Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/17/nasa-video-space-is-hard.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/17/nasa-video-space-is-hard.html
NASA: The Trailer.
Always nice to see our tax dollars at work. Better than building all that military crap frankly.
Maybe we could get the Honest Trailer guy to do a take no this.
Also: go Mark Kelly!!!
Anyone want to bet Elon Musk lands a woman on the moon before NASA does? Mars?
I’m partial to this whole series myself, mb it’s just that I miss the man…
They were supposed to all be wearing red MAGA hats. Where are the hats? I was told there would be hats…
So is this quote the origin of the Devo song?
Yeah, well, that was inspiring. Just a sec, I was chopping onions.
If that was me they were gearing up, I swear all I could think would be “I’m putting on a f-cking SPACESUIT. I’m a g-ddam ASTRONAUT putting on a f-cking SPACESUIT and I’m going to the motherf-cking MOON.”
Much like that old Onion article embellishing Armstrong’s radio chatter.
I’m tired of just probes. Let’s get some %#&*@# astronauts on the moon and the other planets! This is for mankind. Let’s #%&# and make space babies. Imagine being a citizen of the Moon, or Mars, or one of Jupiter’s moons. What will it be like for humans who spent their whole lives on a celestial body other than Earth? Let’s &%$#@ find out.
My favorite bit of “space is hard” (technical notes division) is NASA astronaut* Don Pettit’s essay The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation, which details why it’s so freakin’ hard to get to orbit, with a very clear explication of Tsiolkovsky’s Rocket Equation.
*Expedition 30/31 Flight Engineer
Very good, although it does not really explain the advantage of staging: NOT carrying empty fuel tanks and engines that have been turned off* into orbit.
*Since thrust tends to be constant, but the spacecraft gets lighter as propellant is consumed, acceleration goes up over time. Eventually it would get too high for people to survive, or for a vehicle consisting mostly of nearly empty fuel tanks to maintain structural integrity. Indeed on the Saturn V they had to turn off one of the five engines in the first stage before it was discarded.
Personally, I have always been annoyed with NASA’s compulsion to constantly try to impress us with how ‘hard’ everything about space is. Space is what it is. How hard it is depends on your choice of approach, and NASA chooses a hard approach that reinforces a heroic space adventure narrative originally cultivated for the sake of Cold War Space Race propaganda. That narrative is the single-greatest obstacle to space development and the mainstream public’s access to space. There are cheaper, safer, easier alternatives that deliberately don’t get explored.
EVA doesn’t work. It’s not a practical way to work in the space environment. It can never be routine. It most-certainly is hard and dangerous, and that’s the whole damned problem, not a virtue. It will never enable regular folks to work and live out there. And the proof of that simple fact is, literally, zooming over our heads right now.
Can you imagine what it would be like if every company that needed to build telecom systems had to deploy their own telecom towers and poles? But they don’t because the obviously more practical and cost-effective approach is to share space on common structures. But with satellites companies do the equivalent of building all their own telecom towers. Thousands of completely independent telecom stations, engineered at ridiculous cost for ridiculous levels of reliability so they can function for decades unattended, rather than sharing a much smaller set of platforms where hardware can be routinely repaired and upgraded. This is why we have a space junk problem today.
If EVA actually worked, why would you need to do that? How would that make sense? Up until these few billionaire space cadets got involved, commercial aerospace companies showed little interest in manned spaceflight beyond what they could make for space agencies pursuing it. Nothing was stopping them from making their own commercial manned spacecraft if they though there was actually a point to it. Were they all just stupid? Or did they simply understand that this seemingly ridiculous way of doing things was, in fact, the cheaper way given the simple reality that --in truth-- we lack any practical means to work, make, and build in space? Is it not plainly bizarre that the same man who is now building a rocket to carry 100 people to Mars is also proposing to launch 30,000 new satellites? If he still needs satellites, what will those 100 people be doing? It doesn’t matter how cheap the rocket seats are if all you can do on arrival is stare out a porthole.
