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« Yet More RTTM Blogging | Main | Homeland Security Stupity »

John Young's Speech At RTTM

"That Saturn shakes purty bad, but not near as bad as it did in the movie..." in reference to Apollo XIII.

He's describing his flight to the moon.

The Principal Investigator for the seismometer told him, "If you don't put my experiment out right, don't come back."

He's describing a spinout in a lunar rover. "Do you know what saved us? ...There was nobody coming the other way. I'm sure that when we get two rovers up there we'll have the first lunar auto accident."

He describes dust as one of the key challenges to lunar operations (a point made by a speaker yesterday, who was a designer of the rover).

He illustrates the fractal nature of the lunar surface by pointing out an object that looks like it's a few feet away from him, which is actually the distance of two football fields.

He's showing a picture of the far side, which is very heavily cratered, particularly in the highlands. He's clearly very concerned about the threat of extraterrestrial object impacts. He points out King Crater, which is 77 km in diameter (he claims that the object that created it could have wiped out Nevada and much of California.

Now he's talking about supervolcanoes, three of which are in the US (including Yellowstone and the Long Valley Caldera by Mammoth Lakes in California--I didn't catch the third one). Yellowstone is overdue to blow, and no one knows when the next one will happen. When it does, it will likely wipe out civilization.

"You're ten times more likely to die in a civilization-ending event than in a commercial airline crash. NASA is working to make airline flights ten times as safe, so you'll then be a hundred times more likely..."

He's praising Bob Bigelow for his work on inflatable structures.

"You'll know we're serious about going back to the moon when you see people heading back there with shovels."

In a question on the state of the art in new suits, talking about the need for a good glove: "The human hand is a heck of a piece of machinery, and sometimes gets into trouble going places that it doesn't belong."

Ends by showing a picture of his grandchildren: overall theme of his talk is protecting the planet. He thinks we're in a space race, but not with another country, but rather against nature.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 17, 2004 02:00 PM
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Third volcano might have been Valles Caldera in New Mexico - a little long in the tooth, but still has some potential.

True story - nearly got John Young's badge at LPSC a few years ago. I was somewhat shocked to be asked if I was the Young of JSC at registration.

My tiny brush with fame.

Posted by Duncan Young at July 17, 2004 05:14 PM

"You'll know we're serious about going back to the moon when you see people heading back there with shovels."

I see that there is a plan to send a couple rover to the Lunar South Pole in a few years.
Spaceflight Now
About time. Considering the success of the Martian Rovers, why isn't there any attempt to "lunarize" the design (two weeks of night, colder, vacuum, etc.) and send a few dozen of them all over the moon? Forget the sample return, that just complicates things and jacks the price up. Bring in a little mass production to bring down the price. At the same time, establish the communications infrastructure needed to support them. It would be cheaper than sending people, and it would return a lot of information that will probably be necessary for when people do go there. (The comm links, for example.)

Posted by Raoul Ortega at July 17, 2004 06:05 PM

Great posting, Rand. Thanks! As for the last sentence -- I absolutely agree with John, but dirty environmentalist lib'rul that I am, the notion of being in a race "against nature" is a phrase that gives me the willies. I like to think of it as being in a race *for* all life -- human and otherwise -- and *against* things like kinetic energy and molten magma and the like. I know those things are also a part of nature, but not in most people's lexicon. To most people, "nature" is a bunch of cute an fuzzy and helpless little critters, and who'd want to be in a race against *them*? No; better to point out that, with agressive space development, we'll be able to spare those critters from being whacked by impactors, and perhaps we can back up their ecologies elsewhere as insurance against super-volcanism. See? *For* nature!

A little too sugary, perhaps, but it should keep everyone happy. Do you suppose that "Endangered Animals for Nuclear Propulsion" would be a good rallying cry?

Posted by Nathan Koren at July 17, 2004 10:43 PM

You know, I don't think we should be wasting time/energy/sociological capital with worrying politically correct speech and rather expend those energies in ways that can actually matter.

Posted by Keith Feinstein at July 18, 2004 10:32 AM

"You're ten times more likely to die in a civilization-ending event than in a commercial airline crash. NASA is working to make airline flights ten times as safe, so you'll then be a hundred times more likely..."

I admire John Young, but WTF is that all about? Where did he get that statistic??

Posted by Harry at July 18, 2004 01:18 PM

Well, I mostly agree, Keith. For those who can, it's far more important to do things like, say, building spaceships, rather than engaging in rhetorical excersizes. For the *rest* of us, however, the rhetoric can be somewhat important. Although private spaceflight will be less sensitive to public interest and support than governmental spaceflight was, public perception is still important, in that private space companies are operating within a public regulatory environment. And unfortunately, rhetoric (more than reality) has a lot to do with public perception. Best to weild it skillfully.

There are all kinds of political correctness, by the way, and I'm not adverse to using any of them to sell people on the merits of space development. For the environmentalists, it's stopping impactors, learning more about the earth via comparitive planetology, and building "backup" biospheres. For the nationalists, it's national pride and advantage. For the militarists, it's controlling the high ground. For the libertarians, it's the (eventual) chance to operate outside of a government-controlled environment. If the religious fundies didn't make me go screaming in the other direction, I'd probably preach to them with rhetoric about the "shining city upon the hill". Even if many of these agendas are quite contradictory, space is big enough to hold plenty of contradictions. I firmly believe that space is for *everyone*.

The reason I tend to harp on the environmentalist angle -- aside from the fact that that's my background -- is because there is a lot of antipathy between the space crowd and the environmental crowd. This is understandable. From the space perspective, they've had to deal with abhorent environmental regulations like the NEPA (which actually has about as much to do with true environmentalism as Republican budgets have to do with "small government" ideology). From the environmentalist perspective, space is all about big empires in a race to build hardware to nuke the biosphere out of existence -- and once upon a time, that's pretty much what it was.

Amid this entrenched antipathy, some of the rhetoric -- like John Young's -- comes SO close to bridging the gap that it's painful. Why should we care about doing so? Because if self-identified environmentalists can be educated to see that space development is among the most beneficial things that can be done for the earth, then you'll have the support of some 40% of the population, which you don't currently have. And if NEPA looses its constituancy with regards to hamstringing spaceflight, then it will be much easier to make it go away (or at least get a class exemption).

By the way, although I'm talking about *using* rhetoric, I'm not actually *being* rhetorical. I honestly *do* believe that space development is one of the best things that we can do for the environment, and I'm working very hard to get other environmentalists on-board.

Posted by Nathan Koren at July 18, 2004 02:10 PM

Re: disbelief concerning the relative probabilities of airline and asteroid crashes.

Some back-of-the-Internet calculations:

According to the NTSB website, during 2003 there were 22 fatalites in the US involving commercial airliners (21 in a takeoff accident in Charlotte, and one airport worker who crashed into a parked DC-9 in Norfolk, VA).

22 fatalities divided into the 2003 US population estimate of 290,809,777 means it would take about 13.2 million years to depopulate the US. Running the relevant numbers for the world (677 deaths and 6.314 billion people) gives 9.3 million years, so ~ 10 million years to wipe out a given population through plane crashes is a decent guess.

NASA's impact hazards website ( says potential civlization-enders (bodies > 2 km across that can cause an "impact winter") hit every million years or so. Add in Yellowstone-class supervolcanoes, undersea mega-landlides and other goodies, and in the long run Captain Young's numbers aren't too far off.

Posted by Joe Trela at July 18, 2004 03:37 PM

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