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Space Science

The Next Fifty Years In Space 273

Posted by samzenpus
from the wave-motion-gun dept.
MarkWhittington writes "2007 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Space Age, agreed by most to have begun with the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, on October 4th, 1957. While some are taking stock of the last fifty years of space exploration, noting what has been accomplished and, more importantly, what has not been accomplished, others are wondering what the next fifty years might bring."
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The Next Fifty Years In Space

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  • by Enlarged to Show Tex (911413) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:43AM (#20463487)
    From the USA: Nothing. They're headed back to the Dark Ages as the economy collapses. I wouldn't be surprised if the ISS ends up a big, expensive piece of space junk. From the Chinese: Unclear. Space exploration doesn't carry a whole lot of practical value for them. Unless the next 50 years brings a China v. India dickwaving contest, space advances in the next 50 years are quite unlikely.
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:47AM (#20463521)
      What makes you think that a national policy of running huge deficits and growing our national debt at an almost exponential rate will lead to insolvency for the U.S.? Surely the good times can never come crashing down, right? Right?
    • Have you not seen Firefly? It was foretold that China and the US will team up in order to ditch this rock.
    • Well this is probably accurate except for military deployments, which will quietly advance in space, undersea, wherever. If USA has not enough funds somebody else probably will fill up the void.

      So till now human leave junk arms and probes in space. I'm afraid quantities are in that same order.
  • by Double Entendre (1123719) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:49AM (#20463547)

    Interesting read, but it makes no mention of the anticipation from existing space projects and what they'll reveal in the next 50 years. As was recently stated in another article, Voyager 2 is still up and running while feeding back information over 12.5b km away (source: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]). The same is true for Voyager 1 - with it being expected to reach the heliopause by 2015.

    I know there's still plenty to discover around here, but I find the possibility of discovery through those resilient probes much more fascinating than a space elevator. I just hope they can maintain power long enough to relay something back to us.

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:54AM (#20463589)
    Until space has a serious market among non-government-backed customers, it will be subject to the political whims of the "how can we spend money on space when we have problems on Earth?" constituency. As much as I love and support space exploration for the purposes of scientific and engineering R&D, feeding at the public trough is a the greatest single point of failure for the development of space. It does not matter whether it is tourism, materials synthesis in zero-G, mineral extraction n the moon/asteroids, or power generation. Creating an environment in which consumers and corporation gladly pay for the fruits of space travel will be the key to creating a truly stable, non-bureaucratic flow of funds and a thriving industry that depends more on proving economic value than on lobbying politicians.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gurps_npc (621217)
      I can't believe they rated this post as insightful.

      "Serious market among non-government backed customers?"

      Have you ever heard of satelites?

      Do you know the HUGE industry that has developed for them.

      We already have commercicilzed space.

      The problem continues to be three fold:

      Human body has serious failings for long term space travel (micro G/null G does horrible things to muscles and bones).

      Huge cost to travel the first 100 km (A Space fountain can solve this problem, using today's technology, just high

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by rtb61 (674572)
        That is what it actually boils down to, solve the whole gravity thing and then there will actually be a space age, with out tackling gravity we can only tinker about the edges. Private will not achieve more than government, it never has, it just spends lots of money advertising claims that it has, so it can suck up all the public funds it can get hold of. The current example of growing failures and corrupting everything that was handed over to private intrests only point to the reason why the public elected
    • You seem to think this has not already happened. Most people only think that "space" is "people in space" but do you track activity at the cape? It's a busy place. More then one launch a month. Just got three eails asking me to do some work for three vehicle in the pipeline. The "people in space" stuff is just what makes the news and is not the bulk of the program.

  • ... and we all know what was the best momment of all: doing the right stuff [youtube.com]!

    --
    Great hosting [dreamhost.com]200GB Storage, 2_TB_ bandwidth, php, mysql, ssh, $7.95
  • by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:00AM (#20463651) Journal
    In 1957, who could have predicted the next fifty years in space? Sputnik had not yet been launched [wikipedia.org] - the Space Race hadn't even begun.

    On the other hand, who 40 years ago could have predicted where we are now? In 1967, the Space Race was a dead heat, the Mercury and Gemini programs in the U.S. were blazing successes, and the challenges of Apollo putting a man on the Moon (though formidable) seemed within our grasp. People were already talking of space stations, Moon colonization, and Mars exploration, certainly all within a generation. Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick were starting their collaboration for 2001: A Space Odyssey [wikipedia.org].

