21. September 2005 · Comments Off on More Of The Same From NASA · Categories: Science!, Technology

Today at Tech Central Station, Glenn Reynolds is skeptical about NASA’s plans to go to the Moon:

The problem is that this NASA approach looks like more of the same. Oh, it’s better than some earlier efforts: The program emphasizes astronauts learning to “live off the land” via lunar resources, an approach that seemed quite radical back when Bob Zubrin was first championing it. But the technology looks old — and not “proven reliable,” as Space Shuttle components have been less than ideal — and I don’t see any way this program will deliver what we need most: High flight rates and low costs.

I wonder, then, if the money wouldn’t be better spent on things that have a higher likelihood of delivering those, like space elevators. As I mentioned in an earlier column, space elevator technology promises drastically reduced costs to orbit (from which, as Robert Heinlein famously observed, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system in terms of energy) and it looks as if we could build a working space elevator — or several — within the $100 billion pricetag and over the same time frame.

I most hardily agree; our emphasis at this juncture should be on finding inexpensive and reliable ways to put people and materials into orbit. But I wouldn’t limit ourselves to space elevators. Other technologies, such as Fly Into Orbit and Rail Guns as 1st stage boosters are also quite promising. This sort of multi-pronged approach is best undertaken by the private sector.

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