What to Do in Space?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Thanks to Brian Dunbar, with assists from Jason Hoppes and Pboake.

So maybe this week’s most compelling space story actually has nothing to do with space. But there are plenty of interesting things going on in the final frontier that don’t involve attempted murder or adult diapers.

We have several billionaires building rockets and standing up companies to send tourists to space. Several others are building new launch systems for cargo. The ESA wants to do more in space, [and] we (via our agency NASA) are heading back to the moon…

98% of the resources in the solar system are extra-terrestrial, the sun is pouring energy across the solar system – we can go up and just get it for free. Given some luck and hard work it’s possible to relocate industry to orbit…

The solar system is becoming a more mysterious and complicated place the more we push out and explore…We might be on the cusp of a true space age.

Brian Dunbar, in a comment to Open Source, 1/11/07
Toys on the moon

Toys on the moon! [fdecomite / Flickr]

You’ve probably heard about the Mars Rover and space weapons a la China, but do you know about plans to build a space elevator? Or to mine asteroids? Do you know about the 181 things scientists hope we can accomplish by returning to the moon?

I know our blog is harboring a secret colony of space enthusiasts, so let’s have a go at this. What should we be doing in space? (And conversely, what should we not be doing?) Is space a future wasteland or a future gold mine? What are the most interesting, innovative, or unconventional projects in the works or on the horizon? What role, if any, should private space exploration play? What should be our motivations for space exploration, and should they be different than they were in the past?

Update, 2/14/07 6:13pm

Thanks for all your input so far guys. It looks like tomorrow’s show is shaping up to deal largely with the new frontiers of what some people call alt.space – private enterprise trailblazing the way forward. So adjust your antennae to think about the role of the market in space exploration.

Greg Klerkx

Author, Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age

Former senior manager, SETI Institute

Elon Musk

Co-founder, PayPal

Founder, CEO, CTO, Space Exploration Technologies

Michael Laine

Founder, president, LiftPort

Monte Davis

Author, Thinking Clearly About Space, adAstra Online

Helped launch Discover and Omni magazines

Extra Credit Reading

Patrick L. Barry, 181 Things To Do On The Moon, Nasa.gov, February 2, 2007: “More than half of the list deals with the many challenges of learning to live on an alien world: everything from keeping astronauts safe from radiation and micrometeors to setting up power and communications systems to growing food in the airless, arid lunar environment.”

Will Sullivan, interview with Robert Zubrin, Q&A: A Missionary for Mars Exploration, U.S. News & World Report, December 8, 2006: “The idea that your strategic goal is the moon as opposed to Mars I think is wrong. I think it’s too timid. I think it’s, well, un-American.”

Kelly Young, Budget cuts may delay shuttle replacement, New Scientist Space, February 5, 2007: “This could increase the gap between the retirement of the space shuttles in 2010 and the launch of their successors, the Orion spacecraft and Ares I rocket, forcing NASA to rely on Russian Soyuz and future commercial spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).”

Jeff, FY07 budget inches closer to approval, Space Politics, February 9, 2007: “The Senate is poised to vote on the FY2007 joint funding resolution as early as Tuesday, after a cloture vote to end debate on the bill.”

Bryan Bender, Pentagon eyeing weapons in space, The Boston Globe, March 14, 2006: “Rick Lehner, an agency spokesman, said there are no plans to base weapons in space, noting that out of $48 billion planned for missile defense over the next five years, just $570 million will fund space-related activities. ‘We just want to do some experiments’ on weapons technology in space, he said.”

Monte Davis, Thinking Clearly About Space Part I: Hustling the Future, Space.com, August 18, 2005: “I understand impatience for space: I’ve felt it since age six, when “space program” meant Wernher von Braun on Walt Disney’s TV shows. I felt it thirty years ago, as a science writer tracking the last Apollo missions and the development of the Shuttle. I feel it now, watching the evolution of the Vision for Space Exploration and of the private start-ups of alt.space. But our frustration will not be resolved by scapegoating, or – almost certainly — by any one radical development.”

William J. Broad, Orbiting Junk, Once a Nuisance, Is Now a Threat, The New York Times, February 6, 2007: “Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.”

Peter B. de Selding, French Government Group Wants Europe To Join 2nd Space Race, Space News, February 12, 2007: “A French parliamentary group said China’s recent anti-satellite demonstrations, plus Chinese and Indian plans for lunar exploration, are clear signs that a second global space race has begun and that Europe should join it.”

James Vlahos, Robot Subs in Space, Popular Science, February, 2007: “The hope is that whether in an unexplored environment on Earth or Europa, [the DepthX robot] could discover a new branch on the tree of life. ‘As far as human endeavor,’ Stone says, ‘DepthX is the coolest thing we’ve ever done, period.'”

Mark, Friday, October 13, 2006, Curmudgeons Corner: “Unfortunately a new controversy seems to have replaced Robots vrs humans in its banality and its capacity to make otherwise intelligent people take absurd positions. I call it, Public vrs Private Space Exploration.”

Andy Pasztor, In Race to Take Tourists Into Orbit, Partners Split, Spar, The Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2007: “Mr. Benson has challenged his foe ‘to sit down in a public forum and go over the 200 emails’ detailing core engine contributions. The showdown features two self-assured and stubborn rivals, both used to getting their way.”

4:50

I think that’s a real difference between the space entrepreneurs today and the space entrepreneurs of, say, twenty years ago. Because there have been space entrepreneurs for quite some time, but I think the group now really understands it as more than just a technological challenge. They understand it as a financial challenge and a public relations challenge.

Greg Klerkx

7:35

Yes, there are robotic missions which bring back science, that’s important. But there have always been other reasons why people have been interested in space. People have been interested in it because, not to be too bland, but because it’s there, because it’s a place that you can explore, that inspires people. And I think that idea is why people go into space, and why people will always go into space, because whatever robots can do, they don’t give very good soundbites.

Greg Klerkx

14:45

Imagine having a ball on a string, and you’re spinning that over your head. The string stays straight, right? Okay, so now imagine that as a huge, Earth-sized system, where the Earth is providing rotation, and you have a counterweight, a satellite deep out in space, attached to a very long, very strong string. All the physics are essentially the same. The string stays straight, and once you have established that, it acts like a ladder that you can use a robot to climb back and forth into space.

