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Space – the immediate barrier

Incoming from Michael Jennings, alerting me to this:

UK survey calls iPhone ‘more important than space travel’

The headline could equally well have said: UK survey calls Sky+ ‘more important than Post-it Notes’, but the iPhone and space travel were what they zeroed in on. Fair enough.

I agree about the relative triviality of space travel, except insofar as it makes things like iPhones work better. I mean, you couldn’t have those maps on your iPhone telling you where you are and where you’re going were it not for GPS, as in S for Satellite, now could you? So, space rockets of some sort are needed for iPhones. But space travel? How significant is that? The bigger point, made by all those surveyees but then contested by the headline writer, is that space travel is now rather oversold, compared to how things are – insofar as they are – hurtling forwards here on Earth. Which, I think, it is.

The people who are for space travel keep going on about how Man Needs to Explore the Universe, and no doubt Man does. But is Man anywhere near ready to make a serious go of that yet? The trouble is that there is so little out there, in the immediate vicinity, accessible to actual men, easily and cheaply, now.

I suspect that the problem is that people, especially political people when composing political speeches, automatically assume an equivalance between the expansion of Europe circa 1500, and the expansion of Earth circa now. But the rest of the world in 1500 was full of stuff, much of it really very near to Europe, and much of it right next to Europe. There was continuous positive reinforcement available to any explorer brave enough to give it a go and lucky enough to hit some kind of paydirt. Now? Communications satellites? Weapons? Tourism? Astronomy? All we can yet really do in space is make various very Earthly enterprises work that little bit better. Which is not a trivial thing, and I’m certainly not saying we should give up even on that. All hail Virgin Galactic! Go SpaceX. But for many decades, most of the important space action will be in geo-stationary orbit rather than anywhere beyond.

And as for that constant libertarian refrain you hear about how Earth is becoming a tyranny and we must all migrate to space, to rediscover freedom, etc. … Please. People found freedom in America because there was this great big place to feed themselves with. America. Settlements in America were, pretty soon, potentially if not actually, self-supporting. Our technology has a long way to go before a colony on some god-forsaken wasteland like the Moon or Mars, without even breathable air, could ever be self supporting, in the event of Mission Control back on Earth getting shut down by something like an Earth war of some kind. Profitable, maybe, eventually. But able to stay alive without continuous contact with Earthly back-up of various kinds? That will take far longer. The reality is that for the foreseeable future, any humans who set up camp on the Moon or Mars or wherever will be far more dependent upon the continuing and sustained goodwill of powerful people back on Earth than the average Earthling is. There is no America out there, or China, or Australia or Africa. Those early European pioneers found a world full of land and resources, to say nothing of semi-friendly aliens whom we Europeans could trade with. But now? Just a few little rocks and gas blobs bobbing about in a vast sea of utter emptiness, emptiness that is an order of magnitude emptier than our actual sea, which is a cornucopia by comparison. And apart from that, for decades, nothing seriously big that isn’t literally light years away. It’s an entirely different state of affairs to Europe in 1500.

I wrote all of the above with my own personal blog in mind, but now realise that Samizdata is the place for it, if only because of all the enlightening and perhaps contradictory comments that may become attached. And since this is liable to be picked to pieces by people most of whom are far more technologically savvy than I am, it behoves me to rephrase it all as a question. Which can basically be summarised as: Is that right? Am I missing something here?

Am I, for instance, getting too hung up on mere distance? Yes the Solar System is almost entirely empty. Yes, the Asteroid Belt is a hell of a way away. But, if you are willing to be patient, is it actually quite cheap to send rockets there? Does all that emptiness cancel itself out as a barrier to travel, because of it being so easy (and so much easier than our Earthly sea) to get across?

I actually would quite like to be told that I am wrong about this. In particular, I really really wish that there was somewhere else nearby where the Fight For Liberty blah blah could be restaged, but on better terms to how the same fight seems now to be going here on Earth. But I just , as of now, don’t see that happening any time soon.

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34 comments to Space – the immediate barrier

  • Well, this is what I say every time Dale posts the next chapter of Farmstead On The Moon, then everybody says I have no soul, and then I say what about the economics? and they say I have no soul, and so it goes and so it goes…

  • Andrew Duffin

    Brian, Ian, I could not agree more.

    I too have tried gently pointing out these problems in various places – here and on Jerry Pournelle’s site, to pick two examples.

    I always get shouted down.

    Thank goodness it’s not just that I am becoming a negative old cynic.

