Alex Kozak is a Policy Analyst at Google.
Space exploration has traditionally been a costly endeavor. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which recently landed the Curiosity rover on Mars to investigate climate and geology of the planet’s surface, ran a total cost of about $2.5 billion USD.
Part of the cost associated with launching a project of this magnitude results from strict project design requirements. Launching a robot into space is no simple task, and the technical components must be designed not only to weather the extreme conditions of outer space but also to minimize risk of failure. Add to that the number of components needed to reach the depths of the solar system—which require coordination between diverse and specialized teams—and you end up with long lead times and higher overall costs. Proposals for the design Curiosity rover design, for example, were developed nearly a decade before its eventual launch.
You would be hard pressed to find people who disagree with the principle of exploring space. Those who object to space exploration tend to cite the high cost of development relative to the return on investment. So what are some ways that we might consider reducing the overall cost of exploration?
NASA is exploring cheaper and faster models of technology development. Its new PhoneSat program examines how "off-the-shelf" consumer software and hardware could be used as a platform for space exploration:
NASA PhoneSat engineers also are changing the way missions are designed by rapidly prototyping and incorporating existing commercial technologies and hardware. This approach allows engineers to see what capabilities commercial technologies can provide, rather than trying to custom-design technology solutions to meet set requirements. Engineers can rapidly upgrade the entire satellite's capabilities and add new features for each future generation of PhoneSats.
This new model stands to change the face of space exploration. Rather than making several large bets on technical solutions with little room for error or risk, engineers could explore opportunities to rapidly prototype, iterate, and launch less costly robotics. Future space programs might make hundreds of smaller bets with individually higher chances of failure, but this would effectively lower the aggregate chance of failure over large bets designed to minimize risk within a singular technology.
New discoveries will astound us. We will discover intelligent life on other planets, and evolution will be confirmed—with unsettling implications for certain religions. We will confirm how our universe originated. Developments on Earth and on our moon will inhibit the “Man on Mars” program (causing its cancellation). Before this century ends, we will have developed spectacular new means of “transport” exceeding the speed of light. Imagine dispatching probes into the cosmos at many times the speed of light! Instrumented satellites to orbit other bodies will penetrate light-years into deep space and return the data well within the lives and careers of cosmic scientists.Space exploration will continue to suffer priority and budgetary restraints. The Challenger shuttle disaster of 1992 and the Columbia’s reentry disintegration in 2003 raised caution flags and fueled public doubts as to the wisdom of space exploration in view of the many unfulfilled needs on Earth. Since NASA admitted that it “played Russian Roulette with the lives of the astronauts,” neglecting deficiencies in monitoring its shuttles’ heat shields (and discovered some sabotage), much public support was lost. Nevertheless, ignoring burgeoning budget deficits, the US president proposed two new, expensive space projects, one to build a permanently manned space station on our moon and another to land a man on Mars. The moon station makes sense.You can buy this book now on any of the following websites:Strategic Book Publishing Rights Agency: http://sbpra.com/HenryMarkant/ Amazon Books: http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Crises-Their-Solutions-ebook/dp/B00A2WZ4CK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357573018&sr=1-1&keywords=coming+crisis+henry+markant Barnes and Noble Books: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coming-crises-and-their-solutions-henry-markant/1113749628?ean=2940015922875
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