back to article Nobel-winning boffin slams ISS, manned spaceflight

A Nobel laureate physicist has poured scorn on human space exploration, saying "the whole manned spaceflight programme, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of scientific value". Professor Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, co-recipient of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics, was speaking at a …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Way to miss the point:

    ..."NASA's budget is increasing," said Weinberg grimly, "with the increase being driven by what I see on the part of the president and the administrators of NASA as an infantile fixation on putting people into space, which has little or no scientific value"....

    He says it here. "driven by". If it weren't for prestige projects NASA's budget would not be increasing.

    "No important science..." depends rather on what you consider important. If you think it may be useful to learn how to live in space, then ISS work has been pretty damned important.

  2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    He may be a good physicist...

    ...but that does not make up for the lack of common sense.

    Humans have to go to space as otherwise there will soon be no humans. Space is called space because there's a lot of space over there. In contrast there is very little free space left here on Earth for the ever expanding population. In addition, the Earth is running out of resources, the climate is broken and it's only going to get worse but space is where infinite resources are available at cost of extraction (that is economically - for free).

    Of course, Mr Physicist can argue that humans are inefficient from thermodinamical point of view and that they should not have been created in the first place but he needs to raise this point with God, as we are already here and he has to live with it (or die with it).

  3. Kurt Guntheroth

    important science from manned space flight

    All the important science done by robotic space missions "comes out of" manned space flight. Unless people will be going into space, what is the point of finding out what is out there? Yeah, I know; pursuit of knowledge and all that, but try to tell it to Joe Taxpayer. Man is the Measure.

    For that matter, we might ask the irascible physicist what value comes out of high energy physics. We already have The Bomb, for which I'm suitably grateful. Solid state physics has far more practical value.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Astronaut applications

    Nappy-wearing psychopaths need not apply.

  5. Colin Millar

    But the vital question is...

    ....does an orbital turkey move faster than a sheep in a vacuum?

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  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    complete idiots like this guy don't get to decide who gets the limited amount of cash that's handed out for these things. If his sort of mentality was prevalent we would all still be drawing pictures of animals on cave walls with sticks of charcoal. Admittedly they would be very well researched and minutely detailed pictures, but we'ed have done bugger all else!

  8. Chris

    Necessary, but

    I believe manned spaceflight is necessary to raise public support by capturing the imagination. The ISS could have been such a great platform to perform science and possibly generate enough interest jump start zero-g industry.

    Other than that, I concur.

  9. Don Mitchell


    Weinberg has come out and said what many scientists feel, that ISS is a boondoggle that is draining the life out of the American space program.

    If you take a close look at space launch activity in the last couple years, you see a disturbing picture. America has lost the profitable commercial satellite business, which is now dominated by Russia and Europe (Zenit, Proton, Ariane). NASA's huge budget is being poured into maintaining the shuttle and ISS, but for all the money being spent, it is only the US military space program that is really vigorous today.

    America still dominates the technology of space. Russia and even Europe do not have the know-how to launch Mars rovers or long-term missions to deep space, at least now without extensive help from the Russians.

    There is little new to be learned about the low-Earth orbit environment, little new to be learned about long term manned flights, after decades of Russian Salyut, Soyuz and MIR missions.

    Instead of helping Europe pretend it has a manned space program (to the tune of $100 billion), NASA should be spending money on scientific, robotic exporation. Why hasn't any spacecraft landed on the Moon since 1976? We don't even have a good altitude map of the Moon. Venus has been largely neglected since the Soviets stopped focusing their space program on that planet. NASA could take the money spent on ISS and the dangerous shuttle, and spend it on real science -- orbiters, rovers and sample-return missions to all the major objects in the solar system.

  10. Chris

    I concur

    Do the maths (or math for our US friends): which is the most cost effective per dollar in terms of the science return, manned or robotic missions? The answer is WAY biased towards non-manned for the reasons that this geezer mentioned. $100b for the ISS to do what exactly? How many mars missions could one fund with the same budget? How many Hubbles could we launch?

    It's noticeable that the main advocates for manned missions are politicians and ex-astronauts, not the scientists. We hear nice soundbites of "reaching for the stars" and so on, but the reality is we are stuck here on terra firma. To reach the moon and pick up a few rocks would apparently cost the entire NASA, ESA and chinese space budgets for the foreseeable future. To establish a manned base with a view to mining the moons resources would cost more than all the above combined several times over. To reach Mars would cost a sizeable fraction of the planets GDP.

