Built on Facts

Shoot Down the ISS

There’s been a lot of discussion about NASA administrator Mike Griffin’s leaked email about the future of the space station. It’s a fascinating, honest, and cogent look at where we stand now at the crossroads of the Shuttle and the eventual Ares/Orion system. He’s precisely right on the facts. He’s also too pessimistic. The failure and danger he foresees can be turned into opportunity.

Here’s a quick precis of the situation as it stands. The shuttle is being retired. There is a non-negotiable finite number of possible shuttle launches remaining due to the fact that the external tanks are not reusable and Lockheed-Martin is no longer making them. Once the remaining tanks are used, the shuttle fleet instantly becomes museum pieces. Some two hundred miles above the earth, the International Space Station orbits, funded at tremendous expense mostly by the US but also by various other space programs involved in the project. Only one of those nations has the ability to get to the ISS by itself – Russia, via their Soyuz launch vehicles. As you may have noticed, Russia and the US are not on the best of terms at the moment. But once the shuttles are gone, Russia is the only way astronauts of any country can get to the ISS. And Russia doesn’t need the US’s help to run the ISS. Though it wouldn’t be easy, they could do it themselves short of deliberate US sabotage – which Griffin says would never happen short of war (which is good). Let me quote him, because he speaks the truth:

The rational approach didn’t happen, primarily because for OSTP and OMB, retiring the shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision. Further, they actively do not want the ISS to be sustained, and have done everything possible to ensure that it would not be…

This administration will not yield with regard to continuing shuttle operations past 2010, but the next administration will have no investment in that decision. They will tell us to extend the shuttle. There is no other politically tenable course. It will appear irrational – heck, it will be irrational – to say we’ve built a Space Station we cannot use, that we’re throwing away a $100 billion investment, when the cost of saving it is merely to continue flying Shuttle. Extending Shuttle does no damage that they will care about, other than to delay the lunar program. They will not count that as a cost. They will not see what that does for US leadership in space over the long term. And even if they do, they have a problem in the short term that must be solved. Flying Shuttle is the only way to solve it.

It’s the hideously expensive taxpayer-funded modern Ouroboros. The space station is a hugely expensive investment that’s useless without a space shuttle to service it. The space shuttle is a hugely expensive investment that’s useless without a space station to service. Even when both are available to provide a use for the other, the tiny amount of science that gets done in the space station is absolutely microscopic in terms of the firehose of cash being blasted skyward. The administration is absolutely right to call a jihad on the shuttle. Where the administration fails is in openly acknowledging that the jihad has got to include the ISS as well. The ISS is the worst decision in human spaceflight, kept aloft only by the sheer political embarrassment that would be sustained by admitting the entire thing is a waste of money. NASA’s human spaceflight mission should be to press human flight further and further into the solar system, or to do ground-based research and development until further human flight is practical. NASA’s mission should not be to spend two billion a year on the ISS to maintain a small and nearly useless outpost which is not even high enough to avoid appreciable atmospheric drag. That’s not even counting the shuttle, which is around a staggering 4 billion a year – currently entirely devoted to servicing the ISS. Now even so that’s only around $20 per taxpayer per year. But it is still roughly equivalent to the entire NSF budget.

So here’s my suggestion. The president should call a conference in the Rose Garden and make a speech:

“My fellow Americans, through the fantastic efforts and science of NASA, the United States has been proud to take the lead in space exploration by constructing the International Space Station. Now that we’ve completed our objectives in understanding long-term human presence in space, it’s time to move on and focus our full attention on the return to the moon and thence to the planets beyond. It is thus in the spirit of friendship and scientific cooperation even in difficult times that we offer to give the Space Station to Russia and the rest of the ISS nations, free of charge and without requirements of any kind. We hope to continue our journey to the stars for the betterment of all mankind.”

And if Russia has any sense at all, they’ll decline. Cunning, repressive ex-KGB autocrats are many things, but they’re rarely stupid. Why in the world would they want the expense? But either way we won’t be paying for the thing anymore and we can focus our efforts and money on the lunar exploration program.

And if they don’t want it, send up a final shuttle mission, have the astronauts rip out everything salvageable, and bring all the crew home. Then call up USSTRATCOM and have them let the Navy fire up one of their Aegis systems and take a practice shot with an SM-3. A hundred billion is a lot to spend on a practice target, but we might as well get some use out of it during the decommissioning. Heck, float cameras around it broadcasting to earth, slap ads on the side of the ISS, and make some money filming the explosion.

