Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Moon Landing: 45 Years Later

MOON-LANDING-1969Summertime takes me back to 1969, when -- despite national and international traumas that make today's seem petty -- the world did manage to come together over one topic... how glorious that humankind was forging forth into the Final Frontier.

Yet now, I share with millions of other boomers a head-scratching perplexity. Why don’t more of today’s youth care about outer space?

The easy answer would be to seize upon a simple nostrum -- about each era rejecting the obsessions of the one before it. But then, in that case, why is the very opposite true about popular music? Back in the hippie era, music divided the generations! But today? Well, my kids adore classic 60s and 70s Rock. In a surf shop or bike store, all I have to do is mention a few of the concerts that I snuck into, long ago, and the brash young fellers are at my feet, saying “tell us more, gramps!”

life2moonandbackSo why do they yawn, when we turn to the NASA Channel, or when we talk about colonizing Mars?

Or when we brag about being members of a species who walked on the Moon? For certain, you don’t hear astronaut mentioned on any list of dream jobs.

Puzzling over this quandary, I was reminded of something Norman Mailer said, when he wrote his 1960s tome Of A Fire on the Moon. Mailer had begun researching the book amid feelings of smug, intellectual hostility toward the crewcut engineers and fliers he encountered... only then his attitude shifted when he realized, in a startled epiphany that: “They were achieving not one, but two bona fide miracles.”

Feats that -- when Mailer really thought about it -- struck him as truly Biblical in proportion.

1. They were actually going to the Moon!

2. They were actually succeeding in making such an adventure boring

Mailer’s insight came to mind, while I was talking to kids about the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. Of all the predictions* ever made about spaceflight, I figure the least imaginable outcome would have been ennui. The endless tedium of checklists that probably turned off as many kids as the romance of space ever turned on.

*(Speaking of predictions. In a 1959 comic strip Jeff Hawke, the writers forecast that the first human landing on the Moon would happen on 4 August 1969, missing the real-life date by only two weeks. Oh, the lead astronaut was named... Armstrong.)

Of course, policy has had a lot to do with it. Members of the astronaut corps were always willing to accept a level of calculated risk similar to -- if more carefully managed than -- the adventurous pioneers of aviation. Perhaps the public might also have accepted the kind of casualty rates that usually occur on a frontier -- they did in Lindbergh’s time. But politicians could not. They wanted promises of “routine access to space.” And so, the shuttle proved an expensive and awkward mix of overblown promises, lost opportunities, unreasonable expense, relentless nit-pickery and mind numbing sameness. 

2001Not at all what we expected, back when my peers sat in dazed wonder, in the front row, watching Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Nor is that entirely a bad thing. As I point out elsewhere, we may have failed to build magnificent, rolling space hotels and moonbases that frolic to Strauss waltzes. But our civilization is a better one, than the one that was depicted in that film -- a smug and overbearing and fanatically secretive world dominated by patronizing white males. 

And if I had to choose... between a civilization that has improved itself and its sense of egalitarian justice as much as ours has, versus one that had taken a little longer to get its spinning space stations and moon bases... well... Let's just say that the hoary old cliche "it's too bad our wisdom hasn't kept up with our technology" may have it wrong, in ironic and weird ways. (For example, the way that both the mad left and the even-crazier right seem compelled to utterly deny the plain fact that so much social progress has been made! A plague on both cynical houses.)

== We are explorers ==

Others are commemorating this anniversary, of course.  I recommend one article in Salon, by veteran journalist Joel Shurkin, who covered the Apollo missions way back when. (This essay was published after Neil Armstrong's death, in 2012.) The ostensible topic - what Armstrong meant to say when he set foot on the moon, is actually banal.  But Shurkin makes some moving points.

EXPLORERS"We should explore space because that’s what we humans do... We explore. We are not content with where we are, we want to see what is over there. It is part of our DNA. When the great explorations of Earth began, there probably were people who told Cook and Magellan and Hudson and Columbus and all the rest that it was a waste of resources or that if God wanted us to find a northwest passage, he would have put up road signs or something. But they went. That’s us."

I nod my head vigorously, but also with a modernist quibble.  In addition to Cook and Magellan and Columbus he -- and the rest of you out there -- should routinely add in names of other, non-western explorers. like ibn Butatta and Cheng-ho and Hotu Matua.  Not only is this simple justice -- and pragmatically it lets you cancel out the "white-male-Euro chauvinist" reflex-accusation -- it also shows that you are one of the horizon-spreaders. Always ready to think outside your old, confining box.

Someone worthy of talking to others about shattering much bigger boxes. About seeking much wider horizons.**

== The Need for Speed! ==

Now consider a few other perspectives. For example: ever since the invention of the steam locomotive, human beings (or their machines) managed, every passing year and decade, to keep traveling faster, at an accelerating rate -- a curve that kept spiking ever more vertical, until we launched the Voyager space probes on their pellmell fling past Jupiter and beyond the Solar System, in the mid 1970s. Extrapolating that curve of ever-greater speed, some expected that we would, by 2010, dispatch probes to distant stars! We might easily have landed humans on Mars, using Freeman Dyson’s marvelous Orion-drive ships. It all appeared as inevitable and obvious as Moore’s Law of computer development seems to a different generation of techie-transcendentalists.

Only then, quite suddenly, the curve of acceleration abruptly stopped -- after 150 years. The Voyagers still represent, in many ways, a high water mark of humanity’s progress in space, culminating and concluding our raucous search for speed. At least, for now.

(Those who believe in an infinite Moore's Law, take note.)

Indeed, millions now look at the Space Race obsession as a mark of earlier immaturity. Sure, we benefit from weather and communication satellites, and reconnaissance-sats spread the worldwide strategic transparency that arguably save all our lives, during the Cold War. The technology spin-offs more than paid for it all and people are moderately proud of robotic space probes like Hubble and Cassini and Spirit and Opportunity.  Moreover, NASA's budget is far smaller than most citizens believe; when polled, they always give an estimate that is far higher.

But, when it comes to dreams of men and women, venturing into vacuum waste, well, you can hardly even find that happening in movie sci fi anymore, let alone our rel-life ambitions.

Certainly, when it comes to the actual Moon itself, I look with skepticism upon any thought of hurrying back there. My own graduate research advisor -- Dr. Jim Arnold -- was the fellow who predicted there might be ice in lightless crater-bottoms, at the north or south lunar poles -- and if it turns out to be true, there may be something useful about the place, someday. Still, despite George Bush's grandiose boondoggle that (thankfully) was cancelled, it hardly seems a useful next destination for us, right now.  Not compared to the riches that await us at near-Earth crossing asteroids, for example. Or that prime piece of real estate that has already caught the Russians' eye -- Phobos. Or the possible abode of life that is Europa.

== But what were we actually doing? ==

And yet, in honor of this anniversary, I want to make two points, in defense of those quaint old missions to the Moon.

First, they serve as a backstop against the gloom and pessimism that seem to be preached by cynics of both right and left, at every turn. How many of the arguments for some ambitious enterprise or another begin with: “If we could go to the moon, why can't we...” 

Damn right. If we could do that... well... we could do a heckuva lot of cool things! If we came up with some good old fashioned, win-win pragmatism and gumption, that is.

Then there is the way that one can connect the Moon Landings to Las Vegas and Disneyland and the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). Bear with me on this one...

All four were perfect expressions of an indomitable human -- but also crazily American -- determination to do or create things we want, long before any practical technology should have made it possible.  All four were expressions of desire so strong, that all else that was needed was money... just money. Oh, and in the case of Las Vegas, a lot of water. 

The VCR was like the moon shots? Did you ever open one up and watch as it clanked and whirred? What a brilliant, elaborate, insanely complicated Rube Goldberg device! Mass produced so cheaply that almost all Americans had several. It allowed hundreds of millions of people to watch what they wanted to watch, when they wanted to watch it, before any  sensible or efficient digital technologies were available to make it so. 

Get it now? And the lesson? That we are deficient today only in that one thing -- sufficient desire to overcome our stoked up, artificial resentments and get back to working together again, on something cool.  

It is that desire -- and the accompanying genius at pragmatic problem solving -- that the dogmatists and ideologues have killed in us. And that is the real reason we stopped adventuring in space.

== Finally... Apollo may have saved us..==

I believe the Apollo missions helped to create some of the most important art in human history.

That's a bold and strange statement. But let me dare to define effective visual art as some work or representation that subtly changes human beings just by the sight of it, transforming hearts and minds without verbal or logical persuasion.

By that reckoning, the 20th century featured two hugely effective works of visual art, both of them gifts of physics! 

