Friday, June 15, 2018

Space Marvels - near and far

Lift your gaze.  Our ructions down here are mere blips and bumps on the road skyward.

The 2018 NIAC Awards were announced a short time ago. Fascinating projects, just this side of science fiction! I’ll I grilled many of these researchers and NIAC fellows in DC, at NASA HQ, just last week. Think about attending the NIAC Symposium in Boston, this September.

Wonderful and wonder-filled and beautiful illustrations, by James Vaughn, depict near and farther-future missions in space. You'll be glad you looked! Vaughn does not have a book yet, but there is a site for prints and posters.

And real-life images are even better! Mike Ravine, the camera guy for the Juno spacecraft, just sent around a link for pics from Juno's latest overflight of the Great Red Spot last month on its twelfth perijove pass.  And here’s another higher res version to make you go wow!

How awful that so many of our fellow citizens are never exposed to these wonders, in order to feel thrilled to be members of a civilization that does things like this!  We must do something about that. You can shake your friends and relatives awake to marvel.  In fact... it's your duty.

Mike adds: A bit of background on this.  Because Junocam was put on the Juno Mission for public outreach, not science, we don’t have much funding to support data processing. So, that data are released to a public website a day or so after we get it down, and a small bunch of amateur image processors start grinding on it.  And they post their work back on the same website.  There’s quite a bit of variability to the product that comes out of this process, but a couple of these guys do a really nice job."

Isn’t that wonderful?  Taxpayers insisted that the science probe carry a camera. And what a camera! And citizens are the ones processing these images. This is ours. And what greater proof do you need, that we are the very opposite of decadent.

== A lunar orbital gateway ==
NASA hopes to start to build a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, for astronauts and research, launching the first element of the Gateway – its power and propulsion module – into space in 2022.  This concept offers a rare overlap-consensus amid the bitter, politically-partisan divide over where human expeditions should go next. 

Sure, everyone talks about Mars as the alluring strategic goal (though the president proclaims he's the first to think of it.) But most scientists agree with the the tech-investors who want to mine asteroids along the way, because of the vast wealth that could be extracted from them, while learning how to exploit the Martian moon, Phobos. The Obama Administration supported that path... 

...and hence asteroids are dismissed by uniform Republican catechism, declaring instead that we should join all the Apollo wannabes out there -- nations and zillionaires eager to plant dusty footprints yet again on an almost completely useless, barren, lunar plain.

(NASA has cancelled a mission to assay the resources that may be available to humans on the moon, despite President Donald Trump's administration making it a priority to send humans back there.  There’s an explanation, but you wouldn’t believe it, if I told you.)

The lunar orbital station offers a way to service both goals. Asteroidal samples acquired by robots could be studied and processed there, while we learn much about distance-survival methods.  Meanwhile, we could run a hotel and charge all the wannabes eager to get down to the moon, for reasons of national pride, or tourism.  There are several other uses for such a station, that I won't go into, here.

What does all this mean? That our civil servants are moving us forward, even when their political overlords are out of their cotton-pickin' minds.

A fascinating perusal of the business landscape for space launch services, and why SpaceX may already have won.

== Extending our reach ==

The first-ever affordable luxury space hotel may be launched in 2021.   A 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million. From 2001 through 2009, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station (ISS), paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each. Um, an optimistic schedule, methinks.  Still, I forecast a burgeoning amateur space boom, in EXISTENCE

“Several other companies, including Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace, also aim to launch commercial space stations to Earth orbit in the next few years to meet anticipated demand from space tourists, national governments, researchers and private industry.”  And yes, there should be a hotel orbiting above the Moon!

The RemoveDebris space robot has a net, a harpoon and a dragsail on-board. To be launched from the Space Station, it will hunt large items of orbiting junk, glom onto them and use the drag sail to de-orbit the debris.  Not quite as elegant as the method I portray in the first chapter of EXISTENCE… but progress, nonetheless.

The Google Lunar X-Prize was a formidable challenge. Of 30 original applicants – private consortiums, not governments, hoping to land a useful rover on the Moon – five remained, claiming to be almost ready when the extended deadline expired.  Now the X Prize Foundation has started a new challenge, giving them another chance… so far without a big sponsor.  Anyone out there eager to step up?  

