January 17, 2004

Why Are We Dinking Around Sending Humans Inside Lunar Orbit Anyway?

We aren't dinking around sending humans to the bottom of the Marianas Trench any more: why are dinking around sending humans inside lunar orbit? Today we explore the oceans with tele-operated submersibles. Why aren't we doing what we need to do inside lunar orbit with tele-operated robots?

It's only when you get outside the orbit of the Moon that lightspeed delays make robots tele-operated from Earth impractical. What would be the point of a human Moonbase--rather than a bunch of robots--anyway?

Posted by DeLong at January 17, 2004 06:00 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Well, on Moon I think we could finally build the unbelievably really huge optical telescope (U.R.H.O.T.)--one to resolve features on planets around other stars?

Possibly image Vulcan ships warping about...

Posted by: Lee A. on January 17, 2004 06:29 PM

____

Yeah. But isn't it a lot easier to build it with telepresently-operated robots than with humans whose spacesuits get tears and decompress?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 17, 2004 06:34 PM

____

Don't worry, we'll stop. Than Chinese will go there and we'll try to catch up with them again.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 06:46 PM

____

... and the point of human Moonbase is George W can go there and party with all them alien girls. The goals for our space program are set by people who get their science credentials by watching Star Dreck.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 07:03 PM

____

The Amazon Women on the Moon are awaiting suitable mates. We need to send them soon.

Posted by: bakho on January 17, 2004 07:08 PM

____

The image of a moonbase staffed by robots seems somehow less glamorous and romantic than the image of a moonbase with human astronauts, wearing American flag patches on their shoulders. With this administration, it's all about what makes them look good, not about what actually *is* good.

Posted by: rps on January 17, 2004 07:18 PM

____

Brad, you asked "What would be the point of a human Moonbase--rather than a bunch of robots--anyway"

If we are serious about exploiting the moon, and the rest of the solar system, we need practical experience living 'somewhere else'. It would be best to make mistakes close to home and not months away.


Automation has it's limits - it's best in an environment where you can predict exactly what will happen and when, less so as you introduce more variables. A human presence can mitigate trouble before it starts or introduce an interrupt loop to keep automation from making repeated, dumb mistakes.

You've heard the phrase "computers make very fast automated mistakes" I'm sure.


A mystical zen sorta reason; we're human because _we_ explore, not because we send robots to do a man's job. The last is hardest to defend, but it's the one most people feel in their gut; that unless you plant a person on the ground you've not laid human claim to the place.


And last, there is no reason why you can't have both - robots/drones to do the scut work, humans to keep an eye on things and do .. human stuff. Complimentary, not exclusive.

Posted by: Brian on January 17, 2004 07:41 PM

____

On our own planet, there are species (plants, insects) that we are ignorant of. It's thought by many botanists, etc., that many useful sources of medication lie in the tropical rainforests we're so busy destroying--the same is true for the oceans. And it's not like there aren't plenty of human problems that could use some solving in the US as well as elsewhere. If Bush and his buddies want space exploration--let them pay for it--they've spent enough years spending other people's money.

Posted by: sh on January 17, 2004 08:49 PM

____

Insofar as thinking is partly embodied, consider the possibility that the somatic organism must itself experience a new environment for some kinds of new thoughts to make their connection in the brain. (This may be particularly useful to an inquiry such as physics.) Human experience of space will increase the rate of innovation, leading eventually to productivity growth.

Of course it will also increase the rate of innovation in robotics.

But going with Brian, I believe we should do it just because it's there. Myself, no--claustrophobe. But it should enlarge the thoughts of those who remain down here, too.

Perhaps it will inspire people to suppose they could refrain from destroying the few remaining wildlife areas...

Posted by: Lee A. on January 17, 2004 09:28 PM

____

And do you know why very little extra money was given to NASA for the moonbase? That's because when our brave astronauts go there they are not going to take any food with them. They are going to go to Chinese base for a Dim Sum - and they will bring the fortune cookies back home for George W.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 09:29 PM

____

What would be the point of a human Moonbase--rather than a bunch of robots--anyway?

The manned mission communities of NASA are in Houston and Florida.

Next question.

Posted by: Troy on January 17, 2004 09:35 PM

____

Interesting - a serious non-political question and some posters drag politics back into it.

The root question precedes the current partisan mess by decades, and informs many aspects of your lives now, and in the future. Are you afraid to abandon your petty bickering? You have to believe in something bigger than yourself.

