/ Miles O'Brien / 9 am Fri, Dec 14 2012
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  • We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

    We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

    It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Miles O'Brien remembers Commander Gene Cernan's last words from the moon, lofty, rehearsed and memorized: "as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind."

    It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Commander Gene Cernan's last words as stood on the moon were lofty, rehearsed and memorized:

    "As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come (but we believe not too long into the future), I'd like to just say what I believe history will record: That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind."

    His real last words uttered on the moon, just before hitting the button that would launch the "Challenger" Lunar Module carrying him and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt back to the orbiting Command Module "America" were more apt for a card-carrying member of the "Right Stuff Club".

    "Okay, Jack, let's get this mutha outta here," said Cernan.

    Cernan's autobiography "The Last Man on the Moon" is a great read. Among the things you might find surprising: Cernan crashed a Bell B-13 (M*A*S*H) helicopter into still water at Cape Canaveral in January of 1971 nearly killing himself.

    He admits he was showboating for people on the beach. Chief Astronaut Deke Slayton covered for him, saying it was a mechanical malfunction. Had the real story come to the attention of Flight Director Chris Kraft, the last man on the moon might very well have been backup commander John Young.

    Much to Cernan's chagrin, to this day he still holds that unique title. Why we have not returned is a long, complicated tale of politics and puny thinking.

    Will we ever become a truly spacefaring nation? Hard to imagine as our "leaders" march us off the fiscal cliff. Maybe space is the answer. A cliff is meaningless in the absence of gravity.

    My good friend Andrew Chaikin wrote the definitive historical account of the Apollo Missions, "A Man on the Moon". It is a must read for anyone interested in space.

    Andy, who was there when Apollo 17 launched, has produced a nice video that offers a compelling argument for returning to the moon today. It makes me sad to watch it. But those of us who care about space exploration need to keep reminding the world why this is important.

    / / COMMENTS

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    1. We LEARNED stuff through those missions.  We also raised our spirits and brought hope to the whole world.  As someone who grew up with the Apollo missions, it breaks my heart.

      1. We definitely did learn stuff by going to the moon.  Though, I’d want to know what we thought we might learn by going back before I decided it was a good idea.

        1.  it really doesn’t matter.

          when you explore there isn’t foreknowledge of what you’ll find out and it doesn’t really matter what you learn or what interesting thing you see.  no matter what, someone, somewhere will turn that new bit of knowledge or that new thing into wealth.  the new idea/thing will be transformed by some scientist (lab rat) or technologist (geek) into a process, the process into product and when the product is manufactured it means jobs and money.  and those jobs and money will be taxed which, in turn, pays for more exploration (or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work).

          all of the technology for a project like going to the moon has to be developed beforehand here on the ground (at least so far).  that means jobs here and money spent here.  all of that technology has spinoffs that generate more jobs and wealth down here.  all the stuff learned by exploring gets added to that so the multiplier here is pretty good.

          some have argued that all the exploration could be better done by robots and rovers.  robots are a good way of getting a preliminary look around but they are no substitute for human hands eyes and brains on site.  if a robot gets stuck it stops and waits for a human to figure out what to do.  this may take days and involves simulations, programming changes, trying small things to see if it improves the situation and, hopefully, developing a solution that is then, finally, transmitted back to the robot.  with a human on site the solution is usually obvious (kick it, or something similar) and accomplished almost immediately.  then the human races off to do more exploring (probably at 60 mph, unlike the robot that moves at about 1 mph).

    2. The problem is that nothing was found on the moon that makes going back worthwhile.  There’s no economic payoff to justify the still astronomical expense.   And no, helium-3 doesn’t cut it, for many reasons.

      1. Eventually it will. Someday finding specific minerals on earth are going to get expensive enough that pulling them in from other bodies in space will start to sound economical. We just aren’t at that point yet.

        Humans are a race that consumes everything around them, so needing more than what earth can provide is a certainty. 

        1.  The cost of retrieving those materials from space is huge.  Recycling what we have here may always be more economical.

      2. Hahaha, “astronomical expense.” But I agree with you. If people are so concerned with science, why aren’t they clamoring for a larger budget for the NSF, which funds many more exciting and important projects for much less money?

