2007 Editorial Index
Jan 07 Spouting Water
Feb 07 NASA's Budget Crisis
Mar 07 The Nowak Fiasco
Apr 07 The 200
May 07 Adventures in Inner Space
Jun 07 Hawking Goes Zero-G
July 07 Protecting the Democracy
Aug 07 400 Years of America
Sep 07 Go Tracy, Go Barbara!
Oct 07 50 Years and Counting
Nov 07 Mine the Blamed Thing!
Dec 07 The ENDA Game
"Spouting Water" January 2007
by Michelle Evans
It has been a sad time recently in that the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft has apparently been lost after a very long and fruitful life, giving us an unprecedented look at the red planet. This longevity has produced some of the most exciting discoveries in our space program—even though most people are not familiar with the MGS spacecraft and program.
Since its arrival in Martian orbit, MGS has provided one of the longest runs in planetary science from a single spacecraft. Part of a two-spacecraft package sent to Mars in late 1996 (the other being the lander Pathfinder carrying the tiny hitchhiking rover, Sojourner), MGS started science at Mars in September 1997.
One of the great things about its longevity is that it had the ability to look at the same spot at various times to see if any changes had occurred. One example is that it saw an area that experienced a landslide, seeing first the pristine spot, and then its aftermath.
Another intriguing find were areas inside walls of craters that looked like small rushes of water had erupted sometime in the geologic past, out of underground aquifers. That finding was controversial when it was first announced, and many thought other explanations were in order.
However, the evidence appears to support water over any other source for these rivulets running down the crater walls. What this means is even though it is widely acknowledged that Mars was probably a very wet place in the far distant past, there is a chance some of this water might actually still exist underground, allowing life to be present today beneath the surface of Mars!
Now we jump forward in the career of Mars Global Surveyor to literally just before it went permanently silent. One of the last photographs sent by MGS and analyzed by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was released on December 6, showing another of these rivulets inside a crater. The difference in this case is that MGS had photographed this same crater previously and there was no sign of any such thing! Only one conclusion can be drawn: that liquid water has somehow been pushed to the surface and escaped to run down the dirt and leave a very distinct signature in its wake. Since liquid water cannot exist in the thin atmosphere of Mars, the escaping water must have been enough to have lasted as long as it did, running on the surface, then quickly evaporating.
Many may dismiss this tiny change in the surface features of another planet as insignificant, but when looked at in the proper context, this could be the most exciting discovery ever made to date in space exploration. Liquid water has never been verified off-Earth, and it is pretty much a given that liquid water is the basic touchstone of life. Without water it is very difficult to figure how any life could evolve. If this is liquid water, then there might indeed be vast underground reservoirs where life could have retreated once Mars became too cold and with an atmosphere too tenuous to support liquid on the surface.
This tiny photograph from a workhorse spacecraft could be the Rosetta Stone of life in space.
"NASA's Budget Crisis" February 2007
by Michelle Evans
As our regular readers are aware, I am a huge supporter of private companies running spaceflight businesses. However, that doesn’t mean I believe our government should get out of the space business. The purpose of NASA is to lead our way to the future so that entrepreneurs can follow.
Great exploration is almost always government-supported. The initial forays into the unknown are best handled this way. After the hazards are identified and cleared, it is time for the Rutans, Bigelows, and Bransons to get into the act.
The Space Frontier Foundation had an excellent comparison that could be followed when looking at the western expansion in America 150 years ago. The U.S. Army sent out the cavalry and set up a system of forts throughout the frontier. Next to those forts, the business people followed by putting up stores and homes to serve as an infrastructure for these forts. Towns were born in the middle of nowhere, and people came to live in them. Many even still exist today, or new towns sprang up nearby to take their places.
The point is that I support NASA staying in this exploration business and am very angry when we finally seem to have a grasp on things, and are actually moving forward for the first time in nearly 40 years, now a bunch of lazy politicians are putting up a major road block that could halt our frontier expansion in its tracks.
In November, the American electorate spoke out for change in Washington, D.C. They didn’t like the status quo and they said they wanted the way we do things to change, and change drastically.