    Manned missions are more expensive due to the fact that they ARE manned. Space is dangerous - losing a robotic mission is a matter of money and some grief for the engineers and scientists involved, losing an astronaut is much more serious.

  11. Colin Jackson


    "Perhaps you could have written this article without all the rather childish ad hominem characterisations?", ranted the embittered El Reg reader scornfully.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Generic Title

    "sample-return missions to all the major objects in the solar system."

    Now thats a real challange... I'd like to see a jovian sample too, but somehow I doubt we will! jeeze imagine that lander getting to escape velocity!

  13. Brendan Weir

    @Don Mitchell

    "Russia and even Europe do not have the know-how to launch Mars rovers or long-term missions to deep space, at least now without extensive help from the Russians."

    Perhaps Russia should have a word with itself? :-)

    I've got my coat...

  14. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Re: I concur

    "Expensive" is what Portugese King's experts said to Columbus.

    He must have realised the true meaning of that word when Columbus found America for the King and Queen of Spain.

    And Henry VII must have bitten his hands for being too late in replying to Columbus requests for funding....

  15. John Savard

    Mostly Right

    I think that sending people into space is valid to an extent; for example, the Apollo missions produced much more knowledge about the Moon's geology than the Lunokhod missions, since the astronauts could select interesting samples.

    Also, as Dr. Stephen Hawking has pointed out, human settlement beyond Earth is vital for the long-term survival of humanity.

    Still, the ISS is certainly a boondoggle, and unmanned missions, with their much greater scientific return for the cost (and various other scientific research projects) are being badly neglected. Ultimately, though, to complete the investigation of Mars, we will reach the stage where we will need to send people there.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Colin Jackson

    "Perhaps the embittered El Reg reader should read more El Reg" opined the El Reg reader who loves the irreverence that defines this site.

  17. Tom Walden


    Manned spaceflight may be more expensive, but it produces far more spinoffs.

    For example, computers are based on integrated circuits. And the first major use of them was on the Guidance Computer for the Apollo Command Module.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's face it: "Fleshers in space" is somewhat fun but not very useful.

    > Columbus found America

    Yeah, but America was reachable by boat (just gotta get rid of those pesky Indjuns for some exploiting). Unfortunately it is quite unlikely that Columbus will find anything useful "out there" in the Solar System that cannot be equally well grabbed by a nice, friendly robot and brought home if need be. Even in 1968, "2001 - A Space Odyssey" had humans as show-off cargo only. Leave the job to HAL, unburdened by those crazed apes. David Bowman just got lucky at First Contact; his Oxygen was about to run out anyways.

    > Spinoff: And the first major use of ICs was on the Guidance Computer for the Apollo Command Module.

    Sure, but one can hardly consider this an argument for _manned_ spaceflight. In fact, it might as well be an argument for un-manned spaceflight. Also consider that if there had been no moonshot, the ICBMs would have been driver enough:

  19. Adam Azarchs

    He's absolutely right

    Manned spaceflight is, at least for now, a waste of money that could be spent on far greater endeavors. The most valuable science in space at the moment, the Hubble space telescope, was almost abandoned because we needed those shuttles for the space station. In the absence of an infinite science budget, manned spaceflight is a very expensive publicity stunt. Cry "spinoffs" all you want, but the spinoffs from developing unmanned probes are far greater, in robotics, computers, propulsion systems, and so on. Cry "Columbus!" all you want, but the analogy fails - the Spanish or Portuguese didn't have the alternative of sending a robot, for 1/1000th the price, which would have sent back the same (largely wrong, admittedly) information.

    I ask you this, what would give us more information about Mars: sending a manned expedition which could explore in a limited range around a home base, or 1000 unmanned probes which could each roam with the same range? Sure, a human is more versatile than a robot. But not more so than 1000 robots for the same cost. The emphasis on manned spaceflight is crippling space science.

  20. A.A.Hamilton

    money ... into space projects

    "a country that hardly puts any money at all into space projects"

    Oh, I protest. We poured money into that space in the MIllennium Dumb, didn't we? And what about the space in Iraq? - an extreme example of a political void, an intellectual vacuum and a military zone of zero thinking. Then, further, don't forget all the money we have poured into the totally empty cranial cavities of those who oversaw our successful impementation of a run away foot 'n mouth disease, innumerable vacuums of public-sector IT planning and, to be really topical, our outstanding management of the banking sector. The bonuses paid here over-whelm our piddling investments in such wasteful endeavours as a working national transport infrastructure etc.