Michael Laine

18:20

And so in the early days you’ll have technicians, and ultimately, construction workers: I mean, we’re going to have factories, and solar energy dams out in space collecting clean, green, limitless energy. Somebody’s going to have to build those.

Michael Laine

21:10

My background’s not in engineering or physics or chemistry, it’s actually in finance and business. So I looked at this from the very beginning as: it doesn’t matter whether the elevator works or not, this is a good business.

Michael Laine

23:50

This is in the context of life itself. And I think if you were to consider the expansion of life for the first time to another planet, it would rank in importance in that category. It would be probably at least as important as life moving from the oceans to land, and maybe a little more important, because the oceans to land thing could be gradual, whereas, obviously, there is nothing gradual about life going to another planet.

Elon Musk

35:10

I have wanted all of that good stuff, everything that has been mentioned, from the solar-power satellites that Michael talks about to a permanently manned Moon base to exploration of the planets, as far back as I can remember. It has been borne in upon me that my fellow citizens don’t want it as bad as I do, and as bad as many space enthusiasts do. The first step in getting some patience and some perspective is to accept that.

Monte Davis

50:10

We as a species can say: look, we want to explore the universe. We want to go beyond Earth and live on multiple planets. And that alone is sufficient motivation to do so. We need look no further for a reason.

Elon Musk

Related Content


  • plnelson

    We’ve been living in the GOLDEN AGE of space science!! But thanks to our robot space probes we’re not paying golden prices for it. We’ve been doing fantastic, phenomenal, truly excellent planetary and extrasolar science on the cheap, using ROBOTS. We should continue doing so.

    Sending humans into space is dramatically, HUGELY more expensive than robotic probes. The cost of one manned mission could pay for dozens and dozens of robotic ones and not yield anywhere near as much good science or understanding of our place in the universe.

    I do astrophotography, I’ve attended live Space Shuttle launches, I’m a science fiction fan, and I’m a serious science geek, and I STILL say: stick with the robot missions – WAY more bang for the buck.

  • Almanch

    Space science IS expanding by leaps and bounds… Now, imagine if funding for it was growing!!

    IMHO, we are reaching towards “the long tail” of space exploration, many more specialized craft, and private individuals creating a slow-but-steady, grass-roots space program because they don’t want to wait for the “big guys” anymore.

    Private organizations are starting to meet the challenges of space flight and commercialization in what will evolve into a more sustainable space industry (see SpaceShipOne, the first private manned space program). The Planetary Society is one of the largest private interest groups for space exploration, I would recommend contacting Bruce.Betts planetary org (add at and dot). They also attempted to launch a solar sail.

    High altitude ballooning is the poor-man’s space program. Like taking a remote controller sea kayak out on an ocean excursion. But, for $100-$1000 and with very few restrictions, you too can get to the black, nearly airless sky and see the curvature of the earth (well, your camera can). This is accessible all the way down to the middle school level. [http://www.amsat.org/amsat/balloons/balloon.htm]

    JPAerospace is attempting to take a slow but steady road to space. [http://www.jpaerospace.com/]

    Even NASA has a group dedicated to high altitude ballooning [http://www.nsbf.nasa.gov/].

  • mynocturama

    Zero-gravity sex. And plenty of it.

  • plnelson

    Zero-gravity sex. And plenty of it.

    . . . Yet another reason to use robots. No romantically-depraved astronauts kidnapping their rivals.

    Speaking of robots, it said in the news that Lisa Nowak was a robotics expert. So why didn’t she get a robot to do it? I can just picture the movie version. A crazed Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” wearing an ill-fitting wig and trench coat, lurches through the darkened, nearly empty airport parking garage, madly waving its arms, pursuing a terrified Colleen Shipman (played by Cameron Diaz) . The robot leaves a trail of dirty crankcase oil leaking from its soiled, overflowing diaper.

    Just as the sinister monster is about to trap its helpless victim against a massive Lincoln Navigator (product-placement by Ford), Space Shuttle Commander Bill Oefelein (played by Tom Hanks) arrives and ignites the trail of oil from a blazing Dell laptop battery. And as the evil robot is consumed by the fire we see Colleen Shipman and Bill Oefelein sharing a passionate kiss, Shipman’s grateful tears illuminated by the flickering flames.

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  • plnelson: The cost of one manned mission could pay for dozens and dozens of robotic ones and not yield anywhere near as much good science or understanding of our place in the universe.

    This comes up in some circles more often than ‘Mac vs PC’ debates. It’s reallly not an either-or issue. There are things that machines are good at, and things that people are good at. A prudent exploration program would utilize the best attributes of both.

    Machines can just keep going and don’t want to come home. But flexibility is not their metier. People want to come home and need air and water – but we’re adaptable.

    At any rate – some of us have some ideas about bringing the cost of space access down. It won’t always cost thousands of dollars per kilo to get to space.

    * it would be longer for a manned mission – New Horizons isn’t going to really stop at Pluto just take pictures as it zaps past.

  • Almanch I would recommend contacting Bruce.Betts planetary org (add at and dot). They also attempted to launch a solar sail.

    Also Neil deGrasse Tyson – he simply does a great job at popularizing space and science topics for a general audience.

  • BumpOnnaHalfApple

    To start with, the old saw of “humans being explorers” and our “need to explore” doesn’t sway me much. It’s all fine and good to yammer away about “the final frontier” and for imaginary friends like Jim Kirk to “boldly go where no man has gone before” – on a TV show.

    But for me space exploration has MUCH higher stakes, and those stakes are nothing less than our species ability to survive.

    We live on a world of finite resources that we’re ALREADY straining.

    Water is getting scarce, in too many areas.

    Non-renewable materials like copper, chromium, and a whole very long list of other materials we’re eventually going to need more of, no matter HOW efficiently we recycle them, are GOING to run short. It’s literally inevitable.

    I could make a list a hundred pages long of things we ARE going to eventually run short of if we’re restricted to living ONLY on this planet as a species.