Even in Wernher von Braun’s time the limitations of the suited astronaut were well understood. Likewise, the likely upper limits in payload for rockets that could safely be launched from land. If we were going to do significant things out there, that meant being able to build out there and any serious construction work in space was very plainly going to require machine assistance to make it easier, safer, and increase work duration. We don’t hire Olympic athletes in 15 million dollar outfits to build our houses and buildings. How the hell would we ever industrialize and colonize space if doing stuff like that isn’t brought down to the level of mainstream society? And this is why von Braun proposed his ‘bottle suit’ concept so famously depicted in early Disney space films. That was the inspiration for what would become a variety of ‘EVA podcraft’ in films and exhibits like Disney Horizons. Similar things were proposed to NASA by the aerospace industry all across the Space Age. They were generally ignored, and the companies wouldn’t assume the risks of developing them alone. Later the concept evolved to much more compact, cheaper, and safer-still space telerobots like the Flight Telerobotic Servicer concept which was actually intended to do most of the work of building what was then still called Space Station Freedom, with a role of being a real logistics facility --a shipyard in space. With such telerobots, the entire near-Earth space environment out to the Moon is safely and easily accessible from the comfort of an Earth-bound office. Yet that was killed with the all-too-common excuse of cost-overruns despite a congressional mandate to pursue it. Even congressmen understood there was a need for a better way to work in space!
Why has NASA always resisted things like this? Why do they still think they can impress us with how hard space is when there are these increasingly obvious alternatives? Most of us are pretty aware now of how much robotics has empowered things like ocean research --and now those UROVs are becoming a hobby item! I feel it’s because making space accessible is the last thing they actually want to do. Because if working in space was ever made safe, easy, and --god forbid!-- mundane it would become just another industry that the government would have no reason to invest in and which they would then leave to the private sector. They need space to remain a special place for their special people.
The sky has historically been regarded as a mythic realm of gods, monsters, and heroes. That was exploited in the Space Race. It wasn’t enough to just prove our national technical/industrial prowess sending hardware out there. To prove our superiority as a culture --to ourselves as much as others-- we had to send people to that mythic realm and depict them doing heroic death-defying things. And space agencies still believe this to be critical to their continued public funding. Without that, they don’t think we would care about anything they do --despite the fact that more school kids can name all the robots on Mars than a handful of current astronauts.
Maybe that’s true. But to me, it’s BS. I don’t want to hear how ‘hard’ space is. Tell me how your making it accessible to someone like me --middle-aged and chronically ill. Because I’m most of society and if space settlement is ever going to actually happen, we’re the ones who will have be going out there. If you can’t do that, then I have no reason to care about your little he-man space show anymore than I might care about Big Science. We don’t call mountain climbers heroes anymore --we call them extreme sports enthusiasts-- because normal people can take the funicular.
No, but it explains why staging is necessary.
It’s the reason why a reusable Single Stage To Orbit vehicle is (and will probably remain) a fanciful pipe dream. Even the most energetic chemical propellants don’t have the margin to put a durable, recoverable vehicle into orbit with all its huge boost tanks and engines.
Staging is the dodge we use to get around the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation.
Just 10m/s to leave the planet; 40,320 kph to not fall back again.
Space math is crazy
“compound interest is the most powerful force in the Universe.”
To be clear, here: this video (which, maybe you didn’t watch?) is, specifically, about how hard it is to try something new and scary and uncertain: the Artemis mission of returning a human crew to the Moon using a new generation of spacecraft, with the goal being the discovery of usable resources and the establishment of the Lunar Gateway. Trips to the Moon have claimed multiple lives and it’s a massive undertaking.
But NASA isn’t just going back to the Moon and working on tech to get us to Mars. They’re also working with private space contractors (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, etc) on new tech and launchers to make space accessible to people like yourself. It’ll be expensive at first, like any new technology, but I have no doubt that visiting space will be a possibility in my lifetime.
Going into space is hard, which is why NASA is chronically underfunded and defunded. I’m glad they’re doing things like this video to remind people how hard they work when given a chance.
I think NASA is probably also underfunded because it’s science. Because of the failures of our health care system and education areas, for starters, there are statistically few people interested in the science of it, and then folks who aren’t interested in that want to know what it’s doing for them, because they had to spend their retirement on their spouse’s hospital bills.
I do think the scattershot funding of good science in this country is horrific, tbh, and a great society obvsly pursues great science.
And while I’m spewing opinions, I also loathe hype videos, whether for sports teams or federal entities.
That’s the perennial broken promise; that this somehow all leads to public access to space. Somehow the pathfinding begets a highway. But, after 60 years, no hint of a highway emerged and the path to it remains undefined. It’s rather like trickle-down economics. Upon analysis, there is no path from A to B and the proponents can’t even tell you what that path might look like. It’s simply taken on faith that A must inevitably somehow lead to B. We just have to keep the faith. Faith isn’t enough.
