The Future Is Not What It Used to Be

The Future Is Not What It Used to Be

Today Americans celebrate the events of July 20, 1969, when Man walked on the Moon, declared Victory in Space, and went home. Forty years later, the U.S. space effort means car GPS, XM Radio, and satellite TV.

Tom Wolfe wants to celebrate the moon landing anniversary with a mission to Mars, a goal he shares with George W. Bush. Why Mars? Because it’s there. A good rationale for reality television, perhaps, but not for a dangerous and costly engineering program.

Mr. Wolfe thinks that if philosophers ran NASA we would have more challenging manned space stunts. He finds the unmanned missions that merely provide profound scientific knowledge just too boring.  Perhaps he should discover computer games.

Even sending creaking old space shuttles into Earth orbit has sucked funding from real space science. Manned interplanetary projects would further choke real scientific efforts. Failure of public attention to space flights which do not endanger human life is hardly a question of philosphy.

If it takes humans in peril on other planets to inspire Americans, our nation needs a massive imagination overhaul much more than a Mars shot. Perhaps we can dispense with philosopher-bureaucrats and devote more effort to funding scientific research and science education.

 

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

About these ads

Tags: , , ,

20 Responses to “The Future Is Not What It Used to Be”

  1. delapaix Says:

    This posting doesn’t make any sense. The shuttles are used to ferry materials for the international space station, which is where the kind of scientific research you are talking about is taking place. I agree robots are safer, but our destiny is the stars. The earth will not sustain humanity- it is too late to pretend we can just do science without finding ways and places to continue human development. There is no other way to preserve natural resources here on earth.

  2. k2000k Says:

    I think you have completely missed the point. Manned space flights inspire humanity in a way unmanned probes cannot because it is evidence that at some point in the future, humans can leave earth and travel amongst the stars. If I had the chance to go to the moon or mars I would take it in a heartbeat.

  3. betto Says:

    You just don’t get it, do you?

  4. Eli Ribble Says:

    “Perhaps we can dispense with philosopher-bureaucrats and devote more effort to funding scientific research and science education.”

    If you have a dislike for philosopher-bureaucrats deciding that spending public monies on a manned space flight because ‘it is there’, then I would think that to be logically consistent you would also have a dislike for philosopher-bureaucrats deciding that a given scientific study is worthy of public money because the knowledge ‘is there’.

    I don’t think the government should spend public money on flying to Mars. For any reason. Or that the government should spend public money on any scientific research. There is no measure for funding of scientific research that is not subject to arbitrary, qualitative decisions from bureaucrats. Since it is impossible for the government to objectively fund science correctly, the government should not do it. Private entities are the only ones who have the right to dispense with money in the pursuit of science, because they are the only ones with the right to that money in the first place.

  5. Mike Licht Says:

    delapaix writes: The shuttles are used to ferry materials for the international space station, which is where the kind of scientific research you are talking about is taking place.

    Very little actual scientific research has taken place at the international space station to date. Most of this enormous engineering effort has gone into merely sustaining human life in space, hardly a research effort.

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    k2000k wrote: I think you have completely missed the point. Manned space flights inspire humanity in a way unmanned probes cannot ….

    I get it, alright. A very expensive – and sometimes fatal — publicity stunt.

  7. Mike Licht Says:

    Betto wrote: You just don’t get it, do you?

    I get it, alright. A very expensive – and sometimes fatal — publicity stunt.

  8. Mike Licht Says:

    Eli Ribble wrote: There is no measure for funding of scientific research that is not subject to arbitrary, qualitative decisions from bureaucrats.

    Wrong. Meaningful federal research grants are peer-reviewed, and panel members are not government bureaucrats.

    Private entities are the only ones who have the right to dispense with money in the pursuit of science

    Wrong. Private ventures seek applications, not research.

  9. Eli Ribble Says:

    @Mike Licht

    Please explain the peer-review process in such a way as to highlight the quantitative criteria it provides upon which governmental grants make their assessments for worthiness of funds.

    “Private ventures seek applications, not research”

    Could you please elucidate? Applications for what? I know of private entities that perform research – do we disagree on the definition of research? My definition is any knowledge, any fact, with a basis in reality and provable observation.

  10. Mike Licht Says:

    Eli Ribble wrote: Please explain the peer-review process in such a way as to highlight the quantitative criteria it provides upon which governmental grants make their assessments for worthiness of funds.

    Try the National Academies of Science from whence this:

    A Peer Reviewer is a person having technical expertise in the subject matter to be reviewed (or a subset of the subject matter to be reviewed) to a degree at least equivalent to that needed for the original work”] …

    The peer’s independence from the work being reviewed means that the peer, a) was not involved as a participant, supervisor, technical reviewer, or advisor in the work being reviewed, and b) to the extent practical, has sufficient freedom from funding considerations to assure the work is impartially reviewed.