    In my opinion Keynes wasn’t wrong about the idea that we’re eventually going to wind up with no more room for more people, or the resources needed for them to live, he was just off by a few centuries as to when we’d get to that point.

    Earth, to me, is quite literally like the womb of our species. And like any new life, you either leave the womb OR DIE, and take your mother with you.

    There’s a window that’s going to open, and then close.

    That window will open as we develop the technological capacity as a species to gain full access to the rest of our solar system’s resources.

    But that window will also start to close as we begin to run short of resources and we’re FORCED into fighting over the ever diminishing scraps available for survival.

    Once that window closes, THAT’S ALL SHE WROTE.

    At that point NOBODY will be able to dedicate the efforts required to acquire the technology and tools needed to REACH, let alone use, off planet resources. Resources in general will be too precious to expend on ANY activity short of fighting for what’s left of those resources here on Earth that we can reach.

    Zero population growth doesn’t impress me as any kind of solution.

    In the first place, although a few modern cultures have undergone short “blips” of zero or negative population growth, our species, as a whole HASN’T.

    Even those cultures that HAVE, for short periods of time, undergone zero, or negative population growth, have experienced problems SO severe that they’ve been forced to import people from populations with the opposite problem, excessive population growth.

    NONE of the cultures that have undergone zero or negative population growth did so on the basis of any “plan” or under anything that could responsibly be considered “controlled circumstances”. They were accidents. The results of the generally chaotic nature of population levels of any kind, in any species, and most definitely are NOT something we could responsibly rely on for the continued survival of our species.

    China is a good example of where attempts at controlled population reduction inevitably wind up.

    Laws allowing only one child per family, forcing families to choose between ONE boy, or ONE girl, (unless of course you belong to right power elite and are in a position to circumvent the laws everyone else has to live with).

    Forced abortions where the cops kick in the door and drag women literally kicking and screaming to a “clinic” aren’t just stories, those kinds of things really are going on, and that’s just NOT something I want any of my own decedents to have to go though.

    People TOO often make the argument that “we have problems here on Earth to deal with”. Yeah, well, explain to me how ANY of those problems – poverty, inadequate nutrition, disease, access to education, opportunity, ANY of those problems, are going to get any better AT ALL if we keep piling people on top of people.

    In my opinion it’s time to stop talking about romantic ideas like “exploring the final frontier”, and buckling down to hard work of a slow – steady – relentless effort to actually COLONIZE SPACE.

    An effort like that could very well require a millennium of hard work. I just hope we’ve got a millennium left to us to accomplish it.

  • plnelson

    It’s reallly not an either-or issue.

    It is an either-or issue in terms of money. For any given billion dollars in your budget you can spend it on either one or the other.

  • plnelson

    “In my opinion it’s time to stop talking about romantic ideas like “exploring the final frontier”, and buckling down to hard work of a slow – steady – relentless effort to actually COLONIZE SPACE.

    I think that’s a lot of romanticism. Right now there’s no place to colonize. There’s no place in our own solar system that can sustain human life and it will be a VERY long time before we are aware of any outside the solar system. Whatever environmental crises overtake us will do so long before we have any option of colonizing space, unless we devote a lot more attention to the environment in the near future.

    Thoughts of “Biff Bradford – Space Colonist!” don’t offer much help in guiding what we should do next in space.

  • It is an either-or issue in terms of money. For any given billion dollars in your budget you can spend it on either one or the other.

    Yes and no. There is more to ‘the mission’ than money – it’s how effective your mission is per dollar. All of these values change over time as well.

    Simple example – it’s possible to devise a robot to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Indeed if this were 1955 that would be the best bet. But HST went live when there was a Shuttle that could take technicians there – so the costs/benefits were weighed and it was designed to be serviced by people.

    It’s been noted elsewhere that when there is more funding for manned space flight there is also more money for unmanned missions. It’s one of the rising tide lifts all boats kinda deals.

    Right now there’s no place to colonize.

    Sure there are. There is nowhere you can live without technology – but that is true for most of the places we live now.

    I live in Wisconsin – without modern technology this place would be unlivable unless you spend 90% of your time gathering the food, fuel and etc you need just to survive. Actually having a 20th century culture and being able to read a book or program a computer? You’ve gotta build shirtsleeve environments.

    I see stations in space, Mars or the moon in the same light. Now being able to afford to do that … that’s another matter.

    Now – really long term we will need a terrestrial environment. I’m not unaware that accidents happen and cultures can loose their technology. Worst case it would be nice to have a backup planet where humanity could get knocked back to a rocks and animals skin level and survive.

    Thoughts of “Biff Bradford – Space Colonist!” don’t offer much help in guiding what we should do next in space.

    They don’t – but flights of fancy do help to keep interest in the topic. Put it another way – it is possible to have fun with an idea while working with serious intent to make it happen.

  • The idea of humans moving beyond the confines of the planet we are systematically destroying, really disturbs me. This idea that we should colonize to protect the species frightens me. It bodes of a mentality that stops considering what needs to happen here for sustainability and simply focuses on moving to the next place we can plunder. A mentality I would like to see us erase before we spread out.

    Luckily, as plnelson wrote, we are nowhere near finding an inhabitable place. I suppose we could build space stations. I’m already concerned about all the junk we’re leaving in space. By leaving stuff out there we are exporting material from the earth a holisitic system which needs all of its pieces/parts to be sustainable. So, not only are we trashing space, we’re diminishing resources here. I know that we think of space as so vast that perhaps we don’t have to be concerned about the ecology of it, but I’m sure that early man didn’t think the planet was anything to worry about either. And we’ve done a very good job of showing how rapidaly we can expand our destructive capacity.

    Can we talk about how humans are going to learn to behave more sustainably before spreading like a virus to the rest of the universe?

  • plnelson

    It’s been noted elsewhere that when there is more funding for manned space flight there is also more money for unmanned missions. It’s one of the rising tide lifts all boats kinda deals.

    That doesn’t make any sense unless NASA’s whole budget is growing by such leaps and bounds that it can accommodate growth in both simultaneously. And as a taxpayer I would object to that because we have a huge budget deficit and a lot of stuff that’s NOT getting done because of budget constraints. NASA’s budget, in my view, should grow at about the CPI rate. They’ve been doing fine on their budget of the last decade or so, thus we should maintain their budget but not increase it in real terms.

