Comments for http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml en-gb 30 Thu 27 Nov 2014 23:35:34 GMT+1 A feed of user comments from the page found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml Superfluousshopper http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=97#comment40 To save the human race you wouldn't need to transport the population of the earth but just the population's genetic material and knowledge, lets call this idea the 'Mills Thesis' (credit where credits due). Or to use a film analogy take Superman, a baby travels in a spaceship where he grows and matures and where he is taught about earth a planet similar to his own where he can thrive. The difference between Superman and the Mills Thesis is that we don't send babies but genes, these are stored cryogenically, until they reach their destination, the spaceship automatically thaws the genetic material, implants them into synthetic eggs which grow in synthetic wombs, as our children or clones. Robots nurture us, whilst making the planet fit for habitation. Wed 03 Feb 2010 22:49:56 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=95#comment39 Steve,I don't believe that going somewhere else is a practical alternative and I will try and explain why.Let us assume that somehow or other we have constructed a habitable environment for a large number of people off-earth, perhaps on Mars. Let us also make the highly improbable assumption that we could build a vehicle capable of transporting 100 people to this base for the same costs as that of a Boeing 747 - approximately $250,000,000.The GDP of the USA is approximately $14,000,000,000,000From this you can see that the cost of transferring around 60,000 people to the base would be equivalent to the entire American GDP. It is extremely improbable that such vehicles would be reusable but even if they were capable of making 10 roundtrips we could only move 600,000 people per year and the remaining 300,000,000 would be almost entirely occupied in building vehicles…In all this we have ignored the cost of constructing this off-earth base which I suspect would be very many times the American GDP.Of course you can quarrel with my figures but even on the most ultra optimistic assumptions I think you can see that emigrating is a non starter without teleportation.... Wed 03 Feb 2010 16:07:26 GMT+1 Stephen Ashworth http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=92#comment38 Pahane, as for orbital commercial passenger space access, we will have to wait and see how SpaceX, Space Adventures, Excalibur Almaz and so on get on.UK spaceplane designers expect major reductions in the price of access to orbit once reusable spaceplanes come into service, and the Skylon project has now considerable momentum thanks to both private and public investment.Just as in aviation a century ago, there are now a number of companies pursuing different ways of getting into sub-orbital space or into orbit. You say: "Rocket science retains its legendary difficulty for a reason" -- but what reason? Surely politics and vested interests, but not physics or engineering.I would say our civilisation has been based on growth since around 1500 -- i.e. since British and European mariners began the huge effort of global exploration, setting up overseas colonies and trading networks. This tendency was reinforced through the widespread adoption of information technology around the same time (the printing press), and then of steam power in the late eighteenth century, and so on.I agree with Steve B and Sir Arthur C. Clarke: we have a choice between the universe, or oblivion!Stephen Wed 03 Feb 2010 13:58:42 GMT+1 Steve B http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=90#comment37 David G (post 35) is very likely right that CO2 is a far bigger global warming threat in the short term. However, we may be able to get around this with various low carbon/carbon-capture technologies. My point is that regardless of technofixes there are inherent limits to growth on Earth in the longer term. There is no way around the Laws of Thermodynamics. My argument is a bit of a reductio ad absurdum, but it is I think a final backstop which cannot be avoided.The alternatives are 1) continue economic growth (and indeed population growth eventually) off-Earth (incidentally pahane there is no shortage of water ice in space, or of sunlight that a simple aluminium foil mirror can focus to melt it). The future of humanity thus becomes open ended - there is no obvious limit to what we can ultimately achieve or become.2) stagnate in a closed-cycle, sustainable economy that recycles what we have on Earth indefinitely. This means that sooner or later technological progress has to stop, and a stable - read ossified - society form (or be imposed). Someone has to police "sustainability", which has ominous implications. I suspect eventually what you get isn't some sort of hippie green utopia of happy hobbits but a rigid stratified world empire on the lines of Pharaonic Egypt or Imperial China. This either breaks down and we are trapped in cycles of dark ages, rises and falls of low-tech civilizations or it does achieve serious stability and endures for millennia or tens of millennia (or even longer). With evolutionary consequences for humanity.The decision Obama has taken, if followed by all of humanity, will make little difference to most of humanity in our lifetimes, indeed for many decades. But it is crucial to the future of humanity over the much longer term. If we turn our backs on Space now (i.e. in the next 50 years or so), we may never again have the technological and economic opportunity to change our minds. As Sir Arthur C Clarke said, and I quote approximately from memory, "if we turn our back on the stars, we begin the long trudge back toward the primeval slime". We either expand offworld as a species, or we become extinct, eventually. There is no third option. One solution to Fermi's Paradox, mentioned in the earlier thread on ET, is that so far all of the very few species to arise who could have started to expand starward have lost their nerve and decided not to. Probably for very good short-term reasons, as now. So the stars stay silent. And intelligent life stays just another evolutionary dead-end in the long run. Wed 03 Feb 2010 12:45:49 GMT+1 pahane http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=87#comment36 Thanks Stephen - I apologise for being flippant with some of the arguments for human space exploration. Nevertheless, and to focus on just one, I can't agree that the business model for space tourism is currently viable. Setting aside sub-orbital vehicles like spaceship one, only the cash-strapped russians currently offer orbital tours - it would be hard to argue that this is a viable business model; the upfront costs of more than 50 years worth of infrastructure and technology development far outweigh the profits from ferrying a few of the world's richest into LEO and back.Absent significant competition between numerous companies, there is no reason why the price per seat to orbit should reduce any time soon. Currently no private company carries humans to LEO. Even if SpaceX and whoever else