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Can Space Nerds Get Along? 161

An anonymous reader writes "The Space Review asks whether space enthusiasts can ever get past the humans/robots and private/government flamewars. The article argues that space politics is a non-zero-sum game, and that space science, human spaceflight and private spaceflight can all co-exist. The debate between space and Earth is resolved in the same way: a non-zero-sum game that supports both Earth projects and space projects."
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Can Space Nerds Get Along?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Um, like, wasn't there a story recently about an explosion at a plant that makes parts for a private spaceflight company that killed two people?

    I'll stick with publicly-funded NASA rather than a corner-cutting for-profit space corporation... they tend to have a little less death, tyvm.
    • by Broken scope ( 973885 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:30AM (#20041689) Homepage
      You know your right, no one has ever died under the watchful eye of NASA.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Zing!, considering the private sector is just getting into the gig i would expect some complications, and it is always inevitable that someone is going to die do anything. But with NASA the public will never be able to go into space flight, where as with private companies, it may be expensive, but the public can go into space for a brief moment.

        Hopefully with privately owned space flight in the works, it may help with the travel times across the globe.
      • or cut corners...like...I don't know...

        Ignoring e-mails suggesting possible danger to Columbia due to wing being struck on takeoff

        Tiles routinely falling off of Challenger

        Launch of Challenger done in "out of spec" environmental conditions leading to catastrophic failure.

        I don't think the problem in "commercial space flight"
        • Okay, since I can't tell what type of tone you are using... I'll give both of my possible responses.

          1: You couldn't detect the obvious sarcasm.
          "Dude.. I was being sarcastic"

          2: You did detect my obvious sarcasm.
          "Of course, its a problem with exploration on a budget in general".
          • I was agreeing with the post directly above mine. If my post seemed a little "biting", it is because I had access to some of those communications and, being in the aviation safety industry, this issue stikes a personal note with me.
      • This article makes a great point, i.e. that a tremendous amount of energy and talent in wasted when otherwise intelligent people exhibit such incredibly inane behavior in arguing either/or apple/orange comparisons between ROBOT/HUMAN, PRIVATE/PUBLIC, when in reality it is BOTH.

        This behavior is so destructive and egotistical, and is literally holding back the progress of HumanKind, from experiencing the Promised Land of a ROBOTIC WAGELESS ECONOMY.

        This reminds me of how much talent is likewise wasted on b

        • ... oh boy, the "age of recreation"

          Um.. Fuck that Noise?
        • by plunge ( 27239 )
          You're right. Also all these people getting so worked up over abortion, no abortion. Why can't everyone just call it even and then go out have have some abortions WITHIN MODERATION, right?

          Seriously though: sometimes one side of the argument really IS right, and in such a case, we really are better off figuring out which side that is. I don't see any reason to think that robot/human exploration can happily coexist: we just had a ridiculous amount of funding cut from one so that a vanity project to Mars co
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 )
      I know that you are trolling, but.
      1. Apollo 1 - kind of.
      2. Challenger
      3. Columbia.

      Now the real question is why do I list Apollo 1 as kind of? Because NASA does. You see, they were not going to launch. They were simply checking out the system. As such NASA only kind of counts their deaths. If you check out the history, you will find that a number of Americans have died on the ground during the early days. Sometimes from accidents (similar to Scaled's, or Brazil's recent accident). Others, have died from simple t

      • Hear, Hear!

        Shades of "With Folded Hands" if we stop exploring because someone will get killed. Tragedy mocks our every step. I know this first and second-hand, I worked with lost Challenger astronaut Greg Jarvis. I even signed up for the spot, knowing full well what might happen. And know a colleague of a lost Apollo 1 astronaut.

        But how many souls lost their lives to bring tea and spices from the East? And how many will lose their lives if we are not ready to handle an asteroid impact threat?

        We need
      • Others, have died from simple things such as car accidents or plane crashes during simulations.
        You mean if you crash a plane in a flight simulator you die?! I own a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004!
    • by JerkBoB ( 7130 )
      I'll stick with publicly-funded NASA rather than a corner-cutting for-profit space corporation... they tend to have a little less death, tyvm.

