All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2015:

Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight (Dec.) (Comments)

“Drowning in Process” (Nov.)

Does Intergalactic SETI Make Any Sense? (Oct.)

SETI and Sanity (Oct.)

SpaceX, SpaceY, SpaceZ (Sept.)

A Letter to Britain’s New Space Minister (June)

Mars: 25 Years After Mars Direct – Discussion (May)

The Astronist Mars Strategy (May)

Mars: Still So Distant, 25 Years After Mars Direct (May)

The Mariner Anniversary Calendar for Mars (April)

Mars: An Awful or an Awesome Place? (April)

Should We Phone ET? (March)

More Pluto Controversy (Feb.)

The Pluto Controversy (Jan.)

New in 2020:

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AE posts:

2022: What’s to do on Mars?…

2021: New space company Planetopolis…

2020: Cruising in Space…

2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…

2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…

2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…

2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…

2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…

2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…

2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…

2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…

2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…

2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…

Chronological index

Subject index

General essays:

Index to essaysincluding:

Talk presented to students at the International Space University, May 2016

Basic concepts of Astronautical Evolution

Options for Growth and Sustainability

Mars on the Interstellar Roadmap (2015)

The Great Sociology Debate (2011)

Building Selenopolis (2008)


Issue 120, 10 December 2015 – 46th Apollo Anniversary Year


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From Anonymous:

I don’t see Tim Peake or Skylon being a binary choice – I think we need both and I’m confident that we will get both soon.

We need Tim Peake to help create the engineers for the future UK commercial space industry.

And ESA has looked at necessary facility upgrades and costs of operating Skylon from Kourou:

From David A. Hardy:

Hi Stephen

You’re quite right, I’m afraid! As you know, I’ve been pressing for more MANNED exploration, via my art and otherwise, for many years.

However, a little good may come out of Tim Peake’s trip, if only in terms of publicity – it has at least created a lot of public awareness about space in the UK, via TV and radio programmes and events all over the UK. For instance, I have been asked to give a talk on January 15th at a ‘Stargazing Live’ event at the Space Centre in Leicester – the first time they’ve asked me to do so! And you may be sure that in it I shall be proselytising the benefits of manned space travel, via space tourism, industry, etc…

Yours, and best wishes for the Festive Season.

From John I. Davies:


Let this old socialist attempt to shoot you down with capitalist darts!

You say “Britain is the country which during the ages of sail and of steam travel did more than any other to open up the terrestrial globe to mass passenger transport and trade.” If so, was it true that “trade follows the flag”? Was it ever true? Historians differ.

Has state support not always been essential to commercial enterprise? Sticking with the air and maritime analogy, a few examples –

All this aside the even more basic stuff of legal and financial infrastructure, regulation of monopolies, etc.

I agree that we need commercial involvement as soon as it can race ahead of politically-vulnerable state-funded space exploration.

I believe the state should encourage and even subsidise early commercial technologies like RE SABRE but should then get out of the way apart from regulation and legal matters so maybe I’m more laissez faire than you!

Now, here’s what I think really holds up human space flight – science! I think you hint at this. I would attack head on!

Tim Peake has to be seen to be “doing science” but manned spaceflight is an inefficient way of “doing science”. Mars missions, manned or unmanned, have to justify themselves with science.

I think we should be “doing engineering”. Call me a besotted engineer but if we threw our state resources at “doing engineering” (letting science come along for the ride but strictly as a passenger) then we would start to build the infrastructure we need to get humans on the way to the planets and stars.

Science is wonderful but space exploration and development is only ever partially scientific and attempts to justify it as primarily scientific keep failing and should be given up.

I don’t think commercial spaceflight is even near properly commercial except in the sense that weapons development is commercial; the main customers are states. The (mainly dotcom) entrepreneurs involved envisage very few customers other than states. None of them yet have serious plans for geostationary launch capability – the big commercial requirement. And even that wouldn’t have happened if most of required technology hadn’t been developed with state funding.

Space tourism ideas are almost all pathetic attempts to do a bit better than a Mig 29 and go barely as high as an X15.

Let’s go to Mars because we can – and we can prove it. Call it egotism perhaps but I call it adventure, inspiration and technological progress.

I liked your piece and, of course, I love an argument!

Is the Royal Aeronautical Society going to publish?

Reply from SA:

John, thanks. I think we agree on a lot of things, particularly the state getting new technologies started, and then handing over to the commercial sector to develop them to their full potential. That’s why sending astronauts to the ISS is a less efficient use of public funds than using them to focus on supporting British spaceplane work.

But I accept David’s point above that Tim’s flight should create a useful buzz of public engagement with space, provided that the way forward is made clear (on which I shall say more in my next post).

I think you may need to revise your statement that the dotcom entrepreneurs have few private customers and have no serious plans for geostationary launch vehicles. From the Wikipedia page on SpaceX: “On 3 December 2013 SpaceX launched its first satellite into geostationary orbit, SES-8, entering the major commercial launch market. […] As of December 2013, SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract; two-thirds of them are for commercial customers.”

And in fact the upcoming SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, currently scheduled for 19 December, is carrying an ORBCOMM OG2 commercial satellite to LEO. The next planned launch to geostationary transfer orbit is the commercial SES-9 satellite. (News from and

As for space tourism: as you know, seven private clients have already visited the ISS for week-long stays in orbit (one of them twice).

Like you, I want to see us going to Mars. But I am an “orphan of Apollo” – one who expected Apollo to lead on to a permanent Moonbase and felt betrayed when the programme was cancelled. Therefore all my thinking about Mars now is focused on making manned exploration sustainable!

I’ve sent the text of my talk to the RAeS, and I expect them to publish it on their website soon.

From Mike Ashworth:


I agree wholeheartedly with this one!

One comment, I think, to “Britain is the country which during the ages of sail and of steam travel…”: you could add air travel, as Britain produced the first production commercial airliner and the first supersonic airliner, unless you feel those projects were glorious failures rather than world-leading advances!

Reply from SA:

Certainly, Comet and Concorde were successes in one sense and failures in another. But at least we were still trying!

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