    A peer review is an in-depth critique of assumptions, calculations, extrapolations, alternate interpretations, methodology, and acceptance criteria employed, and of conclusions drawn in the original work. Peer reviews confirm the adequacy of the work. In contrast to peer review, the term “technical review” . . . refers to a review to verify compliance to predetermined requirements; industry standards; or common scientific, engineering, and industry practice.

    … the term peer review has the following characteristics:

    expert (including national/international perspectives on the issue),
    independent, external, and technical.

    Most importantly, peer reviews must be carded out by independent reviewers who are experts in the technical issues relevant to the projects under review. Such reviewers must be highly qualified and independent

    As to the difference between technology and pure research, consult any encyclopedia.

  11. pylorns Says:

    Is it really that hard of a leap to think that maybe by setting a challenging goal, you can inspire new generations? Sure its sad that in your words “it takes human peril to inspire Americans”, but if you look throughout history – that is what the American Spirit is: Triumph though adversity.

    [Edited for length and relevance - ml]

  12. Mike Licht Says:

    pylorns wrote: Sure its sad that … “it takes human peril to inspire Americans” …

    More sick than sad.

    … that is what the American Spirit is: Triumph though adversity

    Contrived adversity? That’s called Reality Television.

    Stunts are not science, and fill no healthy human need.

  13. Another Triumph in Space « NotionsCapital Says:

    [...] NotionsCapital Ideas on Events and Culture from Washington, DC « The Future Is Not What It Used to Be [...]

  14. Rukasu Says:

    @k2000k: I dunno, the Hubble telescope and unmanned probes to the outer reaches of the Solar System and beyond inspire me a lot more than an outdated ferry exploding over west Texas because of ice and foam…

  15. Mike Licht Says:

    Rukau wrote: the Hubble telescope and unmanned probes to the outer reaches of the Solar System and beyond inspire me a lot more ….

    As well they should. But stunt-piloting, with the chance of death, seems to have greater public appeal, and the manned effort saps resources from actual scientific research projects.

  16. Marie Says:

    Sometimes it takes a few people and a big risk to make all of us take a few steps forward.

    The scientific accomplishments of the manned space program so far seem to consist of empty sentiment. To spend billions and incur fatal risk so the earthbound may dream seems an obscenely gladitorial concept.

  17. Christopher Sachs Says:

    I think the choice isn’t between unmanned and manned exploration. I think it’s between a closed future where we’re resigned to partitioning an ever-decreaing supply of resources, and an open future with near limitless possibilities.

    I think it’s pathetic to characterize the space program by a few of its failures. It’s akin to criticizing the endeavor of science for failing to explain dark energy, or proving a fundamental theory of everything. Or mocking the attempts of particle physicists because the LHC has had trouble getting up in running.

  18. WilliamBlake Says:

    Manned capability complements our robotic technology. One does not mean you cannot do the other. Both have their uses. You value the Hubble telescope. It would not be possible without the ability to put men there in orbit, to repair and service it.
    People also may have other goals besides basic research. Chinese and Russians talk of mining the moon for helium 3. This would require a human presence at least to set up a base and get a robotic operation going.
    I read some posts, people were talking about going to Mars as a one way trip. Why so? Unlike the Moon, Mars has water!
    Water to drink, water for hydroponics, water to break down to hydrogen for fuel cells, and oxygen to breath, rocket fuel (Hydrox!).
    Mars can support a permanent base, with its water, and make the fuel for return trips. Why go there…well that’s still being debated.

  19. Mike Licht Says:

    William Blake writes: Manned capability complements our robotic technology. One does not mean you cannot do the other. Both have their uses. You value the Hubble telescope. It would not be possible without the ability to put men there in orbit, to repair and service it.

    Men would not have to repair and service it if the manned effort had not drained the resources from the scientific research program. The second or third successor to Hubble would be in orbit by now.

    This is not about “Men vs. Robots.” It is about having a goal and using advanced technology anf public funds to out-stunt Evel Knievel.

  20. Mike Licht Says:

    Christopher Sachs wrote: I think the choice isn’t between unmanned and manned exploration.

    In a perfect world, where political considerations did not drive NASA, the manned space effort would be done in a rational and meaningful way, one that did not drain resources from actual scientific research. That is not the world — or solar system — in which we live.

    I think it’s between a closed future where we’re resigned to partitioning an ever-decreaing supply of resources, and an open future with near limitless possibilities

    Stunt flights do not change the future, they just change the Guiness Book of World Records. With few significant exceptions (Hubble, the probes) that is certainly the lesson of the last four decades of NASA.

Comments are closed.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers

%d bloggers like this: