《经济学人》:太空时代的结束
日期:2011-07-06 10:59

(单词翻译:单击)

Space exploration
太空探索

The end of the Space Age
太空时代的结束

Inner space is useful. Outer space is history
研究内太空才有用,让外太空研究成为历史

Jun 30th 2011 | from the print edition

HOW big is the Earth? Any encyclopedia will give you an answer: its equatorial diameter is 12,756km, or, for those who prefer to think that way, 7,926 miles. Ah, but then there is the atmosphere. Should that count? Perhaps the planet’s true diameter is actually nearer 13,000km, including all its air. But even that may no longer be an adequate measure. For the Earth now reaches farther still. The vacuum surrounding it buzzes with artificial satellites, forming a sort of technosphere beyond the atmosphere. Most of these satellites circle only a few hundred kilometres above the planet’s solid surface. Many, though, form a ring like Saturn’s at a distance of 36,000km, the place at which an object takes 24 hours to orbit the Earth and thus hovers continuously over the same point of the planet.

地球有多大?任何一本百科全书都会给你答案:赤道直径是12,756公里,或者,用英里来表达7,926英里。嗯,但是大气层有多大呢?也能计算吗? 包括空气(大气层)在内,地球的直径可能接近13,000公里。甚至连这个数据也不够充分。因为现在地球的变化太大(远离平静的状态)。包围大气层的外部空间人造卫星来去匆匆,形成一个在大气层外面的所谓技术层。大部分卫星绕行高度离地球地表仅几百公里。然而,在距地球36,000公里的轨道上物体绕转地球一周的时间为24小时,这个物体飞行时持续面对的是地球上的不变的同一个点,这样许多地球同步卫星的运行会形成一个类似的土星环。

Viewed this way, the Earth is quite a lot larger than the traditional textbook answer. And viewed this way, the Space Age has been a roaring success. Telecommunications, weather forecasting, agriculture, forestry and even the search for minerals have all been revolutionised. So has warfare. No power can any longer mobilise its armed forces in secret. The exact location of every building on the planet can be known. And satellite-based global-positioning systems will guide a smart bomb to that location on demand.

从这个方面看,地球比传统的教科书上的回答其实要大很多。这样看来,太空时代已经有了相当的成功。电信业,天气预测,农业,林业,甚至是在矿藏搜寻方面都有了彻底变革。战争也同样如此,再也没有政府能秘密地调兵遣将。这颗星球上的每一幢建筑物的位置都能被精确掌握。基于卫星的全球定位系统能按要求指引智能炸弹到达目标。

Yet none of this was the Space Age as envisaged by the enthusiastic “space cadets” who got the whole thing going. Though engineers like Wernher von Braun, who built the rockets for both Germany’s second-world-war V2 project and America’s cold-war Apollo project, sold their souls to the military establishment in order to pursue their dreams of space travel by the only means then available, most of them had their eyes on a higher prize. “First Men to a Geostationary Orbit” does not have quite the same ring as “First Men to the Moon”, a book von Braun wrote in 1958. The vision being sold in the 1950s and 1960s, when the early space rockets were flying, was of adventure and exploration. The facts of the American space project and its Soviet counterpart elided seamlessly into the fantasy of “Star Trek”(1) and “2001: A Space Odyssey”(2). Other planets may or may not have been inhabited by aliens, but they, and even other stars, were there for the taking. That the taking would begin in the lifetimes of people then alive was widely assumed to be true.

