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Space Science

The Next Fifty Years In Space 273

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

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  • I assume you are referring to this part of the article:

    the establishment of a private, interplanetary transportation industry, servicing both the Mars colony and asteroid mines.
    I have to agree with you to some degree, I really cannot see colonies on any distant planets within 50 years, I'd be surprised if there is even a large, long term presence on the moon by that time.

    I would say that in terms of costs, it is going to be politically unjustifiable to push forward these missions, more to the point I am fairly sure we are entering into a period of rather more upheaval on earth, politically, economically and ecologically. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see more work done in space, more opportunity to explore, but I just don't see the will to do so or even the suggestion of the rewards that would be possible by doing so.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:54AM (#20463589)
    Until space has a serious market among non-government-backed customers, it will be subject to the political whims of the "how can we spend money on space when we have problems on Earth?" constituency. As much as I love and support space exploration for the purposes of scientific and engineering R&D, feeding at the public trough is a the greatest single point of failure for the development of space. It does not matter whether it is tourism, materials synthesis in zero-G, mineral extraction n the moon/asteroids, or power generation. Creating an environment in which consumers and corporation gladly pay for the fruits of space travel will be the key to creating a truly stable, non-bureaucratic flow of funds and a thriving industry that depends more on proving economic value than on lobbying politicians.
  • by MontyApollo ( 849862 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:56AM (#20463623)
    We have technologies that serve the same purpose as personal jetpacks and flying cars, generally safer and more economical. Personal jetpacks and flying cars are really exotic luxury items, so I don't think those are a good comparison.

    Fusion energy might be a better example. It is something that would be of real value and something we have thrown a lot of money at. Other energy sources may become cheap and easy enough though where fusion is not as attractive.

    I think the time scale required is beyond 50 years for space colonies, and it is hard to guess that far in the future. Could someone 50 years ago guess about computers today? Star Trek was guessing about computers a couple of hundred years in the future, but our current computers are already pretty close to their mark.
  • by TrippTDF ( 513419 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:00AM (#20463645)
    realize that the resources required for such an effort FAR exceed any possible benefit.

    At the moment. Some breakthroughs in technology could change this- such as a way to get off the planet at a significantly reduced cost. It really just takes a couple of shifts before the whole thing opens up to other opportunities. Really it's just one Big Idea that will lead to a chain reaction of the others.
  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:00AM (#20463651) Journal
    In 1957, who could have predicted the next fifty years in space? Sputnik had not yet been launched [] - the Space Race hadn't even begun.

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

    My point is: predictions are cheap, and over a span of fifty years mean little. Things develop far too quickly for a 50-year prediction to carry much weight. Predicting the future of space means also predicting the future of technology - what will be possible in fifty years. It also means predicting the future of the geopolitical and economic landscapes. All of these different factors influence one another - predicting the future of one will mean predicting at least a portion of the others.
  • by maillemaker ( 924053 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:08AM (#20463705)
    >At some point, people will get beyond the PR, dreams, and hype and realize that the resources
    >required for such an effort FAR exceed any possible benefit.

    At some point, someone with a dream will harness the resources necessary to profit from the benefits that you cannot yet foresee.

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:18AM (#20463791) Homepage
    I think the only way space exploration will receive substantial funding is if energy can be provided from it more cost effectively than can be produced on earth. Part of this being successful is to develop a very heavy lifting capability.

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

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

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

  • Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

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

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

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

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

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

  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:35AM (#20463995) Homepage Journal
    ...won't happen. We're almost out of many of our fossil fuels. Unless we find a sustainable way of getting "up there", we're going to be landbound for a while. I suspect the idiot Americans will start working on the nuclear air craft idea again. Why must business and lawyers interfere with EVERYTHING that could spell progress for us? We could have been so far ahead with the electric car (solar, rechargeable or fuel cell) if business didn't intervene to protect it's interests and try to squeeze every last dollar of profit out of fossil fuels. We could have had much better public mass transportation if the greedy heads of the auto industry didn't dismantle what once was (beautiful electric trolleys) to put down paved roads. Think about how much better off we'd be if all businesses actually paid attention to human considerations first: nature, natural approaches to health care starting with proper diets for everyone, renewable energy sources, and finally product built to last a long time instead of planned obsolescence and limited durability. My folks had a refrigerator from General Electric that they got in 1969 and it lasted until 1990. THAT is a perfect example of what a quality product's lifespan SHOULD be. Today, you can buy a fridge that has more bells and whistles, but it will die on you in seven years or less. You might be able to push ten years, but not without having some repair bills. The same thing should apply to big servers in IT. You SHOULD be able to buy a server today that will last 25 years for the capacity and applications you need. Those apps and the OS should be well supported within that 25 year period. THAT is a very realistic and responsible approach. THAT is something that vendors like Microfaust can't offer, but Linux based distros can. So, get with the program folks! Of course it won't happen. The money grubbing idiots of Amrican capitalism would just as soon burn their own children as fuel (which they are doing in Iraq) before they'd take any kind of financial hit. Our world is run by money addicts.
  • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:40AM (#20464045) Homepage Journal
    Sure, the exhaust may not be radioactive, but there will be radioactive fallout if the rocket explodes during launch or has to be destroyed.

