Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Benefits of Space Exploration

It may be the best possible investment the United States could make: a colony on the moon.

Newt Gingrich proposed founding a colony within eight years, and received scorn from both liberals and Romney. Does Newt deserve it? What are some of the results of space exploration to date?

This site provides many examples of such benefits from past investments in space:

Off the top of my head, I can name just a few: weather satellites, GPS, and computer technology. Not a bad day's work.

Of course, Gingrich envisions a free enterprise version of space exploration and colonization, and that will be virtually impossible, due to the enormous investments of capital up front. However, we do have an entity that can make that investment: the federal government.

Are the days of aspirational goals over for the US? Are we incapable of taking risks on R&D and exploration?

Posted by phx8 at January 27, 2012 3:29 PM
Comment #335166

Personally, I do not think the manned space program is the most valuable thing for us. Unmanned programs have provided a great deal more knowledge to us recently than the manned programs. I think of the wonderful images provided by the Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra telescopes as well as the recent Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. The MESSENGER mission to Mercury and the New Horizons to Pluto promise to provide even more insights. I’m also looking forward to the Mars Science Laboratory and the James Webb Space telescope.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 27, 2012 5:14 PM
Comment #335167

Yes, the concept of a manned colony in such as inhospitable environment depends on a certain amount of romanticism. It’s the same attitude that kept us developing manned fighter jets, long after drones developed the ability to do the same missions much cheaper and with less risk.

Furthermore, the moon is only one candidate for exploration. Much of what the moon might have to offer could also be found in asteroids, and asteroids have the huge benefit of lacking a gravity well.

Nevertheless, the romanticism of colonizing beyond Earth has a value. Aspirational goals can have unintended, unforeseen benefits.

Part of the difficulty here is that so much of the space program was co-opted by the military. Another part of the problem is that this particular proposal came from Newt Gingrich. It sounded like an off-the-cuff proposal, something literally out of the blue. This kind of proposal would have been better delivered after a candidate were in office, with some ground work done up front to make the general public more receptive.

Posted by: phx8 at January 27, 2012 5:23 PM
Comment #335172

In the depths of his presidency, GW Bush bizarrely proposed a grandiose plan for a manned expedition to Mars.

It seems to me that both Gingrich and Bush simply wanted to steal some JFK magic for political purposes. They make no sense from either a scientific or economic perspective.

The technological and economic competitive challenge today is energy. If there is a JFK like challenge of value today, it is energy independence. Aspirational goals do indeed have spin off benefits. But, better that the aspirational goal has some functional significance.

Posted by: Rich at January 27, 2012 6:22 PM
Comment #335177

“Of course, Gingrich envisions a free enterprise version of space exploration and colonization, and that will be virtually impossible, due to the enormous investments of capital up front. However, we do have an entity that can make that investment: the federal government.

Are the days of aspirational goals over for the US? Are we incapable of taking risks on R&D and exploration?”

Posted by phx8 at January 27, 2012 3:29 PM

Yes, the “days of aspirational goals” are over. Obama has managed to shut down the whole space program. So, if we want to travel to space, we have to thumb a ride on a Chinese rocket. Of course Obama was heard saying, “It’s not fair that a crony capitalist country like America be the only country to conquer space”.

Posted by: TomT at January 27, 2012 7:48 PM
Comment #335179

Tom T,

“Obama has managed to shut down the whole space program. So, if we want to travel to space, we have to thumb a ride on a Chinese rocket.”

Sadly Tom there are actual facts out there if you would just take the time to find them, and quit just repeating the blather from the right wing talking heads.

“CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA has announced its intention to launch an unmanned flight of the Orion Spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle – by 2014. This flight test will be added to the contract that the space agency has with aerospace firm Lockheed Martin. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV as it is more commonly known – will test out systems that will be employed on the Space Launch System (SLS). If successful, this will allow astronauts to travel beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO) for the first time in over four decades.”

“The Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is based on the Orion design requirements for traveling beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.”

“Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” — a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it. (Applause.) And I want everybody to understand: That’s at least two years earlier than previously planned — and that’s conservative, given that the previous program was behind schedule and over budget.”

