Question of the Week: 9/13/2017

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While current events continually remind us that we live in a time of great divisiveness and conflict, the solar eclipse was for many that rare unifying experience as people of all beliefs, cultures, and ideologies enjoyed this rare spectacle as a single species.

Trump’s nominee to head NASA, Jim Bridenstine, wants to prioritize the commercial development of space over exploration. If you were NASA’s administrator, what would be your priority for the agency?

The person with our favorite answer will receive a copy of Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins.


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14 COMMENTS

  1. I would certainly further the interstellar drive technology research; it will take years before any viable system is ready, and any serious space travel/exploration can commence.
    For the rest: status quo.

  2. Paul #1
    Sep 13, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I would certainly further the interstellar drive technology research;

    I think this will evolve naturally from interplanetary drive technology, and from enterprises like asteroid mining, which will require interplanetary transport within the Solar-System. It can provide in-space materials and fuel, for in-space construction of manufacturing equipment, satellite servicing, transportation, and human habits.

    @OP – Trump’s nominee to head NASA, Jim Bridenstine, wants to prioritize the commercial development of space over exploration.

    Of course because he is a clueless science denier, he has no idea where those opportunities for commercial development lie!

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-rsquo-s-nasa-budget-eliminates-crewed-mission-to-asteroid/

    The Obama-era Asteroid Redirect Mission is one of several casualties of the $19.1-billion budget request

    The Trump administration released its 2018 budget request today (March 16), a proposal that calls for the cancellation of NASA’s astronauts-to-an-asteroid mission along with four Earth Science missions and NASA’s Office of Education.

    Of course this budget has to get approval from congress, and even with a Republican majority, congress is not prepared just to rubber-stamp any and all, declarations of Trumpist nuttery!

    On 27th. July, an appropriations bill was approved by a Senate committee, which restores funding for education, some Earth Science missions, and some satellites!

    The 2018 budget request cancels NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission—an Obama administration-era project to bring part of an asteroid near the moon so astronauts could visit the space rock and retrieve samples.

    In a statement, NASA’s acting chief Robert Lightfoot said the proposed cancellation of ARM won’t result in the loss of some work for that mission.

    “We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “We will continue the solar electric propulsion efforts benefitting from those developments for future in space transportation initiatives.”

    Of course that was when Robert Lightfoot was in charge, before the new appointment of a Trumpist pseudo-scientist!

    As asteroid mining is clearly a great potential area for commercial development. De-funding the project is very counter-productive! – No surprise when looking at Trump and visionary scientific projects!

  3. If I were NASA’s Administrator, eh?
    As far as I can tell, we have a pretty good idea of what most of the solar satellites in this system are comprised of, materially. There is still much to learn, but I wouldn’t be quite as interested in the economic aspects of mining or terraforming any of these objects in the near future, as I would be in seeing several Earth-orbiting stations around the main Legrange points, that would provide us with bases of scientific research that might provide better answers to the problems we now face on Earth regarding global warming and asteroid detection.
    (think of the L5 Society from the mid-70s, of which I was a member)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L5_Society

    Should we continue to experience continued warming of our atmosphere, due to greenhouse gas emissions, among other causes, it would be prudent to build solar reflectors in space, which could also be used to harness energy from the Sun in order to provide cheap and renewal energy on Earth.

    I think that would be my focus, because the fossil fuel industry is destined to become a fossil, itself, in the not-too-distant future. And long may those old bones rest…..
    I thought that Gerard K. O’Neill was quite the visionary back then…much like Carl Sagan..and I still do.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_K._O%27Neill
    (there was definitely something cooking in that man’s kitchen!)

  4. If I were NASA’s Administrator, eh?
    As far as I can tell, we have a pretty good idea of what most of the solar satellites in this system are comprised of, materially. There is still much to learn, but I wouldn’t be quite as interested in the economic aspects of mining or terraforming any of these objects in the near future, as I would be in seeing several Earth-orbiting stations around the main Legrange points, that would provide us with bases of scientific research that might provide better answers to the problems we now face on Earth regarding global warming and asteroid detection.
    (think of the L5 Society from the mid-70s, of which I was a member)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L5_Society

    Should we continue to experience continued warming of our atmosphere, due to greenhouse gas emissions, among other causes, it would be prudent to build solar reflectors in space, which could also be used to harness energy from the Sun in order to provide cheap and renewal energy on Earth.

    I think that would be my focus, because the fossil fuel industry is destined to become a fossil, itself, in the not-too-distant future. And long may those old bones rest…..

  5. I think that it’s time for our space program to concentrate upon becoming viable commercially. As we’re seeing already, it’s easy for NASA’s programs to seem like ivory tower nonsense to those setting budgets. By turning NASA into a profit center, we can resist those cuts and provide ongoing funding for new programs of interest to scientists such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission. NASA has to repackage itself because spending billions of dollars for the sake of science isn’t going to be enough of a justification given the man who sits in the White House.

  6. So, no science then, only technology?

    Space X does technology. Governments are the ones that can do long term open ended investment in knowledge. If not them, who?

    Understanding the climate is the science that will pay insanely large dividends, potentially.

    Everything possible must be done to defeat the forces of stupid.

    “Oh, alright then.” Isn’t an option. Co-operation isn’t a moral option.