So, what is one of the first things to occur? Everything stops dead. A hold has been placed on the 2007 budget, not just for NASA, but for every branch of the government. This was done because no one wanted to take the responsibility for actually doing any work to pass new authorizations before leaving for the Christmas holidays, the excuse being that the new congress can take care of things. This means that what was on the table for NASA in 2006, is exactly the same for 2007.
This year is slated to be a critical one for NASA in that it was the first major ramp-up of funding for the Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares booster systems that will be used to loft Orion on its way to Earth orbit, into trans-lunar space, and beyond to Mars. Instead of this much-needed ramp-up, we now get flat spending, meaning NASA will have about half a billion dollars less than anticipated.
Everyone has pretty much agreed that the shuttle system has too many flaws, and once we fly out the manifest, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope one last time and completing the International Space Station in mid-2010, that it is time to shut it down and farm out the pieces to the Smithsonian.
This is a great philosophy to have in place if there is a program of human spaceflight to take over our exploration program once the shuttle sits quietly on the tarmac forever. This future was roadmapped three years ago, in January 2004, by President Bush, and is known as the Vision for Space Exploration program that spawned Orion and Ares. Since that time, it has garnered wide bipartisan support, as it is generally acknowledged as a basically sound plan. Some of us may not necessarily like the “Apollo on steroids” way of going back to the future, but it is a way to get more permanently off this planet and truly start the exploration, and eventual settlement of our solar system.
To finally get this off the ground, after so many of us have lobbied so hard for so many years, and to now see it being shot at by lazy politicians is simple unconscionable. What the heck do these idiots think they are doing?
Yes, the federal budget must be reigned in, but cutting programs that actually benefit upcoming generations is pure stupidity. Most of us have pretty low opinions of politicians already. For me, at least, this has brought them to new lows I didn’t think possible.
NASA may be able to go with the flow on this and re-allocate funding they need to the proper areas, but the laws may actually conspire against them. Let’s pull for NASA to figure this one out, and don’t hesitate to tell your congressional representatives how you feel about this matter.
"The Nowak Fiasco" March 2007
by Michelle Evans
Lisa Marie Nowak. She was a well-respected astronaut, flying as a Mission Specialist on one of the most important Space Shuttle missions ever flown, the Return to Flight mission of STS-121, last July 4th. Now her name will forever be enshrined as “The Astronaut Who Wore Diapers While Attacking Her Rival.”
What a way to be remembered in history!
In no way will I ever condone what Nowak did, but it would be a good thing to know that astronauts are human and sometimes they fail (see “To the Stars,” page 6). Astronauts have not been allowed to do that sort of thing before, at least not in public.
One of the first outcries was for NASA to drastically change their psychological screening criteria for astronauts, since this supposed “nut” somehow got through, and even flew into space. Considering the Type A personalities that you usually would find in the NASA Astronaut Office, the only thing truly surprising is that it has taken over 45 years for something like this to happen. Put overachievers in a high-stress situation and you’ll get breakdowns and burnouts all the time.
Nowak’s mistake was in doing it on a slow news day so she generated a whole heck of a lot of unwanted NASA scrutiny and publicity. The bad joke is now out there that NASA conspired to kill Anna Nicole Smith so her death would take away the headlines from Nowak and NASA. Whatever the facts of the Smith case, and however tragic it may have been, NASA had to be sighing with relief that they were off the front page.
Of course, it will all be back in the future, when Lisa Marie finally goes to trial. She will most likely become the next O.J., Michael Jackson, or Heidi Fleiss. We seem to love a good courtroom drama with some fallen celebrity.
The late-night talk show hosts Leno, Conan, and Letterman, all had a field day with laying on the jokes and their “Top Ten ways to know an astronaut is trying to kill you.” Editorial cartoons were prolific, and I have to share one with our readers.
To me, this sums up the whole situation the best. NASA is out there every day, exploring space and doing what they can to move humanity outward to the planets and beyond. No grander accomplishment comes to mind. Yet, if you want to get publicity, all you have to do is allegedly stalk and try to kill someone. I guess putting people on the Moon and Mars just isn’t a big enough story.
"The 200" April 2007
by Michelle Evans
Often, great changes in society and technology can be traced to just one man or woman, or maybe only a small group of people working together for the common good.