First, the terrifying image of the atom bomb altered forever our little-boy romantic attachment to war, beckoning us instead us to grow up a bit in dealing with this new and awesome power to destroy. Defense became the business of serious grownups. Even (especially) among soldiers, war itself is now seen as evidence of failure - an urgent and risky measure arising out of inadequate diplomacy, preparation or deterrence. Sure, there were logical reasons to make that shift.  But art helped it along. The image of that mushroom cloud seared us.  It persuaded, without pallid words.

Ah but then there was the second image that changed us, deeply and forever. That great and transforming work of art was a gift that arrived at the very end of one of the most difficult years any of us can remember - 1968 - twelve crazed and frenetic months that brought most Americans -- and most of the world -- to the brink of exhaustion and despair. Yes, great music washed over us in a veritable tsunami... as did tragedies, war, invasions, assassinations, riots, betrayals, and fed-up demands for transformation.

Only then, a final token arrived -- like a gleam of hope shining at the bottom of Pandora’s Box...when the Apollo 8 astronauts brought home -- just before year's end -- that first perfect image of the Earth, floating as a blue marble in the vast desert of space. A picture that moved even the most cynical hearts and changed forever our outlook towards this fragile oasis world.

I'm willing to argue that this image -- an artwork purely created by humanity’s boldness and ambition... and the chaste innocent truthfulness of science... that transformed us more than anything else. Perhaps making us better, more responsible citizens and world-managers

But also -- one can hope -- possibly sending us down roads that will make us more ready and more worthy, until that day comes when our childrens’ children reverse things yet again, spurning cheap, indignant cynicism in favor of fizzing, confident eagerness, leading them once again to resume chanting:

“Let’s go!”


== ...addenda... ==

1) For more on the process of "horizon expansion" or seeking "otherness"... see my big TED-style talk at the Smithsonian - "Will we diversify into many types of humanity?"  (Follow the slides on Slideshare!)

2) Mark your calendars for one year from today… Pluto!  "We're arriving at Pluto on the morning of the 14th of July 2015. It's Bastille day. To celebrate we're storming the gates of Pluto."


Sean the Cosmist said...

I like how you closed this post. I see space exploration in more spiritual terms: for a secular, scientific society, it offers a new myth, a new transcendent spirit and a new place for dreams of greatness to unfold. I was a toddler in the Apollo days, but my sense is that this spirit did exist for a brief period, and created a huge sense of optimism and new horizons. I grew up on post-Apollo visions of a future in space, on television, in books and movies – where did they go?

Unless that spirit can be rekindled, I'm not sure how we can conjure up the will to do great things on the scale of Apollo again. It seems that the 1960s was the era when our civilization's radical deconstruction and divisions began, and ever since then it's been difficult to muster the collective confidence and vision that government space programs need. Maybe individuals like Elon Musk can step up and do what government programs no longer can, we'll see. But I really don't see how the current American ideological environment, now being propagated from the very top by our Ivy League institutions (and which you seem to be buying into), with all its talk of “privilege” and “social justice” rather than ambition and greatness, is conducive to great future achievements in space. If this cultural trajectory continues, I'm afraid it may be other civilizations that haven't been so deconstructed, such as China, India, or Russia, who will have to take over where we left off on the High Frontier.

brian t said...

My take on this is that there was once a sense that space might be opened to everyone, that we all might get a chance to visit another planet some day. The lack of progress in this direction is disheartening. Notwithstanding the occasional deserving civilian, it's been only specialists and the super-rich who have been up to Earth orbit. Space exploration, it now seems, will be always be enjoyed by "someone else".

Unknown said...

In your first sentence you say the world "came together" (very sixtes!) over the Moon Landings. Bit of an exaggeration when in Maoist China it was not mentioned in the state media until years later, so many millions did not know it had happened. At least today no government could keep such a thing quiet. Definite progress there.

Alex Tolley said...

Who knew you were a Jeff Hawke fan. Jeff and Mac also evolved along with the times, slowly becoming less chauvinistic.

For a sense of the Dan Dare like Britain that conquered space but not social change, I recommend Warren Ellis' "Ministry of Space".

The lack of interest in space was happening long before the millenial generation. Recall that Apollo 13 broadcasts were being pre-empted by regular tv. As Brian t says above, people couldn't really connect with space, because they weren't getting to participate, except vicariously. No doubt interest would have remained if humans had gone to other places, but since Apollo, humans haven't gone beyond LEO. There is only so much astronaut antics that one can take. Arguably, the robot probes have stimulated much more interest. Effing Pluto next year! Or as Jeff Hawke would say - Ultima Thule.("Here be Tygers").

But the lack of interest in space also seems to be reflected in not doing other macro-engineering. The US hasn't done anything BIG since Apollo. Other nations have, even "old Europe". The US has lost something, other than the need to spend on expensive wars. If only those resources could be spent on things that are more impressive and of lasting value.
Isn't this the idea behind the Hieroglyph project?

fedricxdaniel said...

I studied Aeronautical engineering in Shenyang Aerospace University and all through my years in school i argued with my professors that no one ever traveled to the moon.they tried to convince me over again but in all their trials i still remain doubtful. hmmm its a pity..fedricx

Tim H. said...

Fedricx, if NASA had faked the moon shots the Soviet Union would've been all over us like a cheap suit and Nixon wouldn't have been remembered for Watergate.

Tony Fisk said...

Someone recently reconstructed the Apollo 8 crew recording at the time that photograph was taken.

It nearly wasn't taken because
a) it wasn't scheduled (Borman is heard telling Anders not to take that B&W photo... to be fair, he couldn't initially see and there would have been a limited amount of film available), and
b) The Earth drifted out of view while Anders was looking for a colour film. Fortunately, they spotted it through another window.

I recently became aware (via a New Horizons tweet) of a remarkable work of art on the St. Kilda/Pt. Melbourne foreshore: in 2008, a set of sculptures were set up to depict the solar system on a 1:1,000,000,000 scale (ie: 1mm = 1000km) The Sun sits near the St. Kilda Marina, while Pluto is a pinhead about 6km away in an obscure park behind Princes Pier. Just for good measure, the artist threw in Proxima Centauri, pointing out that, on the same scale, it was 40,000 km away, or about one Earth circumference.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Fredricx
It wasn't just the Soviets that would have been over NASA
The Brits, French, Chinese,
And a ton of amateurs with simple radio telescopes
In the UK one of the secondary schools used to track new satellites and try to decide their purposes from the orbital parameters and radio signals

Don't think any of those bodies would not have called NASA out if it was a scam

I remember the first Apollo moon fly around,
Not only were the signals tracked as coming from the moon but the re-entry was much more energetic
(straight from the moon - 7 miles/sec, orbital return 5 miles/sec)
The re-entry would have been impossible to fake as it was visible over so much area

Just for jam on it I was at a laboratory in the 1990s when they bounced a laser beam off the reflector left there by one of the missions
The maths showing that there had to be a reflector are simple

David Brin said...

Sean/cosmists thanks for your remarks, though when you veered political you got …well… not lunar but loony.

Yes, there are lefty flakes in 200+ university soft studies departments, who preach anti ambition nonsense… and who have almost zero influence, and most of their students hate them. LIBERALS are not lefties. They are heirs of Adam Smith and believe in competitive ambition… only with moderate regulation to ensure that the usual failure mode of 6000 years won’t happen. Feudal oligarchy.

Your side is the one that has gone stark, jibbering crazy. The biggest anti-science know-nothing movement in 150 years. And scientists have voted with their feet. Scientist membership in the Demo-party has dropped by maybe 20%. Scientist membership in the GOP has dropped from 40% to under five.


Tony F… you want a wonderful scale model of the galaxy? See my friend Jon Lopmberg’s Galaxy Garden!

And I know people who regularly send laser beams to the reflector that Aldrin left at the Apollo site. It’s there. The return pulses are exactly right. Our Fredericx friend could test it for himself, if he had the nerve.

madtom said...

Say, Dr Brin, thinking of Lunar inspiration reminds me of a botec I attempted many years ago, which you would be able to replicate easily and tell me if I got the decimal point right. [or tell me I'm crazy and/or stupid]

I wanted to be able to look up and see a globe with active weather systems and city lights, replacing the old barren face of our Moon. I wanted to know that forests and seas awaited those bold and lucky enough to make their way there. I wanted to see Luna terraformed.

Sure, I always knew that there was a reason for that barrenness - everybody knows that - the Moon has too little gravity to hold an atmosphere. But there's holding for geological time, and holding for human time. My botec suggested that the Moon would hold a breathable atmosphere for (on the order of) a few thousand years before it would get uncomfortably thin.

And at that rate, we could keep it topped up for the indefinite future, using the same solar-sail technology that would establish it in the first place, bringing in water ice from the belt and from Saturn's rings.

Crashing the incoming sources of water and other low-molecular-weight usefuls tangentially at the equator (in a sacrifice target zone) and in the right direction would also re-establish a somewhat shorter Lunar day, by the time the atmosphere had grown able to support liquid-water temperatures and our first seedings of micro-life.

