SPACE IS OUR SURVIVAL ------------------- John Pazmino National Space Society New York City Chapter www.nsschapters.org/ny/nyc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2004 November 28
[This article predates the NYSkies website and was for a while carried on the National Space Society website. It since was cleaned up to remove residual typos]
Introduction ---------- The New York City chapter of National Space Society held its 20 November 2004 meeting on the road to Princeton, New Jersey. By arrangement thru chapter president Candace Pankanin, Dr Richard Gott, Dept of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, presented the chapter's feature talk in the department's Peyton Hall. He spoke on 'The future of the space program'. In addition, he signed copies of his book 'Time travel in Einstein's universe'. Despite a raw and rainy day, some twenty chapter members rode or drove to the lecture from the City. Due to a major traffic tieup on US Route 1 near Princeton, so many members arrived late that Gott delayed the lecture until the bulk of us arrived. He got under way at quite 14:30 EST.
Why go into outer space? ----------------------- Dr Gott's talk was a personal assessment of human space travel, lasting fully two hours. I do not here summary all of it. Here I highlight a few of the his themes, first being the principal reason to migrate humans into space. Dr Gott believes that the true motive for human space travel is survival of the species. By remaining on Earth the entire species is vulnerable to calamity and potential extinction. We have geologic evidence that at various times in the past Earth was assaulted by ice ages, asteroid collisions, climate swings. In the past half century we have new human-induced threats of global warming, nuclear war, genetic and biological accidents, and food chain disruption. He used the example of a printed book. To ensure that the contents are preserved into the future, you make many copies of the book and disperse them. That way, if one or even many, are lost to fire, theft, rot, others will survive to carry their material to later readers. This example recalled to me one of the [losing] entries in the contest for the millennium time capsule at the American museum of natural History. To keep intact our culture despite all conceivable hazards, the entry proposed etching into the DNA of a cockroach all the contents of the NY Times newspaper. This actually could be done from the electronic archives and modern gene manipulation. The roaches will multiply and spread over the world. These creatures already lasted thru several species decimations and, as most of us know, are awfully tough to exterminate locally. Intelligent beings in the far future could capture a roach -- any roach by then -- and decode its DNA back into newsprint and read about human civilization. Hence, Gott figures, by spreading humans over several planets, we increase the chances of keeping up the culture, if one of the planets gets whumped or frozen. To do so, we must now do the groundwork for the eventual mass migration. He plans on placing small settlements on Mars for starts, where they will stay as permanent residences for independent colonies of humans. Altho they must be provisioned from Earth for a while, maybe several decades, the colonies will be self sustaining, like the the New World did with Europe.
Anybody out there? ---------------- Gott believes that intelligent life, of the order of humans, is likely rare elsewhere near us. Maybe there's no one else for several thousand lightyears around, or even any where in the Milky Way. He deduces this from the inverse argument. if there were such people out there, who developed space travel, they would surely have already found Earth and explored it. On entering our solar system, they would immediately see Earth as far and away the most interesting of the planets and spend considerable effort to examine it. Yet we have no positive or plausible or prospective evidence that we are now or were in the past visited by people from the skies. For sure, there is no one else within this solar system. We know enough about the other planets and moons to understand that only the simplest forms of life, like microbes or algae or lichen, could exist out there. Even if we find 'fish' in the oceans of Europa, they are hardly intelligent life, life we can have a dialog and commerce with.
U4 factor ------- There is an other plausible reason for not seeing any extraterrestrials visiting near Earth. Gott explained that much of the European explorations were driven by adverse conditions; people were fleeing some bad scene at home for greener fields. In Earth history these included civil unrest, social breakdown, wars, disease, natural disasters. Suppose on some other world all is milk and honey, all is sweet and cool, all is bliss and quiet. No wars, no famine, no plagues. Then , why bother going thru the expense, effort, danger to travel to other planets? Life is just fine at home. I call this , not Gott, the U4 effect, because the people are in a state of euphoria, with no self-need to escape to an other better place. On Earth, it's the same state of affairs that keeps some people from ever wanting to travel on vacation, or even visit an other town. There is also the validation of exploration by rewards captured in the voyages. From my own school days, I knew them as the 'four Gs'. The teacher and textbook named only three, but every boy learned about the fourth. They are gold, glory, god, and girls. Hence, once Europe set out to explore other lands and seas, they were then impelled to keep at it from gains realized from these trips. Suppose elsewhere in the universe, there were no rewards for the colossal expenditure of 'human' resources to explore other worlds. In the radius reachable from the home planet, all targets were disgusting, hostile, barren, poisonous, corrosive places. Once arriving there, the visitors gave up and went home for good. No gold. No glory. No god. No girls. The home planet chronicles will mention space travel as a useless wasteful painful episode, thankfully buried in history.
