Ash hole on the Moon

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2010 7:00 am

The Moon is a funny place. It’s literally the closest astronomical object to us in the entire Universe, but in some ways we know surprisingly little about it.

It’s literally covered in craters, but for a long time their origin was a mystery. Until the 1870s, most scientists thought they were volcanic in origin and not from impacts (it wasn’t until 1960 that Gene Shoemaker showed that some craters on Earth were impact events). That doesn’t mean that there are no volcanoes on the Moon, though. The evidence isn’t — har-de-har — rock solid, but this Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image is awfully tantalizing:

lro_volcano

[Click to embiggen.]

Located in Lacus Mortis — the Lake of Death! — this interesting feature certainly looks like a volcanic cinder cone. Impact craters don’t generally have such gentle sloping on the inside wall, and such a large, shallow-sloped outside wall. The entire area around the feature is wrinkled and folded, making it look like it’s been heavily flooded with erupted material as well. The crater is about 400 meters (1/4 mile) across, and the whole image 900 or so meters (0.6 miles) in width.

We do know for a fact that there was extensive vulcanism on the Moon long ago. The maria — the huge dark regions on the surface of the Moon you can see with your unaided eye — are basaltic lava floods from billions of years ago. There are also rilles: long, sinuous gullies carved by lava flow. Also, in Apollo 17 they found orange glass (scroll down to the 145:28:39 time marker at that link), proof of volcanic fire fountains on the Moon — though more than 3 billion years ago.

lro_twovolcanoesSo we know volcanoes are there, but is this mound one of them? Interestingly, the mound is near another that is also very cinder-cone-like (as shown in the picture here; you can scan the region at very high resolution on the LRO Camera page; the mounds are about 2/3 of the way down). Note the craters which have sharper rims; those are clearly impact events. In the second pit, also note the boulders lining the rim. You can see long shadows being cast by ones at the top. It’s very pretty.

There’s really only one way to know for sure if these are twin volcanoes: go there and find out! A rover might be able to do the trick, if it had the right instruments… but I still dream of a day, not too far off, when astronauts with picks and shovels will go there and examine that material with their own hands and eyes. We can learn more in a few minutes of being there than we have in all of history of looking at the Moon from 400,000 kilometers away.

LRO was 50 km (30 miles) above the surface of the Moon when it took that picture… 99.99% of the way there. But sometimes, that last 0.01% makes all the difference.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


Related posts:

- Zoom in on a huge lunar bullseye
- Lunar boulder hits a hole in one
- One of the newest craters on the Moon
- LRO sees a moonslide


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: LRO, Moon, volcano

Comments (83)

  1. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    For a minute there, Phil, I thought you wrote… er… oh never mind. ;-)

  2. That’s from the orbiter, right? We couldn’t see it from earth because it’s on the…rear…side of the moon.

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    I still dream of a day, not too far off, when astronauts with picks and shovels will go there and examine that material with their own hands and eyes. We can learn more in a few minutes of being there than we have in all of history of looking at the Moon from 400,000 kilometers away.

    Me too.

    And our dream *was* coming true. We *were* going back. There was a plan for NASA and the USA (& wider free Western world America leads) and it *was* finally starting to take flight until President Barack Hussein Obama betrayed the space science & exploration lobbies and murdered our shared dream of a Lunar return by cancelling President George W. Bush’es Ares-Constellation lunar return plan.

    I will never forget or forgive Barack Hussein Obama for that.

    For taking away our dreams of returning to the Moon in my lifetime – and for setting NASA back decades and quite likely mothballing our entire human spaceflight program indefinitely. :-(

    And I don’t know how you can forget or forgive Obama for that.

    Yes, we’ve had vague waffle from Obama about going to Mars instead – but where is the plan, the timeline of doing it, the important details that make it any more than hot air?

    I would’ve voted for Obama over McCain-Palin were I eligable to do so (I’m an Aussie & thus non-US citizen) but I am more disappointed, disgusted and angry at him over this than mere words can express. :-(

    I hope Congress blocks his appalling decision in this area and Ares-Constellation stillgets tofly otherwise .. well imagine how much we’d have misse dout on if the Apollo program had ended with Apollo-4 which is the exact equivalent stage there of where Ares-Costellation is now, one successful but unmanned flight done, so wonderfully much ahead – if only it gets the chance it deserves.

  4. KurtMac

    That second photo could qualify for your “naughty astronomy photos” talk from W00tstock. Hi-Yo!

  5. JohnC

    @Messier
    To say Constellation is/was at Apollo-4 level is a huge misrepresentation of the truth. Ares I-X was nothing close to what Ares I is designed to be — the first stage had a dummy 5th segment, the Upper Stage was a mass simulator, and they were using a lot of hardware that was taken from other vehicles (and not to be used in the final product). Apollo-4 launched an entire Saturn V. Ares I is/was a little ways off.

    I also think your anger is somewhat misplaced… After all, NASA is expected to do a lot with a relatively small budget for such undertakings. Not only do we have to have a small budget, but the design is hugely constrained (much of it mandated by Congress) so that we absolutely have to use some hardware, even if it’s not particularly advantageous.

    The overall problem is much more nuanced than just “barack HUSSEIN obamanation from Kenya is canceling the space program!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111@”.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    But still the Moon makes most impacts, it is a bad ash planet.

    @ Messier Tidy Upper:

    Obama betrayed the space science & exploration lobby by cancelling President George W. Bush’es ARes-Constellation lunar return plan.

    As IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE likes to say, when hearing hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.

    I don’t know how anyone could have missed this, but there was a lauded commission who looked into the affordability of the then Constellation program and it’s conclusion was that it would never fly in time.

    Not because something Obama had the time to do or not do, but because its cost increased faster than any reasonable investment increase any politician was willing to do. The program was already underfunded with 20 % 2009, which I gather was a Bush budget, and the then suggested 2010 budget by 35 %. (Fig 4.3.2-1 p 59, Final report.) So, no zebras.

    This suggests that Ares I and Orion will not reach ISS before the ISS before the Station’s currently planned termination. Assuming a Shuttle retirement sometime in FY 2011, the length of the gap in which the U.S. will have no independent capability to transport astronauts into orbit will be about seven years.

    [And, IIRC, that was before some US banks started to topple.]

    What Augustine and Obama did was to reorient the US (and international) committment to:

    - Guarantee US continued space capability, by realigning and increasing budget to fit.
    - Keep the ISS.
    - Start engaging international and commercial interests both.
    - Start US on a track to return to landing on other bodies, likely NEOs, but perhaps also the Moon.

    The chosen Flexible Path as originally envisioned: “A Flexible Path to inner solar system locations, such as lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth objects and the moons of Mars, followed by exploration of the lunar surface and/or Martian surface. [Wikipedia summary]”

    They have the support of such space science & exploration lobby organs like the Planetary Society, which AFAIU was one of the parties inputting ideas into the Augustine commission for consideration.

    “The Planetary Society agrees with their principal conclusion that human space exploration requires a gradual buildup of the NASA budget to at least $3 billion above the current level by 2014,” said Louis Friedman, Society Executive Director. “We also concur with their specific suggestions about changes to NASA’s planned program.”

    You may kvetch about pruning among dying and dead boughs on a sick tree to make it start growing again, but please kvetch over the right boughs and the right gardeners.

    Next (?) on Oprah/MTU show: “How Obama killed the Space Shuttle too, by the same Time Travel to the days of the Bush administration. And don’t forget what he did to poor Pluto!”

  7. Cheyenne

    @Messier – Why don’t you lobby the Australian government to undertake a moon mission if that is what you want so bad? Americans already did it decades ago and stopped because it didn’t make any sense to keep going back there. Hopefully we’re moving on to greater missions that will truly expand our knowledge of the universe. Or we’ll just say screw it and keep going back to the useless ISS. But either way, we’re not going back to the moon and that’s a good decision. Sorry if that upsets you and makes you think less of Obama – but it’s the right choice.

  8. Cheyenne (7): That is not at all the reason we didn’t go back! It does make sense to go to the Moon and stay, but the Apollo missions were not meant to be sustainable, they were meant to beat the Soviets. After the race was won, the political and public will evaporated. In hindsight that’s obvious.

    I have several posts on this topic; I should create a FAQ abot it.

  9. Gus Snarp

    @Messier – Your repetitive use of the President’s middle name suggests that, whether you would have preferred him to McCain/Palin or not, you have problems with him that go beyond and probably came before his decisions about the space program. Either that or since you started hating him for changing NASA’s plans you decided to use islamophobia as a tool. Either way it’s reprehensible.

    Also, I second what Cheyenne Says says at #7. I have no problem with people from other countries criticizing my leaders on human rights, international law, war, any of the many things that we do to other countries or people without their permission. But on this I say stop criticizing MY president and government, and get yours off it’s can. You want to go to the moon so badly, do it with your tax dollars. If Australia can’t do it alone they can make it an international mission. Heck, maybe the U.S. would even sign on to an international mission. Since the scientific knowledge will be shared by the world, this really just makes more sense any way. Why should we be the only ones responsible for landing on other planets/moons/asteroids?

  10. For a moment there I wondered how I got to the moon then I re-read it and saw ash hole.

  11. Tim

    Well, I’m also an Aussie and I’d just like to chip in and say that Cx was rubbish, the private sector is the way of the future, the Augustine panel made the correct recommendations, and the new plan (pre-congress meddling) appeared to be great.

    But then anyone fully abreast of the relevant facts would come to this conclusion. Messier’s post betrays a deep seated laziness as well as a genuine passion for space flight.

  12. Cheyenne

    Phil – I really love your blog and totally respect you but you are completely and totally wrong about going back to the moon (and believe me, I’ve read all your posts about it already- and of course will continue to do so!).

    I know that Apollo wasn’t meant to be “sustainable” and I know it was meant to beat the Soviets. We all know that.

    These kinds of missions are now hurting our ability to really do great exploration and answer the big scientific questions that we have – how the universe was created, is there life out there, what dark energy is, etc. etc. etc. etc. – putting people into space doesn’t help to answer anything truly interesting and important. Or if I’m wrong – could you please describe to me what manned spaceflight has achieved scientifically in the past 20 years? What groundbreaking work it has done? The peer reviewed papers that have flooded out based on science done by humans in space?

