Getting serious about the Moon and Mars

Okay, so we want to go to the Moon.  And there’s serious evidence of water on Mars.

So why aren’t we going?  There’s certainly no shortage of Americans yearning for a new frontier, and perfectly willing to train up on waldos and whatever else would be involved in creating a new set of colonies.  We’re even reasonably sure what that sort of work would entail.

But NASA’s plans aren’t serious.  The Moon in twenty years?  Based on the gradual refurbishment of 1960s technology?  So that five people can stay there for half a year, doing who knows what?  Lift, now that the ABM Treaty is done and gone for: if the US were serious about getting into space, it would pioneer and Orion drive and be done with it by putting the equivalent of the USS Enterprise into orbit with every launch, with sufficient tonnage both to carry water shielding against radiation and to possess rotating decks for spin gravity.

Believe it or not, this ain’t science fiction any more.  So why isn’t it being done? It’s not like we can’t contain the radiation effects at the launch site — they had that figured out in the 1970s.  So what’s the deal?

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18 Comments

  1. Zathras

     /  December 7, 2006

    One word: Money.

    Is a government’s exploration of space a libertarian value?

    Reply
  2. Yeah, so, when the eventual colonies secede (and they always do), what will we have gained for it, net present value, compared with better bridges & schools?

    Reply
  3. Well, the issues are not just as simple as money,unfortunately, or we would already be there. The problem with getting to Mars has to do with the fact that there is really no atmosphere. That means that in our current modes of transportation, the levels of radiation that space travelers would have in their system by the time they got there would be near lethal. Compound that with the fact that the surface of Mars has nearly the same levels of radiation as the vacuum of space and you have some serious survivability issues. People could go and stay on the Moon a couple of three days at time because their overall exposure there and back again was still measured in days.

    We would literally have to live underground on Mars.

    That being said, that is still all questions of technology which can be developed. The real exploration of space will come we when have reached a point in technology where people can travel in relative safety and do so in order to make profits by doing so. Pretty much all of the early settlers that settled the New World did so funded by themselves or private corporations, and their intent was to make money. Even those that came here for religious purposes did so on their own ticket. (You can bet that England had little interest in funding the pilgrims.)

    From a Libertarian stance, the best thing the goverment can do to promote space travel is to encourage private enterprise to figure out how to make money out there. The government funded portion must and will come from the self-interest of a nation protecting its own heads from the weapons and intelligence gathering that other nations can put in orbit and on other bodies in the solar system.

    Reply
  4. First, whether having the govt in space is a libertarian value is not really my issue here. If the govt says it’s serious about space, but acts fundamentally unseriously about space, then there’s a contradiction going on. Since part and parcel of outdoing other nations in space is the amount of survivable material that can be put up there, just as James points out, the US gov, already sensitized to military space, has an interest in getting serious materiel in place, especially if they want long-term survivability.

    Second, money is an issue, but not the issue, or it could have been funded already. A nuke carrier and its equivalent doesn’t break our economic pocketbook. However, in the absence of solar-microwave power (still technologically non-trivial, unfortunately) the degree to which cheap raw materials or some other equivalent can be obtained probably factors in directly on the profits front.

    Third, Jim, you’re sort of leaning where I am. The appearance would be that the US has an interest in space, but an equal interest in keeping civilians out of it in meaningful ways for as long as possible, due to risks of brain drain.

    Reply
  5. Hrm… I read Zathras’ “money” and thought “Yup.” Not that it’d be expensive, but that there’s no money-making out of it. And on that point, I agree with James.

    In terran frontiers, money-making is always possible: using the natural resources there to oneself (or the company or the government) a whole wad o’ cash. Whether it was new farmland, gold, spices, oil, a better waterway through the United States, etc. etc., the root of most human exploration has been self-serving greed. What’s on the Moon that we on Earth absolutely, desperately want, need, can’t find nor make on Earth, and therefore will make us a whole hell of a lot of money?

    Once we have that answer, any Moon Exploration Company (like the East India Company) will pour capital to make space exploration happen.

    Reply
  6. In theory, you can do manufacturing work in superlow g, and working in vacuum is simply preferable to having to do clean rooms in some industries.

    The degree to which that’s self-financing? Tough call.

    Reply
  7. MAY…BE

    A lot of the vacuum up there is dirty & polluted.

    Reply
  8. And may-be one of the metallic asteroids has sufficient bulk that it’s worth mining it. Doubtful..

    Reply
  9. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    Well, the government isn’t interested, but the military is. I wonder if the old arms race isn’t the way up? For earth the ultimate high ground is the moon.

    Reply
  10. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    Well the government may not be interested, but the military sure is. Maybe the arms race is the way up. The ultimate high ground for earth is the moon after all.

    Reply
  11. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    Crap, I though my post didn’t take the first time sorry.

    Reply
  12. JimDesu, the vacuum of space, even in a close orbit around the planet, is so devoid of particles that you have to use a microscope and search for places where things have hit satellites after years of exposure. Radiation is a much more severe problem. Be that as it may, overcoming the costs of launching, building orbital facilities and then figuring out how to return manufactured goods at a profit may not be possible in the short run. However……there ARE people out there right now that literally pay millions just to send a few days in orbit. I think it would be hilarious if the space industry could get started by shipping rich people into orbit.

    Reply
  13. Good point MIke, but don’t forget the lagrange points.

    Reply
  14. Happycrow

     /  December 8, 2006

    If “zero-g” turns out to have serious advantages for manufacturing (and you see speculation about this now and then regarding pharmaceuticals, steel, and even glass, which apparently has an AWESOME compressive strength with a vacuum on the inside, then the LaGrange points will get real popular, real fast.

    The Chinese are rapidly catching up with us as we continue to tread water… soon it will be an out-and-out space race…

    Reply
  15. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    Hey, bring it on. If that is what it takes to get going, then so be it.

    Reply
  16. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    And yes, the lagrange points are key high ground as well.

    Reply
  17. James — not what I’ve heard, but I’ll take your word on it. I like the idea of rich tourists shuttling up into space: our military can piggyback ordinance along with their suitcases for latter dropping on Pyongybad guys.

    Reply
  18. Mike

     /  December 8, 2006

    Yeah, that works. The theory of the “guided crowbar” isn’t sci-fi anymore with what we have. What we were playing with in Iraq was sci-fi when I was 10, so let’s let the dirty minds of the R and D play.

    Reply

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