Friday, July 17, 2009

Derb on Space Exploration

John Derbyshire is spot on with his analysis of manned space exploration.  Here is his common sense analysis of the shuttle.

The thing to remember about space exploration is that it is not like going from one place to another on the surface of the Earth. It is like climbing out of a very, very deep well (Earth), scooting across a barren surface, then diving down another deep well (the Moon or another planet). It takes a lot of energy to get up and out of those wells, and so there needs to be good payoff for it to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, the only thing at the bottom of the wells within reasonable distance of the Earth is... nothing. The moon is just a big hunk of rock. So is Mars. There isn't much point in expending all the energy to get there and back. If you want a barren landscape, the Mojave Desert is available. And it has an atmosphere.

Space is the most inhospitable environment for human beings imaginable. If we really want to start making things happen on other planets, the way to do it is to forget about manned space travel and use automated systems. A space probe doesn't care that it can't breathe in a vacuum and that it's -100 degrees C. Spend the money on engineers like me and not hot-shot flyboy astronauts.

The difference between space travel and the 15th century explorers was, as Derb points out, that there was a fairly big and immediate payoff to terrestrial exploration. Spices, gold, new and exotic plant and animal life, native girls... these things made the trip worthwhile. There aren't any native girls on the Moon.


rimwell said...

You and Derbyshire are absolutely right about the space program, but I can't read through the links without cringing at his repetition of Dr. Johnson on the pyramids: "A monument to the insufficiency of human enjoyments."

Derbyshire loves that kind of pithy, narcissistic, positivist nonsense.

David T. said...

I have a love/hate relationship with Derbyshire. He's a joy to read for his style, but as you say, has a real weakness for positivist nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Amen

okie27 said...

It is generally recognized that the foremost advantage of another man (woman this time) on the moon is the PR. Although it has surely been considered, I have never read of a downside study of the enormous PR debacle of having a crew stranded on the moon with only days of life support remaining while the world watches their inevitable deaths. If Magellan had never returned from his voyage, he would not have entered the history books. Not so of stranded astronauts on the moon.
Rather than try to beat any potential adversaries (e.g., Russian, China) in a race to the moon, perhaps we should encourage them in this endeavor while we put our resources into, for example, ballistic missile defense, anti-terror technology, and especially in means to defend the vital space systems we currently have, and plan to have in orbit.

okie27 said...

Correction on my comment: Magellan did not return from circumnavigation of the globe, but his crew did. Magellan was killed in the Phillipines.

blog nerd said...

I think you may have just proposed a viable option for Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton, and a new reality show format, should we tire of their images here on earth.

Becoming a native girl on the moon to inspire space colonization could become like the next designer handbag.