    The last thing we want to do is expand something that has a proven track record of non-success and hold back from funding the stuff that really works (which is exactly what Griffin did). The news about NASA’s manned missions now is about whether the toilets are working and how messed up the A/C is. Talk about lame. And completely uninspiring. The news should be about whether we’re discovering life under Europaean seas and what we’re finding on Titan (missions that aren’t even on the drawing board officially – there’s no money for them because NASA priority allocates to the manned missions).

    Even PZ Myers just recently wrote about how silly it is to be thinking about sending people to Mars (and if that doesn’t make sense than a moon mission doesn’t either). NASA needs to get with the new generation and evolve the thinking. It should try to find life – make that the priority. They need and should do something really big. This manned stuff is small thinking and probably won’t accomplish anything important.

  13. Astrofiend

    @Messier – the whole thing was an underfunded pipe-dream from the start. I agree Obama’s space program is naught but fluff and hot air, but constellation was no better – it was merely Bush attempting to provide distraction from his other hopeless failures. His government massively underfunded it from the start, clearly with no real intention of ever truly getting it off the ground.

    9. Gus Snarp Says:
    August 13th, 2010 at 8:39 am

    “Why should we be the only ones responsible for landing on other planets/moons/asteroids?”

    You make it sound like such a chore…

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @7. Cheyenne & 9. Gus Snarp :

    @Messier – Why don’t you lobby the Australian government to undertake a moon mission if that is what you want so bad?

    What makes you think I’m NOT doing so?

    I really wish Australia had a space agency. But America is a superpower and we’re not. The United States of America leads the world and we don’t – that’s just reality. Although we are your close allies and our nation does have an awful lot in common when it comes to very many things eg. shared language, values & to a large extent even culture.

    In my own state of South Australia we’ve got a famous rocket launching and testing site (Woomera) & I’m a big fan & supporter of the ideas proposed by my local astronaut Andy Thomas who flew several shuttle missions, spent a stint on Mir & was on the first shuttle mission after the loss of the Columbia.

    Also, I’m not just an Australian, I’m a Westerner and, perhaps unusually, proud of that fact.

    Yes, I *do* think Western civilisation – Western science, Western culture, Western values are, (not perfect but) better than anything else on this planet. I’m not ashamed to say so – are you?

    In particular, I believe that Western values that treat people as equal, that put state and religion in separate boxes, that provide opportunity to all and offer the right to freedom and the free pursuit of happiness are vastly better than the ideals of the Islamists who want a society where the Mosque rules the state, where women can be stoned to death for engaging in consensual sex and are compelled to be hidden away in burkas, get honour-killed if they dare fall in love with someone the male family that – *to them* of course rules their lives – disapproves of, where homosexuals are denied even their existence and are executed if caught … and this could be just the start of a ve-ery long list indeed.

    Islamophobia? A phobia is, by definition, unreasonable and irrational.

    Look at what Islam believes & preaches. Look at what Muslims happily do. Look at all the conflicts they’ve caused and all the people they are killing all around the world.

    Look hard & look closely then tell me again that my dislike of the Islmaic “religion” (more properly the Islamist fundamentalist ideology) is unfounded and unjustified.

    Would *you* volunteer to live under Shariah law?

    Would you like your daughter or wife or girlfriend – or male / same-sex partner if that’s your thing – to live under the brutal law dating back to the Dark ages and unchangable by decree?

    Do you think its okay to murder apostates from Islam? To put a death sentence on someone who writes a satirical novel (Salman Rushdie) or draws a cartoon or even, for pity’s sake, names a teddy bear child’s toy after a boy named Mohammad?

    Are *you* cool with that – really?

    How about exporting and preaching anti-Semitic propganda and trying to wipe Israel off the map, just because, well y’know they’re Jewish, and “Allah” forbid the Jews be allowed to live in peace in their ancestral homeland! God forbid one tiny little Jewish nation exists in sea of endless Jihadistans – no, how about exterminating those pesky Jews once and for all eh? Eh?

    Are you in the standard Culturally Relativist, Politically Correct “meh that’s their culture, never mind how messed up & wrong it is, let them go ahead and respect their ways” favour of *that*?

    How about flying hijacked commercial airliners into buildings crammed full of innocent people or homicide-suicide bombings – are those alright by you?
    And do you think “Allah” will reward these poor, hate-filled, brain-washed murderer-suiciders with endless heavenly sex and gluttony? Do you honestly think its okay to believe “God” would condone such sick savagery?

    Well I don’t. Yes these things things make me angry – very.

    Yes I *do* think there’s a clash of civilisation’s here – or at least a clash of civilisation and barbarity.

    Think long and hard before you answer – have you ever lost anyone to Jihadist terrorism or known anyone who has?

    “Islamophobia?” I don’t believe there’s any such thing.

    A well founded and justified fear or concern about what adherents to the particularly nasty politico-religious ideology of Islam will do next? Of how they would compel their religion upon all of us by the sword? Now that’s a different matter.

  15. DrFlimmer

    For a minute there, Phil, I thought you wrote… er… oh never mind. ;-)

    I guess, you were not the only one having troubles with this text. N0t to mention the toilet of death — Locus Mortis (maybe this joke only works in Germany…).

  16. MikeHypercube

    I wonder if Islamophobia is the new Godwin’s Law? The diatribe above has nothing to do with the question, which was whether @Messier was following the common US right wing practice of using Obama’s middle name to appeal to Islam-haters in their midst. So that’s a yes then.

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    Oh & am I aware that the Ares-Constellation program isn’t perfect and has its troubles & flaws?

    Sure, natch I am. ;-)

    So did Apollo early on, so did the Hubble Space observatory.

    We do these things NOT because they’re easy but because they are hard remember?

    Yes, Ares had its teething trouble. So did Apollo. Read the history books. ;-)

    The answer is NOT killing the Ares-Constellation Lunar return program – it is funding it properly and fixing it properly and persisting bravely & intelligently.

    Overcoming the problems – just like we did with Apollo – NOT giving in and saying in effect : “No, its too hard, we won’t do it, we quit” like Obama is doing.

    To all the critics of Ares-Constellation & President George W. Bushes’ visionary plan to put Americans (Westerners! Free Worlders!) back on the Moon I ask y’all this :

    Would *you* have cancelled the Apollo program after Apollo 1 or Apollo 4?

    How awfully badly we would’ve missed out, how much we’d have lost if you had. Thank whatever you weren’t in charge back then to cancel the pinnacle of Western – even Human-wide – accomplishment. :-(

    Imagine if the USA had failed to land on the Moon in the late 1960′s. Imagine the Communist Soviet Empire won the space race instead. Do you think we’d be living in a better world now had *that* happened? Really?

  18. Denver Astronomer

    @13. Messier Tidy Upper

    I think your using the actions of a few Muslims while ignoring reprehensible acts by those working under different religious doctrines to justify religious intolerance of their entire religion is the dictionary definition of “Islamophobia”.

  19. Denver Astronomer

    And how did we get to this level of nut-jobbery in 13 posts, starting from “Ash Hole on the Moon”?

  20. DrFlimmer

    @ Messier Tidy Upper

    Although this is not the right place to have this kind of conversation, I have to speak my mind. Because, although I understand perfectly what you mean and feel and I also see that one could think such thoughts are justified, I disagree strongly. Maybe not with many things you said (no, it is not okay to crash planes into towers), but it’s your tone I dislike. It is aggressive. And I always remember Yoda in such circumstances:

    Hate, fear, aggression. The dark side of the force they are!

    I mean, I don’t dispute that the Western World has some great values. Freedom in all its forms. Yes, they are great. But do you realise how long it took the Western World (I consider using the acronym WW from now on… or maybe not…) to actually develop these values? 2000 f***ing long years.
    Just compare: The Islam is roughly 1300 years old. Do you know how Europe looked like 700 years ago? What we did “in the name of god”?
    And things that happen ALWAYS have a cause (apart from the BigBang maybe…). Why is the Islam full of hate against Christians and Jews? Because they just thought it could be a good idea just now? No. Definitely not.
    A few centuries ago the Muslims invaded Spain (yes, that is really long ago). But what did they do there? Slaughtering the Christians? Killing everyone? No! They granted them mostly to continue as they did before (not everything was right, of course, but it wasn’t so bad after all). Long ago, the Muslims were quite nice and accepted that *we* were different (as a matter of fact, Mohammed never called Jews and Christians infidels. We were just a little bit confused and misled. He called Jesus a great prophet, nothing more and nothing less. And he granted us at least the first heaven — and not hell. So, today’s notion that Christians and Jews are infidels is not according to the Koran. But that’s also a different story.).
    We did they change? We do they hate us, now? Could the reason may be our behaviour towards them in the past? Have we ever showed them our great values?
    Just remember, what did the world look like 100 years ago? The “white” folks killed almost all Indians in America. We enslaved the blacks. We played with the world as with toys. We oppressed everyone! We never ever showed them what “great values” the Western World (WW) developed.
    And what kind of crap did we leave behind when we finally left the poor countries we played with? For example: The “holy land” was promised to both Jews and Palestinians. What kind of silly idea is that? And this is just ONE example out of many (India and Pakistan is another one. Or take Guantanamo Bay…).

    So allow me the question: What kind of ideal is the Western World? For centuries we have oppressed the whole world!
    And now you want everyone to accept our great values? You want to give it to everyone, and you do not care if he wants it or not? (Yeah, we brought freedom, peace and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq! Congratulations, Western World! Well done!).

    Let me repeat: I don’t say I think it’s good what’s happening in the Muslim world. I don’t ever say terrorism is a good way of fighting for something (but which way of fighting is good? War NEVER EVER creates peace!). BUT I understand, why the Muslim world is full of hate! Because that hate was built up over a long time by OUR wrong-doing! And it was only a matter of time, when it would be released.

    The only chance to make things better in the future is that the WW has to show respect to other cultures (which it lacked STRONGLY!), has to admit that it has done wrong! We not only have to “bring” them our values, WE must live them! WE must become the ideal we want to be! As long as this does not happen, the world will not change.

    At the end, I just want to add something:

    If those, who call themselves Christians, would actually begin to act like they’re supposed to be, maybe the world could become a better place!

    It is not always only the other’s fault. Sometimes it could be your own! A biblical quote is quite appropriate here:

    Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.

  21. MT-LA

    @Davidlpf: Awesome comment!

    @Gus Snarp: I think Messier should go ahead and use the president’s middle name as much as he wants. We have used the middle name of presidents and others before. Asking Messier to omit the middle name because it may spark islamophobia will only serve to validate his/her decision to include it. Pres. Obama is just another president: we should NOT give any special treatment to his name, skin color, or anything else about him. Judge him on his policy…that’s all that matters.

