There are a lot of things converging right now to remind us of the rather sad state of manned space travel. Even the International Space Station isn’t really pumping out results. A culture of cheapness and caution seems to have slowed things down to a crawl. I’m feeling a bit perturbed about the whole situation, so here are some brief thoughts.
July 20 is the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969.) I was 5½ at the time, but I still recall watching Cronkite and Heinlein talk about the mission. It made an impression. I was pretty sure that easy space flight would be available by the time I grew up. Oh well.
The last flight of the space shuttle touched down on July 21. While the shuttle may not have been what we were expecting when it first came out, at least we were able to get people into space. Regardless, right now the only way to put people into space for the US is to have them hitch a ride. Now, of course, whether it is the US or some other country that really gets space travel working isn’t relevant from a human species perspective, but it is annoying from a national perspective.
Why is manned space flight useful or any space flight at all for that matter? All sorts of arguments (it costs too much, there are too many problems here on Earth, …) are raised for why spending money on space is a bad idea. I can pretty much imagine all of those arguments being raised about sailing to the New World back in the 16th century. And, I think pretty much the same answers to those arguments will pertain:
Space travel in general:
- New resource sources (metals, rare earths, helium, …)
- Technology improves and costs reduce as scale increases.
- Exploration increases knowledge.
Manned space travel:
- Free form laboratories — robotic labs too limited.
- You can’t do colonization if you don’t send the people.
- Man, I really want to go.