The new space race — Who cares? 2.02

By January 23, 2009 Live Shows, Video 19 Comments


  • usko says:

    Hey guys. First of all congrats on the show. I think you may have had a mix-up with the Herschel thing. This is the telescope that was built in the 80s ( and this is the space telescope (

    As for public interest in and knowledge of the space race and its relevance in the emerging public private competition, I think the most important thing is NOT returning to the moon. You can easily galvanize political and public support for such a mission if the geopolitical circumstances are right but I think that that would be a mistake which humanity can ill aford to repeat. That’s right, I said repeat. It’s the same thing that happened with the original space race. But the moment someone won or more accurately when the Russians ran out of money, the whole thing regressed as we all now know. If we as a species are going to develop a viable planetary defence system and later on some form of redundancy we need long term mass interest in this issue.

    How do you generate such interest? Well as a child of the Internet I can point to quite an obvious example: “web 2.0″. If you think about it the basic challenge I described above has been overcome with this approach time and again. Wikipedia is probably the most relevant example here. there are other success stories in web 2.0 but many of them are based on providing a method of personal expression (YouTube) or service of some other kind (flickr). But wikipedia represents to me the holy grail of Internet potential. It mobilised an enormous mass of people and united, then organised them in the pursuit of a noble goal, making human knowledge free to all people. The thing is more than 25 times the size of the biggest 1.0 encyclopedia in the world (Britanica) and still growing.

    A more recent example is the election of B. H. Obama. The man realised that when you let people participate in any small way, you give them a stake in the project. they start to care. This is what space needs. It needs a 2.0 Renaissance because the kindest thing I can say to people who think that a moon landing is going to replicate the Apollo effect is “That dog just won’t bark anymore.”

    • cariann says:

      Oh yeah usko… totally built in the 80’s.. but I guess the point that we *tried* to make and didn’t is that the telescope is just now getting up and into space… or am I totally crazy? (I could me… you know me!)

      And LOL about your Wiki comparison. I love it… and kinda agree. I guess that’s why I like the X PRIZE Foundation and their way of things so much. For a great example WITHIN that one even would be the Google Lunar X PRIZE team FREDnet. Anyone and everyone can help them win. It’s really an awesome way of looking at things, and close to what you are saying.

  • RocketFan says:

    Hi Spacevidcasters!

    Thanks for another nice show. Looks like not being able to watch your weekly show live (3am where I live) turns out to be a “good” thing with those ongoing technical problems ;). But of course I hope you continue to improve and be fully operational as soon as possible :).
    One thing about the on demand video: somehow the solution for the TLA didn’t make it into the video, what was the answer?

    Regarding this weeks topics, I do have a bit of criticism:

    .) Herschel Space Observatory: It actually was first proposed in the early 1980s, but in no way was it completed back than. It has not been “lying around”, waiting to be launched. It is in fact brand new (as far as space stuff is ever “new” considering the time it takes to plan, build and launch such things) and therefore better than Hubble. Technology just has improved a lot since Hubble was launched ;).

    From the ESA Website: “History

    The main scientific emphasis, mission requirements, and technological needs for Herschel (or FIRST as it was then called) were discussed for the first time in the early 1980s. In 1983, the United States-Dutch-British IRAS satellite inaugurated infrared space astronomy by mapping 250 000 cosmic infrared sources and large areas of extended emission.

    In November 1995, ESA launched its Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) which has allowed a much closer look, a more detailed perception of the ‘infrared scenery’.”


    .) (Computer)Mouse: Where did you catch the information that the development of the mouse was in some way related to space? As far as I have been told at University there was no link to a space program. Wikipedia does not know about such a thing either, I could only find out, that the first Trackball was developed for a Canadian military project.

    If you can somehow “proof” that connection I would be glad to know about it, but as far as I can tell this is just the same kind of urban legend as it is the case with many people still believe that Teflon was developed for space.

