The following is the third in a series of articles discussing why humans need to continue Space Exploration and build colonies off-world. The article identifies a few specific examples from humankind’s history showing how we have progressed scientifically to overcome the technological challenges of the unknown and turned science fiction into science fact.
Jules Verne, “From the Earth to the Moon”
If one were so inclined to research historical reviews of Jules Verne Science Fiction novel (1865) “From Earth to the Moon,” you would find plenty of critics and detractors to say that it was just fantasy, and man would never land on the Moon. The arguments given by these critics supported the science fact of that time.
I can imagine arguments put forth by critics of Verne’s Sci-Fi novel. The obstacles were numerous and included things like the non-existence of heavy-lift rockets, vacuum, and cold of Space, no oxygen, solar storms (radiation), lack of gravity, and what about the basic provisions. Humans face the very same things today in traveling to the Moon.
We all know the now legendary story of Apollo 11 and the achievements of this Space flight. Humans walking on the Moon materialized into reality and will no longer belong in the realm of science fiction. Jules Verne had the imagination to foretell humans landing on the Moon. One hundred years separated the publication of Jules Verne’s novel and the first landing of the lunar module. What is science fiction of today can very well become the science fact of tomorrow.
Another example from history would be the discovery of Quantum Physics. Quantum Mechanics was considered in the realm of science fiction at the time of its proposal in the 1800s. The concept and associated scientific discovery behind it took an array of scientists over 100 years to legitimize it. The Quantum hypothesis developed by Max Planck, which laid the recognized foundation for Quantum Mechanics and a whole new branch of science, was not validated until his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1919.
Albert Einstein used Planck’s work in 1905 to explain the photoelectric effect discovered years earlier by Heinrich Hertz in 1887. One hundred years of observation, experimentation, and scientific study (e.g., cathode ray tubes -M. Faraday, Black Radiation — G. Kirchhoff, and Photoelectric effect — H. Hertz) of Quantum phenomenon took place before the mathematical proof of its existence by Planck.
The point is that it took 100 years of observations of the physical world to prove the concept of Quantum Mechanics through experimentation. The great physicists of the 19th and 20th Centuries couldn’t express the phenomenon in mathematical terms until Max Planck did, thereby taking it from the realm of science fiction to science fact.
Planck’s Constant is used as the rule to separate Classic Physics from Quantum Physics. Physicists agree that if Plank’s Constant appears in the equation, it is Quantum physics. Even today, Quantum theory puzzles scientists.
To quote American Physicist Richard Feynman, “I cannot define the real problem; therefore, I suspect there is no real problem, but I’m not sure there is no real problem.” You must lol at that comment. What does it say about how little humankind has discovered about the Universe and what is or is not possible?
Can anyone predict what human science considers as science fiction today won’t be science fact in the next 50 to 100 years? No one can take the current-day knowledge of applied science or theoretical physics as the end-all of humankind’s complete knowledge of the Universe. If they say they can, then they are myopic in their thinking.
Humankind’s scientific advancement to allow space flight to the Moon, Mars, and beyond depends on those minds and dreamers that transcend humankind’s limitations by reaching beyond their grasp and extending the boundaries of human knowledge. Time and again, over the history of humanity, people said it couldn’t be done quoting the best scientific minds as proof to be proven wrong by even better scientific minds.
Admiral Rickover and Nuclear Propulsion
Admiral Rickover was another paradox in the category of making Science Fiction become Science Fact. After the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was looking for other potential uses of nuclear power other than weapons of mass destruction. The research into nuclear submarine propulsion started in earnest with Capitan Rickover. He became the U.S. Naval Reactors Office Director at the then AEC, now the Department of Energy.
Rickover was one of those driven personalities capable of seeing the entire canvas and not dissuaded from his focus and goals by others. The idea of placing a nuclear reactor on board a submarine and under the sea as part of the new branch of the Navy was a task in the realm of science fiction in the early 1950s.
