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Who’s Best For Space?

The San Francisco Chronicle has some positions on space policy from the presidential candidates.

Sen. John Edwards: “I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress. A manned mission to Mars is in the American tradition of setting ambitious goals for exploring space, but we must be able to pay for the program.”

What does that mean? Sounds like he’s saying it would be a nice thing to do if we can afford it, but he doesn’t know whether we can, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a priority of his to find a way to do it. And of course he focuses on the mission to Mars, with no hint of an understanding of broader issues or purposes.

This isn’t a statement that’s going to gather any significant support from the space activist community (not that it’s an important voting block). He’s just trying to avoid taking an actual position.

Sen. John Kerry: “Our civilian space program represents a great
opportunity for scientific research. Sending a person to Mars is a great mission worthy of a great nation like America. Given the Bush budget deficit, it is imperative that we balance funding for a manned mission to Mars against critical domestic needs as well, such as education and health care.”

Again, hardly a forthright declaration of intent, and again, the focus is on sending someone to Mars. And again, no sophistication or nuance, or indication of an understanding of the issues.

Also, it betrays either a fundamental ignorance of budgetary matters, or disingenuousness (you can guess where my money would be), because it implies that the budgets for space, and education and health care are somehow comparable, and that there is a scale on which we could place space on one side, and the social programs on the other, and it would be roughly balanced. The reality, of course, is that you could pay for a mission to Mars with a single month’s expenditure on those other items, and get a lot of change.

You could fund an invigorated space program with a tiny fraction of the education and health budgets, but if you took all the funding going into federal space activities and put it into education and health, it would hardly be noticed.

Both Kerry’s and Edwards’ statements are empty motherhood, but Kerry’s seems more cynical to me.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “An International Space Station in Earth orbit is a far more practical launch platform than a base on the moon. So, if we as a nation decide to send manned missions to Mars, I would not support construction of a lunar base. In regard to space exploration, we are faced with an unprecedented national deficit and a war without end, both of which will force this nation to abandon many hopes, dreams and aspirations, including space exploration, if allowed to continue.”

I actually like Kucinich’ position better. It seems much more honest.

I don’t agree with it, and he’s technically wrong, but it looks like he’s actually given the matter some thought, in the warped mindset in which he lives, and he actually has a position. It sounds as though he’d actually try to fund something (albeit at the expense of the Pentagon budget).

Al Sharpton: No response.

No surprise. No disappointment, either, except that he might have said something amusing.

President Bush: No response.”

No need for one. He’s on record as of January 14th what his space policy is.

From a purely space policy standpoint, I think that George Bush is the best candidate. His policy’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over that of Clinton, and either Kerry or Edwards would be likely to return to a more Clintonesque policy, with emphasis on jobs and international cooperation, and a lack of interest in actual accomplishments. To the degree that the president’s policy is a good one, they can almost be counted upon to reverse it simply because it’s his, and there’s nothing in either of their stated positions here to indicate that their replacement would be an improvement in any way.

Who’s Best For Space?

The San Francisco Chronicle has some positions on space policy from the presidential candidates.

Sen. John Edwards: “I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress. A manned mission to Mars is in the American tradition of setting ambitious goals for exploring space, but we must be able to pay for the program.”

What does that mean? Sounds like he’s saying it would be a nice thing to do if we can afford it, but he doesn’t know whether we can, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a priority of his to find a way to do it. And of course he focuses on the mission to Mars, with no hint of an understanding of broader issues or purposes.

This isn’t a statement that’s going to gather any significant support from the space activist community (not that it’s an important voting block). He’s just trying to avoid taking an actual position.

Sen. John Kerry: “Our civilian space program represents a great
opportunity for scientific research. Sending a person to Mars is a great mission worthy of a great nation like America. Given the Bush budget deficit, it is imperative that we balance funding for a manned mission to Mars against critical domestic needs as well, such as education and health care.”

Again, hardly a forthright declaration of intent, and again, the focus is on sending someone to Mars. And again, no sophistication or nuance, or indication of an understanding of the issues.

Also, it betrays either a fundamental ignorance of budgetary matters, or disingenuousness (you can guess where my money would be), because it implies that the budgets for space, and education and health care are somehow comparable, and that there is a scale on which we could place space on one side, and the social programs on the other, and it would be roughly balanced. The reality, of course, is that you could pay for a mission to Mars with a single month’s expenditure on those other items, and get a lot of change.

You could fund an invigorated space program with a tiny fraction of the education and health budgets, but if you took all the funding going into federal space activities and put it into education and health, it would hardly be noticed.

Both Kerry’s and Edwards’ statements are empty motherhood, but Kerry’s seems more cynical to me.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “An International Space Station in Earth orbit is a far more practical launch platform than a base on the moon. So, if we as a nation decide to send manned missions to Mars, I would not support construction of a lunar base. In regard to space exploration, we are faced with an unprecedented national deficit and a war without end, both of which will force this nation to abandon many hopes, dreams and aspirations, including space exploration, if allowed to continue.”

I actually like Kucinich’ position better. It seems much more honest.