In this case, we have two men, Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson, who have ignited a fire under a small group of investors, who are willing to put forth the money and time to become sub-orbital astronauts, possibly beginning as early as 2009.
Over 82,000 people have expressed official interest in flying the Rutan-designed and Virgin Galactic-funded, SpaceShipTwo above the 100 kilometer (67 mile) mark, for the still hefty sum of $200,000. Of course, expressing interest is easy to do, even if you don’t have the money. You could legitimately believe you will be able to afford it in the future, thus you say so now, or else you just want to join the band-wagon on the next coming cool thing.
The real test on if this concept can become the first commercially-viable, private space program, is when people must pony up the money for real.
As many of our readers recall, the X Prize competition offered a $10 million prize to the first privately-funded vehicle to safely reach the 100 kilometer officially-recognized limit for space flight, have the ability to carry three people on this flight, and then do it all again using the same hardware within two short weeks.
Rutan and his team from Scaled Composites won that competition hands down on October 4, 2004 (see O.C.Space, November 2004), with their design of the White Knight carrier aircraft and the SpaceShipOne rocket plane. Paul Allen of Microsoft put up $20 million of his own funds to make this happen, which has led many people to scoff at his return on investment. Allen, however, was not looking for short-term profit, but long-term gain, and I am sure he is profiting nicely from the agreement reached by Rutan and Branson to go into commercial operations.
That vision has led to the development of White Knight 2, that will carry aloft SpaceShipTwo, starting test flights from Mojave, California, hopefully just over a year from now.
Although officially still under wraps, I have included a couple of images showing the concept for these two vehicles. And it is these designs, along with the proven track record of Rutan and Branson, that led to the formation of Virgin Galactic and suborbital tourist flights.
So what of these 82,000 souls who have so far signed up as possible participants? Well, of them, the company has recently surpassed the 200 person mark as far as people who have paid their deposit to commit to a launch aboard SS2. May not seem like a lot, but that means that during the development phase of this venture, they have already collected $20 million toward actual spaceflights. I have to imagine this is going a long way toward paying for the program, long before first flight. How many other technologically-challenging endeavors can boast this type of support?
Would you have bought a ticket on the first 747 even with the first commercial flight a couple years away? These people are committed and it shows the passion of those who want to go into space. It also gives the rest of us hope, because of their investment, the price will eventually drop to the level where the rest of us can go.
When do we sign up?
"Adventures in Inner Space" May 2007
by Michelle Evans
I was recently asked by the O.C. Register to describe what it might be like in an underwater city off the coast of Southern California. I thought it an interesting and fun exercise, and a bit of a change of pace, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you here.
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Adventure and exploration are great motivators for enticing people into a new frontier. It is amazing to think that so little is still known about the environment beneath the waves of our own planet, as we expand outward to others. In fact, creating and living in an underwater city could be a wonderful learning experience before we set up shop on the Moon or Mars. The engineering required would be quite different in that you have to work under high pressure versus being in a vacuum, but the whole idea of living long term under extreme conditions, where you can't simply walk outdoors for a breath of fresh air, would give us the baseline data needed for knowing what might happen when we settle off-world.
The community built would have to be large enough to be a viable entity on its own merits. In other words, you wouldn't want to have to hop in a submarine every time you needed groceries or to order out for pizza. The other reason for a larger population is to cut down on possible conflicts. Over the long term, it is good to find fresh faces and not see the same people over and over every single day. This keeps people in a better frame of mind with higher morale. The larger the city, the better chance of it becoming a true neighborhood of friends instead of a science experiment, even though at its heart, it might be just that.
Building in an interesting place on the seafloor has its attractions, however, this might not be as good an idea as it sounds. Exciting vistas underwater could include things like canyons, which also means you may be living close to a fault line or other hazard. Choosing a place a bit more benign would be preferable for your home, with the idea of making excursions available to the nearby more interesting topography.