get there, there'll only be limited competition - hardly a recipe to substantially drive down launch costs - rather the opposite, as we've seen with many markets dominated by one or two companies. You could also argue that the paying public would not discriminate between sub-orbital and orbital flights. Early companies are much more likely to offer sub-orbital flights given the lower technical thresholds and consequent larger margins. The comparison with aviation is also midleading - at the turn of the century, as the Wright brothers were preparing to take their maiden flight, a whole bunch of other budding aviators were trying to beat them to it, many of them working out of garden sheds with few financial or technical resources. Rocket science retains its legendary difficulty for a reason. Finally, I can't agree that our civilisation is based on growth - this has been a measure of progress only since the 1930s. Given the unsustainability of this model and the vast cost of procuring resources offworld (David G makes a good point on this in post 25), coupled with the fact that many necessary commodities are simply not available anywhere nearby (think plentiful liquid water), we're far more likely to change our economic model (a process which is already happening) than to boldly go mining asteroids. In short, the existing narrative can't be that convincing or Obama wouldn't have just cancelled constellation. I don't want to be negative. But it's obvious that we need a new narrative - not just one that makes sense to space buffs, but one that resonates with all the people out there that think space exploartion is irrelevant to them and just a big waste of money. Wed 03 Feb 2010 00:03:24 GMT+1 Stephen Ashworth http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=85#comment35 Pahane: in post 30, you wrote: "space buffs need to develop a convincing narrative for why human space exploration matters". You may be unaware that they already have: economic, technological and population growth.You then yourself gave a list of reasons for space growth, only for some unexplained reason you call them "non-reasons". You mentioned some activities for which people have business models, and then say there's no business model.I don't understand your reasoning. We know that personal space exploration (or space tourism) is possible at a level of one visitor per year at a price of $30 million per seat, because this has been the case for the past decade. Market surveys have shown that if the price is lowered, more people will want to fly (e.g. as described in David Ashford, Spaceflight Revolution, Imperial College Press, 2002). If you think that it is impossible to reduce the current absurdly high price of a seat to orbit, then you should give reasons, not just state that reasons are non-reasons and business models are no business models!You want a convincing narrative? Here's one: we know for a fact that:(1) Our civilisation is based on the premise of economic growth using natural resources;(2) Almost all the natural resources in the universe are extraterrestrial.Therefore almost all our future growth opportunities lie in space.The natural resource of most immediate application is simply the value of orbital spaceflight as a visitor attraction. I predict that the number of private space explorers (space tourists) will grow over the next decade, leading to falling prices and further growth, just as happened in aviation a century ago.Another near-term natural resource is found in the near-Earth asteroids. You seem to be keen to avert an asteroid strike on Earth, so you must know that the technologies for deflecting asteroids overlap to a considerable extent with those needed to harvest their resources for use in applications such as in-orbit refuelling and radiation protection.StephenOxford Tue 02 Feb 2010 18:30:12 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=82#comment34 Steve,I did contemplate pursuing your 2% per annum annual growth but as it is virtually certain that temperature increase due to CO2 induced global warming will swamp that brought about by by power generation I decided against it.I felt that I had already drifted a long way off the topic which, if I remember rightly, was human spaceflight and that if now I introduced climate change into the discussion the nice moderator man might get a bit cross…Finally, I don't think I agree with your alternatives.As I think we have agreed space is only conceivably an option as a route to a lifeboat for an infinitesimally small proportion of the inhabitants of the planet. I don't pretend know what is going to happen over the next 50 years but stagnation seems incredibly improbable. Tue 02 Feb 2010 14:42:51 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=80#comment33 pahane,Many of those who work for NASA and associated organisations suffer from "Buck Rodgers syndrome by proxy". In other words once we have perched the guy on top of those large tin cans filled with oxidiser and propellant we'll try and think of a scientific justification for lighting the touch paper.This was always very difficult - the first Moon landing was incredibly dramatic but scientifically next to worthless - but as technology advances becomes near impossible.OK, asteroid deflection…The further away you can detect, and crucially, accurately track an asteroid the less energy you will have to impart to it to deflect it sufficiently to prevent it from striking the earth.If a significant boulder on a collision course with earth gets to within a few tens of thousands of kilometres you are going to have to shove it with something like Saturn 5 to get it to miss.If you can find it when it's hundreds of thousands or even millions of kilometres away and can establish its trajectory and velocity to a very high accuracy a relatively small rocket motor will provide sufficient deflection. Improvements in radar and computing technology will steadily extend the range at which this can be done.One thing is certain - Buck Rodgers is redundant.I'm a consulting engineer largely involved in the design of a wide variety of automated systems. I try and avoid calling them robots because everybody thinks R2D2… Tue 02 Feb 2010 13:38:54 GMT+1 Steve B http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=78#comment32 David G makes 2 interesting and thoughtful points in reply to my post.1) Building a self-sufficient "lifeboat" in Space for the human species would be very expensive and no help for those left behind. True. But if those left behind were all going to die anyway? Or a Government with the resources to build such a lifeboat believed this, and had the power to act on it? David understandably says he wouldn't vote for this. However I suspect the people of socities liable actually to do this won't get a chance to vote anyway. A democracy wouild only do this if there was enough of a window between it becoming obvious humanity as a species was in very serious trouble, and that trouble becoming so serious that the project was rendered impossible.Incidentally, achieving a lifeboat - a self-sustaining enclave of your people, your culture and so on off Earth - also changers the equation of nuclear/WMD deterrence. You can threaten to destroy your enemy in the assurance that your country (and your political leaders and their families, if you choose) will continue. And indeed could one day inherit the ruins of Earth. There have been, and no doubt will be, political leaders who would find that very attractive. 