  7. Otharian #3
    Sep 13, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    If I were NASA’s Administrator, eh?
    As far as I can tell, we have a pretty good idea
    of what most of the solar satellites in this system are comprised of, materially.
    There is still much to learn,

    There certainly is much to learn!
    The Cassini-Huygens lander on Titan, the images of Pluto a Charon, and the Rosetta / Philae comet probe, showed just how little we know about many of these objects!

    but I wouldn’t be quite as interested in the economic aspects of mining

    Mining is absolutely about establishing robot and/or manned operational bases in space, and provides its own funding for development of bases and transport systems.

    or terraforming any of these objects in the near future,

    I don’t think terraforming of ANY planets in the Solar-System, has ANY “near future” prospect.
    Mars is the only possible candidate and it is too small, too cold, and too far from the Sun, to have realistic prospects.
    The most likely outcome from an attempt would take thousands of years, and would probably wreck transport and colonisation by thawing permafrost, along with destroying the geological record of the planet’s history.

    Scientifically illiterate journalists, like to bandy the term “terraforming” around to pose to the uneducated! – As in this example:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/07/nasa-is-seriously-considering-terraforming-part-of-the-moon-with-robots/

    Terraforming of a VERY suitable exoplanet might be a very long-term project.

    In the meantime we should be looking at orbiting or planetary bases with artificial gravity (from one G acceleration or rotation of the craft/station), on orbital stations and interplanetary human transport!

    as I would be in seeing several Earth-orbiting stations around the main Legrange points,

    Lagrange Points, can certainly provide stable locations for study and construction work in space – including the possible assembly of interplanetary or interstellar probes, craft or large space telescopes.

    that would provide us with bases of scientific research that might provide better answers to the problems we now face on Earth regarding global warming

    I think low Earth orbit, or geosynchronous orbits, can better provide for Earth science and climate tracking.

    and asteroid detection.

    An asteroid mining industry would be energetically mapping asteroid locations and orbits, – probably more urgently and comprehensively, than research projects reliant on budgets from politicians!

    Should we continue to experience continued warming of our atmosphere, due to greenhouse gas emissions, among other causes, it would be prudent to build solar reflectors in space,

    I don’t think that that sort of reflector screen would be a viable proposition, given the area of the Earth which would need to be covered to make a significant difference in global temperature.

    which could also be used to harness energy from the Sun in order to provide cheap and renewal energy on Earth.

    While there have been suggestions of transmitting energy as microwave beams to Earth from orbit, it probably makes more sense to use the energy for industrial processes in orbit, using space resourced materials from asteroids or comets and mirrors for thermal processes, with photovoltaics for on-station electrical power, and ion-drive rockets.

    There are plenty of opportunities for cheaper and safer, renewable energy generation, on the surface of Earth.

  8. phil rimmer #7
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:25 am

    Understanding the climate is the science that will pay insanely large dividends, potentially.

    http://time.com/money/4935684/hurricane-irma-harvey-economic-cost/

    “That is extraordinary by itself,” AccuWeather founder Dr. Joel N. Myers said in the report. “Also unprecedented is that this particular storm, Irma, has sustained intensity for the longest period of time of any hurricane or typhoon in any ocean of the world since the satellite era began.”

    For perspective, the estimated costs for Hurricane Katrina ranged between $108 and $250 billion; other estimates put the combined cost of the 2005 hurricane season, which included Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, at nearly $200 billion in 2017 dollars.

    According to AccuWeather, Harvey’s damage estimate is $190 billion, while the costs of Irma will be roughly $100 billion.

    Disruption to business
    Unemployment periods lasting up to months
    Transportation and infrastructure damages
    Crop loss, including 25 percent of orange crop
    Increased fuel prices
    Property damages

    Then there are the Pacific hurricanes and typhoons, and wild-fires, – to name just SOME other weather features where advance information can reduce costs and losses, by competent planning!!

  9. In my opinion there are two organisations in the world that are world class and beyond… and they are NOAA and NASA. People around the world, trust them to have the best interest of humanity in mind. Changing their modus operendi therefore does not seem warranted.

    GL

  10. Guy #10
    Sep 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    In my opinion there are two organisations in the world that are world class and beyond…
    and they are NOAA and NASA.

    Unfortunately there is another US organisation which is junk-class, and it is determined to make appointments to interfere with their running!

  11. I remember listening to Burt Rutan when the first flights of his space craft was made and he was boasting about how much cheaper they had achieved this compared to NASA’s bloated expenditure. I remember being quite disappointed for a number of reasons.

    1) He had only achieved what Al Shepard had almost 50 years prior.
    2) He had done so off the back of many expensive failures that NASA bore the cost of in lives and expense.

    I would have liked to have seen a little more humility on a personal level and a little more respect for the hard won knowledge that he paid not a cent for, and risked nothing for. He took risks in his innovation but not as completely ground breaking as what NASA had to do to get men on the Moon.

    This to me strikes me as what NASA does best, it takes risks and explores the unknown, latter the new ground broken, other companies may come along and take those lessons and apply them cheaper and more efficiently – in terms of narrow defined goals. So what are the frontiers, this is what NASA should be doing, leave the commercialization of space the Musk and others.

  12. Reckless Monkey #12
    Sep 15, 2017 at 2:20 am

    I remember listening to Burt Rutan when the first flights of his space craft was made and he was boasting about how much cheaper they had achieved this compared to NASA’s bloated expenditure.

    The same thing happens in civil aviation!
    Civil aircraft are produced using the results of state-funded military research and development – (often conducted by those same corporations working on “bloated” military contracts), – who then pocket the results and use them as their own assets, and for their own profits!

    Of course the resulting information is classified as secret, and withheld from scrutiny, the media, university research departments, and competitors!

  13. …Jim Bridenstine wants to prioritize the commercial development of space…

    Huh? He wants to turn space into some kind of franchise?

    That’s the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a while…

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