    @Messier: On policy, you’re way off. On religion you’re wa-ay of. Do *you* know any people that practice Islam? Do they even come close to the characterization that you’ve developed on your above posts? Doubtful.

  22. Ken (a different Ken)

    @17 Denver: It’s fascinating, in the same sense that watching a car crash is fascinating…

    I think the ideal *would* have been to properly fund and develop Aries. However the American people simply do not have the stomach to consistently dedicate the necessary few $B per year to do it – we’re too busy “solving real problems” by shoveling $100Bs into greedy financial institutions and incompetent corporations (with maybe a few pennies here and there for the common citizen).

    I also think that there’s two sides necessary to publically-funded space efforts. One is scientific; no private company is ever going to fund science for science’s sake, if it happens at all it needs to be a collective effort (i.e. gov’t). The other side is engineering. Right now manned space is hugely expensive and dangerous. It is *never* going to get cheaper or more reliable until we *do* it. Lots. Put hardware in space, put people in space, solve problems, fix what breaks, and yes fail from time to time. *That* is how you gain the necessary experience to get costs down and reliability up. You can’t do it by sitting on your duff and wishing real hard. And as it becomes affordable and safe, entepreneurs *will* figure out what to do with it to make money (starting with tourism and porn, as ususal).

  23. @Messier Tidy Upper: The question is also why you tried to connect Barack Obama to Islam, in the first place – that’s is the part that seems very odd to me. It also seems odd to me that a person of your stature of intelligence, have not seen through G.W. Bush’s cheap shot at getting into the history books. He just commanded “Let Ares-Constellation happen – and by the way, it shouldn’t cost anything.” – and then he left it at that. That was a hell-of-a-lot different from what J.F. Kennedy did back at the inception of the Apollo program, which actually had real (financial) support from the government of then.
    Cheers,
    Regner

  24. jfb

    @Messier:

    The United States of America leads the world and we don’t – that’s just reality.

    It’s not going to be much longer. Here’s another bit of reality: the US is currently fighting two wars, fighting persistent unemployment, just came out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and frankly has much bigger issues to deal with than going back to the fracking Moon. It’s been explained to you before, multiple times, that President Obama can’t just snap his fingers and make everything right. He can *ask* Congress to increase NASA’s funding, but that’s a battle he really doesn’t need to be fighting right now (partly because we have bigger fish to fry, and partly because half of Congress is certifiably *insane*). Congress will *never* fund manned spaceflight at adequate levels ever again. Apollo was a fluke of history and will not likely be repeated.

    The Mars program has conclusively demonstrated that you really don’t need to send people to do exploration on the ground. There’s no reason we couldn’t design and build MER- or MSL-style rovers to explore the lunar surface. I mean, to do anything more than eyeball analysis on-site you need to fly the instruments up there anyway; why *not* stick them on a semi-autonomous rover that can be commanded from Earth and stay on-site for months or years at a time? And launched with an *existing* heavy lifter?

  25. Gus Snarp

    @MT-LA – We usually refer to presidents the way they choose to be referred to, or at least use middle names mainly as unique identifiers. Quick quiz: Tell me the middle name without looking it up anywhere:

    George Washington
    John Adams (not Quincy)
    Thomas Jefferson
    James Madison
    James Monroe
    Andrew Jackson
    Martin Van Buren (van is not a middle name)
    John Tyler
    James Polk
    Zachary Taylor
    etc. etc. etc.
    Gerald Ford
    Richard Nixon (half credit since it’s a bit of a pop culture reference)
    Ronald Reagan

    We all know George W. Bush’s middle name (I think) but how often is it used (the initial doesn’t count) to refer to him?

    The use of Obama’s middle name, particularly in a repetitive fashion (it’s not enough to say Barack Hussein Obama once and Obama the rest of the time, Hussein has to be used again) is an intentional attempt to falsely link Obama with Islam and create a negative connotation. Messier reveals his feelings in his later screed.

    @Messier – I won’t dignify that with a response other than to say thank you for proving my point.

  26. MattF

    Cheyenne: Or if I’m wrong – could you please describe to me what manned spaceflight has achieved scientifically in the past 20 years? What groundbreaking work it has done? The peer reviewed papers that have flooded out based on science done by humans in space?

    Let’s compare apples to apples.

    Your original assertion was that we stopped going to the Moon “because it didn’t make any sense to keep going back there” (post 7).

    Now, can we dredge up the achievements, groundbreaking work, peer-reviewed papers, and so on that were generated by the effort to put people on the Moon? Absolutely. And the science generated, even rated per dollar spent, far outstripped the unmanned exploration of the Moon during the same period. We’re still generating scientific studies based on those efforts.

    As relatively workaday(*) as the stuff we’ve done since is, it’s given us insight as to how to survive in space. The way we went about that is almost definitely not the best way to have done it, but the political will, sense of direction, and funding just haven’t been there to do much that’s interesting(**) or purposeful.

    Cheyenne: Even PZ Myers just recently wrote about how silly it is to be thinking about sending people to Mars (and if that doesn’t make sense than a moon mission doesn’t either).

    Yeah. And I’m disappointed to see him fall into the same unthinking “But it’s too hard!” trap when it comes to interplanetary colonization. The fact is, of course, that it takes technological means to live in many places where humans currently thrive on this planet. The technology needed to survive off Earth is merely a matter of scale. I trust he doesn’t mean to assert that humans should only live places where we can run around naked all year and subsist on berries borne by the local wildlife.

    I don’t mean to minimize the problems. We’re nowhere near making space travel reliable, and when we accomplish interplanetary colonization, it won’t be space opera. But I think it’s a mistake to insist that it won’t happen at all merely because it’s difficult and costly, which is all PZ Myers had to say. (And he wasn’t really saying even that — he was commenting about someone else who said that, and expressing agreement.) In the meantime, it is useful to find out with a high degree of confidence how to minimize risk in manned space travel — and that’s done with experience.

    Cheyenne: It should try to find life – make that the priority.

    I suspect that they’d like to make it a priority. There’s no money, though. And if and when they fail, either technically or in the accomplishment of their purported objectives, people are more prone to think of missions like these as a waste of eleventy bajillion dollars. And the money and political will gets even more scarce.

    Cheyenne: They need and should do something really big.

    Agreed. NASA should be pushing the technological edge of the envelope. But they need to know what that edge they should be pushing for is, and they need the money to get there. They’ve had neither for a good, long time.

    Cheyenne: This manned stuff is small thinking and probably won’t accomplish anything important.

    It’s a poor imagination that claims to know what we will probably never find or accomplish as we attempt to explore brand-new territory.

    (*) Insofar as space travel can ever be considered “workaday”, of course.

    (**) For values of “interesting” that are capable of capturing the imaginations of short-attention-span Americans (who prefer their science in easy-to-digest sound bites) until Lindsay Lohan is seen drinking again.

  27. Andy

    Why continue missions to space? It’s not like anything becomes of those missions, they’ve historically been conducted for political purposes. It’s a colossal waste of tax dollars when there’s much more important things to worry about here on Earth.

    Sure, it would be cool to find something interesting up there (although it will likely serve no practical purpose), but we’ll realistically never live on the moon or Mars. The amount of money required to do so, getting things up there, people, dealing with lack of oxygen and resources, food, etc. It’s a pipe dream quite frankly. Doesn’t anyone wonder why no other countries fund space programs like the US? It’s not an efficient use of tax dollars.

  28. When you watch the moon landing scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, you see what many people assumed would happen after the touch-down-and-go-home Apollo missions: a major lunar base camp and a permanent presence on the moon.

    I would support that, as would many other Americans AND the people in other countries that would have to be our partners in it (for diplomatic as well as economic reasons).

    Just give NASA another 10 billion a year, and no problem!

  29. Cheyenne

    @MattF-

    I never said that going to the moon – originally – was a bad idea. It was one of the greatest achievements I can think of. Of course it paid off. That was then – what I am talking about is today and tomorrow.

    “Now, can dredge up the achievements, groundbreaking work, peer-reviewed papers, and so on..”. Yes of course you can for the Apollo years. But what can you dredge up for the last 20 years? What do you think, specifically, that we’re going to accomplish in the next 20 years by putting people into space? The only thing that I can think of is learning how the human body responds to space travel. But that’s lame circular logic when there is no game plan with what to ultimately do with a person in space (and returning to the Moon or trying a Mars launch are not good plans).

    “I suspect that they’d like to make it a priority. There’s no money, though.”. That’s really my entire point. There IS money. They have billions and billions of it. But it’s been mis-appropriated to outdated mission concepts that don’t have a good ROR.

    “I trust you don’t think humans should only live places where we can run around naked all year and subsist on berries borne by the local wildlife.”. Actually, you just described my lifestyle when I was following Phish around for a month :)

  30. JoeSmithCA

    Wow, thanks for the links Phil. Reading the link about Orange Soil was the best read ever. I felt about as excited as the astronaughts. Those were some incredible discoveries!

  31. MattF

    Cheyenne: I never said that going to the moon – originally – was a bad idea.

    True. You said that “it didn’t make any sense to keep going back there”. That’s what I mean to refute.

    Cheyenne: That was then – what I am talking about is today and tomorrow.

    I understand.

    Do you honestly think we’ve learned everything we can about the Moon after six brief manned visits, two manned orbitals, a manned flyby, and a few dozen unmanned missions?

    Do you honestly think we’ve learned everything we can about what space does to humans and machines?

    Cheyenne: Yes of course you can for the Apollo years. But what can you dredge up for the last 20 years?

    First of all, the Moon shots have produced relevant research far beyond the times of the actual missions. They are still producing relevant research. This conflicts with your stated position, that “putting people into space doesn’t help to answer anything truly interesting and important”. (More to the point, “interesting and important” is not relegated to the “big questions” you referenced.)

    Second, the last twenty years have taught us many things about what it means to travel in space. Let me suggest the NASA Technical Reports Server as a place to begin looking for them. You can even search by date; see for yourself how many papers were produced in the last twenty years. Keep in mind that this is a very partial representation, considering that it is only NASA papers, and of those, only the ones that were entered and referenced by volunteers.

    Cheyenne: What do you think, specifically, that we’re going to accomplish in the next 20 years by putting people into space?

    That depends, of course, on how we do it — something that’s rather undecided at the moment. Much of it will be impossible to predict — that’s the nature of research. But that doesn’t mean that it’s utterly fruitless.