    Well, maybe I am, but on this space thing, I am glad to see I’m not alone in that.

  • First of all , without the timing signals from the GPS satellites cell phones would be about as useful to the general public as old 1943 era Walkie Talkies.

    Secondly the survey was taken in the UK which after three decades or more, of sour grapes propaganda against space travel from the BBC and the British scientific establishment, is naturally going to go along with what they’ve been told. It may be cynical of me but it seems that in the UK people tend to reflect the opinions of their betters. (What happened to the Referendum over the EU that was promised.)

    Thirdly Do you want to be stuck on the same planet with the French – forever ?

  • Laird

    I don’t disagree with anything Brian says. Until we find a relatively cheap way of escaping from Earth’s gravity well (space elevator, anyone?) the economics of space travel are too daunting.

    Still, Taylor, Brian specifically distinguished between space rockets (necessary for those GPS satellites) and space travel (i.e., human exploration). Getting satellites into geosynchronous orbit is relatively inexpensive (the operative word being “relatively”), which is why that particular application makes economic sense. But until we have a better way of getting lots of heavy stuff up there cheaply nothing else really does. It seems to me that research efforts should be concentrated in that area, not on refinements at the margins of existing technology.

    But I’m still a big fan of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. It’s the romantic in me, I guess.

  • First of all , without the timing signals from the GPS satellites cell phones would be about as useful to the general public as old 1943 era Walkie Talkies.

    I will give that an “mmm” I think. Some mobile phone systems (Qualcomm’s CDMAOne and its descendents) do indeed use GPS timing signals for synchronisation. Other mobile systems (those GSM based) do not. There certainly are technical advantages to doing it the Qualcomm way, but without it, we still manage.

    Which doesn’t change the fact that I want to infest the solar system with as many humans as possible as quickly as possible.

  • BFFB

    I’ve always thought the biggest single motivator for getting out into the solar system as fast as possible is that not insignificant chance of a large piece of iron hurtling through space and hitting a small blue planet.

  • Jerry

    Brian, I couldn’t agree more.
    We are dealing with the 3rd generation who have been brought up on Star Trek & Star Wars and whose general scientific education is SERIOUSLY lacking.
    In general, most have no idea of the IMMENSE distances involved in space or the incredible amount of energy required to put 1 lb into orbit to say nothing of the energy needed to send that pound to another planet.
    We still do not have a propulsion system capable of leaving the solar system without using gravity assist !!!

    I heard ‘we can ‘terra-form’ Mars ‘( mars-forming ?? ).
    Sorry, contrary to Hollywood, Mars doesn’t have sufficient gravity to keep an atmosphere anywhere near as dense as ours !!

    This whole idea of ‘we’re gonna run out and explore the stars’ and it’s just around the corner is bunk.
    We’re a L O N G way from anything like that, if ever.

    Even the ‘we’re gonna build a moon base ( just like the one in 2001 !! ) by 2030 or 2040 or whatever is still just a dream without some SERIOUS breakthrough in propulsion or gravity manipulation.
    Besides, we couldn’t spend the money ( which we don’t have anyway ) with out the screams of how we have to FIRST eliminate poverty WORLDWIDE before we can tackle anything else.

  • Alsadius

    were it not for GPS, as in S for Satellite

    Doesn’t the S stand for System?

    That said, I do agree with your broader point. Would that it were otherwise, but it’s not. Short of full-on terraforming Mars, or discovering FTL travel in real life, there’s not really any hope of finding somewhere naturally livable outside of Earth within my lifetime.

  • Alsadius

    Jerry: Over a scale of millions/billions of years, you’re right, Mars can’t keep an atmosphere. But it could keep it for thousands, which is enough for most of our purposes. Let our descendants deal with it from there.

  • BFFB: true, but who’s to vouch that it wouldn’t happen anywhere else?

  • Alisa,
    Eggs & baskets.

    Brian,
    You are right and I’ve often pondered posting on similar lines. It outrages me the countless billions being wasted on the ISS which is there to address the question of “how we live in space?” First things first. Defeat the gravity well then we talk. The final tipping point for me was seeing the NASA plans for what amounted to re-doing Apollo. In the spirit of your America example. We are working out bison recipes and how to farm maize for when we row our dug-out across the Atlantic. Personally it’s SSTO with a variable cycle engine or the elevator.

    I do wonder how things would have panned out if space hadn’t turned into a Cold War dick-swinging contest. Anyway, I’m sure Virgin Luna will set up a golf resort on the moon before NASA get their thumbs out their arses.

