Friday, February 17, 2006

Space nationalism

I've said before that I think human space flight is a waste of resources and human lives. Space money should go into many compact, affordable, potentially disposable crewless science missions, not a few bloated crewed missions.

My view is strongly reinforced by this article in New Scientist, where NASA officials explain why they are prioritising crewed space missions over science missions.
"... other committee members worried that China would then leapfrog ahead of the US in space. 'China's going to be on the Moon in 2017 -- I think that's something we ought to be concerned about,' said committee member Ken Calvert. 'The US must maintain its global position.'"
It's hard to believe, but they're openly admitting that they're driven by populistic nationalism!

Well, Dear Reader, let me tell you this. I'm very happy that American tax payers are funding NASA, I pay for a tiny bit of ESA's budget myself, and my in-laws help fund the Chinese space programme. And I don't give a Wookie fur ball in what country the people who make a scientific discovery live. When the Chinese come up with something interesting, they're very happy to translate for us. Or my wife could do it.

Update: but, "The House Science Committee’s Republican chairman and senior Democrat told NASA Administrator Mike Griffin they had little interest in accelerating the U.S. space agency’s exploration plans at the expense of science and research." Link. Mind you, they're not suggesting that NASA scrap Dubya's "Vision for Space Exploration", just that they stick to the original time table.

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Blogger Tim said...

Hi Martin - Although ~I agree humanly crewed missions would be expensive, I still think, at least as far as our Solar System is concerned, that a boots-on-the-ground policy is a good one, particularly if we want to have a look round say, Cydonia on Mars. But going beyond our neighbourhood on missions lasting perhaps centuries might just be beyond our capabilities, in which case robotic missions would be better.

Bearing in mind that NASA just blew a cool $10 billion on trying to shore up the Shuttle, which is due for retirement within 5 years, (and should have been retired 20 years ago), it's clear that allocated budgets are not being applied as sensibly as they could - within the last year or so, a large number of good value science missions were put on hold or just scrapped as a result.

I vaguely recall hearing an estimate of about $40 billion to put people on Mars, which spread out over a decade or two wouldn't be quite so ruinously expensive, but knowing the way spending on big projects escalates out of control, that figure could easily double, triple or worse.

In some ways it might be better for private enterprise to fund such future missions - someone elsewhere, on Posthumanblues, I think, mentioned the idea of space tourism, say on the Moon or Mars, as a means of helping to find cash for such ventures, rather than hit the taxpayer.

There are also vast resources of potential energy on the Moon, like helium 3, waiting to be exploited by whoever gets there first, which would seem to indicate yet another mad rush between competing countries, and it might be argued we'd be better off keeping such disputes down here on Earth, rather than exporting our warlike ways across space. Difficult call.

Anyway, just a random comment amongst many I could make, as I'm reading through your excellent blog - really good variety of topics, very well written, and if someone wants to pay you to write it in the future, all the better.

btw, my stat counter has gone relatively crazy over the past few days, largely folks coming from here, so again, many thanks for the mention, best, Tim

25 December, 2006 00:37  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks hombre! Glad your counter had a little jolt!

I didn't mention the shuttle, but of course that and the International Space Station are just silly. And dangerous as all hell. They're sending people 400 km straight up to be able to say "we have a space presence". The Voyager probes are our real space presence. More probes!

25 December, 2006 09:15  

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