Mind you, I’d love to be proved wrong in my impression (shared by Andy Weir) that for at least a generation the Moon’s surface will be a dusty wasteland, useless for anything but tourism.  

Chasing New Horizons: The Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, written by the mission director Alan Stern, along with astrobiologist David Grinspoon (author of Earth in Human Hands), has just been published. A fascinating tale of teams of competent humans striving (on a shoestring) to achieve the impossible, extending our awareness to the edge of interstellar space.

Half a dozen volunteers spent 6 months living in a dome on the high-barren flanks of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, as part of a NASA mission to study human factors in dealing with such an extended period of cramped isolation.

A meteor that exploded in 2008 over the Nubian Desert contained embedded diamonds that, in turn, offered trapped substances that could only have been formed at super high pressures, deep inside a planet that “probably met its end in the demolition derby of the early solar system, but the scale of the object (or objects) was still unknown until the inclusions were described.”

Planetary scientists still aren't sure exactly where the parent body that broke apart into ureilites formed in the solar system, or how it was ultimately destroyed.

A new “kilopower” nuclear power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond recently passed an extensive operating test in the Nevada desert, performing well under a variety of challenging conditions.

And this just in: Supermassive black hole violently swallows star, and researchers watch. Kewl!  Or hot.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Predicting the Korea "deal." Kim gets everything he wants.

Alas, the news just won't leave us be. Especially after our alliances were demolished at the G-7 summit... and we're about to be betrayed at the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.

And hence, I will do the adult thing and couch my predictions as a wager. A bet. I have a reputation for foresight. But I never say what will happen.  But I reckon the following scenario has better than two-to-one odds. (At the end of this piece, see some alternatives with lesser-odds.)

== It's the Conventional Forces, Stupid ==

Let's start by questioning an assumption shared across the political spectrum, that the central issue is Kim Jong Un's access to nuclear weaponry. Oh, sure, that's important, but it is also a potemkin issue, a mask for deeper purposes.

First, despite achieving H-bombs and ICBMs at remarkable -- even implausible -- speeds, Kim's danger to the U.S. remains far from imminent. He knows that any attempt to harm others with those bombs would be personal suicide for him. And he already had the capability, with thousands of dug-in artillery tubes, to flatten Seoul in a matter of minutes. Nevertheless:

If Kim Jong Un verifiably surrenders all his nukes, I will eat a bug.

Sure, there will be superficial concessions: a supervised elimination of nuclear R&D, along with demolition of nuclear production and testing sites. Big deal. These are no longer needed by the NK regime. Indeed, it is my private belief that they were always just for show; he got his nukes elsewhere. In any event, none of those concessions matter. Those facilities are now expenses he'd rather eliminate from his ledger.

Knowing that he holds all the cards, Kim will demand and get a residuum of perhaps five or six nuclear weapons... as a "deterrent."  He will also insist on guarantees against any attempted regime change, plus an end to sanctions, plus a massive aid package and -- above all -- a draw-down of conventional arms and armies on both sides.

Who could object to that, you ask? Isn't peace the direction we want to go?
Oh, but do try to see things as the professionals in our studious, thoughtful, but maligned "deep state" services and agencies already do. Especially this simple fact:

Conventional armed forces are incredibly expensive. 

The biggest threat to the Pyongyang leadership caste is their vast, bulky, and expensive conventional army. Not only is it bankrupting the nation, but at any moment, an uprising at one base could rapidly spread, turning Kim's military into an instant, deadly danger to the regime. While others point to historical examples like Libya and Iraq, the best parallel is the brutal Romanian-communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown in an almost instantaneous popular revolt, spearheaded by countless junior officers.

For reasons of both economic and personal survival, Kim desperately needs a smaller army.

In contrast, nuclear weapons - once you have them - are cheap to hold, to hide and to maintain.

Kim's current dilemma has only one solution, then. Keep enough nukes to deter any adventurous notions  on our side... and hold onto those artillery tubes threatening Seoul... then entice both South Koreans and Americans to shout hosannahs over a "deal" to slash their own forces below the DMZ. Forces they can easily afford and that pose them zero risk.

Let's be clear: any conventional draw-down is Kim's chief aim, his win-win.

But oh, why not also get the South and the U.S. to pay for it all, ending sanctions and with massive aid, welcoming Kim to the club of international leaders? Add more wins.