  21. EJ

    Science? Nah. Hollywood? Ja!

    Science hasn't gotten much out of space, but they wouldn't know that unless they tried first.

    Now Hollywood, that's an area that has benefited GREATLY from space exploration. Think of all the great (and not-so-great) movies that have been spawned by those activities.

    Perhaps all the major movie production outfits should take over funding of NASA - they're the ones that reap the most benefit.

  22. Chris Goodchild

    It's all science.

    And all science no matter how apparently useless it seems today will eventually pay off for humanity. Even if manned spaceflight only proves that we need to develop inrtialess flight and anti gravity it will provide work for physicists like Wienberg who play with exotic bits and pieces at the edge of human knowledge.

    any way I loved every minute of the apollo flights on TV, I like all the robotic stuff on Mars et al ( I have a qualification in robotics so i would like them) and I find almost all other science interesting particularly physics or engineering related.

    Wienberg needs to stop whining.

  23. Kurt Guntheroth

    perhaps physicists would be happer if...

    If we stopped funding all science without immediate practical application and let taxpayers spend it on new iPhones.

    What is the *value* of science? Expecially pure science like high energy physics and planetary exploration? It won't make my beer colder or my tv better. (ICs came out of practical engineering for necessary things like ICBMs -- sigh). There is no drama to a 15 year old robot spinning endlessly out of the solar system or a 20-mile circular tube that is completely empty except for a thin wind of accelerated particles.

    But people in space, that's different. Making it work, perfectly, all the time is really hard. And failing is really dramatic. I *care* if some astronaut goes psycho. I don't care if the guy who designed some robot when I was in college goes nuts when they're 50. Hubble photos are nifty. Robots on Mars are cool. Men on the moon stopped the whole world. Everybody on the planet with access to a TV sat and watched an unbelievably bad picture for hours while the news commentators ran out of stuff to say and just let the astronauts prattle.

    If you're too young to remember that day, then you missed the last event that truly united the world. If we go to Mars, you may get to see the next such event. But you know that robot rovers didn't do it. People didn't stop what they were doing to see the rovers. Cassini doesn't make the nightly news except maybe summer weekends when there is nothing going on. And the shuttle doesn't make the news anymore either unless it blows up. But men on Mars...that will be a big day.

    Men on Mars. We can't even do it today. We can't make a ship sturdy or safe enough. We can't keep their bones from demineralizing or radiation from cooking them. What will we know when we know enough to make this happen? Even if it isn't good for anything else, it is relevant to the human condition. We will know about *people* in space. By comparison, who cares about robots in space?

    Space exploration isn't about science. It's about denying that limits affect us. It's about rejecting the impossible. It isn't about science. It's about what science is *about*.

  24. Morely Dotes

    One world: Break it and your species is extinct

    For a Nobel laureate, Weinberg is amazingly narrow-minded and short-sighted. But then, he *is* a Texan, so one should not be surprised.

    There are hundreds of thousands of people alive today because of developments that are taken directly from the manned space program. The first one that comes to mind is the high-pressure oxygen bottles developed for man in space, and adapted for firemen entering burning buildings.

    And at some point - possibly less than a century from now - the Earth will become uninhabitable for unprotected humans. That's an absolute certainty; the only question is "when," not "if" it will happen. The "how" may be man-made (e.g., global warming) or a natural disaster (think "huge asteroid collides with Earth").

    If humans have not established a permanent, independent existence off the Earth by then, it will be the last hurrah for Mankind. Those who argue against Man in space are fools, at best, and greedy ego-centric solipsists, more likely.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Apollo astronauts brought a load of rocks back from the Moon.

    Will someone remind me how many Martian samples the robot explorers have sent back?

  26. John A Blackley


    Interesting article about a person who's allowed himself to become obsessive.

    I remember when the funding collapsed for the collider project in Waxahachie, TX and I feel sorry for the familes who uprooted and, like supereducated nomads, went off in search of the next Big Thing in physics. However, I wonder how many of those who left hold a worldview that, essentially, says, "If it doesn't have clear value to me then it is completely worthless."?

