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Where Are The Space Advocates? 327

QuantumG writes "Greg Zsidisin appeared on The Space Show today to ask Where Are The Space Advocates?. For the first time in decades Space is once again a political issue with all four major presidential candidates having something to say about space policy and yet nothing is being heard from space advocates. As we enter a new "Space Nexus" like we did after Apollo, now is a critical time to let your representatives know how you feel about space exploration, and yet no-one has anything to say." The show itself is a podcast if you want to give it a listen. Personally I'm hoping that this election puts space exploration back in the public consciousness- Apollo inspired a generation to learn math and science. I want my kid to be inspired by something bigger than that. And as some readers have noted- there are 3 candidates left (and really only two) so the submitter is probably high.
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Where Are The Space Advocates?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:36AM (#23377202)
    There are all sorts of uses for math and science when it comes to stopping terrorism or spying on your neighbors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:43AM (#23377288)
    I can think of 2 big science issues.

    1) Fusion.
        1a) The unintended effects of fusion on the biosphere and how to fix 'em.
    2) The study of biology.
        2a) What man does not know about the the effects of what your grandparents/parents did and how you became a human is only being hinted at. What we do not know about the chemistry from conception to birth is only, again, hinted at with what research has been done.

    Fusion would be the next 'energy source upgrade' (that or the theorized zero point) and being able to 'upgrade' or 'fix' humans sure sounds a whole heck of a lot bigger than a rocket.
  • by WhiteWolf666 ( 145211 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @09:58AM (#23377456) Homepage Journal
    Cancel NASA, and stop space exploration. It's a big waste of time/money. Military needs can be handled by military budgets.

    NASA, the U.S. populace, and the world in general have no real interest in propulsion systems capable of realistically lifting large payloads into space economically. We've done everything we can in space with the toy payloads we currently lift, and the only real economic sectors which benefit from continued exploration is orbital satellites, something which NASA handles very poorly (i.e. expensively).

    Until someone has the balls to restart Project Orion [], I don't see why we should even bother. The technology to put cities in orbit, not to mention on other planets, is readily available and understood. And cheap (on a per kilo basis). So why are we still playing chemical rockets?

    It's a waste of time. The silly little experiments done on the ISS are pointless. Until someone invents a drive that can lift 100s (or thousands, or millions) of tons into orbit (or beyond) economically, we should stop bothering and try and let private enterprise come up with something.

    The turn away from Project Orion in 1963 represented the end of man's technological development when it came to interplanetary space travel, and commercial space utilization. We dropped the reigns, and walked away (as a race). The current efforts at space travel are a gimmick and a waste of taxpayer dollars, and will continue to be unless we are willing to switch from chemical to nuclear propulsion. That's the truth of the matter.
  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:02AM (#23377504)
    Seriously -- the Government isn't taking it seriously, and just like immigration that leaves an opening for citizens who recognize a problem, and a lack of response, to do something about it themselves.

    Like in Jules Verene's "From the Earth to the Moon" -- open the project up to subscription, so to speak. seek donations from individuals, as well as from large donors, organizations and governments world wide.

    Release all of the schematics and source code, take submissions from volunteers but try and maintain a budget high enough to ensure that high-quality engineers can be maintained on staff and that hard devices can actually get built.

    Turn a manned mission to Mars into a world-wide, grass-roots endeavor. We all have a stake in getting off this rock and its clear that the powers that be aren't going to actually bother.

    I have some experience in non-profit management and fund raising. Anyone want to help start an Open Space Foundation?
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:06AM (#23377536) Journal
    Oil production peaked in 2005. [] The USA decided stealing oil was a better idea than buying it, so they invaded Iraq, [] and that took 112 billion barrels off the market [], so as it comes on tap, the plateau of production would remain longer.

    In the meantime, the current administration let the nutty banking policies developed under Clinton's watch to">fester and metasticise, and now the country's technically insolvent. []

    As a consequence, I think putting people in space is going to be seriously backburnered, and I would humbly submit that the majority of people who will ever be in space have already gone.

    I'm not happy about that - I would love to go put bases on the moon to harvest He3 [] and do all that kind of groovy stuff, but I think we shot our wad, and pissed away the resources on crap like highways for Cadillac Escalades [] and useless cities like Las Vegas []. We had our chance, and we blew it.


  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:13AM (#23377646)
    Don't think for a minute that NASA exists purely for humanitarian reasons. The reason it's becoming such a focus of political attention now is the same reason it did back in the during the Cold War - because of Space's importance in national security.

    With the other developing superpowers quickly approaching the same level of access as the shuttle currently has, and some with ambitions to reach even further, the US Government can't afford to fall behind and lose the advantage of it's head start. China and India have both announced plans to revisit the moon -- something the US doesn't even currently have the capacity to do again. With Mars being the next great frontier, who will be the first to develop the technologies that will take us there? In a hundred years, what will be the ramifications of ceding the first foothold there?

