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« Non-Partisan Space Ignorance | Main | Zubrin Festival »

Mission To Nowhere?

Speaking of blindered and dyspectic views on space, the usually-smart Anne Applebaum disappoints with this WaPo editorial.

Mars, as a certain pop star once put it, isn't the kind of place where you'd want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit, as some of the NASA scientists know perfectly well. Even leaving aside the cold, the lack of atmosphere and the absence of water, there's the deadly radiation. If the average person on Earth absorbs about 350 millirems of radiation every year, an astronaut traveling to Mars would absorb about 130,000 millirems of a particularly virulent form of radiation that would probably destroy every cell in his body. "Space is not 'Star Trek,' " said one NASA scientist, "but the public certainly doesn't understand that..."

...Too often, rational descriptions of the inhuman, even anti-human living conditions in space give way to public hints that more manned space travel is just around the corner, that a manned Mars mission is next, that there is some grand philosophical reason to keep sending human beings away from the only planet where human life is possible....

Right, and the Arctic isn't the kind of place where you'd want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit. Even leaving aside the cold, and sparseness of plants, there are the deadly polar bears. If the average person in temperate climates has to contend with wolves, an Arcticnaut traveling to that hostile clime would risk storms that might drown him in the frigid waters, or expose him to sharks.

No, space is not Star Trek, Anne, but it is an environment that is conquerable, and people exist who wish to conquer it. It's only a matter of technology levels. African bushmen wouldn't survive high latitudes, but the Inuit figured it out. Radiation can be shielded against. It's very costly to do so now, given the high launch costs, but that's a problem that's solveable.

Earth may today be the only planet where human life is possible, but before we developed the right clothing and weapons, tropical climates were the only region of earth where human life was possible. This is not a persuasive argument for confining ourselves to a single planet, any more than it would have been to do so to a single continent.

Crowded out of the news this week was the small fact that the troubled international space station, which is itself accessible only by the troubled space shuttle, has sprung a leak.

Meaning what? That it's therefore impossible to send people into space? There are two errors here. First, she makes the mistake that many do in believing that it can't be done any better or cheaper than NASA does it. But even if the station springs the occasional leak, so what? So did whaling ships. It didn't stop them from whaling--they had pumps and repair techniques. Space vehicles will be the same.

It's interesting in the way that the exploration of the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is interesting, or important in the way that the study of obscure dead languages is important. Like space exploration, these are inspiring human pursuits. Like space exploration, they nevertheless have very few practical applications.

But space exploration isn't treated the way other purely academic pursuits are treated. For one, the scientists doing it have perverse incentives. Their most dangerous missions -- the ones involving human beings -- produce the fewest research results, yet receive the most attention, applause and funding. Their most productive missions -- the ones involving robots -- inspire interest largely because the public illogically believes they will lead to more manned space travel.

This is simply untrue. Manned missions return much more science than robotic missions, at least when it comes to planetary exploration. We got much more science from Apollo than from all of the other lunar probes combined. The problem is that it costs a lot more money to send people (at least the way we've done it to date), not that they return less science.

And of course, she falls into the other trap of assuming that the only reason to send people or robots into space is for science, ignoring the potential for new resources, planet protection, and most importantly, new environments for the expansion of human freedom.

I can agree that it may not be a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds to send people to other planets right now, or into space at all, but the notion that it has no value to anyone is utter nonsense. We will explore and settle space, because there are many people who wish to do so, and the means to do so are growing rapidly as technology advances and wealth increases. The issue is not if, but how and how soon, and with whose money.


Mark Whittington has fisked this piece as well.

[Another update]

Linda Seebach (editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News) points out via email that the Applebaum piece is an opinion column, not a WaPo editorial. She's correct, of course.

She also says that she'll have an interview with Bob Zubrin up tomorrow--I'll post a link when it happens.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 07, 2004 11:18 AM
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Excerpt: Another Washington Post column, by Anne Applebaum: Mission to Nowhere.Mars, as a certain pop star once put it, isn't the kind of place where you'd want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever...
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Absense of water and atmosphere on Mars ? Ouch ... And somehow, current very practical applications of space have escaped the attention of the writer ?

