September 17, 2005
The Big Green Cheese
Today seems to be my day for interesting Fox News articles. Here's another:
NASA: Astronauts on Moon by 2018
Friday, September 16, 2005
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA hopes to return astronauts to the moon by 2018, nearly a half-century after men last walked the lunar surface, by using a distinctly retro combination of space shuttle and Apollo rocket parts....
The fact that this successor to the soon-to-be-retired shuttle relies so heavily on old-time equipment, rather than sporting fancy futuristic designs, "makes good technological and management sense," said John Logsdon, director of George Washington University's space policy institute.
"The emphasis is on achieving goals rather than elegance," said Logsdon, who along with other members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (search) urged NASA to move beyond the risky, aging shuttles as soon as possible.
Is it just me, or... or does anyone else find it sardonically amusing that it's going to take us nearly twice as long to return to the Moon as it took us to land on the Moon the first time? I could understand it if we were developing "advanced, unproven technology," such as fusion rockets or laser-launching technologies (which I wrote about in "Nerfworld," the lead story, after William F. Buckley's pastiche, in the anthology edited by Brad Linaweaver, Free Space). But that's precisely what Logsdon says we're not doing! We're essentially just cannibalizing the SSTS (shuttle) and grabbing some off-the-shelf technology.
I mean, I've been a cheerleader for space since the 1960s (and I couldn't very well have done it before then, since I didn't have a womb with a view). And I'm all for returning to the Moon before venturing on to Mars (the closest planet, not counting the Moon) or beyond. But thirteen years? From now? Yeesh!
The Moon is essential for many reasons. First, it is of course a nearly perfect base of operations for all future space expeditions. True, it has a gravity well; but it's nowhere near as steep as the Earth's; and the gravity is more than made up for by the extraordinary wealth of raw materials available on the Moon for vritually no production cost -- once you get there. Lunar dust is made up of such useful components that it may as well be designed by some cosmic materials-science engineer for the sole purpose of building spaceships. With great big concave mirrors in orbit around the Moon, we would have all the energy we needed to smelt the lunar dust and build a ship in situ, never having to launch it off the Earth at all. It even has water ice, from which we can extract oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.
Second, the Moon can be an excellent military base, able to bombard virtually any location in the inhabited portion of the Earth at will, using the simplest of all missiles: rocks. Robert A. Heinlein wrote the book (literally) about this idea -- the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; and a stunning book it is, too, perhaps Heinlein's best. But pssssst! L. Ron Hubbard, of all people, later the founder of Scientology (but only a pulp writer back then), had the idea first, so far as I know, in a 1948 or 1949 pamphlet on using the Moon as the ultimate "high ground" for war.
Finally, the Moon is a great place for all sorts of industrial operations that produce toxic or hazardous waste, or are themselves inherently dangerous, or are just plain polluting and ugly... anything that doesn't explicitly require an atmosphere (or zero-G) can be done on the Moon, and the finished products shipped "down" to Earth. You don't have to worry about disrupting the fragile lunar ecology, because it hasn't got one. Fragile or otherwise.
So return we must. And surely we can: as Jerry Pournelle is overfond of remarking, "what Man has done, Man can aspire to do." I don't want a "crash" program, pun very much intended and intended seriously; but I think we can do better than this.
We're Americans, for God's sake.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 17, 2005, at the time of 2:10 AM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/30
The following hissed in response by: AMJoe
First comment ever? We'll see. Got you bookmarked my friend and we'll be checking back often. Always enjoyed you at the "Captain" and look forward to reding more. Good luck!
The following hissed in response by: The Sanity Inspector
Welcome to the blogosphere! That was a nice launch they gave you at Powerline. Hope you have fun with the new blog!
The above hissed in response by: The Sanity Inspector at September 17, 2005 7:09 AM
The following hissed in response by: davidhrobbins
Your post echoes my reaction as well. I also find it hard to believe NASA will really re-use any old technology since most of the materials used in it's construction - e.g. asbestos - are considered too toxic by today's new "enlightened" environmental standards.
Maybe it will take 13 years because NASA will have to retrofit all the old parts with the new brittle heat shields and will end re-engineering every thing any way. It took me 20 years to build my submarine with just Leggos.
The following hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell
Our Friend the Gravity Well...
Work efficiency increases dramatically in a stable, conventional gravity well. If you do not believe me, get on a ship, find a decent sized storm, and try to work in an unstable, unconventional gravity well. The clockwork universe vision of accomplishing great things in microgravity is largely espoused by people who have not had to do hard work in a storm off Cape Hatteras.
