Clark Lindsey points out this article in The Atlantic about a new attempt by the Planetary Society to launch a solar sail. He also points out Ann Druyan’s and Lou Friedman’s obvious disdain for millionaires more interested in going into space themselves than developing technology or sending robots.
…she can’t get over the general timidity and lack of imagination she keeps encountering, and she’s particularly aghast at the scads of cash some ego-tripping big-money men seem willing to spend on personal space tourism: “Isn’t the whole planet enough for them?” Google’s Sergey Brin—whose company the project also appealed to, unsuccessfully, years ago—is yet another billionaire who hopes to romp around in orbit….
…“Basically, you’re asking somebody to fund an idea,” Friedman admits. He has good science at his back. But if 50 years ago Slava Linkin could not have imagined the disappearance of the U.S.S.R., it’s fair to say that Friedman would not have imagined his own country, the Cold War’s victor, with a space agency so blinkered and elephantine that he has to mount a long guerrilla operation to get his plausible vision off the ground.
He has had the same bellyful of talk about private entrepreneurial funding that Ann Druyan has, and he shares her contempt for the thrill-seeking, space-touring fat cats. But even so, a fundamental optimism survives in him, nourished not just by faith but by disbelief: “You come back to that $4 million, and the chance to take the first step to the stars—how can that not be funded?”
Well, Lou, one way might be that the “fat cats” don’t appreciate being publicly denigrated because they have different priorities than you and Ann do.
I hope that the sail gets funded — it’s a critical technology for the future that could result in reduced costs of doing solar system exploration (and maybe even interstellar, though that’s a much tougher problem). And I can understand their frustration — four million is a rounding error in the Constellation overrun, and in the new currency, in which we could express a mere trillion dollars as a “barack,” it’s only four microbaracks, a drop in the celestial bucket, and couch-cushion change inside the Beltway.
But it makes no more sense to curse millionaires who choose to spend their money on space trips than it does to curse Bill and Melinda Gates because they have better things to do with their money. I suspect that they’re upset with Brin and the others because they think that they should get it, because they’re so close — they’re interested in space — but they don’t quite. It’s probably in their minds a so-close-and-yet-so-far thing, and they view them as traitors to the cause because their space vision is flawed.
But no, Ann. For some, this “whole planet” is not enough. And it’s not enough for you, either. The difference is that you’re satisfied to send a robot emissary out, while others view that as in itself lacking vision. I could be just as churlish as you, and complain that you didn’t spend your studio’s money on developing space tourism, which will grow a large enough market to drop launch costs and improve reliability, so that projects like this solar sail would become much more affordable, and have a better chance of getting to orbit than the first failed attempt. But unlike you, I recognize that people have different visions, and that they’re not mine doesn’t make them wrong, and that their money is theirs to spend as they wish. But the latter notion has apparently gone quite out of fashion in our brave new world of ever-increasing collectivism.
[Update a while later]
I also find it amusing that she considers people who want to go into space “timid” and “lacking imagination.” Apparently her irony detector is on the fritz.