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    • CommentTimeMay 20th 2009
    I read the Wired article on Musk. The article was good, though with the fawning, popstar journalism tone that turned me off them years ago. People like him, and companies that can outlive their founders, are a promising direction. Also people like Richard Branson, who are good at getting other people to stump up their own money.

    About NASA bureaucracy, good question. NASA has a diffuse brief that has expanded over the decades. Some stuff could be spun off or gotten rid of entirely. The Space Shuttle program is over, but running the ISS needs most of the same engineering and management skill sets because of all those systems to maintain. Manned and unmanned flight should be practically separate. Is Jet Propulsion Laboratory semi-autonomous? Even manned flight should be separated into maintenance, like the International Space Station, and exploratory, like return to the moon. But there has to be a way for innovation and lessons learned to flow between these different pillars of NASA. Argh. Once you start looking at reworking their management structure, as happened after Challenger, you find that you'll end up almost back where you started, after spending a lot of money to get there.

    But I do like the idea of pushing some departments, if not into the private sector, at least out from directly under the NASA umbrella.

    @hank: I think it was sort of like a motor scooter seat.
  1.  (5884.2)
    At its best, the space colonization vision was sophisticated daydreaming, not a future that a large number of Americans wanted to make happen. The vision had its shot and never caught on, despite appearing in the pages of a highly reputable magazine and gaining the attention of political decision makers. Gravity, weightlessness, radiation, and economics may all have ultimately made this vision untenable, but its biggest problem was that people didn’t like it.

    For the average person who is mostly concerned with putting food on the table and sending the kids to college, life in space really dosen't offer anything that they aren't getting on earth except a different set of things to worry about. People either have a comfortable life on earth, or no idea of what the potential of space is. And a large part of humanity dosen't even have the basic comforts that those people who don't care about NASA do. As the only person in my family who knows anything about space I can tell you that the prevailing attitude toward throwing billions of dollars into orbit is 'so what, I've gotta get to work'.

    The cultural problem is a lack of education and opportunity. 40% of Americans don't have health insurance, plenty will never go to college let alone the moon, and right now retiring in Florida seems about as likely as retiring on Mars. People just don't care and they have more immediate problems to worry about. Until we figure out a lot of our problems on Earth we are never going to get a sizable population into space.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 20th 2009
    Colonization in undiscovered lands almost always happens with the lowest common denominators of society; the prisoners, the debtors, the prisoners, the poor, the sick, etc. I don't see why it would be any different for space travel; it won't be a matter of desire, it'll be a choice between life and death.
    • CommentTimeMay 20th 2009
    @loonynerd hence robots first. You see how loyal to the British Crown Australians and us Yanks are. I think Scott B has a web comic that illustrates this well - Escape From Terra.
    • CommentTimeMay 20th 2009
    for another good view on how effed up NASA is from an administrative side, read unmasking administrative evil (Sorry for amazon link, should be available in library or used). One chapter is an account of the NASA leadership screwups between challenger and columbia.
  2.  (5884.6)

    Plenty of good observation. I would change this part, though... Until we figure out a lot of our problems on Earth we are never going to get a sizable population into space. That should say a sizable American population. Compared to other countries like China and India, math and science are not subjects the youth of America excel in. And they are the paramount subjects in space travel..
    • CommentAuthorcas9574
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009
    If you want to see who is likely to be willing to live/work in space. Look at the people that do similar things? The first group that comes to mind is underwater construction divers. It's a difficult hazardous workplace that attracts a lot of ex-cons, ex-military and adventurous professionals for an odd mix. Possible other samples. Seasonal deep sea fishing, Oil rig workers, Pipeline layers, Firemen, nuclear power plant operators. There's really no shortage of people that would be willing for a little hazard pay. And some of them are quite well accustomed to working under conditions that heavily penalize Stupidity, Carelessness, Inattention, and other aspects of human nature that are common in most people to some degree.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009

    I was a little space geek at the time when Space Colonies were da bomb. I remember that Asimov article; it was a pretty tame outsider effort for a mainstream magazine. The real L-5 die-hards wrote for Destinies, a sort of magazine-paperback put out by Baen Books specifically to shill for space colonization. It had a mix of SF and popular science articles.

