Manned Space Will Never Be Great

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , , ,

Because the mind’s eye far exceeds ground truth, there are calls to “make manned space flight great again,” especially in the post-Shuttle era.

A new direction in collaboration among government and private space agencies, especially in nations with an established space industry infrastructure, might yield technologies and commercially viable projects that could benefit the world in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Yes, and mining the sea beds might also reveal the same. Or the use of hydraulic fracturing (AKA fracking) might be used to achieve U.S. energy-independence. Or… robotic space might benefit the world in ways we cannot yet imagine (and it’s cheaper, faster, and better than manned space to boot).

One problem with the “benefit the world in ways we cannot yet imagine” assertion is that despite all the cool stuff we might learn from, for example, Hubble or the yet-to-work James Webb Space Telescope (oh, and those are unmanned, BTW), those things don’t change life here on earth. I’ve been taught knowledge is good, but are the non-benefits of space science (relative to the cost) any sort of concern?

For example, human space technologies perhaps offer the best alternatives to protect against climate change by providing reliable and advanced methods to build sustainable shelters for people and livestock and to sustain agriculture in areas threatened by extreme weather patterns.

Groan. “Perhaps offer the best alternatives”? How do we benefit by recycling the tired ‘climate change’ chestnut again? I’m starting to think the settled science of manmade global warming was an even more successful disinformation campaign than the Soviets’ “nuclear winter” bit. Use Allen Iverson video below to hedge your intellectual bets and substitute “perhaps” for “practice.”

The assertion that manned space flight can be made great again depends on an underlying assumption that manned space flight was once great. And as one of America’s proxies in economic, technological, and military competition with the Russians, maybe it was great for the national ego, but that’s about the limit of it. Manned space flight was a stunt back in the day and it is far more of a stunt now.

Manned space is more of a stunt now largely because of breakthroughs in computing, sensors, and bandwidth. What is manned space now? A reality-suspended placeholder for those who think we’ll all kill ourselves or will be wiped out by an asteroid.

If space is to continue to have a future, it needs to be in ways that make life better here on earth. Robotic space-based communications, positioning, navigation, and timing (AKA GPS), and remote observation systems (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems have been successful and if manned space is to ever be great, it will be from the natural springboard provided by unmanned space systems.

I have seen the future of space and just like now, it’s dark, cold, and unmanned.


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