    I live in Wisconsin – without modern technology this place would be unlivable unless you spend 90% of your time gathering the food, fuel and etc you need just to survive.

    But you COULD do that. Plenty of people lived in Wisconsin long before the Europeans arrived. Wisconsin at that time was totally self-sufficient. If the goal of colonizing space is to be insulated from the destruction of the Earth then it has to be self-sufficient to survive without Earth. That’s so far off in the science-fiction future that it doesn’t really inform space policy in 2007.

  • walkerhenry

    I would love to hear the always provocative Peter Diamandis, creator of the X Prize, on this show.

  • allison, your comment reminded me of a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” The man is speaking to his son in a post-apocalyptic world.

    “What is it? the man said.

    Nothing.

    No. Tell me.

    There could be people alive someplace else.

    Whereplace else?

    I dont now. Anywhere.

    You mean besides on earth?

    Yes.

    I dont think so. They couldnt live anyplace else.

    Not even if they could get there?

    No.

    The boy looked away.

    What? the man said.

    He shook his head. I dont know what we’re doing, he said.

    The man started to answer. But he didnt. After a while he said: There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see.”

  • “I live in Wisconsin – without modern technology this place would be unlivable unless you spend 90% of your time gathering the food, fuel and etc you need just to survive.”

    I guess the question is, “What is livable”? You imply that gathering the food, fuel, etc is not living. Why not? Living is meeting your needs. Any leisure time is a bonus. Whether we work at a computer or work in the field or at the hearth, we must work to make a living.

  • schmigr

    Maintaining a strong emphasis on robotic exploration is the only logical path, at least at this point in time. Until a strong, clear economic motivation becomes readily apparent, activities in space will be driven by science and national security. Furthermore the economic justification must be solid. Arm waving about “vast resources” or “manifest destiny” ain’t going to cut it.

    History has shown that human exploration has been driven by very tangible goals: pursuit of specific items of wealth, and/or improvement in current living conditions. I can’t think of any instance where exploration was conducted for the economic benefit of future generations.

    Until the time when truly viable aventues for space economic utilization are identified, it is best to leave the emphasis on science and expansion of knowledge.

  • jonnygoldstein

    I love the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. He might make a good guest. Space elevators play a big part in those books.

  • Matthew C

    Considering the other suns in the night sky is great fun and hopeful, but humans, as we know them, will never have it better than we do on Earth. Consider the immensity of space.

    Today, Voyager I is traveling an incredibly fast 38,000 Miles Per Hour away from our sun. Imagine the first North American human ancestor who was physically nearby today’s Cape Canaveral, an estimated 10,000 years ago, dispatching the probe toward our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Today, we would have another 60,000 year wait before the probe would arrive and begin transmitting data back over the 4.3 light-years to earth.

    Our Sol system is all we humans will ever know unless we discover a fantastically new way of traveling much closer to the speed of light (670,616,629 MPH) than we presently consider possible. Outside of our Earth, the other planets of the Sol system are either far too hot or cold for our tastes. We’d be much more comfortable at the South Pole. I am a space nut – and I favor autonomous robotic exploration. Meanwhile, save our Earth – it is the only place that will ever natively support our lifeforms.

  • Matthew C

    My space To-Do list would be robotic construction projects which would combine solar energy and planetary resources to construct planetary mapping probes and eventually mining operations. The mined resources (cost-prohibitive to return to Earth) can be used to build and expand the mission objectives. The end result would be a 3D topology mapping, solar-electric infrastructure, automated space laboratories, and a base of operations to launch new missions. Human planetary missions would look like the International Space Station mission that gets resupplied every few months. It is a romantic notion, but that would be unsustainable, dangerous, and ultimately a dead-end. In contrast, we can easily make sustainable robotic planetary missions, in fact we already have done so on Mars with the rovers.

  • hurley

    Interesting idea. I want to suggest a show about the poet Frederick Seidel, but this seemingly apropos exerpt from his poem Contents Under Pressure in the meantime (reminds me R. Bradbury’s haunting story on a similar theme):

    His space suit is his respirator

    breathing him

    From its own limited supply of

    oxygen…

    Absolutely nothing can be done.

    The spacecraft is under orders not

    to try and to return and does.

    He urinates and defecates

    And looks out at the universe.

    He is looking out at it through his

    helmet mask.

  • hurley

    More sidereal seidel:

    Excerpt

    The Cosmos Poems

    1

    Into the Emptiness

    Into the emptiness that weighs

    More than the universe

    Another universe begins

    Smaller than the last.

    Begins to smaller

    Than the last.

    Dimensions

    Do not yet exist.

    My friend, the darkness

    into which the seed

    Of all eleven dimensions

    Is planted is small.

    Travel with me back

    Before it grows to more.

    The church bell bongs,

    Which means it must be noon.

    Some are playing hopscotch

    Or skipping rope during recess,

    And some are swinging on swings,

    And seesaws are seesawing.

    That she is shy,

    Which means it must be May,

    Turns into virgin snow

    And walking mittened home with laughing friends.

    And the small birds singing,

    And the sudden silence,

    And the curtains billow,

    And the spring thunder will follow —

    And the rush of freshness,

    And the epileptic fit that foams.

    The universe does not exist

    Before it does.

    2

    Mirror Full of Stars

    A can of shaving cream inflates

    A ping-pong ball of lather,

    Thick, hot, smaller than an atom, soon

    The size of the world.

    This does take time to happen.

    Back at the start

    Again, a pinprick swells so violently

    It shoots out

    Hallways to other worlds,

    But keeps expanding

    Till it is all

    There is. The universe is all there is.

    Don’t play with matches.

    The candle flame follows her

    With its eyes. The night sky is a mirror

    On a wall.

    What she stands in front of are the roaring afterburners

    Of the distant stars a foot away

    Leaving for another world. They have been summoned

    To leave her

    For another girl

    In another world who stands there looking

    In a mirror full of stars

    At herself in her room.

    The room is not really,

    But it might be. If there is

    Something else as beautiful

    As this snow softly falling outside, say.

