Category Archives: Technology and Society

Who Will Carry The Fusion Torch?

I can’t find any web confirmation of this on a quick search, but I am reliably informed that Bob Bussard died yesterday. I didn’t know that he was ill. I may have more thoughts later.

[Update a couple minutes later]

This isn’t my (direct) source, but this is the news from Jerry Pournelle.

[Tuesday morning update]

Well, there are certainly a lot of encomia in comments. I didn’t really know the man, myself. I met him once, a quarter of a century ago, at a monthly OASIS meeting in LA, where he gave a talk on his “fusion lightbulb” concept, and several of us had dinner with him afterward. Prior to that, I had only known him as the man after whom the interstellar ramjet was (appropriately, since he invented the concept) named. My brief experience matches that of commenters, though. He was an interesting, friendly man, who seemed to be attempting to accomplish great things for humanity.

And it’s sad that people don’t realize what humanitarians technologists can be. Most people think that humanitarians are only social-worker types. But whatever you think of him personally, Henry Ford revolutionized America, and gave mobility to the masses. Edison brought them light. Sam Walton (who was not a technologist, but a businessman), for all of the unfair demonization of his store chain, has helped the poor more than any social program, by making relatively high-quality (by the standards of a century ago) goods much more affordable to them.

More humanitarian technologists should be recognized as Norman Borlaug was. Perhaps, if polywell fusion pans out (and I have no opinion on the probability of that), Dr. Bussard will be as well, but it will be a shame that if so, it will be posthumously.

Talking Turkey About Human Spaceflight

On Friday, Russell Prechtl and George Whitesides respond to Steven Weinberg’s dissing of spaceflight in pursuit of science.

To sum up: Space settlement for species preservation, spinoffs, human spirit and human nature.

What are these worth? Depending on how long before the extinction event it could be anywhere from all of Earth’s discounted GDP to nearly nothing for species preservation assurance. If an extinction event is 1 in 26 million per year we can take our chances and still have an expectation of 99.99999% of our GDP next year. Spinoffs is weak. Human spirit is hard to quantify. How is ISS doing more for human spirit than Skylab or Mir? Human nature is more of a restatement of the human spirit argument that it is human nature to seek to raise the human spirit. But how? It’s not enough when someone says “ISS is worthless” to say “but if we don’t learn to live in space we’ll die!” We can learn to live in space with or without the ISS; what’s the difference?

I’m planning to take Steven Weinberg to lunch and see what he says to these arguments later this week. Let me know if there’s anything else I should ask him.