Getting to and from this underwater community could be accomplished in various ways, depending on exactly how far off the Orange County shore you decided to build. Close enough in and you could build an undersea subway system that connects you to mainland transport centers. Or it could be more practical to have a tall enough platform in the city itself that would reach the surface where you could catch water taxis to Newport or outbound to Catalina. I think this approach might be very feasible, since having direct access to the surface would also provide peace of mind in case something catastrophic were to happen underwater. You definitely do not want to be several hundred feet down and have to use an exit on the sea floor to pop up to the surface, even with good breathing gear. Direct access would be a much safer way to do this, along with providing easier access for others to come and visit. After all, this city would not only be a home to scientific study, it could make a great deal of income encouraging tourism to this unique locale, so the easier, the better.
Science fiction books and movies have been written about this type of city for many decades, yet no real plans have ever been drawn up. What a fantastic adventure to pack your belongings and tell everyone you're moving into your new home at the Seaview Resort, Cousteau City, or Villa d'Garibaldi.
"Hawking Goes Zero-G" June 2007
by Michelle Evans
Stephen Hawking has always been in the habit of opening up the universe for the rest of us. Usually it is in the form of a new theory of black holes, quantum mechanics, or the nature of the universe we inhabit.
Recently, Dr. Hawking went far beyond anything he has ever done before by defying the laws of gravity.
He caused a bit of a turmoil in the scientific community about a year ago when he first made the radical proposal that humans should get off this planet as a means of survival (see O.C.Space, July 2006). Many told him to basically mind his own business and stay within his field of academia. Hawking would have none of it, and continued to speak his mind.
This is not just an exercise on his part, but a true desire to experience this eventual exodus into space. Think about it, for a man in his position: told he would die at a young age after he was diagnosed with ALS, he defied the odds, and has now spent the last four decades of his life using his mind so the rest of us will better understand the cosmos, while his body has been confined to a wheel chair.
It’s a horrible way to live, but he has kept his mind alive, and has thrived in the process.
So enough with this theoretical stuff, he has said. Hawking wants to get into space himself and is doing what he can to make that happen. The first step was to see if his frail body could even do something like travel in space. To accomplish this, it was recommended for him to take a flight into zero gravity. This can now be done, thanks to the Zero Gravity Corporation, by providing parabolic flights in a converted 727 aircraft, similar to the way NASA trains astronauts.
“I have long wanted to go into space, and the zero-gravity flight is the first step toward space travel,” Hawking said before leaving the ground. “As you can imagine, I’m very excited. The chance to float free in zero-g will be wonderful. I want to demonstrate to the public that anybody can participate in this type of weightless experience.”
Hooked up to heart and blood pressure monitors to insure his safety, and with his doctor standing by, Hawking flew eight parabolas, and was pronounced perfectly fit.
“It was amazing,” Hawking said after the flight. “The zero-g part was wonderful, and the high-g part was no problem. I could have gone on and on. Space, here I come!”
He continued, saying, “I think that getting a portion of the human race permanently off the planet is imperative for our future as a species. It will be difficult to do this with the slow, expensive, and risk-averse nature of government space programs. We need to engage the entrepreneurial engine that has reduced the cost of everything from airline tickets to personal computers.”
A great idea, and it’s already happening with things like zero-g flights, with sub-orbital flight, not far behind.
With people like Dr. Stephen Hawking leading the way, and proving that spaceflight can be accomplished by just about anyone, we may all be a step closer to that reality.
"Protecting the Democracy" July 2007
by Michelle Evans
Turkey is a familiar country to our members because of our association with Space Camp Turkey and the Global Friendship Through Space Education organization. Many of us have traveled and have friends there, and those who haven’t had the opportunity to go have still been able to share some of the wonderful experiences through the pages of O.C.Space.
There has been something truly amazing going on recently in Turkey, and I want to take this opportunity to share some of that with you.
Buse Sengül is one of our OCSS members in Turkey, and we asked her to share some of her experiences concerning recent public demonstrations in support of democracy due to an outcry in their country about moving away from a secular government (separating church and state). The people are speaking up en masse. For those of us alive here in the United States in the 1960s, these demonstrations against a government may seem familiar, but even I don’t recall anything that has ever achieved such national fervor as it has today in Turkey.
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“The streets of Izmir are still in red and white [the colors of the Turkish flag]. Pictures of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are still on the windows. Izmir today still has the signs of one of the biggest demonstrations in the world!