Look, I'm no war-monger. Elsewhere I've railed against what seems to be powerful momentum toward a U.S.-Iran conflict that can only have one possible outcome. (We would lose.) Hence, I do not oppose genuine deal-making that could lead to actual peace on the Korean peninsula.

On the other hand, we need to learn from the author of "The Art of the Deal." Especially when Donald Trump is clearly falling -- either emotionally or deliberately -- for every sucker-trap that he described in that prophetic book. Desperate to save his presidency he cares only about symbolism.

Sure, it's a shout into the wind, as Nobel-level praise will foam across all ends of the political spectrum. But the "deal" that appears to be taking shape is one that benefits a mad and brutal dictator at every level. It is one in which we lose-lose-lose.

== Addendum: lesser odds ==

It is possible that Donald Trump will do something else. He might look Kim in the eye, then swivel and leave.

Think about it.  What else could add to his cred so simply? Implying that he truly is a savvy "gut" genius?

It would throw all critics off balance, and that would serve the purposes of Beijing and Moscow, too.  

Lesser odds. One in five, I'd say.  But again, theater, not substance. The real enemy is every professional and "deep state" smartypants. They - and we - lose-lose-lose

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Central Control over AI... and everything else

Back home, hoping for a rest after nine weeks of relentless travel and speechifying.  But no, I cannot lay off this unpaid scrivening, here. Because, well, the issues and misunderstandings are just to rife. For example: I was recently in China for a corporate conference, to keynote a session on “Daily Life in the Future.” There, I got to sample different cultural and political perspectives in Shenzhen from Hong Kong, just across the border.

Around the same time, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by a Chinese academic that has caused a stir, by offering a cogent and thoughtful – and ultimately wrongheaded – argument that the sole solution to AI – related problems will be control by a paramount party-state.

We need to understand how these polemical rationalizations — e.g. “we are getting even for colonialism”  — aim to gird and rationalize a heightened level of intensity. Intensity that's not needed, in order to develop an advanced and competitive nation… but that will be necessary if your aim is to stir militancy, even war.

== The argument for central control over AI… and everything else ==

Feng Xiang, a professor of law at Tsinghua University, argues that AI will spell the end of capitalism. 

First, the standard Marxian cycle will return, with a vengeance. For lack of anti-monopoly or redistributive reform (like those enacted by our parents, under FDR, or our great grandparents, under the other Roosevelt), each business cycle will result in greater wealth disparities and a narrowing of the owner-controlling caste, leading to a conversion of vibrantly competitive markets back into history's standard, uncreative oligarchic pyramid. 

Naturally, Professor Feng’s proposed solution is also Marxist. Party-guided proletarian revolution.

Second, technological obsolescence of many types of employment will break the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, if not billions. No longer able to negotiate or bargain for the value of their labor, workers will be at the mercy of the Owner Caste. And yes, ditto. Feng’s prescription for a resolution is Sino-Marxist.

Finally, any AI that gains control over important systems with unsupervised intelligence may pose an existential risk to humanity. For this and other reasons, Professor Feng argues that research into artificial intelligence should be tightly controlled by a benevolent socialist state.

Why am I giving space over to a communist state-servant who promotes Marxist notions that I clearly disagree-with? Because it is well-worthwhile reading his appraisal of the looming problems. After which it is instructive to study his prescriptions! Because simplistic panaceas will doubtless appeal to billions, over the next couple of decades. Especially when our own lords seem determined to follow the Marxian pattern, by driving the middle class into penury.

You need to grasp the polemical intent underlying Professor Feng's missive. And to see how Feng's prescriptions do not follow, logically, from his well-described premises.

(Note: for a much more detailed look at these rationalizations for recreating the feudal pyramid, see: Jiang Shigong's monograph on ‘Philosophy and History: Interpreting the “Xi Jinping Era” through Xi’s Report to the Nineteenth National Congress of the CCP’.)

== Zooming in ==

Let’s dive into Feng Xiang’s own words:

“But China’s socialist market economy could provide a solution to this. If AI rationally allocates resources through big data analysis, and if robust feedback loops can supplant the imperfections of “the invisible hand” while fairly sharing the vast wealth it creates, a planned economy that actually works could at last be achievable.”

