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The End of an Era, A Lament...

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posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 01:16 AM
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Journalists the world over have tried to find a suitable way to say goodbye to NASA's space shuttle program. On Microsoft's Xbox Live there was a whole channel configured with videos, images, and factoids honoring the venerable Space Transportation System (STS). As nostalgic and sensitive as the commentators were, of all the editorials I've read, and out of all the speeches I've strained to listen to, the lament below is by far the most powerful ...


Twelve men have walked on the moon. Twelve, and only twelve, all American. The first was on July 21, 1969. The last left three and a half years later, on December 14, 1972. Your parents were probably alive. Your parents probably watched. The footprints they left are still there in the dust.

I love science fiction for many reasons. I think it shows humanity at its best, or perhaps I should say its purest-- it shows us our hopes and our dreams and our goals and our striving. It shows what we think of ourselves and what we want for our future. Right now it's a sad, stifled, belittled genre, more worried about being "edgy" and "adult" and "dark" than about trying to define the next dream.

But without Verne and Wells, man would never have stepped on the moon. Without Asimov and Clarke and Sagan, there would have been no Space Shuttle. If a human ever reaches Mars, it will be because science fiction as a genre, as a community, remembers the dream and reminds us all. Five Space Shuttles (Atlantis, docking with the ISS today, Discovery and Endeavor, retired, and Columbia and Challenger, RIP) between them flew 134 missions, and for that miracle humanity owes every SF geek and every cheesy space opera and every Star Trek episode and every issue of Analog more than we will ever be able to repay.

( continued here... )

If only I was half the writer.

This author, more than the many others who have tried to put words to why the scrapping of the shuttle is such a loss for our country and world, has captured the essence of our demoralized state.


But somewhere along the line, our excitement about the future ended up focused on the iPhone in our hand instead of the launch at Cape Canaveral.

Last generation, our collective fears and insecurities led us to... well, to a nuclear arsenal that could have extinguished us. But our fears also led us to space. They led us to strive, to be greater, to reach out rather than retrench.

Our insecurity right now has just led us to put metal detectors on every building and pat down air travelers. Our fear of being eclipsed has led to bickering over currency values and dire warnings about manufacturing and helplessness about infrastructure and education and investment. We can't even manage a bullet train. Regular old health insurance nearly broke the political system. All our debate right now is about how to do less -- not how to do more with less, but just how to do less. The most audacious dreams you'll hear voiced in Op-Eds center on maybe possibly changing immigration laws. We wrangle nonstop about the cost of everything without ever talking about its value.

It just makes me sad, a little bit, that our dreams have gotten so very small.

It's hard to disagree. Our dreams are no longer to see further, to go farther, and grab the coattails of the future. All we seem capable of doing nowadays is shaking our fists at one another demanding fiscal austerity. Imagine if we had instead approached the debate with creativity and a willingness to try to solve the problem by giving of ourselves. Imagine if all citizens of a legal working age simply gave a days wage per year of their salary towards helping pay off the national debt? Across all the income brackets that's about $129.50 per person or $40 billion dollars. As a country we'd be asking each person to work one extra day a year. Perhaps even during a weekend. This way it wouldn't even affect a family's normal income. It could be a way of showing national pride and responsibility. It would still take awhile to pay off the debt, but using other cost cutting measures we could make pretty good progress rather quickly. This kind of approach is an attitude that says, "Lets roll up our sleeves and solve the problem in a way that doesn't involve implementing regressive draconian policies."

Unfortunately the general attitude seems to be, "Lets wait for the entire thing to break." The question then becomes, what do we do next? A systemic failure with no backup plan is a good way to send ourselves back to the dark ages.

Luckily not everyone has lost spirit ...


Right now, six men live in space. They have been there since May and will be there for a few months longer. Their names are Satoshi Furukawa, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, Sergei Volkov, and Andrey Borisenko. They pass over your heads every 91 minutes. Humans have lived in space since before I was born (though not always continuously).

When you point out to the average person on the street that humans are living in space right now, many of them will not believe you. Most of the rest will scrunch their foreheads and say "oh yeah... I think I knew that," or some equivalent.

That this is not a headline every day, that every person who goes on an ISS mission is not a hero when they come home, that people do not stare up in wonder and awe every moment because humans live in space is unfathomable to me.

...

One day, we will colonize other planets. We can't not. This isn't a wish and it isn't a prediction, it's an obligation.

If there is other life in the universe, we OWE it to them to find them and communicate with them, to learn from them and to reshape our ideas about life around what we find and to make sure they know that they aren't alone either.

If we are the only ones, then we owe it to the universe to spread and multiply and fight entropy and bring life to every corner that will support it.

If we don't do this, we have failed as a species. It's that simple.

We will colonize or we will go extinct. Again, not a prediction, but an inevitability. This planet is so small, so fragile (so terrifyingly, incomprehensibly, small against the backdrop of the galaxy) that it is criminally negligent that we aren't trying to leave it now that we know how.

We must and we will but right now we seem to have forgotten that fact, and ... it terrifies me that we might not remember ...

I think we're better than that.

I just hope I'm right.

Viva la dream.

-Xt
edit on 31-7-2011 by Xtraeme because: (no reason given)




posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 01:40 AM
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A brilliant essay. Thanks for sharing it. It reminds me of a quote from Babylon 5:

"See, in the last few years, we've stumbled... And when you stumble a lot, you...you start looking at your feet. You know, we have to make people lift their eyes back to the horizon and see the line of ancestors behind us saying, "Make my life have meaning." And to our inheritors before us saying, "Create the world we will live in." We're not just...holding jobs and having dinner. We're in the process of building the future. That's what [it] is all about. Only by making people understand that can we hope to create a better world for ourselves, and our posterity."

