Saturday, January 28, 2012

Have We Lost the Desire for Space Travel?


It seems like every week now scientists are discovering new alien worlds in our galaxy. Diamond planets. Exo planets. Planetary systems with binary suns like Tattoine. There’s no definite proof if any of them are inhabitable, or perhaps even already inhabited, but will we ever find out for sure?

Since the US space program was cancelled, I’ve been wondering if humanity will ever venture any further into space. As a science fiction writer I’ve imagined exploring new worlds. As a child I dreamt of being a companion in Doctor Who and exploring all of time and space - I even wrote my first complete novel based on those wishes! I’d hoped at least to see a manned mission to Mars in my lifetime.

But now it seems like that dream is over. There are no more flights into space by the US. I watched Space: 1999 as a child, but that year has come and gone without any sign of a potential MoonbaseAlpha. Will it ever happen? In regards to the Moon is it too much a case of “been there, done that”?

Of course there are commercial plans for flights into space as part of the tourism industry. Virgin Galactic for one. Perhaps a research base on the Moon is unlikely, but maybe there’ll be a hotel? A luxury lunar resort? Perhaps private enterprise will take us back into space and beyond.

I heard on the news today that Newt Gingrich is proposing to reinstate the space program and build a lunar base. Of course, I always take promises from a politician with a big dose of skepticism, especially from one yet to be in the position to keep such promises. Perhaps it’s not just a lack of funds, but a lack of desire to go back into space. I hope not. I still hope to see that mission to Mars. “To infinity, and beyond!” as Buzz Lightyear would say. 

Have we lost the drive to be a space-traveling species? What do you think?

11 comments:

  1. I believe the desire for exploring space will always be there, but given the astronomical cost of the space program, it had to be shelved for now. This planet's at risk from the drastic effects of climate change, and hopefully some funding will go toward preventing new disasters, though at this point it's merely a patching job.

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  2. I think it will happen eventually, but probably not in my lifetime, not with the crashed economy. I think technology is like Mount Everest, or voyages to 'India'. If it is possible, or nearly possible, someone will eventually try it.

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  3. I hope we've not lost the desire. When I was a little girl, we'd look at the moon and wonder what was there. When you really look at what we achieved in getting there (watch Earth to the Moon if you haven't seen it!), it is pretty amazing.

    But we always believed we'd try. We watched the movies and read the books about space and always believed it would happen. What will our young men and women dream about when they look up? :-(

    I don't think it will happen until we are once again willing to take big risks to achieve great things.

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  4. I can understand why it would be shelved for now. They can't get much further with the equipment they have, and without funds for new technology to take us further into space, exploration is going to have to wait. Maybe this is the time where space exploration will become a privatized venture, continuing on Virgin Galactic's plans.

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  5. I feel it's best to direct our thirst for exploration and research into oceanic research. The closest equivalent to the spaceships shown in science fiction are oceanic research vessels such as the USCG Healy. Vessels such as these are the actual ships that have captains on the bridge, chief engineers, and scientists going boldly were no one has gone before. If you want to see a real life Captain Beverly Crusher, look no further than USCG Captain Beverly Havlik and chief engineer Laura King.
    The research is desperately needed for confronting climate change. Even as we turn away from space research I'd like to see more money going to NOAA and Coast Guard. We need more icebreakers, research vessels, and tugs along with drones for monitoring the ocean.

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  6. I feel it's best to direct our thirst for exploration and research into oceanic research. The closest equivalent to the spaceships shown in science fiction are oceanic research vessels such as the USCG Healy. Vessels such as these are the actual ships that have captains on the bridge, chief engineers, and scientists going boldly were no one has gone before. If you want to see a real life Captain Beverly Crusher, look no further than USCG Captain Beverly Havlik and chief engineer Laura King.
    The research is desperately needed for confronting climate change. Even as we turn away from space research I'd like to see more money going to NOAA and Coast Guard. We need more icebreakers, research vessels, and tugs along with drones for monitoring the ocean.

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  7. Yes and it's a crying shame.

    We'll get back to space travel as soon as the doofusses in charge realize we can't take a breath without a re-breather mask, and we can't take a step without crunching somebody's toes.

    Face it, folks, we're ahead of everyday thinking since we read and write science fiction.

    When a private corporation figures out how to make a buck off space travel, then it might happen. I've always believed L5 colonies for certain manufacturing processes needing low-grav environments will be the kicker to get us halfway to the moon.

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  8. I don't believe we've lost our desire to venture out into space--the wonder of extraterrestrial travel has made for some of the most popular and lucrative franchises in our entertainment industry--but yet we fail to support our non-fictional endeavors with our votes and our pocketbooks. I wonder why that is.

    Too expensive? That's what we've been led to believe, but a quote by author R. Mike Mullane in an excellent account of his shuttle astronaut experiences, Do Your Ears Pop in Space? really put things into perspective for me:

    "Most people believe NASA consumes a significant portion of their tax dollars. Not so. Since 1977 it has averaged less than 1% of the federal budget. For fiscal year 1996, NASA [was] authorized approximately $14.2 billion in spending. For comparison, the Health and Human Services budget for the same year [was] over $600 billion, and the Department of Defense Budget [exceeded] $250 billion. In other words, Health and Human Services consumes the entire NASA budget in about six federal work days. People who argue that money spent flying into space could be used to solve our social ills in America should consider this fact: Does anybody really believe an extra six days of work by the social welfare agencies would solve our problems?"

    Eye opening, isn't it?

    In contrast, that 1% bought us tremendous advances in research including computer technology, medicine, food production, alternate fuel systems, and human health, just to mention the very tip top of the iceberg in benefits produced by our space program.

    There seems to be a huge disconnect between our fascination with space exploration as a society and the reality of actually supporting and building on our past successes on that front.

    It's downright baffling.

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  9. I actually vaguely remembered those numbers, but not enough to quote them. So glad you did! So much misinformation out there about the program. I have a friend who works there and she told me that, but just couldn't remember her analogy!

    Living here in Houston, knowing so many people who work for NASA, its just heart breaking.

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  10. NASA will supposedly be launching a test flight in 2012 of the privately built vehicle they intend to use/contract for the next generation of manned spaceflight. (Dragon) There will be a gap, but hopefully it won't be a very large one.
    If you want to see passion to get off the planet, watch the interview with SpaceX's ceo on youtube about his plans for Mars.
    I think the drive to do this is huge, but the government has passed it to the private sector. (or at least shared the load)
    With corporations in charge of the accomplishment--those with profit and investors and a bottom line to make--you bet costs will come out looking a great deal different than they have in the past. Government agencies are not known for their thrift and economical functioning. :) Or as they say in contact, "why build one when we can have two for twice the price?"
    Probably more accurate to say when we can have two for ten times the price.
    youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn7obiurdxg
    Dragon: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/spacexfeature.html
    (looks like this may be getting pushed back, but it is SUPPOSED to dock with ISS this year sometime)

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  11. Private expolitation of space travel for profit is really the only thing that will get us off the planet permanently. Government progams come and go, but the Malacca Straits are still the trading superhighway they were before columbus bumped into El Salvador. All for profit.

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