    On a pure tech perspective, I'd love to have advanced rockets, but not until we can be damn sure they won't go kablooey and kill people downrange/downwind.
  • by gerbalblaste ( 882682 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:40AM (#20464047) Journal
    Screw safety and success, humanity has never gotten anywhere by waiting until it was safe and success was guaranteed. We are where we are now because people have put their balls to the wall and done things that were said to be impossible.
  • by Panaqqa ( 927615 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:45AM (#20464089) Homepage
    Based on what I read and what I know of the challenges involved, here's my guess as to a rough timeline for the next 50 years in space:

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

    Looking beyond 2057 is futile. Perhaps even looking as far as 2057 is futile. I forget who it was that said this but perhaps it is apt: "The future is not only different from what we imagine, but different from what we CAN imagine."
  • Re:Next 50 years (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:04AM (#20464317)
    ***If private businesses are able to over take NASA we will see more progress then just a visit tot he moon!***

    A common fantasy, but it is just that, a fantasy.

    In general, private businesses are effective when they have some realistic hope of making a profit. The few areas of space exploration where profit can be made -- e.g. communication satellites -- have plenty of private investment.

    BTW, private investors have sometimes failed at things that would have worked. In the early 19th Century, the leaders in New York state repeatedly begged the New York financial community to fund a canal to the Great Lakes. No interest. Finally, the state built the Erie Canal themselves. It turned out to be wildly profitable even after they cut rates again and again. That canal was probably the primary force prior to the railroads a generation later in opening up the country West of the Applachians. And it fueled spectacular growth in upstate New York that turned places like Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo into major cities instead of rural county seats.

    I am, by the way, no particular fan of NASA. My opinion is that they have egregiously mismanaged just about everything since Apollo. The current head -- Michael Griffin -- however looks to be a break with tradition. Maybe, he can put the place back on the tracks. He seems to be trying.

  • And yet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:08AM (#20464361) Journal
    ppl are now taking vacations to space. You need to read some history. When the wright brothers invented the aeroplane, many swore that it would not matter that it would lead to nothing. Within 25 years, was the start of mail and cargo flying (like launching satellites) as well as exploratory flights for testing purposes. It was all spotty, and many companies went bankrupt. A few survived and went on to build big businesses. Boeing was creating aircrafts that were used in the 30's for an airlines (later to be called United). Within 50 years, came be the true beginning of passenger flying, which was followed by the golden ages of flight. We are now at 50 years of space, and looking at companies building rockets for PRIVATE flights. Not just for sale to a gov. Colonies on the moon will be funded by folks like Paul Allen, Elon Musk, and other far thinkers. It will not be those that are earth bound and think small or just about their niche (such as those that say space will never happen or say that it must be robotics or we need to focus on earth first).

    I have no doubt that we will have a base on the moon within 15 years (barring war or a depression; though it may still happen). I suspect that we will be on mars within 25 years. This will come down to not just nationalistic pride, but access to future resources; LAND. China and American govs. will be shooting for the moon for a different reason, but in the end, all countries want to get to the moon quickly. The reason is that a very small amount of real estate offers "inexpensive" development, and that is the poles.
  • by VENONA ( 902751 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#20464399)
    From TFA: "Thrown into that mix is the private sector, a factor that was never imagined in 1957." It certainly was imagined. Heinlein _The Man Who Sold the Moon_ in 1951, etc. The exploration of space has always been advocated by visionaries, and beset by nay-sayers.

