Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Friday, July 26, 2019

The real reason why we didn't go back to the Moon: The decline of spaceflight

With the massive onslaught of fake news we are subjected to, a particularly obnoxious one is that the Moon landings never took place. It is not just a fashionable idiocy, it is a symptom that the whole Western society is rotting at the core.

In a way, the spreading of the "Moon landing was a hoax" legend was to be expected -- it was even unavoidable. The society we call "The West" inflicted itself mortal wounds during the past few decades with the those technologies that go under the name of "perception management," once known as "propadanda" but now much more refined and effective. If you start using this form of black magic, it is a slippery slope that leads you to the illusions of greatness that were voiced during the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. At that moment, someone was so intoxicated by the new power of propaganda that he uttered the well know words "now we create our own reality."

That was the ultimate hubrys and it didn't go unpunished. Reality cannot be created by mere human beings. What they can do is to create illusions that look like reality and that can hide reality so well that noone can discern the true reality anymore. Losing track with reality would be sufficient punishment in itself, but it carries even worse consequence. Once you start creating your own reality, you can't be trusted any more. And if trust is lost, everything is lost. Society becomes an Empire of Lies and it is destined to fade away and disappear.

So, who would believe the story that people landed on the Moon when it was told by the same people who, later on, invented non-existing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? For everything that happens there is a reason and there is a reason also for the disbelief in the Moon landing.

Will we ever be able to restore trust? Maybe it is too late, maybe it is not even worth trying. Yet, I was thinking that the astronauts who performed the incredible feat of the several travels to the Moon deserve better than being ridiculed, as it seems to be becoming fashionable nowadays. They deserve respect and admiration for their courage and their dedication. For this reason let me address one of the few reasonable questions that may be asked about the story: why didn't we go back to the Moon? Some people are genuinely perplexed on this point: could it be because it really was a fake?

No. There were deep structural reasons that made it impossible for the Western economic system to provide again the same surplus that was used to finance the Moon program. Here, let me reproduce a post that I published in 2015 examining the trends of human spaceflight. (you can read similar considerations in a post by Antonio Turiel). Clearly, we have peaked and we are going down. It is the way civilizations end.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The last astronaut: the cycle of human spaceflight is coming to an end

Smart, dedicated, competent, polyglot, and more; Samantha Cristoforetti seems to have been invented for a "Star Trek" episode. She is shown here at the International Space Station, where she is staying at the moment of publication of this post. Cristoforetti may not be the last astronaut to orbit the earth, but it is possible that the end of what was once called "the space age" will not be far away in the future. (Image credit: ESA/NASA)

I experienced the enthusiasm of the "space-age," starting in the 1960s, and I am not happy to see the end of that old dream. Yet, the data are clear and cannot be ignored: human spaceflight is winding down. Look at the graph, below. It shows the total number of people launched into space each year. (The data are from Wikipedia - more details.)

As you see, the number of people sent to space peaked in the 1990s, following a cycle that can be fitted reasonably well using a bell-shaped curve (a Gaussian, in this case). We have not yet arrived at the end of space travel, but the number of people traveling to space is going down. With the international space station set to be retired in 2020, it may be that the "space-age" is destined to come to an end in the future.

The shape of the cycle can be seen as a "Hubbert curve." This curve typically describes the exploitation of a non-renewable resource; fossil fuels in particular, but it also describes how economic activities are affected by a diminishing availability of resources. In this case, the shape of the curve suggests that we are gradually running out of the surplus resources needed to send humans into space. In a sense, the economics of human spaceflight are like those of the great pyramids of Egypt. These pyramids were expensive and required considerable surplus resources to be built. When the surplus disappeared, no more were built. The shape of the pyramid building curve was, again, Hubbert-like.

This result is not surprising, considering that we are reaching the planetary limits to growth. In part, we are reacting to the diminishing availability of resources by replacing humans with less expensive robots, but sending robots to space is not the same as the "conquest of space" was once conceived. Besides, the decline of space exploration is evident also from other data, see for instance this plot showing the budget available to NASA (from "Starts with a Bang"). Note how the peak in human spaceflights coincides with the peak in the resources destined to space exploration.

