March 25, 2004

Fly Me to the Moon

Today I seredipitously came across the a public hearing of the President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond. Among other presentations, I got to see Buzz Aldrin.

I called Aidie over to the computer to see one of the men who walked on the Moon. He has no concept of what that means. I thought it was important for me to at least tell him in future years that even though he doesn't remember it, he saw the second man to walk on the Moon.

I think it is sad that by the time we go back to the Moon, most of the men who pioneered this new world may very well be dead. Of the twelve men who have has Moon dust on their boots, two (Alan Shepard and Jim Irwin) are gone already. The youngest one alive (Charlie Duke) will be 69 in October. The youngest man to have even been around the moon (Ken Mattingly) turned 68 last week. If it takes ten years to set up a permanent base, most of those still around will be in their mid-80s.

One of the things that has come out of the public hearing is that if space travel is to ever be made feasible, it is going to have to be driven by industry and not government. As one witness stated, government programmes are not sustainable.

When it comes to manned Mars missions, politics will have to taken out of the equation. In a situation where a Martian tour of duty will have to be in range of five years and multiple overlapping missions (which is the only way to keep a permanent presence on the red planet and make it worthwhile), there isn't room for budget cutting and programme shelving.

On a sad note, I learned today that Bart Howard passed away just over a month ago at the age of 88. Bart didn't contribute directly to the space programme. In fact, he didn't really contribute indirectly. He did write a song that was picked up by Frank Sinatra:

Fly me to the moon
Let me play amoung the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars

I'll never make it to the Moon, but I just hope that someone sees what spring is like on Mars before I turn 88.

Posted by david at March 25, 2004 07:11 PM | TrackBack

Considering neither the Concorde nor the Space Shuttle were commercially successful even after being given a chance for 25 years, this libertarian curmudgeon says regarding the space programme, 'Cui bono?'

Posted by: The young fogey at March 27, 2004 03:51 PM

As a libertarian curmudgeon, you should be happy to see this being transferred to the commercial sector. If it stands, it stands; if it falls, it falls.

BTW, the Space Shuttle was not commercially successful precisely because it wasn't allowed the free market opportunity to improve it or shelve it for something better. Until the cost-to-payload ratio is reduced to at least a third of the current cost, it will not be commercially viable. However, if private industry is given the freedom to do so, the fact and figures produced by private industry at the public hearing indicate that this is possible within five years.

It really comes down to whether you philosophically think human space exploration is worthwhile.

Posted by: David at March 28, 2004 12:00 AM