In the final analysis, when you’re down at a casino the thing to do is cut your losses and leave. The thing to not do is keep gambling and hope you win your money back. Yes the ISS has been very expensive. Yes it would not be politically easy to just let the thing die. But in an election that’s about change, I’d love to see someone commit to changing the orbit of the ISS to something that intersects sea level.


  1. #1 Eric Lund
    September 9, 2008

    Those of us in the space science community recognized 15 years ago that the space station, as conceived (and subsequently built), would be a money pit. During one AGU Spring Meeting in the early 1990s they had a phone set up so that we could call our Congresscritters and tell them that we thought the space station was a bad idea. I did so myself. They went ahead and built it anyway.

  2. #2 dWj
    September 9, 2008

    > that we’re throwing away a $100 billion investment

    Sounds like a sunk cost.

    The best argument for the ISS seems to be international-political. If we want to keep it, take the funding for it from the State Department budget, and use money allocated to science for science.

  3. #3 John Ellis
    September 9, 2008

    Cunning, repressive ex-KGB autocrats are many things, but they’re rarely stupid. Why in the world would they want the expense?

    Ahem. There is the Russian Shuttle Buran, and the supersonic airliner Concordski.

    I think you’ll find that a delight in prestigious baubles that sparkle in the sun is pretty much universal.

  4. #4 Katharine
    September 9, 2008

    They can’t engineer a way for the Orion module to dock ?

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    September 9, 2008

    Just to get a sense of perspective: how long would four gigabucks fund the Iraq war?

  6. #6 DDeden
    September 9, 2008

    Very puzzling, reminds me of early European ocean going sailing ships compared to the Polynesian canoes…

    and to alter a yacht owner’s saying, it’s “a hole in the sky you throw money into”

    Personally, I think the ISS is the coolest thing my generation has ever done, except for the requisite governmental bureaucracy. I’d rather have seen a lighter weight version, with lower daily costs, but that probably was not realistic in the 80’s and 90’s.

  7. #7 Uncle Al
    September 9, 2008

    stupid + $millions = stupid ($1.6 million investigation of the $billion Los Angeles Belmont Learning Center (high school))
    stupid + $billions = stupider (ISS FUBAR, Space Scuttle, and baggage; Head Start annual budget $6+ billion)
    stupid + $trillions = stupidest (plinking Muslims, adjustable mortages, government-mandated charity)

    Remember 19% annual inflation after the Vietnam War? Next stupid stop is $quadrillions – and we need a new class of adjective.

  8. #8 AK47
    September 9, 2008

    Wouldn’t blowing up the space station make the problem of space debris significantly worse?

  9. #9 Matt Springer
    September 9, 2008

    Some quick answers:

    Orion will AFAIK be able to dock with ISS. But Orion won’t be available until 2014 at the earliest, and the shuttle will only run until 2011.

    $4b would fund Iraq for just over 2 weeks… or social security for a little over two and a half days.

    The sailing ship analogy is a good one: the early European sailing ships like the ones Columbus used actually went somewhere and made discoveries. This is more like Ferdinand and Isabella funding a floating drydock a mile off the coast of Spain.

    Blowing up the ISS wouldn’t make space debris worse except in the very short term. The Chinese ASAT test was only bad because the target was so high: orbits that high take very long to decay. All the ISS debris would burn up in the atmosphere in days to weeks.

  10. #10 Zifnab
    September 9, 2008

    The sailing ship analogy is a good one: the early European sailing ships like the ones Columbus used actually went somewhere and made discoveries. This is more like Ferdinand and Isabella funding a floating drydock a mile off the coast of Spain.

    I still never understood why they didn’t skip the space station entirely and go straight to a moon base. Putting shit on solid ground would – to me, at least – would seem to make the whole construction thing a lot easier and cheaper to maintain. But I’m no NASA engineer.

    Ultimately, I assumed the ISS was ment as a way station between Earth and Elsewhere. Kinda like your floating dry dock. Sure, it seems kinda stupid on its face, but Spain wasn’t paying $1 billion a pound to put a ship out to sea. I mean, we’ve got this giant floating relatively advanced piece of hardware sitting hundreds of miles above the atmosphere. Surely we can do something with it other than turn it into target practice.

    Can we just cannibalize the damn thing and build another rocket ship in space, maybe?

  11. #11 Uncle Al
    September 9, 2008

    ISS FUBAR doesn’t “sit” anywhere. Its spontaneous orientation is radial not tangent to the geoid. NASA wants it to fly pretty, reducing its true micro-gee volume to about seven baseketballs and burning out steering gyros. Stupid.]

