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Interaction: The future of space

Kügenliche: Hello, and welcome to Interaction. I’m Charlotte Kügenliche. It’s Saturday, the fourteenth of January 2012, and our topic this evening is space travel. Two Arthur C Clarke novel years have come and gone, and yet humans are still stuck within a few hundred kilometres of Earth’s surface. What the hell is taking so long? Why are we wandering in circles when we could be stepping outward? And who is going to take that all important next step on the Moon – or that daring first step on Mars? To find out, let’s meet our panel for this evening. First, in New York City, NY, USA, a space writer for independent newspaper the Global Press Daily, Ms Olivia Jackson.

Jackson: Hello.

Kügenliche: In Vienna, Austria, we have a retired engineer and occasional science contributor for Ka-Ching TV Europe, Mr Franck Ostinders.

Ostinders: Good evening, Charlotte.

Kügenliche: Joining us from Mexico City, Mexico, we have the author of several books, most recently The Space Century: How We Will Conquer Our Solar System in the Next One Hundred Years and Who’s Going to Do It, Mr Javier Fox.

Fox: Hello.

Kügenliche: And here next to me in Warwickshire, a singer and songwriter whose songs have been featured in several recent documentaries about space, Ms Shannon Petty-Fogg.

Petty-Fogg: Hi. Good evening.

Kügenliche: And thank you for being here, all of you. We’re going to start by talking about the past. It’s been nearly forty years since the last mission to the Moon, Apollo 17. Since then, no one has even dared to attempt a mission to land humans on the Moon. Why is that, and who do you see as the next individual to visit the Moon? Olivia?

Jackson: Well, Charlotte, there is one important thing to remember about the Moon. It’s far away. If this plum were Earth, and this golf ball were the Moon, they would be two metres apart at this scale.

Ostinders: That is true, but remember that it has been done already. The physical challenges that the Apollo programme had to overcome are no different today. If one can build a rocket today that is as capable as the Saturn V, well, the Moon would be within that person’s grasp.

Kügenliche: Javier, you tackled this subject in your book. Who do you believe will make the next mission to the Moon possible?

Fox: I see three nations that are capable of making the trip: the United States, China, and India. America has the resources to make the trip to the Moon if it so chooses.

Kügenliche: Even in today’s economic climate?

Fox: Yes, absolutely. America has spent upwards of a trillion dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the future costs of those endeavours is likely to surpass three trillion dollars. That sort of money could have paid for an Apollo-like programme ten times over, and by many estimates, it could have paid for a programme to reach Mars several times over.

Kügenliche: Well, it may be affordable, but a separate question is whether it is actually doable. It has been said, Shannon, that public interest in space travel has not been this low since the World War II era. You write songs about space. Do you feel that your work is making an impact?

Petty-Fogg: Yes, definitely. Though the generations that saw the Moon landing are aging, there is a whole new generation that wants to accomplish something – that wants to participate in a project much greater than themselves. I believe that manned exploration of other planets is a wonderful way to capture that, er... that ambition.

Kügenliche: Interesting. Take note, youngsters of the world. Demand a mission to Mars, Shannon says. Well, we have some wonderful experts here today who are eager to take your questions about space travel. Please send them in right away. You can reach us with an E-mail, text message, telephone call, or tweet. There you see all the different ways you can interact. Our first question is a tweet, and it’s from a black rough winged swallow in Luanda, Angola. The swallow asks chirr chirr cheeeu bwalluk tweet tweet chirp. Olivia, would you care to take this question?

Jackson: Certainly. If this pomegranate represents the kingfisher, and this oven mitt represents a rhinoceros, I think that can best be answered by braakala fwau fwau chirr chirr pwewewewee faaaluku.

Kügenliche: And what does that mean?

Jackson: Oh. No, it’s all right. We’re just talking about your pants.

Kügenliche: My pants?

Jackson: Yes. I was agreeing with the swallow that they are a brave choice, and certainly not something that Debbie Myers could have gotten away with.

Kügenliche: I’ve no idea whom you’re talking about. But I will agree that few other news presenters could successfully carry off cheetah print pants. With the possible exception of Al Roker, of course. Now then, we have a new question here. It is from Patty in West Grove, VT, USA. Patty, are you there?

Patty in West Grove: Yes. Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

Kügenliche: You’re quite welcome. Welcome to the programme. What is your question?

Patty in West Grove: You talked earlier about who was going to make the next landing on the Moon. Couldn’t the next mission to the Moon be a joint effort?

Kügenliche: All right. Thank you for that, Patty. A joint mission to the Moon. Javier, what do you say about that?

Fox: I think that is a possibility, but I don’t see it as highly likely.

Kügenliche: Even though there have been many joint ventures in space?

Fox: There have, but going to the Moon is not like building a space station. A lunar mission is going to be a historic event for whichever nation completes the feat. We may see nations working together to develop launch vehicles, for example, but if nations are working together to land on the Moon, they’re inevitably going to get into squabbles over which nation’s astronaut will make the first landing and take the first step.