    My point is: predictions are cheap, and over a span of fifty years mean little. Things develop far too quickly for a 50-year prediction to carry much weight. Predicting the future of space means also predicting the future of technology - what will be possible in fifty years. It also means predicting the future of the geopolitical and economic landscapes. All of these different factors influence one another - predicting the future of one will mean predicting at least a portion of the others.
    • by demachina (71715) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:21AM (#20464561)
      "In 1957, who could have predicted the next fifty years in space?"

      Uh, Von Braun and most of his team back in the 40's when they were working on the V-2. They had plans for follow on generations of rockets to go in to orbit, the moon and Mars, plans they took to NASA and proceeded to build up through Apollo. They had a vision, they made it happen. If you want to be successful in hard things thats what it takes, a sound vision and a lot of hard work to attain it. Burt Ruttan is probably one of the few contemporaries with those qualities. Following your train of thought I don't think anything hard would ever be accomplished.

      Don't think Von Braun envisioned the Space Shuttle in the 40's, I'm guessing if you showed him the idea he would have torn it apart, for no other reason than the huge amounts of dead weight you were lifting in to orbit for no particularly good reason. Not sure what he would have thought of ISS.....

      Most science fiction writers are a little idealistic and thought we would stop killing each other in mostly pointless wars by now and join forces to fix our planet and move on to new ones. They were wrong. If we'd taken the half a trillion dollars we squandered in Iraq we would be well on our way to Mars, or to developing clean renewable energy sources. Unfortunately we are a deeply flawed species, and the intellectual gift we've been given is usually misguided and misdirected, especially when we elevate people to be our leaders who seem to have little or no intellect at all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by necro81 (917438)
        Von Braun and the other rocket scientists of the 40s were predicting the next 20-30 years in space. They were looking almost exclusively at the technological evolution - the most straightforward part, the part within their control. Von Braun was a savvy person in his own right, but he couldn't have predicted how the public's lack of enthusiasm after Apollo would stunt the technological evolution of space technology through 2000. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, no one could have predicted the collapse of the So
        • by demachina (71715)
          The death blow to the U.S. space program was the Space Shuttle and ISS so at least half of the problem was a collapse in technological evolution and vision which was Von Braun's department. There was certainly a failure of leadership and motivation too.

          A key problem was about the same time as Apollo 11 Vietnam started really going sour and started draining the life out of America and bleeding the economy white which gets back to my original point. We would rather squander money on pointless wars than do
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by demachina (71715)
          I should add Von Braun stuck to their vision through a whole lot of adversity, and events they could never have predicted. Over the course of 40-50 years they made their vision come true. They weren't exactly pure as the driven snow but they were visionaries who made their vision come true when they could have quit a hundred times. They started out working for an unpredictable wacko in Nazi Germany. They had their entire country and all their labs blown out from under them. They and all their work could e
  • Optimistic (sadly) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bestinshow (985111)
    What that article says may become true, but in 100 years time, not 50.

    In 50 years time I expect a colony of up to 200 people on the moon. 10 by 2030, 40 by 2040, 100 by 2050 ... unless they get moon-side construction techniques down to a tee very quickly. By 2099 we'll probably be at the stage where the TV show Space 1999 thought we would be 8 years ago. Sad, eh?

    Also I think space elevators will be like flying cars. They're a nice idea and concept, but not before 2057. 2107 maybe.

    Space related research and
  • ...given all the recent murmurings of policy shifts, etc.
  • Most of these endeavors from TFA may be pie-in-the-sky, literally; however, according to this article from the Economist the other week, [economist.com] the Goddard Space Flight Center has some serious plans for missions to the moon under direction of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. [whitehouse.gov] Going for the pie-in-the-sky plans may sound exciting and adventurous, but reality needs to set in eventually. Making gradual steps and acting when the technology is developed is the best plan to ensure safety and success in th
    • by gerbalblaste (882682) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:40AM (#20464047) Journal
      Screw safety and success, humanity has never gotten anywhere by waiting until it was safe and success was guaranteed. We are where we are now because people have put their balls to the wall and done things that were said to be impossible.
      • by dominion (3153)

        Well, to be honest, most of human history has been people putting other people's balls to the wall in order to do things that were said to be impossible. The pharoah's didn't build the pyramids, slaves built the pyramids for the pharoahs.
  • Fusion power, planetary settlements and the like were all "about 50 years away" then. The only "new" bits are terrorism being an issue (it only is now because we haven't had a real war for a while) and perhaps the public / private split.

