The Final Frontier

For today’s edition of Science Friday here on SM, I thought I would write about the science story that made the biggest impact in this past week, as well as the one closest to my heart.  The theme of this week’s Science Friday will be Human Space Exploration.  What are countries around the world, including the U.S., India, and China doing in order to keep their societies at the forefront of space technology?  The “prestige” of nuclear weapons pales in comparison to the prestige and society-wide benefits that a country gains on the road to putting its citizens in space.  Anyone can make nukes, but only three countries (U.S., Russia, and China) have the economic power and human capital to put people into space and return them safely.

China continued its impressive run by following up its first human mission with this second one that placed two men is space for five days (the equivalent of our Gemini Program from the 60s).

Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, known as taikonauts, were declared to be in “fine condition” after their 5-day spaceflight which ended at 4:33 a.m. Monday, Beijing time. The mission, lasting 115 hours and 32 minutes, was more than five times longer than China’s maiden manned mission in 2003.

“We feel fine,” Fei told a crowd of well-wishers. Nie expressed thanks to the Chinese people for their “concern and support.”

Wu Bangguo, No. 2 in the Communist party hierarchy and head of the country’s national legislature, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the second manned space mission was a “complete success,” and a “milestone” in China’s space technology development. [Link]

What about India?  Is it even trying to keep pace with its ambitious neighbor?

… as China begins planning a lunar mission in 2007, and with the US and India declaring an interest in another Moon landing – and a manned flight to Mars – are we seeing the dawn of a new space race?

“Once China had announced its first unmanned lunar spacecraft, India came along and said that they were also interested in unmanned lunar exploration,” Philip Clark, of the British-based Molniya Space Consultancy, told BBC World Service’s Analysis programme.

“They’ve now signed an agreement with the European Space Agency for joint experiments with the Indian spacecraft…

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p>While India’s space programme is relatively small, it has made considerable strides in recent years, putting a number of satellites into orbit. [Link]

That ain’t going to cut it.  When it comes to a proper space race, “relatively small” and “considerable strides” are girly-man words.  With a space race you have to go big or go home.  In 1998 my dad used some connections to get us a tour (highly illegal) of a major ISRO facility in India.  What I witnessed were intelligent and enthusiastic scientists with antiquated computers, mired in an unworkable bureaucracy.  Without a bold and focused vision, India won’t be able to compete with China, and given 21st century warfare, the strategic implications of that may end up being more dire than not having as many nukes.  A lack of vision is the same reason that NASA here in the U.S. withered throughout the 80s and 90s only to see a recent resurgence.  With no competition, vision usually fades.  It wasn’t until the last few years that the Bush Administration decided to turn things around with a focused and ambitious plan to send humans back to the Moon and then on to Mars.  They realized that re-vitalizing the space program was a necessity and that the military spin-offs might come in handy.  If China could do things in space that we couldn’t, it would be a strategic blunder of epic proportions.  The future of warfare unfortunately includes space.  That is as certain as Manifest Destiny once was.  Let me briefly explain.  U.S. combat operations increasingly rely on communications and theater awareness.  The U.S. can kick ass because we always have more information than our enemy.  This information is a direct result of our orbital assets.  If a foreign power can eliminate or disable those assets at a critical moment, then we would be blind, deaf, and dumb.  A hunter-killer spacecraft could simply fly near an enemy satellite and deploy a sun-shield.  Starved of  the solar rays the provide energy, the satellite would go into safe-mode and shut down.  Imagine if China could do something like this to U.S. or Indian military communication satellites. There are even easier ways to disable spacecraft.

A space race also inspires the citizens of a country to study science and engineering at their Universities, especially in graduate school.  Everybody wants to be part of something so big and inspiring if the government gets behind it as China has.  In the U.S., enrollment of our citizens in engineering schools is dangerously low.  We are training engineers from other countries who are increasingly returning to their country of origin.  Our country must remain the leaders in scientific and technological innovation if we want to compete in the new global economy.