然而没有这些推动太空事业发展的太空学员的满腔热情,太空时代便无法想象。工程师们为了实现遨游太空的梦想全身心地投入到军事机构中,这是唯一的可以获得使用的途径。比如工程师Wernher Braun,他为二战时期的德国V2计划和冷战时期的美国阿波罗计划分别建造了火箭。虽然他们中很多人是为了获得高额的奖金。工程师Wernher Braun在1958年的一本书中写道,第一个到达与地球同步轨道的人并没有得到第一个到达月球的人同样的花环。二十世纪五六十年代,当早期的意在探索冒险的太空火箭升空时,太空遨游的幻想就更热切了。事实上,美国的太空计划署和苏联的太空部门已经忽略了像“星际旅行”和“2001:太空冒险”这样的完美的幻想。

No longer. It is quite conceivable that 36,000km will prove the limit of human ambition. It is equally conceivable that the fantasy-made-reality of human space flight will return to fantasy. It is likely that the Space Age is over.
从此不再幻想。36,000公里成为人类抱负的极限,这件事会相当可信。人类太空飞翔的梦想成为现实,而退回想象也将变得同样可信。换言之,太空时代即将结束。

Bye-bye, sci-fi
再见,科学幻想

Today’s space cadets will, no doubt, oppose that claim vigorously. They will, in particular, point to the private ventures of people like Elon Musk in America and Sir Richard Branson in Britain, who hope to make human space flight commercially viable. Indeed, the enterprise of such people might do just that. But the market seems small and vulnerable. One part, space tourism, is a luxury service that is, in any case, unlikely to go beyond low-Earth orbit at best (the cost of getting even as far as the moon would reduce the number of potential clients to a handful). The other source of revenue is ferrying astronauts to the benighted International Space Station (ISS), surely the biggest waste of money, at $100 billion and counting, that has ever been built in the name of science.

毫无疑问,今天的太空学员们会强烈反对这个声称。他们尤其会提到希望以商业方式实现太空飞翔的个人冒险者,比如美国的Elon Musk和英国的Sir Richard Branson。这些计划冒险的人果真也会像太空学员们一样予以反对。但是这个市场似乎很小也很脆弱。一方面,太空旅行是一项奢侈的服务,不像冲出地球低轨道那么容易(这些如同与月球距离一般可观的巨额花费使潜在客人的数字减少到几个)。另外一方面,是把宇航员飞渡到蒙昧的国际太空站(ISS)所需要的资金来源,无疑是最大的浪费,已经花了千亿美金却还在增长,那个曾经是以科学的名义建立起来的。

The reason for that second objective is also the reason for thinking 2011 might, in the history books of the future, be seen as the year when the space cadets’ dream finally died. It marks the end of America’s space-shuttle programme, whose last mission is planned to launch on July 8th (see article, article). The shuttle was supposed to be a reusable truck that would make the business of putting people into orbit quotidian. Instead, it has been nothing but trouble. Twice, it has killed its crew. If it had been seen as the experimental vehicle it actually is, that would not have been a particular cause for concern; test pilots are killed all the time. But the pretence was maintained that the shuttle was a workaday craft. The technical term used by NASA, “Space Transportation System”, says it all.

上面提到的第二个理由也许将成为另外一个理由,即未来的历史书将把2011年视作太空学员梦想破灭的一年。它标志着美国航天计划的结束,该计划的最后使命是完成7月8日的发射。太空飞船被假设为一辆能重复使用的货车以期实现把人送往同步轨道的商业事宜。事实是它什么也没完成却带来了麻烦。它曾两次失事扼杀全部乘员(哥伦比亚号和挑战者号)。事实上它只是个试验性运输工具,要不它不应该有让人焦虑的特别理由;宇航员不时的被害。但是太空飞船只是一架普通飞机的假设需要维护。其使用的科学术语是NASA,其实它只是一个“太空运输系统”。

But the shuttle is now over. The ISS is due to be de-orbited, in the inelegant jargon of the field, in 2020. Once that happens, the game will be up. There is no appetite to return to the moon, let alone push on to Mars, El Dorado of space exploration. The technology could be there, but the passion has gone—at least in the traditional spacefaring powers, America and Russia.