    The big question not asked? Whose flag flies beside those space elevators in the Pacific...
  • by mykepredko (40154) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:18AM (#20463791) Homepage
    I think the only way space exploration will receive substantial funding is if energy can be provided from it more cost effectively than can be produced on earth. Part of this being successful is to develop a very heavy lifting capability.

    This means that we must go away from a petroleum based economy to some form of fusion based economy - when I say "fusion", I mean either energy from the sun (in the form of O'Neill PowerSats) or from Moon based Helium-3.

    In either case a large infrastructure would have to be created which would mean some kind of heavy lift capability (I remember a quote from one of the ISS project managers saying that it's hell trying to build a space station at 35,000 lb (the maximum payload capability of the shuttle) at a time). The heavy lift capability would have to be measured in millions of pounds (much more than the 200,000 lbs of the Saturn V).

    In terms of how I see actually happening, I would expect a hybrid of the PowerSat solution and Helium-3 fueled power plants in that the Helium-3 would be sent to the PowerSats and the energy produced beamed down to the Earth. Somehow I don't see how it could ever be cost efficient if we are sending Mass back down (thinking of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress") and I would expect people to be unwilling to allow nuclear fuel to be dropped down through the atmosphere.

    myke
    • by Cyberax (705495)
      Energy production for the WHOLE Earth requires only several tonnes of He3 per year. It requires a trivial amount of fuel to decelerate from the Moon orbit.

      And He3 is not radioactive.
  • by miletus (552448) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:20AM (#20463825)
    ... had been hit by a small asteroid instead of planes. We'd be halfway to Mars by now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ackthpt (218170)

      ... had been hit by a small asteroid instead of planes. We'd be halfway to Mars by now.

      Right after we rounded up all astronomers and astrophysicists and put them Gitmo for withholding information, never mind we didn't listen to one word while they were shouting "look out for that asteroid!" And then once we liberated the Moon we'd welcomed as liberators!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by elmartinos (228710)
      I highly doubt that. Do you know where the asteroid came from? Who cares, it clearly was an act of terrorism! Iraq has terrorists, so the only conclusion can be that we have to invade Iraq.
  • Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Illserve (56215) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:21AM (#20463827)
    This sounds a bit like the fanciful predictions made in the 50's about the moon colonies, flying cars and rocketpacks we'd have by 1990.

    To begin, I doubt there are enough people at the top of earth's wealth pyramid to support the thriving tourist industry proposed to exist in 50 years. I think the costs of space travel will continue to remain, pardon the pun, astronomical, for quite a while. (I know, space elevators et al., but I think the spectre of guaranteeing Health and Safety will handicap this industry).

    Furthermore, if there's one very important lesson to be learned in the last 20 years, is that rapid advances in space technology requires a very particular combination of scientific accumen and willingness to tolerate risk. The Apollo project had it, but noone has replicated the right mix since. We see the same stunted progress in other industries that are on the high end of the risk spectrum (airline travel, nuclear power).

    This is much unlike advancement in the computer industry, to cite one example, which can race ahead at breakneck speed, because there isn't much of a human cost to screwing up.

    Thus, I believe that it's a mistake to assume we will necessarily recreate that climate of rapid progress. I can easily imagine another 50 years of sending robotic probes that crash land half of the time (but work marvelously otherwise).

  • Meh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PieSquared (867490) <isosceles2006NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:25AM (#20463873)
    So basically "moon colony" "mars colony" "manned exploration of titan" "space elevators" "many private space stations" and soon "robot -> another solar system."

    A moon "colony" of 2000 scientists is probably the most likely prediction. I mean, we're supposed to start building a permanent moon base in 2020 and I could certainly see an antartica type multinational presence on that scale within 50 years. It'll be useful for telescope maintenance and probably other things. Maybe we'll have H-3 mining on the moon by then as well, though that is somewhat less predictable.

    A mars colony I don't see happening in 50 years. I can see us re-building the moon base on mars, but not having it manned constantly. There just isn't a good reason to be there every day unless a terraforming process is underway. And since we haven't even been able to do a bio-dome on earth, yet, I'm a little bit iffy about having started preparations (even) for the complete teraforming of mars, within 50 years.