Colonizing America ---------------- Gott repeatedly compared the settlement and colonization of other planets, notably the Moon and Mars, to the development of the New World in the 1500s and 1600s. By the 1700s the establishments of Europe in America were more or less autonymous states, requiring little ongoing nourishment from the Old World. They engaged Europe thru trade and commerce. I myself find the casually equivalence a bit out of joint. For starts there are large segments of today's society that don't cotton to the history of European expansion into America. That's why we got three Columbus Day celebrations in New York City. Two you can guess are the Italian and Spanish parades. Columbus was under Spain's flag and he was Italian. The third is probably unique to New York, the protest march by native Americans claiming that Columbus and his followers destroyed a perfectly peaceful and happy culture. There is far more discrepancy. On the whole, after the long hazardous, crew-killing sea voyage, the ships arrived at places only slightly different from where Europe already explored. There were trees, solid land, fertile soil, fresh water, building stone, game animals, and (for a while) friendly natives. Recall that our Thanksgiving is really a tribute to the assistance given to the Pilgrims in their early settlements by the local Indians. Yes, there were important differences. Winters in America were far colder and unforgiving than in Europe. (They occurred during the Maunder minimum of solar activity!) Certain native plants were poisonous to eat. There were no domesticated beasts of burden. Certain local animals were terrifyingly wild. And there were some rather hostile welcome committees here and there. Yet all of these were overcome by simple adjustment of practices and procedures in wide use back home. Winter garments were made from the fur of bear and beaver. The wild animals were handily put down by guns. Mobile power was provided by horses brought by the settlers. Simple dams penned up a water supply. Continuous power came from windmills and waterwheels. Poison plants were quickly identified and avoided. Iron axes cleared farm and town land. They and other iron tools shaped construction timber and lumber. Walls impeded attack from the unfriendly natives, like our Wall Street on Manhattan. In return, the explorers got their four Gs. The ships brought back gold and animal pelts, gemstones, corn and pumpkins, turkey and deer meat, fish and flowers. And girls by the boatload. The settlers went crazy with the religious salvations they would accomplish and the honors they would expect on returning home.
By the time I get to Phobos ... ----------------------------- About, as i see it, the only equivalence between space and earth colonization is the actual trip out and back. Both are filed with appalling danger and adventure. As we already witnessed live and in living color, two Space Shuttles and crew were lost, several Apollo and Soyuz crew were incinerated in fires. Hundreds of uncrewed rockets exploded during launch or an upper stage firing. Spaceprobes fell dead along the way to their targets. Mars is littered with wrecks from crashed spaceprobes. These could be matched with ships smashed by storms or unfamiliar coasts. Like Mars, our Atlantic Coast is strewed with those ancient ship wrecks. Crews died from malnutrition, disease, exposure to the elements, thirst. Monster octopodes and squid devoured the ships. Crews were diced up by altercations with the natives. Pirates plundering the ships laden with gumbo from the New World. Leaks, fires, cheap construction scuttled many ships. Mutinies and desertions sent ships off course never to be heard from again. The earthly human and hardware costs for today's space program -- building and outfitting and fielding an seafaring vessel back then was a social burden on the scale of a space shot today -- could be tolerated if there were the reasonable chance of acquiring at least three of the four Gs. Glory? Yes, in national honor and ticker tape parades. God? Yes, if you're into faith-based government. Really, check out the bookshop at Grand Canyon. Gold? Well, there's more gold in the solar wind for one week than all the gold extracted out of the Earth in all human history.
... I'll be thinking of you ------------------------- Once we get to Phobos our troubles are only beginning. We can not just hop out off our ship and walk around, like Pizarro in Peru. We'll for ever be confined to small insulated habitats to fend off absence of air, temperature extremes, over or under air pressure, cosmic and solar radiation, dense magnetic field, ersatz cotidian cycles, to name but a few hazards found on every single other place in our solar system. It turns out that the other inner planet,s from a shirtsleeve viewpoint are utterly desolate places and the outer planets are the mother of toxic waste dumps. On none of these worlds is there any ready and handy natural resource. No domestic water supply. No game or plant, fish or bird. No coal or peat or petroleum. No wood, thatch, sod. No wind or water power. No bog iron, placer gold, outcrop copper. No arable land. We would not only have to live for centuries in a stone-age edge- of-life existence, but must rely on Earth to sustain that lifestyle. We must be provisioned at slaughtering cost to our home planet, a onus bearable by only the most sumptuously endowed nations, with all of our requirements: food, water, waste removal, air, fuel, machines, tools, building material, living supplies, repair parts. This chore must be sustained thru repeated cycles of government and corporate management and capricious swings of social climate. Oh, we could lay firm roads on the Moon or Mars with native stone as did the Sumerians, set up clocks like Stonehenge, erect masonry walls like the Polynesians, or pile up igloos like the Esquimeaux. But is this the state of life Earth will accept for the hideous squander to send humans to permanently inhabit even the Moon?
