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Van Allen Questions Human Spaceflight 1096

An anonymous reader writes "James van Allen - the discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belt - has called into question the motivations and expectations of space exploration and research, particularly manned space exploration. Van Allen comments that 'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure.'"
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Van Allen Questions Human Spaceflight

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  • adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MORTAR_COMBAT! ( 589963 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:49PM (#9813618)
    Van Allen comments that 'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure.'

    Good enough for me.
    • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Roadkills-R-Us ( 122219 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:01PM (#9813778) Homepage
      First, let's ask what role adventure plays in life? For many of us, it's important. For some, it's crucial. Without adventure, for many people, what's the point? Would Van Allen really prefer a nation of couch potatoes?

      But eth final sentence really got me.

      "Let us not obfuscate the issue with false analogies to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, or with visions of establishing a pleasant tourist resort on the planet Mars," van Allen suggests.

      Why on earth would these be considered obfuscations? Especially the explorers! You can learn a lot via robot, but there are some things you just won't learn that way. Especially if we run across any form of life much more advanced than a simple, single-cell form.

      With all due respect, perhaps Mr. Van Allen is simply getting too old. Typically, age brings less concern for adventure and more concern for safety and.... dare I say it? things not changing. I'm not saying this is all that's at work behind his arguments, but I suspect it is a factor.

      yes, with age also comes (hopefully) wisdom. But with age we can also have ossification. The best results usually arrive when we have a balance of maturity, wisdom and caution with adventuresomeness, exhuberance and boldness.
      • Re:adventure (Score:3, Interesting)

        You can learn a lot via robot, but there are some things you just won't learn that way.

        Such as...?

        • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#9814235)
          Anything you couldn't or did not plan before you sent the robot.
          • Re:adventure (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Rei ( 128717 )
            ... pretty much the same thing with humans. When was the last time you used your Microscopic Vision Eye, your Rock Crushing Arm, or your Core Sample Foot?
            • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

              by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:57PM (#9815151) Homepage Journal
              It's completely different with humans. Humans are more adaptable than any machine that can currently be built for any price. We can squeeze through tight spaces. We can look at a damaged tube and fix it with duct tape. We can realize that the pens keep floating off into the cabin and tie them to the counter with a short piece of string. We can say "oh, there's just a piece of rock stuck under there. Let me pry that out with a claw hammer.

              The only reason we are able to get any useful data from any of the Mars landers is because of the human ingenuity that has gone into working around problems from millions of miles away. Many of those problems nearly weren't solvable without having a person there, and most of them could have been solved much more quickly if a person had simply been able to flip the pod over or replace the problematic hardware. For every problem we solved, there was at least one more that we weren't able to solve, many of which could also have been easily solved by people.

              Anyone who says that people are an unnecessary part of space flight has an agenda. Maybe that agenda is safety, maybe it is fear, maybe it is making the Bush administration look stupid (as if that were somehow difficult...), but clearly there's an agenda.

              As for my rock crushing arm, no, if I didn't prepare for a mission and needed to crush rock, I couldn't do it with my arm. However, I probably could unbolt the handle from the refrigerator and use it as a hammer. Core sample foot? A spare piece of metal tubing from the repair kit. Microscopic vision eye? Take the sample, seal it in a container, and examine it back on Earth. See, there's the other big advantage of manned flight. You always have to have a mechanism to bring them home. While it's a disadvantage in terms of cost, it's a major advantage in terms of analysis. You don't have to do everything in one neat little cubic meter package....

              Never underestimate the importance of human involvement in true space exploration and study. That said, we should be more careful to reserve human involvement for situations where their presence is useful. Having people for exploring Mars is useful. Colonizing Mars is useful. (The word here is "backup".) Having people present for repairing Hubble may be useful. Direct human involvement in orbital research projects is probably not useful. The ISS is probably not useful except as a jumping-off point, but thanks to safety concerns over the volatility of fuel, it isn't even useful for that anymore....

              No, the best thing we can do as far as manned vs. unmanned space flight is concerned is not to increase or decrease the number of manned space flights, but rather to do more interesting things with those manned flights and leave the mundane stuff to the robots that were designed to handle them. Just my $0.02.

        • by Roadkills-R-Us ( 122219 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#9814606) Homepage
          I can give you reams and reams of facts about, say, the area I grew up in (desert around El Paso). But...
          1. If I stick to just the facts, such as a robot would gather, you don't get any of my impressions. These can be invaluable.
          2. With new facts come new ideas. It won't take long before you have a list of the things the robot can't do, so you have to build a new robot, and send it up. Try again. Same limitations, new facts and ideas. Repeat. Really slows things down, doesn't it? Bad enough WRT the moon. Extremely painful WRT Mars. Intolerable WRT the asteroid belt, and downright absurd past that.
          3. That set of facts above? You can have those, and my impressions, and there are still things you wouldn't know without experiencing them, still things you wouldn't think to ask or try because you don't have the input equivalent of first principles. If you get everything second hand, it's filtered. You always miss something.

          You also won't get a variety of things that matter at the human level. What does the sand of Mars feel like bewteen the fingers? To walk on? What does the air feel and taste like? How does a human react to this environment?

          You can write these off as irrelevant. If you're a soulless robot, you will. And that would be foolish, even at the purely logical level of a Vulcan. The feel of the sand between your fingers might be exactly the trigger to some insight that yields a new application, process or product that revolutionizes an industry.

          (Frankly, whether it yields new products or not, I still want to feel it!)

          Never discount the human presence or capabilities in these things.
      • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:14PM (#9813913)
        First off, the medium that the oceanic explorers travelled on was also the one that could sustain them. They could pull their food out of the ocean. Space is the opposite - exposure to the native environment is fatal.

        This is apart from the issue of distance. In the real universe, scale matters. You cannot compare travel to another galaxy to travelling across the Pacific.

        • First off, the medium that the oceanic explorers travelled on was also the one that could sustain them.

          Sure, as long as they don't drink the water or drown in it!

          • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#9814230) Homepage

            Space travel is easy until you try and implement it. In my spare time, I've been working on a rocket simulator. Even considering "parts" as pretty large elements (for example, I have "engines" (comprising the nozzle, combustion chambers, any linings, any gimballing pivots (but not actuators), any ignition sources and flame holders, etc, but not any turbopumps or compressors, or actuators for gimballing) as a single "part"), the craft is already up to about 2,000 parts. Every time you add something, it seems, you need to add 5 more parts, which each need their own parts...