I don’t agree with it, and he’s technically wrong, but it looks like he’s actually given the matter some thought, in the warped mindset in which he lives, and he actually has a position. It sounds as though he’d actually try to fund something (albeit at the expense of the Pentagon budget).

Al Sharpton: No response.

No surprise. No disappointment, either, except that he might have said something amusing.

President Bush: No response.”

No need for one. He’s on record as of January 14th what his space policy is.

From a purely space policy standpoint, I think that George Bush is the best candidate. His policy’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over that of Clinton, and either Kerry or Edwards would be likely to return to a more Clintonesque policy, with emphasis on jobs and international cooperation, and a lack of interest in actual accomplishments. To the degree that the president’s policy is a good one, they can almost be counted upon to reverse it simply because it’s his, and there’s nothing in either of their stated positions here to indicate that their replacement would be an improvement in any way.

Who’s Best For Space?

The San Francisco Chronicle has some positions on space policy from the presidential candidates.

Sen. John Edwards: “I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress. A manned mission to Mars is in the American tradition of setting ambitious goals for exploring space, but we must be able to pay for the program.”

What does that mean? Sounds like he’s saying it would be a nice thing to do if we can afford it, but he doesn’t know whether we can, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a priority of his to find a way to do it. And of course he focuses on the mission to Mars, with no hint of an understanding of broader issues or purposes.

This isn’t a statement that’s going to gather any significant support from the space activist community (not that it’s an important voting block). He’s just trying to avoid taking an actual position.

Sen. John Kerry: “Our civilian space program represents a great
opportunity for scientific research. Sending a person to Mars is a great mission worthy of a great nation like America. Given the Bush budget deficit, it is imperative that we balance funding for a manned mission to Mars against critical domestic needs as well, such as education and health care.”

Again, hardly a forthright declaration of intent, and again, the focus is on sending someone to Mars. And again, no sophistication or nuance, or indication of an understanding of the issues.

Also, it betrays either a fundamental ignorance of budgetary matters, or disingenuousness (you can guess where my money would be), because it implies that the budgets for space, and education and health care are somehow comparable, and that there is a scale on which we could place space on one side, and the social programs on the other, and it would be roughly balanced. The reality, of course, is that you could pay for a mission to Mars with a single month’s expenditure on those other items, and get a lot of change.

You could fund an invigorated space program with a tiny fraction of the education and health budgets, but if you took all the funding going into federal space activities and put it into education and health, it would hardly be noticed.

Both Kerry’s and Edwards’ statements are empty motherhood, but Kerry’s seems more cynical to me.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “An International Space Station in Earth orbit is a far more practical launch platform than a base on the moon. So, if we as a nation decide to send manned missions to Mars, I would not support construction of a lunar base. In regard to space exploration, we are faced with an unprecedented national deficit and a war without end, both of which will force this nation to abandon many hopes, dreams and aspirations, including space exploration, if allowed to continue.”

I actually like Kucinich’ position better. It seems much more honest.

I don’t agree with it, and he’s technically wrong, but it looks like he’s actually given the matter some thought, in the warped mindset in which he lives, and he actually has a position. It sounds as though he’d actually try to fund something (albeit at the expense of the Pentagon budget).

Al Sharpton: No response.

No surprise. No disappointment, either, except that he might have said something amusing.

President Bush: No response.”

No need for one. He’s on record as of January 14th what his space policy is.

From a purely space policy standpoint, I think that George Bush is the best candidate. His policy’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over that of Clinton, and either Kerry or Edwards would be likely to return to a more Clintonesque policy, with emphasis on jobs and international cooperation, and a lack of interest in actual accomplishments. To the degree that the president’s policy is a good one, they can almost be counted upon to reverse it simply because it’s his, and there’s nothing in either of their stated positions here to indicate that their replacement would be an improvement in any way.

Marching Morons

Last fall, some clueless Arizona legislators were contemplating handing over the state cryonics industry to the funeral industry.

The notion was roundly and appropriately panned, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have gone away. They’re still at it.

If you’re an Arizona resident, and interested in extending your life (or just slapping down legislative stupidity), use the tips at this site and contact your state representative.

[Update on Thursday morning]

Looks like most AZ legislators have more sense than Mr. Stump. Thanks to vigorous action on the part of Alcor, this bill is going nowhere.

[Update on Friday]

Ron Bailey has further commentary.

Endquote and good point:

Far from protection for frozen heads, this looks like just another attempt to use government to restrict competition—because, in a devoutly-to-be-wished world where cryonics dreams come true, the undertakers, and their regulators, will be out of business. And good riddance.

Safe Enough?

Well, I was wrong.

A year ago, right after the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I predicted that the standdown from the Columbia disaster wouldn’t be anywhere near as long as the one after the loss of the Challenger (over two years), but it now looks as though it may in fact approach it.

My reasons for that prediction were two:

First, that the shuttle was needed to support the continued construction and maintenance of the space station (a circumstance that didn’t hold in the late 1980s). Second, I didn’t think that the investigation would reveal as much of a problem this time as when Challenger was lost, in terms of poor NASA judgement.

