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« What percent of the American flag is blue? | Main | Why I’m against colonizing Mars »

May 31, 2007


Christopher Taylor

Well, lets hope they get it done; NASA supposedly has another moon landing planned for 2020, in a stunning display of incompetence. We should have had a base up there by now, and we've had ONE LANDING in the last 38 years.

Maybe a space race could light a fire under them.

Frank Warner

I was just thinking. Has someone else other than the U.S. and Russia landed anything on the moon?

It's possible the European Space Agency put something up there. They're certainly able. In any case, Europe is not one nation.

Christopher Taylor

Did the Soviet Union get anything on the moon? I thought the US was the only people who put anything there, certainly the only people there.

Frank Warner

I'm sure the Russians at least crash-landed a lunar probe. I'm not sure of the name of it.


What you're overlooking is that the US put a flag on it in 1969.

Means it's ours.

jj mollo

The moon is just a gravity sink. We should be creating a serious space station with the sole purpose of colonizing Mars. Its possible to develop a self-sustaining community there since there are resources and an atmosphere. As far as I know, water on the moon has not yet been discovered in sufficient quantities to make the endeavor worthwhile. Mars is the target.

We now have the means to launch huge quantities of material for a reasonable cost by using a circular railgun launch device. We just need to fund it. We are spending all our money on the wrong priorities.

Frank Warner

I don't know why we'd want to colonize Mars. The air temperature rarely breaks 32 degrees Fahrenheit. And talk about greenhouse gases! 95 percent of its atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and only .13 percent is oxygen.

Earth would have to die before we could give a practical justification for colonizing Mars. I'd like to see a small Mars station for scientific experiments, but "colonizing," if I'm guessing correctly what you mean, sounds unnecessary.

* * *

By the way, the first spacecraft to reach the moon was Luna 2, a Soviet craft that smashed into the lunar surface on Sept. 14, 1959.

Less than 10 years later, Armstrong and Aldrin were planting the American flag in the Sea of Tranquility.

America's first craft to reach the moon was Ranger 6, which made impact on Feb. 2, 1964.

The European Space Agency's Smart 1 spacecraft took pictures and then smashed intentionally on the moon Sept. 1, 2006. I believe that was the first ESA probe to reach the moon.

Christopher Taylor

A lunar base would give us the ability to mine the moon and build ships for exploration and mining of the rest of the solar system. It's a great staging point for the rest of the planets without the huge gravity the Earth produces.

jj mollo

Hey Frank, Haven't you heard of Minnesota? People live there too.

Just as there is no guarantee that Earth will remain its hospitable self, there is nothing inevitable about the present climate of Mars. Everything we learn about Global Warming here on Earth can be applied in reverse on Mars. I'm a believer in terraforming.

If you were to ask around NASA how many folks would like to move to Mars, I think you might find that it's a lot more popular as a destination than you seem to think. There is a whole planet full of stuff to discover, and the process of getting there and living there will teach us as much as anything else. We just have to make up our minds to do it.

Is it worth doing? Such a small question. There is some risk that we will be wasting our money, but we have so many programs where it is certain that we are wasting our money. How about we close down the agricultural subsidies and use the money for Mars? How about dropping the War on Drugs? The payoff on a Mars project could be unparalleled. I worry that the US has lost some of its vision and resolve. Here’s some things on the American resumé. The trans-continental railway ... the fight against slavery ... the Panama Canal ... the Brooklyn Bridge … the battles against totalitarianism ... the Interstate Highway System ... paintball … the Moon race itself ... the cracking of the genetic code ... Hollywood … hanggliding and ultralights ... the elimination of smallpox ... Moore's Law ... hell, even Disneyworld and the Crystal Cathedral … ntm the Internet. Maybe I should include Japan and South Korea. I personally think that we are amazing.

These are the kinds of things that we do! Let’s not start backing off now. We need people like Norman Borlaug, Buckminster Fuller, Paul MacCready, Jerry Woodall, Steve Jobs. You got a problem? Find a solution. If not, do something worth doing.

The Mars thing is not the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s not a makework program. There are good reasons to do it. If we’re not capable of doing it, let’s find out.

There’s always someone saying we could build a hundred hospitals with the cost of one Stealth bomber. Yeah, well if we need more hospitals it has nothing to do with our ability to build them. We have an unbelievable capacity which only seems to grow as it is called upon, but it shrinks if we shy away from a challenge.

Frank Warner

JJ, I agree that we have to be open to big thinking and we must have the boldness and resolve to take big steps.

After we landed on the moon in 1969, I made a special license plate for my parents' car. It said "Mars in '76." So I'm in no way discouraging a ride to the red planet. It's 30 years overdue.

Colonizing Mars has much less appeal. "Terraforming" would be so expensive and the benefits so unlikely for so many generations that I don't think you'll be able to thrill anyone with that idea for long. That's a matter of sitting down and looking at the bang for the buck.

You land on Mars. There's the benefit of some minor discoveries. There's the thrill of the American flag against the reddish sky. Then the project goes boring. Then it's cost, cost, cost, cost.

Maybe a nuclear-thermal rocket or some faster spacecraft would make a difference. We could slingshot humans so far into space that the Mars landing would look pointless by comparison.

We also have some Earthbound projects we should attend to. We should be starting on the functional equivalent of a transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system. It should be high-speed trains or even high-speed cars on magnets, run on fuel that has nothing to do with oil.

There are visions all over the place. I'd a like to ride to Minnesota at the speed of light. I just don't want us parking on Mars.

jj mollo

Norman Borlaug, described by Penn Jillette as the greatest man who ever lived, has died. He should have been Man of the Century in 2000, but he'll get another chance in 2100.

Borlaug believed that the environment suffers not from too much technology, but from too little. Those who have been opposed to genetically modified crops and other innovations need to recognize the problem of hunger and come up with their own solutions. Simple-minded negativism doesn't cut it any more.

jj mollo

Here's another story about Norman Borlaug. It's from All Things Pakistan and says some gratifying things.

... Few in Pakistan have ever heard his name, but no one has had a deeper impact, for good as well as bad, on agriculture in Pakistan as we know it today than Dr. Norman Borlaug.


To understand just how important he was in shaping agriculture in Pakistan - no, it was not Ayub Khan, it was Norman Borlaug who shaped it - a reading of Gregg Easterbrook’s 1997 profile of Norman Borlaug is instructive.

That's Gregg Easterbrook, the sportswriter of TMQ fame. Borlaug was still working when he died, btw.

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