Kügenliche: Interesting. Well, that’s the Moon. What of Mars? Do you believe that the same three nations will be in competition for the first manned landing on Mars?

Fox: Yes, I do. I think Russia will also seek to land on Mars.

Kügenliche: But not the Moon?

Fox: No. There seems to be a sense in Russia that a lunar landing would merely serve as a catchup step in the space race. Russian leadership seems to want to regain the lead.

Kügenliche: Franck, you have been covering the failure of the Fobos Grunt spacecraft and its imminent reentry. Do you see that failure affecting Russia’s hopes of reaching Mars?

Ostinders: Certainly. Russians will be well aware of their track record with respect to robotic exploration of Mars: one landing in six attempts, and even that transmitted for only fifteen seconds before it failed. But this could well inspire Russia to redouble its efforts toward Mars.

Kügenliche: Does Russia really have that much desire to make a successful landing on Mars? This was, after all, to be a landing on its moon Phobos and not Mars itself.

Ostinders: I believe they do. It’s a matter of national pride, like hosting the World Cup. And possibly less expensive.

Kügenliche: Less expensive? Than hosting the World Cup?

Ostinders: Why, yes. Have you seen how many stadiums Russia plans to build?

Kügenliche: All right. Well, perhaps a bit of exaggeration there. And next we have – well, I think next we’re going to go to a question that’s just come in. It’s a text message from Randy in Port Charles, LA, USA. Randy is... well, Randy is offering a trade. 2030 Mars landing for 2018 World Cup. What do you make of that, Olivia?

Jackson: Well, if I may, I would like to simulate this trade.

Kügenliche: In what way?

Jackson: Well, suppose this Micro Machine pickup truck represents the World Cup. Then, on that same scale, the landing on Mars would be an M1 Abrams.

Kügenliche: A toy tank rather than a toy pickup truck?

Jackson: No, an actual tank. An actual, real, full sized, working tank rather than a toy pickup truck.

Kügenliche: I see.

Jackson: So the natural question is, which would you prefer to have?

Kügenliche: Well...

Jackson: Did I mention the tank is a tank?

Ostinders: Sold!

Kügenliche All right. Well, we can remain on air long enough for one additional question. It is from Chester in North Hartwick-upon-M1, England, UK.

Jackson: There’s an English town on a tank?

Kügenliche: Enough with the tanks, please. That’s M1 as in the motorway.

Jackson: There’s a road named after a tank?

Kügenliche: Yes, and your iPod is chocolate. In any case, Chester asks for an over/under on the first human landing on Mars. Javier, would you care to set the line?

Fox: Certainly. I’ll set the line at the 2039 launch window. So let’s say the first of January, 2041.

Kügenliche: Midnight UTC?

Fox: Sure.

Kügenliche: All right. Zero o’clock UTC on the first of January, 2041. I will take the under. How about the rest of you? Olivia?

Jackson: I’ll take the under.

Kügenliche: Have you got a particular date in mind?

Jackson: Well, I...

Kügenliche: Just a moment there, Olivia. We’re now displaying a list of launch windows to Mars. They recur every twenty six months or so. Olivia, when do you think the first successful landing on Mars will take place?

Jackson: I’ll say 2036.

Kügenliche: Okay. 2036 for Olivia. Franck?

Ostinders: 2034.

Kügenliche: The 2033-4 landing opportunity. Right around the Christmas and New Year period. So that’s another under. How about you, Shannon?

Petty-Fogg: I think it’ll be even earlier than that. I’ll say 2025.

Kügenliche: Really? That early?

Petty-Fogg: That’s still thirteen years. That’s plenty of time to do it.

Kügenliche: All right. Well, United States, India, China, Russia, and anyone else who may care to take the challenge, the bar has been set. Land on Mars by 2025.

Petty-Fogg: Which year did you take?

Kügenliche: Oh, I didn’t say, did I? Very well, I’ll take 2036. We’ve all taken the under, Javier. Do you want to adjust the line based on that?

Fox: No. I think that there are a number of pessimists out there.

Kügenliche: Good. Well, all those viewing, please make your bets now. In accordance with all relevant laws in your local area, of course. And whilst you are doing that, we will sign off for this week. Thank you for tuning us in, and thank you to Ms Shannon Petty-Fogg, Mr Javier Fox, Mr Franck Ostinders, and Ms Olivia Jackson for being here this week. When we rejoin you next week, it will be from Charleston in the US state of South Carolina, where the second primary election for the Republican Party’s nomination for the US presidency is to take place. We will be speaking with some of the delegates and other prominent figures from the campaign. Until then, thank you and good night.

Jackson: Franck, I’ll mail the tank to you as soon as I can. I got some stuff to take care of first.

Ostinders: Okay, but if I don’t receive it in a timely fashion, I may consider lowering your Interaction seller’s rating.