      3. I agree is it impossible to make a solid business case for a return to the moon. But I suspect Columbus had a flimsy story when he pitched his expedition to Queen Isabella. Hard to know what the payoff may be. But some day in the very distant future, our sun will cease burning and it would be nice to know that humanity would still exist somewhere. Getting to that somewhere is the stuff of science fiction now – and maybe for all time. But we will never know if it can be a reality if we don’t take the first step on the longest journey one could imagine.

        1. The european conquest of the new world returned an overall profit in a time period shorter than the “Space Age” has already existed.

          The “sun burning out” argument is an extremely weak one. Why not wait a few thousand years and colonize the moon when our ability to cheaply make manufactured goods, like rockets and other space hardware, has advanced by orders of magnitude?

          1. But if we stop exploring now, who will design and build the rockets? They do not come from thin air.

            1. The reason we can build rockets is because of technical advances made outside the industry.   Rockets are just machines, sharing most of their attributes with other machines.   If we do nothing, the “spin-ons” from terrestrial design and manufacturing will continue.

              Consider Space-X and its launchers.   The guidance systems benefit enormously from decades of advance in electronics, driven mostly be mundane terrestrial applications.   Even the very significant welding technique they use, Friction Stir Welding, was invented as a general purpose technique (in England in the early 1990s), not for the purpose of building rockets.

              Once technical advance slows elsewhere and the spin-ons stop, then it could make sense to drive space technology purely for its own sake.  Before then, though, space is going to have to justify itself in the here and now.

        2. I don’t see how going back to the moon is the “first step.” We already went to the moon. Private companies are starting to talk about going there, which is fine, but if your concern is humanity’s existence off of Earth, isn’t it more important that we figure out  problems such as sustainable living on a spaceship? Especially since there are still hurdles to ever reaching planets outside of our own solar system that may prove insurmountable.

          1. My point is, if we allow our knowledge and capability in space to wither, we will be grounded forever. What we learn on a moon colony or in the space station will help us learn how to live beyond earth.

            1. Did the failures of the Icelanders’ colony [n Newfoundland (or the Swedes in NJ, or the English at Roanoke) cause “withering” of Europe’s trans-Atlantic capability?

      4. Moon tourism could be very worthwhile.  I’m sure it would cost tens of billions to setup a base and devise a practical method of regularly and safely shuttling the tourists from our planet.  But there would be no shortage of millionaires willing to make this journey of a lifetime.  A great deal of technological advancement could be reaped from such a venture as well.

    3. Taking it all the right way

      Keeping it in the back

      Taking it all the right way

      Never no turning back

      Never need, no

      Never no turning back

      Flying in just a sweet place

      Coming inside and safe

      Flying in just a sweet place

      Never been known to fail

      Never been, no

      Never been known to fail

      Wishing you,

      wishing that sometimes (sometimes)

      Doing it, doing it right, ’til (doing it) one time (one time)

      Gets you when you’re down

      (nobody, nobody, do it again, get off)

      Ahhh, sometimes, doing

      Wishing sometimes (give it back)

      Up there, up there (giving it)

      Oh, my darling

      (No) Ah, my darling, (giving it) ah (up there) why?

      Gimme, gimme, up there, (yeah) gimme, doing

      Taking with me (sometimes)

      Loving it, doing it (right) ’til (take it) one time

      Gimme (doing it)

      Giving it (giving it back)

      Taking it all the right way

      Keeping it in the back

      Taking it all the right way

      Never no turning back

      Never need, no

      Never no turning back

      Never no turning back

      Never, never, never…

    4. Yes, when the 1% “shrug off” from our polluted impoverished homeworld that they may go and create their new robotically-assisted superspecies of impeccable purity.  

    5. Let people homestead land on the moon. If they set up inhabited colonies, let them claim a particular number of hectares/acres. That will incentvize research and exploration and open up a new frontier. Then start doing the same with asteroids.

    6. Today I ran across this image stabilized 16 mm footage of driving on the moon. Instead of shaky “old looking” footage, it looks like someone was there yesterday.

      I feel that until people find a reason to make money on the moon, we won’t be going back in any meaningful way.

    7. Whatever happened to exploration and discovery for the sake of finding out what’s out there, without making the decision purely on the basis of monetization?  While robots can do a lot of the scut work, the drawbacks of telemetry make it useful to have a human on site, in case something unforeseen comes along.

