40 years ago today, humanity landed somewhere else than Earth

40 years ago today, three brave folks and a huge team at NASA (and indeed the entire industrial military might of the USA) travelled to the moon, and two landed somewhere else other than Earth. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out for two and a half hours, slept for a bit, ate a meal, and nearly 22 hours later came back to Earth.

It was an amazing achievement, one that brought all of humanity closer together.

Once you see the photo of the entire Earth from Apollo 8, national borders become irrelevant, nationalities are irrelevant, and petty politics and hateful people are irrelevant. We’re on this one small blue globe together, and we have to look after it together. Stupid shows like “Border Security” show the small minded at work. One day, and I hope it will be soon, such petty and silly concerns will be as quaint as the feudal towns who were as countries unto themselves not even 600 years ago. We breathe the same air, we’re all related together, we eat the same food. We’re all doomed if we continue to think like four year old children who refuse to share the sand pit because “it’s mine”. Nations, borders and immigration controls cannot be demolished soon enough.

However, space exploration is best left to robotic missions. They are cheaper, safer, and they can do more. The only manned moon mission that achieved decent science outcomes was Apollo 17, and that was because for the first time, they sent a geek instead of flying jocks. You can teach geeks how to fly, but you can’t teach jocks to be geeks.

The shuttle has been a total disaster. It has locked us into low earth orbit, does almost no science, costs zillions, killed two crews, and by the time it retires, it will have delivered only a very small number of scientists to a completed ISS, which will hamper ISS’s ability to do science. There’s a good chance after the shuttle retires, science at ISS will stop. This means about $1T has been wasted building a nonsensical space outpost. It has provided a large number of contractors with awesome corporate welfare for over 30 years, but that’s not an “achievement”. It doesn’t get us all thinking how great we are as a species, nor fosters good will amongst all peoples. Boondoggles are like that. We’ve squandered enough life and money on such frivolities.

Robotic missions like Pioneer, Voyager, Hubble, Galileo, Cassini, Deep Space One, SOHO, Messenger, Mariner, Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity and now the new Herschel mission provide far more science for the buck. Indeed, Hubble has provided more papers than any other observatory and confirmed some of the most intriguing basic properties of the Universe.

All publicly funded space missions should be robotic missions. Let’s leave people in space to commercial interests as there’s no scientific reason for them to be there. We need to have people in space, but not by public funds. If human space exploration was funded privately, the funds required to put them there will be optimized rather than being solely about corporate welfare to the military industrial complex. Such space ventures should be regulated for sure, because we don’t want another disaster like the Shuttle killing off an exciting new path for humanity, but it should not be publicly funded. We need to dream big and think about how to get there faster. The nearest star is at least 160,000 years away travelling at Helios speeds (which is currently the fastest thing we have ever launched). That’s far too long for an interstellar mission. We’ve got so far to go, and yet we’ve wasted 30 years doing nothing of any real lasting value in low earth orbit. That has to stop. We must move on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more space faring activities. One day we will need to get off this planet, and developing those technologies may as well start now. Just not in the failed ISS or back to the future moon missions (Orion / Ares).

Published by vanderaj

Just another security geek

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