Earth is blessed -------------- On considering the advance of human civilization on Earth, I find that we live on an extraordinarily blessed orb. The furthering of culture parallels the exploitation of natural resources, particularly those containing energy. It was the extraction, harnessing, and delivery of energy, the ability to do useful work beyond that by raw human or animal muscle power, that lifted humans from the stone-age to today's lifestyle. Consider so simple an earthly feature as fire. Cavemen happened onto fire by rescuing a burning tree branch after a lightning storm. With no way to artificially create fire on demand, cavemen treated their lucky find with immense reverence and honor. They moved heaven and earth to protect the fire and keep it fed with wood and other combustiles. Fire protected them from animal attacks, cooked their food, warmed them in winter, lighted their caves, torched enemy huts and crops, cleared trees. Altho in due time they learned to make fire with sparks from clanging stones together or friction of twirled sticks, fire was always a major chore of early society to maintain and dispense and defend. Fire proved necessary for boiling water and oil for domestic uses, heating certain rocks to distill metals from then, fragmenting and shaping large blocks of stone, melting metals to cast or hammer into tools, loosen hard soil for digging, and lots more. Quite reasonably, without the handiness and harnessing of fire, humans would hardly be able to progress beyond a stone-age culture. Now on Earth fire is possible from the abundance of combustile material and oxygen in the air. It was very late in human history,in the 1700s, that oxygen was understood to be only one component of air, the rest being unable to sustain a fire. Before then it was simply granted that somehow air was needed. As it falls from our fate in this solar system, no other place has these two essential ingredients of fire! The atmosphere has no oxygen or there is no air at all. There is no material -- branches, peat, coal, oil, tar, wax, animal fat, leaves -- to feed a fire. From a personal safety angle, it may be out of the realm of prospect to keep fire within a space habitat, regardless of how carefully it is controlled and confined. In space, the benefits of fire must be obtained by other energy sources, none plentiful or cheap or easy to manage.
What about Earth? --------------- As I listened to Dr Gott and having seen past chapter president Elaine Walker's slideshow in August 2004 on her visit to a NASA arctic base, a most serious thought came to me. Elaine stayed at a camp on Devon Island, near the Arctic Circle, to document some tests for drilling operations on Mars. The dirt there supposedly is similar to Mars in that it was frozen altho tho it was northern summer. During her talk, discussion with other attendees later, and now with Gott's theme of moving off of Earth, I must ask. Why aren't there major hobbyist and lobbying groups for human habitation of the polar regions right here on Earth? The answer I get is that the polar zones are far too cold, too far away, lacking of resources, too expensive to provision, lacking of jobs and economy, too isolating and depressing for the mind, too confining from the thick clothes and personal protection, too disgusting for lack of modern conveniences, and on and on and on. All of these reasons are very true! Only the barest minimum of people eke out a living up there, the Inuits Ms Walker worked with. All are also very true for other planets!! Hell, compared to even the most picturesque image of Mars, Devon Island is Tahiti! Think about it. Would it be just as exciting and just as glorifying, just as proud to build a thriving town, say only as large as the Bronx, on the Arctic Ocean? Yet as far as any one I spoke with knows, there seems to be no 'National Arctic Society' to advocate and promote and encourage human polar colonization. In the stead we continue, after over two centuries!, to send minuscule crews to tiny outposts here and there to conduct science and medical experiments. Walker was at one of these, with plain no concept that it would, or should, grow into a north edition of Toronto. This little station, a gaggle of huts with only a score of temporary residents, was serviced by airplane after airplane of supplies flying in miserable weather at huge cost and risk. I find this all the more astounding when I recall the books and magazines with high adventure and heroic exploits of arctic explorers. They died by the hundreds. Dozens of ships were crushed by ice, impaled on rocks, torn apart by storm. Equipment, supplies, food, animals were lost in the tempestient frigid seas. One story I sort of remember must have been the Apollo 13 of the 19th century. A ship of 'arctonauts' got trapped in ice. The crew was stuck for some thing like a full year! The ship ultimately was smashed by shifting ice, sinking it. The crew fled with whatever cargo it could rescue, plus dogs for pulling sleds. This crew actually WALKED for over 1,200 kilometers in the polar winter to some town in northern Siberia!!! Only a couple dogs and humans survived. (The dogs were eaten when they froze to death.) Can it really be that all of this human and social suffering is now put aside as history tales, never to be consummated with a wide and vast civilization around the north pole? Is all we can ever show for this immense enterprise of the last and previous centuries is a few tourist cruise ships weaving among the icebergs?