    The universe begins

    With a hot ball of lather expanding

    In a hand

    That should be in her bed asleep.

    3

    Who the Universe Is

    The opposite of everything

    That will be once

    The universe begins

    Is who it is.

    Laws do not apply

    To the pre-universe.

    None of it

    Does not make sense.

    Puffs to the size

    Of an orange in one single stunned

    Instant

    From smaller than a proton.

    Morning coffee black

    Happiness so condensed

    Had to expand to this,

    Had to expand to this,

    Had to expand to this

    Universe of love

    Of freezing old

    Invisible dark matter

    To give it gravity.

    If the hot unbelievable

    Nothingness feeds

    Itself into a hole and starts,

    None of this does not make sense

    Once you understand

    The stars are who it is,

    The sisters and the brothers.

    Set the toaster setting between Light and Dark

    And the unimaginable

    Pre-universe will pop up a slice of strings

    In eleven dimensions which balloons.

    4

    Universes

    Think of the suckers on the tentacles

    Without the tentacles. A honeycomb

    Of space writhing in the dark.

    Time deforming it, time itself deformed.

    Fifteen billion light-years later a president

    Of the United States gives the Gettysburg Address.

    Two minutes.

    The solar system

    Star beams down on him.

    Other special stars express themselves,

    Not shy at all, particles

    Of powder floating on the swirl, each

    Vast — each a vast pillow covering

    A hidden speck it murderously

    Attempts to suffocate.

    The speck will eat it up.

    The speck of gravity is a hole.

    Through that hole there is a way.

    There are as many of these, there are as many of these

    Invisible black caviar

    Specks as it would take

    To fill the inside of St. Peter’s to the roof.

    It is the number

    Of grains of sand on the shores

    Surrounding the continent of Africa times ten.

    Each invisible eyelet is a black hole

    Highway out of time.

    Think of the universe as a beanbag

    On a bobsled on a run under lights at night.

    Inside are universes.

    It is incompletely dark inside.

    There is motion.

    There is the possibility.

    5

    Black Stovepipe Hat

    The wobbly flesh of an oyster

    Out of its shell on the battlefield is the feel

    Of spacetime

    In the young universe.

    The petals of the rose

    Of time invaded

    The attitude of zero and made it

    Soften its attitude.

    Lincoln’s black stovepipe hat

    Was dusty when he sat down

    To scant applause. Many in the crowd did not know

    He had just delivered

    The Gettysburg Address, but it is over,

    And the stars keep on redshifting,

    The universe keeps on expanding

    The petals of the rose.

    U S. Grant’s cigar’s red tip

    Pulsed the primal fireball out

    Through the new universe

    It was the creator of with shock waves.

    Speckles of the stars

    And baby’s breath (the flower)

    Activate infinity

    And decorate the parlor.

    Baby’s breath is counting on the roses

    With it in the vases.

    It is difficult to understand

    Why the universe began.

    It is difficult to be

    Robert E. Lee.

    Why does the cosmos have to happen?

    What is another way?

  • hurley

    The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.

    Konstantin Tsiolovsky

    How about a lead-in with Holst…

    LePage wrote and performed in an interesting play about KT called the far side of the moon.

    The American writer Joseph McElroy’s novel Plus is a tour-de-force about a disembodied brain orbiting Earth the earth in a satellite as part of a solar energy project. He’s also written non-fiction about the space program. He’s thinking big thoughts. A good guest in the event.

    In The Physics of Immortality the cosmologist Frank Tipler outlines a controversial scenario for our eventual colonization of space. Worth looking into. I spoke to him ago — a bright, funny, personable fellow.

  • hurley

    Apologies for the sloppy note — out the door.

  • Matthew C
  • Matthew C

    Just following up with new information. Newly developed ion engines are worth mentioning, because if they reach their theoretical potential, then they would provide the requirement I mentioned above of “traveling much closer to the speed of light”.

    http://www.physorg.com/news9786.html

    http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Sionrock.htm

  • allison

    The idea of humans moving beyond the confines of the planet we are systematically destroying, really disturbs me. This idea that we should colonize to protect the species frightens me. It bodes of a mentality that stops considering what needs to happen here for sustainability and simply focuses on moving to the next place we can plunder. A mentality I would like to see us erase before we spread out.

    Can we talk about how humans are going to learn to behave more sustainably before spreading like a virus to the rest of the universe?

    I don’t think my mentality is like that – but my outlook is informed by what I do or a living. I babysit complex computer systems for a living. Backing up to safe media is just what you do. You do this as an automated routine and pay attention to the details of system management. You don’t do this instead of managing your system and preserving scare resources – you do it because Murphy lurks and Stuff Happens. When disaster strikes (and it will – someday) you’ll be able to restore from the last good backup and bring things back in a reasonable state.

    If you don’t your enterprise is toast and you’re out of a job.

    Expanding the analogy I don’t want humanity to leave Earth behind. I want humanity to treat the entire planet like the nature preserve it should be. Strip mining for metal and dynamiting hills or coal is just wrong – but good luck stopping that when there aren’t really any alternatives left. We have alternatives now – it’s just that the biome-destroying ones are cheaper. Keep this up and there won’t BE any alternatives until this civilization runs flat out of wealth and dies.

    Disaster will always happen.

    We can learn to be sustainable – how exactly? The West is moving in that direction; not perhaps as quickly as we might like but we’re getting there. But for sustainable to work to save the planet everyone has to agree and you’re talking across cultural and economic barriers. How many coal plants is China going to put online in the next twenty years? We might see the smudge showing up over a sustainable Seattle in twenty years.

    It’s possible to use the resources from space to enrich humanity and make the Earth a park. Absent those and all I see is misery. At the very least access to resources ‘up there’ will give the species options.

    plnelson

    That doesn’t make any sense unless NASA’s whole budget is growing by such leaps and bounds that it can accommodate growth in both simultaneously.

    That is what happens – when there is increased money and attention to manned space the unmanned side of the house gets more funding. I think it was James Oberg in an article in The Space Review who noted that this was so. Think of it this way – NASA never has a fixed budget. When there is more interest in manned space, the unmanned programs benefits from increased attention. We might be getting more bang for the buck with unmanned misions beyond earth’s orbit but sending people into space gets our attention.