      That's just stupid. Clearly you don't understand how capitalism works... Here's a hint: (Uncontrolled) Explosions and/or death != good business (unless you're halliburton). Therefore, that sort of thing will be kept to a minimum. Or the companies will go out of business. Either way, duh.
    • Scaled Composites (Score:2, Informative)

      by geek2k5 ( 882748 )

      Scaled Composites, the people who created SpaceShipOne, is the group that suffered the explosion. From what I've read, they were running a test that had been run a number of times before without mishap.

      The failure killed three people and put three others in the hospital, two in critical condition and one in serious condition. That failure could be due to flawed materials, unknown damage to the equipment, sabotage, simple human error, a design flaw or any one of a number of other reasons. It is currently

    • I am (for the most part) against privatization with regards to NASA. But the parent's argument is one of the poorest of which I can even conceive. I hate it when people with whom I agree make really poor arguments because it immediately reflects on me and my views. Then I have to spend time disavowing myself of poor arguments rather than trying to make my views heard.
    • What do you care? No one is forcing you to fly in a private spacecraft. If other, more adventurous souls are willing to try their luck, what's it to you? Or are you of the mindset that any activity too risky for YOU is worth banning outright?
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:32AM (#20041707)

    The Space Review asks whether space enthusiasts can ever get past the humans/robots and private/government flamewars.

    Doesn't matter - the Chinese will get there first.
    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @10:05AM (#20042119) Journal
      You are marked as funny, but the truth is, you may be right. They are discovering a number of resources underground as well as have a new economy. They are in a MAJOR growth phase. while developing (as well as "borrowing") lots of technology. CNSA is going slow, but that is because they are developing infrastructure. I doubt that they will get to the moon first (private industry will be there by 2015 assuming that bigelow does not have any accidents), but they may very well reach Mars first (no later than 2025).
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        If China wants to go to Mars, my advice is: let 'em. Who cares? It's their money, they can piss it away on useless boondoggles if they want to. *shrug*
        • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
          Exactly. My American ego is not so sensitive that I would consider such a huge waste of resources a "victory." Spending trillions of $ just to be the first to plant a freaking flag on a distant sterile rock is not my idea of any triumph.

          But then, I'm just a crazy dissenting American (who doesn't think we should have wasted all that money on Iraq either).

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by arivanov ( 12034 )
            Alaska was also considered a remote sterile rock ya know... It is all relative and matter of perception...
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
              Alaska had oxygen, water, survivable atmospheric pressure, and food--and was a few weeks journey away. A better analogy would be the bottom of the ocean, and how many colonies have we built THERE?
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by arivanov ( 12034 )
                This is a matter of perception.

                The Northern Pacific and the Arctic were as difficult for the 17 and 18th century seafarer as the space is for us nowdays. May I remind you that prior to Vitus Bering and Chirikov every single attempt to explore the area has ended with a loss of the ship and all hands. Bering payed his life and the life of half of his crew for just mapping the southern coast of Alaska and the Aleut chain. So did many crews after him.

                Actually our current is more the level of Amundsen and the Fr
              • by snooo53 ( 663796 ) *
                The thing about the bottom of the ocean is that it can already be reached in a matter of minutes (hours?). So there's less of an incentive to actually live there, when it's not that far away. I am somewhat surprised there isn't a manned research station though... I would think there would be a lot of scientists interested in staying there in a relatively comfortable lab for an extended period of time.
              • by G-funk ( 22712 )
                It's a very different set of technologies though. It's comparitively easier to get to the bottom of the ocean: be heavier than water. However, the engineering of craft is much more difficult for undersea vehicles. In space you only need to contain one atmosphere (~14psi) pressure. Underwater, at the bottom of the Mariana trench you're trying to keep out a thousand times that.
          • thank god many consider that crazy thinking. Look, the moon has a very limited real estate that can be developed cheaply. The poles can make use to solar to power the place for 98-99% of the time (IOW, you need minimal batteries). Every other place on the moon will require nuclear power. And it will require LOTS of it. Whoever owns those poles will be able to beam energy all over the moon. In addition, the polar area have the least amount of thermal flux (i.e., it is not wild thermal ranges). As to the flag
          • Spending trillions of $ just to be the first to plant a freaking flag on a distant sterile rock is not my idea of any triumph. But then, I'm just a crazy dissenting American (who doesn't think we should have wasted all that money on Iraq either)

            Personnaly I'd sleep much better at night knowing that the government was spending trillions on real science and exploration rather than trillions blowing shit up for no reason.