Hold back your visceral reaction. Yes, yes, this is a blatant attempt to justify the ingathering of overwhelming power into a permanent, narrow, self-chosen caste. It’s the same model that dominated 99% of all human societies. Each of those also invoked incantations to explain why a dominant caste should hold and monopolize all power.

Almost anyone raised in the Western Enlightenment – or by Hollywood film morality – will feel instant recognition and loathing. Indeed, the difference between a state controlled by capitalist owner-oligarchy and a pyramidal hierarchy controlled by communist party elite is (basically) only one of vocabulary and incantations, not structure or end result.

But as I said; hold on a minute. It’s one thing to recognize a servile charm-chant to justify central power. It's quite another thing to dismiss every aspect of Prof. Feng's argument. We’d be fools to do so.

“The more AI advances into a general-purpose technology that permeates every corner of life, the less sense it makes to allow it to remain in private hands that serve the interests of the few instead of the many. More than anything else, the inevitability of mass unemployment and the demand for universal welfare will drive the idea of socializing or nationalizing AI.”

Complaining about the rapacious, insatiable and socially irresponsible behavior of today’s capitalist corporations, he asserts:

“These companies have been able to get away with their social irresponsibility because the legal system and its loopholes in the West are geared to protect private property above all else. Of course, in China, we have big privately owned Internet companies like Alibaba and Tencent. But unlike in the West, they are monitored by the state and do not regard themselves as above or beyond social control.”

In other words, Professor Feng proclaims that state planning will be boosted in effectiveness by the very thing (AI) that would be lethal, under capitalism.

Feng Xiang continues: “Marx’s dictum, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,” needs an update for the 21st century: “From the inability of an AI economy to provide jobs and a living wage for all, to each according to their needs.”’

Why have I given lengthy space to this? Even urging you all to go read the original, for yourself? Because of the extreme (and interesting) cognitive dissonance of this essay, which accurately describes a trio of serious dilemmas that have us clearly on course to failure...

...only then Feng explicitly declares that the only answer is to return to a different failure mode! A governance method that proved universally calamitous across 6000 years.

== An aside: the “central planning wall” ==

Consider that state planners know there is a “wall of incompetence.” Such a wall tripped up the Soviets in the 1950s, when their command methods for building primary industry (steel, dams, railroads) that worked so well in the 1930s proved inept at secondary industry capable of producing a refrigerator that anyone wanted. 

The 1980s Japanese zaibatsus – organized by the Ministry of Trade -- were convinced that their planned mercantilism had overcome Soviet errors, by using capitalist tools… till hitting their wall: the tertiary economy.

There can be no arguing with the fantastic successes wrought by the current Chinese leadership’s use of planning combined with corporate structures and predatory mercantilism. Even if their debt bubble pops tomorrow, their achievements in advancing their nation have been epic. 

Yes, a few of us point out that the fundamental key to their success was an American innovation – generously counter-mercantilist trade patterns instituted by the American pax since 1946 -- that uplifted half the population of the globe. Without that unprecedented indulgence by the era's "central kingdom," the “Chinese Method” would have gone exactly nowhere.  Still, the engineers who occupy seats on the current Beijing politburo are smart guys, and they can be excused some hubris, believing they have a way around the next state planning “wall.”

The magic tool they have used for a decade as been pre-AI computer modeling. And they expect that to transform into the ultimate wall-breaker – true artificial intelligence -- which will supposedly make economic and tech models so realistic that central planning will outstrip every system based upon Adam Smith’s markets or Friedrich Hayek’s ‘distributed wisdom.’

Do you now understand better the quasi-religious faith that central planners vest in the positive traits of AI?  Meanwhile, they posit – along with Elon Musk and many worried westerners - that there can be negative effects of burgeoning AI, as well! Even calamitous ones. And hence, Feng asks: who better to prevent Robopacalypse than a central party state?

Yes, yes, he follows his cogent dilemma description with a self-serving, magical incantation for centralization, without a scintilla of evidence or reason. No pyramidal power hierarchy ever evaded for long the core human contradiction: that we are delusional beings. Only one antidote has ever been found for delusion and error – free and open criticism. And tiny ruling castes always, always crush criticism.

They will hire gifted theologians – like Professor Feng – to concoct catechisms in whatever state religion justifies paramount power. But no matter how potent their AI, the fundamental remains the same. Garbage in, garbage out.

GiGo. There will be a wall.

== Don’t be smug ==

Do not use my own glib incantation about GiGo to dismiss all of Feng Xiang’s arguments! He is absolutely right that:

- We must find ways to avoid a gathering of all power into our own style of pyramid. One that’s inarguably worse – in its final stage – than Confucian paternalism. Feudal lordship by an owner aristocracy.

- Looming technological unemployment does mean that some renegotiation of the social contract will be absolutely vital.  As in Roosevelt’s time, it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income: read Vonnegut’s Player Piano, and Farmer’s Riders of the Purple Wage.)  The Greatest Generation knew this, as did the American founders, who redistributed a quarter of all the land in Britain’s former colonies.

But an American style reform would still entail the widest possible distribution and separation of power and influence. Indeed, although there will be screams of “socialism!” such a redistribution would be diametrically opposite to both types of pyramids. Both feudal oligarchy and Chinese Party hierarchy.

And yes, AI could either help or impede, depending on one thing. Transparency.

== Feng is also right that AI threatens us with peril ==

Want to see how creepy the present situation is?

In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.

In a fascinating article, UCLA Professor Lynn Lopucki asserts that algorithmic entities are likely to prosper first in criminal activities or those that benefit most from operating in the dark.  

This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 

My favorite solution – a universal, international treaty – would solve all this in just two sentences:

“If you think you own something – from a car to a home, to a corporation, or ship, or algorithm – you must say so, identifying it openly. No shell entity may layer more than two deep before revealing owners who are living humans or totally transparent foundations.”

Two sentences.

Some have called this a “welfare program for lawyers,” since the litigation that it unleashed would last a decade. So? The biggest immediate effect would be a tsunami of suddenly revealed and abandoned property – never declared by the owners who acquired it through crime -- perhaps enough to give all legitimate taxpayers a tax holiday, worldwide. 

If you are a legitimate and honest taxpayer, there is no measure proposed by anyone that would benefit you more. I defend this proposal elsewhere. But here I assert simply:

* If it were imposed and enforced worldwide. No other measure would do as much to restore fairness and enlightenment and progress to the world. *

== The Final Feng ==

You all have been champing at the bit to point out the last and most glaring error of Feng Xiang’s missive. To declare that AI entities will be rendered harmless if controlled by a paramount party elite, atop an all-powerful central state. The error is obvious:

1. So empowered, that core elite will be unquestionable. A Big Brother that no Orwell could ever have imagined.

2. What happens when the AI gets truly much smarter than its masters? Won’t this power structure be trivially convenient for that entity to simply and subtly invert?  A pyramid of already unquestionable power, easily taken over by the very entities it claimed to control.

Jesus. Is any other outcome even remotely possible?

Yes, I prefer the distributed-competitive model, breaking up all elites and powers into reciprocally-accountable lumps. A method that works only under fully pervasive light. But when light does shine into all crevices, it works better than any other system ever devised.  (Why do you think that all the world’s oligarchs seek – in a worldwide putsch – to strangle the method, forever?)

Read Feng Xiang’s missive, with all of this in mind. There is partial value… like many things in life… but also silliness. Use light to separate them.

== Coda ==

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Mortality, morality and politics

Step by step, across four decades, American conservatism has reversed almost every stance on responsible personal morality.  Their love affair with casino lords and gambling is just one aspect that would have infuriated their own, Greatest Generation parents. Also, the divorce rates (and perversion rates) of their politicians. 

Or think of any American strength that helped to win the Cold War. Strong alliances, superlative science, a confident civil service and justice system and officer corps, a basic sense of shared purpose, clear recognition of the adversary, and the moral high ground. Can you think of one - even just one - that has not been systematically demolished by Putin's people at Fox, the GOP and now their agent in the White House? Go ahead. Name one. The entire mad right now kvells over Kremlin masterminds because they switched from hammer and sickle pins to orthodox crosses.

I have a dream that residually sane Republicans out there are planning a summer conference, even “convention.” Mitt Romney is certainly trying to organize one. But what we can see of McCain, Flake, Kasich, Collins, Murkowski and the rest suggests they haven’t more then three inches of spine among them.

== Politics and mortality == 

Does looming mortality affect your mood? Or is it the other way around? CBS News notes: "The 10 states with the lowest probability of premature death were: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington.

