This is the Space Age


Annalee Newitz's Stop pretending we aren't living in the Space Age is a magnificent rant on the incredibly achievements of modern space programs, and a savage indictment of the lack of imagination underpinning complaints about the failure of humans to return to the moon in force.

More importantly, humans have continued the project that our grandparents and great-grandparents started in the 1950s when the Space Age began. Remember how that project got off the ground with remote-controlled satellites? Want to know why? Because that is how smart explorers do it. Believe it or not, we are actually clever enough monkeys that we are carefully doing a little reconnaissance in distant, dangerous places before we send people there. Which is why we have sent probes to Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, and even to several moons and comets.

We currently have two robots on the surface of Mars that we are actually driving around. They are equipped with instruments that can do pretty sophisticated science experiments. We also have a satellite orbiting Mars, the MRO, which can take incredibly granular images of the planet's surface and do climate analysis. Using these robots and the MRO, we have discovered important things like the fact that Mars has underground ice, and once had seas on its surface. This is precisely the kind of information we need to know before we get to the planet ourselves.

Stop pretending we aren't living in the Space Age (via Making Light)

Notable Replies

  1. Excellent. Happiest, most uplifting thing I've read all day. Naysayers, begone! smile

  2. not really. we pretty much went at full steam. A hand full of satellites to prove that those work, a hand full of dogs and straight to humans.

    Once humans got to space we started hitting one breakthrough after another. First to sleep in space, first to eat, first to poop.

    The first space walk was done in this:

    a fabric curtain sticking out of a metal ball barely big enough to fit two people.

    After Soviets stopped bothering to go to space, the race turned in to a slow crawl with barely any advancement. We still have to hitch rides on rockets that are practically identical to the one that got the above ball in to orbit.
    Would you even think of using any vehicle from the 1960s?

    That's how stagnant the progress has become and the sad thing is, there's no reason why it should be. For a tiny percentage of national funding NASA can get to mars, mine asteroids and build a moon base and it will create new industries, give jobs to Americans... but then America was never big on logic.

    But there's still hope! If China ever even hints at going to Mars we'll be rushing to get there and will have the first reality TV show orbiting Mars in three years tops.

  3. jjsaul says:

    How many man-made objects are actively working in space right now?

    We all want our space elevator, and we all want to get some of our existential eggs out of this one basket, and it's ridiculous that we spend more on Honey Boo Boo than on earth-crossing asteroid tracking... but man alive, my phone communicates with satellites every moment, and I was born weeks before there were human footprints on the moon. It sure feels like the space age to me.

  4. Well, that's a nice celebration of the unmanned space program and some reconciliation with harsh reality (even though it's written like something on Jezebel) but still there's no question that as far as manned exploration goes we completely shot our wad on Apollo then clung to the shuttle program long, long after we should have moved on, then nothing. We've got the ISS, which is great, but it's not really even in space. We blew it there.

    Of course we didn't completely blow it. The unmanned space program has been a triumph, and that's in a golden age. But don't use that to gloss over our manned failures. A 'smart species' would be doing both in parallel, because individual humans are expendable. We're not in a Space Age till we are comfortably in space.

  5. Did this change?

    2010 NASA budget = $ 18.7 billion
    2010 Military Budget = $1030.0 billion

    No?

    Sorry, we still live in the age of war, not the age of space.

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