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Why I Believe in Space Exploration

Date: 2013-03-04
Tags: space redcolony mars

I have been working on RedColony since 2000, when I was in the 9th grade. I asked a question about why plants don’t have “black” chlorophyll in our biology class and later Alex came up to me to ask me to write an article for RedColony. I had been interested for space for a while, so I really loved the concept of RedColony and quickly joined the core team. There is a lot I can say about RedColony, but I’ll leave that for another post. This short essay was triggered by an email I had received by a RedColony visitor.

What got me interested in space

What first introduced me to space was my father’s astronomy book from college1. I have always had a general interest in science, so it was a natural thing for me to enjoy. In that book, I always loved the photos from Viking, so when I heard that there was a Mars Pathfinder2 landing July 4th, 2007 I was glued to the TV. I even fought with my parents about going to the parade and fireworks. I sat inside my grandmothers house glued to her old console TV watching the images3 as they came back4 while everyone else was outside talking and playing. I was seeing images from another planet live (or as live as physically possible). I was hooked.

Over the years I’ve grown in my love-affair with space. I’m kind of a sucker for space exploration history and am currently on a kick of reading (auto)biographies of flight controllers, astronauts, and engineers. I love learning about the challenges they faced and how they overcame (or worked around) them.

What really gets me going, though, is the thought of long-term manned missions. I guess it might be part of the “American” in me, but the manned exploration of space kindles our “rebel” attitude. Like telling your parents you’re moving out, just “because”. You know life will be tough and it won’t be easy, and even though they gave you everything you wanted, you just want to be out there on your own.

Beyond the romance of it, the technology involved in space flight and eventual colonization fascinates me, and I’m always trying to apply new technologies or techniques to space exploration; which is what a large portion of my Red Colony news updates are about. The mixing of so many different disciplines, so many different ideas, and so many new uses for older technology just excites me.

Are we getting close?

Technologically, I feel like we are capable of colonizing space. Everyday we’re finding better ways and solving problems, but I do believe it’s something we can do right now.

As for the public will to do it, I feel like that is waning, although Branson7 and Musk8 does give me hope. Especially with the all-but cancellation of the US manned program5, Virgin Galactic6 and SpaceX7 are the only things giving me hope at the moment (I have heard of Mars One10, but not much). Considering our federal legislature can’t even agree that it’s important to pay our bills11, I don’t have much hope for the future of government-funded or government-lead space exploration.

Although, I do find it sad and encouraging at the same time that NASA has just recently test-fired the F-112 (the main engines from the Saturn V) in order to understand how it works so that it can be improved on for the next generation of heavy-lift vehicles. It’s sad because noöne actually knows enough about a 50-year-old technology to build on and encouraging because it points to research to build better and more powerful launch vehicles.

What should be next?

The next step in space exploration is to, as the Nike slogan goes, “Just do it.” We need to begin making missions with goals that are further and further out there, both figuratively and literally. Just as the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions pushed the limits of what had previously be done each launch, there should be a defined set of objectives, each one more ambitious than the last, each one building on the accomplishments of the last.

A first pass of objectives might be missions to mix some unmanned mile-stones (to test out new systems and technology) with a Mars-Direct13,14 or Mars-for-Less15,16 style mission. This would allow for a building of knowledge and experience, while not spending too much time at any one, intermediary objective.

That said, that will only get us a flag-and-footprints mission. Just like with Apollo, the public will get “board” with any mission that doesn’t push the limits. What is also need is a strong leadership and stronger lobby for a continued manned presence in space. Groups like the Mars Society, National Space Society, Planetary Society, and Mars Drive are working on this, so there is some hope. RedColony’s mission has never focused on lobby. RedColony has always espoused Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s words: If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

References and See-Alsos

1 William J. Kaufmann “Exploration of the Solar System” Prentice Hall College Div. 1978 http://www.amazon.com/Exploration-Solar-System-William-Kaufmann/dp/0023621400

2 Pathfinder Homepage

3 First image from Pathfider

4 Second image from Pathfinder

5 President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program SpaceRef 14-Jan-2004

6 Virgin Galactic

7 SpaceX

8 Richard Branson Wants a Population on Mars. Here’s How He Can Create It. Forbes 19-Sept-2012

9 SpaceX Billionaire Elon Musk Wants A Martian Colony Of 80,000 People Forbes 27-Nov-2012

10 Mars One

12 NASA Engine Test Reignites F1 Motor Built For Apollo Missions To Moon The Huffington Post 23-Jan-2013

13 Mars Direct: Humans to the Red Planet within a Decade Robert Zubrin

14 Mars Direct

15 Reaching Mars for Less: The Reference Mission Design of the MarsDrive Consortium Gran Bonin

16 “The case for smaller launch vehicles in human space exploration (part 1)” The Space Review

17 NASA Spinoffs

18 Mars Drive

19 National Space Society

20 Planetary Society

21 Mars Society

22 Mars Society 16th Annual Conference

23 RedColony