To say that news lately has been a very strange mix of events would be putting it mildly, and in that vein we've seen the strange Antarctica stories, the Turkish invasion of Syria, heated phone calls between Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan, and the strange UFO flap over Turkey as the latter were going on.
There's another story that emerged during this period, of a more mundane but not necessarily purely terrestrial nature. Regular readers here are well aware of the stories - first a drip and now a steady trickle - about the privatization and commercialization of space, as there has been a steady flow of stories about asteroid mining and how to do it; about permanent, and large, manned space stations not just in low Earth orbit, but in far Earth orbit at the equigravisphere between the Earth and the Moon; about manned human missions to the Moon and Mars and about the permanent human colonization of the same(see, for example, this recent offering from Popular Science: How The First Private Landing On The Moon Could Move Humanity Forward A conversation with the founder of Moon Express, shared by Mr. R.M.); there have even been stories about the planning being done for government structures for those projects; there have been stories about the major powers beefing up their space war waging capabilities. All of these various stories we have covered and blogged about here.
But guess who else - what other company wants to go to Mars?
Surprise, surprise, it's Lockheed-Martin, according to this story shared once again by Mr. R.M.:
Now, the interesting thing here is the "using existing publicly-known technologies" angle of the story, it's possible to place six astronauts - still just a life-boat by all measures, but a veritable ocean liner compared to the two and three man capsules we were dealing with in the 1960s and 1970s - in orbit around Mars to conduct close-up manned orbital exploration of the Red Planet, and to coordinate from close range remote robotic surface explorations, without those pesky twenty or so minutes communications delays from Mars to Earth and back again:
You won't find any suspended animation pods or magnetic shields on Lockheed's spacecraft. As cool as those might be, Mars Base Camp relies on near-term technologies--equipment that's already been proven or is in development now.
"All of these pieces exist today, they're not brand new," says Antonelli. "We're taking advantage of what we've already got."
Orion provides the brain of the vessel, providing navigation and communications. There's also a backup Orion vehicle to ensure a getaway plan if the crew runs into trouble.
The two Orion capsules would link up with larger habitat and laboratory modules, which Lockheed is already in the process of developing, as well as solar panels to provide power.
The rationale here is self-evident:
Without the delay, and with real-time feedback, scientists can stop to look at features that they might have missed otherwise. Plus, the use of flying robots would allow NASA to explore Mars in a whole new way.
Needless to say, I'm more than somewhat skeptical of this story. It was Richard C. Hoagland and his co-author Mike Bara who, in their best-selling book Dark Mission, pointed out that NASA was chartered under the U.S. Department of Defense. In other words, in spite of its billing as a civilian agency, NASA was firmly placed within the orbit - to coin a pun - of the military-industrial complex of the USA. One can appreciate the reasons: at that time there was concern, enunciated in the Brookings Report on space matters, that we might encounter someone, or their (technological) artifacts out there, and hence, that the whole issue of space faring involved national security in a major way.
The point to draw from this is the close association of NASA with the Defense Department and therewith with the whole military-industrial-finance-intelligence complex. The same pattern we may be assured, holds true in all other nations with major space programs: Europe, Japan, Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
Segue from this association to the hearings during the G.W. Bush administration, where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his assistants were being grilled by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney(D- GA.) not only on the Pentagon's budget procedures, but on the fact that the Pentagon's data processing contracts were almost exclusively in the hands of corporations like Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and so on. In other words, the government was not processing its data, defense contractors were.
Move this pattern that Congresswoman McKinney attempted to penetrate into space, and we see the problem: what control over any collected data will the government have when the major systems for the manned exploration of Mars are largely in the hands of private corporation, especially so if the database management itself is in their hands? If the record of NASA Mars missions(or for that matter, even Moon missions) is recalled, there have been numerous controversies over the years of debates over NASA photos of those planets' surfaces, and controversies over whether or not NASA released undoctored pictures or attempted to embargo them altogether. Many of the same defense companies were involved in those missions as is being proposed here. As we see the move toward the privatization and corporatization of space in the matter of asteroid mining and so on, with countries (the USA and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg leading the way) allowing ownership to minerals mined or recovered from celestial bodies, the same would seem to apply to any recovered artifacts from celestial bodies, whether technological or not: these would become proprietary assets, possibly even to the extent that any information revealed about human history in these objects might also become proprietary assets. In other words, one ends with control not only of any potential (technological) artifacts, but of their historical implications, and of the database management behind both.
These thoughts lead me to a rather startling conclusion, and herewith the high octane speculation of the day, for perhaps it is that control of the implicit historical narrative behind such putative discovery of technological artifacts that may be one of the compelling, if not the principal, reasons behind the current "race" of the space powers to get to the Moon and Mars.
See you on the flip side...