Space

To Mars or Bust!

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Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and the first man to collaborate with Snoop Dogg on a rap song about it, writes in today's Washington Post about the woefully misguided direction of NASA's plan to return to the moon. Not one to aim just for a repeat, Aldrin has his eyes on the Red Planet. We could be there within two decades, he claims, if only we had that vision thing down:

For the past four years, NASA has been on a path to resume lunar exploration with people, duplicating (in a more complicated fashion) what Neil, Mike and our colleagues did four decades ago. But this approach—called the "Vision for Space Exploration"—is not visionary; nor will it ultimately be successful in restoring American space leadership. Like its Apollo predecessor, this plan will prove to be a dead end littered with broken spacecraft, broken dreams and broken policies.

Instead, I propose a new Unified Space Vision, a plan to ensure American space leadership for the 21st century. It wouldn't require building new rockets from scratch, as current plans do, and it would make maximum use of the capabilities we have without breaking the bank. It is a reasonable and affordable plan—if we again think in visionary terms….

Now, I am not suggesting that America abandon the moon entirely, only that it forgo a moon-focused race. As the moon should be for all mankind, we should return there as part of an internationally led coalition. Using the landers and heavy-lift boosters developed by our partners, we could test on the moon the tools and equipment that we will need for our ultimate destination: homesteading Mars by way of its moons.

The piece gives few plausible justifications for bankrolling Mars mission preparations during the worst recession since the 1930s, and just after the federal deficit has crossed the trillion-dollar threshold. It's not clear how "thinking in visionary terms" will make a trip to Mars at all "reasonable" or "affordable."

Aldrin's cliché-as-argument approach is nauseating, and there ought to be a law against repeated, non-ironic Star Trek puns. But how is this schlock any worse than the ideas that have driven space policy for 50 years?

In obviously related news, today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission launch. As Reason's Ron Bailey pointed out, the total cost of the Apollo program was about $150 billion in 2008 dollars. The return on our investment: half a ton of moon rock (and some kick-ass photos).

For further reading, check out the Reason space policy archive.

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  1. If I am not mistaken, a few years ago some dufus confronted Aldrin with a bible asking him to swear on it that he actually landed on the moon. Aldrin punched him out. He was over 70 at the time. Now he does a rap song with Snoop Dog. Buzz kicks ass.

  2. STFU, Buzz.

    It’s welfare for rocket scientists, a fuckin’ waste of the taxpayer’s money.

  3. Despite my policy disagreements with Buzz, I agree with John’s assessment. He’s a kickass old fart.

  4. I agree with the goal, but I don’t agree with the means. If Apollo had resulted in Luna City, I might be less critical of a NASA-led return to the Moon. Or mission to Mars.

    I’d find a monster COTS program a little less objectionable, but the real goal should be cheap access to orbit. Do that, and the rest will become much cheaper and much more feasible.

    Politics/economics aside, 1,000 years from now, they’ll remember us for going to the Moon. Apollo was an amazing accomplishment, and I have nothing but admiration for those who got us there and those who went.

  5. $150B for the complete moon program? Isn’t that how much the military spends on food a year?

  6. For a catalogue of reasons why a Mars mission will be a lot tougher than expected by Buzz (who acknowledges that he himself is not a long-duration traveller), take a look at MG Lord’s great Discover piece “Are We Trapped On Earth?” (Then stay around for “Peter Bagge’s History of Science,” which appears in Discover every month.)

    I’d say life is a lot tougher outside the magnetosphere, but it’s not clear that the term “life” and the phrase “outside the magnetosphere” belong in the same sentence.

    Space is horrendous beyond the imagination of man, no matter how inviting the surface of (magnetosphereless) Mars looks. It will be conquered by posthumans, not regular humans.

  7. The piece gives few plausible justifications for bankrolling Mars mission preparations during the worst recession since the 1930s, and just after the federal deficit has crossed the trillion-dollar threshold. It’s not clear how “thinking in visionary terms” will make a trip to Mars at all “reasonable” or “affordable.”

