50th anniversary of humanity in space - What next?

On April 12 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Next Tuesday will be the 50th anniversary. We seem to have retreated from our investment in space lately. What does the future hold. Should we go further?

Robert Heinlein already knew in the 40s that chemical rockets lacked a future. That’s why when he wrote Rocketship Gallileo in 1947, he sent his space explorers in an atomic rocket instead of a conventional one.

In short, we are stuck on the ground because our technology is primitive, and sending people and cargo to space is too expensive. Besides, sending people to Mars with this rustic technology is inhuman.

What we need is new technology to send cargo to space and faster rockets to reach Mars. The hypersonic rockets, laser propulsion or the space elevators are technologies that may one day allow to send massive cargo to space cheaper, solving part of the problem: making it easier to go to orbit.

Frankling Chang-Diaz is working in Costa Rica developing the Vasimir plasma rockets, which could allow travelling to mars in 30 years instead of a year. Which could solve the second part of the problem.

Meanwhile, the space conquest is suspended.

30 years huh? Sign me up.

This does not sound like an improvement. :wink:

Anyways: we mine all the Helium-3 out of the moon that we can get our grubby paws on, set up a space elevator when carbon nanotube technologies are sufficiently advanced, enhance propulsion technologies, create and iterate on terraforming technologies. We also colonize the nearby celestial bodies that prove to be habitable with technological intervention. Then we continue expanding until we leave our birth-system and expand throughout the known universe so that by the time our star goes nova, the entirety of humanity will not be obliterated by it.

Ideally, somewhere along the way we discover the Immortality Pill, cure stupidity, and avoid any pesky inter or intragalactic wars with other species we encounter. I admit, the first and third bits are much easier than the middle one.

Ooops. I mean 30 days instead of a year… Ha Ha.

In any case, watch the Vasimir project. It is very promissing

There is actually a bigger problem than this. All of outer space is filled with radiation that is letha to human beings. Astronuats could survive it for a few days, but not for a few years. Sending humans to anywhere outside the earth-moon system is currently impossible because we have no way to protect against radiation. Building a radiation shield around a spaceship would make it ridiculously heavy and slow. It’s worth noting that Mars and other planets don’t have an atmosphere and a strong magnetic field to protect their surfaces, while earth does. Hence humans couldn’t live permanently anywhere other than here.

It’s not quite as bad as that. The human record for spaceflight is 437 days, with three people spending a year in orbit. Apollo 17 stayed out for six days away from the earth.
Certainly there wouldn’t even be potential plans for a Mars mission if it involved staying out so long that you got a lethal dose.

And I’m pretty sure that if you burrow under the surface of a moon or planet you’d have protection for radiation.


There are many dangerous things in the Universe.

We need to go out there and poke them.

I agree. With robots!

There isn’t a single bit of actual science a man can do that a robot can’t do better. Anything you can do, robot probes can do better. Robot probes can do everything better than you!

(No, they can’t!)

Yes, they can!

I ran out of fingers and toes, but my calculations say the 51st anniversary is next. Right?

Damn straight.
And with people, because robots can’t play Fizzbin.

Mars will be the next significant event for humans in space I think. A manned trip to Mars would be (will be hopefully) huge, and should bring back more data than all the robotic trips have to date…plus it will be a massively significant achievement for whichever country or countries manage to pull it off.


I believe that flight was in the Mir, where the astronaut in question was still protected by the Earth’s magnetic field.

Its not necessarily lethal, but its high enough you’d expect at least some of the crew to get cancer over the course of the trip.

True, but you’d be exposed in transit.

No…they would have a higher probability of getting cancer over the course of their lifetimes, but even then I wouldn’t expect them to get cancer. It’s merely a higher probability, not a certainty.

If they were exposed to really high radiation (such as if there was a large solar flair) I’d expect them all to die, not get cancer. It would be one of the risks they would have to take, on par with the risk of having the space craft blow up or get hit by something, or having the landing craft malfunction and creating a really big crater when they attempt to land.


Most of the dangerous radiation comes from the Sun, and we know where that is, so you wouldn’t need to shield all the way around the ship. Just put a big tank of water behind the crew compartment. Or even just behind a fairly small bunker, that they all huddle together in for an hour or so when there’s a solar storm.

Your contribution is…noted.

Perhaps what we’re seeing now is the end of space travel as the exclusive domain of governments. The most exciting developments in space technology are now in the hands of private industry. For example, SpaceX appears to have done in a few years what NASA couldn’t manage to do in the last 20 - develop a new heavy-lift rocket and a new manned capsule.

The Falcon Heavy will fly next year, and it will be bigger than any rocket since the Saturn 5, with a payload twice that of the Space Shuttle. This thing can lift 117,000 lbs into Low Earth Orbit, or about a third of that into interplanetary space.

In addition, their Dragon Capsule has already been flown into orbit and tested, launched on the smaller Falcon 9 rocket. It can carry up to 7 people at a time. Just this year it had a successful flight of two orbits, then splashing down where it was supposed to.

The Falcon Heavy can lift payload for 1/6 the cost of NASA’s launchers, and the Dragon is already nearly operational, while NASA’s manned program is a mess.

Then there’s Bigelow Aerospace, which has been building inflatable space habitats and testing them in space - the first one launched nearly five years ago. Their Sundancer orbital habitat is scheduled to fly in 2014, and will provide significantly more interior space than the ISS at a tiny fraction of the cost. The BA330 module is twice the size of Sundancer (330 cubic meters of interior space), which will dwarf the ISS modules.

One Falcon Heavy could put three BA330 modules in orbit in one launch. The BA330 is reputed to be about 100 million dollars, and the Falcon Heavy can launch for somewhere between 90 and 120 million dollars, which means you could put the equivalent of the ISS into orbit for a couple hundred million dollars. Or, a Mars mission consisting of four BA330 modules with a nine-element propulsion grid could be launched with two or three Falcon Heavy rockets - plus I imagine a couple more for fuel.

All this is done at a fraction of the price NASA would spend. And we’re less than a decade away from a lot of this happening - by 2020 we should have the first private space station including a private space hotel, and Falcon 9 rockets putting 7 people in orbit at a time for $50 million per launch.

Then there’s the stuff Burt Rutan is cooking up. Spaceship Two is in flight trials, and will be the first commercial passenger carrying suborbital spacecraft. Rutan keeps right wraps on what he’s doing in the medium term, but you can bet he’s working on cheaper solutions for orbital flight.

The biggest impediment to all this now? NASA. Or rather, the Congress, which is drafting plans to force NASA to build its own heavy lifter as basically a jobs program. This would displace private markets for heavy spacelift and possibly kill these innovative companies. NASA should abandon its own plans for heavy spacelift and a manned capsule, and focus its attention on deep-space probes, telescopes, basic science, and advanced concepts in material and propulsion and let the private market develop a robust industry for LEO spacelift.

We’ll find aliens by Anniversary 51.

What we need next is a War on Physics, and I don’t care how much we have to spend on it! Doesn’t America deserve better than a Universe where you can’t make antigravity work, can’t move a spaceship without expelling reaction mass, can’t even go faster than light?! :mad:

That was a great post. I’m greatly encouraged by actual demonstrations of economical heavy lift capability. That is the biggest hurdle we face. Once we develop a sizable, permanent presence in space, it’s all so much easier. Going to Mars is nothing really, if you’re already starting out in Earth’s solar orbit.