Sunday, 1 May 2005

Space: still the final frontier

I've just got in from a fascinating lecture by Bob Mitchell of NASA. Bob Mitchell is the "Programme Manager for the highly successful Cassini Space Project, whose spacecraft arrived at Saturn near the end of last year, and is still there, sending back a multitude of beautiful and interesting images of Saturn, its rings and moons." Those images are highly detailed, and of subjects for which we previously had no more than very blurry images if at all.

The knowledge gained is immense; in the case of Titan it now seems it is knowledge of an Earthlike planet which has been 'deep-frozen' for several billion years - studying Titan is like studying Earth before life developed. And the engineering prowess involved in putting such a successful mission together is simply mind-blowing - just think for example of the mathematics needed to calculate the trajectory of a 7m by 11m object in order for it to orbit the sun twice, meeting with Venus each time, and then have it 'slingshot' off Venus out to Saturn - meeting Jupiter on the way for another 'slingshot' off its gravity - and then knowing just precisely how much 'burn' is required to brake that object so that it stays in Saturn's orbit. An account of this process is here. Such a calculation, or series of calculations, is but meat and drink to minds such as those of Mr Mitchell and his team.

The website for the mission where mission info, raw data and unprocessed pictures can be seen is here. Processed pictures from all NASA's missions, including many composite pictures, are here. The mission has upwards of three-and-a-half years still to run, so images and data are still flooding in.

Mission costs are expected to run to US$3.3billion, something a libertarian would be expect to take an interest in. Here's two gentlemen who have, and two ladies:
Robert Garmong discusses free-market space exploration here; Ronald Pisaturo discusses here how property rights in space might transform space exploration; Anita Campbell talks here about the entrepreneurisation of space; and Ayn Rand pays tribute to the Apollo 11 mission here.

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