Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Fly you to the moon?

While in the car today, my husband and I were discussing space travel.

Knowing, and not knowing, the risks involved with space travel, Phil Plait has said that, given the opportunity, he would decline any offers to actually leave Earth.

My husband annoyed me by saying that he would brave outerspace even knowing that he would be leaving me and the kids behind if something happened. Then he REALLY made me mad when he said he’d take Moose to the moon. But he’d be totally uninterested in living on the space station.

Me? I had no business getting upset. I’d go as long as I had access to Twitter. And I’d totally move the whole family to space in a heartbeat.

Given the opportunity and knowing the risks, would you venture into outerspace? What would it take to convince you to change your mind?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Space ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid, I’m told.

    Space is pretty empty, and I’m guessing there’s not a lot of booze. I’d pass.

  2. No way. I’ve never really been into tourism of any sort and space tourism would fall into that class. The risks don’t even factor into it.

    What would change my mind is if I had something to accomplish in space. Some job or some cool hobby that demanded my presence especially if it was on a long-term basis. Then I’d eat it up with chopsticks. I hear the views are excellent.

  3. Gone. Tomorrow if I could. Not that I’m a huge fan of impending doom. Nor am I a thrill seeker by nature. I just like to move around a lot. Off-planet? Why not. Someone will sooner or later. Might as well be me.

  4. It depends on where we’re going. The moon? No thanks. No space stations, either. If things get nasty enough on Earth that people start migrating to another planet which is lush and hospitable, then I’d think about it. But there is so much adventuring to be done here that I wouldn’t have any particular urge to be an early adopter when it comes to space relocation.

  5. Yes. Absolutely yes. I would most likely be scared out of my mind, but I would still do it, especially if I could go to the Moon. Even a short trip to near-Outer Space would be nice, though.

  6. For me it would depend on where I’d be going or what I’d be doing there. There would have to be some actual civilisation where I was going because I don’t do wilderness. I’m also not a fan of being cooped up with a bunch of people so cramped space ships or space stations would be a problem for me.

  7. My husband is (literally) a rocket scientist, so this conversation has happened in our house, and hasn’t been simply a thought exercise – he really could have chosen that career path.

    Fortunately, he’s too tall, because (as I told him) there isn’t enough Valium on the planet to keep me sedated enough to deal with him leaving the planet.

    I would have to be put into a medically induced coma, and just don’t bother waking me up if he doesn’t make it back.

    The thought of our kids being astronauts is enough to make me feel like I’m going to throw up (of course, they’re fetal, three, and four – maybe as they get older I’ll naturally detach a bit).

    As for me going? No way. Adrenaline rushes make me sick and shaky – I am an adrenaline avoider, as opposed to an adrenaline junky.

    I clearly do not have the right stuff.

    On the other hand, professionally I know that NASA has a remarkable safety record considering the odds against them. We’ve recently been watching the series “When We Left Earth,” and watching the early astronauts talk about how anxious they were to get their opportunity to strap themselves to a giant missile and go somewhere that they might not come back from… Wow. I told my husband, “They just don’t grow people with balls like that anymore. Giant. Brass. Balls.”

    Now people are more likely to sue someone than they are to take a risk. It’s really sad. I’m feeling extremely bleak over the lack of direction in the U.S. space program right now.

  8. One-way ticket to Mars, please. Even if it didn’t work out well, we’re all going to die one day anyway, and imagine dying *on Mars.* It’d be worth it.

  9. Hmm, let me think . . .yes, yes I would. I don’t really care what the destination is, just as long as I got to go out see something not from Earth up close with my own eyes. I enjoy just wandering and seeing things I haven’t seen in the wilderness out behind the house. Space would just be the wilderness behind the planet-house.

  10. Gimme a one way ticket off this rock as soon as possible. You don’t even have to load the capsule with a long term supply of food or air. Just get me there and keep on going. If I got on one of those low-earth orbit Virgin Galactic field trips, I’d knock everyone else on the head and figure out how to slingshot myself out of the gravity well.

