On @ The 90: “Been There” – Should Not Be the Driving Focus of Space Exploration

Space exploration should not be viewed as a sight-seeing trip, but rather as a permanent destination - vital to humanity's future. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Philosophy can make your life a walk in the park – or it can make it a tragedy. A line of thought that has shockingly been displayed by the White House in terms of space exploration is essentially – “Been there, done that.” In terms of the long-term exploration of space – this is a catastrophic line of thought. Barack Obama’s comment in April 2010 regarding the U.S. potentially returning to the moon was; “We’ve been there…” 

Really? So, in his eyes a few brief visits on the lunar regolith and we should now move on? What about building a space infrastructure? Doing so would ensure that deep space travel becomes easier and less expensive. It appears that our wayward commander-in-chief views space as less a permanent destination – and more as a tourist location. 

Imagine if the settlers that had pioneered the West had seen California and said to themselves, “Well, we’ve been there, done that – let’s go someplace else!” No infrastructure would have ever been established, no settlements, no nothing. This is the ObamaSpace future? We stop briefly and allow those with the sense to follow in our dazed path to benefit? Whoever is guiding the president on this ill-informed path should join the thousands who have already been devastated by ObamaSpace’s lack of vision – in the unemployment line. 

Our next stop should be the moon – this time – to stay. Lagrangian Points are space flight trips to nowhere and the asteroids should be viewed in terms of scientific research into the formation of the solar system and then as sources of minerals to be mined. Once we have a grasp on traversing the Earth-moon system – then we take the quantum leap outward to Mars – but not before then. 

Initially, it will be very hard. Establishing our presence on other worlds will make the taming of the Wild West simple by comparison. But the Moon’s low gravity will make it easier and cheaper to go to Mars in the durational sense. What this means – is that instead of the Apollo-style “flags and footprints” missions that ObamaSpace philosophy espouses – that we instead take an incremental step-by-step approach to space exploration that provides a foundation, a launching point for missions further and further out into the Solar System. 

Going to Mars is an order of magnitude more difficult than anything we have attempted prior to this. The president’s comments that NASA will go to the red planet “sometime in his lifetime” highlight a comprehensive lack of understanding about space flight, history and the future needs of not just the United States – but humanity. 

Our planet is a finite resource. Our population – refuses to remain finite. It is as simple as that. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had it right when he said: “”Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Obama’s statements show that he is doesn’t understand what space is – it is our future home – not Disney World or the Grand Canyon. When our sun dies – his way would see our race go extinct when that day comes. It is hoped then, that common sense, reason and an understanding of the true nature of space – will prevail.

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  1. Jason,

    Good piece and sentiments that I heartily agree with. However, what’s really at stake here is two different visions of what a national space program is all about.

    The first one views the space program as a scientific and public relations endeavor, designed by scientists for scientists. The public can share by viewing pretty pictures. The template is elitist, custom designs, one-off missions, and move on to the next extravaganza.

    The second one sees space as a new ocean and our goal is to extend our reach with both people and machines incrementally and continuously. Such a paradigm creates new wealth, rather than consuming it. This template is ecumenical, commonality of systems, adapted spacecraft, permanence, and consolidation of gains.

    Note that these two outlooks are only partly reconcilable; which one adopts tends to dictate their attitude on the “been there, done that” trope.

  2. It’s of interest that the moon is (a) airless, (b) basically arid, and (c) relatively low-mass compared to earth. Technically, building a viable base/colony there will be difficult — but if we can colonize the moon, we can colonize just about everything in the solar system but the gas giants.

    On the other hand, the moon is (d) rich is minerals and metals and oxygen, (e) possesses some amount of water, (f) located about 1.5 seconds away from earth by radio, g) maybe days away by rocket, (h) close enough to the sun to make solar power useful for some applications, and (i) heavy enough to provide some/much of the gravity needed for health. We can get supplies there relatively quickly in an emergency; we can get advice there and answer questions almost immediately. Other than the surface of the earth, there’s nowhere else in the solar system with such advantages.

    The moon’s an almost perfect place to begin the colonization of the solar system, in other words. It’s a gift from the gods, and people have to be blind to overlook it. Or very stupid.

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