But apparently, in the wake of the harsh criticism of the Gehman Commission, NASA has become ultraconservative in Shuttle operations. The unwillingness to risk a Hubble maintenance mission is one symptom of this. The recent announcement that the first post-Columbia flight will be delayed until at least a year from now is another.

I didn’t agree with the Hubble decision (and continue to disagree), and I think that NASA is being too cautious now in delaying return to flight. Of course, I thought they were after Challenger as well–they could have safely flown a month later, as long as they did it in reasonably warm weather that wouldn’t freeze O-rings, and much of the redesign of the Solid Rocket Booster joints was overkill, or at least it wasn’t necessary to wait until it was complete to start flying again.

Is the Shuttle as safe to fly as it can possibly be right now? No, but that’s a foolish standard.

While “Safety First” has a nice ring to it, there has to be a rational balance between safety and effectiveness. After all, the safest flight of a Shuttle (or for that matter, any vehicle) is the one that doesn’t occur at all (effectively the course taken over the past year, and apparently the next as well).

We are spending almost as much on the Shuttle when it doesn’t fly as we would if it were–NASA can’t simply put the processing staff in cold storage until they decide to fly again, and if they lay them off, there’s a good chance that they won’t be available when they decide to return to flight, so we’re spending the money and getting very little value for it.

I’ve long argued that, despite the national keening and wailing when astronauts die, the real asset at risk in a Shuttle launch is the orbiter itself, of which we now have only three left, and each of which would cost many years and several billion dollars to replace, given that the tooling needed to build them, and many of the subcontractors who contributed to their construction no longer exist. We simply couldn’t afford to risk losing another one, and have any hope of maintaining a viable fleet into the future.

But that argument went away on January 14th, when the president announced his new space policy.

In fact, as September 11, 2001 was a watershed date in our foreign policy, January 14th, 2004 was, or at least should be seen as, a similar demarcation in national space policy. On that date, among other things, it became formal policy of the United States that we would no longer rely on the Space Shuttle into the indefinite future. That policy implicitly converted the Shuttle fleet from a precious and irreplaceable asset to be protected at all costs, to a depreciating one, from which as much value should be extracted as possible before it is retired in a few years.

The Gehman Commission report came out before January 14, and while it requested a new space policy vision, it didn’t necessarily anticipate it. While it recommended augmenting Shuttle with a new manned launch system, it didn’t necessarily recommend eliminating the Shuttle quite as quickly, and if it had, the recommendations might have been a little different. To the degree that NASA policy remains driven by the CAIB recommendations, it would be useful to have a reconvening of the commission and revisit them to determine if the president’s new policy might modify them.

Under the new policy, there will be no more than another couple dozen flights or so of the fleet. It’s unlikely that what happened to Columbia will happen to another vehicle, because even if the foam problem isn’t fixed, the chances of a repeat over that number of missions is very low. After all, this was the first time it happened in over a hundred. And even if there is another event, we could probably still complete the ISS with the remaining fleet of two, though it might delay it another year or so. In addition, the president’s policy implies that completion of the ISS is no longer an urgent national goal (most Beltway insiders know that the main reason it wasn’t cancelled was to avoid upsetting the international partners–not because it’s in any way essential to the new goals).

Under those circumstances, we really should ask ourselves if the costs of modifying the Shuttle system for improved safety, and the opportunity costs of not flying while continuing to pay the salaries of the Shuttle program personnel, are really worth the avoided (low) risk of not losing another orbiter and crew.

A rational assessment might indicate that the answer is no, but then, one can’t always expect rational assessments to prevail in programs so dominated by politics as our space program remains, and I suspect that decisions will continue to be made on the basis of a mindset that’s “soooo January 13th.”

Defending The Planet

Leonard David continues to report from this week’s planetary defense conference in Garden Grove, CA.

The consensus? We need to get more serious about this threat.

NASA now supports — in collaboration with the United States Air Force — the Spaceguard Survey and its goal of discovering and tracking 90 percent of the Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) with a diameter greater than about one-half mile (1 kilometer) by 2008. If one of these big bruisers were to strike our planet, it would spark catastrophic global effects that would include severe regional devastation and global climate change.

By charting the whereabouts of these celestial objects, it is anticipated that decades of warning time is likely if one of the large-sized space boulders was found to be on a heading that intersects Earth.

But a uniform message from the experts attending this week’s planetary defense gathering is extending the survey to spot smaller objects, down to some 500 feet (150 meters) in diameter. These asteroids can wreak havoc too, but on a more localized scale.

For instance, if one of these smaller asteroids were to strike along the California coast, millions of people might be killed, Morrison said. A little further to the east, he added, “a nice crater out in the desert” would become a tourist attraction…

…Developing a viable mitigation campaign, Yeomans explained, demands three prerequisites: “You need to find them early. You need to find them early. And we need to find them early.”

This needs to be more closely coordinated with the president’s new space policy, both programmatically and politically.

Failed Dreams

Dwayne Day has the conclusion to his piece at The Space Review on the history of the SEI program. A key point, that I’ve often made, and one that the Easterbrooks and other spewers of costing nonsense should understand:

One of the major problems facing NASA was a cultural one, an inability to think of new human spaceflight projects in terms other than the Apollo paradigm. During Apollo, NASA had gotten a huge amount of money and a great deal of autonomy and many at the agency still thought they would conduct SEI in the same manner. They therefore felt no pressure to keep costs under control.