Life expectancy across the U.S.
"But the news wasn't good for all states. The 10 states with the highest probability of premature death included: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

"For young and middle-aged folks, there was hope in the majority of states. The odds of dying for adults aged 20 to 55 declined in 31 states and Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 2016, the findings showed.

"But in 19 states, young and middle-aged adults didn't fare as well. Decades of declining mortality rates were reversed in these states. And, in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia, the probability of death for that age group not only stopped decreasing, it actually increased by 10 percent over the study period."

Any person with sense would say: "it may not be the fault of the governing party in those states. But anyone who says it's not a factor should bear a burden of proof."

Hence the all-out war on "proof."

== Were we boomers ‘poisoned’? It would explain a lot! ==

I’m going to give this soapbox over to a member of our Comments Community, here at Contrary Brin – one of the oldest and smartest such communities anywhere on the Web. 

Duncan Cairncross took note of the incredible science that has shown how the rise (in the 1970s - 80s) of U.S. crime rate was decisively correlated to lead in paints, in gasoline and in the air that young people breathed. The bills that banished this poison from gas and paints etc. (and see where I played a small role in this reform!) were among the most important ever passed by any legislature, ever, across all of human history. And the resulting eventual drop in crime rates (there were other factors, but none as important) proved decisively which political party – for all its many flaws – is in favor of children and the people and the future.  

What Duncan did was take a logical extension of this story, beyond youthful crime to the same generation’s pathological later politics. Over to him:

The Effect of Lead in Petrol

"The correlation between increases in violent crime and the later decrease in violent crime is very strongly linked to Lead on our Petrol and to it's removal. This can be seen U.S. State by State where the reduction in violence is linked to when that specific state made the transition and other in counties where the transition from lead was made a different times

"Lead exposure was related to the amount of petrol burnt - Which increased from about 250 Billion miles driven in 1930 to about 500 Billion in 1950, 1 Trillion in 1970 and 2 Trillion in 1980. I found "Gas Lead in tons per 1000 people" It starts at 0.3 tons in 1937 - moves up to 1.3 tons in 1972 then drops to 0.3 tons in 1986 

"So who got poisoned?
- The "Greatest Generation" 1905 - 1925 were adults
- The "Silent Generation" 1925 - 1945 - would have been slightly effected
- "Baby Boomers" 1945 - 1965 - the early boomers would have ingested some lead - and as the years went by the last of the Boomers would be ingesting twice as much lead as the early boomers
- "Generation X" 1965 to 1984 covers the very peak - and the drop off 

"So the Boomers and Generation X were poisoned as children! That accounts for their statistically-worse behavior during their twenties, when young males are most prone to ant-social behavior. Only then I was wondering if there was an effect on later voting patterns! When Boomer males are less violent, but just as prone to snarling rages due to… well… brain damage?

"May I assert a hypothesis: this is why so many of the Baby Boomers voted for Trump. 
And why the "Millennials" appear to be working out so well - behaving better than we did by every measure."
                   -- D.Cairncross

Brin here. How much sense this makes. Indeed, the Millennials I know are nearly all nicer, calmer people than we indigation-junky boomers.  Hey, kids!  Come out in November and rescue America! Rescue the revolution. Rescue humanity.

== Addendum ==

Look historically at who fought against the "meddlesome laws that removed lead. The very same folks -- and even the same Ad agencies and public relations firm - certainly the same party - that cried out: "Tobacco is harmless!" Revisit Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. 

Also: "Cars don't cause smog!" "Non-whites and women cannot excel." "It doesn't matter that urban rivers are catching fire." "An endless war on drugs is such a great idea!" "WMDs!" And so many other credibility-destroying nostrums.

Liberals, don't get too smug! You've had some howler-insanities, like desegregation through forced school bussing. And the "chain migration" rules for legal immigration. You are right a lot more often. That don't make you perfect.

And finally.....

Dr. Shannon Hader - running for Washington's 8th Congressional District - is a perfect example of what I've been calling for. A Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, combining scientific training with medical compassion, with military-style crispness and discipline. And I happen to know she is also open to fresh ideas. 

Consider - wherever you live - finding the nearest such candidate, even for state assembly, and pulling out the stops. Register young people. Offer incentives to vote.

