I intend no disrespect to those on the Homosexuality thread, but in the interest of giving our brains a complete, all-around workout, I would like to pose a totally unrelated question to the members of the forum: What should US and world policy be towards the space program?
The direct cause for this topic is the recent cancellation of the the Lance Bass space flight, which disappointed me greatly. Not that I like n*Sync, but I thought the trip could revive flagging interest in manned space flight.
A summary of my personal position follows, in quotes so you can ignore it if you like:
quote:Within the next few billion years, the sun will expand to a red giant star and proceed to turn the surface of Earth into molten lava and boil the seas away to steam. No carbon-based life forms will survive this event: There is no such thing as a deep enough shelter, or a good enough hiding spot, when one is dealing with stellar forces.
It would be good if the human species is somewhere else when this happens.
However, my rationale for space flight as the only means to ensure human survival is not only based on distant disaster scenarios. Within the next few million years, we may be hit by a species-killer asteroid or comet, which would devastate life on Earth as we know it. Within the next few thousand years, other disaster possibilities exist, such as global nuclear warfare, ecological collapses, etc. (To be clear: While I do not think that humans have the power to "destroy life on Earth" or anything similarly dramatic, I do think we are quite capable of killing ourselves. )
The bottom line is: As long as humanity is cooped up on one vulnerable planet, we are vulnerable. If we occupy different planets, or different star systems, we are far less vulnerable to extinction.
Unfortunately, since the abandonment of the Apollo program, no human has set foot on another world, much less attempted to live there. This trend shows no sign of changing, as "saving the human species from distant, but inevitable, disaster" is not a popular campaign issue. Many people neglect to plan for their own retirements, do you really think that a majority of voters would approve spending money to avert a disaster thousands of years away? I am deeply worried that we will wait until the threat is pressing and we have no time before colonization of other planets is seriously considered.
Am I saying that we should be launching a Mars colony right now? Not necessarily, but we need to be at least working on landing on the Moon again, and beginning to establish a permanent human presence in space. There is not yet a need for haste, but procrastination is folly.
So, to reiterate the question, what should US/International policy be towards space flight? How do we convince the public to pay for incredibly expensive programs with little in the way of immediate results? Should we even worry about interplanetary space flight, or should we just stick to Earth-orbit work? (Yes, that contradicts my opinion, but I'm inviting discussion, not preaching. Well, not too much. )
In an effort to keep this thread afloat before the Homosexuality thread, again, asserts dominance atop the forum, I will simply say that I am worried as well, and exceedingly disappointed with what has happened to the space program since the Apollo program faded away.
Im too dead tired to say anything particularly eloquent or sophisticated at this stage as I didn't get enough sleep last night. Suffice it to say, the space program should be one of the single most important programs in the budget, if nothing else 9/11 should have warned us of the fragility of the status quo. It isn't just a comet or asteroid impact that could kill us, as you said, we could easily kill ourselves. Space offers us the opportunity to expand outward and limit the possibility of human extinction. In addition it is often research in space, be it via Hubble, or simply from experiments and technological leaps that occur while building and designing all the things necessary for space travel, and survival and communication in space that provides us with the great leap forwards in technological development, and economic power that we now enjoy..
What should we do? I'm not sure, I thought Stephen Baxter's, "Voyage," a novel reimagining how the space program could have developed, brought up some interesting ideas. However, I can't think of much, unfortunately the American public is far more oft to worry about the present problems, and the now and behave in a reactive fashion, rather than be forward looking, and deeply fascinated with a future that may not touch them, but may be of vital importance to their Grandchildren's children.
[This message has been edited by graywolfe (edited September 23, 2002).]
Personally I think that if population control were to become a greater threat, then the space program would also become more important to the average voter. With the US a superpower and several small countries under her belt (especially if we collect on the loans we have out, but that's another thread), there is no way that limits will be put on population increases world-wide. (Such as in china.) The US voter isn't going to allow those type of steps to be taken, I mean what would that do to the Mormons for instance? (Please forgive me, I personally have nothing against Mormons, a large portion of my family is Mormon. On the other hand when my aunt was pregnant with her 8th child while I was pregnant with my first... there's something wrong with that.)
