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15 April 2010 @ 12:51 pm
The Far Call: Obama's Plan for Space.  
I just watched President Obama's speech at Kennedy Space Center.

My distillation:

He wants to move beyond the "Business As Usual" stagnation of the Shuttle era, but he doesn't want to go back to the days of token high-profile publicity stunt-flights. He wants to set up a long-term program of expanding and extending the human presence in space, and improving the technology to get us out there and let us stay out there. He wants to establish a space infrastructure, and not just one in LEO: one geared for long-range, deep-space exploration.

I don't think he ever said the "C-word", but I might have heard it there, between the lines.

Neil doesn't like it, but Buzz does—and, frankly, between the two, I trust Buzz's opinion more. The guy who advocated the Mars Cycler is not the type to say "we should keep doing it this way because we've always done it this way".

Where am I?: Bottom o' the Well
I feel: hopefulaudaciously hopeful
I hear: Leslie Fish - "Hope Eyrie"
Tombfyretombfyre on April 15th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
Well hopefully that's a step in the right direction for you lot. ^^ I've been eager to see the continued missions of the ESA and Canada's partnership with them over the next little while. They have grand aims to get their arses to Mars as well, with one method or another.
Bobyourbob on April 15th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
I didn't see the speech today, but heard Talk of the Nation yesterday with Jim Lovell. At least yesterday he was in the "what the hell is Obama thinking - this will make us a second rate nation" camp.

Having only heard news reports and summaries like yours, I'm much more excited about the whole thing, and cautiously optimistic.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 16th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
I know this will likely horrify you, but I don't really see the . . . point of space exploration outside of LEO. I mean, I do get the desire to see what's on the far side of the hill, but space exploration isn't a personal decision, it's a matter of public policy and . . . there ain't nothin' out here that isn't right here.

Frankly, that money should be spent on a space elevator. There's nothing on the moon. There's nothing on Mars. In this crowd, probably heresy, but space rocks are just rocks.
rodant_kapoor: Krystal Can't Enjoy Her Sandwichrodant_kapoor on April 16th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Helium-3 is out there, and it's not here. Iridium and platinum and rare earths are out there, in quantities we need. Some space rocks are big enough to cause Hollywood-style catastrophies if we can't divert them. Mars has a geological history that may include life, and if we can understand how one planet lived and died it may provide lessons for us.

The point of space exploration outside of LEO is enhancing the sustainability and survivability of this planet.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 16th, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
But we don't need helium-3, iridium or platinum. We DEFINITELY don't need to go farther than earth orbit for energy, and the last two might be modestly useful for a few industries but we've gotten along fine without them and will continue to do so. (Plus, we have absolutely no reason to believe that platinum and iridium are available in quantity off-world. Might want to find the stuff before you say it exists out there.)

Are you seriously thinking we can learn anything about the fate of life on this planet from Mars? I mean, we know why there's no life on Mars. It's cold and dry and the gravity of Mars isn't sufficient to keep an atmosphere in place. The earth doesn't have those problems. I'm not sure if I should take that seriously, much less the artificial, manufactured fear that a huge rock will hit the earth - the kind of threat that represents is literally tens of millions to one. I mean, no joke, astronomical odds.
rodant_kapoor: Krystal Can't Enjoy Her Sandwichrodant_kapoor on April 16th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
We do not currently need Helium-3, but it's considered the leading candidate fuel for sustainable fusion power if research into fusion pays off. Iridium and rare earths are needed for solar power stations and other sustainable energy technologies that are currently in use, but most terrestrial sources have been mined out (China is the principal exporter and they may have to stop in order to meet their domestic needs). We know these are out there in quantity because huge rocks from space regularly hit the earth.

As for Mars, we don't know if life is or was ever there. It would be valuable to know if life arose before Mars lost its water and atmosphere, and how it adapted to its changing conditions. We have only a single example of a life-bearing world right now. Finding evidence that life had arisen elsewhere in the solar system would be a major advance in terrestrial bioscience.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 17th, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
I don't even know where to begin. I think you're confusing indium with iridium, in the first place. I don't think that iridium is used even for photovoltaic solar generation, but I do know that I wasn't even particularly thinking the photovoltaic effect in particular. There are lots of other ways to generate solar power on industrial scales that are much cheaper than photovoltaic cells, like solar towers. I . . . think you don't know very much about solar power.