    If only we could reach Mars by digging a hole to the center of the earth…

  8. We could’ve gone to Mars long ago. There’s… less than no point though. The scientific data would be negligible (especially since we’ve sent all those rovers), there’s no chance of even starting to work towards setting up any sort of colony there, and any resources we might be able to use back on Earth would be so ridiculously expensive to transport back that any idea along those lines is beyond laughable.

    … This is why the federal government will probably decide it’s a great idea and will give it more than full funding.

  9. Go to Mars. At least it’s welfare for smart people.

  10. I’m surprised Buzz didn’t promote the Lunar Sex Prize (SFW, in theory). He’s on the board, after all.

    Tim,

    I think that’s a bit bleak. If we could get materials into space at a fraction of the current cost, then building a spacecraft with the shielding, artificial gravity (probably a centrifuge), etc. needed to go to Mars and beyond doesn’t seem that daunting of a task. The problem now is that it’d be so expensive to build an adequately safe spacecraft that it’ll be decades before we get around to doing it.

    Should we go? Hell yes. Should we do it like we did Apollo? No.

  11. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I do think government has a role in space exploration. For the most part, I’d say the federal government should stick to national defense and nothing else, but exploration is something that yields benefits to mankind.

    Now that being said, I think there are better ways to perform such exploration. Linear induction propulsion is far more efficient and reusable than fossil fuel propulsion. I think we should start exploring that avenue. And yes, with a portion of the costs being government funds. BTW, Jefferson would agree – and did.

  12. If he’d punched out Snoop Dogg I’d have even more respect for him.

  13. How about trying to figure out our coming energy crisis before we spend more energy trying to sightsee around our solar system.

  14. All I ask is an orbiting space-station tourist attraction before I die. (I actually ask for a lot more, but its a cliche, so get off my back)

  15. @ kilroy

    WTF did Snoop ever do to you?

    Mars, bitches.

  16. Give me a space elevator, and I’ll bet you we’ll figure out a way to get your energy needs met.

  17. “Give me a space elevator, and I’ll bet you we’ll figure out a way to get your energy needs met.”

    I can do it cheaper than Pro Lib, and I only require a rudimentary space dumbwaiter.

  18. A space dumbwaiter? Hmmm. Maybe we’re thinking too big here. What about space stairs? Or a space ladder?

  19. Snoop Dogg and a man named Buzz. Like biscuits and gravy it is.

  20. Who’s gonna provide law inforcement when space gets peopled?

    Pigggggssssss Innnnnnnnnn Spaaaaaaaaaace

  21. When we find an extra solar Earth-like planet, I’ll be all on board for trying to send someone there to colonize it. Now that’s a vision. There’s no point in going to Mars because there’s nothing there.

  22. Unless and until someone figures out a way to make money in space, we won’t be going there in any significant way. In the few areas people have figured out to make money, like sattilites, humans are in space in spades and without government help. If Mars had something you could export back to earth to pay for the journey, we would go. But unless it does, we won’t and any journey there will be as J sub D puts it welfare for rocket men.

  23. John, didn’t the funding for the original R&D for satelites come from the government? Without the governments dime, would anyone have bothered to develop the technology?

  24. Space exploration is hard as a libertarian type issue. On one hand, there is certainly waste in the system. On the other, it’s a problem that the free market is just not designed to handle. The free market exists to bring products and services to people in exchange for money, but there’s no money in exploring.

    For a concept question: Would Reason readers have been opposed to government financing for the Lewis and Clark expidition? I find the argument for space exploration analagous.

  25. When I saw that Snoop and Buzz in the same picture i thought, “Damn, I must be stoned, there is Buzz and Snoop together.” Then I realized, damn, I am not stoned, that is a picture of Buzz and Snoop.

  26. It so happens that I agree with Mr. Buzz Aldrin whole heartedly. After all, we are the descendants of a particularly adventurous strain of apes. Our culture and our creativity are at best when we are expending, and when we are not it becomes static at best and contracts at worst.

    Colonization of America’s has given us 500 years of progress. Colonization and terra forming of Mars can give us 500 more. It is an entire world to conquer. It has all the components to support another branch of civilization. Think about, it can become a libertarian kingdom populated by the best earth has to offer. Mars can become a playground of humanity – a land of giant machines and structures. Global warming would be welcome on Mars.