      1. Among other factors, competition from other objects.

        The moon is a hostile rock that we can look at fairly conveniently since it is nearby and has no atmosphere. We also have pretty strong reasons to believe that it is sterile and has never been otherwise.

        Then you have contenders like Mars, which has what passes for shirtsleeves weather by space standards and might have had biochemistry at some time. We’ve got the Jovian moons that are suspected of having liquid water, we have the gas giants and Venus, about which telescopes can tell us little below the upper atmosphere, etc, etc.

        The moon is pretty neat, and not taking 6 months to get there made it a good man-in-a-can target; but it’s not exactly the most interesting rock in the solar system, or the most mysterious.

        If you expand the genre further, Team Astronomy probably has a long wishlist of bigger, better, telescopes on the ground and in orbit covering a variety of spectra that they would really like to have for studying objects that can’t presently be visited.

        And then you’ve got things like the ocean floor, much of which is still pretty murky, the fact that we probably haven’t even run out of mammals to discover(though we’ve been doing our best to solve that problem by just destroying their habitat to reduce the search space), let along smaller organisms. 

        I’m all for discovering stuff; but unless the moon comes up with some great ROI, it just doesn’t rank very high on the list of cool science projects, definitely not high enough to deserve to displace other cool projects. 

      2. Whatever happened to exploration and discovery for the sake of finding out what’s out there, without making the decision purely on the basis of monetization?

        That, my friend, was a fairytale. Something one told the rubes, to support you with grunt work and tax money, while you plotted to make your grab for the fabled lost-city-of-gold.

        Really?  Joking aside, was there ever such an endeavour, as such you describe?

        1. Exactly. Every time space travel comes up, people start quoting Captain Kirk; when pressed, they’ll start talking about how the Sun will eventually burn out. Exploration for the sake of exploration is a romantic fantasy; real exploration happens because people are looking for something.

          Real exploration is not sightseeing, and it’s not even going hiking on the Appalachian Trail; exploration is expensive and dangerous.

    8. So where’s the moon robots? Spirit and Curiosity are fab, and running something similar on the moon – quick telemetry, smaller gravity well, no weather, plenty of solar – seems like a relatively easy win.

      1. What do you want to learn about the moon with these robots?  There’s virtually no chance of finding life, and mineral prospecting is a wildly optimistic thing to be doing at this point.  That’s the reason we have not gone back, it’s a big lifeless rock with not much going for it.  At least on Mars you could theoretically leverage some of the local resources (water) to make a self sustaining colony.  Putting a colony on the moon is basically the same as putting one in deep space because there is very little there to work with. 

      1. They have developed a taste for large-scale white elephant projects recently, so it is possible.

      2. Chinese not that freaking stupid! They did not overlook the Thorium LFTR reactors and will soon enough be mass producing pressure dome free, benign waste producing ultra-efficient Thorium fueled reactors 2017 – (you Google you see U tube videos) Will China have a cancer cure? Will China have Space Stations(s) Will China have electric bullet trains? Will China explode their “Population Bomb”? Will China’s thorium fueled reactors Alter World Energy Maps Forever? Will China gain economic control over the U.S.A? Will China mine Africa? Will China buy the Azadegan Oilfields in Iran? Will China buy out the Canadian Tar Sands? Will China ever legalize pot to pacify its population through pre-planned “depressions”? Will China like the U.S.S.R. get sucked into a pissing contest, a wiener waving war with the U.S.A.? Will China allow the Feds to print their money? Will China ever turn its back on its elderly? Its working class? 

    9. How about goading China into another contest for national prestige, like the one we had with the USSR? We can quietly agree to make space exploration and scientific research the only fields of play, and then let the jingoistic flag waving commence. 

      1. He was the backup CDR. There was enough time to train someone else (Joe Engle?), but unlikely they would send a rookie with the scientist. 