2) David starts my little exercise in Thermodynamic Limits to Growth promisingly (haven't checked his figures, but they sound OK) " The total installed output power of all the world's power stations is about 360 terawatts. For every watt of electricity generated approximately 2 watts of heat is produced so the total thermal output of all the world's power stations is about 1000 terawatts or 1% of the power received from the sun…" But he doesn't carry on to the punch line. Now let that output grow, in line with economic growth, at 2% per year. Use the power of Compound Interest ;-) At 2% increase per year, the doubling period is 35 years. If David is right, and the world's power output were 1% of the power received from the Sun (this figure needs checking) in just over 232 years at 2% growth a year it will be 100%, doubling the Earth's energy input. This might concern the IPCC somewhat ;-) Also note that the heat produced isn't just that output when the power is generated. When the power is used ALL of it ends up, eventually, as heat dumped into the environment. All work ends up as increase in entropy, to put it thermodynamically. Bottom line is that if we keep it all onworld, economic growth in any sensde we now understand HAS to stop in a few centuries, at much. Or it cooks the planet! The choice is Space or Stagnation. Tue 02 Feb 2010 13:08:43 GMT+1 pahane http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=75#comment31 Thanks David. I have to say I agree with you. But the thrust of many of the posts here is about how to get humans into space in a real, meaningful sense. In order to do that, space buffs need a convincing narrative. What this might be is anyone's guess. But it seems to me that the scale, urgency, complexity and crucially time pressure of deflecting asteroids will require humans in closer proximity than 8-10 light seconds.By the way, are you sure you don't own shares in some robotic exploration company?! Tue 02 Feb 2010 09:30:09 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=73#comment30 pahane says:"...there's no real business model that will allow the private sector (or taxpayers for that matter) to get people to LEO and beyond."I completely agree.You go on to say:"I personally think the most convincing reason to go beyond LEO is to protect the human race from asteroid impact....That means the US (and the world) prioritising and scaling up the already existing programmes to identify potentially dangerous asteroids, visiting them with robotic probes and human missions and testing methods to deflect them."There is an arguable case for having the capability to deflect asteroids but this does not include the completely unnecessary capacity to take humans to visit asteroids, (and bring them back).There is no consensus on the technology necessary to deflect asteroids and it is certainly not obvious that a launch vehicle with significantly greater capacity than existing systems would be necessary. There is not the slightest chance that funding for a heavy launch vehicle could be obtained on the basis of it being necessary to protect against asteroid impact. Tue 02 Feb 2010 05:32:23 GMT+1 pahane http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=70#comment29 I agree with alot that's written here - the shuttle was a drain on NASA's resources, too complex and too costly; with main street hurting, grandiose projects to visit the moon or mars are luxuries; and the cancellation of ares and orion is a great shame. What the US (and the world more widely) has needed for many years is a cheap and dirty two stage to orbit crew vehicle, backed up by a heavy launch capablity - more or less what ares and orion would have delivered. But the sad fact is that while NASA has been losing money hand over fist on the shuttle, exactly this kind of quick and dirty solution has been getting on with the hard work - soyuz. Its reliability and cost-effectiveness explains why the Chinese have basically bought the technology and turned it into the changzheng or long march vehicle and why several other emerging space powers, including India, are interested in it. But nobody has had any serious heavy lift capability anywhere on the planet since the late 70s, basically consigning the manned flight programme to LEO (where it's been languishing since somewhere around 1973).Handing over the manned programme to the fledgling private launch community won't help either. None of them has yet put a human in LEO, never mind a decent payload. The fact is that Obama's budget essentially kills off any hope of getting out of LEO anytime soon. Although the proposals envisage the development of a heavy-lift capability at some unspecified point in the future, this is a sop for space buffs - why would they build it? There's as yet no convincing argument to go beyond LEO. If they're to get the heavy launch capability the world needs and actually get this programme running, space buffs need to develop a convincing narrative for why human space exploration matters. Talk of a new frontier in space just doesn't cut it. Neither does mining helium 3 on the moon to fuel our (non-existant) fusion reactors. The list of non-reasons is nearly as long as the list of shuttle manifests required to get the ISS up and running - mining asteroids, generating electricity on orbiting solar panels, space tourism to name just a few - in short there's no real business model that will allow the private sector (or taxpayers for that matter) to get people to LEO and beyond. As Robert Zubrin puts it "people can be courageous, but money is timid".I personally think the most convincing reason to go beyond LEO is to protect the human race from asteroid impact. We know this will happen; it's only a matter of time. And we have the capability to do something about it now. Who knows whether we'll still have that capability in 50 or 100 years time - anything could happen (just to pick some recent domesday scenarios, think flu pandemic, economic meltdown, super volcano eruption). We therefore have a moral duty to actually act while we have the chance, to get out there and make Earth safe from cosmic bombardment for at least the foreseeable future and to dedicate some of our treasure to making sure there are humans around in the year 3010.That means the US (and the world) prioritising and scaling up the already existing programmes to identify potentially dangerous asteroids, visiting them with robotic probes and human missions and testing methods to deflect them. To do that we need a simple, cheap and robust launch system, backed up by heavy-lift capability. Come on, guys. Let's get this show on the road before something big comes along and knocks it off course. Permanently. Tue 02 Feb 2010 00:15:42 GMT+1 Superfluousshopper http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=68#comment28 If Obama wants a commercial, cheap and innovative