    There are many values other than scientific ones. I doubt if man's desire to explore space is rooted in his urge to become a better scientist.

    The good professor says, ""Human beings don't serve any useful function in space. They radiate heat, they're very expensive to keep alive, and unlike robotic missions they have a natural desire to come back, so that anything involving human beings is enormously expensive." I say, substitute the word 'children' where you use 'human beings' and be glad your parents didn't hold the same view. Oh, and do get out more.

  27. Andy Bright


    All I can say to this guy is "fuck you arsehole". I want my personal X-Wing and obligatory light saber, so he can leave NASA and their mission to put an X-Wing in the garage of everyone that matters alone.

    Obviously he forgot to sign up for his, and all we're getting now is a bunch of sour grapes from Mr Misery.

    Good job this government doesn't listen to those know-it-all scientists when they decide the budget for space exploration or indeed anything else to do with science.

    Give the man six cans of Tennants and the Star Wars collector edition DVDs and he'll soon be changing his tune, mark my words.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    War is the biggest waste of money (among other things)

    ...and maybe the ISS is a waste too, but are people these days so lacking in visionary spirit? Is there no desire to explore? Humanity will eventually have to either branch out or practice population control. (besides war) I suppose you could call me naive, but I've always thought that a big part of understanding the universe was actually being out there, at least since I started reading Science Fiction when I was a kid. While robot probes are extremely useful, I don't think they can fully replace at least some "being there" A good wank is nice, but it doesn't replace real sex.

  29. Chris

    I can't believe what I'm reading here

    I agree with this guy. Manned space flight in the past couple decades has been and continues to be a pathetic waste of money. And the ISS is one of the biggest wastes of money in history. The only reason we're stuck with it is because we're collectively too much of a pussy to say "Since everyone else bailed on it, we're going to bail, too". Personally, I think all space exploration is a huge waste of money, but maybe that's just me.

    As for Morely Dotes re: "One World", I honestly don't know how you can seriously write "Those who argue against Man in space are fools, at best, and greedy ego-centric solipsists, more likely." Man has destroyed this planet. There is no arguing it. Man occupies an area, strips it of all resources, and moves on to strip the next area. Man does not develop an equilibrium with nature as other species do. Man destroys and kills until nothing is left. I may be the only one, but I welcome a universe in which humans are extinct. Those who are against man destroying other planets as he has this planet are against manned spaceflight. And you have the audacity to call us ego-centric? Perhaps it is you, the masses who will do anything to protect the survival of your species, that are the ego-centric ones.

  30. Aubry Thonon

    A few replies...

    1) Our esteem boffin mourns the death of the SSC and blames NASA for it. Wake up! NASA didn't kill the SSC, Congress did with its constant political in-fighting over who would get what slice of the funding salami.

    2) Humans in space - we need it. At the moment we have all our "eggs" in one basket and global suicide is just one mad-man away.

    3) @Adam Azarchs' "Manned spaceflight is, at least for now, a waste of money..." OK, if not now; when? The first steps of a long-range project is *always* a waste of money. It will not succeed first try, second try or even third try. But for it to happen we (humanity) *must* at some point draw a line upon the sand and say "regardless of the cost, this must be done". It is an unfortunate fact of scientific life that most of the great advances in science were done by people who'd had enough of hearing the government (US or otherwise) telling them there was no money to be made from their little project and having to find other ways of funding their research (X-Project anyone?). Mind you, it doesn't stop the government from taxing the living daylights out of the result when it finally becomes economically viable.

  31. Steve Roper

    Obviously hasn't thought about Einstein's limit

    If there is any argument for sending humans into space at all, it is in eliminating the time-lag incurred in transmitting information over interplanetary distances. If all we do is send robots to Mars, it can take nearly an hour's round-trip for a signal from Earth, to tell the rover to do something, to get there, and the rover's signal to get back letting us know it's done it. While AI can alleviate this to some exent by providing limited autonomy for the robot, there's no substitute for a human maintenance crew on site to fix things up when they do go wrong. Setting up a Mars base and then deploying rovers and UAVs would enable us to rapidly map the entire planet, collect samples from all over it, and analyse them on site, under the same conditions that created them. All those lost landers and malfunctioning orbiters could easily have been fixed and put back into service if a human crew had been available nearby, with a resulting cost saving of millions of dollars.

    And that's notwithstanding the appeal to public imagination and concomitant funding this would generate!