“On Saturday morning, May 12, people started gathering at 8:00 am in order to join the demonstration which was supposed to start at 1:00 pm. The square, which is by the sea, was full of people who were carrying flags. More than 7,000 buses came from the other cities in spite of the hot weather. The square was just like a garden with red flowers. People were there to protect the democracy and the secularism, to say they don’t want ‘what is happening in Iran’ to happen in Turkey.
“The slogans were awesome! People shouted their support for democracy and it was impossible to count how many people were there, contrary to those politicians who said theses demonstrations were only about one or two people. A seven-year-old girl was carrying a picture of a woman with a burka on. On the picture she had written ‘I can’t be like her.’
“While people were shouting, something unexpected happened. The yachts and boats in Izmir Bay got closer to the square where possibly more than a million people were standing. More than 200 boats and yachts joined the demonstration with their big flags, making the demonstration the first ‘sea demonstration’ in our country.
“People could not stop crying that day after seeing that the youth will always protect the democracy and the secularism. I was proud to live in Izmir that day. I am still amazed.”
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Buse has given us a fantastic window into a Muslim population that we are wholly unused to in America. Seeing our friends in Turkey stand up in such great numbers in support of remaining a democratic state, while some select few in government try to set the clock back using religion as an excuse, gives me great hope for our future as human beings. Maybe someday we really will become a truly spacefaring civilization. One where people will recognize the rights of everyone to live in peace, be free from tyranny and oppression, and move forward.
"400 Years of America" August 2007
by Michelle Evans
Many of us still recall the bicentennial celebrations of our nation, just 29 years ago, in 1976. There are members of our society who were not even born at that time, yet they will hopefully be around to witness the tricentennial in 2076. What we may not realize is that our country’s founding actually goes back twice as far, to the first colony, Jamestowne, settled in 1607.
It was here that we first attained a foothold on a new continent, creating a civilization that would eventually take us off this planet and to other worlds in our solar system, and hopefully someday, beyond.
Yes, it has been a long, strange journey along the way. Many have argued that what happened here 400 years ago was the beginning of genocide of a native people; that we conquered a continent that didn’t belong to us. I don’t subscribe to those politically correct theories. The history of the world is full of one people being displaced by another through war, disease, and other methods (read the excellent and Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, to learn more).
Humankind was much younger then and didn’t understand much beyond the fact that if you didn’t expand, you died. There was no environmental movement. No social consciousness to guide our ways. In retrospect, we can see how things turned out horribly for some peoples, but then it can easily be argued that, given a different level of technology, the continental invasion most likely would have been reversed. Today, our complaint would then be about how the American Indians had decimated the populations of Europe, instead of the other way around.
Today we supposedly know better, but it took thousands of years to under-stand this concept and get to the point where we could accept the fact that conquering a native people is not the way to do things. Of course, both sides in that equation must understand the concept for it to work!
At the time of Jamestowne, civilization was much younger, and things appeared a lot simpler. The colonists were just trying to survive. One of the ways they survived was through regular shipments from Europe of people and supplies.
The first shipping address in America was Jamestowne, and recently a metal cargo tag with just that address was unearthed at the site in Virginia. This small piece of craftsmanship started its journey in England, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a storm-tossed ship, was eventually lost in the bottom of a well, to be unearthed in 2006 by an archeologist.
But the journey for this historic artifact was still only beginning. On June 8, the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off the planet on mission STS-117. Aboard the flight was the tiny cargo tag. Its initial itinerary of England to Virginia was modified by approximately 400 million additional miles, orbiting the Earth, visiting the International Space Station, then finally returning to Earth on June 22.
Virginia governor, Tim Kaine, said, “This exploratory shuttle flight connects our adventurous past with the innovation and continued intellectual curiosity that guides our future as we commemorate America's 400th anniversary.”
NASA Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe commented that, “remembering the spirit of adventure that led to the establishment of Jamestown is appropriate as this country works toward establishing a permanent outpost on another planetary body.”
This little piece of history has had an amazing journey. Who knows what possibilities await our species during the next 400 years.