    Right now we live in an overpopulated 200 mile well and the near outer space is out of our reach. Movement to Mars can change that. The alternative is a static or sustainable society. We can all observe the effort under way right now to create steady state society. Paul Krugman’s dream. It is society where everything is controlled, where there are no booms or recessions, and everybody knows his place; it is a nightmarish vision.

    Post human future – may be or may be not. We do not know how the future will unfold, so why not have some fun while we are waiting.

    Mr. Aldrin is right that it can be done a lot cheaper and faster than what NASA has been doing. – by using proven technology already in existence and by utilizing the resources on Mars once we get there. Also we have to go there with the intent to colonize not just to visit.

  27. There’s no point in going to Mars because there’s nothing there.

    Don’t call my giant sleeping cabbages “nothing!” I should burn you like a water-seeker.

  28. Till I read the article, I thought that was Dennis Hopper with cool shades to hide the chinese eyes that Snoop Dogg is sporting.

  29. There’s no point in going to Mars because there’s nothing there.

    No, there’s a fat chick and a guy who spends his life running from her.

  30. No, there’s a fat chick and a guy who spends his life running from her.

    If she’s chasing him, shouldn’t she eventually become a thin chick with well-defined calves?

  31. As I remember, she chased him by calling every phone number on Mars. It’s been a while, though.

    Stupid lazy fat chicks.

  32. “Oh! If I only had my dialing wand!”

  33. The American Dairy Assocoation funded the moon landing to lock up their cheese monopoly…

  34. WTF did Snoop ever do to you?

    I’m not a fan of the genre. Besides, it’d be a great fight to watch. Snoop has the edge but Buzz is wily.

  35. On the other, it’s a problem that the free market is just not designed to handle.

    That’s because it’s not a problem. The hottest, muggiest, most volcano-eruptingly, earthquakingly miserable day on earth has never prompted anybody to say, “I wanna get away from it all…ON URANUS!” And given the importance of organic chemistry in, oh, everything, there’s no value in going where there’s no organic material in search of raw materials.

    Terraforming is our age’s version of the geocentric universe: an assumption that “Class M” conditions are somehow normal or stable, so reproducing them should be a 500-year snap. (The problem is that the equation works both ways: Earth is just right for us because we’re just right for Earth, at the moment.)

    The misheard REM lyric is right: There’s nothing up there to see.

  36. shorter Buzz: Get your ass to Mars

  37. Warty: No, there’s a fat chick and a guy who spends his life running from her.

    So Stedman Graham lives on Mars?

  38. There are some interesting propulsion drives for which NASA has research contracts. These drives could dramatically reduce the time it takes to get to places like Mars. Unfortunately they are 1. Still well inside the research phase. 2. They may never work.

    Tough choices, to be sure.

  39. Earth is just right for us because we’re just right for Earth, at the moment.

    Quick, someone make the fine-tuned universe (teleological, right?) argument for creationism now.

  40. Warty,

    Don’t make fun of people who can’t understand odds. They are the backbone of our casino and lottery industry.

  41. Quick, someone make the fine-tuned universe (teleological, right?) argument for creationism now.

    I definitely wasn’t going there, Warty, though anybody’s welcome to try. If anything, Earth seems better-tuned for cockroaches than it is for us. (Or that’s what it said in Wall*E.)

  42. Don’t make fun of people who can’t understand odds. They are the backbone of our casino and lottery industry.

    They also make great subjects for videos on break.com.

  43. Tim,

    Nice statement of the anthropic principle.

    That being said, if we can find a planet out there that is “earth-like” already, sign me up. I’ll consider actually having offspring on the trip if they can land somewhere free. The frontier is where the Liberty is.

  44. EJM, that’s an awesome Buzz performance. Long live Barry and Enright! Down with Goodwin and Stempel!

  45. If I am not mistaken, a few years ago some dufus confronted Aldrin with a bible asking him to swear on it that he actually landed on the moon. Aldrin punched him out. He was over 70 at the time. Now he does a rap song with Snoop Dog. Buzz kicks ass.

