Monday, April 04, 2005

To the Moon, Alice!

Lunar eclipse Stonehenge

When I was a child, the American space program was floundering. Using capitalist principles, several entities vied to launch an American rocket successfully. There were, to be blunt, many failures. As a child, watching from afar as a rocket slithers off the launching derrick to explode loudly was like the fourth of July multiplied by ten. Watching nuclear blasts over in Nevada was like the Final Fourth of July.

Well, my family sort of pottered along until that fateful night, early October, just before my seventh birthday, dad took us all outside. The rapidly cooling desert air was still and the rising stars were ferociously brilliant. He pointed to the apex of the heavens and said, "Watch for the moving light" and we peered upwards, even a little kid like myself, focusing. Out of the east came a fast moving tiny light, a very small star indeed. Sputnik.

My father said, "We will now get lots of funding for a real space program! This is going to set everyone on fire! I just talked to the President! Our lives will change!"

He was very happy. The news headlines were all screaming about how humiliated America was but when my father went to Congress to talk about space, they no longer frowned at him and complained about money. The public purse opened in a spectacular way. Astronomy also recieved a great boost in funding. Previous to this, the only observatories built were done by rich men like the trolley car king, Yerkes. This phase of building ended with the Great Depression and Mount Palomar. There was a long period when the observatories limped along, financially. My father had been working on creating AURA, the consortium of universities to build and upgrade observatories. Kitt Peak had already been selected to be the first of what became a huge burst of observatory building but there wasn't much money in 1957 for building anything there. His main concern was finding financing for building and few industrialists wanted to open their purses for this sort of "prestige" operation with little obvious financial gain.

Now, thanks to Russia's energetic rocket scientists, the floodgates to the huge pool of potential financing opened! This meant, my family lived better and better, my teen years, I must say, was a time to be spoiled rotten. My dad would drop me off in Europe with a few thousand dollars and let me run riot, for example. We lived in one of the finest ranches in Tucson and had a fleet of cars for mom and dad and seven children, there being more than four teen drivers at a time! We had it great!

In a panic, President Eisenhower convened all interested parties in DC to figure out how to put a man on the moon. This is when NASA was born. It was set up very much like AURA, centralized but not, namely, there would be headquarters but there would be also auxillery, self run entities like the Jet Propulsion Labs in California, for example. From day one, there was a split at NASA. There were the Von Braun group that wanted to put men on the moon and then on to Mars and then there were the "let's develop robots and probes and explore the universe and the solar system and then we will launch humans, better to not rush into space blindly" group. You can guess which one my family was in!

Because of hysteria, the "man on the moon" mission go the lion's share of money and attention. This was OK because there was plenty of money for the exploring parts but it was harder to accomplish. Every mission had to pass Congressional scrutiny and this was always with the "what good is this?" provisos.

I remember dad suddenly wanting to triangulate our postition vis a vis the rest of the galaxy so we could set our location exactly. He was so happy to figure out a mission to do this. He then went to Congress. I warned him they would be furious with this vital mission if you are planning to do interstellar flight.

"If we launch this double probe, in only FIFTY years, we will start to get data so we can know where we are!" he said in the committee room. The faces on the dais were hard, shocked even. "Fifty years???" asked the Chair. Everyone laughed except for my dad. It was nixed, of course.

Now this news hits today:NASA Budget Cuts Deep from the Guardian in England, not the USA news---

The (NASA) memo says: "There will be no new flowers planted, weeds will not be removed from plant beds, parking areas and sidewalks, edging will only be performed along sidewalks and only in high-visibility areas. The grass in other than high-visibility areas will be allowed to reach a height of 8 to 12 inches and there will be no more special work requests accepted."

It adds: "Please accept the fact that the centre grounds are not going to be kept in a manner that we are accustomed to, and do not blame the grounds and landscaping contractors."

Nasa would not say how much of its £8.5bn annual budget the cuts would save.

"I don't have the answer to that, and it's not a high priority quite frankly to find out," a centre spokesperson said.

Nasa scientists have been forced to cut costs since President Bush called for astronauts to be sent back to the moon by 2020, and a possible manned mission to Mars to follow.

This month Nasa said the twin Voyager probes, launched in 1977 and currently more than 6bn miles from earth, might have to be shut down in October.


The twin Voyager probes will be shut down. Think about this! They are launched, they exist, they work far better than expected so there was no need to send two probes to triangulate, they exist already! And they are being monitored because they are sending back very important information.

And they are being shut down to save money.

NASA is literally being strangled to death. The scientists were wary of Bush when he came into office on the wings of defeat. He found a sop for them, tell them we are going to Mars and all other missions must yield to this important on and no one will yelp as we slit their throats. So far, so good. Many at NASA think they won't be cut, they will be transfered to the coveted Mars mission campaign.

This is all a Potemkin Launchpad. There is no rockets to Mars. There is no plans to do anything in the future. There is probably no future. The possibly noisy scientists must be herded and shoved into the cattle cars and shipped out quietly. As the star wars/nuclear shield people feast on the fatted carcass of the tax payers, the scientific/exploration half of the space program is being deliberately killed. Note how they start out with inconviniences. The grounds will be allowed to go to seed, the halls not cleaned, the lights dimmed, no pay raises, and on and on. We could call this "turning NASA into a slum housing project". Dejected scientists wilting away in the ruins.

Why is he doing this crime???

Easy: the environment. NASA doesn't just watch the stars, they study the most incredible planet of all, Earth. This is much more beguiling and complex than Mars. It is much more beautiful too, I must say. The Gem of the Solar System. Earth, our own home, our mother, our first love.

Bush wants us ignorant about the Earth. Pay no attention to the ozone hole! It is invisible. This is why he wants the "Clear Skies" stuff. You can't see invisible carbon dioxide! Look, the sky is clear! He doesn't want to stop desertfication which the space probes detail year after year. He doesn't want us to know about the tropical forests burning or even the weather, what causes el Nino or the reason why earthquakes are suddenly much worse or the melting glaciers. All of this is to be ignored and killing the messenger is the best way to silence critics.

Secondly, the doomed Hubble Space Telescope: the space shuttle was created to launch and service this great telescope. Now they forbid astronauts access because they might get hurt! Amazing. Well, throw in the towel, guys! Don't climb mountains, don't snorkel, don't come out from under that bed, you might get a boo boo! The real reason Bush and the GOP wants Hubble killed is to stop the deep space explorations. This is time travel in the extreme, we are penetrating further and further into the past and seeing the Hand of God in the Act of Creation. This clashes with the moronic monominded right wing Christian idiotology of the seven day wonder of God popping the world into being in between golf games.

This killing off of esoteric science has a down side: others will excel us as we flounder and fall. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson recognized this and encouraged spending. The following Presidents allowed spending, too, but only reluctantly. Their hearts weren't in it which is why the subject of exploring space has fallen further and further out of the public eye. Bush's Mars speech, instead of igniting people, dampened things more as another shuttle blew up and the funding collapsed. For Bush intended to not put his money where his mouth was.

The Chinese have made it crystal clear, we are the past and they are the future. They sent a man into space and they announced they will take the moon and Mars. The race is on. The Chinese are busy building scientific communities, observatories, schools, you name it. My dad is both popular and in demand there. He can't travel because mom is now unfortunately too disabled. But the level of interest there is much higher than here.

As my father said when America celebrated landing on the moon, "This is only the beginning but I fear most people will think this is the end and no more has to be done".

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