  32. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    There are a lot of good reasons for sending people

    Those mars rovers have been celebrated for their longevity and endurance, and sol they should be. They've been up there several years now, despite their initial mission being expected to last just a few months. However, in all that time they've covered about 8 miles (I think? Couldn't find the exact figure) in a near-straight line and done about three bits of science a day on average. A human team could cover that much distance in a *week*, and could have performed all the science of those rovers plus a hell of a lot more in that time. Humans can make on-the-spot decisions that rover operates at a distance can't necessarily make. Our brains are highly advanced pattern-recognition devices that would be able to spot things in person that even a bloke looking at the camera images from a rover wouldn't spot, and in fact those images are often going to confuse because they lack context. Remember the big furore over that guy who reckoned a picture showed pools of water? And how it turned out to be flat stone on a slope? Context, you see...

    That's why humans need to be out there. We're simply better at it than even the most advanced robot.

  33. SmokeyMcPotHead

    Personally I think...

    ...the best thing Professor Steven Weinberg can bring to this conversation is silence...

  34. Simon Ball


    Setting aside the obvious counter-argument that spending billions pursuing knowledge for its own sake is equally infantile, someone ought to take Weinberg aside and explain to him how science gets funded. No government or private organisation has ever ploughed money into a scientific endeavour unless a) they thought that there would ultimately be concrete practical benefits from it (even if those benefits are merely pork) or b) it captured their imagination. Were it not for manned spaceflight capturing the public's imagination, NASA would have closed down years ago. Admittedly, recent unmanned missions have managed to appeal to the public as well especially Hubble and the Mars rovers, but man in space is still what NASA is about for most people.

    People like Weinberg expect to be handed a blank cheque to pursue whatever interests them without having to produce anything that is of interest to anyone except other scientists. Newsflash. Science doesn't work that way. Never has, never will. The best scientists are the ones who get their heads out of their asses long enough to get non-scientists interested in their work.

    That isn't to say that NASA's human spaceflight program isn't a mess, and that the organisation is a bloated hulk pulling in all sorts of different directions. But getting NASA out of the human spaceflight business is not going to free up funding for unmanned missions. It's more likely to just get NASA's budget slashed.

  35. Alan Jenney

    Neil Armstrong's summary of the US space programme

    In a recent TV interview...

    My neighbour's dog would chase after cars up the road. One day I decided to stop to see what he would do if he caught up with it: he cocked his leg against the tyre.

    That's essentially what we did with the moon. We finally had the means to get there, so we went and p***ed on it.

  36. Charles Eglington


    Well, I see one small glimmer of common sense amongst the comments thus far and that is from 'Fleshers in space'. For all the fun that cavorting around in space may be when things like hyper drives and antigravity are invented (if they ever are), currently the only environment suitable for human occupation is limited to that found here on this planet Earth. Columbus did not have to take a life environment with him to America; it was already there (together with those pesky natives). The robotic approach is a more financially viable proposition at present; as unexciting as it may be for the fun junkies.

    BTW, it would be great if the much vaulted human 'intelligence' were capable of producing wonderful advances in science without resorting to war, or manned cruises into space for a handful of astronauts. Bottom line is that these 'adventures' may titillate the military, astronauts and many of the public in general, but produce very little of real scientific value per buck (or improve the quality of life for the majority of us humans for that matter).

    Boring hey <grin>!

  37. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Einstein's limit

    What's with the AI shit and the communication round trips? We already know how to map to a few metres resolution using orbiting satellites, then deploy low flying aircraft (they won't crash into anything, because we've got such good maps) to take us down to a few centimeters, then deploy vehicles (that now have full knowledge of what is around the next corner) to recover whatever samples we like.

    The present system of "move two feet, wait two hours for the next instruction" occurs precisely because we've blown all our budget on manned flights to near-Earth-orbit and so we don't have any left to make decent maps of Mars.

  38. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Robots in space...

    ...are always totally useless unless they are used alongside human teams.

    The current rovers are case in point. They roam around for years without making any single conclusive discovery. Not to say of all the silly problems they manage to run into and which could have been fixed by an accompanying human in 30 seconds but take weeks for the ground team to work around. Basically they are a pair of the most expensive remote digital cameras ever produced.

    A manned expedition with a good portable laboratory in an inflatable tent would have achieved 100 times more in a couple of weeks.