After working in nuclear power for a more significant part of my career, I can understand where people outside of the nuclear R&D complex at the time had a healthy bit of skepticism when he offered this idea. I can only envision a room full of politicians being briefed on the concept of placing nuclear reactors under the ocean with men aboard to operate the submarine and reactor. I can hear the reaction in the room because I have been in rooms like that in my lifetime.
You want to put nuclear reactors onboard submarines with men to do what? Send men to their deaths! Are you out of your F….ing mind! These men and women argued that Rickover’s ideas were in the realm of science fiction at the time, while their opinions were based upon the sensible and realistic science-based fact of the time.
President Kennedy’s Bully Pulpit
President Kennedy used the Presidency’s bully pulpit to challenge the United States to land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth by the end of the decade. The idea was still within the realm of science fiction. Kennedy’s speech was that of a dreamer pushing the nation forward to make it a reality. Despite all the obstacles, lack of technology (at the time), loss of astronaut’s lives (Gemini & Apollo programs), and costs, we went.
The Apollo missions faced huge technological hurdles that had to be overcome to allow a Moon rendezvous and landing. The detractors and critics of Kennedy’s speech enlisted the same age-old arguments on why it couldn’t be done, the costs were too great, and the loss of human life intolerable if we tried to leave the Earth and travel to the Moon. But what do you know? NASA was created, and the beginning of manned space flight is history now.
Living and Working in Outer Space
Another hurdle that must be overcome for humans to build lunar bases and land a mission on Mars is the psychological obstacle of being couped up inside a spaceship for months on end. Some argue that the psychological stresses alone are reason enough not to venture into Space. Dispelling this argument are numerous accomplishments based on actual scientific data collected during countless hours in tight quarters living on the International Space Station (ISS).
The voyage to Mars is about seven months using existing conventional rocket technology. The math works out to 210 days of travel to Mars and 210 days of travel back, leaving 245 days exploring the Red Planet. NASA and the Russian Space Agency have collected data on humans living in Space since the first space station was put in orbit in 1971 (Salyut).
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson spent 665 days living and working in Space, proving humans can live extended periods in Zero-G environments. The ISS(a closed habitable biosphere orbiting the Earth.) has humans living and working together with routine change out of personnel.
Astronaut Scott Kelly’s accomplishment of 520 days in Space provides even more validation of humans being able to live in Space. These achievements were the next logical steps proving humans can live in Space over extended periods.
That is how science works; you achieve one small step and use it to build onto the next milestone. I don’t mean technologies being developed 100 years from now. I am talking about ongoing R&D that is already being test and refined. Yes, failures have occurred and are occurring but isn’t that the purpose of scientific R&D? The achievements have not come without a high cost of human life. Nineteen astronauts have died chasing the dream of human space exploration. Still, we move forward.
The next step will be going back to the Moon and building permanent habitats. The prototype for the design and engineering used to build the ISS lays the groundwork for the next step. The data collected from the ISS represents 22 years of scientific research in living in Space.
Space X, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic See Return on Investment
Meanwhile, Space X is conducting operational missions that gather the science to move onto the next milestone of lunar bases. Nor does Elon Musk’s Space X have exclusivity in developing technology for future missions. Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have created companies to challenge Musk.
Bezos’s company Blue Origin and Branson’s company Virgin Galactic are developing spacecraft and plans for transporting humans into Outer Space. Do you think that these Venture Capitalists (VC) are that naïve that they don’t see a profit and return on their investments?
Musk’s Space X team are the current trailblazers leading the way and capturing major government contracts and associated incentives. For now, Musk is the clear leader while the other VCs smell his profits. Bezos’s and Branson’s teams are crunching the numbers and see profitability in the future of Space Exploration and sending humans into Outer Space. While the evolving technologies leave no room for doubt that humans are overcoming the barriers of space travel.
A Zealot’s Folly
The naysayers will always exist. Examples of the Zealot’s Folly include scoffers of Jules Verne’s imagination, the doubt of the classical physicists of the 19th Century, cynics of Admiral Rickover, and Elon Musk’s detractors are all pessimists who pollute the media with false conclusions on why humans can’t go to Mars.
