It’s time for the children of stardust…

…to return to the stars.

Once again, this started out as just a comment to Shannon’s post on 40th anniversary of the moon landing and where we go from here. But I had to break out the blog because I can’t seem hold my tongue in these affairs and the comment box was getting pretty cramped. ;)

Space exploration must be the domain of the private sector.

Governments must sway and bend with the will, and the purse, of the people, but a private company or even a wealthy individual is not so obliged. It is precisely because there are bigger fish to fry that each group must stick to what they can handle the best.

Individuals like Burt Rutan and his SpaceShip One accomplished something that would have taken a large organization such as NASA years longer and millions more. This is merely the byproduct of a bureaucracy that smaller companies can exist quite happily without.

As a point of comparison, it was private citizens, not government lead expeditions, that finally settled in the West. It was difficult, dangerous and often deadly, but there exist citadels today as testaments to the sacrifice of those early explorers. And while similar in sentiment, it will be different and more noble this time too. There are no prior populations that will be displaced as a result of our ventures and the riches to be had are far more extensive.

There was once a documentary on the Discovery channel called : “Space Colonies: Living among the stars“. I first saw it in 1999 and I was still in high school at the time. It’s funny because I’m not normally moved by these types of things, but it was then that I decided; I’m either going into space some day or die trying.

Impressionable age plus sentimental impressions lead to the craziest ideas, eh?

But I’m reminded of a quote by the character Q of StarTrek describing the unknown of space in very similar terms :

If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid

The exploration of space will be the most expensive expendeture of resources, sweat and blood since our trek out of Africa, but I believe expansion into space is vital for our species to survive. A cilization that does not grow or strive for greatness beyond those of their ancestors will stagnate and die a slow and unspectacular death. Since we are now settling into the global civilization, the stakes are much higher, but the rewards awaiting are far more enticing as well.

As for the Guidance Computer source, I would bet it contains virtually no run-time error checking. Those days, a programmer was expected to know the precise length of the data being stored in memory so overwrite checks would be redundant. And every byte would be precious so it was probably the most compact code and, at the same time, the most capable code ever written as well.

And looks like the flame is still alive and well among programmers reaching for the stars. The Open FlightLinux project is striving to create a secure platform based on Linux specifically for spacecraft.


11 thoughts on “It’s time for the children of stardust…

  1. Sweet!

    That was something I completely forgot to mention – I have no qualms with “outsourcing” the exploration of space to the private sector. The only thing I worry about, though, is that space and all its wonders will become a means to profit rather than an end unto itself.

    This is probably the one advantage government has over corporations: it has a much greater ability to accomplish unprofitable but very necessary tasks on behalf of its citizens than companies do. I worry what the business and “bottom line” mentality could do in terms of consequences of spearheading the exploration into space.

    • That’s very true. After all, humans will be humans.

      But if we don’t see profit as the whole gain of space exploration that means many others don’t as well.

      Profit is only the carot at the end of the stick. The chance at profit will make more people invest in the technology and logistics of space exploration where those with greater goals can get a foot in the door.

      After all, gold, silver and coal miners paved the way for farmers and homesteads. And you don’t build railroads back to civilization if there’s nothing to haul back there.

      Don’t worry, we have something today to ensure space won’t be abused as our own planet was in the past…

      • I suppose my current experience at a quintessential corporation like IBM – while AWESOME – has really hit home just how much the bottom line motivates innovation. VPs and high-level execs who visit our lab will flat-out admit that the bottom line is what is most important, and if a particular project doesn’t hold the promise of tangible benefits, it’s going to be nixed.

        So much of the company, though, is a testament to just how motivation by way of the bottom line – when properly channeled – can accomplish quite a bit in the way of constructive ends. But I’m also a very “ends-don’t-justify-the-means” type person, so I’m very nervous about setting corporations loose on an area of science that could reveal some of the greatest discoveries mankind has ever seen.

      • I can understand that.

        If even Big Blue is about profit, then you can imagine how a future space company would function.

        I think we’ll see more than our fair share of ruthless companies like Weyland-Yutani (the fictional mega corp in the Alien franchise) that will place profit above all else. Including the lives of their own employees.

        But this is more of corporate greed transplanting their power base. These types of companies exist on Earth (GE, Dow chemical et al…) and it’s only natural for them to plant seeds in the next profitable venture. Likewise, we will still need anti-monopoly measures.

        We’ll, of course, need government oversight and that would mean a complete overhaul of public procedures. The FAA for instance really need to get their act together. The time for policy changes after a tragedy is over. They need preemptive measures to ensure profits don’t come at the cost of lives.

        Progress for society with profit will come when we rethink the way we look at property. I think there’s a lot to be learned from the Antarctic Treaty System where no one “owns” the land, but profitable knowledge is still used in the private sector. If you plant the flag, you do it in the name of humanity, not in the name of a specific company.

        We’ll need to overhaul the patent system as well. Patenting abstract concepts IMO is rather silly and dangerous in the longer run. The patent regulations need to be changed so we won’t be strangled by companies that set out to dominate the future of space. I.E. We shouldn’t allow companies to patent the DNA code for extraterrestrial bacteria even if they’re the first to map it.

        It’s a lot of work, but we can build an environment where the government does its job while allowing companies to do theirs.

        Who knows… Maybe we may get the balance right this time.

  2. I feel sorry for Michael Collins. Everyone seems to be talking about Armstrong and Aldrin, and poor old Michael Collins who stayed in the command module in lunar orbit, barely gets a mention.

  3. Its still amazing how they managed to land a man on the Moon with such technology they had at the time.
    And the Russians before that with Gagarin and all that.
    So impressive.

    Makes ya wonder what people can achieve when they’re actually bothered about doing something!

    • Indeed.

      The entire space initiative was nothing short of amazing. All those thousands of people getting together to put the best of the available stuff together.

      Granted politics was a big motivator, but those people really followed their dreams back then.

  4. I love when they look back and say on the TV how that there is more technology in a calculator or phone than what they used in the Moon Landing programme.

    Makes me feel like I’ve got some super-dooper ultra powerful devices in my house!

    Imagine what they could have done if they had a modern computer?

    Or a really fancy electric blanket!!!!!

    • After seeing so many of those comparisons, I feel like we should be able to hook up an iPod to a rocket and have it land on Mars.

      Honestly, we have all this power at our fingertips, but no colonies on the Moon or Mars and no flying cars.

      Engineers those days could have built a space station out of electric blankets.

      Come to think of it, the International Space Station’s modules do look like they’re made of blankets.

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