Somehow I don’t think the words you write mean what you think they mean.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 28, 2012 8:50 AM
Comment #335181

Tom T,

Here’s another “fact” you missed.

From factcheck;

“Romney Wrong on NASA

Romney went too far when he claimed that Obama has “no plans” for NASA. Obama in 2010 set in motion a plan to build a heavy-lift launch vehicle to go beyond the Earth’s orbit. The president’s plan calls on NASA to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025, orbit Mars by the mid-2030s and, ultimately, land on Mars.

Romney: His plans for NASA, he has no plans for NASA. The space coast is — is struggling. This president has failed the people of Florida.”

“…Nevertheless, Obama’s plans are moving forward. NASA announced a design for the heavy-lift launch vehicle that would make it possible to go beyond the Earth’s orbit. In making the announcement on the design plans, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said: “President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars.”

So your current “truths” are pretty much the same as your past “truths”.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 28, 2012 11:32 AM
Comment #335183


Yes, the “days of aspirational goals” are over.

The unmanned space programs planned for the rest of the decade will be excitement enough regardless of the fact that we are currently retooling our manned space program. The next year will be especially exciting as MESSENGER finishes its mission and the MSL lands on Mars. Cassini will continue to provide us with vital information about Saturn and its moons & rings. The New Horizons Mission will be the first ever probe to flyby Pluto. And this is all just sample of what NASA plans to do with regards to planetary exploration.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 28, 2012 12:33 PM
Comment #335193

The reason Newt could make the proposal is because nearly everything needed for placing a permanent base on the Moon has been in the planning and development stages for years.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 2:21 PM
Comment #335199

Placing a permanent base on the Moon is easily within our abilities. In addition, there are dozens of small entrepreneurial companies that have been developing prototypes of equipment waiting to be tested on the Moon. Example, Moon dust is composed of many elements and a company has developed a prototype machine that can collect Moon dust and separate these elements into Aluminum, oxygen, hydrogen, water, etc.

We know that it is technically possible to build an acceleration device, a type of catapult, that can launch cargo containers into space from an elevated location such as the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, my choice for the 51St state. Similar planning has gone into developing such devices for hurling cargo into space from the Moon, where far less energy would be needed to accomplish the task.

If you gather enough asteroids into one pile, you have a Moon. Mining the asteroid Belt would take a lot more technical expertise and planning than doing the same on the Moon where elements are in a more centralized local.

These are only a couple of examples of the type of thought, planning and development that has been going into this project since we last went to the Moon. Others include living quarters, transportation modes, a Moon base nuclear power plant that will be needed until the we begin to development of the Moon’s solar energy potential which has been in the planning stage for quite a while.

The Moons solar capacity has the potential of making not only America, but the entire earth energy independent. The social challenge is greater than the technical one.

A permanent Moon colony is another matter altogether. First, it would not be on but rather within the Moon. Second, it presents both psychological as well as physiological questions. The children of Moon men will physically not be able to walk on the surface of the earth.

Tom T., just imagine what the right wing talking heads would be saying if Obama had just proposed such a mission.

Newt’s space proposal has breached the S.S. Gingrich and it is sinking fast.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 3:22 PM
Comment #335202

Good points jlw. Do we know if its feasible to produce breathable oxygen on the moon? I suppose colonists would be on ready to eat meals for the duration of their stay. Word is that frequent astronauts are diagnosed with larger eyeballs. Would one fifth gravity be a problem here, other than weakened muscles?

If such impediments can be overcome or rendered harmless then what are we waiting for? You can learn some things from probing space from earth but getting scientist into a ‘living environment’ should greatly increase the knowledge base, especially technological gained thru empirical testing/work.

Just from a defensive nature, we can’t allow China, others to get a foothold their without our presence. So we should get going so that we will be in a position to ‘trust, but verify’, IMO.

Why we didn’t pick up on it soon after we landed on the moon, I dunno.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 28, 2012 4:04 PM
Comment #335215

“Word is that frequent astronauts are diagnosed with larger eyeballs.”

Obama has been diagnosed with big ears and it’s a result of earth’s gravitational pull. Though it has messed up his hearing.