Oh, and a Stargate?... The super-dupeunbelievable (really) reason for the coming war with Iran.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Space Pioneering: the passion and dream continue! (But leave the dusty Moon to others.)

I just returned from the International Space Development Conference at the LAX Sheraton in Los Angeles, where I had the honor to MC the awards luncheon, presenting to my friend (and NIAC colleague) Frank Drake the Pioneer Award for profound contributions to humanity’s outward vision.

Other award recipients and honored guests included Jeff Bezos, Freeman Dyson, Buzz Aldrin… and Toni Weiskopf, legendary publisher of Baen Books, presented the Baen short story award winners.

photo by Nadia Drake
The day before, I gave a talk about Defense and Potential Conflict in Space at Northrup-Grumman and - with my son Ben - got a fairly close look at the James Webb Space Telescope, being assembled for launch soon. (We’ll all be biting nails!)

The evening before that, I gave a talk about Our Place in the Universe at UCLA for the annual Julian Schwinger Colloquium.

And next week I fly to Washington meetings for the NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) and at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Plus an event for the nascent DC Museum of Science Fiction.   (See my calendar at

So, all in all, a very spacey month! 

Which leads me to zoom back to something almost every space enthusiast (and I love you guys) seems to accept romantically, while ignoring actual facts. I'm talking about the self-destructive allure of the USA getting mired in a “return to the moon.”

== Building Mars abilities, so we can stay ==

For starters, I have nothing against Mars. In fact, I think it is a fine, mid-distant objective - a lure to entice us onward. An "inspirational goal," according to Scott Pace of the National Space Council. Alas, as a near term goal, it has problems. A rushed Mars program would have to use the Apollo Method, seeking a single, short-term victory lap. 

Compare two kinds of expeditions, to the top of Mt. Everest... or to the South Pole. In both cases, you spend 90% of your time going back and forth, building a base camp that lets you build an advance camp, that lets you supply an assault camp. With Everest, the aim is tourism and glory. When it comes to the South Pole, the U.S. wasn't first; but when we went, we stayed. And the scientific benefits have been huge. Still, everything needed by humans at the pole must be supplied from "Earth."

Mars expeditions will only make sense when we have truly sophisticated methods. Foremost, ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) facilities, not only on the Martian surface, but also on Phobos, that can extract and store volatiles, like water, for use not only as fuel, but also in closed life support (CELS) systems.

(Note: like everyone else, I am dazzled by Elon’s spectacular plans for skyscraper rockets! These would up-end the economics and timing in terrific ways. But the order in which things should be done does not change. We still need ISRU and CELS and some asteroid work before Martian trips will be sustainable for reasons other than glory.)

If ISRU provides tons and tons of water (and oxygen and fuel) stored at both locations, then the cost of repeated (instead of one-off) Mars missions plummets and their odds of success go far higher. This effect quintuples if there are also automated greenhouses, using that water to grow food. (Indeed, Elon's original idea was to send a greenhouse to Mars  To demonstrate how CELS will bring the dream closer.)

Those techniques (ISRU etc.), happen to be the same ones we can develop by doing asteroids as our near future project.  So, Mars lovers truly should also be asteroid lovers, especially since Phobos is the key to Mars, and Phobos may be a volatiles-rich asteroid!

== Back to a … dustbowl? ==

None of this can be said about the sterile, empty, and — at least for now — useless lunar surface.

A deliberately provocative assertion. Can I back it up?  

First, recall how I cited Scott Pace, a few paragraphs back. Here he explains the New Presidential Space Policy, that the U.S. should Return to Moon. By all means listen in.  Better yet, get and read "The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement," cited in the image you see here. 

Alas, though, I see no reason to back down.

1- Other than small amounts of polar ice, there is nothing of tangible value on the lunar surface. Nothing. Let me repeat that. Not one thing. 

Truly. Try asking any of the lunar guys to back up their arm-waved “resource” justifications, by showing us any actual, actual lunar “ores.” Except possibly for scattered meteoritic iron, such ores are not even theoretically possible. 

(See below an addendum explaining "ores" and how they came about on Earth and asteroids... and why I'll eat a bug, if you find any high quality ores on the moon.)

Or demand that they justify their assertion that the moon is an ideal “way-station” on the way to Mars.  It sounds logical, but it’s not true! Not at all. Not even a little bit. The numbers make that clear.