    Best Regards from Austria,
    Marcus aka “RocketFan”

    • cariann says:

      Wow RocketFan… 3 am where you are? Thank for joining us at all!!

      The answer to this week’s TLA: ATH was Above The Horizon.

      WHT: I apologize for the many many mistakes from this weeks show, and a few of them were during this part. I knew the info about WHT being proposed during the 80’s… but was mainly being distracted by Ben who was being distracted by the graphics… see: In any case…

      The computer mouse was not made or invented by or at NASA, but rather with funding from NASA. See:
      A quote from Doug Engelbart “We were looking for the best — the most efficient — device. We approached NASA in 1966, and said, “let’s test them,” and determine the answer once-and-for-all. With NASA funding, the team developed a set of simple tasks, and timed a group of volunteers in doing those tasks with the various devices. For example, the computer would generate an object in a random position on the screen, and a cursor somewhere else. We timed how long it took the users to move the cursor to the object. It quickly became clear that the mouse out-performed all the others. Devices like the light pen simply took too much time, by repeatedly requiring the user to pick up the pointer, and reach all the way to the screen — very tiresome.”

      I hope that helps!

  • Flared says:

    The new space race does not matter to the U.S. public because no one has articulated the “space race” to them. Bush attempted to re-purposed NASA out of LEO and back to the Moon and beyond but hasn’t really tried to sell it to the public. And there are too many other things going on right now to be able to sell it anyways (War and world wide recession to name two).

    Does the U.S., China and India even have the same goals in going to the Moon? The U.S. is going to the Moon to put a sustained human presence there supposedly. Is China and India planning on doing the same? If not, then we are not “competing” in the same race (be like comparing an endurance event to a sprint event at a track meet…not comparable).

    Also, I don’t consider private space travel as “racing” with the various governments. They require a business model (and governments don’t) and as far as I can tell, the business models are basically suborbital space adventure, commercial resupply of the space station, and placing satellites in orbit. What is the business model to go to the Moon? Until there is a base there I don’t see it. Once there is a base there then you can do the whole commercial resupply and human transport back and forth bit but I don’t think there are any businesses out there that will take the risk of actually building a base on the Moon. A government will have to fund that, I think.

    • cariann says:

      At this point in time Flared… I totally agree with what you are saying.

      I guess in my optimistic outlook, I am also looking to the future. In my mind, if you can get to LEO then you can figure out how to get farther. If you can get to the Moon, you can figure out how to get to Mars etc. So with that logic, if countries are figuring out how to get to the Moon, for whatever reason, then we are all in the same race…
      Another way of looking at it is that the race is kinda like a scavenger hunt. You have to get to LEO, get to Mars, set up camp on the Moon, skate on the rings of Saturn and make contact with the next galaxy… but not all have to be in that order. Does that make sense?

      And like I said, that’s just my rose colored glasses way of looking at it.

  • usko says:

    Howcome my comment is awaiting moderation even though i posted it before Flared?

    • cariann says:

      Not sure usko… but I fixed it now. The only thing I can think of is that because of the length WP flagged it. Sorry. I’ll try to be up on it sooner. Thanks usko!!

  • Bluefox says:

    First off, I’m loving the new setup. Great work there!
    And could u say that this “break” that countries are taking are a cover for the financial crisis we are in? I mean, the answer is kinda obvious, but are we delaying ourselves from a life lived on another planet?

    • cariann says:

      Wow BF… didn’t know you cared!
      The break *could* be because of $$, let’s face it everything is… but I think it has just a SMIDGE more to do with bureaucracy. No one can seem to enough conclusions that benefit space soon enough, and like Ben said: the “products” of space and space exploration are about 10 to 15 years lagging, it makes it hard to prove to someone that there is practical good that comes out of the programs.

