Quote of the Day: Space

 

“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

On October 4, 1957, humans placed the first artificial satellite into Earth orbit. Sputnik I’s “beep, beep, beep,” was opening fanfare for the Space Age. Within a dozen years a man was walking on the Moon’s surface.

I spent the part of my childhood that I remember during that dozen years, age two to twelve. I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI, a space-crazy town, as a space-crazy kid. I was even one of those who sent letters in to save Star Trek for a third season. Our future was in space and I was going to be part of it.

The big aerospace bust occurred in 1971, when I was in high school. By the time I graduated, I decided to major in naval architecture and marine engineering instead of aerospace, because ships seemed as much fun as rockets, and it promised to be a more stable career. But the space dream never quite went away.

Upon graduation (with a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering) I somehow ended up going to work on the Shuttle Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston. My plan was to work there a few years and then switch back to maritime, doing offshore platform design thereafter. I could dine out on my experience as a rocket scientist (well, rocket engineer) thereafter. Instead, the mid-80s oil bust occurred as I was planning my move back to the oilpatch, and I ended up staying in the Shuttle program until it ended in 2011.

When I was in college, I envisioned myself as project manager constructing one of the many manned space platforms we would have in Earth orbit by the 1990s. We would have colonies on the Moon by the early 21st century. No one thought those dreams excessive back in the early 1970s.  Some even thought them conservative. If you had told me in 1979, when I started on the Shuttle program that over the next 40 years we would never put another human in space beyond low earth orbit, or that we would only have just one permanent manned space station, I would not have believed it.

Yet here we are.

Yet I see signs that this stagnation is about to change. We have put humans into space for the first time this year using a space capsule designed and built by the private sector. The cost of launching payloads into orbit has dropped by 97 percent over the last five years.  (For an indication of the impact that type of cost savings could yield consider this. The shipping container cut the cost of shipping goods 97 percent and created the global economy we have today.) There are honest-to-god profitable companies providing commercial launch services.

And within a few years access to space will not depend on national governments, other than to grant permission to launch. And as launch costs continue to drop, we can profitably exploit the resources of space. There is (literally) gold in them thar asteroids. (Well, some of them. And a whole bunch of other minerals. And solar power. And a lot of other stuff.

Perhaps the next forty years will see us again go to space, and even establish permanent human habitations in the Solar System. I hope so. Because Tsiolkovsky is right. Remain confined to a cradle to long and you die without achieving your potential.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Love it, @seawriter, and I wholeheartedly agree. Humanity has places to go and things to do.


    This is the Quote of the Day. We have plenty of openings this month if you would like to share a quotation to educate, honor another, or just so you can rant. Our sign-up sheet is here. Tomorrow is available, for instance.

    Or, if you’re looking to write something a bit more creative, you might try our Group Writing Project this month: It was a dark and stormy night…

    • #1
  2. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    What an interesting occupation you had.  I envy you. 

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    What an interesting occupation you had. I envy you.

    In a real sense most occupations are interesting. For example, that of  a college professor. I was an adjunct instructor for a while and really enjoyed it. 

    But I also imagine having been a brigade commander, a lawyer, running a cheese company, doing aerospace logistics, or laying concrete is also interesting. When I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s in my mid-teens, I found that interesting. At least at that time. 

    • #3
  4. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Seawriter: Yet I see signs that this stagnation is about to change. We have put humans into space for the first time this year using a space capsule designed and built by the private sector. The cost of launching payloads into orbit has dropped by 97 percent over the last five years. (For an indication of the impact that type of cost savings could yield consider this. The shipping container cut the cost of shipping goods 97 percent and created the global economy we have today.) There are honest-to-god profitable companies providing commercial launch services.

    If you try to do any astrophotography, you cannot help but be acutely aware of this.  Elon Musk and others are now competing to complete and activate a LEO satellite mesh that promises low-latency wireless internet everywhere in the world.  I remember that just a decade ago you really had to have a dark sky to spot satellites.  Now you need a fairly light polluted sky to not see them.  