But in addition to the cultural inability of agency personnel to stop thinking in terms of Apollo budgets, NASA, like all government agencies, had to deal with different internal and external constituencies, each clamoring for its own priorities. The space agency’s facilities are spread throughout the country at various field centers, each of which represents different interests such as human spaceflight and robotic exploration, and each having advocates in Congress. In addition, NASA has also had a less obvious rivalry between its scientists, who want to collect data, and its engineers, who want to build equipment. In many ways the 90-Day Study was a reflection of all of these conflicts within the agency, combined with an unwillingness by NASA Headquarters to clearly establish priorities, starting by saying no to some of its constituencies.

An Empty Lap

When I first saw her, she was small enough to hold in my hand.

My lover of the past seven years had just moved out, and taken custody of the cat (only fair, since it was originally hers). In sudden need of feline companionship (generally easier and faster to replace than the feminine variety–at least a satisfactory replacement), I responded to an ad on the bulletin board in the local grocery in El Segundo, and went to a house a few blocks from mine that was dispensing kittens from a recent litter.

They were standard-issue tabbies, though a claim was made that they had a Siamese grandmother. There were four of them, playing with each other. That is, three of them were playing, and one was standing back, more aloof. It was a grayish color, with just a hint of brown stripes. It was a little smaller than the others, and looked to be the runt.

I reached over and scratched between its outsized ears. It didn’t seem afraid.

“Her name is Francesca,” one of the girls of the household offered helpfully. I opined that it was a pretty big moniker for such a little cat.

I picked it up to inspect the nether regions, in order to verify the gender, and allow it to be henceforth described by a slightly more specific pronoun. After the inspection, she (as it indeed turned out to be) curled up in my hand, and promptly fell asleep.

I realized that my choice was to either wake her up, or take her with me. She seemed to have adopted me, and it was the beginning of a long relationship in which she would, whenever possible, seek (and generally find, at least for a while) slothful slumber on various temporarily horizontal parts of my body.

I think that she left her mother too soon–she wasn’t properly weaned (perhaps partly because she was the runt of the litter, and could never get enough). For years after I got her, she would suck my finger with gusto if I offered it to her. It also took her a while to learn to, in Garrison Keillor’s immortal words, work up the courage to do what needs to be done.

When I first got her home, Stella (as I subsequently renamed her) hid under various articles of furniture for the first couple days. I gradually coaxed her out with bowls of food and milk.

At first, she wouldn’t go outside. Gradually, she started to adventure out the door, but she would only go as far as the extent of the shade of the house, stopping at the terminator drawn by the sun. She was like a little groundhog, fearing her own shadow.

But eventually, she worked up the grit and gumption to explore the whole yard, and after a few weeks, she would come in only for food and to sleep on me, two passions in which she indulged herself almost to the end of her days.

It turned out that the aloofness toward her siblings at our first meeting was not out of character–Stella hated cats with a fierce passion (again, perhaps a symptom of having to fight for her place at the dairy, and often losing). I’m not sure what she thought she was.

Accordingly, when Patricia brought Jessica into the house a few years later, she didn’t take well to the interloper, growling at her whenever in her presence (other than at dinner time, when she was too busy stuffing her jowls to notice the other cat next door).

Taking her away from her mother early didn’t seem to have damaged her other natural instincts–she was a great ratter, one time cleaning out the garage from an infestation. But she’d been slowing down in recent years, as she approached her fifteenth birthday.

I dropped her off at the vet on Thursday evening for a follow-up visit from her hospital stay last week. She’d been eating all right for the past couple days, but I didn’t get a chance to feed her before I took her in, because I had been working late and had to get her there before the office closed. I boarded her there for the weekend because I was going away, and there was no one else who could get the pills into her twice daily. I planned to pick her up on Monday morning before work.

On Friday, I got a call from the vet. She told me that her blood count was back down as low as it was when I first brought her in the previous week, and that she was extremely weak again, with a lowered temperature. She was afraid that there was more going on than just the blood parasite that had been diagnosed, and for which she was being treated. She thought that without another transfusion, she would not last long.

Unfortunately, even with another transfusion, the prognosis was poor, and it would be very expensive, because this time she would have to go to an emergency clinic to have the blood typed, and a battery of tests to determine what the problem was. She feared that it was perhaps a previously undiagnosed cancer.

The choices were to spend thousands of dollars to keep her alive a while longer, or to see if she could fight her way back again, and hope for the best. She didn’t seem to be suffering, other than being very weak, so there was no consideration of euthanizing her. I was torn because I was two thousand miles away, and didn’t want her to die alone, in a strange place, but I was helpless, short of spending a lot of money that I didn’t have, probably in futility.

We decided to give her one more chance to fight her way through, as she had the previous weekend, but with little hope.

On Saturday, the doctor called to tell me that the fierce little flame had finally flickered out in the night. No more clawing furniture, or catching rats, or sitting on laps, unless she’s gone to a place where all those feline recreations are available in abundance, and perpetuity. Jessica now has no one to annoy by batting her tail, or leaping from heights.