But i actually think she's right on track, because sge speaks only about what she knows: government sponsored space program with no clear goals and agenda, disguised behind the word "science"

It'd do her good to speak with a few people from Artemis project or attend any of the space resource and business development conferences.

Posted by at January 7, 2004 11:56 AM

LIke you, I am normally a big fan of Anne Appelbaum's writing. You'd think that being so good at documenting the perversions of massive public-goods systems, she would be able to spot a spin-control exercise by a faction contending for resources in a negative-sum system. Instead, I suspect she has become the pawn of one. Judging from several textual clues, I suspect she has been talking to a NASA planetary science type who is busy waging a campaign against human activities in space as part of an attempt to garner more funding for themselves. Her arguments are just scientific enough to sound plausible, if you're not familiar with any of the discussion about human settlement in space. I suspect she was spun, rather than that she made it up herself.

Of course the rads in interplanetary space are lethal - in an unshielded spaceship, and with the transit times of minimum-energy trajectories. Of course the temperatures and pressures of the atmosphere at 35,000 feet are also lethal to a shirtsleeved human -- if the aircraft isn't pressurized and heated. But the radiation levels are really an argument for building 1-g continuous thrust spaceships (there being several possible ways of doing so) that could make the trip in about four days, only one day longer than the Apollo missions to the moon. Of course, the economics of equipment utilization alone would drive any large-scale users of interplanetary transport to do so sooner or later. Using Hohmann-trajectory times for thinking about interplanetary travel is like using canal-boat speeds to think about transcontinentalm travel. Sure, it's probably the minimum-energy way to transport something, but as soon as people could go faster, they did, and left canal boats to coal.

Anne, talk to somebody on the other side of the question before you write about this stuff!

Posted by Jim Bennett at January 7, 2004 11:59 AM

Anne's editorial is based upon "facts" that must only exist in her universe.

"Fact" #1:

"Not only does the planet (Mars) have no life, it has no air, no water, no warmth".

Mars HAS an atmosphere, HAS a huge amount of water (as evidenced by recent probes), and has a temperature that can at times be compared to northern Canada in the winter (where many people live).

"Fact" #2:

"A paricularly virulent form of radiation would probably destroy every cell in his body"

As far as I know, radiation was never a virus. Comparing it to such demonstrates a total lack of respect for scientific concepts. The amount of radiation absorbed by an astronnaut going to Mars is dependent upon the type of mission and the shielding - by many estimates, the radiation dose of a two-year trip to Mars would only increase an astronaut's chance of getting fatal cancer by about 1 percent.

"Fact" #3:

"Space is not 'Star Trek', but the public certainly doesn't understand that" (quote with which author agrees)

This is more opinion than fact, I hope - I was unaware that the public, who funds these missions and reads the author's newspaper, was unable to distinguish fact from fiction. Maybe this explains the ficitonal "facts" given throughout the editorial.

"Fact" #4:

"Crowded out of the news this week was the small fact that the troubled international space station, which is itself accessible only by the troubled space shuttle, has sprung a leak."

This "fact" demonstrates that the author has not even done the most basic fact-checking before writing the editorial. The space station is accessible by the Russian Soyuz manned vehicles, Progress cargo vehicles, and will soon by supplied by european-built cargo vehicles as well. This doesn't count the Chinese human space capability, which was evidenced by their launch of an astronaut a few months ago. Saying that the space shuttle is the only means of accessing the space station is like saying that flying United Airlines is the only way to get from New York to Florida.

"Fact" #5:

"Their most dangerous missions -- the ones involving human beings -- produce the fewest research results"

Human beings are capable of doing far more research than robots. This is why we don't send robots to look for dinosaur fossils, and why robots don't do the work of lab technicians for pharmaceutical companies. Human space missions, if done properly, can yield much better scientific results than robots can.

This editorial is based on fiction, plain and simple.

Posted by James at January 7, 2004 02:25 PM

She had a number of factual errors and misstatements.

