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Bush's space program

Let me make the main message of this article clear at the very beginning:

  • In January 2004, I was impressed by Bush's speech about the long-term goals of the space exploration program.
Risa - an astrophysicist from Chicago - just posted an article about this topic on Sean Carroll's blog:

http://preposterousuniverse.blogspot.com/ ...

The Congress has approved the higher funding for NASA

http://www.nytimes.com/ ... /24nasa.html

which is viewed as support for Bush's visions.

I have read the complaints of the American Physical Society, and it was a less pleasant reading for me. These texts

http://www.aps.org/ ... (press release)
http://www.aps.org/ ... (report)

mostly sound like demotivating statements of bureaucrats - no doubt, in reality, there is a lot of outstanding scientists among them - who are always ready to kill every specific idea and replace it with a lot of neutrally sounding, boring cliches. They say, among other things
  • The plan is extraordinarily difficult.
  • It could threaten the funding of some other existing projects KQ, UH, PT, SJ.
Some sentences are so artificial, long, and boring that I don't even want to reproduce them here.

Concerning the second point above: it is exactly the whole point of the new vision of Bush - and any other vision of a similar kind - to re-evaluate the ideas what is important and attractive about the space exploration program and which projects should be completed and canceled. Some scientists just to believe that once their research of something has been accepted as legitimate research, it must be funded forever - and they would even like to hear that it is important forever. This is not how science within a finite society can work in the long run.

In fact, I would find it very useful if an influential politician who still knows how to be excited by something - like Bush - looked at other fields in science including particle physics. I think that the particle physicists - namely the experimentalists - are not using their resources efficiently either, and they're continuing to do many things that are almost guaranteed to lead nowhere, even though one could find many other projects that may have very clear and totally amazing outcomes. How much do we believe that Tevatron will bring us anything new and important? Of course that the world must preserve its family of skillful experimentalists even during the times in which the progress in the experiments is nearly frozen; but even such conservation should be done efficiently, and with a clear idea about the long-term goals.

Although I am a very theoretically oriented person, it's clear that I don't really care about KQ, UH, PT too much - and I care about SJ just a little bit. A human mission to Mars is something on a completely different level. Of course that such a mission is not just a matter of pure science. It is a way to realize the dreams of many of us - scientists as well as other people - dreams that we have had since we were little boys and girls.

A human mission to the Moon - or even to Mars - is something amazing and irresistable. And the idea of a more permanent base on the Moon or on Mars would represent new steps towards the dreams about a big future of our civilization. People were able to fly to the Moon in the 1960s and early 1970s, but it seems much more difficult for us today. What happened with us?

Let's list a few numbers:
  • The International Space Station's (ISS) total cost has been about 100 billion US dollars
  • The canceled Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) would only cost 8 billion dollars
  • The total budget for various telescopes etc. between 2000 and 2010 is about 5 billion dollars
  • The total cost of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is about 1.5 billion dollars
These basic numbers describing different projects should be listed for many other projects in science and space exploration, and there should exist a reasonable discussion within the scientific community and the policymakers which of these things are good investments and which of them are less good investments.

I may be a biased particle physicist, but the fact that we could have built 12 SSC supercolliders instead of the ISS is shocking. I have almost no idea what the ISS has been really good for - in what sense it was "better" or "more exciting" or "more scientifically interesting" compared to the first flight of Yuri Gagarin, for example. Note that it's nearly as expensive as the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, humans on Mars would be inspiring for the whole humankind.

Many people are scared by the dim future of the Hubble Space Telescope. You know, the funding in 2009 should be moved to the James Webb Space Telescope - a telescope that will focus on the infrared spectrum. My guess is that the Hubble will be viewed as giving us "nothing really new" much before 2009. Once it retires, it can be privatized or given to another country, and so forth. The progress must simply go on, and it is a completely wrong approach to assume that we will continue to work with the same technology forever. Of course that there must be completely new projects and new machines. And if there is a clear direction, it motivates the people to work on their specific tasks. And finally, it also encourages progress in the industry.

And let me make it sure that there exists no physical principle that will prevent the people from visiting Mars.

The report of the APS also says that the humans on Mars would also be counterproductive because they would contaminate the environment and prevent us from investigating the primary question - namely whether there has been life on Mars. I find such arguments ludicrous, and it's bad if such arguments are used to inhibit the progress in the space exploration program.

First of all, the humans could only "contaminate" the environment by the usual, terrestrial forms of life - and if such forms are found on Mars, everyone will believe that they were brought from the Earth anyway. If other forms of life - like different patterns replacing RNA/DNA - are seen on Mars, then the contamination by the terrestrial forms of life means no problems. Finally, if there's been any life on Mars, it does not seem that it could have been too impressive. I just think that Bush's vision of future life on Mars - something that we can initiate - is a much more exciting idea.