If you want to bemoan the presence of a gravity well, feel free to do so...after you have spent a few days trying to get something important done while passing your entire alimentary canal through your lips. Energy efficiency is not the only efficiency, except to people who believe that the only adjustment that ever needs to be made is the rewinding of a clock. For those of us who live in an OODA loop where unforseen things happen, the ability to stand, think, and adjust is improved by having something solid on which to rest.
A gravity well is your friend when you are trying to get something done. Although to be fair, micro-gravity is probably your friend when you are an engineer who wants to be on a massive project team until you retire with a government pension...
The above hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 17, 2005 7:52 AM
The following hissed in response by: Mr. Davis
The original Apollo project had the advantage of working without computers or calculators. The prevalence of slide rules at mission control is evidence of the suprior human intelligence available in that time period. Retrogression in the American educational system coinciding with the commercial introduction of color television is responsible for this decline.
The following hissed in response by: RockyRaccoon
The bureaucracy has grown at a tumor-like rate since the 60's, which trumps any and all leaps forward in science and technology. The more bureaucrats, the less will and drive. I'd be surprised if our current structure could put us back on the moon in 20 years.
PS-Congrats on your new blog! Every new responsible blog is one more nail in the MSM coffin.
The following hissed in response by: HelenW
Ddd writes: does anyone else find it sardonically amusing ...
I am not amused at all. The entire history of space exploration points to one inevitable fact: Escapism is for SF writers. Real people belong on Earth.
We should compare NASA's Shuttle and ISS, to JPL's robotic missions. Except we can't. Human space flight is so dangerous and expensive, it can never have a sustainable basis. Contrarily, our robotic spacecraft are doing real science and real exploration.
Imagine how far we could leap into the future if we were not committed to human flights to the Moon and Mars. Imagine how much we could benefit on Earth, if we pushed our technology to send a repair robot to HST. Look at what our robot spacecraft have delivered just this year--from the outer planets to hurricane preparedness--with tiny costs and risks.
Human space flight does not amuse me.
The above hissed in response by: HelenW at September 17, 2005 12:24 PM
The following hissed in response by: Stewart
Human spaceflight doesn't amuse me either; it is essential for the future of our species. With 99% of the raw material and energy in our system not on Earth, we face severe constraints as long as we remain planetbound. Someone will get out there and start doing things, or we regress into a Dark Age such as the Islamists wish on us.
The following hissed in response by: Justin Time
I think you are being defeatist HelenW.
I would like to compare manned space flight to (don't laugh!) learning to juggle.
I learned to juggle about ten years ago. I'm not the best at ball games and it took me a lot of effort. There were two stages:
1. I would manage 4-10 throws before the errors accumulated. This was most dispiriting. For me, my hands drifting ever further apart was the main problem.
2. With practice I learned how to correct my slight errors as I went along, so they were not amplified, but dampened. Now I could keep going almost indefinitely, and the added practice from juggling rather than picking the balls up off the floor made me even better.
I think with manned space flight, we haven't had much practice and we're at stage 1, where a small problem often gets magnified to catastrophe.
We have to persevere, and eventually it'll become child's play.
The following hissed in response by: HelenW
Thank you for the replies, gentlemen. I'm certain our host won't mind a few side discussions.
Stewart, to say that our species is doomed on Earth, is to deny all rational thought on the matter since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. The answer is not in fleeing from a planet overrun by Jihadists. We simply need to kill them faster.
Justin, you can call me Helen or Helly, at least until another Helen shows up.
The fallacy I see behind your juggling metaphor (I didn't laught) is that anything is possible in the future. Looking at the miracle of evolution, who could ever deny anything is possible over vast amounts of time?
However, when I say "Imagine how far we could leap into the future ...", I'm not trying to be a Defeatist. I'm looking for the best alternatives at this point in time. For example, who would advise basing our future energy supplies on fusion, when we have vast amounts of coal and oil shale readily at hand?
My point is that SciFi fixation with human space flight is hobbling space exploration. Our robots deliver 3 or 4 orders of magnitude more product/expense with no risk. If you subscribe to Stewart's vision of raw material depletion on Earth, let us send our machines to do the digging on other worlds. Then we would have some chance of surviving.
The above hissed in response by: HelenW at September 17, 2005 1:19 PM
The following hissed in response by: Patterico
Excellent site, Dafydd, and excellent post. I am sorry that you won't be guesting on my site (as least as frequently) but thrilled to have this excellent new blog on my favorites.
