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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fox News Science does it again.

Wow. Okay, so, the rocket scientists over at Fox News just posted an article about, um, rocket science.

The headline is "Is NASA Covering Up the 100-Year Starship?"

The short answer is, no, they're not. This is possibly the worst-informed piece of science "journalism" I've ever seen, even coming from Fox. There are so many problems with this article I don't even know where to begin. Basically Fox has managed to conflate the Orion starship project and the Mars missions into one single (cough) one million dollar program.

So, the quick debunks, and then I'm going to use this as a jumping off point later to discuss some of the very cool things NASA is in fact planning as far as solar planetary exploration and colonization, and also deep-space exploration of the nearest stars.

1) Yes, NASA has had plans for a starship that would get humans to the nearest stars in about the span of a human lifetime. All of the technology to do so existed in 1958. It would have cost about the same amount as the Apollo 11 mission, and could have been completed and ready for launch as early as 1960. Had we launched to Alpha Centauri in 1960, we would be more than halfway there by now. The problem with the Orion starship was that it utilized atomic bomb blasts for propulsion, which is fine for a launch from orbit but at the time we had no way of doing that, so it would have needed to be a ground launch, which would have been a Very Bad Idea. Now we have the ability to construct a ship outside of the earth's atmosphere, and this is less of an issue. The current administration has given the green-light to dusting off and continuing this research, which is excellent. But it's hardly a secret, and certainly not a "cover up".

2) Yes, NASA has several different ideas about how best to accomplish a manned mission to Mars and other planets and moons within our solar system. Yes, some of these methods presume that a trip to Mars (or Europa or wherever) would be a one-way trip. So what? A hundred years ago many families and individuals set out westward in Conestoga wagons, fully aware that they were heading into a hostile wilderness with no hope of ever returning to their homelands. Yes, many of them died in the process. And many of them didn't. But in any case, while it might take 90 years to get to Alpha Centauri, it will in no way take 100 years to get to Mars. It might however take several years, depending on how we do it.

3) The missions to Mars and to Alpha Centauri are completely separate missions and completely separate projects. That said, the technology for the Orion starship could make one hell of a fine interplanetary craft as well. I will devote an entire post (or several) to the Orion mission, it's important and fascinating stuff.

3) Yes, it is easier to modify the human body to adapt to an alien world than it is to modify an entire planet to adapt to the human body. Of course Fox News would be surprised to learn this.

Here's the link to the Fox article.

Hold your nose

1 comment:

  1. The other remarkable thing about this is that every time there's a hot-link in the article, where you expect to be directed to the source material, it instead sends you to an ad. Because, you know, Fox News really doesn't want you to be checking their sources. Phenomenal.