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CTDL 146: Yeah Space! (misc stories).

I think there’s a lot to be learned from Titan, and I’m glad to see Nasa extending the mission (though one could say they’re extending this mission because they can’t afford at this time to send a newer/better craft on a subsequent mission instead).

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The US space agency (Nasa) has extended the international Cassini-Huygens mission by two years.
The unmanned Cassini-Huygens spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 on a mission that was supposed to come to an end in July this year.
The two-year mission extension will encompass some 60 extra orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its moons.
These will include 26 flybys of Titan – its biggest moon – seven of Enceladus, and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene.

[From BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Nasa extends Saturn probe mission]

We’re also looking at growing plants in moon rocks…

Scientists with the European Space Agency (Esa) say the day when flowers bloom on the Moon has come closer.
An Esa-linked team has shown that marigolds can grow in crushed rock very like the lunar surface, with no need for plant food.
Some see growing plants on the Moon as a step towards human habitation.

[From BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Plants 'thrive' on Moon rock diet]

And a leading European astronomer thinks they shouldn’t try and send people into space.

Europe should give up on sending men and women into space and concentrate on unmanned projects, according to one of the world’s leading astronomers.
The future lies in using advanced robotics, miniaturisation and fabrication, said Lord Martin Rees, the president of the Royal Society.
Europe “should try and get a world lead in unmanned exploration”, he said.
Spending funds on manned spaceflights “was not a very good use of money”, that should be left to the US, he said.

[From BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Demand for Europe space rethink]

I’m actually inclined to agree and disagree with Mr. Rees. On the one hand un-manned missions are less likely to have a tragedy, and more likely to obtain more information per dollar spent than a manned flight. On the other hand there is nothing so exciting in the space programs of the world, as seeing a countryman go up (and come down). I think the bigger goals of sending people are, the more support the space agencies will get. We’ve spent the last 3 decades sending people up in a shuttle to fly around the planet, which is not nearly as compelling as going to the Moon or Mars. As part of a bigger “cover humanity’s bases” plan I think there is a place for manned flight to the moon and beyond. If we manage to screw up this planet (a not unlikely scenario) it would be nice, as a species, to have some framework for sending us somewhere else in hopes of surviving. That said, our NASA dollars would probably be better spent on unmanned vehicles going to and from the moon and mars than they are sending the shuttle up and down as often.To keep interest in space programs you almost have to send people up occasionally, but to get the information needed for important research the money is better spent on improving the unmanned missions. I think my proposal would be a co-ordinated world-wide effort that included one or two manned missions a year to the ISS and such, a goal of every 5-10 years sending somebody to the moon/mars/beyond, and more frequent launching of extended unmanned missions to the other planets in our solar system (and a few beyond). Of course I’m pulling these figures out of my head, and I’m not making an informed policy plan here, just trying to get the discussion going on how we could better “do space.”

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