            For an example, lets say you're doing a reusable landing vehicle, and want to add a single aileron. Ignoring the fact that machining this aileron will be an incredible pain (needs to be both light and strong at high temperatures, and not leave any gaps when the craft is reentering the atmosphere (which would act like a blowtorch)), you need power for it. Ok, so you put in a couple hydraulic actuators. Ok, now these hydraulic actuators need flow control valves and valves to limit the flow, and you need oil lines, a hydraulic pump (and backup), an oil pump (and backup), and a power system for the pumps, along with breakers, which should probably have sensors on them and control lines to flip them should they toggle unecessarily. We'll assume you've already got a power system as a whole installed. Ok, you're set now, right? Nope. It can easily get too cold in space for both the hydraulic system and the oil lines, so you need heaters on the tanks, along with temperature sensors; likewise, on the lines themselves (either that or you need constant circulation), and on the actuators themselves. Of course, the actuators need position sensors so the computer will know if something jammed. Each of the heaters needs power and breakers similar to those described above. Each of the breakers, pumps, valves, and heaters needs computer control, which has to be carefully tested for failure conditions. Now, additional hydraulics don't need too many additional resevoirs (and their associated heaters and pumps), but the lines and actuators still need the heaters, pumps, breakers, and controls. Note that I'm not even getting into what you need to mount and insulate (thermally and electrically) all of these components and to hinge moving components properly.

            This is just for an aileron. Need I get into the cabin?
        • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:26PM (#9814089) Journal
          First off, the medium that the oceanic explorers travelled on was also the one that could sustain them. They could pull their food out of the ocean. Space is the opposite - exposure to the native environment is fatal.

          So say I was sailing to America from Europe and dropped you off in the North Atlantic 500+km offshore you'd be able to sustain yourself in the native ocean environment? Somehow I doubt it...even if you did survive the cold and could tread water to prevent drowning you would eventually need fresh water.

          Its certainly faster with space and harder to protect yourself against it but we have come a long way technologically since we stuck a sail on a few planks of wood and set sail to conquer the oceans.

        • ...scale matters. You cannot compare travel to another galaxy to travelling across the Pacific.

          Of course scale matters. You can't really compare travel into orbit with travel to another planet; you certainly can't compare travel to another planet with travel to another star; and you can't compare anything at all within reason to travel to another galaxy.

        • This is apart from the issue of distance. In the real universe, scale matters. You cannot compare travel to another galaxy to travelling across the Pacific

          Travelling across the galaxy? Perhaps not. Travel to Mars? sure!

          It took Magellan a couple-three years to go around the globe. It will take a couple-three years to make the first round-trip to Mars. I fail to see the difference.

          200 years ago, two months to cross the Atlantic wasn't unusual. That was 300 years after Columbus' passage, and 800 years

        • by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @04:24PM (#9815435) Homepage Journal
          Aparently it is hard for some people to understand that it is worth the trip even if you don't expect to have a nice native population to exploit uppon your arrival.

          The "but there is nothing there (to live on)" argument falls apart thusly:

          1) There is something there. It isn't a lush tropical expanse of airable land. It is, however, "valuable realestate" for providing the raw materials we will need once we use up this planet.

          2) There is ... valuable realestate for providing the open space we will need for our ever-expanding population

          3) There is ... valuable realestate which provides means to study the universe (physics etc) without the bothersome atmosphere.

          4) There is ... valuable realestate to occupy, if we do it _BEFOREAHND_ if the earth takes a hard punch at fractional-C (or solar orbital velocity) from a "massive" body. [If we wait for the punch, it will be too late to scramble into space.]

          5) The actual pursuit will fund research and development in Medicine.

          6) ... will fund research in Environmental Sciences.

          7) ... will fund research in Physics.

          8) ... will fund research in Materials and Manufacturing. ...

          N+1) ... will fund research in topic(N+1).

          This debate puts me in mind of some song from the seventies (cant remember the title) that had a line like: "spent a billion dollars to go to the moon. Brought back a bag of rocks... Must be nice rocks..."

          In this case, the trip itself is incredibly valuable to us here in terms of our own life and well-being.

          In this case, the understanding of habitat necessary to create *artifical* habitat could revolutionize our own habatat here on earth (notice the repeating word) and coudl lead to ways to sustain and repair the one we are shitting all over down here.

          The argument against seems to be "if there are no native inhabitants there to exploit, and the streets of the cities of those primitives are not lined with gold, we might as well forget it."

          After all, you seem to say, if its work and the payoff isn't obvious in banannas and slaves to pick them, we might as well stay home.

          (Yes, that last is a troll-like and unfair generalization of your position; but if you get to generalize away all the benefits of the pursuit because the travelers will not easily survive shipwreck; then I get to generalize *in* what you might demand of the trip in order to have the trip seem worthwile. 8-)
      • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:16PM (#9813947)
        I think I see his point. We already know enough to know that there really isn't anything worth sending people to. To put it in 15th century terms, it'd be like sailing all the way around the world to land on a tiny rocky atoll with no native life. There frankly are better ways to use the resources.
        • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

          by RayBender ( 525745 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#9814237) Homepage
          I think I see his point. We already know enough to know that there really isn't anything worth sending people to.

          Uh-huh. We've sent a dozed guys to a rock 300,000 km away, and sent out probes for 30 years, and we're determined that space is boring. There is clearly nowhere to go. We've mapped all of space. Sure.

          Sorry to piss in your beer, Einstein, but space is kinda BIG. I highly doubt that we have ruled out the possibility of worthwhile destinations. To put it in 15th Century terms, it's kinda like Columbus having looked into his bed-pan in the morning and decided he'd explored all the oceans and there was clearly no reason to even get out of bed.

        • Re:adventure (Score:3, Insightful)

          Hmmm. I would have rated this insightful only if I thought it brilliant sarcasm, or if I had given up on life.