    If I could predict specifically what we’d find and accomplish by doing research, it wouldn’t be research.

    I also do not mean to imply by this that twenty years doing incremental research in the manner of the last twenty would be ideal. But it would still be far from producing nothing.

    Cheyenne: The only thing that I can think of is learning how the human body responds to space travel. But that’s lame circular logic when there is no game plan with what to ultimately do with a person in space (and returning to the Moon or trying a Mars launch are not good plans).

    Learning what happens to humans and machines in space is critical if we ever hope to go into space on a more permanent basis, whether or not there is a clear goal in sight.

    I would prefer that there be a clear goal. But the lack of one does not mean that we are learning nothing interesting or important by continuing a manned space program.

    Cheyenne: That’s really my entire point. There IS money. They have billions and billions of it.

    Then your entire point is wrong. They have more money than you or I, perhaps, but not enough to do something visionary and cutting-edge. When evaluated in constant dollars, the amount of money they have compared to, say, 1967, is a pittance. This is even more apparent if one compares what they receive to other things Americans as a whole (or their government) spend money on.

    Cheyenne: But it’s been mis-appropriated to outdated mission concepts that don’t have a good ROR.

    On that, we agree. But it doesn’t follow from this that “putting people into space doesn’t help to answer anything truly interesting and important”.

    Let me try to show you what I mean by analogy. Many schools have outdated scientific equipment for their students. We would both agree, I think, that this is not ideal. However, does this mean that students can learn nothing “interesting or important” with their outdated equipment? Is it really possible to discover things only with bleeding-edge equipment and crystal-clear direction? The Principle of Serendipity would argue otherwise. (This is even true in terms of discovering things new to all of human experience. Consider the importance that amateur astronomers have to the field of astronomy generally — and those amateurs certainly don’t have the flashiest or most expensive equipment, and may not have a clearly-stated objective in their studies.)

  32. andy

    (not the same person as the previous poster “Andy” with a capital letter)

    One of the problems with the whole manned space thing is that pretty much anywhere that’s reachable is lethally dangerous in ways that nowhere on Earth is. Now it is true that we do send people to live in lethal places on Earth, but there’s usually some economic justification for doing so (think, e.g. oil rigs). In space, the economic justifications just aren’t there for manned missions: the things that bring benefits back home are satellites, and we can get satellites into Earth orbit fine without manned missions.

    In any case if you want to do some experiment on the effects of long-term space travel beyond the protective effects of the Earth’s magnetic field, I’d rather see efforts towards a long-duration lunar orbiter mission. Maybe not as glamorous as a flags-and-footprints mission to Mars (talking of which, figuring out how to land something as heavy as a manned mission on Mars is not a solved problem: the atmosphere makes things difficult because it is too thick for using rockets to land something like that, and too thin for parachutes), but at least you can get your astronauts home relatively quickly if things start to go wrong, and you only have to take equipment to land you back on Earth, rather than onto another planet as well.

  33. Thameron

    “I still dream of a day, not too far off, when astronauts with picks and shovels will go there and examine that material with their own hands and eyes. ”

    You may as well dream about warp drive while you are at it. It will be increasingly difficult to justify the necessary (and quite large) expense for manned spaceflight when there will be huge outlays for flood, famine and fire relief. Hard to justify a picnic when your house is on fire.

    Warmest year on record. Get used to those words. You will be hearing them for the rest of your life.

    There will be more people coming tomorrow and they will want coal powered lights and gasoline powered cars. They will feel entitled to them since we in West have had them for so long. They will want their turn. Its a perfect storm of bad timing and shortsightedness and it stands a very good chance of ripping your dream to tiny shreds.

  34. Piffero

    @Messier :
    *facepalm*

    @the rest of you guys:
    Welcome to the internet. That is what here is usually called a troll. Please do not feed him. Thanks.

  35. Stefanie Blair

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a “phobia” of a religion. It’s not the same as having a phobia of people. I think Islam is a harmful idea that the world would be better without. That doesn’t mean I have a phobia of Muslims. Not the same. It is not bigoted to criticize religion. We, as a culture, are far too obsessed with being respectful of irrational beliefs. These irrational beliefs are getting innocent people killed every day.

    That being said, I also think it’s ridiculous to call the president Barack “Hussein” Obama. I can think of no rational and intelligent reason to call him that. Is that supposed to imply that he’s not American or something?

  36. Gary Ansorge

    20. DrFlimmer

    Right on!

    Humanity WILL return to the moon but I think if anyone here wants to buy a ticket, they should learn to speak Mandarin.

    Personally, I’d love to go spelunking in one of those (maybe) volcanos.

    Gary 7

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    @11. Tim Says:

    Well, I’m also an Aussie and I’d just like to chip in and say that Cx was rubbish, the private sector is the way of the future, the Augustine panel made the correct recommendations, and the new plan (pre-congress meddling) appeared to be great. But then anyone fully abreast of the relevant facts would come to this conclusion. Messier’s post betrays a deep seated laziness as well as a genuine passion for space flight.

    & in *your* opinion those “relevant facts” would be ..?

    I’d like to see private space agencies working and flying well too – but alongside national public space agencies rather than instead of them. I think we need and can have both.

    As for “deep seated laziness”, (What ..The..heck?) what’s lazier than giving up becuase its all too hard and too expensive? That sums up the Obama plan in my opinion.

    Oh & not just *my* opinion either – Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and Jim Lovell are among many prominent people who should know who also think Obama’s plan stinks and sets the USA back severely. Did you hear about their open letter & public criticism of Obama’s plan? The first man on the Moon, the last man on the Moon and the leader of Apollo 8 & 13. They’d know what they’re talking about I’d say. Your expertise here, OTOH, is ..?

    @25. Gus Snarp :

    The use of Obama’s middle name, particularly in a repetitive fashion (it’s not enough to say Barack Hussein Obama once and Obama the rest of the time, Hussein has to be used again) is an intentional attempt to falsely link Obama with Islam and create a negative connotation.

    Falsely? Obama’s father was a Muslim, Obama grew up in Muslim Indonesia, Obama’s favourite preacher was Mr “God D-M America” Jeremah Wright. Now having taken the Presidency, Obama is the one to kill America’s human spaceflight program and instead of getting rocket scientists to do rocket science wants NASA’s main priority to be making Muslims feel good :

    “The head of the Nasa has said Barack Obama told him to make “reaching out to the Muslim world” one of the space agency’s top priorities.

    Source : “Barack Obama: Nasa must try to make Muslims ‘feel good’, By Toby Harnden, Telegraph online news article, 8:00PM BST 06 Jul 2010 [Link provided separately to avoid long moderation delay.]

    Co-incidence? Note the headline.

    Why the blazes would Obama think NASA’s job should be to soothe Muslim feelings? NASA’s job is flying Americans into space and serving Americas’ interests NOT those of the Mullahs and Imams. Even if you agree with appeasing rather than confronting the Muslim world – &, unsurprisingly, I don’t – the people with that task are the diplomats not NASA surely?

    I wonder what Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton would have done had she won the nomination and been President now.

    Messier reveals his feelings in his later screed.

    Oh well excuse me for having feelings. :roll:

    Are you implying that just because I feel strong emotion on this issue my arguments aren’t valid?

  38. Messier Tidy Upper

    Source link :

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7875584/Barack-Obama-Nasa-must-try-to-make-Muslims-feel-good.html

    For the Barack Obama: Nasa must try to make Muslims ‘feel good’ article.

    Plus there’s this link :

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/7717795/Neil-Armstrong-says-Barack-Obama-is-poorly-advised-on-space.html

    to an article on Neil Armstrong’s open public criticism about Obama’s space plan. Note that Armstrong rarely speaks publicly. For him to speak out like this is very unusual – which says something in itself.

    Plus for those who haven’t heard or have already forgotten :

    [Jeremiah] Wright’s beliefs and preaching were scrutinized when segments from his sermons were publicized in connection with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, including his contention that the Attacks of September 11, 2001 were proof that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost” and “…not God Bless America. God damn America.” … [SNIP!] .. After the election, Wright was again the center of controversy when he suggested “them Jews” were keeping him from reaching President Obama.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremiah_Wright

    Wright was Obama’s spiritual advisor & favourite preacher over many years. Obama sat and enjoyed such sermons. But would a truly patriotic American who really loved their country just sit back happily and nod along to those sort of comments? :roll:

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    @20. DrFlimmer : Thanks for that interesting and good post.

    it’s your tone I dislike. It is aggressive.

    Well, yes, maybe I got a bit carried away because I do feel strongly on this issue.

    Yes, the West isn’t perfect and has made mistakes in history. Yes, its true that Islamic history can point to some epochs where their rule was relatively benign.

    However, I think we have to remember that, like it or not, we are currently fighting a war with Islamic fundamentalist extremists. A war we in the West didn’t start or choose but one that the Jihadists launched on September 11th 2001 but which they’ve been waging really since the 1970′s PLO terrorist movement.

    The Jihadists are utterly ruthless and cruel, they are playing on our tolerance, our soft-heartedness, our willingness to see the other side – and they are using it as a weakness & exploiting it as a weapon. We try to avoid causing civilian deaths. Sometimes, arguably too often we fail – but they other hand deliberately create and then exploit such casualties. We regret the loss of life and try to give them as many of our legal and civil and human rights as we can. They dance in the streets when our civilans are murdered and provide any hostages with no rights or compassion at all. Remember what happened to Daniel Pearl or Leon Klinghoffer?

    One of the great strengths and good things about Western civilisation is that we are tolerant & are willing to respect and embrace other cultures.

    But when the culture opposing us is as intolerant and as violent as Islam is, I do feel we have to draw a line and have to stand up for ourselves. Islam esp. in its current Wahhabbi -Kharijite fundamentalist form is misognist, homophobic and anti-Semitic (Judeaophobic?) to its core.

    Not all Muslims are terrorists but way too many are. Almost all Christians condemn the few murderous extremists like those who kill abortion doctors but most Muslism support thelikes of Hamas and teh homicide suicide bombing “tactic”.

    Islam does not place much emphasis on “forgiveness” and “loving thy neighbour” the way Christianity does. It doesn’t value reason and learning the way Judaism does. The emphasis Islam is on “submission” and as a theology it condones violence in a way that is, I think, exceptional among religions. It is a religion with a much more inflexible, intolerant medieval worldview than any other mainstream modern religion – this is just factual description.

