Sunday, January 15, 2006

Human Space Flight And Human Space Exploration.

An anonymous comment argues that the Republican Study Committee's opposition to funding the Moon-Mars Initiative does not signify opposition to human space exploration, and that Shadegg's vote in favor of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 means he is not opposed to human space exploration. (Here.)

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 was not about human space exploration. It was about enabling a private suborbital space industry to develop in the United States. There's a difference between exploring space, which is what the Moon-Mars Initiative is about, and opening suborbit and near Earth orbit to the commercial space industry.

For the last 30 years NASA's human space program has been about space flight not space exploration. America's astronauts have spent the last 30 years going in small circles around the Earth. Flying to LEO is a good thing. So is continously occupying the ISS. By maintaining the ISS and flying into lower Earth orbit humanity is making that region part of our home. The fledgling commercial space industry's plans for suborbit and lower Earth orbit will help to do the same. But none of it is exploration. The President's Moon-Mars Initiative is about changing NASA's focus from simply flying into space to exploring it. To oppose funding it is to oppose human space exploration.

The conservative RSC's opposition to funding the Moon-Mars Initiative in order to pay for Hurricane Katrina recovery is as bad as the classic liberal opposition to human space exploration. Liberals typically oppose it on the ground that it diverts money from social programs. Both positions sacrifice human space exploration to pay for some problem here on Earth. Both positions view human space exploration as a low-priority luxury. Both positions are short-sighted and wrong.

-tdr

Comments:
But what is "exploration"? Unless its a code word for something its an action, not a reason. You explore something for a reason. What is that reason? "Because its there" may be sufficient for someone spending their own money to climb a mountain, but spending $16 billion in taxpayer money requires something a little more concrete...
 
> The fledgling commercial space industry's plans for suborbit and lower Earth orbit
> will help to do the same. But none of it is exploration.

It will enable thousands -- and eventually, millions -- of Americans to explore space. It is exploration according to the dictionary definition -- "travel for purposes of discovery." If you see no value in that, it's your loss.

> But none of it is exploration. The President's Moon-Mars Initiative is about changing
> NASA's focus from simply flying into space to exploring it.

Exploring very little of it, at enormous cost. This "initiative" will lock NASA into using expensive Shuttle-derived vehicles for the next 40 years and require laying off most of the astronaut corps so the few who remain can take some cool trips.

You've set up a false dichotomy between space exploration and fiscal responsibility. It is possible to support both, and it's possible to have both.

The "fledgling commercial space industry" is already offering circumlunar flights -- which, at $100 million are a real bargain compared to "Apollo on Steroids," and available 10 years sooner. That cost will come down, drastically, when we have affordable Earth-to-orbit transportation.

If the government can't wait for that and feels there's an urgent need land humans to the Moon, it doesn't need to spend $100+ billion building Apollo on Steroids. It could, instead, offer a prize of one or two billion, as advocated by Gen. Simon Worden and former Rep. Newt Gingrich.

If you really value space exploration, you should favor an approach that will enable a *lot* of space exploration, not just a few token flag and footprint missions. Such an approach does not require huge increases in the NASA budget.

> The conservative RSC's opposition to funding the Moon-Mars Initiative in order
> to pay for Hurricane Katrina recovery is as bad as the classic liberal opposition to
> human space exploration. Liberals typically oppose it on the ground that it diverts
> money from social programs.

You seem to be confusing classical liberals with modern liberals. Classical liberals, now called "libertarians" or "libertarian conservatives," are no fans of social welfare.

I find it odd that you would criticize liberals while embracing a limited version of space exploration that originated in the Kennedy/Johnson administrations. LBJ saw Apollo as a social program to create industrial jobs in the south, and Mike Griffin still justifies Shuttle-derived based on the liberal argument that it will preserve Shuttle jobs.
 
First I’m well aware of the difference between classical liberalism and contemporary liberalism and didn’t confuse the two in my post. It’s obvious I was talking about liberals.

I also never said there was no value to what private space companies plan to do. It’s clear from the paragraph you quoted that I do value their plans. My point was that it’s not exploration and that the Moon-Mars Initiative is exploration. By your definition tourism is exploration because it too is travel for the purpose of discovery. I live in San Diego and sometimes meet European tourists. They are here to discover what America is like for themselves but I wouldn't call them explorers. Juan Cabrillo was an explorer because he was one of the first Europeans to come to San Diego. Likewise, I wouldn’t label as explorers the commercial passengers that we hope will soon be flying into space on Virgin Galactic’s craft, to cite one example.

In any event, America's astronauts are not space explorers. They spend their missions flying crew and cargo to the space station and returning crew and trash back to Earth. The Moon-Mars Initiative would make them explorers once again.

I did not set up a false dichotomy between fiscal responsibility and human space exploration. The RSC did with Project Offset. They are the people who proposed defunding it in order to save money. And their proposal did not call for replacing the government program with a set of space prizes.

