As we recalled during the 50th anniversary of last year’s lunar landing, space travel is a big challenge, a destination unattainable – until it isn’t. It aspires and inspires. Despite this, wise guys (like me) realize that after billions of spills into the space program, all we got was Tang and Velcro. On land, that’s not that far off. It’s called space because we have to agree that it doesn’t have much.
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Yes, communications satellites matter, as does GPS, which helps Uber drive a car for you. But note that GPS first came into operation in 1973 because it was funded by Nudet, or nuclear detonation detection – military ie technique, not space exploration. To be fair, NASA was an early client of Silicon Valley, but quickly abandoned top-level chips in favor of highly reliable older ones.
However, progress is moving forward. We now have a Space Force, founded a year ago this week. Go for it! Last month, a privately funded rocket and SpaceX capsule safely transported four astronauts to the International Space Station, a wonderful accomplishment for all anti-government types. Astronauts will conduct experiments of unknown value to ground searches. There have been 3,000 such experiments in 20 years, though nothing earth-shattering. Can spiders build webs in space? Not quite right things. Chuck Yeager died last week. Oh, and an Israeli former space officer says the Earth was contacted by a “Galactic Federation.” Uh huh.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by fire launches and rocket stages that land on floating platforms for reuse. But I’m more in the “What’s for me?” Camp. Communications, images and even travel benefit us all. Go to Mars? I’m not so sure.
What about us mining asteroids for metals and even water? Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Eric Schmidt of Google were big proponents. But that financial spreadsheet never worked because, once it landed on Earth, the prices of those goods would quickly fall across the floor. Good for earthlings, but not so good for return on investment, so it probably hasn’t been tested.
China’s robot ship Chang’e-5 went to the moon to collect rocks (not they are minerals – Jesus, Marie). Uh, couldn’t we lend them some of ours 50 years ago? No one has yet found “Space Odyssey” monoliths on the moon, but one has just appeared in Utah. Strange. In October, by infrared imaging, NASA actually found water on the sunny side of the moon. This after the discovery of the Europeans in 2004 ice on the south pole of Mars. Rockets need hydrogen and oxygen for fuel, so maybe interplanetary travel will actually be a possibility someday.
Or so dreams Elon Musk, who predicts a million-population city on Mars by 2050. He thinks he will send cargo ships to Mars in 2024 and then humans will follow in February 2027, when Earth and Mars will be closer to each other. Watch the Netflix series “Away” to try. I’m skeptical. Mr. Musk often has a wonderful relationship with schedules, so maybe a few years or decades.
Tinfoil hat caps, and many in Silicon Valley, fear Armageddon is coming and seeing Mars as our safety valve. Mr. Musk wants “enough seed of human civilization elsewhere” (perhaps enough to continue to buy Teslas). Let’s hurry and colonize Mars so that people can escape World War III or Covid-30. Maybe he’s watching too much science fiction However, by his nickel, go for it.
On Wednesday, Mr. Musk’s SpaceX tested a new rocket prototype Starship SN8. Designed for Mars, the 8-mile test flight was successful but its return ended with a fireball – what Mr. Musk called a “rapid unplanned disassembly.” You have to stay on the landing!
Meanwhile, on the third rock of the sun, there may be a benefit to all this. Mr. Musk also intends the Starship to make a 39-minute suborbital flight between New York City and Shanghai, compared to 15 hours today for the 7,000-mile journey. Take a boat to a floating platform, launch into the lower stratosphere, reach a peak of 16,000 miles per hour (Ma 20 20) and then re-enter and carefully land on another floating launch site at sea.
If all goes well, and I mean everything, SpaceX thinks they’ll be launching commercial flights by the end of the decade at a cost of $ 2 million. That’s $ 20,000 per passenger – no food. I’ll believe it when I see it, but when they say chair backs in their full, upright position and seat belts securely fastened, I think I’ll listen. Hopefully, the captain has more than a darker handle.
This story was published by a wireless agency with no modifications to the text.