If space exploration is directly related to the availability of resources, it is also true that, from the beginning, it was not meant to be just a resource drain. The idea of the conquest of space involved overcoming the limits of the earth's ecosphere and accessing the resources of the whole solar system. Some of the concepts developed in this area were thought explicitly as ways to avoid the dire scenarios laid out in the 1972 study, "The Limits to Growth." Proposals involved placing giant habitats at the Lagrange libration points, where no energy was necessary to keep them there. The idea gained some traction in the 1970s and, in the figure, you see an impression of one of those habitats - the "Bernal Sphere."(image credit: NASA)

Today, we can't look at these old drawings without shaking our heads and wondering how anyone could take them seriously. Yet, these ideas were not impossible in themselves and, in the 1970s, we still had sufficient resources to make it possible some kind of human expansion into space, even though not on the grand scale that some people were proposing. But we missed that occasion and we much preferred to invest our surplus in military toys. Today, we can't even dream of colonizing space anymore.

The space age is not completely over, yet, but it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain the costs of it. Right now, the Russians are still willing to launch to orbit West European astronauts. But how long will they continue to do so while Western Europe is enacting sanctions devised to cripple the Russian economy? Samantha Cristoforetti, brave and competent Italian astronaut, may well be a member of the last patrol of humans orbiting around the earth for a long time to come.


  1. There's more to come from human spaceflight. China and India will likely be significant in the next decade and SpaceX do seem to be reducing cost. The ISS will not be decimissioned in 2020, last year its operation to 2030 was (politically) agreed. I expect more human spaceflight in the 2020s than 2010s including humans back on the moon.

  2. Dear Ugo

    Thank you again for a most thoughtful post. Please permit me to post my rather different take on this matter.

    The reason why we have not gone back to the moon seems simple to me: it is because we went to the moon. A bunch of guys landed on the moon, did essentially nothing worth doing, picked up a few rocks, and came back. A total anticlimax.

    So when somebody proposes going back to the moon, the answer is: why bother? We already did it, and it was pretty much worthless.

    By contrast, NASA's unmanned space flights taught us more about the Solar System in a couple of decades than we had learned in the four centuries since the invention of the telescope. But it didn't have the fake "human drama" that would appeal to a dumbed down TV audience. So space flight had nothing to offer the voting public, except more expense, exemplified by the ridiculous boondoggle called "Orion".

    We made six manned moon landings, and the project was shut down. Admiral Cheng Ho made seven voyages, and the project was shut down. History is not on the side of von Braun's and Willy Ley's dream.

    And yes, to my deep regret: I was four days short of my 16th birthday when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, and have spent the last 20 years watching the dream die. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    1. I say you a reason.

      To learn how to colonize a space place. Moon is not the best place on long term (it's a lot better Mars) but it's very convinient to learn because the proximity allow fast return in case of problems, lower exposition to radiation (because the shorter time of the missions), possible fast mission calendar and a lot of possibilities of robotic development with telepresence.

      It's a good place to train space colonization.

      It has no sense to go for exploring. Our probes are a lot better. But it has sense for colonization, with we take the mission of colonization beyond Earth seriously.

  3. Of course, the NASA: very good at sending and retrieving people to and from the Moon, lousy at preserving scientific data from the proceedings. Just makes one wonder if all science works like that, or if it was just a case of "fake science"...
    (The nazi team behind those accomplishments is also a neat proof that superior minds - and pursuits - do stand above those awkward notions: ethics and justice. Perhaps the Moon landings were an anti-semitic stunt.)

  4. Another boondoggle exposed:

  5. A total waste of resources and completely pointless. We're in a gravity well here on earth and are not going to leave this planet in any significant numbers. We can barely keep the orbiting RV called the "International Space Station" flying.

    On more achievable projects, the SUN☼ Monument is finished, delivering the message of Sustainability to whoever manages to survive the Great Dying now on the Horizon.


    1. That's a wrong idea. To colonize a new world it's not neccesary to put every people there. Just only the "seed" quantity to the new place to flourish.
      A sustainability world is not enemy of a space program. In fact, we need both. They are complementary.
      The space program only needs to learn to have incremental success with plain investment.
      In a sustainable world we could spend a fixed quantity of resources in a space program.
      The space program could go somewhere and accumulate all infrastructure and use in situ resources to grow, so with time a big colony and later a new branch of civilization could born from that.
      Actual space program has been focused on exploring (probe programs) and experimentation (manned program to ISS), so it seems that don't go further (but it really does, a lot of things are been learned).
      But at one point, we will make the jump and start a settlement program with true colonization in sight.

  6. I am 65 years old and retired U.S. Army Intelligence...You have to be kidding - God I hope so - that America put a man on the moon. I've known since the mid 1970's that they all were faked. They didn't Nixon Tricky Dick for nothing. Be as that may be the evidence of a fake so overwhelming all I can say you have not bothered to do a rudimentary investigation. If you did your opinion would change in a flash!

    1. Army Intelligence? ...yeah right. I like the the pseudonym "Dividend Yield Investor" though.

      I wonder if believing in the Moon conspiracy and investmentbanking are somehow connected.