  • RocketFan says:


    had written a longish reply but on “submit” page could not be loaded, hitting “back” in the browser (which normally brings back the previous page including any entered text), again could not be loaded -> text gone :(

    short version:
    .) thanks for telling me about the mouse – NASA relation, always nice to know such things!
    .) Central European Time at UTC+1 is not the best timezone for watching things that air on 2am UTC :p but I will try to join you live if you do some live coverage of stuff at more “european friendly” hours.

    best regards,

    PS: hitting CTRL-A; CTRL-C now, just in case ;)

  • There are a whole bunch of things that NASA has been involved with that suggesting NASA was involved with items like Velcro and computer mice is being disingenuous and indeed telling a huge lie in the process. NASA may have been one of the early large customers for Velcro, but it wasn’t NASA engineers that came up with the idea…. as it goes back to somebody coming up with the idea during the middle of World War II.

    Computer mice had their origin with the Palo Alto Research Center, financed and owned by Xerox (yes, the duplicator machine company). This was not a NASA research project either, but something complete private, and was invented when NASA was significantly downsizing due to the end of the Apollo project. That a flood of experienced engineers getting dumped into Silicon Valley willing to work for peanuts because they had no job may have been a major motivation for the innovation that subsequently happened later, it certainly wasn’t American taxpayer dollars that helped finance the development of the mouse.

    Inventions that can be directly attributed to NASA does include the integrated circuit chip… at least so far as NASA with the Apollo Guidance Computer and other critical electronic equipment during the era represented one of the first major customers for the product at a time most organizations couldn’t afford or needed electronic components in such a compact place. Again, NASA engineers didn’t come up with the idea, nor did NASA money directly pay for the R&D of the computer chip, but NASA did help it along tremendously and made it affordable for ordinary folks to be able to have it.

    One huge invention NASA engineers were directly involved with was the concept of a real-time operating system. NASA engineers needed in the early 1960’s to have a computer system they could use for monitoring rockets, and they needed to have multiple engineers be able to update parameters in real-time as well as to get nearly instantaneous reports back. Operating systems at the time were batch processing with literally a stack of computer punch cards that would be read one at a time, use the computer for that one program, and then have the software removed for the next program “in the queue”.

    What NASA engineers came up with were a whole bunch of concepts now familiar with hard-core computer geeks, including a time-share operating system, hardware interrupts for the CPU, real-time process controls, and Cathode-Ray Tube (aka what the olde tyme televisions used to be made out of) computer monitors. All of this built with vacuum tubes as a part of the CPU no less.

    Give credit where it is due, but far more things are attributed to NASA than they really deserve such credit.

  • Bencredible says:

    Computer mouse and NASA (from their own site):

    So yes, some of these things did have a significant impact from NASA.

    Some things NASA did not invent are Tang, Teflon and Velcro (not sure how Velcro made it in the show, but it wasn’t NASA, wasn’t funded by NASA and was available far prior to NASA being formed). Outside of that slipup, I believe NASA can in one way or another be attributed to what we talked about. Their reach is much more broad than most people give them credit, including the computer mouse.

    Their current reach is pretty broad too, helping private travel in ways we don’t generally see via funding and contests. They have their hands in just about everything space related.

    Now I’m not saying they are good or bad, I’m just saying it is.

  • Rick Boozer says:

    Hi Ben and Cariann,

    Speaking of the Herschel telescope (since this has to do with astrophysics and I am two thirds of the way into getting my master’s degree in that field), comparing Hubble and Herschel is an apples to oranges type deal. Hubble observes in visible light and near infrared while Herschel observes in far infrared and millimeter wavelength (that is terahertz) radiowaves.

    One thing that bothers me about the James Webb is that it is an infrared-only telescope! We need to keep Hubble going even after Webb is launched or we will not have a major telescope in space observing in visible light!

    Ben, I could not agree more with you about private space being the future. On the other hand, I agree with Cariann about orbital space tourism. Elon Musk was talking about sending people to Bigelow’s space station long before he got his COTS contract. We don’t need not stinkin’ Russians or ISS for orbital space tourism!