"Go Tracy, Go Barbara!" September 2007
by Michelle Evans
Tracy Caldwell was born in August 1969. I’ll bet that, as she was growing up, she had no idea she would be spending her 38th birthday orbiting the Earth. That would be a heck of a birthday present for anyone, and it is one that Tracy just celebrated aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, as a Mission Specialist on flight STS-118.
Barbara Morgan began her career as a teacher, but took a detour when she applied for the Teacher in Space Mission, over 22 years ago. She was chosen as the backup to Christa McAuliffe on the ill-fated Challenger mission in January 1986. President Reagan promised that day to continue the TIS program and that teachers would fly in space. It took a major change in policy for NASA, along with coming up with a whole new class of astronaut, to finally make this happen. Barbara had to leave teaching to become a full time astronaut and become the first Education Mission Specialist.
Both Tracy and Barbara were chosen for the same astronaut class nine years ago, and both were selected to go into space together for the first time on the same mission.
Tracy has been a long-time friend of OCSS and an honorary member since she was first selected. We have kept in touch on occasion, but not wanted to bother her too much during her crucial training to become the first ever astronaut born after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.
The mission had moments of trepidation such as a gouge in the heat tiles, and then a hurricane threatening Mission Control in Houston that forced a day-early landing. Neither the gouge nor the hurricane proved significant in the end. The mission was a huge success, with Barbara finally having the opportunity to teach students science lessons from space, while Tracy worked the robot arm to deliver and install a critical piece of hardware on the International Space Station.
We at OCSS want to congratulate both Tracy and Barbara for a fantastic job on this milestone mission. It will probably mark one of only three missions in the remainder of the shuttle program to garner much media interest (Hubble servicing and the final Space Shuttle flight in 2010, being the other two).
Upon returning to Earth, following her first (but hopefully not last) mission into space, Barbara shared some of her thoughts.
“You know, there's a great sense of pride to be able to be involved in a human endeavor that takes us all a little bit farther,” Morgan said. “When you look down and see our Earth, and you realize what we are trying to do as a human race, it’s pretty profound.”
She explained, “I’m really proud with what we did,” while also discussing a project of passing along flown cinnamon basil seeds for students to take part in. “We're going to give them these seeds and let them experiment, explore, and do whatever they want with them, and get them to have the kinds of experiences that we have.”
Tracy and Barbara make a great team and we hope they will fly again. Challenger’s mission is finally fulfilled and a new generation of astronauts are leading our way to the future.
“The flight was absolutely wonderful,” Barbara said, but admitted that readapting from 0-g is a bit daunting. “The room still spins a little bit, but that's okay.”
"50 Years and Counting" October 2007
by Michelle Evans
An inauspicious beginning to the first 50 years in space. A simple signal from the Sputnik 1 satellite, launched from Russia, basically just to prove it could be done. There was no real scientific merit to the accomplishment. No experiments were carried aboard, just the tiny radio transmitter in a tiny aluminum shell, with long whip antennas trailing behind to broadcast to the entire world that things had changed. Changed in ways no one could have then imagined, let alone where we might still be headed.
In less than four years a human being would follow Sputnik to orbit—another Russian—much to the conster-nation of everyone watching. And less than 12 years after those beeps, humans would land on another celestial body—this time the Americans beat the Russians, hands down.
But it was those sounds from space that caught everyone’s attention at first. Anyone with the right equipment could pick up the signals. The Russians were being very open with their successful mission. This is not what we had come to expect of their closed society. It really shook up the capitalist world.
In the long run, we found that the Russian program was much more about bravado than accomplishment. Sure, they got the first satellite, first animal, first man, first woman, first scapulae, but then it petered out when the stakes became more than just punching a hole in the sky.
How different that might have been if their Chief Designer, Sergei Korolov, had survived a few more years to see his Moon rocket, the N-1, through its gestation. Then we might have had a real space race to see who would have gotten to the Moon first. Better yet, to see who would have been the first to truly exploit space by making permanent our toehold.
If the Russians had succeeded, we would probably have people living full time on the Moon by now, let alone be on the way to Mars and beyond.