    10. lots of small thinkers here today.  the moon is a nice dead rock right in our backyard but it has it’s uses.  lets blow some minds with some old ideas.

      rocketry as we know it is a dead end technology.  you put something (or somebody) on top of a disintegrating totem pole filled with tons of high explosive and light the fuse.  exciting, but also noisy, polluting, inefficient and dangerous.  let’s do something much more useful, efficient and safe.

      plan A: build some big lasers and their power plants on the ground.  use laser-ablation propulsion to get spacecraft to orbit.  you carry a relatively small mass of propellant but it’s still noisy, polluting (though less so) and dangerous (but at least no high explosives).  not a bad stopgap technology though.  after the initial investment the cost per shot is relatively cheap (hundreds of dollars/pound as opposed to thousands).  this is something we could build starting today.  we have high-energy laser knowledge from stuff like the laser fusion program and some DOD things out there.

      plan B: build a large spaceship in orbit (use plan A).  go find a big carbonaceous chondrite asteroid (you’ll need it for the carbon later).  install a mass driver on the asteroid and use it as a rocket to move the asteroid into geosynchronous orbit.  start mining the asteroid for the carbon while installing a factory to make carbon nanotubes and weave them into cables.  lower the cable down toward earth while counterbalancing with waste rock on a cable in the opposite direction.  when the cable gets to the ground tie it off and start climbing.  it would be easy enough to add power cables and elevator tracks to the cable while building it so when it touches down you just add the elevator cars and connect it to the grid (or better yet, to solar panels at the high end).  bingo – instant elevator to orbit.  quiet, non-polluting, efficient and safe.

      here’s where the moon comes in.  plan B is something for the future but we almost have the technology for the cable now.  however, what if the cable breaks?  that’s why you build the first one on the moon – nobody dies if it crashes.  also, the lunar cable is lighter and uses less material so it’s cheaper.

      if we want to get into space in a big way we’ll need something like plan B.  the reasons for building it are numerous.  cheap access to orbit is just one thing.  if you go out to the far end of the cable (where the counterweight is) your velocity can be greater than escape velocity so to go to the moon or mars or elsewhere you just step off at the right time.  with multiple elevators/cable the amount of stuff that could be lifted (and returned) is enormous.  you could even use it as an extension cord to power the earth from solar arrays in orbit.  think of it, unlimited, cheap, non-polluting power.  if we ever decide to build Plan B we should start plans to take over some small country on the equator now so we have someplace to call our own for a base station (or just tie it off to an old aircraft carrier filled with cement).

      there’s also a plan C.  but i ain’t tellin’.

    11. Like typical Americans they took a car up there.  It’s now parked next to the other part of the LM looking like a scene from a lunar trailer park.  Oh the irony (except that the car on the moon probably still runs).

    12. Will we go back? Who cares if we go back for the wrong reasons? If we don’t as a society want to go there to explore but just for national pride or whatever then it will just end the same way [disclaimer: I’m not American so I’m talking as a very interested side watcher, as I suspect many people outside the US are]. This is why I thought the manned mission to an asteroid was a great idea. Asteroids are interesting, worth investigating, worth using as a base, mining maybe, digging into. The moon? It is really hard to redo past things and keep the enthusiasm, like going back to the gym after you’ve had a period of slackness and flabbiness (*ahem* I’m still there, in the flab zone). Not inspiring.

      Also how we get there is important too. Single large rockets … literally not scalable. Build the ship in orbit via shuttles (oh wait), well smaller launches. So then some guys from the ISS could travel over to the moon vehicle and take a leisurely trip to the moon come back with some rocks etc. Checkout the vehicle, refuel, new lot of scientists could then make another leisurely trip to the moon. After a few of these you might start to think … you know maybe we should just set up camp on the moon. Yeah, this is somewhat tongue in cheek but if you have a moon vehicle that only ever goes between ISS and the moon then you don’t have to worry about reentry and other things. Smaller reliable rocket engines. I don’t need to point out that this is not new, this is how many considered the exploration of the solar system would be done, and it still makes a lot of sense.