The Soyuz Moon Mission is a great idea that I supported when I first heard it described at a space conference last year. But it’s an exaggeration to say that Constellation Enterprises is already offering circumlunar flights at $100 million. Nor is it entirely private as it relies on Russian government space craft and the cost estimate includes the hope that governments will subsidize some of the cost. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6558855

I’ve supported space prizes since I first read about them and I believe the government should put money into them as well as into their own space program. Prizes are a great way to externalize development costs. They also have the advantage of only paying for success. They have the disadvantage of not receiving very much money from the government. It would be great if the feds would put up the kind of money that you describe for putting a base on the moon. But they haven’t. They haven’t even funded a prize for a private orbital flight.

The game in town right now for human space exploration beyond LEO is the Moon-Mars Initiative. And the RSC came out against it. Their proposal wasn’t adopted in last year’s budget, fortunately. But Tom DeLay was the leader then and he was a big supporter of funding the Moon-Mars Initiative. He won’t be around next year. If the RSC has its way, the Moon-Mars Initiative won’t be either.

I hope that if their man does become leader, they will come to their senses. Or, if they do cancel the Moon-Mars Initiative, that they decide to put big money into space prizes as an alternative. And not just enough to fund one-off “Boots and Billboards” missions. But enough to encourage missions that send people into space to stay.
 
> By your definition tourism is exploration because it
> too is travel for the purpose of discovery.

It's not my definition. It's the dictionary's definition.

> I live in San Diego and sometimes meet European
> tourists. They are here to discover what America is like
> for themselves but I wouldn't call them explorers.

You may not, but other people do. Like the authors of Exploring San Diego, The Lobster Kids' Guide to Exploring San Diego, and Exploring San Diego's Natural Diversity -- for starters. You do not get the sole vote on what a word means.

> Juan Cabrillo was an explorer because he was one
> of the first Europeans to come to San Diego.

Some swans are black. That does not mean all swans are black. Some explorers were the first Europeans in San Diego. That does not mean all explorers are the first Europeans in San Diego.

Lewis and Clark weren't explorers? They were not the first white men in the Northwest Territory. What about the thousands of geologists who are employed in oil and mineral exploration today?

> In any event, America's astronauts are not space
> explorers. They spend their missions flying crew and
> cargo to the space station and returning crew and trash
> back to Earth.

You're factually incorrect. ISS astronauts spend only a small fraction of their missions flying to and from the space station. Much less time than Constellation astronauts would spend flying to and from the Moon (in both absolute and percentage terms).

If and when Constellation astronauts land on the Moon, they will still be "going in circles around the Earth" as you put it.

> I did not set up a false dichotomy between fiscal
> responsibility and human space exploration. The RSC did with
> Project Offset. They are the people who proposed defunding it
> in order to save money.

"Dichotomy" does not mean defunding something. A dichotomy is a choice between two things. In this case, you set up a false choice by redefining "human space exploration" to mean one specific, very expensive plan for space exploration and branding those who want to control government spending as opponents of space exploration.

> They are the people who proposed defunding it in order to save
> money. And their proposal did not call for replacing the government program with a set of
> space prizes.

The "it" they proposed defunding was one NASA program -- not human space exploration in general, as you state.

No, they didn't talk about prizes in the same press release that mentioned budget cuts. They didn't talk about green leafy vegetables, either. That doesn't prove that RSC members are opposed to prizes or green leafy vegetables.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who is a member of the RSC, has introduced the Space and Aeronautics Prize Act in the House.

Sen. Sam Brownback, one of the leaders of Fiscal Watch (which is calling for similar across-the-board budget cuts in the Senate) has called for large space prizes on several occassions.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, although not a member of either group, has called for both fiscal restraint and multi-billion-dollar prizes. So have Steve Forbes. Both are conservative Republicans and possible Presidential candidates.

There is no vast right-wing conspiracy to destroy space exploration here.

> The Soyuz Moon Mission is a great idea that I supported when
> I first heard it described at a space conference last year. But
> it’s an exaggeration to say that Constellation Enterprises is
> already offering circumlunar flights at $100 million.

Not so much an exaggeration as an error. However, it is no error or exaggeration to say that Space Adventures is offering it.

> Nor is it entirely private as it relies on Russian government
> space craft and the cost estimate includes the hope
> that governments will subsidize some of the cost.

Did I say it was entirely private? No. I said it was cheaper than the cost-be-damned vision of space exploration NASA is pursuing. If you think the kindly Russians are subsidizing trips to the Moon for US citizens, you don't know the Russians -- but if they were, why would that be a bad thing for the US?

> [Prizes] have the disadvantage of not receiving very
> much money from the government.

A disadvantage that could be corrected for much less money than NASA plans to spend building Apollo on Steroids. We can have space exploration -- even government-supported space exploration -- without huge increases in the NASA budget, year in and year out.

> The game in town right now for human space exploration
> beyond LEO is the Moon-Mars Initiative.

It may be the game that interests you, but it is not the only game in town. There are multiple initiatives that will reduce the cost of space transportation by orders of magnitude and enable thousands (and eventually millions) of Americans to explore suborbit, orbit, and beyond. There's a joint USMC-USAF initiative to enhance our national security by developing spacecraft that can deliver combat teams anywhere in the world within 45 minutes. These are far more interesting goals than increasing the cost of space transportation, laying off astronauts, and conducting historical reenactments.
 
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