    Mice reach sexual maturity at 6 weeks. Gestation is 21 days. Five generations/year minimum. ISS FUBAR has been up there continuously staffed since 2000. In 8 years it could have bred minimum 45 generations of wild mice and we would know if mammals can adapt to micro-gee. Space sausage for the asstronaughts, too.

    “Given the complexity of the ISS, it is impossible to calculate an overall cost for the entire project” Hot damn mo-fo! Official Space Scuttle costs added $38 billion (maybe $50 billion, maybe more). If 20,000 math, science, computer, and engineering majors got $20,000 scholarhips each/year for four years, $38 billion is 23 full 4-year cycles (assumed no interest earned on the wad. 1.2% interest pays for the program without touching principle). Everybody with a brain could have gotten his and her degree for free for 92 years running. Who wants that?

    Let’s do Welfare and Head Start instead. That burns through $38 billion in under 45 days.

  12. #12 Johnfruh
    September 9, 2008

    Once again you are sounding like a space cadet. Enough already with putting spam in the can and lobbing it at the moon and Mars.

    As Eric @ #1 said, The ISS was a bad idea from the start. Even Carl Sagan spoke out against manned space flight because it sapped funding from real science missions. And yet you continue to push the idea. Why Matt? What can the weakest link (i.e. humans) add to our knowledge that our tools can do much better.

    Who cares how long the spam can survive in space? It does not help us to glean much sought after knowledge about our celestial neighbours. And who in his right mind would want to suffer the consequences of interplanetary missions? Why risk life and limb when we could risk only hardware?

    Have the robotic missions to Mars tought you nothing about the wisdom of sending our tools to do our discovering for us?

    Can you imagine the advances if all of NASAs efforts were focused on advancing the state of intelligent robotics?

    We humans are the best tool makers ever. This, and our brains, have brought us as far as we have come. We can now extend our reach to the entire solar system without having a real live arm attached to a person on the scene.

    If you are interested in minimizing the enormous waste involved in the manned space program, then I recommend that you reconsider your support for it.

    In short, it is time to grow up! Spam in the can is now a liability rather than an asset. Even the military is wise to this (note the predator and all the other pilot-less drones).


  13. #13 JohhnyBravo
    September 9, 2008

    Shooting the money pit down would only serve a short term purpose. If there are enough crazy multimilionares and celebrities who can’t wait for a space hotel we would be better served in renting out parts of the ISS to rich people as an ultimate space hotel room. Let the Russian’s continue to ferry them up but let us charge them for the room, food, air, water, and time. If Virgin wants to explore the space tourism front charge them docking fees and whore out the station until some crazy venture capitalist creates a floating hotel. Will it ever come close to recouping the costs, no but it will ease the burden and who knows, maybe someone would offer to pick up a small part of the operating costs for advertisement, maybe use it for Google Earth, MS Virtual Earth, there are many possibilities if pimped out correctly.

    Isn’t the ISS susposed to be a space lab that just conducts experiments anyway, if it has not done many, and the Japanese science module was just installed this year, then we need to ask what sciense is planned and why it has not been accelerated. China is taking on its 3rd manned space mission this month, first space walk, so lets not forget them as they could have the capability to reach and service the ISS along with the Russians by the time the Shuttle is retired. As unappetizing as it sounds I am sure their national pride and hunger will let them take on a share of the costs to get inclusion in some of this space craziness going on.

    We should step back and let the others pick up more of the costs as they have just as much invested in its sucess now. Still it would be useful in getting to the moon as such a large percentage of Apollo’s fuel was used just to get off the planet, let a way station be there and a fuel depot higher up established making the moon shots less risky and construction easier or something like that. Compared to other governemtn programs it is not as wasteful as many have pointed out.

  14. #14 Hank Roberts
    September 9, 2008

    Good grief, people, you’re missing the biggest attraction possible.

    It was an accident — the camera was left on when the latest large module was finally opened and both shuttle and ISS crew came barreling into this huge clear open weightless space, tumbling and swimming and having obviously an absolutely wonderful time.

    And then first person through that hatch — wearing the mask they were told to wear because of ‘metal shavings’ — whoever he was — zipped straight across the space and reached up and turned off the camera, while the rest of the crew were doing the most amazing gymnastics in the background.

    And they had it to themselves for a while thereafter — an _enormous_ room, in microgravity — to enjoy, before they started opening up all the wall panels and folding out equipment and making this new module into yet another densely packed equipment store.