    In Aldrin’s defense the guy called him a liar and something else. There is a certain degree of caution one should take when confronting people who have a history of doing rather dangerous things on routine basis or for a living. Especially when they reach the, “I don’t give a fuck age.”

  46. Another good time to link to this cover of Snoop

  47. “In Aldrin’s defense the guy called him a liar and something else.”

    There is no reason to defend Aldrin. The legitimacy of an astronaut punching out some “the moonlanding was faked” moron is self evident. I loved it that he punched him.

  48. For a concept question: Would Reason readers have been opposed to government financing for the Lewis and Clark expidition? I find the argument for space exploration analagous.

    Well, it’s not really analogous.

    We owned the Louisiana territory, and even at that early date intended in a somewhat naked and open way to eventually own the western third of the continent too, and so the government was inventorying property it owned and was thinking of owning.

    Our current treaties say we can’t own bodies in space and can’t militarize them.

    Junk those treaties, and say that whoever builds bases on the Moon, Mars and the asteroids first will own them [whether governments or “groups of adventurers”] and you won’t have to worry about our getting trapped on Earth. Someone will go. Probably lots of people will go, and there will be disputes, fights, skullduggery. But we’ll BE THERE.

  49. “Probably lots of people will go, and there will be disputes, fights, skullduggery. But we’ll BE THERE.”

    Nobody can leave Earth because the change in Earth’s mass will cause the planet to alter its orbit, potentially leaving the solar system or crashing into a planet or the sun. We’d all be dead way before any of that. But at least there’d be some dudes on Mars.

  50. I think that’s a bit bleak. If we could get materials into space at a fraction of the current cost, then building a spacecraft with the shielding, artificial gravity (probably a centrifuge), etc. needed to go to Mars and beyond doesn’t seem that daunting of a task.

    Only if we have some kind of immersive VR tech where you experience death. Have we had a Virtuality thread yet?

  51. Lamar,
    We’ll just have to have a Galactic Doorman. He’ll have a clicker that’ll count every person that leaves and stop the emigration as soon as the meteorite:human ratio gets out of whack. That should solve the problem of mass distribution.

  52. Tim, what’s with the anti-space position? Did Buzz Aldrin slug you or something?

    I have the oddest sense of deja vu.

  53. Politics/economics aside, 1,000 years from now, they’ll remember us for going to the Moon. Apollo was an amazing accomplishment, and I have nothing but admiration for those who got us there and those who went.

    Indeed. I’ve generally considered the space program a proxy for our condition as a society. That we’re not even close to being able to duplicate the moon shot today doesn’t say anything good about that situation.

    I agree – we’ll be remembered for going to the moon a lot more than we’ll be remembered for our “social progress”. Nobody who looks at the pyramids much gives a shit about the Egyptian’s views on gay marriage.

  54. Sorry folks you won’t be able to skirt cap and trade regulations by going to another planet, its getting warmer there too.

  55. Don’t call my giant sleeping cabbages “nothing!” I should burn you like a water-seeker.

    It’s Heinlein day at H&R.

  56. One thing I’ve noticed about libertarians–they’re disproportionately space junkies. When one isn’t on that reservation, well, one needs to be slugged by Buzz Aldrin.

  57. Pro Lib-

    I agree with your observation that most libertarians are space junkies as well as science fiction fanatics. Me, not so much. Some here would probably welcome ole Buzz slugging me.

    However, I would like to have seen the guy who he punched. Something tells me the astronaut hero would not do the same to a physically imposing dude. You know, typical military/police cowardice.

  58. Did a rap song with who about what?

    Ok, we can expect the End of Days about anytime now…

  59. If any of you guys live near a city with indie film venues and like sci fi you should really check out Moon, with Sam Rockwell. Saw it this weekend. Quality stuff.

  60. One thing I’ve noticed about libertarians–they’re disproportionately space junkies. When one isn’t on that reservation, well, one needs to be slugged by Buzz Aldrin.