    Musk is aware of this problem – he says the reflectivity problems will be rectified in time and shouldn’t last.  Plus each successive generation of these satellites is tweaked to ameliorate the problem even more.

    Musk has promised that his network will be open to limited subscriptions before this year is out.

    • #4
  5. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    We visited the Kennedy Space Center at Christmas in 2012.  It felt like a ghost town.  The shuttle program had ended, Obama had slashed budgets, and so everything felt backwards-looking.  We visited the Houston Space Center in 2013, and to hear the tour guides talk it sounded like it was all destined to be closed up.  Yes they talked a bit about the Orion program, but not enthusiastically.

    We visited Kennedy again at Christmas of 2018.  It was not the same place.  Yes, the glories of the past were talked up (it’s a museum, that’s what they do), but what the staff and guides there really wanted to talk up was all the cool new stuff in the works.  “Apollo was glorious, the Shuttle was amazing, but look at this launchpad here!  You can see the new SpaceX system in place, ready for its next test launch.  And we can’t show you the inside of the VAB because it’s just too busy right now, but over here….”

    • #5
  6. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    But I also imagine having been a brigade commander, a lawyer, running a cheese company, doing aerospace logistics, or laying concrete is also interesting

    LOL.. All true on Ricochet!

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Heh. I already had the bug when the aerospace bust happened. I was still going to go for it, but an AE talked me into going into computers instead.

    So I did that … and ended up designing avionics software, probably getting more involved in different aspects than I would have as a straight AE.

    • #7
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Percival (View Comment):

    Heh. I already had the bug when the aerospace bust happened. I was still going to go for it, but an AE talked me into going into computers instead.

    So I did that … and ended up designing avionics software, probably getting more involved in different aspects than I would have as a straight AE.

    The funny thing is my NAME degree gave me a leg up on most of my counterparts with aerospace engineering degrees. The engineering basics on both programs were identical. However, back when I was in school it was not unusual for the naval architect to be one of the few engineers in a shipbuilding company which meant they had to understand everything. (You also needed a basic understanding of all elements of engineering in order to fit everything together inside the hull of a ship.)

    The result was I got an education that stressed top down design, which spiraled from the more general to the more specific, while all the AEs were extremely specialized. Because I was trained to look outside the individual system to see how they fit together, I caught stuff they missed, and ended up advancing quickly.

    • #8
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    The company I just retired from is working on a small part of the Orion project. 

    • #9
  10. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    What an interesting occupation you had. I envy you.

     You’ve done some interesting things, too, if I recall correctly.  

    • #10
  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Seawriter: Yet I see signs that this stagnation is about to change. We have put humans into space for the first time this year using a space capsule designed and built by the private sector. The cost of launching payloads into orbit has dropped by 97 percent over the last five years. (For an indication of the impact that type of cost savings could yield consider this. The shipping container cut the cost of shipping goods 97 percent and created the global economy we have today.) There are honest-to-god profitable companies providing commercial launch services.

    That puts it into exhilirating perspective. Thanks!

    • #11
  12. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Sorry about the poor video quality, not my fault.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkj2lR9CT08

    But really, everyone should see the first movie, The Gathering, and the series.

    • #12
  13. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I never worked in the space industry (quite jealous of you!) but I’ve been dreaming of this since the Gemini and Apollo programs.  

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    What an interesting occupation you had. I envy you.

    In a real sense most occupations are interesting. For example, that of a college professor. I was an adjunct instructor for a while and really enjoyed it.

    But I also imagine having been a brigade commander, a lawyer, running a cheese company, doing aerospace logistics, or laying concrete is also interesting. When I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s in my mid-teens, I found that interesting. At least at that time.

    Or as I heard it said recently, if you’re bored then you’re boring. 

    • #14
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