This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?
This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?
Once upon a time we pushed the threshold. No, we broke it. Perhaps it’s time to remember that age, so we can reignite it.
Check out the the trailer for the upcoming film, First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong and the most dangerous mission ever undertaken.
When humans first entered the final frontier the very edge of technology was pushed to its limits. The race into space may have been driven by the Cold War, but ultimately there was something even greater behind it.
The human spirit.
That spirit has driven mankind to explore for millennia and space is no different. Every bit as dangerous as the New World, the Amazon and the Wild West, but this frontier has no bounds and is unforgiving. Unfortunately, the powers that be, quickly lost vision and returned to their myopia. In an age where technology is taken for granted, it is hard to believe this happened decades ago. It is also a reminder that we could do so much more than iPhones and smart cars.
There are some who still remain from that first wave; those who were there on the new frontier. This is the story of the last man to walk on another world:
Two weeks from tomorrow, on January 28th, marks 30 years since the Challenger Disaster.
Seems so long ago, yet it is one of those days people never forget. School was out that day, probably because of bad weather, and I remember watching on television the news showing the explosion over and over.
I will never forget.
We didn’t give up on spaceflight that day, but I wish more would have seen the real promise of the Final Frontier. Instead, many in government still see it as another “get-elected-for-a-few-years” opportunity. The vision of government sees only through the next election cycle, not seven generations hence.
There are those who are far more forward in their thinking. Those who are tired of the others who have given up on the human spirit of adventure. The spirit that created pioneers, frontiersman and explorers. That spirit is in all of us, even if those in power have forgotten.
By remembering pioneers are still needed, frontiers need explored and danger can never be eliminated.
Honor those who tried, those who failed, those who succeeded and those who gave the last full measure.
Let the future not say we gave up, forgot or ignored.
If we do, there will be no future to look back on us.
A U.S. spacecraft named New Horizons arrived at Pluto today after a 9 year, 3 billion mile journey. Some may ask why bother? What’s the point?
It’s sad that many have taken such a small view of humanity. Instead, small incremental changes are seen as breakthroughs. We allow government, societies and anyone with a lot of money to define us, tell us what to do and how far we can go.
The truth is, if New Horizons and other achievements like it were the norm, we’d live in a much different world. The wonders of the future wouldn’t always be 50 years distant. Imagine fusion reactors fed by Helium-3 from the Moon. Asteroids with uncountable mineral resources. Regular space travel not limited to a few or science fiction. These aren’t dreams, but are realities long within our grasp. Instead, we let those with no vision, who only see tomorrow and do what it takes to hang onto power until then, decide what is best.
Pluto may be a small world, with little impact on our own, but it is in our Solar System. Exploring this region of space – our region of space – is in us as much as the drive that explored every corner of our planet, above it and on our Moon. William E. Burrows explained this in his book Exploring Space that chronicled the first wave of robot explorers, envoys that preceded the people that have or will follow:
…the core motivation for human beings to venture where the can, and to send robotic proxies where they cannot, is as sublimated but as real and ultimately unerring as the one that guides snow geese, salmon and other migrators on their own immense journeys. It is a reason that transcends reason. We go because of a profound urge to leave our imprint on the universe…That is why we explore. The treasure invested in long voyages of high adventure could be arguably spent [elsewhere]…but ultimately the imperative to merely survive…is not the most admirable of goals. Greatness is achieved not by putting out fires but by creating monuments to humanity’s full capacity for enterprise, imagination and courage. Certainly these include, as they always have, setting courses that lead straight into the heart of the unknown.
In other words, setting our sights so low, following those with no vision, will lead us nowhere we want to be. We need to dare ourselves again. Awake the fires that we are born with. Science can’t do it all, it is not a religion or God. Our free will to do great things has a dark side as well. So we could just give up and let others decide our fate, or we can believe, as Dr. Franklin Storm states in the new Fantastic Four film:
It is our duty as human beings to push forward into the unknown…
Exploring the final frontier has never been easy. For decades, in fits an spurts, we have explored the Solar System and established manned outposts in orbit. We even reached the Moon, which has been so long ago now, that it seems a dream. We can probably blame the tortoise pace of space exploration on it being largely controlled by the government and their ever changing, and short-sighted, whims. In recent years, private companies have taken up the torch. As witnessed by this week’s crash of the spacecraft Galactic, exploration on the edge of frontiers is still fraught with danger.