    I wanna be Earth’s first “shoot me out of the solar system as fast as you can” volunteer.

    This needs to happen, people! Get up a big donation and let’s do this thing!

    As far as talking me out of it… you won’t.

    Up, up, and away!

  11. Sign me up, at 57 I take a chance for the Moon, Mars, Space Station, loop the loop. We lost the spirit of Kennedy’s speech, We go to the moon and do the other things. Not because there easy but because there hard.

  12. i’d go in a heartbeat. anywhere. damn the risks. one way ticket to mars? i’m in. indefinite journey into deep space? hell yes.

    to be able to see what no one has seen and go where no one has gone would be worth almost any risk for me.

  13. A risky trip to a big pile of nothing? No thanks…no shops, spas and even my cup of tea would float away…I’ll stay here on Earth with a nice hot drink and a biscuit.

  14. After reading Kim Stanley Robinsons’ Red Mars and the brilliant Revelation Space series by local author Alastair Reynolds, I discussed the same thing with my wife. We would both like to move to another planet and leave this world behind.

    My misses and I are both misanthropic scientists, so maybe that explains a lot…

    But yes, I would go, even knowing it is risky. I have no fear of death, but more a fear of not living. I like to experience, to experiment, to see the world from afar while I set out for the stars. Leave humanity behind. I always think I was born a couple of centuries too early and on the wrong celestial body. *sigh*

  15. We were at the opening of our local planetarium’s new projector the other night. Looked through a giant observatory telescope, too. That’s close enough, thanks. There’s too much I want to see done on this planet before we spend un-FSMly quantities of money doing much on other planets in my opinion. Like, I don’t know, cleaning up the mess we made in the Gulf of Mexico.

    My husband, however, would love to go. Not that he has any real chance. I hear there’s not much need for historians on space missions.

  16. Yes, not thinking required. Absolutely. “Beam me up, Scotty!” I would go to outer space, even if it means I’d have to overcome my claustrophobia. It would be worth it.

  17. I agree with Dax, but with some additional thoughts.

    We know the failure rate of the Shuttle, as Richard Feynman pointed out. It’s about a 1 in 55 chance of catastrophic failure. Hanging around aircraft for most of my career, I understand the implications of “experimental” on the side of an airplane or spacecraft. It means that you must be aware you are taking your life in your hands.

    To go into space, as long as I was there to do something useful, I would take those odds. I won’t go as a tourist. I want my seat to go to someone that can advance our knowledge a small increment larger, so that someday Humanity can be a spacefaring civilization.

  18. I would absolutely LOVE to leave the Earth. Not for wild west unterraformed frontiers though; I would be more interested in risk, if it was a Babylon 5 type space station. I love cities, and exploring new urbanscapes, so a base station or space state that had fairly substantial development & culture would totally be up my alley.

  19. Pass. I like space to be where it is – out there. It makes a great puzzle, exciting to delve into, but I wouldn’t want to be in it.

  20. I don’t think I’d like to travel to LEO (low Earth orbit) for very long, let alone interplanetary travel. I like gravity and plentiful water too much.

    Folks, if you go into microgravity for any significant length of time, you end up defecating into a glorified blender. And hot showers? Forget them. Food on a plate? No, in a bag. The water you are drinking on ISS? Recycled pee, sweat, and breath (but well-recycled, to be fair). Solar flares? Hell-o cancer if you do not get into shielded shelter in time. (And, by the way, life on Mars? Say hello to my little ionizing radiation friends.)

    Loss of bone calcium, bloated face, can’t lay down on a pillow to sleep, communal stink, ever-present white noise, f***ed up day/night cycles,…

    Space travel is not for the soft.

  21. … And the glorified blender mentioned above may be better than the original solution consisting of a plastic bag with adhesive around the opening and a finger-cot to help things along.