    “Besides, we couldn’t spend the money ( which we don’t have anyway ) with out the screams of how we have to FIRST eliminate poverty WORLDWIDE before we can tackle anything else.”

    Exactly Jerry. Mr Watt, Stop tinkering with that glorified tea kettle don’t you know people are starving out there!These people have it arse over tit.

  • Oh i thought of that Nick, obviously. Problem is that each one of us is only one silly fragile egg. And not being a racist, I don’t much care about the ‘human race’, only for my own small chicken coup:-)

  • Alice

    “Short of full-on terraforming Mars, or discovering FTL travel in real life, there’s not really any hope of finding somewhere naturally livable outside of Earth within my lifetime.”

    Why is Faster Than Light travel necessary? It really only matters if we want to come back and go on Oprah & cry a little about how hard it was before we shimmy over to the bookstore to autograph some biographies. (Mine is going to be called, “It took my village”, written by the same person who produced Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s magnum opus).

    Most of the Europeans who got on the early boats to the New Worldknew they were not going back. Ever. Cortez even burned his ships when he got to America, just in case anyone missed the point.

    When we don’t care about FTL travel anymore, we will have moved away from Star Trek fantasies back to a golden age of exploration.

  • Sunfish

    Alice-
    The purpose of FtL is because some of us eventually want to get out of the damn boat. Ships have this unfortunate trait of generally being absolute dictatorships, traditionally.

    As for being stuck on a planet with the French…we can deal with that. Every time they get mouthy we’ll just let Germany rearm. Or England. Or, well, pretty much anyone. ISTR that France has not yet had a chance to surrender to Thailand or Kazakhstan yet but it’s only a matter of time.

    (Although I can sort of see IanB’s point. Space has become about as interesting to me as cricket.)

  • But surely not yet as interesting as baseball?

  • Alice

    “Space has become about as interesting to me as cricket.”

    One impresses the viewer with the infinity of distance. The other with the infinity of time.

  • Peter Melia

    Columbus had to wait until technical advances made it possible to cross the wide ocean.
    We too have to wait for technical advances to make it possible for near earth settlements.
    My guess is nanowire cables which would make Clark’s Space Elevator possible, and eventually inexpensive.
    Then we’ll have towns in near earth, hundreds, thousands, of them.
    Then the human race will have a better chance of surviving things like BFFB’s “…large piece of iron hurtling through space and hitting a small blue planet….”
    If nothing else it will make BFFB happy…

  • I guess I’d err on the side of space skeptics at this point in time, but I just don’t understand this persistent urge to rain on the space enthusiasts’ parade. it’s not as if people who actually work on these things are ignorant of the limitations of technology. Moreover, if not for people like that, these limitations will never be overcome. And before anyone jumps at me, it’s one thing to point out the limitations once or twice, it’s quite another to keep insisting that the enthusiasts stop being so damn enthusiastic. I am skeptical about many things other people are quite excited about, but after pointing out their error once or twice, I try to keep my feelings to myself (or so I hope), just in case I might be proven wrong later on. It had happened before, you know.

  • Alice

    “I am skeptical about many things other people are quite excited about”

    Goodness, Alisa. You sound like quite the Denier. Of course, that’s a badge of honor in the circles that count. 🙂

    But back to space exploration. This being a well-trafficked site with many erudite readers, has anyone ever come across an estimate of how many human beings would have to live on the Moon (say) to make it a “sustainable” civilization, capable of surviving independently even if the Big One (or Alleged Anthropogenic Global Warming) wipes out all life on Earth?

    I’m not talking about energy here, or other resources. Let’s assume those can be covered. Just the plain number of human beings necessary to produce food, mine resources, train as engineers & doctors. Maybe even provide a little overhead like daytime TV hosts, and complete wastes of carbon like politicians. And, most importantly, to breed enough to replace themselves and continue the community over millennia.

    Would the minimum lasting off-world community need the population of Pitcairn Island, or the population of Iceland, or the population of New Zealand?

  • Tom Dickson-Hunt

    There’s a Web site called Atomic Rockets that very nicely lays out the actual physics of space travel. In particular, it has fairly exhaustive tables of possible launch systems and propulsion systems. It turns out that once you’re in orbit, it’s fairly cheap to send mass to other planets; it’s called a Hohmann transfer orbit, which simply puts you on an orbit that intersects Earth’s and that of the planet you’re on. It also turns out that for bulk cargo, which is the limiting factor on orbital lift, it’s possible to get truly impressive amounts of stuff into orbit using a Verne cannon whose explosive payload is a thermonuke. (Drill a big, wide hole down a ways to a natural cave of some kind; put nuke in hole; put spaceship on nuke; detonate nuke.) Of course, this requires the cargo to take a sudden 5000 gs of acceleration, but it’s doable. None of this stuff is beyond our current tech level; it’s just that we don’t focus on it.