    If Muslims were content to leave us alone then I happily support returning the favour. If they didn’t want to destroy the “Great Satan” of America and the “Little Satan” of Israel and incite followers to violent terrorism then I’d be content to list Islam under the very large “weird things people belive” category and not speak out to much about them.

    But the Jihadists are trying to kill us. To destroy our way of life. That kind of makes them a problem.

    Yes, not all Muslims are terrorists – but way too many are. Look at the statistics & read your daily paper.

    Past colonial history is no excuse. There are other better ways for Muslims to address past (perceived or real) injustices. Understanding some of *why* the Muslism are angry doesn’t make what they are doing right. Nor does it excuse the nastier elements of their own philiophy which unlike Christianity and Judaism hasn’t undergone significant revision and modernising from its ancient roots.

    Yes, of course we should try to live up our better angels. To put Western ideals into practice. We’re doing so already and we’ll keep improving over time I expect. We’ve come along way and have much to be proud of.

    But we also have to be willing to defend ourselves & fight for what we believe when it comes under attack. We shouldn’t keep apologising for being Western as we seem to do & forget to stand up against our attackers & their philosophy too.

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @23. Regner Trampedach Says:

    @Messier Tidy Upper: The question is also why you tried to connect Barack Obama to Islam, in the first place – that’s is the part that seems very odd to me.

    See my comment 36 linked article above – Barack Obama: Nasa must try to make Muslims ‘feel good’ – why? Barack Obama may not be a Muslim personally but he’s certainly the most pro-Muslim President the USA has had in a very long time. Why would Obama want to make NASA’s job making Muslims happy? Why should anything Muslims think have any bearing on America’s space program?

    It also seems odd to me that a person of your stature of intelligence, have not seen through G.W. Bush’s cheap shot at getting into the history books. He just commanded “Let Ares-Constellation happen – and by the way, it shouldn’t cost anything.” – and then he left it at that. That was a hell-of-a-lot different from what J.F. Kennedy did back at the inception of the Apollo program, which actually had real (financial) support from the government of then. Cheers, Regner

    I agree Bush could’ve funded it better & wasn’t ideal. Bush does deserve criticism for not putting more funding in. No doubt. That said, George W. Bush did come up with and begin to get working a return to the Moon plan. His plan was starting -literlaly tofly – & then Obama decided he wanted to cancel it. That’s just the undeniable facts of it. Cheers!

    @ 24. jfb Says:

    @Messier: “The United States of America leads the world and we don’t – that’s just reality.”
    It’s not going to be much longer. Here’s another bit of reality: the US is currently fighting two wars, fighting persistent unemployment, just came out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and frankly has much bigger issues to deal with than going back to the fracking Moon.

    The US was fighting a few wars – including the Cold War at the time of Apollo too. We had the Cuban missile crisis back then and Vietnam and other things in the 1960′s & early 1970′s. Yet Apollo still flew and landed successfully.

    It’s been explained to you before, multiple times, that President Obama can’t just snap his fingers and make everything right. He can *ask* Congress to increase NASA’s funding, but that’s a battle he really doesn’t need to be fighting right now

    Yes I know, Obama can’t just snap his fingers & make it so – but he didn’t have to decide to scrap Ares-Constellation either. Obama chose to ask NASA to quit the manned space program. He could’ve made other better choices such as fighting for funding Ares better. I think he choose poorly. Very poorly. :-(

    Congress will *never* fund manned spaceflight at adequate levels ever again. Apollo was a fluke of history and will not likely be repeated.

    Well, that’s a depressing thought. :-(

    I really hope you are wrong there.

    @21. MT-LA Says:

    @Messier: On policy, you’re way off. On religion you’re wa-ay off.

    That’s your view, mine’s different. Your argument in support of those assertions there would be?

    Do *you* know any people that practice Islam? Do they even come close to the characterization that you’ve developed on your above posts? Doubtful.

    So to know that worrying Islamic terrorists and fundamentalist extremists are out there I have to know them *personally*; y’know be aquainted with Osama bin Laden as my next door neighbour, that sort of thing? Do I need to have met the family of the Iranian women getting executed by stoning to cite her case? WTH!? Yeesh. :roll:

    There’s a lot you read and hear about fundamentalist extremist Muslims around the globe that gives us all very good reason to be concerned – like the cases I’ve cited in comment 14 above. How do explain the fuss over cartoons, teddy bears, Salmen Rushdie, etc..

    Look, I’m sure there are many good moderate Muslims out there. I’m sure most Muslims aren’t terrorists. But enough of them *are* for it to be an issue. :-(

    Muslims are people – individuals – and as such I’m fine with treating them on their merits like everybody else.

    But Islam is a religion, essentially an idea and ideas range in quality, usefulness and worth. It is reasonable to criticise an idea like Islam & to conclude that at least some aspects of it are very bad and not worth following. Isn’t it?

  41. Messier Tidy Upper

    I notice NO ONE here has actually answered my question :

    To all the critics of Ares-Constellation & President George W. Bushes’ visionary plan to put Americans (Westerners! Free Worlders!) back on the Moon I ask y’all this :

    Would *you* have cancelled the Apollo program after Apollo 1 or Apollo 4?

    Also, if you haven’t seen it folks, here’s the YouTube clip of the Ares I-X test flight :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ZHzAvFuYc

    It looked pretty successful to me. ;-)

    Do we really wish to just scrap all this work and effort and start again? Do we really want that flight to be a dead-end and an utter waste of time & resources? :-(

    This is what we could have :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq_4Mm-1-C0&feature=related

    I want that plan to be a reality and not just a computer simulation of what we’ve all missed out on.

  42. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    You may kvetch about pruning among dying and dead boughs on a sick tree to make it start growing again, but please kvetch over the right boughs and the right gardeners.

    This isn’t pruning – its uprooting and burning the whole tree. :-(

    What Augustine and Obama did was to reorient the US (and international) committment to:

    - Guarantee US continued space capability, by realigning and increasing budget to fit.
    - Keep the ISS.
    - Start engaging international and commercial interests both.
    - Start US on a track to return to landing on other bodies, likely NEOs, but perhaps also the Moon.

    Well, for that last goal we were already on track for returning to the Moon – which counts as an “other body” itself. We had a plan, things were coming along nicely, we needed to pour in more funds and effort and persist with it and I’m confident that we’d have got there.

    But note the first step there : “Guarantee US continued space capability”

    I’d say with no more shuttle flights beyond next year and with NASA left depending on hitching a lift with private space agencies and the Russians, that’s got to be a big FAIL there. Keeping Ares instead of scrapping it would have met that goal instaed of failing it. We were already committed to Ares – too much so to throw it away and start from scratch. I think the Augustine commission and Obama should have asked Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell for their advice.

    Plus I don’t see “making Muslims happy” featuring anywhere on that list! ;-)

    Space exploration is an investment – a relatively small one with huge postive returns financially, politically, internationally and economically. As the Bad Astronomer has pointed out numerous times the money is spent down here and people’s jobs are created down on Earth.

    Next (?) on Oprah/MTU show: “How Obama killed the Space Shuttle too, by the same Time Travel to the days of the Bush administration. And don’t forget what he did to poor Pluto!”

    Glad I seem to be entertaining you then, Torbjörn. I just wish I had Oprah’s salary & influence to work with! ;-)

    Oh & that last bit was most unfair of you; I blame the IAU not Obama for Pluto’s illogical, unreasonable and un-scientific demotion. I don’t blame Obama for *everything* you know – just the things he really *is* to blame for – which is more than enough! :-P

  43. DrFlimmer

    @ Messier Tidy Upper

    I appreciate your comment (that dealt with my lengthy comment). In fact, I do agree with you on some points, but obviously not on all.
    One important point that I’d like to stress is the following one:
    We have the advantage of mass education! The problem in the middle east (and most other countries and regions with similar problems) is that most people are uneducated and do only “know” what is told them. What do you expect then?

    So, yes, one can excuse them, but still this does not justify such actions, which are not even justified by the Koran.
    However, what does “defend our values” mean? Definitely not an “attack” war (like especially Iraq). Such things do not promote our values. But I admit, it is very hard to decide what is still defence, and what is not.

    We’re doing so already and we’ll keep improving over time I expect. We’ve come along way and have much to be proud of.

    Yes, we’ve come a long way. I already said so, as well. But one should grant this time also other cultures (yes, it’s hard in this case, but still…). As I said, and I repeat it here, the Islam is (sorry to every Muslim!!) in its way of thinking stuck in the “Middle Ages”. That is the problem, and it is very hard to solve!

  44. Katharine

    Meh. I think Messier Tidy Upper is ignoring his theology and forgetting that just like Christianity’s different flavors of wacky, Islam also has different flavors of wacky, which differ in degree and kind of wacky. He may be referring to Saudi Arabia’s particular form of wacky, which is way wackier than moderate/liberal Islamic wacky. It’s sort of analogous to fundie Christian wacky, which is wackier than moderate/liberal Christian wacky.

  45. Katharine

    Of course, I just think religion is wacky period.

  46. Katharine

    Islam appears to be similar to Christianity in that it seems to have both koranic literalist movements and koranic non-literalist movements, just the same way Christianity has biblical literalist movements and biblical non-literalist movements.

    In any case, I think in part Islam may be sort of a convenient accessory to the influence of culture because it just happens to agree with their beliefs (but culture is at the core), just the way it appears to be with fundies. It’s a binding tie for the whole movement but the movement appears to have stupidity influencing it from additional sources, possibly such as being brought up in Bum F**k Afghanistan (I’d say Bum F**k Egypt but in this context, well.) as opposed to a place somewhat less parochial and more exposed to different groups of people.

  47. Impressionable! Thank you for these photos. Recently I discovered some interesting sites using Google Moon.

    See link: http://aleksey-galan.blogspot.com/2010/08/chain-of-craters-stretching-over-more.html

  48. Stefanie Blair

    DrFlimmer said: “We have the advantage of mass education! The problem in the middle east (and most other countries and regions with similar problems) is that most people are uneducated and do only “know” what is told them. What do you expect then?”

    Although I agree there is a problem of education in the Middle East, I would just like to point out that every terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks were well educated. I’m quite sure I read about a positive correlation existing in the Middle East between education and Islamic extremism, but I can’t remember where I got that from. :(

    Anyway, from Wikipedia regarding Sam Harris, one of my favorite atheists, because it’s easier than looking through my books myself:

    Moderates tend to argue that suicide attacks can be attributed to a range of social, political, and economic factors. Harris counters by noting that many suicide bombers come not from poverty but from mainstream Muslim society. He points to the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were “college-educated” and “middle-class” and suffered “no discernible experience of political oppression.” Harris thus asserts that religion is a significant cause of terrorism.[18]

    “How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is that in the year 2006 a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: They don’t know what it is like to really believe in God.”

