Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The future of space travel

Here are two important talks from TED, from 2006 and 2007, on Space Travel. We have many problems here on Earth. But we need to push out into space for so many reasons.

The only people who do not see that as an a priori truth are those who are short sighted and narrow minded. It is much like the person who is going to die if they do not jump into the river to swim away from the sinking boat. They can do the safe thing, stick with the boat, and drown, or they can risk swimming for the shore, which they can see from their position, and save them self.  We are drowning. We need to take the risk. We can see the shore. And we do need to, and we can, achieve the shore of salvation.
Bill Rutan, from 2006 at TED: 

"I want to start off by saying, Houston, we have a problem. We're entering a second generation of no progress in terms of human flight in space. In fact, we've regressed. We stand a very big chance of losing our ability to inspire our youth to go out and continue this very important thing that we as a species have always done. And that is, instinctively we've gone out and climbed over difficult places, went to more hostile places, and found out later, maybe to our surprise, that that's the reason we survived. And I feel very strongly that it's not good enough for us to have generations of kids that think that it's OK to look forward to a better version of a cell phone with a video in it. They need to look forward to exploration, they need to look forward to colonization, they need to look forward to breakthroughs. They need to. We need to inspire them, because they need to lead us and help us survive in the future"

"I'm predicting, though, as profitable as this industry is going to be -- and it certainly is profitable when you fly people at 200,000 dollars on something that you can actually operate at a 10th of that cost, or less -- this is going to be very profitable. I predict, also, that the investment that will flow into this will be somewhere around half of what the U.S. taxpayer spends for NASA's manned spacecraft work. And every dollar that flows into that will be spent more efficiently by factor of 10 to 15. And what that means is before we know it, the progress in human space flight, with no taxpayer dollars, will be at a level of about five times as much as the current NASA budgets for human space flight. And that is because it's us. It's private industry. You should never depend on the government to do this sort of stuff -- and we've done it for a long time. The NACA, before NASA, never developed an airliner and never ran an airline. But NASA is developing the space liner, always has, and runs the only space line, OK. And we've shied away from it because we're afraid of it. But starting back in June of 2004, when I showed that a little group out there actually can do it, can get a start with it, everything changed after that time."
Bill Stone, from 2007 at TED:

So, what if you could get your gas at a 10th the price? There is a place where you can. In fact, you can get it better -- you can get it at 14 times lower if you can find propellant on the moon. There is a little-known mission that was launched by the Pentagon 13 years ago now, called Clementine. And the most amazing thing that came out of that mission was a strong hydrogen signature at Shackleton crater on the south pole of the moon. That signal was so strong, it could only have been produced by 10 trillion tons of water buried in the sediment, collected over millions and billions of years by the impact of asteroids and comet material.

If we're going to get that, and make that gas station possible, we have to figure out ways to move large volumes of payload through space. We can't do that right now. The way you normally build a system right now is you have a tube stack that has to be launched from the ground, and resist all kinds of aerodynamic forces. We have to beat that. We can do it because in space there are no aerodynamics. We can go and use inflatable systems for almost everything. This is an idea that, again, came out of Livermore back in 1989, with Dr. Lowell Wood's group. And we can extend that now to just about everything. Bob Bigelow currently has a test article in the orbit. We can go much further. We can build space tugs, orbiting platforms for holding cryogens and water. There's another thing. When you're coming back from the moon, you have to deal with orbital mechanics. It says you're moving 10,000 feet per second faster than you really want to be to get back to your gas station.

You got two choices. You can burn rocket fuel to get there, or you can do something really incredible. You can dive into the stratosphere, and precisely dissipate that velocity, and come back out to the space station. It has never been done. It's risky and it's going to be one hell of a ride -- better than Disney. The traditional approach to space exploration has been that you carry all the fuel you need to get everybody back in case of an emergency. If you try to do that for the moon, you're going to burn a billion dollars in fuel alone sending a crew out there. But if you send a mining team there, without the return propellant, first -- (Laughter) Did any of you guys hear the story of Cortez? This is not like that. I'm much more like Scotty. I like this equipment, you know, and I really value it so we're not going to burn the gear. But, if you were truly bold you could get it there, manufacture it, and it would be the most dramatic demonstration that you could do something worthwhile off this planet that has ever been done. There's a myth that you can't do anything in space for less than a trillion dollars and 20 years. That's not true. In seven years, we could pull off an industrial mission to Shackleton, and demonstrate that you could provide commercial reality out of this in low-earth orbit.

We're living in one of the most exciting times in history. We're at a magical confluence where private wealth and imagination are driving the demand for access to space. The orbital refueling stations I've just described could create an entirely new industry and provide the final key for opening space to the general exploration. To bust the paradigm, a radically different approach is needed. We can do it by jump-starting with an industrial Lewis and Clark expedition to Shackleton crater, to mine the moon for resources, and demonstrate they can form the basis for a profitable business on orbit.

Talk about space always seems to be hung on ambiguities of purpose and timing. I would like to close here by putting a stake in the sand at TED. I intend to lead that expedition. (Applause) It can be done in seven years with the right backing. Those who join me in making it happen will become a part of history and join other bold individuals from time past who, had they been here today, would have heartily approved.

There was once a time when people did bold things to open the frontier. We have collectively forgotten that lesson. Now we're at a time when boldness is required to move forward. 100 years after Sir Ernest Shackleton wrote these words, I intend to plant an industrial flag on the moon and complete the final piece that will open the space frontier, in our time, for all of us. Thank you. (Applause)

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