?Not only does [Mars] have no life, it has no air, no water, no warmth. The temperature on the Martian surface hardly rises much above zero degrees Fahrenheit, and can drop several hundred degrees below that.?

We do not know if Mars has life, despite her bald assertion. Mars has a lot of water (Mostly frozen, of course, but it is water, and there may well be liquid water underground). It has an atmosphere, though thin. The absolute minimum temperature in the dark months at the poles is about ?190 F. That is NOT ?several hundred degrees below? zero in my book. Also, you could voice similar complaints about Earth ? Temperatures can go over 130 F and below ?100 F on this terrible planet. Of course those are the extremes, and won?t happen in the same place.

Her comments about radiation are incredible. That was a known issue in the ?60s. I REMEMBER reading about it in grade school. Every spacecraft design considered for a Mars mission includes a ?storm shelter? (a central area with extra shielding) for solar flares, or some other method for shielding. I?d really like to know how she came up with this one. Here all these scientists and engineers have been thinking about how to get people to Mars for the last half-century, and she has shown them it is simply impossible. I am awed by her genius. Seriously, she should stick to subjects she actually knows something about. Given her obvious ignorance, her conclusions aren?t even worth commenting on.

Posted by VR at January 7, 2004 02:46 PM

James, believe it or not, we haven't shown that Mars has water in large quantities. That's one of the goals of the current Mars probes. An alternative is that carbon dioxide is the mystery fluid that carves the canyons of Mars. See the "white Mars" theory.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at January 7, 2004 02:54 PM

wrt, #5 , pure science and research suck as primary reasons for going to space. She is right on that account, although she is not aware of any alternatives.

Posted by at January 7, 2004 02:55 PM

Appelbaum's mistakes are, I think, representative of the level of ignorance about space travel in most people. Folks like us who advocate human space travel need to remember this. When someone lays out a roster of bogus assertions, few readers have the background or an incentive to challenge her "facts".

Posted by billg at January 7, 2004 04:54 PM

What's sad is that sometimes I get the feeling that those NASA/JPL planetary scientists are perfectly content to let robots go to places like the Moon, comets and Mars for them, and that they have no burning desire to actually visit those places themselves.

Posted by Raoul Ortega at January 7, 2004 09:16 PM

Sadly, Raoul, that's often the case. They don't want to go, they just want to know, not realizing that the best way to know is to go...

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 7, 2004 09:20 PM

Quote By Raoul: "What's sad is that sometimes I get the feeling that those NASA/JPL planetary scientists are perfectly content to let robots go to places like the Moon, comets and Mars for them, and that they have no burning desire to actually visit those places themselves."

I totally agree with this also. I hear all to often that they prefer to spend the same amount of money on 10 robotic missions rather that just one manned mission. It all goes directly back to the money game with NASA where they tilt objectives around in order to get the most out their scales of launch economy.

Posted by Hefty at January 8, 2004 01:40 AM

A good friend is an astrophysicist, he hates the idea of planetary exploration, firstly because of the risks to the people, and secondly because of the risks to funding for big telescopes which would let him look at "interesting" things like Quasars.

I'm still not sure who will actually make up the first round of colonists though, I'm not sure they'll be "Western", unless its disaffected Liberatarians wanting to found utopia ;-)

Posted by Dave at January 8, 2004 01:57 AM

It depends. If the place is run by some kind of UN bureaucracy, the colonists will be bland bureaucratic civil-servant types. Nobody with a history of "xenophobia" (e.g., having ever criticized the International Criminal Court, or the European Union) will ever get to go there.

If it's a free-for-all, then the first colonists will probably be some kind of mix of politico-religious nuts; fortune-seekers who are convinced that they can somehow get rich there, chronic misfits who imagine that there; poor people who are willing to do dirty or dangerous work for lower wages than people from prosperous places; unlike anywhere else they've tried, they might be happy, and sheer contrarians, ultra-curious people,and adventurers.