  49. Daffy

    Stefanie, what your argument fails to take into account is that while individual maniacs can be highly educated, as a general trend, populations become less violent the more they become educated and affluent. And therefore, the support for those maniacs is reduced. Without support they are nothing.

  50. Tribeca Mike

    Interesting conjecture, but now I can’t stop thinking of this scene in “From Russia With Love.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmp0H4-CpyE

  51. Gary Ansorge

    43. Messier Tidy Upper

    You really ought to have your own blog, Dude. These long posts of yours are distracting.

    What was this post about again??? Remind me. I’m old.

    Oh yeah. NOW I remember. Volcanos on the moon.

    Cool!

    Gary 7

  52. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE
  53. andy

    Oh it isn’t necessarily a threadjacking. It might be that this is a MUSLIM VOLCANO ON THE MOON. Quick! We must send a manned mission of manly men to the moon immediately!

  54. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ andy : I’ll second that! Great idea! :-)

    I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing if we wander off topic a little is it? Isn’t that one of the joys of the internet – its chaotic nature, the way people can ramble and go down different conversational paths all the same time?

    More comments & (wide ranging) discussions are a good thing for this blog right?

    I don’t think I’m spoiling things here for people, I hope I’m not. My apology if so.

  55. OD97

    I enjoyed studying the details of those pictures.

    @ MessierTidyUpper
    Every sect and faction have their own extremists. Christians have extremists, Jews have extremists, Muslims have extremists, Hindus have extremists, Buddhists have extremists, even tree huggers have their own extremists! (however, they all are small minorities in their respective sects) In all these cases, the extremists warp the values of their sect to match it with their own beliefs. So does that make them part of the original sect? Or have they created their own sect, with their own beliefs and values? So, does one suicide bomber mean that a plurality of Muslims are terrorists? Does the existence of the KKK mean that most white Americans are racist bigots? In both these cases, the answer is no. And as it seems, in the USA, Muslims are nearly the most successful minority, in terms of education and income. And, in fact, most Muslims (other than extremists) abhor these acts of senseless violence. Also, terrorists have been “excommunicated” from Islam. Muslims hate these extremists as much as you. Just some food for thought. Ignorance breeds bigotry. Also look up COINTELPRO for some brain food.

  56. Phil – This is not the first volcano (other than domes) seen on the Moon. There are a number of somewhat steep-sided cones discovered in Apollo images. This does look like a cinder cone, but an eruption that would make a cinder cone on Earth maps out as a nearly rimless shallow depression on the Moon due to lower g and no atmosphere.

    Gene Shoemaker and Ed Chou did recognize that coesite found at Ries crater in Germany strongly implied that it was of impact origin but a number of smaller craters with associated iron meteorites had been known for a few decades so terrestrial impact craters were recognized before 1960.

    Thanks,
    Chuck Wood

  57. Cheyenne

    Matt-

    “Do you honestly think we’ve learned everything we can about the Moon..”. Nope. Never said that or implied that. If we want to investigate the moon and other objects of interest in our solar system and the universe at large we’ll have far more success with robots than people. The moon is fascinating. Lots to learn. We don’t need John Doe banging with a field hammer on it to learn about it though.

    “Do you honestly think we’ve learned everything we can about what space does to humans and machines?”. Again, no.

    “Let me suggest the NASA Technical Reports Server as a place to begin looking for them. You can even search by date; see for yourself how many papers were produced in the last twenty years.”. Just very briefly – can you please tell me what you think the 10 biggest discoveries we have made in the last 20 years by putting people into space? The ISS is the most expensive single object that humans have ever created – what have we gotten from it? I’ve looked through those papers many times. I don’t see anything important that was accomplished by putting a person into space.

    “When evaluated in constant dollars, the amount of money they have compared to, say, 1967, is a pittance. This is even more apparent if one compares what they receive to other things Americans as a whole (or their government) spend money on.”

    Can you expound on this for a bit? What is NASA’s budget today? If we take that, and do a simple calculation to inflation adjust it – where are they at? If we then try to be just a tad bit smarter and factor in their current purchasing power (factoring things like material fabrication costs, computational costs, sourcing spends, etc. etc.) – is NASA in a better position today or where they were in 1967?

    The answer is NASA is far richer today, with access to massively greater resources than it had in 1967. People that say that NASA is broke and hamstrung stick to the irrelevant claim that they had 5% of GDP in the glory days and it’s nowhere near that today. That’s an irrelevant and useless metric.

    “They have more money than you or I, perhaps, but not enough to do something visionary and cutting-edge.”. Respectfully, that’s not true.

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Wow!

    You guys decided to have a party, and once again I’m late!

    First off – Phil, thanks for bringing this lovely and interesting image to our attention.

    Second – manned versus unmanned spaceflight. I agree that very little of the recent manned spaceflight has had the impact of either Apollo or of unmanned missions such as the Mars rovers, Cassini and (I very much hope in a few years more) New Horizons.

    I also believe that, in the long term, manned space flight can achieve more than unmanned provided it is done right. And by this, I mean that manned spaceflight should focus on exploration and science, but only after we’ve addressed all of the issues of long-duration space missions. Unfortunately, the ISS is a necessary part of addressing those issues (and, yes, I agree that the ISS is boring when compared with Apollo or the unmanned exploration of the solar system).

    There are many technical issues to overcome before interplanetary travel is a reality, but there are also more subtle issues – crew psychology, for example – that need to be addressed and resolved.

    Third, I generally agree that the Bush administration did not think through the mission to “return to the Moon” and then progress to Mars. It certainly did not provide appropriate funding, or set a realistic time scale.

    Fourth, I believe that only a small proportion of muslims supports Sharia law, and an even smaller proportion supports terrorism as a means to achieve political change. I’ve met practising muslims who far prefer the Western way of life to that of, say, Iran or Pakistan. What they practise is one of several liberal forms of Islam. OTOH, I can understand why many inhabitants of the Middle East harbour considerable resentment towards the UK and the USA.

  59. gss_000

    @6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I have a couple of minor quibbles with your analysis, but the big one is:

    What Augustine and Obama did was to reorient the US (and international) committment to:

    - Start US on a track to return to landing on other bodies, likely NEOs, but perhaps also the Moon.

    Obama didn’t have anything to do with the moon. Remember “we’ve been there?” Now, I think there’s a lot of good in the new policy. I like the new tech focus and in general bringing in more commercial companies, but what people forget is that the Augustine Commission actually found the program was well run, despite the funding pit falls. Now it needed correction, and NASA needed a readjustment. But I’m not convinced everything had to be thrown out.

    @58. Cheyenne

    Wrong. Having done a little field geology I can tell you the idea that robots can do it better is wrong. And you’ve decided on one criteria to judge the worth of the manned space program. But how about you justify unmanned probes? By taking a silly view, I’m now deciding that the worth in space is how it directly affects life on Earth. Manned missions create a lot more spinoffs and are leading to important vaccines right now (like Salmonella and Staph) or improving water supplies across the world (see openWATER) let alone research that will help the elderly and those with osteoporosis, but all I can see from unmanned probes are pretty pictures for posters. Hubble: waste of money in this criteria. Kepler: waste. Mars rovers: waste. See how silly this is when you decide one area has value over another?

  60. Cheyenne

    @gss_000-

    I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if we want to produce new vaccines, improve water supplies, and help the elderly with osteoporosis that maybe launching humans into space isn’t the best way to go about it. I would venture to bet that we’d have far more success by spending time and money on these issues in dedicated labs and studies on the ground. I just kind of doubt that if you approached doctors and researchers that work on vaccines and asked “what’s the best way to create something to combat Staph?” that their reply would in any way involve launching something into space. Although improving water supplies to third world countries? I will concede that manned missions to space are the best, and probably the only, way to accomplish that :)

    “See how silly this is when you decide one area has value over another?”. No, I’m sorry but I absolutely don’t see that at all. That doesn’t make any sense to somebody like me.

    Here’s a quote from Cosmic Variance regarding the decadal review that just came out. “The real bummer about these recommendations is that entire subfields of US astronomy are pretty much shut out of the only environment where they can operate. X-ray, UV, and high-resolution astronomy (outside of IR and radio) are fundamentally space-based enterprises, and when Chandra and HST shut down, there will be nothing left, and nothing in the pipeline for a decade or more.”

    Our decisions on where we invest have big implications. We should be focusing on the ones that are the most efficient and have the potential for the greatest return. We can’t do everything, hard choices have to be made. And I just don’t think we’re making the right ones.

    But at the end of the day you shouldn’t be upset with my little blog comments. Nothing is going to change. NASA is not capable of a course correction of the kind that guys like me advocate. If you like the way things are now you should be happy.

  61. MattF

    Cheyenne (quoting me): “Do you honestly think we’ve learned everything we can about the Moon..”. Nope. Never said that or implied that.

    “It didn’t make any sense to keep going back there” certainly implies that.

    Cheyenne: If we want to investigate the moon and other objects of interest in our solar system and the universe at large we’ll have far more success with robots than people.

    Again, I encourage you to look at the science return per dollar spent on unmanned lunar missions versus manned lunar missions during the Apollo era.

    Cheyenne: Just very briefly – can you please tell me what you think the 10 biggest discoveries we have made in the last 20 years by putting people into space?

    You’re moving the goalposts. Your original claim was to express skepticism (in post #12) about the existence of “peer reviewed papers that have flooded out based on science done by humans in space” (a statement that’s fairly easy to address objectively). Now you’re asking my opinion, to grade the work done during this period on some kind of personal curve. What would be the point? Whether or not you agree with my assessment of the most significant, or even whether or not you think it is as interesting or compelling as (for some arbitrary reason) you or I think it ought to be, has zero bearing on whether or not it is “important”.

    Cheyenne: The ISS is the most expensive single object that humans have ever created – what have we gotten from it?

    I’ve pointed out that the way we are doing it is far from ideal. This does not imply that we ought to be doing nothing; such a position also shouldn’t be taken as endorsement of the ISS.

    Cheyenne: I’ve looked through those papers many times.

    Many? Tens of thousands of papers? Really?

    Cheyenne: I don’t see anything important that was accomplished by putting a person into space.

    What, then, is “important”? Perhaps we’re squabbling over semantics.

    Cheyenne: Can you expound on this for a bit?

    NASA’s budget, 1967, from Wikipedia: $5.4 billion.
    NASA’s budget, 2010, from Wikipedia: $18.7 billion.

    According to dollartimes.com, $1.00 in 1967 had the buying power of $6.56 in 2010.

    NASA’s budget, 1967, adjusted for 2010 dollars: $35.4 billion.

    So NASA’s buying power in 1967 was just a bit less than double what it is now.

    Cheyenne: If we then try to be just a tad bit smarter and factor in their current purchasing power (factoring things like material fabrication costs, computational costs, sourcing spends, etc. etc.) – is NASA in a better position today or where they were in 1967?

    Where they were in 1967.

    Cheyenne: The answer is NASA is far richer today, with access to massively greater resources than it had in 1967.

    Nope. It has to make do with just over half the buying power it had in 1967, with a much smaller manned space infrastructure and far less political support.

    Cheyenne: People that say that NASA is broke and hamstrung stick to the irrelevant claim that they had 5% of GDP in the glory days and it’s nowhere near that today. That’s an irrelevant and useless metric.

    Perhaps that’s true. But I didn’t use that metric.

    Cheyenne (quoting me): “They have more money than you or I, perhaps, but not enough to do something visionary and cutting-edge.”. Respectfully, that’s not true.

    If we take out manned spaceflight, as you have advocated, then we could certainly do some remarkable and unprecedented things. But it is important, in the long run, that we learn how to fly people in space. Again, I don’t think we’ve been figuring out how to do that wisely, but we’ve certainly learned some things along the way.

    Cheyenne: I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if we want to produce new vaccines, improve water supplies, and help the elderly with osteoporosis that maybe launching humans into space isn’t the best way to go about it. I would venture to bet that we’d have far more success by spending time and money on these issues in dedicated labs and studies on the ground.

    You may be right. But the nature of serendipity is such that you can’t know ahead of time. It pays to do research in all areas, since discoveries in one discipline tend to inform our knowledge in many others. This has certainly happened with manned space travel; for example, research done for toxic chemical detectors on Skylab led to the invention of the smoke detector, which has since saved many lives.

  62. QuietDesperation

    But America is a superpower and we’re not.

    Ah, but we love you anyway, mate. :-)

    BTW, we’re out of money. Got any we could use for another flash in the pan program to land a human on another orb for… some reason, instead of rational and focused development of near-Earth space industry and commerce?

    It might be that this is a MUSLIM VOLCANO ON THE MOON.

    Do they war with the Amazon Women on the Moon? Is it a Victory Volcano?

  63. Charles

    Anyone who says that Apollo was a “flag and footprints” program obviously knows nothing much about Apollo 17, much less the canceled 18, 19 and 20. If you happen to go by Houston or Titusville, you can see some of the flight parts for the latter three hanging in museums there.

    Some folks here like to mis-characterize HSF with little more engineering knowledge than what they glean from blog posts and also with a willful ignorance of the history of many of the programs, not only past but also present and future. Sigh.

  64. Cheyenne

    @MattF- I think you and I have been squabbling over a few semantics with the “important” language and other words I used. Sometimes I’m not very clear. Sorry about that.

    ““It didn’t make any sense to keep going back there” certainly implies that.”. I meant going back with people. The missions became boring to the public and we couldn’t continue to justify the enormous costs. That’s why we quit going and there hasn’t been much of an interest in going back with people. Extraordinary missions at the time. Not a good thing to redo now.

    “Again, I encourage you to look at the science return per dollar spent on unmanned lunar mission versus manned lunar missions during the Apollo era.”. You don’t need to encourage me to do that. I agree with you.

    “So NASA’s buying power in 1967 was about double what it is now.”. I’ll disagree with that respectfully. I’m not arguing with your numbers, the inflation adjustment is correct on the face of it. But NASA is not involved in something like factory operations turning out grosses of stamp pressed widgets or silos of grain for public consumption – something that we could more accurately compare as apples to apples in different time periods. That monentary analysis isn’t a true accounting for what they do. In the Apollo era they used computers that had way less power than my IPhone as one example. They now have access to resources (many of them unheard of back then) at much cheaper cost today. They’re “richer” because of it today (labor costs excepted). If they wanted to design a new rocket to take people to the moon today it should cost substantially less than what it did during the Apollo era (we have CAD/CAM, previous experience, vastly better computers, more efficient companies to supply parts, etc.). I just disagree with a straight up inflation adjustment when talking about NASA – that’s not true purchasing power. You also said they can’t do anything visionary or cutting edge because they don’t have enough money. I just disagree with that.

    “Many? Tens of thousands of papers? Really?”. Yeah. You wouldn’t believe how speedy I am :)

    “It pays to do research in all areas..”. No it doesn’t. We don’t have that luxury. Some areas of research are more deserving of time and effort than other areas. I understand the principle of serendipity –that we don’t absolutely know what we’ll get in the future. But with manned missions we have this very long time frame now of really, well, poor return. And that doesn’t have a rosy outlook either (moon missions canceled, Mars a pipe dream). So it just seems, to me, that NASA should reprioritize for the next generation of operations. Human spaceflight will of course become commonplace and a good thing to do eventually. But that’s many, many, and again many years away. I think that needs to go on the backburner so that NASA can do more important things.

    Thanks for replying by the way. I do appreciate that.

  65. MattF

    Cheyenne: Sometimes I’m not very clear. Sorry about that.

    No need to apologize. Language is imprecise. And that’s one of the reasons we debate — to check our ability to make our case clear when others disagree.

    Cheyenne: I meant going back with people. The missions became boring to the public and we couldn’t continue to justify the enormous costs.

    I’d agree with that with a qualifier: We couldn’t justify the costs to the people. Since NASA runs on PR (whether we like it or not), that’s what’s ultimately going to matter.

    Now, I’d also be more prone to point out that it’s not really an “enormous” cost. Not when you compare it to other things we expect our government to pay for, and certainly not when you compare it to luxuries Americans pay for out of their income (e.g., movies, cosmetics, or beer). When you factor in that the things discovered in space travel, in the (very) long run, benefit all of humanity, and the luxuries and many of the other government don’t, it becomes hard to see how the acquisition of the technology and know-how required to send people to the Moon can be justified as an “enormous” cost.

    It becomes even more advantageous if the things we do in space are carefully determined to establish a permanent presence.

    Selling all that to a selfish and myopic public is a different story, however. One shouldn’t confuse the fact that the American public lost interest with the worthiness of the enterprise.

    Frankly, if NASA had told us a few years into Apollo that they knew the technology to possess serious limitations, and that they would seriously limit manned missions as the technology was developed to make our presence more permanent and sustainable, I’d have much preferred that over what we got. But it seems a serious mistake to abandon manned space travel altogether.

    Cheyenne: Extraordinary missions at the time. Not a good thing to redo now.

    I don’t want a redo. I want progress towards the goal of making humanity a spacefaring species.

    Apollo, while an excellent proof-of-concept, was not the right way to make that happen. Neither was NASA’s efforts from after Apollo to the present. Neither was the Constellation program.

    Cheyenne: But NASA is not involved in something like factory operations turning out grosses of stamp pressed widgets or silos of grain for public consumption – something that we could more accurately compare as apples to apples in different time periods. That monentary analysis isn’t a true accounting for what they do. In the Apollo era they used computers that had way less power than my IPhone as one example.

    I grant you that a straightforward comparison can yield misleading results. Consider, though, that some of these very cost-saving measures you mention are not really “killer apps” when it comes to actually building the spacecraft itself.

    For example, you don’t want a flight computer to be more sophisticated than it absolutely has to be. More sophistication increases the number of operational states, which in turn makes it more difficult to assess how robust the software design is (How many of those new operational states are failure states, and how do you know?). Putting in a more sophisticated flight computer simply because you can is inviting risk.

    Cheyenne: They now have access to resources (many of them unheard of back then) at much cheaper cost today. They’re “richer” because of it today (labor costs excepted).

    Really? Do lighter/smaller flight computers save you half the budget? Is refining and bending metal down to half the costs of 1967?

    Cheyenne: If they wanted to design a new rocket to take people to the moon today it should cost substantially less than what it did during the Apollo era (we have CAD/CAM, previous experience, vastly better computers, more efficient companies to supply parts, etc.).

    Yes. But we would also have to rebuild the infrastructure to support building Moon rockets. We don’t just have to rebuild the rockets themselves; the machines, facilities, training, and expertise that built things like Moon rockets also no longer exist, and their equivalent would have to be reconstructed. I don’t think one could do all that for only half the cost of doing it the previous time.

    Cheyenne: You also said they can’t do anything visionary or cutting edge because they don’t have enough money. I just disagree with that.

    I don’t think they could construct a robust manned Moon exploration program, or any other manned exploration program that would be considered “cutting edge”. But if you can demonstrate that my impressions are incorrect, I’m listening.

    (I did agree that we could do something unmanned that is unprecedented. But I’m not sure that giving up on manned space travel until an unspecified “someday, when things look better” is a smart thing to do; I fear that history shows us that things may not look “better” to the American public for a long, long time, regardless of its true cost and benefit.)

    Cheyenne: Some areas of research are more deserving of time and effort than other areas.

    Point taken. And I also agree with your later points — that we certainly haven’t been getting much of a return doing things the way we’re doing them, and the foreseeable future doesn’t look very bright. But I think it’s wise to prepare for when we can return to manned exploration by building a robust body of knowledge about the considerations we need to make for extended space travel — and we can do other and valuable science in the meantime that’s difficult for us to do with machines (e.g., astrobiology; or methods of acquiring materials, refining them, and manufacturing things in space).

    Cheyenne: I think that needs to go on the backburner so that NASA can do more important things.

    I would argue that doing space colonization, and doing it well, is vital to our long-term survival as a species. While it may not be urgent, I would be reluctant to call it less important.

    It seems that we don’t know how much we need to know for that to happen, though. Learning incrementally — with a much better plan than the one currently in place — seems the logical response.

    Cheyenne: Thanks for replying by the way. I do appreciate that.

    And I appreciate your willingness to stick around and explain your point of view as well.

  66. WJM

    shared language

    Come on; hardly anyone in the USA speaks Australian!

  67. Grand Lunar

    Wow, this is really weird! I could’ve sworn that “H” was a second “S”.
    Wasn’t until I re-read the title more carefully that I saw it as it really was. What does one call that phenomenon?