  22. I’m in… long-term, short-term, to another planet, to a space station, to the moon, one-way… I’m in! just tell me when! Even better if i could do some research, or do something for science… As Gus Grissom said: “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”

  23. @QuestionAuthority: absolutely, I would go as a researcher, not a tourist. I really don’t like the entire idea of space tourism since these people often do not even grasp the intricacies of space travel, the splendour of our solar system, and have no real awe for our universe. They’re just like those people who go to Antarctica or the Galapagos, ruining more than they respect the awe-inspiring place. Going into space requires a scientific mindset to fully enjoy and respect the beauty of it.

    Besides, tourism = corporate greed = corporate irresponsibility. Kim Stanley Robinson’s view of how corporations would rise up against the first Martian colonists and just run off with the resources, that might one day come true, I think. We will move deeper into our solar system when our resources here really run out and in stead of scientific discovery, we will strip mine everything we can get our hand on. Seriously, if the economic incentive is there we will see a space race that will make the US-Russian space race look like a pinewood derby… and true discovery will be swept aside.

    Okay, calm down, stop ranting.

  24. No. Not until the risks are lower, and the benefits higher, than living on Earth. Risky trip just to have been there? Count me out.
    Self-sustained space colony with the risk of getting killed by space debris lower than the risk of death from the skies on Earth? Maybe.

  25. I’d go no matter what. It’s been my dream since i was a kid to go to space, reality and growing up proved this would be impossible for me.

    If someone wanted volunteers to go to Mars and the trip would take 5-6 years i’d go.

    I’d go even on a one way trip to some hypothetical exoplanet/other star, if the technology and opportunity existed.

    Only the certainty of a mission failure would convince me not to go.

  26. no contest, i would be packed and walking to the shuttle before they could even finish asking me the question. being part of discovering new things in space would be amazing, and worth any/all risks of going to the moon.

    flying in a one-way mission to out even further into the blackness of space would also be an instant “hell yes” from me. despite the fact of never coming back, being part of that would interest me greatly.

    now to daydream of a one-way ticket across the universe….

  27. Hell yes. Orbit, moon, mars, space station, I don’t care. I’ll be there. Exploration is dangerous, science can often be dangerous I’m willing to put my life on the line for us to learn more about our universe. Even if the colony I’m living on gets taken over by a water based virus and turns us all into zombies.

  28. I love the novel. I love being adventurous. I love traveling alone at times because it’s easier to seek the novel, embrace serendipity or initiate an adventure. But even with that said, no, I would not go into space for a prolonged period of time simply because I am a wus when it comes to my kids. I like my novelity in neat packets and my adventures succinct because I still cherish my time with my children, my family above all else. I’m a wus … and proud of it.

  29. I can think of a few people I’d like to space. >;->

    Me going into space? No. Not with today’s technology. Not without /profoundly/ compelling reasons … none of which come to mind at the moment.

    By comparison… I’m into caving. I’m OK with new cave that I’ve never seen before. I’m not one of those people who feel compelled to find cave that *no one* has ever seen before. ;->

    I’m waiting for The Singularity. Once digitized, sure; of course I’d send copies of myself out on deep space missions. Like who wouldn’t? There’s bound to be good money in it by then (or whatever passes for “money” at that time).

  30. I get anxiety attacks on roller coasters so I’m definitely not rocket-worthy. But, if I could be sedated for lift-off, I would dearly love to see the Earth from orbit, just for a few minutes, and then be re-sedated for re-entry.

    @Finn McR – “finger-cot” = made me laugh coffee out my nose :-)

  31. I’d go in a second…. less than a second in fact… I’ve been waiting for a chance to buy a real ticket since Dubya was elected.

    but it would have to be a one-way ticket

    I have no interest in being a space tourist or part of a social experiment. I want to go to the Moon or Mars to live, never to come back. Even spending my life on a space station would be acceptable. All of the little problems there are with long-term habitation in space: radiation, microgravity, space debris, etc… can be solved if we were willing to drop some serious coin on development. Forget all this thin-skinned surface to surface crap and design sane spacecraft and I’ll spend my life savings on a one-way ticket to wherever.