This would be a project to inspire *me*, at least, thinking of all that brand-new real estate sailing by overhead, and how completely the settlers might leave their/our old hatreds behind. And how good a lesson it would be that the entire ecosystem would be a human creation and require maintenance by humans indefinitely, or else.

But maybe I figured wrong and the air would go in hundreds rather than thousands of years. Or maybe nobody else is inspired by the idea.

Anyway, this seemed like an opportunity to bring up the idea for an audience able to offer intelligent and realistic criticism.

Paul451 said...

"Yet now, I share with millions of other boomers a head-scratching perplexity. Why don't more of today's youth care about outer space?"

It's hardly a "today's youth". Within a year, those same boomers couldn't remember the man's name. Your boomer memory of his past hero status is actually a modern phenomenon.

I'd suggest that things are actually much better now than in 1969. Look at the reaction SpaceX gets. IMO, people (the young especially) just want a sense that something is actually happening. A sense of actual progress. SLS/Orion do not in any way give that impression. Nor did Constellation. Nor did the Shuttle, other than about 5 minutes in 1981.

That said, I don't think getting the public "excited about space" is a thing that should matter. Who is excited about ocean shipping? Yet there's not much risk of cancellation. Surely the goal should be to not have to depend on the fickle whims of the distracted public.

"For certain, you don't hear astronaut mentioned on any list of dream jobs."

Thousands applied to the scam MarsOne. Hundreds paid to be short listed.

(Aside: "Astronaut" should be a job. Lunar geologist is a job. Micro-g bio-researcher is a job. The lack of jobs is probably why no-one cares about being an "astronaut", spam in a can.)

Paul451 said...

"2. They were actually succeeding in making such an adventure boring."

Surely the greatest disproof of the "hoax" conspiracy? Why, if there was no actual danger, were the missions so dull. No caves, no mountains, no jet packs. Only Apollo 13 had any exciting moments and that had no video, even though there was a camera on-board, due to the power restrictions. If they were all a hoax, filmed on a sound-stage, they would have been filled with exciting, literally cliff-hanger moments. Will our intrepid heroes make it back to the capsule before their air runs out?! Will the repairs hold?! Tune in tomorrow for our next thrilling episode: "Great view, shame about the atmosphere"! Same space/time, same space-station!


" 'We're arriving at Pluto' "

We're flying past Pluto for a couple of hours.

Galileo, Cassini, Huygens, Dawn, MSL, etc, all arrived at their respective targets. Pioneers, Voyagers, and New Horizons, all "passed by".

Paul451 said...

Paraterraforming would be a more controlled use of those resources. Giant domes to hold in the atmosphere, supported by the pressure itself. Cellular, to not only protect against rupture, but to "reproduce" themselves across the face of the moon.

It also means you get to keep vacuum wherever it's industrially useful. And each cell is habitable as soon as it's built; you don't have to wait for the entire moon to be "finished" before you can move in.

Tony Fisk said...

Counter quibble for Paul451 (who I realise is just quibbling:-)

Dawn and Juno will be arriving *at* their respective targets (Ceres and Jupiter) next year.

OCO2 will commence scientific measurements of the Earth's CO2 content next month.

And they all have Twitter accounts!

madtom said...

Good points about alternative use of resources, Paul451, especially about the value of immediate (if limited) habitability. I imagine that the resources for bubbles would need to be imported from the outer system already in bubbles and (somehow) brought in for controlled landings instead of high-speed impact. The inhabited bubbles on the surface could be placed well away from the impact area where the future global atmosphere would be arriving.

Perhaps each effort would complement the other, combining short-term payoffs with a long-term dream.

But I wouldn't think that keeping a vacuum on the Lunar surface would be worth the tradeoff. First, there's a lot of vacuum out there that lacks the gravity needed for healthy long-term human habitation, making the Moon a rare resource for that characteristic alone. Manufacturing that requires vacuum can be done mostly robotically, in any convenient orbit.

Second, I think that having all humanity able to watch another habitable ecosystem being formed overhead on that old desert would have a massive and positive psychological impact.

Anonymous said...

"All four were perfect expressions of an indomitable human -- but also crazily American -- determination to do or create things we want, long before any practical technology should have made it possible. "

Yes, the VCR was the very epitome of American superiority , produced as it was by those uniquely American corporations: Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic and JVC.

DP said...

I agree with Sean the Cosmist, the spiritual aspects of space exploration should not be neglected.

As much I would wish otherwise, there is just no financial, scientific or defense justification for a large sustained human presence in space. Defensive spy sats, weather and comsats, robot planetary rovers and orbital probes do the job just fine. No human need apply. From a purely "bean counter" point of view, even the international space station is already a white elephant.

Fortunately life isn't about bean counting, or even solely about maximizing profit. The spirit, elan and morale of a society are at least as important as its material wealth, perhaps more important. I'm old enough to remember being thrilled by blurry black and white, live TV images of men walking on the moon. Apollo was primarily about non material things like national pride, prestige and patriotism. However as the world becomes closer and borders blur, such chest thumping patriotism may go out of fashion, and won't provide the impetus for further efforts in space. Maybe Chinese taikonauts will provide the same goad as Russian cosmonauts, but more likely future space missions will be multi-national, cooperative efforts.

In its mystical aspect Apollo embodied the spirit of its age. Every so often in history, a civilization rises up and uses its accumulated economic surplus to create something which has no practical value (from a bean counter's point of view) yet is absolutely essential to the morale and spirit of its people. The Egyptian pyramids and Gothic cathedrals are two examples. The Saturn V rocket in many ways was our Notre Dame or St. Peter's. IMHO we have lately become so mono-fixated on economics that we have forgotten that it is the intangibles which make a civilization great. "Without a vision, the people perish" — I believe both secular humanists and devout theists can agree on that.

A comparison between the Saturn V rocket and the Gothic cathedrals or Egyptian pyramids is an apt analogy. Perhaps, just perhaps, religious faith might provide the necessary spark for a renewed effort in space — and not just because many Apollo astronauts experienced a profound religious awakening while in space and on the moon.

So why not a "faith based" space program? How about founding another "shining city on a hill", this time on the Moon. Why not "touch the face of God" from orbit? How about a "new Jerusalem" on Mars, free from the corruption and immorality of the Old World? As crazy as this may sound, we made need to harness the same motivation whch built the cathedrals and pyramids to send humans back into space.

Since there may be no rational reason for man in space, we may need an irrational reason.

DP said...

Madtom and Paul451, a hybrid para-terraforming combined with minor terraforming to create a protective atmosphere may be the best approach:

In fact, one of the reasons for paraterraforming is that any colonization really is a type of paraterraforming, considering that humans can only survive in earthlike environments, and a continually growing colony will simply be a small version of it. Also, complete terraforming is an extremely long-term project, and it is very unlikely that humans on the surface will be interested in staying in a tiny area while working towards a goal that they will never live to see; no, they will be much more interested in building a new greenhouse, constructing an indoor park, getting more spacious quarters, and so paraterraforming really is the only way to go.

However, there is one problem: the rest of the Moon will have no atmosphere at all. This is no problem in living within and expanding on a colony, but the lack of atmosphere means that at any time a tiny meteor could impact the surface, and protection against this might not be an easy task. And even if the colony is fortified against meteorites there will always be trips made outside the colony to explore parts of the Moon and gather resources, and it's possible that a person could be struck by an undetectable meteorite just a few millimetres in diameter, and that could be fatal.

So why not adopt a middle of the road approach? The creation of an Earth-like atmosphere may be impossible in the beginning, but what about an extremely thin one? Even a very thin atmosphere would provide protection against the smallest of meteorites, which are the most dangerous since they are nearly impossible to detect. An atmosphere just thick enough to create weather patterns would also help to alleviate the problem of moon dust, which is extremely sharp due to the lack of wind. Dust on Earth is constantly being pushed around, and this constant pummeling acts like a kind of rock grinder to smooth it out. Considering the colossal size of the Moon, it would probably be in our best interests to create a small atmosphere of this sort that could move the moon dust around without us needing to do anything, and this would likely remove the problem in a short time. It would also moderate the temperature extremes on the Moon to a certain extent, which would make it easier to work outside the peaks of eternal light as the nights would be a tiny bit less extreme. Instead of simply having light areas that are hot and dark areas that are cold, the winds would cool down the light areas next to the dark ones, and warm up the dark areas next to the light.

DP said...

Why at this stage should we worry about colonizing planets?

Screw planets.

The future of manned colonization of space is the asteroid belt.

What do you get when you cross Space X (privatized space flight) with Planetary Resources, Inc. (privatized asteroid mining?

You colonize Ceres, instead of Mars,in order to establish a logistical base for asteroid prospecting and mining.

