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  1. This will certainly be of use some day, but the brutal reality is that we are not going back to the Moon…or indeed, anywhere…with a manned space program any time in the future. Until we have a better way to get off the Earth and around the solar system than chemical rockets, it’s not going to happen. Oh, NASA might send a couple of half-hearted missions to the Moon, but a base? No way. Back in the 60’s when they ran the Apollo program, the speed and efficiency of their decision-making and management was incredible (many historians of the program have said it was half a technical triumph, and half a management triumph). Now NASA is a sclerotic government bureaucracy with a small space program attached. And can you imagine a huge effort such as getting to the Moon being steadily funded over several presidencies and changes of Congress? Forget it.
    And Mars? It is to laugh. We haven’t been out of LEO since 1972. We’d have to relearn to fly in deep space, so we’d be talking several Moon missions just for that. I won’t even get into the non-trivial aspects of putting four or so people in a tiny spaceship for nine months at a time in the face of environmental challenges and psychological pressure. And the Mars trip requires 18 months at a base on Mars. So we’d need a Moon base, and we’d need to run it for at least a year or two just to test the Mars base tech. But wait, there’s more! What makes the most sense in going to Mars is setting up an outpost on Phobos first. You think the American taxpayers would want to pay hundreds of billions for The Big Trip to Mars just to see astronauts orbiting the planet and not even going to the surface?
    I’m a big booster of the space program. I would love to see a manned mission to Mars in my lifetime. But unless we get a HUGE breakthrough in physics or a new enthusiasm for space exploration among the population and politicians that will last a couple of decades at least, the chances are looking pretty small.
    Which sucks. If you told me when I was a kid watching the Moon landings that we wouldn’t be back there 40 years later, I would have laughed. No SF writer even even dreamed of such a ridiculous plotline.
    On the other hand, we’ve done incredibly well with our unmanned probes, and NASA seems to be able to be involved with that without screwing it up too badly. We’re not going back to Uranus and Neptune for a while, though…until we get nuclear engines into space, against the inevitable hysteria.
    Now, there is an exception to the above–if one of our probes discovers *incontrovertible* evidence of life out there. Then I’d upgrade my analysis of sending men to check it out to a 50/50 chance. But even then, I could see cross-contamination concerns shoot that down as well. The team that’s looking at a Europa landing/drill expedition consider that their #1 problem and right now literally have no idea how to avoid it.
    I’m just a ray of sunshine, aren’t I?

  2. James,

    The problem with your comment is this —

    The Chinese and the Indians DON’T have the technological base and expertise to build moon bases any time soon! I would say they’re both at least 20-30 years behind the US AND Russia and are proceeding at a far slower pace than the latter two countries did in the 1960s with their space programs.

    You have to demonstrate reliability and safety with manned systems — even for a totalitarian society. They will not tolerate so many failures, censored press or not. For dictatorships, you can argue that they need to save face even more than a free society just to prove the government is strong and their society’s technical expertise isn’t backward precisely because of the political system!

    The latter point I don’t think can be stressed enough. There were many, many technical failures and fatalities that both the USSR and Nazi Germany covered up in their aerospace programs because they didn’t want to dishearten/discourage the populace and weaken the respective government’s political standings. Rumors and strong evidence can undo a government even in the presence of censorship. There’s only so much covering-up any political entity can do.

    Granted, I believe the mainland Chinese government may be callous enough to throw away several dozen lives before they develop a good rocket system — and remember, they’ve only done one manned spaceshot in 3-4 decades of an active space program(!). In the time that’s elapsed since that flight, both the US and Russia had launched in excess of a dozen manned flights in the 1960s. (I’m talking of manned flight period of between 1961-1966. I think a dozen a-piece is about right for both the US and USSR in that time frame.)

    It’s one thing for the Chinese to license technology and tooling from the Russians… figuring out how to improve on it and make it work for them is another thing.

    I’m not saying the Chinese are stupid by any means. However, they are still dogmatically communist in their political thinking and that centralized bureaucracy tends to stall technical development when it comes to scientific breakthroughs and technological progress. It’s far from efficient and very often the people who need to be talking to each other can’t because their phone calls are being monitored or their letters are being redacted!

    India itself is another basket case and has many social problems it needs to overcome before it becomes a real world power. I think India being a socialist democracy will probably be forced to tackle those before it becomes a serious player in manned space. Its government has to be responsive to its people and I don’t think they’ll tolerate grand adventures in space in the light of still-massive poverty and the inequities of the caste system and religious/ethnic problems in the regions bordering Pakistan.

  3. My kingdom for an edit function!

    Change “the problem with your comment” to “I DON’T think…”

    Sounds better and a lot less harsh!

    That’s the problem with online posting when you don’t have an edit function.

    Before I got the handle on it, I was apologizing left and right to people for sounding harsher than I intended.

    Again, I say — Sorry Hud, if that came out harsh to begin with.

    It’s not in my nature to be nasty to people. It takes a lot to get me mad.

  4. George,

    In some ways, you’re right. But never underestimate determined people. And India and China are entering into a competition which may motivate them. They have plenty of clever, talented people and they can hire American and European scientists.

    We seem to lack the political will and the financial smarts at this time, or we can do it. But we have complete morons and crooks running the economy right now.

  5. Sure we have to advance space exploration.

    Earth won’t last forever.

    For mankind to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs and most other species on the Earth, we have to go to other life-sustaining planets. It will take generations for us to develop Star Trek-level technology but what other alternative is there if we want humanity to continue?

    Eventually, we won’t have another choice… the cosmic Noah’s Ark(s) will have to be built when the right moment comes.

    Our dogmatism — one way or the other — will save the human species or do us in!

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