    And that is even before you start thinking about not putting all eggs in one basket etc.

    And I always can't stop laughing when people say "manned spaceflights are dangerous" - since when did we start consider the risk of loosing a couple of people as "dangerous"? Look at Iraq - how many US soldiers have died and the US still pours billions into it. Could have built a new ISS every single year for that money...

    When Columbia crashed on reentry it killed how many, seven? A couple of weeks later there was a fire at a disco in NY (or was it Long Island?) that killed more than a 100, and what? Have all disco clubs been closed down until they complete total safety review and implement a return-to-dance program?

    The life has a way of making these agruments against manned spaceflight look totally stupid, insignificant and irrelevant.

    There are simply NO sound arguments against manned space exploration.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ don mitchell

    Having met one of the guys doing the testing for the mars rovers when I was on expedition in iceland back in 98. I believe him as a point of knowledge when he said "When we threw out the old computers after the apollo missions in the 70's, we lost the ability and know how to put a man on the moon. America doesn't lead the space race anymore and it would take decades for us to get back to that level of expertise because there isn't the will to do."

    The ISS was a world idea and NASA helps pay the russians to build it so they don't go and work for dictators in longer range rockets and nuclear weapons.

    Japan's plan to orbit the moon and China's plans to go there put them ahead of America in what they want because they have the knowledge and are gaining the knowledge that America hasn't got anymore.

    But the ISS is a stepping stone, they just need to spend more money and time on that instead. Perhaps a better white house staff with a more peaceful outlook on life. (and one that can spot countries on a map without help.)

    Imagine the funding of the stealth bomber (what a load of junk that was, can fly but not in rain, sun, sand, against the British rapier anti air missile system that can track it, anything the russians have, the chinese etc. etc. etc.) and that money going into space programs.

  40. Jim Brinton

    Short term, blinkered thinking

    What great examples of the short-term view.

    Out there beyond the atmosphere is all the energy and resources we need to raise the global standard of living to an arbitrarily high level.

    There's living space too, an infinity of it, plus safety for the human species if our single planet gets hit by an asteroid or comet.

    How can anyone NOT want human space flight?

    In the LONG TERM it holds the solution to all of our most pressing LONG RANGE problems. But you have to begin now.

    Perhaps a species with such an advanced case of attention deficit disorder doesn't deserve to perpetuate itself.

  41. Mike


    Re: There are a lot of good reasons for sending people

    It took 15 mins for Neil Armstrong to walk down 3 steps, yes, a human can "think from themselves" and do stuff outside their programming, but it's not as good as you think, there's no way that a human could cover 8 miles in a week, are you suggesting 8 days outside? imagine the radiation sheilding, oxygen/waste/CO2/water recycling, they would need just to survive, let alone do anything practical, carry equipment etc.

    Robots move slowly to ensure that they don't break anything,drop down a hole, get caught on a rock etc. do you honestly think that astro's are going to risk their lives by running around for hours, miles from their habitat where a simple rip or crack in their suits will kill them?

    There is a very stong argument for better robots and cameras that see high resoloution 3D images but we can develop that cheaply (tihis is what we should fund)

    Even if a human sees something that a robot missed or discovered a fault that a robot couldn't identify, lets not overstate how much could be done, they won't have a magic toolkit or any resource they don't carry (and they don't carry anything they don't think they need to) the shuttle's heat sheild was fixed with a record-breaking space walk using a resin which the knew they might use, they were trained for it, yet it was still a fantastic achievement pushing their abilities to the limit (it's not like locking the A-Team up in a fully stocked garage you know)

    Re: Short term, blinkered thinking

    Yes, you have to begin now, but you don't need to actually send people into space to do it (yet)

    1. Computer modeling can help hugely

    2. Unmanned flights that monitor conditions (especially radiation) can be done in far higher numbers

    3. Deep sea environments can provide most of the testing (recycling air, water and food, remote control, video etc.) this technology works well, we just need to make it lighter.

    Re: Obviously hasn't thought about Einstein's limit

    "All those lost landers and malfunctioning orbiters could easily have been fixed and put back into service if a human crew had been available nearby, with a resulting cost saving of millions of dollars."

