Author Topic: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?  (Read 71663 times)

Offline ChrisSpaceCH

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Hello. First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Chris, and I am a long-time space-fan who has followed the US's space program with increasing frustration over the past few years. I have been lurking on this forum for the past 11 months and finally decided to start participating.

From watching all the (sometimes lively) discussions about the future of US HSF on this forum and others, it struck me that the real problem is not deciding which launcher to use, which exploration path or destination or even time-frame to chose, it's not money nor even getting Joe Sixpack and John Taxpayer to support HSF. Even the HSF vs UMSF argument isn't quite cutting it, although it is getting closer. I believe the real problem today is that there is no consensus, nor even vision about where Space Exploration should ultimately lead to.

A very good example for this lack of consensus (for those who have the time to weed through it) is the following (hijacked) thread on Space Politics:
http://www.spacepolitics.com/2009/11/06/flexible-paths-flexible-deadlines/

As you can see, no agreement on our ultimate goals in space. Exploration? Settlement? Exploitation of ressources?

Without a clear-cut longterm goal, HSF will never garner general support and runs the risk of eventually being cancelled. I'd like to illustrate this with a few historical examples, some of which were also brought up on the thread mentionned above:

Apollo (Pre-Apollo 11) had a clear-cut, easily understandable goal: Beat the Soviets to the Moon. Post Apollo-11 had no objective (there were plenty of studies but no goal). Result: Program termination.

Christopher Columbus had a clear goal: Gain access to the riches of India and China without being dependant on the Ottoman Empire's goodwill. Although he failed at this, his expedition was never in danger of cancellation, because the powers-that-be could identify, understand and support this goal. In contrast, the much larger Ming Chinese exploration effort of a few decades before had no real goal (other than tracking down a fugitive rebel) and was eventually cancelled after a power-shift in the Ming court.

The European settlers of the American continent also had clear goals: Get as far away as possible from religious or political persecution in an overpopulated Europe. In contrast, in our time, there has never been any real interest in large-scale settlement of Northern Siberia or Northern Canada, despite the vast space and ressources available, because there was no pressure to get away from (Canada) or no getting away from the Czar/Soviets (Siberia). Maybe this will change in the coming decades thanks to Global Warming and Overpopulation.

So I decided start to a new thread which will adress the question of what you think should be the official long-term goal of space exploration and why. Some examples could be:
1) Expanding human presence across multiple worlds (the "colonization" argument)
2) Gaining access to new ressources to sustain human growth on Earth
3) Exploration for exploration's sake (the "it's our destiny to explore" argument)

OR anything else you like and think is a convincing goal.

Personally, I don't think human colonization of space is possible without first significantly changing the human body to better adapt it to conditions on other worlds. I don't believe it's our destiny to explore (Ming China being the perfect counter-example). This leaves ressource-gathering as a possible long-term goal; a rather weak one, I admit. Therefore, I would be happy if someone had a more convincing long-term goal for me.

Chris K, a space fan from Switzerland
« Last Edit: 11/11/2009 12:02 PM by ChrisSpaceCH »

Offline William Barton

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #1 on: 11/11/2009 11:49 AM »
With regard to your numbered list:

1. Why?
2. Not needed.
3. Hobby.

Offline kfsorensen

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #2 on: 11/11/2009 11:49 AM »
Chris, you've asked the right question.  I've searched for years for the answer without success.  I'm beginning to think that there isn't a credible goal for HSF and hasn't been since July 1969.

Offline William Barton

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #3 on: 11/11/2009 12:01 PM »
Chris, you've asked the right question.  I've searched for years for the answer without success.  I'm beginning to think that there isn't a credible goal for HSF and hasn't been since July 1969.

Was "beating the Soviets" even a credible goal? We can ask, would the Soviets have made it to the Moon (or even tried) if we hadn't decided on Apollo? And if they did...

In retrospect, US winning the Space Race was bad for humanity. If Valery Bykovskii had set down by himself on the Moon (rather than Luna 15 crashing) a week before Armstrong and Aldrin, we'd've been stuck with sour-grapes arguments about how we came in second, but did it better. And then maybe NERVA would have proceeded, leading to the departure of the Mars expedition on Nov. 11, 1984.

Offline ChrisSpaceCH

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #4 on: 11/11/2009 12:09 PM »
Chris, you've asked the right question.  I've searched for years for the answer without success.  I'm beginning to think that there isn't a credible goal for HSF and hasn't been since July 1969.

Thank you. This is what I'm thinking and this is the real problem, IMO. All the other discussions about which launcher to use or which point in space to fly to are just distracting us from the real question.