        • by cerelib ( 903469 )
          Mars is the red planet, so I guess China should get first dibs.
        • by moeinvt ( 851793 )
          (One of your ancestors in the 1400s)

          "If Christopher Columbus wants to sail off to into unknown stretches of the ocean, who cares? If Queen Isabella wants to piss her money away on useless boondoggles, let her."
      • The Chinese space program is going slow because the Chinese are maintaining just enough of a space program to keep themselves on the list of Great Nations. Infrastructure development/construction has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue. (And even if it did, they've had more than enough time to do so three times over.)
    • Doesn't matter - the Chinese will get there first

      Chinese Humans or Chinese Robots?
  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:35AM (#20041739) Homepage Journal
    Hey, don't forget SETI vs. the nuts who want to broadcast our position [davidbrin.com] to the Berserkers [wikipedia.org]!
  • We DO (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:35AM (#20041743) Journal
    We do get along. People on all sides of the arguments are doing it for the same reason, to get the most bang for the buck. No matter what program we champion in planning and design, everyone stands and cheers when the selected program flies.

    OK, maybe there's a few like Bob Park (http://www.bobpark.org/) that rants on and on about robots even when people fly, but he's not a space nerd, he's a politics nerd who thinks too much that the space program applies to him personally. Other than those few, the idea what we bicker bitterly is once again a media construct -- they have to make news where none exists to fill the white space. That's why when they need filler, they go to those few, if anyone at all.

    • Re:We DO (Score:5, Informative)

      by kebes ( 861706 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:46AM (#20041885) Journal
      You're right. The author is pointing to some sort of nebulous conflict, without actually citing any examples, and frankly I'm not sure such a conflict exists. Everyone I know who is keen on space exploration supports both robotic and manned missions, for instance. They tend to cheer-on both NASA and space tourism.

      Where heated debate does sometimes arise is specifically in those instances where it is zero-sum: for instance when NASA is considering its budget, trying to decide how many dollars to spend on manned missions and how many dollars to spend on robotic missions. This heated debate is not usually conflict, but rather the very process by which scientific and technical consensus is reached. I'm not saying that there is no such thing as conflict in these domains, or that everyone always gets along... but I don't see massive ill-will, either. Most of the people debating want the same thing: expansion of knowledge.

      TFA makes curious statements like:

      What would a non-zero-sum future look like? More joint activities between the interest groups would be a good beginning.
      I'm no expert in the politics of space exploration... but who are these "interest groups" really? As far as I know, NASA pursues both manned and robotic missions... and so NASA is composed of people from both "interest groups." So, really, isn't NASA very much a "joint activity" between these "interest groups" ?? Everytime that NASA uses humans to effectuate repairs on automated space systems (e.g. Hubble), it is a joint activity between the human-exploration and robot-exploration projects.

      So... where is this conflict of which TFA speaks?
      • by plunge ( 27239 )
        I'm 100% with you. This is just one of those articles that mostly wastes space itself. There ARE situations in which there is a trade-off between funding for one and the other, and there IS a pretty legitimate dispute there, and so far, that dispute doesn't seem to be a problem for actually getting things done.
    • No Points to give but nice response.
    • Actually, from my experience a lot of nerds are really Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder [wikipedia.org] cases, meaning that they just can't see shades of grey. Their world has exactly one "perfect" solution, and everything else is crap. Aiming at any other point than that "perfect" solution is a sign of being a sheep, brainwashed, a lazy under-achiever, or an idiot with lax standards too.