  • usko says:

    wow… a lot of comments this week. :D

    I saw a lot of you guys think that private spaceflight is a huge deal. Well it is in things like LEO and maybe lunar spaceflight. But I really don’t see private space travel getting us to mars or beyond. I mean what would be the reason, where does the money come from?

    Having said that, I think that if we are to create a permanent lunar colony, it will be privately owned. For that to happen, people will have to be willing to pay to live there. And for that to happen on a large enough scale, people need to be made aware of how important it is for us to get out of our planetary cradle before it becomes our coffin.

  • In terms of private spaceflight…. I think that in the long run it will take over and overwhelm government sponsored spaceflight. Why?

    Because once you get enough people up into space with their own private spacecraft, there is nothing any government on this earth can do to stop them from going anywhere else.

    The “discovery” of Antarctica is perhaps an example of things to come: When a British ship was able to make an “official” claim to the discovery of Antarctica, they sailed around a bend to find a better place for anchorage and discovered an American whaling ship at anchor and some of its crew ashore with an encampment to repair equipment and trying to obtain provisions (I think hunting seals). I really think this is going to be duplicated elsewhere in the Solar System for similar “voyages of discovery”.

    I’ve long asserted that the first landing of NASA astronauts on Mars is going to be covered live on CNN, as the CNN reporters are going to beat NASA to Mars and have a welcoming party already in place with other private citizens to welcome NASA’s arrival.

    Or to put it in the words of Robert A. Heinlein, once you get to Low-earth orbit, you are half-way to the rest of the Solar System. From an energy perspective, you really are more than half-way to most other places in the Solar System, and I just can’t see being able to keep people in one spot. The energy needed to get to the Moon is nearly identical as you need for getting to Phobos (actually, Phobos is technically easier to get to).

    In addition, private entrepreneurs are going to be able to do far more in a much shorter period of time, and won’t have a congress cutting funding at the last minute to prevent any follow-up flights.

    The only thing that could mess up plans by private entrepreneurs is over-regulation and draconian government oversight. Don’t get me started on what regulations currently exist for those actually trying to get into space even now.

  • Robert, I could not agree more!

    As for the question of where the money is for private space flight to Mars, it is in the asteroid belt. I believe each asteroid has something like $100 billion worth of minerals and resources. Set up a colony on Mars, get robots to mine the asteroids, ship to Mars, process and then ship the goods to Earth. That would probably be cheaper than processing on the asteroid and the shipping the raw to Earth. Given, this would cost a LOT of money to execute on, but the upside is HUGE!

  • Rick Boozer says:

    “I believe each asteroid has something like $100 billion worth of minerals and resources.”

    The iron and nickel alone in a cubic mile asteroid would be worth billions (at todays prices). Though only a small fraction of the total mass of such a body, the platinum and paladium group metals would be worth many hundreds of billions (at todays prices). I say “at today’s prices” because having a plentiful source of such metals would obviously drive prices down.

    Once at the asteroid, orbital mechanics would allow shipment back to Earth to be relatively cheap since it would require VERY little energy to accomplish. The asteroid belt is outward away from the Sun relative to Earth. To send a mass of ore from such an outward orbit to Earth’s inward orbit, one would only need a little acceleration in the opposite direction of the asteroid’s orbit. The mass would then no longer have quite enough speed to orbit at the asteroid’s distance from the Sun and would “fall” in a long elliptical orbit toward’s the inner solar system. Of course, such an orbit would have to be calculated so the the ore would pass near Earth at the right time and some kind of deceleration equipment would have to be on the ore mass so that it does not zip pass Earth and continue it’s orbit around the Sun. Sorry, couldn’t help but put on my astrophysicist hat!

  • usko says:

    Thanks for the reply guys. I’d really forgotten about that aspect of the issue.

    Still I think the first people on Mars will be brought there by government efforts. Private industry just isn’t that far along yet. In the end though they will be the ones to make use of the planet and nearby resources.

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