Nobel-winning boffin slams ISS, manned spaceflight
'Infantile fixation on putting people into space'
A Nobel laureate physicist has poured scorn on human space exploration, saying "the whole manned spaceflight programme, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of scientific value".
Professor Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, co-recipient of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics, was speaking at a workshop in Baltimore. His remarks were reported by Space.com.
Weinberg had especially harsh words for the International Space Station (ISS), saying that it was "an orbital turkey... No important science has come out of it. I could almost say no science has come out of it".
The irascible particle physicist went on to slam astronauts in general.
"Human beings don't serve any useful function in space," he said. "They radiate heat, they're very expensive to keep alive, and unlike robotic missions they have a natural desire to come back, so that anything involving human beings is enormously expensive."
He criticised astronauts for mindlessly playing golf in space while hardworking, relatively cheap robot Mars rovers brought home the scientific bacon.
Unsurprisingly for a particles boffin, the testy prof felt that the billions poured into manned orbiting turkeys would have been better spent on a really big atom-smasher.
According to Space.com, Weinberg is still cheesed off about the 1993 cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, a monstrous particle-punishing magnetic carousel which was to have been built in his own Texas backyard. Apparently, Congress decided to spend the cash on the ISS instead.
"Coming from Texas, that memory is really a burning one," said the embittered scientist. He added that NASA should prioritise unmanned scientific missions such as those listed under the agency's "Beyond Einstein" push rather than funnelling cash into an Apollo-style crash effort to put astronaut boots on Mars.
"NASA's budget is increasing," said Weinberg grimly, "with the increase being driven by what I see on the part of the president and the administrators of NASA as an infantile fixation on putting people into space, which has little or no scientific value".
Even as he spoke, NASA confirmed his worst fears by announcing that applications are now being taken for a new intake of astronauts, to commence training in 2009. The agency has not run a space-ace intake class since 2004, when it signed on 11 astro-rookies.
Wannabe astronauts who are undeterred by Weinberg's scorn will need a bachelor's degree in engineering, science, or maths and at least three years' experience. Historically, this has usually meant a career as a military fast-jet test pilot or an academic scientist or engineer; but nowadays NASA wants to recruit teacher astronauts too, and classroom coalface time can count.
Here at the Reg, we don't quite know what to think. The idea of manned spaceflight is frankly more appealing than just sitting here on Earth looking at the rest of the universe until the end of the world, maybe sending out robots now and again. On the other hand we're not terribly impressed with the idea of chemical rockets as the only propulsion technology for the foreseeable future, which is mainly what NASA plans on.
Maybe if the boffins got loads of cash for atom-smashers, deep space Einsteinian-physics-bender probes, etc, they might finally come up with hyperspace drives or antigravity or something. Then there could be a proper space exploration effort. It could be worth playing the long game.
Still, we here at Vulture Central come from a country that hardly puts any money at all into space projects, scientifically valuable or not. So we probably don't get a vote.
More from Space.com here. ®
Spinoffs or just "Spin"?
Almost all of the "useful" spinoffs from [manned] space travel were either in development for other purposes or would probably have been discovered/invented eventually anyway, what about the billions that were spent and had no other purpose but supporting human life in space? what about damage to the environment? the mental resources that could have been used to solve earthly problems?
Don't listen to this rubbish that people spout, look behind the spin and try to understand the facts.
So, the picture of the earth taken back in 1968, "Many argue this global awareness started the conservation movement" no they don't, this is just spin, and nothing else, and let's face it, nearly 40 years on, it didn't do a very good job did it?
A little bit of perspective is needed to cut through the spin, manned space travel is about propaganda, first man is space, first man on the moon, this is cold war stuff.
$12 billion? what direct, sustainable good could you do instead? off the top of my head, how about clean water for everybody on the planet? OK, wateraid estimate £15 per person and there's 1.1 billion people without clean water, so that would only help 400,000,000 people but I'm sure there's an economy of scale possible here.
3000 children die every single day of malaria, this is preventable.
