Is manned space flight a waste of money?

Paul Raven @ 27-07-2010

Sending humans into space is an admirable civilisational goal, but is the expense of nation-state funded projects justifiable? Britain’s Astronomer Royal Martin Rees would argue that it’s not:

“The moon landings were an important impetus to technology but you have to ask the question, what is the case for sending people back into space?” said Rees. “I think that the practical case gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturisation. It’s hard to see any particular reason or purpose in going back to the moon or indeed sending people into space at all.

[…]

Speaking to Cambridge Ideas, Rees remained enthusiastic about manned space travel, but thought it would be rather different in style from what we have seen before.

“I hope indeed that some people now living will walk on Mars, but I think they will do this with the same motive as those who climb Everest or the pioneer explorers,” he said.

“I think the future for manned space exploration will be a cut-price, high-risk programme – perhaps even partly privately funded – which would be an adventure, more than anything practical,” he said.

Not everyone agrees, of course – including the Obama administration, China, India and the European Space Agency. But I think Rees has a point, in that nation-states aren’t going to provide the main thrust of such projects in the long run, at least not in the West; they’re too risk-averse to pull it off within budget. Commerce will be the driving force, if there is one… as suggested in Jason Stoddard’s Winning Mars, perhaps.


Where’s my jetpack? FUSIONMAN has it.

JustinP @ 26-08-2008

amazbuck jet pack“Where’s my jetpack?”

Three words to strike fear in the hearts of futurists and SFnal types everywhere. Fed into google, it returns 59,600 hits, including – aptly enough – this xkcd comic. A paleo-futuristic emblem of faded dreams and disappointment.

Now, finally, an answer – !!FUSIONMAN!! has it.

Last week, The Guardian reported on how FUSIONMAN (also known as Swiss aviator-inventor Yves Rossy) had been preparing for an attempted crossing of “the English Channel propelled by a jet-powered wing” with a number of test flights;

“Yves … jumped from a plane above the Swiss town of Bex and reached speeds of up to 180mph during his 12 minutes of jet-powered flight before landing at an airfield in Villeneuve. Rossy first unveiled his jet-powered wing in May with an 8-minute aerobatic display over the Alps.

“Everything went well, it was awesome,” said Rossy after the flight. “It’s my longest flight with this wing. If there are no technical problems, it’s OK for the English Channel. I can’t wait for this next challenge!”

His attempt had originally been thwarted by a collection of technical failures, including a leaking gas tank and two aborted flights during which the engines stopped within seconds of jumping from his support plane. He blamed these failures – which forced him to deploy his parachutes early – on “electronic interference problems”.

The successful flight involved him jumping out of the aircraft at 2,300m, flying horizontally under jet power from a height of 1,700m and then switching off the jet engines before deploying two parachutes at 1500m and 1200m.

The wing does not include moving parts such as flaps to control direction, but Rossy is able to steer by shifting his weight and moving his head.

When he reached the ground he still had 2 litres of fuel left in his wing, suggesting that he would have some margin for error during the cross-channel flight.”

The cross-channel attempt is scheduled for the 24th September (weather-permitting), and will be streamed live on the National Geographic Channel.

(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Next Chinese manned mission in Oct. 2008

Tobias Buckell @ 12-12-2007

The Space Fellowship reported a few weeks ago that the next manned mission will be in October, 2008.

It’ll be China’s third manned mission, and it will carry three people into space. Also up on the checklist: a spacewalk.