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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

As a scientist and a practical man, I’m against manned-space flight; as a human being I’m in favour.

– Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, interviewed on Today this morning

13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • QuantumTaco


    As a scientist and a practical man he is right; as a human being he is wrong.

    What a trite, vacuous defense.

  • guy herbert


  • Neal

    I caught this discussion this morning, and found the argument rather interesting. His basic point was that with advances in robotics, you can put many robots and robotic observation systems into space and onto Mars and the Moon (the planetary bodies in question) for the cost of one man. So why aim for a manned mission.

    Looked at this way, the emphasis on manned flight, from either a private or public realm, does seem odd.

    His comments on tourist flights (that space flight has a high inherent risk, so why should any tourist want to do it) were interesting. And pretty much summed up my reasons why I won’t be on the first rocket (assuming I could find the cash, which I can’t – but trivial insignficant details aside).

    But if some rich muppet wants to strap him/herself to an expensive and highly explosive rocket just for the thrill ride of seeing the starts a few miles closer than he currently can, and is prepared to pay for the privilege, who am I to stop them?

  • Julian Morrison

    The core mistake is in thinking manned flights are science. They’re transport. Lacking (paying) passengers and a destination, no wonder they’re useless!

    The passengers might get to do science when they arrive, but that’s seperate. The flights have to be justified on their own terms. Scienctific research can’t in the short term bring a large enough return on investment. More likely, serious on-the-ground study of other planets is what will happen after the infrastructure has been built for use by miners and colonists.

  • Julian Taylor

    I would hazard a guess that it’s more to do with the ‘because its there’ factor than do with practicality. Having Voyager XXIV or whatever placing the stars and stripes on Mars does not quite have the same cachet as an astronaut doing it – even if his return home is possibly doomed by having an incompetent engineer spray foam over his spacecraft.

    Incidentally, can anyone explain to me why a multi-billion dollar spacecraft like the shuttle is not capable of returning to earth in low cloud cover – something that even the most basic aircraft can do? Is is a photographic thing?

  • Lascaille

    Sending automated missions is basically the easy option for any space program trying to cope with the huge decreases in funding seen since the end of the cold war.

    To perform the same missions with a human crew requires a level of technology an order of magnitude greater – the vehicle has to be significantly faster or life support becomes an issue, then there is the life support mechanism itself, the vehicle design has to be more robust, etcetera.

    While automated missions bring great improvements in lightweight machinery, manned missions push improvements in closed-cycle ecosystems, waste recycling and similar areas.

    You have to decide really what you’re pushing for – either pure scientific research, or utility based research. If we actually want to utilise space, we’ll eventually need need to send humans, and without a push towards manned missions, we will have no such capabilities – which is basically where we stand at the moment.

    So basically, although manned missions are a lot less cost effective, only they have the capability to transform space from ‘something to look at’ into ‘somewhere to go’ – it becomes an environment instead of an artifact.

  • Johnathan

    Talking of which, the Shuttle has started its re-entry. Fingers crossed.

  • rosignol

    Discovery has landed at Edwards.

  • John East

    There are some good arguments for and against manned space flight.

    Obviously automated exploration is far more cost effective, and one can argue that biding our time for a few generations should see huge technological advances which might permit us to achieve ten times more than we can today at a tenth of the cost, although this argument is always valid and could be an ongoing excuse for never doing anything.

    On the other side of the coin, we could be facing a mass extinction (man made or natural) tomorrow or in 30 million years time. I’d personally feel a lot better if we had a colony on Mars, or better still in a nearby solar system before such an event happens which sooner or later it surely will.

    When I consider less rational aguments like human adventure, new frontier spirit, and boldly going where no man has gone before then I’m sold on the idea. To hell with the cost.

  • Where’s Dale Amon? It looks like private companies will eventually take over from governments when it comes to space exploration, and manned space flight sounds more commercial with the tourism, travel, and eventually trade.

  • Nate


    My *guess* is that it absolutely could land under such conditions. But, since it is an unpowered landing with no chance for a second run, they probably don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

  • Tim

    Manned space travel without a considerably more advanced form of propulsion than we currently have. This means warp drive/folding space/worm holes.

    At our current speed, a man won’t get to the next sun in his lifetime. Which means, at best, manned visits to dead rocks.

    We’d be better off spending money on unmanned missions, telescopes and helping to find and educate the next Galileo/Einstein/Hawking.

  • Tatterdemalian

    The main problem with robots is that they are still nowhere near as adaptable as a human, and probably never will be. When something unexpected happens several light-minutes away, it’s not likely that a robot will be able to deal with it, or even be aware of it until the problem becomes too big to fix.