Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Nasa unveils Space Launch System vision … will American Astronauts go to asteroids and Mars?

with 2 comments

OK, NASA has announced that the USA will return to space. In a massive Federal Program the USA is going to build the biggest rocket ever built, carry enormous amounts of stuff into orbit, and allow the USA to send manned missions to Mars and asteroids. This breathtaking plan is called the Space Launch System. *blinks* We used to call our space programs things like Mercury and Apollo, now we have Space Launch System? Marketing considerations aside, this has to be a good thing, right?

Well, not really. A bit of context here. The SLS is being built by the same people who brought us the Space Shuttle. Despite the hype, the Space shuttle is possibly the biggest boondoggle in history. It’s like the DeLorean or the Concorde, it didn’t really make sense from the beginning. And unlike them, buckets of money and blood kept being thrown at it because of national pride. And I mean blood literally, the Space Shuttle killed  a passenger an average of every nine missions or so, it’s the most dangerous vehicle ever put into regular service.

So I’m not as optimistic about this as many might be. I’m all for the exploration of space, but right now, robotic exploration seems like the way to go. This SLS program is going to consume a lot of money, which very much means that numerous other probes won’t get funded. And we’re leaving launches into low Earth orbit up to the commercial sector. In other words, we’re putting all of our eggs into one basket again. This is never a good idea.

I also think something I’ve heard called Gigantomania is coming into play. America has almost an obsession with building the biggest and best of everything. Sometimes without any clear reason why, and often ignoring practical considerations or or downstream costs. There’s a tremendous psychological and cultural component to why giant boondoggles get built, I wonder if this played a part in this decision. Or is cynically being used to promote it.

Which leads to two points, one of which is more or less self evident. This will be ever more money going to a small number of people. Very few of us are rocket scientists, and they won’t be building any space ports in a  city near you gentle reader, fifties sci fi stories to the contrary. This is not  a jobs program.  And worse, the pernicious influence of the military has to be recognized. Are there military uses for this? Yes, yes there are.

In other words, the SLS is a very expensive program that channels a lot of money to a very small number of people, its major beneficiaries are the military and the people profiting from it, and whether it works or not science loses since so many probes that could have leaned vastly more than this ever will, could have been funded. So, no matter what, the military and the rich gain, we pay for it, and if we’re really lucky we get to have a poster of some US astronaut on an asteroid or Mars holding a flag. This is going to be a very expensive poster.

Lastly, in some senses this might very well be overshadowed by other events. By any objective standard, the world is a mess right now. Right now I’d say the SLS’s chances of surviving the turmoil of the next few years are low. The US lost its mind on 9/11, and what we have sown in the first decade of this new century is bizarre. We’ve normalized endless war and infinite spending, historically this never ends well. A giant spaceship isn’t going to help.

And then throw in infinite breeding for ideological reasons, and we have the bleak topic of the next post.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, it’s an historically important image and it’s not being used for profit. It’s the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up. Half the damn fleet blew up,how is that not a fail? Humans can be blind to failures, another topic for the future I suppose.)

Written by unitedcats

September 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I agree with you. We should be making robotic exploration the priority. Just look at how well the one Mars rover is doing. I think the cost would be a fraction compared to building a SLS fleet and obviously there would be no loss of human lives. And with the economy where it is, where would the money come from? I am almost scared to ask that question….lol

    Jennifer Goodyear

    September 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  2. I agree with Jenifer, send Robots, not Humans, into Space.


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