Maurizio – Omnologos

Where no subject is left unturned

The Tragedy Of The Anti-Space Travel Space Scientist

with 4 comments

One can only feel sad upon reading Giovanni F Bignami’s op-ed piece about the race to the Moon and what choices to take for the future (“Once in a Blue Moon “, IHT, 18-19 July 2009). Prof Bignami’s argument appears to be about treating space-faring as a purely novelty product, like a fairly curious but ultimately useless item on a late-night TV shopping channel. Something you may be convinced to buy, but just the once.

And even if we have spent less than a week in total time exploring a few square miles of a place as big as the former Soviet Union, Prof Bignami tries to seriously argue that there is no “compelling reason” to go back to the Moon. And that we should embark on the enormous effort to reach Mars instead, presumably for a couple of trips before getting bored with travelling millions of kilometers too.

Here’s a “compelling reason” then: as it is well known, one needs a lot less fuel to travel to Mars from the Moon, than from Earth. Most of the launch cost lies in getting from our planet to low Earth orbit: beyond that, the whole planetary system is within relatively easy reach.

Prof Bignami remarks also that “the notion of mining on the moon would also [be] environmentally offensive“. I for one do not understand how will humans ever be able to “environmentally offend” a surface pummeled for billions of years by asteroids of all sizes, by a perfectly unhindered solar wind, and by cosmic radiations of all sorts. That is the Lunar surface, made of a type that likely covers several billion square kilometers on hundreds of natural satellites in our Solar System alone.

Paradoxically, the astronomical/astronautical community has been unable to support its own cause since the launch of the Sputnik. Nobody has gone anywhere because of effective lobbying by planetary geologists or solar scientists.

Bignami’s op-ed appears to be yet another example of how bizarrely brainy arguments about going to Mars vs returning to the Moon have succeeded so far only in keeping the human race in low Earth orbit, literally going around in circles instead of literally reaching for the stars.

Written by omnologos

2009/Jul/19 at 20:01:58

4 Responses

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  1. I agree that environmental considerations about the moon (or any other planet where there is no human life) are idiotic, but in my opinion human travel has zero scientific value: unmanned vehicles are more than enough to collect all the data we may need (I can’t wait for StreetView on,com 😉 ). Human space travel is just a PR stunt by governments which want to impress the gullible masses, and it’s paid with taxpayer’s money.

    Enzo Michelangeli

    2009/Jul/20 at 02:53:23

    • I agree that human spaceflight as it is organized at the moment is mostly a matter of “pork” instead than an effort for an economically self-sustained presence in outer space. But robotic exploration is no alternative or substitute really, as no robot will ever find the unexpected.


      2009/Jul/20 at 05:56:59

  2. Oh well, robots per se never find anything: they are just convenient extensions of our sensory system. As long as they send us data that we can interpret to make interesting discoveries, they are as good as a flesh-and-bone astronaut…

    Enzo Michelangeli

    2009/Jul/20 at 06:13:45

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