Space travel before cars? ----------------------- Dr Gott didn't go over the background for human aspirations for space. I note here lightly that serious advocancy for human space flight arose in the late 19th century. The ignition seems to be the very plausible and realistic fiction of Jules Verne. He postulated a gigantic cannon to hurl a shell to and around the Moon. Then came an American story 'Brick Moon' about a, erm, space station with a resident crew. It was made of bricks to withstand the friction of propelling it into orbit thru the atmosphere! The first work to suggest rockets as a launch vehicle for interplanetary trips was by Tsiolkovski. His 1896 Russian book was quickly translated into western languages to further spur the public agitation for space flight. The feasibility of spaceflight was favored by the astronomy of the era. It was more or less casually accepted that other planets were inhabited. Percival Lowell wrote 'Mars, the abode of life, in 1895, which deeply impressed the public with the idea of some day visiting the martians and riding on their canals.
1915 NSS dues are due! -------------------- By the 1910s there sprang up actual hobby clubs, antecedents of National Space Society, in the US and Europe. The mecca for space travel interest was in germanophonic central Europe. Hence, if you wanted to be a space enthusiast back then, you better learn German. There arose magazines by the 1920s , mostly in German, about flying to the other planets. A bit sci-fi with the vehicle balanced on its tail fins and the crew looking out of picture windows. Yet the editors and writers were thoroly serious. Alas, no private or government entity came forward to take up the challenge. The entire edifice of human space travel until World War II was confined to paper, awaiting your perusal in the large libraries. Not all was lost. Out of the rocket clubs came the pantheon dwellers of today's spaceflight history, such as Obreth, Hohmann, vonBraun, Ley, vonPirquet.
Bomb and rocket ------------- The real start of space exploration began with World War II, Dr Gott described. The United States developed the atom bomb out of fear that Germany was working on one. The first bombs were so heavy that only the largest bombers could carry them to their targets. It turned out after the war that Germany was no where close to building an atom bomb and actually never had any thing like an atom bomb project. Germany did develop the rocket missile, the V2. It was useless as a military device for its small chemical explosive warhead and crude aiming accuracy. It served more as a scare device, an elaborate version of the military rockets of the 17th thru 19th centuries. Yes, Germany launched hundreds of V2s against England and Holland, but they in the end did very little damage. Close in cannon or piloted bombers would have been far more effective.
Missile race ---------- The United States and Soviet Union captured Germany's V2 bases and equipment and workers. We got, as example, Werner vonBraun, Wiley Ley, and a few dozen V2 rockets. Both the US and SU continued work on the atom bomb, with the Soviets detonating their first in about 1948. Both sides played with the captured German V2s. By the 1950s both sides progressed to atom bombs (and hydrogen bombs) of much smaller mass and to rockets of much greater throw power. It took little brain to mate the two into a long-range nuclear ballistic missile system. For the first time in humankind, it was possible to inflict fatal damage on an enemy while sitting at home. Because both sides had the ability to wipe out the other, neither dared to launch a first strike. There was no credible way to shoot without attracting retaliation in kind. The US and SU embarked on a gamemanship exercise of various exploits with the bombs and missiles. Larger bombs, larger missiles. This was the era of the missile race and mutual assured destruction.
First steps into space -------------------- As part of the International Geophysical Year, the United States proposed to send into earth orbit an artificial satellite. No word from the Soviets. American publicity for its satellite was widely diffused thruout the world. Yet both the moon and rocket were utterly puny against the regular missiles in the US arsenal. Vanguard-1 was a grapefruit topping a pencil skyrocket. On 4 October 1957 the Soviet Union sent up its own satellite, Sputnik -1. Not only did the SU beat the US but it threw into space a much heavier moon than possibly imagined, some 84 kilograms! Given the state of US rocketry, what kind of rocket did the Soviets have to heave such a heavy payload into orbit? The SU did it again in November with Sputnik-2, this time with a living dog onboard. This thing weighed several hundred kilos. The race was on! Gott skipped thru some of the meterstones of both countries. It's part of the space history all spacewalkers already know. I note here that, believe it or not, the US did field the first spaceship. It was uncrewed, but fully functional, Mercury capsule tossed into suborbital flight in 1960. You can see it for yourself in the New York Hall of Science. The Mercury and Gemini capsules atop the rockets outside the Hall are mockups. altho the rockets themselfs are real. When the Soviets put Yuri Gagarin into orbit, the first human in space, the US had to do something. Kennedy asked his advisors what to do. It was by luck that the F-1 rocket engine was perfected, with no application as yet. By clustering several of these together it should be possible to send humans to the Moon? That's how president Kennedy was able to make his famous pledge and be reasonably sure it will come thru. Without that motor, the pledge would have been reckless. i'm not sure of this, but isn't the F-1 motor of the late 1950s still today the largest single-nozzle rocket motor? It puts out about 7-1/2 million newtons of thrust. Gott then reviewed the various scenarios, skipped here, for getting a man to the Moon and safely back. After several false starts, the Apollo project was established to actually fulfill Kennedy's mission on 20 July 1969.