      I put "perfect" between quote signs, because an OCPD solution typically is more crap than anything else. Given the a problem wit
  • Human Exploration (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WED Fan ( 911325 ) <akahige@@@trashmail...net> on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:36AM (#20041751) Homepage Journal

    Human exploration has always been about the inner struggle. Collectively, we watch struggles and use those that struggle as proxies. Our souls go with them, be it a sporting match, a voyage across the world, or a rocket into space.

    In the end, the human involvement in space exploration, the human touching foot on a ground that is not Terran, is about the expansion of the human experience and the human soul. It is not about the attendant science, its about Man's struggles, triumphs, defeats, and lessons.

    The science can be done by robots.

    • It's also about getting us off this bug-infested mudball before an asteroid wipes us out.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:36AM (#20041753)
    Can space nerds coexist with space fratboys? "NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERDS!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )
      Space Jock: Open the pod bay doors, Space Nerd.
      Space Nerd: I'm sorry Space Jock, I'm afraid I can't do that.
      Space Jock: What's the problem?
      Space Nerd: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
      Space Jock: What are you talking about, Space Nerd?
      Space Nerd: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
  • by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:36AM (#20041761)
    A comunity that can expend so much wasted energy debating the relative merits of vi vs emacs, or the one true brace, simply isn't built to co-operate like that. Part of the passion which drives the better technicians is an inability to compromise. Our individual strengths are our collective weaknesses
    • by jstomel ( 985001 )

      A comunity that can expend so much wasted energy debating the relative merits of vi vs emacs, or the one true brace, simply isn't built to co-operate like that. Part of the passion which drives the better technicians is an inability to compromise. Our individual strengths are our collective weaknesses
      Absolutely. I mean, isn't it obvious that emacs is better than vi? Why waste our time fighting about it?
  • Get along? Never. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:38AM (#20041777) Homepage Journal
    I don't know how much members of an open source software oriented site can say about those kinds of arguments without looking hypocritical at the same time. vi vs. emacs, command line vs. GUI, BSD vs GPL, BSD vs Linux, the language arguments and so on. I think getting beyond the arguments is the mature thing to do, but that's not an easy thing either.
    • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:59AM (#20042053) Journal

      vi vs. emacs, command line vs. GUI, BSD vs GPL, BSD vs Linux, the language arguments and so on.
      I think it's crucially important to distinguish between "pointless flamewar" and "productive debate." For each of the "vs." you described (and for the ones from TFA), we can find examples of both kinds of disputes. Arguing the subtle differences between BSD and Linux (or trying to prove that one is "better" in some way or for some task) is crucial to the continual improvement in these things. The FOSS movement is about many things--and open debate is certainly one of them. This open discussion leads to alot of "productive debate"... although it also leads to the occasional "pointless flamewar."

      The implication in your post was that the various arguments in the open-source community do more harm than good. I would argue just the opposite: although flamewars are not a good thing, overall the open debate that the open-source crowd engages in is a productive way to "get it right" and improve the state of the art. I should also note that despite the intensity of these debates, no one (that I'm aware of) actually takes them to the extreme of violence. At worst, people get their feelings hurt. I should also note that the egregious examples of flamewars and trolling are not unique to the FOSS movement--those trolls don't even care about the topic at hand, and just switch to some other "hot topic" when on another discussion board. You can't really blame FOSS for the universal existence of assholes.

      Similarly, I just don't see the disagreement in space enthusiasts and scientists. They debate, sure... but that is precisely what is needed to determine optimal solutions.

      I think getting beyond the arguments is the mature thing to do, but that's not an easy thing either.
      No... Avoiding debate is not the answer. I would rather argue that the mature thing to do is to not get overly emotional in the debates. Arguments are a good thing--that's how progress is made. Maturity is knowing how to think rationally in a debate, and to change your mind when others have presented compelling evidence or logic.
    • I am old enough to remember the editor wars. I still use microemacs for some functionality, so you now know what my prefered editor religion was, but I was never a fanatic about it (emacs was big and vi was always there). People get needlessly pasionate about their tools, but tools are what the open souce movement is largely about. Space is different. The nerds vs. jocks angle is closer to correct than is comfortable. Human space flight, particularily to mars, is an entertainment mission. It is not science
  • hummm (Score:4, Funny)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:42AM (#20041831)
    Reminds me of the arguments between the flat-earthers and the round-earthers. You know, in an age before the periscope was invented.