launcher then Skylon is ideal. Reaction Engine's business model is for Skylon to be manufactured under licence by the likes of Boeing or Airbus, and operated by the likes of Virgin or DHL. Reaction Engines have come a long way in their development of Skylon in typical British fashion using a shoestring budget, and could go all the way on much less than the typical NASA budget. Innovative and then some, SpaceX's Falcons are nothing more than rockets with parachutes, Skylon is a spaceplane that will take off carry out it's mission and then land ready to be turned around within just days for a tenth of the cost of conventional rockets. But will Skylon be allowed a piece of the action or does Obama want a home produced launcher????? Mon 01 Feb 2010 22:38:31 GMT+1 The_Oncoming_Storm http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=65#comment27 #27, But Apollo was only possible becaused of a massive concentration of national resources, as has often been said the only equivalent undertaking was The Manhattan Project. If resources had been committed to Constellation on the same scale then it would have been a lot further on.This decision is disappointing but not surprising, it was painfully obvious that Ares 1 just wasn't a viable launch system. I do think the decision not to have any immediate follow on programme to the Shuttle will come back to haunt America, maybe not for many years but it will. Mon 01 Feb 2010 18:20:54 GMT+1 knowles2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=63#comment26 Well I am not surprise that it has been cancelled. Considering that the project took little under 7 years just to launch a proto type. Did not they test an launch and land on the moon with the Saturn 5 with in that time frame, using 1960s technology.The constellation program was ideal example of how to wast money, on every level. Both China an India will get to the moon an on a fraction of the budget that Constellation had spent in the last 7 years. Mon 01 Feb 2010 16:42:50 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=60#comment25 Steve B suggests that there are two reasons to get humans into space permanently:"as an insurance for our species. A sustainable, self-sufficient human presence offworld - even only on the Moon - would be able to survive most disasters that would polish off our civilization and our species."The cost of constructing a Moon base which was completely self-sufficient would run into trillions. At best it could support only a very tiny fraction of the earth's population. The vast majority of us, who would have to pay for this through our taxes, would be left to fry, starve or die of frightful diseases. I for one am not going to vote for this…Steve suggests that the second reason to leave the planet is that we are going to cook ourselves with all the heat we are producing through power generation. Steve goes on to invite the reader to compare the heat generated by power generation to that received from the sun.OK, let's do it.The total power received by the side of the earth facing the sun is approximately 130,000 terawatts. Quite a lot is reflected back into space so let's assume a net power of 100,000 terawatts.The total installed output power of all the world's power stations is about 360 terawatts. For every watt of electricity generated approximately 2 watts of heat is produced so the total thermal output of all the world's power stations is about 1000 terawatts or 1% of the power received from the sun… Mon 01 Feb 2010 16:38:11 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=58#comment24 Let me respond to the points that hotdog1 makes about resources.Actually the planet isn't starting to run low on essential resources. It is however starting to run low on some essential resources that can be recovered cheaply.As an example the world's oceans are estimated to contain contain around 10,000,000 tonnes of gold. The problem is that the cost of extracting it is many times the current price of the metal.If the surface of Mars was littered with pure gold nuggets, (and the Mars rovers have shown no evidence for this), it would still be far cheaper to extract gold from the oceans than to bring the nuggets back from Mars.The same is true for any element you care to name.I would suggest that robots are much tougher than any Bruce Willis character. They can withstand temperature ranges of hundreds of degrees, radiation levels that would prove lethal to human beings in hours and acceleration levels that would destroy any vertebrate.Resourcefulness is not dependent upon physical presence. Many problems experienced by the Mars rovers have been overcome by the resourcefulness of the controllers at Pasadena.Oil rigs are not yet operated by robots and they are not yet employed for mining because it is cheaper to use human beings. The situation would of course be entirely different if the oil reserves and coal fields were millions of miles away… Mon 01 Feb 2010 14:37:47 GMT+1 Steve B http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=56#comment23 A number of points1) Obama is probably right in the short/medium term to move resources/focus in this area from the sclerotised bureaucracy that is NASA to commerce. There are also lessons to be learned from the Russian space program, which simply relied on rugged cheap relaible workhorses like Soyuz. The difference is shown by the staory that when men first got into Space they found ballpoint pens didn't work. The Americans spend squillions on developing a Space Pen. The Russians gave their astronauts pencils...2) In the longer term the space strategy of the last 50 years - essentially putting people and things on the end of war rockets and shooting them into space - was probably a historically-contingent blind alley. Concepts such as HOTOL - well mentioned Synsei! - and others based on all-reusable craft need to be explored. SSTO (X-43 AND Skylon anyone?). Also advanced technologies such as laser launchers, Beanstalks etc need to be explored. Here the Government sector, with entities like DARPA, comes into its own, able to fund blue sky projects with no immediate prospect of commercial return (and in some cases possibly ending up proved infeasible). Britain ought, as Simonm says, to back Alan Bond here.3) There are two reasons to get humans into space permanently. a) as an insurance for our species. A sustainable, self-sufficient human presence offworld - even only on the Moon - would be able to survive most disasters that would polish off our civilization and our species. Given that the Astronomer-Royal, Sir Martin Rees, gives our species only a 50% likelihood of surviving the 21st Century _at all_, and a worrying number of other senior scientists also predict a variety of Really Bad Things happening in the nrxt 50-500 years (mostly caused, directly or indirectly, by there being far too many people on Earth), this is a serious point worth thinking about. Especially in view of vast sums wasted on futile wars of late.b) we cannot continue economic growth indefinitely on just one planet. Firstly because we will eventually run out of resources. And secondly because all economic activity ultimately generates heat. There is another