Monday, April 4, 2016

Why Is Modern Space Travel So Aesthetically Boring?

Blue Origin launch from West Texas - Blue Origin Photo

I grew up in the heady days of space travel speculation by the likes of Willy Ley, Athelstan Spilhaus, and Chesley Bonestell. I spent many a childhood hour immersing myself in artists conceptions of space travel. Craggy moon mountains shadowed elaborate moon bases, rockets with tail fins landed vertically on the moon surface. Spoke and wheel space stations elegantly twirled in Earth orbit. Satellites were spherical and festooned with antennas like a 1950s suburban house tract. Unfortunately, as space technology and knowledge progressed, a lot of these artists conceptions would turn out to be misconceptions.

The mountains of the Moon are not craggy (darn!) We have yet to establish a base on the Moon. When we did land on the Moon, it was not with an elegant tail-finned rocket landing vertically, but with a little bug like LEM. We know have the Blue Origin, as seen above, but seriously, it looks like a PVC sprinkler head. Our International Space Station  is very functional, but looks to be the ultimate kit bash. Satellites and space probes are mostly rectilinear. Function rules in the harsh environment of space, but I miss the panache of the early years.

Here is an illustration from the European Space Agency of their proposed 3D printed moon base, using the lunar regolith as a base material:

Interesting, but where is the monorail system?

Here is today's ISS:

And the classic spoke and wheel concept:

The Soviet Union's early satellites and space capsules were particularly gear:

Today's space probe is all about cramming as many scientific packages into a small space. The Juno, built by Lockheed Martin:

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