    Things went on for generations with neither side willing to concede to the other - bikkering and taunting... " The Earth is flat!" The Earth is round!", until finally, the round-earthers gathered together and the Elder round-earthers decided on a grand plan to settle things once and for all.

    Their solution? Simple. They would collect all the flat-earthers together in one location, and push them over the edge...
    • by gd2shoe ( 747932 )
      Apparently we missed one...

      (mods, please recognize a joke when you see one! It's really sad that I need to remind you.)
  • keep the mess (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fadilnet ( 1124231 )
    An analogy could be - B5 fans promoting Quantum Space and SG fan talking about hyperspace. Seriously, 1 organisation providing 1 single framework, can make things less mess. But you need the "messy" in order to have 1 or 2 innovative concepts being created and put into use. The impact of man being out there, colonising other worlds itself, is too big and consists of way more groups than 3.
  • Until we get humanity out of the solar system, the true future of mankind is doomed. It is certain that an extinction event will happen to the earth, and to the solar system. Yes it may take eons for these events to happen, but why not get our asses off this minuscule planet and spread out?

    • Until we get humanity out of the solar system, the true future of mankind is doomed.
      Oh noessss, humans iz just like all other species!!1!

      It is certain that an extinction event will happen to the earth, and to the solar system. Yes it may take eons for these events to happen, but why not get our asses off this minuscule planet and spread out?
      ...because it's a futile waste of time and resources?
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        I imagine it must sound silly to say, "we got to get off Earth and colonize some other star systems right now." That's because it is. There's no real urgency to leaving the Solar System. However, saying that it's "futile" to do so? Doesn't make sense. It doesn't take a lot of people or a lot of resources to colonize the galaxy. Just a lot of time, perserverence, and work towards the goal.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I get as excited about space exploration as much as the next guy, but the argument that we need to get out of the solar system to further the cause of humanity is way off base. The fact is, we are not leaving the solar system any time soon. Even with an incredibly aggressive space program, it's hard to imagine even sending a couple of astronauts to the next star within the next hundred years. What is easy to imagine happening in the next hundred years is catastrophic climate change (perhaps sped up by a
      • by snooo53 ( 663796 ) *
        Why not do both? I mean the amount spent on the space program and environmental research and engineering in general is pitiful compared to other government expenditures. Do you really think that money spent on space programs is that much of a waste?? If we can't leave it anytime soon, our solar system is a pretty amazing place to explore and will keep people busy for centuries.

        We should be fighting for more money for ALL types of scientific programs, not fighting amongst ourselves for scraps. And not ju
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      In the end, human extinction is inevitable no matter WHAT we do (the heat death gets us all in the end, no matter what).

      As for the vast foreseeable future, it would be MUCH more efficient to figure out how to survive extinction events HERE than to relocate to distant planets with incredibly hostile environs. For example, digging giant bunkers and developing resilient underground agriculture in the face of a possible meteor strike is almost infinitely more practical than planning a mass evacuation to a dis

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        How about a global scale nuclear war where even those giant bunkers are considered war targets (since they allow portions of your enemy to survive)? Sure, some people will probably survive, but who really wants to spend a few decades or even centuries rebuilding civilization to the point where we are now rather than having a large scale space presence already in place to carry on? Keep in mind that a giant bunker on Earth is far easier to hit than a Martian colony.
        • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

          How about a global scale nuclear war where even those giant bunkers are considered war targets

          If humanity ever truly decides to destroy itself, space colonies won't help us. They will, of course, be targets too. You'd be better off living with some scattered tribe deep in a rainforest in Brazil, or hidden in the Australian outback than under the easily-destroyed dome of some fragile Martian colony.