    L-5 colonies were for late-70s / early 80s SF what the Singularity was up to a few years ago. Everyone from the old lefty Mack Reynolds to Ben Bova was writing novels about them.

    I got rid of my Destinies collection decades ago, in a fit of disgust and embarrassment. Ya see, it gradually dawned on me that many of the space colonization groupies were fucking nuts. Smart, and in some ways well informed, but cranky and weird. Like Lyndon LaRouche devotees. There was a creepy unchanging sameness to their logic and their vision.

    I was pretty much over it all by the late eighties, but there was a wonderful, unburdening moment in 1990. The SF convention I had helped run in college put Bruce Sterling on a panel about the future of cities. Someone asked about space colonies. He tore into the concept with a snotty glee that was awesome to behold. Paraphrasing: "Living in a space colony would pretty much being like living in a shopping mall in a submarine that you can never leave. And the people who chose to live in a place like that would be pretty weird. It would be like attending a science fiction convention that you can never leave."
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009
    "I got rid of my Destinies collection decades ago, in a fit of disgust and embarrassment. Ya see, it gradually dawned on me that many of the space colonization groupies were fucking nuts. Smart, and in some ways well informed, but cranky and weird. Like Lyndon LaRouche devotees. There was a creepy unchanging sameness to their logic and their vision."

    Have you read Charles Stross' Eschaton novels?

    The basic concept is that in the near future something caleld the Eschaton intervenes on Earth, teleporting about 90% of the current population to other planets. The Eschaton has a sense of humor - the L5 society find themselves on an honest-to-O'Neill space colony. When re they rapidly realise that maintaining the incredibly delicate ecology and mass balance and not losing most of their atmosphere through outgassing actually requires that they maintain an incredibly conservative and regimented society.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009

    You know, I've yet to read a Stross novel. I have one in my queue and intend to get more.

    One of Bruce Sterling's novels (Schizmatrix) depicts a couple of L-5 type colonies. One is inhabited by a very conservative, stuffy culture. The lead character flees it at the beginning of the book. He ends up on a cylinder that is divided by a big wall into a well-run section and a thoroughly trashed one with patched windows and soil wracked by fungus colonies.
  3.  (5884.11)
    Gizmodo doing a thread on Space Elevator here, so I mentioned this thread & quoted The Landlord's words re. Van Allen radiation...
    • CommentAuthorENGINE
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009
    @StefanJ: I highly recommend Stross. Start with Singularity Sky, it's the first of the Eschaton series, I believe. Not in the series is The Atrocity Archive, which is also epic.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2009
    Maybe NASA should hive off the non-space stuff - the plane safety work; the high-altitude long-duration plane design work etc -to some other entity and just focus on the space projects.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2009
  4.  (5884.15)
    @Looneynerd: I bet more fuss will be made about Charles F. Bolden Jr. being African-American while ignoring the more important factor that he's a shuttle driver with 4 landings to his credit. I can't help but think having an actual astronaut at the top might help.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2009
    From the articles I've read, he's pretty anti-human exploration of places like mars, which makes me pretty nervous...
  5.  (5884.17)
    Escape From Terra has so far focused on only one off-Earth culture, the "Belter" culture centered on Ceres. In future story arcs we'll learn more about how things work on Mars, and Luna. The point being, that one benefit of exploring new frontiers is that we also get to explore new forms of social organization, by starting "fresh" as it were.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2009
    @ScottBieser: " . . . we also get to explore new forms of social organization . . ."

    Every read Freeman Dyson's essays “Human Consequences of the Exploration of Space” and "The Greening of the Galaxy"?
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2009
    You know, since astronauts exist largely now to inspire and provide an example rather than for actual need, maybe NASA should focus on that and make some money at the same time. Why not pick the next astronauts through an American Idol type process? A big reality TV contest and production to select some literally disposable celebrities, and then shoot them off into space possibly never to be heard from again. Total win-win situation.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2009 edited

    You mean along the lines of something like This?