          We haven't got a FREAKING CLUE what's out there. We haven't gota FREAKING CLUE what we will or won't learn, can or can't learn, by space exploration.
      • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kenneth Stephen ( 1950 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:21PM (#9814029) Journal

        As already pointed out by another poster, the ocean through which the listed explorers travelled could provide sustenance. But much more importantly, wherever these explorers aimed for, they always had a hope that when they came to the end of their journey, the land that they arrived at could sustain them. A journey to the moon or to Mars would be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus setting off on a voyage to the gates of hell in the hope that future generations could somehow make hell hospitable and profit from it (perhaps the flames would provide a free energy source?). So, Van Allen is perfectly correct in calling these obfuscations.

        You on the other hand are obfuscating the issue. An opinion is an opinion, and it doesnt matter whether the person voicing it is young or old. The matter should be considered on its merits and not with regard to the age of the speaker.

      • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheLastUser ( 550621 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:38PM (#9814245)
        Especially if we run across any form of life much more advanced than a simple, single-cell form.

        What if the life form lives in under 1000km of water at a temerature of 800K?

        I guess when we find the "aliens" that you are looking for, the green skined orion chicks, then it would be good to be able to send Kirk to negotiate. But isn't it a little premature to send Kirk before we have found the hot alien babes? Why not spend the 80 billion on some remote sensing gear to find the earth like planets. Then send a robot to confirm the existense of the hot alien babes and then send Kirk?
        • Re:adventure (Score:3, Informative)

          by tbannist ( 230135 )
          Personally, I think it's a little late to try and learn how to travel in space after we've run into them. The best reason for space travel to Mars and withing the Solar system are four-fold:
          1. Humans are better equiped to deal with problems in real time than through a hours-delayed robot feed.
          2. Humanity needs to practice travelling around the solar system, and develop better technology that allows us to do so, before we attempt to leave it.
          3. Humanity needs experience with the physical and psycological implic
    • Re:adventure (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:01PM (#9813782) Journal
      Me too.

      OTOH, he did leave out a lot of (very) long-term reasons, most of which have a whole lot to do with humanity surviving beyond whatever Fate has laid out for the planet we're grubbing around on now...

    • Re:adventure (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rei ( 128717 )
      Agreed. I mean, one could equally say "The only surviving motivation for continuing unmanned space probes is the ideology of expanded knowledge of the cosmos". Knowing, say, the chemical that is making Phoebe so dark isn't going to cure cancer or end war - but we do it because we as a species want to learn.

      Likewise, we as a species like to push the boundaries of our physical existance - and for now, that comes as an attempt to rage against the bonds of our planet's gravity.

      And I think its a good thing.
    • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:06PM (#9813831)
      The urge to "go over there" is innate in humans. That's why we made it out of South Africa and populated the world. It's the real reason there are parks and shopping malls. We need someplace to "go."

      Why is over there any better than where you are right now? It isn't really, but sooner or later you get an itch to move. Hell, even cats spend their lives deciding that it would be better to be sleeping on the sofa rather than on the chair.

      Animals that don't move are called vegetables.

      Nothing really pragmatic has come from going to the north pole or the summit of Everest, but we go. We must go. Because it's there.

      Even if it's only to the mall.

      I'd rather go to the summit of Everest, or space.

    • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nakito ( 702386 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:06PM (#9813833)
      To date, the defining characteristic of manned space exploration has been this: it's so expensive that only major governments can do it. Accordingly, it has always been either inherently "political" in nature (national pride) or inherently "military" in nature (national defense). Since manned space exploration has always been funded with public money allocated by politicians, it has always been surrounded by ideological rhetoric and justifications, and these are not always fully rational.

      But now we see SpaceShipOne and the advent of private initiatives in manned space flight. These initiatives are driven, in part, by private investment, and investors seek a return. So perhaps Van Allen's premise will now be tested. If there is a value to manned spaceflight beyond an ideology of adventure, private enterprise will presumably find it.
      • Re:adventure (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:19PM (#9813999) Homepage
        SpaceShipOne is not driven by seeking of a return in investment - SpaceShipOne will never deliver a return of investment, primarily because it's useless as anything but a joy ride. SpaceShipOne is driven by the same thing as political reasons: pride. Pride at winning the X-prize, pride for Scaled Composites and Rutan, etc.

        I seriously doubt that Paul Allen put money into the craft for some sort of theoretical return from joy ride sales. He did it because he wants to have a craft that goes down in the annals of history. Rutan undoubtedly has the same motive, plus a more personal motive of promoting his company.

        Even if they can get into *ORBIT* (not "space", which is trivial by comparison), there's only a limited satellite market. They have to get prices down to 1-3k$/kg (the exact point is debated) before a host of new space opportunities start to open up.

        And SpaceShipOne's design will *never* get to orbit, on many different fronts. Any orbit-reaching craft will involve starting over from scratch for almost all parts.
        • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:43PM (#9814310) Journal
          SpaceShipOne will never deliver a return of investment, primarily because it's useless as anything but a joy ride.

          How much would your private aerospace company pay for front-page recognition in all the world's major newspapers for launching the first privately-funded commercial space flight, designed and built by your company?

          Because of SpaceShipOne, Scaled Composites is very nearly a household name. Could they have achieved the same level of recognition by pouring a few tens of millions of dollars directly into advertising instead? Maybe...but by going this route, they get all the recognition, plus a fledgeling spacecraft research program with at least one tangible prototype so far.

          No return on investment? They're laughing all the way to the bank.

    • Re:adventure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:06PM (#9813836) Homepage
      Good enough for me.
      To pay for it with tax money, it has to be good enough for other people, not just you.

      Human spaceflight has had its development distorted by outrageous government subsidies. The result has been a ridiculously expensive form of theater that's sucking funding away from the uncrewed space program. It's the uncrewed space program that actually does all the science.

      If people want to have an adventure climbing Mount Everest or circling the world in a balloon, they should pay for the adventure out of their own pockets. The X Prize, for instance, is cool. Of course, private industry works under all these pesky restraints, like having to worry about going bankrupt if they're incompetent. The ISS's design is such a botch that it would never have gotten off the drawing board except for the political impetus to keep it going.

      The way people sell crewed spaceflight is also intellectually dishonest. For instance, you'll hear people say that the silicon chip would never have been invented without the space program. Well, I'll believe that statement when someone brings me back documentary evidence from an alternate universe where the cold war never happened, and there was no space race. It's an urban folktale, like the story about how Eskimos have 300 words for snow and English only has one, which has been throughly debunked by linguists. (In fact, if you compare the languages on an equal footing, they both have the same number of words for snow. For instance, English has specialized terms like "powder" that do double duty.)