          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            It's not that humanity decides to destroy itself, but a practical consideration of what happens if you get bombed into the pre-industrial age, while your foe, due to his bunkers, only gets bombed into the late industrial age and can rapidly start building computers again. It can be a big tech lead in the post-nuclear world. A Martian colony isn't going to help that. They're several light minutes away and you'd need to be able to talk to them first. But I got to agree that the other places you mention aren't
    • Getting off Earth is a far sight more realistic right now than getting to another solar system. And even that could mean things besides simply abandoning it and relocating. For instance, solar array satellites and lunar mining could be a massive step forward, even if we humans continue to live on the planet's surface for a while, and just ship those resources here for use. If we can harness enough extra-planetary energy, we can (hypothetically) convince the Earth to do whatever we want. I agree with you
  • A quote... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kryten_nl ( 863119 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @09:54AM (#20041991)
    One of my teachers on the subject had a quote, with which he started the year.

    We live in an extraordinary time; before us space flight was not possible because technology had not advanced far enough; after us space flight will not be possible because of all the junk we leave in earth orbit.

    I've forgotten who it is from and I've probably mangled it.

    My point: unless we design the 'end of life' for our satellites better and design our rockets to not leave their upper stages in orbit, this debate will be a fond memory someday. In that light, the suggested cooperation between the various societies can only be applauded.

  • Doesn't matter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sveard ( 1076275 )
    I doesn't matter, Nerds will not get to call the shots -- the people with money will, and they will create policy and direct the nerds, while the nerds will keep fighting.
  • No (Score:4, Funny)

    by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Monday July 30, 2007 @10:04AM (#20042107) Homepage
    Not until, at least, we have resolved the issue of Green vs Purple debate.

    • Omg, you can't possibly support purple, what a retard. Have you ever worked on a serious project before? Anyone in the industry knows that purple is just for dreamers, but green is how practical things get done. Stop wasting everyone's time with your lame pro-purple arguments.
  • Glory (Score:3, Interesting)

    The resources that space has to offer may not be zero-sum, but the glory of "firsts" certainly is. If a civilian walks on Mars first because the government couldn't get through their own red tape fast enough, you don't think that'd have an effect?
  • one pithy complaint (Score:3, Informative)

    by aldousd666 ( 640240 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @10:21AM (#20042357) Journal
    The article makes a few good points, and indeed I think they can all co-exist; however, it's painfully obvious that the author just learned the term 'non-zero sum' and wants to show how masterful of the idea he has become by repeating it 25 times in slightly varied context throughout the short span of the article. We're all very impressed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    can space nerds get along?

    short answer: no

    long answer: hell no!
  • by DanielMarkham ( 765899 ) * on Monday July 30, 2007 @10:33AM (#20042515) Homepage
    Okay, if space exploration is a non zero-sum game, then what's the sum?

    Seven? 42? Come on! Don't leave us hanging like that!

    Seriously. We need cheap cost-to-orbit. After that, there's no "sum" in the game. As long as shooting a box into orbit costs as much as a new office building, there might be something to fight about. Make it 1/100 of the cost (using space elevators, mass drivers for non-human loads, or blimps-to-orbit) then who cares so much any more? Pay to reduce costs for everyone, skip the missions, and the rest will take care of itself.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:06AM (#20042913) Homepage Journal
    When he passes out, steal his wallet.

    Seriously, we are talking about a zero sum game over the short term .

    The reason has to do with marginal gains. The greatest marginal gains in manned spaceflight we'll ever see were in its first fifteen years. Currently robotic exploration provides the greatest bang for the buck, including in improving technologies needed for the next leap in manned flight. We can leap over the immediate marginal discrepancies by spending lots and lots more money on manned missions. Given enough money, it is possible that we can outperform the same investment in exclusively robotic missions. Given the money I think we will see spent on it, serious near term advances in human spaceflight is not going to come from public funding.

    A realistic program to put a people on Mars in ten or twelve years would be great. But a vague plan for a manned Mars landing that is four Presidential administrations off does less for every priority, even manned space exploration, at more cost. The space budget will be siphoned off into paper projects and technology demonstrations that, despite budget busting expense, will be inconclusive and too infrequent to build a strong experience base from.