She’ll be cremated, and I’ll scatter the ashes in the yard in which she spent so many contented hours playing and sunning.

How do these little creatures insinuate themselves so deeply, so inextricably into our lives and hearts? We’ve bred them for certain traits over the millennia, but in some ways, just as they adopt us now (as Stella adopted me), perhaps they’ve bred us as well, in a coevolution. It’s hard to know, but I suspect that when we spread our consciousness into the universe, theirs will go with us. And if I go myself, I think I’ll save a few of the carbon atoms from her corporeal existence to take along as well.

Off Line Again

I just got back from an LA Press Club event, where I met Geitner Simmons, who proved a very affable and knowledgable gentleman from the Tarheel State, though he’s now living in Omaha. He’s working on a book on the links between the cultures of the American West and the American South.

I’m flying to Michigan early tomorrow to visit family, so there won’t be any free ice cream until Monday. But heck, you don’t want any anyway–it’s winter time.

A Misleading Debate

Stanley Kurtz enjoyed the “great debate,” mostly, it would seem, because it played to his own preconceptions. It set up the false choice of doing science with robots versus doing science (and more broadly, exploration) with humans.

He drew an analogy to the colonization of America that begged every question about cost, practicality, and timing. Zubrin?s five hundred year colonization time line turns his vision into a de facto fantasy.

I think that “fantasy” is too strong a word. There’s certainly nothing intrinsically impossible about it (just as there’s nothing intrinsically expensive about space activities, at least not anywhere near as expensive as present practice would indicate), but of course no one can predict anything even decades out, let alone centuries. Zubrin’s simply offering one potentially plausible timeline.

I, for one, think that it’s foolish to even have a plan to put a man on Mars in 2030 right now (which is why arguments against the president’s goals based on cost are absurd, since no one can know now how we’ll do it, and therefore how much it will cost). The technologies are evolving too fast, and it’s quite possible that the private sector (e.g., the Mars Society, or even the National Geographic Society) will be in a position to do it by then. Any firm plan that government officials come up with now is almost certain to be overtaken by events.

People argue against the New World analogy on two bases–the potential for material returns from space, and the high costs and technological barriers to achieving such returns.

What they forget is that many came to the Americas not just for material wealth, but for spiritual freedom. The resources that were here were not necessarily employed in trade with the old world, but were often for subsistence as a means of practicing their own religion (the LDS being the most notable example). The same will apply to space, where technologies on the immediate horizon will allow groups of people to live off the land (so to speak), free to pursue their own visions of society.

We are really not that far from the point at which it will be (barely) affordable for a middle class family to purchase the means to emigrate off planet (passage to America, or the purchase of a Conestoga wagon required the sales of much of a family’s assets, and once an infrastructure is established off planet, the equivalent functionality will be comparable in cost–Freeman Dyson has written about this extensively).

Frankly, I found these remarks just baffling:

I came away from the Mars debate still seeing colonization as a sort of libertarian heaven. I used to think libertarians, while giving short shrift to the social preconditions of liberty, were at least a hard headed lot. But the libertarian fascination with Mars increasingly strikes me as a quirky (if harmless) utopian fantasy. If anything, the radical precariousness of a Martian colony would necessitate a high degree of human interdependence. The Mars fantasy strikes me as a way of pretending that, if we could just wipe the slate clean, the necessities of social life which continually emerge to frustrate libertarian hopes would somehow disappear. Isn?t this just Marx in reverse?

I don’t know what this debate had to do with libertarianism. Zubrin is no libertarian, and certainly Park is not. This comment might have some relevance if there had been a libertarian in the debate, but there wasn’t. Park wants to send robots to space to do science with government funding, and Zubrin wants to send humans to Mars with government funding. Where’s the libertarianism?

As a comment outside the context of the debate, Dr. Kurtz’ position is one shared by many, but the point is not that space is by its nature a libertarian utopia, any more than (and yes, I know he dislikes the analogy, but that doesn’t make it invalid) were the Americas two and a half centuries ago. Yet somehow we created a form of government here previously unseen in the history of the world, that was quite libertarian in philosophy (certainly much more so than either major party today).

From the standpoint of forming new societies, the point of settling space is that it’s a tabula rasa, and that many different groups and ideologies will find room there to do social experimentation. This is a factor that is independent of technology. Yes, cooperation will be required, and perhaps even laws, but there’s nothing intrinsically unlibertarian about that. Ignoring teleological arguments about our duty to be the vessels that bring consciousness to the universe, this is to me the greatest value of space–an ongoing large petri dish in which groups of like-minded people can continue to seek improvements on society, unconstrained by existing governmental strictures that are now dominant on this planet.

It provides the best opportunity to perform the kinds of controlled experiments that might more conclusively resolve the kinds of issues that so greatly concern Dr. Kurtz. Comparing Sweden to the US to determine the potential effects of gay marriage is interesting, but not necessarily enlightening–there are too many extraneous factors to draw firm conclusions. I would think that this should be an exciting prospect to a social anthropologist, and wonder why it is not.

