Thursday, April 15, 2010

Human space exploration still 'do-able!'

There seems now to be a tendency to view the current state of affairs in space exploration as a major setback. And, in many ways it is. But it's also an opportunity for a renewed and more cooperative approach to space exploration.

In 2004, when former U.S. president George Bush announced his country's plans to return to the moon, it could have been and was viewed by some as a means to divert at least some attention away from a clumsily executed and increasingly unpopular "War on Terror." However, its resultant Constellation program also marked an important step in maintaining a human (and largely American) presence in space in the wake of the retirement of the aging shuttle fleet.

A new administration brings a new set of priorities. And a return to the moon - and even beyond - is sadly not high on that list.

Human exploration isn't popular to many and they do have a point. It is inherently unsafe and inherently expensive, with robotics capable of doing many of the things human beings would be able to do and at a fraction of the cost. But robots can't do everything. They can't move autonomously. They can't make snap decisions. And they can't get themselves out of sticky situations creatively, should they arise.

Ah, but there's that price tag again. About $400 billion by some estimates to get a crew of people to Mars.

Clearly, there is a lot of room for recriminations. A lot of work already completed on the Constellation program will now go into mothballs. Or, does it need to?

Here's the thing...a lot of nations in the world are already "spacefaring" or, at the very least, have their own space agencies and are involved in space exploration technology development. Canada is most definitely one of the latter! Other nations like China, India, Japan, etc., have already shown tremendous prowess at launching satellites, material and even people of their own into space. Russia is already a major player.

So why not make space exploration more of an international effort? I know, I'm hardly coming up with anything new here. This sort of idea has been rattling around for years. But could this new change in American focus be a new opportunity to take what has been learned and "spread the cost?"

Any nation that participates in a united effort to get to space will also be the first to accrue the benefits. And any space exploration development project does lead to new technology development. So already, that is one major incentive.

And it just seems to make sense. For one thing, it's already agreed by international treaty that space, the moon and the planets do not belong to any single nation. Why should their explorations be any different?

There is so little that unites the nations of the world. However, a shared interest is certainly a good place to start. And a truly international success that lands an international crew on the moon or even Mars would benefit from shared success far more than they would from singular resentment and envy.

of course, as this article on points out, it is likely to be a difficult row to hoe as many nations continue to look on their neeighbours with suspicion and insist that they can do it on their own. However, it is worth it for nations to start putting such foolishness away. The reasons are far too many to list and none are more important than the other.

If it can be conceived of, it can be done. All it takes is a little will. And a good dash of hope.

Clear skies.

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