I know someone here is going to go all "ohhh screw NASA" on us. I know someone's going to question the scientific utility of our space program. Someone's going to point to the lack of any real advances in our understanding of the universe made by manned space exploration, and question what it's all for. Maybe he's even going to accused NASA of being nothing more than a giant porkbarrel, draining our already unsustainable Federal budget like a hungry maggot. There's always one.
So get it out of your fucking system, you asshole.
I like Hawkwind a lot. You can probably extrapolate my stance on space programs in general from that.
NASA is art. It is the highest expression of art - it is at once the most pointless thing the human race has ever done, and the greatest thing the human race has ever done.
I fail to really see the utility of manned spaceflight. It was an immense achievement to land on the moon, something every human being should be proud of.
And yet manned spaceflight is several orders of magnitude more expensive than sending a robotic probe to do the job. It's also a huge risk to take. Our greatest advances in scientific knowledge have come from unmanned probes, things like the Hubble and so forth. The fact Voyager I has left the solar system and is still communicating with us is surely as amazing an achievement (and surely more valuable) than landing on the moon.
In short, increase NASA's budget but use it to send out probes. Let's go to Europa and find some motherfucking moon sharks.
Sure, it's risky, but I think it's a risk that everyone who went into space was perfectly willing to take. I know I'd be happy to face a slow death in the icy vacuum for the chance to hit a few golf balls on Mars. And the cost is irrelevant; what does a few billion dollars in savings matter, if that means the robots will have all the fun?
I fail to see much utility in manned space exploration at all until we understand how to get mass out of this gravity well without using chemical rockets. It could be any technology, but the current system is pretty useless as it can't be made to scale up without serious and irrevocable consequences to the planet.
What we are trying to do now is explore the new America from Europe using big rowboats. It's not stupid, but it is short sighted. A sail at the very least is necessary, and a nuclear powered sub makes it a trivial operation. What we are doing now is literally putting the cart before the horse.
I see it like this (today):
1. Life always seeks its laziest, most efficient energy state. For spaceflight, that would be robots only while we sit here and eat.
2. Nature has killed every living thing that has ever lived on earth ever.
3. We probably should be a different kind of life.
Regarding NASA and the future of propulsion, see VASIMR:
There won't ever be another government sponsored man on the moon, because it would be either black or a woman, and they'd fuck up the moon for white guys with flat tops.
Those are fair points, Rockbolt. I'd argue that astronauts engaging the public is a double edged sword. When something fucks up and people die, there is usually a backlash.
I guess it comes down to the fact that in tne cost to tangible benefit ratio, robots win out. We've learned so much about our universe and the laws that govern it and we've only scratched the surface. Maybe I'm just missing my sense of wonder but I'm fascinated far more by the fact Europa might have an ocean than I am by the ISS or even Apollo.
Unfortunately in reality budgets are a zero sum game; increasing funding for one thing means decreasing it for another. I wouldn't mind seeing a permanent base on the moon but I'm just not engaged by going to Mars right now. Think of all that money that could be spent on multiple space probes teaching us so much!
He makes a good point about having a national sense of ambition. And I'm not talking about corporate-owned pride (like Oracle's America's Cup boat). I'd like to see something all of us can look to and "own."
In short, GO NASA.
I see the space program as the reason the Cold War never escalated. The potential of infinite resources is more enough to drown out the bloodlust of territorial struggle. As long as we are confined to this planet, we will always be limited by some form of scarcity. Even the idea of the attempt at progress is can alleviate some of that stress.
Space is cool. I mean, I guess, the poor ye shall have with ye always, right? Fuck 'em, buying steak and lobster on food stamps, serves the bums right when we finally take 'em away. Then we'll laugh. Get a job, ya bums!
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