Ceres has no significant gravity well to overcome and lots of water for life and fuel. Instead of Star Fleet starting human colonies on the surfaces of planets, we'll have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation contracting out the space equivalent of oil rig and crab fishing work - extremely dirty and dangerous work with a high death rate.

Work that makes investor back home extremely wealthy and mankind more prosperous. And allows space workers to make enough money to retire early - provided they live long enough.

Maybe we'll have the occasional scientific base established on Mars or floating in the atmosphere of Venus, but they'll be no bigger than a current Antarctic base and be nothing more than a PR stunt.

Forget about the bright, shiney Enterprise, our future is the dirty, gritty Nostromo.

DP said...

And if we explore Mars, why not "land" on its moons Phobos and Deimos and hollow out tunnel bases that protect astronauts from radiation while allowing real time control of exploratory rovers, drones and blimps?

Once we establish a mature asteroid mining/factory/ship building sector we'll have enough resources to colonize the rest of the solar system. How should we go about colonizing the solar system?

We should just start "small" and just paraterraform just the 4 mile deep Valles Marineris. It's depth would allow it to sustain (with some biological or industrial maintenance and replenishment) a sufficiently thick and breathable atmosphere. They can treat the rest of Mars like we treat the Himalayas.

At 2,500 miles long and 360 miles wide, it's area is 900,000 square miles (about the size of Alaska and Texas combined, more than enough room for any conceivable initial colonization effort). Cities could be carved into the canyon walls like pueblos. The colonists would then proceed with the terraforming of the rest of the planet. Electrical cables can be strung across the canyon opening creating an artificial magnetic field that wold shield colonists and life on the valley floor from cosmic radiation.

If we become tunnel dwellers on Mars, we can live in floating cities on Venus. The upper reaches of the Venusian atmosphere are Earth like in terms of pressure and temperature and derigibles filled with a breathable oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere would be bouyant. We just got to protect the city's external skin from all that sulfuric acid. Factories in the floating city can extract carbon dioxide to produce carbon based nano structures which can be used to build even more cities or floating solar screens to block sunlight. Eventually, the dense, hot Venusian atmosphere can be rendered into habitable structures and sun screens built from carbon fiber made from CO2 extracted from the Venusian atmosphere.

If the asteroid miners are going to have dangerous work and high death rates, planetary colonists won't be coming home at all. As Buzz Aldrin pointed out, manned colonization of the solar system SHOULD be one way for the same reasons that the Pilgrims knew they were never going back to England and settlers travelling the Oregon Trail (with many dying along the way) were never going back East. Manned travel to Mars only makes sense if you plan on it being a one-way trip.

NASA Brat said...

"On the Moon, in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility, the first lunar module sits in eternal repose. It landed on July 20, 1969, carrying the first human beings to visit another celestial body. There, in the weatherless vacuum of space, it will remain undisturbed, probably forever. On a metal leg of that module, under another piece of equipment, is a brief, hand-etched inscription: "Bill McInnis" "

thrig said...

Ding, dong, tack! Space is dead. So said the coppersmith, the one not yet killed by the industrial pollution by the old bungalow. To note the trifles from house atomics—"too cheap to meter"—while the cracking of Carbon is putting down on the order of ten to the fourteenth power Watts of accumulated heat and causing "regionally nonuniform changes in rainfall and wind" (whoops! tee hee!) is to miss the Rembrandt for a Pollack. If there is eagerness, I do hope it is to scoot humanity off of the coal oil gas burner, and to not double down on the technological terrors of a bygone era. For modern art, look no farther then the infill drilling of declining supergiant fields to support happy motoring in America.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Anonymous. There were video tape machines well before consumer versions. Perhaps the most successful company in this regards was Ampex, and American company. Competitors included RCA (also American).

Back in the 1950's and early 1960's, Japan was still rebuilding after WWII and had no capability to create such devices. (Parodied in sentiment by Doc Brown in "Back to the Future" : "No wonder it's broken, it says made in Japan").

Unfortunately, the reusability and high cost of commercial videotaping resulted in a major archival hole in the cash strapped BBC. We lost so many performances of shows that were wiped after recorded transmission to save money.

Alex Tolley said...

We really don't know if living on any partial g body is physiologically safe. Better to test this out in space or lunar bases first. Terraforming the Moon is premature at best, and could destroy valuable pristine recording of cosmic events. I think O'Neill's idea is still valid, albeit expensive.

Tenting Valles Marineris was one theme of KSM's Mars trilogy. However exposure to radiation would still be a problem for those on an effectively unprotected valley floor. Stay in those cliff cities except for short periods.

@ fedricx. There are now pictures from lunar orbit of the machines and tracks of the Apollo voyages. LRO Sees Apollo Landing Sites. Do you think there are faked too, and if so, why? And what about all those unique lunar rock samples - just terrestrial rocks that fool independent scientists?

DP said...

Alex, Strech electrical cable across the top of the VM like stitches in a wound to create an electromagnetic field to protect the colonists.

David Brin said...

Anonymous, do you know anything? The VCR tech… the slanted drum etc… was invented by Ambex & other US firms, who lacked the gumption to capitalize. But my topic was DESIRE! And the desire for the VCR and its reason for existence burgeoned first in the US… JVC & Sony were merely agile contractors of that desire.

Daniel D…. eloquent and moving. Apollo as our cathedral.

I agree that Phobos may be an exceptionally valuable piece of real estate. The Russians think so.

The core element of lunar denialism is self-important paranoia. Like any conspiracy theory that involves thousands of henchmen. it falls apart BECAUSE it involves thousands of henchmen. Any one of whom would get star treatment and sell movie rights, if he blabbed with evidence.

There are conspiracies! The Bush Administration damn near wrecked the country, with just two "manchurians" at the helm. But they did not need willing henchmen. Just obedient soldiers and public servants.

A.F. Rey said...

[i]But they did not need willing henchmen. Just obedient soldiers and public servants.[/i]

Aw, what's the good of being a great villain if you don't have minions? :(

Alex Tolley said...

@Daniel - that is a possible solution. Unfortunately VM is very wide, so that cable has to be supported. It also will be massive to take the electrical load for a strong enough field, apart from the energy needed to maintain the shield. If a fractions of the particles are not charged, then it won't work on these. Such a solution should also work for a spacecraft, yet so far none have been designed. Why not?

Aeons said...

Does space appeal to your own feminine side gentlemen? Of the women who this appeals to, they love it in ways that the crewcut men do not because they literally wormed their way in.

The hero story is a story of men conquering something or doing something grand, and then going home or dying.

In those same men's minds, what would make "space" home?

While I might abhor gender politics, understanding the underpinnings of what is in the social narrative of what we are currently is useful for understanding somethings.

The first men who went exploring into the unknown be extra blunt...psychopaths. They went places, and killed people and stole from them. Part of the appeal was access to local women. Something space does not have. Sometimes they worked out trade deals. In those cases, those people's tended to move as mixed family units.

For the ones who came after, they had women brought in. Those women tended to die. Any current long term plans will have account for not just the fact that space will kill more women, but that they will not be immune to the effects of the same things that the previous "colonizations" had...minus the possibility that aggression will end up being shared between them and the locals.

I am sorry that might not seem very nice. Who and why you send people out is important. The propanda to appeal to settlers pricked some specific traits. In men who were settlers (and not "foxers" and the like), a place to go for THEIR FAMILY and some stable political power (or to get away from it).

In women of the same those propaganda posters appealled to making a place to live.

They lied. They did not show women living standing in line after long transport, walking hundreds of miles in snow they in temperatures they could never have imagined. They showed them what it could be.

The original space programs did appeal to women. Now they only appeal to a certain slice of women - interesting, fun, geeky, intelligent, driven women. But not 1960s Mom.

The names to open up the fold to not being the old-white-boys-club are still males. Ones with very little appeal to women. Even the astronauts of yesteryear can be held as being interesting men, while still knowing that no woman interested in the subject could expect that those men would have their backs. Because they don't. The very women the space program appeals to will also have at least an instinctual grasp that they are NOT on the team, and if they are, they are on their own.

The space program which needs the feeling of expansion does not appeal to those who would expand it. Literally carry the seed of humanity and its interests.

Now I say this utterly lovingly, because I LOVE the ideas of these programs and everything they could be.

And the one of the worst things they could be is what we are now or where in the 1960s, expanding into more places.

We have to love what we are to want to make it move around. How many of you LOVE what we are? That you don't will itself be part of the the field of intent which you access when you think about "us" out "there."

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The best plan for (relatively) quickly getting families into space, and therefore making a true space civilization, is the one promoted by the old L5 Society.

About the time that men were landing on the moon, Gerard O'Neill was demonstrating that the best place for a technological human civilization is NOT the surface of a planet (including this one). I have yet to see O'Neill be disproven about this.

