When do we get serious about space travel?
For a long time now, it's been obvious that sending up 5% payloads on rockets is both inefficient and expensive. Space junk from several decades is now a significant problem. The saying "as above so below" now has a very ironic meaning, in that the space around the Earth is now a junkyard, too.
Rocket technology goes only so far, and no further. Rockets cannot achieve the speeds required to do space exploration efficiently or safely. They also have limited carrying capacity, and something that is designed like a firecracker tends to act like a firecracker.
The main reason space agencies around the world have got themselves bogged down in incredibly complex mission structures is based on this technology. Planning missions is now a matter of compiling and collating minutiae. That takes time. It takes money and it takes more resources than can possibly be considered cost-effective. Efficient, reusable, long-range, fast spacecraft simply would not have those problems.
This slowness is really holding humanity back. To give some idea of the significance of the space program, every single home on earth including in the Third World, contains byproducts of the original space programs. Materials, technology, communications equipment, you name it, it's all based on technologies derived from the early space programs and their successors.
The space programs were doing reasonably well until the late 1980s when it was decided that politicians, budget committees, lawyers and accountants could run everything. Since then, it's been largely a bean counting process, and costs which were already large have been blowing out.
Added to which, administration has apparently ground to a halt in terms of ideas. The terrible series of incidents with the American shuttles, in which tile technology was for some incomprehensible reason considered appropriate when its weaknesses had already been dramatically shown by the Atlantis crash is a case in point. Alternative technology in the form of industrial diamond coatings already existed for 20 years, prior to this debacle.
Not to denigrate the actual achievements and results which have been obtained. Despite this virtual multilevel minefield of obstacles, space research has actually been achieving quite a lot. Whether or not those achievements, however, are happening fast enough to promote further growth in space research and exploration is debatable.
For example, there are a few questions:
- What’s happening to protective insulation for astronauts in space over long periods of time?
- What's happening to artificial gravity?
- What's happening about high-speed ion propulsion?
- What's happening to spacecraft design, and where’s the extra load capacity required?
- When, exactly, meaning a date, is that space junk going to get cleared out?
It is unrealistic to expect the people who’ve spent their entire lives in an office environment dealing with budget cultures and the ridiculous "We'll hold a meeting every time the breeze blows" mentality are capable of comprehending the imperatives of space travel.
The idea of space research and space travel is to get somewhere, not just talk about getting somewhere. It's more than likely that at least a decade or two of progress has got lost in verbiage. Put it this way – If Magellan had started his voyage as a form of space travel, and had started preparations at exactly the same time, he wouldn't have left port yet.
As usual, the generational gap between political training and knowledge and real-time situations is still in force. Humanity stands to benefit greatly from space travel, space technology and having the room to move that space provides:
- It is already known that local Solar System space has a lot of extremely valuable materials which can be used on Earth.
- Many of Earth’s toxic industries could easily be moved into space, where they’d be a lot less dangerous, and so would their emissions. Waste management on Earth wouldn't be the raffle that it is now.
- Research into basic technology for space colonization could begin in earnest, not in wishful thinking.
- The ability to deal with incoming asteroids and comets would be greatly enhanced, particularly interception capabilities.
Down the track, space exploration becomes even more valuable than the human race:
- Long-range space travel capabilities and guarantee access to resources.
- The ability to colonize other planets means that the human race no longer has all its eggs in one hideously mismanaged basket.
- Interstellar level technology will drastically improve the efficiency of just about all other technologies, as earlier forms of space travel did.
These are just the basics. The actual real-time ramifications of an efficient space program, space travel and space exploration are likely to be exponential. As we've already seen in the last decade or so, new technologies can spring up quite literally overnight, and it's more than likely that efficient space travel capabilities will produce a similar effect.
Space travel shouldn't be managed by spreadsheet fondlers. People who don't understand the importance of the projects should not be put in charge of them. Governments having the attention span of a PR agency and roughly the same mentality are not competent to deal with project management on those timeframes for on the scale required to develop efficient space travel.
The best people to manage space programs and their funding are people outside the official merry-go-rounds and cosmetic hyperbabble festivals which seem to have infested previous space programs. What's needed is clear, solid progress, and a lot of it, preferably in a hurry.
The human race is currently in a position where basic needs for resources are becoming more obvious by the day, and less is being done about that situation by the decade than ever before. Space technology will provide solutions, and much more advanced capabilities for dealing with problems.
Big ideas mean big results. Small ideas mean that small results. The problems have been getting bigger and the thinking has been getting smaller. Space is a way out in more ways than one. Not looking where you’re going can only have one result. At best, you get lost, at worst, you can get into real trouble.
Humanity can no longer afford small patchwork ideas glued to a randomized type of mission selectivity which naturally excludes essential work. Space programs need to become efficient, systematic and to have long range, enforceable goals which progressively expand and extend capabilities, preferably over relatively short timeframes.
Whatever’s in the way must be got out of the way, pronto.