    Later on the radio I heard one of the crew say something to the effect “… did you see that? we weren’t sure if the camera had been left on by mistake…”

    It looked like more fun than you could buy for any price, on Earth.

    Go out and watch it go overhead and dream.


  15. #15 Matt Springer
    September 9, 2008

    “Even Carl Sagan spoke out against manned space flight because it sapped funding from real science missions. And yet you continue to push the idea. Why Matt?”

    This very question is where I break with a lot of space scientists. Simply put, I’m a romantic and I value human exploration more than I do pure space science.

    Sadly, the ISS is neither.

  16. #16 Hank Roberts
    September 9, 2008

    It’s a sunk cost, it’s up there.

    Imagine — if it were to have just appeared in orbit, we’d be busting our asses to get up there and use it!

    We should be preparing to catch and tag earth-crossing asteroids now, with beacons, so we can later send steering engines to tie onto them and collect them.

    And instead we’re even throwing away the one-use external tanks instead of boosting them to orbit where they could be salvaged.
    Lots of ideas on that: http://www.orbit6.com/et/

    It’s a shame MIR didn’t last. Yes, it does sound like it had been taken over by green fuzz. If that’s happening with the ISS also, maybe there’s a reason to drop it. But nobody’s claimed that’s happening.
    If it’s staying usable — good grief, think of the cost of replacing it.

    Sell it to Hollywood for adult zero-G movies, if nothing else. It’d pay for the upkeep for sure.
    And be a morale booster.

  17. #17 Johnfruh
    September 9, 2008

    Matt @ #15,
    I see, you’re a romantic! How sweet. Now, please go deeper. Why do you value HUMAN exploration (meaning spam in the can)? What added benefit do we get? We humans are doing the exploring! We are sending our tools, our probes, etc. out there. Are these not extensions of ourselves? And when your desire for romance costs an astronaut his/her life how will you face his/her loved ones?

    So, Matt, how much are you willing to pay for romance? I for one am not willing to pay for it. I WILL, however, pay for knowledge. So, again, lets grow up and get that knowledge the most efficient way possible. To my mind, that means getting the bio goop together with all of its life support overhead out of the machine!

  18. #18 FEWW
    September 9, 2008

    […] Shoot Down the ISS […]

  19. #19 John
    September 10, 2008

    Johnfruh, First of all, the men and women who are flying space missions are highly intelligent, brave, and motivated volunteers. They should not be referred to as “spam in a can”. They (and their families) know and accept the risks they are taking. If you want scientific advancement, you have to have money to fund research. Look at college football as an example. With few exceptions, the universities that are getting the most money for their school’s academic programs are the ones with top ranked football programs. The football programs are expensive (and exciting), and they bring in even more money and prestige to their schools. Manned space flight is the football team for the space program.

  20. #20 Matt Springer
    September 10, 2008

    I agree with John. I’d also like to add that if NASA offered me a ride on the Shuttle tomorrow, I’d go in a heartbeat. The risk of death wouldn’t give me a second’s pause. I’m sure every astronaut feels the same way.

  21. #21 Thomas
    September 10, 2008

    John, once upon a time manned flight did lead to publicity, but today you are more likely to see pictures from Hubble or the rovers on Mars than from ISS.

    I’m also afraid that if you scrap the ISS and build a base on the moon it will suffer the same fate as ISS did: to save money more and more of the science contents will be removed so that in the end it will produce nothing more useful than ISS, only to an even higher cost.

  22. #22 Anonymous
    September 10, 2008

    Matt – Your idea is great. Then it would be the International Sea Station and they wouldn’t even have to change the acronym. We could explore the universe of the ocean.

    I doubt that the view would be quite as clear or spectacular, though, and it would probably cost just as much to rotate the occupants.

    Or did you just mean you wanted to crash it?! That would be an very naughty thing to do.

  23. #23 Jim C
    September 10, 2008

    Actually there is a simple solution. Announce the date at which the ISS will be vacated. The first private company to launch a ship that docks with the ISS will be given ownership. I wonder what someone like Google would do with it?

  24. #24 Johnfruh
    September 10, 2008

    @ Matt #19,
    So, now manned spaceflight is like a college football team, eh? Well, rah, rah, sis boom bah! Has it has come to this? Pathetic!

    I’m with Thomas @21. Just consider the cost/benefit of manned flight versus things like the Hubble and the communications satellites and Galileo,the Cassini probe and Heugens and the rovers, etc., etc. Unmanned space missions win hands down!