      1.  a few of NASA’s brighter children tried to sneak this one by years ago but were thwarted by stupid (again).  the orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) was a brilliant concept for a reusable, refuellable platform capable of going from low orbit to geosynchronous and back with multi-ton cargoes and humans aboard.

        the idea was to use the OTV to place and retrieve satellites from high orbit.  this would allow maintenance of communications satellite systems and alleviate the problem of “crowding” in the geosynchronous orbit space by dead satellites.  because the higher you go, the lighter the load that the space shuttle can carry (and the shuttle can’t even get to geosynchronous orbit), this would allow installation of really big comsats and science platforms.  it would also let us park a “spare” comsat in low orbit (possibly tethered to the ISS) where it could be tested and ready to deploy when an active satellite fails.  the dead satellite could be brought back to low orbit and repaired/rebuilt.  you could probably build a “maintenance bay” from a discarded shuttle fuel tank to give a pressurized work space.

        all of this could be written-off as incremental work to improve satellite systems performance and reduce costs.  sneaky, huh?  the trojan horse part comes next.

        it would be “noticed” by “someone at NASA” that the OTV is more than capable of transferring astronauts and cargo to lunar orbit.  it’s only a few feet/second difference between low-to-geosynchronous orbit and low-to-lunar orbit.  if you have two  or three OTV’s you can even run a lunar rescue mission if necessary.  brilliant!

    13. This is so far down the comments list it will probably never been seen by human eyes, but I’d like to offer a somewhat different perspective on this topic. I’ve been in the space advocacy movement for almost twenty years–very frustrating years. And the reason for that frustration relates to some aspects of space history we tend to overlook.

      A society cannot do that which it lacks the language to coherently imagine and describe. And in a mainstream cultural sense, our society now lacks the ability to coherently, plausibly, visualize any sort of positive future–a spacefaring future in particular. Part of this relates to a long media industry obsession with apocalyptic and dystopian visions that has left most of the society perceiving suggestions of things being, in any way, better tomorrow as anachronistic and naive–or for that matter anything that takes more than a few years of concerted social effort to accomplish as remotely possible. We simply no longer believe there is a future. We live perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since the Cold War western civilization has been alternately obsessed with apocalypse, nostalgia, or fantasy. Tomorrowland became Retro-Futurist-Land. (at Disneyworld Paris, it became Steam-Punk land…) And it doesn’t help that when today’s futurists attempt to talk about the future it often sounds rather like a drug trip with its practically psychedelic metaphors.

      But another very critical aspect of this is that, even as we have become a progressively more visual culture to the point where reading more than two paragraphs has become an imposition to most people, the means to visual communication for many topics has become more difficult because the once ubiquitous art of commercial illustration is now dead, obsolesced by the advance in photography and reprographics. Some things cannot be communicated in photographs and ideas about the future are among them. You cannot photograph what doesn’t already exist. But what happens when the talent and skill necessary to illustrate ideas becomes really scarce? Well, you get a space advocacy movement on the rocks, space programs that cannot effectively relate to the public, and a field of space literature that has–with the exception of astronomy photobooks and books written by the small community of science celebrities–steadily declined in production value, and thus readership, until it’s virtually dead. In a few more years everything not authored by Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson will be self-published and hopelessly obscure, selling a few crude print-on-demand or eBook copies a year.

      At the start of the space advocacy movement, shortly after WWII, the cost and complexity of getting photos to mass print media was still such that most everything in our culture still had to be hand-drawn to be shared with the public. The fairly sophisticated skill set of commercial and technical illustration was ubiquitous. It was easy for authors–science writers of the time in particular–to find collaborators for art and books on the subject of space were all lavishly illustrated. Though it’s biggest amplifier was probably Cold War gamesmanship, a key factor to the success of the space advocacy movement was the ability of people like Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, and Chesley Bonstell to transform, through media, the general cultural aesthetic perspective of space. Before those guys, it was still pretty much Flash Gordon and Barsoom. But after them, and in partnership with the likes of Walt Disney (himself a futurist), space became something much closer, more real, more plausible, and imminently important. It was this which won us civilian space programs rather than military ‘space forces’ for whom strategic military logic would not get us beyond orbit. We see of the aerospace visualizations of the time as anachronistic, yet there was more intellectual content to it than most of what we see today. Science fiction art–and not a little supposedly realistic industrial design–has largely reverted back to Flash Gordon and Barsoom with a contemporary style applied. It’s all fantasy. There is no difference between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

      As advancing reprographics technology pushed illustration into a shrinking group of market niches, the skill set declined–along with, to be frank, the general level of education among artists. (it’s now really rather rare for professional artists and designers to have a college-level general science education) We can see this in the decline of things like courtroom illustration–once a remaining haven for journalistic illustration and now so generally incomprehensible as to be the butt of jokes. We see it in the gradual decline of illustration quality in children’s science books–particularly by the late 1970s. And we see it in the worsening scarcity of illustration in all books on the subject of space and the future. Today, most books about space are forced to recycle NASA space art and photos going back 40 years. How can you possibly cultivate a coherent picture of the future from a contemporary perspective using 40 year old media? We generally take for granted the visual media that flows around us. Surely, the 3D computer graphics modeling we see so much of has now replaced illustration and that should have made it all easy, right? But there’s a dirty little secret about 3D modeling. It’s not drawing. It’s model-making. It is a very different skill set nowhere near as efficient in time and cost to the hand-drawn illustration common in the mid 20th century. Only the likes of James Cameron can now afford to comprehensively illustrate a space mission concept–which he once did. Even NASA has a difficult time with this.

      I think this is a much overlooked issue for the question of the contemporary cultural relevance of space. Even if you have a much more relevant vision of space development, it’s now very difficult to publicly share it. So how can anyone really get it?

      1. i have human eyes.  and, i agree.  up to a point.  but, i’ve been watching since sputnik.

        as you stated, “A society cannot do that which it lacks the language to coherently imagine and describe.”  this is the problem in a nutshell.  the lack of new visual materials to spur the imagination of the next generation is definitely a large part of the problem.  even with those new visual materials, the current state of science education where kids are taught that “jeebus rode a dinosaur to the last supper” and “evolution is JUST A THEORY” is, unfortunately, a bigger part.

        the biggest part of the problem is the public education system in this country where budgets rule and science is not one of the “three R’s” and therefore an “extra” cost (but not as important, obviously, as football).  This is exacerbated by the large and very vocal minority who truly see science as an evil that has to be fought tooth-and-nail to preserve the purity of their religious beliefs.  Add to these problems the attitude that “we can cut science budgets because we can” and we have the basis for our current situation.  After all, nobody cares except a few eggheads and who listens to them?

        i too, long for the days when humans thought that they could do anything.  and i agree that the visuals from my childhood spurred thoughts of exploration and discovery.  i hope that the general public will rediscover that science is an important thing and produce the textbooks and other materials to compliment an increased demand.

        note: i saved the above quote and will spread it around where i think it will do some good.  and i will attribute it to you (hope you didn’t steal it).  thank you.

    14. Few mention the most important reason for learning to live in space: to get some of humanity’s eggs out of this basket before something steps on it. If nothing else, the big pinball machine in the outer solar system WILL eventually drop another Dinosaur Killer this way. It won’t happen next Tuesday, but it could be in this century.

        1.  so, we should just wait for it?  or , would it be a better idea to build a robust space capability that might be able to do something about it?

      1. There’s another very immediately practical reason for learning to live in space that seems often overlooked. Learning to live in space essentially means figuring out how to sustainably go from dirt, rocks, and sunlight to a middle-class standard of living using largely automated hardware on the scale of home appliances. That’s what space settlement boils down to. What about life on Earth would such capability not impact? How we make stuff is what defines our civilization at any particular point in history. Sure, we can–and do–pursue that on Earth. It’s an inherent long-term trend in the evolution of industrial technology–our tools continuing to shrink and smarten. But her relatively benign environment and a global resource market allows us to cheat too easily. In space the challenge is much stricter, which can accelerate the necessary innovation. I sometimes suspect that the disinterest among contemporary politicians toward space may relate to a latent fear of the kind of global social change that such technology could bring. The Information Age and the Internet largely snuck up on them and one thing the establishment compulsively resists is disruptive change. But that may be attributing too much conscious thought…

    15. Manned flight stalled in the great shuttle and space station boondoggle that set progress back 50 years, or at least stalled it for 50 years. I could live with the lost time if it hadn’t been so thoroughly wasted. At least a cool little outpost on the moon would have been so much more satisfying than low earth orbit.

      Meanwhile unmanned flight has been stellar, with Voyager (or should I say V-ger) about to make that literal. Consider, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Mars Orbiter, Ebb and Flow, Cassini, Galileo, Mercury Messenger, Kepler, Hubble, on and on. Science has moved on spectacularly but manned space flight has not yet found another gimmick to justify its costs and small returns.

    16. We’ll go back in 300 years or so, once we’ve forgotten we went before and we’ll then be freaked out by the footprints and the bags of poo…

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