|| Following the tragic events
this weekend, calls have come up from various quarters to end space exploration.
Matt Drudge on WABC asked “Why is space exploration not a matter of debate?
Why is it a given that man will go into space?”
That’s when I turned him off.
Drudge is way off the mark. He doesn’t realize
that the space program and the basic experiments and information we get
from space pays off at a greater order of magnitude than many even realize.
Space exploration is costly, but valuable. Furthermore, he seems to ignore
that space is the final frontier, and mankind will not ignore it. We will
continue to explore space. However, perhaps the shuttle is not the way
to go. Gregg Easterbrook wrote a scathing essay in Time magazine outlining
case against the space shuttle.
Over the next few weeks, there will be discussion
in the media about how NASA should perhaps devise a new way to get men
up and down from orbit safely. Many are of the opinion that the heat ablating
tile system and controlled but ultrafast (mach 18+) plummet from the sky
is too risky, and some other method should be devised for the safety of
21st century astronauts.
Voices in government, including President
Bush, have vowed to continue manned space flights, and Bush has proposed
a $500 million increase in the NASA space budget. However it should be
clear that $500 million will not be enough for NASA to develop a new launch
system, because each shuttle launch costs around $500 million.
The shuttle program costliness is attributed to all the staff on hand,
the safety precautions needed to police the delicate shuttle equipment,
and on and on.
But the immense amount of fuel necessary to get the shuttle off
the ground and into orbit also costs a fortune. Whenever a shuttle takes
off, I think about the tons of expensive rocket fuel that is used just
to get a few feet off the ground, and I wish they would start developing
mass launchers. For over a decade, organizations like the Living Universe
Foundation have been pushing for, among other things, space exploration
by cheaper and more efficient means. They propose building a mass launcher
in an underground tube, and firing a small craft up into orbit.
If you don’t believe me, check out their website.
Or read the book, “Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps,” by Marshall
Or search on Google for mass launcher.
A shuttle accelerates from the ground straight
up, requiring a huge amount of fuel to get the entire thing going. A mass
launcher begins by moving sideways on a magnetic track. Imagine the difference
between lifting a cabinet and rolling it on super smooth wheels.
The mass launcher program is fraught with
engineering difficulties. However, it is much more efficient and present
in many science fiction novels situated in our near future. It makes little
sense that this method has not been developed further, when even NASA scientists
have recommended it as a means for space colonization. While the mass launcher
presents technical difficulties, the shuttle at once did as well. Those
engineering difficulties were overcome. With a shift in method and effort
to perfect the mass launcher, the space program could enjoy a quantum leap
into the future, and space colonization would begin in earnest within 20
In the meantime, we can only hope that NASA
will change its ways.