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Posts Tagged ‘space’

Evan’s Bookshelf: Dark Side of the Moon

For the past week I’ve been reading Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, an engaging revisionist history of the manned space program by Gerard J. DeGroot. DeGroot’s main argument is that while the development of space technology like satellites, planetary probes, and space telescopes has been useful and productive for humanity, the manned space program was a colossal waste of money driven by several factors: misinformed anticommunism (we were actually way ahead in the “space race,” even though the Soviets hit most of the “first” milestones), military-industrial interests (lots of jobs at McDonnell, Grumman, and Northrop emerged from the space race, not to mention the massive civilian growth of NASA), flights of fancy (the space-travel fantasies of boosters–no pun intended–like Wernher von Braun), and finally, a desire for prestige.

The moon shot was the great pinnacle of the prestige drive. DeGroot documents over and over how genuine scientific interests were neglected in the pursuit of the immensely complicated task of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back. “As Johnson had outlined in his memo, the main reason to go to the Moon, or indeed to do anything in space, was prestige,” DeGroot writes. “Americans feared that Soviet space exploits would damage the reputation of the United States and cause countries around the world to go communist.” He quotes numerous officials and journalists of the day making explicit the role of prestige in the manned space program.

He also quotes persuasive critics of this government-run prestige program (more…)

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This is a bit “above and beyond”–by about 150 vertical kilometers–my usual beat, but it’s worth noting: a space hotel is on the way. The Galactic Suites’ opening has been announced for 2012, orbiting around the planet. It is being backed by investors in Japan, America, and–of course–the UAE, and stays will cost $4 million for three days.

I’m not quite sure how spacefarers will get to the Galactic Suites. Virgin Galactic’s second suborbital ship SpaceShipTwo isn’t schedule for flight until 2009, and its planned orbital successor SpaceShipThree is in very early planning stages. Is any other private company closer? Perhaps Soyuz will serve the hotel; the Shuttle will be retired by then.

While Galactic Suites may not have much of a future (at least not a near future), it is a marker of the way space will be explored: not with expensive, declining-return, government run programs for which spaceflights of negligible practical value cost a half-billion per, but with private-sector innovation and private-sector money.

It would also be hard to do worse than the government program’s safety record: 2 percent death rate per astronaut-flight. The private sector wants space travel to be profitable and desirable, and unsafe craft and facilities would deter interested spacefarers.

So whether or not the Galactic Suites’ 2012 date is a PR stunt, it’s pointing in the right direction.

Space Hotel Slated to Open in 2012 [SPACE.com]

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