  • Nuke Minarcapo Gray

    This is something I mentioned a while back, but I’ll say it again.
    Plasma is made up of electrons and protons. Hydrogen is made up of one proton and one electron, which are too cool to become plasma. Hydrogen gas is ideal as an ion engine fuel. Why not have space stations that collect plasma (like cyclotrons in reverse), and cool it into usable hydrogen gas or liquid? Having space-gas stations might be a real money-spinner in the future! I call this the squirrel system, since you’re squirrelling it away until you need it. If space-ships don’t need to worry about fuel availability, just costs, that will make the trip easier! (And ships to stars would be big enough to carry their own squirrel system, gathering local plasma as fuel whilst they explored the system.)

  • Laird

    Tom D-H, I tried googling “Atomic Rockets” but the first thing I found was this, and then this. However, I didn’t think that either was quite what you had in mind, so I dug a little further and finally found this site, a very nice website which, unfortunately, doesn’t even have the words “Atomic Rockets” in its URL. If you’re to going refer us to a website it’s nice to attach a link.

  • Roue le Jour

    I already think much the same thing Brian, so I agree.

    One thing that does strike me though, if we’re going to talk about terraforming. Shouldn’t we start with something easy, like Australia? I mean, seriously, how many people could Australia support if it was green from coast to coast? What about Antarctica? Both these places would be a piece of cake to transform compared to Mars. They already have a breathable atmosphere and water, for a start. OK, it may have little to do with space, but it would transform Earth politics to have a billion wealthy Australians. May be even for the better.

  • SpaceTraveller

    I liked the following blog from Allan.

    “Tuesday, May 11, 2010
    Positioning
    If there were no stars in the sky would we still be able to see that the earth was moving around the sun? No!
    We would not ‘see’ it because one of the main ways we know the earth moves around the sun is because our position in relation the stars changes. Take all the stars away …and how can you tell if you have moved at all?
    Now lets change our position – instead of standing on this earth, lets assume that we are standing a hundred million miles outside of the solar system.
    Now look back at the earth and what do you see? Well you would just see a speck of light..a star. You will not see our sun or any of the planets in our solar system.
    As you move in closer to the star it will get bigger and brighter but it will still be one light (i.e you will not see the planets of the solar system yet).
    But as you keep moving in you will get to a point where you will start to see the planets. Now it will no longer be a small star but a large sun with planets moving around it. Of course ..as you travel further into the solar sytem (making sure that you dont get too close to the burning sun) you will soon see the third stone from the sun…Earth.
    What you see and perceive depends on your position. “

  • Space travel too expensive/not economic.? Ever heard of Project Orion? Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson’s one, not the recent NASA debacle.

    When your ship gets built by the Electric Boat Company lots of things get cheaper.

  • kevin

    When people talk about Space Travel not being economical, they’re correct, but they’re also mainly talking about government-run chemical rocketry, which was never going to be affordable, because the fuel has a poor weight-to-energy ratio.

    Nuclear propulsion systems(Link) have a great deal more potential for eventually bringing about space travel for the masses.

    These would have to be developed before interplanetary private space travel would make sense. There are some promising advances in that field, the government has been researching nuclear propulsion systems for decades, and a system like VASIMR (linked above), could drastically improve efficiency.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    The money quote – to use an Americanism – from Nick M: “I do wonder how things would have panned out if space hadn’t turned into a Cold War dick-swinging contest.”

    They were on the right track in the 1950s with the X-15 air-space plane. Had the programme continued, its successors would by now probably have become a practical single stage to orbit system. Instead space exploration transmorgified into a politicised “Race to the Moon” against the Soviets. As I’ve said here before, the Apollo programme was, in its way, an engineering tour de force. But it was also an absolute disaster for long-term sustained space exploration.

    While I think Ian B is right and the difficulties of space exploration should not be underestimated, I’m more optimistic about its prospects than for a long time. Virgin Galactic and the other space operators expect their enterprises (pun intended) to be profitable. And making money from an activity encourages you to do more of it, which in turn teaches you how to do it better and cheaper. Truly a virtuous circle. Currently their plans are only for suborbital flights, but low Earth orbit has got to be the next logical goal. And, as Heinlein said, once in orbit you are “… halfway to anywhere.”