These skeptics’ and their so-called all-encompassing scientific facts do not account for humankind’s ingenuity and ability to reach beyond the present. Like so many media and news outlets of today, they cherry-pick the facts and present the arguments so as not to include the reality of what is happening before their eyes. Unless, of course, one thinks space launches occurring routinely, an orbiting space station, and NASA’s plans to build Moon and Mars habitats are all “fake news”.
The people who try to debunk space travel have a zealous devotion to proving these innovators’ work as unsound and lacking in scientific integrity. These disbelievers are only capable of pursuing that thought process to a zealot’s end, which is to incite the masses to believe their word as the final say in science fact. Their portrayal of human exploration of Space in the media is one of dreamers, con artists, and hyped-up falsified facts.
What train of thought do you want to employ? Will it be one of open-mindedness where the possibilities are unrestrained and limitless or closed-mindedness trying to disprove it because you don’t agree or accept that perhaps the Elon Musks’ of the world may be correct. Hell, many of the great discoveries of the 19th and 20th Centuries would not have taken place if it were not for dreamers and believers of the unattainable.
I am humbled and in awe of humankind’s ingenuity and history of overcoming insurmountable obstacles since we first walked the planet upright. When it comes to science and the known Universe, I believe we are infants. As humans grow, learn, and discover more about the Universe, we will be like toddlers taking their first steps building incrementally from crawling, walking, and then running. We are still in the crawling phase. Our knowledge of science is immature when compared to the Universe and what is not known.
Building Lunar Bases and Mars Exploration
Despite all these hurdles, humans will build Moon bases and go to Mars in this Century. Whether it is the United States, Russia, China, or a joint venture among various nations, it will happen.
Another core reason the United States, Russia, and China support humankind’s return to the Moon is one cloaked in the National Security of these nations. The military-industrial complexes of World Powers have cloaked their involvement with a cocoon of peaceful exploration wrapped around clandestine strategic defense initiatives. Rest assured, military superiority is another reason World Powers want to build Moon Bases.
Scientific discovery and advancement are made in incremental steps. You can’t have it all upfront right now. You have to take these baby steps and have faith to make the giant leap into the future. As a species, we have to take the science to the following logical conclusion: the evolution of space travel and the exploration of Space. Sixty years of R&D, scientific discovery, and aerospace engineering’s practical application of space flight have prepared us to take the next step. Future advancements in science and technology will allow us to achieve the science fiction of the impossible.
The continued development of space technology and the ability for humans to build bases on the Moon is an eventuality. Not whether they can or can’t, will or will not? Science and technology already exist to allow humans to live on the Moon and explore Mars. We need to refine and deploy the technology to make it a reality.
Moore’s Law of technology involving doubling time in technological advancement is a theory that explains humans’ exponential growth of computer technologies in the 20th and 21st Centuries. The technological advancements for Space Travel are also expanding exponentially. The Space X’s, Blue Origin’s, and Virgin Galactic’s of the world are investing in the future of Space Travel at unprecedented levels. Humans living on the Moon and walking on Mars is only a matter of time.
Why wouldn’t we go?
One recent estimate from NASA for returning to the Moon is $30 Billion. That plan includes recruiting commercial companies and international partners, building a lunar space station, landing humans on the Moon, and practicing and working towards a Mars Mission.
The U.S. annual budget for 2020 was $4.79 Trillion. If the entire cost of $30 Billion for returning to the Moon was appropriated over a single year, it is less than a thousandth of a percent of the U.S. annual budget. If that same $30 Billion is spread out over several budget years, the cost becomes even more minuscule.
While cost is always a consideration, the arguments about fiscal austerity and that the money can be better spent on domestic social programs is a misconception. The money spent on developing technology for space exploration is money well spent judged against the benefits and scientific knowledge to be gained.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you have a question I can assist you with, please feel free to connect with me.