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More on “Inspiration Mars”

Rand Simberg was watching yesterday’s press conference and offers more details and observations, and here’s their (still pretty thin) website. Should be interesting to see what details  come out of the IEEE paper.

A few observations:

  • Yes, it looks like they will employ some sort of mission/habitation module.
  • While they have a reference mission in mind that appears to rely on SpaceX and Bigelow hardware, there are indications that they aren’t wedded to a particular company or component (besides maybe Paragon). This gives me a little more confidence in the seriousness of the effort – it says to me that they are about the mission, rather than cool new hardware (or new applications of existing hardware).
  • I just knew when I saw this headline that it would prompt howls of outrage from the non-cisgendered and anti-heteronormative: Fancy a trip to Mars dear? A ‘tried and tested’ male-female partnership in focus for space mission. And so it did.
  • Along with the above came the usual (especially for a UK paper) whinging about rich people spending their money ‘frivolously’ when it should be flushed on human uplift here on Earth, and resentment that ‘we’re paying for this nonsense’. Which illustrates a peculiar (and increasingly common) envy-rooted mindset that holds private wealth to be interchangeable with government money: sure it’s their money, but I should have a say in how they choose to spend it.
  • I’m not a fan of IM’s focus on promoting STEM as a reason for doing this. Why not just admit that it’s a grand adventure, and be proud of that? Focusing on that aspect of it will do more to inspire people (kids included) than turning it into the same sort of pedantic, boring, and cringe-inducing “science class” outreach NASA already does (something we lampoon in the first few chapters of In the Shadow of Ares). One reason most Americans don’t give a crap about what NASA does anymore is precisely because NASA presents its entire value to the public as STEM outreach and science generally: space under NASA is not about adventure and frontiers any more, or achievements or new possibilities or big dreams, it’s all about science for science’s sake, a labcoat-clad abstraction disconnected from the day-to-day experience of most Americans and from the big goals and larger themes science fiction has encouraged them to associate with space exploration. Science is good, but it’s not what compels. STEM is important, but severely limiting if treated as the entire goal vs. being woven in seamlessly. NASA’s approach is fine if it really is generating useful basic science and effective STEM outreach, and doesn’t pretend to have a lock on the business of inspiring or adventuring when it compulsively shuns both. If Inspiration Mars creates the perception that they’re only doing the same things NASA does just bigger! and better! and bolder! and with private funding!, they will fail to distinguish their effort from the already-ignored efforts of NASA. I’m dead serious about this – if they focus on STEM going forward as much as they do on their website at the moment, they will KILL public interest in the project.
  • They also need to be very, very careful about involving NASA or Big Aerospace in their project. There is much to be gained in terms of knowledge and experience from these parties, along with access to unique manufacturing, test, and operations facilities, but there is also great risk in letting these camels entirely into the tent through lack of vigilance.


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