Soviet response -------------- With the secrecy of the Soviet regime in the Cold War, there was little open and free news about the Soviet space program. Much I'm sure was rumor, much propaganda. But some was factual, as is being confirmed now under a more free and open Russia. I do recall one account that Russia had a bizarre scheme to send a man to the Moon to beat the US. The SU had no way to return him to Earth; the trip would be one-way with the comrade ending his days on the Moon! The SU was confident it could heave a capsule heavy enough to carry a single person to the Moon and crash it there. To protect the cosmonaut, so he could climb out and do his patriotic spiel on Soviet television, the capsule was encased in balsa wood two meters thick. The cushion would break the impact, at escape velocity for the Moon!, One tool, a vital and lethal one, on board was a machete. With this the cosmonaut hacked thru the balsa wood (the hatch opened inwardly), he climbed out, turned on the TV camera, and went thru his script. When all was said and done, he climbed back into the capsule, He still had the machete. I still wonder today if the cosmonaut picked for that lunar voyage was a volunteer or a conscript. A rumor persists today that the US sent Apollo 8 to the Moon to make sure that the US became the first to send a man 'to' the Moon out out of fear for this macabre Soviet stunt. Yes? No?
We bobbled the ball ----------------- So did the Soviets. Gott feels that the SU should have responded to the Apollo missions with some leapfrog feat. He would have suggested, if he were in the power to do so, a flyby of Mars. The Soviets were into long-endurance space flight right from the start, so in the stead of spinning round and round the Earth for a year and more, go to some spectacular target. The SU waffled and essentially dropped out of the space race. It continued human flights by Soyuz and Salyut, the first permanent space station. We came back with Skylab, They put up Mir. Neither side tried to move humans farther than low Earth orbit. President Nixon shut down the Apollo program in 1972. The war in Vietnam and new social programs were taxing the treasury. On top of that the thought arose in NASA to do away with single-shot rockets. The shuttle concept emerged to replace the wasteful rockets with a reusable vehicle to carry humans and cargo into space. The final Apollo mission was not to the Moon but a linkup with Soyuz in an effort to improve detente between United States and Soviet Union. It also got the two countries to adapt a common docking mechanism, so a one could rescue crew of the other in emergencies.
Space Shuttle ----------- The idea of the Space Shuttle was to have a true spaceship, one that could repeatedly go into space and return to Earth. The theme was to get away from throwing away all the rocket and come back with just a tiny capsule. For the next trip an allnew rocket has to be built. The Saturn-V and Apollo modules from this viewpoint were examples of glatt waste. Gott had a model of the Saturn-V/Apollo on the lecture table. He showed how its various parts were jettisoned or abandoned during the lunar flights. The only part that returned to the ground was the teardrop capsule with heat shield. This was totaled during reentry, so it was discarded or put into museums. I measured this assessment with that of Dr Tyson in a chapter meeting in April 2004. He explained the work of the Aldrige commission and specificly used the Apollo system as an example of an EFFICIENT space system. After all, nothing has to come back to Earth EXCEPT the capsule with the people. By his reckoning, the replacement of the Shuttle could be a single-shot rocket and heat-shielded capsule. The rest of the launched material is discarded during the mission for being cheaper and safer to replace with brand new pieces. To divert funds from single-shot rockets to the Shuttle, Nixon shut down the Saturn-V factory. Gott noted there were two complete rockets ready for their Apollo flights. All future space missions would for now on be carried by the Space Shuttle. Despite the problems and soaring costs, it is amazing that the Space SHuttle was actually built and flown within about six years after it was dreamed up! But it was not cheap or simple to operate. The hoped for two-week turnaround never was achieved. It proved far more costly, up to a half billion dollars, to run each mission. It was necessary to always bring back safely the orbiter itself -- which Gott called the 'wing thing' -- even when all it did was let out a satellite or interplanetary probe. That's a task which in hindsight could be done simpler, safer, cheaper with a single-shot rocket.
