Sunday, November 04, 2012

The bright future

Lately I find myself thinking a lot about what I tend to call the "bright future", the future I thought I'd be living in today when I was a kid. I was a space-crazy introvert with visions of Star Wars and Star Trek in my head. The Americans had already sent men to the moon, there was Skylab and Viking and Voyager.  Then there was the space shuttle and Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space. We in the West had bested fascism and outlasted communism. Infectious diseases were becoming a thing of the past and despite our ever increasing global population, we always seemed to find a way to feed most of them and when we couldn't, it was invariably because of bad governments, not inadequate food supply. As I entered adulthood in the mid-80s, it seemed obvious that the awesomeness would continue. I wasn't naive enough to believe I would be moving to Mars someday, but I certainly would have imagined there'd have been a manned Mars mission by now.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. It isn't all bad, of course. NASA still sends those marvelous little rovers to Mars and the International Space Station still passes overhead 16 times a day. But we don't send people to the Moon anymore, Marc Garneau is a politician (a Liberal MP, no about destroying my adolescent hero worship) and a manned Mars mission seems more like science-fiction now than it ever has. As for things down here on Earth, we still can't cure cancer or AIDS or the common cold. Nuclear fusion remains stubbornly elusive. We may (or may not) be facing a climate catastrophe unless we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, which we won't without embracing nuclear energy, which we won't because...well, I don't know...radiation scary! We have declining birthrates because we're rich and spoiled and children tend to get in the way of our jet setting lifestyles, so we're aging quickly. Soon, nobody will be able to go to space because our osteoporosis-ridden skeletons won't be able to handle the Gs. Besides, there's no internet on Mars and cellphone reception on the Moon is terrible. How are people supposed to follow their twitter feeds under circumstances like that?

This post is an introduction, of sorts, to a series of future postings in which I will share my thoughts and observations on getting back to the spirit of '69. Feel free to disagree, but be civil about it, if you please.



Obiri said...

When it comes to Mars, there are tons of issues - the biggest one is that it would be a one way trip. I'm sure you could still find lots of people who would devote the rest of their lives to setting up a small lab or colony on mars. The question is: Is it worth it?

We can send the rovers there cheaper and with a better chance of success. There is no need for year long life support systems + whatever supplies would be needed for an extended stay on Mars.

Landing stuff on Mars is no sure thing yet either. Although they've been more successful lately there are still more failed missions than successful ones.

Until such a time that space travel is cheaper, faster, and more reliable, I think our little robots will continue to do our exploration for us.

Rognar said...

Why one way? Sure, if you are going to set up a base on Mars, you're going to want people to stay for a year or two, but as long as they are resupplied with unmanned supply ships, there's no reason why they couldn't return.

As for whether it's worth it, that is the ultimate question. If we are ever going to embrace the future and becoming a space-faring race, we are going to have to actually start going into space. It can't always be a cost-benefit analysis over scientific or economic value. At some point, it has to be just about advancing human civilization.

Obiri said...

A two way trip is too difficult with current technology. The riskiest part of any space mission is launch. It requires a controlled explosion to generate enough thrust to get the payload into orbit. Sure Mars has less gravity but you are still going to need a lot of fuel to get a human crew back into orbit where they can embark the vehicle to get them home.

Rognar said...

Check out this plan by Robert Zubrin: