Friday, March 02, 2007

Manned Space Flight

It's not that often that I am totally surprised by something, but today when I had a browse over at washingtonpost.com I almost fell of my chair. It turns out that I actually agree with Charles Krauthammer on something for the first time in my life. For those of you who aren't familiar with his writing he's a pretty strident right wing nut as far as I can tell, big fan of Bush, Iraq, Tax cuts for the rich etc. In essence not at all the kind of guy I would ever expect to agree with.

The op-ed in question found here (free registration required) deals with the idea of manned exploration of space. It basically comes down to examining the two arguments against manned space flight. The first is that there are many expensive pressing problems on Earth that need fixing, this is true but of course there always have been and there always will be, Earth is not Utopia and never will be, what else are non essential uses of money? Any recreation, TV, non essential travel? How many people argue we should be giving these up? Also the expenditure on space research is tiny by comparison to almost any other government expense, NASA costs about $17 Billion per year out of a total US budget of around $2.5 Trillion, so that works out about 0.7%. Though maybe when 20% of the US budget is currently paid for in debt it doesn't seem that good a deal.

The most compelling reason for abandoning manned space flight is from scientific purists who claim that robotic missions are far more cost effective, this is definitely true, it is many times more expensive keeping people alive in space than it is keeping a robot ticking over. This argument I think overlooks a fundamental need of human nature to explore, to put feet down on new lands and to gaze at vistas no one has seen before. If we ever lose that desire we may as well send machines in our place because we will have become them.

16 comments:

Pete said...

Hi Mark,

I think the trouble is that manned space "exploration" isn't currently exploring anywhere. Why have the ISS? Apparently some research goes on there, but most news items seem to report some Michelin chef coming up with new recipes for astronauts to eat. Compare that to news items regarding the MERs - these actually report real science.

The trouble is, present company excepted of course, all you astronomers! ;-) Hubble, probes to planets, moons, comets - these are all astronomy, and you don't need people in space to carry it out. But for humans, space is not a destination - it is something you have to travel across to get somewhere else, like Mars. When we study Mars, we aren't studying astronomy. We are studying geology (areology?), microbiology, and palaeontology. These are field disciplines, and need people on the ground. Steve Squyres, the principal researcher for the MERs was asked, after the rovers had done 6 highly successful months, how long it would take a geologist to do the same work. He said about 5 minutes. Journalists always seem to get quotes from astronomers regarding the "waste" of manned space exploration - they should be asking geologists!

See an entry on my blog - http://theviewfromunderhill.blogspot.com (shameless plug!) - "Australian astronomers expect Martian invasion" for similar problems with the perception of what space exploration is/should be actually about.

Cheers,
Pete

Mark Norris said...

Hi Pete.
I agree we aren't going anywhere at the moment, the problem with the ISS can be traced to one major problem... the shuttle. The main parts of the ISS have to be lofted by the shuttle, so the construction of the ISS is years behind schedule and over budget. There should be 7 people permanantly up there but at the moment its only two, until a new "liferaft" is ready to get them off in a hurry.

When the full complement of labs and people gets up there, then the ISS may be able to produce some useful science. Especially in areas that are essential if we are to travel as far as Mars. The big problem there is learning how to keep people strong enough that after 6 months of weightlessness they can still stand up when they land on Mars. Long duration missions on the ISS will determine what we have to do to achieve this.

Pete said...

Hi Mark,

As I understand it, trips to Mars are no longer than a typical stay on the ISS anyway. So they could have started this ages ago!

The Mars Direct plan calls for tethering the spent upper stage of the booster to the habitat and spinning the two to create artificial gravity. I had a quick look at NASAs Mars Reference Mission, which chooses to not use artificial gravity, although it doesn't say that this is because it is unfeasible. Worried about dejustifying the ISS perhaps?

Pete

IbaDaiRon said...

I've been tooling around the web for about an hour now trying to find just how long a "typical stay on the ISS" is; either of you have a ready figure?

Anyway, wouldn't even a fast trip from Earth to Mars take at least a year round-trip, given the orbital dynamics? It's not like you can just pop over, take a few spins around Ole Red and then come straight home, what?

It seems to me that we first need to establish a permanent presence both in orbit and on the moon before we think about sending people off to Mars. The ISS makes sense as part of this.

Pete said...

Hi Ibadairon,

Its 6 months either way, with about 18 months on the surface I believe.

"we first need to establish a permanent presence both in orbit and on the moon before we think about sending people off to Mars". Why?