And I wish that he had attended this debate instead. There he could have found a true libertarian (though not a particularly knowledgable one) in the form of Ed Hudgins, but he would also have heard a broader (and more useful) range of viewpoints than one will ever get from a battle of the Bobs.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Will Wilkinson has a seemingly unrelated post, but not so much as it might seem.

…what we need is a theory of just how libertarian a particular society could possibly get, given human psychology, the set of social and economic relations, the available mechanisms of persuasion, and the set of belief systems or “macro mythologies”, at a given time, plus the dynamics that govern changes in these things. My guess is that for US society starting today, it’s possible to get significantly more libertarian, but not radically more libertarian. What might that society look like?

A point that evolutionists make is that nature has to work with the materials available, so pandas build thumbs out of existing radial bones. I suspect that if we want to truly implement new societies, we’ll have to start, at least in some sense, from scratch (at least in terms of existing governmental structures, if not cultures), and there’s really no place left on this planet in which it’s possible to do that.

Where There’s A Will

I don’t have much time to write, but fortunately some of my readers do.

Mitchell Burnside Clapp, of Pioneer Rocketplane, has been commenting on spacesuit gloves in the previous post, but he also passes along some comments, via email, about how much smarter we are now than we were in the sixties.

I was thinking recently about NASA and its desire to invest heavily in new technologies to develop better launch vehicles. I know this is worthy work and that NASA’s charter requires them to do a fair bit of this sort of thing, but I can’t help be reminded of the kids who spend a hundred bucks on top of the line basketball shoes in the hopes that it will give them game.

Continue reading

Where There’s A Will

I don’t have much time to write, but fortunately some of my readers do.

Mitchell Burnside Clapp, of Pioneer Rocketplane, has been commenting on spacesuit gloves in the previous post, but he also passes along some comments, via email, about how much smarter we are now than we were in the sixties.

I was thinking recently about NASA and its desire to invest heavily in new technologies to develop better launch vehicles. I know this is worthy work and that NASA’s charter requires them to do a fair bit of this sort of thing, but I can’t help be reminded of the kids who spend a hundred bucks on top of the line basketball shoes in the hopes that it will give them game.

Continue reading

Where There’s A Will

I don’t have much time to write, but fortunately some of my readers do.

Mitchell Burnside Clapp, of Pioneer Rocketplane, has been commenting on spacesuit gloves in the previous post, but he also passes along some comments, via email, about how much smarter we are now than we were in the sixties.

I was thinking recently about NASA and its desire to invest heavily in new technologies to develop better launch vehicles. I know this is worthy work and that NASA’s charter requires them to do a fair bit of this sort of thing, but I can’t help be reminded of the kids who spend a hundred bucks on top of the line basketball shoes in the hopes that it will give them game.

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Off Line

Sorry, for the light posting, but I’m frantically busy, still have a convalescing cat (who’s unfortunately still not out of the woods), still have a furnace that isn’t working (I’m pretty sure I’ll have to replace the valve, whenever I can find the time to pull it off and go find a replacement), and am off to Florida for the weekend to see my darling Patricia.

See you Monday.

Discussing The Issues

This looks like a much more interesting and broad-based discussion than the Park/Zubrin debate. It still has Park, but now we’ll get some other viewpoints into the arena, instead of narrowly focusing on man vs robots.

Wish I could be there.

The New NASA Moon Hoax

Some people are claiming that the president’s new space policy is a hoax.

There have long been deluded people who believe that the moon landing was a hoax, but these new accusers are supposed to be mainstream journalists, and respected former NASA historians.

Of course, what they mean is that the president isn’t serious–that this is just a reelection ploy in a reelection year.

This is a preposterous claim, to anyone familiar with space policy and its history. With the possible exception of Jack Kennedy’s moon program (and even that is highly doubtful), no space policy has ever been one on which public votes were cast, other than possibly in districts that directly benefited from it, such as Houston, TX, Huntsville, AL, and the area around Cape Canaveral in Florida. Even in the latter cases, it’s not clear that it’s ever been a dominant issue in any election.

Some might argue that, while Texas and Alabama are in the bag for the president this year, Florida is a swing state on which the election notoriously hinged the last time, and a new space initiative could bring it firmly into the president’s column. But it’s not necessary to announce a visionary space policy to do so. It would have been sufficient to give lip service to continuing the space shuttle and space station programs, because those constituencies’ primary interest is in jobs, not planets.

Well, actually, there is another exception to the rule of space having no impact on elections, and a clear (and negative) one. Former Apollo astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was, for a time, a US Senator from New Mexico, his home state. That time didn’t last long, because he was perceived by his constituents as being too interested in Mars, and not sufficiently interested in the Land of Enchantment. His winning opponent’s campaign slogan was “What on earth has Jack Schmitt done for us”?

No one has ever won an election in similar circumstances. To the degree that we have empirical data on the matter, support of visionary space programs is not a vote getter, but a vote loser.

Consider the International Space Station. President Reagan announced it twenty years ago this year. It was originally supposed to fly in the early nineteen nineties. Now, the goal is to complete it by the end of this decade, over a quarter of a century after it was first announced.