    If we do one more Apollo-style manned mission though, I’ll cry at the grave of human ingenuity.

  32. and Dax and QuestionAuthority: We already have the technology to make space travel (and living there) as safe (or safer) as being in an apartment here on Earth. What we lack is the will. We lack the will because the keys are still being held by the government. Say what you will about corporate greed, “corporate” backing is what has fueled serious exploration and the migration of humanity for almost a thousand years, maybe longer. I see no way around that for space travel. If it happens, it will be because someone (or several someones) with a lot of money wants it to. End of story.

  33. @swordsbane:

    We already have the technology to make space travel (and living there) as safe (or safer) as being in an apartment here on Earth.

    I think you’re overstating the situation. What we have is the underlying Science necessary to develop the technology – if we choose. But remember, we’re talking about thousands of disparate technologies that all have to be integrated into complex systems to make life-in-space bearable, let along possible.

    That takes generations, even with ample funding.

    But I’m all for trying. The sooner the better too, because if we can develop robust technological systems for living sustainably in Space, we’ll have solved the problem of how to do that here on Earth too.

    But for the foreseeable future, life in Space is going to be smelly, dangerous and extremely limited.

    I’ll settle for living here on Earth and developing the technology my grand-daughter will use to live an interesting, productive life in Space.


  34. @Sean: No. People are worried about radiation because to date all manned spacecraft have been launched from earth and have to be extremely light. We’ve had problems with microgravity because no one wants to spend the time and effort to create a spinning habitat. Micrometeorites and space debris is a problem for the same reason radiation is: spacecraft are not robust enough to carry the necessary protection.

    This is not new technology. This is designing space craft the right way, instead of designing them to be light enough to lift from the surface of Earth which currently requires more than half the fuel required for the entire mission. Apollo was a great program for the time, but from now on, anything that leaves Earth orbit (or anything to permanently occupy Earth orbit) should be built in space, where you reduce the need to keep the weight down to save fuel and you make it possible to have strong radiation and collision shielding and where (at least for a space station) you can create artificial gravity. You also don’t have the requirements of space so tight, so you can build proper hydroponics for growing food and recycling air.

    About the only “new” technologies we need to develop are in propulsion, and that might already be solved if VASIMR works on the ISS. Even if VASIMR doesn’t solve the propulsion problem, building a Mars mission bigger and stronger will allow the crew to stay in it longer.

    All the pieces are already here. We just need to create spacecraft designs that incorporate it all in one place. It won’t take generations. We could have it by the end of the decade if we worked at it, if we actually got behind a program like we got behind Apollo. We need to decide, economically and politically to DO it. More of the same just won’t cut it anymore… unless you really WANT to spend generations to get out there.

  35. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I’m single and have no kids, so there’s no one here depending on me. If something nasty happened I’m sure my friends and family would be sad, but that is a risk I’d take. Hell, my friends would kill me themselves if I had a chance and didn’t take it.

    I’m not interested in the 6 minutes in space for $200k kind of trip though. But orbiting? Sure. The moon? Absolutely? Further – hell I’d go even if I knew for sure I wouldn’t come back.

    I was once asked if I’d go to Mars if I knew I could never come home. I said yes in less than a heartbeat. My position hasn’t changed. It would be a journey worth giving my life for.

  36. Yes. One way trip even, if there were good companions. Unfortunately, I have to walk, or hitch-hike, and neither is working well so far.

  37. Dock with an earth-crossing asteroid that can take us on a tour of the outer planets. Burrow beneath the surface for protection, and build a nuclear powered mass driver for course correction. Hey presto, spaceship.

  38. I’d go right now! Just let me pack my toothbrush! I’ve been to Paraguay, space holds no terror for me. My curiosity and lust for adventure are pretty strong and can easily override my sense of self-preservation.
    I’ve been ridiculously close to getting killed in traffic twice in one month here on Earth – how much more dangerous could outer space really be.
    It saddens me that, in all likelihood, I’ll never actually get to go into space.