  • Chris Cooper

    In the foreseeable future – yes, astronauts aren’t going anywhere interesting, and the money spent on putting them into space could put 30 times as many robot systems up to do the same job without the need to provide them with zero-g lavatories and bring ’em back alive. Maybe the humans would do the job more brilliantly and flexibly than the robots, but not 30 times as effectively. (I’m just making up the 30, by the way.)

    And all manned-spaceflight ventures are political through and through – designed to beat down the enemy in the public-relations arena, or forge symbolic links when you’ve decided that cooperation pays. When the political plates shift, the impetus evaporates and the projects get stranded – Mars stays unvisited, no-one goes back to the Moon, the ISS comes perilously close to the same fate.

    But even if the politicians lost interest and went away altogether, the enthusiasts and the entrepreneurs would be putting people up there. And one day they’ll create space colonies. And one day soon after, one of those colonies will become fully self-sufficient – not needing the Earth to trade with in order to survive. I’m not a fan of self-sufficiency in general, but this will be a major milestone in the history of the species – it will be the human race’s guarantee of survival when that giant lump of iron or some piece of human idiocy destroys the Earth.

    There would be plenty of room for innumerable colonies near the Earth, but they’d probably feel safer keeping their distance. The Interplanetary Transport Network offers a low-energy option. This is the whimsical name given to an ever-shifting, winding network of gravitational pathways among the planets that would allow a colony to travel indefinitely large distances across the solar system for indefinitely small expenditures of energy, for ever. The ITN has already been used for practical purposes in moving spacecraft around. Travel via the ITN would be very, very slow – it’s strictly for people who aren’t going anywhere. But there could be an awful lot of them. And while doubtless some would stay isolated in rural idiocy, others could go beyond self-sufficiency and enjoy the benefits of trade – while still forming a network resilient enough to survive that lump of iron.

  • I quite agree.

    The comparisons with Columbus are quite absurd. He had no way of knowing what was thousands of miles away from him. We do. We send satellites and probes. We have telescopes. We know that the closest possible place (and I stress possible) is Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

    Our distances are also so large, and yet our whole mindset is driven by technology that can barely get us out of spitting distance from earth. We keep sending men into orbit for little good reason. It would be better to cancel all manned space voyages and spend the money on theoretical physics research to try to discover some sort of breakthrough that would give us the next generation of travel technology, whether that’s FTL travel, wormholes or whatever else. Odds are, they still wouldn’t find anything, but it’s got a better chance than what we’re doing with the money now.

  • Paul Marks

    You make a lot of good points here Brian.

    You remind me of the, often mocked, Astronomer Royal in the 1950’s – with his “space travel is Moonshine”.

    For many decades such people have been held to have been refuted by the Moon landings – but that is to miss the point.

    The point they were trying to make was not that space travel was technically impossible – but that it was silly.

    They based their argument on the vastness of the distances involved (something that is still not grasped by most people – even people who say they are interested in space travel) and the HORRIBLE state of the places that could be seen.

    The AR knew that getting to the Moon would be vastly expensive (it being so far away – and th) and getting people to Mars (with chemical rockets) would be a round trip measured in YEARS (a trip in airless space – where one mistake or accident meant death).

    He also knew (by the latest research – which proved to be accurate) that both the Moon and the planets were vile deserts where to even to take off your helmet for a second meant horrible death.

    I remain pro space travel (although not pro government subsidies for it) – but the arguments of people who were opposed to it deserve respect.

  • mrmacs

    Several notes to previous replies:

    1. Cancel manned spaceflight and rely on physics for a solution: What if the physics cannot be performed on Earth, in a gravity well? In orbit, we have micro-gravity conditions that cannot be replicated on Earth.
    Corollary: Why put telescopes in orbit? Because there are parts of the spectrum that cannot be penetrated in our atmosphere.

    2. If we do not sustain a space development process, then we lose the skills necessary. Poor example: A muscle left un-exercised will waste away. Many times, post-Apollo, and on to today, we have to reinvent space technology lost through attrition and death of our engineers and technicians.

    3. Because of the high-tech requirements of space (and military as well), we have benefited hugely by the technologies that have come out of the space and military races. Microwave ovens, anyone? GPS? Thermal coatings? Computers? Miniaturized electronics? Optical systems?
    Corollary: Even failures have uses. In USAF Survival School, I used a failed rocket-fuel. Did not produce enough gas pressure as a solid propellent. But it was a wonderful fuel for a survival fire. Would burn under nearly any conditions, but was incredably stable and hard to accidently light.