    Aside from the political aspect of being the dominant space power, there are also tremendous military technologies that come from developing for the space program, not to mention tactical advantages that can result from dominating space. From "innocuous" threats like shutting down enemy sattelites, to the real potential for MWDs parked in LEO over your enemies, there is a very real necessity for the space program to remain part of the government.

    Private technology companies should have greater access and receive more funding, and further research into the depths of space will always require international cooperation and support. However, the US has reached the deadline of being the "Sole superpower" in the world, and once again must make the effort to compete in a global technology race. Anything less than a total commitment to being the leader in space technology would be irresponsible and dangerous.
  • by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:17AM (#23377716)
    The market reflects what is near-term profitable. Don't conflate near-term profitability with importance.

    Regardless, lets suppose we privatize space exploration, and a handful of entrepreneurs, with the gifts of great foresight and deep pockets, step forward. They make great strides. They drive the R&D for space-related tech, so they end up owning the spin-offs. They control the orbital research, so maybe they start amassing patents from that.

    Now years down the road, space travel becomes really important, and they're poised to make a huge profit. Are we (as a society) prepared to let them profit for their decades of investment, or will we claim that this undeserving elite is trying to exploit our need from a position of unfair advantage?
  • Re:canidates stances (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sciros ( 986030 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:26AM (#23377824) Journal
    Hillary: pro (for now)
    Obama: against
    McCain: mysterious

    I'm not one to really take any positivie promises from politicians at face value prior to an election, so the only response I take seriously there is Obama's... and I can't say I'm happy with it :-/
  • A human backup plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by turing_m ( 1030530 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @10:56AM (#23378210)
    I'd like to see some questions asked, and some answers. I think that humans need some form of contingency plan that does not consist purely of holes drilled in mountains. As such, we should be moving in this direction in a long-term fashion - the end goal being a self-sufficient and growing colony somewhere that is not earth. So here are some questions.

    Given budgets of different sizes, what can realistically be achieved? Hence, what brings us the best bang for buck? What are the most likely approaches?

    Is it possible to turn space exploration, colonization and the like into a positive feedback loop that generates more of the same? (i.e. is there a valid business model somewhere? What are the best chances for building some sort of self-sufficient colony up there somewhere, even if populated by self-replicating robots?)

    What type of government is most likely to fund this for as long as it takes? If not, what sort is necessary? As much as possible should be open-sourced to prevent research being wasted forever.

    What necessary technologies can we anticipate that make it much cheaper to just wait a while longer (e.g. computer hardware, robotics, solar panels, etc)?

    Is there any utility in being able to put something city-sized into space via Project Orion? Ten people dead due to cancer is nothing compared to most yearly road deaths. But again, only if there is utility in that approach. Maybe self-replicating robots can do the same thing for less cost but just taking longer to ramp up.

    In the end, I think that there are two issues:
    1. How do we build a self-sufficient system (at first, probably sans humans) capable of growing - i.e. net energy positive, net resource positive, growing at some sort of exponential rate, even if slowly?
    2. What are the minimum requirements in terms of energy/unit time and resources/human, radiation shielding etc for humans to survive and reproduce in some sort of closed-loop system bar energy?

    The key is the self-sufficiency. We have finite energy on this earth, but a lot of time and brainpower to do basic research. If we can set something up such that we only have to get it working once and after that it takes care of itself, we have won. If we can figure out how to do everything completely closed-loop bar energy (which can be gotten from solar), we have won. (Water and oxygen should be able to be transported in one big shot via Project Orion provided that it is fully recycled after it arrives.)

    Somewhere there needs to be a checklist and someone going down the list until all those bugs are squashed. I suspect that with a lot of it, we don't even need to go to space, it can be done cheaply on earth. Not too glamorous, extremely hard, but all necessary. It probably needs a good movie or two to convince the public though.
  • by AstrumPreliator ( 708436 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:50AM (#23379020)

    I wouldn't percieve this as a walk away, but rather a reconsideration of the risks involved in space exploration. We can't just blow nuclear bombs to push payload into space :|
    I definitely agree there. However, what I really would love to see is a deep space probe launched with this technology. Have the probe launched using conventional means to a safe distance from Earth before continuing on with the main stage. I realize that it would be extremely heavy to lift into orbit, but I just looked at the wiki article and they state a satellite orion would be ~300t. That's about 275,000kg, the International Space Station weighs around 245,000kg right now. Take this with a grain of salt of course, but perhaps they can launch it up in parts like they did with the ISS.