    You're describing the colonization of space in terms of return on investment. What you've said has been said by many others, for decades. History certainly doesn't justify this, as national prestige was what drove the original space race. The huge economic returns brought through miniaturization, materials, weather forecasting, etc., were largely serendipitous. Yet they've paid for every dime ever spent on space, many times over.

    Nor do I think that a prediction based on ROI will be any more accurate in future than it's been in the past.

    Available technologies (which could radically alter the I in ROI) do not remain fixed. What about the 'R'? I doubt that the desire for national prestige will disappear. It's also quite possible that we, as a species, might gain the ultimate R--survival. A couple of scenarios for that might include having a self-sustaining colony away from earth when some bio-weapon is used, whether by a nation, or a non-state actor. Or having enough experience doing industrial-scale things in space to deflect an asteroid or comet if necessary.

    There are other arguments, but these will do to go on with.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#20464407) Homepage
    I can't believe they rated this post as insightful.

    "Serious market among non-government backed customers?"

    Have you ever heard of satelites?

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

    We already have commercicilzed space.

    The problem continues to be three fold:

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

    Huge cost to travel the first 100 km (A Space fountain can solve this problem, using today's technology, just highly vunerable to terrorism and cost is high, though doable by the US).

    Large (but not huge) cost to bring things back to earth is scary. Again, a Space Fountain can solve this issue.

    Solve the human living in micro-G/zero G environment and we could probably build a Space fountain and start the eage of exploration.

  • by oni ( 41625 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:16AM (#20464479) Homepage
  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:21AM (#20464561)
    "In 1957, who could have predicted the next fifty years in space?"

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

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

    Most science fiction writers are a little idealistic and thought we would stop killing each other in mostly pointless wars by now and join forces to fix our planet and move on to new ones. They were wrong. If we'd taken the half a trillion dollars we squandered in Iraq we would be well on our way to Mars, or to developing clean renewable energy sources. Unfortunately we are a deeply flawed species, and the intellectual gift we've been given is usually misguided and misdirected, especially when we elevate people to be our leaders who seem to have little or no intellect at all.
  • by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <instascreed&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:46AM (#20464933) Homepage
    The European Union Canada, and US governments have basically turned into nanny states, more interested in the distribution of health-care dollars and the care and feeding of old people. You know, the people who vote the most.

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

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

    But from the ESA, or NASA, I expect nothing.
  • by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:46AM (#20464935)
    A space elevator makes no economic sense. If by the answer to the launch cost problem you mean "government subsidy for ever". Then yes it might be, otherwise not.

    Care to explain for those of us who haven't done the math?

    Last I heard it was an extremely economical approach.
  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:52AM (#20465045) Journal
    Von Braun and the other rocket scientists of the 40s were predicting the next 20-30 years in space. They were looking almost exclusively at the technological evolution - the most straightforward part, the part within their control. Von Braun was a savvy person in his own right, but he couldn't have predicted how the public's lack of enthusiasm after Apollo would stunt the technological evolution of space technology through 2000. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, no one could have predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, or how the end of the Cold War would affect space exploration. Von Braun could not, I think, have foreseen how computing technology would enable unmanned probes to accomplish so much of what human spaceflight hasn't.

    People can make grandiose visions and strive towards them. I agree that this is what drives innovation. People should take risks to try and accomplish great things over the long haul. But don't expect to be able to predict what is going to happen 50 years from now - there is far too much that will influence it that hasn't even been conceived of yet - things that will aid you, thwart you, spur you and stifle you, closing off one path while opening another.
  • by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:13PM (#20465331)
    Only for those who believe the initial capital, maintenance and debt servicing costs are insignificant. The last estimates I saw suggested the capital investment required would be a mere $40 billion dollars. Which is laughable considering the ISS is going to cost $130 billion by 2010.

    The initial investment doesn't have to be insignificant for it to be economical. The issue is the *ratio* of utility to cost.

    Unlike the ISS, the Space elevator actually does provides a service with a financial return. Do you really understand the idea?

  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:17PM (#20465395)
    I should add Von Braun stuck to their vision through a whole lot of adversity, and events they could never have predicted. Over the course of 40-50 years they made their vision come true. They weren't exactly pure as the driven snow but they were visionaries who made their vision come true when they could have quit a hundred times. They started out working for an unpredictable wacko in Nazi Germany. They had their entire country and all their labs blown out from under them. They and all their work could easily have landed in the hands of Stalin another unpredictable wacko. When they made it to the U.S. they landed in imprisonment and isolation in New Mexico for years. They stuck it out though, and when they got their chance at NASA they still made their dream come true.