If it's the latter, it should be interesting. Over and over again, it's tended to work out that way. (Imagine -- whackos who believe that the Church shouldn't be run by Bishops appointed by the King! Why, that would lead to anarchy and chaos.)

Posted by Jim Bennett at January 8, 2004 07:44 AM

Throw in teenage runaways tired of being forced to assume the role of overgrown children, medical researchers looking for someplace they can play with stem cells and human cloning in an all-out assault on the aging process, and people looking to legally indulge their outlawed vices.

Yep, a brand new Land of Freedom and Opportunity. Without slavery to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Bring it on!

Posted by Ken at January 8, 2004 09:25 AM

Sounds like Utah could finally be rid of their polygamous paleo-Mormons...

Posted by McGehee at January 8, 2004 11:37 AM

Karl: I'm not James, but I also made the point about water. The Mars Odyssey detected far more hydrogen than was expected and in addition to the high-res pictures of surface features and the erosion patterns at the poles, all point to oceans worth of water. Yes, I've heard of alternative ideas to explain some of that, but the evidence is piling up against them. In any event, it is ridiculous to say Mars has "no water" when it is absolutely certain it does.

Posted by VR at January 8, 2004 02:56 PM

It really is amazing how different the attitude is between different space factions. I love the pictures that Spirit sends back, but if I thought that humans would never go there themselves, I wouldn?t be able to look at them ? it would be far too painful. I joined the Planetary Society when it just started up, and had also joined the L5 Society sometime earlier. Even though the Planetary Society material gave some lip service to having people in space, it became very obvious very quickly that they were far more interested in robot missions and limited politically minded manned missions.

I remember a debate between Gerard O?Neill and Carl Sagan that sounded like a Capitalist/Communist economic/political argument. O?Neill was pushing commercial development (not just Solar Power Satellites, but pretty much anything that can make a buck in space) with government help, but Sagan was concerned about who would control space and pretty much was against anything not rigidly controlled by government. About the only manned mission he really liked was a joint US-USSR mission to Mars to get us to ?work together? (why that would help world tensions is beyond me). After that debate, I got out of the Planetary Society. I simply could not understand their position.

Posted by VR at January 8, 2004 03:19 PM

I notice it Ellis Henican seems to be getting in on the act:

Possibly trying to take the steam out of Bush's State of the Union space proposals in advance?

Posted by Wombat at January 8, 2004 07:11 PM

If it's a free-for-all, then the first colonists will probably be some kind of mix of politico-religious nuts; fortune-seekers who are convinced that they can somehow get rich there, chronic misfits who imagine that there; poor people who are willing to do dirty or dangerous work for lower wages than people from prosperous places; unlike anywhere else they've tried, they might be happy, and sheer contrarians, ultra-curious people,and adventurers.

Isn't that how America got started?

Posted by Alan K. Henderson at January 9, 2004 01:08 AM

I'm one of those planetary geologists or atleast one in training (working on my PhD) actually doing a study in Gusev crater.

First, I want/would go to any planet in our solar system given the opportunity (sorry. bad MER pun thrown in there). Granted, I'm not fighting for funding in NASA, but even still, there is so much more to actually touching the rocks versus just looking at pictures of them. Humans are natural 'rovers' with far more capabilities than any mechanical rover will ever have. Granted, Spirit has the rather nifty Mini-TES which tells us alot about the geochemistry of the rocks, but a human can carry one around, stick it to the rock, and get the same analysis. Most importantly, a human can pick up a rock, spin it around, break off a piece, compare it to a nearby rock, etc all in real-time. Yes, a rover could be programmed to do the same thing, but its complicated and will never have the same results that a human could generate not to mention the time lag (10 minutes one-way) and limited exploration distance/area that a rover can explore. Rover distance and abilities will improve and satellite capabilities are becoming simply phenomenal, however, they can never duplicate the things a human geologist can do. Go outside and pick up any rock and you will generate so much more data from that experience than a rover ever will (how heavy did it feel? Was it rough or smooth? Was it shiny? What did it look like from all angles? etc.) in about 30 seconds. Rovers are important and necessary. Satellites are important and necessary. Human exploration of other planets is beyond necessary: it is demanded. Why? Because you can ask them, 'What was it like?', 'What do you think about this formation having been there?', 'Can you explain how this looked from over here?' and on and on. Rovers will never be able to answer these questions.

