Dan Schrimpsher asked a perfectly reasonable question after I recently slammed a blogger for pooh-poohing the radiation hazards of manned space flight to Mars, although I believe he over-reacted. Dan wonders why I would slam a blogger for his opinion if he isn’t asking for money.
There are 2 reasons:
First, anyone is entitled to his or her opinions whether supported by fact, fantasy, or floating in Kool-Aid. Unfortunately, many of the opinions floating in the blogosphere are not supported by fact, but by speculation or ignorance. When such speculation or ignorant opining is repeated sufficiently, it starts assuming the aura of fact with other people who do not have the time to examine primary sources in detail or the knowledge base to discriminate. That eventually leads to Lysenkoism, people who believe that the Earth is the center of the universe, and (my personal favorite) people who believe that the USA never put men on the Moon. Therefore, errors of fact and of interpretation need to be identified and exposed. That is one goal of The Space Cynic. Unfortunately, taking down the blog in question about space-flight radiation biohazards in detail, with references to well-documented sources, would take far more time and space than I am willing to consume with a point by point rebuttal that would be understood by an average, but interested, reader. Instead, the interested person should reread the critical blog, then reread the Scientific American article carefully, and then do whatever research he or she needs to conduct within the primary literature in order for form a conclusion what would stand up to careful review. I do believe that the blogger in question, while sincere, grossly oversimplifies the ability of our current technology and knowledge base to deal with the radiation hazards of transporting people to Mars. That seems to be a common occurrence with space flight enthusiasts coming from the physical sciences when considering biomedical risks. It is easy to postulate surrounding a crew cabin with fuel for shielding. What happens when the fuel is consumed for the return trip? In the abstract, you may be willing to take on an additional risk of 50% of dying from a radiation-induced cancer in exchange for a trip to Mars, but would the NRC permit you to assume that risk? Are you willing to damage your future children for the ride? Quit dismissing the problem out of hand and consider the ramifications of high dose radiation exposure — especially since dose levels have not been precisely defined.
Second, with one exception, I do not care what people do with their own money. They are perfectly free to earn it and spend it as they wish. (I do — I am currently invested in three alt.space start-ups and had been but no longer am invested in another.) They can even burn it in their front yards for all I care. Elon Musk is a case in point. He is spending his own money to pursue his goals. Good luck to him. I do care when people start asking for other people’s money to do great things rather than using their own. That comes about when apparently sincere people say they can give the human race cheap access to space for (insert your number here) dollars, but their proposals do not stand up to careful examination. We are not likely to be taking tourists to Mars or Venus within a decade or two with Apollo-era technology. That is especially true with a company that has yet to get anything into even suborbital space. That some people are ignorant enough to “buy a ticket” is a sad commentary on them, but the people accepting the money for that purpose are, in my opinion, skirting fraud at worst and exploiting ignorance and dreams at best. They are dispensing Kool-Aid. What is the exception I mentioned above? Using one’s own money to deliberately misinform the public.