    I think they are a case study that runs counter to everything you are saying. They couldn't have predicted the course of events or any of the obstacles they were going to endure from 1930 to 1970 but they stayed true to their vision and made it happen anyway.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:26PM (#20465541)
    But strangely, I don't feel neutral.

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

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

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

    I'd like to think that we'll go further in the next fifty years than we have in the past fifty. My fear is that we'll just be dicking around in LEO, scratching our balls with nothing to show for it. If we of the US of A can't get our collective asses together, then maybe those other countries might make a go of it. If so, more power to them.
  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:42PM (#20465743) Homepage
    We're almost out of many of our fossil fuels.

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

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

    and on oil shale:

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

    So the likelihood of running out of fossil fuels is pretty darned low. If the boffins and propeller-heads haven't figured out fusion in the next 285 years or so -- and if nuclear fission is eschewed by the tree-huggers as an alternative -- we deserve to all freeze and starve to death.

    And before anyone starts to beat the coal-is-evil-to-the-environment drum, coal can be a clean fuel source. It isn't right now because it's not economically viable as a clean fuel source compared to oil, natural gas, and so forth. As oil becomes more scarce, other energy sources become "cheaper" relative to it. At some point, the cost of finding and extracting scarce oil will equal or exceed the cost of things like coal gasification and processing of oil shale. When that happens, oil use will automatically decline and these other sources will pick up the slack. Energy costs will increase, of course, but that's unavoidable so long as humans use up reserves of any fixed-amount energy resource.

    Long-term, nuclear is the only option, though. It's estimated there are 5.1 million tons of Uranium worldwide, the bulk of which is in Australia. A half pound of Uranium (~1kg) enriched to 3% makes about 20 trillion joules, or about the same amount as 1,600 ton of coal. Thus, worldwide Uranium reserves equal about 8.1 billion tons of coal. That's enough for well over a thousand years of consumption assuming todays consumption rates (although consumption is obviously increasing). Surely we can figure out fusion in that time frame, and that has the potential to keep Earth warm and well-powered until the sun turns into a red giant and fries this little blue-and-green marble to a cinder.
  • Re:And yet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:00PM (#20466011) Journal
    And yet, that has NOTHING to do with all this. Everything is dangerous until we learn about it. Now the physics of rocketry is understood enough that we are making progress on the privatization of it.
  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:16PM (#20466311)
    Much of your computer was manufactured in ... China, Philippines, Malaysia? If you don't live in the Pacific Rim, that's likely on the opposite side of the planet. At first glance, it doesn't make any sense to put your manufacturing facilities so far from the customer ... right?

    Eaten any avocados recently? They probably came from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, or Mexico. If you were living in the mid-1800s, those items would never survive the transportation time. Today, it's a no-brainer.

    If you change the transportation dynamic, the entire market will shift. Things that are un-possible today will be commonplace tomorrow. And I hate to use the P-word (because it's been so over-used to be cliche,) but using today's social paradigms to establish expectations for tomorrow's environment is totally inappropriate. The GP can't see "any possible benefit" because he's using today's cost model against a future environment. If I was transporting vegetables and fruit for a living, and using only horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships for transport, the costs of importing perishable items from far distances would be excessive. So there's no possible value in doing so, right?

    To quote my father - "It's not impossible. You just haven't figured it out yet."
  • Maybe they'll find out that children's farts magically cleave ordinary mud and rock into equal parts sweet crude and distilled water, but until then, all we'll be doing is running up an ever-accelerating escalator.

    No magic is required for this. Really. All of the gloom and doom scenerios assume a static world -- if oil vanished tomorrow, we'd be screwed. Or if technological advancement suddenly stopped, we'd be screwed. Well, duh. But it's not a static world, and never has been.

    Mark my words: when cheap oil starts to permanently climb in price (whenever it happens), some new technology will "suddenly" appear, and the gloom-and-doomers will say, "But, but, but, we *would've* been screwed if inexpensive [xxx] hadn't appeared!! We were right at the time!! How could we have predicted inexpensive [xxx]???"