First we need to define the goal, then we can discuss the means to achieve that goal.
« Last Edit: 11/11/2009 12:10 PM by ChrisSpaceCH »

Offline Analyst

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #5 on: 11/11/2009 01:14 PM »
First we need to define the goal, then we can discuss the means to achieve that goal.

Correct. But because of the lack of a goal, and the quasi impossibility to find one valid for the next few decades (which convinces more than a few space nuts like us), the logical consequence would be:

- Stop HSF and directly following
- Stop this very forum (Hello Chris :) ).

Analyst

Offline Celebrimbor

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #6 on: 11/11/2009 01:19 PM »
Chris, you've asked the right question.  I've searched for years for the answer without success.  I'm beginning to think that there isn't a credible goal for HSF and hasn't been since July 1969.

Yes, thanks for the question, Chris. And I see that the usual suspects are here to help answer it ;)

My take on Human Spaceflight (and I believe I've said it before on these forums somewhere) is that it is Government-sponsored entertainment - mankind's ultimate hobby - thanks WB. It is fundamentally a consumer activity. Perhaps like going waterskiing and claiming that you are exploring of the seas... well at least you get to explore the effect of waterskiing on your own body :D

On the US taxpayers dollar (I'm British) I get to see these incredible things happen - rocket launches, moon landings, growth of the ISS. But you'll never catch me complaining that there isn't enough and I would never support further British involvement.

EDIT: OK that last bit is too harsh - I would support a British ticket to space if it was sold to the taxpayer under "number 3. Hobby"
« Last Edit: 11/11/2009 01:24 PM by Celebrimbor »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #7 on: 11/11/2009 02:09 PM »
Number 3 actually is an innate human desire (and there's probably a similar one in other animals, which is one reason why you see turtles cross the road even when it's no more safe for the turtle than space travel), although it is not a primary need. This is not an entirely rational desire (the same way sex is not an entirely rational desire), and the reason for this basic desire is resource utilization which naturally leads to colonization on some level. Without sexual desire, conception would be far rarer. In the same way, without the exploration desire (which is, admittedly, not as strong as the sexual urge and is stronger in some individuals than others), humans would be still in Africa alone. (We had to invent both fire and clothing before we were able to venture to colder climes, like Minnesota where I live. Genetic manipulation was not needed.)

Another reason you have not stated is defense against celestial threats, such as NEOs and even variations in the Sun causing global warming or cooling (or a runaway increase in greenhouse gases on Earth necessitating the same defense). These things need a reasonable infrastructure in place, or we have no way to respond in space to these threats in a timely fashion. Using the infrastructure for exploration is a good side-benefit, from this perspective.

I have more to say.
« Last Edit: 11/11/2009 02:47 PM by Robotbeat »
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline William Barton

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #8 on: 11/11/2009 02:51 PM »
We should be cautious about asserting either a innate uniquely human desire to "explore," as well as a general animal drive to do something equivalent. You could just as well assert gasses have an innate need to expand. It really is a semantic issue, and not a scientific fact. No one knows why the precursor hominids ancestral to Neanderthals and east-Asian Homo erectus left Africa. What we do know is, it did them no good. They became extinct and only the precursor hominids ancestral to Homo sapiens, who remained in Africa for another two million years, survived. (We do not know if expanding H. sapiens sent their bretheren to the dustbin of evolution, that's still in the status of being a "fairy tale of science.") We also don't know why the exoafrican subgroup of H. sap. left Africa. There are essentially five human populations: West Africans, Pygmies, Nilotics, Bushmen (no longer a non-PC term) and Everyone Else. Bushmen and Everyone Else are more closely related to each other than they are to the other three. My personal opinion is, it was an accident, and only happened one time: somehow a group of H. sap. got stranded on the other side of the then narrow and shallow Bab el Mandeb, and, over time, simply wandered off. It wouldn't take all that long to walk off down the beach and wind up in Sumatra. I also believe if I get in a time machine and pop back out in 10,000,000 AD. if I find humans all over the galaxy, that's likely to be an accident too.

Offline Colds7ream

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #9 on: 11/11/2009 02:59 PM »
I'd have to say that it's option one, colonisation, that is the ultimate goal, for several reasons:

1) To gain access to new resources that New Worlds hold.
2) To help ease population pressure on Earth, as our numbers WILL eventually be too great for the planet to sustain.
3) For environmental reasons; if we colonise and terraform, say, Mars, we'll have a much greater understanding (and respect) for the environment here on Earth.
4) Safety - the fact that we're all on one rock is distinctly 'all eggs in one basket' to me - if something happens to exterminate human presence on Earth, then the species wouldn't become extinct if we've also got a presence on another world.
4a) Necessity - Sol is eventually going to go Red Giant on us, so we've got to get away sooner or later.