As to your post -- is this a sign that being Americans isn't what it used to be? I hate to think that, but the declining support for the war has me concerned that we're no longer a people with the same will we once had. Please tell me I'm being too pessimistic.
Also, when we first developed the space program, we didn't yet have the fully developed welfare state. I think maybe you gotta choose -- and we have chosen.
The above hissed in response by: Patterico at September 17, 2005 1:49 PM
The following hissed in response by: RBMN
Somebody is going to be on the Moon. It may as well be the US.
China Wants Manned Base On The Moon
By Patrick Goodenough
CNSNews.com Pacific Rim Bureau Chief
May 22, 2002
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - China hopes to become the world's third nation to put astronauts in space in the next few years, to land them on the moon by 2010, and eventually to establish a moonbase to exploit natural resources there. The ambitious agenda has emerged at an exhibition on space technology, where scientists in charge of the country's space program have been speaking in uncharacteristically open terms about the plans. "China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010, and will establish a base on the moon as we did in the South Pole and the North Pole," said the program's chief scientist, Ouyang Ziyuan, according to the official People's Daily. Beijing Morning Post quoted him as elaborating that the base would be used to "mine [the moon's] riches for the benefit of humanity." Resources believed to be on the moon include iron, titanium, helium-3 and water-ice, Ouyang said. Helium-3, an isotope of the helium gas used in blimps, is seen by some scientists as the perfect energy source for the future. Hard to find on earth, it is plentiful on the moon. Water ice is important because the presence of water could provide invaluable local sources of oxygen and hydrogen -- used for rocket fuel -- as well as doing away with the need for expensive shipping of water supplies from earth for any future manned lunar operation.
In Fisher's view, it was unlikely Beijing would used its manned space program for military missions. But China was pursuing an ambitious program of military satellites, which could be used to provide support for future aggression against Taiwan, he noted. Fisher said many may welcome China's space program as an opportunity to engage with Beijing in a non-military field, especially considering the potential scale of its future contribution to space exploration. But while China's program has a largely military character, he said, it would be "better to seek a greater foundation for peace on earth with China - such as on the Taiwan Strait - before engaging a Chinese space program so closely bound to China's military goals."
The moon's the limit for China
By Antoine Blua
Aug 17, 2005
Space missions have become a focus for boosting national prestige and a showcase for China's technological capabilities, according to David Baker, editor of the annual reference book Jane's Space Directory in Britain. "China has realized that in order to be a major player on the world stage it has to demonstrate that it has a sound and strong technical base," Baker told RFE/RL. "And the desire to explore the moon is a part of China's movement forward to demonstrate to nations that they are capable of matching the achievements of those nations that have always been considered to be the dominant countries."
Last year, China launched an unmanned moon-exploration project, which includes putting a satellite in orbit around the moon before 2007, landing before 2010, and collecting lunar soil samples before 2020. Craig Covault, senior editor for the US magazine Aviation Week And Space Technology, told RFE/RL that the moon project was one of the many fronts where China's space technology program was making rapid progress. "It is developing a whole new range of large, modern rockets - boosters. It is developing manned spacecraft for use in Earth orbit to a small Chinese space laboratory that will be operational in the next 10 years or so," he said. "And between now and then, [China is planning] individual flights of the Shenzhou spacecraft of a week or so in length. It is also looking at developing a wide range of satellites for Earth orbit."
The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi
The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi at September 17, 2005 4:48 PM
The following hissed in response by: Towering Barbarian
Ever consider the thought that without human beings the robots would be without value? Space exploration is useful only to the extent that it is a prelude to space colonization. Without that the robots are nothing more than tinkertoys for Mundanes. :P
As for who would advise basing our energy on fission plants and fusion research when coal and oil shale are available count on me as one who would do so without a moment's hesitation. Nuclear energy is proven and reliable and allows us cleaner air than coal would. ^_~
The following hissed in response by: HelenW
Hi TB, I'm glad yur interested.
Addressing your points in reverse order, I was talking about fusion, not fission. My argument would have been made more clearly if I took your advice. Rewrite: Who would advise basing our future energy on nuclear fusion when proven fission processes are readily at hand?
Let's project this reasoning onto our current state of space exploration: Why would we transport humans into space with equipment that has proven to be unreliable, when we have robotics in hand that can do the work 1000's of times faster, better, and cheaper? You can bet that if life is ever found on Mars, a machine will find it.
A more tangible tradeoff is coming with HST. We are going to lose the most important scientific device every built, because we have committed to a scientifically useless human space flight policy. Imagine the spinoff technology if we would commit a fraction of that expense to a robotic rescue mission.