But I do know that no one is seriously considering helium-3 for power generation. It is not the leading candidate for anything. Neither is fusion. In the alt energy circles, they mostly talk about solar as the only meaningful candidate for sustainable power.

Those rocks you linked to, uh, did no damage. Who cares about tracking them? I thought you were talking about tracking collisions that would do damage in a broad area. Frankly, no one outside of some astronomy guys care about tracking meteorites that just burn up in the air and there is certainly no public concern over it.

I . . . don't even know where to start about your ramblings about the possibility of life on Mars. Honestly, I just don't. Certainly none of if would be a life or death situation here on earth, which is what you initially suggested - that we go out there to enhance the sustainability and survivability on this planet. But that simply is not what is at stake, here. If we're really interested in survivability and sustainability, we don't need to go any farther than earth orbit, and probably not even that.
rodant_kapoor: Krystal Can't Enjoy Her Sandwichrodant_kapoor on April 17th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
I was confusing iridium with indium; thanks for the correction. Damn my eyes — they looked the same on the page! In any case, it would be nice to have more sources of indium, platinum, et al. before our current sources run out.

I hope that I haven't been misunderstanding the thrust of your argument. From your statement "space rocks are just rocks" I thought you might be unaware of the properties of extraterrestrial objects and the presence of hard-to-get substances in them. Your statement that "we don't need" these substances made me think you were unaware of the depletion of terrestrial sources.

I regret to inform you that the statement that "no one is seriously considering helium-3 for power generation" is inaccurate. The Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin has a handy presentation of the state of fusion research as of 2004 and Helium-3 is mentioned as a fuel. Teh Google can provide you with more documents about fusion and Helium-3, and probably the names of researchers who take it seriously.

Also, you may have missed an important point in one of the links I provided when showing that rocks do in fact fall from space. The K-T extinction event is believed to have been caused by an exceptionally large space rock. Within historic times, the most dangerous collision with a space object has been the Tunguska Event in 1908, which produced a ten to fifteen megaton blast and devastated a two-thousand-square kilometer area. One hundred years later we tracked a similar, and fortunately smaller, object slamming into the planet.

As for Mars, generations of scientists have been tantalized by the possibility of life there, and the implications that finding it (or not finding it) would have on biology, chemistry, and life sciences. A better understanding of the universe and our place in it surely can't be a bad thing, unless the universe is as Lovecraft imagined it!

So forgive my confusion, but I'm not quite clear where my "ramblings" have gone wrong. I've endeavored to explain that there are substances beyond LEO that exist in greater abundance than on our planet, and that we are depleting our sources of raw materials necessary for a high-tech civilization. I've also tried to show that rocks do in fact fall from space and cause damage. While I can understand rejecting manned space exploration as unnecessarily risky and expensive, stating with such fervent certainty that "there ain't nothin' out [t]here" seems as strange as the (manufactured) quote, "Everything that can be invented has been invented," attributed to Charles Duell in 1899.

If you have sources of information that might change my mind, I'd love to see them. From what little I know at the moment, it seems that space exploration is desirable in the short term, and essential in the long term.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 17th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
I don't actually click people's links, usually, so when talking to me putting them in is a waste of time. It's superficially easy to find links that support pretty much any position a person wants to take.

But your ramblings have gone wrong because what you're doing is cherry picking your sources. For instance, if you study sustainable energy, while it is true there is a small (and surprisingly well funded) group of scientists who are interested in fusion technology, outside of the military and high-energy physics fields they're mostly ignored. People who are actually planning the energy future of the earth are not seriously considering fusion (they are considering fission, however, which I think is crazy, but at least it would have the benefit of being true). A person up-to-date on the argument about the future of power would know this.

If you ask xenobiologists why we should go to Mars, sure, they'll give you reasons - but you speak with working terrestrial biologists, most of them aren't that interested in what has ever happened on Mars. A person who knows what biologists actually do would know this.

