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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Mars Landing Proves Space Development Is Immensely Popular

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt
  This quote, slightly mangled, was used by NASA in the news conference after the landing as described here by Spiked. Somewhat inappropriately since NASA have not been the adventurous types in space development, instead they have been a sclerotic government bureaucracy whose main role, if the US President's astonishing inanity is to be believed is to "make Muslims feel good" about themselves.
   In fact the people who have dared mighty things, certainly by comparison to their resources are the likes of Burt Rutan who designed Spaceship One, which succeeded. Also Colin Pillinger, whose Beagle 2 failed but could and should have been repeated, with tweaks at half the cost, since the original design work had been done, until it worked. Instead ESA and the committee of MPs denounced him for not having enough money and ESA were not minded to help Beagle in any way. When it failed they said what a good idea it had been and they would do it over, but bigger and 10 times more expensively. Since then nothing has been done but the money has been spent. What should have been done is let Colin tweak the design a little, which would mean, since the original design work had been done, a mark 2 would probably have cost half as much; have ESA ground monitoring actually monitor and try again for as long as necessary.

   However what really proved how much admiration and respect space activity engenders was this leader from the Guardian
Space science: gamble that paid dividends The latest Mars mission is partly a tentative rehearsal for a long-planned joint US-European smash-and-grab raid

Planetary exploration is expensive – as Curiosity's $2.5bn robotic landing on Mars on Monday morning certainly shows – but it is not an expensive luxury
  The praise is extracted as if with a dentist's drill & they make a really silly shoehorning in mention of environmentalism but when the Guardian are forced to give any praise for something technologically progressive they must know it is popular even with guardianistas. And it is. Look at the comments - pages of them and barely a critical one (except for a moron who thinks its a hoax). My favourite

6 August 2012 10:01PM
...and here the Guardian is reluctantly writes something positive about the United States. A rare site indeed, and I think we can expect a spate of deeply anti-American articles to make up for it (maybe have a member of the Taliban write something?).
  Space development is immensely popular not just because it is Britain and humanity's fastest growing industry (& barely started) but because we (even guardianistas) are human beings.

  Which, after all, is why politicians spend our money on what they claim are space programmes but, like ESA, above & indeed NASA ("a jobs programme for the southern states that also did some stuff in space")
then disappears. Nobody factually disputes that prizes are at least orders of magnitude more effective at the nominal purpose of space development. This is why space enthusiasts should press not just for government support of space development but, even more importantly, that they not find their enthusiasm is being used to let them grab money for other purposes.

   Last word to Pournelle.
the next step in the conquest of space is a permanent base on the Moon, and more experience in exploiting space resources. Of course compared to Mars the Moon seems fairly dull, but getting to Mars will be a lot simpler when we have a Moon Base and a place where we can test NERVA and other nuclear propulsion systems in vacuum with a machine shop and materials handy. Hohmann orbits are not the key to the planets.
We need Heinlein’s ‘torchships”, but they turn out to be a great deal more difficult than we believed in that golden age. On the other hand, we have tested NERVA and got exhaust velocities double theoretical maxima of chemical rockets. NERVA and a Moon Base can make possible the kind of asteroid commerce I describe in Birth of Fire, High Justice, Exile and Glory, and other works I did in the 1980’s. I have seen nothing to make those stories obsolete, and the only failures we have had are those of nerve. 

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