    Anyway, it would be neat if these really were volcanoes.
    I think a teleoperated rover can tell. One like the robotnauts would do nicely.
    Still, being in person would be cooler.

  68. Nigel Depledge

    Cheyenne (65) said:

    In the Apollo era they used computers that had way less power than my IPhone as one example.

    Others are doing a good job of addressing your other comments, but I take serious issue with this one.

    It is a red herring, pure and simple.

    (1) Apollo space-vehicle computers (i.e. those used in the CM and the LM) were purpose-built, so the “absolute computing power” is an irrelevant and misleading comparison;
    (2) The Apollo computers were not, for instance, burdened with running some stupidly-whizzy graphic interface;
    (3) The Apollo computers were not burdened with Microsoft’s hideously inefficient memory-management systems (and, granted, they didn’t need anything like them because their RAM capacity was very small);
    (4) The tasks assigned to the computers were “put input X through operation Y and output the resulting number through interface Z” (where Z could be attitude control thrusters, the main engine gimbal or the display of the navigation platform, and where most of the processes [Y] were hard-wired onto the microchips, and the inputs [X] were either a voltage from a measuring device or a numerical input from the crew). They didn’t need much absolute computing power because they were purpose-built.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    Interestingly, I have not yet seen anyone point out that, without the Apollo program, we would not be having this debate in this way.

    Apollo is directly responsible for kick-starting the microchip industry.

    NASA needed microchips to make navigation systems that were lightweight and reliable (certainly more reliable than thermionic valves, at least). There were no commercially-available microchips in the early ’60s – the technology was in its infancy, it was wasteful and unreliable and it needed development to become sufficiently reliable.

    The answer? NASA ordered a million microchips from its supplier. That gave the supplier the commercial confidence to spend time and money developing the technology to a point that, 10 years later, was taken for granted.

    Without Apollo, we have no way of knowing how long it might have taken before microchip manufacture became (relatively) cheap and (adequately) reliable. It could be that Apollo made just a few years’ difference, or it might have made a few decades’ difference. We can be fairly confident that, sooner or later, the technology would have been developed. However, we know for certain that, without Apollo, it would have been slower than it actually was.

  70. postit

    I assume that most of you posting on this site are of reasonable intelligence. So why are many of you blaming the president for spending problems? The president is only 1/3 of the government according to the Constitution. Congress appropriates the money and the President signs the bill. Read your Constitution.
    Look at the manned space flight history of NASA. It has been in existence for 50 years.
    20 years in the space shuttle. So far the only manned space flight hardware in use until 2011. What has happened in the last 30 years in manned space flight? Until NASA is given enough autonomy to buffer the presidential whims nothing of any consequence will ever develop.

  71. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    Grand Lunar (#68):

    Wow, this is really weird! I could’ve sworn that “H” was a second “S”.
    Wasn’t until I re-read the title more carefully that I saw it as it really was. What does one call that phenomenon?

    I think that phenomenon is called dyslexia; I tend to have temporary dyslexia whenever my blood caffeine level drops down to condition “Critical”!

  72. Cheyenne

    “Others are doing a good job of addressing your other comments, but I take serious issue with this one.”

    “Others..”? Hmmm. I’m just obviously going to have to admit that MattF really has done an effective job of addressing my comments. That guy is a better debater than I am. But I’m not so sure about anybody else…hee-hee….

    “Interestingly, I have not yet seen anyone point out that, without the Apollo program, we would not be having this debate in this way. Apollo is directly responsible for kick-starting the microchip industry.”.

    People didn’t point that out, I’m guessing, because it’s just so incredibly obvious. Of course the Apollo program massively contributed to the microchip industry and many other industries (who would even try to argue with that?).

    “It is a red herring, pure and simple.
    (1) Apollo space-vehicle computers (ie those used in the CM and the LM) were purpose-built, so the “absolute computing power” is an irrelevant and misleading comparison; ”

    I know that. That’s not the point I made.

    NASA uses computers today to conduct research, manage their missions, plan missions, facilitate communication, etc. etc right? Computers today are massively more powerful than they were in the Apollo era. NASA couldn’t function without computers. We agree right? My point is that due to the rather extraordinary advances in computer power (which Apollo helped) NASA has a lot more power and capability than they did 40 years ago at a far lower cost. That, as one example, has increased their purchasing power by a pretty large amount. That’s all I’m saying on this issue.

  73. MattF

    Cheyenne: NASA uses computers today to conduct research, manage their missions, plan missions, facilitate communication, etc. etc right? Computers today are massively more powerful than they were in the Apollo era. NASA couldn’t function without computers. We agree right?

    It would certainly be much harder. :) I, for one, would be interested in an analysis that compares the cost of a few mainframes plus secretaries plus model-making and wind tunnel time versus the cost of a whole lot of desktops, laptops, and software licenses. Throwing in a look at the electric bill might be informative, too. It’s certainly piqued my curiosity.

    (This analysis could certainly be refined quite a bit to be more relevant to the “Which is cheaper?” question, but this would be a start.)

    Cheyenne: My point is that due to the rather extraordinary advances in computer power (which Apollo helped) NASA has a lot more power and capability than they did 40 years ago at a far lower cost. That, as one example, has increased their purchasing power by a pretty large amount. That’s all I’m saying on this issue.

    Yeah, and though I don’t know for sure one way or the other, it seems to me that the most expensive things NASA does wouldn’t be helped much by this sort of innovation. It seems that it’s far more expensive to build and maintain facilities to create experimental spacecraft, as well as building and maintaining the spacecraft themselves; to keep on scientists, engineers, technicians, and specialists at competitive wages; to train employees effectively; and to create, store, and dispose of toxic chemicals safely. The savings represented by computing power, if they exist, would seem likely to be reduced to a relatively insignificant fraction of NASA’s total expenditures.

    (I know you mentioned that labor costs are relatively invariant. I just think that these costs, and the costs of building stuff while you research air and space travel, would overwhelm the potential cost savings from the increase in available computing power.)

  74. Cheyenne

    @MattF – Fair enough. Good points. I’ll still disagree that it’s “relatively insignificant” though. Though I’ll admit that I probably overstated it.

  75. MattF

    Perhaps, Cheyenne, my position can best be summed up like this:

    The fact that some people will think that your efforts are useless or unimportant should never (by itself) be a good reason not to do something at all.

    Cheyenne: I’ll still disagree that it’s “relatively insignificant” though. Though I’ll admit that I probably overstated it.

    This isn’t proof, of course, but it’s worth considering: for the Apollo program, with larger funding in constant dollars, the CSM and the LM were developed in parallel. For the Constellation program, they planned to develop the capsule and lunar lander serially, since they lacked the funding to develop them simultaneously.

    Doesn’t this imply that the savings brought to us through several decades of technological advancement is not enough to seriously shrink the expense of building and maintaining new spacecraft?

  76. Correct me if I am wrong, but the evidence of volcanism that does exist on the Moon’s surface seems to have arisen wholly from extra-lunar impacts of such violence that they instigated surface lava flows. So in a sense you could say that even a bona fide volcano or lava flow, or rille or field on the Moon was ultimately caused by impacts. This is much different from Earth, where the principal source of volcanism is tectonic plate movement. My guess is that the Moon has insufficient mass to instigate the type of “slipping and sliding” of brittle crust over a viscous mantle that on Earth creates volcanism, and lacks a giant planet nearby sufficient to generate enough tidal forces to cause the Moon, as in the manner of Io, to spontaneously volcanize.

  77. Cheyenne

    @MattF-

    “The fact that some people will think that your efforts are useless or unimportant should never (by itself) be a good reason not to do something at all.”.

    Well, I of course agree with that sentiment. But we’re talking about a government agency here and I think it’s good to have people scrutinize and criticize it where necessary (although more constructively than I was doing in my earlier posts – Phil’s recent post about not being a dick I should take heed of).

    “Doesn’t this imply that the savings brought to us through several decades of technological advancement is not enough to seriously shrink the expense of building and maintaining new spacecraft?”.

    Yes I would have to agree. But I also think it demonstrates that NASA has done a very poor job of being efficient and building spacecraft well. SpaceX appears to be building a new generation of rockets at a much lower cost basis than what NASA was achieving with Constellation. I guess we have to see where that goes – but I’m pretty pessimistic about what we’re going to achieve and how much we’re going to spend in the next 20 years or so of human spaceflight.

  78. MattF

    Cheyenne: But we’re talking about a government agency here and I think it’s good to have people scrutinize and criticize it where necessary

    Certainly. But jumping all the way to “let’s cut out this capability entirely” goes beyond mere scrutiny and criticism. While there are certainly things that government agencies shouldn’t do anymore (or probably should never have done in the first place), it’s quite a leap to say that manned spaceflight is completely useless or harmful and should be eliminated.

    Cheyenne: But I also think it demonstrates that NASA has done a very poor job of being efficient and building spacecraft well.

    I agree that it seems that way. I haven’t seen a decent cost analysis, though.

    Cheyenne: SpaceX appears to be building a new generation of rockets at a much lower cost basis than what NASA was achieving with Constellation.

    Do you have any figures that show this?

    Cheyenne: I guess we have to see where that goes – but I’m pretty pessimistic about what we’re going to achieve and how much we’re going to spend in the next 20 years or so of human spaceflight.

    I’m not exactly optimistic, either. Of course, a lot of both of our arguments have pointed out that what we’ve been doing lately is bad, and that there is a lot of waste (which I agree is likely to continue); both our visions of what we ought to be doing instead strike me as highly improbable.

  79. Nigel Depledge

    @ Cheyenne – bear in mind that SpaceX has yet to demonstrate a heavy-lift capacity. You may not be comparing apples with apples there.

  80. Nigel Depledge

    @ Cheyenne (73) -
    Obviously I misunderstood your intent when you started talking about computing power. That was my bad, but I don’t buy your argument that the computing power is going to make a huge cost saving.

  81. Carter

    Wow, these comments are amazing! Phil, you should publish a book (similar to Garrison Keillor’s book of jokes) that is a compendium of comments from your blog. You could have a thousand of your blog followers peruse all of the comments and select the most insightful, funny, and outlandish of them all. I suppose you’d have to beg permission, maybe, to use them… or does Discovermagazine.com own these words? Not that I mind.

    On to the point, I think they should send me out to the moon and let me loose with my rock hammer and Brunton. I’d love the chance to do this field work. Suppose that until that mission gets funded we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with GIS-based lineament studies of the brittle bedrock geometry of our next-door neighbor.

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