    I’m also still waiting for your response to my questions. Come on, be straight up and answer them rather than ducking and dodging them.

    So, you would take NASA up on a ride, would you? Very nice. And who, pray tell, would pray for your joy ride? And once you have had your jollies, what then? What will we have learned? Your space cadet-ness is showing again.

  25. #25 Nomen Nescio
    September 10, 2008

    Who cares how long the spam can survive in space? It does not help us to glean much sought after knowledge about our celestial neighbours. And who in his right mind would want to suffer the consequences of interplanetary missions? Why risk life and limb when we could risk only hardware?

    why should we risk even the hardware just to get some pretty pictures of places we can never go?

    you want to do science in space, and you want to do it on the cheap, without risking any humans. you think it’s pointless to send humans up there, because we could do what you want to do without sending humans up there. but you’re forgetting to speak only for yourself.

    some spam want to hop in a can and go visit mars. you’re spam that wants to stay planetside and look at pretty pictures on the cheap. yay for you, but please don’t tell this spam he can’t be allowed to ever go in a can, or i shall have to tell you rude and impolite things about where you could go buy whole magazines full of pretty, completely safe, pictures to look at. on the cheap.

  26. #26 Matt Springer
    September 10, 2008

    “Your space cadet-ness is showing again.”

    Guilty as charged, and proud of it. I don’t give a flying fig about the practical benefits of manned space flight, the sheer wonder of humanity in space is more than enough justification to me. Sure, let’s try it with private money if citizens don’t want to pay tax money for it. That’s fine with me! The instant I can afford it is the instant I go.

    Practical types may disagree.

  27. #27 Frederick Ross
    September 10, 2008

    You? A romantic? Pfaugh. Romantics should want to kill current manned spaceflight and advance unmanned flight to the hilt.

    We can build infrastructure in space with no humans at all. Think what that means. We can build at the top of the gravity well. Anything at the top of the well is comparatively cheap. Or think about why probes have to be large: they have to carry transmitters that can reach home. If we can build at the top of the gravity well, we can lace the solar system with a communications network. Now probes are cheap and tiny. It’s only a few steps to having your new home built and running before you ever arrive. Then going to space is something like moving to a foreign country.

    If you were a real romantic, you’d have no time for any of today’s manned capsules!

  28. #28 Anonymous
    September 10, 2008

    Nomen @ 25,
    Risking hardware is the most prudent way of getting the information.

    You are right, I will stay on this rock, thank you very much. You may want to go to Mars and that’s fine, BUT I am not willing to support you in that desire on my nickel.

    Yes, the pictures from Hubble are pretty, but that is beside the point. The POINT is that we gain knowledge and with that knowledge we can sometimes make life here on earth better for a lot of “spam”.

    “… i shall have to tell you rude and impolite things about where you could go buy whole magazines full of pretty, completely safe, pictures to look at…” Very funny. But who cares about magazines when there is the internet. I can not only get pretty pictures but high def video as well and man! is that ever cheap! I can get my jollies for nothing!

    Matt @ 26,
    Good! Good to see where you are at, cadet Springer. So, I take it that you will not be asking NASA for a ride on the shuttle? Do the private thing by all means and lets see how far above the earth you get. My guess is that you will not, in your life time, set foot on the moon, let alone Mars.

    It’s nice to hear you talk about the shear wonder of humans in space. It shows your romantic side again. I used to have that wonder in the early days of the manned program. But ever since the maturation of computing and robotics (not to mention the loss of 2 shuttle crew), not so much. However, don’t forget the downside to your body and, as you may well know, they are many. But if you are hell bent on going, then by all means go. But don’t forget to by travel insurance. I also suggest you take a few cheapy rides on the Vomit Comet just to test your body out in zero “G”.

  29. #29 Nomen Nescio
    September 10, 2008

    Anon, my point was that there’s no more pressing need to get that information (or at very least, to get it from space missions) than there is for human spaceflight. if you don’t want the latter funded by taxpayer money, fine and dandy, but why then should the former be either?

    yeah, yeah, doing science can improve life on earth through what we learn doing it. we can learn stuff doing human spaceflight too. plus, if you want to continue with this wholly-utilitarian approach to project funding, you’ll have to show that we can’t learn the same things without spaceflight at all, and that the risks and costs of spaceflight are outweighed by what we will gain from doing the science up there. good luck with that!