It always has been and always will be.
When the New World was being rediscovered by Europeans from 1492 on, it was much the same. Driven by politics, economics and the innate desire of humans to explore, not all went well. The early voyages were often about finding wealth and conquering lands. Later, though, it would be about building a better life, improving the human condition. The powerful desire to improve the existence of one’s family and future descendents has long been entwined with that frontier spirit. It’s often difficult to tell them apart. Interestingly enough, we would later learn that 1492 wasn’t the first rediscovery of what would later be named the Americas.
In 1000 A.D., the Vikings arrived in North America. It seemed almost inevitable that these quintessential seafarers and explorers would do just that. For centuries the sagas and rumors attesting to their arrival was largely discarded as myth. Then archaeological remains of a settlement were found in Canada in 1960. Still, the idea of pre-Columbus explorers was seen as unlikely and supposed accounts quickly dismissed.
This was for two reasons: One, the level of required verified evidence is high. Is it too high? The Viking sagas told of exploring America, but were dismissed as legend. Even now, the extent of their exploration is unknown, but it is admitted that they voyaged to the coast for decades, if not longer. Only one settlement? These legendary warriors never ventured far from the beaches?
Two, early attempts to dismiss all natives as not much more than primitive cavemen saw many people ascribe anything of sophistication to foreign visitors. We now know the New World was replete with civilization and we know they arrived here longer ago than originally thought, through multiple paths. That paradigm shift has led many to wonder: Is it reasonable to think that people here for so long remained isolated from the rest world? A world that had many accomplished seafarers? After all, didn’t the natives make it here at one point? Does any civilization live in isolation for over 10,000 years?
Of course, there are those who consider any suggestion of diffusion racist. They are driven by those who have, or still do, see natives as inferior. The other side of the coin are those who believe it did happen, repeatedly, and assert that it’s racist to say it couldn’t have happened.
So much for academic inquiry.
To be certain, the field has been full of fringe writers pushing many a bizarre theory or those motivated by ideology. Not all are so driven. Many are simply looking for the facts, some of which have always hidden in plain sight.
Sometimes it was intention, other times apparent chance, but in either case exploration burned in the souls of many men and women. What resulted wasn’t always good, but the overall condition of man usually improved. Does the fire of exploration still kindle? Are we too busy to see past tomorrow, buried in our televisions and self-created busyness?
Time will tell if humans will quit ignoring the calls to be something greater than what is pushed upon them. Modern steps into space are part of a long legacy that reaches back millennia. The crash of the Galactic won’t extinguish the flame.
It reminds us there are still those in which the fire still burns.
I’ve long been a supporter of space exploration. It is often one of the few bright spots in the world of government-funded programs. However, I have come to realize that it’s that same government that has crippled our ventures in the final frontier. Nearly every new president rolls out a new “vision” for NASA, often discarding whatever the previous leader had promoted. Funding is just potential “get votes” for visionless Congress and has largely been stagnate as they prefer to send money to other countries or bailout only the companies that support them. So space exploration moves along in fits and starts. I was pleased to see that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin largely shares these views in his new book Mission to Mars.
For decades, Buzz has championed our expansion in space and in this new book discusses how our government-run program has both succeeded and failed. He also sees the recent growth in private efforts in space travel as a new turning point on the frontier. This is indeed correct, and creating an environment where these efforts can continue to thrive and expand is critical. NASA has already begun relying on private industry to supply the International Space Station. Soon they will deliver astronauts and companies have begun using the facilities that once launched the shuttles. NASA has laid the groundwork, now the people must take over. If they do, space will no longer be the realm of the few.
Buzz details how NASA shouldn’t be tied up in returning people to the Moon. Certainly they should be involved in technology transfer, training, design and U.S. participation, but their main thrusts should be elsewhere. They went to the Moon 45 years ago. Time to trailblaze elsewhere. And that place is Mars.