So what is the plan here in the U.S.?  Right now we do not have the infrastructure to send humans to the Moon.  We must put that infrastructure in place before Red China does.  It all comes down to the launch vehicle.  The Saturn V that we used for the Apollo Program could deliver ~120,000 kg to LEO (Low Earth Orbit).  Current launch vehicles can’t get anywhere near that.  The U.S. government will never allow us to build another Saturn V.  Why not?  Because it wouldn’t have any commercial customers.  We would spend billions of dollars to develop a vehicle that only the government would use.  Fiscal conservatives don’t like that philosophy.  China doesn’t need to worry about fiscal conservatives.  So instead we are going to do what we did during Apollo, but with multiple launches of smaller rockets which contain pieces that we will assemble in orbit, before sending to the Moon.  The centerpiece of this new plan, and the replacement for the shuttle, is the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).  I could show you my original concept for the CEV from three years ago but then I’d get into a lot of trouble , so instead I am showing you Boeing’s concept.  The capsule is similar to the one used in Apollo only larger (can seat 4 for a lunar mission and possibly 6 for a Mars mission).  In LEO it performs a rendezvous with a lunar injection stage full of fuel and then blasts off toward the moon.  Winged-vehicle designs like the Space Shuttle were eliminated because they are less safe, cost more to maintain, and are more expensive to develop.  The fact that this design was chosen reiterates in my mind that we are in a race.   We want to get back to the moon quickly and efficiently instead of impressively.

In any case, all this serves as a brief introduction.  What I really want is for readers to either point to or discuss other science stories pertaining to the global space race, space exploration, or space science.  If anyone has any more insights into ISROs plans, that would be particularly welcomed.

In the past five years, an Apollo Hospitals facility in southern India has treated 1,700 patients using a satellite technique called tele-medicine. This process uses video cameras in rural clinics to hook up patients to doctors located hundreds of kilometers away.

The space program costs India almost $600 million dollars a year, but space scientists believe it’s an investment that benefits the lives of millions of the country’s residents. [Link]

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p>Other recommended reads:

Wanted: a flat, mineral-rich plot – with Earth view

Outside view: China’s space message

48 thoughts on “The Final Frontier

  1. abhi says

    The “prestige” of nuclear weapons pales in comparison to the prestige and society-wide benefits that a country gains on the road to putting its citizens in space.

    this is the lynchpin to this article. So I will counter this with a posting calling India anidiot savant .
    To me, the investments in science and technology should best be applied to gerontology, social sciences, epidemiology – each of which is a matter of pride, just not in a pissing contest type of way. On that note I consider the euphoria of a missile launch more of a PR coup than a genuine achievement.
    Sorry to have a drive-by posting – but I got to rush off now. Will be happy to engage in a debate later.

  2. Everybody wants to be part of something so big and inspiring if the government gets behind it…

    As a certified space-buff who’s also a libertarian, I bring up the obvious questions:

    Is space(apart from defence in space) exploration the job of the government?

    Considering that the government botches up expensively everything it does, should it take on this responsibility?

    Add up all the expenditure on US space exploration since the 1950′s. It runs into trillions of dollars. Have we got our return on investment?

    If the same trillions were to be spent by Boeing or Ambanis with an eye on profit, would they have done a better job?

    M. Nam

  3. If the same trillions were to be spent by Boeing or Ambanis with an eye on profit, would they have done a better job?

    I believe they would, similar to the way Fedex and UPS are better than USPS. Its the capitalistic mentality, competition creates innovation, ideally giving end-users the best final product.

    What about the Ansari X-prize challenge? the one where SpaceShip One came in first, i think it was funded by Richard Branson and is the basis for virgingalactica. It seems as though a first step in the right direction.

  4. Is space(apart from defence in space) exploration the job of the government?

    Yes. Investing in science and the betterment of its citizens is the job of the government.

    Considering that the government botches up expensively everything it does, should it take on this responsibility?

    The government does not botch up everything it does. If it did humans would abandon government. The government can be a force of great good.

    Add up all the expenditure on US space exploration since the 1950′s. It runs into trillions of dollars.

    No it doesn’t. Not even close. The ENTIRE Apollo Space Program only cost $25 billion. That is 14 stealth bombers.

    If the same trillions were to be spent by Boeing or Ambanis with an eye on profit, would they have done a better job?

    They would never spend that money without an immediate profit incentive. Sometimes pure science and exploration doesn’t provide immediate profit.

    What about the Ansari X-prize challenge? the one where SpaceShip One came in first, i think it was funded by Richard Branson and is the basis for virgingalactica.

    I was at that launch. That’s just kid stuff, barely breaking orbit. I am talking about serious exploration and the commitement of a nation.