The construction and maintenance of the O'Neill habitats was to be financed mostly by selling power to Earthlings from solar power satellites. Lots of solar power satellites being built in the 1980s would have meant climate change on this planet would have become a trivial and easily-manageable problem.

I have sometimes suggested that the name of the (now defunct) L5 Society should be retroactively changed to the "I Told You So" Society.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Duffy,
Hybrid paraterraforming is an interesting idea.

Completely agree with the idea of colonising everything-except-planets before planets.

With "tunnelling in Phobos" (and likewise into Ceres/etc): You can set your tunnelling robots to create a series of ring-tunnels. Within the ring you install rails on the inside of the outer wall. Then you add habitat modules, built into a tensile structure, which you spin for gravity. The hab-structure contains the centripetal forces, the only force on the tunnel wall is to keep the structure centred, and for spin-up, spin-down, etc. (Pairs of hab-rings spinning in opposite direction will eliminate torque-spin/precession issues. And with smaller rocks, different sets of rings in different planes could be used to do attitude control for the entire asteroid.) A parallel "train" system would serve for transfers between spin & non-spin sections The cool thing is that your linear velocity can be as low as a few dozen MPH, therefore you might pressurise the tunnel itself, allowing the habitats to be non-airtight, vastly simplifying the engineering. Through the rest of the asteroid, you preserve micro- and milli-g to make industrial processes easier (with beyond-1g centrifuges when needed.)

IMO, this would be vastly easier than traditional proposals to hollow-out and spin up an entire asteroid as a single pseudo-cylindrical habitat. (Or worse, actual O'Neill cylinders.) And unlike those, it also gives you a system that scales with our technical capabilities and resource limits. (Parallel with the contrast between paraterraforming & terraforming. Tunnelling works with your first tunnel, paraterraforming with your first tent.)

The other advantage of asteroid colonisation over planetary/Lunar, if the initial motivation does turn out to be religious, or nationalistic, or some other tribal impulse, we aren't stuck with it. Once the technology exists... there's a lot more asteroids out there. Whereas if Mars is colonised by, let's say Scientologists, that origin will always contaminate the colony, even if non-scientologists found a new settlement elsewhere on the planet.

I-need-a-good-name said...

For a moon-shot of this generation, how about the capture or "nudging" of an asteroid?

It brings us closer to space mining. It protects us from the embarrassment of waking up some day, discovering that there's an asteroid about to smack us into extinction, and it's too late to do anything about it.

I can't speak for all millennials, but I think the promise of near-term practical benefits would get more people interested. Planting a flag on some far-off real estate is neat, but an iPad is both neat and you can hold it in your hand/do stuff with it.

"We can put a man on an asteroid, but we can't deal with resource scarcity or defend against asteroids - oh wait, we just did that."

Plus it's hard for the conspiracy theorists to claim you didn't do it, when platinum is so cheap it's used for tinfoil (or whatever).

Claim the Chinese have an "asteroid-gap" and the GOP will give unlimited funding, but that brings up all sorts questions of weaponization and a space-arms race.

matthew said...

Years ago, in between other, more serious engineering jobs, I worked for a while repairing VCR decks and televisions. I can attest that the average VCR deck had some of the downright coolest mechanical engineering I have ever seen. Also, some of the most illogical.

This job led directly into my interest in Maker culture. Nothing like working with a bunch of repair shop nerds to get you tinkering.

My favorite tee-shirt to wear is my "I Void Warranties" tee, with pictures of all the common and uncommon (owner-resistant) fastener heads.

All hail the VCR!

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

The VCR was like the moon shots? Did you ever open one up and watch as it clanked and whirred? What a brilliant, elaborate, insanely complicated Rube Goldberg device! Mass produced so cheaply that almost all Americans had several. It allowed hundreds of millions of people to watch what they wanted to watch, when they wanted to watch it, before any sensible or efficient digital technologies were available to make it so.

Get it now? And the lesson? That we are deficient today only in that one thing -- sufficient desire to overcome our stoked up, artificial resentments and get back to working together again, on something cool.

This is a tangent to your line of thought, but it seems to the cynic in me that recent advances in sound and video technology are not so much about about improving reliability or enhancing user experience as they are about enforcing authoritarian control over the content.

And it's hard for the inner nerd to get excited about those sorts of advancements.

Relating that back to space flight, it's hard to get worked up about traveling to the asteroids, the outer planets, or even other stars when in all likelihood those places will be legally considered someone else's "property" before we get there.

greg byshenk said...

In the news... crowdsourcing the news.

Aeons said...

I think I actually want to add something to that that might make that much more clear.

I am a woman.

I admire those men.

They are not my heroes.

They are not my heroes because I know all those men would never have ever supported someone like me being involved in these events except to bring the taco dip.

Your "heroes" may have many traits I admire. The thing they admire of someone like me, has only to do with how well I fit into their Jetson's story. They ASSUME I have their back, as a woman. As a woman, I know that every "hero" story I have every seen pretty much contains men who do not have mine. I can admire them. I can admire what they accomplish. I can admire the creativity, and the igenuity, and the ideas. But they are not my heroes. I do not admire what someone like me is in their world, nor does their Jetson's or their Heinlein world appeal to me as a person.

I love the IDEAS. I have to look past the people. That makes me different than majority, but my basic subconscious problem with the people is probably shared.

Your core group of common admirable people in these quests are not my heroes. Your grail heroes are my grail story's speed bumps - my pretend friends who I have to get over to get on the way.

Does that make some of the problem clearer?

Think you can tackle how to make heroes into heroes? Or cleave heroes from ideas, and make the ideas worthy heroes in themselves? Barren worlds into a home?

David Brin said...

Aeons, your contribution was very welcome, articulate, well-expressed and gave a needed perspective. Though it also conveyed a very aggressive, ex cathedra and sanctimonious tone. Your declarations were cogent and served up a needed alternative view. But they were no more purely “right” and in fact were simplistic to the extreme.

In addition to “psychopaths” there were many explorers who were eager otherness-junkies. Darwins and Captain Cooks who were the archetypes of Spock and Kirk, seeking contact for the joy of it. Yes, the Spanish began with rape and pillage. But often the pillagers in other areas came with the third or fourth wave. And for every pillager in the English speaking areas, there was another fellow who tried to make the next treaty work… or who went native.

(So many Scots Irish fled their indentures in Georgia into Cherokee lands that their great Chief, John Ross, had blue eyes as do many Cherokee today.)

Did you ever watch “Frontier House”? Those who settled the free but harsh Homestead Act grants had a desperately difficult job. Either teams of men starved for two winters building sets of steads and then sent for their families (or mail order brides) or else families would do it, utterly dependent upon the wife’s Egg & Cheese production from the chickens and cows, while the husband and son slaved to finally get an actual crop the 2nd or 3rd year. Yes women died. So did men.

You ask why the women went? Jesus & Mary, do you actually read the accounts? Because they had no hope, at home! Why did people flock to the horrible mills of Dickens’s time? Because life was far, far worse on the tenant farms. Hopelessness, drudgery-near-slaver and death were almost certainties.

You talk as if the frontier was some psychotic hell that women would only go to in order to die or if forced. But they went, in droves, because if they survived the first few years… and repeated childbirth… they became mistresses of their own homes, with land to the horizon and sturdy children who would breathe free.

You say you love the space concepts and programs, yet you patronizingly assume other women today cannot share this sense of love, because there’s nothing in it for them. Funny, none of us here said such a demeaning thing.

Again, this is not to diss what you wrote. Your contribution was very welcome, articulate, well-expressed and gave a needed perspective. But its righteous simplicity merited
argument. I hope you will take my response not as a rejection! But as an ITERATION off what you said. A bracketing calibration, as it were.

The female perspective must rise up to stand in full equality. But this will not happen by creating a new mythology that oversimplifies as much as the old one.

Jumper said...

In college, I met foreign students who were very thrilled at Apollo-Soyuz. So was I. It was a good thing and led to optimism.

David Brin said...

Aeons, do you want to be treated as an equal? Then accept it like a grownup when an equal (me) looks you in the eye and says "what utter, whining bull dung."

You said: "They are not my heroes because I know all those men would never have ever supported someone like me being involved in these events except to bring the taco dip."

This is malarkey of the first water.

Yes, the first women in any technical field always had to overcome prejudice. In the latest Cosmos series we saw several very moving examples of perseverance by brave and ingenious women researchers.

Those pioneering women needed thick skins. I know a bunch of them, like Donna Shirley & Penny Boston. And my wife, Cheryl.

Always about one third of the colleagues they encountered were patronizing troglodytes who would gladly steal the women's work... one third were were sexist out of lazy habit, but could be trained... and one third were enthusiastically supportive. (ROUGHLY)

Dig this. The shortest ramp up time to equal treatment in ANY field of human-life has always been in science and technology, where there is a single court of appeal... what can be proved. You cannot name a realm in the world today that has come as far, toward equality. Or come anywhere near as fast.