    4. Even in LEO, we learn from manned space flight. As an example, there’s lots of information about aging and bone density loss coming from ISS and other manned flights. Similar problem to what we experience on Earth, just accelerated.

    5. As for the complaint “it takes too long to get anywhere” or “the requirements for support are too high”. Anyone seen how small Columbus’ (and all the other explorers) ships are? There were virtually no resources available on the journey other than water and fish. Everything else had to be carried with them. And the trips were months long, with no idea of how long they could really take. Quite a gamble, knowing how much supplies to take. Same with the cross-Pacific journeys.
    Nowadays, we plan our exo-atmosphere journeys down to the kilo of mass and the minute of time.

    6. There are a number of better propulsion systems on the board. It takes time and $$$ to develop them. And some testing must be done in micro-gravity as well. Not everything can be tested on a computer. Why wait for the next person to develop and test it, do it now.

    7. Nearly-free energy. There’s an immense energy radiator about 92M miles away. We just need a collector out there to get the energy and a means to get it home. Why generate energy on Earth and polluting our atmosphere? We need materials to build such an array… Get it from the asteroids! More free material for the taking, and no pollution or mining on Earth.

    BUT!!! We must know how to work in space! If we don’t make the effort, then we have given it all up. Kennedy’s dream, and that of millions of futurists, will be for nought.

  • I’m afraid Brian is right. Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin came perilously close to admitting this in his speech on “Real vs. Acceptable Reasons for Space Exploration.”

    My response: There may be an Acceptable Reason for building Stanley Kubrick’s moon base from “2001,” but it depended on a Pan Am Clipper that we have not been able to produce. Until we get our launch costs down dramatically, we will continue to have a hard time explaining what the manned space program is for.

    There is also a paradox of prestige. If you admit that you are motivated by prestige (“Cold War dick swinging”), you sound insecure. You lose prestige by telling the truth. So the manned space community tends to be incapable of discussing its own motives honestly.

    I have more comments on launch costs and why we have a manned space program, etc., here.

  • BA

    A few observations.

    Companies like SpaceX, Vrigin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace et. al. are working on SUBSTANTIALLY reducing launch costs. No new Physics is required.

    One-way to Mars is about six months on a Hohmann transfer orbit, which isn’t all that bad compared to early transatlantic journeys.

    Look up Zubrin’s writing, if you like, on in situ resource utilization; just take his proposals on launch architecture with a grain of salt. There’s a strong case that explorers on Mars could be rather easily autonomous for consumables like air, water and food, which is half the Maslow hierarchy right there. If you’re clever, you can bootstrap industry from even fairly primitive levels and minimal equipment you bring with you.

    And I think people are SEVERELY underestimating the appeal of the “Free Space Republic,” and putting several million kilometers between you and the nearest do-gooders and busy-bodies. The Pilgrims and Puritans who settled North America believed they were entering a savage wasteland, but were willing to take almost any chance to escape oppression in Europe. What’s the difference between the moon and the USSR? One is a gray, mind-crushingly bleak environment, entirely hostile to human life; the other is just the lunar surface.

  • Paul Marks

    There is no air in space. And the other planets are death traps – where the air (if there is any) is poison.

    I repeat that I am for space travel (not against it), but the above (and other things – such as the fact that we are sitting in a gravity well) must be FULLY taken into account.

    Wishful thinking such as comparing going to other planets now to sailing to other lands in past centuries – that just does not grasp the differences.

    Of course I would love it if it was really “Princess of Mars” stuff – but hard science (such as that the A.R. was trying to explain in the 1950’s) does not indicate this.

    What could change some of this?

    First stop using silly chemcical rockets.

    The Orion Project (for example) was making real progess (more than is commonly known) – but then it was betrayed by one of its main people (Freeman Dyson – who decided that his P.C. politics trumped his belief in space travel) and ended by President Kennedy (yes the very man who is praised for his policies on space).

    Big fireworks (which is what space craft now in use really are, accept that they are liquid rockets using 1920’s ideas) are not really suitable for a trip to the Moon – let alone anywhere else.

    Space planes (breathing in the atmosphere for quite a way) could get people up to a space station (a real one), and from there atomic powered ships (there are various different designs) could get people to other places.

    If it turns out that there is any good (economic) reason to go to these other places.