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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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  • by Enlarged to Show Tex ( 911413 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:43AM (#20463487)
    From the USA: Nothing. They're headed back to the Dark Ages as the economy collapses. I wouldn't be surprised if the ISS ends up a big, expensive piece of space junk. From the Chinese: Unclear. Space exploration doesn't carry a whole lot of practical value for them. Unless the next 50 years brings a China v. India dickwaving contest, space advances in the next 50 years are quite unlikely.
  • by Double Entendre ( 1123719 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:49AM (#20463547)

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

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

  • Optimistic (sadly) (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bestinshow ( 985111 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:06AM (#20463691)
    What that article says may become true, but in 100 years time, not 50.

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

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

    Space related research and exploration is a tiny proportion of money in comparison to military expenditure, and whilst it remains small things will be very very slow. Maybe the USA will get its arse in gear if China start having some successes, but by the time the cogs of political will have turned China will be at least 10 years ahead.
  • by miletus ( 552448 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:20AM (#20463825)
    ... had been hit by a small asteroid instead of planes. We'd be halfway to Mars by now.
  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:23AM (#20463849)
    Afterall it is the ultimate high ground.
  • Meh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PieSquared ( 867490 ) <isosceles2006&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:25AM (#20463873)
    So basically "moon colony" "mars colony" "manned exploration of titan" "space elevators" "many private space stations" and soon "robot -> another solar system."

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

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

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

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

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

    As for sending a robot to another solar system in 50 years.... Well, hopefully we'll be *able* to. The problem is speed. Even with optimistic speeds it would probably take another hundred years to get any data back from the mission, even just to know if it worked. And then in the next hundred years someone could find a way to go faster then light and the entire mission would be pointless. (And yes, it is technically possible. Acceleration from less then light speed to greater then light speed takes infinite energy, but if you find a way to skip that acceleration you're good to go. I wouldn't go so far as to say it can't happen in the next 150 years.)
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @10:42AM (#20464067)
    First and foremost, it has to go. Nothing is going to happen in space until that moment. []

    It essentially bans property in space and therefore there is little incentive to bother going there.
  • by Duffy13 ( 1135411 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:00AM (#20464255)
    While colonies may be a bit extreme without the ability to terraform or some other method of self-sustainment for a significantly sized population, a moon and/or mars base as an operations center for mining the asteroid belt is a distinct possibility. Due to the lower gravity it would be far more economical to operate off of one of these opposed to earth or space stations in earth's orbit. The initial startup would be a huge amount (since we still need to launch the initial materials into space) but once you can build and launch craft from the moon/stations the costs would probably be worth it in the long run.
  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:12AM (#20464419) Journal
    As a "baby boomer" my life has basically spanned the "space/computer/indoor-toilet age", almost every boy at my primary school (in Australia) wanted to be an astronought at the time of the moon landings, it really was a "big deal" that stopped people in their tracks. The only recent event that compares is the 9/11 attacs, unfortunately they had the opposite "vibe". OTOH: Now I'm older I realise the "space race" was also a "missile race" and the "men to mars", "colonisation", "terraforming", ect comes from politicians hoping to "do what JFK did", but they can't because just like Beattle-mania it's already been done!

    The only thing that will impress the general population in a "moon landing" kinda way will be the discovery of alien life/fossils, microsopoic bugs would stir some interest but wouldn't have that "in your face" impact since there is too much room for people to dismiss it with self-serving mumbo-jumbo.

    "keep offering grand visions--but delivering on NONE of them."

    Not all the "grand-visions" from NASA have been flops or pipe dreams, there have been plenty of long term scientific projects like the great-observatories, landsat, voyager, cassini, ect, ect, that have been enourmously fruitfull. IHMO the moon shots were a social phenomena that changed (for the better) the way we see the universe and ourselves. If nothing else the skills learned in building robotic craft for the moon shots have been refined and have produced scientific images of such popularity and "religious awe" that people display them on their walls, screensavers and t-shirts the world over. This is the standard you get when scientists are picking the projects, sure they may screw up metric/imperial occasionally but it's politicians and the military who waste billions planning/building space age cube farms in a feeble attempt to impress voters.
  • by Eponymous Bastard ( 1143615 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @11:21AM (#20464559)
    Nuclear rockets are a political can of worms, and I don't mean in the PR sense.