form of global warming nothing to do with CO2 which is negligeable now (nearly, though it's why Central London is warmer on average than its suburbs). But won't be. All energy used by human work, obedient to the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, has to go somewhere and ends up as heat imparted to the Earth and its atmosphere. I leave as an exercise to the reader to find out how much energy is generated in the World by humans today (make it simple, just consider electrical output of power stations), then assume that, in line with the trend line for the last 50 years, this grows at 2% per year. Calculate how long it is before the amount of energy thus produced by humans per square metre of the Earth's surface per second equals that currently received from the Sun, then, for fun, how long after that it equals the amount of energy emitted BY the Sun per square metre of the Sun's surface per second. The Earth is probably not very habitable by then ;-) The answers may prove..interesting...The alternative of stagnation at some point on zero growth even if politically possible in my view lead eventually to species extinction in the sufficiently long run (and to consequences few of us would welcome before then)4) Nonetheless, be of good cheer fellow pro-spacers. Just wait for what happens in Congress when the Chinese and/or Indians land men on the Moon...! Mon 01 Feb 2010 13:31:22 GMT+1 The_Oncoming_Storm http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=53#comment22 There does some to be growing speculation that Obama will allow the development of something like the Direct proposal, for the US to just abandon it's manned spaceflight capability for several years would not be a popular decision, let alone the thousands of jobs that would be lost.In truth, NASA's original plans for Constellation just didn't add up, especially in regards to Ares 1 which just had too many questions marks around it. As said above, the Russians have only ever used the same basic rocket for manned launches, Soyuz is mainly an evolved version of Korolev's R-7 rocket which put Sputnik 1 into orbit, in that time America has developed six different manned launchers. They should have gone for something like Direct from the outset. It's also pretty galling to think that some of the trillions squandered in the Iraq misadventure could have paid for a manned lunar programme and for more unmanned planetary probe missions, but that's another story! Mon 01 Feb 2010 12:16:45 GMT+1 hotdogg1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=51#comment21 A very disappointing decision by the Obama regime.If the Americans want to have a continuing presence in space they should have made sure that the alternative was in place before canning the Constelation program. I seriously doubt that the American private sector is anywhere near ready to set up a regular, safe(ish) delivery service to space. Ironically, the world's greatest super power may be thumbing a lift with Europe and Russia!As for the previous post asking why we need a manned space program, the answer is obvious. It's not because man is driven to expand and explore, and it's not a vanity project for beleaguered US presidents!It's all about resources! If our civilisation is to continue to grow and thrive we needs materials.This planet is already starting to run low on essential resources.In space we have limitless energy from solar power, rare earth elements and metals, and plenty of places to refine them.Robots lack the 'at the coal face' toughness and resourcefulness of man.If robots can do it all why aren't they out on the oil rigs drilling new bore holes or down pits finding raw materials? They make great servants but it needs human grit, drive and on the spot problem solving abilities to get the job done.Mark my words, the next Getty, Vanderbilt or Gates will make his fortune in Space! Mon 01 Feb 2010 11:30:06 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=48#comment20 I wouldn't agree that the long-term goal of human space exploration is to establish a permanent human presence off-world.Leaving on one side the "to boldly go" argument why would we want to do that? There is nowhere in the solar system where we could live without spending billions if not trillions in creating an environment in which we could survive; if we were foolish enough to do this what would we then do that couldn't be better done by robots?We, (the Brits), colonised America because it was commercially advantageous to do so,(regrettably the colonists later became rebellious!), but there is nowhere off-planet where this would be true.In the unlikely event that it would be commercially viable to establish an off-world automated helium 3 mining station it would be extremely shortsighted not to equip such a station with maintenance robots. The cost of replacing these robots should they fail would be a trivial compared with maintaining a repair crew at the location.I find exploring the solar system and beyond through instruments like Hubble and missions such as Voyager to be absolutely fascinating and would like to see more of them. This would be much more likely to happen if hugely expensive and ultimately pointless programmes to put men on other planets were abandoned. Mon 01 Feb 2010 01:19:54 GMT+1 Hugh Morley http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=46#comment19 #19It's not enough to simply know what's out there through using robots. Sure - they're nifty little critters that are getting more and more complex [see the upcoming Curiosity rover for an example of the evolution of the Martian Rovers], but the long-term goal of human space exploration in general is to establish a permanent human presence off-world.What's the point in knowing what's out there if you're not actually going to use it, anyway? Sure - theoretically in several decades time we could probably have an automated rocket launched from an automated facility to construct an automated mining station for, say, He-3, and it would probably work quite well, but without humans on the ground to fix the machines when they inevitably fail, then it's an extremely short-sighted investment. Sun 31 Jan 2010 23:44:18 GMT+1 David G http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=43#comment18 I wonder if somebody could explain why it is desirable or necessary to carry out further manned missions to the Moon or to contemplate such missions to Mars?The outstanding success of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars and the later Phoenix lander demonstrate that extra-terrestrial exploration is far better carried out by robots than by humans.The disadvantages of astronauts are legion. They include:1. They only operate over a very limited temperature range.2. They will withstand an acceleration of only a few g.2. They need to be kept carefully controlled atmosphere which must be constantly maintained.3. They need to be constantly fuelled with complex organic materials.4. Worst of all, when the mission is over, they have to be returned to earth.Spirit and Opportunity has been operating for over five years fuelled only by sunlight.It is worth pointing out that the Mars rovers employ technology