    This is what NASA is around for, no company would be able to do this since there's no profit in it. This is a long term space goal. If you pointed the probe at Alpha Centuri then we might get data back in my lifetime, or my children's lifetime. It'd be a very expensive endeavor and the probe may fail at some point. But the rewards of observing another solar system up close are absolutely immense.

    Oh well, it's a nice dream in either case.
  • by varcher75 ( 800974 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:53AM (#23379064)

    The billions wasted on finding water on Mars could be spent on purifying water in Africa.
    Except it wont. About every space critic has always been saying this "money spent in space could be spent solving X, Y or Z" (insert here worthy causes). But it wouldn't be. Every penny siphoned out of NASA's budget would end up in making another frigate for a task force here or another Homeland Security bypass of constitution, or something that is already being done.

    Health? The insurance lobby will not let you spend on making universal health coverage. Homeless? Where's the housing industry lobby... ahhh, there's little groups large enough to lobby actively on the building industry, and those large enough are interested in making big 2x8-lanes bridges, not making cheap houses.

    At least, with NASA funding, you sometimes get worthy fallout industries, rather than useless boondoggles that prop this or that congressman's county for the next 4 years, until they go bankrupt as the federal funding shifts.
  • Re:Key Difference (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Karrde45 ( 772180 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:54AM (#23379084)
    And yet building a small biosphere on another world would give us invaluable data on how to protect and develop a biosphere. We could get data in a situation where we control all the variables, without having to guess whether todays rain is the result of El Nino or La Nina or some other phenomenon. That data would help us learn what's really going on with our home planet. How is trying to control the atmosphere of an entire planet with 6+ billion people on it several orders of magnitude easier than setting up a biosphere for 100 people on the moon? Fixing earth's problems doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with manned space exploration.
  • What would you have done with those dollars, instead? I suspect the common libertarian answer would have been to reduce taxes and allow people to keep the money. Then the free market would have stepped someone up to the plate to begin building a nationwide network of toll roads that though not free, would have provided better road service at no taxpayer expense.

    So the people who pay tolls are not taxpayers?

  • by sckeener ( 137243 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:03PM (#23379228)

    Now years down the road, space travel becomes really important, and they're poised to make a huge profit. Are we (as a society) prepared to let them profit for their decades of investment, or will we claim that this undeserving elite is trying to exploit our need from a position of unfair advantage?
    I think C. J. Cherryh [] has covered this frequently in her books...

    In particular, your example would fit well with Foreigner [] that case Humans were already space explorers, but had to colonize a world already filled with sentient life because of an accident. Admittedly the books are more space opera and dealing with the interactions of different species' views...however the core issue is man has space technology and when the Atevi attain the level of tech capable of space exploration...all the issues that develop between the people that want the tech and the people that have the tech...

    In general I think C. J. Cherryh writes a realistic view of what the cultures of space are going to be they will view the planet bound and how the gravity well inhabitants will view their space brethren.

  • by ardor ( 673957 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:04PM (#23379230)
    I keep hearing this, and it is still nonsense. The space program is damn CHEAP compared to our other spendings. Just check out the military funds for one hell of a money sink. Americans even spend more money for fast food.

    Cut the funds for weapons research. You get hundreds of billions easily this way. By destroying NASA, you get maybe 10-20, and lose one of the few federal departments that make some sense.

    That's not to say that NASA is without problems. NASA is a slug, inefficient, aging, and a good example of bureaucracy gone haywire. Still, closing it would have very little, if any, impact on those "world problems". Half of these problems originate from ideological madness; you can throw any amount of money at them, they won't go away.

    But I agree on something else: put the manned spaceflight on the backburner, don't rush things. Concentrate on materials research, especially nanotubes, their properties in zero-G environment, and especially how well they shield cosmic radiation.

    I'd transfer the trillions that are wasted on the US wars to research of new energy sources. This solves lots of problems on earth (dependence of oil, which has very real political problems, climate issues) AND helps the space program as well, because the no.1 issue with space exploration IS energy. If we had the energy source, we COULD lift ships from the ground as big as the Nimitz.
  • by renoX ( 11677 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:08PM (#23379290)
    > Space's importance in national security.

    Space's importance in national security mostly end with upper satelite orbits, what importance did landing on the Moon have on USA national security compared to sending satelites in upper orbit?
    None, so why should landing on Mars be considered differently?

    As for the technology benefits, sure investing to invent/refine new technology is important, but this doesn't mean investing for Mars exploration..

  • by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:51PM (#23379908) Journal
    ironically, the reason Hawking can to say that is that mankind tends to put short term economics before the big picture. If we put long term survival and sustainability ahead of short term profit, we wouldn't have to look to space for long term survival.
  • by vajaradakini ( 1209944 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:47PM (#23380822)
    As a result, it's perfectly obvious that US industry has stepped up to the plate and provided the US with the BEST broadband in the world, at the lowest prices.