  5. Abhi- damn son, you really love your space, how was that launch? But in regards to the private sector doing a better job, the more i think about it the less i believe it. If we were as committed to going to space as creating nuclear submarines than potentially we may, the original nuclear submarines cost our government more money than their entire weight in gold.

    on a random note, have you guys seen this MIA video :)

  6. on a random note, have you guys seen this MIA video :)

    Before anyone answers cocopuffs, I should let you know that I dislike MIA’s music as much as I love space. Anyone that soils my post with further discussion of MIA will feel the full wrath of my passion. Don’t do it. :)

  7. See why China is pushing the US towards a space race…

    Abhi,

    The word “government” really means “government employees”, which usually means bureaucrats, special interests, etc etc.

    One one hand you tsk-tsk ISRO(a government body) for using outdated technology, and on the other hand you want more government here…

    The government does not botch up everything it does

    Except defence, police and courts, I don’t think the government has done anything efficiently. Anywhere. Anytime.

    betterment of its citizens is the job of the government

    Howabout: betterment of citizens is the job of the citizens?

    Can someone please answer: What have been the biggest benefits of space exploration?

    M. Nam

  8. One one hand you tsk-tsk ISRO(a government body) for using outdated technology, and on the other hand you want more government here…

    No, I never said I want more government. NASA has been downsizing for years. I want vision, a goal, and leadership to reach that goal. We can’t compare India’s government to the U.S. government.

    Howabout: betterment of citizens is the job of the citizens?

    I am not a libertarian and never will be.

    What have been the biggest benefits of space exploration?

    I feel your question is myopic. I can imagine you as a king of some country in the 13th century who asked a similar question to the admiral of his Navy, shortly before his country faded into obscurity.

    Have fun reading if you really want to know.

  9. “Can someone please answer: What have been the biggest benefits of space exploration?”

    Computers (a lot of computing revolution was ushered/ accelerated through space exploration – the amount of data they use is enormuous and that was the catalyst), Telecommunications, Teflon, Weather and Defense Satellites (You cannot track hurricanes et al. without them) and most important of them – human endeavor and exploration, same as the sailors/ explorers as Columbus, Magellan, Shackleton did.

    Space exploration is like Einstein’s photo electric effect – it is every where, and you ignore the connection eventually. Or like Michael Faraday’s dynamo. When he was asked, “What good is it?”. He said, “What good is a new-born baby?”

    Let me give a simple example, you would not have giant oil platforms in the deep gulf of mexico if you did not have real time communication and data transfer which was only ushered by space age.

  10. Or like Michael Faraday’s dynamo. When he was asked, “What good is it?” He said, “What good is a new-born baby?”

    Great quote Kush. I will have to remember it.

  11. I don’t think its lack of imagination that made NASA flounder in its space work in the 80s and 90s, rather the trillions of dollars wasted on keeping the outdated space shuttle afloat as long as possible so that Boeing and Lockheed’s owners could live large off of taxpayer’s money. We could’ve gone to mars in the 80s or even the 90s but its not going to happen for a very very very long time because the people who run NASA are comfortable being where they are, as long as people don’t die and the space shuttle keeps spending upwards of 500 million a flight they’re happy and the general public doesn’t care. If that’s the case with NASA can you really expect different elsewhere? The chinese astronaut thing is a PR stunt, to show “capitalist communist China Shining” and to divert its citizens attention elsewhere than at the government.

  12. rather the trillions of dollars wasted on keeping the outdated space shuttle afloat

    Please for the love of God can nobody ever use the “T” word again. The public apparently has no idea how much its government spends on space. Sorry, I don’t mean to pick on you but you are the second person in this post to make this egregious mistake. It is not your fault though. Its one of those things you hear and keep repeating.

  13. because the people who run NASA are comfortable being where they are

    Wrong on this point to. The people that work for NASA are space fanatics. They all love their jobs. It is the politicians above them that are comfortable with things they way they are because space exploration doesn’t get votes and won’t payoff until the politician is already out of office.

  14. Space exploration is not just manned missions like Apollo, Shuttles etc. – That is just part of it, a visible one, no doubt.

    I thought this year one of the satellite, Deep Impact was made to collide with the comet – that was awesome.

    As Saheli pointed out a few weeks ago, that 1965 immigration act was prompted by space’s rivalry. At least, thank space exploration for making it possible for you or your parents being here.

  15. At least, thank space exploration for making it possible for you or your parents being here.

    Great point once again. My dad came here as an engineer in 1967 under immigration conditions which make today’s seem crazy oppressive.

  16. My parents were here at that time – it is another thing they went back to India because they really felt home sick, missed relative et al., and had a sweet new job offer there. However, they still love to point that around the Apollo time that mood of innovation in America was electrifying.