太空飞船事业即将结束。到2020年,ISS将被重设轨道(这个领域的不雅的术语)。事情一旦发生,游戏就将终结。再也没有重返月球的欲望,更不用谈火星推进计划,太空探险的El Dorado计划。技术仍然存在,但是激情已然消失—至少就传统的太空强国,美国和苏联而言。

The space cadets’ other hope, China, might pick up the baton. Certainly it claims it wishes, like President John Kennedy 50 years ago, to send people to the surface of the moon and return them safely to Earth. But the date for doing so seems elastic. There is none of Kennedy’s “by the end of the decade” bravura about the announcements from Beijing. Moreover, even if China succeeds in matching America’s distant triumph, it still faces the question, “what next?” The chances are that the Chinese government, like Richard Nixon’s in 1972, will say “job done” and pull the plug on the whole shebang.

太空学员们的另一个希望之地,中国,也许将拾起接力棒。确定中国就像50年之前的约翰肯尼迪一样宣布并希望要把人类送达月球表面并安全返回地球。但完成这一愿望的日期看起来是有弹性的。来自北京的宣告缺乏肯尼迪的坚信“到这个年代末”。(阿波罗11号在1969年7月20日登陆月球)。而且,即使中国成功地对接了美国的遥远的胜利,它仍需面对这个问题,“接下来怎么样?”属于中国领导人的那一时刻,是否会像1972年的尼克松一样说“任务完成了”然后拔下整个系统的插头呢。

No bucks, no Buck Rogers(3)
没有激情,也没有太空英雄

With luck, robotic exploration of the solar system will continue. But even there, the risk is of diminishing returns. Every planet has now been visited, and every planet with a solid surface bar Mercury has been landed on. Asteroids, moons and comets have all been added to the stamp album. Unless life turns up on Mars, or somewhere even more unexpected, public interest in the whole thing is likely to wane. And it is the public that pays for it all.

好在针对太阳系的机器探测仍将持续。但即便如此,风险犹存,因为回报越来越少。现在太阳系中的每颗行星都已经被侦察过,每一颗表面是固体的行星,使者Mercury都已经登陆过。小行星,卫星和彗星已经增加到集邮册里。除非火星上出现生命,或者出现未曾预料之地,公众对探索宇宙的兴趣可能越来越弱。而为它买单的依然是广大的民众。

The future, then, looks bounded by that new outer limit of planet Earth, the geostationary orbit. Within it, the buzz of activity will continue to grow and fill the vacuum. This part of space will be tamed by humanity, as the species has tamed so many wildernesses in the past. Outside it, though, the vacuum will remain empty. There may be occasional forays, just as men sometimes leave their huddled research bases in Antarctica to scuttle briefly across the ice cap before returning, for warmth, food and company, to base. But humanity’s dreams of a future beyond that final frontier have, largely, faded.

那么,未来看来要被限制在地球的新的外边界之内,即同步轨道。在这层空间里,各种活动的嗡嗡声将继续增长而充满了整个空间。这部分空间将被人类驯服,就像在过去物种驯服了这么多的荒野。而36,000之外的空间仍将是空的。可能也会有偶尔的突袭,就像在南极考察的人们有时为了温暖、食物和朋友离开他们的扎堆而设的研究基地,在返回之前,这些基地早已沉没在南极洲的冰盖之下。但人类想超越领域最前沿的未来梦想已经,褪色很多。

1) Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.

2) 2001: A Space Odyssey is a science-fiction narrative, produced in 1968 as both a film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and a novel, written by Arthur C. Clarke. Arthur C. Clarke was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist

3) Anthony Rogers is a fictional character that first appeared in Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. A sequel, The Airlords of Han, was published in the March 1929 issue.

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重点单词
  • measuren. 措施,办法,量度,尺寸 v. 测量,量
  • viableadj. 能居住的的,能生存的,可行的
  • militaryadj. 军事的 n. 军队
  • coren. 果心,核心,要点 vt. 挖去果核
  • bravuran. 大胆的尝试;令人赞赏的演唱或演奏技巧 adj. 难
  • triumphn. 凯旋,欢欣 vi. 得胜,成功,庆功
  • enterprisen. 企业,事业,谋划,进取心
  • entertainmentn. 娱乐
  • stampn. 邮票,图章,印,跺脚 v. 跺脚,盖章
  • unlikelyadj. 不太可能的