriter cap on for a second: In most any political situation, ridiculing the dreams of an entire generation does not make for particularly good messaging.
Anyway, anonymous WH official aside, NASA administrator Charles Bolden sounded a better note about all this: “We’re not abandoning anything. We’re probably on a new course but human space flight is in our DNA. We are not abandoning human space flight by any stretch of the imagination. We have companies telling us they’re excited to get humans off this planet and into orbit. I think we’re going to get there and perhaps quicker than we would have done before.“
And, to be clear, the administration’s NASA budget increases the agency’s funding by $6 billion over the next five years. The new budget ups research and development spending into cheaper heavy launch mechanisms, emphasizes more robotic exploration missions and observational experiments into climate change, extends the life of the ISS (although, with only five more shuttle missions remaining, other nations will have to help service it), and works to promote the various commercial space enterprises moving along right now.
All of this is well and good, but it would be nice to see some recognition of the civic importance of manned space flight by this administration. In their words, NASA is scrapping Constellation on account of it being “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.” And, given that we still had a lot of the expenditures before us, I suppose now was as good a time as any to kill the program if it’s not the right direction to go in.
That being said, how many more times are we going to do this? We keep stopping and starting and stopping and starting our post-Shuttle plans for space, so that now, after five final shuttle missions this coming year, we will longer have the capability anymore as a nation to send men and women into orbit. “If implemented, the NASA a few years from now would be fundamentally different from NASA today. The space agency would no longer operate its own spacecraft, but essentially buy tickets for its astronauts.” Forty-one years after we first reached the moon, that’s just plain sad.
Ultimately, the central finding of the Augustine commission’s final report, released this past October after extensive study of NASA’s current situation, is a sound one: “The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.” In other words, we’ve been trying to talk the talk without walking the walk. If we’re going to get serious about manned space flight, we need to stop piecemealing NASA and start making manned exploration a funding priority.
In total, the agency is slated to get $100 billion over the next five years. To put that number in perspective, that’s less than a fifth of our defense budget for 2011 alone, and that’s going by the most conservative numbers around — NASA’s five-year budget could be closer to a tenth of next year’s defense spending. (For its part, the Augustine commission set a price tag of $3 billion a year to get serious about manned exploration.)
If we had put anywhere near that kind of money into exploration and R&D over the years, would we now be in this position, where we face the Hobson’s choice of replicating expensive 50-year-old launch tech or being completely grounded as a nation? The lack of thinking about our long-term priorities sometimes is staggering to me. I’ve said this before, but I still believe it holds true: Short of possibly genomic research and advances in AI, nothing we do right now will matter more centuries or millennia hence than establishing a presence off-world…if we even have that long. Not to get all Jor-El up in here, but we really have to start getting serious about this.
“Although that panel suggested a $3 billion boost to NASA’s $18.7-billion-a-year budget in order to take a firm next step in human space flight, Obama’s support for a $1 billion bump next year represents a major coup for the agency given the ballooning deficit and the continuing recession. And NASA just won a $1 billion boost from Congress for 2010 in a bill signed by the president.” By way of another friend, President Obama backs increased funding for NASA’s new heavy launcher. “The president’s decision to go with the second option is a major departure from his 2010 budget plan, which called for a 5% increase in 2010–the boost just approved by Congress–but then remaining flat through 2014.“
Good, although I do wish he’d gone the full $3 billion. In the great scheme of things, not much we do is of larger importance than manned space flight. And 10,000 years from now, people aren’t going to remember or much care how many Joint Strike Fighters we built in the Twenty-Tens. But they will know whether or not we took significant steps to leave the cradle and move off-world.
“Any intact lava tube could serve as a shelter from the severe environment of the lunar surface, with its meteorite impacts, high-energy UV radiation and energetic particles, and extreme diurnal temperature variations.” In a tube in the ground lived…a human? An international team of researchers identify a lava tube in the moon’s Marius Hills as a good spot for a lunar colony. Just watch out for the exogorths.
“‘This will create a considerable stir. It was wholly unexpected,’ said one scientist also involved in Chandrayaan-1. ‘People thought that Chandrayaan was just lagging behind the rest but the science that’s coming out, it’s going to be agenda-setting.’” Well, this definitely changes things if it holds up: India’s first mission to the moon discovers “evidence of large quantities of water on its surface(!)”