    Let me add that I am thrilled down to my socks by what we’ve accomplished with our robots. I’m such a nerd about this that for an anniversary gift I registered my wife’s name and mine to be etched onto CD (with of course thousands of other people) and sent to the Kuiper Belt with the New Horizons probe. We have adjoining registration numbers; the certificates I printed out on quality paper and framed.

    In my own mind I don’t make a distinction between ‘manned’ and ‘unmanned’ exploration. The machines we send in our stead are us – in their engineering, attention to detail and mission they are one of the finest expressions of our culture.

    But I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see that ‘monkeys in a can’ will in the not too distant future have a viable place outside earth’s orbit in exploring the solar system.

    I live in Wisconsin – without modern technology this place would be unlivable unless you spend 90% of your time gathering the food, fuel and etc you need just to survive.

    But you COULD do that. Plenty of people lived in Wisconsin long before the Europeans arrived. Wisconsin at that time was totally self-sufficient. If the goal of colonizing space is to be insulated from the destruction of the Earth then it has to be self-sufficient to survive without Earth. That’s so far off in the science-fiction future that it doesn’t really inform space policy in 2007.

    What we do right now does have an affect on the future – it always does. Consider the cathedral builders in medieval Europe. As they built the cathedral they planted the trees that would grow to maturity and replace the main beams when – in a hundred or more years – the originals rotted. That’s long range thinking.

    Or Samuel Pepys. I’ve been reading his diary online at http://www.pepysdiary.com/ – you can get the thing as an RSS feed – one entry a day. With annotations. He’s more-or-less responsible for establishing – in the 1660s – the foundations of the British Navy. The one that would win wars in the 18th century and dominate the 19th. I do not know if he speculated on what his work could do a century after he died – I suspect he was more concerned with building a force that could beat the Dutch in the 1670s – or at least fight a war without being utterly demolished. Yet his policies did have a lasting impact and enabled Pax Britannica.

    It is possible to enable our heirs to aspire to better than we can imagine – isn’t that the point of doing some of what we do?

    allison

    “I live in Wisconsin – without modern technology this place would be unlivable unless you spend 90% of your time gathering the food, fuel and etc you need just to survive.”

    I guess the question is, “What is livable”? You imply that gathering the food, fuel, etc is not living. Why not? Living is meeting your needs. Any leisure time is a bonus. Whether we work at a computer or work in the field or at the hearth, we must work to make a living.

    Gathering food, fuel and etc is certainly living and as plnelson noted people lived in Wisconsin with only bark huts for shelter and rudimentary agriculture to supplement game. i don’t know but I’m sure they enjoyed life and each other – but I can’t imagine they saw winter as anything but a miserable time to be endured.

    I might be wrong – I’m not unaware that my own bias is at play here.

    What I was getting at is to counter the notion that if we’re dependent on technology for the very air we breathe it’s somehow not really colonization. In the sense of a place where people can subsist with no technology at all, that is correct. But what we call civilization now is utterly dependent on technology – living in bubbles on the moon or stations in the asteroid belt is a more extreme case but no less dependent on having and keeping technology than living in Wisconsin is right now.

    schmigr

    Maintaining a strong emphasis on robotic exploration is the only logical path, at least at this point in time. Until a strong, clear economic motivation becomes readily apparent, activities in space will be driven by science and national security. Furthermore the economic justification must be solid. Arm waving about “vast resources” or “manifest destiny” ain’t going to cut it.

    A great deal of that isn’t arm waving. We know what some of the resources are from all those nifty robots we’ve been sending out into the solar system. We’re discovering more all the time.

    I’m biased by the part-time job I hold but I’m convinced that part of the puzzle here is that it’s too damned expensive to get to orbit. There does not seem to be a firm barrier against cheap access to space – merely a difficult political and technical one to hurdle.

  • Allison It bodes of a mentality that stops considering what needs to happen here for sustainability and simply focuses on moving to the next place we can plunder. A mentality I would like to see us erase before we spread out.

    As a follow-up to the above – my reading list since I became interested in space issues after 2001 has become eclectic. I have in my hands the draft of a legal paper (I lack permission to forward or to directly quote, before publication, sorry) that bears on this.

    Partial summary – Commercial enterprises won’t act like berserk robber barons outside the atmosphere because the Federal Government won’t let them.

    1) Assume the organization in question is based in the US or has a large minority or majority ownership by corporations in the US.

    2) Organizations that wish to operate in space must comply with the provisions of the Commercial Space Flight Regulations Act of 2004 (CSRA). The FAA has ruled and will likely rule that these organizations must also follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

    3) NEPA was found to apply (Environmental Defense Fund v. Massey) to domestic organizations (I’m paraphrasing the author’s elegant prose) operating extra-territorially. The Fed is going to follow the organization to the equator, to the middle of the ocean and beyond. SeaLaunch for example must comply with CSRA and NEPA although their launches take place in international waters.

    Which is cheery good news – at least I think so. You may not be able to depend on your fellow mammals from dorking up the commons but you can depend on enlightened self-interest keeping them from doing so – going to jail and paying fines is a reasonably good incentive to do the right thing.

    Now all of this applies to US corporations and interests only. The good news is that the US is where the funding is, it’s where a great deal of outstanding science and engineering is done – or at least we function now as a hub for these activities. Further if a company wants access to the US launch market they must have at least part ownership in the US.

    We might have some expectation that a majority of the corporations that do end up in this industry will covered under these laws.

    There will be other actors and they will not have the same incentives to play by the rules; how would we incentives (say) China to follow the more restrictive rules and file an environmental impact statement?

  • MonteDavis

    Space advocates have been looking for a silver-bullet motivation for a long time. I understand the attraction of the “backup” theme, whether “get into space before we make the earth unliveable” or “get into space before the next planet-killer asteroid comes our way. William E. Burrows details the arguments well in his recent book The Survival Imperative. But I don’t think they have real persuasive power for the public at large: the natural responses are “OK, how ’bout we stop trashing the earth?” and “OK, but aren’t there higher-probability threats to be forestalled at less cost?”

