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October 26, 2008

NASA's Covered Wagon to the Stars

Somehow this stuff stopped exciting me after I went to college.

"This is the next generation of lunar exploration," said Doug Craig, NASA program's manager, as an astronaut took the vehicle for a spin over a broad lava field framed by craggy mountains [in Arizona].

The battery powered rover travels at speeds of up to 6 mph. It is part of a range of systems and equipment being developed by the space agency for its planned return to the moon over the next decade.

NASA hopes to build a permanent manned base on the moon's surface as a prelude to subsequent exploration missions to Mars. ...

The new prototype has a pressurized cab and is fitted out with leather seats and bunks. It would allow a crew of two astronauts to take extended exploration trips for up to two weeks at a time, covering distances of up to 625 miles, Craig said.

Prediction: Western Civilization's next great expansion isn't going to result from scrambling around in the regolith for two weeks at a time and permanent bases on the Moon and Mars aren't going to lead to extraterrestrial colonization.

If humanity ever does leave Earth, it will be in three situations: the first requires that science progresses beyond rocket, electric, and nuclear pulse propulsion. We're never going to be colonizing with present methods of travel. Establishing a base on the Moon isn't going to help with the needed scientific breakthroughs.

The second situation in which humanity leaves Earth is as a different kind of human. Face facts, the human body is not suited for interstellar travel. The solar system is hostile enough, but outside of the protection of the heliosphere interstellar radiation is going to make colonization or even exploration impossible. Again, the research necessary to adapt the human body to extraterrestrial travel, not to mention the colonization of alien biospheres, is not going to be conducted at Moon and Mars bases.

The third situation, of course, will be with both truly fantastic forms of travel and as-yet fictional adaptation to the human person.

*New headline stolen from commenter g, because I can.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:08 PM

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