Sorry. Please take it as a mark of respect and utter equality that I treat your assertion the way I would a similar gross-exaggeration by anyone else, on any other topic... calling it complete horse hockey.

David Brin said...

orbital photo of the landing site:

Jumper said...

Aeons goes to a territory where all our older heroes have feet of clay, and of course they do. So it is with the early milieu of '60s astronauts. But since then women astronauts are common. That's good.
I got the early Michener book Hawaii for my neighbor and plan to re-read it soon. Hawaii was settled by wave after wave of families from New England to China to Japan, and more. Each of thousands of families came to work extremely hard and build. It's a good read.
There is something about living an adventure which adds to human vitality, and that includes women and kids.
For the downside of all that, watch The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.

David Brin said...

Heck, read The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck. She portrays a woman who had been a slave, who is sold as a wife to a local farmer... who turns out to be a flawed but basically decent man. Her For thousands of years, women could only hope for good news of that scale... stepping up from grinding misery into some degree of decent-fair patriarchy. Buck's novel makes you weep and shine with compassion...

...while being delighted that your own daughter will see patriarchy fade almost to nothing, with its residual dregs more amusing grunts of troglodytic nostalgia by old farts. We can achieve that ! We can achieve Star Trek, which is the only human mythology that ever portrayed genuine equality in a far better tomorrow.

Ironically, there is a limit to how far down that road politically-correct policing can take us. In the long run, it will come true when we raise boys and girls - (as we have done) - to assume that gender stops at the neck. And above that lies 90% of any human being.

Aeons said...

Ah David, the entire way of addressing me such a way is itself a sign of chauvanism. I am disappointed, as I do believe you actually are one of the people who are trying hard to dispossess themselves of it and do a fairly decent job of it.

Your heroes are not my heroes. They are anti-heroes. Teachers of the calibre of those who don't believe in their student and do it for other reasons. Friends who are frenemies. Speed bumps as much as they are help.

That you don't LIKE that doesn't make it untrue. Why are women predisposed to mixing heroes and villians, bad-boys and white-hatters? Easy. The difference isn't as great as yout think, and at least the badboys know they are being assholes.

Sorry, in story world (and often in the real one) your heroes are speed bumps in my journey. Not a treasured friend. Not someone to rely on. Not someone on my team. Not someone at my back. They are someone who believes that their story of what is best for me is more important than me.

You don't have to like it. But you can absorb it a bit. What if every heroes story, every heroes you ever read about, was someone who was at best a bit uncomfortable with your existence let alone your path or your success. As a woman, that is what almost every male hero is. Someone who at best, uncomfortably unsure but hopeful for me or someone like me.

And you never experience that. But suggestive numbers are suggestive for someone like you. So, why do women seem to have a slight preference for anti-heroes? Why do they like stories where men are bonded with them, or in the process of it? Sweetvalley High, boy who golfs takes a back seat to Captain Kirk. I am sure you mull this with some consternation on occassion, as almost all do.

You do not live in a world or access a world of stories where even the heroes are not on your side. I do. You think that I am whining. I am pointing out the reality that in the world of narrative, there are few heroes who are not in some way anti-heroes to me, solely based on my gender. To you they might be humans with a glean of normalacy who achieve something you can align with.

You don't have to like it. That you do not does not make what I say something less "responsible" for myself.

matthew said...


To blithely reduce the human story of social and scientific progress to the conflict between the sexes is reductionist nonsense at best.

Yes, there is gender imbalance. Yes, it exists. What exactly does this gender imbalance have to do with the subject of exploration?

Declaring exploration and knowledge of the cosmos to "not be my grail" simply because of gender imbalance in society is simply sad.

I'm sorry you have experienced such trauma. I hope for your recovery.

There are wonders in the cosmos that have nothing to do with gender. I hope you can enjoy them.

Alfred Differ said...

The Apollo story is often told in terms of heros, but I think it is a mistake to focus too much on that kind of narrative. Obviously there is an gender imbalance in any version of the story that is remotely true, but that's easily explained by the imbalance in the underlying society. We were what we were back then. We aren't now.

That we made the astronauts into heros is balanced by the fact that we also made them into civil servants. What a strange thing to do. However, the real story that matters is the one we tell if we focus on what industry did to support Apollo. Of course, they chased the money in one respect, but many of the engineers involved were much more emotionally involved than that. One fellow I knew years later worked on the upper stage that could hit the Moon. He had plans to leave the country (for Mexico) with his family in shame if his stage failed and killed the astronauts. He scratched the initials of his kids on the inside wall of the stage so something of them would get there with his work. He was VERY involved emotionally and that affected his kids in ways that are hard to explain, but many of them are positive. His son went on to try to push private efforts for access to space, so even if the initials got obliterated on impact, the father's legacy lives on.

The astronaut heroes are just the tip of a much deeper story about families and what this has done to the next generation. We might think little is happening and that the dream to explore died, but that would be a mistake. What is happening now is just a little quieter and just a little more sensible in the economic sense. Systems are being built and people are dreaming of a future up there, but we don't need world-wide events to make it happen.

David Brin said...

Aeons, you disappoint me. Your earliest missive here was cogent and informative, eye-opening and even rather moving… if way, way overly simplistic. I am sure most of us here - in one of the calmest and most mindful communities on the web… were edified.

Your second one expressed (quite well) your personal and rather resentful take on things. Alas, you over-stated your case, by making assertions that I deemed to exaggerate the situation, even contrary to fact.

I responded to you with the greatest respect I can pay another person, to treat her or him as an equal, with a thick skin, who can be treated AS an equal. And when I see BS being spouted, to look that person in the eye and say “baloney.”

Your reaction (above) was to whine “chauvinist!”

Really? You truly and really want to do that? That is a direct, personal accusation and I dare you to back it up with specifics.

That is what NONE of the women scientists (and I probably know 200+ would ever do. All of them would stand up, step up and say “which PARTS do you claim are BS? Can you provide evidence? Maybe parts of my assertion are wrong, so lets compare evidence.”

You did none of that. You utterly ignored every point I made about how science is by FAR the least sexist and most open field on Earth, in which women face burdens and difficulties, but also many many allies, and where they often triumph simply because she who can prove it, wins.

None of my heroes are your heroes? Well you thereby have denied yourself Sarah Hrdy, Lynn Margulis, Penny Boston, Patricia Churchland, Octavia Butler and Germaine Greer. I could go on and on, and if none of them are heroes in your eyes, then you are a sadly blind person.

Finally, there is the matter of aggression. Yes, as I deeply explored in The Postman and in Glory Season, humanity has a real problem with male aggression. Good males have to squelch powerful ancient impulses, and then spend part of their time squelching OTHER males who have no self control. Women need to be able to enforce their own rights, as my daughter, with her 2nd degree black belt can do.

But there are female styles of aggression, and the most horrid one is gossip. Sure, men do it too. But you know damned well what I am talking about.

Moreover, when you go elsewhere and talk about “David Brin was chauvinist to me,” know that you will thereby be deliberately attempting to harm — damage the reputation, reduce the earning potential and sully the name — of a person whose site YOU came to, propounding hugely generalized assertions. A person who responded by treating you as an equal.

A person who never did you any harm.

Next time you witness this kind of aggression — someone demeaning someone else, behind his or her back, spreading “he-said” tales without evidence or citations or large-block quotation… think about how the sexes may be more equal than you thought. But there is no karate to defend against gossip.

We are all nasty creatures, who have to work very hard to grow up.

David Brin said...

Aeons also said: "
You don't have to like it. That you do not does not make what I say something less "responsible" for myself."

I confess I cannot parse the meaning of this sentence. Please re-phrase?

As for finding no role models or heroes in the narratives of fiction? I suggest you get out more. Or write the stories you would have wanted to read!

I suspect you have read very little top science fiction.

David Brin said...

A.F. Rey, it is hard to tell because California politics are inherently moderate. Even when the dems had 2/3 in both houses, they did very little that was extreme-lefty, and in fact, moderate dems brought republicans in to help in showdowns over Jerry Brown's strong rainy day fund and debt buy-down.

Alfred Differ said...

Another possible reason it is too early to tell is that we are still getting used to the idea that we can vote for our second choice in districts where the top vote getter is almost determined. I only just started doing that this last go around. After explaining it to some of my friends and family, they usually had one of those 'huh!' moments. We can do that? Why would we? Oh...

locumranch said...

Aeons does have a valid point about sexual chauvinism, mostly because our society tends to define maturity by gender specific terminology, insomuch as the personality traits of impatience, exuberance, risk-taking, brashness & adventurism are believed to be classically 'masculine' while the traits of patience, emotionality, passivity, submissiveness & risk-aversion are thought to be classically 'feminine'.