So you know, I'm am thrilled that Spirit is on Mars returning awesome (in every sense of the word) data and hope we send more satellites, landers, and rovers there. But we must send a human(s) there to truly begin to understand what's going on.

On Anne Applebaum's WaPO post:
She doesn't have a clue about what human or other space exploration is about. There are too many scientific inaccuracies to reply about (Mars has an atmosphere, water in solid and gaseous form atleast, etc), but I wanted to address the issue about no technological merits. Have you heard about fuel cells, those wonder devices turning H2 and O into energy and H2O...developed by NASA for human space exploration and used to bring us to the moon and back. Heard about aerogels that are super-insulators being turned into a new blanket insulation and window glass with R-20 values that will save humans millions and reduce oil consumption? Developed for insulating spacecraft for human space exploration. Just two of many technologies now benefiting humans that come from human space exploration.

My advisor has said that space exploration is not about science and technological achievement (though certainly it rates high on those), but about inspiration. Inspiring humanity to better ourselves, expand our thinking into new realms and to achieve acomplishments only dreamt about by our species. Besides the fact that it is just damn cool. ;)

One aspect I like is the bringing together of people from all over the world. Look at the picture of the Columbia crew; multigender and multi-racial people working together. Now that's inspiring. That's worth exploring.

Posted by Fred at January 9, 2004 02:32 PM

The Washington Post's columnist is missing the point: We have to send humans into space. It reminds me of the story about the great Chinese armada that was going to explore the world in the 15th Century and was called back by the Chinese leader. As a result China turned inward and is now frantically trying to regain parity with western civilization. Spain, however, was not that insular, financing Columbus' fabled voyage.
I believe humans must seek out new challenges and expand to ever greater worlds. The alternative is sit to back on our duffs and squabble over terra firma in increasingly more horrific wars.
Applebaum's column reminds me of the famous New York Times' editorial which, in the wake of Goddard's rocket experimentation, stated flatly that human beings would never get off this world.
It is our natural destiny to continue to explore and to expand and the benefits, based on past history of man's climb from the apes, will be huge!

Posted by R F Randall at January 12, 2004 07:29 AM

This is a "letter to the editor" of the Washington Post that I fired off on January 7, right after reading Anne Applebaum's miserable article. I doubt that they will print any of it, though...

Anne Applebaum's recent op-ed on Mars exploration ("Mission to Nowhere", January 7, 2004, Page A21; was riddled with factual errors, which is disappointing given her status as a member of your paper's editorial board. These misconceptions might also explain the pervasive pessimism the article conveyed regarding the role of humans in space exploration.

1. Mars does have "air", i.e. an atmosphere. In fact, even though this atmosphere is thin and consists mainly of unbreathable carbon dioxide, it is a major resource that the Red Planet offers to future explorers: oxygen as well as rocket fuel can be extracted from Martian air with a simple chemical process. It seems that Ms. Applebaum has confused conditions on Mars with those on the Moon.

2. There is water on Mars, at least in the form of the seasonal ice cap at the planet's North Pole. There is a high likelihood that water also exists in other locations, maybe even as easily accessible subsurface ice. Finding out more about this issue is one of the main tasks of the current Mars Exploration Rover missions, so it is much too early to claim that Mars has "no water".

3. The question of past or present life on Mars is still wide open, and a conclusive answer will likely require decades of study. This will include on-site field research by human scientist-astronauts, since the most likely places where life might have survived cannot be reached by robots operated from Earth. Therefore, there is no factual basis for Ms. Applebaum's statement that Mars has "no life".

4. Radiation exposure is an emotionally charged topic, but claiming that an annual exposure of 130 rem, or 0.35 rem per day, would "destroy every single cell" in an astronaut's body demonstrates ignorance of the issue. According to medical reference literature, the human body can absorb a sudden dose of 200 rem without lethal consequences, and much more when delivered over a longer period of time. By the way, radiation doses given in rem already incorporate the varying effects of different types of radiation on the human body, which includes the "virulent" type that Ms. Applebaum seems so concerned about.