    So those arguments tend to be compelling only to those who already want to get into space for other reasons. In other words, “preaching to the choir”…

  • Almanch

    # Brian Dunbar Says: Also Neil deGrasse Tyson – he simply does a great job at popularizing space and science topics for a general audience.

    ——–

    Excellent! One point he advocates that for the money invested in space you can motivate and inspire a generation into the sciences & engineering. The country with the best and the brightest currently will take the lead economically. He loves the robotic probes, but as he says: “The public has never given a ticker-tape parade for a robot.”

    Here’s an interview from space.com:

    http://www.space.com/news/tyson_interview_040209.html

    There are plenty of interests the US government throws money at. Considering what a small portion of the budget the space program is (0.8% of total federal budget), is it really a steep price to inspire future generations? (and to protect us from a doomsday asteroid)

    Here’s a nice little page comparing NASA spending with several other government programs:

    http://www.richardb.us/nasa.html

    (for cryin’ out loud, according to these figures we spend 32 times as much on recreation as we do on traveling into space!)

  • plnelson

    (for cryin’ out loud, according to these figures we spend 32 times as much on recreation as we do on traveling into space!)

    Apples and oranges.

    The recreational spending is consumer spending. It doesn’t need to be justified because each consumer can decide for themselves whether to go skiing or dirt-bike-riding or play a video game.

    But NASA’s budget comes from our TAXES so NASA is obliged to justify every penny. Before they ask me for money for a base on the moon they need to explain to me why I should give them money for that instead of however-many robot probes it would pay for.

  • Robin

    Thanks for all your input so far guys. It looks like tomorrow’s show is shaping up to deal largely with the new frontiers of what some people call alt.space – private enterprise trailblazing the way forward. So adjust your antennae to think about the role of the market in space exploration.

  • B Alan

    From what I’ve seen, the new small private enterprise efforts have two main foci: reducing costs and providing joy rides. It means you can get more bang for the buck, but I’m not sure that is trailblazing for exploration — joyrides for the megarich don’t qualify (not that I would mind turning a few orbits myself). Speaking of joyrides, the NASA zero g pool was unofficially used for looking into the dynamics of loving making — it takes three, which probably explains why whales do it two on one. A knowledgeable writer claims that several astronauts have gotten their “Three Dolphins Club” pins after actual missions, although I do wonder.

  • Matthew C

    Private enterprise is trailblazing the way forward to what? Space Tourism?

    In the not distant future, we will have long-distance international flights that will go into the very high atmosphere to get better fuel economy. Will we typical travelers all be astronauts at that time? Or do we need to go into orbit? If orbit, then what is the commercial value of the endeavor – except to have done it and buy the “I witnessed Newton’s Second Law of Motion and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” t-shirt?

    How about this for an alternative story for your commercial-space-endeavor show: NASA heads out to set up a moon base in a couple years. Will they will be bidding the construction work out to government contractors? Who is going to maintain the base for the decades to come? Now, there’s a story.

  • nother

    The Great Barrier Reef; the Great Wall of China; these are the cosmos for me. I have no doubt that if I travel to these distant places, I will be enriched by the experience.

    Yet something vital holds me back, it’s call practicality. I have a deficit, school loans and such. Sure I could max out my credit cards and explore the limits, but the I could also secure some of my necessities or provide for family members in need.

    The benefit of exploration do not outweigh the cost of neglecting those in need.

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  • B Alan From what I’ve seen, the new small private enterprise efforts have two main foci: reducing costs and providing joy rides.

    Yes and no. The former is of course important – it’s the best way to stimulate economic activity and make money. The latter gets a lot of press – it’s flashy, hip and cool. But that’s not all that is going on. Google Elon Musk and see what Space X is up to with their Falcon rocket, for starters.

    It means you can get more bang for the buck, but I’m not sure that is trailblazing for exploration

    Think incremental baby-steps approach. First build the infrastructure to get stuff to space cheaply, which lets you explore the solar system for a great deal less than you can now. Think more bang for your tax dollar.

    Matthew C How about this for an alternative story for your commercial-space-endeavor show: NASA heads out to set up a moon base in a couple years. Will they will be bidding the construction work out to government contractors? Who is going to maintain the base for the decades to come? Now, there’s a story.

    More questions – the people building ISS have been middle-aged doctors. This is fine for a few days at a stretch but building serious infrastructure for months on end is a job for a young guy. Where will these people come from, how will they be trained? They won’t be military test pilots – how are they going to fit into the existing NASA culture?

  • nother The benefit of exploration do not outweigh the cost of neglecting those in need.

    It’s been argued that the benefits of past exploration have been increased wealth for society – more wealth to help those in need. It seems a truism to me at least that a society poor in wealth cannot afford to carry millions of people on welfare and vast social programs to help the marginal.

    The more wealth we accrue the better we’re able to take care of those in need …. yes?

  • Gid.

    Plnelson says, ”We’ve been living in the GOLDEN AGE of space science!! But thanks to our robot space probes we’re not paying golden prices for it. We’ve been doing fantastic, phenomenal, truly excellent planetary and extra-solar science on the cheap, using ROBOTS. We should continue doing so.”

    Amen… Brother.

    The only convincing reason that I have herd for sending live humans into space, at this time, with the particular technologies that we have at our disposal, is to repair an especially precious orbiting telescope, when the task is beyond the capability of robots. Unmanned space exploration is not a step backwards but rather a step forward. In the 60’s we did not have the electronic, robotic, and computational technology to do much in space with out sending live people. Today we have incredible opportunities to explore technologically. We should put most of our resources behind this advance.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    What to Do in Space? Sounding like Bucky Fuller: I’m doing it, and I’m probabilistically certain others are as well. Perhaps it’s the inner-hound that is pathologically disposed to run out to the end of the leash and strain against its tether. I say where’s that, where’s that dawg … doo-dah, doo-dah.

  • nother

    Brian Dunbar, thanks for pointing out the lack of nuance in my statement. I suppose a better statement would be, the benefits of exploration SHOULD be weighed against the cost of neglecting those in need.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Stan Ulam, beam me up: Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)

  • suppose a better statement would be, the benefits of exploration SHOULD be weighed against the cost of neglecting those in need.