      • Re:adventure (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sgt York ( 591446 )
        To pay for it with tax money, it has to be good enough for other people, not just you.

        One man, one vote. To send people into space is the grandparent's vote, and mine echos it. The bulk of your argument seems to deal with the way space is explored under government support, not with the fact that it is supported that way. I agree that there is a lot of waste, way too much waste, in the way NASA does things. But I still think that space exploration needs to be funded on several fronts, including the public f

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:49PM (#9813621)
    'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure.'"

    And this is a problem because....?
  • Because (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Froze ( 398171 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:50PM (#9813628)
    Keeping all your eggs in one basket is a strategy for failure.
  • by EvilMagnus ( 32878 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:50PM (#9813629)
    "Van Allen comments that 'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure.'"" The only motivation that got us off our asses and away from our idylic hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the plains of Africa was our desire to see what was over the next hill, what happens if we bash flints together, what happens if we lash a bunch of logs together and float it on the river...

    I'd say adventure is a good enough reason to get me my damn spaceship and lunar weekend retreat!
    • >I'd say adventure is a good enough reason to get me my damn spaceship and lunar weekend retreat!

      "But only a tiny number of Earth's six billion inhabitants are direct participants. For the rest of us, the adventure is vicarious and akin to that of watching a science fiction movie. At the end of the day, I ask myself whether our huge national commitment of technical talent to human spaceflight and the ever present potential for the loss of precious human life are
    • I'd say adventure is a good enough reason

      True, but it's not the only reason. Among the others are:

      * Moving humans off of earth. Building stable colonies away from earth is key to sustaining humanity (global catastrophies do happen), and making them self-sustaining will take generations upon generations, so starting now makes sense.

      * Mining ore from asteroids is something that can mostly be automated, but having a human being present solves for a lot of sticky problems.

      * Building a stable Lagrange point
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:50PM (#9813633)
    I was like, odd hair metal and space don't really seem to go together
  • Whose spaceflight? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:52PM (#9813653)
    He can end government spaceflight for all I care.

    But, private spaceflight, that's none of his business. If he doesn't want a ride, nobody's forcing him to buy a ticket.
    • I think you hit the nail on the head.

      Somebody elighten me with a single reason manned space flight should have anything to do with me. Does it help our nation? Does it have anything to do with the roles of the government defined by our constitution? If so, please somebody tell me what that might be. Why all the blank stares now? Don't you assholes have a halfway legitimate reason for jacking up my taxes to put people in space?

      However, for the romantics, a private sector space industry doesn't bothe

  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:52PM (#9813656) Homepage Journal
    Van Allen's work involves fields and particles, not rocks or life. It's not at all surprising that he doesn't like manned missions; they are no good for his (narrow) field of science. But that doesn't mean that we should take him as anything other than a proponent of his own parochial interests; we should certainly not regard him as an authority on the worth of all expeditions into space.
  • by maxpublic ( 450413 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:52PM (#9813667) Homepage
    (1) Avoiding single points of failure for the entire human race (e.g., giant asteroid nails Earth);

    (2) Profiting off the immense riches to be had in space, once the technology is advanced enough to gather those riches at a profit;

    (3) The same reason people climb K2

  • Yea, well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:53PM (#9813677) Homepage
    We can't honestly keep on going like we are on this planet and survive much longer. We're using up resources faster than we can keep track of them and it's becoming easier and easier to make weapons of mass destruction... which terrorists will inevitably use against other nations/cultures. Especially as the population continues to skyrocket.

    So, call me whatever you want, but Van Allen is just missing the big picture. We gotta get off this rock.

    Or should we just wait for an asteroid cataclysm or some other natural disaster? I'd rather not. Personally, I think we should spend more money and effort on things like space elevators and fusion/antimatter/exotic matter propulsion.

    In short, to Van Allen: screw you too buddy.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:53PM (#9813678) Homepage Journal

    ideology of adventure he cites as the only reason for manned spaceflight is not an end unto itself - it is a way to maintain human interest and thus funding. It's pretty hard to get people interested in space when the only thing riding on it is a handful of integrated circuits. The average person couldn't care less about space travel or advancing science (Except perhaps in the medical arena) and in order to maintain any significant public interest whatsoever is is probably necessary to keep sending up manned missions.

  • by Louis Savain ( 65843 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:54PM (#9813689) Homepage
    'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure'

    There is lot more money to be made from the taxpayer from pursuing human space flights. Robots are much cheaper and not nearly as lucrative to NASA.
  • by cephyn ( 461066 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:55PM (#9813707) Homepage
    ...if you follow this assumption:
    "Let us not obfuscate the issue with false analogies to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, or with visions of establishing a pleasant tourist resort on the planet Mars," van Allen suggests

    The space shuttle is PR. The ISS is a waste and a flop. The ISS should be a means not an end. Flags and footprints of COURSE aren't worth it if, again, they are an end and not a beginning.

    However, those analogies to Columbus, Magellan, L&C and the tourist resort on Mars cease to be false if the goals are changed. If the point is to continue to grow out and off our ball of dirt, then none of the steps are a waste. If the goal is to put a flag on Mars and never return, then yes, it is a waste.
  • Another reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:56PM (#9813708) Journal
    Manned spaceflight will require us to develop an understanding of the requirements of supporting human life in a finite ecology located in space []. That might be worthwhile....

  • Adventure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jim_Hawkins ( 649847 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:56PM (#9813714)
    Ummm...correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the thrill (or ideology in this case) of adventure what has driven mankind to grow beyond their boundaries? I mean, because of adventure, we headed west from our comfortable homes in England.

    We destoryed the indians.

    Then we headed west to the plains from our comfortable homes in the 13 colonies.

    We, again, destroyed the indians.

    And, of course, the lure of gold and adventure brought EVERYBODY to the Pacific coast.

    By this time, the indians had become wise to us and had moved to Canada.

    Okay, well, the thing with the indians could've been handled a whole lot differently. But, the whole "thrill of adventure" is what causes the human race to grow. He's saying space exploration just exists for adventure?