Posted by: Brian on January 17, 2004 10:16 PM

____

It's a shelter for bad Republicans, for them to hide out during the post-rapture tribulation.

Just think how that'll drive campaign donations!

Posted by: Jon H on January 17, 2004 11:11 PM

____

Well, to my sci-fi way of thinking, it seems that we could actually look at the moon as our launching pad to other planets, minus the g-forces of Earth of course. It'll take a while, but we have to start somewhere.

And to the question why go to other planets, I borrow from the comment above that we explore, therefore we are.

Posted by: ccobb on January 18, 2004 12:00 AM

____

This post brings up even bigger questions for me. If we are capable of doing everything telepresently with robots on the moon and at the sea bottom that we can do with humans, can we do everything telepresently with robots on EARTH that we can do with humans?

I have to assume that the answer is yes, which means that all non-intellectual labor is ALREADY replacable with CURRENT TECHNOLOGY. I further presume that the reason it has not already been replaced is that on Earth land, human labor is cheaper.

But will that always be the case? Isn't the price of the robotics technology falling? Is there some theoretic limit to how far it can fall? Is the rental value of the raw materials for robots less the minimum wage? If so, presumeably all non-intellectual labor WILL BE replaced. And if so, how soon will that happen?

Posted by: Decnavda on January 18, 2004 12:33 AM

____

Why? Because bandwidth and latency are killers.

Look at all the complaints the CIA has about the problem of operating a predator drone or two just around the back of our own planet and you'll get an idea of the scope the problem.

Teleoperating any sort of complex manufacturing operation on the Moon from Earth just isn't going to happen for the foreseeable future.

Posted by: Michael Robinson on January 18, 2004 03:30 AM

____

What would be the point of a human Moonbase--rather than a bunch of robots--anyway?

"rps" has got the right answer. Technologically, it would be much more efficient to send some robots up there, but the President was not thinking of economic and/or technological progress, he was thinking about next november, and he was thinking in terms of image, media and communication (and you've got to admit, he might be a dangerous moron, but he knows a thing or two about image and communication - cf. his Iraqi turkey dinner). You need "our boys up there", walking around with American flags, otherwise the general public will not even bother to notice you are doing something potentially useful. You could always try re-reading Norman Mailers "Fire on the Moon" to understand political mythology.

Posted by: gerhard on January 18, 2004 05:36 AM

____

Decnavda
"This post brings up even bigger questions for me. If we are capable of doing everything telepresently with robots on the moon and at the sea bottom that we can do with humans, can we do everything telepresently with robots on EARTH that we can do with humans?

I have to assume that the answer is yes, which means that all non-intellectual labor is ALREADY replacable with CURRENT TECHNOLOGY. I further presume that the reason it has not already been replaced is that on Earth land, human labor is cheaper."

Your premise is wrong. Non-intellectual labor is not replacable by current tele-presence technology.

The biggest reason is one that will be hard to beat - communication delay. You can get around that by siting the operators adjacent to the equipment, but then what's the point?

Posted by: Brian on January 18, 2004 06:45 AM

____

If a fraction of the monies that NASA has spent on manned missions over the past 30 years had gone to JPL for AI and robotics research, we might know exponentially more about the solar system than we do now. The only part of a human that belongs in space is the mind...

Posted by: jim in austin on January 18, 2004 09:16 AM

____

Jim in austin
"If a fraction of the monies that NASA has spent on manned missions over the past 30 years had gone to JPL for AI and robotics research, we might know exponentially more about the solar system than we do now. The only part of a human that belongs in space is the mind..."

But what use is knowledge without being able to _use_ that knowledge to better the human condition?

Posted by: Brian on January 18, 2004 10:15 AM

____

Brian: You are ignoring cost efficiency and risk. Robotics are already displacing labor where the cost makes sense. High risk activities such as war will become more and more robotic. In space, the numbers have always been on the side of robotic exploration. What has been lacking is the investment in the required technologies, mainly because of the funds drain of the "sexy" manned programs. JPL has long been the red-headed stepchild living on table scraps...

Posted by: jim in austin on January 18, 2004 10:30 AM

____

Hey, ho. Never ever imagine what might be done building better lives for people right down here.