Now you say that space colonization is the *only* reason for space exploration. You have to be careful with that word. Planetary science, terrestrial communications and weather forcasting, energy collection, mineral extraction, and observatory platforms are just a few of the non-colonization applications that our mechanical presence in space could provide.
And, as a reality-based conservationist, I worry about the psychological effects of escapism. I think it is important to realize that Canticle for Lieborwitz can't work. There is no option to making human life work on Earth.
And finally, if this is all we get from robotic space exploration, it would be enough for me.
The above hissed in response by: HelenW at September 17, 2005 8:22 PM
The following hissed in response by: Hank Racette
And I'm all for returning to the Moon before venturing on to Mars (the closest planet, not counting the Moon) or beyond.
Typically sexist posting one might expect from a reptile. It just happens that today, Mars is closer than Venus. But the planet women come from is, on average, just a tad nearer to us than is Mars (where a tad equals about 20 million miles).
Nice site. I've put it on my list.
The following hissed in response by: David Gillies
Another cool reason for going back to the moon: there are craters near the pole that get essentially no sunlight at all. With 1/6th of the gravity, no atmosphere, plenty of free silica, and lots of power to smelt it, you could make a 100m diameter telescope mirror without the need for adaptive optics. You could get integration times of days or weeks. An astronomer's dream. Or put a VLBI radio telescope on the dark side, with the bulk of the Moon blocking RFI from Earth.
The above hissed in response by: David Gillies at September 18, 2005 1:26 PM
The following hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell
"And, as a reality-based conservationist, I worry about the psychological effects of escapism. I think it is important to realize that Canticle for Lieborwitz can't work. There is no option to making human life work on Earth."
As a what? It is difficult to parse that statement without entering into the realm of personal attack, so instead let us consider the limitations of assigning permanent values to variable technologies.
The key problem with committed conservation is that it must at its core deny the value of expanded energy use. The problem with that as a core value is that expanded energy use is the most liberating behavior in human existence. More people are living longer, better, and more educated lives because there is energy available for them to do so. There exists a fundamental conflict between dedicated conservationism and freedom. Placing your context as you did Helen, you established yourself very strongly opposed to many imporant kinds of freedom. Bringing psychology into the mix was arguably the most terrifying thing I've read from an intellectual this year. The kinds of behavior that combination brings into play is abhorrent in the extreme. Feeling justified in controlling others thoughts because you understand reality better than they do is a path to really ugly absolutism.
You have not made your case that robots are thousands of times more efficient at space ventures because you deny two critical features: unmanned spacecraft routinely fail and manned spacecraft hold together much longer than unmanned craft. The number of failed missions runs to the dozens, whereas the number of fatal manned missions can be counted on one hand. Mir held together as long as it did because it had people innovating new solutions as it ran.
The above hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 18, 2005 10:36 PM
The following hissed in response by: Tim Kyger
When NASA next lands on the moon, it'll be getting there by renting a ride on a SpaceX/t/Space vehicle, and it'll be met by a concerige from Bigelow.
Those are three private space companies, by the by.
NASA's planned "New" space program? Apollo 2.0? It's "Forward Into The Past! Look, I have *proof* i've been to the moon; just look at this PowerPoint handout!"
And by the way, hey there! I found your blog!
The following hissed in response by: itdincor
Yah, well, this all well and good, I like Heinlein too, and also cannot understand why it's taking 50 years to return to the moon. I think we should have had a permanent base there by 1990 at the latest, and for the life of me can't see why the US military did not do that. Or, maybe they did - do you know? I don't. :-)
Anyway, all these things are great, I'd like to see them too, but where's the money? We BROKE, folks! This country is so far in debt that I can't count that high, couldn't if I did ten numbers a second for a thousand years, the dollar is propped up artificially, and if any oil producer starts selling oil in Euros or Renmimbi or Rubles or dill pickles, the dollar will droop like the daisies in my Alaskan back yard. How in the hell can we pay for all these other (really neat) things, when - te mention only one - the DDX (just one of many heart-stoppingly expensive weapons systems) is proving to be unaffordable? Or, at least, unaffordable in numbers sufficient to fight a war. And don't kid your selves: numbers count. The Russians proved that in WWII. The best gizmos in the world are of no account if you can't afford to buy them. And we BROKE, folks! Just don't know it yet. So, how in the hell do we buy these things? I think it's all a nice dream, one of which I approve, but a dream naetheless.
We're broke. No dough. Do 'ya understand that? Printing presses don't make money, they print trust - a social agreement - and we're broke, or damned near.
So sez Kenny. :-)
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