The Apollo veteran outlines his cycler design which would put spacecraft in continuous flight between Mars and Earth. It’s an ingenious design that uses physics and reusable vehicles. Is it the only option? No, and he briefly mentions the Mars Direct plan that Robert Zubrin laid out years ago. It uses current technology and in-situ use of resources on Mars to drastically lower costs of a mission. It was the baseline for NASA plans for a time. Buzz’s plan has some overlap with Zubrin’s, though I think both can be used. Mars Direct is still the simplest way for early missions to reach Mars. Later, it could be used in tandem with cyclers to increase travel opportunities to Mars (and I’m sure technology will improve both methods, see Case for Mars for more on Mars Direct).
We also read on the potential of mining asteroids and the real need to detect and deflect ones that threaten Earth. Buzz’s plan to first land humans on the Martian moon Phobos before Mars seems an unnecessary detour, though the satellite does have potential for the outposts he describes. He implores that whomever is president in 2019 to use the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 to commit to a Mars mission. I think this would be another empty vision from our politicians who cannot see past another election cycle. There is no Cold War to drive the project. Just as the people are taking over spaceflight, travel beyond our world will be up to them as well (perhaps Mars One).
NASA will surely be a part of it and maybe enough forward-thinking people exist in our government to support it. They can justify it anyway they want to: Jobs, technology, education, exploration, resources. It would certainly be a huge step forward against all of our steps backwards.
In 1989, Buzz stood on stage as President George Bush put forth a plan to reach Mars in 2019. The poorly conceived plan went no where. Now we are talking about announcing a mission in 2019 that won’t even happen for many years after. That, to me, isn’t very visionary. We need to get past the government-style pushing off the future to some indeterminate time that often never arrives. Buzz asks, “America, do you still dream great dreams?”
Here we often discuss history, but what of our future? I wonder this as the shuttle program ends and after reading the The Case for Mars. The exploration of space is adrift, blown about by the shallow whims of politicians only interested in making it to the next election.
Will the lessons of history that tell us of the perils of short-sightedness ever impact the feeble minds of Washington?
Rome. China. The Middle East. All, often for centuries, turned their backs on the future for many regrettable reasons. Space travel held so much promise in the 1960s to turn people away from killing each other and enter into a prosperous adventure exploring a new frontier. Even though Apollo was largely born out of Cold War politics and launched on military technology, it was of such scale that it had Earth-changing potential.
Then it was ended.
Nixon canceled the last missions even though most of the hardware was already paid for or built. Then started decades of going nowhere, trapped in low-earth orbit. Nearly each president releasing a “vision” for the future then abandoning it. Plan after plan with no purpose other than to secure short-term votes only to have the next leader trash it. Note how they put goals so far out in the future that it would not matter if it failed or not. One of President Obama’s current “visions” is men visiting asteroids by 2025.
2025? This could be done by 2017. Asteroids are rich in mineral resources, yet as long as the government runs the show with their fake plans, we will never get there. The Moon has enough helium-3 to fuel the world for generations. Yet we still fight over gas and oil and hope for the best.
When will a politician come along with real vision? Not worried about making it to the next election? Someone who can explain why the final frontier is valuable and attainable? A person who pushes the government out of the way and lets the people take control?
Certainly the shuttle had its successes. It was an amazing vehicle that flew for three decades. It was also an engineering nightmare with too many compromises. Too much promised and too many eggs in one basket. The technical marvel, the International Space Station, is also an achievement. It also is underutilized and without direction. It almost became like, “Let’s get it finished, have it orbit a few years, then figure something out.” Its value as proving ground for private space efforts or Mars exploration is grossly unused.
Not that it is needed to go to Mars. The Case for Mars proved that. It also proved it doesn’t take decades or unimaginable amounts of money. NASA briefly pursued it and for a few short years began to embrace simpler, commonsense approaches to exploring Mars and the Moon. Then the superbrains of Washington intervened once again.
The government bailed out companies and banks that did everything wrong, but what of the space workers? The people who invested in our future? The people that did everything right and what was asked of them? The people who wanted to do so much more?
There are glimmers of hope as the private space industry finally emerges from underneath the crushing weight of the government and industry giants (i.e. SpaceX). But will someone in this election year actually stand up and provide a real vision? Not another fabricated feel-good plan that requires us to start from scratch again?
This isn’t new or hard. We did it over 30 years ago. Let’s leave our children something other than crushing debt and a legacy bereft of any forward-thinking.
Who will answer the challenge?