Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Two Neat Posts

David Holford on Rod Liddle and the Apollo programme. It is unbelievable that it's over 33 years since man last visited the Moon. Considering the progress in the years 1958-72, we should have made Mars by now.


Bruce said...

Mars and deep space are apparently a much more dubious proposition due to dangerous cosmic rays.

Laban, ever pondered how the great age of exploration ended in our lifetimes? Amazing when you think about it.

Still a couple of unexplored bits in the Amazon and New Guinea, but that's about it. And even those bits are on Googlearth etc.

ian said...

"we should have made Mars by now."

The leap from Moon to Mars is absolutely huge, it is not even remotely surprising that it has not yet been done yet, and you cannot ignore the steps taken so far.

Mars requires a round trip of 18 months to 2 years, as opposed to about 7-10 days for the Moon, it has already been established the human body can barely survive in weightless conditions for more than about 8 months.

The weight of fuel needed for a Mars trip far exceeds the practical limits of getting a spacecraft off Earth, the only option is for one to be built in space, and that needs a factory in orbit.

Alternatively, research into better space engine technology and better understanding of gravity and artificial gravity, all need a weightless vacuum to operate in.

Cue the ISS (1998), which has been used precisely as a testbed for both human space survival and in-orbit experimentation for the last few years. The ISS is a cumulation of experience from previous space stations; Salyut (1970s), Skylab (1973) and Mir (1986), and only made possible by the Space Shuttle (1981) and international cooperation that was impossible during the cold war.

The ISS is still under construction, estimated completion is 2016. To say we have got nowhere nearer to Mars is untrue, space exploration has been continuous, and the Shuttle and he space stations are all steps towards that.

Holford is talking complete bollocks when he claims "There is a still a Space Race and it is still against the Commies. This time the Commies will probably win.", the Chinese haven't even begun to catch up with the American and Russian programs, let alone overtaken them.

Be aware that China is still a nuclear armed nation with a somewhat agressive attitude, it wants ICBMs for its submarines, and space exploration is a handy way of obtaining or improving that technology, all the best Russian space rockets were based on ICBMs, so don't swallow the Chinese blurb about doing it all for humankind.

The reason why there hasn't been a manned mission to the Moon is simply that there is no point, there is nothing more to learn that cannot be undertaken in the ISS or had been undertaken in any of its predecessors, and in any case, the advances in robot technology mean that an unmanned mission to the Moon is far more productive.

The only thing a return to the Moon would provide is as a springboard to Mars, establishing a Moon station would probably be an ambitious but worthy project, however, until the initial problems of human adaptation and space construction are solved, it is worthless, stick with the ISS for now.

Dave Holford said...

I don't deny that the leap from the Moon to Mars is huge. But I also see that the leap in technology from 1969 to 2006 has been even greater. Had this been focused on a manned Mars mission, it would have been accomplished by now.

I think the ISS could be a valuable tool facilitating a Mars mission, but the fact that it won't be finished until 2016 tells you just how little importance has been placed on all of this.

As Jeffrey Kluger commented yesterday on CNN's site:
When President Reagan first proposed the station 22 years ago, it was budgeted at just $8 billion and was supposed to have been up and running before the 1980s were out. Currently, the outpost is still incomplete, it has returned not a lick of real science and is projected to cost up to $100 billion. The shuttles, which were advertised as a cheap, fast, reliable way to get to and from near-Earth orbit, cost $400 million every time they fly, take months to prep for a mission and have a devastatingly poor safety record, as two lost ships and 14 lost lives attest.

Kluger also points out that NASA's budget is set to grow at less than the rate of inflation through 2011. It's budget this year is a mere $16.8 billion.

I didn't suggest that the Chinese have caught up with anyone. My only point is that they seem more motivated to make progress.

As for the value of returning to the Moon, there are potential developements and advancements in energy production that could solve lots of issues surrounding both supply and environmental impact.

If an unmmanned mission to the Moon would be so productive, why haven't they sent one up? Just because I support manned missions doesn't mean I'm opposed to unmanned missions.

Laban said...

I read a book a few years back suggesting that the fuel for the return mission be manufactured on Mars (sending out a remote plant) before the manned mission set out.

P. Froward said...

There's been a lot of technological progress in the last thirty years, but it went in a very different direction than anybody expected. Most of what we've gotten better at is moving information around, and making electronics smaller. Neat stuff, but you can't email an astronaut to Olympus Mons. In terms of manipulating matter on a large scale, we've been puttering around with little incremental improvements. The 747 first flew in 1969, and they're still in service.