Thus, space travel and colonization will come forefront and money will be put in. Please pardon my analogy but I find that Americans are somewhat like rats. They go sticking their noses into everyone's business and tend to start working to change something only after they've been cornered by it.
The cost of space flight is largely due to the launch cost so, the most direct path to making space flight more common is to reduce launch costs.
There are two areas of launch cost - squishy cargo, such as humans and animals (the amount of g withstandable is inversely related to the size of the animal), that can only withstand relatively low accelleration for brief times, and nonsquishy cargo which can withstand high accelleration for extended times.
The best method to drop the cost, would be significant investment in high payoff technologies - ie balloon suspended railguns for heavy, accelleration tolerant cargo, and the lightcraft (laser based launch and accelleration) for squishy cargos (also useful to help accelerate heavy cargos post launch). Laser induced path ionization, and the other methods I mentioned earlier.
These could drop the cost per pound drastically. (ie three to four orders of magnitude...)
The next step would be mining or energy production (likely both) - mining would first be oxygen, aluminum, and other bulk materials (sell the oxygen to the space station, among others), and likely the platinum group metals (they are economical enough to mine in space.) Energy production would be massive photovoltaic arrays that recieve sunlight 24/7 (See Solar Power Sattelites - SPS, and Space Solar Power - SSP). First usage would be for the mining and manufacture above, but would soon be used to power (some of) the Earth. (SPS economics are highly dependent upon launch costs, energy conversion efficiences, and production and maintainance costs. They could be economic for areas like Japan relatively quickly, but unless global warming becomes a major concern and carbon sequestration from coal plants is more expensive than expected it will be tough for them to be economically competitive with coal in most markets).
Once space is profitable, things will quickly snowball.
There is also the high end tourism, which can come before, during or after the above...
[This message has been edited by LetterRip (edited September 24, 2002).]
Well, all hope is not lost for reviving interest in the space program. This comes from CNN.
quote:MOSCOW (AP) -- Pop star Lance Bass is back at Russia's cosmonaut center and will start a new training session Monday despite being excluded from the crew of a rocket heading to the international space station next month, the head of a Russian company that works with the 'N Sync singer said.
Bass, who was ordered to leave the Star City cosmonaut training ground earlier this month after failing to make payments on a contract that would have made him the youngest person ever in space, has returned to the facility outside Moscow, said Yuri Nikiforov, general director of Atlas Airspace.
"He will not go in October for sure, but he just doesn't want to interrupt the program," Nikiforov said Saturday by telephone.
He spoke after Russia's Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed official at the training center in Star City as saying officials there had decided Saturday to permit Bass to resume training.
Officials at the facility could not be reached for comment late Saturday. Last week, Russian space agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov did not deny Bass might return, but stressed that if he did he would not be training for the October flight or any other space mission.
Bass began training in July, hoping to rocket away from Kazakhstan on October 28, boosted by corporate sponsors and a seven-part television documentary. But TV producers failed to raise the estimated $20 million fare, and Russian space officials said on September 3 that he would not be part of the crew.
At 23, Bass would have been the youngest person ever in space. He also would have been the third paying space tourist after California businessman Dennis Tito and South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth, who flew to the station on Russian rockets.
Not that I have any great love of N*Sync or Lance Bass (supporting evidence: I am male), but if he goes up, I suspect it will be the most widely reported space flight in a long time. If we are lucky, this will be covered not only be the news channels, but by MTV and some of the other "pop culture" channels. It's never to early to start indoctrinating the children: Space is the future for Homo Sapiens. (Besides, given the demographics that N*Sync appeals to, in eight years or so we might start to even out the male-female gap in engineering schools. )
Regards, Crazy Eddie
(Edited to fix inconsistent capitalization of N*Sync and a coding error.)
[This message has been edited by Crazy Eddie (edited September 25, 2002).]