The possibility that there will be a usable base on Mars in this century is 100 times more intriguing than some hypothetical speculations that a robotic probe could find some specific organic compound on this planet. If we were able to create more permanent bases on the Moon or on Mars, it would give us new tools to investigate the Universe, and new hopes to expand our civilization to other places in the Cosmos.

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reader Anonymous said...

Sending man to Mars may be fascinating... is there any other reason than that? Maybe; and I am sure it would be some economical reason. Impact on engineering? Then it dosen't have to be Mars. For pure scientific purpose, I cannot find the reason that it should be "man" that we send to Mars. Why risk? Maybe there can be other ways to explore Mars, safer than sending man. Just because it's fascinating? Come on, is that also the only reason you study string theory? Nothing else than it's just beautiful???


reader Anonymous said...

"If we were able to create more permanent bases on the Moon or on Mars, it would give us new tools to investigate the Universe, and new hopes to expand our civilization to other places in the Cosmos."

- This shows your attitude in science; just full of dreams, lacking reality. I now understand why you are so happy about string theory.


reader Lumo said...

Dear anonymous guys,

we would still be monkeys eating bananas if all people in the history were like you.

Many of the big and medium dreams from the past have become true, and this is what has made our civilization advanced.

Your comparison of string theory and manned missions is narrow-minded, but I don't mind about it. There are big differences between the meaning of these two things, but of course, both of these things are exciting & realistic, albeit risky, programs.

One of you has written that a manned mission to Mars would be beautiful, fascinating for most people, and it would have positive technological and economical consequences. And he asks "nothing else"?

What else do you want to hear? Do you want me to prove that a man on Mars would strengthen the political left wing, or what criterion do you exactly think is more important than the previous things?

Neither of the foreseeable cosmic missions should be expected to make a breakthrough in pure science. And once we admit it, it's obvious what are the interesting goals and what goals are not.

I am not talking just about *exploring* Mars. I am talking about humble beginnings intended to get familiar and *use* Mars or other things outside the Earth sometime in the future.

I just hope that the people in NASA and elsewhere who decide will eventually *not* listen to the people who say things like "Why risk?" and so forth because the existence of such people is counterproductive for the space exploration program.

It's definitely a more interesting idea to make a risky manned mission to Mars than to listen to discouraged anonymous posters on my blog who have absolutely nothing to offer, and I hope that the people with the same thinking and feelings as me will win at the end, despite the not-quite-justified self-confidence of those who have nothing to offer.

Guys, you're not really interesting.

Best
Lubos


reader Arun said...

Science-wise, the biggest "bang for the buck" still lies with unmanned missions. Manned space missions may make more people interested in science.

From a utility point of view, setting up a permanent manned base on the moon, with manufacturing capabilities, IMO, is the most meaningful manned mission. The key would be to find and mine ice and manufacture rocket fuel. This would be the stepping stone to the rest of the solar system.

From a libertarian point of view, a manned mission to Mars, funded by taxes, would just be yet another Large Government Project.

It is not really worth arguing about the politics of this. The tea-leaves do not look good for financing any such mission. The deficit plus the huge planned borrowing that is needed as part of the plan to privatize social security will make any Mars Mission a pipedream anyway.


reader Lumo said...

Hi Arun,

there are large government projects, and there are large government projects. The first category is a union of very small things that can be done by the private sector or the individuals themselves; the latter are projects that are unlikely to be paid privately. Ever.

Obviously, it's a matter of political preferences whether the first class of projects should be paid by the government. However, the second question is not quite political - it is about the very existence of some things - like the space program.

I am personally not *so much* libertarian to argue that the accelerators or the whole space program is a big error. Are you? In the 1960s, the space programs were demonstrations of power. The Soviet Union used it to show that it must be treated as a superpower; America used it to show the power of freedom.

All the best
Lubos


reader Anonymous said...

Hey Lubos,

I agree with most of what you say. Obviously your left-wing colleagues will have a much harder time with your statements. After all, you say you were impressed with a vision of Bush's. And you dare to put the cost of the Iraq war in perspective. They won't get over that for the next 50 years my friend. :)

Anyways, it's good to see a trace of diversity in the political spectrum among theorists.

All the best,
Dan

PS: Ah, I forgot: Communism forever!! ;))


reader Lumo said...

Thanks, Dan! Of course, I forgot: Communism forever. ;-) Cheers, Lubos


reader Arun said...