    Are you sure about this business of the US having the cheapest and best broadband? This [] BBC article seems to be under the impression that Japan's got some pretty sweet broadband and that the Swedes tend to get the cheap broadband and this [] place seems to think that the US doesn't rank in the top 10 in broadband penetration, which I wouldn't assume is a marker of the best and cheapest broadband.

    Granted, I don't know if the governments in any of these countries chipped in to build the infrastructure.
  • Focus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <> on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:56PM (#23380968) Journal
    The focus should be on the real bottom-line issue: cheap high-volume access to Earth orbit.

    Once you're out of the gravity well, everything will fall into place, and the wealth gained will be beyond the wildest dreams.

  • Nuts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @02:21PM (#23381394) Journal

    Everyone talks about the vague benefits of the Apollo program, but no one really knows what they are. When they do give specifics, they turn out to be independently developed. At a minimum, it would have been more effective to just develop the technologies directly.

    Nuts. That's not how technology works. We conceptually divide R & D into an R-part and a D-part for a reason. As the old saying goes, if you know what you are trying to accomplish, how long it will take, or what it will cost, you aren't doing research. Research is a process of filling in the gaps in your knowledge, figuring out how the piece fit, and in general pursuing knowledge directly.

    But eventually, in any given area, this process winds down and stops.

    That's where the development part comes in. It is the mirror image of research, the logical complement in which you take what you've learned and try to apply it to some concrete goal. By it's very nature it can't be done without some sort of goal (more typically, thousands of interrelated goals), any more than you can become a concert pianist without ever sitting down trying to play some specific piece of music.

    Science comes out of the former, and technology comes out of the later. Both have their special needs, rewards, and limitations. In this case of technology, which is what we call the results of trying to apply some sort of science to accomplish some goal, these needs include a) some science, and b) a goal.

    To drive this point home, can you name one single significant technology that was ever, in the whole course of history, developed directly by some person or group of people who weren't trying to accomplish some goal?


  • I'd say the interstate highway system was a great investment on the government's part.

    It acted as a subsidy for long-haul trucking, and completely screwed up rail transit, despite the fact that rail is much more energy efficient. (But who cares about that these days, eh?)

    It also inspired a fad for "moving to the country" (i.e. the creation of suburban sprawl), which cut the knees out from under the urban tax base, and created a generation of American's who are nearly incapable of any physical exercise, and have a very weak sense of community.

    Further, I would argue that oil-addiction has corrupted American morals to an extent not seen since the days of slavery... when you talk about the dubious activities of the US in the middle east you get people quietly whispering "But we need the oil, don't we?"

    Myself, I'm not an opponent of government infrastructure programs, but you guys might want to think twice before singing the praises of the interstate highway system. It's a pretty good example of unintended consequences.

  • by j1mmy ( 43634 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @03:35PM (#23382634) Journal
    Stay out of public libraries, stay off the public highways, don't take any unemployment insurance, don't ever enroll your young children in WIC, don't go to a state university (or if you already have, donate the state-supported portion of your tuition back to the school), don't use federal loan guarantees to get through school or purchase a house, don't deduct your house or school loan interest payments on your income tax, and lobby any church you my go to to pay full income taxes like all other businesses do.

    I meet all but two of your criteria (roads and tax deductions). I don't think roads are a good example because those are funded by gas taxes in most states, so it's functionally a user fee, even if it's hidden.

    The tax deduction is a very poor example because income taxes are a fraud in the first place. An individual's earnings has no relation to their consumption of government services. I certainly don't feel like I've gotten my money's worth out of the government for what I've paid during my lifetime.
  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Monday May 12, 2008 @05:30PM (#23384232) Homepage Journal
    Everyone I know is stupid and doesn't know jack shit about economics, or anything for that matter. When it comes to space exploration, it's "a waste when we should spend more on (socialized health care|schools|feeding the hungry|etc)."

    For me space exploration fills the need to get the hell off this planet before a mass extinction event occurs (say, Yellowstone Caldera erupting); but it also has a massive economic and technological effect. NASA asks for shit nobody else will ask for (yet); companies thus have to hire creative engineers to solve problems nobody wants to solve, and then suddenly we have new technology. New technology is so useless, it does nothing; so these companies now try desperately to find a use for it outside NASA so they can market it to consumers to make money. Now we have consumer products nobody would have thought of before.... (try this, thank Google: [])

    Think inside the box, or inside the box, or on top of the box, or blow the fucking box up and think on your own. Don't look at X and think it means only X; space exploration is a damn important driving force for both the economy and technological advancement in general.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"