    How can you predict it, indeed.

  • by TheDukePatio ( 621176 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @02:40PM (#20467667)
    That's how it was in the past. Today, every major failure of this magnitude usually results in:

    • Congressional Hearings
    • Lawsuits
    • Regulative Legislation
    Any and all failures are put under such a fine microscope which forces government entities (i.e. NASA) to take years and years and years to develop new technologies (development time is also due to cost) and to get them tested.

    Folks like NASA should be held accountable for gross negligence (after all we are footing the bill), but the understanding has to be that this is dangerous work and carries the greatest risk for those with the balls to strap themselves to a several million pound gas tank, say a prayer ('Please, God, don't let me fuck up') and then have someone take a match and "light the candle".

    A lot of the end glory goes to the pilots, which is well deserved 'cause they're the one's putting their life on the line. I think more of the light should be shone on the folks behind the scenes who's job it is to make sure that the pilot's life is in as little jeopardy as possible. (aside: I use the term pilot to be all inclusive to include anyone who puts their life on the line in a new frontier, whether it be space, air travel, undersea exploration, etc. I don't want to leave folks out in the cold as they deserve a bit of respect).

  • Re:And yet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:41PM (#20468525) Journal
    If the profits potential is good enough, then it will not matter. The simple fact is that european's came in droves to America, though the costs (and energy) required was normally EVERYTHING that they owned.
  • by Hucko ( 998827 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:05PM (#20473423)
    sounds like an underwater tour... I'm sure they are around...
  • by SmellMyTeenSpirit ( 207288 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:20PM (#20473561) Journal
    Unfortunately, it's going to take paralyzing fear to drive mankind into space again. The true early geniuses of space exploration and rocketry were people like Tsiolkovsky in Russia and Goddard in America. They laid the theoretical and early experimental groundwork that forms the basis of rocket science. But neither of them ever got any particular support in their lifetime. It wasn't until WWII that anyone got serious about space, and that's only because Von Braun was able to convince Hitler that the V-2 rocket would be an effective terror weapon (which it was not). But the Nazi war machine was able to make the V-2, which stands as perhaps the most impressive feat of science at the time except for the atom bomb.

    The war ends and Russia and America swoop in, the Russians taking the physical rockets and plans and some engineers, and the Americans getting Von Braun and the brains of the V-2. Between the end of WWII and the launch of Sputnik, the only reason either nation was interested in "space travel" was their desire to make intercontinental weapons. The coincidence that any missile that could get a warhead to land a thousand miles away could also get a satellite into orbit meant that dreamers within each nation were able to get small pieces of the military budget for such a goal.

    The next big break for space exploration came with the launch of Sputnik. Not because Sputnik was a particularly important technological achievement. It wasn't. The race for space only began in earnest because of the hysteria and panic felt in reaction to Sputnik. People were declaring the end of western civilization, the Cold War was being called in favor of the Soviets, and many, many people who were only familiar with the sci-fi term "satellite", which was used to mean entire space stations which were usually capable of dropping atomic weapons on earth, thought that their very lives were at stake. Into this atmosphere stepped the Democrats, led by the Lyndon Johnson, and they created the notion of a "missile gap" and set up congressional hearings to figure out what went wrong. NASA comes out of those hearings, and suddenly America really starts trying to get into space.

    I apologize for all of this exposition, but the point that I am trying to make is that fear, and fear alone seems capable of driving mankind to devote the energy and money into getting off of the planet. Perhaps it could be argued that the national shame that America felt after being shown up by the "stupid peasant" communists was also instrumental, but I believe that the palpable fear of nuclear annihilation was more powerful.

    After Sputnik II went up in November of 57, Bertrand Russell wrote an article called, "Can Scientific Man Survive?". He said:

    If we may judge by the actions of great States, and by the public opinion which support these actions, it is a characteristic of homo sapiens that he is more anxious to kill his enemies than to stay alive himself. I know that almost everybody will repudiate this statement and say that it is a libel on human nature. I should reply that we must judge men by their actions rather than by their professments, and that one of the surest tests of a man's genuine desires is what he thinks it worth while to spend his money on."
    His critera certainly hold, and it is evident that the great states have virtually no interest in space. And I do not think that will change on any large scale unless it is driven by war or fear. So I doubt that the next 50 years will be that different from the past 40 unless we have another shock like Sputnik.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong