National Academies: public call for future visions of human spaceflight

Do you have ideas about the future of humans in space? The US National Academies' Committee on Human Spaceflight is seeking short papers from individual and groups with a vision for the future of human spaceflight.
NewImageIn developing their papers, respondents are asked to carefully consider the following broad questions.

What are the important benefits provided to the United States and other countries by human spaceflight endeavors?

What are the greatest challenges to sustaining a U.S. government program in human spaceflight?

What are the ramifications and what would the nation and world lose if the United States terminated NASA's human spaceflight program?

"Submitting an Input Paper to the Committee on Human Spaceflight"


  1. The human spaceflight program should be disbanded because it promotes a fantasy (eg that we can colonise other planets) which prevents us focussing on solving urgent issues on earth (e.g. poverty, climate change, corrupt politics, food security,…).
    Tom Murphy crunches the mathematics to show why human spaceflight is a dangerous fantasy:

    If there are commercial benefits to continuing our half-hearted dicking around in low earth orbit, then the private sector will figure it out and get on with it. Meanwhile NASA’s budget can then be devoted to faster progress in the earth sciences and planetary sciences, without the foolish idea that people have to blasted into orbit.

    (alright, this won’t make me popular on BB. Fire at will)

    1. I agree human spaceflight is no excuse for screwing up the planet and that it is massively difficult. But I also think that the long term survival of the species is more assured once we are able to move all our eggs out of this one basket.

      1. See, that’s the dangerous fantasy. We will *not* be “able to move all our eggs out of this one basket”. Not this century, not next century, and maybe not ever. It’s an illusion. And as long as we hold on to it, we lessen the importance of finding sustainable ways to live on this planet. Above all, if we can’t avoid screwing up the climate on the one planet that already had a good climate for humans, its pointless kidding ourselves that we’ll ever manage to terraform other planets, even if we could get to them.

        1. The article you linked calculated the difficulty but never said it was impossible. What about natural dangers such as meteorites? You also are not considering genetic advances that may allow us to modify our bodies to adapt to much different environments.
          But maybe we are talking past each other in time scales because I agree, it probably will not happen in the next century or two and there are a lot of immediate human-created hurdles we must clear first.
          Given the paltry amount we currently spend of world-wide GDP on human space-flight, I don’t think eliminating that will lead to solutions for the very real problems you mentioned. Even upping the amount we spend will not have a significant impact on our financial ability to address them. I cannot say for sure if it helps or hurts on the motivation side of the equation, but even if it hurts I think you are ascribing it far too much power.

      2. The long term survival of earth life is one thing. The long term survival of the species Homo Sapiens is quite another. I can imagine us seeding the rest of the galaxy with DNA, but space is so hostile, so big and the gravity well so deep that getting a viable, self sufficient colony going off Earth looks impossible. And/or the attempt will take and use up the entire Earth’s resources in the process and still have an uncertain future.

        Mechs or Shapers? Beat Space into submission with engineering, or bio-engineer intelligent life into a form that can thrive in Space. Maybe the second would be a better option. Are we still talking about the same species, eggs and basket then?

        My moneys on the lobster brain collective.

    2. I call bullshit. Colonizing space is science fiction for most non-scientists, and most scientists know that it will be centuries, if ever. And even if you can settle the New World, that’s no kind of argument for trashing the Old World and the people still living there. The way to get everyone to cooperate is not to lock them in a burning building. Moving heavy industry into orbit would be one of the best things we could do for the biosphere. Much of it can and should be robotic, but ending human spaceflight altogether is imprudent.

      It’s a strawman to present only two options: everyone off Earth or no human space exploration, and then pretend those are the only options from which we much choose. We’ve been doing limited human space exploration for half a century and gained numerous economic, scientific, cultural and inspirational spin-offs without having to colonize another planet. Even by conservative estimates, space exploration has paid for itself several times over.

      People don’t avoid solving terrestrial problems because of what they regard as science fiction. They avoid it because it’s hard, the challenges vast, and governments and corporations make them feel powerless to make a difference, while the rewards, though vaster still, are not always obvious or immediate…much like space exploration, human or otherwise.

      The space science community has been advocating environmental conservation and human solidarity since the Apollo Program because undertsanding the universe puts Earth, its fragility and its preciousness in perspective. And it’s hard for politicians to publicly dismiss people at the vanguard of technology, people whose contributions help to drive the technological economy, and people who are recognized national heroes.

      And finally, the Invisible Hand is not some magic wand that opens all commercial frontiers.

      P.S.: I disagree with your arguments. That’s not the same as you personally being unpopular. In addition to being a logical fallacy, getting out in front of your debate opponents with an martyr complex comes off as narcissistic. Woe is me who must sacrafice myself to the Philistines for the greater good!

    3.  Tossing millionaires into LEO is the only economically sensible form of space travel, and once petroleum gets over $150/barrel even that will come to an end.

    4.  The only people convinced by Murphy’s arguments are those who don’t know how to do the math. His delta V figures are way off. Freshmen aerospace students know about the Oberth effect and how to patch conics. Also aerobraking. Most junior aerospace students know about 3 body mechanics as practiced by Belbruno, Lo and others. Murphy evidently hasn’t heard about any of that.

      A more detailed critique of Murphy’s math is here:

  2. Space travel without Beatle boots and velour jumpsuits just isn’t space travel.  May as well just be sailing the seven Earthly seas if you’re not going to dress retrofuturistic.

    1. Don’t forget Smell-O-Vision.  Can’t go on a 3 year trip to Mars without futuristic entertainment options.

  3. Being a heroic eligible bachelor with equally heroic eligible bachelorette on the same voyage helps. 

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