January 17, 2004

Schwarzenegger Budget Denies Some Health Care
By JOHN M. BRODER - NYTimes

LOS ANGELES It is nearly impossible for many Californians to comprehend the sum of $14 billion, the current estimate of the state's budget deficit next year, and the cuts and contortions that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to make it disappear.

So think about $320 a month, the price for Esther Bush to include her 8-year-old daughter, Natalia, on her employer-paid health plan. She says she cannot afford it. Governor Schwarzenegger says the state cannot afford to insure Natalia, either.

Until last spring, Natalia received medical coverage under Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. But when Ms. Bush received a small increase in her salary, she no longer qualified for the program and instead was told to apply to Healthy Families, a state-federal health insurance program for the near-poor.

Because of computer and paperwork problems, her application was delayed, as the state's fiscal situation continued to deteriorate. Governor Schwarzenegger, in his budget presentation last week, proposed capping enrollment in the Healthy Families program at the current level, 732,000 children. An estimated 300,000 additional children are eligible, but could be enrolled only as new slots open under the cap.

New applicants, like Natalia, will be placed on a waiting list, as Ms. Bush put it, "for God knows how long." In the meantime, Ms. Bush prays that no emergencies befall her. As it is, she spends four hours waiting to see a doctor at a neighborhood clinic when her daughter when her daughter has an ear infection or stomachache....

Posted by: anne on January 18, 2004 11:02 AM

____

Hey ho. Children can find all the health care they need on Mars?

Posted by: anne on January 18, 2004 11:06 AM

____

Is the question whether we shouldn't be talking about other things? Or that we shouldn't spend the money on other things? Because surely there's actually enough money to do everything important. "Doubleyou" himself has conclusively demonstrated that money is an accounting artifact. Broadening it at least to about M-27.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 18, 2004 12:04 PM

____

On second thought, Brad's probably right. Your telepresence precedes you!

Or: telepresence (noun) def. 2: your reputation.

Or: Queen Isabella's telepresence: Christopher Columbus!

"By god, Carruthers! That was no man! That was our robot!"

Posted by: Lee A. on January 18, 2004 12:06 PM

____

Jim in austin
"You are ignoring cost efficiency and risk. "

No, I'm not. My question stands: what use is knowledge without being able to _use_ that knowledge to better the human condition?

Anne
"Never ever imagine what might be done building better lives for people right down here."

Investment in space will be paid back and make 'right down here' a better place to live.

An analogy would be seed corn. You can eat your seed corn now and have a full belly. Or go hungry a bit now, sow the seed next spring and harvest your bounty in the fall: rinse and repeat forever amen.

Posted by: Brian on January 18, 2004 12:08 PM

____

"what use is knowledge without being able to _use_ that knowledge to better the human condition?"

That would be the ageless argument between the theoretical and applied sciences. I have no hope of resolving the dispute but will throw my 2 farthings in with the theoretical crowd. Science, knowledge and discovery are self-justifying, applications be damned (although they inevitably follow)...

Posted by: jim in austin on January 18, 2004 03:20 PM

____

I admit it, I grew up on Isaac Asimov, and our class watched Kennedy on TV and listened to the Sputnik beep. That, Martian Chronicles, and Saturday Martian matinees. It was burned into our genes, proof of brainwashing's power.

Then school got ratshit hard, all 'heads down and cram that calculus', so I got a few good years out of the space race, but only because I stayed right here on earth. A lotta guys made big bucks on nuclear power too, and see where that got our country.

My favorite space story remains one I think also by Asimov, about interplanetary travel, all the politicians and industrialists wanting to be the first to go, based on what the astronomers had projected was there with their Uranian probes, and weightless pleasure hotels in lunar orbit. Everyone else stayed behind, destroyed the space launchers, and went back to an agragrian life.;)

There is absolutely nothing there to go TO. In fact, the Moon is the definition of nothingness.
To date, we haven't created a successful "base" setup here on Earth, and there's never been even a marginally successful "canned astronaut" test. Imagine sitting in your SUV with your family, eating tooth paste, weightless, shitting (am I allowed to say that?) out your car window, and recycling your piss for water, for *six months*.

COME ON! Then what are you going to do when you get there? Take some pictures, hop around, kick some rocks, and then GET THE HELL BACK TO EARTH!

You could not prove more conclusively Americans are insane, than that we agree to fund a $150B program ($2.50T with scope-creep, cost-growth and technology obsolescence) to send some poor slobs to Mars and back for a handful of rocks,
when 40,000,000 Americans have no health care, and 3,000,000 American kids have nothing to eat.