    Abhi, I think I have told you that my father worked on meteorites. When they were leaving, his boss (you know him) told him that he is going to miss working on moon rocks.

  17. Telecommunications, Teflon, Weather and Defense Satellites (You cannot track hurricanes et al. without them

    For those who underestimate the power of space exploration’s resulting benefits, a website that lists just some of them.

  18. The ENTIRE Apollo Space Program only cost $25 billion. That is 14 stealth bombers.

    You’re sorta mixing up costs / inflation / productivity base.

    The Apollo program was $25B in 1969 dollars && $135B in 2005 dollars.

    $135B would buy 70 B-2′s @ $2B each.

    However, because we’re talking about government spending which draws from the general taxbase rather than consumer spending which is allocated in a market it’s sometimes better to make time comparisons w/ GNP percentages rather than inflation indices.

    In peak Apollo years, NASA’s budget was ~$5B in 1966 terms while 1966′s GNP was $787B and the total federal budget was $130B. So back then, we as a nation were spending ~0.6% of our country’s total product and ~3% of total fed budget on space.

    Today, we spend ~$15B on space out of an ~$11T GNP — ~0.1% of our total income and ~0.7% of total fed budget.

  19. You’re sorta mixing up costs / inflation / productivity base.

    Yeah, I know. I was just waiting for someone to point that out :) The Stealth Bomber analogy is my favorite though so I had to use it.

  20. My my my… touchy crowd here…

    Accusing me of doubting the benefits of space exploration, eh? I am well aware how much our lives have been bettered due to technological advances spurred by space. I love this stuff so much that I even wrote a space-fantasy love story: The Plutonic platonic.

    My only beef is space-exploration by Government. Picture a poor Grandma in an inner-city neighbourhood. Tell her that NASA spends billions(no trillions) on space. Her answer will be: “I’d rather they put more cops on the streets to make neighbourhoods safer.” I completely empathise with her. The government cannot distinguish between space spending that’s good for the taxpayers vs that which is worthless. Hence a lot of money goes down the drain. Remember the $4000/- toilet seat bills from the 90′s?

    I completely endorse government spending and research from a defence/espionage perspective. That’s a direct benefit to every taxpayer.

    However, moon/Mars missions that have no tangible benefits should best be left to the private sector. If Boeing spends money on a moon mission, then its shareholders can decide whether to stick with the company or not. The grandma can sell Boeing stock and buy T-Bills. However, with the government, we are all shareholders. And we cannot sell its stock if we disagree with the expense. Hence, the government should have as little responsibility(and rights) as possible.

    If I were Michael Faraday, I would have answered: “I did this with my money. Who are you to ask me whether this is useful or not?”

    M. Nam

  21. In 20-21 st century, they have been in my mind only two defining, shinning moments of Pax Americana:

    a) Manhatttan Project b) Apollo Mission

    What is common between them?

    Both were government driven, were basically science and technology frontier endeavors primarily driven by real politick than market economics, and heavily fueled and driven by “phoren” (immigration) minds.

    Rest of time has been spent on medicore posturing.

  22. Right, MoorNam, because of course Faraday got no benefit whatsoever from the Royal Institution, which was set up by British nobility, permitted with a Royal charter,and in large measure funded by members of the British government. And his work in no way benefitted from the work of Newton, at the Royally funded Cambridge University, or from the work of Cavendish, who was educated there and worked off the money he inherited from his Ducal grandfather–money raised by taxing subjects and receiving royal commissions. And of course, no engineer or physicist ever relied on the synthesizing work of Maxwell from King’s College London. If it’s royalist funding taken from the peasants lacking suffrage, you’re all for it, but let Democracy step in, and it’s suddenly tyranny.

    Just to be clear: Faraday’s dynamo was no mere toy. Faraday’s discoveres are the basis for all conversion from mechanical/thermal energy (i.e. fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, and hydro) to electrical energy, and all conversion of electrical energy to mechanical energy (i.e. fans, motors, blenders, grinders, pumps, etc.). It’s also what makes metal detectors and induction stoves work.

  23. I saw in one of PBS documentories that Reagon in the 80′s changed the funding for pharma research model by stopping the pharma research grant to Universities via NSF. Basically the standard republican theory of everything private sector good. Govt. bad !!