which is at least 15 years old.Long before astronauts could be returned to the Moon, never mind venturing to Mars, robots capable of far more science than a truckload of astronauts could be crawling over both of these bodies at a tiny fraction of the cost of manned missions.Launch vehicles capable of delivering robots to the Moon, Mars and indeed many other destinations within the solar system, already exist.Startrek was entertaining fiction - let's leave it at that. Sun 31 Jan 2010 17:27:21 GMT+1 Simonm http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=41#comment17 So, if the USA is going to contract out to commercial operators, what an opportunity for Alan Bond, if only we had a far sighted Govt that would fund him in developing his updated skylon ideas. Sat 30 Jan 2010 16:48:00 GMT+1 SONICBOOMER http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=39#comment16 I don't honestly think who is President makes much difference, Bush started the Constellation programme true, though this was a (correct) reaction to the loss of the Shuttle Columbia, up to then it looked like the Shuttle fleet still had a substantial life ahead of it.But he knew he would not be be the President who would have to pay the greater part of the financial cost of this new effort.When JFK launched Apollo, aside from it being a reaction to a series of Soviet space 'firsts', what helped to sway him was the prospect in 1961 that the first landing could be in 1968, a glorious end to his career had he been reelected in 1964.LBJ was keen too, there was political calculation here admittedly, but he liked large scale programs, an unusual trait in most US politicians.Unless it is part of a great wartime effort, which the Cold War could be classed as at least in part.Apollo had many parallels with the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb, except for the secrecy.There is no political benefit in all those potential job losses, so one can only assume that it is believed in these economically troubled times, it is even worse politics, in the US generally not just one or two states, to spend money on going back to the Moon.Many will say 'what's in it for main street?'Now we can say, and I agree, the actual sums are small, the payoffs real, try selling it to the majority who are not interested in space.The political and economic damage done at the time, by Vietnam, was one factor in Apollo ending, it's budgets, for post Apollo programs using adapted hardware, were killed in 1967/68. When LBJ was still there. Only one Skylab survived.Iraq was no Vietnam in terms of blood, but the economic meltdown of the last two years was been far, far worse. Sat 30 Jan 2010 16:21:14 GMT+1 Nathan http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=36#comment15 We wont spend the money to build our own spacecraft, but we will spend 8 billion on "high speed" railways that will connect a tiny fraction of our population years after this Recession is over. Wonderful. With a nod to Kanye West... "Barak Obama doesn't care about SPACE people." If you want to talk about stimulating high tech job growth, you'd think the he would pour that money into an high tech aerospace industry which already EXISTS rather than pumping money into a glossed up pork barrel project that will service a fraction of the US populace at everyones' expense. Sad, so very very sad. Fri 29 Jan 2010 17:57:53 GMT+1 The_Oncoming_Storm http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=34#comment14 I'm due to reach retirement age in 2039, any idea if we'll see humans on the Moon before then?I think there is going to be political consequences for Obama if this is his decision. He can probably kiss goodbye to Florida for 2012, in the longer term this would almost certainly see the U.S. lose the lead in space exploration to China. I'm not actually surprised at this news, it was clear during his election campaign that he was very hostile to NASA and the Constellation project. The state of the American budget appears to have given him the perfect excuse to cancel it. Fri 29 Jan 2010 13:48:32 GMT+1 Jonathan Amos http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=31#comment13 Mike Griffin, the former Nasa chief and advocate of the Ares-Constellation programme, has waded into the emerging details. His statement is carried by the Huntsville Times. Safe to say, he is not a happy man: "President Nixon's decision to cancel the Apollo program at least left us with the Space Shuttle. President Obama's decision, if it is indeed to be as is rumored today, leaves NASA and the nation with no program, no plan, and no commitment to any human spaceflight program beyond that of today - the last few flights of the Space Shuttle to complete the International Space Station." Fri 29 Jan 2010 09:25:41 GMT+1 sthitadhibasu http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=29#comment12 It is extremely surprising, shocking in fact, that the US Space programme has been adrift since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of 2003. It is even more amazing that the course of the Space Programme can change so drastically with the change of US Presidents!! The Russians have faithfully stuck to their time-tested old war horse, the Soyuz. China, India and Japan have a vibrant space programme that is advancing along a well-planned long-term direction. The European Space Agency remains a huge success by following a certain goal.But look at the USA which gave so much of leadership in space programmes in the 80s & 90s. It is sad that after sinking billions of dollars in the Ares programme, it is suddenly discarded. What of the moon project? That seems discarded too. It looks like the US government wants to wash its hands off the Space programme by outsourcing it to private companies, who, could have been roped in any case, without discarding the Ares Project. I am sorry to say this, but it looks like the mighty US Space Programme & NASA are now being re-sized into a humble "shuttle taxi/cab service! S Basu Fri 29 Jan 2010 08:01:07 GMT+1 Synsei http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=26#comment11 "Has anyone got a spare spaceship they're not using for a wee while coz we seem to have run out of Space Shuttles???", "It needs to be re-usable and be able to carry up to 7 tonnes into LEO"I won't mention HOTOL then...Oh dearie me, I just did. Fancy that!!!UK Govt = egg on face Fri 29 Jan 2010 03:19:09 GMT+1 AQ42 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=24#comment10 T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t That's All Folks! Thu 28 Jan 2010 22:11:28 GMT+1 gaetano marano http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=21#comment9 This post has been Removed Thu 28 Jan 2010 20:44:59 GMT+1 SONICBOOMER http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=19#comment8 I agree with 6 and and not surprised by what reply 7 tells us.The Shuttle was only saved back in 1971/72 after the Pentagon got involved, which distorted the design, delta wings, a huge cargo by for servicing spy satellites (never used), but had this not happened, US manned spaceflight would have ended with the Apollo-Soyuz link up in 1975.Plus Nixon wanted to avoid