    Could they have been fixed? really? you would need to have sent a spare for every bit which may have broken (so why not just send another rover?), do you honestly believe that having a "crew" nearby would have been cheaper? I wonder how they got there? do you think it cost more, or less than the rover that they were fixing? I'll spell it out slowly for the hard of thinking, you can send many, many, many more unamanned craft, further and more cheaply than manned craft

    Re: One world: Break it and your species is extinct

    True, let's do all we can to keep it alive, does anyone think that humans will be living on the moon or europa in a completely sustainable way anytime soon? sending people into space doesn't help with this anyway, this is just the transport method, it's the e"Eden" style biodomes which will tell us if this is possible and this is the technology we need to prove.

    OK, let's suspend disbelief for a few mins and assume we can establish a colony on another rock somewhere:

    1. How would you shuttle that many people out there?

    2. How would you shuttle the biodomes out there?

    3. How many people could you sustain? enough for a decent gene pool? who would you send first? only able bodied? the best breeders? the smartest? the biologically strongest? only people who reside in the country sending them? how would you feel about the people left behind?

    4. It is impossible to recycle everything (how about the machines you need to use to recycle things etc.) even Eden "consumes"

    "If humans have not established a permanent, independent existence off the Earth by then, it will be the last hurrah for Mankind. Those who argue against Man in space are fools, at best, and greedy ego-centric solipsists, more likely."

    To those who argue for Man in space thinking that this will save humanity instead of fixing a perfectly good planet which is not beyond hope, I have no words. Man is space OK, do it, but not until we've fixed Man on earth.

  42. Jim Spellman

    The air up there

    With all due respect to the esteemed professor Weinberg, he’s been breathing a little too much of that ‘rarified air’ found in those Ivory Tower Institutions of Higher Learning.”

    The fact is, the International Space Station is still being built! Not all of the laboratories are up there right now because of delays in the program – including a two-year hiatus caused by the grounding of shuttle missions after the loss of the Columbia. It would be like expecting to get your morning cup of coffee at the corner Starbucks while the place is still under construction.

    Nevertheless, despite being only 60 percent complete, ISS has done some measurable scientific research, which is readily available for the asking from NASA in a September 2006 report entitled “International Space Station Research Summary Through Expedition 10" AND a May 2006 report entitled, “Inspiring the Next Generation: Student Experiments and Educational Activities on the International Space Station, 2000-2006."

  43. Jim Spellman

    We don't throw parades for robots. . .

    >>The irascible particle physicist went on to slam astronauts in general.

    >>"Human beings don't serve any useful function in space," he said. "They radiate heat, they're very expensive to keep alive, and unlike robotic missions they have a natural desire to come back, so that anything involving human beings is enormously expensive."

    >>He criticised astronauts for mindlessly playing golf in space while hardworking, relatively cheap robot Mars rovers brought home the scientific bacon.


    Sure, robots like the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity have done some pretty amazing things, but we don’t give parades to robots.

    Otherwise, you can just send your camera to Hawaii and hope someone sends you back pictures of your next vacation instead of going there yourself.

    The problem is, what has taken nearly three years to discover and learn about the Red Planet could have been answered in a single day, week or month if humans were there right now. If professor Weinberg were invited by NASA administrator Mike Griffin to be Principal Investigator on the first manned Mars mission leaving next week for a year-long voyage, I’m sure he’d sign himself up knowing all the risks involved. . .

    There has to be a balance between the two. The robots are the pathfinders for the humans that will eventually have to follow in their tire tracks.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The professor is correct. NASA is WRONG

    NASA has blown it with billions for the space shuttle and the ISS.

    They should of waited and researched other technologies that would of put us further in space.

    Here is one new concept that promises to delivery, if they can get NASA's grubby little hands off the purse strings.

  45. Jim Spellman

    Should Queen Isabella & Columbus have waited?

    >>"They should of waited and researched other technologies that would of put us further in space."


    Then using *that* line of reasoning, Queen Isabella should of waited and researched other technologies that would have put Christopher Columbus further across the ocean -- like the steamship.

    The Pilgrims should have waited to sail to Plymouth, Massachusetts by booking passage on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.

    Lewis & Clark could have cooled their heels until the Transcontinental Railroad was laid down.

    The Pioneers of the Westward Expansion should have waited in their horse-drawn Conestoga Wagons until the automobile and Interstate Highway System was in place.

    Charles Lindbergh shouldn't have bothered flying to Paris in such a flimsy plane like the "Spirit of St. Louis" when he could have waited to buy a ticket for a Boeing 777 or Airbus 380.