Lubos:

Perhaps we have to figure out how we (the government) might be able to fund a Mars Mission first, and then figure out whether it is worth it next - much will depend on how this will be financed.

Before spending a couple of hundred billion dollars, perhaps there will be a debate. I think one of the reasons the Apollo program fizzled out is because (quoting JN Wilford)

The first Apollo landing was, in one sense, a triumph that failed, not because the achievement was anything short of magnificent but because of misdirected expectations and a general misinterpretation of its real meaning. The public was encouraged to view it only as the grand climax of the space program, a geopolitical horse race and extraterrestrial entertainment - not as a dramatic means to the greater end of developing a far-ranging spacefaring capability I think, in the post-Apollo years, Congressional support for NASA was very lukewarm, and budgetary support was spotty. So, IMO, adequate public support has to be built up, so that there is the sustained funding for this spacefaring capability.


reader Lumo said...

I am not sure whether I understand your point, Arun - but if I do, then it's one of my points. A man on Mars *is* a geopolitical horse race and the extraterrestrial entertainment, and these are the things that people naturally want to fund from their taxes, and also the things that lead to some progress in technology as well as science, although the latter is less direct.

You might think that all people are completely stupid and we're doing science for ourselves, but you may underestimate the scientific feelings of many ordinary people. Of course that the main reason why string theory or the space exploration program is paid by the taxpayer, even though she knows that it's unlikely to help her in everyday life, is that there is a large consensus that these things are important for us being real humans, feeling entertained, and educated.

It's one of the things i wanted to convey: we should not be paying for things that have no practical implications and that will not make us excited either. It's just a waste of money, and it's happening on many places. String theory is not an example because it is objectively exciting and irresistable for many scientists and many science fans as well.

You can stop the manned missions, and instead, you may decide to spend billions of USD to measure the neutrino masses with the accuracy of 0.01%, or to measure the precise composition of the surface of a comet. But do you think that we really need it? What is it good for?

Best
Lubos


reader Arun said...

Lubos,

You may think that everyone in the APS is stupid and bureaucratic. However, supporters of the American space program know very well the truth of the following, especially the part in bold

"NASA exists and receives support because of a broad national sense that outer space is a frontier that we should explore. However, exploration is an extraordinarily costly challenge with returns that are infrequest, especially accomplishments on a scale that can capture the public imagination. This poses a major challenge for an agency that must justify its budget to a skeptical administration and a hard-pressed Congress on an annual basis."

The inability to meet this challenge is what led to the dead-end of the Apollo missions. I may be underestimating the scientific feelings of many ordinary people, but then, if past history is any guide, I'm likely not. In any case, you agree that we have to find out, right? Don't turn this into a left-wing versus right-wing issue.

Currently, there is no geo-political horserace for a presence in outer space. China has announced it wants to put a man on the moon, and that is about it. I don't think the Chinese plan currently has much credibility. The technology to enable humans to live in zero-to-low G environments, to survive solar flares while not within a planetary magnetic field, etc., is not very entertaining. Relying on these arguments will lead to an evaporation of public interest in a very few years.

Anyway, here is what a rep. of the Planetary Society has to say about this year's budget (at one time, I subscribed to their magazine, but stopped because of time pressures).

http://planetary.org/news/2004/budget_2005_lou_1123.html

quote:
Sometimes we were criticized for supporting human space-flight and devaluing robotic missions to the planets, and at other times we were criticized for just the reverse. That made us feel we got it right – and that the overwhelming majority of our members realize that exploration is a continuum, with humans and their robots working together.
end quote.

The Planetary Society's Aim For Mars program is here:
http://www.planetary.org/aimformars/
http://planetary.org/aimformars/learnmore.html

-Arun


reader Arun said...

Lubos,

You may think that everyone in the APS is stupid and bureaucratic. However, supporters of the American space program know very well the truth of the following, especially the part in bold

"NASA exists and receives support because of a broad national sense that outer space is a frontier that we should explore. However, exploration is an extraordinarily costly challenge with returns that are infrequest, especially accomplishments on a scale that can capture the public imagination. This poses a major challenge for an agency that must justify its budget to a skeptical administration and a hard-pressed Congress on an annual basis."

The inability to meet this challenge is what led to the dead-end of the Apollo missions. I may be underestimating the scientific feelings of many ordinary people, but then, if past history is any guide, I'm likely not. In any case, you agree that we have to find out, right? Don't turn this into a left-wing versus right-wing issue.

Currently, there is no geo-political horserace for a presence in outer space. China has announced it wants to put a man on the moon, and that is about it. I don't think the Chinese plan currently has much credibility. The technology to enable humans to live in zero-to-low G environments, to survive solar flares while not within a planetary magnetic field, etc., is not very entertaining. Relying on these arguments will lead to an evaporation of public interest in a very few years.

