We need to make space travel irritating.

In the 50s, space travel was all possibilities. Most people just thought going to the moon was impossible. There’s something romantic about doing the impossible. Now we know that going to the moon is just expensive. That’s not nearly as romantic, but what an incredible leap forward: to go from impossible to expensive. Unfortunately for us humans, the job before us now is to go from expensive to reasonable. There’s no romance at all in being reasonable, but if we are to colonize space that is precisely what we need to be. Anyone can look at a $30 million dollar price tag for getting one person to the ISS for a week and conclude that large scale human migration off the planet isn’t in the cards right now. It isn’t. Multi-staged, disposable, chemical-fueled rockets were never going to get the job done for establishing a true space-faring civilization. That infrastructure, a true low cost freeway to space, looks as impossible to us now as going to the moon did in the 50s.

But we went to the moon.

Routine access to space isn’t going to look like a few people sitting on top of a skyscraper full of explosive propellants. It’s going to look very different. It’s probably going to look boring. That’s when we’ll know we’ve succeeded. When we’ve changed space travel from impossible to expensive to reasonable and finally to irritating we’ll know we’re a space-faring people.

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4 Responses to We need to make space travel irritating.

  1. Jim Perkins says:

    In theory, we may have already moved from impossible to expensively mundane…some people might find that irritating. Starting with the very successful deep space probes in the Voyager series (decades age) and extending to the Martian Viking landers and rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, we have shown fairly conclusively that we humans can conduct effective ‘touchy-feely’ exploration within the solar system without having to risk human lives. The escapades of the Martian rovers did capture the imagination of the world, even though most thought it was second-best at best, since no Armstrong-like human was teeing-up the first Martian mulligan (that’s the irritating part).
    I believe the future of planetary exploration (for the next century or so) will be through robotics. The delivery systems for these non-Will Robinson-like machines will need to be perfected…away from the multimillion dollar, present-day blast-off versions to an orbital assemblage system whereby components are (perhaps) manufactured and launched from an ISS. Propulsion systems dealing with nuclear material (irritating?) could shorten the travel times and size of these probes, and maybe even the overall costs.
    Alas, all this will not involve humans at the front line, and that attains the status of boring in some peoples’ eyes…unless we seek to employ the Honeymooners’ propulsion system that allowed Ralph (when properly irritated) to get Alice into lunar orbit.

    • john says:

      At this point the only real reason to put people in space is to learn about putting people in space. Learning how to protect biomass (us) out beyond the van Allen belts is not going to be easy, but we need to do it if we’re serious about this stuff. People will certainly learn more about Mars by going there than they can by sending robots, unless robots get lots, LOTS better at improvising, but the real reason to send people to Mars, to see if we can garden there, will have to await more sophisticated interplanetary infrastructure. But lots of people are thinking way outside the box on this problem right now (see space elevators and laser drives).

  2. Nick says:

    I can’t wait for my kid’s kids to get all uppity about taking the space bus.

    • john says:

      ExACTly!! Once we start whining about what a pain in the ass going to the moon is, we’ll know we’ve accomplished something!

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