Category Archives: Space Science

The Hubble Group

So the big news today is that they’ve named the supercluster we live in:

Scientists previously placed the Milky Way in the Virgo Supercluster, but under Tully and colleagues’ definition, this region becomes just an appendage of the much larger Laniakea, which is 160 million parsecs (520 million light years) across and contains the mass of 100 million billion Suns.

Which kicked off this Twitter exchange between me and Lee Billings.

Accordingly, I propose that we rename the Local Group the Hubble Group, in honor of its namer, and making it consistent with the other names. I will henceforth call it that. If anyone asks, I’ll explain.

The Diane Rehm Space Discussion

Marcia Smith has a good summary. This amused me:

Rehm exclaimed that she didn’t understand what Gold meant because the “language you’re using” sounds “proprietary” and one cannot own the Moon. Gold began answering, but apparently the show ran out of time for that segment (music began playing) and he was not able to fully respond. Rehm said it “sounds confusing to me,” and cut him off.

Diane Rehm always strikes me as someone who is easily confused. I’ve never understood her popularity, except that a lot of Beltway denizens share her propensity for confusion.

[Update a while later]

Monumental willful ignorance from Mark Whittington:

The cancellation of the SLS, unlikely in the current political climate, would mean the end of any hope of sending American astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the foreseeable future.

If you can’t see beyond the next five years, perhaps. It’s the lack of propellant storage and transfer technologies, and landers, that is keeping bound to LEO, not lack of heavy life. Money wasted on SLS is trapping us there.

Expect him to show up shortly with his standard, foolish, “But you provide no alternative,” despite the fact that he’s been shown alternatives many times. We can explain it to you, Mark, but we can’t understand it for you.

The CBO And Human Spaceflight

It’s not surprising at all that it would see it as a potential area to reduce the deficit (see page 74). The entire NASA budget is an option for that, in fact, as is the entire federal budget, really. But it points out how completely out to sea we are on why we’re doing it. Note the underlying assumption.

This option would terminate NASA’s human space exploration and space operations programs, except for those necessary to meet space communications needs (such as communication with the Hubble Space Telescope). The agency’s science and aeronautics programs and robotic space missions would continue. Eliminating those human space programs would save $73 billion between 2015 and 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The main argument for this option is that increased capabilities in electronics and information technology have
generally reduced the need for humans to fly space missions. The scientific instruments used to gather knowledge in space rely much less (or not at all) on nearby humans to operate them. NASA and other federal agencies have increasingly adopted that approach in their activities on Earth, using robots to perform missions
without putting humans in harm’s way. For example, NASA has been using remotely piloted vehicles to track
hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean at much longer distances than those for which tracking aircraft are conventionally piloted.

Eliminating humans from spaceflights would avoid risk to human life and would decrease the cost of space exploration by reducing the weight and complexity of the vehicles needed for the missions. (Unlike instruments, humans need water, air, food, space to move around in, and rest.) In addition, by replacing people with instruments, the missions could be made one way—return would be necessary only when the mission required it, such as to collect samples for further analysis—thus eliminating the cost, weight, and complexity of return and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

A major argument against this option is that eliminating human spaceflight from the orbits near Earth would end
the technical progress necessary to prepare for human missions to Mars (even though those missions are at least
decades away). Moreover, if, in the future, robotic missions proved too limiting, then human space efforts
would have to be restarted. Another argument against this option is that there may be some scientific advantage
to having humans at the International Space Station to conduct experiments in microgravity that could not be
carried out in other, less costly, ways. (However, the International Space Station is currently scheduled to be
retired in 2020, postponed from an earlier decommissioning in 2015.) [Emphasis added]

There are multiple flawed assumptions in this analysis. First that the only purpose of sending humans into space is about science. Second, that it is about exploration. Third, that Mars is the goal.

If we aren’t going to develop and settle space, there is no point in sending people there, or hazarding their lives. But we never have that discussion.

[Evening update]

Seemed to be a link problem. Hope it’s fixed now, sorry.

National Space Policy

A “Values-Based Approach“? The question is — what are the values? I think he’s got it wrong:

Discovery is why a nation should go to space. It is what inspires all of humanity. It has been NASA’s only use of human spaceflight in the post-Apollo era that has returned value that is highly regarded by nearly all people in developed countries with free access to information. The synergy that once existed between human-assisted and robotic space exploration in the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) program is a blueprint for sustained deep space human-assisted exploration that can stoke the nation’s competitiveness in science, technology, and math toward realization of long-term financial and physical security.

That’s an opinion, not a fact. I would expect a scientist to think that science is the reason for human spaceflight, but most people don’t agree with him (or have even given it much thought). If it’s not for the purpose of developing and settling space, the amount of money we’re spending on it is unjustifiable.