    The result of this is, things like VIOXX, which in term of scientific value was almost same as any available pain killer. That was the “RESEARCH” that Big pharma did. Other research they spent their money on was RECREATIONAL DRUGS such as Viagra (for which a disease have to be invented :-) )

    In short private sector pharma companies are only worried about the NEXT QUARTER results and the bottomline. They cant afford to have VISION, such as cure for cancer no matter how much it costs. The big visionary things have to be done by Government type entities who arent motivated ONLY by profits. This same theory applies to VISIONARY projects like space exploration.

  24. MoorNam. Michael Faraday was a book binder with little formal education and a meagre income until much later in life. He made his key discoveries as Humphry Davy’s apprentice at the Royal Society and during his time at the Royal Institution. So no, it wasn’t made with his money.

    Facts. Always useful in arguments.

  25. Oh and Viagra wasn’t researched as a recreational drug RC, it was initially designed as a hypertensive/heart failure treatment – a vasodilator. But I’m certainly not defending Big Pharma, in fact don’t get me started on them. M.Nam’s a big fan of the pharmaceutical industry though.

    (Thanks for the extra info Abhi, I didn’t have much time to look into this during the week. I have an email to send you as soon as I get the pics off my phone. It’s Trektastic and possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a hospital.)

  26. Folks,

    I did not know Faraday’s source of funding – the Royal Society is as bad as the US Government. Probably worse.

    I really don’t want this to become pro-private/anti-private sector thread. Let’s stick to space. I guess we will have our differences in philosophy. Let’s agree to disagree.

    Question: Is space travel feasible until somehow it man’s life is lengthened considerably (through statis etc)? A decent journey(even at greater speeds than today’s) to Pluto and back will take at least 20+ years. Forget the expense – let Hillary Clinton pay for it with one of her “brilliant” ideas – can space men/women even undertake it?

    M. Nam

  27. Bong,

    I also think Faraday used to do odd jobs for Davy in the lab – like assisting him in lectures, washing bottles, etc. Davy’s wife almost treated him like a servant.

    I should also remember his another quote always: “Work. Finish. Publish.”

    We’ll stick to space programs on this thread – USA, China, and India. Maybe, SM should blog about Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian Space Program and a brilliant mind. I think it is like Bollywood and other great ventures in India – we have great minds but sometimes the end result is not great – as a nation, India is an idiot savant (as dhavak pointed out).

  28. Indeed she did treat him like a servant – he had to sit with them during meals. Davy himself was no better. He was a pompous man and soon realised he was not the young Faraday’s equal. But he stubbornly refused to allow Faraday to progress up the ranks in the Roayl Society. Initially everyone agreed with Davy, after all Faraday was not a gentleman, he was a commoner. But he won the vast majority of members over, but Davy continued to block his membership despite widespread opposition.

    Davy himself was an interesting chap. He was effectively a pop star at the time – scientists were big names and their demos were very popular. He would draw large crowds who would listen to his lectures (including a teenage Faraday). And of course, like any rock&roller, Davy had a habit. He was addicted to laughing gas, nitrous oxide. He could not go out and ‘perform’ in front of his audiences without taking a hit from the bong flask. He clung onto his position as chair of the Society as long as he could…but he could not stop Faraday from finally assuming that role and becoming one of the Society’s greatest leaders.

    He also established the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution, which is where my interest in science was piqued :)

  29. Regardless of costs, you have to agree that the shuttle is one of the most unsafe projects ever undertaken by the people at NASA. Yes its the politicians who are the ones controlling things, NASA is just as political as anywhere, and the people inside might be space fanatics but that doesn’t seem to have changed things so far. They’re certainly not bad people, but things at NASA are run just like they are in the military, that “keep it in da family” mentality, where they “take care” of one another as in overlook certain things and ensure that people remain comfortable. If the people at NASA actually admitted that the shuttle was unsafe many jobs would be lost and no one in the family, regardless of space fanaticism wants jobs to be lost. So the space shuttle continues. NY times article Observer UK article NASA spent less than a quarter of what it spends on shuttle flights to develop a new space vehicle X-33, and guess what, they canned it, calling it too difficult. $550 million for each shuttle launch. A billion dollars shared funding between Boeing and Lockheed every year since the shuttle was launched. To do what? Go up in space and orbit the earth and then come back down.