Posted by: Kathy at January 28, 2012 8:46 PM
Comment #335220

Roy, nearly all of our space medical knowledge involves the effects on astronauts, and cosmonauts in micro gravity. I guess we would expect negative aspects to be lessened in the Moon’s gravitational field, but not totally eliminated. Of course we will have to build a body of knowledge over time.

Ready made meals for colonists? I doubt it. There will be many workers, much to do before the Moon is ready to accept permanent colonists.

Workers and machines first, much of the equipment would be controlled by remote control, like desk pilots flying drones. It may be possible that some machinery could be controlled from the earth using such measures.

It is likely that at first, workers will be recycled back to the earth for long stays before returning to the Moon, to avoid long term health concerns.

While China has made no secret of their intentions to colonize the Moon, when they may be in a position to do so remains a mystery. China is going to be facing some major problems, possibly their own Progressive Era. there are going to be about a billion Chinese that aren’t going to be thrilled if only two hundred million become the high consumption middle class.

Producing breathable oxygen would not be a problem, but I believe there is very little nitrogen on the Moon and it may have to be imported.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 9:29 PM
Comment #335221


Excellent comment. Another example of witty and insightful conservative thought.

Posted by: Rich at January 28, 2012 9:32 PM
Comment #335222

Roy, why we didn’t follow up on the Moon project? You have to remember that the Manned Moon Project was, for the most part, a political ploy to placate our embarrassment. The Soviets put the first satellite, the first living thing, the first man, the first woman in space. Once we had beaten the Soviets to the Moon and realized that they had given up even trying to match our feat, our priorities changed.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 9:38 PM
Comment #335229

I do recall that the issue was debated somewhat and few had any interest in revisiting the moon. The majority wanted to explore beyond the moon and that has been superb, beyond astonishing, etc.

But, at some point we must think of commerce and defense as it relates to space. Lift energy to get us up there seems to be the big expense. There is some agreement that using the moon as a base for harvesting resources there and from near planet asteroids would be more economical.

Such ‘mining’ operations should be highly supported by the commercial sector. One would think they would shoulder much of the cost to reap the rewards, leaving NASA to continue research in deep space and the military to concentrate on defense.

It is a stretch to think that China will put a person on the moon. NASA could give them a ‘data dump’ on how to, but it would still take them 20 years to pull it off, IMO.

And, with $15T of debt I would hope the commercial sector would carry the big end of the $tick in mining space. I hope we can keep it a priority to stay active in space research. That is something that we call all relate to, one of the few things thatleads to a feeling of nationalism.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 28, 2012 10:40 PM
Comment #335233

Roy, I would not underestimate the Chinese. They are very intelligent, and they have a successful space program. They have launched men into space and they plan to build their first space station with the next five years.

It has been financed by the American people.

IMO, the only thing that might slow the Chinese down is internal social problems or world wide economic problems that could stop their growth.

Also, when our Manned Moon missions came to an end, we knew little about the moon and were not prepared to do what we can do now. Back then, we didn’t even know that the moon had water, and quite a bit of it, in ice form. Having water on the Moon takes a serious bite out of costs.

NASA’s current Grail Mission orbiting the Moon will give us valuable information on the Moons gravitational field and it’s interior. Did you know that the side of the Moon facing the earth is far less mountainous that the back side?

By the way, the Gingrich NASA/private sector partnership proposal is actually an Obama accomplishment. That is why Space City has become a reality and why the first private sector space vehicle is in final testing stages for it’s space tourism and resupplying the ISS business objectives.

When we hear of excavating and tunnel boring equipment on the Moon you’ll know we have gotten serious about a permanent colony on the Moon. New Washington? New Beijing?
SF, prefers Luna City and New Hong Kong.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 11:46 PM
Comment #335234

Rich, they will probably be depicting Obama wearing a white face and singing Mammy before the election.

Posted by: jlw at January 28, 2012 11:52 PM
Comment #335238

Roy Ellis-
Oxygen won’t be too hard, you can bake it off the rock. Water? Not a lot, but it’s there.

As for Gravity? It depends how long you live under it. Temporary shifts would allow people time to recover, as they do from living on the space station for so long. However, we would be dealing with a considerably long distance here, both ways.