“Another lunar scientist familiar with the findings said: ‘This is the most exciting breakthrough in at least a decade. And it will probably change the face of lunar exploration for the next decade.’” NASA comments tomorrow, so be ready to hum a few bars…
“So why do tech geeks love space? Though they may have the resources — a trip to space will now set you back some $45 million — this can’t be the full answer: You don’t see Donald Trump or P. Diddy signing up for an astro-mission. What makes it worth it for the tech geeks?” The Big Money‘s Julia Ioffe tries to ascertain why dot.com miliionaires pay out the nose for space travel. Uh, because it’s there?
“‘There’s a documentary called Orphans of Apollo that’s stated this well,’ he explained. ‘There’s a generation of us, who are the tech leaders of today, who were universally inspired to go into science and technology because of the NASA Lunar Space Program. And the reason the movie is called Orphans of Apollo is because, in many ways, we feel orphaned by the fact that the space industry has not done a good job of capitalizing on that momentum of what many of us believed were the first steps into space, carrying the mission of human space flight farther and farther into deep space.’“
“‘They’re taking an Apollo-like approach,’ Gilbreth said. ‘Our program is much more ambitious than Apollo. We’re going to put four people on the moon for seven days, eventually for six months. China is looking for a minimum capability. We’re looking to put an outpost on the moon.‘” NASA officials concede that China will beat the US back to the moon. “The goal of NASA’s Constellation program is to return astronauts to the moon by 2020…Gilbreth said the Chinese could accomplish that by 2017 or 2018.“
Moreover, that US date will likely slip five years when Pres. Obama takes office in January. In all honesty, this is one of the few areas where I emphatically disagree with our nominee. There are plenty of places to acquire $18 billion for education without raiding the space exploration budget…defense bloat, for example.
“It’s very deep, like in a forest on the darkest night,’ said Shawn-Yu Lin, a scientist who helped create the material at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. ‘Nothing comes back to you. It’s very, very, very dark.‘” Dick Cheney’s soul? Tonight’s lunar eclipse? No, a great leap forward in “transformational optics”…and invisibility cloaks. The “paper-thin material…absorbs 99.955 percent of the light that hits it, making it by far the darkest substance ever made — about 30 times as dark as the government’s current standard for blackest black.”
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.” Happy holidays to everyone out there. Berk and I are currently at the family homestead, where I’m enjoying home cooking, catching up on work and — true to form — checking out some of the better video games of the year: Call of Duty 4, Portal, Rock Band (I’m the frontman.) Hope your own holidays are equally fun and relaxing.
“To become a multiplanet species, we must master the skills of extracting local resources, build our capability to journey and explore in hostile regions, and create new reservoirs of human culture and experience. That long journey begins on the moon — the staging ground, supply station and classroom for our voyage into the universe.” Astrophysicist Paul Sputig eloquently makes the case for a return to manned lunar exploration.
Once in a blue moon? Not even. As it turns out, Game 4 of the World Series will be played under a lunar eclipse. I think the Series will go more than four, but if it doesn’t…
“I always knew that I would see the first man on the Moon,” once quipped Jerry Pournelle. “I never dreamed
that I would see the last.” Hopefully, we can now prove him wrong. Dubya officially announced his space plan in front of NASA’s DC headquarters today, and the upshot is this: More scientists, less entertainers, a Research Lab in every city, and he’s going to disband all the Spearmen and Pikemen still lying around so he can build the SS Planetary Party Lounge.
Ok, just joking…some of y’all out there might think that was funny. At any rate, the plan is the ISS by 2007, the CEV by 2014, the moon by 2015, and Mars thereafter. Say what you will about election year boondoggles, but I still think creating and funding long-term goals for NASA is a wise investment. (Besides, if you want to cry election-year boondoogle, you don’t need to go any farther than Dubya’s ridiculous $1.5 billion marriage-promotion plan.) NASA still has serious organizational and cultural flaws, sure, but I think it’ll be better able to address them if there’s at least some semblance of a “vision thing” to build on.
Perhap’s he thinking about the November election, or perhaps he just fell asleep in front of Outland the other night. Either way, next week Dubya will make the case for a moonbase and a Marshot. As y’all might expect, I’m all for it, although Bush, Sr. said much the same thing over a decade ago and it went nowhere. I’m also with the folks who agree that some sort of shuttle alternative may need to be in the works before we can seriously start setting up a lunar settlement…but, hey, let’s at least start thinking big again.
As space cadets around the nation hoped, it now looks like China’s recent foray into the stars will draw dividends stateside…Apparently, Bush is about to announce a US return to the moon. “‘You’ve got the Chinese saying they’re interested — we don’t want them to beat us to the Moon. We want to be there to develop the sweet spots,’ Republican Senator Sam Brownback says.” Now here’s a Dubya campaign initiative I can get behind.