  30. Indian Satelites developed at ISRO are quite good and are benificial and can be clasified as terciary technology(defense-military-scientific) That has served indian interests well Indian Space exploration outside of satelites does not exist, and indians should consider the marginal benifit vs cost(not only economical but political). If india can piggyback on russian/EU/American projects and save enough $ its worth it. Outside of that i’m not convinced that an expensive space program its worth the $$ it in the near short term, unless indians can use some of the outsourcing business metaphor to gain an edge with US and Europeans. From What i understand indian space operations are more expensive to run then russians.

    America can explore more ambitios projects. How much does us wants to cooperate and share the expense is upto US to separate scientific and civillian from military aspects of space exploration. Its easier done than said, because space exploration under US is pretty much scientific. -GGK

  31. Your blog mentions :

    “Once China had announced its first unmanned lunar spacecraft, India came along and said that they were also interested in unmanned lunar exploration,” Philip Clark, of the British-based Molniya Space Consultancy, told BBC World Service’s Analysis programme.

    What a lie!!! ISRO was the first to announce Chandrayan and also announce that there is additional payload available which ESA may be using.

    Acknowledged that Chinese are ahead in the manned space exploration, but they really lost the initiative in unmanned exploration. It was only after ISRO’s announcement, did the Chinese decide to start their unmanned program.

  32. Abhi: I agree with you that space is the “Final” frontier for us earthlings. However, I also agree with folks who argue that there are other priorities in life (especially for most folks in India)when throughout the world one child dies every 15 seconds (or so) due to malnutrition. On the other hand, if India wants to join US, Russian and Chinese “Space Club”, they need brilliance and vision of someone like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai (Thanks Kush). Incidentaly,Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, and Mrinaliniben are our neighbors in Ahmedabad. If you remember back in 1998, I took you to visit ISRO and PRL in Ahmedabad….Go boldly and without any regrets to our “FNAL” frontier….GOD SPEED………Love…Dad

  33. Is space travel feasible until somehow man’s life is lengthened considerably…

    No response to this…let me try this from a different angle.

    My interest is space is not only from a pure technological curiosity point of view, but also from a human angle. How will space exploration and its benefits change society? Will humans have to change mentally before space travel becomes feasible.

    Most astronaut programs test cadets physical endurance rigorously. Their mental endurance is tested only marginally – how well they work under pressure etc. A few years ago a Texas billionaire built a secluded environment akin to a spaceship on earth, and a few men and women were locked in there for a few months. The idea was to explore what social conditions will come up on a lengthy travel to Mars and back. The men and women in question failed miserably(even though they were handpicked). Fights broke out. They started hating each other. They could not handle it, even though there was no additional pressure(ie, lack of oxygen, monitoring spaceship instruments etc).

    How long can any of you forego a proper bath? Two days? A week? Two weeks? Allright, if you are trained in the military, maybe for a month. How about five years? 40 years(Pluto and back)?

    How many of you can survive on processed food – most of it liquid. For two weeks? A month, tops? How about five years?

    Man, when he started exploring the oceans, had to give up many comforts. Sailors did not see their families for years. (Most did not have families.) Women could not sail until all the routes were mapped thoroughly. Diseases like scurvy were commonplace. Tens of thousands died. This was despite the fact that they had air, water(rain) and food(fish) enroute the journey.

    In space, there is nothing. As the movieline goes – nobody can hear you scream. A marooned spaceship is lost forever. No desert island where you can hang out for a few years for help.

    This is the stuff that needs to be analysed before starry eyed people dream of Mars missions and beyond. When these issues are resolved, Man will be ready to explore space. Until then, sci-fi movies will have to do.

    M. Nam

  34. Most astronaut programs test cadets physical endurance rigorously. Their mental endurance is tested only marginally – how well they work under pressure etc.

    This is incorrect. Astronauts face numerous mental and psycological tests as well, and virtually all have proven track records of working well with others based on experiences that they have compiled over a lifetime. Once you meet several of this generation’s astronauts (as opposed to the Apollo era ones) you will see that each of them seems like the nicest and most genuine person you have ever met. They are easy to work with.

    How long can any of you forego a proper bath? Two days? A week? Two weeks? Allright, if you are trained in the military, maybe for a month. How about five years? 40 years(Pluto and back)?

    It depends on the person. The farthest feasible trip in our lifetime is to Mars. 6 months there, 6 months back and either 30 days or 1.5 years on the ground (orbital mechanics dictate that those are the two likeliest mission durations). As for me, I am capable of enduring many hardships.

    How many of you can survive on processed food – most of it liquid. For two weeks? A month, tops? How about five years?

    Read Bold Endeavours. The human body is capable of much.