    And on that note I’m going to crack open a beer and watch the HD release of For All Mankind.

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/for-all-mankind,30377

    In his 1989 film For All Mankind, journalist-turned-filmmaker Al Reinert focuses squarely on the wonder of that achievement. Raiding NASA’s film vaults, Reinert patched together the most amazing footage from each of the Apollo missions to the moon into one synthetic journey from Houston to a place where, until 40 years ago, no one had gone before. It’s breathtaking on two fronts: Reinert unearths stunning footage-far removed from the fuzzy copies used as B-roll in other documentaries-that captures the full scale of NASA’s accomplishment. But he keeps that footage grounded in the image and voices of the modest men and women who made it happen. A shot of Africa from space, dotted by the campfires of desert nomads, is soundtracked by an astronaut’s philosophical contemplation of what it means to look down on such a sight. A demonstration of the engineering might needed to put a rocket into orbit comes accompanied by footage of the brush-cut, pipe-clenching eggheads who made it happen.

    Reinert’s approach shaves off any elements that don’t work as an adventure tale, but he gains a lot by excluding pesky facts and figures. Letting the voices of 13 astronauts provide the narration over an enveloping Brian Eno score, the film glides from one lyrical moment to the next. The lunar landscape rolls out in all its glory while an awestruck traveler recalls a dream in which he follows a set of lunar-rover tracks, only to encounter himself waiting at the end. In that single moment, the film captures the awesomeness and oddness of traveling farther from home than anyone had ever traveled before, stuck all the while in fragile human skin.

  61. Well, he’s bigger than Aldrin, anyway. Watch the Slug of Truth.

    Frankly, I don’t blame him for hitting the guy. Aldrin dedicated his life to going into space, risking his life all the while, and was the second man to walk on the Moon–an amazing accomplishment. For some guy to get in his face, call him a liar, and challenge his integrity. . .yeah, he deserved the punch.

  62. dbcooper,

    I saw that. Nice.

  63. Here you go libertymike. The guy is clearly bigger, taller, and younger than Aldrin. He’s also a giant douche.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOo6aHSY8hU

  64. Ahh, snap! You are Reason’s number 1 space dude, ProL. 🙂

  65. I’ve always been a space junkie. My dad was working on Apollo when I was born.

  66. Raiding NASA’s film vaults, Reinert patched together the most amazing footage from each of the Apollo missions to the moon into one synthetic journey from Houston to a place where, until 40 years ago, no one had gone before. It’s breathtaking on two fronts: Reinert unearths stunning footage-far removed from the fuzzy copies used as B-roll in other documentaries-that captures the full scale of NASA’s accomplishment.

    And, on that note, I might as well mention that NASA officially announced today that it apparently recorded over the original recordings of the Apollo 11 video (more here and here).

  67. dbcooper,

    I saw that. Nice.

    It uses Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks too, which works wonderfully with the footage.

    BTW, ubercool having your old man on the Apollo program.

  68. He was pretty successful later in his career (he’s retired, now), but he has always said that that was by far his best job.

  69. Indeed. I’ve generally considered the space program a proxy for our condition as a society. That we’re not even close to being able to duplicate the moon shot today doesn’t say anything good about that situation.

    Er, government-funded space program = total freedom? That is durrrr-retarded.

  70. $150 billion to get to the moon?

    It seems like chump change these days.

  71. nice post..
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  72. Of course we should go to Mars. We just shouldn’t steal money from people who don’t want to fund the effort — make it voluntary, and keep the government out of it.

    We’re not trapped on Earth, the challenges are not insurmountable, and the survival of the species depends on the continuing progress of our ability to colonize space, starting with our next door neighbor.

  73. dbcooper,

    Check out the movie “In the Shadow of the Moon”. It’s also a brilliant documentary as well.

  74. $150 billion to get to the moon?

    It seems like chump change these days.

    Over the course of 10 years, yes it is chump change. That’s taking into consideration of the Mercury and Gemini program as well including finetuning the Saturn rocket for preparation. It’s a great rocket with gigantic brilliant powerful engines. I would want to take a ride on this monstrosity 🙂

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