Actually, the Asteroids might be better. A lot of what we nee on the surface with the moon is silicates. Remember, the going theory is that the moon was formed out of mantle material that was smashed of our planet by a huge planetoid.

See, our problem here on Earth, and why we find mining so difficult, according to modern theories, is that when the radioactivity melted the Earth’s center, the heavier elements, including most of the planet’s heavier metals, sank to the center. Asteroid mining would allow us to find in common quantities substances that are rare here because they only show up.

Most of what we get through mining is oxidized or somehow chemically altered to make it more bouyant

Long story short, we could mine an awful lot of formerly precious metlas from there.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 29, 2012 12:32 AM
Comment #335270

I should have guessed the right would come up with some clever way to embrace the obviously much needed major stimulus program without calling it one. Eisenhower sold the interstate highway system as a defense measure for example. Its much harder to sell infrastructure projects, although more valuable IMO. The ironic reason is because cost/benefit judgments are rarely applied to “reach for the stars” programs or defense outlays. Nobody expects a 2 billion dollar B1 bomber to make money etc.

Posted by: bills at January 29, 2012 8:45 AM
Comment #335281

Yeah … the moon … because there is CERTAINLY nothing worthwhile or critical here on Earth within the United States that we could spend a couple of trillion to repair.

And a question for Newt: How will this moon colony be paid for?

Posted by: Gary St. Lawrence at January 29, 2012 12:19 PM
Comment #335282

It may be difficult to concentrate or colonize any solar activity as some law is in place, similar to that re the Poles, where it has to be a community effort and gov’t can’t stake out territory.

Would mining industries from various countries be willing to consortium up and share their technology? Would require ‘globalising’ the patent system!!?? Would joint space ventures render nationalism daid forever?

But, I do like the romantic side of it. Can’t you imagine the old space comic character, Buzz ‘?’, flitting around space in a two seater, firing off his retro’s to sync up to an ornery, bulked up asteroid, then squirting out some crazi glue to secure the beast and begin herding it off to the space corral? The second seat would be set up for blogging and media reports - WOW !

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 29, 2012 12:30 PM
Comment #335284

More on the 2nd seat: there would be surround sound with woofers and tweeters blasting out Eddy Arnold ‘Singing The Cattle Song’ and lotsa hot coffee.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at January 29, 2012 12:43 PM
Comment #335285

The thing about a moon colony and space exploration is that is changes the way we see ourselves. I like that vision.

Posted by: phx8 at January 29, 2012 12:46 PM
Comment #335291

Stephen, I realize the enormous potential in the asteroids, but the infrastructure to set up and maintain a mining operation in the asteroid belt would be far more challenging at this time than setting up mining operations on the Moon. The distances are far greater, as is the travel time and the negative effects of working in micro gravity. Perhaps after we build a wheeled space station out there to provide a gravity environment for workers.

Silicates you say, as in a belt of silicon embedded with solar energy collectors girding the equator of the Moon? The technology to deliver that energy to the earth is not unachievable and the potential is greater than the entire need of the human race for the foreseeable future. The deterrence to such a project is more socioeconomic than technical.

Gary, I don’t see the Moon base as a major stimulus for the economy. It will produce some high tech jobs and possibly some new technology crossovers into the private sector, but most of the benefits are decades down the road.

I see a Moon base and mining operations as a desirable and necessary thing to do for our future. I do not want to see this put off like we managed to put off getting serious about alternative energy for decades.

My stimulus package would include a totally new, state of the art electrical grid interstate highway system, and a major transition to electric vehicles who’s electrical consumption, while traveling the highway, will pay for it. Electric tractors to pull trailers filled with product. We can line the highways with solar panels and windmills until our Moon supply line is completed and making energy available to us. Abundant and clean energy will give the human race an opportunity to solve other problems. Not that they necessarily will.

Bills, IMO, if taxpayers are going to pay or help pay for infrastructure on the Moon that leads to profitable ventures for the private sector, there should be a better mechanism for the taxpayers to recoup their investment rather than consumer goods and resources.

God wants his fledgling to mature and leave the nest.

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