Posts Tagged ‘Space exploration’

Apollo 17 – I hope it was the latest, not the last

December 27, 2017

The story of the Apollo 17 mission of 45 years ago should not be forgotten.   It is a story of herosim and competence, two qualities we Americans as a nation can’t afford to lose.

At the present time, we as a nation need to give priority to the basics—long-term survival goals more than aspirational goals.  But I hope Apollo 17 was the latest, and not the last, American venture to the moon and beyond.

′Deep Space Gateway′ planned by Russia and US

October 2, 2017

Click to enlarage.  Source: Popular Mechanics

Despite geopolitical conflicts, the United States and the Russian Federation are still working together on  space exploration, as this news item indicates.

Work on a joint US-Russia space station orbiting the Moon is to begin in the mid 2020s. The base is intended to serve as a launching point for manned missions to Mars.Deep Space Gateway (NASA)

The station would be serviced by craft such as the Orion space vessel.

The US and Russia on Wednesday [Sept. 27] announced plans to cooperatively build the first lunar space station.

Roscosmos and NASA, Russia and America’s space agencies, said they had signed a cooperation agreement at an astronautical congress in Adelaide.

The agreement brings Russia onboard to the Deep Space Gateway project announced by NASA earlier this year, which aims to send humans to Mars via a lunar station.

The proposed station would serve as a base for lunar exploration for humans and robots, and as a stopover for spacecraft. 

While the Deep Space Gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space (between Earth and the Moon) as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” said Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington.  [snip]

Roscosmos and NASA have already agreed on standards for a docking unit of the future station,” the Russian space agency said.

“Taking into account the country’s extensive experience in developing docking units, the station’s future elements — as well as standards for life-support systems — will be created using Russian designs.”

Source: DW

The International Space Station is a joint project of the USA and Russia, and many of the spacecraft visits to the ISS are launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

I hope this new project bears fruit.  It shows that the United States and the Russian Federation have more to gain through cooperation than ramping up a new Cold War.


India to Mars, on time and on a shoestring

October 1, 2014

dYOLLCrChart by Global Post

India’s recent Mars mission was the first time a nation succeeded in sending a spacecraft to Mars on the first try.  And it was the lowest-cost Mars mission on record—even cheaper to do that some well-known science fiction movies. Spokesmen say it was all done without any imported components.

It is true that India had the benefit of experience of nations that previously sent missions to Mars.  But Russia and Japan had that benefit, and they spent more with less success.

It also is true that the scientific mission of India’s spacecraft was more limited than that of some other nations.

Even so, India’s Mars mission is a remarkable achievement, both in itself and for how it was done.


Mangalayan sends India’s critics into orbit by Raja Murthy for Asia Times.

Science fiction’s dreams and yesterday’s future

July 1, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a science educator whom I admire, laments the loss of interest in the space program, which he equates to a loss of hope in the future.   I can understand that.  There was a time when I thought that the human future depended on the space program.

My thinking was shaped by reading science fiction in the 1940s and 1950s, and, in particular, Astounding Science Fiction magazine, edited by the visionary John W. Campbell Jr., and the young adult (then called “juvenile”) and Future History novels of Robert A. Heinlein.

ASF_0241While science fiction in those days was varied and imaginative, there was a kind of consensus future which constituted a kind of default setting and shared background for many (not all) SF writers of that day.

The common assumption was that the next stage of human history was the Age of Space, which would be for the Planet Earth as a whole what the Age of Discovery was for Europe.   It was to begin with the construction of space stations and expeditions to the Moon, Mars and Venus, which would soon by followed by colonization of these worlds.

The default idea of Mars was a desert planet with frozen canals and an ancient extraterrestrial race with occult powers and secret wisdom.   The default idea of Venus was a jungle planet, something like Congo or Amazon basins and something like Earth in the age of the dinosaurs.   Mars was an old planet and Venus was a young planet.  Other worlds of the Solar System also were thought to be habitable and ripe of human colonization.

Poul AndersonThe next step was to be discovery of a faster-than-life drive and the spread of humanity through our galaxy.   Human beings would the leaders in the formation of a Galactic Federation, much like the Federation in Star Trek.   This was to be followed by a Galactic Empire, much like the Empire in Star Wars.   The empire would decline and fall, like the Roman Empire, and be followed by an age of chaos and the creation of a new and more advanced civilization.

Humans, not extraterrestrial beings, were to be the leaders and guides.   Campbell was a humanity chauvinist; he had a rule that he would not publish a story in which aliens got the better of human beings.

I didn’t exactly believe all of this, but I did anticipate the Age of Space with great hope and curiosity.  I thought this age was about to begin with the moon landings in 1969.   I did not realize, as I do now, that the moon landings were a stunt, carried out for prestige, to prove that the USA was more advanced than the USSR.

I’ll say this:  I felt proud to be a citizen of a nation with the sense of purpose and the capability to decide to do something so difficult, and to carry it out.   But the moon landings didn’t lead to anything.  What I thought of as a beginning was the high point.

Now hopefulness about the future has migrated to other nations, and we Americans, to the extent that we thing about the future at all, are very rightly concerned about averting catastrophe—economic decline, political collapse, environmental catastrophe, exhaustion of fossil fuels, mutant diseases, global climate change, et very much cetera.

Maybe there will be an Age of Space someday, whether or not the United States is the nation that leads the way.   My heart is with Neil deGrasse Tyson.   I don’t want to terminate the space program, either.  But the younger generation doesn’t see the future in terms of Heinlein’s Space Cadet.   Their vision of the future is Hunger Games.

A proud moment: Curiosity rover lands on Mars

August 7, 2012

Night before last NASA’s Curiosity rover made a successful landing on Mars.  It was a great achievement, one that makes me feel proud to be an American, and proud to be a human being.  Here’s USA Today’s account of what was involved in making the landing a success.

Curiosity, a roving laboratory the size of a compact car, landed right on target late Sunday after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey. It parked its six wheels about four miles from its ultimate science destination — Mount Sharp, rising from the floor of Gale Crater near the equator.

Extraordinary efforts were needed for the landing because the rover weighs one ton, and the thin Martian atmosphere offers little friction to slow down a spacecraft. Curiosity had to go from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, unfurling a parachute, then firing rockets to brake. In a Hollywood-style finish, cables delicately lowered it to the ground at 2 mph.


See where spacecraft from Earth have landed on Mars, in this infographic.


I can’t help but reflect that everybody involved did their jobs without the need for bonuses or other financial incentives.  I wish that all American institutions reflected this level of dedication and competence.

Click on Space and NASA News: Universe and Deep Space Information and NASA Mars Science Laboratory, the Next Mars Rover for more.

Hat tip to Ken MacLeod’s The Early Days of a Better Nation for the video and graphic.


Deep space and deep time

July 23, 2011

Knowledge of the past is an antidote for discouragement with the present.  When I stop and reflect, I realize that, on a day-to-day basis, the world was as threatening a place during the periods of history we consider great as they are now.

We remember Periclean Athens not for imperialism and slavery, but for Sophocles and Socrates.  We remember Elizabethan England not for its cruel executions and religious persecutions, but for Shakespeare.

What about our own society will be remembered when Goldman Sachs and the “war on terror” are forgotten?

Maybe this.

Click on Contrary Brin for David Brin’s web log.