The fact that the Mars One project hasn't even done this much says everything. (TFA's commentor tells Slashdot nothing new, but does help inform the less technically-inclined.) In light of this, the Mars One projects Serious Statements have always sounded like a novel way to make people start thinking about space; to consider a Mars mission "seriously" instead as just another airy, easily-dismissed "someday we'll have flying cars" fantasy. The "suicide mission" aspect is both sensationalist and a way to force people to comtemplate the inherent human risks in space exploration. I personally have no problem with this and I wish them luck with their interesting promotion of space exploration. However, the parent post asks a very, very good question:
If they're not going to Mars with that money - or even producing preliminary brainstorms - what the heck ARE they doing with it?
before pistols were practical for anything more than honor duels.
This is false. According to NYPD data, 81% of police shootings take place at a range of under nine feet. Even for law enforcement officers, who are trained, wary, and expecting trouble, conflict escalates quickly and at very close range. For civilians it's even worse (there's far less data available, but the commonly-cited stat is 6 feet.) This is a social reality rather than a technological one; most of the famous Wild West gunfights, if you look them up, took place over a card table. As defensive weapons go, the pistols of the 1700s were more than sufficient at a range of 6-9 feet. For that matter, so is a cavalry saber. The saber - a common weapon of the period - cannot jam, fail to return to battery, double-feed, or be pushed out of battery by contact, like modern pistols. Pistols require a direct hit on the CNS or heart to achieve rapid incapacitation whereas a saber can inflict grevious wounds to extremities that will achieve much the same effect - to say nothing of the torso. The Second Amendment adresses "arms;" comparing only "fire"arms between an era where they were not nearly as dominant a weapon is fallacious and mislesding.
Hell, the long-guns generally weren't even rifles, they were smoothbore, muzzle-loading muskets, and only suitable for mass-volley.
The extremely high ratio of true German-style hunting rifles in the 13 colonies, as compared to mainland Europe, is a well-known fact that has been storied in song and legend. Hardly any account of the Revolution fails to mention the impressive accuracy of the rebels - and their rifles. Regardless, muskets were more common because their accuracy was just fine for shooting a nosy bear - or uninvited guest - at 10 or 20 yards. As useful as the saber was, even a terrible smoothbore musket has a longer reach. And aside from that - they were relatively cheap.
Each weapon was individually produced by a gunsmithing shop, and all parts had to be custom worked to make the weapon function. As a consequence, each weapon was very, very expensive and required service that was itself expensive.
Quite false. The advent of the flint-lock allowed for high reliability, enough to make the musket a primary weapon (unlike the old match-lock) and rather cheap and efficient manufacture (unlike the complex, spring-wound and delicate wheel-lock.) Otherwise entire armies could never have been equipped. A breech-loading rifle design was available in that era, capable of much greater fire rates than muzzleloaders, but no nation could afford to equip an entire army with them. Muskets were, by definition, affordable weapons. In addition, the traveling garb of the period (long coats for protection from the elements while walking or on horseback) allowed for easy concealment of suprisingly bulky weaponry.
The rest of your flawed reasoning and fallacious statements are quite contemporary in nature and reflect a debate I'm sure every Slashdot reader is familiar with, so there's little reason to discuss it. Your poor grasp of history, however, is aggrevating.
There are no shortage of desk jobs in the US military. For every fighting man in the field there are three forklift drivers involved in moving the tons of supplies he consumes, and a desk jockey to do the paperwork for each.
We ar fighting in an age where entire warships can be disabled by computer failures and many enemies are slain by remote controlled drones. We can no longer afford to shut our best and brightest out of the military based on rumors, fear-mongering, pig-headed tradition or machismo.
Our druglords buy uncontrolled firearms (both "regular" and high-power) in the USA, and use them here. So, yes, I do have basis for complaining on the status quo.
Multiple American media outlets made this claim loudly and regularly until the "Fast and Furious" scandal you mentioned broke, which revealed that guns were only crossing the border because the BATFE wanted them to - they specifically forbade gun dealers who were reporting the obvious straw purchasers from refusing them sales so they could carry out their "tracking" scheme. Furthermore, the drugs that fuel the violence and corruption in Mexico come up from South America, and South American manufactured weapons - to say nothing of foreign-manufactured AK-47s and similar weapons - often come with them. Between Central/South America and the United States, which one do you think has a more porous border (by land and sea,) less effective law enforcement and more corrupt local governments?
The civilian market is flooded with powerful, reliable, accurate bolt-action rifles every bit as good, if not better, than the SMLE/Enfield. The Remington 700, which served as the basis for two different US Army sniper rifles, was originally purchased off the shelf for use by snipers in Vietnam. If someone was looking to make money via a rigged competition, they picked a spectacularly poor target for replacement: something with a vast number of cheap, cost-effective and already extant competitors, to re-equip a very small rural force who will probably keep using the same rifles for fifty or sixty years until they shoot THOSE barrels out, too.
The teal dear: essentially an American Soyouz capsule, with a recoverable "capsule" put into orbit by a fully disposable launch system. Nobody seems to know just what the hell the SLS's orbital vehicle will be, or look like - a brief perusal of the wiki articles makes it look more like a desperate attempt to keep as much of the old shuttle program infastructure and supply chain alive as possible (big suprise.) Be it porkbarreling or SpaceX that wins out on the boost vehicle, what will be the orbital vehicle?
There's wide consensus that the Shuttle program was a costly underperformer, but despite its failures it did give us tremendous amounts of data and experience with recoverable, re-usable spacecraft. If we combined a rather large vehicle meant to return with a shuttle-type profile (ceramic heat shield and glide control) with a fully disposable launch and orbital engine system (instead of keeping a costly chunk of it on the vehicle and having to lug it about, like the orbiter's main engine) you could get the best of both worlds - a vehicle larger than what parachute landings and albative heat shields allow for, but small enough to fit on top of a disposable booster (and inside a fairing) and allow for a true launch escape system rather than the very dicey launch setup the shuttles used.
It is refreshing to see some scientists recognizing that a practical, significant counter to global warming that is feasible within the economic and political world we live in will require bigger thinking and more drastic measures. This is of course anathema to the enviromentalist movements behind much of the AGW awareness push, who view enviromental quality as an end unto itself, people be damned.