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Could this be the next big milestone in human space exploration?
Posted: 02 May 2012 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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TimB - 02 May 2012 02:30 PM

I am underwhelmed by how far we haven’t come in space exploration since the 60’s.

You know i see this comment a lot and as a huge fan of the space program i sympathize to some degree but i think people are overlooking the amazing accomplishments of the space program in the past 3 decades. Space exploration isn’t all about humans in space. Yes that s the part that gets the most headlines but dollar for data robotic space missions are the best value. I;m not arguing against human space exploration but when you think of how hard it is to do this stuff it is really mind blowing what NASA has done with its robotic program especially when you compare it to what the rest of the world has (not) done.

Just take a look up in the sky one night when Mars is visible and then imagine trying to send a robotic ship in the direction of that planet and getting it to land automatically and safely not just on that little dot but on a tiny dot on that tiny dot and then sending home gigabytes of data and photos over the distance of a hundred million miles or more. Or even more amazing, take a look at Saturn and picture the incredible engineering it took send a vehicle into orbit around that planet and with that same ship visit nearly every moon in the mini solar system that is Saturn and incredibly landing a probe succesfully on one of those moons.

The U.S. is the only country to successfully land a craft on Mars that transmitted for more than a few minutes and we’ve done it several times. We are the only country to have ever landed a rover on Mars, first with Pathfinder and most recently with Spirit and Opportunity which have out lasted their expected life spans by almost 8 years. Now Curiosity which is the size of a small car is on the way Mars and if you haven’t already seen the animation of the mission take a look here. If that doesn’t wow you I don’t know what will.

For the record the U.S. is still the only country to ever send a probe beyond Mars and we’ve done it numerous times through out the past decades. We’ve sent the Pioneer probes which were the first probes to ever fly by Jupiter and saturn and are about to become the first manmade objects to enter interstellar space and are still transmitting and doing science after 30 years in space. The Voyager probes which each did a grand tour of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are also on their way out of the Solar system and are making ground breaking discoveries about the heliosphere. We’ve sent orbiters to Jupiter (Galileo and now Juno en route) and Saturn ( Cassini) and have launched New horizons, the first probe to fly by pluto which is currently en route.

Of course there were missions to comets and the current ongoing mission to asteroids Ceres and Vesta which will be the first probe to orbit one heavenly body and then leave orbit and visit a second one. Don’t forget the missions closer to home like the Hubble telescope and Kepler which recently discovered over a thousand extrasolar planets

The science done by these missions has changed our view of the universe as we know it and NASA was behind all of them. Sure we haven’t had a dramatic manned mission to grab the headlines but as much as I would love to see us land on Mars, those who really care about the science know that manned missions are more about politics and showmanship than they are about science. You have to give NASA its due. They have done amazing things with the funds they have been given even while most of their money has gone to keeping the space shuttle and the ISS going.

[ Edited: 02 May 2012 05:14 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 02 May 2012 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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Quest of Knowledge - 02 May 2012 02:10 PM
macgyver - 02 May 2012 08:51 AM

Its important to note also that while any risk of novel contamination of the earth by these asteroid samples is nearly if not zero, past history suggests that at least initially they will be kept quarantined while they are examined by scientists just as the moon samples were. Its overkill but not unreasonable to handle the first samples this way since they will need to be examined closely anyway for scientific and commercial reasons. Its not that much of an additional effort to examine them for organic materials.

That is my point precisely.  Why not take that extra precaution, just in case…

They will.

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Posted: 02 May 2012 05:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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Quest of Knowledge - 02 May 2012 02:08 PM
dougsmith - 02 May 2012 03:39 AM

The problem is that we’ve already shown that hypothesis to be null. If there were ‘dangerous lifeforms’ in asteroids or comets, they would already be here, since asteroids and comets have landed regularly on Earth for billions of years.

The HIV virus appears to pose no threat if it does not come into contact with our blood stream.  My point is that direct immediate contact with a life form with a very short life span on Earth without a host could hypothetically pose a great risk to humanity when provided with a host quickly.