Offline William Barton

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #10 on: 11/11/2009 03:30 PM »
I'd have to say that it's option one, colonisation, that is the ultimate goal, for several reasons:

1) To gain access to new resources that New Worlds hold.
2) To help ease population pressure on Earth, as our numbers WILL eventually be too great for the planet to sustain.
3) For environmental reasons; if we colonise and terraform, say, Mars, we'll have a much greater understanding (and respect) for the environment here on Earth.
4) Safety - the fact that we're all on one rock is distinctly 'all eggs in one basket' to me - if something happens to exterminate human presence on Earth, then the species wouldn't become extinct if we've also got a presence on another world.
4a) Necessity - Sol is eventually going to go Red Giant on us, so we've got to get away sooner or later.

1&2 are interrealted, and, so far, Malthusian Catastrophe continues to be pretty much an old science fiction story. No one has in any way demonstrated our numbers WILL grow indefinitely.

3. I hope 3 is true. But I have a pretty low opinion of my fellow humans.

4. has limits. It could save selected specimens of humanity from an asteroid strike, for example, but not from a too-close supernova (barring the emergence of "magic enabling technologies," in which case all my dreams come true...).

4a. That's very optimistic, for a species only a couple of hundred millennia old, at most! Next problem: where do we go after the heat death of the universe, or the Big Crunch, or ultimate hadron decay or...? For a funny answer, I highly recommend seeking out...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Question


Online bad_astra

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #11 on: 11/11/2009 03:35 PM »
I suspect human spaceflight will continue for national prestige reasons, primarily.

Colonization is a different, only slightly related matter. It's a much bigger drain on the nations supporting it (see ISS), and may not offer much of a return. We don't maintain the kind of mercantilist economies that would be best set up to exploit space colonies. (whole different thread there, and as my wallet can attest, I'm no economist).

If colonization happens successfully, it will be on ideological grounds.
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Online Jim Davis

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #12 on: 11/11/2009 03:40 PM »
Without a clear-cut longterm goal, HSF will never garner general support and runs the risk of eventually being cancelled.

Chris, this is exactly backwards. What manned space needs are short term goals. No one can predict the long term with any kind of confidence so no long term goal is even remotely convincing or persuasive. We need goals that are profitable within a 10 year window.

What might those be? Tourism is the only one that passes muster.

Offline robertross

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #13 on: 11/11/2009 03:58 PM »
Number 3 actually is an innate human desire (and there's probably a similar one in other animals, which is one reason why you see turtles cross the road even when it's no more safe for the turtle than space travel), although it is not a primary need. This is not an entirely rational desire (the same way sex is not an entirely rational desire), and the reason for this basic desire is resource utilization which naturally leads to colonization on some level. Without sexual desire, conception would be far rarer. In the same way, without the exploration desire (which is, admittedly, not as strong as the sexual urge and is stronger in some individuals than others), humans would be still in Africa alone. (We had to invent both fire and clothing before we were able to venture to colder climes, like Minnesota where I live. Genetic manipulation was not needed.)

Another reason you have not stated is defense against celestial threats, such as NEOs and even variations in the Sun causing global warming or cooling (or a runaway increase in greenhouse gases on Earth necessitating the same defense). These things need a reasonable infrastructure in place, or we have no way to respond in space to these threats in a timely fashion. Using the infrastructure for exploration is a good side-benefit, from this perspective.

I have more to say.

Very good response! I like it.
Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our rights & freedoms, and for those injured, visible or otherwise, in that fight.

Offline Bill White

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #14 on: 11/11/2009 04:10 PM »
Without a clear-cut longterm goal, HSF will never garner general support and runs the risk of eventually being cancelled.

Chris, this is exactly backwards. What manned space needs are short term goals. No one can predict the long term with any kind of confidence so no long term goal is even remotely convincing or persuasive. We need goals that are profitable within a 10 year window.

What might those be? Tourism is the only one that passes muster.

Can vicarious tourism be included in this?

If so, managed competition and vicarious participation as we see in sports could work, as well. This past Saturday I was in Notre Dame stadium watching together with 80,000 screaming people as Navy defeated the Fighting Irish.

I believe the L2 Cup idea could generate interest from media & marketing folks. Set up a race from LEO to EML-2 and back to LEO between a Soyuz, a Shenzou and a Space X Dragon capsule.

See link for more details:

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/leagilewg2008/pdf/4106.pdf

Stir up nationalist sentiments (as is seen in World Cup competition) and vicarious attachment to the various race teams.