Low Earth orbit ------------- Abandoning single-shot rockets, specially the Saturn-V, and having a Space Shuttle that could go only to low Earth orbit, meant the US was prevented from any long-range human flight. Not even a return to the Moon. There was some vague loose talk about using the Shuttle to haul parts of a lunar spaceship to orbit. There spacewalkers (the real ones) would assemble them into the huge vehicle. Nothing ever came of this idea and we never looked beyond low Earth orbit for the sheer inability to raise above that elevation. In the 1990s when the International Space Station was under design, the long-range space flight prospect was revived. But ISS quickly settled into a totally useless design for any deep space launches. As just one factor, it would be thoroly insane to fire a large rocket motor within several kilometers of the thing. Preparing a ship for deep space with ISS as a base would require scores of spacewalks and many Shuttle assists. It would prove easier to spend the money and effort on a new single-shot ground-to-Moon mission. Altho by the late 1980s NASA went back to single-shot rockets for regular satellite launches, in the face of delays and cost overruns with the Shuttle, it never seriously engineered a new large vehicle for carrying a human crew beyond low earth orbit. In the mid 1980s the Soviet Union developed a massive rocket, Energia, which could have hoisted a three-crew capsule to a Mars flyby. SU leader Gorbachev invited US president Reagan to join in this project. For political reasons the US turned down the offer. The SU never on its own used Enerrgia for deep space human flights but concentrated on working on its Mir space station in low Earth orbit.
O-rings ----- The slaughtering expense of the Space Shuttle came directly from its human payload. The cargo bay was really the minor part of the operation of each flight. Dr Gott noted that in the case of a single- shot rocket, if there was a mishap, you figure out what went wrong and either live with it or try again. I recall off of top of my head three recent space failures, CONTOUR, Beagle-2, and Genesis. All were calamities for a while, but because there were no humans on board, they were quickly forgiven. The space program continues on its way without them. None of the three failures braked space exploration of their targets. While none were replaced in kind, the lessons from Genesis will be applied to Deep Space when it returns to Earth. Rosetta, of ESA, carries on the work of CONTOUR, and we did successfully land and operate the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. The solid rockets for the Space Shuttle did not have to be made in stacked drums connected by O-rings. If the contractor built it at its facility in Alabama, the fuselage could have been one whole piece to be barged on rivers and sea to Cape Canaveral. It was built at a plant in Utah, with no access to rivers. It was made in drums so it could fit on trucks and railcars for delivery to the Cape. When the O-rings got brittle during the winter launch of Shuttle Challenger, the rocket burst, sending not only a spaceship and cargo into the sea, but also a full crew of seven humans. Because of the human loss, the Shuttle program was suspended for several years, closing off the US from space. A few satellites were sent up by single-shot rockets, but projects specificly fitted for the Shuttle were on hold, This included the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble Space Telescope -------------------- This instrument held the promise of doing its thing in space in concert with the Shuttle. It was designed to fit only the Shuttle, could not be reconfigured for a rocket, and was intended to be visited by the SHuttle for catering and servicing every so often. These visits were done with spacewalks. The crew replaces broken parts and substitute old instrument modules with newer better ones. Eventually, when Hubble exhausted its life, the SHuttle would retrieve it into the cargo bay and bring it back to Earth. Here it would be placed on display in the National Air & Space Museum. The visits made for spectacular filmage! Dreamy scenes of astronauts floating around this bus-size satellite. Astronauts slowly and carefully muscling weightless packages in and out of the telescope. Lots of radio chatter. Awesome backdrop of Earth. But it was costly and dangerous. Gott feels it would have been far easier to just build a new space telescope, with the better apparatus in it, and send it up by rocket. The old one could be removed from orbit by remote controlled burnup. In deed, no later satellite was ever made for Shuttle-specific delivery into and servicing in orbit. Hubble, with Solar Max, were the only major satellites to use Shuttle visits for repair in space.