Has there been any great hue and cry amongst the populace over our lack of a space station? Has anyone at NASA been fired because we don’t yet really have one?

No, because no politician has ever been fired because we don’t have one. It’s simply not important, politically.

Oh, yes, polls show support for space activities, but it’s a mile wide and an inch deep. People like it well enough, but when asked to make a choice between spending on space, and spending on, well, almost anything else, space rarely even shows, let alone places.

But wait, there’s more!

As I already said, the only practical way that a positive space policy ever translates into votes is in terms of its impact on local jobs at traditional NASA centers. But one of the new (and subtle) things about the president’s new policy is that it throws uncertainty into the potential effects at specific locations. One of the barriers to effective management of NASA programs has long been the undue influence of major NASA space centers, which leverage their local congressmen and Senators to support them on the Hill, often to the detriment of the program itself. There’s an old saying inside the Capital Beltway, that “NASA headquarters doesn’t have any congressmen.”

Administrator O’Keefe, presumably with the support of the administration, seems determined to change this. He’s pulled back management of the new exploration program to a new office at NASA headquarters in Washington, and he’s made no promises to any of the centers about which aspects, if any, they’ll be responsible for. Again, as Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society points out, this is not a sign that the administration is attempting to curry favor with the voters in an election year–if anything, it’s the opposite.

So the notion that the president’s speech last month announcing a new direction for NASA was simply election-year politics, upon a serious examination, is ludicrous on its face.

So how do supposedly competent commentators get it so wrong?

Well, in the case of Joshua Micah Marshall, the author of the drive-by hit job on the president’s policy, it can be attributed to a combination of ignorance about space policy (a subject that he rarely comments on), and a well-established animus to President Bush, as exhibited on an almost daily basis in his weblog. The ignorance is demonstrated by the fact that he never even mentions in his comment the loss of Columbia a year ago, let alone suggests that it might have something to do with new space policy a few months after the release of the investigation of the report on that event.

Neither knowledgable or even casual observers of space policy would make such an omission, because it is clear that the formulation of the new space policy was accelerated, if not initiated, by it. The status quo was clearly no longer acceptable after it, because it was equally clear that the long-term continuation of a manned space program was not possible with a fragile fleet of three shuttle orbiters.

Former NASA historian Alex Roland has less excuse, because he’s supposed to be knowledgable about such things. Blogger Thomas James has dissected his unprofessional screed, and space historian (and policy analyst to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board) Dwayne Day has completed the job.

Given his supposed knowledge, Professor Roland’s piece can only be attributed to undiluted Bush hatred (as evidenced by the use of the tell-tale word “Halliburton” in his little rant).

I warned about this a couple weeks ago. Space policy is largely being discussed in a knowledge vacuum, and not on the basis of its intrinsic features, but rather, on who supports it.

Perhaps the real hoax being perpetrated here is by those who argue against policies and politics of which they apparently know nothing, as a surrogate for what’s sure to be a brutal upcoming political campaign.

My Doctor Laura Moment

Some people have pointed out this story as one of love conquers all, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

They talked about their families and found out that they had both been abandoned by their fathers as toddlers, and both were anxious to build stronger families. Blackwell’s first marriage had collapsed and he had two daughters by two different women, but he insisted he was ready to start again.

Three months after their palace date, Blackwell – fed up with dating across the razor-wire – was already thinking about getting married. “It just felt like the right thing to do,” he says now. “It was something that was more than us. I didn’t want to give up something like that.”

“He doesn’t make plans,” McKee [his mother--ed] adds by way of explanation.

Anyone want to make book on the long-term (or even short-term) prospects for this marriage?

Nomination Race Over?

I see that Kerry is winning TN and VA today, which makes his eventual ascendancy almost inevitable. It looks like Terry McAuliffe got his wish for an early candidate.

He should have been careful what he wished for. I find it amusing that, in their rush to find someone “electable,” the Donks are nominating someone who hasn’t yet demonstrated an ability to take a punch, since all of the other candidates were beating up on each other instead of him.

It will be interesting to see the Bush strategy–whether they start hammering him soon, let it dribble out over the next eight months, or save the good stuff for the fall. Certainly, from the war-criminal accusations, the Jane Fonda love fest, the throwing someone else’s medal over the White House fence, the contradictory votes, the faux populism, the hypocrisy on special interests, the “Do you know who I am?”s, etc., there’s a wealth of ammunition for Karl Rove to work with, as the economy improves and we shift responsibility for Iraq to the Iraqis through the summer and fall.

Stella Update

Boy, this has become kind of an internet version of a kid in a well, but I’ve had so much interest and well wishes in the situation that I’ll provide an update.

I just got a call from the vet, and the short answer is that she doesn’t know what’s going on, except that the red cell count is down to ten percent, which is below the level at which they normally transfuse.

There’s no fever, and in fact she’s hypothermic, so they’re keeping blankets on her. No problems with kidney or liver function. She’s wondering if it’s some kind of parasite, but won’t know until they do an outside lab test. She’ll probably need blood, and at least an overnight stay tonite, neither of which are available at her current facility, so I’ll have to move her (or have them do it).