  39. I’ve wanted to go to space since about 1961, when I started reading Ray Bradbury. I’d go even if there was a 50-50 chance I wouldn’t come back, so long as the flame-out happened on the way back, not on the outward journey.

  40. I am perpetually amazed and generally astounded by the fact that our species has the ability to leave our own planet!!!! That is awesome, and I regret deeply that I realistically will never get to experience that myself before I die. I am too old and asthmatic to become an astronaut (plus I have killer vertigo), and too poor for space tourism. And though it is completely irrational, and as much as I love my family dearly, if I was offered a chance to go to Mars and told there was a 100% chance I would die within about 10 minutes of being there, I would only hesitate long enough to kiss my loved ones goodbye and tell them how awesome they are.

    Because I’m human, dammit! This is what we do.

  41. Um, no, Swordsbane at 42, unless you have some really revolutionary ideas, All spacecraft will be manufactured on Earth and launched out of Earth orbit. There may be recoverable water on Earth’s moon, but we are far from ready to mine it for cosmic ray shielding. As far as 2001, A Space Odessy-style space stations or space ships, it takes a ridiculously large radius for a spinning-induced pseudo-gravity to be effective without inducing nausea in most people.

    Get a grip. Space travel today is not like Star Trek or Star Wars (both, notably, sci-fi) or other convenient fiction. Sustained, self-contained, microgravity travel outside of the Earth’s gravity well and magneto-sphere is no easy task. Before you sign up for space travel, try living in a camper van for six months without any stops.

  42. @swordsbane:

    This is not new technology. This is designing space craft the right way, instead of designing them to be light enough to lift from the surface of Earth which currently requires more than half the fuel required for the entire mission.

    If it hasn’t been built-yet, then it doesn’t even qualify as technology. Its only design.

    In any case, my point wasn’t about space-travel, per se. My point was that, for the first off-world colonists, be they on Mars, an Asteroid, a space-station or where-ever, life. will. suck.

    Imagine spending the rest of your life living in a small office building with no windows or doors, where the smallest technical failure means death, where your ecosystem is so small and fragile that its in constant danger of collapsing or spinning wildly out of control.

    And, as an extra added bonus, all the people out there with you – were crazy enough to be out there with you.

    No thanks. I’ll wait for Space-colonization 2.0


  43. Terra firma for me; endless days of monotony, depravation, tedium and inconvenience on top of substantial risk would not result in a big enough pay off for missing the company of family, friends and the endless earth bound experiences that would be sacrificed. Not to mention the King Kong size carbon footprint these little jaunts leave behind.

  44. I would go, especially if there were a colonization aspect. Of course, my partner says he would not – so there’s that complication, but personally, I’d want to.

  45. I would go, but only if they promised me hot chicks (Skepchicks, of course) when I got there – wherever “there” is. Just the thought of stepping onto another world (with hot chicks) is so exciting I could deal with all the monotony, tedium and risk.

    And did I mention the hot chicks? :-)

  46. I want to say yes, but I will freely confess: I have problems watching Apollo 13 without getting the massive heebie-jeebies. Every time they pull out to a shot of that tiny little capsule with its very, very, very thin walls surrounded by all that space? Those miles and miles of stray hydrogen atoms that can’t even see their neighbors? My testicles try to crawl up in my abdomen and part of my mind starts to gibber uncontrollably.

    If we’re talking an “end of the world” scenario, I like to think that I would let someone else take my place. Don’t get me wrong… I’m pretty awesome. But I’m also single, with no children, and possessing a skill set that’s fairly repeatable; about the main thing I have going for me in a survival situation is that I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, giving me some ideas to work from.

  47. I love space. It fascinates me but I would never NEVER venture into it — that shit scares me to no end. I can barely fly, you think I am going to go farther?


    Now, would I love it if more people could go and explore and bring me back the information?


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