Hopefully, we would have superseded our Cold War antagonisms and accomplished the cooperation we see today, but who knows. As any good capitalist can tell you, competition is better for innovation, exploration, and forward progress. Maybe what we are doing today with the Russians and our other international partners would be better without all that cooperation.
That history is one at which we can only guess. What we have instead is a still-fragile space program after 50 years. When Neil and Buzz stepped out onto the lunar surface in 1969, the future was limitless. By 2001, we all knew we would be riding tourist rockets to orbit, flying in our cars above the fray of long forgotten traffic jams, and maybe even having a personal jet pack or two!
The future just isn’t what it used to be. But then is anything ever what we envision? We take so much for granted nowadays, yet, by the yardstick of those 50 short—or long— years, we have gone places we never could have dreamed. Unfortunately, that has not included human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit, but things are looking brighter for the future.
Those tourist rockets are not that far around the corner. People don’t scoff at the idea and laugh in your face if you say you want to go into space one day yourself. That cynicism has finally started to fade. Other types of cynicism are certainly there to take its place, as we observe the basic human condition deteriorate in religious violence and intolerance.
Space still holds a bright future for us all. It can help to fulfill the dream of a better, more perfect society. It can also provide us a safe haven, should catastrophe ever strike the home planet. Of course, we should not worry about such things, if we put in the resources to stop these calamities in the first place.
Yes, it has been 50 years since Sputnik shocked the world with its signal from the ether, a few hundred miles overhead. Where will we be in that remote future of 2057, after another half century has passed? A full 100 years of spaceflight will hopefully prove to be the dawn of a true growth of our species, to become a true spacefaring society, with real dreams and aspirations for the future.
See you then.
"Mine The Blamed Thing!" November 2007
by Michelle Evans
Editor’s note: A staff writer at the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a scathing indictment of NASA’s human spaceflight program. Author and rocket scientist Homer Hickam (“October Sky”) wrote a great reply to this editorial that Homer was kind enough to give OCSS permission to reprint here.
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Paul Thornton’s Op-Ed, “Space Program Lunacy,” recently caught my eye. Although Mr. Thornton’s emphasis was on the need to replace a certain weather satellite rather than “waste billions” on human spaceflight, I instantly felt the need to come to the defense of NASA’s plan to return to the Moon. Actually, it isn’t NASA’s plan. It’s our plan. The president proposed it, Congress approved it, and our NASA is currently running like Seabiscuit to make it happen. That’s a very good thing, and I’m going to tell you why.
First, let me confess a little bias. When I was a West Virginia lad of 17, I met a Massachusetts lad of 42 by the name of John F. Kennedy. At the time, I was in a bright orange suit that I had just purchased to wear to the 1960 National Science Fair, where I hoped my home-built rockets would win a medal. Kennedy was in West Virginia trying to win the state’s presidential primary. We met just as he finished a speech designed to convince a crowd of less-than-enthusiastic coal miners to give him their vote. When he asked for questions, I raised my hand and, for some reason, he noticed me right off. Because I was a rocket boy, I asked him what he thought we should do in space. He turned it around and asked me what I thought we should do, and I said we should go to the Moon. When he asked me why, I looked around at all those coal miners and said, well, we ought to go up there and just mine the blamed thing! The miners all laughed, and so did Kennedy, and when he agreed with me, he secured all their votes that day. For the longest time, I took credit for the Apollo Moon program and, though I’d been shipped off to Vietnam when we got there, I followed the Moon flights with a certain personal pride.
So here we are, working to go again, and folks like Mr. Thornton feel obligated to come out and say it’s a big waste of tax money. Don’t get me started on how most of the federal budget is spent (i.e., tossed down a rat hole), but NASA’s little 0.5% of it, and the even smaller percentage for our new Moon program, is at least going toward something that might actually allow our country to have a future. That’s right. I’m talking national survival, folks, because to get by, we might need to go to the Moon and just mine the blamed thing!
I don’t have enough words allotted to tell you how good it is that our engineers are building new machines to go into space (productive work!), or how the Moon is part of the Earth (calved off about three billion years ago!) and is, like Antarctica, a place that will pay unexpected scientific dividends (global warming!). So I’ll just tell you the top two reasons we should go back to the moon: Energy and energy.