Allow a wealthy adventurer to fly with the mission (for a substantial fee).

Award the media, marketing and merchandise rights to the 2nd L2 Cup to the winner of the 1st L2 Cup. The winner of the 2nd Cup wins rights to the 3rd Cup, and so forth. A recursive self perpetuating economic ratchet.

I also see little role for NASA in the L2 Cup, although vocal encouragement and cheering from NASA would be helpful.
« Last Edit: 11/11/2009 04:11 PM by Bill White »
EML architectures should be seen as ratchet opportunities

Offline William Barton

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #15 on: 11/11/2009 04:22 PM »
I suspect human spaceflight will continue for national prestige reasons, primarily.

Colonization is a different, only slightly related matter. It's a much bigger drain on the nations supporting it (see ISS), and may not offer much of a return. We don't maintain the kind of mercantilist economies that would be best set up to exploit space colonies. (whole different thread there, and as my wallet can attest, I'm no economist).

If colonization happens successfully, it will be on ideological grounds.

Ideological or religious (if you differentiate between them). My personal opinion is, if colonization happens, it will be on industrial grounds. The unobtanium miners get shipped out to Saturn by the Great International Unobtanium Mining Cartel, Ltd., and left there. Cue basso profundo: "...16 tonnes, and whadaya get...?" (Some people here will also remember Tennessee Ernie Ford.)

Offline robertross

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #16 on: 11/11/2009 04:24 PM »

2) Gaining access to new resources to sustain human growth on Earth


What if it's the other way around? We seem to look at this as a local problem: send out emissaries to other lands to bring back wealth to sustain the people and grow? Yes, that seems to be the initial push, a way to justify it. But on the environmental aspect, the drive to expand outwards creates its own needs. Looking at everything we have accomplished in the last century, some would say we have doomed our civilization (pollution, stripping away of resources,...). What we need is a drive, a concerted effort, to make better use of what we have, live in a more sustainable manner, and ease the pressure on the Earth. Does that mean leaving this planet for good? Does that mean bringing the wealth of the universe to our doorstep? Or does it mean being more at one with the world around us. Quite an interesting range of answers I'm sure we'll get.

If we look at the ISS, we see how fragile a people we are. We rely on a continual re-supply to sustain us. We have implemented recycling technologies to extend our stays, and yet we are still vulnerable to the environment around us. I think the ISS provides an interesting case study: living in a bubble. If we can ground ourselves to that kind of reality, I think it can take us very far. The problem: it would be short lived. We would end up returning to our very natural wasteful ways, because that is our way - it is in our nature. To realize this, we can see where it will lead us. A good example: a hot shower. Think of the times we enjoy such a luxury. Same goes for many other 'habits'. We are creatures of habit.

So where does this take us in this discussion? To me, it means the human race is susceptible to all the many 'sins' that a religious background (for those who are religious) has taught us to avoid. The seven deadly sins. We will always come full circle and repeat these very mistakes. A snapshot of daily life today is proof that the general population is heading that way. That not to say all are that way, far from it, but we have a greater and greater portion of the population simply not caring.

So I see this turning into one of those sci-fi movies where some of the population simply will not leave the Earth, despite any realized advantage or need. Some will not be held down for want of greed of the potential wealth. Some will leave because they have no choice: the land will no longer support them so they will take their chances elsewhere. Some are born explorers and search for the next new adventure.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The money all goes into the pot, for various reasons, for humanity to go beyond the Earth.

I too will have more to say on this later.
Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our rights & freedoms, and for those injured, visible or otherwise, in that fight.

Offline khallow

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #17 on: 11/11/2009 04:25 PM »
My view is that it's likely someone will colonize space for real within the century. And despite the occasional claim to the contrary, humans are a pretty effective machine in space. They just have a bit of support baggage that needs to come along. So given that, it makes sense to position yourself to take advantage of that, to find out what the real opportunities are in space, and to figure out the necessary technologies.
Karl Hallowell

Offline ChrisSpaceCH

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #18 on: 11/11/2009 04:27 PM »
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

This is a very dangerous statement that has been used in the past to cause untold suffering and harm...

Offline robertross

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Re: What is the objective of Human Space Exploration?
« Reply #19 on: 11/11/2009 04:29 PM »
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

This is a very dangerous statement that has been used in the past to cause untold suffering and harm...

That's right. And that is precisely why things happen, for the 'deadly sins' I talked about. Nobody wants war, but we continue to see it. We hate to see famine, yet it exists on a daily basis. I could go on...

We are a terrible species, and yet we survive. Go figure.
Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our rights & freedoms, and for those injured, visible or otherwise, in that fight.

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