  • To quote Heinlein (Score:4, Insightful)

    by i_r_sensitive ( 697893 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @01:57PM (#9813721)
    What about:
    The Earth is too fragile a basket for humanity to store all it's eggs in.
  • by RareHeintz ( 244414 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:00PM (#9813767) Homepage Journal

    This statement is not very bright and not at all visionary. Besides the likely scientific and possible economic benefits (and opinions of the potential for these vary, admittedly), there's one overarching reason of critical importance: Survival of our species.

    With time, our ability to create a planet-wide catastrophe threatening our species survival grows exponentially. There are any number of ways we could do ourselves in ecologically or militarily, but the chances of those wiping out all of humanity are reduced when we're spread out among more than one planet - moreso if that planet is terraformed or otherwise made human-friendly on a large scale and self-sufficient without shipping of either raw materials or finished goods from earth.

    Anyone who is interested, as Van Allen claims to be, in "the ever-present potential for the loss of precious human life" should be unequivocally for, not against, manned human spaceflight with a final goal of extraterrestrial colonization.

    - B

    • Colonization, not exploration most definitely is what it is about.
      And it doesn't even require humanity to screw up the Earth. It is a simple fact that the Earth has a finite existence with or without its life forms. It is clearly essential for Earth's life forms to proceed into the cosmos. The urgency of the current situation is debateable, but eventually it is inevitable.
  • He's right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarsDefenseMinister ( 738128 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:01PM (#9813773) Homepage Journal
    Space exploration is a dangerous business, and humans are too valuable to risk. Or at least they should be.

    Computers and robots are terrific explorers. I believe that they can also be terrific builders of infrastructure. That's the direction that future space missions should follow.

    I'm not saying that humans should stay home. I am saying that if I had to build a log cabin on the moon myself, or have a robot do it for me, I'd let the robot do it.

    We need to reduce expenditures on manned spaceflight and redirect those resources to basic research in materials, computer systems, robotics, and planetary chemistry. Out of this research would come technologies allowing us to explore the solar system remotely, build robust spacecraft, and actually make a living off the materials available on the planet or moon we happen to be standing on.

    • Re:He's right (Score:3, Insightful)

      Humans are not too valuable to risk. There are currently 6 billion+ people on this planet. Even if we lost 6 million men and women in a quest to conquer space, that would be a mere 1/1000th of the population. Barely a scratch..

      Point is, sacrifices must be made to advance humanity. If a man is willing to sacrifice his life, that is his choosing and you should be grateful. Just because you don't possess the same ambition and daring, doesn't mean others should be restrained.

      In the spirit of my view.. I would
  • by grunt107 ( 739510 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:03PM (#9813797)
    Computers are getting better but the human experience is where all advancement has been achieved. The current mission has taught somethings, but the next mission (if robotic) would need to be limited in scope (travel to 'x' drill hole, look for stuff), and missions repeated until objectives reached, whereas human interaction could alter actions outside limited parameters.

    Although life is precious and reckless endangerment is to be decried, the fact is life is sometimes jeopardized/sacrificed for the greater advancement of the species (human or otherwise). Although not a good analogy, it is similar in sentiment to those unwilling to risk lives in battle.

    Unwillingly to sacrifice one sacrifices all. THe 'all' in this case just happens to be knowledge and experience. If carefully balanced, some risk is acceptable (I'd do it).
  • by visgoth ( 613861 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:06PM (#9813827)
    This article here [] draws an interesting comparison between ancient China and the current views toward space travel being held a good number of americans.
    It would appear that the average person is content with their idiotic tv, fattening foods, gas guzzling road yachts, and other such pointless pursuits.
  • by aleonard ( 468340 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:06PM (#9813834)
    Van Allen seems to be looking at this purely from the Cold War stance that he grew up in, i.e. only the government can send people to space, and it has no major motivation to continue. I agree with that much; what Van Allen's nearsighted view doesn't allow is the idea of private exploration.

    He says, "I ask myself whether the huge national commitment of technical talent to human spaceflight and the ever-present potential for the loss of precious human life are really justifiable."

    To the government and a nation, definitely not.

    To a private investor? That's his choice to make.

    So Van Allen is only half right. But he makes it seem like government spaceflight is by far the only option.
  • Only? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:07PM (#9813846)
    the only surviving motivation ... is the ideology of adventure

    The "ideology of adventure"? As opposed to what?

    Nice way to trivialize perhaps the only justification for our existence. Why are we here if not to travel and discover? The universe granted us enough awareness to perceive that there might be something worthwhile over the next hill. It seems to me we have a duty to adventure; it's our job!

    That, or we could just hang back and breed. Should be fairly plain that one 8k mile dia. ball of rock is not sufficient for that to go on indefinitely.
  • Symbolic value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:11PM (#9813877) Journal
    He's forgetting the huge symbolic value. We're humans. It's a human thing to like great symbols, monuments, achivements.

    What if a Pharao of Egypt had said: "Screw this pyramid stuff, I'm spending the money on defense instead. And you can bury me in a wooden casket".

    What if Charles Lindbergh had said: "What's the point? I can take the boat."

    What if Columbus had said: "You can't sail to India. Everyone knows that."

    It'd have been a much less interesting world to live in, I'll tell you that. I don't believe every single thing we chose to do should follow from the utilitarian principle of the "greatest good" in strict scientific or material terms.

    Or to paraphrase Kennedy: We choose not to do these things because they are useful. We choose to do them becase they are a human thing to do.
  • by tobyl ( 8598 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:12PM (#9813897)
    "No. We have to stay here [Babylon 5] and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu, Einstein, Morobuto, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes .. and all of this .. all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars." (Infection, season 1, ep. 4)

    Sappy, yeah. But it makes the point nicely.

    (quote copied from
  • Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:13PM (#9813907) Homepage
    'the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure.'

    And there is nothing wrong with this idea.

  • by fzammett ( 255288 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:14PM (#9813916) Homepage
    When asked why/if we should be out in space, he said the following... just change it to answer the question we face now: should we (meaning people) go into space at all... the answer is the same...

    "We have to stay here and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu, Einstein, Morobuto, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes .. and all of this .. all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars."

    Our SURVIVAL is at stake. Forget the Sun going out, what about an comet impact? That's not an unprecedented event in Earth history, and we're due, statistically speaking. We HAVE to go, and it has to be sooner rather than later because that comet might hit us sooner rather than later.

