Why send meat into space? What's the point of the manned spacecraft program, on which we've spent so much and achieved so little --- especially when compared with the results from unmanned space probes? Education is a poor excuse; kids can get excited about science in far better ways than by seeing celebrity-astronauts floating around on TV. (Consider hands-on experimentation, better teachers and better teacher training, etc. You can outfit lots of school labs for the cost of a single shuttle launch.) Manufacturing in microgravity has never paid off, and shows no sign of doing so ... and in any case, space industry works far better without those messy and unreliable humans in the vicinity, breathing, shedding flakes of skin, bumping into things, and otherwise disrupting a clean environment. Health? People haven't evolved to live in space, and without herculean efforts they rapidly deteriorate there. Not a good model for earth-based medical research. Remote sensing? Again, better done by robotic systems. And do we really need any more routes to becoming a politician?
Bottom line: at $10,000 to get a pound into orbit on a manned mission, with a ~1% risk of catastrophe per launch, it's not a smart game to be in. And don't blame NASA's bureaucracy for the failure of space to get off the ground ... it's not likely that anybody else could have done any better, given real-world constraints.
A better challenge, if we need one, would be to colonize the oceans. The sea offers a hostile environment, but not impossibly so ... a wealth of known underexploited resources ... relatively easy and cost-effective access ... huge volumes to occupy ... and plenty of opportunity for new discovery. Shall we get down?
Friday, February 23, 2001 at 21:26:55 (EST) = Datetag20010223