Future of humanity space? are you serious? if we can't keep this biosphere alive what chance do we have out there?
Commentary: The Value of Human Spaceflight
Commentary: The Value of Human Spaceflight (Rebuttal by Russell Prechtl & George Whitesides, executive director - National Space Society)
Mr. Steven Weinberg has long been a vocal critic of NASA's manned spaceflight program, recently questioning the scientific usefulness of the International Space Station in particular, and asserting that the entire manned spaceflight program has produced nothing of scientific value.
The National Space Society [www.nss.org], composed of members who promote mankind's future of living and working in space, strongly supports NASA's manned spaceflight program, and disagrees with both the spirit and substance of his comments.
For a first response, we turn to another renowned physicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking, who has urged the human race to "spread out into space for the survival of the species." Hawking states the increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, or some other unknown danger as the primary reasons to diversify humanity's future beyond earth.
NASA has numerous examples of "spinoffs" from the space program, such as kidney dialysis machines, fetal heart monitors, programmable heart pacemakers, to name just a few that help Americans every day. Additionally, the International Space Station operations enable NASA to learn valuable scientific information about the long term effect of spaceflight on the human body, and how best to help humans adapt themselves for long trips, either in interplanetary space, or enroute to planets such as Mars.
While these are all important, they don't compare to the effect these achievements have on the human spirit. Many of us still remember the first time we saw Earth from the Moon's orbit, when the astronauts of Apollo 8 filmed it on Christmas Eve, in 1968. Many argue this global awareness started the conservation movement, which might turn out to be the space program's greatest spinoff, and may save the earth's climate in the long run. Many of us were inspired when we saw the astronauts walk on the Moon, and realized that if mankind could do that, we could do almost anything. The achievements of NASA's unmanned spacecraft are phenomenal, and deserving of acclaim, but they don't lift people's spirits to these heights.
Weinberg should understand that many citizens don't understand the benefits of theoretical physics to their own lives, and question the utility of the nation's investment in such work. That is an alternate explanation to why the Superconducting Super Collider was de-funded: Congress was not convinced of the utility of spending $12 billion on the project. Here is where we can observe a certain parallel with spaceflight: Both spaceflight and particle physics are basic investments in the future.
As the President stated during his Vision for Space Exploration speech, "The cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart." The National Space Society members support living and working in space, and the hundreds of people who have already bought their own suborbital spaceflight tickets are further proof that this is a vision that is spreading. For all the good NASA's manned spaceflight program has brought us, at the meager budget levels they're provided, we should be thanking and praising them for their dedicated perseverance.
It is not possible to predict all of the benefits that either the human space program or particle physics research will do for our country, but that does not mean that the searches are not worthy. It is important for us to pursue, and solve, the deepest questions of the universe, just as it is important for us to explore our solar system and eventually live beyond the confines of our home planet. Our descendents will thank us for both pursuits.
Should Queen Isabella & Columbus have waited?
>>"They should of waited and researched other technologies that would of put us further in space."
Then using *that* line of reasoning, Queen Isabella should of waited and researched other technologies that would have put Christopher Columbus further across the ocean -- like the steamship.
The Pilgrims should have waited to sail to Plymouth, Massachusetts by booking passage on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
Lewis & Clark could have cooled their heels until the Transcontinental Railroad was laid down.
The Pioneers of the Westward Expansion should have waited in their horse-drawn Conestoga Wagons until the automobile and Interstate Highway System was in place.
Charles Lindbergh shouldn't have bothered flying to Paris in such a flimsy plane like the "Spirit of St. Louis" when he could have waited to buy a ticket for a Boeing 777 or Airbus 380.
Yuri Gagarin, Al Shepard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong shouldn't have to show the rest of us the "Right Stuff" -- all we need to do is sit around with our thumbs up our behinds and wait another 200-300 years for Capt Kirk, Spock and Scotty to come along and take us to the stars.
Bottom Line: You go with with you got and take advantage of the improvements in technology as they come along or catch up with you, because the future doesn't wait for anyone.