A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, September 19, 2005

Into the Black

For me, NASA is like a collection of mean older siblings; they tease me relentlessly with promises of mankind’s bright future in space, then spitefully dash my wide-eyed hopes upon the rocks of bureaucracy and failure. Seriously, I’m starting to wonder when Administrator Michael Griffin is going to show up at my house to give me an atomic wedgie. But like a good little brother I’m gullible and I love them no matter what, so when they tell me we’re landing four astronauts on the moon by 2018 I believe them. Completely. Wholeheartedly. I’m 35 now, and I’ll be almost 50 when it happens, but I grin like a kid when I think about it. Astronauts back on the moon!

Is it 2018 yet?


Okay, how about now?

Maybe I’ll just sit in the back of Dr. Griffin’s car for the next 13 years and go “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” If I’m going to get teased like a little brother, I might as well be annoying.

Anyway, that is NASA's plan: Finish building an abbreviated version of the International Space Station by 2010, at which time we’ll retire the shuttles. Construct a new launch system and new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) to begin testing by 2012 … manned flights by 2014. 2018 we go to the moon. Ten or fifteen years after that, Mars. I believe them. I have to. It’s what little brothers do.

Of course we have the usual collection of luddites and skinflints who think $100 billion spent over a dozen years is too high a price to begin the human colonization of space; amazing how the very same people never oppose the gigadollars given by the federal government to fund pork-barrel projects in their home states. And then there’s my favorite: The “We Should Learn to Live Peacefully Here On Earth Before We Venture Into Space” crowd. Yes, so true, because 8 billion, then 12 billion, then 20 billion of us all competing for the same limited resources is going to make humanity more peaceful in the coming centuries.

*Rolls eyes*

Actually, Dr. Griffin had something interesting to say on that general subject:

The announcement comes as NASA works to resume operations at vital shuttle facilities affected by Hurricane Katrina, as well as solve external tank foam shedding problems to increase launch safety. But those problems are short-term compared to NASA’s exploration plan, Griffin said.

He said the costs of reconstruction in Katrina's wake should not derail the 13-year plan.

“The space program is a long-term investment in our future,” Griffin said. “We must deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments. When we have a hurricane, we don’t cancel the Air Force. We don’t cancel the Navy. And we’re not going to cancel NASA.”

The cost of science is often high. But the cost of no science is much, much higher; just ask the dinosaurs.

And on a related note, it’s looking like there are by-God shorelines on Saturn’s moon Titan:

Titan Shoreline Posted by Picasa

Of course the temperature is -270 degrees, the sand and rocks are mostly ice, and the ocean is an oily mixture of ethane, methane, and gooey hydrocarbons. It’s still the only body in the solar system besides Earth that shows the kind of weathering we see here: Bays, shores, deltas, rivers, and tributaries. There might even be volcanoes that erupt a syrupy mixture of ammonia and water that flows like lava and builds topography. Chemistry almost certainly happens too slowly in such an environment for life to ever evolve, but still … a world where the geology is based on ice and the oceans are made of something that closely resembles automobile fuel has got to be worth studying.

Lastly, I’m hoping to get the rest of the DragonCon pictures from certain individuals this week. If I do I should have my second annual DragonCon photo essay up by Friday.

Peace y’all.