What does mainstream public access to space even mean? What does it look like? In the late 20th century you could get away with hand-waving that because the public was pretty ignorant and all the likely prospects were a couple generations down the road. And a lot of people still prescribe to the rather goofy visions cultivated by space futurism and SciFi of the time; the Pan Am Orion and hotels on big space wheels. Giant solar power stations. The giant spinning colonies. People and their pets galavanting around in space suits. The trope of deep space travel as something akin to merchant shipping in the 18th century. For a long time we pinned those possibilities on the Red Herring of CATS. It was all about the cost of getting people out there. Fix that and everything else falls into place. Build it and they will come. (spoiler: launch costs are keyed to payload value and the engineered reliability needed to insure it, not rocket technology…)
But I think more thoughtful people are past such silliness. We now understand that what mainstream access to space really means is a practical way for regular folks to get at its resources and work, make, and build out there. The tools of actual in-space industry on which entrepreneurship can be leveraged, new companies and jobs created, big things built. And we now also know that EVA ain’t it. NASA had decades to prove that worked and all they proved was that most of society will never have the ‘right stuff’. Yet they offer no alternative. They know what that is. They’ve danced around it for a long time. It’s robotics. And a growing portion of society now knows this too. We accept that it doesn’t matter so much whether we’re out there in the vacuum in-person or virtually, as that doesn’t matter as much in our wired workaday world anymore. In truth, we’re more likely to get a more visceral experience of the space environment by telepresence than what any bulky suit might offer. What matters is what we can actually do in that environment.
Our machines have already done a good job of showing us what’s out there, and there are no likely big surprises waiting. No world of Avatar to stumble onto in an overlooked crater somewhere. Space is no longer about what we might find out there. It’s about what we might make there. But robotics still only matters to NASA in the context of places their astronauts can’t yet go, insuring there’s no risk they might be made to seem redundant.
Very little of the Artemis program relates in any way to directly improving our ability to work in space --because it’s ultimately about getting ‘boots on the ground’. We have decades of experience demonstrating there’s nothing particularly useful coming from that no matter how many of those boots you want to put there. Forget about that Six Degrees of Separation game of Technology Transfer. Nothing of any significance, no lasting infrastructure, is going to be built in space by hand. No one is mining the Moon or asteroids by hand. No one is doing comprehensive assay out there by hand. So what is the point of sending more extreme tourists to risk life so they can waddle-around, pick up some rocks, and take photos? School kids now build robots that can do at least that much.
Until we can get beyond the limitations of what fits whole on one rocket, no significant development in space is possible. There’s no possibility for economically creating the kinds of things that are actually necessary to allow normal people to be able to safely go out there to live --and live well. To build the funicular and obsolesce the mountain climbers. As far as I’m concerned, the only practical work being done in space today is projects like Archinaut. Nothing else is addressing that critical bottleneck to space development; how to make and build. The rest is just a show for the rubes.
I didn’t know schookids were building advanced robots made to search for evidence of water on the moon, or that kids in school are doing advanced science research that’s far more than what NASA is accomplishing!
I had no idea that astronauts aren’t actually doing repairs during EVAs, or that the Artemis mission isn’t planned around doing research. Or that NASA doesn’t actually know what mainstream space access is (despite making their plans quite public).
Gosh, the things you learn on the Internet in a series of paragraphs by anonymous people! Thanks, random pundit!
Sunday Internet Classics:
I think that optimism was at least partly born of the fact that in the 60s aviation was still in the midst of a Moore’s law-like revolution. Air travel just kept getting faster, more comfortable, and more reliable. Of course once turbojets were widely adopted that progress slowed, and air travel became cheaper and less comfortable. But at the time, the march of progress seemed inevitable, and space travel seemed like it was just the next step, with no reason to think that it too would not become easier and more common.
As it turned out the next technological revolution was in computers, not aviation. That too looks like it may be petering out, with most progress from the fact that cell-phones are becoming ubiquitous rather than people having access to exponentially more computing power.
At it turns out, space IS hard, and despite all the talk from the Public Affairs Officers about the Space Shuttle, it is always going to resemble a trip on a Zeppelin more than a modern airliner. Most of the vehicle is a huge container full of an inflammable substance that has been built as lightly as possible because the margins are so tight that otherwise it will never get off of the ground. So it is very expensive, and not all that safe. And that is unlikely to ever change.