September 14, 2007

Everybody's Going to the Moon

The New York Times is reporting today that the group who financed the X-Prize has come back with a second challenge for the fledgling, but growing private space industry - The first group to land a rover on the moon, move around and take video, will win the new prize, this time at $25 million dollars.
The first X-Prize was valued at $10 million, for the first group to create a privately funded and built space ship that could travel to a certain height and back again within two weeks, and was won in 2004 by SpaceShipOne, which was helped along by Paul Allen, who is the co-founded of the Microsoft corperation.

$25 Million in Prizes Is Offered for Trip to Moon

The NYT has posted up a discussion thing on whether this is a good or bad idea, and the result from readers seems to be fairly positive. Although it still puzzles me that people on there, in this day and age still maintain that we never went to the moon, that it was filmed in the desert somewhere. Other people have said that it's a waste of money, that the focus should be here at home, on big issues such as global warming and things like that that'll help benefit humanity down here.

I personally think that we should go to the stars, now. I've begun to read more on the space industry and it's history. Two books that I've gone through have been extremely interesting. The first is called Rocketeers, and is about the race for the X-Prize a couple years ago. I was introduced to a band of people who want to go to space, and have started building real rockets in their garages and private hangers on a shoestring budget to reach into space. Often, these people are the age of my parents, and remember seeing the lunar landings on the TV, and were inspired by that sort of thing. The other book that I read was called In the Shadow of the Moon, and is about the Gemini to Apollo missions that NASA conducted to reach the moon. If anything, I'm a bit more convinced that NASA really screwed up our chances at long term space habitation and exploration. For starters, it was essentially given it's purpose to win a race, one that we ultimately one, with several lunar landings before interest vanished. What happens once a race is won? NASA's turned it's focus on more scientific endevours, rather than exploration, which is a fine goal, but not one that's likely to go out and start poking everything above us. Plus, NASA's a governmental agency, and with a waning in public interest, politicians have their way with the agency, and now that we don't have to beat the Russians at something, we're back down with the Space Shuttle (Which I think was a bit of a crappy idea. Looks cool, but ultimately doesn't serve our interests in exploration).
This is why the X-Prizes are so important. Commercial enterprises are what will bring us to space. It's always been the key behind exploration, whether it was the Spanish coming to the New World, Lewis & Clark's expeditions into the Western United States and the British interests in India, all because money was to be made from those locations. I'm sure that we can find some way to make space travel profitable. Asteroids have high metal contents. Tourism in space has already started, with various people going to Russia for trips into orbit. I'm sure that there could be a market for a number of other things in and around our planet, whether it's a week trip to a space station, the Moon or Mars or whether it's for private science enterprises. Publicly administrated space exploration doesn't work. The two shuttle disasters, the Challenger and the Columbia, both shut down American manned space missions for years afterwards while the problem was sought and people debated whether the risk was too high. Not to sound callous, but those crews are a relatively small price to pay, and are the ultimate heroes for the coming future, because they risked everything to further humanity along this path. There will be more deaths - all exploration is fraught with peril, and these might be necessary, or maybe not, but it should not stop us from getting out there.

Man on the Moon - R.E.M.
Moons - Josh Ritter
Moon and Sun - Gomez