    In space, there is nothing. As the movieline goes – nobody can hear you scream. A marooned spaceship is lost forever. No desert island where you can hang out for a few years for help.

    No guts no glory. You don’t sign up unless you accept death.

    This is the stuff that needs to be analysed before starry eyed people dream of Mars missions and beyond

    .

    What I fail to understand is why you think this isn’t being analysed. Much of this was analyzed decades ago. I take it personally of course because its my job but I am so discouraged by the public’s ignorance of basic facts about our space program. Government rules state that NASA can’t advertise. I can only imagine the result if we could.

  35. Abhi, as someone who is trained in mathematics and thus a lover of all things scientific, I am all for supporting space exploration. However, the general public tends to be wary of claims made…a prime example was your first post above, where you compared the cost of the Apollo programme to 14 Stealth bombers. When outed later on about having ignored inflation etc, you flippantly admitted to that being your favourite analogy…thus, it is apparently a misleading argument of which you are aware and yet it is something that you use often. Do you see now why an average Joe tends to be wary about any claims made about why money should be poured into the space programme?

  36. When outed later on about having ignored inflation etc, you flippantly admitted to that being your favourite analogy…thus, it is apparently a misleading argument of which you are aware and yet it is something that you use often.

    Please. When faced with the ridiculous assertion that we spend TRILLIONS of dollars on space I hardly think that failing to correct for inflation was a mortal sin on my part. Even once corrected it doesn’t approach anywhere close to TRILLIONS.

  37. What I fail to understand is why you think this isn’t being analysed.

    I am well aware that these factors are being analysed at least for the last 25 years. However, have they found a solution to the problems? Why is it that in the Texas experiment, rigorous men and women sequestered together in isolation for a few months “lost it”? Could it be that the spirit of adventure, the curiousity of space and science can carry men only so far? Could it be that there need to be other motives for space travel and exploration to “take off”? More below…

    The farthest feasible trip in our lifetime is to Mars…12months+ trip… the general public tends to be wary of claims made…

    These two statements made by separate people are tied together significantly. Let’s go back a few centuries to analyse what propels humans’ exploratory spirit…

    More than 1500 years ago, south-indians from the Chola empire knew that the jungles of south-east Asia(Malaysia etc) had the best bamboo and rubber. Their trade was based on land routes – up the peninsula, cross over into Bengal/Burma and then down into Malaysia. The Muslim invasions and other wars disrupted the trade routes and the Cholan people who were hooked onto the goodies from Malaysia needed to find an alternate route. This propelled the sea exploration which was financed by businessmen who were hurting and were desperate for profits. Thus, the Cholas discovered a sea-route to SimhaPuram(Singapore) and other places.

    Fast-forward a few centuries. The Romans, Spanish and Europeans in general were hooked on to the Indian spices and clothing. Their trade routes were primarily land-based, but the expansion of Islam brought marauders and looters en-route, thus making trade impossible. Moreover, the wars between Muslims and Christians made trade impossible. In addition, they had learnt that Muslims had established kingdoms in India and converted a significant portion of heathens to Islam. Not wanting to be left behind in trade and proselytation, their exploratory zeal was kindled. Indeed, the speech that Columbus made was…: Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that anyone has gone.

    It was primarily relegious zeal and secondarily a trading purpose that spurred the European exploration of seas.

    You want to go to Mars? Why? Is there any fruit on Mars that will cure Cancer or AIDS? Are there Martians who need to be converted to Libertarianism? Does Mars contain any special element that’s outside of the Periodic Table which can be used for faster space travel(into the stars)? No. No. No. and No. Then why would the public be interested in funding your trip? Because you could find something interesting? Just because you think space travel is cool? Or just because you want glory? Or to boast that the US set foot on Mars first?

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m on your side on this one. I want space travel to take off – for the right reasons. There has to be a direct, measurable and immediate benefit to the taxpayer or shareholder who is used to instant gratification.

    M. Nam

  38. “The Romans, Spanish and Europeans in general were hooked on to the Indian spices and clothing”

    The spices were primarily used as a preservant in those times, before industrial age (refrigration) and that one of the major reason for India-related exploration. For China, the reasons were different. For South America, gold..and so forth.

    As for countries leading exploration: For Spain, it was faith. For English, it was pure commerce. But for some of the explorers – it was pure human inquiry and discovery.

    There is no single reason, and some just funding ploy for explorers to seek money from royalty.