Anyway, here is what a rep. of the Planetary Society has to say about this year's budget (at one time, I subscribed to their magazine, but stopped because I was subscribing to more magazines than I could read).

http://planetary.org/news/2004/budget_2005_lou_1123.html

quote:
Sometimes we were criticized for supporting human space-flight and devaluing robotic missions to the planets, and at other times we were criticized for just the reverse. That made us feel we got it right – and that the overwhelming majority of our members realize that exploration is a continuum, with humans and their robots working together.
end quote.

The Planetary Society's Aim For Mars program is here:
http://www.planetary.org/aimformars/
http://planetary.org/aimformars/learnmore.html

Also see this (highlights mine)
http://www.planetary.org/aimformars/mtm_statement_040615.html

The Planetary Society extends thanks and its appreciation to the nine very able persons who served on the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy.......

The Commission's statement that "Continual, candid, and efficient two-way communication will be a fundamental task for both the Administration and Congress" is important. Thus far, the new policy has been developed solely by the Administration. Since its inception, space exploration has been a non-partisan program of Presidents and Congresses. Democrats and Republicans have supported the steps toward human and robotic exploration of the solar system, and Democrats and Republicans have built the foundation for the Moon to Mars policy. We urge that greater public involvement and broader public benefits become an integral part of the new policy. These go beyond the private sector and the aerospace industry, and beyond the borders of the United States.

The Commission cited inspiring testimony in support of the Moon to Mars exploration policy, but it found that the spiritual, emotional and intellectual appeal of exploration and discovery are perhaps not sufficient drivers for its rationale. Instead, the Commission focused on the pragmatic recognition that such a long-term, risky and expensive enterprise can only be enabled on the basis of its value to America in global competitive terms. Jobs, economy, and security are important parts of the rationale for space exploration, but The Planetary Society believes that so are societal imperatives, particularly the compelling notions of exploration, discovery and understanding. All parts of the rationale are vital for the required political support for a Moon to Mars program.

etc.


reader Arun said...

Lubos,

You may think that everyone in the APS is stupid and bureaucratic. However, supporters of the American space program know very well the truth of the following, especially the part in bold

"NASA exists and receives support because of a broad national sense that outer space is a frontier that we should explore. However, exploration is an extraordinarily costly challenge with returns that are infrequest, especially accomplishments on a scale that can capture the public imagination. This poses a major challenge for an agency that must justify its budget to a skeptical administration and a hard-pressed Congress on an annual basis."

The inability to meet this challenge is what led to the dead-end of the Apollo missions. I may be underestimating the scientific feelings of many ordinary people, but then, if past history is any guide, I'm likely not. In any case, you agree that we have to find out, right? Don't turn this into a left-wing versus right-wing issue.

Currently, there is no geo-political horserace for a presence in outer space. China has announced it wants to put a man on the moon, and that is about it. I don't think the Chinese plan currently has much credibility. The technology to enable humans to live in zero-to-low G environments, to survive solar flares while not within a planetary magnetic field, etc., is not very entertaining. Relying on these arguments will lead to an evaporation of public interest in a very few years.

Anyway, here is what a rep. of the Planetary Society has to say about this year's budget (at one time, I subscribed to their magazine, but stopped because I was subscribing to more magazines than I could read).

http://planetary.org/news/2004/budget_2005_lou_1123.html

quote:
Sometimes we were criticized for supporting human space-flight and devaluing robotic missions to the planets, and at other times we were criticized for just the reverse. That made us feel we got it right – and that the overwhelming majority of our members realize that exploration is a continuum, with humans and their robots working together.
end quote.

The Planetary Society's Aim For Mars program is here:
http://www.planetary.org/aimformars/
http://planetary.org/aimformars/learnmore.html

Also see this (highlights mine)
http://www.planetary.org/aimformars/mtm_statement_040615.html

The Planetary Society extends thanks and its appreciation to the nine very able persons who served on the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy.......

The Commission's statement that "Continual, candid, and efficient two-way communication will be a fundamental task for both the Administration and Congress" is important. Thus far, the new policy has been developed solely by the Administration. Since its inception, space exploration has been a non-partisan program of Presidents and Congresses. Democrats and Republicans have supported the steps toward human and robotic exploration of the solar system, and Democrats and Republicans have built the foundation for the Moon to Mars policy. We urge that greater public involvement and broader public benefits become an integral part of the new policy. These go beyond the private sector and the aerospace industry, and beyond the borders of the United States.