5. Martian nights might indeed be "cold as hell", as Elton John put it, but the average surface temperature on Mars is only slightly lower than it is at the Earth's South Pole, where a population of scientists, explorers and adventurers has been surviving quite well for several decades.

Astronomical information should not be procured from pop songs, just as Sir Elton would not want Sean O'Keefe rewriting his ballads. And while Ms. Applebaum is certainly entitled to the opinion that nobody "is ever going to visit" Mars, phrasing pessimistic predictions of the future as statements of fact does nothing to improve her credibility.

But the problem with this piece goes beyond the factual errors. The article shows a deep disdain for discovery, illustrated most clearly by Ms. Applebaum's deriding of the scientific and philosophical value of finding traces of life on another planet, even if it were just "a few microbes". This goes along with an equally deep aversion towards risk, culminating in her describing the incentives for human spaceflight as "perverse".

The same noxious combination of discounting discovery while exaggerating risk characterized the opposition that arose in the 1950's against first plans for a lunar landing: while the public loved the idea and forward-thinking politicians seized the opportunity, a vocal part of the scientific establishment opposed the mere concept of sending people into the untraveled reaches of space as ludicrous. Their concerns notwithstanding, 15 years later, we were on the Moon. This defeatist attitude can be traced throughout history, from the 19th-century doctors that were convinced humans would never survive the extreme speeds of that age's new transportation technology - steam trains going at an unprecedented 30 miles per hour - to the opposition that was likely encountered by the first ambitious hominids as they left the cradle of early man in East Africa for the uninhabited, soon to be ice-covered steppes of Eurasia.

Luckily, most people have an intuitive awareness that space exploration isn't a "purely academic pursuit" like "the study of obscure dead languages". It has proven to motivate more young people to pursue science and engineering than any other endeavor, in addition to its relevance to our very survival as a species - finding out why Mars and Venus are inhospitable worlds today in spite of their initial similarity to Earth will enable us to understand how to avoid a similar fate for our own home planet.

Likewise, her allegation that "the public does not understand" that our current stage of space exploration neither includes nor requires warp drives and deflector shields is not made less condescending by adding a glib quote from an anonymous "NASA scientist". We can send humans to Mars and bring them back safely, at our present level of technology.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Applebaum has spent a significant part of her life in Europe, which has experienced its last major wave of settlement fifteen hundred years ago. Maybe this is why she does not seem to grasp what Americans from all walks of life - not just the marginal TV series character quoted in her op-ed - realize: that without a frontier that allows for expansion, societies stagnate and ultimately decline; and that therefore no challenge is more rewarding than increasing our species' knowledge and reach. This is a challenge won and renewed with each successful space exploration mission. And human performance soars with a challenge.

One is left to wonder what motivates resigned rants like hers. Is she of the opinion that more good could be done if the money budgeted for space exploration was spent on social engineering projects on Earth? Where would we be today if this kind of thinking had prevailed at the court of Spain in the 15th century, where many were equally convinced that Columbus' ships would fall prey to sirens and sea monsters, or even fall off the edge of the world?

Yes, settling Mars is not going to be easy, but few rewarding tasks are. If humanity decides to voluntarily stop expanding its sphere of influence, this would be an act unprecedented in the history of our kind. It would mark the first step down on the long evolutionary ladder that has led us up to where we are today - the stars within our reach.

Jan Osburg


Dr. Jan Osburg is an aerospace engineer specializing in the interdisciplinary design of manned and unmanned space systems. He has first-hand planetary exploration experience gained as a crewmember on board Mars base simulation facilities near the North Pole and in the deserts of Utah, where scientists and engineers test and develop techniques and procedures for the human exploration of Mars.

