Originally Posted by Bergermeister
The 135th and final launch of the space shuttle was successful. When it lands 12 days from now, the program will be at an end.
Where do we go from here?
Mars. See my posts in the thread:http://forums.appleinsider.com/showt...=127519&page=2
(I know these are reposts below but it will save people time)
F**k the moon. Does it have any currently exploitable resources? No. What else are we going to find there that we haven't seen? A crashed ship from Cybertron?
As to the space program benefitting the American public more than any other technology, well, that's probably an endless debate.
But I can tell you, a manned mission to Mars in co-operation with the Europeans, Russians, Japanese and Chinese by 2050 will be immensely galvanising and inspiring for America and the world. That has always been the greatest contribution of the space program... Ironic that it came out of fear of the Soviets but at the end of the day it stimulated the hearts and minds of billions around the world to strive, to seek, to create, to think, to grow, to put aside petty conflicts even for just a short while.
A human on Mars by 2050 will set the tone for the future of mankind beyond our current squabbles over resources and debating on and on about how good or bad the environment is getting. Make it a global co-operative effort and the financial burden is shared. Why does the US have to be the main party that has to spend trillions more this century on space exploration?
And yes, private enterprise and so on, stimulate that. In fact, private investment is the key to human Mars missions. Heck, charge $5 billion per person per trip. Tap into the hearts and minds of the super-rich. They're bored of Guccis, LV bags, supercars, private jets, supermodels and buying sports clubs. Gather them for human Mars missions... To invest, to go, whatever. If nothing else, their egos will drive their funding for Mars. We've seen it with Branson, with the way wealth is distributed these next few decades, there are more than enough billionaires to tap to fund Mars missions and colonisation going past 2050 into 2100.
There are not many billionaires that could afford $5 billion a trip. But all you need is, say 10. There are over 1,200 billionaires according to Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/wealth/billionaires
. Offer some of them the trip of a lifetime only the very richest can buy... I'm sure you'll have a few takers. Virgin Galactic already has a long waiting list of over 80,000. Now some of these billionaires are smart. Some would be willing to pay outright just for the trip, say $500 million if you want to be more realistic. That's not much to be among the first humans to visit another planet. Some would also see this as investment opportunities such as patents and licenses arising from the venture, and also branding for themselves, companies, book and film rights, etc. TV rights could be worth a few billion alone. I'm not a millionaire or billionaire but this is what I mean by "tap the rich". The billionaires of the world could ignite a new age of space travel where international governments work with private enterprise, or even where private enterprise goes further than governments. It may disgust some to see a big Google or Coca Cola logo on the side of the rocket to Mars, with spacesuits made by Adidas... but if it advances humanity's space capabilities, I think it's okay. (Of course Pepsi's idea back in the day of the orbiting signboard was ridiculous). I recently saw the movie "Amelia"... Regardless of what the truth was, and not to take anything away from any astronaut, but it is this *ideal* of the early aviators that has floundered. To go, because it's there and because it hasn't been done before... And to achieve it by hook or by crook, yes, to risk lives for the sake of adventure. Mars is the atlantic crossing of this century.
The moon. I remain skeptical on this and maybe you could enlighten me further. There are a few areas where I think it offers no real benefit above shooting straight for Mars.
1. Technology development
It is thought that moon missions by 2020 or 2030 would prepare for Mars. I'm not convinced about this. Firstly, it's all been done before. So yes, restarting human missions to the moon and Mars would reignite programs involving navigation, propulsion, spacecraft, shielding, software, and so on. But the moon is at most 400,000km away. Mars is between 55 *million* to 400 *million* km away. We're talking a few day's travel versus several months at best. Saying that moon programs can help Mars is almost like saying making sandcastles helps to build skyscrapers. All the energy put towards moon missions would be better spent investing directly in going to Mars.
2. Staging area
Some say the moon could be a staging area for Mars missions. This of course is far in the realm of science fiction. Of course, a few centuries from now when we have space elevators, large space stations where spacecraft can be assembled (and fueled!) and moon bases, the moon could be used as staging areas. But right now, you need to get the people and the hardware up there anyway, there's no additional resources or fuel yet discovered on the moon to help. Earth orbit is a slightly different story because depending on the Mars plans (of which there are a whole range) you might launch from Earth and shoot straight for Mars or you might put stuff in Earth orbit first and then go for Mars. But the moon itself may not be so useful except for a gravity slingshot or something like that.
3. Habitat preparation
One could argue that any Mars mission would require it to be a colonisation mission as well. You're not going to spend months getting there just for a few days walkabout then mosey on back. There has to be a semi-permanent habitat system. Obviously if the habitat gear was sent separately to the human mission itself that would spread the risk. Now the moon could be used to test out human habitation in a hostile environment. Astronauts could try and spend a month on the moon, for example. But I think it is a waste of resources. The gravity is different. The atmospheric composition is different. There is much reduced protection from meteoroids or any other object due to the lack of atmosphere. We have the technology to research and prepare habitats on Earth itself by simulating Martian atmospheric and radiation conditions. Probes which deploy test-habitat modules can be sent to Mars, that seems at least as useful as looking at rocks.