The Commission cited inspiring testimony in support of the Moon to Mars exploration policy, but it found that the spiritual, emotional and intellectual appeal of exploration and discovery are perhaps not sufficient drivers for its rationale. Instead, the Commission focused on the pragmatic recognition that such a long-term, risky and expensive enterprise can only be enabled on the basis of its value to America in global competitive terms. Jobs, economy, and security are important parts of the rationale for space exploration, but The Planetary Society believes that so are societal imperatives, particularly the compelling notions of exploration, discovery and understanding. All parts of the rationale are vital for the required political support for a Moon to Mars program.

....
Sustainability, affordability and credibility were cited by the Commission as the three imperatives for success. We agree completely.

etc.


reader Lumo said...

Hi Arun!
The point of misunderstanding is that we disagree about the Apollo program, too.

Much like the Congress, I also think that the same repeated flights to the Moon were a waste of money, and I would not support this direction either.

Such flights are only interesting - and reasonable investments - if there is something new about each of them. If you build something on the Moon, or if you go to Mars.

If some guys are just flying to the Moon and they're doing more or less the same thing as Neil Armstrong, that's a waste of money.

Best
Lubos


reader Arun said...

Lubos,

Sorry if I'm clogging your blog.

http://planetary.org/aimformars/bcm_statement.html

quote:
Because NASA's only experience with human travel beyond Earth orbit ended in 1972, NASA in 1989 was not well prepared when a president actually did ask for a plan to go back to the Moon and
on to Mars. NASA's backward-looking approach concerning the rational for and implementation of future human flights to Mars was to
cast it in the Apollo mode -- as a demonstration of US capability
to get humans to Mars and back successfully on a politically realistic time scale, initiated by a high profile presidential initiative
involving a significant increase in NASA expenditures. But, there wasn't then nor is there now any overriding national security
need for a crash program to send Americans to Mars or Moon or anywhere else in space. Hence a costly political embarrassment resulted in 1989, leading subsequent administrations to be antagonistic toward any NASA efforts to develop and promote a more thoughtful understanding of the "how, when and why" of human travel
beyond Earth orbit.

---

Regarding your previous comment about the later Apollo missions:

IMO, engineering is a rather different discipline from science, in that repetition
of what has already been done is extremely necessary and valuable. That is why so many (seemingly) look-alike Apollo missions are necessary. Engineers
haven't succeeded until this stuff has become routine, and to scientists and the general public, boring. There is an enormous amount of engineering learning that goes on by this repetition. Some very seemingly mundane things happen, e.g., typically one is very conservative in the first launches of a vehicle. Building on experience, one is able to more accurately estimate the margins of safety required, increase the payload, reduce control & guidance errors, etc., etc. So, if you find later Apollo missions unnecessary and got bored so easily, then it is an exhibit already for why I believe that public support for a sustainable manned space program is inadequate.

Anyway, I'll stop clogging this thread further.
-Arun


reader Arun said...

Lubos,

Sorry if I'm clogging your blog.

http://planetary.org/aimformars/bcm_statement.html

quote:
Because NASA's only experience with human travel beyond Earth orbit ended in 1972, NASA in 1989 was not well prepared when a president actually did ask for a plan to go back to the Moon and
on to Mars. NASA's backward-looking approach concerning the rational for and implementation of future human flights to Mars was to
cast it in the Apollo mode -- as a demonstration of US capability
to get humans to Mars and back successfully on a politically realistic time scale, initiated by a high profile presidential initiative
involving a significant increase in NASA expenditures. But, there wasn't then nor is there now any overriding national security
need for a crash program to send Americans to Mars or Moon or anywhere else in space. Hence a costly political embarrassment resulted in 1989, leading subsequent administrations to be antagonistic toward any NASA efforts to develop and promote a more thoughtful understanding of the "how, when and why" of human travel
beyond Earth orbit.

---

Regarding your previous comment about the later Apollo missions:

IMO, engineering is a rather different discipline from science, in that repetition
of what has already been done is extremely necessary and valuable. That is why so many (seemingly) look-alike Apollo missions are necessary. Engineers
haven't succeeded until this stuff has become routine, and to scientists and the general public, boring. There is an enormous amount of engineering learning that goes on by this repetition. Some very seemingly mundane things happen, e.g., typically one is very conservative in the first launches of a vehicle. Building on experience, one is able to more accurately estimate the margins of safety required, increase the payload, reduce control & guidance errors, etc., etc. So, if you find later Apollo missions unnecessary and got bored so easily, then it is an exhibit already for why I believe that public support for a sustainable manned space program is inadequate.

Anyway, I'll stop clogging this thread any further.
-Arun