Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Off Topic: Manned Space Missions Rant

The Slingshot Effect

According to news reports, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, which lasted 10 years and was completely successful, cost $1.3 billion.  This was less than the price of a coffee-per-year for a European taxpayer.  The amount of space engineering know-how and potential scientific discovery added to our store of knowledge is significant.

Many times, I've seen American advocates for space exploration say that popular support can't be found unless 1) it's a manned mission and/or 2) the public is scared into it with Cold War boogie men.  As far as the public is concerned, they say, the Hubble Telescope and the Mars Landers were yawns.  Both were comparatively inexpensive but scientifically productive.

So NASA is now promoting and planning a manned mission to Mars, which will be expensive, take years to mount, and produce little science beyond what we already know.  Why?  Because it might capture the public imagination.  "Public Scientists," like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who know better, are promoting manned space exploration.

I object!  It's true that the human mind is more creative than computer-run experiments.  But humans can collaborate and refine the observations and experiments from the comfort of earth.  There is no need to lift 400-600 lbs. of biomass (people) and expensive life-support systems into orbit,  maintain them for years, and re-lift-off from Mars.  We're talking bang for our science buck here.  I don't know how many more space science missions could be done for the cost of one manned Mars mission, but it's orders-of-magnitute.

Above and below: tiny target, rich in hard science, as compared with the size of Los Angeles, which is more rich in the
social sciences.  ;-)

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