2- What about that lunar ice?  My doctoral advisor James Arnold predicted polar ice! I rejoice that it’s there… 

…and it belongs to future lunar colonists. For us to rape them by stealing their water for rocket fuel would be a crime, especially since the water and/or fuel would have to be hauled out of a gravity well, with a polar penalty! None of which is true for the vastly richer sources of water elsewhere.

3- Andy Weir (author of “The Martian”) wanted to write about a lunar colony in ARTEMIS. He wracked his brain for any economic justification for such a colony, and found only one reason to make a near term lunar settlement: tourism.

It’s why the U.S. went, as a nation, in the 60s!  It’s why (symbolic glory) the Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Indians, Europeans and billionaires are desperate to plant flags and dusty footprints on that useless plain. 

Indeed, it's why some business should invest in lunar capabilities!  Because making money off tourists is a perfectly legitimate business plan!

Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway
4- Hence, a Lunar Orbit Station makes sense! Set up shop above the moon. For one thing, it could peer down and search for ores-n-such to prove me wrong!

Plus, instead of being tourist-suckers, let’s sell tourism! Charge hotel and landing services for all those symbolism-obsessed lunar Apollo-wannabe tourists! Charge the Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Indians, Europeans and billionaires! 

A lunar orbit station is also perfect for analyzing asteroid samples and testing methods for human deep space flight. That was the plan approved by all the sage NASA advisory panels who actually know stuff and weighed all factors, till symbolism-obsessed politicians over-ruled everybody who actually knows stuff.

== The two biggest reasons not to get trapped in dusty quicksand ==

5- Dig-it. There is no reason for Americans to repeat past glories when we could be accomplishing things that only we can do

Read that twice. Why repeat what we did ages ago? Things the Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Indians, Europeans and billionaires are eager and ready to do?

Let’s do things they can’t!

6- Oh, then there's the dust itself. Nasty, nasty stuff. Sharp, brittle grains that... oh, look it up.

7- Prediction.  If we start a big “return to the moon” push, for American glory, it will prove expensive. And suddenly, a GOP president will declare a diplomatic victory! Remember when the jingoistic “Space Station Freedom” suddenly got transformed into the “International Space Station”?  Well, Trump and/or his successor will brag and preen over a great new agreement to do Return to the Moon jointly with China and Russia, yippee.

And, of course, this will require technology sharing. And yes, every single U.S. advantage and trade secret and advancement will be given away, while those nations get cost savings for their symbolism-tourism. America - and posterity - get nothing.

8- Finally, my biggest objection is guilt by association

“Back to the moon” has become a central catechism of the Republican Party. The very same people who are waging all-out war on science - and every other fact-using profession - are also the folks shouting “back to the moon!” 

Seriously, this is no coincidence. The correlation is perfect. And while guilt-by-association may be less than mature, in this case it is spectacularly apropos. Those who are trying to cripple every single aspect of U.S. science also want NASA to fritter away our one chance to lead the new space era, by repeating an insipid obsession with useless, dusty footprints.  This is what the sworn enemies of science and progress want.

That fact should be enough for anyone.

Ad Astra.


Addendum on why there are few useful "ores" on the moon.

Why are there fractionated - or already partly-refined “ores”-  on asteroids, but not on the moon?  Refinable ores are the result of some kind of natural separation process… or else the delivery of something already separated.

-  On Earth the separation processes usually involve water flows, sometimes volcanism, or else meteoritic impacts.  Most of Earth’s metal sank into the core, long before the Moon formed from Earth’s light crust.

- Most asteroids come either from volatile-rich comets, or else from a shattered proto-planet. Millions are from that planet’s core. So, you have some asteroids rich in water (which should be fairly easy to harvest, using the "baggie" method), and some that are stunningly rich in almost already refined metal.

- The moon started metal poor (from Earth’s outer crust). No water separation processes. Some scattered meteoritic iron (that came from guess where?) A little water at the poles. 

Oh… and Helium3! Mythological, with no actual evidence and no known customers.  Next time someone like Scott Pace armwaves vague reasons for shifting all of our efforts to the Moon, do ask for specific studies weighing the likely wealth and benefits that real scientists have assayed to be actually present on the lunar surface, and actual tradeoffs of the "way station" argument. If he doesn't offer decisive links... well... you know.