  30. #30 John
    September 10, 2008

    It sounds like if this were the year 1492, most of you would want to stay in Europe. If I recall my history, the government first funded the exploration of the “new world” and then it was taken over by private companies. So, a little over 500 years later, thanks to our hard working forefathers we have a great “new world”. If you want to stay home and read books and look at pretty pictures of space, you’re fee to do so. Thanks to people with adventurous spirits and the free enterprise system, I can only imagine where the human race will be 500 years from now.

  31. #31 Geb
    September 10, 2008

    The decision to build the ISS wasn’t too bad in itself, the terrible bit is in the orbit chosen to put it in. It’s so low and at such an angle just so that Soyuz vehicles can reach it.

    When it becomes unsupportable, the best thing to do with it would be to clear everybody out and boost it into a high equatorial orbit. It wouldn’t be much good as permanant habitation anymore without serious modification to add radiation shielding, but it would be a useful place to hold components of multi-part missions to the moon or planets. For that purpose, the only thing you really need to add to it is a big fuel tank so that it can manage the orbit change in the first place.

  32. #32 Johnfruh
    September 11, 2008

    Nomen @29 Sorry about the Anonymous, it is really me, johnfruh (don’t know how that happened).

    I’m of the opinion that science is the greatest force/vector for the betterment of mankind. Just look around you and at the computing facility you are using to read this note right now. Can you imagine doing without our gadgets and gizmos, our infrastructure, modern medicine, etc.? I’m sure you can but would you want to go back to any previous age and live like them?
    Anyway, my point is that we must explore and experiment. So, why not do it the best way we can (i.e. get the biggest bang for our buck)? Time is short. Sure there will be failures. Being on the leading edge also means being on the bleeding edge. I just want to minimize the bleeding part. This also falls in line with private enterprize which is invested in making a profit. It, private enterprize, is not romantic, it just wants the profits at the least cost (basic economics, I suppose).

    John @30,
    Oh, here we go again, comparing space exploration to Columbus, etc. You forget that this is like comparing “apples to oranges”. Yes, they are both fruits BUT, my, what a difference!

    Lets explore (pun intended) a few, shall we?

    1) Columbus’ voyage was more akin to exploitation than exploration. He was looking for a short cut to India (a known source of riches), so as to beat the Portuguese who were going the long way around the bottom of Africa to get there. Recall that his mistaking America for India is why we call our natives INDIANS! No such “riches” are known to exist in space. And please don’t bother mentioning asteroid mining. I’m talking reality here rather than sci-fi.

    2) Isabela and Ferdinand, his queen & king, could ONLY fund & send a crewed ship because that is all there was at the time. We, however, have a choice. We can send substitutes for our senses out there. Substitutes, bye the way, that are much better than our own senses for doing the jobs we want them to do (e.g. electronic “eyes” that can see the entire spectrum rather than just the narrow strip of visible light that our eyes can see. I can give you more examples for our other senses but I think you get the point).

    3) The environmental differences are astounding! Space is something like 400 times more hostile than the south pole environment (learned this somewhere but can’t recall the source so please don’t challenge me to produce it at a moment’s notice). And, you can see how well we have done in populating that extreme environment (i.e. not well at all)! The best that private enterprise could achieve there was to rape it’s animal resources at its shores.

    4) Columbus could expect to resupply his ships with basic essentials from the environment around him, air to breath, fish to catch, fresh water on the shore, etc.. In contrast, space explorers must take EVERY life support resource with them.

    5) The cost of Columbus’ expeditions/journeys, or whatever, were miniscule compared to the potential riches he could bring back to his king & queen. In contrast, the cost of manned space flight is exorbitant with little or no return involved.

    I could go on, but I think you catch my drift (Ooh, another pun!).

    Now then, If you had compared space flight with underwater exploration, it would have been a much more “apples to apples” comparison (i.e. Mac’s v. Grannny Smith’s). You could have compared nuclear subs to the ISS and I could have pointed out the lack of undersea habitats, Jacques Cousteau not withstanding. Even so, we already know of many, many riches to be found on the sea bed, and yet, and yet, no collinization! Go figure!? Private enterprize seems to be content with scratching at the sea bed and pocking holes into it from surface ships and oil rig platforms (@ Nomen again –> hmmm, I wonder if cost has anything to do with it? Do you think?).

    Okay, ‘nough said for now. Over to you folks for your rebutal.

  33. #33 Dunc
    September 11, 2008

    Another romantic here – I’m all for human space flight and exploration. I’m just not convinced that the best way to go about it is to haul ourselves up the gravity well only to fall back down the next nearest one… Space habitats are the way forward – why the obsession with colonising other rocks?

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