How are we doing as a site? What kinds of questions are we choosing as the most interesting questions, and which of them are questions that are valuable, and which should we eliminate? (This post based off of Robert's concerns expressed here, here, and here.
Here's my musings about the status of this site:
I'm going to take a look at how our highest voted questions are really in terms of their quality. I'm going to do this by dividing them in to a few categories.
- Questions that an expert might use- These are questions that ask real problems that are being discussed for the medium term (20 years or so). They might not be perfect questions, but space mission planners, engineers, etc could use them. This is the prime question target group.
- Current events- These questions are about what something is doing at the moment, or otherwise just speculation.
- Future Technology- These questions deal with very futuristic technologies, which may or may not have a place in the future. No demonstration of this technology has been done.
- Simple Question and answer- These are really just simple questions, that don't really need an expert to address.
So, what do we have?
Expert Questions 8
- How far could we send someone before they get a lethal dose of radiation?
- Why are spacecraft data systems obsolete at launch?
- How possible are 'space jumps'?
- Can you tack against the sun using a solar sail?
- Is converting moon dust into oxygen a viable option for sustainability?
- What would the size and rotation of a station need to be to produce 1g gravity from head to toe? (Borderline)
- Is artificial gravity feasible in manned long-term space exploration? (Borderline)
Current Events 2
- Is there an ISS replacement planned?
- What science are the Voyager missions still doing after so many years away from the Solar System?
Future Technologies 2
- Could a partial space elevator be practical and useful?
- Is it possible to build a Dyson sphere or its variant in our solar system based on our current technology?
Simple Q&A 3
- Why does the International Space Station produce so much methane?
- What medical conditions can impede someone from going into space?
- What data compression algorithms have been successfully used in spacecraft?
I would suggest that we don't want to focus on simple Q&A questions, nor on current event type questions. Future technologies are okay, but they should be carefully monitored. And some of the "Expert Questions" need some work, and possible a better answer than has been given. However, this list still says that in general, we are upvoting quality questions, although perhaps not as much as we should.
I think, compared to true space exploration, we are suffering from a large bias toward manned space exploration. From the top 15 questions, 6 or so are about manned space exploration. Out of professionals working in the field, the number of people actually working with manned spaceflight is much, much smaller. Manned spaceflight tends to get the most attention popularly, so this seems to be a symptom of having more fans than experts on the site at this point.
I also fear that everyone expectation of expert level questions is unreasonable. I can do research and read ask questions but that's because I had to go out there a search for an question. Not everyone has the time to research and come up with questions. There isn't even the ability for mass questioning since space exploration isn't a topic everyone can get there hands dirty with in school or in science class.
I don't even know what space exploration really is defined by. Is it, once in space? Does it entail preparation or on earth tasks to get to space? Does it work with living in space? Is theory based of fiction even allowed?
What I am trying to say is that space is something most of us just day dream about and sort of have interest in but the lack of common knowledge isn't there. That's why I think simple questions is going to be the backbone of this site. I mean even the technical questions can be push to physics because of their natural state.
So, yes there is a lot of confusion on exactly what SE.
Science Fiction is the gateway to Science Expert. While there is a line between the two drawing it to close science fact, (IMHO) will throttle the site down to oblivion.
Space exploration is in its infancy (or maybe still in gestation) in any case, the site will need to grow with the science. Much of the really good hard science is either not known or is hidden away, as outlined in this discussion.
As long as we continue to strive towards the future, and keep asking ourselves and the community if current questions and answers, are relevant today we will be working towards the vision we all hope to see. By its nature this site for the next few hundred years will be balancing between science fiction and science fact, if it is not it will be encyclopedia of what was, not a vehicle for finding the future.
Some questions like 'What would happen if you dropped a miniature black hole on the earth?' are easy to identify as out of scope for this site but ok for say Physics.
Some questions like 'What spaceship materials could naturally experience radioactive decay and transmute on a million year interstellar journey?' are overly simple and difficult to realistically relate to any probable space exploration issue in the next 100 years.
If the real life solution can reasonably be expected to impact Space Exploration in the next 100 years, then it is in scope. Currently this would be limited to manned exploration in our solar system, probably up to asteroid mining and colonization of the the friendlier bodies like Mars and Europa, and robotic exploration in or beyond our system.
If the answer can reasonably to be found on Wikipedia then it is out of scope. Where there is a basic expectation of meeting Wikipedia:Verifiability & Wikipedia:Notability then the science is to old and established to be on a cutting edge site like Space Exploration
What this means is that we may need to have more complex discusions about specific questions and answers. It also means that we will need to keep a clean house, what was a good question/answer 10 or 20 years ago or even yesterday, may no longer be.
I was pretty excited to see this site, but I'm skeptical about how long it will last.
Mostly, I'm concerned about the scope. Many (most) SE sites have some questions that have potential to overlap (like ELU, ELL, and Lingustics); here we have Physics, Astronomy, SciFi, and Travel just as the obvious ones (plus other kinds of natural sciences, and engineering). As noted elsewhere, the Astronomy SE has come and gone before; if they couldn't maintain interest/activity in a site distinct from Physics, how much hope do we have?
I've actually looked for the rules for what's OnTopic on this SE and not found them; maybe I didn't look hard enough (quite possible, I am eager to jump in), but if that's the case, it won't be just me. (Or maybe, since this is a Beta, this page will be filled in later https://space.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic)
I'm also concerned about rigor and specificity. I've seen several questions that ask questions that are either too speculative or too broad, or that make implicit assumptions. Trying not to pick on anyone, but how do you answer a question like "What's the cheapest way to space?" There are a lot of sub-questions that would fit under that, most of which I find interesting. If a question stands like that, though, not only will the OP accept an answer that others will find unsatisfactory, but it will result in a lot more "Isn't this a duplicate?" further down the road.
I know that to some extent this is a community-driven, iterative process which could eventually generate better guidelines/answers, but in the meantime it feels like these questions need to be better thought-out from the beginning. (More likely, they have been thought out better than I realize, yet, and I just haven't seen the relevant ... results? rules? chat logs?)
I actually posted the question on https://scifi.stackexchange.com/ and have been extremely surprised by the both the activity there and here. I feel some of my other less popular questions here are more appropriate and I am unsure about encouraging questions founded on old science fiction stories.
I can of course write more along this line, and given the feedback is difficult to resist. But the traffic boost to the site seems a positive thing.