Robotic repair of HST ------------------- Dr Gott related how with the Shuttle now restricted only for visits to ISS, NASA is studying a robot machine to fix Hubble. The telescope needs new gyroscopes and batteries at the very least, but there is one new camera to install. This was built for a Shuttle mission cancelled by the Columbia tragedy. So ar nothing in hardware is ready, only brainstorming and some computer simulations. The reason for prohibiting a Shuttle flight to HST is safety. If the crew finds something wrong with the orbiter while at HST, that crew is good and gone. There is no haven for it to retreat to and e rescued later. Going only to ISS at least allows the crew to huddle in the space station until a Soyuz capsule comes to retrieve it. It could be feasible to send up a telekinetic device, operated by realtime remote control from the ground, to replace the gyroscopes and batteries. These are mounted on the hull of HST with latches intended to be worked thru clumsy spacesuits. A mechanical hand should be able to accomplish the same task. For more than that, it may prove vexing. The new camera has to be fitted inside the scope with dexterity and agility by astronauts. There is also the problem of getting it into space by rocket with the robot or to coordinate two shots, one for each. I learned earlier this summer that the cost of even the minimal mission is order $2 billion dollars! Not only is this far more than a Shuttle flight to HST with the more expensive safety procedures in place but it excedes the entire first cost of Hubble itself. Can it make sense to just build a new -- better addiurnate -- HST and send it up by rocket? The old one is then retired by controlled burnup.
Freight vs passengers ------------------- Space payloads are broadly either human (perhaps other high order of life, like octopodes and pigs) or cargo. Until the Shuttle, a rocket had to be fitted for one or the other, a capsule with people or a nosecone with hardware. To get both people and goods into space together, two rockets were used, one for people and one for cargo. This was how the Soviets did it, they not having anything like the Space Shuttle. They did build and fly Buran, a drone version of the Shuttle. It was a perfect flight. But it was only a single flight, then the craft was junked. The Soviets found it far far too complex for the task fully satisfied by rockets. I recall that the Aldrige Commission found a similar situation with th Space Shuttle. In addition to retiring the present fleet, being aging and ediurnate, the Commission postulated that the replacement be only a human vessel. Freight should be placed in space by rocket. The new craft would be a shuttle without the cargo bay. Or, as I put it, the Americanized Soyuz. As Gott was speaking, word was rapidly diffusing thru the spacewalker community about the Bigelow Aerospace contest. This $50 million prize goes to the first one to build and fly what amounts to the Americanized Soyuz. In fact, in the litterature for this contest, one reason for it is exactly to replace the Russian (no longer Soviet Union) Soyuz vessels.
China --- The new boy on the block is China. It began in a small way in the 1990s by offering launch services to other countries. For a while American satellite companies were good customers of China. In 2003 China orbited its own first 'taikonaut' in a capsule evolved from the Russian Soyuz, and landed him safely. In 2005 China is slated to orbit two men for a week or so in an improved capsule and spacesuit. Yet there is no hysteria about these feats on the scale of that for the Soviets in the 1950s and 1960s. Gott isn't sure just why, but there may be factors associated with the overall sea change in American society since the mid 20th century. Altho there may be a undercurrent of concern for the China factor in the 'Moon, Mars, and Beyond' program, it was never flat out cited as its driving force. If China wanted to rattle the US cages a bit, what could it do? Assuming the 2005 one-week flight works well, plus China's overall expertise in rocketry and astrodynamics, it should do a lazy-8 trip around the Moon. This would take a week and involve no more resources than a low Earth orbit trip. The flight should be purposefully a longer range one than Apollo 8 to break the 'elevation' record for the highest up a human went. China would then have bragging power for sending humans farther into space than any one else and score its own 'space first'.
International Space Station ------------------------- In Gott's mind, the failure of ISS after spending some 60 billion dollars on it, stems directly from the Space Shuttle. By forcing the design of ISS to require the Shuttle to routinely travel to it as a cargo carrier, the cost of each flight is very high. True, humans can commute via the Soyuz, but it carries only people in a small capsule. Cargo has to be shipped there by the Shuttle. In addition, the Shuttle was never built for ISS trips. When a trip is planned, a massive, heavy, space-hogging docking module is bolted into the cargo bay. This allows the Shuttle to dock with ISS. With the Shuttle grounded for the duration, work on ISS is suspended. Only a two-crew can live on it. Little actual science is done. Virtually the whole time of the crew is housekeeping, repairs, and biomedical monitoring. Both Europe and Japan have parts of ISS ready to move into place and the Shuttle is absolutely needed to lift them up there. Hence, it is hardly likely that the Shuttle can, regardless of any desire to, run any other missions except those to ISS. Diverting Shuttles from ISS further sets back the time for completion and full operation. ISS needs all the Shuttles it can get, 25 to 30 at 4 or 5 per year. Already this excedes the former headway for the Shuttle. Gott noted one good thing about ISS. By restricting Shuttle only for trips there, the crew can inspect the craft before heading back to Earth in it. If, he noted, Columbia were on an ISS flight, its crew would have seen the wing damage and hold off returning to Earth. With no way to fix the broken tiles, the empty Shuttle could be ditched into the sea. The crew could come back later on a Soyuz. I don't know if inspection of the Shuttle was part of normal operations before Columbia. It seems to me such inspection would require major spacewalks or robot cameras because the Shuttle's bay doors and underside face away from ISS when docked. The combined cost of the Shuttle/ISS project is some obscene fraction, like 2/3, of NASA's budget. If this were somehow eliminated, NASA could really get going on serious efforts to move humans beyond Earth orbit and fulfill the 'Moon, Mars, and Beyond' idea. By fate this situation may come in or about 2010. By then the Shuttle should be retired and ISS may be completed. It could.operate in its completed state for a couple years and then be ditched. After then, it's clear sailing for funding. The groundwork for exploiting this funding must be started now. There is no material progress toward building and testing the Shuttle -- and Soyuz -- replacement. No progress for a robot fix of Hubble. No progress toward a new large rocket. Gott fears we may revert to a 1960s syndrome of small short low Earth orbit flights in capsules.
