a reply to: james00
Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by 'closer to a specific purpose'. What 'purpose' are you referring to?
Presumably you are referring to human spaceflight, and human spaceflight breaks down into two basic broad categories; orbital spaceflight (around
Earth), and interplanetary spaceflight.
Personally, for near Earth orbital spaceflight, I see two primary challenge areas, a.) cheaper, lighter, faster, and b.) cleaning up space junk (maybe
the other way around). I don't think people realize how much of a real challenge the issue of debris in Earth orbit really is, and it's getting
worse. If we don't start getting serious about addressing the space junk issue it's not going to be long before mankind is trapped on Earth with no
hope of reaching orbit ever again. It's expensive, it's a logistics nightmare and it has very little return on investment (now), so people ignore it
and hope it goes away. It won't. The future of spaceflight (at all) depends on coming up with viable solutions for dealing with this problem.
Ironically, this mission is so dangerous it likely will never be carried out by manned spacecraft, but still it has a direct and immediate impact on
manned spaceflight in the future.
Regarding interplanetary manned spaceflight, I really question the value of it at all. Autonomous vehicles are fine for scientific purposes, but
manned spaceflight to other planets is of dubious value. Oh sure, it's got a 'cool factor' associated with it, and there's the accomplishment aspect
of it, but beyond that what? Humans are not well adapted for extended duration space travel, it's just too hostile of an environment for a variety of
reasons. The notion that humans will meaningfully colonize another planet someday is just not really realistic. The notion that large segments of
Earth's population will emigrate to another planet is almost laughable.
I do believe man will indeed go to Mars in the not too distant future, but that will be it. We'll do it once or twice, but we Earthlings will quickly
learn our lesson about the futilities of years in space (or on another planet) and that will be the end of it. I also believe getting really good at
going to and from the Moon would be a far better investment. From the Moon mankind might have a prayer of establishing some kind of a platform from
which some more serious manned space exploration could conceivably take place. Going straight for Mars first is a giant mistake, in my humble
opinion. But hey, as long as it's not tax dollars funding it, more power to 'em.
Lastly, a quick word about interstellar space travel. Never gonna' happen. So, we humans can just cross that one off the list right now. And, if
someone were to ask what challenges we need to solve to do this, I would say our efforts need to be focused on the medical profession rather than
space issues. In order for interstellar space travel to be a reality mankind will first need to figure out how to disassemble the human form
(completely), down to an atomic level, and then successfully reconstruct that form in a different place. Even then, the benefit of long distance
travel like this will only be of value to the traveler, not to Earth. Relativity and the laws of physics dictate this. It's a painful reality, but
it is none the less a reality.
That's kinda' my .02 on the matter.