Dr. Jan Osburg
Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0150

Posted by at January 12, 2004 02:27 PM

This is an [edited] post that I made to Stanley Kurtz of NRO on his column ( on the subject (and to which post he acknowledged that he had ommitted [in the article] the strategic aspects, but felt it was "...difficult to address knowledgeably", but which subject he hoped to soon reprise):

[But] I think you failed to address the real focus of a renewed commitment to space "exploration" by the president (a focus that's not going to be publicly detailed for some time to come).

I tend to believe that whether enthusiasts or detractors are speaking about space ..."it don't matter one way or t'other". The arguments generally set forth by either side of the issue have recently become equally superfluous: the "dirty little secret" is that the US has to pursue this course, and now, for reasons of crystal pure national self interest.

And it's really going to happen this time (and the advanced planners in the Defense Department will work to make it happen), because the Chinese have stated their intentions to pursue near-planetary goals.

Near [orbital] space is going to be THE place to base weapons platforms (defensive & offensive).

Umm, and that's what the shuttle program was originally all about btw ...the "failure" of the shuttle development program was simply premature deployment (it wasn't apparent to the optimistic planners at that early point in US orbital weapons development that none of the other parts of the orbital infrastructure were going to be technologically feasible, nor economically coherent to attempt, for several decades).

The US (and by implication, all other nations of the time) simply didn't have the technology nor the economic depth to exploit near space as a national security issue in the 1960s/1970s. By the 1980s, the technology curve had deepened enough for the Reagan administration to foresee the eventual need of orbital weapons systems.

But the US is just now entering the period when it will be technologically feasible, economically possible, and strategically *necessary* to pursue the development, testing, and deployment of near-space and lunar weapons systems.

The moon is going to be a launch "platform" for "Bolide Bombardment", which will require permanent basing (essentially, the moon will be used to "throw rocks" at military targets on the planetary surface ...hey, look on the bright side here: the aftermath of such a bombardment is a whole lot "cleaner" then the use of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, and would negate downwind radioactive fallout as a consideration of the use of such weapons) ...

...there's plenty of big rocks on the moon, after all, (and of a size that mass enough to be assured of overcoming any reentry oblation problems), the escape velocity is relatively low (allowing the choice of several different and VERY inexpensive launch modalities) and there is absolutely NO defense possible against lunar based bolide bombardment given current capabilities (nor of the foreseeable technologies of decades to come ...well, other then burying infrastructure VERY deeply ...hmm ...and also other then the "old" MAD policy of deterrence, of course).

This can all sound like sci-fi foo-foo ...but it is easy to make detailed arguments that can logically "prove" these strategic assertions to even the "puzzled middle" (of the Kurtz article) who are wondering what's the point of all this "space stuff".

Really, the US doesn't have a choice BUT to exploit the "window of opportunity" - now! - that the Chinese launch program exposes the immediate necessity for ...and current US technological capabilities and economic potential allow US strategic planners to develop and exploit (and yes, I'd suggest that such arguments must already exist in minute detail in the Pentagon).

The US will have to exploit space within the near term for purely rational strategic reasons, and will initially use the "morally acceptable" reason of scientific exploration to fiscally cloak the military necessity.

In the final analysis, the US will go into space, as a space-faring nation, for purely rational reasons of national security ...

...of course, that's IF the US wants to remain a strategic superpower.

To the above post, I'd add that anything that will get us there is a good thing: realpolitik. There's going to be plenty of room in the space budget for science and manufacturing development. The object is to get there, and I wouldn't quibble about how we get the money to do it ...the sooner, the better. Faster, please (with apologies to Michael Ledeen).

Posted by Brandon Davis at January 12, 2004 08:29 PM

What I find humorous about discussions concerning colonizing Mars is ---

We are going to go from a planet that works but has some problems we are unwilling to address to a planet that --
has no atmosphere
has no water on the surface
has no protection from radiation

The ego of man is something else. We can't fix this planet that works, but we believe we can create a working planet from a pile of dust.
Sounds like a way to fool the people into believing If planet earth gets to crowded and polluted we can just move--- what a joke!

Posted by jeff at April 24, 2004 10:20 AM

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