Private spaceflight ----------------- SpaceShipOne is not a true flight into space; it's only a suborbital vehicle. It is a start and if all goes well, any one (with the moolah) can take a ride into space on it in a few years. The Bigelow prize could lead to commercial orbital flights. The problem is the hideous expense and safety concern with human flight. No one wants to be the defendant for a commercial spaceship disaster. Unlike other forms of transport, a spaceship is not a gentle evolution from previous vehicles and space is totally alien compared to land or sea or air. Hence it may be a long while before ordinary people can sign up for a week vacation in Earth orbit.
Amateur space projects -------------------- Dr Gott mused about sparking an interest in space among the people by taking up amateur satellite launches. Already for decades there were amateur satellites, but they were put into space by government rockets, like the Oscars for ham radio. The Amateur Space telescope on ISS will also be sent there by government launch. Could it be a major cooperative venture for several space societies to design, build, operate, and maintain genuine home-brew spacefaring rockets? I myself can't see this ever happening soon, regardless of any government deregulation and permission. Given how complex and costly it is for large aerospace companies to send up a small telcomms bird, it would be just as realistic as asking a train hobby group to run a real railroad for commercial purposes. I speak from the experience suffered by a trolley hobbyist in Brooklyn. He thought in the late 1990s he knew all about managing a railroad. He actually obtained a licence from the City to build and run a trolley line in Red Hook. He learned very quickly that, despite eventually getting a few hundred meters of track and one trolley car up and running, the sheer complexity and expense, to say nothing of the business and legal technicalities, tanked him. The licence ran out and the City ripped up his tracks in spring of 2004.
Why go into inner space? ---------------------- As fouled up as the space program is, it is probably no worse than projects elsewhere of humongous scale. One obvious one is the rapid transit system of New York. Some histories make the growth of transit in the City to be a glorious romantic endeavor, progressing steadily from a starter el on Manhattan to the gigantic enterprise of today. It never had a 'golden era'. Transit grew in fits and starts, with many setbacks, delays, screwups, accidents, mismanagement, cost overruns, and all that. There are aborted and abandoned works, undertracking, missing junctions and connections on certain lines. That's after service actually got underway. I leave out the many decades prior to first service when false starts, cancelled work, and trashed plans were the normal fate of early transit advocates. For just a couple examples, without elaboration here, where are the Staten Island subway link, Second Avenue subway, subway to the airports? All of these were on the table for decades with almost no advance toward fulfillment yet. Even the current Second Avenue line is a grossly watered down crippled subway, the 'snubway' of Manhattan. Or the underground counterpart of ISS?
That's enough ----------- I definitely did not cover all the facets of Richard Gott's 'The future of the space program'. In the two hours Gott expounded, he touched on dozens of themes. Overall I found his talk to be well thought out, even if some parts I am not in favor of, well organized, and well delivered. He used only a few slides, mostly textuals and showed several pictures and diagrams in hand. Yet, I never lost attention or interest. I did doze off briefly at the very start due to the fatigue of the long ride from Brooklyn. Once refreshed, I took in everything Dr Gott offered. All in all, this was one of the more mature presentations to the chapter in several years. Perhaps it's because Dr Gott is not a 'space advocate' as such, but a 'consumer' of space in his career as an astrophysicist. To have such a person examine the space program from the outside as it were is a distinct change from the usual space fan talk. For one thing, his thoughts were founded on reasonable science, engineering, and horse sense, nothing 'pie in the sky' about them. There was a lively question and answer session, flocking around Gott for personal chats, and the book singing. He did not sell the book at the talk, we had to bring our own. By then it was touching 17:00. We broke up to head home in the cold and dark drizzle.