    That works for me. But it truly is not an either/or kinda deal. Spending on welfare entitlements far outstrips what we spend on NASA. And of course money spent on efforts like SpaceDev, Space X, Liftport (ahem) don’t deprive the marginal members of our society at all.

    Yes, it’s still not space exploration but the promise is held out to make the exploration cheaper still.

  • Potter

    The sun puts out enough energy ( in all directions) in one second to power the USA for 9 million years ( flash just in from the Science Channel ).

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    I suppose a better statement would be, the benefits of exploration SHOULD be weighed against the cost of neglecting those in need. A contrarian could (but not necessarily) use this as a criterion (other possibilities exist) for demonstrating a ‘learners permit’ level of evolutionary development in cosmological matters. One could envisage a requirement for scientific/technical competency that is larger than a proven ability to accomplish a task through the means of science and technology. Put another way, why should we feel the need to export our collective psycho-drama, in person or through virtual means, off spaceship earth? Too Luddite-esque? Bah! Indoor plumber was dumped on our laps without any cultural dialog, and see where we are now. We’re still assaulting each other physically and our sensibilities, still starving physically and intellectually, regardless of terrestrial potty technology… though I do enjoy my chamber pot in a nice, warm, well-lit room.

  • PaulK

    I’m a space entrepreneur. Patent is in process. I’m trying to get grants now. NO, not NIAC grants for 10 years down the road, grants to build and deploy my device in space soon.

    Here’s what I can tell you, without telling you how: A moon base IS going to get cheap fast. Some of the arguments against going to the moon will disappear soon.

  • miketurk

    Dear Chris,

    Nice subject however your guest entreprenures don’t really sound like they are interested in Space Exploration more they are into Space exploitation for Monetary numbers and company bpttom lines. Where is the discusions about for the good od humanity and and benefit for Earth in genaeral……….sheesh talk about guzzling energy for private gain!!!

  • PaulK

    I promise you that the chemical rocket breakthrough is finished. The five of us ran it by a longtime NASA engineer recently and he was impressed. Uh, you’re just looking in the wrong direction.

  • PaulK

    Elon Musk! Ready to look? I’m ready to show!

  • heaviest cat

    It is hoped that Space will not be the exclusive domain of millionaires and “free market” ideologues. Or of the pentagon. Both cases would spell exclusive access and increased political leverage for the priviliged I hope ,the exploration of Space will be a community endeavor ,of course funded by the federal governmnet but NOT used for military purposes.Every citizen must have input @ the Space program. Also, given our atrocious record on this planet as “stewards” ,I’m for exploration but not colonization of extraterrestrial bodies.

  • Sutter

    Great show!

  • PaulK

    I share your hope, heaviest cat. But, I’m in a dilemma.

    Imagine that you had just invented a new hydrogen-based automobile fuel that stopped carbon dioxide emissions, and the military had invented a tank that ran on your fuel. Would you tell anyone? Yes you would. You didn’t invent the fuel for that tank, and tanks can run on any fuel.

    Now imagine that you suspect the military would take your technology and make it secret. Would you tell anyone? Yes again, because, face it, the military is too stupid to keep even big secrets for very long, so after spending money developing your fuel for you, they would manage to spread the idea to private U.S. corporations for “competitive advantage”, and soon it would spread all over the world.

    I understand that you want space and the new worlds to be the domain of ordinary people, just as the Western Hemisphere eventually became the domain of common people.

    The first century of the Western Hemisphere was about gold in galleons, conquests and naval battles. Then the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts and half of them died the first winter. But gradually the Pilgrims developed better technology. (Actually, local Wampanoags helped them out. White welfare cases.) Those that followed the Pilgrims learned from the Pilgrims and slept in existing houses until they too could get established.

    The new worlds will be like that. Military powers will dominate for a long time. Gradually people starving for more freedom will survive in the military’s shadow, and the military will tolerate the kooks for the minor benefits they bring. The Eastern Hemisphere settlers didn’t actually take over the Western Hemisphere for three centuries.

    Ad Astra, Per Gloria Patris

  • MonteDavis

    heaviest, PaulK – For all the talk of “high ground” since 1957, the *real* military use of space has been (and will be for some time to come) surveillance (spysats, missile launch warning etc) and communications. Those are analogous to the weather/remote sensing and commsats on the civilian side. And they pay off for their “customers” for exactly the same reasons: a relatively small equipment package can cover a lot of ground and serve a lot of users.

    All the rest, from the Air Force’s Dyna-Soar 45 years ago through SDI orbital “battle stations” in the 1980s to talk today of “rods from God” bombardment, or Marines anywhere on earth in 45 minutes, is just that: talk. Such projects always have an intense (but limited) constituency in the Pentagon — just as Mars Now! or space solar power Now! have intense (but limited) constituencies in civilian space.

    So keep a sense of proportion in worrying about militarization of space. It can be argued that what countries actually *do* to each other there makes the world safer, by reducing unfounded fears of surprise attack. The zoomy pictures of what they *might* do are much more threatening — but they also have a long, reassuring history of not happening.

  • Greetings from Tacoma! I’m excited to hear what the liftport folks have to say as they were the sponsors of my Cartoonists Northwest 24hr comic ‘spawns of insomnia’ comic book marathon back in the year 2005. Check out my sci-fi comic book that features liftport vaporware technology.

    http://www.holisticforgeworks.com/gallery/traditional_art/spacedog01.html

  • hurley

    This might interest some people on this thread:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2015345,00.html

  • padrat

    I’ve been an aerospace engineer for over 20 years.

    I just visited friends back at the Kennedy Space Center, (I was laid 5 years ago, just before 9/11) some are still working half were laid off. I say, come on Musk Rutan, and Branson. I am so tired of having to work for only the big boys (Bo-Lockmart) helping them play with meeting their milestone charts and not inventing anything. The more the merrier! Not to mention that it would be great to work for a company that was actualy innovative and not dependent on the government funding cycle.

    Welcome to the game boys, I’m warming up my resume. Maybe I can use my Masters Degree for bending metal and not to just push papers!

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