Tuesday, October 11, 2016

To Infinity And Beyond!

There was some fascinating news today. The news in question was Obama announcing that the US Government would "partner" with private sector companies to put people on Mars. In particular, there is a plan to send a person halfway there in 2020 and then they plan to land a person in 2025. How cool is that! That will be within our lifetimes! I can't wait to see this. That's actually kind of earth-shattering.

What makes this so earth-shattering is the total change in mindset here. Of all the things the federal government does, sending people into space has always been seen as something that was done exclusively by the government. Sure, there are some commercial companies trying it now, but they always seemed more of a gimmick. When it came to actual space travel, NASA was the only player.

But this announcement suggests that the feds now see NASA as an observer rather than a driver of the mission to Mars. In other words, it won't be NASA planning and executing the mission with private contractors supplying them with the stuff they need. Instead, it sounds like it's going to be the private companies doing the work along with NASA in a consultant role.

This means two things to me. First, it suggests that a seismic shift has been made in the role of government. In the past, the government would never have taken a backseat to a private company. The fact they are doing so suggests a realization that NASA is no longer the leader in the world of technology. It is a passing of the baton and a willingness to let the market take over the advancement of science and the national interest. That's a significant change in the role of government.

Secondly, I see this as the true opening of space to commercial travel. Had NASA kept a tight grip on this, then private space travel would likely never be more than just a few seconds flight to the upper atmosphere. This suggests that space will become an activity anyone can pursue. That suggests to me that we will get there faster and with more variety and with more purpose. It also means that people like us might one day get into space.

I really think this is important.



AndrewPrice said...

Off topic, if you live in Nevada, you're about to lose $750 million in an effort to lure the Raiders to Las Vegas. You should probably rename then the "Freeloaders" after that. Though frankly, I think they should be called the "Californicators," in honor of what ex-pat Californians have done every else in the West.

LL said...

Mars 2020 is a lander that will be there in 2020 primarily to look for liquid water that can be used as fuel for a return trip. I can't see people landing there before 2050, and if the national debt clock keeps running at its current pace, we won't be there ever.

ArgentGale said...

Definitely a neat possibility, though I'm skeptical about the government continuing to move in that direction. Maybe someone should convince the political class that they'd get all the votes they want and then some if they fly directly into the center of the Sun?

On a similar note, if space colonization ever becomes a thing how do you see if unfolding, Andrew? Do you think we'd have something along the lines of the Star Trek Federation or would individual nations make that extremely difficult? A lot of sci-fi also seems to assume that whole planets and moons would make up entire colonies, but I wonder how realistic that would be.

- Daniel

Patriot said...

When I first heard about this, it was in the context of "Obama announced today his intention to land a man on Mars by 20xx and colonize it by 20xx." My first thought was 'The a*hole wants to burnish his legacy so historians can claim Obama was the most forward looking President evah!'

Sorry, my cynicism just won't let me take this announcement seriously at this point.


tryanmax said...

Kennedy made his announcement early in his presidency. It seems cynical to make such an announcement as practically a lame duck.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, That's sad. They were saying yesterday that it would be manned.

AndrewPrice said...

Interesting question, Daniel. The thing is, barring something crazy, the trend is toward middle class democracies. That means the trend in the long term will be toward peaceful coexistence, but not union. So I would think that the future would look a lot like the world today if you just considered Europe and the US. So I think you will see a lot of "international space colony" and things like that. Where it will get interesting is what will happen if private people are allowed to claim planets they discover. That I don't know.

Right now though, the real problem is that humans can't really go back and forth because of issues with bone density and gravity and the such. So we need to solve some biological issues first.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot and tryanmax, I didn't get a sense that Obama was trying to create a legacy here. There was no grandiose announcement, no soaring rhetoric. It was more like a housecleaning type announcement almost. Moreover, the announcement was remarkably back-seat-ish. This was not JFK.

tryanmax said...

True, I didn't get the context of it. Obviously it wasn't made in some soaring speech.

tryanmax said...

This is interesting. According to Rasmussen, Hillary leads among voters who could still change their mind.


Anthony said...

Be interesting to see what happens with Mars. Once transportation gets cheap enough, squabbling over property rights will ensue. I'm sure that is a very long way off.

Koshcat said...

If you haven't read it, I recommend The Martian. I believe it does a really good job regarding the challenges of getting people to and from Mars.

I haven't seen the movie starring Dick-Head but I suspect the book is better.

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