September 05, 2009
Maintaining a Station
As I reviewed twenty years of back issues of Ad Astra for a short article on its anniversary, I did a lot of thinking about where we (NSS members and the space movement in general) were back then, and where we are now.
Twenty years ago, in 1989, we had just recovered from the Challenger accident, and were catching up on the backlog of shuttle payloads: 3 DoD flights, Galileo, and Magellan launched that year.
Here we are in 2009, recovered from the Columbia accident, and catching up again--we got Hubble repaired and got that final solar array and Columbus and Kibo modules up.
Some people seem to think that we've not made much progress in space, especially those focused on returning to the Moon. I admit, I am disappointed that we haven't returned, and also worried that because of the economy, we will again postpone gaining the hands-on experience with in-situ resources that is necessary to really live in space.
But then I take a good look at what is happening on STS-128. The public is not interested in this space station mission. I had to dig in the newspaper to even find a small update--and I live in Space City (i.e., Houston). Most space enthusiasts (even this one) can only barely explain what those 13 people are actually doing up there in orbit.
What they are doing mostly is maintaining a station. The shuttle brought up supplies, tons and tons of them. The crew are unpacking, sorting, storing, testing all kinds of "stuff." The shuttle brought up the equivalent of a new appliance--the new ammonia tank, essential to the cooling system. (Hey, do they get cash for bringing back the old clunker?)
Isn't this exactly what NSS members have been pushing for 20 years? Routine space life. People living and working in space. The 13 men and women up there now, that's what they are doing. They are living the NSS dream.
So it's not on the surface of the Moon or Mars. Gerard O'Neill, whose city in space inspired many of us to join the movement 30-some years ago had his students do a study--some of you all will remember--that showed that humanity's future is not on the surface of any world, but in space itself. Now we know how to live there, and are ready to go out get the materials from the Moon, asteroids, and Mars, to build those space factories and cities.
We have indeed made amazing progress. Next week, Japan will launch a new cargo carrier. NASA has let contracts to develop a commercial cargo delivery system, and the entrepreneurs have responded. The X-Prize is celebrating its 5th anniversary this fall.
Still, I'm hoping, along with many other NSS members, that the Obama administration will understand that we can't sustain a permanent presence in space without access to in-space resources. And in fact, in-situ resources are the key to our economic future as well. (Insert solar power satellite promotion here from my previous posts!)
We owe a great deal of thanks to the crew of STS-128 and Expedition 20 (and their ground support teams) for doing these "routine" jobs, hauling cargo, repairing and replacing equipment, being test subjects for the food service and medical folks, doing repetitive research to confirm results, and generally making it all look easy.
Space enthusiasts know it really isn't easy or routine, and are reminded of that when things like debris threaten the station--but thank goodness what they are doing is NOT on the front page of the papers because of some problem or failure. Perhaps the lack of news is the true sign of success and progress?
How about a round of applause for maintaining a station!
To the stars,
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Posted by m_dyson at September 5, 2009 02:30 PM