Gene Expression

Space, the forgotten frontier

The End of the Space Age:

It’s important to recognize, though, that the decision in question belongs to all of us, and not just to Barack Obama. The administration wouldn’t be cutting the manned spaceflight program if Americans were still enthusiastic about going to the stars — if space exploration still occupied a privileged place in our imagination, if our jocks still wanted to be astronauts and our nerds still wanted to build rockets. Obama is simply bowing to our culture’s priorities: Our geeks want to build a better XBox, and our jocks want to buy it to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Our technological energy is still immense, but it’s increasingly turned inward — toward communication, life-extension, and computer-generated adventure — rather than outward toward the stars.

In this sense, James Cameron really is an appropriate choice to opine about the space program. “Avatar,” not NASA, probably represents the future of the American relationship to distant planets. In the real world, we’ll be permanently earthbound — but inside the carapace of virtual reality, we’ll be kings of infinite space.

It’s been over 40 years since our species first landed on the moon. The small number of humans who have ever stepped foot on another world are now very old. I remember back in 1990 when George H. W. Bush made a declaration that some day we’d make it to Mars. That day keeps disappearing over the horizon.

Comments

  1. #1 Lyle
    February 12, 2010

    Given current technology its not clear that humans could survive a trip to mars without a significant risk of cancer. Anyway machines are getting closer and closer to human capabilities, so sending them makes more sense. With a machine all you need is electricty, no real need for water, food, waste disposal and the like. We know how to build rovers for mars and the moon, just send more of them. It is clear to me that with known technology mars is absolutly about as far as humans can travel in space, whereas we have demonstrations that machines can travel much farther.

  2. #2 Onkel Bob
    February 12, 2010

    Such insight from Chunky Reese Witherspoon. Isn’t it amazing that we have all these advancements in technology without the impetus of a space program?
    I remain unconvinced that a manned space program is anything more than a money sink. Mind you, I find astronomy to be the least useful branches of the sciences, one which could use a little Darwinian pressure. Despite being employed in research, I don’t subscribe to the meme that all knowledge is good or useful, and so its pursuit is honorable and justified. You don’t borrow money to buy chocolates and ice cream when you can’t afford to put bread on the table.

  3. #3 nn
    February 12, 2010

    Reminds me of that old Nieven quote: “The Dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program”

  4. #4 gcochran
    February 12, 2010

    I could see how a sufficiently clueless person could believe this.

  5. #5 isamu
    February 12, 2010

    The idea that we’d be traveling through the stars was a product of the same linear thinking that made people think we would be driving flying cars by now. Fundamental physical limitations preclude both as practical realities. In the case of space travel, its the massive amount of energy needed to escape the gravity well. What we could and did improve on in the last 40 years is the manipulation of matter on a very small scale, and this gave us computers and genetic engineering among other things. Technological developement went to areas where it was still possible to do new useful things. It was not lack of motivation that killed space travel but its practicality.

  6. #6 gcochran
    February 12, 2010

    Right: chemical reactions only yield something 1 ev per molecule, which makes rocketry marginal. it is not as if there is some kind of magic that yields a hundred million ev per atom.

  7. #7 Gumby's Friend
    February 12, 2010

    We have made it to mars. Persisting in making a distinction between physical human presence and virtual human presence is becoming progressively more nonsensical over time. The Buck Rogers paradigm of space exploration is intellectually dead. What remains of that brain dead paradigm clings to life in people too old or unimaginative to grasp the fact that our technology is a very real extension of ourselves. Unfortunately, such people seem to be in charge of NASA.

  8. #8 Onkel Bob
    February 12, 2010

    One other thing, even by CRW standards (an oxymoron, I know, but bear with me here) this argument is thinner than a spider’s web. Is this some grand scheme on the illustrious poster to bring disdain upon both the Grey Lady and Hahvahd? Granted neither aren’t what they used to be (and even that wasn’t on par with their respective reputations) but my, oh my, this truly illustrates how far the mighty have fallen. One wonders, if you gave ten chimps MS Word, would one produce a blog post better than that one?

  9. #9 John
    February 13, 2010

    You guys are seriously making me laugh and at the same time making me want to weep and the sheer ineptitude of some of these comments.

    Because of the relatively thin atmosphere on the moon, compared to here on earth, Helium3 is deposited on the surface by solar winds. 1 ton of Helium 3 is worth 1 billion dollars in today’s market. It is the ideal catalyst for nuclear fission reactors as it self annihilates and leaves behind no nuclear waste.

    There have already been a number of presentations done by extremely credible people about mining operations on the moon, as well as photographs from NASA’s own collection showing buildings and heavy machinery used for such endeavors that were missed in their airbrush process.

    And the moon is just the closest astrological body. To say there is no intrinsic value to space travel is ludicrous. There are factions in this world who keep such wondrous things from the public for their own perverse reasons. All this has done is ensure our dependence on foreign oil for another 10 years.

    All that has been accomplished here is one more chance at true freedom for the people of the world has been snuffed out by corporate America to further their agenda of a debt based society where we are all just slaves. How easily we relinquish hope for the future when it is masked with the cunning skill of politicians.

    He didn’t end the Secret Space program, or the Military Space Program, just the public one. Why do you think that is?

    I can not help to think of a quote from 1 of the Star Wars movies.. This is how the Republic Died; At the sound of thunderous applause…

  10. #10 Clark
    February 14, 2010

    The problem is the cost to get to the moon which has to be paid for now.

    Were I Obama (and thankfully I’m not) I’d be pushing for a Manhattan project to improve the cost of lift technology. Realistically until the cost of getting into orbit goes down significantly most of these ideas of trips to other planets or even the moon are pipe dreams.