Category Archives: Space Science

SLS And Europa

What a mess.

A dual FH launch would give them a direct trajectory, at far lower cost.

And why does no one ever question the provenance of that $1B estimate per flight for SLS?

The Lunar Tardigrade Mess

Loren Grush has probably the most comprehensive story to date on what happened, and its implications.

I’m concerned with statements like this:

While the Arch Mission Foundation didn’t violate any official international regulations for space contamination, the nonprofit may have put Israel and the US in a vulnerable position by not explicitly asking for permission first. And the tardigrades are part of a growing trend of companies that are sending things into space that don’t have any scientific value without prior approval.

…”What’s the point?” Linda Billings, a former consultant to NASA’s Planetary Protection Office and a current consultant to NASA’s astrobiology and planetary defense programs, tells The Verge. “To me, it’s just the height of arrogance to say this is what I want to do and I’m going to do it even though it serves no public purpose. There’s no benefit to humankind.” The Arch Mission Foundation claims they are making a backup of human history, but Billings notes that other organizations, like the Lifeboat Foundation, are already taking on this endeavor, too.

The US has been fairly relaxed about people sending things into space that do not serve a scientific purpose. Numerous art projects — such as Rocket Lab’s disco ball-like satellite, the Humanity Star, or Trevor Paglen’s Orbital Reflector, a giant inflatable balloon connected to a satellite — have gone up into orbit. Those have irked astronomers, who fear these reflective objects will mess up their sensitive images of the night sky. Most notably, SpaceX launched its CEO’s sports car into deep space during the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy, sending the vehicle on an orbit around the Sun that crosses paths with the orbit of Mars. [Emphasis added]

There is an implication here that there is no purpose to civil space activities other than science and “exploration” (“space exploration” is a phrase that I hate, because it implies that it is an end, rather than a means.) The late great Tom Rogers used to tartly reply, when asked why he wanted to go into space, “None of your goddamned business!” But the OST was written in an era in which space = science was the prevailing view. Fortunately, it has sufficient ambiguity that we can probably still develop space while remaining compliant. I may write an essay somewhere about this topic (I sort of did three years ago, but not in the context of the OST). I think that, in light of this incident, we need to broaden the conversation of why we do the space activities that are “the province of all mankind,” because we’re going to be getting a lot of pushback from people like Linda and the other “anti-colonialists” about space.

[Afternoon update]

I have some more thoughts over on Twitter.

[Monday-morning update]

Glenn Reynolds has an op-ed on this at USA Today, with commentary from Yours Truly.