Friday, August 12, 2005

To Boldly Go

STS-114, otherwise known as the Discovery space mission, landed on Tuesday morning after a dramatic 2 weeks. Led by Mission Commander Eileen Collins, the crew of two women and five men reflected NASA’s commitment to equal opportunity in space exploration. In case any extraterrestrial life forms were observing the mission, the make up of the crew was also a good indication of the ratio of women to men in an Earth-based singles bar on a typical Saturday night.

The flight of Discovery exceeded all hopes in the ongoing quest to conquer the universe. The crew transferred 15 tons of supplies from the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) to the International Space Station (ISS) and 5,000 pounds of rubbish back to the MPLM for shipment back to earth. Although it is too early to draw final conclusions from this critical experiment, based on the performance of the MPLM it appears that a large metal box is a useful design for both a shipping container and a garbage dumpster. The experiment was considered a success. In another positive development, it was demonstrated that a lone crewman could be sent outside to fix the problems that were missed by about 75,000 engineers with a programme budget of over $150 billion.

Of course the real value of the shuttle programme is in support of the construction, supply, support and exploitation of the ISS. At a mere $30 billion, the cost of the ISS is a breakthrough in space travel. On the earth, it almost always costs more to build the repair shop than it does to build the vehicle that is being repaired. The fact that the shuttle has to bring its own spare parts and mechanic when it pulls into the service bay is considered a minor issue. After all, the two guys who are living in the ISS and circling the earth at about 200 miles are pretty busy. They are preparing to conquer the universe. As Captain Kirk would say, ‘if you’re going to Alpha Centauri, the first 200 miles are the toughest’.

Critics of the cost of manned space flight remain unconvinced by these successes. They point out that unmanned missions, packed with computers and robots have done more for conquering the universe than all the human trips combined. There are probes circling Jupiter and Saturn; there is enough air traffic over Mars to justify construction of an FAA control tower on Olympus Mons. The Hubble telescope has found a 10th planet and the Voyager I has done about 9 billion miles on its way out of the solar system. The two rovers have more combined miles on them than a Bangladeshi taxicab. We have parachuted a robot invader onto the surface of Venus, crashed a washing machine into a comet and are planning to fire a missile into the sun. Talk about conquering the universe!

There is, however, a strong sense that our species has a destiny to travel to the stars. Somehow driving from Cleveland to Akron or taking the 9:53 to Wakefield is no longer enough. Mankind will continue to dream of going where none have gone before. The Discovery mission has shown us the way to colonise the frontiers of space with the spirit of mankind. Put a woman in charge, tell the men to bring in the groceries and take out the trash, and do a bit of work around the place on the weekend.

As for the life-supporting technology, as long as there are men and women on the trip, there will always be a robot needed to remember to put the loo seat down.

7 Comments:

Blogger Ken Grandlund said...

And another big benefit to space exploration is all the really neat, super-tiny electronic gadgets that we've come to know and love. Thanks in no small part to the need to miniaturize all things to get them into space.

Oh yes, and Tang. Let's not forget Tang!

2:53 PM  
Anonymous intheloop said...

Nice article, I'm glad to see interest in the space program rising. Within our lifetimes we will see commercial space travel and our grandchildren might just be commuting to a moon colony.

10:45 AM  
Blogger EuroYank said...

time to educate the public on the benefits of space exploration here are some beneficial links ...
Health From pacemakers to braces,the medical benefits of space exploration and ...
More recent Benefits of Space Exploration and
there are many other links anybody can find in closing let me just say to the first guy "Tang My A.."

6:35 AM  
Blogger Christopher Trottier said...

Count me as suspicious, but I really don't think there is a need for humans to go in space. I mean, robots are much more durable.

3:00 PM  
Blogger zandperl said...

I am of two minds about human space exploration. In the short term, it is much cheaper, safer, and produces more science, to send robots into space than to send humans.

However, in the long term it is clear to environmentally minded liberals like myself that we are rapidly using up the Earth's resources and it is becoming less and less inhabitable in terms of global warming.

Even conservatives can't argue about the chance of catastrophic disaster though. Roughly every few million years something big enough to cause massive extinctions hits the Earth, and we're about due for one. If any of the stars within some 30 light years of us goes supernova it'll strip the atmosphere off the Earth.

Even if neither of those chance occurrances happens, the Sun is doomed to use up its hydrogen in the next five or six billion years. First it'll expand large enough to envelop the Earth, then it'll shrug off its outer layers, and only a cool dim white dwarf will be left, with not enough light to power anything.

So, in the long term, for the human race to survive, we MUST take a genetically viable fraction of the population off the Earth and out of the solar system. And probably many other forms of life as well, to support ourselves.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Ken Grandlund said...

Have you Boldly Gone Away?
I miss your provoking posts...

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice blog enjoyed it :)

Keep up the excellent work! and i bookmarked u!

so cant wait for ur next post! :)

Thanks!!

4:54 PM  

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