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Why Orion?

In about an hour and a half from now, NASA will send an unmanned version of its new Orion spaceship up into orbit, riding on the back of a Delta IV Heavy rocket. It’s very retro-looking, without any fins or wings at all. The full name of the spaceship is rather institutional: Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

orion spaceship liftoff

You can watch the liftoff at the NASA web site, or through NASA TV, at about 7:05 AM.

The first planned launch of the Orion with people on board is scheduled for 2021. The spaceship might eventually go to Mars.

It seems exciting. Even enthusiasts for the Mars One private expedition to Mars are planning to watch. Still, my mind keeps coming back to the question: Why?

What makes putting people into outer space a project worth pursuing?

5 thoughts on “Why Orion?”

  1. franklin d miranda says:

    why not take that money,and feed the poor,help the homeless,help the men that are at war ,that come home with no legs or arms.the reality is that its a waste of money when so much can be done for humanity thats suffering with being poor..what ever happened to reality.it seams war and space are our priorities …look at what humanity has become.

  2. Mark says:

    Do you have any idea about the multitude of technological advances that have been made by the space program for the benefit of society? They are far too many to go into in this space.

    But, to name a few:
    Weather forecasting
    Computer technology
    Communication systems
    GPS
    Remote sensing
    Materials technology
    Robotics
    Solar power

    If you give it some serious thought you’ll understand that the advances we’ve made by investing in space activities have been some of the most beneficial for fighting hunger and poverty. Just look at the list above and see just how space exploration has helped. The return on investment is one of the best we have ever made.

    In the future we will begin to develop space resources (minerals and unlimited solar energy) for the betterment of our lives on earth.

    By the way, NASA’s budget is only about $17 billion per year. It’s about 0.5% of the federal budget. Peanuts compared with other budgetary expenses.

    1. J Clifford says:

      is it fair to say that MOST of these advances would NOT have taken place even if the Space Race wasn’t pursued? What other benefits did we give up in order to achieve orbit? The opportunity costs for these particular gains have to be accounted for, Mark. In spending, it isn’t fair just to say what’s gained. What’s sacrificed is important, too. Also, do space enthusiasts believe that past results suggest future benefits? Isn’t it possible that there’s a diminishing return on the investment over time? We need more than the simplistic -NASA gave us Tang- justification.

      1. Mark says:

        I think it’s very fair to say that these advances would have been delayed by decades if not for the impetus of the space program. Private industries would never have been able or willing to finance these high cost, high risk endeavors in the same period of time. If a private company had attempted to do what NASA did in the 50s and 60s it would have been bankrupt after the first failure. The development of satellite technology alone has saved trillions of dollars and millions of lives over the past few decades. The development of rocket launch technology would not have been possible without government financing.

        Why do we want to continue going into space? Here’s a well-written article on just that:
        http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2011/3317.html
        It’s a couple years old, but I think it answers your questions.

  3. Bruce Nappi says:

    Rowan,

    Your question is too broad. Let’s carve it up. What’s the cost benefit of:

    Low earth orbit? A space station? Machine moon exploration? Human moon exploration? Human bases on the moon? Machine exploration of Mars? Human exploration of Mars? Machine or human trips to other planets?

    Let’s expand just earth orbit. Manufacturing? Earth monitoring? Telecommunications? Power systems? Tourism? GPS? Drug and material research?

    Now, with this breakdown, I think its easier to answer your question. And, the ROI numbers will vary all over the map. For those that are high, we will also see a straight forward path to fund them. For the ones that are low, we’ll also find a trail to someone with a special interest.

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