  39. Abhi said: Please. When faced with the ridiculous assertion that we spend TRILLIONS of dollars on space I hardly think that failing to correct for inflation was a mortal sin on my part. Even once corrected it doesn’t approach anywhere close to TRILLIONS.

    1) I do not think that responding to a fallacy with another fallacy is generally helpful, particularly for a scientist 2) As I pointed out in my post, I inferred from your first post that you had used this incorrect analogy before AND were aware that it was incorrect. That is what bothers me

  40. As I pointed out in my post, I inferred from your first post that you had used this incorrect analogy before AND were aware that it was incorrect. That is what bothers me

    The analogy I have used before was to compare NASA expenditures to military expenditures. Letting people know that B-2s are 2 Billion each, compared to NASA’s 14 Billion annual budget is an example of this. I have never had occasion to go around explicitly stating that “the Apollo program costs X number of B-2s,” where I witheld inflation effects. So no, I don’t make a habit out of it.

  41. “1) I do not think that responding to a fallacy with another fallacy is generally helpful, particularly for a scientist”

    That is very true. However, there are two important concepts in physical sciences and mathematics: a) zero-order analysis (or first-order), and b) back of the envelope calculations.

    On zero-order analysis (or first order), Abhi is correct. True, he did not apply all the corrections – which were rightfully so, pointed out by Vinod.

    However, the conclusions were not different, and therefore, his analysis is not ingenious. If he ignores the corrections, to get different conclusion, then it is.

  42. However, the conclusions were not different, and therefore, his analysis is not ingenious.

    Did you mean disingenuous? Man, that’s Freudian :)

  43. for some of the explorers – it was pure human inquiry and discovery.

    Then, wouldn’t it be only fair for the taxpayer to insist that these explorers fund their fantasies on their own?

    M. Nam

  44. “Did you mean disingenuous? Man, that’s Freudian :)

    Thanks, I meant disingenuous rather than ingenuous in terms of Abhi’s calculations. It was a Freudian slip. That is how any scientific work done, you reduce it to the simplest form while still maintaining the basic elements, and then apply corrections, and how much your analysis differs.

    Let us agree to disagree on the importance of exploration and discovery for its own sake.

  45. Let us agree to disagree on the importance of exploration and discovery for its own sake.

    Again – you’re misunderstanding me. I have no problem with exploration and discovery for its own sake. Some of the best things we enjoy in life are due to the result of dreamers who channelled their wildest dreams into reality.

    My only disagreement is regarding that the State should support these dreamers. On that, let’s agree to disagree.

    M. Nam

  46. I’m no expert on this topic, but I guess some more practical reasons for funding space exploration — and the potential expansion of the human race off-world — are a) because of the present overpopulation of the planet, and the consequent drain on resources/the natural habitat/etc, and b) to mitigate the risk of extinction in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or some apocalyptic global war.

    You need to get people off this planet for those reasons; right now we’re the equivalent of the inhabitants of some tiny overpopulated (and conflict-ridden) island in the middle of the Pacific, with the rest of the world uninhabited (by Man anyway) and almost completely unexplored.

    Just my thoughts, anyway.

  47. Sex could jeopardize the mission:

    Sex and romantic entanglements among astronauts could derail missions to Mars and should therefore be studied by NASA, warns a top-level panel of US researchers. NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2018 and later on to Mars. But a round-trip mission to the Red Planet would probably last at least 30 months and carry six to eight people. That would be a hotbed for intense crew relationships, says a report by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). “With the prospect of a very long-term mission, it’s hard to ignore the question of sexuality,” says Lawrence Palinkas, a medical anthropologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, an author of the report. It reviewed NASA’s plans for research to keep astronauts safe and healthy in space – but the plans make no mention of sexual issues in spaceflight.
  48. Hi All,

    After reading all the comments on space exploration, it is interesting to note the different view points our readers share. It seems that people need to see the direct correlation on how it will benefit society (eg. military, monetary, pride, etc.) I have heard the argument that the financial resources allocated to NASA should be given to AIDS relief, poverty and education. I believe that those issues deserve immediate attention, but if we slowly disband the Space Agency, then we are killing an inherent part of us: our nature to explore new frontiers, understand nature, satisfy curiosity.

    A wonderful quote: It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative. – Michael Collins, Gemini and Apollo astronaut.

    Although I am just a graduate student, I have (briefly) been given the opportunity to see the beauty of space exploration. The ultimate overall goal is quite pure spiritually. Well, back to work. :) Talk to you soon, Manish