Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not Just Science

geek.com put up a brief post about the latest news in the ongoing shuttle repairs. I posted a reply which I hope gets people thinking a little bit deeper about human spaceflight. I thought I'd repost my comment here just in case anyone would like to discuss it further.

Those who claim that Science is the primary driver for the human spaceflight program are either deluding themselves, or are just not aware of the full truth. Science has been used as a justification for our current space program because it is capable of so little else.

In the beginning, the human spaceflight program served as a rigorous arena for expanding the technological boundaries of engineering. These advancements would have occurred with, or without the Cold War, however, it's influence certainly increased the investment in many technologies. Our human spaceflight program was perhaps the most visible example of this progress.

By the time the Shuttle program came about, national priorities had changed, and NASA was left with a very expensive legacy. The shuttle was a rather poor engineering test bed. They could not afford to push it's envelope then throw it away when they had learned all they could from it. This left them with the problem of trying to justify its existence. If it was not to goint to be used to push the boundaries of human spaceflight engineering, then what purpose would it serve? This is when people began to believe that human spaceflight was about doing science. That was the excuse cooked up to justify the Shuttle's continued existence.

More recently, there have been many groups who have rediscovered the original goal of human spaceflight as technology driver. However, these companies have to close their business plan so you'll probably hear that the new motivation for sending people into space is to tap the adventure tourism market. This again is just an excuse to justify the expense necessary to develop the technologies required to advance human spaceflight capability.

So, why do we need to advance human spaceflight capability? What purpose does it serve to put humans into space? It serves the purpose of growth. Everything that mankind has ever done has been to support growth: social, economic, technological, and even territorial. It is our nature to expand beyond our current means. To fully explore every possible niche in the universe and to exploit all available resources as they are made accessible. The rest of the universe has an abundance of niches and resources of which we have only seen the smallest glimpse. We will use these resources to our advantage some day, but before we can do so, we must learn how to gain access to them and to properly exploit them.

In the end, there is just one reason why we need to invest in human spaceflight. It is our destiny to eventually leave this planet and spread out into the universe. To fail to do so would defy our human nature. - by PhysBrain


Blogger FlyingSinger said...

You're basically right on here, except there can be different goals for different time spans. At the time of Sputnik, launching satellites was a "demo" of your ballistic missile capability. Science came along for the ride. Human space flight upped the ante but really was a proxy for fuzzy-headed thinking about manned domination of the "high frontier" (if you have fighters and bombers down here, you'll need space fighters and space bombers, right?). Exploration AND some science came along for the ride then too. Once the US beat the Soviets to the Moon, the political urgency of space was eased, and the Nixon administration took a wrong turn, sold on the Shuttle as "low cost" access to space. They could have extended Apollo to Mars, but the Soviets didn't have much credibility there (no real race), so the politicians passed on this. Short range thinking gave us the Shuttle and "Star Wars" research in the 80's, both ultimately dead ends, alas (though SDI should have obviously been a dead end, except for the fact that it was a bonanza for aerospace contractors). A reusable space plane is not a bad idea, but 70's technology really wasnt't ready for it.

Ultimately it IS and will be the human urge to grow, to explore, to do what's new, to boldly go to new places, and all that. But in the short run, the people who spend the money will always have to fit this to a more immediate goal. I'm hoping that the driver will be the profit motive, as that seems a lot more benign than the things that got us into space in the first place. But if we had to have a Cold War, I'm glad we at least got Apollo and the Solar System (Viking, Voyager, etc.) out of the deal!


5:02 PM, December 21, 2005  
Anonymous Pradeep said...

If you're trying to make a discussion board, try using the tag board. You can find more details on the tag board at the Blogger Help.


6:59 AM, January 07, 2006  
Anonymous Spencer Wallens said...

I just came across http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/27/technology/business2_guidetospaceintro/index.htm?cnn=yes. Whaddayathink?

2:00 PM, March 02, 2006  

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