Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Time to boldly go ...

... to, you know, where no one has gone before. Space, dummy. The Final Frontier.

So says Stephen Hawking, at least: "'We have made remarkable progress in the last 100 years but if we want to continue beyond the next 100 years our future is in space.'" I concur, as Bart would say. Quite apart from the sort of cosmic safety concerns that Hawking raises, there is the simple fact that we cannot grow indefinitely if we remain bound to Earth. And without growth, this is not a civilization that will simply stagnate (much less settle into some bucolic steady-state) -- it will tear itself apart in a zero-sum war of all against all.

So with that in mind, some links pertaining:
"Imagine a space program based on a vision of settlement, rather than exploration. A vision of billions of people living in hundreds of thousands of orbital colonies serenely orbiting Earth, the planets and our Sun. The current vision is about putting small numbers of people very far away entirely at government expense. Space settlement is about putting very large numbers of people in space primarily at their own expense, and making sure it’s nice enough that they stay and raise the kids. While the current exploration vision is expected to cost about $100 billion up to the first visit to the Moon, the settlement vision is many orders of magnitude more expensive, making government funding impossible. But government can play crucial role. Specifically, perhaps we could use something close to the current NASA budget to stimulate much larger private investments. In this vision, government funds are devoted to prizes, test facilities and technology development, along with NASA’s traditional science and aeronautic activities. Operations are left to the private sector."
  • Reaction Engines Ltd., a UK firm, with their sleek Skylon Single Stage to Orbit spaceplane as the working basis for a mission to Mars. Here's their "Troy Mars Mission" page, and here's an animated presentation.
  • Before this, of course, there was Zubrin's "Mars Direct" (modified to "Mars Semi-Direct"). But much more to the point is the Buzz Aldrin endorsed "Mars to Stay" proposal -- in his words:
"In recent years my philosophy on colonizing Mars has evolved. I now believe that human visitors to the Red Planet should commit to staying there permanently. One-way tickets to Mars will make the missions technically easier and less expensive and get us there sooner. More importantly, they will ensure that our Martian outpost steadily grows as more homesteaders arrive.

Instead of explorers, one-way Mars travelers will be 21st-century pilgrims, pioneering a new way of life. It will take a special kind of person. Instead of the traditional pilot/ scientist/engineer, Martian homesteaders will be selected more for their personalities—flexible, inventive and determined in the face of unpredictability. In short, survivors.

But for this dream to happen, NASA needs to dramatically change its ways. Its myopic Vision for Space Exploration will never get us to Mars. Progressive innovation and enlightened international cooperation will. President Obama and Congress need to set NASA right—and soon.

There, I've said it. No regrets this time."

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