Monday, July 20, 2009

Blue Moon

The problem with space is earth.

I.e.: a space-faring infrastructure has to be created on earth, first, before space exploration becomes feasible.

Consider the analogy of Columbus. Yes, he explored the New World. But he did it on the back of existing exploration technology and infrastructure. He didn’t invent boats, sails and tackle; or maps compasses, stellar reckoning and other navigation technology; or the ability to store large quantities of food (however rancid). Once he discovered the New World (and those poor, unlucky folks on Hispaniola); a technology existed in Europe to quickly send follow up voyages to exploit the hell out of them.

This would not have been feasible if, say, Columbus had arrived in a disposable Santa Maria that shot across the Atlantic like a cannonball while burning up in stages, then landed him on a beach with another disposable cannon-craft that would shoot him back – if he was lucky and his European pals could fish him out of the ocean – alive.

Werner Von Braun – the original visionary behind NASA’s space program – thought long term. He was very clear on the need to create practical, space-faring infrastructure. He wanted to build a low-orbit space station. Then a high orbit station. Than a temporary moon base. Then a permanent base. He wanted to colonize the moon, Mars and beyond – in very clearly worked out, practical stages. First things first; one thing at a time.

The work horse of all this was going to be a space plane. Not the !@#$ ridiculous space shuttle strapped, idiotically, to two giant tanks of rocket fuel that have to fall off exactly right in every flight. A true rocket plane that could take off from the earth and land.

OK, his initial concept still had the rocket plane attached to a booster rocket as a payload. Still, it was a piloted rocket craft.

This is the only practical way to maintain any real commercial in space – first between the earth and a space station. Then between the earth and various moon bases. Then Mars. Then ...

The US military’s X-plane series was a step in this direction.

The space program of the 1960s was a massive detour.

Because of our “space race” with the Russians, we scrapped Von Braun’s feasible and well-thought out implantation of space-faring infrastructure. Instead, we got to the moon – quick and dirty – using giant disposable rockets with one-way capsules on top.
Once the American public thought we’d “won” the “space race,” the American public lost interest.

NASA lost funding.

With its budget slashed, it attempted to go back to Von Braun’s vision – but on the cheap – with the half-assed space shuttle program.

We need to get beyond that – and start working on a true rocket plane.

What we don’t need to do is go back to the idiotic idea of a disposable space capsule attached to a giant, disposable rocket that fires astronauts to the moon just because we can.

Hell, we might as well put a shitload of money in a space capsule and fire that at the moon. It would have the same practical effect.

We need to get to the moon, Mars and onward – but we need to do it intelligently.

We need to get there, and stay there and live there.

Eventually, we need to start terraforming other worlds.

Humanity needs more earths than this one.

Space really is the final frontier. We need to go back, not because it’s cool, but because this blue marble we live on is damned fragile. An asteroid could blow it up. A comet could blow it up. Hell, we could blow it up – or kill the planetary ecosystem. Even if we don’t, the sun will eventually go cold in space. Humanity has put all its genetic eggs in one basket.

The sooner we find new baskets, the better.

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