So, I was just watching ISS coverage on NASA TV and was suddenly struck by the sheer futility of it.
No. I don’t mean that space exploration is not a worthy endeavor. To say so is pure ignorant folly -and I try VERY hard to refrain from that sort of thing.
It’s pure folly because where else is the human species going to go? There simply isn’t enough usable land area to support human kind at the rate that we’re multiplying. Roughly 40% of the entire species lives in one concentrated area in Asia, and eventually that will start spreading itself outward.
We simply do not have the resources to feed a projected 13 BILLION people at the end of the 21st century with what we have right now.
Wars will break out over territory, food, and energy. Our atmosphere will continue it’s downward spiral until it reaches near breaking (assuming it hasn’t already), and only then will governments see the problem squarely.
The disease that is the human species – and we are a disease, make no bones about it(Agent Smith pointed out that we’re a virus in the first Matrix movie, which is fairly accurate when you look at us from a macroscopic view) – spreads to all points possible before killing the host i.e. Planet Earth.
For us to have any hope at all for the continuation of humankind far into the future, we must learn to expand beyond terra firma out into the solar system… and from there, out into the universe perhaps.
To get there, we must conquer space flight and space habitation – the ability to stay in space for long periods of time without ill effects on our fragile human biosystems.
The first major stepping stone in this quest is the International Space Station (ISS for short), which is currently being built in orbit over our planet by the astronauts that we’ve all come to take for granted due to the fact that space flight has become very routine in the eyes of the general public.
The only time that it becomes non-routine is when something goes horribly wrong i.e. the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters – and only then does Joe Q. Public realize how fraught with danger space flight actually is at this stage in it’s development.
This is also the time when the politico nay-sayers come out in droves to denounce the space program and all of it’s dangers and expenses, saying that humans have absolutely no business flitting about in the heavens and that all the space funding should be spent on more worthwhile endeavors like education and health.
However, they could not be more fundamentally wrong in this assumption if they tried!
Where are we going to go?
Where are humans going to live in the distant future, far beyond those particular politician’s lifetimes? Far beyond any time that what they say now will even matter?
Are we going to simply stop breeding? Starting tomorrow, are they going to legislate that every human get themselves spayed and neutered to help control the people population? What is the end game that these morons foresee? Mega cities with more than 500,000,000 citizens a piece?
The impracticality of those solutions is almost laughable.
Humankind’s only true hope is amongst our neighboring planets, and someday, amongst the stars…
…And this is where the previously mentioned futility comes in.
When the ISS is finished construction sometime next year – after 10-11 years of assembly (process slowed down by the Columbia accident), we will have this wonderful orbiting outpost that we all can see with the naked eye from the ground if looking in the right place.
This outpost is where we are going to test our mettle against the cold, hard vacuum of space… testing ourselves to see if we can make it where life isn’t expected to exist or survive.
This is solid science, folks. The kind that our very existence hinges upon. The kind that trumps all the defense program spending in the entire world. The kind that provides each and every one of us with a destiny – perhaps not for ourselves, but for our descendants who may live to see humans flourishing on the surface of Mars and mining the asteroids and moons of the solar system.
This is science that will have cost 100 BILLION dollars by the time the station is complete.
All of this is going to come crashing to a halt in the very near term unless politicians wise up and see beyond the end of their political terms.
NASA is teetering on the edge budgetwise. They simply do not have the money to fulfill any of the goals that humanity so desperately needs to achieve… which is so tragic that it makes me want to laugh at the clear insanity of it.
NASA’s current plan is to abandon the ISS in the year 2016 when current funding runs out, and burn the station up in the atmosphere via a de-orbit.
$100 billion up in smoke – quite literally, instead of sticking it out and making the full use of the tax payer’s investment.
Would you spend $100 billion dollars building a house and then only live in it for 6 or 7 years?
Hell no! You’d live in that house until the walls fell in around you.
But NASA doesn’t have the luxury of that kind of logical thinking.
Why? Because nobody will give NASA any more money.
George W. Bush commanded that NASA put humans back on the surface of the moon by 2020, and to prepare technologies to send astronauts to Mars 15 to 20 years after that.
That was a very ambitious plan and I can commend the forward thinking – even if it was his attempt to make a presidential legacy for himself.
The problem was and still is, no extra money was allotted to NASA for this ambitious program. In fact, the NASA budget has decreased since then with the thinking that when the space shuttle is forced into retirement at the end of this decade, the $3 billion a year in savings can be folded back into the budget for technological development.
Which sounds great on paper, and sounds even better when U.S. senators and congressmen say it out loud to themselves and the voting public…but doesn’t add up at all when you crunch the numbers in a realistic fashion.
What they see is that in today’s dollars, the Saturn V rocket (the vehicle that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon) cost approximately $7 billion all in – which is two years shuttle expenses. However this doesn’t include setting up a proposed base on the moon – and completely ignores costs that will be incurred by planning a trip to Mars.
The basic truth is that NASA does not have enough money to do all the things that it is tasked to do i.e. space science (probes, telescopes, astronauts programs), earth sciences (satellites studying the planet and all of it’s systems), and aeronautic sciences (aircraft design studies, future engine study, etc.).
There is a current task force that is about to meet with President Obama that is going to tell him precisely what NASA can afford to do within it’s current budget without him authorizing bonus money for the agency.
The task force has already said publicly that NASA can’t do all of the jobs tasked to it with the cash it’s getting, and that they are going to recommend removing programs from NASA’s purview.
So now it’s up to Barack Obama to save the space agency.
With a costly war heating up in Afghanistan, I’m not sure there’s any money to send NASA’s way to pay for the programs that will – in the end – save the human species.
Yes. There are other space programs out there. The Russians, Europeans, the Japanese, and even the South Koreans have space programs. Hell, the red Chinese have an ambitious space program that intends to put Chinese soldiers astronauts on the moon before the Americans go back.
But NASA has always been the heavy lifter when it came to space exploration.
What will happen if it’s human spaceflight programs get canceled?
I don’t know.
I don’t have the answers.
However, I do know this: time is running out. Maybe not soon, maybe not in 20 years, but eventually the clock will run out on when we as a species can develop ways to move beyond this planet and save ourselves.
Isn’t this a goal worth a few extra billion dollars?