We have a strong, if mythic, assumption that humans will move into space and, eventually, hop through wormholes from galaxy to galaxy. That whole notion may evaporate if we dismantle the space station and end the practice of sending humans into space. MIT Technology Review discusses “The Future of Human Spaceflight”:
Over the years, NASA and space advocates have put forward many reasons to justify sending astronauts into space. They have garnered support by offering something for everybody, especially the military and scientific communities; scientific progress, strategic superiority, and international prestige have been foremost among the promised benefits. On closer inspection, though, these justifications don’t hold up or are no longer relevant. For example, robotic missions are increasingly capable of scientific work in space, and they cost far less than human crews. Satellites launched on expendable boosters allowed the United States to achieve strategic dominance in space. And Cold War motives disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The article goes on to discuss how humans might continue to build into space, leveraging in-space refueling to reduce costs. I’ve tended to think that private commercial efforts will find innovative ways to make space travel workable and affordable. The vision is so strong with us now, via television and film (Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, Avatar, Spaceballs, etc.), that it seems unlikely we’ll put human space travel aside.
A bit of free form writing from a Saturday workshop…
Stars, achingly beautiful stars over Arizona as we clean the plugs so the car will fire synchronously down the road. We’re on the road from Scottsdale to Flagstaff, having spent the day watching stars projected Cinerama dream of the ultimate, Kubrick’s 200, inspiration for curious speculation bout the expansive reality, the Universe, the stars that sparkle and flow through our evolving thoughs and wonderments. What is real? Is there a fundamental truth in what we see? A few years later I park by the side of the road again, embrace the night sky, zoom out the universe and see it as fabric, atoms and molecules of another level of reality, how many levels beyond that? How do you measure the infinite? The stars are cartoons in the Hollywood futures but they are real in this night sky, and I embrace them though I can’t, really – the distance is unfathomable. I am so limited, my perception is so imperfect. I want to know. I can’t know but I must. Stars and spaces between stars – so near, so far. The universe is spinning and I’m in it.
Earth observers used to think that Mars had canals, but this is even better: weirdly interesting darker trails in the Martian sandscape, created not by bug-eyed Martians on four-wheelers, but my dust devils up to 8 kilometers high. High res image and more information here.
NASA’s taken a tiny section of space telescope Hubble’s view of the universe, a section where TEN THOUSAND galaxies are visible, and created a 3D space cruise. More information here. Otherwise, wow… take the cruise…
Happy Birthday to Sputnik 1, launched 51 years ago today. Those of us who lived and breathed comics and science fiction saw an inevitable first step toward space exploration, and we picked up on the omigod vibe that the Russians beat us to it. Of course we didn’t see the whole picture, which you can get from Nova’s “Sputnik Declassified” – we didn’t get that the space race was about military surveillance, not scienterrific exploration of the cosmos. If you think Reagan’s “star wars” plan, the Strategic Defense Initiative, was new thinking, guess again. Eisenhower was already there.
Check out PBS’s Space Race Timeline.