Skywatchers prepare for a blood-red moon over the weekend. In case of confusion, the crimson color won’t be due to moonmen or monsters, but rather due to the plethora of solar panels on the lunar surface. Ok, not yet.
Space policy analyst Mark Whittington laments the squandered opportunity of Apollo in the LA Times.
With the foam debris explanation suffering in computer modeling, the fate of the Columbia has become a scientific mystery. I haven’t had the time to address the space question as eloquently as I would have liked this week, so I’ll quit stalling and just repost some of my (slightly-edited) e-mail conversation with Scully on the subject:
I’m actually very much in favor of space colonization, and I think the argument that money spent on space is a senseless waste falls apart on its own premises. Would the money spent on the space program be better spent on conquering disease or ending famine here on Earth? Ideally, of course, we’d spend money doing both – exploring space and alleviating misery. But I think the utilitarian argument being made in this case ultimately doesn’t work. If we’re talking greatest good for the greatest number, then the space program in fact makes more sense. Spending the money on food saves millions. Space colonization would save untold billions, if not more – the very survival of the species, and in fact all of Earth’s species. We know that the sun will wink out of existence one day in the future, and if humankind isn’t out of the solar system by then, it’s game over.
Of course such an event seems very, very far away, and there are people starving and dying in the here and now. It seems callous to weigh the very real suffering of the diseased and famine-stricken against such a farflung possibility. But, the fact is, a wayward asteroid could kill us all in ten years. Or we could burn out the polar caps in one hundred. That’s why, ultimately, space colonization is an imperative. Having all of our eggs in one basket (Earth) may possibly encourage humanity to treat that basket with care (although there’s been no evidence of this in the past.) But even if we were all environmental saints, some forces are beyond our control.
If that sounds like idealistic or theoretical gobbledy-gook, I’ll go realpolitik. Like the Olympics, the Space Race is one of the few ways that nations can indulge in healthy, non-lethal competition (or indeed, even more healthier collaboration.) I’d rather China, the US, Russia, Europe, etc., spent billions on trying to be the first nation on Mars rather than on finding new and horrible ways to kill each other.
Also, as Screenshot recently noted, there’s a strong argument to be made for R&D benefits of the space program. Yeah, we all know about Homer Simpson and the ants sorting small screws in space. But there have been plenty of offshoots of NASA missions that have been enormously useful. And, while I admit this line of reasoning could be used to prove almost anything, scientific research conducted in space may yet provide breakthroughs that would help solve many of our planet-wide problems, from famine and disease to energy resources and environmental degradation.
And, finally, it would take a long time to explain in detail my final reason for being behind the space program, which is on republican (small R) grounds. But the Cliff Notes is this: I believe democracies need large civic projects to bind them together (usually, they have taken on martial rhetoric – War on Poverty, War on Drugs). The space program advances knowledge and brings Americans together in a way that doesn’t necessarily involve any enemy but ignorance. As such, it should be pursued if no other reason than that it encourages us to dream together and inspires us to collective action.
So, to sum up, I am very much in favor of space exploration and the space program. But I do agree with you that NASA has become a bit bloated and inefficient, and that’s for all the reasons that government always gets fat – for one, there’s no bottom line. For another, short-term thinking and narrow, remunerative interests have grafted themselves onto the system. Hence, we have a rocket-based shuttle launch system that costs ridiculous amounts of money each time we use it because the check-cashing subcontractors have no real incentive to start working on cheaper, lighter space planes. In fact, I think that it is in this regard that the tragic deaths of the STS-107 crew may not be in vain. The fate of Columbia is going to cause some heads to roll, and hopefully some of NASA’s organizational priorities will be reconstituted from the bottom up.
So that’ s my piece on the space program. Sorry if it’s more inarticulate than I would have liked. To close, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention in passing at least one more reason I support the colonization of space. As Breaching the Web’s Wild West cartoon also suggests: Because it’s there. Strange and irrational as it might seem, it’s always been my dream to look back on Earth from the stars, and, for however infinitesimal and fleeting a moment, attempt to contemplate the striving of countless generations towards outer space. Call it a bias or a misplaced faith in progress, but I believe Humankind has a mission and a destiny to leave the cradle of Earth and to colonize other worlds, allowing all the weird, wild, and wonderful variations of human society to bloom and flourish across the cosmos.
Wildly idealistic and improbable as it might seem, this dream gives me hope. And when the Columbia splintered apart last Saturday, it wounded a portion of my idealism that even the unforgettable horrors of 9-11 couldn’t touch. Which is why I am moved to see in the wake of STS-107 that this dream is shared by many, many people, and that – despite the seven tragic deaths that day – the dream will continue.