"And Now for a Word..." by J. Michael Straczinsky



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 01:44 AM
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I'm glad they finally got rid of that overpriced taxi system. There was nothing groundbreaking about floating around in orbit at the cost of billions of dollars.

Time to privatize the space industry so real progress can be made in space exploration.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 01:58 AM
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reply to post by kro32
 

I'm always surprised by this attitude. Privatization isn't at odds with a civilian state funded space program. The benefits reaped are entirely different. Private companies have an interest in profit. This causes them to drive down prices and to find better ways to do more with less. Whereas a civilian state funded space program is interested in science and exploration. This is an entirely different agenda. It's in combining these two different goals that we hopefully get a more optimal outcome.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:03 AM
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Originally posted by Xtraeme
reply to post by kro32
 

I'm always surprised by this attitude. Privatization isn't at odds with a civilian state funded space program. The benefits reaped are entirely different. Private companies have an interest in profit. This causes them to drive down prices and to find better ways to do more with less. Whereas a civilian state funded space program is interested in science and exploration. This is an entirely different agenda. It's in combining these two different goals that we hopefully get a more optimal outcome.


A very solid well thought out point and I accept that. However, in order to fund science and research they government needs to find a way to make the benefits comparable to the cost to the people paying the bills. The space shuttle program did not achieve this at all in my opinion and therefore needed to be scrapped until such time as there is a more viable option.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:20 AM
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reply to post by kro32
 

A cost-benefit analysis is certainly important, but it seems few people are aware of just how valuable the civilian space program has become. Without NASA and the research from the ESA we would have never realized that there was even such a thing as space weather. This might sound mundane and blah-se, but when you realize that CMEs can do substantial damage to our infrastructure ( cf. "Solar storms could create $2tn 'global Katrina', warns chief scientist"). Then it becomes readily apparent just how important it is that we track dangerous ( NOAA Space Weather Scales ) geomagnetic storms (Space Weather Alerts). It's only with this foreknowledge that we can to shut off equipment to minimize damage. That's a trillion dollar savings right there. Now imagine we had never invested in the space program in the first place. Our ignorance due to lack of research could have put us back by decades.
edit on 31-7-2011 by Xtraeme because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:25 AM
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I remember watching the Apollo missions on TV in 1st grade and I was Awed! I remember as a child of 8 or 9 going to the Airport to see the first Space Shuttle being piggy-backed on a 747 and I was inspired. I remember watching one of the rare night launches of the Space Shuttle from a hotel in Cocoa Beach FL as a teenager and I was simply amazed.

Now, a lifetime later, I am sad that I will never get to see the Earth from a fast departing spaceship. I still believe that one day we will reach the stars, it just seems like that day keeps getting further and further away.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:27 AM
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reply to post by Xtraeme
 


I understand your point but there would have been more cost effective ways to gather this information. Simple satellites programed to look for things like this could have been used for a fraction of the cost.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:28 AM
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Originally posted by redbarron626
I remember watching the Apollo missions on TV in 1st grade and I was Awed! I remember as a child of 8 or 9 going to the Airport to see the first Space Shuttle being piggy-backed on a 747 and I was inspired. I remember watching one of the rare night launches of the Space Shuttle from a hotel in Cocoa Beach FL as a teenager and I was simply amazed.

Now, a lifetime later, I am sad that I will never get to see the Earth from a fast departing spaceship. I still believe that one day we will reach the stars, it just seems like that day keeps getting further and further away.


Actually the ending of the shuttle program may have made your dream closer not further away. If you give corporations access and a reason to get into space with a high probablility of profit you will see things happen very quickly.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:50 AM
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reply to post by kro32
 

I always thought restricting private companies in the first place was pretty ridiculous. A friend who works at id Software gave me the lowdown on Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace project. From what I've been told getting through the red-tape is like trying to cut your way out of a jungle. My hope is that the development with NASA will cause the FAA to allow SpaceX and some of the other outfits to do more now that the space shuttle has been scuttled.

However I admit this does make me somewhat worried. The goal of space companies is entirely different from NASA and the ESA. They're run by suits. And suits want to make money. Getting in to space is one thing. Staying in space and making something like a moon-base is another.
The amount of research necessary to accomplish something like this is beyond any single company. Heck it's probably beyond a single country.


edit on 31-7-2011 by Xtraeme because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 02:56 AM
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reply to post by Xtraeme
 


I don't think it would be as hard or complicated as you think it would be. It is worrisome for a company to do it as profit would be their main goal but they would get it done quicker than the government. I agree about the red tape issue though and that needs to be addressed and hopefully people are pushing for it.

Just in a waiting period now I guess.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 06:26 AM
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Wait a minute, are you saying that the (U.S) government imposes restrictions on private space launching? You mean China, India, France, Russia et al. have to seek permission from the (U.S. UN?) administrations to launch a spacecraft? I'd like to see documentation on that.

Nothing besides simple economics have stopped any private entity to launch space rockets.

Other than launching communications and other LEO satellites where is the profit for a private industry to launch lets say, a space probe to Pluto? There isn't any.



posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 03:09 PM
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Originally posted by Illustronic
Wait a minute, are you saying that the (U.S) government imposes restrictions on private space launching?

You're absolutely right. If a company truly wanted to get into space they could easily relocate to a country with more favorable aviation and space launch rules. This is probably the strongest argument as to why privatization isn't going to rapidly progress manned space flight. Without government sponsored funds, no company is going to have the cash reserves to create something as ambitious as the shuttle. This is all the more reason to be saddened that we mothballed the program.



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