What David fails to take into account, however, is that (1) the so-called masculine traits are more reflective of immaturity rather than gender, (2) the line between youthful exuberance AND youthful indiscretion is largely arbitrary, and (3) the achievement of social maturity requires a close adherence to the feminine ideal as mentioned above.

In this sense, Space Exploration died the moment Our Society decided to become **mature** because Space Exploration (or the lack thereof) reflects gender stereotypes, meaning that we either 'race to space' in a heedlessly brash, wanton, amorous, adolescent & masculine manner, or we commit ourselves to global monogamy and stay at home as the most feminine of nurturers, house-keepers, conservationists & oath-keepers.

Heroes are **masculine** by definition: They dare the impossible; they take **risks** (a lot of them); and they confront the big 'If' of human existence, making one heap of all their winnings, risking it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at their beginnings and never breathe a word about their loss.

Maturity is intrinsically boring; Our Society has become 'old' rather than 'better; and we have become our parents and we embarrass us.


Alex Tolley said...

Heroes are **masculine** by definition


David Brin said...

Locumranch is in one of his cogent phases and offers up thought provoking assertions... that are about 60% flat-out wrong. This year ALL of the Nebula Awards were won by female authors.

Those who assert that science and technology are immature/male will have to first deal with the gales of laughter they receive from several million women scientists and engineers, who enjoy more professional respect than women have received in any other field, and for whom assertiveness and boldness and argumentation and competition and reductionist problem solving are not "male" traits but the traits of ... adults.

Indeed, look back at my interaction with Aeons. Her insistence that she proclaim vast and generalized stereotypes without challenge... indeed, when challenged, attributed that challenge to chauvinistic bullying... was a combination of your male and female immature traits. Aggressiveness combined with quickness to proclaim victimhood.

Sorry. Ambition and argumentative competitiveness are not "male" traits. They are human. What is immature is when they are pursued by methods that amount to CHEATING. Such as male-stle overbearing bullying... or else gossipy backbiting... or a myriad other cheating methods that have long been curses on our species.

Declaring ambition and competitiveness to be immature is tantamount to turning our back on the ways that great women and men have changed the world.

Jumper said...

My mom was a chemist in the South who fought for equality and worked in the war effort, then as the G.I.s returned, was disenfranchised.

She's one of my heroes, and if you ask me if I'm cognizant of what the culture did to her, Aeons, I'm going to gently point out that your presumptions might be more scurrilous than you know.

TheMadLibrarian said...

One of my friends constructed a laser for the purpose of pulsing off the corner reflector at the Apollo landing site. He got into a conversation with a gent at our annual Institute for Astronomy Open House, who, as it turned out, was one of the original experiment's designers. Last year he was able to confirm capture of a handful of photons reflected from the Moon. Yes, goffunnit, we did go there!

ongionse: the first (smelly) crop grown in Lunar dirt

Tony Fisk said...

Before Chris Hadfield and guitar there was Cady Coleman, with flute

Whatever the gender, bumps are damage to be routed round.

David Brin said...

The "apparently lethal" blow to Obamacare in the 10th DIstrict Appeals court decision is anything-but. First, it will probably be overturned and/or minimized. But let's say it holds. Then tens of millions of folks in red states, where the GOP refused to set up exchanges for people to buy competitive, market rate insurance policies, will lose their federal subsidy and probably lose their insurance and go back to using state funded emergency rooms.

The crux? Blue America will save the tens of billions that it is currently sending to those red states, in order to insure the poor there. Red state voters will see their own taxes go up as the emergency rooms fill again (they had been emptying, under Obamacare). And the poor in red states will - having their insurance yanked away from them - become radicalized and angry.

Um... explain to me again how I should sweat about this? The ACA stands and continues to function vastly better than predicted. Completely in blue states and now hampered in red ones. Net money from blue to red is stopped... I remain puzzled by the huzzahs, over at Fox.

The New Confederacy has declared a re-ignited US Civil War. As in earlier phases, logic and self-interest do not even remotely come into it. This decision helps blue America and harms red states in every way. Yet, look who is cheering!

At some point, our dear brethren and sistren in those states are going to wake up to how their movement has been hijacked. Till then. Shrug.

locumranch said...

All in all, the Blue Staters (with their Obamacare, New Age nuturing & PC femininity) are so much more **mature** than those juvenile Red Staters who need to put away their childish guns, markets & competitive natures and **grow up** so, maybe later, after they learn to clean up their planet, play well with others and fold & store their duvet covers, we can allow them to **play** astronaut & explore Space with their little phallic rocket ships, assuming that they do so in private, so not to offend those of a more mature feminine sensibility, and otherwise keep their filthy masculine impulses in check.


Andy said...

"Please take it as a mark of respect and utter equality that I treat your assertion the way I would a similar gross-exaggeration by anyone else, on any other calling it complete horse hockey."

"Ah David, the entire way of addressing me such a way is itself a sign of chauvanism."

I think what Aeons is trying to say is that the very act of pointing out that you are replying to her as you would to "anyone else on any other topic" is actually treating her differently? That the best way to demonstrate equality would to to simply offer your rebuttal without qualifying it in any way?

occam's comic said...

Hi Aeons,
I hope you stick around and be a part of the (ir)regular commentators. Talking with a greater diversity of people with different life experiences allows us all to see the world anew (if we let it.)And to be honest more women commentators for Contrary Brin will make this place an even more interesting place to talk.

I would like to recommend a book of fiction with a wonderful female protagonist: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
Or if nonfiction is helpful try reading about Harriet Tubman if you haven't already. Her life story has an odd parallel to the story of the Bodhisattva.

occam's comic said...

Let put a challenge out there for all of the regular commentators.

Lets put a reading/viewing list for Aeons. Fiction and nonfiction list of women you admire and want to be like.

Nell from Diamond Age
Bunny Watson (Katherine Hepburn) in the Desk Set. (best movie about AI ever)
Harriet Tubman

DP said...

Paul 451,

Para-terraforming provides immediately available living space (no need to wait for hundreds or thousands of year before the entire planet is fit for human habitation), at a fraction of the cost in terms of energy and raw materials.

Few people who blithely talk about terraforming have a grasp at how big of an undertaking it is to transform another planet.

Let’s take Venus for example, where Paul Burch proposes using the Bosch reaction to rapidly terraform Venus in less than a century. And on paper it looks like a possibility since the process is relatively simple, but the size of the task is truly staggering.

Assuming I haven’t made any bone headed math errors, begin with the mass of the Venusian atmosphere (almost 100 times more massive than Earth’s):

A. Total Mass of Venus Atmosphere 4.80E+20 kg
Percent Atmosphere CO2 96.50%
Total Mass of CO2 4.63E+20 kg

Total Mass of Earth's Atmosphere 5.10E+18 kg
Mass Ratio Venus to Earth 94.118

Utilizing the Bosch reaction, combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide to make carbon graphite and water:

B. Utilizing Bosch Reaction (CO2 + 2H2 -> C + 2H2O)

Molecular Weight of CO2 44
Molecular Weight of 2*H2 4
Total Initial Molecular Weight 48

Molecular Weight of C (graphite) 12
Molecular Weight of 2*H2O 36
Total Final Molecular Weight 48

You would need a ball of solid hydrogen slightly larger than the dwarf planet Ceres:

C. Ratio of 2*H2 to CO2 (4 / 44) 0.091
Required Mass of H2 4.21E+19 kg

Density of Solid H2 0.086 g / cm^3
86,000.000 g / M^3
86.000 kg / M^3

Volume of Required H2 4.90E+17 M^3
4.90E+08 kM^3

Volume of a Sphere (1.333 * pi * R^3)
Radius of H2 Sphere 488.989 kM
Radius of Ceres 476.000 kM

Granted, this massive reaction would create an ocean nearly as large as 1/3 of the Earth’s ocean:

D. Ratio of 2*H2O to CO2 (36 / 44) 0.818
Resultant Mass of H2O 3.79E+20 kg

Density of H2O 1.000 g / cm^3
1,000,000.000 g / M^3
1,000.000 kg / M^3

Volume of Resultant H2O 3.79E+17 M^3
3.79E+08 kM^3

Area of Venus Surface 4.602E+08 kM^2
Average Depth of H2O 0.824 kM

Total Volume of Earth's Oceans 1.300E+09 kM^3
Average Depth of Earth's Oceans 3.682 kM

DP said...