For instant the HIV virus could have been spread in the oceans and forests and come in rain, etc for billions of years without harming anyone and then become an epidemic the moment it enters the blood stream of one human.

That could be the difference between life forms entering the Earth in meteorites that do not come into contact with humans immediately and those where the humans come into thorough contact upon entry or before and during entry into the Earth’s surface.

Then why not use this argument anytime we enter any place we haven’t been before. Why not demand that explorers take the same precautions every time they enter a new region of antarctica or at the bottom of the ocean? We have been talking about miners on asteroids but miners here on earth are drilling into places that no one has been to before and living organisms have been found miles below the surface in solid rock. What you’re suggesting is such total speculation and is so unlike any form of life we know that you would have to be afraid it could turn up anywhere, even here on earth. Why are you only worried about asteroids?

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Posted: 02 May 2012 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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macgyver - 02 May 2012 05:09 PM
TimB - 02 May 2012 02:30 PM

I am underwhelmed by how far we haven’t come in space exploration since the 60’s.

You know i see this comment a lot and as a huge fan of the space program i sympathize to some degree but i think people are overlooking the amazing accomplishments of the space program in the past 3 decades. Space exploration isn’t all about humans in space. Yes that s the part that gets the most headlines but dollar for data robotic space missions are the best value. I;m not arguing against human space exploration but when you think of how hard it is to do this stuff it is really mind blowing what NASA has done with its robotic program especially when you compare it to what the rest of the world has (not) done.

Absolutely agreed. But let’s face it: the massive funding, such as it was, was for human missions. That’s what most people think of when they think of real ‘exploration’. And that was largely political.

On the other side, more scientific data is brought back by robotic probes than by astronauts. The humans are basically along for the ride. And NASA has certainly done well on limited budgets to produce a number of really fantastic probes.

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Posted: 03 May 2012 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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Thanks for yet another great eye-opening posts, macgyver. I agree with you and have come around 180 degrees on this issue in the past year or so. The problem with human space exploration is that it drives up costs exponentially. As much as it would thrill me to see humans walking on Mars in my lifetime, I can’t support spending the billions it would cost in the current economic climate. Even the more so because it would no doubt rob much of what little is already going into robotic missions that give us so much more bang for the buck.

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Posted: 04 May 2012 03:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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TimB - 02 May 2012 03:05 PM
dougsmith - 02 May 2012 02:53 PM
TimB - 02 May 2012 02:30 PM

I am underwhelmed by how far we haven’t come in space exploration since the 60’s.

Main reason is that the Soviet Union stopped competing very seriously after the Moon landing, and then collapsed. Unfortunately manned exploration of space was basically political in character rather than scientific.

And there is little political impetus still.  I am dubious that the mere operations of capitalism, alone, will function to promote another milestone in space exploration in my lifetime.  IOW, I doubt that it will be profitable quickly enough to become established any time soon.


The “Space race” ended because the “Cold war” ended and the former was an extension of the latter, but space exploration has continued in a different form.  There are more scientists dedicated to the exploration of space than ever before, with few manned operations.

The manned operations have been limited to the International Space Station and the manned operations have not been political grandstanding, but international scientific cooperation.  The other, perhaps, more active exploration has taken place via Hubble Space Telescope where again information is shared internationally.  I think these are positive things in space exploration, and in my opinion they have yielded more results in terms of useful information than a manned rocket to the moon.

On the other hand, we might see a renewed “Space race” with possibly manned space crafts as China, India, and Brazil try to convince their populations that their economic success is due to their “superior intelligence”.  That would could lead to another “Space/propaganda race”.

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Posted: 04 May 2012 12:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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Macgyver,  NASA has needed you as a PR man, all these years past.

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Posted: 04 May 2012 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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TimB - 04 May 2012 12:05 PM

Macgyver,  NASA has needed you as a PR man, all these years past.

LOL, OK maybe I went a bit overboard. Becoming a doctor wasn’t exactly plan A.  tongue laugh

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