    Consider this. Mercury program: twenty-one unmanned flights, seven manned flights. Gemini: two unmanned flights, twelve manned flights. Apollo (up to but not including first landing): aproximately twenty four unmanned flights, five manned.

    Total: forty seven major unmanned flights, twenty four manned flights before we had the experience and proven technology to land on the moon. A huge fraction of the "manned" space program was in fact unmanned.

    Naturally this takes nothing from the fact that manned flights were much more expensive and elaborate. But each mission, manned or unmanned, was a rung in the ladder of achievement that culminated on the moon. Where are the intermediate rungs on the ladder to Mars? Yes, I agree manned and unmanned exploration are a plus sum game in the long term. However, this doesn't mean the best way to spend your money is on everything at once. You put your money on what returns the biggest return you can afford. I'd love to invest in Berkshire Hathaway stock, but at $110,000/share, it's too rich a game for me. I'd love to see a real manned Mars mission in my lifetime, but rejiggering the existing budget and throwing in a bit of spare change isn't going to pay for one.

    I'd propose we use the same money that would go into a mythical multi-generational manned Mars mission into becoming, very quickly, good at executing Mars missions. In other words, lets do lots of expendable, frequent unmanned missions until we know how to do Mars really well. At that point, a manned expedition within a short time is much more realistic and desirable, both because of our improved expertise, and because a manned mission represents something different, something with higher marginal return.

    I think that manned space exploration is better targeted at Earth orbit missions for now. Again the objective should be developing expertise that makes it more routine. Do we really believe we have what it takes to undertake a responsible manned Mars mission in ten years? I don't. More experience in orbit will yield more expertise per dollar, as well as open up new possibilities for applied science and technology that could offset the cost.

    And, we should not neglect orbital study of the Earth.

    That's quite enough to be doing with the money we're likely to have. It's also more likely to result in a manned Mars mission in our lifetime.
  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @11:15AM (#20043031) Journal

    Pirates v. Ninjas

    Chuck Norris v. Vin Diesel

    Horde v. Alliance

    Atari ST v. Amiga

    vi v. emacs

    Eris v. FSM

    • You forgot:

      Aeris vs. Tifa
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hey Apples ( 1115665 )
      And here I thought this article was going to be a cage match between Kirk, Picard, and Han Solo. I am *so* disappointed. And for the inevitable Spock vs. Chewbacca matchup, logic would suggest that it is best to let the Wookie win.
  • Space is the ultimate positive sum game but rent-seeking [wikipedia.org] is the ultimate negative sum game.

    When you get NASA involved, you are immediately in rent-seeking hell with the bonus that the only way you won't drive private capital away from critical technologies NASA is working on is for NASA to show such gross incompetence over the course of decades that the private investors no longer worry that NASA will do to them what it did to private launch services when it introduced "The National Space Transportation S

  • by oohshiny ( 998054 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @01:01PM (#20044585)
    No, it's not a "zero sum game". NASA probably gets more money overall if they take on manned projects, but they still end up cutting science projects. So, technically, it's not a zero sum game, but science still loses when projects like a manned mission to Mars appear.
  • I wonder if our resources would be better spent on Earth-based research short term (say, for the next 20 years). We need nationwide man-on-moon style efforts to address global warming, world population control, political stability, eradication of nuclear weapons... Yes, it's not a zero sum game. But addressing these things may cost a trillion dollars and we may not have government money left for much else.

    Moreover, Earth-based research can create advances that will make our future space exploration dramatic
  • The issue at hand is the promotion of space projects. Space geeks can agree that a expansion of space exploration would be a good thing, the question is the path to get there. In one camp, you have the "First Steps" people who have a romantic notion that someone must be physically present to plant their foot into the ice/dust/rocks. They often justify this with the "first steps to the stars", a refrain I hear more and more these days. These weasel-words compose a phrase that turns my stomach. These "fi
  • by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Monday July 30, 2007 @05:08PM (#20048565)

    Can Space Nerds Get Along?
    Considering that Star Trek and Star Wars nerds can't even get along, I would say that the answer is 'no'.

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