    Yuri Gagarin, Al Shepard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong shouldn't have to show the rest of us the "Right Stuff" -- all we need to do is sit around with our thumbs up our behinds and wait another 200-300 years for Capt Kirk, Spock and Scotty to come along and take us to the stars.

    Bottom Line: You go with with you got and take advantage of the improvements in technology as they come along or catch up with you, because the future doesn't wait for anyone.

  46. Jim Spellman

    Commentary: The Value of Human Spaceflight

    Commentary: The Value of Human Spaceflight (Rebuttal by Russell Prechtl & George Whitesides, executive director - National Space Society)

    Mr. Steven Weinberg has long been a vocal critic of NASA's manned spaceflight program, recently questioning the scientific usefulness of the International Space Station in particular, and asserting that the entire manned spaceflight program has produced nothing of scientific value.

    The National Space Society [], composed of members who promote mankind's future of living and working in space, strongly supports NASA's manned spaceflight program, and disagrees with both the spirit and substance of his comments.

    For a first response, we turn to another renowned physicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking, who has urged the human race to "spread out into space for the survival of the species." Hawking states the increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, or some other unknown danger as the primary reasons to diversify humanity's future beyond earth.

    NASA has numerous examples of "spinoffs" from the space program, such as kidney dialysis machines, fetal heart monitors, programmable heart pacemakers, to name just a few that help Americans every day. Additionally, the International Space Station operations enable NASA to learn valuable scientific information about the long term effect of spaceflight on the human body, and how best to help humans adapt themselves for long trips, either in interplanetary space, or enroute to planets such as Mars.

    While these are all important, they don't compare to the effect these achievements have on the human spirit. Many of us still remember the first time we saw Earth from the Moon's orbit, when the astronauts of Apollo 8 filmed it on Christmas Eve, in 1968. Many argue this global awareness started the conservation movement, which might turn out to be the space program's greatest spinoff, and may save the earth's climate in the long run. Many of us were inspired when we saw the astronauts walk on the Moon, and realized that if mankind could do that, we could do almost anything. The achievements of NASA's unmanned spacecraft are phenomenal, and deserving of acclaim, but they don't lift people's spirits to these heights.

    Weinberg should understand that many citizens don't understand the benefits of theoretical physics to their own lives, and question the utility of the nation's investment in such work. That is an alternate explanation to why the Superconducting Super Collider was de-funded: Congress was not convinced of the utility of spending $12 billion on the project. Here is where we can observe a certain parallel with spaceflight: Both spaceflight and particle physics are basic investments in the future.

    As the President stated during his Vision for Space Exploration speech, "The cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart." The National Space Society members support living and working in space, and the hundreds of people who have already bought their own suborbital spaceflight tickets are further proof that this is a vision that is spreading. For all the good NASA's manned spaceflight program has brought us, at the meager budget levels they're provided, we should be thanking and praising them for their dedicated perseverance.

    It is not possible to predict all of the benefits that either the human space program or particle physics research will do for our country, but that does not mean that the searches are not worthy. It is important for us to pursue, and solve, the deepest questions of the universe, just as it is important for us to explore our solar system and eventually live beyond the confines of our home planet. Our descendents will thank us for both pursuits.

  47. Mike

    Spinoffs or just "Spin"?

    Almost all of the "useful" spinoffs from [manned] space travel were either in development for other purposes or would probably have been discovered/invented eventually anyway, what about the billions that were spent and had no other purpose but supporting human life in space? what about damage to the environment? the mental resources that could have been used to solve earthly problems?

    Don't listen to this rubbish that people spout, look behind the spin and try to understand the facts.

    So, the picture of the earth taken back in 1968, "Many argue this global awareness started the conservation movement" no they don't, this is just spin, and nothing else, and let's face it, nearly 40 years on, it didn't do a very good job did it?

    A little bit of perspective is needed to cut through the spin, manned space travel is about propaganda, first man is space, first man on the moon, this is cold war stuff.

    $12 billion? what direct, sustainable good could you do instead? off the top of my head, how about clean water for everybody on the planet? OK, wateraid estimate £15 per person and there's 1.1 billion people without clean water, so that would only help 400,000,000 people but I'm sure there's an economy of scale possible here.

    3000 children die every single day of malaria, this is preventable.

    Future of humanity space? are you serious? if we can't keep this biosphere alive what chance do we have out there?

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