    Manned exploration of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn could happen in the next 50 years, easily. But then... well certain people thought it would happen by 2001...

    Space elevators. A most interesting concept. We seem to be relatively close to the material strength we'd need. Other challenges I can't see lasting 20 years if people are seriously interested. All the same, I give us a 50/50 chance of *ever* building a space elevator. (A sky hook seems a near certainty, even if just for the novelty, but not a space elevator for primary lifting). I'd say there's an even chance of finding a better way to lift sensitive cargo off the earth, and certainly a big slingshot makes more sense for cargo that can take the acceleration.

    The vision of privately operated space stations drifting around the earth is nice. I can see a really expensive hotel happening in space in the next 50 years. Perhaps even with artificial gravity (via spinning, not some sci-fi magic) on part of it. I can also see a cluster of private science space stations. I don't really see more then a few private space stations for anything other then private science, though, in the foreseeable future.

    As for sending a robot to another solar system in 50 years.... Well, hopefully we'll be *able* to. The problem is speed. Even with optimistic speeds it would probably take another hundred years to get any data back from the mission, even just to know if it worked. And then in the next hundred years someone could find a way to go faster then light and the entire mission would be pointless. (And yes, it is technically possible. Acceleration from less then light speed to greater then light speed takes infinite energy, but if you find a way to skip that acceleration you're good to go. I wouldn't go so far as to say it can't happen in the next 150 years.)
  • ...won't happen. We're almost out of many of our fossil fuels. Unless we find a sustainable way of getting "up there", we're going to be landbound for a while. I suspect the idiot Americans will start working on the nuclear air craft idea again. Why must business and lawyers interfere with EVERYTHING that could spell progress for us? We could have been so far ahead with the electric car (solar, rechargeable or fuel cell) if business didn't intervene to protect it's interests and try to squeeze every la
    • I second Eno2001's point. We were given a two trillion barrel gift of energy. We've pissed half of it away on crap like SUVs, Las Vegas, steak for breakfast, and 1800 mile Caesar Salads (as well as pesticides, fertiliser, electronic communications, and a variety of other useful things) and some of the useful things we've developed (modern medicine, dentistry, etc.) when combined with the discovery of germ theory and hygiene have now allowed our numbers to bloom like bacteria in a petri dish full of sugar an
      • We are completely and utterly fucked - I think the next 50 years is going to see an economic collapse of epic proportions as more and more people fight over less and lass oil. The noble niceties of space travel will go by the boards as the ruling classes scramble to prevent food riots and revolutions.

        Ummm... no. First of all, we will NEVER EVER run out of oil. EVER.

        What will happen is that once we (finally) are unable to find new sources (I predict 100 years, but it doesn't matter to my point), the pr

        • Woot! A cornucopian!

          So, what other resources? Coal? Should be a big help when our environment's going to shit. Solar? Expensive, works only in half of the world, and half the time, too. Nuclear? Sounds great, but we needed to get a few hundred plants starting construction like 5 years ago. Wind/tides/geothermal? Now you're just having a laugh....

          Sure, things might get more expensive for awhile, but that will hardly lead to a breakdown of civilization.

          Even though it will take us 100 years
          • So, what other resources? Coal? Should be a big help when our environment's going to shit. [...snip other tech...]

            Sure, coal isn't ideal, but there are "clean coal" technologies on the horizon. How about Oil Shale? How about Thermal Depolymerization? All of the previous technologies just need an economic incentive to develop them -- like expensive oil.

            Sounds great, but we needed to get a few hundred plants starting construction like 5 years ago.

            If there was truly a crisis, we could build a slew of

    • by Hasai (131313)
      Goodness; if you'd replace "business" with "irresponsible government", and "Capitalism" with "Socialism" in most of that lovely rant, I'd agree with you wholeheartedly.

      ];)
    • If we were just much nicer to each other. Awwww, diddums.

      The thing you've forgotten... No, scratch that, you're clearly about 12 years old... The thing you've never learned. Every human being on the planet is in direct competition with every other for status, resources and power.

       
      • The thing you've forgotten... No, scratch that, you're clearly about 12 years old... The thing you've never learned. Every human being on the planet is in direct competition with every other for status, resources and power.

        LOL. The thing you've clearly forgotten, since you dropped out of school during kindergarten, is that the logical extension of that line of thought leaves us with one human remaining, on a desolate planet, with nothing to do but die himself.