That’s all she knows for now.

They Had A Plan

Lileks has a devastating case against those who say that Bush had a plan to invade Iraq before 911 (hint, he wasn’t the first, or only president…)

?If Saddam isn?t stopped now,? the AP story said, quoting Clinton,?He will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And someday, someway, I guarantee you, he?ll use that arsenal.?? Thus spake Clinton in 1998. He went on to note that the strikes planned could not possibly destroy Saddam?s arsenal, because A) they didn?t know where everything was, and B) they didn?t want to kill Iraqis by unleashing clouds of toxins. And it gets better: a sidebar noted that this war plan ? Desert Thunder ? had been prepared weeks before, in case Saddam stiffed in the inspectors.

Bill Clinton had a plan to go to war before the crisis flared! What does that tell you? Obviously, he was looking for any excuse! Halliburton! We all know about the ties between Clinton and Halliburton ? he gave them a sweet no-bid contract after his Balkans war, you know.

You’ll have to scroll through some blogging about (potentially apocryphal) ancient racist popular music first, though.

Speaking Of My Sick Furnace

Maybe some of my smart readership can help.

It quit working the other day. I went in and looked at it, and the wiring from the thermostat had lost all its insulation and was extremely oxidized–it looked like a long, anorexic green worm. I figured the problem was that it had quit conducting, and replaced the bad sections with new wiring.

No joy.

I’ve an electronic thermostat (about ten years old or so), and it indicates that it’s working (the temperature LCD flashes when it’s supposedly telling the furnace to burn). I’ve always thought that the voltage on these things is supposed to be 24VAC, but when I disconnected the wiring and measured it, it was only fourteen. Is this indicative of a problem? Is it possible that the wiring was OK, and that I have a different problem? Like a bad thermocouple?

Does anyone have any theories, and experiments I could run?

“The Only Viable Reason”

Alan Boyle has a review of the Great Debate, and publishes some emails from his readers. I found this one amusingly (but also sadly) wacky:

The only viable reason for space exploration or study is to learn as much as possible about the stars and planets without man physically interfering. There is no rational justification for manned space exploration! None! Neither does man (American or otherwise) need to colonize the planets. The only reason this country is pursuing space exploration is to locate minerals and natural planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit! Scientists are being used; they are positively stupid and unintelligent if they think for one minute President Bush is promoting space exploration for true scientific study.

Yes, those exclamation marks sure make the argument more persuasive…

Would that his paranoid ravings were true. I’d love for us to be “locating minerals and planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit” (with or without exclamation marks), but I certainly heard nothing about that in the president’s plans.

It’s a little frustrating to be blamed for something that isn’t happening, when we’d like to see it happen–we get all the bad press with none of the benefits.

And why do these loons think that just because they value only “pure science” that everyone does? I wonder where he thinks that the computer into which he typed this monumental ignorance came from, if not by “exploiting minerals and planetary wealth”?

“The Only Viable Reason”

Alan Boyle has a review of the Great Debate, and publishes some emails from his readers. I found this one amusingly (but also sadly) wacky:

The only viable reason for space exploration or study is to learn as much as possible about the stars and planets without man physically interfering. There is no rational justification for manned space exploration! None! Neither does man (American or otherwise) need to colonize the planets. The only reason this country is pursuing space exploration is to locate minerals and natural planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit! Scientists are being used; they are positively stupid and unintelligent if they think for one minute President Bush is promoting space exploration for true scientific study.

Yes, those exclamation marks sure make the argument more persuasive…

Would that his paranoid ravings were true. I’d love for us to be “locating minerals and planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit” (with or without exclamation marks), but I certainly heard nothing about that in the president’s plans.

It’s a little frustrating to be blamed for something that isn’t happening, when we’d like to see it happen–we get all the bad press with none of the benefits.

And why do these loons think that just because they value only “pure science” that everyone does? I wonder where he thinks that the computer into which he typed this monumental ignorance came from, if not by “exploiting minerals and planetary wealth”?

“The Only Viable Reason”

Alan Boyle has a review of the Great Debate, and publishes some emails from his readers. I found this one amusingly (but also sadly) wacky:

The only viable reason for space exploration or study is to learn as much as possible about the stars and planets without man physically interfering. There is no rational justification for manned space exploration! None! Neither does man (American or otherwise) need to colonize the planets. The only reason this country is pursuing space exploration is to locate minerals and natural planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit! Scientists are being used; they are positively stupid and unintelligent if they think for one minute President Bush is promoting space exploration for true scientific study.

Yes, those exclamation marks sure make the argument more persuasive…

Would that his paranoid ravings were true. I’d love for us to be “locating minerals and planetary wealth for private American conglomerates to exploit” (with or without exclamation marks), but I certainly heard nothing about that in the president’s plans.

It’s a little frustrating to be blamed for something that isn’t happening, when we’d like to see it happen–we get all the bad press with none of the benefits.

And why do these loons think that just because they value only “pure science” that everyone does? I wonder where he thinks that the computer into which he typed this monumental ignorance came from, if not by “exploiting minerals and planetary wealth”?