  7. The data shows different.

    It's not about spaceflight declining. It's about lack of will and goals on the manned programs. And that could change soon.
    The probe programs plus all Earth probes for monitoring our planet has good health.

  8. From: The Parable of the Sower.

    The world is in horrible shape. Even Rich Countries aren't doing as well as history says rich countries used to do. President Donner isn't the only one breaking up and selling off science and space projects. No one is expanding the kind of exploration that doesn't earn an immediate profit, or at least promise big future profits. There's no mood now for doing anything that could be considered unnecessary or wasteful. And yet,

    The Destiny of Earthseed
    Is to take root among the stars.

  9. Alien Observer
    That is the name of my blog [didn't bother to change it for this post] however when it comes to the moon landings I no longer am polite in my response. Here it is: I CAN'T FIX STUPID.

    Here are a few more recent faked events that have been happening recently. All of the mass staged faked shootings are nothing more the DHS FEMA drills promoted as real by our lying PROPAGANDA spewing CIA controlled main stream press.
    WHY?? More along the lines of corporate propaganda as now our school districts have been besiege by sales people wanting to sell bullet resistant glass windows, heavy reinforced doors, CCTV Networks, metal detectors, scanners and an assorted security services. All based on a false premise. Take a look at how many ex DHS or FEMA top dogs are now running these companies you would be shocked.
    But alas anything that comes out of the main stream press must be real to you for you believe in all of this PROPAGANDA hook, line and sinker.
    Good Lord man wake up and do your homework instead of kissing the ass of the writer of the Cassandra Legacy blog!
    If you even read this far check out the videos from where the TRUTHERS hang out now that YouTube heavily CENSORS Truth Talkers. Or google up Miles Mathis updates for a top notch researcher of decades past and present stage, faked or hoaxed events. This nonsense has been going on for decades the faked moon landings is only one small event compared to America's history.
    I'm done and good day [someday you may wake up...I can only hope!]

    1. This slipped my attention when it was posted. I am happy I did find it now. It must be the funniest comment on this blog ever.

      School kids killed in suicidal shootings because someone wants to sell windows?

      He should have a comedy show. Id be a fan. This is better than flat earthers or chemtrails.

      The stuff people are ready to believe confounds me.

  10. Jeff C-C in the USJuly 30, 2019 at 11:10 AM

    Ugo, I have a favor to ask. I just read a spectacular article about the construction of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence at the Rising Tide Foundation web page.

    At a time in history very similar to where we are now (starting at the peak in commerce and working through collapse and then into a renaissance), Florentians made plans, and then spent 200 years constructing, the largest and most beautiful dome in the world. The didn't know how to do it when they started; they spent a lifetime, 44 years, looking at the hole where the dome was supposed to go, with no idea how to build it. But Brunelleschi had a vision, ignored the naysayers, and put together the team to pull it off. Young Leonardo DaVinci studied his plans and incorporated them in to his own inventions.

    Here is the favor. Since you are in Florence and I am not, please take a Sunday afternoon and drink in the utter magnificence of this cathedral! And then share your inspiration with the rest of us, who, alas, are not in Florence.

    Thanks, Jeff

    1. Will see to do that! Thanks for this comment.

  11. No matter how fossil fuels are energy-dense, it appears they are not dense enough to more than building hydro dams, making bombs and military machinery, building bridges, tracks and roads and pushing trucks, trains and cars over them.

    Going to the moon and beyond appears requiring significantly more than that.

    To have a sense of this relationship, take two backup generators of the same grade and quality – one rated at 5 kW, and the other 30 kW.

    An unlimited fuel supply is provided for both generators.

    The 5 kW generator will cease functioning well before the sum total of useful work it produces matches the total energy generated by the 30 kW unit during its lifetime.

    Why so, given the unlimited fuel supply available to both generators, which makes them truly open systems?

    It is not the fuel supplied to an energy-generating device that limits the sum useful energy produced, but rather the total energy expended in constructing it.

    As the 30 kW generator consumed more energy in its construction than the smaller 5 kW unit, the smaller generator cannot match the sum useful work of the larger device.

    No energy system can produce sum useful energy in excess of the total energy put into constructing it.

    This universal truth applies to all energy systems, including spaceships.

    Energy, like time, only flows from past to future.

    The Fifth Law of Thermodynamics and The Arrow of Energy, proposed 2017.

    1. Nuts? Watermelons? Starfuits? Avocados? Coconuts?

    2. It is Physics, Ugo!
      Thank You for all your great efforts on this site and elsewhere.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)