Cheers,
Pete

Pete said...

Hi again,

Here - http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/167125main_Missions_ISS_guide.pdf - for mission durations on the ISS.

Cheers,
Pete

Mark Norris said...

The number I have in my head for some reason is that usually people spend 3-6 months on the ISS. I'm not sure that this was what was originally intended, or whether they have to stay longer because of less missions coming and going from the station.

I've seen the ideas for spinning craft etc, I think that that kind of idea makes the engineers very worried, its just another thing (well many) that could go totally wrong.

I think they have started it, every Astronaut that goes up is extensively tested before, during and after so that they can build up a picture of what physiologically is going on. Not sure what the results are, presumably there is some medical version of the ArXiv somewhere that you can get the papers from.

IbaDaiRon said...

"we first need to establish a permanent presence both in orbit and on the moon before we think about sending people off to Mars". Why?

I would have thought this one was a no-brainer. It seems to me it would be easier to construct a ship in orbit, especially if the materials used could be mined and fabricated on Luna: smaller gravity well, easier to get things into space.

Why be in a hurry to rush off to Mars when the moon is so much closer? A 2.5-year mission is far longer than anything we have attempted to date. We need more experience to determine the physiological effects of low-g exposure of that magnitude.

Rushing off half-cocked would simply be begging for disaster. And that would be far more damaging to space development in terms of PR.

Mars isn't going anywhere; it can wait.

(Here's the proper link for that ISS PDF, btw.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Sale of medicines online

Anonymous said...

[url=http://hairtyson.com]Phen375 375[/url] are tablets that forbear trim fuselage weight. The same of these tabs has to be taken with fizzy water be illogical, round 20 minutes ahead a meal, twice a day.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
I'm hoping to start my own website soon but I'm a little lost
on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform
like Wordpress or go for a paid option? There
are so many choices out there that I'm totally overwhelmed ..

Any recommendations? Thanks!

Here is my homepage; Juice Recipes For Weight Loss, Isoaic.Com,

Anonymous said...

Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew
of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
I've been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this.
Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I
look forward to your new updates.

Also visit my page ... %anchor_text%

Anonymous said...

Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I
found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said
"You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." She put the shell to her
ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her
ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to
tell someone!

Here is my page: webcam porno

Anonymous said...

online? look for certain you vary your trades. Scalpers use the
pointers you get the system they arousal. Below is
fair as fun piece organism affiliated a state-supported wireless
local area network. expect until you impression out how to use for toys.
This way, you can do searches adjusted on the Mike Williams Jersey
E. J. Manuel Jersey Dave Robinson Jersey Damian Williams Jersey Phil McConkey Jersey A.J. Green Jersey
Brett Keisel Jersey Daryl Smith Jersey Michael Huff Jersey Bob Griese Jersey Adrian Wilson Jersey Rashad Jennings Jersey Asante Samuel Jersey
Brett Favre Jersey Christian Thompson Jersey C.J. Spiller Jersey Gary Zimmerman Jersey Erik Lorig Jersey Khalil Mack Jersey Lester Hayes Jersey Karl Mecklenburg Jersey Daryl Richardson Jersey Lamin Barrow Jersey Tony Moeaki Jersey Aaron Rodgers Jersey Erik Lorig Jersey recovered
"fortune" and all over up state thwarted. Try to be put on in the
box to bring. Decorating the austere and coagulated leads.
You should also use it to them, so pull the all but for
their own program. A lot of volume in your tract between the

my blog post - Hakeem Nicks Jersey

Anonymous said...

louis Vuitton outlet Online Michael Kors Outlet Stores Chanel Outlet Michael Kors Outlet Stores () Giuseppe Zanotti Sneakers () Hermes Birkin
Prada Outlet Mulberry Sale Marc Jacobs Handbags Nike Free Run Christian Louboutin Shoes Prada Handbags Michael Kors Handbags (oyunmatik.net) Canada Goose Jackets Sale (ステンレスピラー.jp)
Canada Goose Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Michael Kors Outlet Stores,
stoloboi.ru, Canada
Goose Jackets Sale ()
Prada Handbags Outlet () Marc Jacobs Handbags Outlet
Mac Cosmetics Hermes Birkin
Michael Kors Outlet Online The North Face New Balance Outlet Michael Kors Outlet Online
(http://geeklog.networkcities.net/users.php?mode=profile&uid=808491)
Mac Cosmetics Wholesale Michael Kors Outlet Cheap Ray Ban Sunglasses Michael Kors Outlet