job losses in states like California in 1972.The Shuttle became an expensive, difficult vehicle to operate, with no real role until the Mir then ISS support 15 years into it's service, with the exception of Hubble support where that huge cargo bay did become useful.The concept was weakened further by the planned unmanned 'Shuttle C' cargo carriers never being approved, which would have been a better way to launch large loads, meant fewer manned missions in building ISS, or allowed a simpler station to have been built sooner.Even the USSR worked out that the claims for it's economy of use were impossible, in their Cold War paranoia they though it a cover for some kind of 'space bomber' mission.So they poured all that money into their 'Buran' counterpart, which never was intended to support Salyut then Mir stations.But in many ways the Shuttle was an impressive craft, perhaps a good potential idea badly executed.Lest we forget though we should expect space-flight to be risky, the Shuttle had design choices forced on NASA that made it more unsafe.If it IS the case that the Ares heavy lift vehicle is for the chop too, then it means that the US will not be next on to the Moon again, it will be China, or (preferably) India perhaps.It calls into question any US manned flight beyond the ISS after 2020.The sad fact is, the US public will not fund such things, there is no appetite or will, when the financial meltdown happened, perhaps this became inevitable.As someone who has great admiration for NASA, who thinks the Apollo Programme is one of mankind's greatest achievements, who thinks NASA can represent America at it's best, if the worst is true about Ares V, this is a symbolic moment.The sheer weight of debt the US is under means that like the UK after WW2, there is in the decades ahead going to be a sharp step down in US power and influence.A friend employed at NASA told me a couple of years ago the sheer amount of $ spent on the Iraq war up to then, much gone in corruption, what NASA could have done with a fraction of that is sad to consider.Many around the world think NASA's greatest achievements are inspirational and a superb advert for the USA.If the US abandons the prospect of manned flight beyond LEO, that the retirement of the Shuttle gave a long awaited chance to do, others will take their place.Yes, NASA will hopefully still be heavily involved in space exploration, unmanned, but it won't be the same, just ferrying astronauts on some simple capsule from the lowest bid provider, however sensible that is for just that mission, but after ISS, then what? Thu 28 Jan 2010 19:42:14 GMT+1 tpapp157 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=17#comment7 A bit of clarification. The Augustine commission stated explicitly that NASA's current budget is unsustainable for continued human space flight. To achieve any human space flight beyond LEO, NASA would require an absolute minimum budget increase of $3 billion. Even if (and historically this is a very big if) Obama follows through and receives his proposed $1.3 billion, this is still less than half the increase required to have a minimum human presence in space. Not only that but the budget increase would only last for a couple of years and then we would be right back to square one. A couple of years is about enough time to get halfway through developing a new mission.Half measures aren't going to cut it. You either go to the moon or you don't. You can't fly halfway to the moon and say that's good enough and head home. Thu 28 Jan 2010 18:47:45 GMT+1 tpapp157 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=14#comment6 As an engineer who has spent time in the US space industry I can tell you that everyone outside the industry (from the politicians in congress to average people on the street) have huge misconceptions about the nature of technology, development cycles, and NASA itself.I think almost anyone in NASA at this point would agree that the space shuttle was a huge failure. It failed to make good on any of the promises that were made. This isn't any real fault of the engineers in the 70s that made those promises and designed the shuttle. It has more to do with things we have learned as a direct result of the shuttle about the logistical and maintenance needs of continual repeated space flight. This is the shuttle's largest achievement and greatest legacy. It has taught us a huge amount. Financially, the shuttle is completely unsustainable. It costs more money to service the vehicle between each launch than it would cost to build a disposable rocket and for this reason the shuttle is a huge drain on NASA's budget that frankly needs to be removed. The shuttle program is inefficient and not cost effective and ending it would free up a tremendous amount of resources that could be used for other more beneficial projects. If it weren't for political concerns about using Russian or European rockets, the shuttle program would have been ended years ago. Everyone with any technical knowledge of the situation agrees that rebuilding the shuttle or a derivative of it is completely out of the question. The technology necessary to create a reusable shuttle was immature in the 70s and it is still immature today. The idea really has no merit.The cancellation of Ares is a huge blow to NASA and it now represents alot of time and money wasted and in that sense it is unfortunate. I think this is a good thing though. Commercial technology has advanced to a point where several companies can potentially provide NASA with LEO access in a couple of years. This would represent a huge boost to the American economy as well over the coming decades. No other country in the world has private companies that can launch reliably to LEO and as this becomes more common and cheaper (more satellites, tourists, etc), American private industry will be years ahead of any sort of foreign competition. America makes an enormous amount of money selling military and civil aircraft to almost every other country in the world because no other country has a private aeronautical industry as advanced as ours. The European Airbus (as a subsidiary of EAS) presents the only real foreign competition that companies like Boeing or Lockheed or Sikorsky face. Boosting the private space companies now while the industry is still so small and immature puts us in a position to dominate the market as it matures over the coming decades.Unfortunately, the largest thing holding NASA back is its budget. Alot of people (and congressmen) like to say that they support NASA and space exploration but when it actually comes time to increase budgets suddenly no one wants to speak up. Currently NASA is allotted less than 1% of the US government budget. At the height of the space race and the Apollo program NASA was still only getting about 2-3% of the government budget. Adjusted for inflation, NASA's current budget is only a small fraction (about 15-20%) of what it was in the late 60s. People all the time ask why NASA hasn't done anything quite as spectacular as the moon landing in the 40 years since then. This is why. NASA has continuously been receiving the budgetary cold shoulder from congress for the past