Tired of burning fossil fuel and polluting the planet? The Moon is covered with helium 3, an isotope from the Sun that is the perfect fuel for clean fusion reactors. Okay, we don't have any fusion reactors right now, but some day we will, and we’ll need fuel for them, and the Moon’s got plenty. The Moon’s also a great place to beam solar energy back to Earth by the mega-gigawatt.
But to get all that energy is going to require human beings to walk around on the Moon and scratch their heads and figure out how to do it. To get them there, I suspect our new Moon program will, like Apollo, also invigorate our economy, invent a bunch of new stuff we can all make money on, and maybe, just maybe, provide us with one other dividend, a win in our war against terror.
How’s that? Well, it’s my belief that the kids whose parents are religious fanatics will look up at the Moon, think to themselves how cool it is that people are there, and wish they were there, too. The next thing you know, they’ll be taking an interest in science and engineering and thinking rationally. Rational thought will always trump medieval dogma. So, for energy’s sake and our planet’s soul, let’s happily go back to the Moon and, this time, stay a while and mine the blamed thing!
"The ENDA Game" December 2007
by Michelle Evans
As we march boldly into the future, shouldn’t we make sure that everyone is able to participate? Is our vision only for a select few, those with money, power, or happen to fit into a confining model of what we expect a person to be?
In reality, no one should be left behind. This isn’t just about space exploration and moving off the planet, it’s about the future of all of us, here on Earth, and eventually across space.
We are so good at excluding people who don’t fit our view. This is what has led to the horrible rifts we see in society.
Fundamentalist Muslim groups have become terrorists because we don’t agree with their way of life. Within their sects, there are minor differences in the way they view the written commandments of their faith, which lead to a terrible toll in bloodshed. Fundamentalist and radical Christians have no trouble reconciling the taking of a life in an abortion clinic bombing, while professing that we all have a right to live.
There are racists in every class and color of people. Whites that hate blacks, Blacks that hate whites. Any color in the rainbow that hates any other color. The story was taken to an absurd degree 40 years ago in an original episode of Star Trek, where two people hate each other because one side of their face is black and the other white, while their foe has the opposite arrangement. What insanity!
Today we face such challenges as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that President Clinton put into force with our military services. In its simplest terms it states that anyone can have any sexual or gender identity orientation that they wish, but just don’t let anyone else know what it is, or you’re fired!
California is one of a handful of states progressive enough to have passed a law that does not discriminate against anyone. What it states is that under no circumstances may a person lose their job, or anything detrimental, simply because of who they are and how they wish to express their identity in society.
Recently, there was an attempt to pass this same law at a national level. It is called ENDA, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 2015). It states simply that no one may be discriminated against due to the fact that they might happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.
Many of my readers may wonder how much something like this could affect them, since they are not a part of this community, or know anyone who is. I can tell you for a fact that the Orange County Space Society happens to have members of each of these categories, and all of them are good and decent people who should have the right to do whatever everyone else does, and that is to be able to not worry about losing their job because their boss or someone they work with is somehow offended by the cards they were dealt in life.
The ENDA legislation was deemed too progressive for some in Congress, so they watered down the bill by removing protections for transgendered, reintroducing the bill as H.R. 3685. This bill, which many analysts now believe will not help even the other classes not excluded, was finally voted on and passed in early November. Even this is a moot point because President Bush, in all his pious wisdom, has said he will veto any legislation protecting this class of individuals.
What happened to everyone being equal in this country? I’m pretty sure I read about that somewhere. But we’ve had to pass similar acts in the past such as the Voting Rights Act, or Civil Rights Act. How about simply a Human Rights Act, such as that adopted several years ago in New Zealand, where it is stated that no one, under any circumstances may be discriminated against for any reason. What simplicity and clarity. What logic. All humans are created equal, it is only individuals that create the inequalities we face today.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, we should judge people only “by the content of their character.”
A law like ENDA should be a no-brainer. Instead, we foster our individual beliefs and prejudices upon each other. You would probably be surprised at the people you already know who fit into the categories protected by ENDA. But none of that should matter. We are all humans, and that diversity should be not only protected, but embraced.