    An Orion drive is basically a stockpile of nuclear bombs, and some radiation shielding. Can you imagine the world climate when nations can have ships with hundreds of nukes orbiting earth. Sure, it's not for war, but adaptations would be fairly trivial.

    Orion died when nuclear non-proliferation treaties got going. It is a shame, but personally I think it's acceptable collateral damage to not have orbiting nuclear missile platforms.

    Now the question is whether a nuclear rocket can be built that uses materials useless for nuclear weapons.
  • commercial interests (Score:3, Interesting)

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

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

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

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

  • by Criffer ( 842645 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:04PM (#20466087)

    Lunar and Martian colonies are like personal jetpacks and flying cars: forever "in the future."

    We have flying cars. They're called helicopters.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:45PM (#20466757) Homepage Journal

    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.

    There's so much entailed in that statement that it's hard to know where to start.

    Let's start with this question: have we got our money's worth for the money we've invested so far?

    That's not the same as asking whether everything that we've spent money on has paid for itself in benefits, or the same as asking whether everything we've spent money on was the best thing we could have spent money on or the most efficient way of getting the benefits we've received. Just speaking net, are we ahead of where we'd be otherwise?

    I'd say that given the military and economic benefits of space communication technology, remote sensing, and navigation, yes. My gut tells me we are ahead, although IANAE (I am not an Economist).

    Now the next thing to examine is opportunity cost. Could we have got the benefits of space technology for less investment? Almost certainly. Almost certainly for much less. This, however, is where a purely economic analysis of the 60s space program falls down. We would not have made the investments in technology development if we weren't -- in a sense -- wasting lots of money on manned exploration. People would not have stood for spending money so that twenty years down the pike we'd have communication satellites, weather satellites, and GPS.

    You have to have lived through part of the era to understand.

    The 60s space program was about two things: national prestige and fear. The Soviets launched Sputnik while the US space program was in shambles. They put the first man in space, and the first man in Earth orbit (Yuri Gagarin). There was a sense that America was being encircled in a new and unique way: not by encroachment on two dimensional map borders, but over our very heads. How much was it worth in terms of national self confidence and prestige to get out from under this feeling? I don't think anybody can say, but the nation gladly spent, at its peak, 0.75% of the entire national GDP to show that we weren't encircled by our Communist enemies.

    As a side effect, we got lots of technological benefits that we'd never have had the foresight to invest in.

    Once we got to the Moon, there wasn't any point to prove by going on. We couldn't exactly close up shop and admit it was not really about creating a new frontier for humanity, that it was just a matter of boosting prestige and allaying fears. So the manned space program has been on a downward coast ever since. Today we are farther from putting a man on the Moon than we were in 1964. The current program is the tail end of maintaining the pretext of a space as a national frontier.

    It seems to me that the fact we were as happy as we were to pay for the Apollo program, combined with the success of that program, has to mean we got our money's worth out of that program in terms of national prestige; there's no other way to measure the value of something like that. Given that we got our money's worth in prestige, and a boatload of useful technology to boot, I'd have to say the space program has been a bargain.

    The lesson in this is that things aren't always what they seem to be in space exploration. I believe that we will probably want a manned program again at some point not to far in the future, for much the same reasons we did in the 60s. However an ambitious manned program is very, very expensive, and I don't think that we can make meaningful marginal improvements to the manned program at what we are willing to pay right now. For that reason, I'm against the President's plan for a manned Mars mission at some date far, far in the future. I'd rather see a step up in unmanned missions until such time it's important enough to us to put a manned Mars mission on a meaningful planni

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