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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

1/09/2004

The Downside

Peter Tupper catches the Mars fever but quickly recovers:
Considering the track records of sending probes to land on Mars, perhaps we should think twice before actually sending people to the Moon and Mars, as President Bush reportedly will soon announce.

This may also result in scrapping the shuttle fleet.

I can think of all kinds of bad scenarios: draining away billions of dollars in economic hard times, crippling unmanned probe missions and space science, losing the American presence in space entirely, some catastrophe killing a crew.

I suspect that the next person to set foot on the Moon will speak Chinese, not English.
mighty fast pig
I suspect this post pretty much sums up the raft of objections which will be raised - mainly on the mushy left - to the entire enterprise. Here are some quick answers:

"track records of sending probes to land on Mars" are not awful. I don't have the stats to hand but as I recall it is about 60/40 loss/land overall. Yes, it is too bad about the Beagle. But robots do the darnedest things. A manned craft will tend to solve problems like a bit of debris in front of the tire..."hey, Bob, would you kick that rock out of the way".

"This may also result in scrapping the shuttle fleet." And this would be a bad thing because?? The shuttle fleet, or what's left of it, is twenty year old technology and materials science. There are dozens of alternatives and most of them would be more efficient, less polluting and much less expensive.

"draining away billions of dollars in economic hard times" Which hard times would those be. The American economy is growing at 7%, the Fed is looking the possiblity of a 0% fed funds rate square in the eye, the stock market is surging and the unemployment rate is dropping. More to the point, the investment in a Moon base and a Mars mission would stimulate virtually every sector of the American economy. Not to mention the confidence boost it would give the American people.

"crippling unmanned probe missions and space science" not likely. If anything, the unmanned program would get a huge boost from a) setting up a Moon base from which probes could be launched at a fraction of the current cost, (You can't quite throw a probe out of the Moons gravity well, but a decent hallowe'en rocket would ddo the trick. (Leaving aside the little problem of getting gunpowder to burn without oxygen.)) b) the need to place supplies on Mars reliably, c) the ability to build a space station in Mars orbit, d) the ability to launch probes from Mars with its much lighter gravity.

"losing the American presence in space entirely, some catastrophe killing a crew" People are likely to die on this project as they did on the way to discovering America. Missions will be lost. The records of the early days of flight attest to just how risky this sort of thing is. But, if people are willing to go at it with a clear goal in mind, eventually the entire process will become safe and inexpensive. Kinda like civil aviation is today.

"I suspect that the next person to set foot on the Moon will speak Chinese, not English." If you have a hundred dollars I would be happy to take the American side of that bet. The Chinese are at the "spam in the can stage" and there is no reason to think they are going to get to the Moon in less than a couple of decades.