But it would also result in the deposition of a layer of graphite with an average thickness over the entire surface of Venus roughly equal to a 40 story building:

E. Ratio of C (graphite) to CO2 (12 / 44) 0.273
Resultant Mass of C (graphite) 1.26E+20 kg

Density of C (graphite) 2.230 g / cm^3
2,230,000.000 g / M^3
2,230.000 kg / M^3

Volume of Resultant C (graphite) 5.66E+16 M^3
5.66E+07 kM^3

Area of Venus Surface 4.602E+08 kM^2
Average Depth of C (graphite) 0.123 kM

And where will this hydrogen come from? We could try the water bearing Type C asteroids of the asteroid belt. These make up 75% of all asteroids and have a water ice content between 10% and 15%. But even if we used all of their water, we would only have 80% of the amount of hydrogen required:

F. Total Mass of Asteroids 3.20E+21 kg
Percent Type "C" 75.00%
Total Mass of Type "C" 2.40E+21 kg

Percent Mass Water Ice 12.50%
Total Mass of Water Ice 3.00E+20 kg

Ratio of H2 to H2O (2 / 18) 0.111
Total Mass of H2 3.33E+19 kg
Ratio to Required H2 0.792

Comets, being far more numerous with a typical 40% water ice content, seem to be a better choice, though farther away and more expensive to retrieve, we would only need 0.003% of available comets:

G. Total Mass of Comets 3.20E+25 kg
Percent Mass Water Ice 40.00%
Total Mass of Water Ice 1.28E+25 kg

Ratio of H2 to H2O (2 / 18) 0.111
Total Mass of H2 1.42E+24 kg
Ratio to Required H2 33,774.707

Suppose we convert all that carbon into physical structures (sun shades, floating habitats, etc.) made out of carbon fiber which is stronger than steel? We would create a mass of carbon fiber equivalent to a layer almost two football fields thick over the entire planet’s surface:

H. Density of Carbon Fiber 1.600 g / cm^3
1,600,000.000 g / M^3
1,600.000 kg / M^3

Ratio of C to CO2 (12 / 44) 0.273
Available Mass of C 1.26E+20 kg

Volume of resultant Carbon Fiber 7.90E+16 M^3
7.90E+07 kM^3
Thickness of Carbon Fiber 0.172 kM

Or we could try to convert all that CO2 into biomass. Using one of the best carbon sequestration plants known, fast growing redwoods, the process would take a trillion years:

I. Annual Biomass Sequestration Rate (CO2) 10.000 tonne/ha
Total Venus Surface Area 4.602E+10 ha
Total Annual Biomass Sequestration 4.602E+11 tonne

Years to Complete Sequestration 1.01E+09 years

So terraforming appears to be neither necessary nor desirable – a complete waste of time and energy when all the living space you need can be had quickly via para-terraforming.

DP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DP said...

In short, don't think of mankind colonizing space so much as working in space.

We have oil rigs in all of the world's oceans, but we have not colonized them. We have science labs and weather stations all over Antarctica, but we have not colonized it.

We will have asteroid mining, factory and shipbuilding operations throughout the asteroid belt, but we won't be colonizing it. We will have science stations on the Moon, Phobos, the surface of Mars and the skies of Venus, but we won't be colonizing them.

David Brin said...

Daniel Duffy, thanks for a way-fun appraisal of terraforming options for Venus. And yes, even if you assume super-duper-godlike robotic machines, you still need a source of hydrogen and yes, comets are the only possible source.

(My doctoral dissertation established the current model of dust layers on cometary surfaces.

In fact, I wrote a story recently, set on a Venus that had been pummeled by comets... several daily for a thousand years, while others skimmed past, dragging some atmosphere with them. By timing the impacts right, they also were speeding up the planet's day. You still have problems with sulfuric acid etc. And you'd have to meet Venus halfway by modifying earth life (and humans) to tolerate lots of CO2 and sulfur...

Anyway, it's a good story, set after the oceans have returned to muggy venus!

anon said...

@Daniel Duffy:

It is theoretically possible to terraform Venus in an extremely rapid fashion through the use of adapted Epsilonproteobacteria, a bacteria associated with sulfur oxidation in marine environments, whose 2 to 12 day doubling time would make it a far far better choice for sulfur and carbon fixation than the Pacific Redwood.

Gator said...

We don't have a vibrant space program for the same reason we have bridges that need repair and kids can't afford to go to college without taking on debt. The baby boomers didn't want to pay for any of it. They got talked into tax cuts that helped the top 1% capture the economy.

DP said...

Dr. Brin,

And how long would Venus stay "muggy"? It's current surface temp is that of molten lead. Even if we could magically eliminate its CO2 atmosphere tomorrow it would still take millenia for the surface to radiate enough heat to be cool enough to walk on.

In the meantime, its hot surface would flash vaporize any water created by the Bosch process and melt the concurrent graphite deposits while still under massive atmospheric pressure (creating a layer of diamond?).

Not gonna happen.

Acacia H. said...

Aeons, feel free to stick around. If you've looked at previous posts by Dr. Brin, you'll see that he doesn't mollycoddle people here. I've had comments smacked down by him multiple times, and sometimes even for valid reasons. ;)

However, I do want to comment on your "heroes" thing. You might look too much into the term. I don't think Dr. Brin considers the astronauts and like to be above reproach or iconic figures. Instead he looks at them as figures that did great things in their time. Oh, and trust me - if NASA had thought of it, they'd definitely sent a female astronaut to the Moon. After Valentina Tereshkova's leap into the history books as the first woman in space, it was over 20 years before the next would go there.

The thing is, I think they considered Tereshkova to be a "look what we did!" PR moment from the Soviets. If the Soviets had continued to send women into space, then things may very well have been different.

Or maybe not. Establishing an effective and clean method of going to the bathroom in space was difficult enough for men. NASA might not have wanted to risk potential problems.

Also, when looking back at people from 200 years ago or even 45 years ago, do realize this: it was a different time and social views were different then. Looking at the past through a 21st century American viewpoint will distort things. It's something I've warned individuals about when they rail on about history and the like.

What is important is that we learn from the past and move on.

Rob H.

David Brin said...


Paul451 said...

Posted here to avoid contaminating the new post:

Daniel Duffy,
Re: Terraforming.

The other thing is that for the whole duration of terraforming, not only would colonists have to live in restricted space (tented or underground habitats on Mars, floating habs on Venus), but that those colonists are in the damn way of the actual terraforming. Very little work needs to be done on the ground to support terraforming. Want to seed the surface with genetically engineered bacteria, a wheeled vehicle is a pretty inefficient way to do it when you can shower the sky from orbit. The overwhelming majority of the resources required come from space (such as comets in your example), or require large orbital construction (such as giant sun-shades for Venus, or annular reflectors for Mars/Titan).

So the terraformers will need to primarily operate in space, with any planetary colonies the poor cousin dependent on hand-outs for centuries or millennia (even ignoring your maths and using the most optimistic estimates of the advocates).

And all those resources, planetary oceans worth, would be better spent directly on in-space habitats, rather then poured onto dead worlds in the hope that one day they'll be as habitable as the most barren desert on Earth..

Re: Oil rigs and oceans as an analogy for space.

The problem with oceans is that any given pressure-vessel is restricted to a narrow band of ocean. Most of the ocean is deep. (If we had force-fields or some similar magic SF technology, I suspect we'd have "colonised" the oceans much more.)

With space, once you can live anywhere out there, you can live everywhere out there. Once you have technology to hold 1 atm, it works everywhere. Once you have radiation shielding (bulk mass or something cleverer), that works outside the Earth's magnetosphere, it works throughout the entire solar system (*), even in interstellar space.

Have an ocean habitat that holds three atmospheres (much harder than 1atm in space) and it still only works to 20m. Develop the tech to work at 10 atmospheres, and you're still limited to the top 90m. Most of the ocean floor is 2km or more. 2km down is about 200 atm. (200 tonnes per square metre. 1 1/3 tons per square inch.) Space is actually pretty easy compared to oceans, the only advantage oceans have had is that they don't need rockets to get there and they have had centuries of head start.

For me, a better analogy with the ocean is the land/islands/coves that early humans spread through, usually first by sea before the inland routes followed. We used the sea to skip quickly (in geological terms) between resource sites, and we left colonies as we went. The asteroids and moons in space are those islands, coves, etc, that we will skip across.

(* Except within Jupiter's magnetosphere. Attempt no landings there.)

Dennis M Davidson said...

Appropos David's comment on the cultural significance of the Apollo 8 photograph of the Earth from the Moon. Robert Poole's book, "Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth" (2008 Yale Unviversity Press), is a thoroughly researched account of the first photographs of the whole Earth including the iconic Apollo 8 photograph. As a historian of science, Poole documents the technical development of space photography from the first photographs to show the Earth's curvature to the more familiar whole Earth Apollo photographs. But Poole also discusses the cultural meaning of these photographs which, for the first time, gave all of humanity a way to grasp a planetary perspective of our home planet as it exists in its environment of solar space. It's a great read.