We live in a gravity well, on a warm rock bathed in a bitter sea no thicker than a frog's breath, and GW's talking about leaving our lily pad and gallavanting off into Void? Nothingness? Nada?
What's he been smoking up there in the Big House?Let him go first! I'll be waiting right here....


Posted by: Sol Arsyst on January 19, 2004 02:16 AM

____

Jim in Austin
"That would be the ageless argument between the theoretical and applied sciences. I have no hope of resolving the dispute but will throw my 2 farthings in with the theoretical crowd. Science, knowledge and discovery are self-justifying, applications be damned (although they inevitably follow)..."

I can respect that. I may not understand it (grin) but I can respect it. You are, after all, enjoying the benefits of applied science, not sitting on a bench in the Forum debating the cirumferance of the moon with Pliny the Elder (tease, poke-poke)

Posted by: Brian on January 19, 2004 05:26 AM

____

Finally something that makes sense for the Bush crowd:

The moon, scientists have said, is a source of potentially unlimited energy in the form of the helium 3 isotope -- a near perfect fuel source: potent, nonpolluting and causing virtually no radioactive byproduct in a fusion reactor.

"And if we could get a monopoly on that, we wouldn't have to worry about the Saudis and we could basically tell everybody what the price of energy was going to be," said Pike.

Gerald Kulcinski of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison estimated the moon's helium 3 would have a cash value of perhaps $4 billion a ton in terms of its energy equivalent in oil.

Scientists reckon there are about 1 million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the earth for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 30 tons could meet all U.S. electric power needs for a year, Kulcinski said by e-mail.

From: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20040118/pl_nm/space_weapons_dc

Posted by: jim in austin on January 19, 2004 07:34 AM

____

Re He3 fusion:

It's true that the deuterium-helium3 (hereafter D-He3) fusion reaction produces only charged particles (easy to extract energy from, easy to shield). But you need deuterium too. Put a bunch of (hot!) D and He3 together, and you'll have D-D fusion going on too. D-D fusion produces neutrons half of the time. Neutrons activate things (read: make radioactive) and are hard to shield.

Read any claims about He3 fusion with a skeptical eye.

Posted by: John Aspinall on January 19, 2004 09:13 AM

____

You don't need He3 to get power from space.

Set up an array of solar power sats in GEO, then beam the power to rectenna on earth. You could probably service, if not build, the array with drones or robots.

Last year or the year before, some researchers in Japan were playing with the idea of using lasers to beam the power to collectors on Earth. You could get by with a much smaller receiver that way.

Posted by: Brian on January 19, 2004 09:39 AM

____

Any Moonbase intended to actually do something (mining, launches, ktl.) would have both robots and people; the humans would be there to fix the robots without a 2.5 second delay. I can see doing
it by telepresence now:

"Turn the screwdriver"

"Turn the screwdriver"

....
"Turn the screwdriver"

"NO! You stupid robot! Not that far!" [CRUnCH!]

Posted by: Paul on January 19, 2004 02:06 PM

____

Any Moonbase intended to actually do something (mining, launches, ktl.) would have both robots and people; the humans would be there to fix the robots without a 2.5 second delay. I can see doing
it by telepresence now:

"Turn the screwdriver"

"Turn the screwdriver"

....
"Turn the screwdriver"

"NO! You stupid robot! Not that far!" [CRUnCH!]

Posted by: Paul on January 19, 2004 02:06 PM

____

Any Moonbase intended to actually do something (mining, launches, ktl.) would have both robots and people; the humans would be there to fix the robots without a 2.5 second delay. I can see doing
it by telepresence now:

"Turn the screwdriver"

"Turn the screwdriver"

....
"Turn the screwdriver"

"NO! You stupid robot! Not that far!" [CRUnCH!]

Posted by: Paul on January 19, 2004 02:06 PM

____

Any Moonbase intended to actually do something (mining, launches, ktl.) would have both robots and people; the humans would be there to fix the robots without a 2.5 second delay. I can see doing
it by telepresence now:

"Turn the screwdriver"

"Turn the screwdriver"

....
"Turn the screwdriver"

"NO! You stupid robot! Not that far!" [CRUnCH!]

Posted by: Paul on January 19, 2004 02:10 PM

____

Post a comment
















__