    Sorry Van Allen, your dead wrong on this one, and so is the human race if too many agree with you.
  • The only motivation? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:14PM (#9813924)
    What about bringing humanity together for great accomplishments?
    What about colonizing the solar system?
    What about exploring the universe?
    What about inspiring future generations?
    What about showing democracy is superior to communism...
  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ethidium ( 105493 ) < minus bsd> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:17PM (#9813963) Homepage Journal
    The Honorable Prof. Van Allen has long been a detractor of crewed spaceflight. This is old news. And not very surprising, either.

    I am an Iowa Physics and astronomy student. Van Allen works only two floors up from me. Although I don't know him personally, I have certainly read the various articles and commentary posted by his door.

    Why not surprising? Professor Van Allen is a pioneer of robotic spaceflight. As a plasma physicist, humans are of little use to him in any place other than on the ground doing data reduction. That's okay, but there are other scientific disciplines such as geology and SETI (which is certainly taken seriously among radio astronomers, contrary to some popular belief) where human investigators are hard to replace.

    Is orbiting the earth in an elderly tin can a waste of our time and money? Maybe, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't go to Mars.

    Even if you don't believe that the scientific merits of spaceflight are worth the cost, consider the technological benefits []. Attempting a new task of spaceflight is a technological challenge that yields benefits felt in every corner of society.

    The only thing that can be said for the human cost is that astronauts do their jobs fully cognisant of the risk. They know they could be making more money in a safer job in the private sector, but they do it anyway. They have that "ideology of adventure" that Professor Van Allen does not.

    When NASA sent out job offers for the astronaut class of 2004, candidates were asked if they would still want the job, even if there was a chance they would never fly in space. All but one said yes. These are people who are fully committed to the enterprise of crewed spaceflight, even at great personal risk. I for one would not stop them from voluntarily assuming that risk "in peace for all mankind." I would also happily join them.
  • by rhiorg ( 213355 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:17PM (#9813964)
    He's already got his name on something in space, so he supposes it's time for everybody else to pack up their kit and go home.

    "C'mon, everybody, back to Earth. Nothing to see here...except for these VAN ALLEN BELTS, baby! That's right! Booyah! In your FACE!"
  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:17PM (#9813966) Journal

    Mr. Van Allen,

    Sorry, but I do not take pleasure in the adventure of pure science. I know its not very sophisticated of me, but if my money is spent on it, I'd at least like some of it to go to activities that keep alive the dream of actually being there someday.

    To this point, I've been understanding of the extensive expenditures on your pure science missions though I think Hollywood could probably create better images that are just as real to me at much less cost. But, you are now attacking my adventures. So, apparently, the ground rules need to be defined.

    If you want your adventure, give me mine.


    "apparently not as geeky as you"

  • He's only right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by techsoldaten ( 309296 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:20PM (#9814010) Journal
    The author is right in his reasoning to warn against false Columbus / Lewis and Clark analogies - it would be easy to look at space falsely as a vast frontier waiting to be conquered. We are eons away from finding routes to pleasant vistas in other galaxies.

    The sad reality is space flight does have other ends, which have goals in common with the aforementioned explorers' missions. Commercial exploitation of raw materials, military industrialization, colonization in the name of territorial supremacy - these are the shared ends of these endeavors. The question is not what purpose can space purpose possibly serve, but do we have any true interest in these purposes?

  • by LordZardoz ( 155141 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:25PM (#9814076)
    Over the short term, putting talking meatbags into space and keeping them alive is cripplingly expensive. So it makes sense to put up robots / computers / etc.

    But once you get around the problems in keeping that talking meatbag alive, you will find that the talking meatbag can try a whole lot more and do a whole lot more then the robot.

    So which is easier long term? Solving all the known issue problems in keeping a talking meatbag functioning in space, or creating a device that can improvise and use tools, is capable of learning and higher reasoning, and can interpret situational input and act on it in real time?

  • by TheLastUser ( 550621 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:28PM (#9814114)
    There seems to be a struggle within NASA between the engineers and the scientists. The engineers would contend that building the space station is an accomplishment far beyond that of the space telescope, and yet the space telescope has produced far more useful information than the space station ever will. Heck, even those little rovers that cost, what, 100M, have produced more science than the space station.

    It seems odd to me, and probably other astronomers that people would spend 80 billion on an orbiting cottage, when so much more could be done with that money.

    Why build a vehicle before you have a place to go? We don't even know if we will need snow tires yet?

    If we had spent the 80 billion on better remote sensing gear then we might, by now, have found earth like planets around other stars. We might, by now, have discovered alien radio transmissions, we might, by now, have retrieved fossils of former life forms from Mars. Any of which would teach us far more than a space staion would.

    Unfortunately, fed with a constant diet of bad sci-fi, most people are incable of imagining any possible method of exploration that doesn't involve laser cannons and leather clad chicks.

    Most people, it seems, are not interested in real exploration. People don't want to discover something new, they want to find the same thing somewhere else. That's why all the Star Trek "aliens" breathe the same air, look human, and run their societies like the United States, hell there is more variation in the real societies on earth than one finds in the english speaking universe of Star Trek.

    Real exploration involves going somewhere new, not going to somewhere you have been, using a different route. The thing about learning is that one learns the most through novel experiences, the more completely unknown the experience the more you learn. Given a budget you can send a robot a lot farther than a human. Even if the human will provide 1000x the science of the robot, the robot will still deliver more information, because it will be in an area that is a million times more novel than the human. The Saturn system is far more novel than than low earth orbit. It costs 80 billion to send a humans into orbit to study Earth for a couple years, it costs 1 billion to send a robot to Saturn. You tell me which one is doing real exploration.
  • by RayBender ( 525745 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:30PM (#9814138) Homepage
    IAARS (I AM a Rocket Scientist), so I am going to share my opinion...

    What's really annoying about this guy is that he seems to think that un-manned spaceflight will somehow benefit if manned spaceflight is scaled back. Of course, that's nonsense. Cut manned spaceflight and I will bet you a donut to a Delta VH that within a decade NASA will cease to exist. This guy, who benefitted professionally to a huge extent from the existence of manned spaceflight programs, now has the nerve to turn around and bite the hand that (probably quite literally) fed him. That's annoying. And it hurts all of space science in the long run.