Space rocks are not a credible threat. Even Tunguska killed no one. (And I am not opposed to deflection strategies. This is actually an aside to the conversation. There's no need for space exploration to deflect asteroids.)

You can find "reasons" to explore space (and there is a big difference between exploring it and *studying* it; I'm all for studying it - it's literally a bread and butter issue in my household), but only if you ignore information that flies in the face of your belief, which is more faith based than fact based. The truth is . . . there just isn't that much out there and the desire to spend hundreds of billions to explore that is not a policy decision I can support. I'd rather have universal health care. What can I say?
Your Obedient Serpent: Eye of the Sky Godathelind on April 17th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
If you ask xenobiologists why we should go to Mars, sure, they'll give you reasons - but you speak with working terrestrial biologists, most of them aren't that interested in what has ever happened on Mars. A person who knows what biologists actually do would know this.

You know, since this is the blog of an effectively unemployed terrestrial biologist, that qualifier could be taken as a cheap shot.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 17th, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)
It's not. How important is Mars to your work?

I was actually thinking of the oceanographers that work with Adrienne. When we talk together, and I love talking about science, Mars never comes up. Some of them are quite INTERESTED in space exploration, but it isn't part of their work.
rodant_kapoor: Krystal Can't Enjoy Her Sandwichrodant_kapoor on April 19th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
I'll try not to ramble this time; I wasn't putting in links to waste your time but to provide additional data, so I apologize for being unclear on my intentions. Again, it was the absolute certainty with which you stated "there ain't nothin' out [t]here that isn't right here" that led me to speak up. As a person familiar with astronomy, I know that statement is factually untrue.

One more quibble: Whether referring to individual missions or NASA's whole budget, you've overstated the cost of space exploration. Individual missions cost a few hundred million dollars each. For example, the Deep Impact mission's budget was comparable to the budget for James Cameron's Avatar. The Hubble Space Telescope's total cost to date works out to under $140 million per year. NASA's entire budget in FY2010 is less than $19 billion.

Lastly, could you provide me with some of the sources that have helped form your opinion on the uselessness of space exploration? I'm always looking for more data to reinforce or change my thinking on various matters of interest, but since I've been "cherry picking" my sources I can't be trusted to find good contrary points of view.
leonard_arlotteleonard_arlotte on April 16th, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)
I must disagree with you, only because I don't believe that Obama is going to follow through on the commitment. He's shown a definite tendency to hamstring the US technologically. The Contstellation program has gone the way of the F-22 and the DDX.

I've resigned myself to waiting for a later administration for American Awesomeness to resume.
rodant_kapoor: Krystal Can't Enjoy Her Sandwichrodant_kapoor on April 16th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
I think there's a big difference between cancelling expensive boondoggles and "hamstring[ing] the US technologically." The FY 2010 budget after all increased budgets not only for NASA but for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, all of whom do a lot of Big Science.
SilverClawbfdragon on April 16th, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)
I'm a little worried about the change, but not for the reasons that others have stated.

Personally I'm glad to see NASA move away from being Space Truckers to a more far-sighted advancement of technology. I am worried though, that people are far too short sited, and will be too quick to cut funding without big flashy things.
leonard_arlotteleonard_arlotte on April 16th, 2010 04:50 am (UTC)
That is part of my concern as well. Well put.
The Red Alchemist: Red Alchemistjirris_midvale on April 16th, 2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't mind seeing some space awesomeness. Let's hope he's got some follow through on this.
pseudo manitoupseudomanitou on April 16th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
I agree with Neil Degrasse Tyson, that the dream and the inspiration is always in sending people, not drones, into space.

But as the shit-tacular planning and financial costs stand as evidence in the Constellation Program -- we need to move beyond the dreams to make space exploration a reality. We need to gather scientific data now, not wait and spend money till we can send people into space to get it.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on April 17th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
I disagree with Neil on this one. Let's face it, the Mars Rover was an incredibly effective recruitment tool. Man, who didn't love that guy?

I mean, Neil is a great science educator. I love the guy to death. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, I love his wit and passion. But I don't think he realizes how cool robots are. Because, let's face it, robots are really, really cool. ;)