Yesterday NPR had a story about the possible next generation of spacecraft that might make deliveries and carry astronauts for NASA now that the shuttle program is being done away with. The new spacecraft will be made by the private aeronautics company known as SpaceX (yes it sounds like “Space Sex”) and will have twice the cargo weight capacity of the current shuttles. The new rocket is being called Falcon Heavy and could be making its first launch as soon as 2013. You can read the whole article HERE.
The possible design of the Falcon Heavy by SpaceX
In other space news, a fascinating article by Steven Kotler in this month’s Playboy deals with the very real and very near future industry of asteroid mining. Yes that long running staple of the sci-fi genre, asteroid mining could become a reality and change everything. One expert in the article states that he believes the first trillionaires on Earth will be the individuals who take the risks and invest in off world resource gathering. NASA has flown probes up to, and kept pace with, various asteroids collecting particles and dust in their wake. The Japanese on the other hand have gone one step further, not only sending probes to match the speed of an asteroid, but have actually landed on the asteroid’s surface, scraped it for samples, and then flew back to Earth with the samples intact. That is essentially what the industry of asteroid mining would look like, only on a bigger scale. Since asteroids are not within our Earthly atmosphere they aren’t processed and diffused, they are highly concentrated chunks of ore which wouldn’t require extensive digging to cull. Whatever materials you can scrape off the surface, is pretty much what the entire asteroid is made of. Those materials include iron, nickel, gold, platinum, and water, along with hundreds of other minerals that can be in short supply here on Earth. This work with asteroid interception and remote resource gathering is a perfect stepping stone for a manned Mars mission, and eventual off world colonization. If we can obtain resources like water and iron from asteroids and send them to, say, a Mars colony without having to ship them from Earth, that would drastically lower the costs of such missions.
Artists rendering of remote asteroid mining
As far as I’m concerned space exploration is one of the most important endeavors humans can hope to undertake. It is a topic I have felt strongly about for many years and I will continue to uselessly argue for it with anyone who can hear me until I’m dead. My opinions on the matter are not new, or based in astute scientific research that I’ve conducted, or even all that original. The reason I feel I must repeat my feelings though are because people seem to forget, and lose sight. So few people think about the big picture of the world, the future of humanity. How we live on a razor thin edge which could be toppled at any moment from any number of sources beyond our control and unless we look out toward space now, everything we are currently doing becomes excruciatingly meaningless.
Some time in the future, countless days from now, our sun will die. It will grow colder, dimmer, and expand enveloping our planet and evaporating away our histories and cultures. Of course I suppose even that is wishful thinking, expecting the human race to make it that long considering we will more likely kill each other off through violence, pollution, and war. Though even if we were to survive our own very human struggles there is still the regular threat from any number of extinction events that have swept the world previously. What I’m getting at is one way or another, our world is doomed, humanity is doomed, and unless we take to the stars and move beyond where we are now everything we know and will ever know will simply cease to exist as if none of it ever existed. A brief flash of light in the darkness of the universe, that no one saw.
Of course it all sounds very nostalgic, perhaps naively optimistic. What’s to stop Earth colonies on Mars or elsewhere from turning out exactly the same as Earth, with war, pollution, and poverty? Nothing, most likely those ventures will start out as purely financial stakes, some sort of corporate interests that want to make a buck. Whenever we do set up bases on off-world landscapes (and I firmly believe we will) I have no real expectation that it will be done with the human races best interests in mind, it will most likely be much more small minded and profit driven. However such a venture will allow people like me to look beyond those two dimensional motivations and have some small hope, some reassurance that the human race is indeed stepping out and establishing itself with at least a larger scope in mind. We all know the old saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I honestly look forward to news of longer space voyages and established bases on other worlds because until that time there is always the dark pall hanging over us that perhaps the space programs will be completely done away with one day, and we will be stuck on this planet isolated, simply waiting to become extinct. Until I see images of humans on other planets, there will be a slight sadness and sense of longing when looking up at the night sky.
Others out there are doubtlessly reading this and deriding these comments and my thoughts on the future and space exploration. That’s fine, that’s understandable. But when people say they are tired of seeing money spent on rockets into space when there are plenty of people here on Earth that need it, my only response to them would be “I guess you missed my point.” Inflated military budgets and our war industry work more for the spread of conflict and loss of life then they work against it. Our medical industry is working hard to make us immortal which will be nice when the shattering of Earth does eventually roll around, at least we’ll still be around to see it. Our entertainment culture, which is important to the identity of the human race, should blindly keep shoveling millions upon millions of dollars into the movie, sports, television, and video game industries so that we can be thoroughly distracted from the realities of war and poverty, and so we don’t have to think about difficult and deep thoughts such as the future of the human race. Why would we want to spend money on space exploration? To perhaps actually preserve the legacy of the human race? Preposterous!
I don’t have any real answers to anything and I’m certainly not really doing much in my life to change the situation or rally support for the space program or anything like that. I suppose my main point in writing this post is simply to share my thoughts and perhaps invoke some others out there to think about the future, the planet, and the big picture as a whole. If I’ve done that at all that’s great, and I hope you continue to think big and encourage others to do so. If you’ve gotten nothing out of reading this, if you think I’m an idiot and you want that five minutes of your life back I say that’s what you get for reading a blog entitled “Mindless Philosophy!”
To the future!
That is all!