four decades. So many politicians and presidents have talked about how great NASA is but not one of them has actually financially supported NASA. A couple of years ago George Bush announced his grand vision for space that would take us to the moon and beyond but he didn't provide a dime to support it. Obama came into office singing NASA's praises but NASA still remains forgotten when it comes time to put together the budget. The much-touted Augustine commission unequivocally stated in their report that for NASA to sustain any meaningful human spaceflight program (in other words the bare minimum to sustain human spaceflight) then it would need an additional several billion dollars. Therefore, if you as American citizens want our country to have a meaningful space program you need to put your money where your mouth is or resign yourselves to simply sending a couple satellites around (much as the Soviets did in the 70s and 80s).NASA is still the most advanced space program on Earth but it has largely been running on fumes for the past several decades. Coming out of the 60s NASA had a huge lead on everyone else and it enlarged that lead through the 70s and 80s for the sole reason that no other country had any sort of space program (after the soviets lost the race to the moon they moved most of their engineering and financial resources to other areas). Since the 90s and especially in the past decade NASA's lead in space has been significantly eroded as other programs (notably China and Europe and to a lesser extent India and Russia) have been making huge strides in catching up. At the current pace NASA will be overtaken within about two decades. So we can either give NASA the money now to maintain our technological and experiential lead or we can sit idly by until one day we wake up and read in the paper that the Chinese have surpassed us and taken the crown of our technological dominance while we weren't looking. How foolish would it look when the history books say that we squandered our three decade lead and lost the space race. Despite the popular belief that the space race ended in 1968, it's still going and it's hotter now than ever and the potential rewards are astronomical. There was some parable about a tortoise and a hare that seems rather applicable now. Thu 28 Jan 2010 18:06:24 GMT+1 Anthony Willis http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=12#comment5 in response to the posts suggesting NASA builds more Shuttle craft based on the existing design, I'm afraid this would not be a good idea at all. Though the Shuttle has been a great workhorse and we can all have pride in it's achievements, it was never a very sensible design. NASA never really wanted a vehicle like this.My understanding is that it was to some extent forced upon them as the US Airforce needed a delivery system that could 'glide' great distances to provide flexibility in landing sites. This was motivated by understandable cold war fears that US space based military assets could fall into Soviet hands. This requirement meant the Shuttle had to have large wings and thus a very expansive ablation surface. This surface had to be covered in tiles, that could fall off or fail...NASA always wanted something like the Ares system that separates heavy delivery from crew launch. The crew launch system has the crew module positioned much further away from the dangerous bit; the rocket engine apparatus.Soyuz is very simple and elegant, and cheap. Which is why the Russians still use it. The Shuttle and Soyuz are chalk and cheese. Thu 28 Jan 2010 17:41:55 GMT+1 Dashund http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=9#comment4 It does seem strange that the shuttle never really fulfilled its 70s potential. It also seems odd that the US / NASA did not correct its failings and create an improved Shuttle. As noted Russian rockets are an evolution of older prototypes.Meanwhile Boeing have been making and improving the same basic design for the airliner since before jet engines. Is space travel just too exotic and to expensive or has it been controlled by governments and military too long? Or perhaps it is the media always wanting something new?One gets the feeling that NASA like so many organisations and the economy have just given up. Thu 28 Jan 2010 17:19:48 GMT+1 a http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=7#comment3 Perhaps Mr. Obama is right in his decision to cut the Ares rockets, however he should give a firm commitment to the development of a rocket capable of handling heavy cargo, and he should show more support for efforts to return to the Moon and prepare for a manned mission to Mars. Americans do have economic troubles, but I am truly disappointed he has not shown much enthusiasm for the space program. The space program has many technological benefits, and countries that are able to develop new technologies are the ones that are courted by others when in comes to making trade deals. Thu 28 Jan 2010 16:13:49 GMT+1 Mike Hodges http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=4#comment2 The Space Shuttle was a ground breaking piece of technology but it never really achieved the performance, cost effectiveness and reliability that was intended. Slow turn around times, high maintenance costs and a plethora of design faults have all conspired to bring the life of the current Space Shuttle programme to an end. I think that it's time we took space travel out of NASA's hands (and all other government agencies around the world) and put it firmly into the commercial market. If we want humanity to explore the solar system we have to approach it pragmatically. Make space exploration pay for itself rather than have it as a governmental aggrandisement project. It's time space exploration grew up to be the next frontier rather than just a private club for a small number of governments. Thu 28 Jan 2010 16:05:29 GMT+1 phil7445 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=2#comment1 I agree 100% with the first post but with an addition; we need to continue to reach further, to keep pushing the limits, or as they said so well in "Star Trek" Boldly Go Where no Man Has gone Before! Is it expensive? Yes it is. Is it dangerous? Yes it is. Should we shy away from it? A resounding NO!! Thu 28 Jan 2010 15:35:42 GMT+1 ejUSA77 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/01/decisions-imminent-on-us-human.shtml?page=0#comment0 If the Space Shuttle is proven technology, why not just build new Space Shuttles? The old ones have a lot of wear and tear on them, well past original recommended flight hours accounting for metal fatigue. Just build new Shuttles. At a couple of billion a pop, they are (relatively) cheap. No new R&D, and we can install improvements learned over 20 years of use. Remember: the Russians are still using their proven Soyuz design. The old Americanism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. Build new Shuttles. Create new American jobs, God knows we need them. We could also do more manufacture on the ISS of delicate electronics, medicines and other commercial products that are best produced in zero gravity. Space Shuttles, proven technology. Thu 28 Jan 2010 15:06:05 GMT+1