    On a dollar-for-dollar basis space research of any kind (manned or unmanned) is pretty much a total waste of money. Some examples will help: the Hubble Space Telescope cost something like 2 billion. That's about 20 times the cost of the Keck Telescope [], and it is about neck-and-neck when it comes to scientific output between the two. When it comes to planetary exploration - can you honestly say that there have been spin-offs that are useful here on Earth? I mean, let's be honest here: the science return from space research is all pretty trivial. Between us, who really gives a sh*t about some radiation belts around the Earth? A few power-line operators maybe, but it's not like they need a detailed understanding of the Earths bow-shock to operate, now is it? As for the rest of it - well, pretty pictures of Saturn are nice and all, but who really cares? They're ice and dirt, and have absolutely no impact on our daily lives. None whatsoever.

    Some would argue that certain kinds of science can only be done from space, things like far-infrared, or X-ray observations. But those missions have in effect been subsidized to the tune of billions by other, less worthy missions. If you had to factor in the development cost of heavy-lift boosters into the cost of developing the Chandra [] X-ray observatory, it would have cost $20 billion or more. I doubt that would have been seen as worthwhile science.

    In terms of improving human life, wouldn't the billions spent on un-manned space exploration be better spent curing disease through the NIH? Or a tax-cut. I mean, tax -cuts and de-regulation make more ultra-billionaires; if they want to fund space research privately then they can do that, and the free market will reward it accordingly (if in fact it is worthwhile).

    Only a true naif would think that science is funded for scientific reasons alone, and Dr. van Allen has an inflated sense of his own importance when it comes to national funding priorities. Sciences like physics were funded because physiscists know how to make very, very large bombs. Bio-medical science is funded because people don't want to die. Everything else is pretty much not funded, or lives off of the table-droppings from the big sciences. And the big sciences are not funded because Congress has a love for deep knowledge.

    By somehow pretending like his particular kind of science is more worthy than other science, he's starting a discussion that by all rights should hurt all of space science. In other words: Jim, SHUT UP. We've got a good gig going here, and you're messing it up.

    • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:34PM (#9814931) Journal
      On a dollar-for-dollar basis space research of any kind (manned or unmanned) is pretty much a total waste of money. Some examples will help: the Hubble Space Telescope cost something like 2 billion. That's about 20 times the cost of the Keck Telescope, and it is about neck-and-neck when it comes to scientific output between the two.

      Well, there's a nonsense comparison if I've ever seen one. How are we measuring 'scientific output', exactly?

      Both instruments can perform measurements that no other telescope is capable of. The Hubble is far and away a winner in that respect, just because it has access to wavelengths (the vacuum ultraviolet and the infrared) that don't penetrate our atmosphere. Because of redshift issues, no earthbound telescope can ever see the stuff we got from the Hubble Deep Field. The Keck kicks ass for light-gathering and resolution because of the tremendous aperture (10 meters(!) for both of Keck I and Keck II)) and its ability to function as an interferometer.

      Damn it, some research is just more expensive. On a research-dollars-per-published-paper metric, perhaps Keck comes out as a 'better' investment--but without Hubble, there are whole classes of investigation that are flat-out impossible. Not only that, but neither instrument exists in a (scientific) vacuum--there is a synergistic effect, because results from one instrument can be used to guide studies on others.

      It's like saying we should only fund theoretical cosmologists or astrophysicists--they only need one salary, one office, and enough money for pencils and paper. Why do actual measurements in the field? Those would be much more expensive per published paper.

      Comparing the cost per publication (or however you choose to measure 'scientific output') is a gross oversimplification. Apples and oranges. It reminds me of when Homer visits the Bentley dealer and asks after the test drive, "What advantages does this motor car have over, say, a train...?" Different purposes, different costs, different science.

      My own field is physics (radiation, not astro-). Working next to me are people who work with instruments ranging in price from $2000 to $20 million...there aren't vast differences in 'scientific output', just different costs associated with exploring different aspects of science.

      In terms of improving human life, wouldn't the billions spent on un-manned space exploration be better spent curing disease through the NIH? Or a tax-cut. I mean, tax -cuts and de-regulation make more ultra-billionaires; if they want to fund space research privately then they can do that, and the free market will reward it accordingly (if in fact it is worthwhile).

      The first argument--the ever popular 'wouldn't the money be better spent on problem X here on earth' refrain--has been addressed many times before. It's a philosophical question. If we wait until all the other problems on Earth are solved, we'll never again do any exploration, or even basic science research that doesn't have immediately obvious applications. Many people believe that it is worthwhile to spend a small amount of public money on projects that--despite having no immediate and obvious economic, military or health benefit--are of interest to the country and its citizens.

      The second argument--that the private sector will fund space research if it's worthwhile--is interesting. There are direct, marketable benefits to health research, but the NIH is still disbursing billions from the public purse for that purpose. Why is that? Oh, right. If it can't be made into a patented procedure or drug, the private sector isn't interested. If it won't improve the quarterly results, the private sector isn't interested. We have more than a few billionaires already. Most of them are not funding space or medical research, except in cases where they're trying to buy a positive legacy after years as robber barons.

  • by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @02:34PM (#9814194) Journal
    In order to travel long distances in space, we will need to develop systems to keep us alive indefinitely. This will also benefit us if, heaven forbid, some catastrophic event occurs to the earth that limits or removes its ability to sustain life.

    Spinoffs of technology from this effort will help people in their everday lives in immeasurable ways (velcro, Tang, space blankets, and other exotic materials that save lives or allow us to do things previously impossible are a result of our manned space program).

    Robots currently don't have the intelligence and flexibility to cope with changing environments quickly (look how long it took the mars rovers to cover the few miles during their explorations, that would have been a day trip for manned exploration).

    There is no substitute, yet, for a human being on the ground. There is a whole level of real-time experiences that a robot can not take in or comment on - that humans are more than capable of doing. Aside from collecting specimens and taking pictures, robots will never have the immediacy that humans offer.

    The idea of a completely automated space program, is similar to the idea of a completely remote controlled military aparatus. I think we can all agree that, except in rare circumstances where a robot would perform better (air combat beyond gforce limits of human pilots, and remote reconnaisance), war must be fought by humans, due to the ability to make the right decisions that AI is incompetent to make - and, more importantly, to not distance ourselves so much from the life and death on the battlefield as to make it easy for us to choose war as a first option. Human beings bring moral and esthetical issues into the mix, which robots, for all their precision, lack.
  • by Fiz Ocelot ( 642698 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:04PM (#9814592)
    These days investors look to the next quarterly results to determine if they are making a good investment. Extremely short term.

