Manned Space Flights Are Pointless

A flight to Mars will cost 100 billion dollars

The tragedy with the shuttle of Columbia raised a lot of questions in the field of piloted space exploration. Why do people launch human beings in space? What is the point of flying up to Mars?

Last century, two superpowers – the USSR and the USA - exercised their powers for each other and for the whole world. The race has been over. Some scientists say that it is better to launch unmanned spaceships, while others say that a machine is not capable of competing with a human being. The space industry is only a business for someone, while others perceive it like a dream, which is very important for all humans. Some other people claim that dreams are not supposed to be that expensive, so launching only satellites could be just fine. This article is devoted to this issue, which is a rather actual and painful issue for Russia today.

Is there a need for human beings to fly to other planets, particularly to Mars, like Americans plan to do it soon? What can people do there, on other planets? To stick a national flag in the ground and to film a commercial. It is much more reasonable to pursue scientific goals of space exploration with the help of unmanned spacecraft – this became clear back in the 1970s. Unmanned space technologies are a lot cheaper in comparison with manned ones: machines do not require any life support means. It is very easy for a machine to achieve a distant area of a planet, where it is dangerous for a manned spaceship to land (not to mention the price of a human life).

After America’s missions to the Moon, newspapers wrote that the Apollo program allegedly started bringing profit owing to the use of space technologies in conventional “earth” industries. The USA spent 24 billion dollars on the program: even if every spaceship were made of diamonds, it would be cheaper in comparison with its virtual price. Earth technologies comprised a meager part of the program’s cost. It just so happens that it returns no profit, but only losses. Piloted space flights are a Russian kind of business that American scientists adhered to as a result of the pointless space race, a purely political propaganda race.

They say that the exploration of Mars is the beginning of a grand project that will take place in the future someday – when people start living on other planets. This is just a scientific fantasy, which has nothing to do with science. Other planets of the Solar system are dead, there is no life there, so an attempt to create certain living conditions on those planets will inevitably fail on account of the severe second law of thermodynamics. This law is a great obstacle for various space stations, settlements, and so on and so forth. It is impossible to create biological thermodynamic cycles  in space for a long period of time. It will not be possible to provide life support resources for such closed systems. If scientists invent a fantastic spacecraft like legendary flying disks, the whole experience that people have managed to obtain so far will be excessive. So, what is the point of putting people's lives at risk, and spending huge money on space research, if all of that will come out of date one day?

Some scientists say that a flight to Mars will give new incentives for the scientific and technological development. The development of the aviation industry can be encouraged the same way, if planes start flying from New York to Berlin via Sydney, for instance. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to use money directly for the development of science and technology? The money that is allocated for the piloted space research could provide so many jobs for the development of earth technologies.

However, current peculiarities of the scientific development are often ascribed to specific technologies. Science is supposed to develop widely, touching upon every objective reality aspect. However, certain technological directions have to be restrained in their development, because they might lead to a grand disaster. The technological development often finds itself in a dead end, giving way to alternative variants. A dead end could be seen for the piloted space research after first manned spaceships were launched into space. First of all, space is an absolutely alien environment for a human being. Second of all, all goals that people want to pursue in space, can be achieved with the help of unmanned spacecraft. The development of the latter, especially the invention of the artificial intelligence, will inevitably make people stop performing manned flights.

When all other arguments are exhausted, they usually refer to psychology. Such a simple assertion as “I want” is considered to be a good motive for a grand technical fulfillment. I want to eat, I want to drink, I want to fly to Mars. People have always wanted to confirm the fact of their predominance over nature. A human being used to be a toy for the nature, but times have changed, although the human psychology remained the same. Nowadays, the demonstration of the human power might lead to a global ecological or economic catastrophe.

A flight to Mars is allegedly evaluated in the sum of 100 billion dollars, taking into consideration the huge money that was spent on the project before. The proponents of a trip to the red planet definitely want to realize their dream at someone else’s expense, saying that it would bring good for the whole world. What about those, who think that their taxes deserve a better use? Of course, it is hard to imagine that NASA employees, for example, will go out in the streets protesting a flight to Mars. Preparing such an adventure is a very profitable business, so adequate departments and organizations will do their best to convince everyone that it is an absolutely vital thing to deal with. This lobby is very strong already. The political leadership will have to take that pressure into consideration. Furthermore, a successful flight to Mars will immortalize the president's name – there can be such examples found in the history already. Yet, will there be any good for common people, though?

The cost of a shuttle is more than one billion dollars. Every flight of an American shuttle costs 400 million dollars. A flight of Russian Soyuz or Progress spaceships costs a lot less, although a Russian spaceship can carry only four cosmonauts on board, while an American shuttle is capable of carrying seven people. A Progress spaceship is capable of delivering about three tons of cargo to the International Space Station, while the cargo capacity of an American shuttle is ten times as much. It is also worth mentioning that Russian spaceships can be used only once, while American shuttles are non-expendable. Single-mission spaceships are more profitable for the time being, although shuttles can fly up to an artificial satellite so that astronauts could repair it and put it back to the orbit. In addition to that, only shuttles can complete the construction of the International Space Station.

The Russian space industry has a project to build a spaceship with the cargo capacity of twenty tons. This spacecraft is 70% complete, although it is not known, when it is going to be finished. American shuttles do not fly for the time being, so the International Space Station can be supported with Progress spaceship that are supposed to be launched six times a year (Russia has two of such spaceships at the moment). Even if the USA offers its financial help, it will take more than a year to complete the construction of lacking spaceships. Most likely, America will soon resume its shuttle flights.

Gely Salakhutdinov


Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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Author`s name Olga Savka