        Your point remains valid, it's just obso
    • Bioethanol works just fine for rocket fuel, and most rockets are mostly made from aluminium, and aluminium is made with hydroelectricity. LOX is made from distilling air- again, we're not limited there.

      Unlike from corn, bioethanol from sugar cane from places like Brazil has much larger than unity energy ratio to produce. Bioethanol is also carbon neutral (once you've set up a sustainable farm to grow the cane).

      So making rockets even after the oil runs out is *not* a problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      We're almost out of many of our fossil fuels.

      This is a common misconception due to the focus on oil. In fact, the U.S. has enough fossil fuel reserves for centuries right within its own borders in the form of coal and oil shale. See the following on coal (from Wikipedia):


      United States Department of Energy uses estimates of coal reserves in the region of 1,081,279 million short tons (9.81 × 1014 kg), which is about 4,786 BBOE (billion barrels of oil equivalent).[30] The amount of coal burned during 2001 was calculated as 2.337 GTOE (gigatonnes of oil equivalent), which is about 46 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.[31] Were consumption to continue at that rate those reserves would last about 285 years. As a comparison, natural gas provided 51 million barrels (oil equivalent), and oil 76 million barrels, per day during 2001.

      and on oil shale:


      The world deposits of oil shale are estimated to be equal to 2.9-3.3 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable oil. Although oil shale resources occur in many countries, only 33 countries possess deposits of possible economic value.Total resources of these countries are estimated at 411 gigatons, which is enough to yield 2.9 trillion U.S. barrels. Among those, the USA accounts for 62 % of the world resources, and the USA, Russia and Brazil together account for 86 % in terms of shale oil content.

      So the likelihood of running out of fossil fuels is pretty darned low. If the boffins and propeller-heads haven't figured out fusion in the next 285 years or so -- and if nuclear fission is eschewed by the tree-hugge

  • by Panaqqa (927615) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:45AM (#20464089) Homepage
    Based on what I read and what I know of the challenges involved, here's my guess as to a rough timeline for the next 50 years in space:

    2010: Space shuttle retired
    2014: New Orion vehicle mission to space station
    2020: Moon landing by NASA
    2027: Moon landing by China
    2030: Privately owned shuttle equivalent
    2031: Start construction of moon base
    2035: Start construction of privately owned space station
    2037: Manned Mars mission
    2040: Permanent moon presence
    2045: Construction of high earth orbit station
    2050: "Space tug" type utility vehicle in use - first reusable vehicle permanently in space
    2055: Permanent Mars presence proposed and reachable
    2057: Testing of new drive types (ion perhaps) well underway

    Looking beyond 2057 is futile. Perhaps even looking as far as 2057 is futile. I forget who it was that said this but perhaps it is apt: "The future is not only different from what we imagine, but different from what we CAN imagine."
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:50AM (#20464137) Journal
    Either:

    Private space start ups will successfully sell and launch tourists then branch out into exploration projects intended to lead to colonization, or

    Governments will allow them to develop to the point where it can let them think they're competing with Big Aerospace, offer them 10% of what it pays its corporate welfare favorite children, then have them merged and absorbed into those corporations to provide the equivalent of generic brand launch systems for resale to customers who couldn't otherwise afford it.

    Then:

    On the first weekend in October 2057 the last three living members of the National Association of Rocketry will meet up at the annual Homer Hickam And The Rocket Boys book signing and barbeque in Coalwood, West Virginia to fly some model rockets and brag about their massive knowledge of widely known (though incorrect) tricks for optimizing drag reduction and nostalgically misremembered trivia from space history, as all 200 citizens of Coalwood try to sell hamburgers and snow cones to the 15 tourists who've shown up to listen to the old farts and gawk at the Homer-shaped robot purchased with funds from the West Virginia Tourism Council, autographing paperback books and DVDs of "October Sky", while the Chinese Ministry of Smiling and Showing Off Our Glorious Technology for Public Relations Purposes launches a Soviet R-7 shaped Long March IX to orbit a Sputnik replica carrying a sample of Burt Rutan's ashes purchased on eBay from one of the 17 of trillionaire His Honorary Majesty Lord Sir Richard Branson's clones.

    I intend to be one of those three.

  • "It is October 4th, 2057..."

    And I'll be 87 years old :( - If I can make it.

    I sure hope they come up with some nanotech to keep me around to see a manned mission to Titan.
  • And what I sensed in the adults was the paranoia of having this Russian thing overhead every hour. In contemporary parlance, a circling Orange Terror Alert that supported the Cold War. So Sputnik had a dark side in its cultural context.
  • commercial interests (Score:3, Interesting)

    by confused one (671304) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:45AM (#20464915)

    will be the mainstay. Someone will find commercial value in doing work off planet and from that point forward, permanent habitats will be self sustaining (in terms of population -- you'll still need imports from Earth to survive).

    As for the next 50 years, I expect commercial access to low Earth orbit to be the limit achived by private enterprise. Of course, private companies provide the equipment for the future manned lunar launches. Given that they have the technology, a few corporations will be capable of sending people and supplies off world; but, they will be waiting for someone to come along with a viable business model to foot the bill for the launch vehicles, equipment, shelters, etc. Until then, it will remain goverment funded.

    This is just one of those cases where, if you build the infrastructure, the people will follow; but, you have to build the infrastructure first. This is such a hard thing to do, governments are going to have to do it. Once there's a destination and some capacity to travel back and forth, business' will become interested in taking over different aspects. Once they're in, corporations will look for other ways to make money from the resources. Once they find ways to make money, they'll build out, hire people, etc. I wouldn't expect this to happen for 100-150 years.

  • by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <instascreed@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:46AM (#20464933) Homepage
    The European Union Canada, and US governments have basically turned into nanny states, more interested in the distribution of health-care dollars and the care and feeding of old people. You know, the people who vote the most.

    Given that these governments are basically huge wealth-transfer pumps, taking from the producers and giving to the consumers, with no room for anything else, I expect nothing from them but decline.

    India and China aren't burdened like this - yet, so I expect much of the work to come from them. I also expect more from private individuals like Jeff Bezos.

    But from the ESA, or NASA, I expect nothing.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:26PM (#20465541)
    But strangely, I don't feel neutral.

    I'm really disgusted with the paucity of American ambition. I'm struck by the audio tape from Sen. Wide Stance's police interview as he tries to explain how his trolling for gay sex in a men's room was something other than exactly how it looked. The cop was disgusted. "This is why we're going down the tubes." A better metaphor, however unwanted, could not have been asked for. To continue the sexual metaphor, the Republicans are the tops, nobody fucks this country harder or longer than they do. And the Democrats, they're the bottoms. They'll take it up the pooper like troupers and meekly wait for their slice of corruption pie. In government as well as private enterprise, the future is never looked at past the next quarter and the top priority of those in power is the lining of pockets with as much cash as possible with the minimum level of exposure. It's all about power for power's sake.

    We the people are allowing ourselves to be distracted from the consequences of empire by bread and circuses. We're complicit in this debacle. Every one of us swayed by corporate arguments about not needing socialist health care, believing the government when they tell us terrorists are our biggest threat, believing all of these professional liars when they swear that what they're lying about is true... We have become truly worthy of contempt. We're better than what we've allowed ourselves to become. I'd like to think that it's not too late to pull our fat out of the fire.

    People like a good challenge to rise to. Traditionally it takes a war for us to unite as a nation, invest our blood and treasure in the grand crusade of going overseas and killing brown people. But a space race could be just the kind of bloodless competition to appeal to the better side of our ambition. We've been the kings of low-earth orbit for decades. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we continued to laugh at the Russian space program, seeing it as a comical shadow of our own. But now the Russians are getting serious, the Chinese and Indians are hungry for a slice of the high orbital pie. Human organization is never better than when the men in power say "Shit, we need to get something done and get it done right," when they identify the right people to run the job, give them the blank check and then stay the hell out of the way. Small, motivated teams, little political interference, just a goal to achieve and the means to achieve it.

    I'd like to think that we'll go further in the next fifty years than we have in the past fifty. My fear is that we'll just be dicking around in LEO, scratching our balls with nothing to show for it. If we of the US of A can't get our collective asses together, then maybe those other countries might make a go of it. If so, more power to them.
  • by mattnyc99 (1008511) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:47PM (#20466809)
    The cover story in the current issue of Popular Mechanics deals with this same concept of looking ahead to the next half-century of spaceflight, and they've just posted a round-up of "expert" predictions [popularmechanics.com], with everyone from Buzz Aldrin to Arthur C. Clarke and Burt Rutan to Tom Wolfe. Good stuff...

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