    Space Exploration has always been a much more longer term before we really see or understand what the Return On Investment was.

    Space exploration provides a platform for us to tackle new problems, which result in new solutions. Even if we find nothing of value on mars for example, just getting to the point where we can be sure of that will have resulted in a wealth of knowledge.

    I'd also like to add that we need more research being done for the exploration of our own planet. Exploring the deepest oceans is on the same difficulty level of space exploration.

  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:13PM (#9814692) Homepage Journal
    As a person whose 11th Birthday coincided with Apollo 11 landing on the moon, you would rarely find a person more pro-space exploration than I. Sadly however, manned space exploration has failed to make any real progress, and shows no sign of doing so soon. A manned mission to Mars at this point would be 1. costly, and 2. possibly endanger contaminating any biota we wish to find there. Other than Mars, just where do you think we should be going?

    Instead of a 2 year timeout while the Shuttle is being revamped, I think we need to take a 10 year timeout until new launch systems are invented.

    Here are the technologies I would invest in:

    Any of several forms of launch assist, most likely Magnetic Rail. Any other technology would benefit from having this as a virtual first stage. Find the ideal location and buy the land -- DO NOT LEASE. We could probably build it in America, but why be trapped long term with less than ideal initial launch orbits. To be really radical, make it accessible to all nations, maybe build it as a coalition of the gravity well escaping.

    Scram Jet and VASMIR, lets throw bucket loads of money in those directions.

    Ditch the Space Elevator (at least for now), concentrate on something that could really be built, and that would be a "rotovator" []

    For items like oxygen, water, propellant, food -- fire them into orbit with a cannon. Massive G-Forces will not hurt them (though it might over tenderize steaks if that's the kind of food your sending up). This is really-really cost effective. Iraq was constructing a cannon capable of hitting Israel, it's just a matter of scale

    Put any two or three of these together, then manned space flight begins to make sense

  • by myc_holmes ( 771339 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:16PM (#9814718)
    Van Allen apparently struggles with the concept of "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

    Any number of catastrophes could occur which would wipe out life on this planet (or at least the human variant of it), from the uncontrollable (asteroid hits, neighborhood novae, solar instability, etc.) to the self-induced (disease, ecological, nuclear...)

    Only one way to ensure humans survive - get off the planet and spread out. Only way to do that - human space travel.

    Now, if Van Allen's argument is that the human race isn't worth saving, then let's have that argument. But to say the only reason for human space travel is "adventure" shows a critical lack of imagination.
  • Boatload of Crap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dawn Keyhotie ( 3145 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:29PM (#9814865)
    Yes, crap. By the boadload.

    Let me rebut. First of all, the only reason that space travel seems adventurous is because it is still new, dangerous, expensive, and controversial. All of those aspects need to be removed from the equation of space travel before it can be a productive endeavor. We have to keep working at it, improving it, productionizing it, until space travel becomes old, safe, cheap, and boring. THen we won't have any old-school scientists (taken your metamucil today, Roger?) spewing drivel like this.

    Second, any "scientist" who states that manned space travel is a waste is simple envious of the "whopping" budget for manned space flights. True, the space program is expensive compared to say, dinner at Burger Barn. But compared to the 2003 GDP of $10.7 Trillion, the entire NASA budget for 2003 [] was $15.0 Billion, or only 0.14% of our nation's productivity []. Or as a percentage of the $2.128 Trillion 2003 federal budget [], only 0.71%. (Holy crap, I had no idea that the feds took 20% of the GDP!) Or finally, as a percentage of the interest we paid on the national debt last year of $181 Billion, only 8.3%. Of Social Security's $472 Billion, 3.2%; of National defense's $368 Billion, 4.1%; of Medicare/Medicaid's $390 Billion, 3.8%; of other 'discretionary' spending's $390 Billion, also 3.8%. Compared to the major federal spending programs, NASA is small potatoes indeed.

    There will always be space exploration, but what we need now is to start harvesting the resources available in space. Space travel will become a national priority when it becomes a net positive on the balance sheet. Or in other words, when the expenses are clearly outweighed by the benefits, by the resources made available, and by the money to be made, in outer space.

    Argh! I hate it when "distinguished elder scientists" come up with this kind of crap. Do they just enjoy shooting themselves, and their colleagues, in the foot? Sheesh.

  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2004 @03:38PM (#9814966)
    I think what we should do instead of blowing all this money on manned space flight is to plow money into basic physics research. I'm not talking about String Theory or Cosmology. I'm talking about good ol' fashioned experimental science. Whether it be quantum teleportation, collapsing bubble fusion, materials science, or anyone of a number of cutting edge research areas that increase our understanding of and ability to manipulate the physical world. This is where the real advances are going to come from that are going to allow for human space exploration. We are still using chemical rockets for space travel which we've known about since the 30s!!

    Far too much money goes into these partical accelerators and underground partical detectors that help scientists prove cosomological theories about the universe and about places that we won't get to in a million years and about energies that are far beyond our ability to manipulate. Let's focus the money on the practical science.
  • Van Allen makes a couple good points. The International Space Station has an unacceptably high cost/benefit ratio, and probably won't produce any significant science. The significant science (so far) has come from automated probes. Analogies between space travel and past explorations on earth may also be weak, but that is because space travel is an entirely different sort of undertaking. Beyond learning anything or exploring new territory, space travel is a conscious evolutionary step.

    With all due respect to this legendary scientist, suggesting that human space flight may be obsolete is like the Patent Office suggesting in the 1800s, according to myth [], that there was nothing left to invent. There may be no tangible material benefits to space travel in the foreseeable future, ignoring Teflon and the standard list of by-products. The most important benefit will be the long-term survival of the human race. We know that our planet is subject periodically to catastrophic events that can extinguish us. Populating at least one more world will be as significant as climbing out of the primordial ooze.

    Incidentally, grounding the remaining space shuttle fleet "to take steps to improve their safety" doesn't conflict with starting "a more costly and far more hazardous" Moon/Mars program. Astronauts, and I think most people in general, are fully aware that no spaceship is "safe" in any normal sense. Safety in the space program is more of a euphemism for "avoiding setbacks."

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein